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Thursday, September 24, 2009

EDITORIAL 24.09.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

Editorial

month september 24,  edition 000306 , 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. GREEN CHANNELS
  2. REINVENTING DELHI
  3. IS UPA WARMING UP TO TALIBAN?-KANCHAN GUPTA
  4. INDIA STILL CARRYING CROSS OF PARTITION-NARAIN SARUP
  5. NOW IMPLEMENT THE IDEAS-JS RAJPUT
  6. MOCKERY OF AUSTERITY-SANDEEP B
  7. MAKING PEACE IMPOSSIBLE-BARRY RUBIN
  8. PATH TO PROSPERITY IN KUTCH LINED WITH GRASS-HARESH PARMAR
  9. MAKING PEACE IMPOSSIBLE-BARRY RUBIN

 

TIMES OF INDIA

  1. GET CRACKING
  2. SET THEM FREE
  3. THE SPENCE SOLUTION-
  4. BANKS SHOULD BE CONSUMER-FRIENDLY
  5. PENALTY MAKES BUSINESS SENSE-
  6. THE NOSTALGIA ROSSOGOLA-BACHI KARKARIA 
  7. WELCOMING DURGA-

 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. DON’T BLUNT OUR CUTTING EDGE
  2. PRE-GAME, FOREPLAY
  3. KEEP IT ALIVE!-ROBERT SKIDELSKY
  4. WELFARE POLITICS-SUHIT SEN
  5. BITTEN BY THE BUG TAMINGFLU
  6. WAR ON NAXALS - BRING ON THOSE DRONES

 

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. WARMING UP
  2. AFTER YSR
  3. SO MANY BARRIERS
  4. THE CHINA CHILL-PRANABDHALSAMANTA
  5. SERVING NOTICE-DESH GAURAV CHOPRA SEKHRI
  6. WHAT A DIFFERENCE THE ONE-DAY MADE-KUNAL PRADHAN
  7. SAYING NO TO THE WRONG DRUGS-SHAMNAD BASHEER
  8. VIEW FROM THE RIGHT-SUMAN K JHA

 

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. BETTER RULES TAKE OVER
  2. CUT TO CHASE
  3. BAD SOLUTION FOR CHINESE LABOUR PAIN-DHIRAJ NAYYAR
  4. G-20 SHOULD RAMP UP TRADE FINANCE-K VAIDYA NATHAN
  5. MONSOON LESSONS FOR 2010-SANJEEB MUKHERJEE

 

THE HINDU

  1. BREAK THE CLIMATE DEADLOCK
  2. MOVING FORWARD WITH THE GST
  3. A GREAT OPPORTUNITY FOR INDIAN SCIENCE -G. RAJASEKARAN
  4. STOP MARKETING INDIA AS A BRAND, SAYS HISTORIAN -HASAN SUROOR
  5. PLANNED FARMLAND SALE TO SAUDIS GIVES PAKISTAN JITTERS -NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN
  6. AN ISRAELI SETTLEMENT IN CLOSE-UP -MARTIN ASSER

 

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. CLIMATE: US HAS TO ACT, NOT JUST PREACH
  2. A US MOVE THAT IS ALL ABOUT RUSSIA-S. NIHAL SINGH
  3. LIFELONG WAIT FOR DEATH
  4. DALAI’S TAWANG VISIT PLAN MAKES CHINA RED-NITISH SENGUPTA

 

THE TRIBUNE

  1. RETURN OF FIIS
  2. DISCLOSURE OF ASSETS
  3. WAR AGAINST MAOISTS
  4. COPS AS ‘FOOTBALLS’-BY B.G. VERGHESE
  5. WHEN A PICKLE GOES RANCID-BY AMAR CHANDEL
  6. MEDIA UNDER ATTACK-BY T.P. SREENIVASAN
  7. A QUIET REVOLUTION IN JAPAN-BY YUKIO OKAMATO
  8. BAD DOCTORS ARE OFTEN MEN-BY JEREMY LAURANCE

 

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

  1. CEASE-FIRE WITH ULTRAS
  2. TEA INDUSTRY
  3. DEBATE OVER H-BOMB ‘FIZZLE’-PRAFUL BIDWAI
  4. ECONOMIC LIBERALISATION AND INFLATION-REHANA AHMED

 

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. TAKEOVER NORMS SHOULDN’T HINDER M&AS
  2. PITFALLS IN PITTSBURGH
  3. EAT, PRAY, LOVE THE PLANET
  4. ET IN THE CLASSROOM: NEW RULES TREAT GDRS/ADRS ON PAR WITH SHARES
  5. COMPANIES MOP UP RS 3000 CR IN A DAY
  6. JET SEEKS NOD TO APPROACH OVERSEAS INVESTORS FOR FUNDS-ARUN KUMAR
  7. UNLEASH YOUR NATURAL INTELLIGENCE-PARAMAHAMSA NITHYANANDA
  8. THE RAGING BULL VS THE FORMIDABLE BEAR
  9. DON'T LEAVE REGULATION TO THE EXPERTS-T K ARUN
  10. HOW LONG WILL THE GOLD LUST LAST? -NIDHI NATH SRINIVAS
  11. INDIA MORE BALANCED THAN TYPICAL ASIAN GROWTH MODEL: MORGAN STANLEY
  12. 'RATING IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR AN AUDIT'-APURV GUPTA
  13. WE SHOULD FIND A GLOBAL PACKAGE ON FOOD SECURITY-G GANAPATHY SUBRAMANIAM
  14. 'BANKS' FUTURE HINGES ON LIQUIDITY MANAGEMENT-SUDESHNA SEN

 

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. CLIMATE: US HAS TO ACT, NOT JUST PREACH -BY OUR CORRESPONDENT
  2. A US MOVE THAT IS ALL ABOUT RUSSIA -BY S. NIHAL SINGH
  3. TOGETHER, WE CAN OVERCOME THE CHALLENGES -BY GORDON BROWN
  4. LIFELONG WAIT FOR DEATH -BY AMITABH SINHA
  5. DALAI’S TAWANG PLAN MAKES CHINA SEE RED- BY NITISH SENGUPTA
  6. CRACKS IN IRAN’S CLIQUE -BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

THE STATESMAN

  1. NUCLEAR DIVIDE
  2. IT SEEMS CLEAR
  3. ENERGY AND CLIMATE-BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
  4. POVERTY PERCEPTIONS

 

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. BAD FORM
  2. SEEDS OF DOUBT
  3. UNTIL THE NEXT PARTY
  4. WESTMINSTER GLEANINGS -ANABEL LOYD
  5. A NEW STORY IN NUMBERS -R.C. ACHARYA
  6. PROTECTING THE BEAUTIFUL AND ENDANGERED CREATURES -ASHISH KOTHARI

 

DECCAN HERALD

  1. FARM EDUCATION NEEDS REFORMS-BY Y P GUPTA
  2. HEIGHT OF THE MATTER-BY SATISH K SHARMA

 

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. THE MOR TRAVESTY
  2. RIGHT OF REPLY: BNEI AKIVA - TODAY & TOMORROW-YONA GOODMAN
  3. A CRASH COURSE IN GLOBAL ECONOMICS FOR THE G20-DANIEL IKENSON AND ALEC VAN GELDER
  4. MOVIES IN NABLUS, DRAMAS IN BETHLEHEM-DANIEL DORON
  5. RATTLING THE CAGE: PLAYED FOR A SUCKER-LARRY DERFNER
  6. FUNDAMENTALLY FREUND: HE'S NO MAHATMA OBAMA-MICHAEL FREUND
  7. WASHINGTON WATCH: THE 'AGINNERS' AND THE POLITICS OF HATE-DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD

HAARETZ

  1. DON'T DESCEND FROM THE SUMMIT -BY HAARETZ EDITORIAL
  2. ON OBAMA'S BLOCK -BY ARI SHAVIT
  3. GIDEON LEVY / OBAMA, YOU WON'T MAKE PEACE WITHOUT TALKING TO HAMAS -BY GIDEON LEVY, HAARETZ CORRESPONDENT
  4. THE RESTRAINING OF OBAMA -BY ISRAEL HAREL
  5. THE MODESTY MINISTRY -BY NERI LIVNEH

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. WHAT MR. OBAMA SAID, AND DIDN’T SAY
  2. CIGARETTE BAN WITH A LOOPHOLE
  3. A SMALL STEP BACK FROM USURY
  4. PRISONERS’ RIGHTS
  5. A TOM DELAY MAKEOVER -BY GAIL COLLINS
  6. A TINY TAX COULD DO A WORLD OF GOOD -BY PHILIPPE DOUSTE-BLAZY
  7. NUCLEAR-FREE SEAS -BY THOMAS LEHRMAN AND JUSTIN MUZINICH
  8. THE MIRACLE OF DULLNESS -BY ROGER COHEN
  9. A TOM DELAY MAKEOVER -BY GAIL COLLINS

 

I. THE NEWS

  1. AID FROM US
  2. PRESSURE TACTICS
  3. UNHEALTHY BUSINESS
  4. NATIONAL EDUCATION POLICY 2009 – A CRITIQUE-NAVEED EJAZ
  5. 19TH-CENTURY MINDSET-IKRAM SEHGAL
  6. JASWANT’S BOOK AND PARTITION-YASSER LATIF HAMDANI
  7. DEATH IN A STAMPEDE-DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
  8. THE NORTH-SOUTH NEXUS-KAMILA HYAT
  9. ARMY AND PEOPLE-S AUSAF HUSAIN

 

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. POLITICAL CONTOURS OF EID
  2. NFC RELATED CONTENTIOUS ISSUES
  3. SUICIDAL IDEA OF OPERATION IN SOUTH PUNJAB
  4. REGIONAL SITUATION — A LOOK BACK-KHALID SALEEM
  5. US FATE SIMILAR TO VANQUISHED EMPIRES-ASIF HAROON RAJA
  6. ROGUISH BENT OF INDIAN ARMED FORCES-SAJJAD SHAUKAT
  7. OBAMA’S STRATEGY SHIFT IN AFGHAN WAR-PETER BAKER
  8. THE RAILWAYS & QUEEN’S ENGLISH..!-ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. UNABATED ROAD ACCIDENTS
  2. QUALITY EDUCATION
  3. MAD HUSBAND…!-ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. GLOBAL ECONOMY NEEDS A NEW APPROACH
  2. BUILDING MOMENTUM
  3. TRUE GRIT WAS IN TOWN

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. THE DIPLOMATIC GLOBAL WARMING
  2. KNIFE BEGINS AT FORTY
  3. AS CHINA SHIFTS ON WARMING TURNBULL FACES THE HEAT
  4. PUBLIC HOLIDAY OR NOT, IT'S STILL SHOW TIME

 

THE GURDIAN

  1. UNITED NATIONS: LOFTY WORDS, LOW ANTICS
  2. LIBERAL DEMOCRATS: FEAR OF FAILURE
  3. IN PRAISE OF … ENGLISH MUSTARD

 

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. MUZZLING THE TOP BUREAUCRATS
  2. CHANCE TO REBUILD IN OPPOSITION
  3. DEAD WALRUSES OF DEFENSE-BY GWYNNE DYER
  4. CHALLENGES FOR THE HATOYAMA GOVERNMENT-BY CHARLES E. MORRISON
  5. GERMAN VOTERS SHUN FINANCIAL CRISIS DEBATE-BY PETER SCHNEIDER
  6. CAN LDP RECOUP THE GLORY DAYS?

 

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. RULES ON HEARINGS
  2. MISTAKEN DECISION
  3. CUTTING CARBON EMISSIONS IS NOT ENOUGH -ACHIM STEINER
  4. THE CASE FOR A GLOBAL FINANCIAL-TRANSACTION TAX -PEER STEINBRUECK

 

CHINA DAILY

  1. BOOST FOR SMES
  2. PICKING ON THE PANDA
  3. SUMMIT TO MAP RECOVERY ROUTE
  4. DO NOT WORRY ABOUT INFLATION — WORRY ABOUT ASSET PRICES AND QUALITY
  5. EQUALITY, SOCIAL SAFETY NET ARE THE CONCERN

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

GREEN CHANNELS

WHAT NEXT? TALIBAN TV FROM WAZIRISTAN?


In many senses, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry is a ghost from India’s statist, over-regulated past. Its primary function these days is to interfere in the workings of private channels, delay or even refuse licenses to news networks, block automatic renewal for foreign broadcasters — a few years ago, CNN faced problems from a particularly difficult secretary in the Ministry who has since moved to a constitutional office — and essentially function as a rent seeker. However, the Ministry is unwilling to or incapable of curbing the deluge of Islamic evangelist channels that are arriving illegally in Indian homes, courtesy wildcat cable operators who probably receive payola from dubious promoters of these channels. Peace TV is the mouthpiece of a Mumbai-based cleric; ARY TV is backed by a Pakistani business house; Maldives TV and Saudi TV have a single-minded agenda. Many of these channels are uplinked from Dubai and other West Asian locations. Their message is often an exclusivist one and their content is complete unmonitored. They are not answerable to Indian laws. Indeed, Islamic channels have proliferated on Indian television screens in the past few years without anybody bothering to pay attention to their provenance and purpose. Some of these channels may well be above board and perfectly kosher. However, that still does not explain why they don’t follow the country’s laws and obtain necessary broadcasting permission and licenses from the Government. The I&B Ministry has made a mess of its broader administrative role here. Yet, it is not alone in being blamed. The Home Ministry should have been alive to the security risks some of these religio-political networks pose but has chosen to ignore them. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is the agency responsible for ensuring the Cable Television Networks Act is not breached. It can act through the District Magistrate and Superintendent or Commissioner of Police in a particular district. Patently, TRAI and the district-level officials have neglected their duties.


As is obvious, the issue goes beyond a few channels circumventing the law and regulators sleeping on the job. There may be a romantic perception of an illegal, underground media network — newspapers produced by a banned organisation; a dissident radio station in a totalitarian state — but it would be best to recognise that these Islamist channels are not necessarily harmless. Targeting sections of the Muslim population, reaching out to community ghettoes simultaneously by exploiting available broadcast technologies and cable networks, they are liable to be manipulated by groups that threaten Indian security or seek to radicalise sections of young Indian Muslims. As such, it is crucial to distinguish between such motivated networks and, say, an FM radio station run by students on a college campus. Both may be illegal, but only one poses a potential threat to national well-being.


More than anything else, the role of India’s cable operators — a private mafia operation that has muscled its way into neighbourhood monopolies and blacks out channels that don’t pay bribes in the form of so-called carriage charges — is under question. This bunch is ready to carry any channel — whatever its content — if it pays the right price. Any operator that continues to do business with illegal channels must be debarred at once. If India doesn’t act now, the day is not far when it will be woken up to the wolfish sounds of Taliban TV, uplinked from Waziristan.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

REINVENTING DELHI

NEEDED, GOOD MANNERS AND DISCIPLINE


Union Home Minister P Chidambaram’s advice to the residents of Delhi to brush up on their manners before the 2010 Commonwealth Games has a distinct air of too little too late. Those who are acquainted with ‘Dilliwallahs’ are all too familiar with the infamous boorishness and crudity that are associated with many of them. Whether it is using abusive language at the drop of a hat or total lack of courtesy or treating every street corner as a public urinal, when it comes to loutish behaviour, Delhiites take the cake. To think that just because Delhi is about to host an international sporting event residents of the city will all of a sudden acquire a sense of propriety is quite fanciful. It will take more than the Home Minister’s well-meaning words to achieve what many would contend is unachievable. And that this has become an issue so late in the day means that we can expect little to change. Had the authorities been more pro-active and started a public sensitisation programme a few years ago along the lines of Germany which hosted the 2006 Football World Cup, there could have been some hope of taming the ill-mannered Delhiite. For the Delhi Government to wake up barely a year before the Games and try and drill some manners and discipline into the people is pointless.


A city is judged to be world-class not merely by the quality of malls, the kind of roads or the number of flyovers it has. The people of the city and the way they treat visitors are as integral, if not more, to this assessment. All world-class cities in the world are special because the people there make them so. This is something that comes from within. No matter how much the authorities try to change the mindset of the residents of the national capital to make them more amiable, unless Delhiites themselves take pride in their city and adjust their attitude, Delhi will never become world-class. This sense of pride will only surface when each and every Delhiite realises that he or she is responsible for the city. If the traffic in Delhi is horrendous it is because Delhiites don’t have the discipline to drive in lanes. If the city is dirty it is because they don’t bother throwing waste in designated garbage bins. And if bus conductors and autorickshaw drivers in the city are rude, it is because Delhiites accept them to be so. It is the characteristic chalta hai attitude of Delhi that needs to change if we are to get somewhere in terms of making the city more hospitable. Therefore, before the authorities start lecturing Delhiites on how to behave, let them gather whatever sense of self-respect they have and do some self-introspection of their own.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

IS UPA WARMING UP TO TALIBAN?

KANCHAN GUPTA


The venerable Wall Street Journal, which still takes the business of journalism seriously, has carried an interesting news story in its Wednesday’s edition. Headlined “Indian Minister Urges Afghan Political Settlement”, it is based on an interview with Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna, who apparently spoke to the writer, Joe Lauria, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, which is now in session. The opening paragraph of the story is truly attention grabbing: “India, one of the biggest investors in Afghanistan, believes there is no military solution to the conflict in that country and that NATO combat operations should give way to a political settlement with the Taliban, according to Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna.”


The newspaper quotes Mr Krishna as saying, “India doesn’t believe that war can solve any problem and that applies to Afghanistan also... I think there could be a political settlement. I think we should strive towards that.” According to the daily, Mr Krishna “dismissed suggestions that India’s growing involvement in Afghanistan is intended to encircle Pakistan, a fear prevalent in some circles in Pakistan. ‘I think that is a baseless allegation,’ he said.” Mr Krishna, in his interview, “charged that Pakistan’s disruptive role in the Taliban insurgency continued”, and said “the military situation in Afghanistan was complicated by the ongoing aid for the Afghan Taliban provided by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency”.


A full reading of the news story and the extensive quotes of the Minister published alongside would reveal that he has not suggested a “political settlement with the Taliban”, at least not in so many words. But it is only logical to deduce that this is what he meant when he talked of a “political settlement”. Given the political reality of Afghanistan where the Taliban are determined not to allow democracy and modernism to take root, and want the country to return to the joyless, dark days when a one-eyed monster called Mullah Omar ruled that benighted nation with ruthless force in the name of Islam, the only people you can strike a deal with and come to a “political settlement” are the Taliban.


“If India can work happily with Great Britain after they having ruled us for so long, it only shows that we can play the game,” Mr Krishna told The Wall Street Journal. That is an allusion which only the naïve would miss or misinterpret. In interpreting foreign policy, each word, especially when uttered by the Foreign Minister of a country, is dissected many times over. And the most casual reading of Mr Krishna’s comments would suggest that they indicate a major shift in the Government’s policy on Afghanistan and a break with the national consensus that has helped its evolution: The Congress-led UPA is now willing to “play the game” and cut a deal with the Taliban.


What Mr Krishna has also signalled is the UPA Government’s rethinking on American involvement in Afghanistan. Till now, although India has steered clear of the US-led military intervention in Afghanistan, it has been a beneficiary of everything that has followed the fall of the criminal Taliban regime and the installation of the Government headed by President Hamid Karzai. New Delhi would not have been able to reopen its mission in Kabul and set up consulates elsewhere had Mullah Omar still been in power. Nor would India have been able to re-establish its people-friendly profile among the Afghan masses through infrastructure development and healthcare projects.


It would be foolish to believe that the ‘Indian presence’ in Afghanistan will remain untouched and undiminished if the US and NATO troops were to abruptly pack up and leave that country. A “political settlement” — or, to put it more bluntly, a deal with the Taliban — may please those in the UPA Government who believe Islamism is a benign idea and Islamists are the natural allies of ‘secularists’, but it will be disastrous for India and its national interest.


Since Mr Krishna is the Minister for External Affairs, we must presume that whatever he has told The Wall Street Journal, as well as the implied meaning of his statement, reflect current thinking in South Block. More important, since Mr Manmohan Singh unilaterally frames foreign policy these days, Mr Krishna’s comments must be taken to reflect the Prime Minister’s views — unless they are refuted or denounced by the Government’s drum-beaters in the media. It may not be entirely coincidental that the Prime Minister’s prescription for redrafting India’s policy on Afghanistan bears close resemblance to the current thinking in Washington, DC.


As US President Barack Hussein Obama watches his much-touted AfPak policy unravel, his strategists work overtime to convert the 21st century’s Great Game into a Grand Bargain. Mr Obama spoke of a ‘surge’ in the deployment of US troops, but there are as yet no signs of 40,000 more Americans being sent to win the war against the Taliban. And while policy-makers in the Obama Administration dither, Gen Stanley McChrystal, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has submitted a ‘confidential’ report — whose contents have been leaked to The Washington Post! — to the American President, underscoring the problems posed by “inadequate resources” at his disposal. “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible,” he has said.


While Gen McChrystal has made a case for the immediate deployment of additional soldiers to bolster the presence of 64,000 troops in Afghanistan, Pentagon appears to be divided on the issue. It would like Mr Obama to take a political call on whether to go ahead with the ‘surge’ or begin pulling out troops from Afghanistan, and then strategise on the next steps to be taken. Interestingly, Gen McChrystal is also believed to have said in his report that “while Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increa-sing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India”.


That’s an understatement, but it nonetheless accurately reflects the Afghan reality which is intimately enmeshed with the reality of Pakistan’s ‘strategic depth’ policy that visualises Islamabad’s control over Kabul with the Taliban’s help and the imposition of Islamist absolutism. In such a scenario, it is amusing to think of the UPA Government cutting a deal with the Taliban.


Follow the writer on: http://twitter.com/KanchanGupta. Blog on this and other issues at http://kanchangupta.blogspot.com. Write to him at kanchangupta@rocketmail.com


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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

INDIA STILL CARRYING CROSS OF PARTITION

NARAIN SARUP


After reading reading Kanchan Gupta’s review of Jaswant Singh’s book, Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence, “Qatil-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah” (September 6) I decided to share my story with the readers of The Pioneer. I belong to Dera Ismail Khan district in North-West Frontier Province and have suffered a lot due to partition.

In last week of July 1946, at the time of the Muslim league convention under the chairmanship of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, some leaders thundered that they would shed so much blood of Hindus and Sikhs that history would forget Genghis Khan and Halaku. And they proved this to be quite true.


On August 16, 1946, riots began in Calcutta and thousands of Hindus were killed within two or three days. In reaction to ‘Direct Action Day’ riots broke out in Noakhali, Bihar, after two months. Jawaharlal Nehru threatened the people there to stop rioting. However, he did not do so with respect to the rioters in Bengal. Nehru even went to the extent of threatening to bomb rioting Hindus in Bihar.


In Amritsar on March 5, 1947, it was around 1 am that we got to know that Ranjit Cinema had been set on fire and Muslims were attacking Hindus in the dead of the night. Hindus and Sikhs, though quite unprepared for such an attack, fought back and for the next 36 hours fierce battles took place between them and the Muslims. On March 7, 1947, curfew was imposed on the city. How many people had been killed was anybody’s guess. Anyone who saw the city on March 10, 1947, would swear that the city had been bombarded. Thousand were killed and hundreds of women jumped into wells to save their honour. For the next five months riots became a regular feature in Punjab.


Hindus and Sikhs in Lahore fought bravely and were determined not to leave the city. But one night curfew was imposed and a large police force led by magistrate Cheema set fire to the biggest trading market at Shah Almi Gate and it was reduced to ashes.


On August 18, 1947, after the creation of Pakistan, the deputy commissioner of Sherkerpura, a town near Lahore, called Hindus and Sikhs for a meeting and all were shot dead.


I detested Jinnah for what all he had done but I supported his proposal for an exchange of population. Had this taken place, millions of lives could have been saved and most of the problems that India is facing today would have been solved.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

NOW IMPLEMENT THE IDEAS

GOVERNMENT HAS COME UP WITH WIDE-RANGING PROPOSALS TO REFORM EDUCATION. MOST OF THEM ARE LONG OVERDUE AND WILL WORK IN FAVOUR OF STUDENTS. BUT TO IMPLEMENT THESE REFORMS, GOVERNMENT NEEDS INFRASTRUCTURE, WHICH AT THE MOMENT IS WOEFULLY INADEQUATE

JS RAJPUT


The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development certainly has its hands full. Within 100 days, it has successfully stirred the system. Now the right to education will be implemented as a fundamental right; higher education regulatory mechanism may become corruption-free; Vice-Chancellors would be appointed only on merit, and that too by a collegium; there will be no pass/fail system in board examinations; appearance at tenth board examination will become optional; every child will be learning Hindi; children from weaker sections are to get 25 per cent seats in every school; no interviews for admissions; and several other such pronouncements could make anyone happy.


However, the plan and urgency of filling over five lakh posts of teachers in schools and around 20-25 per cent vacancies in universities is a tough task, which is mostly in the domain of State Governments or private entrepreneurs. This has remained ignored for decades. Massive programmes of teacher training and re-orientation would have to be launched immediately apart from rejuvenating teacher training institutions which function under poor conditions.


In Madhya Pradesh, for over 35 years no regular recruitment has been made in the training colleges maintained by the State Government. This also applies to positions for which the Central Government has been ready to reimburse ever since the implementation of the 1986 National Policy on Education. The District Institutes of Education and Training have also met the same fate.


Now, how does one implement the Right to Education Act in right earnest if the soldiers responsible for the frontline action are inadequate in numbers and are neither well prepared nor fully equipped?


The most prominent reform in school education comes in the evaluation pattern. Very rightly, the emphasis on eternal board examination will get reduced. Initially the media reported that school boards would be abolished. It created a big stir. How could the Central Government do it? After all the boards, which are creations of State Governments, serve several purposes and not all of them are academic.


The change in roles and activities of the school boards was long overdue. Now comes the right moment for the boards to transform their work culture, enhance proficiency and learn a few lessons in the new pedagogy, emerging under the influence of ICT in a globalised world. In fact boards have a lot to learn before we prepare the entire system to internalise the transition from the marking system to the grading system.


When asked to name his most favourite of the recommendations, professor DS Kothari said it unhesitatingly that it would be examination reforms! That recommendation was made in the National Commission on Education Report of 1966-68 and was part of the 1968 National Policy on Education approved by Parliament. Resistance to reforms in examinations has been tremendous. Now that the MHRD has shown keenness in actual reforms instead of scoring political points, the initiatives require an apolitical analysis.


Several of these reforms are continuation of earlier recommendations which just remained on paper. One decision that has generated some discussion is that of the tenth board examination being made optional. The commission had recommended that there should be no remark to the effect that a student has passed or failed in the examination. The 1986 National Policy on Education was very explicit about examination reforms. The National Curriculum Frameworks of the NCERT prepared in 1988 and 2000 also recommended grades instead of marks and reiterated abolition of pass/fail system.


It is a rare situation in which the proposals have generally received a supportive response. There are genuine apprehensions which too are being expressed in the quarters that are well familiar with the ground-level realities and also by those who are in the field and will be responsible for implementing the recommendations in schools.

Acute shortage of teachers, laboratories without equipment and unavailability of rich libraries in schools are some of the factors that may cause dilution in achieving the objectives which appear so laudable on paper. In case a teacher is not convinced that by giving grades he/she is performing the assigned task at a higher pedagogical level, children may really be at disadvantage.


Educated parents know it well that world ahead will not spare anyone from facing ruthless competition. They may, consequently, still not permit their wards to opt for the optional alternative at the board exams. Those who are from weaker sections, families which are not so well versed with the future competitions and those who know that their ward is already weak and may not get through, would mostly go in for no exams. The real position would emerge only after 2012/13.


Now that the focus is to shift from boards to schools, responsibilities on teachers will increase as never before. To assess this it is worth the recommendation of the Kothari Commission on improving external examinations. It was to be improved “by raising the technical competence of the paper-setters, orienting question papers to objectives other than the acquisition of knowledge, improving the nature of questions, adopting scientifically-scoring procedures, and mechanising the scoring of scripts and processing of results.”


Now that evaluations will be internal, these may equally well apply to teachers and school as a whole with such changes as the present position may require.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

MOCKERY OF AUSTERITY

IT’S AN ATTEMPT TO COVER UP GOVERNMENT’S FAILURES

SANDEEP B


Our dharmashastras prohibit hoarding of food, or acquiring material possessions, beyond the bare minimum as one of the qualities of an ideal Brahmin. The reason: The more you possess, the farther those possessions divert you from the path of self-study (swadhyaya), penance, and spiritual realisation.


A few thousand years later, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi wore just a loin cloth to cover his modesty because he was appalled by the swarming millions of poor people in India. The third Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri, forbade his family from using his official car for personal purposes, and his position to get jobs for his sons.


These are straightforward and everlasting examples of austerity.


Cut to today. A few weeks ago, Minister for External Affairs, Mr SM Krishna, and Minister of State for External Affairs, Mr Shashi Tharoor, famously declared that they wouldn’t move out of the five-star hotels they were staying in. They reasoned it was fine because they paid for it from their personal accounts. This was just the whiff of opportunity that the ruckus-rakers within the Congress were waiting for. It was time for a fresh internal boxing match to ‘show’ who was closer to the throne.

 

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee chided his two colleagues for their vulgar extravagance at a time of rising food prices and assorted economic horrors. Expectedly, Congress president Sonia Gandhi stepped in and agreed with Mr Mukherjee that prices were indeed spiralling through the roof. Post-haste, she laid the foundation stone for the ‘austerity’ show that followed.


Massive retinues of various hues of specialisation — commandos, cops, friskers, mediapersons — accompanied the austerity awareness tours that Ms Gandhi and her son Mr Rahul Gandhi embarked upon. While the mother travelled in economy class by flight, the son preferred the Shatabdi chair car. Congressmen cutting across positions had to grudgingly follow the example. The picture-and-sound-starved media celebrated this show of simplicity with childlike wonder. But the message had reached the intended ears much before this awareness drive. Mr Krishna and Mr Tharoor had ‘seen’ the light and by then had vacated their five-star lodgings.


But the austerity train took a new turn when Mr Tharoor posted a message (or Tweet) about travelling in economy class on Twitter (http://twitter.com/home), a hugely popular micro-blogging Web service. His tweet, “Absolutely, in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!” in response to a query started ‘Bout 2’ of the boxing match almost immediately. The omnipotent Congress ‘high command’ slammed Mr Tharoor’s tweet and obtained a “clarification” (read apology) from him. A news report quoting Congress sources said that this was the high command’s way of sending a “message” to all “new entrants” that they should “learn the language and culture of this historic party.”


While there’s some truth in the oft-repeated quote from Sarojini Naidu about the cost of keeping Mahatma Gandhi poor, it is undeniable that Gandhi personally led an austere life and inspired millions of Indians to follow it. Lal Bahadur Shastri is remembered with respect bordering on reverence for exactly this reason. However, the politics and character of the Nehruvian Congress stands at the other pole. While Jawaharlal Nehru was quite ostentatious about his extravagance and his contempt for the ‘lower class’ is well-known, the Congress , beginning with the other Gandhi (Mrs Indira Gandhi), very austerely institutionalised corruption, nepotism and intrigue. Little surprise that Shastri is a complete misfit in the ‘language’ and ‘culture’ of this historic party. But today’s avatar of the Congress wants us to actually believe that its ‘spread austerity’ programme is concordant with Mahatma Gandhi’s austerity.


Besides, it is even wasteful to talk about this mindless hysteria, which is nothing beyond a neat attempt to divert our attention from the UPA’s 100-plus days of non-governance. On the food shortage problem and the general wretchedness of the economy, Shastri told a journalist that he would ask the Planning Commission to “have one more column in their charts to show (me) how many jobs will be created after spending thousands of crores of rupees.” He didn’t take his sons, hangers-on, and fellow travellers on austerity train rides.

 

A truly austere person doesn’t hold Press conferences about it. Austerity is a cultivated trait of character. Enough said.

 

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THE PIONEER

                                                        OPED

MAKING PEACE IMPOSSIBLE

THE KIND OF HARDLINER HE IS, IF MUHAMMAD GHANEIM BECOMES LEADER OF FATAH, THE PA AND PLO, THEN THE WEST SHOULD FORGET ABOUT PEACE IN WEST ASIA IN THE NEAR FUTURE

BARRY RUBIN

 

There’s nothing written about more often — and inaccurately — than the Palestinians, yet there is curiously little interest about the politics and ideology which governs their behaviour. The same situation applies to the man slated to become that movement’s next leader, only the third to hold that post in 50 years, after Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.


The fact that an issue that is supposedly the most important, high-priority question in West Asia, or even the world, is so little studied in depth has a simple answer. The contemporary narrative is that the Palestinian leadership yearns for a state, an end to the conflict, and peace, while the failure to achieve can be blamed on Israel. Yet even the slightest real examination shows the exact opposite is true.


This point is only underlined by looking at the current candidate for next leader, Muhammad Ghaneim, often known as Abu Mahir. Of all those who might credibly have been considered for the leadership of Fatah — and hence of the PLO and Palestinian Authority — he is probably the most hardline one.


Ironically, while media coverage of the 2009 Fatah Congress stressed the accession of young and more flexible leaders, the 72-year-old Ghaneim certainly does not fit that description.


Born in Jerusalem on August 29, 1937, his first political involvement was with the Muslim Brotherhood but he became a founding member of the Fatah movement in 1959 and active ever after, involved mainly in recruitment and organisational matters.


It is difficult to say to what extent Ghaneim’s early involvement with radical Islamism has shaped his thinking and whether it would make it easier for him to reconcile with the even more radical Hamas. Most Fatah and PLO people came out of more secular Arab nationalist or Leftist movements. The only prominent leader who blended an Islamist background with nationalism was Arafat himself, and this certainly remained a prominent theme in his worldview during his entire career.


Ghaneim’s big career break came in 1968 when at the age of just 30 Arafat appointed him commander of Fatah’s forces in Jordan. And later that year, at age 31, he was put by Arafat on Fatah’s Central Committee in charge of the organisation and recruitment department.


It is impossible to overstate the importance of these two jobs. At that time, Jordan was a Fatah stronghold and the group constituted a dual Government alongside that of King Hussein, the country’s nominal ruler. Fatah guerrillas — and shortly after Arafat took over the whole PLO — had military bases from which they launched attacks on Israel across the Jordan River. Arafat must have had an extraordinarily high opinion of Ghaneim to appoint him to such a sensitive post.


Since so much of this task was involved with military matters, Ghaneim took a short officers’ course in China. On his return, in 1969, Arafat gave Ghaneim still a third chore, as is deputy for military issues. While the details aren’t clear this means Ghaneim must have played a central role in planning and implementing scores of guerrilla and terrorist attacks.

The other job was just as important. Ghaneim played a central role in selecting those to be given key jobs and just how much authority each had. Of course, everyone was far below Arafat in power but Ghaneim was about as essential as a second-tier figure could be. That job is also useful in making contacts with those who would continue to be top people in the movement in ensuing decades.


In 1970, Fatah overplayed its hand, was defeated by Jordan’s Army, and had to flee to Lebanon. Ghaneim continued his organisational and military duties there. When the PLO and Fatah were forced out of Lebanon in 1982, Ghaneim accompanied Arafat to Tunis. From 1982 to mid-2009 he remained living there, though as early as July 2007 he may have begun visiting the PA-ruled territories in the West Bank.


Ghaneim didn’t return with Arafat in 1994 because, despite serving Arafat closely and loyally for 35 years, Ghaneim rejected the Oslo accords of 1993 as too moderate. Only continued armed struggle, total victory, and Israel’s destruction were worthy goals in his eyes.


While Arafat’s strategy sought these things covertly, the compromises involved in such a pretense were too much for Ghaneim, who openly criticised his old chief. He stayed in Tunisia despite numerous invitations from Arafat, starting in October 1994, to join the PA and instead insisted Arafat cease all negotiations with Israel.


Ghaneim moved closer to the popular Farouq Qaddumi, often referred to as the second most powerful man in Fatah and PLO or as the PLO’s “Foreign Minister.” Qaddumi rejected the Oslo agreement and kept up a close connection with Syria. Arafat undercut him but Qaddumi was so strong in the movement that he could never be fired altogether.


Finally, Ghaneim decided to return and support Mahmoud Abbas. While the details are not clear, this coincided with Abbas naming him as successor, which was certainly a great incentive for changing sides. Despite some analysts claiming that Ghaneim has moderated his positions, there is absolutely no evidence that he has done so.


On the contrary, it is likely that he joined the PA and Abbas because he felt that they were closer to his long-held views in many respects.


Ghaneim has a definite appeal for Abbas as ally and successor. He is one of the few remaining original founders of Fatah and has wide contacts throughout the movement.


On the one hand, he possesses Arafat’s seal of approval historically but on the other hand he is so hardline as to appeal to that powerful tendency in Fatah. In addition, as someone who has been outside the PA politics for 15 years, he was seen as a neutral figure in many petty and personal disputes.


But this is not the man to choose if your top priorities were making peace with Israel and maintaining good relations with the West. He is the man you would choose if you intended to reject compromise, rebuild links to Syria and Hamas, and perhaps return to armed struggle in future.


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

 

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THE PIONEER

                                                        OPED

PATH TO PROSPERITY IN KUTCH LINED WITH GRASS

VILLAGERS MAKE SURE THEY HAVE ENOUGH FODDER TO FEED CATTLE EVEN IN TIMES OF DROUGHT, WRITES HARESH PARMAR


As the saying goes in Kutch, Gujarat, “Banni-Pacchaam area has grass growing in such abundance that if a man stands in between, he cannot be seen.” The lush greenery drew people from far and near, first they came here to graze their cattle and eventually settled down. In times of drought, the contrast between Baani-Pacchaam and other areas became even sharper and tales of clashes between aspiring settlers abound in the region.


Once settled, the sheer luxuriant growth had a sobering effect on the villagers. Realising the enormous value they devised a set of rules for protecting the grass on which their lives depended. While in times of plenty these were followed in a more easy-going way, in times of drought, adherence to these was even stricter. Farming practices were put into practice to ensure no wastage. Grains were harvested while grass was preserved as cattle fodder. Each village had its demarcated area and cattle of each village stayed within those boundaries. The emphasis was on collective conservation and respect for nature and the environment that sustained them.

This carefully evolved pattern of social responsibility however began to change. And that began when the responsibility shifted from the local community to the Government.


Unconcerned with this delicate network of relationships between human beings and the environment, the Government planted ‘Gando Baval’, ostensibly to prevent the salinity of the land and the march of the desert which surrounded the area. This though had a converse effect. The pointed roots of baval plant prevented grass from growing near it. Gradually, the land, which was covered with swaying green grass, turned saline. The worst nightmare of the local communities began to take shape and the grass which drew people like a magnet from all over Kutch was now forcing them to move out.


While communities struggled to cope with this ugly scenario, they were also struggling to find answers, a way out of this road to disaster. Their issue and the way of resolving it lays open a fundamental question to all such situations not only in Kutch but across the country. Can rural communities continue with their traditional occupations and use modern technological advancement to enhance it? Can they take steps to uplift and upgrade such practices so that they do not suffer at the hands of outside agencies, even the Government. Can they aspire to have access to such technical and scientific inputs?


This question has been answered by the people of Tindlava village of Rapar taluka in Kutch, with some innovative interventions from Yuva Institute, which first began its operations after the terrible earthquake in the region. Through its farming and land improvement project, it began a process of regeneration. A plot of land was demarcated for growing grass which was only two kilometers from the village. Then came the challenge of actually growing grass and replicating the intricate web of social equations which sustained it previously. The Mahila Mandal and the Gram Samiti of the village jointly planned the process guided by the institute.


The two-acre grazing field was then fenced with iron wires. The destructive baval plant was uprooted and with the help of another organisation, Sahyog Trust, useful grass varieties like dhaman and dilo planted.


While the trust met expenditure related to grass seeds, wages of labourers and fencing, the process drew its strength from the collective effort of the community. The villagers displayed a rare maturity in crafting their new project, perhaps having learnt the bitter lessons of the past. They now paid utmost attention to protect the quality of the land and their newly inaugurated grass plot.


To ensure that the land does not get washed away, a 500-feet gully has been constructed, plugging it where such a threat exists. Trenches have been dug to preserve the flowing water. Structures now dot the grass plot where water gathers to quench the thirst of cattle.


Today, even in times of drought, the 1,700-strong village community has adequate supplies.

 

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THE PIONEER

                                                        OPED

MAKING PEACE IMPOSSIBLE

BARRY RUBIN


The kind of hardliner he is, if Muhammad Ghaneim becomes leader of Fatah, the PA and PLO, then the West should forget about peace in West Asia in the near future


There’s nothing written about more often — and inaccurately — than the Palestinians, yet there is curiously little interest about the politics and ideology which governs their behaviour. The same situation applies to the man slated to become that movement’s next leader, only the third to hold that post in 50 years, after Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.


The fact that an issue that is supposedly the most important, high-priority question in West Asia, or even the world, is so little studied in depth has a simple answer. The contemporary narrative is that the Palestinian leadership yearns for a state, an end to the conflict, and peace, while the failure to achieve can be blamed on Israel. Yet even the slightest real examination shows the exact opposite is true.


This point is only underlined by looking at the current candidate for next leader, Muhammad Ghaneim, often known as Abu Mahir. Of all those who might credibly have been considered for the leadership of Fatah — and hence of the PLO and Palestinian Authority — he is probably the most hardline one.


Ironically, while media coverage of the 2009 Fatah Congress stressed the accession of young and more flexible leaders, the 72-year-old Ghaneim certainly does not fit that description.


Born in Jerusalem on August 29, 1937, his first political involvement was with the Muslim Brotherhood but he became a founding member of the Fatah movement in 1959 and active ever after, involved mainly in recruitment and organisational matters.


It is difficult to say to what extent Ghaneim’s early involvement with radical Islamism has shaped his thinking and whether it would make it easier for him to reconcile with the even more radical Hamas. Most Fatah and PLO people came out of more secular Arab nationalist or Leftist movements. The only prominent leader who blended an Islamist background with nationalism was Arafat himself, and this certainly remained a prominent theme in his worldview during his entire career.


Ghaneim’s big career break came in 1968 when at the age of just 30 Arafat appointed him commander of Fatah’s forces in Jordan. And later that year, at age 31, he was put by Arafat on Fatah’s Central Committee in charge of the organisation and recruitment department.


It is impossible to overstate the importance of these two jobs. At that time, Jordan was a Fatah stronghold and the group constituted a dual Government alongside that of King Hussein, the country’s nominal ruler. Fatah guerrillas — and shortly after Arafat took over the whole PLO — had military bases from which they launched attacks on Israel across the Jordan River. Arafat must have had an extraordinarily high opinion of Ghaneim to appoint him to such a sensitive post.


Since so much of this task was involved with military matters, Ghaneim took a short officers’ course in China. On his return, in 1969, Arafat gave Ghaneim still a third chore, as is deputy for military issues. While the details aren’t clear this means Ghaneim must have played a central role in planning and implementing scores of guerrilla and terrorist attacks.


The other job was just as important. Ghaneim played a central role in selecting those to be given key jobs and just how much authority each had. Of course, everyone was far below Arafat in power but Ghaneim was about as essential as a second-tier figure could be. That job is also useful in making contacts with those who would continue to be top people in the movement in ensuing decades.


In 1970, Fatah overplayed its hand, was defeated by Jordan’s Army, and had to flee to Lebanon. Ghaneim continued his organisational and military duties there. When the PLO and Fatah were forced out of Lebanon in 1982, Ghaneim accompanied Arafat to Tunis. From 1982 to mid-2009 he remained living there, though as early as July 2007 he may have begun visiting the PA-ruled territories in the West Bank.


Ghaneim didn’t return with Arafat in 1994 because, despite serving Arafat closely and loyally for 35 years, Ghaneim rejected the Oslo accords of 1993 as too moderate. Only continued armed struggle, total victory, and Israel’s destruction were worthy goals in his eyes.


While Arafat’s strategy sought these things covertly, the compromises involved in such a pretense were too much for Ghaneim, who openly criticised his old chief. He stayed in Tunisia despite numerous invitations from Arafat, starting in October 1994, to join the PA and instead insisted Arafat cease all negotiations with Israel.

Ghaneim moved closer to the popular Farouq Qaddumi, often referred to as the second most powerful man in Fatah and PLO or as the PLO’s “Foreign Minister.” Qaddumi rejected the Oslo agreement and kept up a close connection with Syria. Arafat undercut him but Qaddumi was so strong in the movement that he could never be fired altogether.


Finally, Ghaneim decided to return and support Mahmoud Abbas. While the details are not clear, this coincided with Abbas naming him as successor, which was certainly a great incentive for changing sides. Despite some analysts claiming that Ghaneim has moderated his positions, there is absolutely no evidence that he has done so.


On the contrary, it is likely that he joined the PA and Abbas because he felt that they were closer to his long-held views in many respects.


Ghaneim has a definite appeal for Abbas as ally and successor. He is one of the few remaining original founders of Fatah and has wide contacts throughout the movement.


On the one hand, he possesses Arafat’s seal of approval historically but on the other hand he is so hardline as to appeal to that powerful tendency in Fatah. In addition, as someone who has been outside the PA politics for 15 years, he was seen as a neutral figure in many petty and personal disputes.


But this is not the man to choose if your top priorities were making peace with Israel and maintaining good relations with the West. He is the man you would choose if you intended to reject compromise, rebuild links to Syria and Hamas, and perhaps return to armed struggle in future.


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

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

GET CRACKING

 

The Judges (Inquiry) Bill has been in the making far too long. First introduced in Parliament in December 2006, the government has been sitting on it since. Now law minister Veerappa Moily has assured this newspaper that it will be tabled in the next session of Parliament.


There are several good things about the Bill. It proposes to set up an institutional mechanism to probe complaints against judges before Parliament takes up impeachment proceedings. The Bill would establish a national judicial council (NJC) to investigate complaints of corruption against the higher judiciary. The NJC shall investigate complaints submitted by any person, or upon receiving a reference from Parliament based on a motion moved by 50 Rajya Sabha or 100 Lok Sabha MPs. The five-member council would comprise the chief justice of India (CJI), two seniormost judges of the Supreme Court and two seniormost high court judges; or the CJI and four Supreme Court judges to investigate SC judges. The council would have the powers of a civil court and would be allowed to call on investigative agencies and other relevant records to probe the charges. If the allegations are proven, the NJC may impose minor penalties or recommend the removal of the judge. Importantly, the complainant would be given cover and no court would be allowed to take action against him for contempt of court. According to Moily, declaration of assets by judges, which has become a hot potato in recent times, would be part of the Bill.


After the Bill was introduced, a parliamentary standing committee made several suggestions to improve it. It rightly suggested that the body that is entrusted the job of investigating allegations against a judge should not be restricted to judges. It has proposed that members of the executive, Parliament and the Bar be on the panel. In addition, it has also suggested that the appointment of judges should not be left to a collegium of judges. These recommendations are important given the controversy over the elevation of Justice P D Dinakaran to the Supreme Court despite allegations of corruption against him.


We hope that the suggestions of the standing committee will be taken into account before the Bill is tabled. During the past few months several members of the higher judiciary have been accused of corruption and financial impropriety. It would be a mistake to sweep these allegations under the carpet. A well-framed Bill would go a long way in bringing transparency and accountability to the judiciary.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

SET THEM FREE

 

If HRD minister Kapil Sibal is supposed to be championing much-needed reforms in the educational sector, that isn't evident in his handling of the IITs. The current impasse between his ministry and striking faculty in India's premier engineering colleges is a good illustration of the problems that arise when government is too closely involved with the functioning of academic institutions. The IITs are considered a symbol of modern India's scientific and technical prowess. Students graduating from these prestigious institutions draw substantial salaries. Alumni rule the roost in boardrooms from New Delhi to New York. To see the teachers responsible, in large part, for the enviable reputation of the IITs reduced to agitating against the government for better pay is scandalous.

IITs will be unable to maintain their status as premier educational institutions if they cannot attract and retain the best faculty available. Sibal has argued that since the government funds the IITs, and is answerable to Parliament, teachers should be satisfied with what they're getting. But that fails to take into account the fact that many of the teachers in the IITs have passed up more lucrative opportunities in order to pass their knowledge on to future generations.


The solution is for the government to scale back its investment in the IITs. Currently, the IITs receive all their funding from the government, which gives it the power to micro-manage the functioning of the institutions. The stand-off over compensation is only one way in which ham-handed, and unnecessary, government intervention in the operation of the IITs has manifested itself. Let's not forget that IIT alumni have deep pockets and are willing and eager to give back to their alma mater, if they only had the chance. The government should step back and allow the IITs to raise a share of their own funds. Government funds may be constrained, as Sibal has pointed out. But you can't build great institutions on a shortage mentality. IITs could easily leverage their brand value to raise more resources.


As it stands, less than 2 per cent of world publications in science and technology originate out of India. That situation is unlikely to improve without better incentives, which includes higher salaries, and operational autonomy. India cannot become the global centre for research and development that it aspires to be without high quality manpower. That's what the government ought to focus on. If that involves mobilising funds from the private sector as well as foreign investment, so be it. Let's not pull out old ideological chestnuts to forestall that.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

THE SPENCE SOLUTION

 

The road to global cooperation on climate change mitigation at the forthcoming Copenhagen Summit is currently gridlocked by an apparent direct clash of interests between the mitigation priorities of the developed countries and the growth priorities of the developing world. Nobel laureate Michael Spence has an imaginative strategy for getting around the gridlock that is both fair and efficient.


The International Panel on Climate Change, the acknowledged global authority on the subject, estimates that 50 years down the road the acceptable safe level of CO2 emissions will be about 14.7 billion tonnes or 2.3 tonnes per capita per year. The average emission today is about double that limit at 4.8 tonnes per head. In the absence of a serious mitigation effort this will rise further to about 8.7 tonnes per head or four times the safe limit by 2060 as many large high-growth developing countries approach the living standards and consumption patterns of the advanced countries.


Much of the CO2 emissions come at present from the advanced countries. USA and Canada in particular emit about 20 tonnes per head. The other advanced countries emit between 12 and 6 tonnes per head. Most developing countries, including India, emit well below the safe level of 2.3 tonnes per head and China just exceeds that benchmark. The developing countries accordingly maintain that the advanced countries have the responsibility to curb their emission levels.


However, the emissions balance will continue to shift rapidly if the fast growing developing countries maintain their pace of growth. In 50 years the major share of emissions will come from the developing countries, especially China and India. Hence, the advanced countries maintain that climate change mitigation is not feasible without critical action being taken by these countries. But any commitment to contain CO2 emissions will compromise growth and poverty alleviation in these countries. What is the way out of this impasse?


In the Spence solution, much of the mitigation action at present has to be taken by the advanced countries in the form of a Carbon Credit Trading System (CCTS). First, there has to be agreement on a global carbon emission mitigation time path leading to average emission levels of 2.3 to 3 tonnes per head in 50 years. This determines the available volume of carbon credits or emission rights in a given year. These should be distributed among the advanced countries according to some agreed formula, say in proportion to their population size. The countries should be allowed to exchange these carbon credits between themselves, based on their national priorities.

They should also be allowed to earn additional carbon credits through mitigation activities. These would include behaviour adjustments that reduce per capita emission levels, introduction of lower emission technologies and mitigation activities such as afforestation either in the country itself or elsewhere where the cost of mitigation is the lowest. These two features would establish a price for carbon credits that supports the permissible level of global CO2 emissions and is based on the global marginal cost of mitigation. Of course this will require the establishment of cross-border mitigation arrangements that are collectively described as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol.


The Spence solution does not require developing countries to take any action at this stage except to commit to the international agreement on the time path of global carbon emissions and commit that they would join the CCTS once they reach the living standards and emission levels of the advanced countries. In the next 25 to 30 years many of the fast growing developing countries would 'graduate' to advanced country status and at that stage they would start participating in the CCTS.


In preparation for their eventual entry into the CCTS on favourable terms, it would be in the interest of the developing countries to also engage in mitigation efforts at present to the extent these are compatible with high growth. Their efforts would be facilitated by cross-border mitigation investments and technologies provided by advanced countries which choose to increase their share of carbon credits through the CDM.


The Spence solution is attractive because it is both fair and cost-efficient. But can it be actually implemented? The G20 countries account for 90 per cent of global output and two-thirds of the global population. It is this group plus a few other large emerging economies such as Mexico, Egypt, etc that will have to deal with all the economic and technological challenges of mitigation. That helps because the group is small enough to allow for effective negotiations yet large enough to determine global trends if they do reach agreement. However, the Spence solution also assumes that the technologies and behaviour adjustments required to move along the agreed global emission path will be available. Hence the feasibility of his solution ultimately depends on whether or not the incentives built into the proposed CCTS will be sufficient to generate the required technologies and behaviour adjustments.


The writer is emeritus professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

VIEW

BANKS SHOULD BE CONSUMER-FRIENDLY

 

An RTI query directed to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has focused the limelight on an important although largely unremarked upon problem of the Indian banking system. The thrust of the query was the prepayment penalties levied on loans by private and multinational banks, and the steps, if any, that had been taken to curb it. The RBI's response was illuminating. It stated that it did not approve of such penalties and had advised banks to this effect, calling for self-regulation measures to put an end to such practices. It also admitted that it had received several complaints by bank customers on this issue. But these seem to have had little effect.

The basis of a free market is fair competition. Financial services constitute a market like any other; banks must compete for consumers by offering competitive terms and services. Understandably, a bank will be reluctant to lose a customer who wishes to refinance his loan by availing of lower interest rates being offered at another bank. However, the way to retain him is by offering competitive rates. What banks are doing now instead limiting consumers' choices through financial disincentives is unfair. Neither is it sound business logic. By scrapping prepayment penalties, banks are likely to attract more consumers in a market where the potential for growth is huge.


The system functions differently in many other countries. In the US, for instance, the consumer is given a wide range of choices. If he wishes to avail of lower interest rates, he has the option of signing on to a prepayment clause. But he also has the choice of going for terms that offer standard rates and no penalty on refinancing. Factor in competition between banks serving as a limiting factor on those rates, and consumers' rights are well protected.

The Indian system must be brought in line with these standards. Groups such as the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission have already taken on banks over this issue. Banks mustn't be needlessly conservative if they want to grow the financial services market.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

PENALTY MAKES BUSINESS SENSE

 

Like any commercial entity, money-lending institutions think about profit margins in order to survive and thrive. So it's hardly fair for the RBI to turn up its nose at the penalty banks slap on loan prepayment. The central bank says it disapproves of loan "foreclosure charges". The result is that it comes out looking like a hero batting for borrowers. Banks, by contrast, come out looking like Shylock.


Financial institutions, however, don't demand a pound of flesh when levying prepayment penalties. It's no secret bankers lend with the aim of making a certain amount of money through interest charged over a stipulated time period. There's an understanding to this effect between lender and borrower, who chooses between a fixed and floating interest rate. If prepayment penalty is locked in, it is to discourage contractual breach and to compensate the lending entity for a loss in case the borrower still wants out. Certainly, people should schedule payback to suit their needs. They can also go for loan refinancing to save money, or move to financing under better terms. But they can't expect to change the rules of the game prematurely in all cases for free. Else, the argument for consumer choice will merely be an alibi for one party in a contract gaining at the other's cost.


Most banks waive the penalty if a borrower prepays from his pocket. But banks shouldn't be expected to oblige customers to the extent of enriching their own business rivals. Why should a lending entity not penalise a borrower in case of prepayment facilitated by another bank's finances, since it stands to lose not only money but also a client to a competitor? Surely bankers aren't in the trade for altruistic reasons. Interest on loan repayments are an important part of their income streams. If it dips for unanticipated reasons, because the customer doesn't keep up his part of the contract, banks are entitled to charge loan foreclosure penalty. Look at the global financial crisis for what can happen when banks aren't conservative.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

SUBVERSE

THE NOSTALGIA ROSSOGOLA

BACHI KARKARIA 

 

The less faith we have, the more religion we need to flaunt. The lotus has got mired in a string of muddy pools, but the religious assertiveness powered by Hindutva, and Ayodhya, is flourishing. This year in Mumbai, almost all the Ganpati mandals seem to have segued into Durga pandals. Once just a handful, they have proliferated with the same zeal as Maharashtra’s traditional festival. 

 

This is a good thing and a bad thing.  Bad, because the political piggy-backers, chanda collectors and Pujo Committee swaggerers undermine the true spirit of the festival. Good, because it blunts the home-sickness of the uprooted Bengali. But only partly. A pandal alone does not a Pujo make. Besides, most of  them are dedicated to ‘Amba Mata’ or ‘Devi’. Neither has the grandeur of a towering Durga slaying the villainous Mahishasura.  

 

So, despite the surround sound of drums and aarti chants, nostalgia, as syrupy as a rossogola, is the chief item on the Pujo menu  of all those Bengalis who did not manage  to go back to Kolkata for this annual time of  reunion and renewal. The same applies to us Hon. Bongs, who may not be to the tangail shari born, but are inextricably entangled in it for life.

 

So we make the pilgrimage to the Pujo baris in the city of our exile, painfully aware that these are not the real McKundu. Being in just an outpost, far away from the dyed-in-the-oohl home base, they can never be the Full Montoo.  Hey Mago! Can Ma Durga feel at home in a place called Lokhandvala, or even a Shivaji Park?

 

Oh yes, nishchoy, Mumbai’s Pujo pandals all have the special ashtami bhog and the ‘kaalchural’ programme with ‘noted artistes of Kolkata’. Doe-eyed belles do ‘nacka’ (‘nakhra’ is a poor translation) with dreamy-eyed Rahul Bose wannabes. The stalls sell kathi rolls and kantha plus the kitsch-and-carry staples of every mela ground. But wistfulness hangs as heavily on the air as the aroma of frying luchis.  Longing is no substitute for belonging.  

 

It felt so much closer to home during the two years i spent in Delhi. Indeed, its Bengalis are so entrenched, that the colony of C R Park seems to have seceded completely from C R Park, Kolkata. 

 

Now that i have returned to Mumbai, it’s back to the nostalgia-dripping rossogola. I slurp on the schmaltzy memories of  Pujos past  – they are structured, like a  Metro, in Phase I and II. The first are those of my own growing up years. The second are the ones filtered through my children. Thanks to fate and a transfer, they too plunged into this magical experience during their emotionally formative years. Pujo-time instilled in both of us the validity of other faiths.

 

My childhood memories are centred on Dharamtolla St, later canonised as  Lenin Sarani. Not that Marxism ever hammered or sickled down the fervour of its grand ‘para’ pandal. Like a relaxing babu’s thighs, it spread across an offshoot of the road, and the canopy of sprinting lights transfigured this otherwise nondescript stretch into a fairyland. 

 

When i returned to live in Kolkata, my children were at the same marvel-prone age. And luckier.  Our 6, Sunny Park high-rise had its own Pujo so they got a personalised, 24x4 immersion in the celebration. Their initial intrigue and awe over the unfamiliar idol in the lobby turned into a soothing intimacy as they shot out of the flat with the first whine of the conch  and never came up till the last frenetic beat of our flamboyant  dhaki. Rishad, 3, was completely in the thrall of  ‘Dugga’.  Past 30, I think he still covertly is.

 

It’s strange what you pass on along with the heirloom clock: a susceptibility to both colds and comfort zones.

 

Alec Smart said, “Is the once-privileged Kobad Gandhy himself a class enemy?”

 

***************************************

TIMES OF INDIA

PUJA FERVOUR

WELCOMING DURGA

 

I used to rush, as a child, to see when Durga Puja, the five-day homecoming of the Goddess Durga fell whenever someone handed me a new calendar. I continue to do it as a grown up. My regular electrician in Delhi, a Bengali teenager, came recently to repair a switch and was excitedly telling me about his plans to visit his hometown for the Pujas. Kolkata becomes a Puja madhouse, with blazing lights, millions of people in stiff new clothes shoving and pushing. Entire streets get blocked off by pandals, each gaudier than the next. But Puja is not only about wearing new dresses and offering anjalis. It's a certain feeling that you can recognise when you feel it. At daybreak on the first day of the Pujas, we'd hear the invocation to the goddess on All India Radio echoing across the sleepy neighbourhood and welcoming her home. We heard the same songs and the same voices for decades. I'd walk into the administrative building in my Kolkata office and see the men wearing their once-a-year dhotis and the women in starched cotton saris. The priest would be reciting Sanskrit prayers.

At the end of Durga Puja, we immerse the image of the goddess. Huge processions snaked through the streets of the locality. The drumbeats made the houses tremble. I always feel a twinge of disappointment when it sinks in that the beautiful image of the goddess would be immersed. I wonder then if the goddess misses us. Does she long for the starbursts of fireworks lighting up the night sky and the little clay lamps flickering at every doorway? The throngs of children still wide-eyed at midnight? I tell her not to worry. It's almost like home everywhere in Delhi. I can send giant trays of sweets and fruits to friends and family everywhere across the world for Durga Puja at a click of the mouse, or e-mail them cards for Diwali with images of little lamps and lotuses. The goddess smiles at us. It's a painted smile, but it forgives us still.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

DON’T BLUNT OUR CUTTING EDGE

 

Human Resource Development (HRD) ministers may come and go, but the issue of autonomy to institutes of excellences like our Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Management (IIMs) refuses to go away. So it is no surprise that the current incumbent, Kapil Sibal, finds himself up against the staff of the IITs on issues as varied as staff selection procedures to salaries to, of course, autonomy. The HRD ministry wants a cap of 40 per cent on the number of professors who make it to senior grade with its attendant perks and privileges. It also insists that a first class in the preceding degree is a requirement for appointment to assistant, associate and full-fledged professorship. Instead of the present Rs 15,000 per month that goes under the head of scholastic allowance, Mr Sibal wants to introduce a performance-linked incentive scheme.

 

Where the ministry is perhaps going into micro-management drive is in trying to restrict staff attending international and domestic conferences. The IITs that have threatened to go on a day’s strike to protest what they see as encroachment on their autonomy don’t seem to have reckoned with the determination of the minister to not allow himself to be pushed around. Mr Sibal does have a point when he says that since the government pays salaries, it has a right in these times of cutbacks to refuse to hike pay scales at the moment. His contention that the IIT faculties get paid more than recommended by the Pay Commission is also valid. Many top IIT professors have said that their main concern is governmental interference, and not so much the money. Both the minister and the IITs claim they are acting in the interests of excellence. If so, they should sit down and work things out without the IITs resorting to strikes more suited to those with far more pressing grievances.

 

The minister, however, should revisit their demands at a later date. Increasing perks and privileges in institutions of excellence is one way to stop the brain drain. It will also attract collaborations with prestigious foreign institutions. If the minister and the IITs play their cards right, we could have a win-win situation on our hands.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

PRE-GAME, FOREPLAY

 

Chuck the Kama Sutra in the dressing room laundry bag. If our cricketers really want their bang for their forward drive, they should underline and read coach Gary Kirsten and mental conditioning expert Paddy Upton’s document that stitches Sun Tzu’s 6th century BC masterpiece The Art of War with (William) Masters and (Virginia) Johnson’s 1966 classic Human Sexual Response. While Kirsten and Upton have advised members of the Indian team on many fronts — diet (‘don’t keep an empty stomach’), strategy (‘take preemptive action, not a belated response the way India has conducted warfare down its history’, and personal management (‘accept your flaws instead of blaming others’) — we focus on one issue that we consider to be of vital importance to our cricketers now in South Africa: sex.

 

You don’t have to be Attila the Hun to know that there’s a correlation between a man’s sex drive and his ability to wage war. The Mahabharata is littered with subtle references to guiding pre-battle hormones to their rightful destinations, while the Iliad, another ancient war epic, leaves the field (of the battle as well as of the bed) open for Achilles, the ideal warrior, to vent off and on the pitch. And for people looking for more practical role models in the world of cricket, there’s always arguably the greatest spin-bowler of them all, Shane Warne. Let’s just say he was no Mahatma Gandhi.

 

What makes the Kirsten-Upton manual such a noble guide is that it doesn’t shy away from the real world — where a touring cricketer can end up spending hours into the night before the Big Day trying to find a ‘sparring partner’ ready to be his ‘muse’. Some poor blokes, alas, simply end up alone. Which is where the two latter-day Dronacharyas have admirably suggested less lucky players to ‘go solo’ for the sake of the team. After that, “just roll over and go to sleep” in preparation of the Big Game the next day. Surely, Ramakant Achrekar would agree.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

KEEP IT ALIVE!

ROBERT SKIDELSKY

 

Have stimulus packages brought the world’s traumatised economies back to life? Or have they set the scene for inflation and big future debt burdens? The answer is that they may have done both. The key question now concerns the order in which these outcomes occur. The theory behind the massive economic stimulus efforts that many governments have undertaken rests on the notion of the ‘output gap’. This is the difference between an economy’s actual output and its potential output. If actual output is below potential output, this means that total spending is insufficient to buy what the economy can produce.

 

A stimulus is a government-engineered boost to total spending. Government can either spend more money itself, or try to stimulate private spending by cutting taxes or lowering interest rates. This will raise actual output to the level of potential output, thereby closing the output gap.

 

Some economists — admittedly a diminishing number — deny that there can ever be an output gap. The economy, they argue, is always at full employment. If there are less people working today than yesterday, it is because more people have decided not to work. (By this reasoning, a lot of bankers have simply decided to take long holidays since last September's financial meltdown.) So today’s output is what people want to produce. Attempts to stimulate it will produce only higher prices as people spend more money on the same quantity of goods and services.

 

A more sensible view is that today’s economy is not producing as much as it could and that there are many more people who want to work than there are jobs available. So a stimulus will boost both output and employment.

 

But how large must such a stimulus be? The United States Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that American output will be roughly 7 per cent below its potential in the next two years, making this the worst recession since World War II. American unemployment is projected to peak at 9.4 per cent towards the end of 2009 or the beginning of 2010, and is expected to remain above 7 per cent at least until the end of 2011.

 

The US government has pledged $787 billion in economic stimulus, or about 7 per cent of its GDP. Superficially, this looks about right to close the output gap — if it is spent this year. But it is, in fact, a three-year programme. Some $584 billion is allocated for 2009-10, leaving perhaps $300 billion of extra money for this year. Even so, it is not clear how much of that will be spent.

 

This can be illustrated by a simple example. Suppose the government distributes the extra cash to its citizens. Some of it will be saved. American household saving has shot up from 0 per cent to 5 per cent since the start of the recession, understandably to pay off debt.

 

Another part of the extra money will be spent on imports, which does nothing to stimulate spending on US output. Let’s subtract 20 per cent for these two items. The bad news, then, is that only 80 per cent of the $300 billion, or $240 billion, will be spent initially.

 

The good news is that this figure is multiplied over successive rounds of spending, as one person’s spending becomes another person’s income, and so on. The value of the multiplier depends on assumptions about the size of the ‘gap’, ‘leakages’ from the spending stream, and the effect of government programmes on confidence.

Estimates vary from a multiplier of about two all the way down to zero. A multiplier of two would generate $480 billion of extra spending, compared to a multiplier of one, which would generate just the initial $240 billion. If the multiplier is zero, as conservative-minded economists believe, there will be no effect on output, only on prices.

 

A further source of stimulus is ‘quantitative easing’, or, more simply, printing money. By buying government securities, the central bank injects cash into the banking system. This is intended to stimulate private spending by bringing down the rate of interest at which banks lend to their customers. Extra hundreds of billions of dollars have been injected into banks worldwide by this means.

 

But the stimulus effect of quantitative easing is far less certain than even that of fiscal stimulus. While the policy caused credit spreads to narrow and bond market liquidity to improve, many banks have been using the extra money to rebuild their balance sheets (the equivalent of increased household savings) rather than lending it to businesses and individuals. Several conclusions can be drawn from what admittedly are back of the envelope calculations. The first is that stimulus packages around the world arrested the slide into depression, and may have started a modest recovery.

 

Second, it is too early to scale down the stimulus, as Japan and the US seem ready to do. As one British official said ahead of the G-20 summit in Italy in July, “We should start to prepare exit strategies, but we should start implementing them only when [we] are sure [we] have got a recovery that is entrenched and self-sustaining, and I don’t think anyone is saying we are at that point yet.”

 

Third, existing policy, even if maintained, will not produce self-sustaining recovery. At best, it offers the prospect of several years more of sub-normal activity. A double round of stimulus packages is needed to counteract the real prospect of a double-dip recession.

 

The time to start worrying about inflation is when the recovery is entrenched. To pay back the debt without strain, we need a booming economy.  Talk of government spending cuts is premature. “A boom, not a slump, is the right time for austerity at the Treasury,” said Keynes. He was right.

 

Robert Skidelsky is a member of the British House of Lords and Professor Emeritus of political economy at Warwick University Project Syndicate

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WELFARE POLITICS

SUHIT SEN

 

Let’s begin with a big picture proposition that has been brewing among many political observers since the results of the last general elections became known. It seems reasonable to argue that voters in India are becoming increasingly oriented towards self-interest and accountability as against an electorate influenced by communitarian considerations of one or the other description.

 

The point is that the UPA, led by the Congress unexpectedly bucked anti-incumbency and hostile circumstances to return to power with a fairly solid mandate primarily because it had delivered on wide-ranging welfare fronts in a way that no government previously had, especially in the post-liberalisation era. This means that large sections of the deprived — those below the poverty line have now been pegged by a committee constituted by the government at 50 per cent of the population — voted on the basis of welfare programmes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, rather than out of allegiance to membership of putative ‘communities’.

 

This was, with some exceptions, a country-wide phenomenon, showcased especially in Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress sneaked into second place despite the lack of basic organisation and mobilisational networks, and in West Bengal, where the ruling Left Front was punished after over three decades of cruise control because of its abysmal failure of delivery on the development and social sector arenas.

 

The recent round of by-elections in several states seems to bear out this hypothesis. Let’s begin with Bihar. The Janata Dal (United) and its ally, the BJP, did badly and were mauled by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in alliance. No one had expected this result. What explains the success of the latter is difficult to identify just now. But it seems clear that the Janata Dal (United) did badly because of two reasons: first, its uneasy yoking with a sectarian party isn’t winning it too many friends. Which is why it is so keen to jettison it. Second, because it commissioned a report on the land question that recommended the delivery of rights to sharecroppers, which must have set off a backlash among the powerful landowning class. Communitarian bonds may be weakening, but no one is arguing that local muscle power does not work — especially when it comes to by-elections, when oversight is less intense and the problem of mobilisation less acute.

 

The Congress’s contretemps — it has lost seats across states — is clearly explicable in terms of its inability to contain prices, though a clutch of local factors, obviously more important in isolated by-elections as compared to a general election, has played its part. Among the most pre-eminent among the usual suspects has been factional fights and poor candidate selection. This was certainly the case in Delhi, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

 

A word of caution may be in order. The BJP’s good showing in Karnataka and Gujarat in particular may constitute evidence that the politics of polarisation is alive and doing well in small pockets in the country. If it wants to remain relevant on the national stage, however, the BJP must reflect on the wisdom of randomly extrapolating the lessons from the laboratories of these two states to a national context. Narendra Modi is hardly a leadership option.


Suhit Sen is a Kolkata-based writer

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

BITTEN BY THE BUG TAMINGFLU

 

SCIENTISTS AT THE Serum Institute in Pune worked feverishly for two months to produce the swine flu vaccine. Now it will have to be tested on animals and humans before it can be sold We are under tremendous pressure (from within and from the society) to develop this vaccine.

 

RAJEEV DHERE senior director, Serum Institute of India Only the twitter of birds and the humming of machines can be heard here.

 

Brows knitted, men and women walk from one building to another, ferrying bottles, vials and canisters. They talk to each other in whispers.

 

These men and women make up the fifty-member team developing a vaccine for swine flu at the Serum Institute of India, a company founded more than three decades ago by the Poonawalla family, which also owns a big stud farm nearby.

 

Last week, the team's head showed Hindustan Times the first three vials of the vaccine -- the culmination of two months of work.

 

"We were under tremendous pressure to develop this vaccine," said Rajeev Dhere, 54, senior director, vaccines, at the company. "The pressure came not only from within, but also from society at large."

 

It all began two months ago, in the last week of July, when Serum Institute became one of nine companies based in developing countries to bag a World Health Organisation (WHO) contract to develop the vaccine. Two other Indian companies, Delhi-based Panacea Biotec and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, were also among them.

 

It is important for India to produce its own vaccine because foreign companies have committed to supply their output to other parts of the globe, so we will not be able to meet our needs with imports, Dhere said. Imports might be more expensive as well.

 

Soon after the WHO declared in June that the world was facing a swine flu pandemic, it gave these nine companies the crucial virus strain from which to manufacture the vaccine. It estimates that the virus could infect up to two billion people, or a third of the world's population, over the next two years. In India, the swine flu virus has infected 8,696 people, of which 264 have died, health ministry figures show.

 

The team at the Serum Institute, which is one of the world's biggest makers of the measles vaccine, has now produced two forms of the vaccine one that can be injected and another that is a nasal spray.

 

"We achieved our goal because each unit honoured its commitment," said Dhere.

 

The team began with 10 scientists, but kept growing as the deadline approached.

 

The skills of influenza specialists, undervalued until the recent outbreaks of various flus, proved crucial.

 

 

Leena Yeolekar, 45, a virologist who led the research unit, is one of them.


Thirteen years ago, when she decided to specialise in influenza, her colleagues and professorssaidshewasruininghercareer.

 

"Then in 2003, came avian flu, and now swine flu," she said, smiling.

 

But now, her task is done. Going forward, like all new drugs or vaccines, the Serum Institute's swine flu vaccine, too, must undergo clinical trials before it can be sold.

 

The vaccine must first be tested on animals and then on humans. Dhere's team began trials on mice on September 15. He hopes to complete all human trials by March 2010.

 

Commercial production is expected to start in April next year, after which the baton will pass to the Institute's pharmacists Ravi Menon and V.B. Vaidya.

 

They are getting ready to produce 20 million doses of the vaccine a month. For this, they will have to order 30 million fertilised hens' eggs from various hatcheries. (The eggs we eat are sterile.) The embryos in the eggs serve as little factories for multiplying the virus.


The virus is then weakened to produce the vaccine. (All vaccines are essentially replicas of the agents that cause the disease.) But all that is still a long way off.

 

Right now, Dhere is fending off enquiries from worried parents in Pune, where swine flu struck with particular ferocity.

 

"They call me every day," he said.


"One parent of a child who died of swine flu called me and said that if a vaccine had been available, his child might have been saved. I almost broke down."

 

aditya.ghosh@hindustantimes.com Only the twitter of birds and the humming of machines can be heard here.

 

Brows knitted, men and women walk from one building to another, ferrying bottles, vials and canisters. They talk to each other in whispers.

 

These men and women make up the fifty-member team developing a vaccine for swine flu at the Serum Institute of India, a company founded more than three decades ago by the Poonawalla family, which also owns a big stud farm nearby.

 

Last week, the team's head showed Hindustan Times the first three vials of the vaccine -- the culmination of two months of work.

 

"We were under tremendous pressure to develop this vaccine," said Rajeev Dhere, 54, senior director, vaccines, at the company. "The pressure came not only from within, but also from society at large."

 

It all began two months ago, in the last week of July, when Serum Institute became one of nine companies based in developing countries to bag a World Health Organisation (WHO) contract to develop the vaccine. Two other Indian companies, Delhi-based Panacea Biotec and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, were also among them.

 

It is important for India to produce its own vaccine because foreign companies have committed to supply their output to other parts of the globe, so we will not be able to meet our needs with imports, Dhere said. Imports might be more expensive as well.

 

Soon after the WHO declared in June that the world was facing a swine flu pandemic, it gave these nine companies the crucial virus strain from which to manufacture the vaccine. It estimates that the virus could infect up to two billion people, or a third of the world's population, over the next two years. In India, the swine flu virus has infected 8,696 people, of which 264 have died, health ministry figures show.

 

The team at the Serum Institute, which is one of the world's biggest makers of the measles vaccine, has now produced two forms of the vaccine one that can be injected and another that is a nasal spray.

 

"We achieved our goal because each unit honoured its commitment," said Dhere.

 

The team began with 10 scientists, but kept growing as the deadline approached.


The skills of influenza specialists, undervalued until the recent outbreaks of various flus, proved crucial.

 

Leena Yeolekar, 45, a virologist who led the research unit, is one of them.


Thirteen years ago, when she decided to specialise in influenza, her colleagues and professorssaidshewasruininghercareer.

 

"Then in 2003, came avian flu, and now swine flu," she said, smiling.

 

But now, her task is done. Going forward, like all new drugs or vaccines, the Serum Institute's swine flu vaccine, too, must undergo clinical trials before it can be sold.

 

The vaccine must first be tested on animals and then on humans. Dhere's team began trials on mice on September 15. He hopes to complete all human trials by March 2010.

 

Commercial production is expected to start in April next year, after which the baton will pass to the Institute's pharmacists Ravi Menon and V.B. Vaidya.

 

They are getting ready to produce 20 million doses of the vaccine a month. For this, they will have to order 30 million fertilised hens' eggs from various hatcheries. (The eggs we eat are sterile.) The embryos in the eggs serve as little factories for multiplying the virus.


The virus is then weakened to produce the vaccine. (All vaccines are essentially replicas of the agents that cause the disease.) But all that is still a long way off.

 

Right now, Dhere is fending off enquiries from worried parents in Pune, where swine flu struck with particular ferocity.

 

"They call me every day," he said.

"One parent of a child who died of swine flu called me and said that if a vaccine had been available, his child might have been saved. I almost broke down."

 

***************************************

 


HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WAR ON NAXALS - BRING ON THOSE DRONES

 

UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLES, either armed or unarmed, have become critical for the fight against the Maoists

 

Naxal special unit, and his team members were caught off guard in the thick jungles of Dantewada, about 500 km south of Raipur in Chhattisgarh, when they came under heavy fire from a large Naxal group last week -- soon after they had neutralized another group.

The terrain was hilly, thickly wooded and remote -- it was 35 km from the nearest road. Singh's bravery, and that of his men, could not save his life; or that of eight other commandos. This was the biggest loss (in a single mission) suffered by the commando unit of the Central Reserve Police Force, India's largest paramilitary organization.

But unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also called drones -- which fly ahead of ground troops, shoot video and still pictures of what lies ahead, intercept radio and telephone communications and relay them to a laptop -- could have forewarned them of the Maoist presence and saved their lives.

But future missions against Naxalites may be better equipped. The government is considering buying an unspecified number of such drones from European aerospace and defence equipment company EADS. Officers on the ground say the spy machines can keep them a step ahead of the ultras.

The issue has become all the more important as the government has launched a massive paramilitary operation to stamp out Red terror, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described several times as the greatest internal security challenge facing the nation. Naxals wield considerable influence in 223 of India's 625 districts, Home Minister P. Chidambaram recently said.

More than 400 security personnel have been killed fighting Naxals this year.

DIG Intelligence (Raipur) Pawan Deo, who is in charge of anti-Naxal operations in Chhattisgarh, said: "Drones can be very helpful in collecting data on Naxal movements (in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra) their hideouts and camps."

Some UAVs, like the ones used by the US armed forces in Afghanistan to kill Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Masood and about 450 other terrorists, can even fire missiles and drop bombs with precision. It could not be ascertained which version the government is interested in.

But drones, either armed or unarmed, have become critical for the fight against the Maoists.

"Had the forces in Dantewada got intelligence inputs on the presence of the second Naxal group, they could have been able to coordinate their offensive accordingly," said Ved Marwah, former Delhi police commissioner and an internal security expert.

Since most Naxalite bases are in inaccessible hilly terrains in states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa, it is difficult to collect intelligence and track their movements. Drones can be very effective in such areas, a senior IPS officer who has served in Mayurbhanj, a Naxal-hit district in Orissa, said.

CRPF Director General A.S.. Gill told HT: "We've been able to penetrate deep inside the forest areas that are the strongholds of the Naxalites. But communications in these areas is a problem. We're trying to address it."

But not everyone is convinced about the effectiveness of drones.

Last year, the security forces used drones against Naxalites on an experimental basis in Bastar (a Naxalite stronghold in Chhattisgarh). It did help, but not to the extent desired..

"Such technology requires proper integration between the intelligence, administrative and operations arms of the security forces (which is not the case now). Unless that is done, they won't be effective," said a senior police officer who has served in Mayurbhanj, a Naxalite stronghold in Orissa.

But if the experience of the US forces in Afghanistan are anything to go by, UAVs, whether armed or not, can be extremely effective if used properly.

The government is, meanwhile, planning to use images collected by Indian Space Research Organisation and Indian Air Force fighter jets to help security forces launch surgical strikes against the Maoists.

mtiwari@hindustantimes.com Ngashepam Manoranjan Singh, an assistant commandant of CoBRA, the elite anti-Naxal special unit, and his team members were caught off guard in the thick jungles of Dantewada, about 500 km south of Raipur in Chhattisgarh, when they came under heavy fire from a large Naxal group last week -- soon after they had neutralized another group.

The terrain was hilly, thickly wooded and remote -- it was 35 km from the nearest road. Singh's bravery, and that of his men, could not save his life; or that of eight other commandos. This was the biggest loss (in a single mission) suffered by the commando unit of the Central Reserve Police Force, India's largest paramilitary organization.

But unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also called drones -- which fly ahead of ground troops, shoot video and still pictures of what lies ahead, intercept radio and telephone communications and relay them to a laptop -- could have forewarned them of the Maoist presence and saved their lives.

But future missions against Naxalites may be better equipped. The government is considering buying an unspecified number of such drones from European aerospace and defence equipment company EADS. Officers on the ground say the spy machines can keep them a step ahead of the ultras.

The issue has become all the more important as the government has launched a massive paramilitary operation to stamp out Red terror, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described several times as the greatest internal security challenge facing the nation. Naxals wield considerable influence in 223 of India's 625 districts, Home Minister P. Chidambaram recently said.

More than 400 security personnel have been killed fighting Naxals this year.

DIG Intelligence (Raipur) Pawan Deo, who is in charge of anti-Naxal operations in Chhattisgarh, said: "Drones can be very helpful in collecting data on Naxal movements (in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra) their hideouts and camps."

Some UAVs, like the ones used by the US armed forces in Afghanistan to kill Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Masood and about 450 other terrorists, can even fire missiles and drop bombs with precision. It could not be ascertained which version the government is interested in.

But drones, either armed or unarmed, have become critical for the fight against the Maoists.

"Had the forces in Dantewada got intelligence inputs on the presence of the second Naxal group, they could have been able to coordinate their offensive accordingly," said Ved Marwah, former Delhi police commissioner and an internal security expert.

Since most Naxalite bases are in inaccessible hilly terrains in states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa, it is difficult to collect intelligence and track their movements. Drones can be very effective in such areas, a senior IPS officer who has served in Mayurbhanj, a Naxal-hit district in Orissa, said.

CRPF Director General A.S.. Gill told HT: "We've been able to penetrate deep inside the forest areas that are the strongholds of the Naxalites. But communications in these areas is a problem. We're trying to address it."

But not everyone is convinced about the effectiveness of drones.

Last year, the security forces used drones against Naxalites on an experimental basis in Bastar (a Naxalite stronghold in Chhattisgarh). It did help, but not to the extent desired..

"Such technology requires proper integration between the intelligence, administrative and operations arms of the security forces (which is not the case now). Unless that is done, they won't be effective," said a senior police officer who has served in Mayurbhanj, a Naxalite stronghold in Orissa.

But if the experience of the US forces in Afghanistan are anything to go by, UAVs, whether armed or not, can be extremely effective if used properly.

The government is, meanwhile, planning to use images collected by Indian Space Research Organisation and Indian Air Force fighter jets to help security forces launch surgical strikes against the Maoists.

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WARMING UP

 

Jairam Ramesh is an impressive quick change artist. After sassing Hillary Clinton and insisting that India would do nothing that deflected from its high growth path, the environment minister declared in New York that India is looking to play a dealmaker at Copenhagen, not a deal-breaker, and would commit to a domestically-driven action plan. He sought to stress and expand areas of consensus, like the clean development mechanism, emissions credits for forest protection, and tech transfer. The climate action project has long been chucked back and forth between the US and China (India to a lesser extent), each demanding that the other be held to stringent targets first. Putting an end to this “pehle aap” farce, and projecting India as a resourceful, responsible leader in climate change challenges is clever positioning.

 

The developing countries’ stand is unexceptionable — as the South African environment minister put it, demanding painful cuts is like being called right at the end of an elaborate, multi-course meal with developed nations, only managing to drink coffee and then being asked to split the entire bill. The UNFCC does not require developing countries to accept binding targets because we have different needs — as our negotiators keep reminding the world, getting electricity to everyone in India is patently a bigger priority. On the other hand, India stands to suffer enormously from climate change — this is not exclusively an exercise in wrangling the best deal for the country, because the Indian poor are most vulnerable to crops and water trouble, pollution, and disease associated with a warming world.

 

So voluntary steps are a no-brainer, and India should play a role commensurate with its capacities. Even China is proving to be a formidable climate change warrior. For instance, its fuel economy standard for a passenger car is about 36.7 mph. President Hu announced a series of hefty mitigation measures in New York. India has also announced the most ambitious solar energy plan in the world, and committed to a mandatory fuel efficiency cap (to begin in 2011), an energy-efficient building code to start by 2012, and a switch in its energy mix — renewable sources will account for 20 per cent of our power use by 2020. These are not just elaborate PR moves, they are going to be built into the law. India also needs to quantify its achievements, because we have to present this report card to the world if we expect payback in terms of financial or technological help. Instead of being perceived as draggy of foot and blind to the immediate peril of its own situation, India has upped its own profile for Copenhagen, and made a tangible move towards securing its own citizens for the future.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

AFTER YSR

 

For two weeks now, the crowds arriving daily at Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy’s house in Hyderabad have numbered in the thousands, on some days as many as 20,000. Most do not conceal the fact that their journey, often from remote parts of Andhra Pradesh, has been facilitated or even motivated by local Congress politicians. And a steady refrain amongst them is surprise that Reddy has not yet been made chief minister. The daily spectacle is perhaps less a statement about the strength of Reddy’s candidature as it is about the place of his father, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s place in the state’s polity. Yet, in assembling so day after day, they must alert the Congress party to its unfinished business in settling the succession issue in Andhra Pradesh.

 

The call the party has to take is this: when does this daily gathering become less about paying tribute to a lost leader and more about unsettling the administrative arrangement in the state? The Congress’s dilemma is how to fill the absence left by YSR. He had a distinctly personalised style of leadership. His charismatic ways incrementally overshadowed his cabinet and state party unit. But he also used them to cut through the red tape and deliver on promises of healthcare, housing and cheap foodgrain and to lead a sustained and focused security campaign against the Naxalites. So, this year he was credited with not just getting the party returned to power in the state, but also sending the Congress’s biggest contingent, state-wise, to the new Lok Sabha.

 

There is, certainly, the very valid question whether Reddy Jr, still fresh in politics, should be an automatic successor to his father. But for the Congress it is also about assessing how to read the legacy of one of its most successful political leaders this decade. Is it just about persona, about finding a replacement who’d reassure YSR’s considerable band of supporters? Or is it also about taking stock of the administrative challenges Andhra Pradesh faces? Those challenges, at the least, suggest that leaving the leadership issue so open would be not just unseemly but also damaging.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SO MANY BARRIERS

 

That Chinese nationals employed in India on business visas performing unskilled or semi-skilled jobs is an issue that needs to be addressed is obvious. Statements from the government that future unskilled or semi-skilled migration would be checked by the labour ministry are therefore welcome.

 

The most obvious objection to contracting foreign unskilled and semi-skilled labourers stems from the simple reality that there exists an abundant supply of unskilled and semi-skilled workers in India. Further, this reserve pool of labour needs to be given incentives for employment. Thus the migration that should be encouraged is domestic. On the other hand, migration of labour is based on impulse — that migration will only take place when there exists a demand for labourers. It could be that the Chinese labourers are productive, and that their presence would help many infrastructure projects to be completed faster. However, to obtain a full idea of the context in which this employment is taking place, it is equally important to understand that India’s unskilled and semi-skilled labour suffers immensely on account of this country’s inability to reform its labour laws.

 

This is not to say that the movement of labour does not need to be liberalised. Indeed, this has been India’s position, for reasons of principle as well as of pragmatism, given the huge number of semi-skilled Indians who find employment overseas, filling needs in their countries of employment and sustaining families back home with remittances. A larger debate will remain about how liberal India should be on issues of migration. But it would be short-sighted to see the Chinese case simply as a reason for strengthening barriers, without inquiring into the larger need for labour reform.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE CHINA CHILL

PRANABDHALSAMANTA

 

Now that the dust has somewhat settled on the “China hype”, with the government going the full distance to scotch half-truths and rumours which created needless anxiety for about two weeks, it is important to also straighten the record on this new brand of Chinese aggressiveness which has been conspicuously downplayed in the government discourse that has followed.

 

First, it must be pointed out that for all the reports about Chinese incursions, the fact remains that there are confidence-building efforts underway, aimed at precisely avoiding any miscalculated event on the Line of Actual Control amid growing misperceptions. A hotline between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is in the process of being set up, and more recently the Eastern Army Commander, who is in charge of the Arunachal Pradesh segment of the LAC, went on a week-long trip to China along with senior commanders in the Central and Northern Commands who directly oversee military deployment across the entire LAC.

 

They visited Tibet and were even shown an airbase in the Chengdu region to which no foreign official had so far been provided access. By all accounts, Beijing is not keen on escalating tensions on the LAC beyond manageable limits. After all, this is not 1962 and the stakes for China are much higher than before as it aspires to consolidate its bid for superpowerhood after the global financial crisis. Yet, the LAC serves an important function in Chinese strategy towards India which is more complicated than is often made out to be.

 

Why else would pictures of a rock painted with Chinese script (“middle of the Yellow River”), some exaggerated reports of a scuffle between Indian and Chinese soldiers near Nathu La and an incorrect report about an alleged exchange of fire in Sikkim unsettle Sino-Indian diplomatic relations? China cried foul, its official media carried articles imputing motives and even suggesting this to be an orchestrated media offensive while Indian diplomacy searched for answers. This was not the first time China has shown extreme sensitivity to the Indian media. Recall the Tibetan protests last year.

 

While there is a strong case, as the prime minister himself pointed out, to improve the government information system on such issues, the question to be asked is, why has this become a diplomatic obligation? The government can surely correct the media or regulate protests, but can it be sure of an absolute outcome as Beijing demands? It is important to clearly convey the limitations of a democratic government so as to not raise expectations, else it could become obligatory and sow the seeds for the next crisis. This is what has happened with the Indian media’s coverage of China, which is now unfortunately a diplomatic issue dominating conversation at high levels and not a mere question of clarifying a wrong report here or there. China demands results and India feels obligated to deliver.

 

So for this reason it is also important to question that if incursions have been happening for the past two decades from both sides, then why the sudden public interest? How did it start and who provoked matters? A closer look would suggest that India need not be so defensive because China has to take some of the blame, if not most of it.

 

In many ways 2005 was a watershed year for Indian strategic and diplomatic aspirations. India and the US entered into a nuclear deal. Wen visited India and reached an agreement laying out the political parameters and guiding principles for a settlement to the India-China boundary question. Article VII said that in reaching a settlement, the two sides would duly “safeguard the interests of their settled populations”. This was interpreted by India as a step forward on China giving up claims to Arunachal Pradesh because this was one of the most contested elements of the agreement. A year later and a new Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, surprised his then Indian counterpart, Pranab Mukherjee, at a bilateral on the sidelines of a multilateral event in Hamburg by pointing out that the mention of settled populations did not mean China had given up its claim on Arunachal Pradesh.

 

This could still be argued as posturing over the fine print. But from then on, China inexplicably upped the ante. Visas were not issued to civil servants of the Arunachal Pradesh cadre, troop build-up was increased across the LAC and then, in a surprise move in January 2008, China staked claim to a 2.1 sq km tract of land on the tip of Sikkim called Finger Area. This brought back into dispute the middle sector of the LAC, which was considered settled in general perception. India lodged diplomatic protests but finally it had to beef up troop presence in the area.

 

Chinese aggressiveness on its only unsettled boundary represents a steady effort at changing facts on the ground and this has been more active since the 2005 agreement, indicating sharp differences in perception on both sides. Still, all of this makes little sense unless seen in the context of overall Chinese assertiveness when it comes to Indian aspirations.

 

First discreetly and then openly, China blocked India’s most important diplomatic initiative with the US — the nuclear deal — at the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The Chinese delegation unceremoniously left the meeting just as all other opposition withered away and delayed proceedings until the White House called the Chinese president. There is enough evidence with India of Chinese diplomats egging on the United for Consensus grouping at the UN to block expansion of the Security Council. Close coordination with Pakistan on all these issues is now a matter of record. Add to this, the latest row at the Asian Development Bank over granting assistance to projects in Arunachal Pradesh only confirms Beijing’s intentions to frame the state as a disputed area in international discourse.

 

Clearly, over the past four years, China has used every lever in its rapidly growing diplomatic arsenal to throw India off-balance, unsettle its priorities and openly rival Indian influence in South Asia. China has provoked India repeatedly of late and no amount of pressure from India has worked. India’s best answer so far has been to garner support from the US and its allies, like at the NSG. A rising China even reduces these possibilities, but the problem is even larger for the Indian polity which has to explain this to an equally resilient and aspiring India. Whatever the government comes up with, another fact is also clear — blanking out China from public discourse is no longer a solution.

 

pranab.samanta@expressindia.com

 

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

SERVING NOTICE

DESH GAURAV CHOPRA SEKHRI

 

India’s triumphant return to the Davis Cup world group after years of futility is momentous not just for what it entails literally, but also for how well it bodes for the future of

 

Indian tennis. One of the few sports besides cricket that boasted a superstar trio with Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza, the real story behind the defeat of South Africa is the depth and breadth of Indian tennis, and over time we should have a team capable of being competitive with all but the very best. Indian tennis is looking good again, and it all starts with the stellar performance of Somdev Devvarman, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. Somdev had been announcing his potential even as a freshman at the University of Virginia, where he won the NCAA title twice, was a finalist as a sophomore, and chalked up seasons that were unprecedented in collegiate tennis in the US. Since then, he has racked up impressive victories, with the highlight being the finals of the Chennai Open, and qualifying for the main draw at the US Open. Somdev is headed for good things, but what has been particularly gratifying this past weekend is the performance of the others.

 

Somehow lost in the euphoria has been Rohan Bopanna, who fought the odds to bring India to within an inch of victory. Yuki Bhambri’s dead rubber win over a seasoned campaigner in Van Der Merwe was also extremely impressive. What was the most impressive however is that the overall victory came without Leander, and without the doubles point, after Mahesh, in obvious pain, had to concede the match.

 

This victory isn’t a flash in the pan. Indian tennis has been upwardly mobile for a while now, and the reasons are manifold. First, there has been a sea change in the coaching and training methodology over the last five-seven years, and increasingly more Indian coaches are compliant with, and qualified as international level coaches, as per the International Tennis Federation (ITF) grades and certifications. The All India Tennis Association frequently schedules coaching camps and examinations, and this helps with the grassroots development of the game. Technique and fitness are crucial in tennis, and since coaching standards have improved significantly, the floor levels of basic coaching have become higher. Similarly, training facilities and the skill-sets that the AITA-affiliated trainers possess have vastly improved. A focus on stamina, strength and agility on a sustainable basis, so as to prevent injuries while maximising ability, has resulted in a vast improvement in the overall fitness levels of Indian tennis players.

 

Today, the average Indian tennis player is stronger, fitter, and hits the ball harder than his or her counterpart would have five or seven years ago. This is telling. Somdev and others who compete at the highest level have not only held their own from a durability standpoint, in fact their fitness levels are exemplary.

 

Fitness and coaching apart, the biggest advantage an Indian player has today is the international exposure both in terms of ITF tournament schedules in India, as well as the ITF-sanctioned tours that juniors are frequently sent on by the AITA. The paradigm shift in Indian tennis can be traced back to the time when the domestic circuit was scrapped and replaced with an ITF schedule where world-ranking ITF points are there for the asking for Indian players. This was a gift horse in many ways. The conditions in India are conducive to local players performing exceedingly well, helping them earn points that in turn result in world-rankings. Based on the points made in these tournaments, players become eligible for direct entries into tournaments held abroad, significantly boosting their chances of performing well and improving their rankings. Additionally, having a world-ranking gives a university in the US a clear-cut parameter for ability, and makes it easier for Indians today to earn tennis scholarships at American universities and compete at the NCAAs. Somdev is a case in point, and there are others emulating his success.

 

The funds emanating from the Commonwealth Games sanctions and disbursements have also been put to good use, with camps routinely being held at academies across India, and with nearly 30-40 players being sent for a camp to IMG’s Nick Bolletieri camp in Florida. Also, many players are being funded through these disbursements for tournaments abroad, and it is this exposure that will ensure that Indian players can compete with anyone on a regular and sustainable basis.

 

The future is bright, and India is once again a force to be reckoned with in tennis, and the timing couldn’t be better.

 

The writer is a sports attorney express@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

WHAT A DIFFERENCE THE ONE-DAY MADE

KUNAL PRADHAN

 

The movement started again about three months ago, at first in a whisper here and a murmur there. Then some of world cricket’s biggest names stared lending their voices to the cause, and soon the battle-lines were drawn as experts furiously debated the future of one-day cricket — questioning the need for its existence, calling it boring, unpredictable and redundant in the sport’s postmodern age.

 

The naysayers and the defenders were still fighting when they reached the threshold of the Champions Trophy in South Africa. And, as the stalemate continued, the onus of taking a decision was placed on the feeble shoulders of a tournament that has had a tumultuous past since its inception 11 years ago.

 

No single cricket event must have ever faced as much pressure as this edition of the Champions Trophy in South Africa. With all eyes veered in its direction to spot the smallest suggestion of weakness and the tiniest indication of strength, the tournament is engaged in a raging battle both for and against the future of one-day cricket.

 

The Champions Trophy has been a doomed concept right from the start. The first edition in 1998 — a brainchild of Jagmohan Dalmiya — was held in Dhaka to bring Bangladesh into focus at a time when cricket administrators were desperate to accord them Test status. The pointlessness behind the tournament took a while to fully manifest itself but no doubts remained once India and Sri Lanka were declared joint winners after two farcical attempts at holding the final were, almost fittingly, quashed by equatorial rain in Colombo in 2002.

 

From there, the Champions Trophy drifted along aimlessly, first to England and then to India. The format was changed both times, more teams were accommodated to fulfill the demands of globalisation, and its final lasting memory was the Australian team peevishly shoving people off the victory dais at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai.

 

Now forced to take up a cause that is larger than itself, it is almost ironical that the Champions Trophy is being seen as vehicle for the resurrection of one-day cricket, while so far it has been a manifestation of one of the factors that pulled the 50-over game in the first place.

 

The one thing going for this edition, however, and consequently for ODIs as a whole at this flash point, is that the International Cricket Council has managed to get the format right (a relief, because the ICC doesn’t get things right too often). Eight teams — not 10, 12 or 16 — have been divided into well-balanced groups of four. Two snappy round-robins, the top two from each group making the semis, and a title clash 15 days after the opening night. It’s not so short that the event seems meaningless, and not so long that we only remember the beginning and the end, like the 2007 World Cup that ran for 45 soporific days.

 

It is not one-day cricket itself, but its gross mismanagement — too many bilateral matches, too many meaningless tri-series, and pitches that prompt teams to form a non-aggressive pact in the middle overs — that has made us forget the format has a glorious side as well. Javed Miandad’s last-ball six, Anil Kumble’s 6-12, Sachin Tendulkar’s 143, and Aravinda de Silva’s match-winning century in the 1996 World Cup final, were all performances that could have true meaning only in this form of the game.

 

 

Tendulkar, though himself an advocate of change, showed with his innings of sheer mastery in Colombo last week that there was no reason why one-day cricket couldn’t resuscitate itself. In a world that respects Test cricket’s premium on patience while celebrating T20’s rebellious hitting, a format that combines both skill sets shouldn’t ideally find itself out of place.

 

One-dayers need the right platform to be judged fairly, and the revamped Champions Trophy in South Africa may indeed be a beginning. But the end will be determined by what is done with ODIs all year round. And therein lies the problem.

 

kunal.pradhan@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

SAYING NO TO THE WRONG DRUGS

SHAMNAD BASHEER

 

The Drugs and Cosmetics Act (DCA) was recently amended to mandate significantly enhanced penalties for those trafficking in “spurious” drugs. While this attempt to counter the menace of harmful drugs is laudable, the term “spurious” itself is loosely worded and could be interpreted to include even legitimately authorised generics. Given recent attempts by multinational pharmaceutical companies to use the ruse of intellectual property enforcement to create additional trade barriers for Indian generic companies, the government needs to be extra vigilant. Particularly so, since such barriers are also likely to impact the availability of affordable medicines to ailing patient populations.

 

Section 17 (b) (b) of the Drug and Cosmetics Act defines spurious drugs thus: “a drug shall be deemed to be spurious if it is an intimation of, or is a substitute for, another drug or resembles another drug in a manner likely to deceive or bear upon it or upon its label or container the name of another drug unless it is plainly and conspicuously marked so as to reveal its true character and its lack of identity with such other drug.”

 

Based on the above definition, Bayer, a German multinational patentee, dragged Cipla and the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) to court, arguing that Cipla’s generic version of Bayer’s patented anti-cancer drug was likely to qualify as “spurious” and therefore ought not be granted drug regulatory approval.

 

Bayer’s preposterous legal attack drew some sustenance from section 17B of the DCA which begins by stating that “a drug shall be deemed to be spurious if it is an intimation of, or is a substitute for, another drug”. Most generics are indeed imitations or substitutes of the original drug! But imitation by itself is not a problem, unless the law states so. And given India’s unique tryst with a patent regime that actively encouraged such copying from the 1970’s and led to the growth of a world-class generic industry that now provides affordable access to a large part of the world, the government, far from enjoining such imitation, must actively promote it.

 

Justice Ravindra Bhat of the Delhi High Court rightly noted that under Bayer’s reading of section 17B, all generics would qualify as “spurious” and could never merit drug regulatory approval! Clearly this could not have been the intention of our law makers. The judge however found a way out and held that since Cipla’s drug would be branded and packaged differently, it was “likely to be conspicuously marked so as to reveal its true character and its lack of identity with” Bayer’s original .

 

While this judicial pronouncement may have been helpful in this one case where Bayer’s attempt at delaying Cipla’s generic entry was effectively thwarted, one is not sure if the same result will prevail in other cases, where a generic manufacturer uses a name that is similar to the one adopted by the originator company. Consider Cipla’s drug “Valcept”, which is a generic version of Roche’s patented anti-infective “Valcyte”. Would Valcept qualify as “spurious”, since a consumer confuses the two names and assumes that Valcept also comes from Roche? It goes without stating that even despite the confusion, the consumer is not necessarily harmed in a physical sense, since both the drugs work in the same way. And yet our newly amended Drugs and Cosmetics Act (DCA) can potentially brand Valcept a “spurious” drug, with heavy criminal penalty.

 

This stems from a problematic linkage created between what is essentially an intellectual property enforcement issue with the drug regulatory regime. Since these regimes are distinct in aim and scope, they ought to be kept separate and the twain should never be made to meet.

 

Consumer confusion is a widely accepted rationale underlying most trademark regimes today. The Indian IP regime is no different, with the Indian Trademarks Act providing for robust protection in favour of a brand owner, who may protect his/her brand by requesting a court of law to restrain a competitor who uses a similar sounding name for their drug. However, a drug regulatory authority tasked with the mandate to ensure that all drugs being introduced into the market are safe and effective, cannot be expected to police trademark issues in the same sense that a court of law does. For one, it does not have the institutional competence to do so. Secondly, the key task of a drug regulator is only to assess whether or not a drug is safe and effective, a task that will no doubt require considerable time and resources. The fact that a drug from a generic manufacturer violates the IPR of an innovative drug company does not necessarily mean that it will be of bad quality. And such a determination ought not to be the job of the drug regulator.

 

The last few years have witnessed a proliferation of international efforts that create additional trade barriers for Indian generics. The seizure of drug consignments in transit from India to South America at various European ports on the pretext of patent infringement is a glaring example. The Indian government has been fighting these underhand efforts, and recently it thwarted an attempt by a WHO-led anti-counterfeiting task force (IMPACT) to expand the meaning of “counterfeit” to even catch legitimate generics. Unfortunately, India’s very own definition of spurious drugs remains problematic.

 

The government must therefore immediately amend the Drugs and Cosmetics Act to ensure that the term “spurious” is stripped of its problematic “IP” linkage. In other words, the term must be defined only with reference to “substandard” drugs, for that is what the drug regulator is empowered to examine. Once a satisfactory definition emerges, the Indian government should fight for its international adoption to ensure that legitimate generics are spared at the borders. This is a solution that will not only enable our grown generic companies to retain their competitiveness, but also prove a sweet pill for many patients who depend on affordable generic medications.

 

The writer is the Ministry of HRD Professor of IP Law at the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

VIEW FROM THE RIGHT

MORE AUSTERE THAN THOU

SUMAN K JHA

 

In an article titled “Austerity is a good idea. But the Congress is faking it” in the latest issue of Organiser, R Balashankar writes: “Austerity is a good idea in economics. But the Congress is faking it. The brazen ostentation of two Congress ministers in enjoying their first hundred days in five-star hotel suites has exposed the ruling party’s soft underbelly. This was followed by another expose in The Indian Express that UPA ministers want Spanish tiles in office rooms and Italian porcelain in their toilets. The CPWD, the report said, was flooded with requests from ministers for urgent renovation of houses and offices. Perhaps, these ministers were under the impression that India has to play its role in European recovery.

 

Sonia Gandhi was not impressed by her ministers’ elitist ways. And the party’s kneejerk response at austerity has made it a laughing stock. In the wake of recession, the economists suggested spending as the new mantra, though there was nothing new as the West has all the time promoted it. India too joined the bandwagon by announcing three stimulus packages. Without changing their basic nature of saving, the Asian economies have made an astonishing rebound. In a market economy, they say, consumption is the engine of growth. The first step in austerity is to avoid needless spending. The Congress has made the whole debate into a political stunt by reducing it to a few icons of the party ostentatiously travelling economy class. The question the Congress has to answer is if the party leadership is satisfied by enacting such tamasha in a year of world recession”.

 

He adds: “Now, with great media glitz Sonia Gandhi travels economy class on a visit to Mumbai, and her son Rahul travels by chair car in a train journey to Ludhiana. The party wants its ministers and members of Parliament to follow suit to convey the message of low living and high ideals. RSS is perhaps the only mass movement in the country which has made simple living part of its training. If the Congress is serious about promoting austerity, it can ask its workers to take an internship with the Sangh. The uniqueness of the Sangh is that from its top leaders to ordinary workers, the same austere lifestyle is practised”.

 

FACE UP TO CHINA

The editorial in the RSS mouthpiece’s latest issue, titled “UPA silence on Chinese intrusions” says: “China is angry that these incidents (of incursions) are being reported in our media. Look at the list of LAC violations. In the past few weeks, the Chinese Red Army violated international borders in Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Leh and Sikkim. The government has denied that two ITBP jawans were injured in firing by the Chinese soldiers in Sikkim, probably with the idea of underplaying tensions. This was the first violation with weapons by China since the India-China treaty in 1996 not to use weapons, whatever the provocation. It should also be remembered that China had summoned its officers on the Indian border to Beijing, probably for a briefing on irritating the Indian side. India has a 4056-km border with China. Last week, the Chinese men entered the Indian borders and wrote ‘yellow river’ in Chinese on the boulders. Though it was reported in the Indian media, with photographs, Beijing blatantly denied it, and expressed anger over the Indian media. That China is trying to provoke and is hoping for some reaction from India is clear. But what is surprising is the meekness of India’s response. It was Army Chief Deepak Kapoor who first spoke about it openly, in a way breaking an unwritten protocol. On the western side too, Pakistani soldiers have been firing rockets into Indian territory. Several rocket pieces have been picked up by the defence personnel and the public. In this instance too, the government has chosen to keep mum”.

 

It adds: “It is not our case to indulge in war mongering. But the government should in no uncertain terms warn our neighbours off our borders. If there are consequences to their actions, they must be reminded that they would be faced by both sides. India will not be a silent victim, whatever be the might and buildup on the other side. When the NDA was in power, it made China finally accept officially that Sikkim is part of India. But under the UPA I and II defence and foreign affairs, the two sides of the same issue have been reduced to a department-level functioning. If China could summon our ambassador there, a lady, now our Foreign Secretary, in the middle of the night for a talk down, India could at least show some guts and summon the Chinese ambassador and give a talk down and let the world know about it”.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BETTER RULES TAKE OVER

 

MarketS regulator Sebi’s decision to amend the takeover code to allow ADR/GDR holders to exercise voting rights is a step in the right direction and will open up a new model for mergers & acquisitions (M&A). The new regulation should be seen independently of the proposed Bharti-MTN deal, as the provision has brought norms on par with domestic ones. Currently, under the takeover code, any firm acquiring a 15% stake in another company is mandated to make an open offer for an additional 20%. Depository receipts, however, were not considered part of this requirement until they were converted into Indian shares. The existing norms treated ADRs/GDRs as securities without voting rights and were exempt from the applicability of the tender offer requirements on substantial acquisition. This is flawed, because while ADRs and the GDRs do have voting rights, the global depository bank through its local custodian had voting rights. In fact, for every ADR or GDR issue, the depository bank has an agreement with the issuer and is directed to vote in a certain manner. For all practical purposes, one cannot issue GDRs without voting rights since the very nature of a GDR is to give the holder control over the equity of a company with voting rights. The market regulator’s decision to remove the differentiation between GDRs that are converted into equity and GDRs with voting rights would indeed go a long way in making mergers & acquisitions more transparent.

 

The Indian takeover code was put in place in 1997 when the market for cross-border acquisitions was at a nascent stage. The depository voted in consonance with the management, which implies that there is no change in management. This is similar to an Indian shareholder who agrees with another company or institution by way of a shareholder agreement that he will not vote the shares. The law in this case cannot be influenced by the terms of a private agreement. Though many have raised concerns that the new regulation will increase the cost of acquisition, it will have to be seen how the regulator is going to deal with applications for exemption. Analysts reckon another issue that the market regulator will face is that a 26% shareholding in India gives the acquirer the powers to block special resolutions at annual general meetings. It should be set at about the 25% trigger limit to avoid any legal confusion in the long run. Since a large portion of foreign investment in India comes through M&As, the rules have to be more accommodative and should look at other issues of financial sector reforms, especially in the banking and insurance sectors.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CUT TO CHASE


Film labs were heavily policed, film canisters were zipped up with special seals and theatre managers were sent telegrams urging every possible defence against piracy. The year was 1983, the film Return of the Jedi. Just goes to show that this is no new war, that it was being waged even in the era of the video cassette. But it has become really brutal in digital times, spread across the globe and begun taking a heavy toll in India, too. Till it was Hollywood alone that was totalling and ruing losses, there wasn’t—to be truthful—too much sympathy for the cause here, even within the film industry. Now, it’s not just Bollywood but also smaller, regional industries that are taking copyright infringements very seriously. As their representations grow more forceful, policing of infringements is improving. The Maharashtra government recently made arrangements to include those involved in film piracy to be booked under the state’s Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act. Simultaneously, the police formed a special squad to address this crime. Now, it has speedily followed up on Ashutosh Gowariker’s complaint—after he found the master print of his upcoming release What’s Your Raashee? missing—to bust a piracy racket. Centred in Pakistan, it used to circulate illegal copies throughout the world. DVDs recovered included Dil Bole Hadippa! and Wanted—in effect, all of the trade’s season sparkle was being short-circuited. But this continues, as the six people who have been arrested in the case hardly represent a significant proportion of the vast piracy machine in the country.

 

As the intellectual property produced in India grows in brand and dollar terms, our hitherto lackadaisical approach to protecting it simply won’t suffice. First, this is a cross-border fight. We need international cooperation to defend Indian property overseas. In turn, international intellectual property must be protected here. Crack down on those who violate Bollywood, but no less than on those who do the same to Hollywood. Second, if it’s technology that lends this crime wings, then technology must be deployed to the fullest possible extent to fight piracy. In 2006, Rajshri released Vivah on the Web and in theatres at the same time. Web collections drew almost a quarter of the film’s total earnings. Third, note that the Rashee case involved an insider—a senior person at the digital mastering lab. Global trends also show that while many counterfeit versions begin life via a camcorder smuggled into the theatre (some countries have enacted legislation prohibiting this), weak links within the movie business don’t help, either. Just this summer, when a Wolverine workprint was leaked online before the film’s release, loud cries went out to make the industry itself more watertight. Hear that, Indian players?

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

BAD SOLUTION FOR CHINESE LABOUR PAIN

DHIRAJ NAYYAR

 

By clearly stating that no more work visas will be given to unskilled and semi-skilled labourers from China, the government may have ended the political controversy surrounding the issue of temporary workers from China. An estimated 30,000 Chinese workers of such type had been working on various projects—mostly power projects—across India. The decision, however, raises some uncomfortable questions for the government.

 

Remember, that most of these Chinese workers are not employed by Chinese firms who have set up shop in India. In fact, the big users of imported Chinese labour are Indian firms. The government says that there is no ‘need’ for imported labour in the unskilled and semi-skilled category, because there is plenty available locally and arguably at comparable or even lower wage rates. While that may indeed be the case, the government seems to have turned a blind eye to understanding why Indian firms, driven as they are by the profit motive, still choose to import such labour (that would normally involve a higher cost than recruiting locally).

 

From all accounts, there are two reasons why firms are opting to import labour. First, and most critically, India’s archaic labour laws—which the broader polity has little interest in reforming—are a huge disincentive for firms to hire workers on their payroll. For firms which work on a project to project basis, it is impossible to hire labour on a ‘permanent’ basis, as is required by our labour laws, which frown upon ‘hire and fire.’ Given that constraint, firms are forced to outsource their labour requirements to another party. This, of course, raises the cost—the firm which gets the outsourcing deal will obviously charge a commission above the regular charges for labour. It also creates a larger principal-agent problem, because the outsourced, contracted labour does not have a direct stake in the firm or project they are working on.

 

Add to this the fact that Indian labour—and this is the second reason for importing labour—in general works at lower productivity levels than similarly skilled labour from China. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Chinese workers put in longer hours and complete projects at a much faster speed than Indian workers do. This is not to argue that Indian workers are inherently less competent or hardworking—it’s just that work ethics and working cultures are different.

 

However, for senior management at profit making companies, what matters most is efficiency, not culture and nationality. They are, therefore, making the right decision by importing labour from China. As far as projects get completed faster, it involves a huge benefit to the Indian economy at large.

 

So, from the viewpoint of economic efficiency, the government has made a bad decision by restricting the import of temporary unskilled and semi-skilled labour from China. And if the government wants Indian firms to hire Indian labour, there are better, more efficient solutions. The first best solution is to reform labour laws to make them more flexible. But if they don’t want to go that far for political reasons, just allowing competition from Chinese workers would have forced Indian workers to become more professional and efficient, if they wanted the same jobs. By completely restricting competition from outside, there is no incentive for Indian labour to improve its standards.

 

It may seem cruel to equate human labour with physical goods but the economic construct is the same—trade is good and free trade is optimal. Look at what years of trade protectionism did to the quality and standards of our industry and look how they have lifted their game after liberalisation. Competition is always good and that goes for labour as much as for physical goods and services. The government has missed this important nuance by simply banning the import of unskilled and semi-skilled Chinese labour. Instead, the government should focus on skill upgradation and training of locals so that firms hire them out of free choice.

 

Interestingly enough, the government has also, perhaps unwittingly, ceded the high ground India traditionally holds on permitting greater mobility of labour (particularly temporary workers) in international negotiations, particularly at the WTO. It is, after all, the rich, developed countries which are protectionist about the movement of labour with low skills. We have little ground to stand on if we ask the EU, for example, to liberalise its laws to allow temporary workers from India, when we don’t allow Chinese citizens a similar privilege. Of course, the West and Gulf countries need low skilled immigrant labour because there is a scarcity whereas in India the issue is of productivity and labour laws, not scarcity—a quality rather than quantity problem. Still, it doesn’t help to appear to have double standards.

 

If the government is really serious about helping low skill Indian labour, it should reform labour laws immediately, rather than play populist politics.

 

dhiraj.nayyar@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

G-20 SHOULD RAMP UP TRADE FINANCE

K VAIDYA NATHAN

 

While financial market stability and regulation may be the overarching theme of the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, there is one unglamorous aspect of finance which needs equal attention — trade finance. During the last summit in April this year, the G-20 agreed to ensure availability of funds to the extent of $250 billion for trade finance. The package made certain that availability of finance for trade purposes did not dry up and ensured efficient functioning of international trade markets.

 

Trade finance oils the wheels of global trade. Although precise figures are not available, estimates of annual trade financing amount range between $10-15 trillion. Commercial banks are the most important providers of this form of financing and have a market share in excess of 90%. It is among the safest form of financing because it is short-term so the risk undertaken by the bank is for considerably less time than, say, loans. Moreover, this is collateralised by the merchandise. Yet, trade finance credit was not available freely in the crisis months of last year.

 

In the aftermath of the credit crisis, banks had been reluctant to provide any kind of financing. Firstly, banks were unwilling to take counterparty risk in many countries. Secondly, as the banking crisis unfolded, banks were using capital to shore up their weakened balance sheet rather than commit more funds for traditional businesses. Thirdly, the new Basel guideline imposed a higher capital charge on trade financing to developing countries. The banks in turn passed this higher cost to their customers. And finally, banks sometimes faced liquidity concerns because of which their cost of funding too went high. This too was passed on to their clients. This resulted in an increase in the cost of financing ranging from 0.25% to 3%. When the developed nations realised that the banking crisis was affecting even the safest and non-exotic forms of financing, they committed to package so that the inefficiencies prevailing then did not affect the already dwindling international trade.

 

Let us understand the trade package and how it is being made available. The package involves a commitment of $250 billion to be provided over a two year period. Now, unlike in a bailout, the G-20 does not have to pump in that amount of new money to make it available for trade finance. The actual quantum of money that may be deployed would be of the order of $50 billion. Due to the short-term nature of the financing, $50 billion can be rotated in the system to provide financing of up to $250 billion over two years. Of this, $50 billion only 40% is to be contributed by governments of developed nations and by international institutions such as the International Finance Corporation and Asian Development Bank. The remainder 60% is supposed to come from commercial banks. The 40% contribution by governments and supra-national agencies would also get routed through banks because they are the most efficient way to deliver the package. For instance, in June this year, the London-based emerging market bank, Standard Chartered, took a $500m credit from IFC. In turn, it committed to make $1.25bn available for trade finance in emerging markets over two years. At the end of two years, the loan would be repaid by Standard Chartered to IFC.

 

Various estimates have put the size of possible trade finance gap in the range of $25-500 billion. The package announced in the London summit made sure that the banking crisis did not affect international trade severely. But, since the G20 meeting, the market has not gone back to normal. There has been an increase of payment defaults.

 

The rise in casualties in what would normally be a relatively safe market is still creating an abnormally high aversion to risk and thereby increasing the financing gap. Customers in developing countries are still facing difficulties in opening of new letters of credit. Even among developing countries, perception of risk varies depending on assessment of the sovereign risk. For instance, India is considered among the best counterparty risks, yet the premium is currently at about 1.50% over normal levels.

 

During their deliberations in Pittsburgh, the member nations would do well to increase the trade package to at least $400 billion. This was something that the G-20 had agreed in London—that if need be the extent of assistance would be increased. To make sure that the trade flows stabilise and that trade volumes start to increase again, it is imperative that another timely injection of funds be done to remove frictions in international trade. Compared to the bailout package doled out to financial institutions last year, the quantum of money to be allocated for this package is much lower and the benefits accrue to a larger group of developing nations.

 

The author, formerly with JPMorganChase’s Global Capital Markets, trains finance professionals on derivatives & risk management

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

MONSOON LESSONS FOR 2010

SANJEEB MUKHERJEE

 

As the southwest monsoon enters the fag-end of the June-September season, year 2009 will go down in history as one when rains played truant for most of the four monsoon months. After making an early entry, the monsoon showed little signs of advancement. Vast swathes of prime farmland in central, northern and western parts of the country, that produce a bulk of the kharif-sown foodgrains, oilseeds, pulses and sugarcane were left untouched by rains for a major part of the season. This prompted worried state governments to declare drought in almost 300 districts as paddy sowing fell by almost 70 lakh hectares, while oilseeds went down by around 12 lakh hectares and sugarcane dropped by 1.3 lakh hectares. But of late, since August, the southwest monsoon did show some signs of revival, bringing down the season’s cumulative deficiency to around 20% from a high of around 29% and also filling up near dry reservoirs.This, experts feel, will aid rabi sowing. The number of meterological subdivisions with deficient, scanty or no rainfall have dropped from 27 to 21, while those with excess or normal rainfall have gone up from 9 to 15

 

The late rains could not have come at a better time for India’s premier weather forecaster India Meteorological Department (IMD) and also government agencies that were facing flak from all sides for their delayed response to patchy rains earlier. IMD for its part can now happily claim that it wasn’t way off the mark in predicting that June-September rains would be around 87% of the Long Period Average, which was a downward revision from its April forecast of ‘near-normal’ rains. If the momentum of rains in south and eastern India is maintained for a few more days, overall deficiency would indeed come down to below 20%. The recent rains have once again rekindled hopes that farm production in 2009 won’t be as bad as was being thought of a couple of months back, and on a net-on-net basis the impact of low rains on the total agriculture output will be well within manageable limits. Still, an improved job by IMD and prompt response from government will go a long way in lowering uncertainty. That’s the lesson for 2010.

 

sanjeeb.mukherjee@expressindia.com

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

BREAK THE CLIMATE DEADLOCK

 

President Barack Obama has correctly differentiated some developing countries as those that must pull their weight to mitigate climate change. Although he did not, in his speech at the New York summit convened by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, get into specifics, he evidently had China and India in mind as heading the list of rising powers that must curb carbon emissions. Mr. Obama’s own task of creating a road map for U.S. emissions cuts ahead of the Copenhagen climate talks is far from easy, but time is running out for India in the climate debate. The official stance that the country’s per capita emissions will always be lower than those of the developed countries cannot form the basis for serious climate talks, when the goal is to reduce the rate at which greenhouse gases are being added to the Earth’s atmosphere. There is much to learn from the Chinese response, which first materialised in the National Climate Change Programme 2007. Beijing has deservedly been praised for the big steps it has promised to take. The first will be a reduction, by the year 2020, of the energy intensity of its GDP growth by a notable margin from 2005 levels. In parallel, China is engaging the United States on climate change with potentially beneficial outcomes for both sides in terms of technology development and preferential assistance. All this should persuade India to abandon its defensive stance.

 

If India assumes a more pro-active position on climate change, it can lend a strong voice to the calls to compensate developing nations for mitigation and adaptation costs. In terms of priorities, the global effort must focus on sequestering carbon in all coal-fired power stations, as emissions from this source are growing. In the Indian context, the poor efficiency of thermal power plants also needs to be addressed. The solar mission, which forms part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change, needs a major push. It is revealing that in 2006, a not-so-sunny Germany produced 2,220 gigawatt-hours of power from solar energy while India’s tally was 19, equalling tiny Luxembourg. To make a credible case at Copenhagen, therefore, a lot of detail needs to go into the eight missions that make up the national plan. The States need to vigorously pursue the green agenda in areas such as sustainable agriculture, water protection, urban planning, and forestry. Here again, China’s policy is on firm ground. President Hu Jintao has spelt out clear actions on renewable energy, greater reliance of non-fossil fuels, and increase in forest cover. In the weeks ahead, New Delhi must come up with a strong climate agenda for 2020 — rather than approach the UNFCCC talks with a set of defensive arguments.

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THE HINDU

                                            EDITORIAL

MOVING FORWARD WITH THE GST

 

An important milestone in the path towards the Goods and Services Tax (GST) has been reached, with the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers deciding on a three-tier duty structure for the goods component. There will be a low rate for goods of mass consumption, a standard rate for most other items, and a premium rate for a small category of items. It can be argued that a multiple duty structure is not the best way to go forward, since it can raise problems of clas sification and revenue leakages, for instance. Besides, the States may find it difficult to resist pressures from interested groups either for exemption or for levy at a lower rate. However, although a single tax rate is theoretically preferable, it may not be practicable at this juncture. Ever since Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced that the GST would be introduced on April 1, 2010, the accent has been on developing a structure that would be economically viable and politically acceptable, besides satisfying administrative canons of efficiency and compliance. In the budget it was announced that, in effect, there would be two sets of GST — one for the goods, and the other for the services, levied at two levels. These two would be mutually exclusive and operate across the value chain.

 

Now that the structure of the GST for the States has been determined, attention should shift to overcoming the practical problems of implementing it. It is at the level of the States that the introduction of the new tax, which will replace the State-level Value Added Tax (VAT) that came into being in 2005, is expected to be particularly daunting. Among others, a system of capturing input tax credits must be worked out urgently. The two big challenges are in the areas of compensating the States for possible revenue losses and revamping the legal architecture. In addition to the government, the 13th Finance Commission will address the issue of compensating the States. There must be a far greater urgency than what has been in evidence so far in taking the necessary legal steps, including a constitutional amendment to enable the States to levy a service tax and the Centre to tax goods beyond the factory gate. Certain existing laws such as the Central Excise Act 1944 and the Finance Act, 1994 need to be repealed. Existing VAT laws must also be modified or partially repealed. A more realistic timetable for the GST can be drawn up after taking into account the progress in fulfilling the legal and administrative requirements.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

A GREAT OPPORTUNITY FOR INDIAN SCIENCE

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE INDIA-BASED NEUTRINO OBSERVATORY (INO) IN THE CONTEXT OF INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE CANNOT BE OVEREMPHASISED. NOW IS THE TIME TO REGAIN AN INITIATIVE LOST.

G. RAJASEKARAN

 

India is a land of ancient civilisation that had made fundamental contributions to human knowledge in the hoary past. Even the discovery of the positional number system with the accompanying concept of “zero” is attributed to ancient India. We already have a population of more than a billion and may soon become the most populous nation on Earth.

 

Should we rest content with our ancient heritage and keep repeating that our contribution to knowledge is “zero?” Should we continue to be mere borrowers and users of modern knowledge and modern scientific technology? When do we give back? When do we become creators of fundamental knowledge?

 

The opening up of neutrino physics offers us a great opportunity to do that. Very important discoveries have been made recently in neutrino physics and neutrino astronomy.

 

Scientists from the United States and Japan received the Nobel Prize in 2002 for these discoveries. Neutrinos are elementary particles that are filling the Universe in abundance but are very elusive. Trillions of neutrinos are passing through our bodies every second without affecting us. One of the most important discoveries of the last decade is that neutrinos have mass. Until this discovery, it was thought that neutrinos are massless particles like photons, the quanta of light.

 

This has led to active planning of many more neutrino laboratories round the world, especially considering that a considerable part of neutrino physics is yet to be discovered. A grand race is on. India was a pioneer in neutrino physics. The very first detection of cosmic-ray produced neutrinos was made in the Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) experiment in 1965. But the KGF laboratory was closed in the 1990s because the KGF mines were closed.

 

Can we recover the lost initiative? We can. The India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) project has been conceived with that objective in view. A group of scientists and engineers spread over 25 scientific research institutions and universities in India is actively involved in the creation of INO. It is a unique basic science collaboration in the country. It has been approved for funding by the Department of Atomic Energy and the Department of Science and Technology and included by the Planning Commission as a mega science project under the Eleventh Five-Year Plan. (Information about the INO is available at www.imsc.res.in/~ino.)

 

A rock of at least a kilometre thickness is needed to filter all other cosmic-ray-produced particles to enable the detector to detect the elusive neutrinos. Hence we have to go inside a mountain. The Nilgiri mountains were chosen as the suitable site for the underground laboratory because of the stability and safety of the Nilgiri rock. A huge cavern of size 120m x 25m x 30m will be dug under the Nilgiri mountains at 1.3 km below the peak and this will be accessed through a horizontal tunnel of more than 2 km in length. A gigantic magnetised detector weighing 50,000 tonnes will be constructed inside this cavern and will be used to detect and study the neutrinos.

 

In the beginning, this detector will be used to study the neutrinos produced by cosmic rays. Further progress in neutrino physics will depend on catching neutrinos that will be produced in the so-called “neutrino factories.” Such plans are being made in Japan, Europe, and the U.S. We are in dialogue with scientists abroad who are involved in these plans. Neutrinos produced in the neutrino factories thousands of kilometres away will travel through the Earth and be detected in the INO. Such long-baseline neutrino experiments are needed to reveal further neutrino secrets.

 

Although the first priority will be to establish those parts of neutrino physics that are still unknown or uncertain, once that is accomplished attention will shift to mastering neutrino technology. But that will take time. Some of the exciting applications of neutrino technology will be these: (1) Since neutrinos are the most penetrating radiation known to mankind (a typical neutrino can travel a million Earth diameters of matter without getting stopped), neutrino beams will be the ultimate tools for the tomography of Earth. (2) A new window on geophysics opened a few years ago when a neutrino detector in Japan detected geoneutrinos emitted by radioactive uranium and thorium ore buried in the bowels of the Earth. This leads to the possibility of mapping the whole Earth as far as its radioactive content is concerned.

 

The 50,000 tonnes of steel used in the detector does not deteriorate since the neutrinos hardly interact. If this steel could be lent by Mittal Steel Company or the Tata Iron and Steel Company, it could be returned to them later. There is a precedent for this. The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Canada used the heavy water loaned from the Canadian Atomic Energy Commission and returned it to the AEC after making a crucial contribution to neutrino physics. Such a contribution by Indian industry will be a trendsetter for building synergy between science and industry. It is much needed for taking the country to the next stage of development.

 

Since the proposed INO site in Nilgiris is near an environmentally sensitive area, the INO group has taken great pains to formulate an environmental management plan, in consultation with environmental scientists. The INO group is committed to prevent any damage to the environment and, in fact, plans to contribute positively towards its preservation through its own resources so that the INO becomes a model project to establish that basic science and environmental awareness can go hand in hand.

 

In addition to making major discoveries, the INO will benefit generations of students and young scientists and engineers by training them through participation in a major scientific experiment. Student recruitment and training for the INO has started. The project will also include an INO Centre devoted to R&D in detector technology, which will have far-reaching applications in diverse fields. In spite of progress on all other fronts, the project has been bogged down because of the delay in procuring the required government clearances.

 

The importance of the India-based neutrino observatory in the context of international science cannot be overemphasised. Other groups in other countries are eagerly waiting for the operation of, and results from, the INO. However they are not going to wait indefinitely. Plans are afoot both in the U.S. as well as China for building huge underground neutrino laboratories. The INO’s competitive edge is slipping away and any further delay will be detrimental to the success of the project. A number of reputed scientists from different parts of the world, including two Nobel Laureates and several Directors of neutrino laboratories, have recently appealed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for urgent action.

 

I hope that the governments of India and Tamil Nadu together will act soon so that this great opportunity for Indian science is not lost.

 

(The author is a former Joint Director of, and Distinguished Professor at, the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai. He is now Adjunct Professor at the Chennai Mathematical Institute. Email: graj@imsc.res.in)

 

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THE HINDU

OP-ED  

STOP MARKETING INDIA AS A BRAND, SAYS HISTORIAN

THE CHALLENGES CONFRONTING INDIA ARE TOO BIG TO BE LEFT TO ECONOMISTS ALONE.

HASAN SUROOR

 

Here’s a hypothetical, though not altogether unfamiliar, scenario that academic and writer Sunil Khilnani invoked in a lecture at the British Museum to warn against what he called the “paradox of India’s new prosperity.” He asked his audience to imagine two traffic lanes, both at a standstill. After a while traffic in one of the lanes starts moving raising hopes of those stuck in the next lane that they, too, should be on their way soon. But, quickl y, hope turns into frustration and then anger as they watch their neighbours whiz past them while they remain where they were. In the end, their patience runs out and violence erupts.

 

According to Prof. Khilnani, currently Director of the South Asia Studies Programme at Johns Hopkins University, Washington, something similar is happening in India where, despite the impressive economic growth of the past decade, disparities remain widespread with one “lane” speeding ahead of the other. As a result frustration is building up in the “slow lane” and if things don’t start moving (and moving fast) a backlash is inevitable.

 

Prof. Khilnani, whose book The Idea of India was a tribute to Indian democracy, has a less tinted view of the country’s current direction which, he says, is being driven solely by “market optimism.” He believes that there is too much obsession with growth and not enough is being done to use it to reduce the yawning urban-rural and rich-poor divide. Such a strategy is fraught with risks and could ultimately affect India’s unity which, he says, is already under pressure for a variety of reasons.

 

“One-third of India’s landmass is officially ‘disturbed’ which means that the Indian government’s authority in these areas is under contestation,” Prof. Khilnani said speaking on Ideas of India: Today and Tomorrow to mark the Museum’s Indian Summer season.

 

Arguing that growth alone was not enough to hold India together, he pointed out that GDP figures touted by economists “disguised” the social tensions bubbling under the surface. Growth must be backed by policies aimed at ensuring that the benefits of the economic boom percolated down. Otherwise, the Indian success story could end up in tears, he warned.

 

STILL NOT TOO LATE

His view was that it was still not too late. For, despite the simmering discontent there remained a great deal of optimism, surprisingly even among those Indians who had not so far benefited from the new prosperity — an optimism built on the assumption that eventually the benefits would trickle down. But if that didn’t happen, then, as in the story of the two traffic lanes, optimism would give way to anger and conflict, Prof. Khilnani said. His central argument was that the challenges confronting India were too big to be left to economists alone (and he gave some fairly scary figures to underline the scale of the challenge) and it was important that the State intervened in a “more supportive way” than it had so far to protect the weak. His message to politicians was: don’t be deceived by “dizzy” statistics.

 

“It’s not the economy, stupid. The Western countries who believed that economic growth alone could deliver have had a rude awakening,” Prof. Khilnani said. He was wary of attempts to market India as a “brand.”

 

“India as a brand is not enough. What India needs is a greater sense of what it stands for,” he suggested saying that India’s future would be determined not by economists and brand managers but by politicians. In other words, it was the politics, stupid.

 

However, Prof. Khilnani sought to dispel the impression that his grim analysis somehow amounted to an obituary of “new” India. It was not all doom and gloom, he believed. For one thing, the country appeared to be moving out of the confines of narrow identity and communal politics. It was significant that the more toxic brand of casteism and right-ring Hindu nationalism that had blighted the Indian political landscape had been “tempered”— at least for now — by the Congress party’s decisive victory in the June elections with voters across the country standing up for a more inclusive political agenda.

 

“These tendencies remain but their capacity to assert themselves has been checked for now,” he said.

 

ENCOURAGING SIGNS

On the policy front, too, Prof. Khilnani detected some encouraging signs. For example, the Manmohan Singh government had managed to build up a “repertoire” of good policies but the effort remained largely “defensive” and there was still a tendency to go in for quick-fixes. He was particularly critical of the reservations policy and thought that the 1950s-style positive discrimination had “exhausted” its efficacy.

 

Instead, the government needed to think of more “imaginative” ways to resolve conflicts caused by uneven economic growth. Issues like allocation of resources and adjudicating conflicting claims of various social groups could not be treated as simply administrative matters but called for a “self-conscious engagement” on the part of politicians with these problems. Or the “traffic lanes” scenario could become very real.

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS ANALYSIS

PLANNED FARMLAND SALE TO SAUDIS GIVES PAKISTAN JITTERS

CONCERNS: CARTELISATION OF AGRICULTURE AND NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY.

NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN

 

Analysts fear that the scheme will marginalise the small farmers

Corporate farming will generate employment, some say

 

A proposed lease of 500,000 or more acres of land in Pakistan to Saudi Arabia for agricultural use has raised fears of adverse consequences for the country’s scarce water resources and its food security, aside from possible implications for national sovereignty.

 

The transaction-in-the-making was first reported some three weeks ago from Dubai. Agriculture Secretary Tauqir Ahmed Faiq told Reuters that the Pakistan government was in talks with the Saudis on the issue. A process was on, he said, to identify leasable land in all four provinces of the country, and a Saudi team is to visit Pakistan soon for negotiations.

 

Saudi Arabia wants the land to grow grain and vegetables, which it will take back to the kingdom, hoping in this way to strengthen its own food security. With a projected food import bill of $15 billion this year, outsourcing food production is one way for Saudi to keep its food bills down.

 

The proposal to invest in Pakistan seems to have come after an announcement by the Pakistan government in April offering foreign investors one million acres of land for lease or sale.

 

Investment Minister Waqar Ahmed Khan said in April the government would also spend $2 billion to raise a security force of 100,000 men for the protection of the leased lands and the people who would work on it. He also spoke about tax exemptions for the import of machinery to work these lands.

 

But despite the much-vaunted “brotherly” relations between the two countries and the influence the Saudis wield in Pakistan, questions are being raised about the wisdom of such a move.

 

WATER COMMITMENT

“We are already a water-stressed, water-deficit country. We even have a problem with India for getting our share of river waters. Committing land to anyone, especially for large-scale agriculture, means you will have to commit water. How can we commit any more water when our existing water is already committed 120 per cent?” asked Rabia Sultan, a south Punjab landholder and an office-bearer in the Farmers’ Association of Pakistan.

 

“We are not Turkey that we can think of importing water,” she said.

 

Instead of leasing out large tracts of land to Saudi, the Pakistan government would do better to improve national agricultural yield and export the surplus to those who need it, said Ms. Sultan, who holds 400 acres of land in Muzaffargarh, 100 kms from Multan .

 

As a “hands-on” farmer, said Ms. Sultan, she was “worried that this plan will affect the water that is committed to my lands.”

 

 

The absence of details about the scheme has fuelled the fears. It is not clear yet if the proposal involves a lease, and if so, for how long, or if it would be an outright sale.

 

It also remains unclear yet if the government proposes to lease the land that it owns — most of it arid, and uncultivable without the injection of huge amounts of capital for treatment of brackish ground water — or if it would encourage private landowners to enter into agreements with the investors.

 

Ayesha Siddiqa, a strategic and political analyst, said if the idea was to get individual landowners to lease to investors, the scheme would open the door to large-scale corporate farming, in the process marginalising the small farmers. It would also increase tensions between the feudal wealthy and the rural landless, and push much-needed land reforms further down the country’s political agenda.

 

“Big landowners who are now renting out their land to small farmers will throw them out and put it up to the highest foreign bidder,” said Ms Siddiqa, predicting that small landholders with 5-10 acres would be bought out, and “landlessness and rural poverty will increase.”

 

With hundreds of thousands landless aspiring to own even a small square of land, big land acquisitions by foreign investors, pointed out Ms Siddiqa, would lead to political unrest.

 

The owner of 300 acres of farmland in the famed mango-growing area of Bahawalpur herself, Ms Siddiqa also raised concerns about the “cartelisation of agriculture” in which a few big landowners with political influence would join hands with foreign investors.

 

“You will have a situation where the cartels will be deciding the country’s agricultural policy, deciding what should be grown and how much, in ways that will affect Pakistan’s food security in the years to come,” she said.

 

The issue of food security was centre-stage in recent weeks in Pakistan, as people reeled under sugar and wheat flour (atta) shortages during the entire month of Ramzan, artificially triggered by unscrupulous hoarders. The resultant high prices put the two basic commodities literally out of reach for many during the festive season.

 

Additionally, a food security index ranking Pakistan as the 11th most food insecure nation triggered more fears. The government contested the ranking and hastened to assure that it had enough stocks to feed everybody. But the deaths of 20 women and children in a stampede for free atta in Karachi some days ago led to the accusation that instead of making food more accessible to the poor of this country, the government was putting its land up for sale to foreigners.

 

“This is the time we should be thinking of cooperative farming to help our own people,” said Ms Sultan, mentioning the Amul project in India, “instead of inviting in corporate farming investors.”

 

Another concern is for national sovereignty. Already, there is discontent that large tracts of land in the Cholistan desert in southern Punjab have been virtually made over to some Gulf rulers who use it for hunting shoots every winter and have built virtual palaces in the area.

 

Ms Sultan said the entire scheme was a throwback to the time of the British colonialists who milked the sub-continent for its resources.

 

In an influential article in Dawn, I.A. Rehman, the eminent political commentator and human rights activist, urged the government to go no further with the “outlandish” farmland leasing project without consulting the people of the country through its legitimately elected Parliament.

 

Warning it could give the foreign investors undue influence in how Pakistan is run, Mr. Rehman said it may even strain relations with Saudi Arabia. He reminded the government that according to official theory in Pakistan, the government itself was a lessee as all land belonged to God under the Islamic faith, or to the state. “Both restrict the government’s power to lease/sell land.”

 

SPILL-OVER BENEFITS

But the project does not entirely lack supporters. There are those who feel that if the plan is to lease the vast swathes of uncultivable land owned by the government, it may bring benefits to Pakistan.

 

“Take Cholistan. Under the desert is a huge resource of water that is brackish, and investment can change the face of that region,” said Chaudhary Anwar Aziz, a former Food Minister. He was opposed to the idea when it was floated some years ago, but, he said, “no longer. We have neither the capital nor the technical know-how to use this resource. So if a foreign investor is prepared to inject both, why not? I think we will stand to gain.”

 

Corporate farming would generate employment for local populations, and Pakistan would learn from the technical know-how that the investors bring, said Mr. Aziz, even if the investors took away all the produce from the land.

 

“There will definitely be a spill-over effect for Pakistan,” he said.

 

But the question is bound to arise: does the government have any business offering even wasteland to a foreign power? “Landless peasants have the first right on any land that is at the government’s disposal,” wrote Mr. Rehman.

 

The government plan to raise a special security force to protect investors’ lands has also raised suspicions. “If the Cholistan desert is what the investors are after, why should the government offer to raise a special security force to protect land that no Pakistani wants?” asked Ms Siddiqa. The government must immediately reveal all the details of the proposal, she said, so that “the stakeholders, the people of Pakistan, can see for themselves what this deal is all about.”

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS ANALYSIS

AN ISRAELI SETTLEMENT IN CLOSE-UP

BUILT, LIKE ALL SETTLEMENTS, IN DEFIANCE OF INTERNATIONAL LAW ON LAND CAPTURED IN 1967, THE LOCATION OF JEWISH SETTLEMENT GIVAT ZE’EV IS STRATEGICALLY IMPORTANT.

MARTIN ASSER

 

They come in many shapes and sizes — hardline colonies deep in the West Bank, farmsteads in the Jordan valley, leafy towns within commuting distance of Tel Aviv and large developments in East Jerusalem.

 

But the Jewish settlement Givat Ze’ev, situated on a picturesque, undulating plain 10 minutes’ drive from the northern outskirts of Jerusalem, is more dormitory town than ideological outpost. Built, like all settlements, in defiance of int ernational law on land captured in 1967, its location is strategically important, south of Israel’s Highway 443 cutting into the West Bank for 20 kilometres to connect Tel Aviv with Jerusalem.

 

Its population is 12,000, mostly from the liberal end of the spectrum, with an Orthodox Jewish satellite on the west side. It is the fifth largest West Bank settlement and one of the fastest growing. Although Israel agreed to freeze settlement activity under the Roadmap peace plan, Givat Ze’ev has 750 extra housing units approved, about half of which are nearing completion and awaiting their first occupants.

 

Little distinguishes the settlement from any Israeli town, except a low-key security post with an open gate at the entrance. Palestinian villages surround it, but any violence has diminished as those villages are now on the other side of a wide loop of Israel’s West Bank barrier around the settlement.

 

PRAGMATIC POPULATION

Givat Ze’ev has a friendly small-town atmosphere — young and old mill around a row of shops and cafes on the main street; a medical centre and a hairdresser do brisk trade. Although Israel’s settlement movement was born to advance sovereignty in the occupied territories, there was no sign — among people I spoke to — of political motives underpinning their presence. On the contrary, people mentioned affordable accommodation, that it was a good place to live and raise children, getting around was easy via 443 and other bypass roads for Israelis. “I came here 14 years ago to enjoy quality of life,” said Yuval, who did not give his second name. “Apartments are cheap and the air is good. You live close to the city but you feel you are in a village.”

 

Everyone asserted their absolute right to live in what they considered part of Israel obtained legitimately, in their view, through conquest. One elderly man said it was the West Bank only “on paper, not in life.” But when asked if they’d be prepared to surrender their homes to enable a two-state peace deal with Palestinians, most said yes, as long as there was proper compensation. However, there was deep scepticism that peace was possible, or that Givat Ze’ev and other settlements around Jerusalem would be forfeited to create a Palestinian state.

 

For four decades, Israeli governments have supported Jewish settlement in the West Bank, a place with strong links to Judaism and, until Jordan took control in 1948, a significant Jewish presence. The state provides funding and infrastructure, and a blanket of security from the military.

 

Since 1967, the Jewish population has gone from zero to about 300,000 in the West Bank and 200,000 in East Jerusalem. Numbers have grown 5 per cent annually since Israel signed the Oslo peace accords in 1993 — despite a stipulation that neither it nor the Palestinians took any action prejudicing the final resolution. Lately, however, Israel’s closest ally, the U.S., has added weight to its erstwhile diplomatically worded objections to settlement expansion. “The U.S. does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. It is time for these settlements to stop,” President Barack Obama said in a speech in Cairo in June.

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has resisted firmly this new tougher line, one of his chief arguments being that settlements must be allowed “natural growth.” In other words, younger generations of Jews shouldn’t be squeezed out because they want to start families, and amenities — kindergartens, synagogues, etc., — must be built as required.

 

NEW DEVELOPMENT

In Givat Ze’ev’s case, new construction is going on apace in an area Israelis know as the Ha’ayalot valley, which was confiscated from neighbouring Palestinian villages whose inhabitants call it Wadi Salman. Work started in 1999, but stopped in 2000 when the violence of the second Palestinian intifada put settlers off wanting to live in what is quite an exposed spot. Each side of the valley is topped by Palestinian houses and it extends west from the main body of the settlement, with the first new houses located 700 metres away — or 2.5 kilometres by a winding road.

 

Construction in the Agan Ha’ayalot, as it is known, resumed in 2008, following completion of a section of the barrier which passes through the valley in a series of hairpin bends cut deep into the rock. Homes in the three dozen apartment blocks have been marketed to ultra-Orthodox families whose strict religious observance means they prefer not to live among secular or more liberal Jews.

 

“It’s not normal or natural growth, it’s a dramatic expansion for a new kind of population,” says Hagit Ofran, of the Israeli group Peace Now, which campaigns against settlements. She argues that every new Jewish home in the West Bank makes “the cost of a two-state solution higher.”

 

“We should be in the process of getting an agreement and not building obstacles likes this,” Ms Ofran says. Mr. Netanyahu has ruled out anything but a possible “scaling down” of settlement activity. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas says substantive negotiations cannot resume without a complete freeze. — © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

CLIMATE: US HAS TO ACT, NOT JUST PREACH

 

If the day-long climate summit convened in New York by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this week was intended to impart political impetus to the big event in Copenhagen in December, where the world’s rich and poor nations are due to deliberate under UN auspices a strategy to beat back the ill-effects of climate change, it is had not to register a sense of disappointment. There was considerable anticipation that the star of the show, US President Barack Obama, arguably the world’s leading public diplomat, would bring to the proceedings specific commitments on behalf of his country. But this was not to be. Mr Obama spoke fine words to pledge himself to arresting climate change but he fell short of enunciating targets for the United States of America. He is apparently completely unsure about the extent of international commitments that the US Senate would in the end be prepared to accept. This was pretty much the situation at Kyoto in 1997, where the Clinton administration expressed the right sentiments but was unable to get the Senate to endorse these. If three months before Copenhagen, the world’s most powerful economy is unable to accept specific responsibilities, it is hard to see the Copenhagen summit making any breakthrough. By agreeing to cut its CO2 emissions by 25 per cent of 1990 levels, it is Japan — among the developed countries — that gave out the clearest signal of acknowledging the dangers the world faces on account of climate dislocations. On current indications, it is possible that the European Union could also be persuaded to accept the level of emission cuts that Japan has indicated. It is to be hoped that the Japanese and the EU positions would be reflected at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh this week. The Bric — which include India and China — must exert every sinew at G-20 to discourage the United States from pushing the idea of a common G-20 goal for an emissions cut. The G-20 is a body of developed countries and the leading emerging economies. The latter, unlike the former, simply cannot be subjected to an emissions cap. This has not been agreed to internationally, and a move in that direction is certain to be strongly resisted.

 

Of course, without accepting such a cap, countries like India and China have indicated that they would seek to make their contribution to mitigating the effects of climate change through positive measures such as a much larger use than hitherto of renewable sources of energy such as solar or nuclear power in their economic systems, creation of forest carbon sinks, and the use of green technology. India’s minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh made it a point to emphasise to the media that India would seek to be a "dealmaker" in Copenhagen, not a "dealbreaker". Chinese President Hu Jintao, although not obliged to accept emissions caps, noted that his country was prepared to cut emissions by 15 per cent of its 2005 levels. The positions of these two countries, which are similar, should go some way in reassuring the advanced economies that the economically more significant developing countries are not avoiding being a part of the solution, although they did not create the problem. In the end, it will be a pity if the effort fails in Copenhagen because the United States refuses to accept an intermediate cut by 2020 of approximately 25 per cent of its carbon emission level of 1990.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

A US MOVE THAT IS ALL ABOUT RUSSIA

S. NIHAL SINGH

 

President Barack Obama has reset one button in relations with Russia by scrapping his predecessor’s fancy plan to install radars and missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic in favour of a water-borne project nearer the supposed target, Iran. Although there are many more buttons to reset, this removes a major irritant in relations with Moscow, which understandably interpreted the original move as a further attempt to restrict and contain it.

 

Whatever President George W. Bush’s justification, everyone knew that the former European satellites of the Soviet Union welcomed the move because it would mean the stationing of American troops on their soil to act as a further defence against a future assertive Russia. It was, however, unpopular among the masses that feared the project would provoke Russia. The gloom in official circles in Poland and Czech Republic is vociferously supported by US Republicans who fear that it is sending wrong signals to Eastern Europe.

 

In fact, the new plan for an anti-Iranian security structure in the seas will provide a protective umbrella to Israel and the Arabian Gulf hinted at by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in the past. The official US explanation is that the change of Iranian emphasis from long-range to short- and medium-range missiles makes a sea-based plan better and smarter. According to Ms Clinton, "this decision is not about Russia".

 

Official American stances aside, Russia has welcomed the scrapping of the Bush plan, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin even calling it a "brave decision". And US defence secretary Robert Gates has made another gesture in declaring, "For more than two years I have encouraged the Russians that we are partners in this missile defence. The Russians have a radar in southern Russia, the Armavir radar, that actually could fill a gap in coverage, and we would welcome the Russians networking with us in this. We think we can make that happen".

 

The Obama administration’s hope is that Russia will make a gesture in response, apart from taking back its threat to install missiles in Kalinigrad on the European Union’s head. Since Iran and its nuclear programme is so much in American — and Israeli — cross-hair, Washington is praying that Moscow will be more amenable to tightening sanctions on Iran, should the planned meeting early next month fail to yield results. Mr Putin, on his part, has indicated that he is expecting further friendly moves from Washington, for instance in removing roadblocks to its membership of the World Trade Organisation.

 

Nato’s new secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen has added his own voice to the Obama administration’s initiative by calling for cooperation with Russia, including possible cooperation between anti-missile systems. He has even suggested that he is willing to listen to President Dmitry Medvedev’s proposal for building new security architecture.

 

Is a new spring then dawning on the often frosty and ill-tempered relations between the United States and Russia? The significance of the Obama administration’s move is that it has delivered on removing at least one major hurdle troubling the relationship. And implicit in Mr Rasmussen’s approach is the understanding that the question of taking Georgia and Ukraine into Nato over Moscow’s vociferous objections has been put on the back burner. In any event, Ukraine is deeply divided and Georgia’s two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, have declared themselves independent and won Russian recognition.

 

However, there is nothing to suggest that Washington has given up on its goal of maintaining its pre-eminence in the world into the distant future. What has changed is the emphasis from the Bush administration’s form of unilateralism buttressed by armed strength to emphasising the merits of diplomacy and multilateralism without foregoing the military option. Washington’s post-Cold War goal of containing and restricting Russia has not changed.

 

The United States still believes that the Euro-Atlantic compact embodied in Nato is valid as is its attempt to secure the loyalties of countries in Russia’s "near abroad". It is willing to bide its times before bringing Georgia and Ukraine firmly into its orbit but will not agree to Moscow pursuing a policy of "privileged interests" in the region. Similarly, despite Mr Rasmussen’s charm offensive, Nato will remain an organisation inimical to Russian interests because it cannot realistically include the Russian Federation in its ranks.

 

What the Obama administration’s new plan has done, even if it is only a by-product of changed strategy, is that it has improved the atmosphere between Washington and Moscow to look at their broader common interests. A new treaty to replace the Start agreement should now be easier to complete by the end of the year. Russia has already allowed Nato weapons and troops transit its air space on their way to Afghanistan and there are points of convergence over non-proliferation goals.

 

It is not clear how far Russia will go in pursuing a harsh policy towards Iran because, apart from Moscow’s legitimate interests in Iran, it has doubts over the efficacy and wisdom of imposing further sanctions on Tehran. President Obama’s decision to engage with Iran is wise, despite the turmoil following the presidential election there, but the sub-text of his initiative is that Tehran should suffer more severe sanctions if it does not satisfy Western demands, which seem to be veering round to allowing Iran to undertaking the full nuclear cycle under strict international supervision.

 

The new spirit of cooperation must nevertheless be welcomed for opening the way to a more cooperative world. In any event, it reduces Washington’s strains with the Continental heavyweights over Europe’s relations with Russia. The original decision of retaining Nato in the post-Cold War world was flawed and expanding its brief to intervene in out-of-area conflicts, as in Afghanistan, seemed to presage an inclination in Washington to employ it as a subsidiary military arm of American foreign policy. Over the decades, Washington has assiduously opposed moves to give the UN Secretary-General the wherewithal to intervene quickly in world crises even with UN Security Council sanction.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

LIFELONG WAIT FOR DEATH

THE AGE DEBATE

SET A TIMEFRAME TO REVIEW MERCY PLEA

 

Since the death sentence is only awarded in the rarest of rare instances, and in that it overlooks the constitutional right to live, the sensitivity of such a sentence cannot be undermined. That is probably why even after the Supreme Court gives its final order, the Constitution has paved the way for a re-consideration, better known as a mercy petition to the President of India by someone sentenced to death.

 

Unfortunately, in our country, the final word on the mercy petition may be kept in limbo for an unspecified amount of time. Here we have to seriously take into consideration the legal doctrine that "Justice delayed is justice denied". Subsequently, the guilty person can/may also plead the protection of his/her right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution. Eventually, justice is not only delayed, it is also denied.

 

Two reasons for this state of affairs come to mind. Firstly, the government under the influence of the ruling party must stop using human beings as pawns to further their political cause. A case in point is of Afzal Guru, a terrorist who dared to wage a war against our country. To delay his execution in a bid to grant him life, is easily the most condemnable conspiracy of the Congress. What else can be behind this move but the policy of the Congress to be soft on terror to woo a supposed minority votebank? To make matters worse, other mercy petitions are also being delayed unnecessarily to justify the delay in this particular case. In the process, this most sensitive and important issue, that of ensuring the rule of law, has been made mockery of.

 

Just how much more ridiculous is this farce going to get?

 

Secondly, the President has to act as the judicial head of the country in dealing with this issue, and in accordance with that position take the help and advice of law officers such as the Attorney- General, and other jurists of repute. It would also be prudent to fix a timeframe in which such deliberations are to be concluded.

 

It would be a telling comment on the failure of our system if the files, after much delay, just shuttle back and forth in the bureaucracy, thus serving the game plan of vested political interests.

 

At the end of the day, administration of justice is not the only thing that is important, it is more important that the administration of justice is seen to be done.

 

Amitabh Sinha, advocate Supreme Court and National Head, Think Tank, BJPGive prisoners a chance to reformThe fundamental question with regard to the death sentence is whether any human being or any agency or any government has the right to take the life of a human being. Also, while deciding that a person should be condemned to death, has it been ensured that there is absolutely no doubt about the judgment? Has it been determined beyond the slightest doubt that there has been no mistake on the part of the human beings and the agencies involved in arriving at that conclusion? If not, then the rationale of rushing through the proceedings is profoundly unsound.

 

Moreover, evidence would suggest that this is where the doubts begin to creep in. There have been cases in the United States in which death penalty has been awarded, the person has been executed and three decades later or more, it has been found that he was wrongly convicted. It came to light that false evidence was presented before the court to ensure conviction.

Over the years, several nations have recognised the need for doing away with the death penalty. In fact, one of the conditions for any country joining the European Union is that it should abolish the penalty of death.

 

Of course, it is nobody’s case that any convict, who has been awarded the death sentence, should be made to wait for his last day years on end. This is unacceptable torture. Therefore, nobody can question their right to get the death sentence commuted to a life imprisonment if the state does not reach a decision early enough. Snuffing out a life from a person also means that he has not been given a chance to reform. People commit crime under various circumstances and, over a period of time, they also rethink about it. The rationale of death sentence as a deterrent has failed completely.

 

However, the issue goes far deeper. The very concept of taking a human life is fraught with risks of justice not being meted out. Justice Bhagwati had said that the provision of death sentence was directed at the poor. And there is also empirical evidence to suggest the class bias. In such a scenario, one must be absolutely sure whether the conclusion arrived at is beyond the slightest doubt.

 

In the end, if one believes that "to err is human", then the whole question of whether a human agency should be allowed to take life becomes redundant. If human beings make mistakes, then human agency is also likely to do the same. And in such case, it should not have the right to take away a human life.

 

Praful Bidwai is a senior journalist and social activist(As told to Prashant Pandey)

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

COLUMN

DALAI’S TAWANG VISIT PLAN MAKES CHINA RED

NITISH SENGUPTA

 

One fails to understand why China is opposing the Dalai Lama’s visit to the monastic town of Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. There was once a time when this part of Arunachal Pradesh had close ties with Tibet, then a strange monastic-political entity headed by the Dalai Lama. This relationship ended with the departure of the Dalai Lama from Tibet in 1959. The Dalai Lama was rightly given shelter in India with his followers because of the deep respect and reverence he enjoys in India.

 

China’s claims — on India’s border areas like Ladakh, Aksai Chin or in Arunachal Pradesh — are entirely based on the strength of the fact that the Dalai Lama had some kind of tenuous hold, more spiritual than political, over the people living there.

 

We need not, at this stage, go into the question of how right India’s policy was in permitting China’s military occupation of Tibet between 1950 and 1959. Before the Dalai Lama fled from Tibet, India had an excellent relationship with the Tibetan government, so much so that Indian pilgrims did not require a passport or a visa to visit Kailash Mansarovar and other pilgrimage centres located in Tibet. The border was not demarcated and there was no question of any dispute or clash between Tibetan and Indian officials. The Indian Army was stationed at Lhasa and Gyantse.

 

In 1950, when China sent its Army to take possession of Tibet, India went out of its way to accept China’s dubious claim over Tibet and, in a rare gesture, withdrew the Indian Army garrisons from both Lhasa and Gyantse. It also allowed the Chinese Army to walk free over the Tibetan plateau. Thereby, compromising her own security as subsequent events were to make very clear. China’s border guards at the Indo-Tibetan border started questioning Indian pilgrims on their way to Kailash Mansarovar. They held all pilgrims without passports and visas and started harassing them.

 

The Indian government, instead of protesting vocally, submitted to their brandishments. We need not go into the question whether it was right on the part of the Indian government to acquiesce in China’s military takeover of the Tibetan plateau or whether India could have in any way prevented it. But the point I would like to emphasise is that China’s claim to Aksai Chin or Barahoti or Arunachal Pradesh are essentially on the basis of the arrangements that the Dalai Lama’s government maintained in relation to the Indo-Tibetan border. We cannot, therefore, rule out the great position that the Dalai Lama has in all these regions and the spiritual hold he has over the people living there.

 

There is nothing wrong in the Dalai Lama expressing his wish to visit Tawang and to preach among the local people there, as he has been doing elsewhere. There is every thing wrong in Beijing’s reacting to this pathologically.

 

Whether this is a stray event or part of a deep-seated China’s strategy to weaken India, is an open question. Some time ago when a blog from China suggested that China should try to disintegrate India by appealing to the country’s various secessionist groups, it could be dismissed as one mad man’s ranting and not necessarily China’s strategic thinking. But it was the failure of the authorities in Beijing to disown and regret this blog which is a matter of much surprise. The fact is that to this day there has been no official denial from China. Are we to assume then that that it was, perhaps, Beijing’s cleverly thought out strategy to weaken India?

 

This was followed by several reports of border incursions by China in Ladakh, the middle sector and Arunachal Pradesh. Beijing has contradicted these reports and joined its views with those who are describing Sino-India border as peaceful.

 

However, no clarification on the part of China regarding the controversial blog does not mean that India should retaliate by encouraging secessionism in China, say, among the Muslims in Xinjiang or in supporting the Dalai Lama’ request to China for restoring Tibet’s autonomy. That will be realpolitik in the extreme. Surely secessionism is much more of a problem for China than for India. But Indian authorities should take note of secessionism in India seriously and prevent all possible developments where China might fish in.

 

There can be no doubt that the so-called Maoist insurgency in the Northeast is being aided and abetted by elements in China. Our government should try to collect evidence, confront China and prevent any possibility of Maoist upsurge, as they say, from "Pashupati in Nepal to Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh", through the states of West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

 

Where are the Maoists getting money, arms and explosives from? Our civil and military intelligence should pull up their socks. Could one draw any connection between the burgeoning insurgency in Northeast and China’s interest in the oceanic flanks of the India peninsula? For example, along with China’s onshore and offshore strategic assets in Burma, the deepwater port at Gwadar, Pakistan, represents China’s first strategic foothold in the Arabian Sea.

 

These are natural concerns of our nation without indulging in realpolitik or Machiavellianism. Also, the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force must take all possible steps to neutralise the advantages of China’s well-entrenched presence in the Tibetan plateau.

 

We should learn a lesson from tiny Vietnam which gave the Chinese Army a fitting military reply a few years ago. There is little room for being conciliatory at the expense of important strategic concerns. China’s so-called claims on some Indo-Tibetan border areas became invalid the moment it repudiated the Dalai Lama and his rule over Tibet. It is time we boldly assert that.

 

Nitish Sengupta, an academic and an author, is a former Member of Parliament and a former secretary to the Government of India

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

RETURN OF FIIS

OPEN UP MORE AREAS TO FOREIGN INVESTMENT

 

Foreign institutional investors are back with a bang, having invested $10.2 billion in Indian equities up to September 21 this year. Last year they had pulled out $12 billion after financial turmoil, caused by the sub-prime crisis in the US, had gripped world markets. Few had expected the panic caused by the collapse of the Lehman Brothers to subside so easily, smoothly and swiftly. Analysts’ comparison of last year’s downturn with the Depression of the 1930s now appears highly exaggerated. Thanks to collective governmental efforts under the aegis of G20, the global economy has had a soft landing and now everyone talks of green shoots sprouting all round.

 

The global recovery, as expected, has been led by India and China. The return of foreign investors in droves, therefore, indicates their faith in the resilience of the Indian economy, which has weathered the storm successfully despite a much smaller stimulus package than in China. In addition, the political stability brought about by the last general election in India has whetted foreign appetite for a slice of Indian growth. All available economic data point to a steady recovery in India. Automobiles, cement, steel and banks are among the first to bounce back, while exports are still declining.

 

In keeping with the changed economic scenario, global institutions have started revisiting their predictions for India. Asian Development Bank is the latest institution to raise India’s growth forecast from 5 to 6 per cent, while it has upped China’ growth rate from 7 to 8.2 per cent. Foreign investments in equities, though welcome, can be highly volatile and move out equally fast. The need, therefore, is to channel foreign investments in other sectors like retail, insurance, aviation and infrastructure through appropriate policy changes. On the whole, signs are bright for attracting more foreign investment.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

DISCLOSURE OF ASSETS

ELITE SERVICES MUST BE ACCOUNTABLE

 

The Punjab State Information Commission’s order requiring IPS officers serving in the state to furnish a statement of their assets to anyone seeking such information under the Right to Information Act deserves to be welcomed. It is to the credit of advocate and RTI activist H.C. Arora that despite having been refused such information by the DGP office on grounds that it would amount to “unwarranted invasion of privacy of individual”, he did not give up. That his appeal to the commission was a clincher is cause for satisfaction particularly because there is a growing feeling among people at large that senior bureaucrats, especially those belonging to the IAS and IPS, are not called to account by a system of governance that is of dubious merit. There is no reason why Mr Arora’s pending appeal to the commission for disclosure of assets of IAS officers should not also be acceded to.

 

Indeed, Punjab has reason to be concerned over the record of its elite civil services. A list submitted by the Punjab government at the behest of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in April 2008 had revealed that criminal cases, vigilance enquiries and departmental proceedings were pending against 25 IAS officers and 10 IPS officers in the state. Despite inquiries being ordered into charges against them, the officers have been given plum postings.

 

Given the systemic shield the IAS and IPS officers have raised for themselves, protection of one another’s interests within the fraternity and their clout with the political leadership, it is hardly surprising that they often manage to escape punitive action. Being well versed with the functioning of the complicated official machinery and cumbersome rules and regulations, they know the escape routes all too well. Their suspension is rare and conviction still difficult. It would be a happy day when transparency and accountability are built into the system in regard to the elite services. Punitive action must then follow without fear or favour. However, until that happens, there is nothing to stop the erosion in the credibility of these services.

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

WAR AGAINST MAOISTS

OFFENSIVE AGAINST NAXALITES TO FOLLOW ADS

 

The Union Home Ministry’s advertising campaign against left-wing extremists, launched this week, signals a significant shift in the three-decade-old war of attrition between the state and the rebels. By describing the Naxalites as nothing but “cold-blooded murderers” in the first advertisement of the series, the government has indicated a definite toughening of its stand against the Maoists, who would earlier get dismissed as a small group of “misguided youth”. Decks are evidently being cleared and public opinion softened before an all-out offensive against the outlaws begins. Realisation has clearly dawned that the Naxalites today are a far more organised and cohesive force and enjoy more support from sections of civil society than was hitherto suspected.

Advertising on such a scale is certainly a fresh experiment being tried by the government in its war against the Naxalites. But such exercises have not been entirely new. State governments have tried in the past to sensitise people by putting up plays, advertising in newspapers, etc, in order to expose the barbaric colours of the rebels. Governments have also offered attractive surrender and rehabilitation packages to wean away the hard-core rebels. None of this worked in the past. It remains to be seen, therefore, how effective the present advertising campaign turns out to be.

 

While the government gets ready to crush the Naxalites, silence the critics and shame human rights activists, it is necessary to sound a word of caution. The Naxalites, who take up arms against the state, will and must face the full might of the state. But there are a large number of poor villagers in all the affected states who have often collaborated with the Naxalites reluctantly, largely because they were left to fend for themselves by the state all these years. These are the people who have largely borne the brunt of anti-Naxalite operations so far while armed and radical Maoists escaped the dragnet. It is necessary, therefore, that the government moves with extreme caution and provides enough time and warning for the innocent and fence-sitters to escape before the operation. Such a move should also help in building up public opinion in favour of the offensive.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

COPS AS ‘FOOTBALLS’

POLICING SUFFERS, CRIME FLOURISHES

BY B.G. VERGHESE

 

THE Home Minister used picturesque but blunt language while addressing assembled Directors-General of Police last week. He chastised them for allowing their officers to be kicked around with impunity like footballs because they had failed to establish Police Establishment Boards to make postings and transfers as recently advised by the Centre. Transfers have been used as a form of punishment, with officers being moved from post to post, sometimes within the space of a few weeks or months, even days, thus undermining the system and disrupting morale. This has been going on for years as a device for harassing and punishing honest officials and privileging favourites. Policing suffers. Crime flourishes. Politicians wish to rule the roost and operate a government of men and not of laws.

 

Why did the Centre dawdle so long in the matter of implementing police commission reports, including the Supreme Court’s directives? Now that it has woken up to its responsibility, it needs to crack down hard and withhold police grants if minimal reforms are not carried out by errant states, notwithstanding the policing being in the State list. More purposefully, the Centre should introduce the full panoply of reforms in Delhi and other Union Territories which are directly under it. Unless the Centre sets the pace, the states will not follow. Mere homilies will not do.

 

Another step forward was registered last week when the Centre responded to the Chief Justice of India’s statement that the way to fight corruption was to confiscate the properties of those convicted in such cases. The Law Minister took the cue and added that as recommended by the Administrative Reforms Commission, which he had headed, the Centre would consider amending Articles 309, 310 and 311 of the Constitution to facilitate the prosecution of civil servants and do away with the current requirement for prior permission. Of 153 cases awaiting sanction for prosecution, 72 have been pending for periods between one and more than three years.

 

Delay is often tantamount to denial and while it is true honest officers must be protected from harassment, the prior sanction rule, or “single directive” as it is known, has been abused. Coupled with a Public Servants (Forfeiture of Property) Bill, implementation of the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act and whistleblower and victim protection legislation, we should be able to deal more effectively with corruption.

 

Here again the Centre needs to bestir itself to send an instrument of ratification of the UN Convention on Corruption which it signed nearly two years ago and incorporate its provisions in national law. This has been pending as no one seems to be able to identify the nodal ministry that must act. Cynics suggest that the real reason could be that powerful political and bureaucratic forces do not wish to see such potent and far-reaching instruments in the hands of the government.

 

Lax and corrupt administration coupled with weak policing is among the reasons why Naxalism flourishes. The Prime Minister told the DG (Police) conclave that the Maoists remain a pervasive and deeply disturbing security and development threat. The Maoists have declared war on the state and have been emboldened to strike at will in certain zones, displaying increasing sophistication in their tactics and weaponry. They are also trying to make common cause with all manner of insurgent and underground formations.

 

Steps are being taken to enhance counter-Naxal capabilities but, as is well understood, while maintaining law and order has its rightful place, socio-economic reforms must kick in. This remains a weak link and a reading of some Governors’ annual reports on Fifth Schedule areas (obtained through the RTI process) offers no reassurance. The Constitution enjoins Governors to submit an annual report to the President for the “peace and good government “of these areas. The latter in turn may issue appropriate directives for the better administration of these areas.

 

It would appear that the Governors have no independent mechanism to discharge this function and are entirely dependent on the state administrations. The state’s Tribes Advisory Councils come out as weak instruments. The Andhra TAC, for example, was summoned in 2007 to consider the annual reports for the five preceding years, in clear violation for the constitutional requirement. There is in these “governors reports” some bald and routine narration of facts but no analysis, few recommendations and no reference in the Andhra, Orissa and Maharashtra reports to the Naxal problem or specific socio-economic programmes or to PESA (the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act ).

 

The reports appear pretty worthless and constitute a fraud on the Constitution. The Governors, Central and state governments, the state legislatures and Parliament are all equally complicit, and the Fifth Schedule has been reduced to a tamasha.

 

The so-called austerity drive, too, has been poorly handled as a short-term gimmick. Austerity is the wrong word. Bureaucrats, ministers and politicians need to avoid ostentation while being enabled to function efficiently and with dignity. Italian marble, vaastu toilets and extravagant living constitute vulgar exhibitionism. Ministers and ex-MPs clinging on to their former bungalows should simply not be countenanced and those trying to pull rank should be dealt with firmly. Each defaulter says, “What about the others?” The answer is to deal strictly with all, starting with the highest. The example set, others will soon fall in line.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

WHEN A PICKLE GOES RANCID

BY AMAR CHANDEL

 

POLITICIANS think they are like vintage wine that matures only with age – the older the better. That is why they do not want to fix a retirement age in their case. Rather, they continue to be eager to hold the reins even when beyond 80, whereas all others are asked to hang their boots by the time they are 60. To remain in circulation, they are always on the lookout for new bottles while wielding or dreaming of power.

 

But former Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has put his party supremo L K Advani in an entirely different jar, comparing him with “rancid pickle” instead. The analogy is sure to give the perennial Prime Minister-in -waiting a peculiarly sour taste. To be called pickled would have been bad enough. But rancid pickle really raises a stink in the nostrils.

 

When the pickle reaches this stage, it is not only inedible, but is also dangerous to keep at home. The only option is to throw it out at double quick.

 

Arun Shourie, Yashwant Singh and others of their ilk would be too glad to do the spring cleaning in their party, although they are themselves pickled in jars kept out in the verandah.

 

Nothing wrong really about being on preservatives. That is what keeps politicians from rotting, unlike fresh vegetables. But there are set rules about storing all pickles that have to be followed meticulously. They need to be put out in the sun on a regular basis. Mr Advani was so busy making a place for himself in the sun that he ignored this mandatory requirement.

 

Moisture can be particularly bad for pickles because it causes mould to grow. The pickle a la Advani had started becoming rancid right since the time of Babri demolition. What happened in Gujarat made things worse. Only the pouring of extra oil and vinegar by spin doctors kept the inevitable at bay.

 

Water is guaranteed to ruin a pickle. In Advani’s case, the Jinnah remark was like the pouring of cold water. If that was only a glassful, the recent general election setback was a full bucket.

 

Once that soaking had taken place, Mr Advani should have realised that the “use by” date had come and gone. He ignored it and has only himself to blame for what acidic comments he is having to hear.

 

But whatever Mr Parrikar may say, we have no tradition of throwing out anything, rancid or not. Recycling is what we specialise in. General Election 2014 is not too far, after all. It is not known whether the BJP — or the RSS — has really evolved a recipe for recycling rancid pickle.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

MEDIA UNDER ATTACK

NO HARM IN PLAYING UP CHINA THREAT

BY T.P. SREENIVASAN

 

From lowly politicians to high-level policymakers and strategists, all have begun to aim their guns at the Indian media, particularly the electronic media, for sensationalising events and not helping the government deal with sensitive matters in its own quiet way.

 

A writer, who has more than his share of space in the media, laments: “Chinese military unhappy with Indian media.” Is it such a disaster that the Chinese military is unhappy with something in India, having made India unhappy for decades?

 

In Kerala, the ruling party is uncomfortable with the media, which is accused of parallel investigations, throwing the impartial police investigations, involving the Home Minister himself, out of gear.

 

It is alleged that young anchors and reporters know nothing about anything and they put out stories without checking sources and backgrounds and without hearing the other side of the story. The media is the villain, which is allegedly causing internal and external turmoil.

 

Blaming the media is an ancient pastime, but it was easier when reports in the print media could be denied, except when an odd reporter produced an audio tape. But today statements can be replayed at will, making denial a hard option.

 

The only escape clause is the attribution of motives. Since the ship of state leaks at the top in diverse directions, the media is advised to exercise restraint. If the top brass cannot keep its mouth shut, the media should be shut out.

 

The latest attack on the media began with the coverage of the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai. The virtual spectacle of evil was there for all to see, but the blame has been put on the media for giving clues to the terrorists and their minders in Pakistan by covering the developments live.

 

The charge is that the live telecast helped the terrorists to execute their plans. Kasab and company had no time to watch TV and their minders in Pakistan certainly had other sources to tell them what was happening. In such a masterly operation, care would have been taken to station agents to report events to them.

 

The answer was not to preach to the media, but to ensure that no one was given access to the sites of attack. Here was a situation where people were camping outside the Taj with food vendors having a field day. How would the media miss such an opportunity to bring the story live to the living rooms?

 

But the knee-jerk reaction was to criticise the media for being unpatriotic and irresponsible. Even a code of conduct was devised for the media. The code of conduct should have been prescribed for the security authorities to restrict access to the area.

 

Even more amazing is the lament that the media is exaggerating the Chinese threat to India. There are any number of instances of China encircling India with the specific purpose of countering our development and international profile. Pakistan and Myanmar are nothing but pawns in this Chinese strategy.

The Chinese moves to strengthen its claims in Arunachal and Ladakh militarily and politically are there for all to see. The effort to block ADB assistance to an irrigation project in Arunachal Pradesh marked a new beginning in terms of diplomatic pressure. Reports of Chinese incursions are not manufactured in press rooms, but officially given out by the defence authorities. The comments of the retiring Naval Chief about the Chinese threat were not made in jest. How could the media afford not to take note of these developments and reach the appropriate conclusions? It was the External Affairs Minister, who appeared unrealistic when he tried to play down the Chinese military and diplomatic actions against India.

 

China is fully aware of the nature of the Indian media and no harm was done by the media playing it up and the minister playing it down. The media has the right to inform the public and it is for the government to give the right assessment at the right time.

 

An incident involving a cargo plane from the UAE was reported by the media. The plane had landed in Kolkata en route to Beijing and the normal requirement of declaring the cargo was not met. A routine inspection revealed that the cargo was lethal weapons. The media is being faulted for reading too much into this incident, which embarrassed the UAE as well as China.

 

A friendly country sending arms and ammunition to an unfriendly neighbour through India was not without immense news value. There was nothing wrong in the UAE and China being asked to explain what was clearly a breach of international norms in air transport.

 

The government itself did not give a credible explanation about the incident except to indicate that the arms were being returned to Beijing after a show in the UAE. The information that the two countries have such cooperation is valuable for India. Blacking out such information from the public was not an option to be exercised by the media.

 

It is the duty of the media to bring to light aberrations in international relations to enable the government to deal with them appropriately. In fact, the media blitz gives the government a good reason to make our friends and foes answerable to their behaviour. As long as stories are not manufactured, these should be welcomed and investigated. To close the eyes of the media or to restrain it is to let a valuable asset to go unutilised.

 

How hyperactivity of the media helps in international negotiations was demonstrated during the three years of debate on the India-US nuclear deal. Critics of the government got as much media space as the supporters did and the charges made in the media must have helped our negotiators to secure better terms from their US counterparts.

 

Recently, one of the virulent critics of the nuclear deal confessed that many of his articles were written in the Atomic Energy Commission to keep the heat on. He had stopped writng about it once he was assured that we had got a good deal.

 

Our print and electronic media are doing a fabulous job in terms of reporting and analysing events. They make mistakes frequently and even mislead the public. But they are legitimate instruments of opinion making and they should not be restricted in any way.

 

The state should learn to keep its secrets and also step in if there is misinformation. Let us not lose the asset we have in a vibrant media network on the plea that only balanced and accurate stories should be put out.

 

The writer is a former Ambassador and a member of the National Security Advisory Board, New Delhi

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

A QUIET REVOLUTION IN JAPAN

BY YUKIO OKAMATO

 

Some revolutions bring about a dramatic change in government without general strikes or fierce street demonstrations. Such a revolution just took place in Japan, where half a century of almost uninterrupted conservative rule under the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) abruptly ended with the recent elections. In its place, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) will try to establish a European-style labor-party government.

 

DPJ-led governments will probably be in power for close to a decade, if not longer. It is unlikely that Japan will go socialist under the DPJ, though the party's largest source of support is the 6.8 million-member Rengo labor confederation. Nevertheless, the coming era is likely to bring a paradigm change in how benefits are doled out by the political system.

 

An op-ed in English by the new Japanese prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, caused a stir with its anti-globalization statements and passages declaring that Japan should pursue political independence in between the United States and China. The column left some wondering what had become of the Japan-U.S. security alliance.

 

Hatoyama said Wednesday that he plans to change his country's "somewhat passive" relationship with the United States and would work with President Obama to "create an environment where we can both frankly state our opinions."

 

There is not yet reason to think the U.S.-Japan relationship is about to be wholly overhauled. Read in Japanese, Hatoyama's column is clearly not meant to provide great insights into his thinking. The whole essay is rather abstract, in effect challenging U.S. power and influence in the world without really meaning it.

 

Hatoyama is an idealistic and sensible man. As prime minister he needs to remember that his words will now have an international audience and that rhetoric permissible and understandable within the context of Japanese politics is sometimes less clear or even incomprehensible outside it.

 

When Hatoyama addresses the U.N. General Assembly and participates in the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh next week, he must assure the world that Japan will have continuity in its foreign policy.

 

Last month's electoral upset was not a DPJ victory. It was an LDP defeat, brought about by the Liberal Democrats' incredible self-destruction. The LDP has been piling up domestic policy failures for years. But the LDP's foreign policy, based on a strong Japan-U.S. alliance, has preserved Japan's security and prosperity for the past half-century.

 

Hatoyama must realize that he cannot dismiss this policy. Numerous polls show, for one thing, that the Japanese people do not want him to. Second, there is no basis on which to build a collective security arrangement in Asia.

 

Japan cannot choose unarmed neutrality (like Costa Rica) or armed neutrality. The only way to guarantee Japan's security is through the steadfast Japan-U.S. security alliance. Every Japanese leader in the post-World War II era has been confronted by this inescapable truth.

 

What Japan needs now is for the LDP to become a proper opposition party and revive itself. The LDP has a fundamental faith in markets and emphasizes economic growth. It should return to its conservative roots and emphasize that it is the party with credible policies geared to the establishment of a free, open society. A true conservative party would face the reality that Japan's economic reforms must be extended, not rescinded, without regard to the profits or losses of individual sectors of the economy.

 

The DPJ, meanwhile, aims to transform Japan into a Fabian socialist society of generous social welfare, with an emphasis on the redistribution of wealth. If there is healthy competition between these views, there is a decent chance that Japan can put an end to its longtime political stagnation.

 

If competition fails to take root and Japan reverts to its previous inactive politics, then the United States is likely to forgo shared "values" of democracy and instead accelerate the establishment of a "G-2" with China, with the two giants deciding between them the fate of the Asia-Pacific region. Neither Japanese party wants that.

 

To Japan's benefit, the DPJ has a better chance of improving Tokyo's relations with the rest of Asia than did the LDP. This improvement need not come at the cost of Japan's relations with the United States, a sacrifice that no Asian government wants anyway.

 

The issue at the heart of the rapprochement will be the history of World War II. Japan should not rely on the judgments of the war's victors at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Reexamination of the past must be done by Japan.

 

The DPJ, representing the weak, will be well placed to do this job. If Hatoyama is able to lead a reconciliation process, then last month's electoral upset will have opened an uplifting chapter in Japan's history.

 

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

 

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THE TRIBUNE

HEALTH

BAD DOCTORS ARE OFTEN MEN

BY JEREMY LAURANCE

 

Women make safer doctors than men, according to the UK's largest study of medical performance. They are less likely to be investigated over concerns about their behaviour, clinical skills or conduct and are significantly less likely to be suspended or excluded from work than their male colleagues.

 

An analysis of almost 5,000 doctors and dentists referred to the National Clinical Assessment Service (NCAS) over the past eight years because of worries about their performance shows a strong gender imbalance. Around 800 doctors and 100 dentists are referred each year.

 

The study found that psychiatrists, obstetricians and GPs were most likely to arouse concern about their performance. The NCAS was set up in 2001 following a series of high-profile scandals in the 1990s.

 

One of the most notorious involved Rodney Ledward, a hospital consultant who styled himself the "fastest gynaecologist in the west" and was struck off the medical register in 1998 after a series of botched operations. Ledward, who died in 2000, was later the subject of a public inquiry which reported that he injured scores of women.

 

To protect patients from doctors like Ledward, the NCAS provides advice and support to doctors in difficulty, formal assessment where the problem is more serious, and suspension and exclusion in the most severe cases.

 

A report published on Tuesday shows that 873 women were referred to the service over the eight-year period, compared with 3,635 men. Women comprised only 20 per cent of the referrals but make up 40 per cent of the workforce.

 

In the most serious cases, 50 women hospital doctors were excluded from work, compared with 290 men. Among GPs, 29 women were excluded compared with 200 men.

 

Two referrals in three concerned clinical skills but half also raised concerns about behaviour. One in four referrals was for health reasons, including depression and addiction to drink or drugs.

 

Peter Old, chief author of the report, said that psychiatrists worked in teams, attended mental health tribunals and could be "subject to more scrutiny" than their colleagues, which might account for the high referral rate.

 

Black and Asian doctors who qualified overseas were also more likely to be referred to the NCAS than white UK-trained colleagues. But black doctors who qualified in the UK were not more likely to be referred, suggesting there was not wide discrimination on grounds of race. NCAS said that it would keep this under close review, adding: "The service should examine how practitioners who qualified outside the UK should be supported."

 

At the end of 2007-8, a total of 122 doctors were suspended or excluded, including seven hospital specialists and 15 GPs suspended for more than two years, most on charges of misconduct. Where a doctor is suspended on full pay, costs of replacing them and meeting legal and adminsitrative charges can amount to £500,000, Dr Old said.

 

The figures show that the average length of exclusions for hospital specialists shortened between 2006-7 to 30 weeks, but it lengthened for GPs to 55 weeks.

 

By arrangement with The Independent

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

CEASE-FIRE WITH ULTRAS

 

After years of problems, the Government has finally made the much needed amendments to the ground rules of the cease-fire agreements with the militant groups, which, if implemented properly, will definitely help in keeping the members of the groups signing cease-fire pacts with the Government under control. The Government must have learnt the lessons from the mistakes in the past and there have been instances of members of the militant groups indulging in unlawful activities including extortions even after signing cease-fire agreements in clear violation of the ground rules. Moreover, after P Chidambaram took over as the Union Home Minister, the Centre has adopted a tough stand against the militants and this has also led to making the ground rules of the cease-fire agreements more stringent. Earlier, the militant groups were allowed to keep the weapons in the designated camps and though the ground rules of the cease-fire agreements clearly stated that no one should be allowed out of the camps with arms, this provision was often violated and the Government also did not want to act very tough in the interest of keeping the militant groups under the purview of the cease-fire agreements. But recently, the Centre forced the militant groups under cease-fire agreements to accept new and stringent ground rules, as per which, the weapons will be kept under double lock and no member of the militant groups under cease-fire agreement will be able to move out of the designated camps with weapons. Moreover, the process of issuing identity cards to the members of the outfits under cease-fire agreement has also started, which is a welcome development and will help the police and security forces to keep track of the movements of the members of such groups. However, the police and security forces must play their roles to perfection to ensure that the new ground rules are strictly implemented or else all the efforts will go in vain.


For the militant groups willing to come forward for talks now, the pre-conditions set by the Government of India are even more stringent as they have to surrender weapons and all the members of the groups must move into the designated camps. On the positive side, DHD(J), which was emerging as the most potent of the militant groups of Assam, has decided to accept the pre-conditions of the Government of India to come for talks and already more than 370 members of the outfit came over ground and deposited more than 130 weapons including sophisticated weapons like AK series rifles, rocket launchers etc and they will now be kept in designated camps and the weapons will be kept in the safe custody of the Government. But the Government must try to ensure that all the members of the outfit come forward for talks as holding talks with one faction will not help in solving the problem. Efforts should also be made to ensure that the outfit deposited all its weapons because if some weapons are kept concealed, the possibility of a splinter group reviving a militant outfit cannot be ruled out.

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

TEA INDUSTRY

 

With the traditional dominance of Indian tea on the wane in the international market, there is an urgent need to devise strategies for boosting export. A time was there when tea was almost synonymous with India in the global arena, with Indian tea commanding a respect that was matched by its demand. Fuelled by a number of factors, the past one decade or so has witnessed a slump in the demand for Indian tea in the international market. Declining quality and productivity besides a sense of complacency that failed to acknowledge the role of brand building and promotion were largely responsible for this crash. The emergence of new players like Kenya and Sri Lanka resulted in stiffer competition and Indian tea was no longer calling the shots in the manner it did for decades. The graveness of the situation can be gauged from the fact that even the recent sharp increase in tea prices failed to negate the loss accruing from the fall in production and export. Up to April this year, tea production in the country dwindled to 144.4 million kg compared to 169.9 million kg during the corresponding period last year. Assam, which accounts for a major share of the country’s output, has witnessed a slump of 15 per cent. Exports, too, have plummeted to 50.26 million kg as against 62.83 million kg in the same period earlier.

To regain its lost foothold, the tea industry has to accord priority on a few crucial aspects. First, the qualitative and quantitative decline has to be reversed. Of late the Government has come up with some intervention and it is for the industry to seize the initiative and ensure that the corrective measures yield the desired results. Alongside this, highly imperative is brand-building and sustained promotion besides value-addition. This is even more urgent for Assam tea, which – following the securing of the all-important GI mark -- would do well to launch an aggressive brand-building campaign. The fall in domestic consumption too needs to be addressed as we have a vast home market. Given the health benefits of drinking tea, this can be highlighted and emphasised upon while promoting tea as an ideal beverage. We are yet to explore the prospects of organic tea, which is becoming a fad with the health-conscious. Last but not the least, the small tea growers of the State need to be covered by government support, as they have a big role to play in the growth of the industry.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

DEBATE OVER H-BOMB ‘FIZZLE’

PRAFUL BIDWAI

 

What’s with our security- and space-science establishment? Why does it miss targets, exceed budgets, produce shoddy results, and still claim success after stellar success? Why do we keep showering upon its managers (wrongly called “scientists” because most stopped doing science decades ago) more awards and honours than in any other field? Isn’t it odd that Dr APJ Abdul Kalam received the Bharat Ratna in 1992, six years before Amartya Sen did for work of infinitely greater value than the “Missile Man"s? Isn’t it anomalous that Sen was given India’s highest honour only after receiving the Nobel Prize?


Doesn’t the winding up of the Integrated Guided Missile Programme launched under Dr Kalam in 1983 signify its terminal crisis? Why doesn’t India have a reliable intermediate-range missile barring the Agni-I? If the Defence Research and Development Organisation is a grand success, then why hasn’t it completed a major project without obscene delays and cost overruns–including the Main Battle Tank (launched in 1974, not ready despite a 10-fold bloating of costs), and the Light Combat Aircraft (started in 1983, but still lacking an engine)? Why has the nuclear submarine’s cost risen 30-fold? And why did the Department of Atomic Energy have to get critical Russian designs and equipment for its reactor despite working on it for 34 years?


The DAE and DRDO have long been unmatched for their shoddy work, targets unrelated to capacity, boastful “achievements” which on closer scrutiny get deflated like a balloon, and worse, a culture of excessive secrecy. But with the failure of the Chandrayaan-I, the Indian Space Research Organisation, which had a reputation for transparency and honesty, has joined their league. Its Moon mission had to be terminated because the orbiter got overheated, leading to malfunctioning and collapse of vital subsystems, including sensors which control the craft’s orientation. Eventually, it lost terrestrial radio contact.


It's not the mission’s premature termination that warrants concern. Failures aren’t uncommon in space programmes, as with ISRO’s INSAT-2D and -4C. The cause for worry doesn’t even lie in ISRO’s miscalculation of the temperature at the craft’s surface. This was estimated at 750°C, but turned out higher, necessitating the deactivation of certain payloads and abortion of experiments. Such miscalculations could be part of the learning process. Again, ISRO did some fire-fighting by raising the craft’s Moon orbit from 100 kilometres to 200 km. After the star sensors failed, it tried to stabilise the orbiter with gyroscopes.


ISRO’s real, unforgivable failure lay in misleading the public and its own scientists. ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair clamed that the orbit was raised to enable a better view and “further studies” of the Moon—when it was actually a desperate means to avert a breakdown.


Entire teams of scientists were kept in the dark for three months or longer about the overheating crisis which necessitated rearguard action way back on November 25–barely one month after launch. ISRO’s bosses issued a gag order on researchers against public statements. Three senior ISRO officials publicly asserted in May that there was “nothing wrong” with any of the craft’s systems. ISRO also kept its overseas collaborating scientists in the dark for a month after the first sensor failed. It’s this unethical hiding of the truth that’s ISRO’s greatest sin. Nothing is more antithetical to good science than non-transparency and non-disclosure of the whole truth.


Truth is an even greater casualty in the nuclear weapons arena. This is the holiest of the Holy Cows of national security. Nuclear bureaucrats never do anything that’s not a scientific feat or earth-shaking technological achievement. This explains the glowing terms in which the May 1998 nuclear explosions were described. Their greatest achievement, supposedly, was the testing of a hydrogen (fusion/ thermonuclear) bomb on May 11, along with two other devices: a fission bomb similar to that detonated over Nagasaki in 1945 to kill 70,000 people, with an explosive yield of 12 kilotons (12,000 ton of TNT), and a sub-kiloton device.


However, claims Dr K Santhanam, a DRDO official who was part of the Pokharan-II core team, the H-bomb fizzled out. The fusion assembly, the bomb’s heart, didn’t ignite or did so on a minuscule scale. Both DAE and DRDO strenuously and peevishly deny this. They have challenged Dr Santhanam to produce hard evidence, knowing well that under the rules of secrecy, he’s unlikely to possess such data. National Security Adviser MK Narayanan has called Dr Santhanam “a bit of a maverick”.


Dr Santhanam may well be a maverick—as are many DAE-DRDO officials. But that cannot demolish his claim. Why he chose to remain silent on the H-bomb “fizzle” for 11 years remains a mystery. As does his motive in making the disclosure in a closed-door conference in Delhi on August 25, leaked to the media in violation of Chatham House rules. Instead of issuing a denial, Dr Santhanam repeated his claims on TV. Such conduct raises uncomfortable questions about the culture of our military-science establishment.


However, what’s the truth about the H-bomb? Is Dr Santhanam saying something new? Does it warrant rethinking on India’s moratorium on future nuclear testing, announced in May 1998 and reiterated in 2005? Dr Santhanam isn’t saying anything original. Soon after the Pokharan-II blasts, several weapons designers and seismologists questioned the claim that a thermonuclear bomb was successfully detonated with a yield of 43 or 45 kt. A University of Arizona seismologist, using publicly available seismic data, concluded that the combined yield of the three May 11 explosions was 10 to 25 kt, not the claimed 55 kt.


According to weapons experts at the US Natural Resources Defense Council, the mid-point of the range of their probable yields was about 12 kt. Soon, Nucleonics Week, the global nuclear industry’s trade journal, reported that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory analysts concluded that the second stage of the two-stage fusion assembly failed to ignite as planned. Some retired Indian scientists had similar assessments.

On balance of probability, the rational conclusion is that the H-bomb didn’t perform as planned. Even if it did, a single test can’t give weapons engineers and the military adequate confidence in its design. States conduct multiple tests on a design under different conditions before it’s considered usable. But the DAE took shortcuts. DRDO has similarly declared missiles battle-ready after just one or two test-flights—when technologically advanced countries conduct 10 or more test-flights.


We should further debate the H-bomb issue. But the debate can only proceed if more information is put into the public domain. However, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of demanding that India should test again to develop the H-bomb. That bomb doesn’t even belong to the official doctrine of “minimum credible nuclear deterrence”. India does not need nuclear weapons. They are irrelevant to defence. Rather, they generate insecurity, instability and a potentially ruinous arms race. If India really believes in a nuclear weapons-free world, it should proceed towards regional and global nuclear disarmament.


The advice was ignored because of the first Soviet nuclear test in August that year. But its wisdom remains valid today. Taking the hydrogen bomb route will wantonly raise our capacity for mass destruction without giving us security. It will also draw India into an escalating arms race with China, with horrible consequences. We must say no to further testing.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ECONOMIC LIBERALISATION AND INFLATION

REHANA AHMED

 

It is said that India is a land of million mutinies. It would be appropriate to name India as a land of million crises because a significant proportion of the population faces social and economic deprivation, so much so that after six decades of planning and a democratic government with a welfare State motive India is unable to meet the basic needs of hundreds of millions of people who live in poverty. They do not have enough food and clothing leave alone shelter, health and education. The evidence available shows that the proportion of the population living below the poverty line (defined as a nutritional minimum in terms of calories per day) increased from 34 per cent to 41 per cent in 1989-90 and from 41 per cent to 45per cent i n 2000-2001. The increase was far more remarkable in rural India than in Urban India. It appears that among many reasons, economic liberalisation is one of the major factors leading to poverty and inflation.


The entire debate about economic liberalisation proceeds as if the agricultural sector or rural India is non-existent, or if it exists, it does not matter. This is unbelievable of an economy where three-fourths of the population live in rural areas. Economic reforms in India are likely to widen rather than narrow the rural-urban gap as the process of economic liberalisation has an urban bias. Economic liberalisation means that production and investment decisions will be based on market forces which make the problem all the more complex for rural India. The market forces work in the pursuit of profit, in accordance with the purchasing power than need. And the rising price of essential commodities has brought down the purchasing power of the poor.


The database for poverty estimates is provided by the National Sample Survey tables on consumer expenditure on annual basis. These are based on their samples which are not comparable with complete rounds in terms of either coverage or reliability. And the annual rates of inflation are measured in terms of the wholesale price index or consumer price index for different socio-economic groups like industrial workers, urban non-manual employees and agricultural labourers. The wholesale price indices are limited to representative consumption baskets for the specified consumer groups. Thus the measure of inflation depends upon the price indices and the relative importance or weight of each commodity in the expenditure budget which differs among consumers belonging to different groups, and the worst sufferers are the poor people who have only essential food articles in their consumer basket leave alone fruits, meat, eggs etc. There is little doubt that the major factor underling this increase in the incidence of poverty is the rapid increase in food prices.


The wholesale price inflation was negative for ten weeks in a row, but retail prices of items consumed by people in villages rose at the rate of 13 per cent in the month of July. This variation is mainly because of high weightage of food items in consumer price indices, and food prices are rising at high rates which could further move upwards.


With the persistence of double digit inflation in prices of food grains and in the prices of essential commodities, it would not be surprising if the incidence of poverty registered a further growth. It can be inferred from this that inflation which is concentrated in the prices of necessities, probably redistributed incomes away from the poor leaving them worse off and has spread poverty in the process. High liquidity injection, rising food prices and the possible increase in oil and commodity prices may further push inflation upwards.


The needs of inflation which is bearing fruits now were sown through economic liberalisation which has directly, indirectly, vertically or horizontally affected the food prices, India’s agricultural sector and thus affecting the common people at large. Economic liberalisation has meant trade policy reforms affecting agriculture. It has twofold objectives. It envisaged removal of restrictions on trade other than tariffs and to bring domestic prices closer to world prices. As a part of pro-trade reforms quantitative restrictions have been lifted on considerable number of agricultural commodities. For example, there is no more export control on rice of any variety. Import quotas have been abolished for edible oil, cotton and sugar. State agencies no longer hold monopolies for import of edible oil and cotton. It is a radical departure from the past as the domestic prices of agricultural commodities in India were much lower and more stable than world price. Any attempt to equalise domestic prices with world prices reshaped the whole process of economic reform and made the economy more prone to inflation. Opening up of trade in food grains boosted the income of exporters but the impact on the well-being of the poor is most likely to be negative. Greater exports exert an upward push on prices and there is a strong positive correlation between poverty and the consumer price index for agricultural labour. This ill effect can be marginalised if export opportunity is kept confined to the farm products that do not figure prominently in the consumption basket of the poor.


All this has led to diversion of land from food crops to the commercial crops which has furthermore aggravated the problem of food security. This should also be under check. The increase in domestic prices of essential commodities produced in the agricultural sector is bound to erode food security and raise concerns about the cost of living ~h ic h in turn will have social repurcussions.


The advocates of economic liberalisation are not concerned for their object is to integrate with the affluence of the world outside and not to think about the poverty of rural India. But even the representatives of the people who rule lndia, it seems, do not care except perhaps around election time. The government must not treat economic liberalisation as an excuse for abandoning its strategic role in agricultural development. It is pertinent to mention here that any further windening of rural urban disparities in the economy is bound to worsen the problems in polity and society. India may then die in its villages and the market worship of liberali5ation will have to take its share of the blame.

 

(The writer teaches Economics in Moirabari College).

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TAKEOVER NORMS SHOULDN’T HINDER M&AS

 

SEBI’S decision to amend the Takeover Regulations in respect of depository receipts that enjoy voting rights will make the takeover regime consistent for local and overseas acquirers. However, to the extent the change has implications for the Bharti-MTN deal, the regulator could have come out with the modifications earlier. The takeover norms require that if an acquirer takes control of 15% or more of voting rights in a company, he would have to make an open offer for another 20% stake from the public.


The idea behind the regulation is that if any outsider gets a substantial say in a company through a large voting right then the open offer provides an exit for those investors who may not be happy with the new influential stakeholder. That being the case, there is no reason why the same logic should not apply to depository receipts that enjoy voting rights. If an overseas investors acquires more than 15% stake in an Indian company through depository receipt, ADRs or GDRs, then it is appropriate that he should provide an exit to investors who may be apprehensive of the change.


The new rule is a complete about turn from Sebi’s ‘informal guidance’ in June this year when the regulator had clarified that ADR\GDR holders may not have to make the 20% mandatory offer unless the depository receipts are converted into shares. Such a rule would have provided the overseas acquirer significant flexibility in timing the open offer as he could continue to build stake without worrying about making an offer the moment his underlying voting right crossed the 15% mark.


The acquirer could convert his depository receipts into shares and make an open offer at the most opportune time. The rule change addresses this unfair advantage available to overseas investors and brings them on par with domestic ones. But the regulations must also take into account the fact that the bulk of the global foreign direct investment (FDI) now moves through mergers and acquisitions (M&As). A committee set up by Sebi is already looking into the Takeover Regulations. It should ensure that the revamped takeover regime does not place undue restrictions in the way of M&As.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PITFALLS IN PITTSBURGH

 

The third G-20 meet begins today in Pittsburgh, USA, against the backdrop of a far better global economic environment than on the eve of the previous meet in London in April last. Or the rancour of the first meet in Washington the previous November when a lame duck US President could not mobilise support for coordinated global action. On the face of it that is a good omen. But this very recovery could well become the cause of the summit falling short of the task before it: recession-proofing the world. Agreed, that is a tall order. Boom and bust are an integral part of free-market capitalism.


All the more reason then for policy makers to create a proper framework to prevent the excesses of capitalism while taking advantage of its strengths! The problem is any framework that attempts to modify, if not outrightly dismantle, the existing framework of the global financial architecture is bound to hurt the interests of those who have had it good so far, viz., the advanced countries, especially the US and the EU. Are they prepared for that? Not really!


But unless the lip-service accorded by their leaders to changing the global economic dynamics is backed by action that recognises this changed reality, the Pittsburgh meet will end up as another missed opportunity. The only way to ensure that does not happen is for leaders to drop their nationalist stance in favour of a more internationalist position that recognises the interdependence inherent in today’s globalised economic order. This applies more to the advanced world than to the developing one.


Unless the former, especially the US, realises the futility of national polices that work at cross purposes with global prosperity and eschews policies such as the recent US curbs on imports of Chinese tyres, no summit, however well-intentioned, can deliver. If global imbalances and poor regulation — the two main causes of the financial crisis — are to be addressed there has to be give-and-take on both sides, with more give and less take from the advanced world that has reaped the benefits of the earlier order far more than the developing world. The pressure on India to go along with band-aid solutions ignoring deeper problems will be immense; we would do well not to succumb to it.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

EAT, PRAY, LOVE THE PLANET

 

The relentless quest for low-carbon, sustainable development has seen a nomenclature revolution. As people forage for labels such as ‘organic’ or ‘high fibre’ in their grocery stores as well as in trendy restaurants, it would seem that the world’s forests and hinterland were in danger of being stripped bare. ‘Wild’ is a particular favourite prefix for ingredients, guaranteed to carry off a 20% mark up without a murmur of protest from conscientious consumers.


In India, of course, any wild meats are off limits, but in the west where no such caveats apply, from salmon to
boar, salsify to borage, the wilder the better. The less cooked the better too, given other buzz words such as ‘colourful’ and ‘crunchy’ that chefs seem to prefer these days. In fact, it is sometimes difficult to understand why so many people invest in expensive gadget-laden kitchens if the whole idea is to use them as little as possible. Centuries down the timeline, researchers may well consider that 21st century humans had an irresistible urge to mimic their Neanderthal ancestors when it came to what they put into their mouths.


If the previous two centuries of western civilisation saw an explosion in culinary techniques, the current one has definitely taken a step back, eating things raw that once would not even have been considered edible cooked. Nettles, dandelions and all manner of weeds, nuts and tubers are all being greeted with the same enthusiasm that was once reserved for the choicest cultivated vegetables and fruits. Indeed, in England there is concern that its fabled hedgerows and forests are being stripped bare by misguided healthfood junkies in search of their fix of ‘non-bought’ essentials.


Was humankind’s entire agrarian quest a massive mistake, after all? Surely, a feasible balance has to be struck, both at a culinary and ecological level, between the artificially bolstered produce of intensive farming and regression into enormous, roving, hunter-gatherer societies which the planet is equally ill-equipped to sustain any more.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

ET IN THE CLASSROOM: NEW RULES TREAT GDRS/ADRS ON PAR WITH SHARES

 

Do Global Depository Receipts (GDRs) and American Depositary Receipts (ADRs) currently have voting rights?

The GDRs and ADRs in themselves do not have voting rights, but the underlying equity shares do. These shares are held by a depository, which then issues the corresponding receipts (GDRs/ADRs) to investors looking to buy such instruments. So it is the depository that has the voting rights. Whether the holders of the GDRs/ADRs can vote or not depends on the depository agreement between the company issuing the GDRs/ADRs and the depository. During the initial years when GDRs and ADRs came into vogue, the agreement mandated depositories to vote on behalf of the management. But later, the depository agreements were changed so as to allow the GDR/ADR holders to instruct the depository to vote on their behalf.

 

How do ADRs/GDRs work?

ADRs/GDRs are issued by companies looking to raise funds overseas. These instruments may represent one, multiple or a fraction of the underlying shares. For instance, if an Indian company wants to issue ADRs, it will deliver the corresponding number of shares to the US depository bank. The depository will then issue receipts to investors who have subscribed to the issue. Depository receipts are transferable instruments, so they can be freely traded on the exchange on which they are listed. They are also fungible, which means the holder of ADRs can instruct the depository to convert them into underlying shares and offload them in the local market (in this case India).


What did Sebi say about GDRs/ADRs on Tuesday?

Till now, purchases made through GDRs/ADRs did not trigger an open offer by the acquirer even if the 15% threshold was crossed so long as the depository receipts had not been converted into underlying shares. But on Tuesday, the regulator amended this rule. Anyone now holding ADRs/GDRs with voting rights will have to make an open offer to minority shareholders if his holding touches the 15% limit.


Why did the regulator have to make this amendment?

Securities lawyers and merchant bankers say the Takeover Regulations relating to ADRs/GDRs were drafted at a time when the depositories always voted on behalf of the management. Now that depository receipt holders have the right to vote, it makes little sense to keep ADR/GDR holdings outside the purview of the Takeover Regulations.

How does this amendment affect the Bharti-MTN deal?

Bharti’s proposed takeover of MTN involved issuing GDRs to the South African telecom firm and its shareholders, which would add up to 27% of Bharti’s equity base. In an informal guidance to Bharti in July, the regulator had said that purchases through the GDR route would not trigger an open offer unless the GDRs were converted into shares. But under the new rule, MTN will have to make an open offer for an additional 20% in Bharti. This would make the deal expensive for MTN and also for Bharti, if it wants to get around the new rule.

Can Bharti still go ahead with its deal with MTN?

It can. For instance, the depository agreement can stipulate that the GDRs will not have any voting rights. This is the most inexpensive way of getting around the new rule. But the key question here is whether MTN shareholders will agree to such an arrangement. The other option for Bharti is to cut down the issuance of GDRs to below 15% and pay more cash to MTN. But that could increase the cost significantly for Bharti.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

COMPANIES MOP UP RS 3000 CR IN A DAY

 

MUMBAI: Jaiprakash Associates, a builder of dams and power plants, and Suzlon Energy, the wind power generator maker, on Wednesday led Indian companies in aggressively selling shares, taking advantage of a record rally in stocks to prune their debt.


While Suzlon founders sold their shares, Jaiprakash followed Reliance Industries in selling treasury stock that the company got when it merged Jaypee Cements, and other subsidiaries, with itself.


“Those who have accumulated debt during the boom time by expanding don’t have a choice other than raising funds now,” said Rashesh Shah, chief executive officer at Edelweiss Capital. “The smart rally is also tempting those who want to expand to raise funds.”


Suzlon’s promoters on Wednesday sold 4.5% to raise Rs 678 crore bringing down their stake to 53% from 66% in March 2008, stock exchange filings show. Jaiprakash raised Rs 1,190 crore from the sale.


Indian companies have raised record funds by selling shares to institutional investors this year, after the regulator relaxed pricing rules and stock indices have doubled from their troughs.


About 26 companies, led by Indiabulls Real Estate and Unitech, the second-largest real estate developer, have raised Rs 17,800 crore by selling shares or convertible securities to institutional investors this year, according to Bloomberg data. Indian companies have announced plans to raise as much as $18 billion this year.


Companies such as Unitech and Suzlon piled up debt during the record five years of economic expansion between 2003 and 2008 that also saw the benchmark BSE Sensitive Index, or Sensex, climbing nearly four-fold to beyond 20,000.


They acquired companies overseas and bought land expecting the dream-run to continue. But the credit crisis triggered by the US subprime hit the plans of Indian companies.


Suzlon, which acquired gear-box maker Hansen and REpower of Germany, piled up long- and short-term debt of as much as Rs 11,800 crore. Jaiprakash had a debt of more than Rs 18,000 crore, filings show.


Drugmaker Cipla and 3i Infotech, a technology company partly-owned by ICICI Bank, also sold shares. While Cipla sold shares at Rs 263.75 apiece to raise more than Rs 600 crore, 3i raised Rs 318 crore at Rs 84.75 a piece.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

JET SEEKS NOD TO APPROACH OVERSEAS INVESTORS FOR FUNDS

ARUN KUMAR

 

NEW DELHI: Jet Airways, which recently suffered the worst pilot strike, has sought the government’s permission to sell shares to overseas investors to avoid loan defaults and violation of debt covenants, as they may not be able to raise entire funds through equity route from domestic investors.


“The company cannot afford to have a financial crisis impacting its operations, which may have negative cascading effect in terms of sustenance of 13,000 employees, besides defaulting on payment obligations and violating the covenants prescribed by the various lenders,” the company said in a letter to the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB).


A Jet Airways spokesman was not available for comment. Jet, like most of its rivals, such as Kingfisher Airlines and SpiceJet, is suffering from high debt and spiralling costs. Although distressed investors, such as Wilbur Ross, have bought stakes in budget carriers, most investors shun airline stocks due to high operational costs and poor profitability outlook.


After many months of planning to raise funds, Jet, in August, passed an enabling resolution to raise $400 million through QIP, GDR, FCCB, follow-on public offer, rights issue or fully-convertible debentures. However, the company decided to opt for QIP, as it is the quickest way to raise money. Investment bankers advising the company believe that they may not be able to help it raise funds from domestic investors alone and hence, qualified FIIs should be allowed to participate in the proposed QIP.


“As the appetite for domestic investment in the aviation industry in India is not strong, the company has been advised by its merchant bankers that a QIP to only domestic investors will not enable it to raise the requisite funds and hence, the company should seek participation in such QIP, from qualified FIIs in addition to domestic financial institutions and mutual funds,” the company said in the letter.


Jet, where foreigners hold 4.99% stake, has said the share sale may be done at Rs 253 per share that may lead to selling nearly eight crore shares. That would result in dilution of the promoter stake to 42% from 80%. If the entire offer is bought by foreigners, their holdings may rise to close to as high as 49%.


The company’s share price on Wednesday was Rs 312. At this price, the company has the market capitalisation of Rs 2,700 crore.


However, in the first tranche, the company is contemplating to raise up to $200 from eligible domestic and foreign institutional investors.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

UNLEASH YOUR NATURAL INTELLIGENCE

PARAMAHAMSA NITHYANANDA

 

Intelligence is not something to attain; every single being is endowed with intelligence. Each one of us has intelligence. It is an inherent, inborn quality of life. Most of us have lost touch with our natural intelligence; that is why we are not able to live life to its fullest potential. We mistake our acquired knowledge for intelligence.


Every single being in nature has been endowed with inherent intelligence. Birds have a natural intelligence that enables them to fly. From the caterpillar to the chimpanzee, every animal lives its life beautifully using the natural gift of intelligence. Plants and trees have natural intelligence; this is what enables them to produce food directly from the sun. Man also has tremendous natural intelligence. He is a more evolved, higher form of consciousness than birds, animals or trees.


By nature we have all the intelligence in our human body. The difficulty is we strongly believe we are limited. We have been conditioned to think that we have only limited capabilities, so we have forgotten how to use these capabilities. Hence we are not tuned to the technique of tapping into all the dimensions of our being.


You have a natural, spontaneous intelligence inside you. As a child, you are born intelligent. You looked at things in a very simple, straightforward way and were so spontaneous and enthusiastic. But family, society and conventional schooling destroys the natural intelligence within us. As a result we sacrifice our priceless creativity and uniqueness, and we are not even aware of it.


By constantly thinking that you are not enough, you try to imitate others and waste the wonderful natural energy bubbling inside you. If you blindly imitate another person’s performance or behaviour instead of acting from your own inner spontaneity, your own intelligence, you will be cheating yourself out of wonderful possibilities.
Intelligence is the ability to respond to a situation or challenge. As the situation differs, the dimension of intelligence that responds to the situation also differs.


Everyone is born intelligent; it is a question of just discovering each one’s unique dimension of intelligence.
Allow your complete being to simply express itself and you will see your natural intelligence flowering beautifully. You will become integrated and fulfilled. Be Blissful!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE RAGING BULL VS THE FORMIDABLE BEAR

 

The devastating days of September 2008 are now a distant memory. A year on from Lehman, the Nifty has topped 5000, Indian companies are back to raising money and industrial production is climbing up. As animal spirits return with a vengeance and the market starts to get its daily doses of greed, investors and traders are keeping a close watch on the Sensex. But trying to track the future direction of the market is an arduous task. Upswings and downswings—the rollercoaster ride can both be thrill-inducing and mind-numbing.


Few though are better equipped to know the speed and trajectory of the market as the two mighty gladiators—Big Bull Rakesh Jhunjhunwala and Mighty Bear Shankar Sharma. Apart from being masters of their craft, they represent rival ideologies. Mr Jhunjhunwala, the boss of Rare Enterprises, is a staunch believer in India’s long-term story; Mr Sharma, the owner of First Global, is a vocal sceptic and advocates caution.


In the course of a big encounter on ET NOW, Mr Jhunjhunwala said the Indian growth story has gone through a “stress test” and has passed with flying colours. He also said long-term investors should not worry about Nifty’s level over a one-year period. Mr Sharma, true to form, attributed the economy’s robustness to “good karma” and said the big scrips, Reliance, Bharti and NTPC, are fully valued.


Indian markets are up more than 60% this year and are only 30% away from their all-time high of 21000. Rakesh, what is driving Indian markets up, money or earnings?


Rakesh Jhunjhunwala (RJ): I do not know whether the market is liquidity-driven or earnings-driven, because we do not know whether sometimes the market rises precede earning rises. If you had seen any analyst forecast in 2008-09 or 2009-10, they were at 1200-1300.


Who is to judge what are the right valuations? What are the right fundamentals?


RJ: Markets go up because there is a positive number of buyers. So, I do not believe there is any market in the world which is necessarily liquidity-driven and markets do not guide interest rates. Generally, governments do and (economic) realities do. Interest rates worldwide are at extremely low levels and are expected to remain at low levels. That, I think, is driving a lot of money to assets, both equity and debt. And that is not only an Indian phenomenon, it is a worldwide phenomenon. So, whether it is liquidity-driven or earnings-driven I do not know, but I do not believe in any liquidity-driven market where ultimately markets go up because of an abundance of buyers.

Shankar Sharma (SS): First of all, what is liquidity I am not able to define. There is no real measure of liquidity. When somebody comes and buys stocks and he puts in, let’s say, a million dollars. We say a million dollars came in. But for that million dollars to have got invested, somebody sold a million dollars. So, net liquidity in the market is always zero. Arithmetically, it’s not possible. If you are a basic accounting person, you will know that it is wrong to look at the one side of the ledger and not look at the other side, balancing the contra entry.

So, I do not understand when people say money came and hence, markets went up, or money went out and hence, markets came down. I always say there is somebody who bought, and somebody who sold, on the other side of the trade and net liquidity was always zero. The problem with all of us in markets is that we want to explain every market phenomenon based on some rationale and some logic, but not at all times are markets supposed to behave logically. But the human mind can’t accept that sometimes strange things happen.

REFORMS ON TRACK?

Rakesh, this market got rerated on May 18, when UPA 2 came back on hopes of stability and reforms. But in the past 100 days, the only reform has been disinvestment.


RJ: I am not as happy as I would be, but I think, surely they (the government) are acting. They have got the direct tax code done. They are talking less and they are doing things. I think, we will disinvest Rs 15,000-25000 crore this year, shortly.


Is that good enough?

RJ : Well, Rs 20,000-25,000 crore is very good. The government has only taken a credit of a very minuscule amount of net flows in the Budget. I think, in other areas also they are taking action. But part of the focus has been hurt because of the drought. All in all, not as good as it could be, but good. Not as bad as we thought of the Budget.

HIGH RISE


Will Indian markets touch a new high in the next 12 months?


SS: I doubt, it would.


RJ: I would say it is not easy. We got to have world economies performing well too.


SS: No. Let me interrupt. There is another factor. I just think that big heavyweights of the market will ensure that it becomes a really big challenge which is your top 4 or 5 stocks constituting 30-40% on the index. On the other hand, Maruti is at an all-time high. It is in a bull market. Mahindra and Mahindra may well get there. I think, even BPCL, strangely enough, is getting close to that.


PNB is at a new all-time high. So, there is actually a bull market, a secular bull market and a lot of stocks other than your main index stocks are rising. In the US, the Nasdaq has also seen many stocks go up many, many times. But because Microsoft, Intel and Dell have a big weightage, the Nasdaq index does not go up. But a lot of stocks have gone up many, many times. So, you will have a big divergence between headline index numbers and performers below that.


RJ: The question is you may be excited over the market going into a big bull run. Now, about it going over 6200-6100, look at it in two ways. I am a short-term trader, and so, I will watch the market day-to-day and watch it like an eagle, hour-to-hour, day-to-day, minute-to-minute. Then, I am a long-term investor. For a long-term investor, as long as the Nifty does not go below 3800-4000 and we pass another year, so what? I am not in a hurry that the market rises above 6100 in the next 12 months.


And therefore, only as a long-term investor, I will profit or I should. We are in a bull market. So, I do not see how it is important that we should go above 6100 in the next 12 months. As long as we remain above 4000-4100, that is fair enough. You are still in that original bull market and then, maybe, over a period of time, it may go up. I have no doubt it will. We do not know when.


FISCAL STIMULUS


There is a popular theory in the market about the effect of the fiscal stimulus and the timing of its withdrawal...

RJ: I think, in India, the physical stimulus is all a joke.


SS : I completely agree.


RJ: Except excise, which a lot of companies absorb.


SS: Exactly.


SS: India did it very right, very smartly. We actually did nothing. We believed in good karma that this too shall pass. Other countries, actually speaking, spent money and they have got growth. We have spent nothing.


RJ: But Shankar, when we are going to have 6% growth. I am told for the first quarter, without any real fiscal stimulus. Just look at the inherent trends of the economy, my friend.


SS : I agree, of course.


RJ : That’s an indicator. It shows that in this downturn, the Indian growth story has gone through a stress test and the Indian corporate sector and the Indian economy have responded extremely well. That’s the long-term lesson of this bull market and of the past 12 months, and that’s going to aid India. As a long-term investor, I want to know what is the inherent potential of India for the next 10 years, and that’s positive, positive, positive. That’s a larger story rather than crossing 6100 or 4200. What is going to happen in China? What is going to happen in the US?


RJ: Ultimately, what is going to drive Indian markets is the economic performance. I believe, India will be at a different level of economic performance soon. We are 12-24 months away from that.


Rakesh, in the short term, it’s sentiment, medium term, it’s liquidity, and long term, it’s earnings. Do you think in all the three, we have managed to weather the storm?


RJ: I think, we have weathered the storm very well and that’s because of the inherent strength of the economy. The inherent strength has not been planned for, but that is the real strength of India.


SS: That’s the karma.


RJ: No, that is the reason. Because we have a free democracy, we are growing the way a natural society should grow. It’s all bottoms-up. It’s not top-down. You have a child to whom you have to teach every day, and the tutor is there to help him do well. And we have a child who studies on his own and does well. India is the second (child).


SS: Yeah, bhagwan bharose (god willing), we are doing well.


RJ: We are doing well.


SS: I know. So, this is good karma, boss.

 

 

INFLATION
Shankar, the biggest risk is seen to be inflation. The base effect will become visible soon. So, what happens in the second half?


SS: That’s a fair point, because last year, we had hyper inflation around August. That’s when it peaked. So, we have had the sort of good effects of that this year by actually showing 1% minus. I think, that will creep back over the next 12 months. Rates may well harden globally if people start to believe that there are inflationary expectations. I do not belong to the hyper inflation camp as of now. Based on the data that I see, I do not believe we are looking at a very huge tightening globally or that we are looking at a very huge inflationary runaway boom.

RJ: Everybody is expecting 5-6% inflation. I don’t think, it will go above that, but I am not an expert. We have always had 5-6% inflation. But I think, 4-5% inflation is good for the economy. It’s good for any economy.

SS: Oh, we need it. It will be good. I agree.


MARKET OUTLOOK


What is your outlook for the Sensex over the next 12-14 months and for emerging markets?


SS: I think, the Sensex will have to struggle a lot because of the factors like Reliance, and others like NTPC, Bharti etc. because I think, they are fully baked stories. I have to look elsewhere from the Sensex to make money. And I think, the auto pack and the IT pack give me a lot hope that we will see a bull market in one part of the market, definitely. And you are already seeing it. We have liked Maruti from Rs 600-700, and still continue like it. Nothing has changed there.


RJ: Cautiously optimistic. Keeping the fingers crossed.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

DON'T LEAVE REGULATION TO THE EXPERTS

T K ARUN

 

There is such a thing as an excess of trust on expertise. The global financial crisis, whose demise is still a matter of debate, was created by bright and talented experts who ran riot over the world markets, spewing wondrous, new triple-A rated financial products.


These products turned — in the hands of the common variety of bankers and pension fund managers who picked them up — into toxic bombs that blew up in their starry-eyed faces. The guys who gave these delayed action toxic bombs and bomblets triple-A ratings were also experts. So were the regulators. Nothing very sophisticated, of course, about the mess they left behind.


That mess has to be cleaned up by the aam aadmi and his aam representatives. Of course, expertise is called for in designing the clean-up and in carrying out the salvage and in devising new operating procedures to ensure that such a mess is not created yet again. What the appropriate expertise is, however, cannot be left to the experts to choose. The people’s representatives must supervise that process.


They can take their time doing it, consult a large enough number of experts, ask probing questions about the rationale for each proposal and come to a conclusion about what is right for the people at large. The short point is that the people’s representatives should not abdicate this responsibility to professional experts. Once new regulation is put in place, its implementation should be left to the professionals, once again. The people’s representatives should carry out institutionalised oversight of that regulation. There is, of course, a clear difference between oversight and meddling.


Securitisation of mortgages and engineering of assorted derivatives that had these securities as their underlying assets were key components of the crisis. Securitisation, however, should not stop it being an effective method of increasing liquidity and reduce the cost of borrowing. One reason why student loans in the US are so cheap is that they are securitised.


A Rs 10 lakh loan given to a home-buyer or a student, say, is broken up into 1,000 bonds of Rs 10,00 each, and these bonds are sold to investors. The bank that made the loan no longer has to wait for the loan to be repaid for it to lend that money again – an amount close to Rs 10 lakh has been recovered by the sale of these bonds. Of course, the bulk of interest payments on the loan will now accrue to the bondholders, and not to the bank. This is securitisation.


Since the bank’s funds are not locked up for the tenure of the loan, its effective cost of funds comes down and it can offer lower rates of interest. This is a good thing. But once a loan is securitised, there is no direct link between the borrower and those who now receive the stream of debt servicing payments. In such a situation, how do we ensure that loan originators do not act perversely, make dodgy loans, securitise them and get them off their books, get their own money back and let the bondholders carry the can?


Regulation stipulates various methods, including getting the bonds rated by credit rating agencies. These proved to be inadequate. The IMF has come out with some sensible suggestions for revamping regulation on securitisation, in its report on financial stability. The key proposals are reproduced below:


- Policies should reduce incentives for “rate shopping” and for ratings-related arbitrage of regulatory requirements, including by having rating agencies disclose their methodologies and publish their rating performance data, and reducing regulatory reliance on ratings.

-The loan originator should retain a portion of the securitised loan on its own books, say 5%. This means that they have a disincentive to create risky loans. Retention requirements should be tailored to the type of financial product, its underlying risks, and forward-looking economic conditions — barring this, policymakers should choose a second-best retention scheme that covers most outcomes.


- Financial statement disclosure and transparency should be enhanced, especially as regards off-balance sheet exposures. However, disclosures should concentrate on materially relevant information and not overburden securitisers or investors with irrelevant data.


- Securitiser compensation should be revised toward a longer-term horizon. Just because vast amounts of loans are made and securitised, the originator should not be entitled to fancy bonuses — his compensation should be linked to the long-term performance of the loan. The IMF says recent changes to accounting standards for securitisations move us closer to this goal.


- Securitised products should be simplified and standardised in order improve liquidity, ensuring prices better reflect actual transactions. All this is not rocket science. Our legislators just need to spend some time studying the various options and asking experts the right set of questions. What they should not do is to leave everything to putative experts.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

HOW LONG WILL THE GOLD LUST LAST?

NIDHI NATH SRINIVAS

 

Now that gold has crossed $1000/ounce how far will it go, that’s the big question. A lot hinges on it. Whether it is buying jewelry, ETF paper and Diwali coins or selling grandma’s clunky neckpiece, in gold timing is everything. But is there still an upside to these lifetime-high prices or should you pocket your winnings and exit? ET helps you join the dots.


One of the easier ways to figure gold’s general trend in the coming months is to keep an eye on what companies that mine and produce gold think about it. As they are best clued into gold’s future demand and supply, when mining companies start preparing for prices to rise, it is time to place your bets accordingly.


Gold mining and exploration is a very cash-intensive business. Extracting ore even in an operating mine needs shovels of cash. Mining companies are, therefore, heavily dependent on bank finances. But gold is a high-risk business that moves with every tremor and shake in global economy and politics. Bankers are understandably wary of investing in such a volatile market.


To get some peace of mind, bankers ask mining companies to lock the selling price for at least some of their future output, especially when gold prices are bearish. When mining companies sell in advance a part of their output for a fixed price and/or for a floating spot price contract, it is called hedging. All mining companies have hedge books which clearly state how many ounces they have sold in advance and at what price.


When gold sells for less in the spot market than the fixed price, the company books a profit. However, when the price in the spot market spirals beyond what was locked in by the mining company, it loses out on potential gains. In other words, while hedging allows a mining company’s bankers to sleep easy, it can be lousy for shareholders as it does not allow the company to maximise profits when the value of gold increases.


Luckily, mining companies have a choice, albeit an expensive one. When they foresee a continuous rise in gold prices due to a mismatch between physical demand and supply, they can ‘dehedge’ their books by ‘buying’ out these forward contracts. Spending this extra cash is worthwhile because it gives them the freedom once again to sell gold at the spot market rate and enjoy a windfall.


This is exactly what is happening now. When the world’s biggest gold company Barrick hedged its output, it did not anticipate prices would cross $1000/ounce. But Barrick is now confident gold prices will continue to rise for a sufficiently long period as demand outpaces supply.

 

That is why it is willing to spend $3 billion over the next one year to eliminate fixed price contracts for 3 million ounces and a part of its floating spot market contracts. The decision to gain full advantage of the gold price on all future production has been made in light of an “increasingly positive” outlook on the gold price, coupled with continuingly robust supply and demand fundamentals, Barrick said recently. In short, gold is getting even more scarce.


Barrick is hardly alone. Another gold mining major, South Africa’s AngloGold Ashanti, has made significant cuts to its hedge book and promised further reductions by year-end. Industry-watcher VM Group said in a report last month that the global gold hedge book has fallen from more than 100-million ounces in 2009 to just 14.7-million ounces by mid-year.


The decline in gold hedging books and high spot market prices trigger off another major trend. By maximising profits, mining companies once again become flush with cash. This allows them to resume prospecting for gold, while high market prices convinces their bankers this expense is justified. The price of gold is now high enough to attract the more expensive sources of supply.


Gold exploration suffered over the last 20 years because of low gold prices. But now mining companies believe they have a chance. They are also convinced demand will outstrip supply in the foreseeable future. This strong vote of confidence in gold prices is great news for investors and sellers. But if you plan to shop, the time to go is now.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIA MORE BALANCED THAN TYPICAL ASIAN GROWTH MODEL: MORGAN STANLEY

 

Every word spoken by Stephen Roach, Chairman -Morgan Stanley Asia is heard carefully in markets around the world. In this exclusive interview with our business channel ET Now Stephen Roach explains what is happening in economies and markets around the world, how India and China stack up individually & with respect to each other and the path global economies will take to come out of the global crisis. Here is a full transcript of the interview.


Your position basically puts you in a place where you have an eagle’s eye view of Asia, so how does Asia compare to other parts of the world, say America or Europe?


Asia is the world’s greatest growth story right now and it has been growing extremely rapidly since the turn of the century in large part because of a huge push in globalisation which has left Asia as the greatest beneficiary.

So let us look back a little bit, why do you think India, let us talk specifically about India, how do you think they managed to avoid a meltdown like the US one in terms of the housing sector?


India unlike many of the large Asian economies is a much more balanced economy. It is less dependent on external markets, on exports driven economic growth and actually has a very large consumption sector and emerging middle class and so when the world imploded post-Lehman, India certainly got hit but its vulnerability was on a much-much smaller scale.


Let us talk about the global economy, would you say the worst is over for the global economy?


Yeah, I hope so. We have been through a crisis the likes of none of us even including old-timers like myself have ever seen in our lifetime but the key issue, I think is what lies ahead not, you know, what has already transpired. Unlike earlier post-crisis rebounds which have tended to be strong and vigorous, it soon is going to be fairly weak and anaemic for a number of years. So it is going to be a very challenging environment, especially for Asian economies which have long depended on strength in their external markets to drive their own economic recovery.


Do you subscribe to the new normal theory which says that US is going to experience a V-shape recovery?

I do not think the US is going to have a V-shape recovery. The biggest sector in the US is the American consumer; it is still about 71-72% of US GDP. We have looked through 12 years of excess consumption in United States supported by borrowing, by drawing out of savings and by asset bubbles and all of that has now been drawn into question by this crisis. So, if the consumer is going to be lucky to grow at half the rate that he or she did over the past 12 years, then the US is going to be growing much-much slower than the past. There will be no V-shape recovery in America over the next few years.


Let us talk about China; lot of the world seems to beginning its hopes on strong growth in China, what are the chances China will falter?


I am a China bull that is why I moved to Asia two and a half years ago. I still am very optimistic on prospects for China but China is now at a critical juncture. The model that it has relied on for the past 30 years, export led, investment led, it has just about hit its max and the Chinese were very aggressive in stimulating their economy in late 2008, they have gotten good payback from it in early 2009 but at a cost most of the growth has come in investment which exacerbates China’s excess capacity funded by a surge of bank lending, which is worrisome because it had a compromise on long quality to achieve it.


So, China could falter again at some point in 2010 given the unbalanced character of this post-crisis stimulus, still very optimistic on the long term prospect for the Chinese economy but I am raising some warnings that I have not raised before about China. China’s own Premier Wen Jiabao said, several years ago that while China is strong on the surface, beneath its surface it is unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, ultimately unsustainable, I think the Premier was right. I think China has provided stimulus into its most unbalanced sectors, investment and exports. It has relied on potentially destabilising funding mechanisms through a very-very rapid bank lending to pull lots of stimulus. So these types of actions I do not think are sustainable in accordance with the Premier’s own concerns which I share.

 

Does this in some ways remind you of the 1990s when large state-owned Chinese banks nearly became insolvent?

No, we are not there in anyway whatsoever, I think the banks have really come out of that earlier period of huge burns of non-performing loans, much better managed and I think better capitalised and with a more balance sort of businesses, however, if the government continues to provide bank directed stimulus aimed at driving growth through investment outlays then it is conceivable that there could be a new round of lending problems for the large Chinese banks.


What can China do to increase its internal consumption?


The actions that I favour the most over the years have been to invest heavily in social safety. The special social security pensions, nationwide medical care and unemployment insurance for cyclically vulnerable Chinese workers. China has paid only lip service to the safety net. In recent years it needs to do and can do and offer a lot more. Only then will families be willing to draw down the excesses of precautionary saving which have inhibited the development of a broader and deeper consumer culture in China. The consumer share of the Chinese economy last year fell to about 35%. That is the lowest share that I have ever seen from large economy in modern economic history. The US by contrast that the opposite, the consumer soared above 72% and Americans need to consume less, the Chinese need to consume more, those are the critical ingredients of a global or balancing recipe that I have been a strong advocate for a number of years.


If China’s growth is unsustainable what effect could it have, for instance on the world economy and particular neighbouring countries like India?


Well, if China falters again and the growth rate goes from an average of 10 over the past 30 years down to, say a mid single digit level, that would be very disruptive for the rest of developing Asia whose supply chain connectivity to the Chinese assembly line has been a critical piece of their own growth dynamics. India interestingly enough would be less affected than the rest of developing Asia because of its relatively limited external sector and relatively limited connectivity with China.


So there could be another slowdown in China, why do you say that?


Because China’s growth impetus right now is concentrated mainly in the investment area, increases in fixed asset investment accounted for fully 88% of total GDP growth in China in the first half of this year. It is a classical Chinese growth strategy where they stimulate investment a lot, buys them time and then they count on improving global economy to stimulate external demand and the great Chinese export machine. That latter piece of the support to Chinese growth is going to be missing next year, not because of any problem in China but because the global economy is just not going to snap back. So growth will slow again in China and if they want to keep growth close to 10%, there has to be another stimulus, more investment, more bank lending and therefore more problematic set of actions for already unbalanced Chinese economy.


If this slowdown does happen, in all likelihood you even touched on this just now, China will pump more money into infrastructure or do you think the stance of policymakers will change?


I am hopeful that this crisis is a real wake up call for China that the, what they call proactive fiscal stimulus, largely infrastructure, spending, bank funded, augmented by export tax incentives, they all recognise that, let us just does not cut it in a post-crisis world where there are external markets are going to stay weak for a long time. I think they get a wake up call next year when the American consumers does not come back and they realise that they have got to tap their greatest resource which is 1.3 billion consumers of their own to drive economic growth. The idea that China can grow by producing goods that others consume, ultimately hits a dead wall when the Chinese recognise that what is really missing here is the willingness to produce things that their own consumers consume.


Okay, is China now realising that it is creating a bubble and in turn trying to tighten the flow of cheap money?

Well, I think there has been some debate in China over the unsustainable character of economic growth in the first half of this year and I and others I think have given the Chinese leadership a lot of advice on the lack of wisdom in that approach. Not only was the contribution from investment bank lending excessive but there was a monstrous equity bubble that left the Chinese stock market hugely overvalued. There were signs also that property markets in coastal China were starting to heat up again and the government has set up a number of signals in the last couple of months that are aimed at tempering the excesses of these asset markets as sources of economic growth. So there is a sense of this but at the end of the day, growth is absolutely paramount importance in China to guarantee and ensure social stability. They are very worried most of all that significant shortfall in economic growth could drive unemployment sharply higher and destabilise the system. So they are sort of walking a fine line between what it takes to keep the growth and employment magic alive and what it takes to temper the excesses that ultimately might bring those same characteristic into a lot of pressure.


Can America be facing any similar problems as it is coming out of recession, for instance we have certainly seen equities like surging over the past few months?


We have had powerful moves in equity markets around the world, especially in developing Asia, in particular in China but also in the United States but the economic fundamentals are not as strong as the market. So one or two things which are going to happen, the economies will really catch fire and they will achieve a stronger recovery than seems to be the case now and the markets will falter and recognise that this liquidity driven momentum was temporary at best.

 

And should central bankers and policymakers err on the side of easy money or would you say they should keep liquidity tight?


This is to me the fundamental question of the post-crisis era. I think the reason we had this crisis, the reason we had this severe recession of the global economy is that central bankers made huge mistakes, especially in United States in fostering the climate of excess liquidity. They created one asset bubble after another from dotcom, to property, to credit to you name it. Now we are paying a price for that. So near term central bankers need to stay accommodated to faster recovery but there must be much more focussed and disciplined in preventing this broad array of asset bubbles from ever occurring in the future again.


I must go back to the equities question; would you say that Asian stock markets have outpaced earnings growth?

Yes, it is particularly true in Asia and especially in China.

 

Okay, let us talk specifically about Indian stock markets, do you think BSE 30 or Nifty 50 stocks seem expensive to you?


I think the Indian market has run a lot as well. I think the valuations are not nearly as excessive as they are in China. I am very optimistic on the fundamentals of the Indian economy, micro, macro, politics, post-election. I think the market has discounted a lot of that right now but I still think there is room for further appreciation of the major indexes in India.


Okay, I am sure you are familiar with this number, 6.1%, GDP growth; was better than, some, lot of projections actually, do you expect the Indian economy to sustain at this momentum?


I think there is a good chance and India can sustain fair amount of momentum post-crisis. I think the 6.1% increase having occurred at a period where the monsoon related rains were disappointing, is particularly heartening. India does have a relatively good immunity in this deeper period of global turmoil, I think that will serve India well and I see a fair amount of impetus on the infrastructure side from the new government.



Alright, along the same lines, would you agree with this, the Reserve Bank of India expecting 6% growth for 2009 to 2010 with an upward bias, do you agree with that?


My own view is that India may be able to average 8% GDP growth over the next five years, that would be years when it is below that years, when it is above it but I think the Indian economy is moving into a very-very impressive growth trajectory.


So let us put this in kind of a wider picture, in spite of the infrastructure bottlenecks, India has managed to touch 9% GDP growth between 2005 and 2008, do you think India can return to that level within this context, perhaps even touch 10% if economies like the US and Europe do not turnaround?


I think it is possible again because India is much more balanced than your typical Asian growth model, draws a lot more support from internal private consumption and as long as Indian families, Indian households remain comfortable with income security, I think that will keep spending and I think that India could realise high single digit growth numbers as a result.


And then you have touched on this a little bit but what is your growth forecast for India in 2009 to 2010?

I am not going to give you a growth forecast, I will leave that up to the economist, several of whom work for me at Morgan Stanley India. I just want to stress again I am fundamentally optimistic on the Indian economy.


Okay, so you do not want to give a growth forecast from 2009 to 2010, what is your outlook to 2011 then?

Well, again, I think I said earlier I think an 8% growth trajectory for India over a five-year period is achievable provided they stay the course on their macro improvements and the savings and the infrastructure and the foreign direct investment area, the micro stays well in terms of the performance of the companies, the workforce, banks and of the politics, the third leg, still are here, delivers on the reform, I think India can do 8%.


Let me ask you this, is there financial stress in India?


I think the RBI is very focussed on inflation risk, was focussed on inflation risk for several years leading up to the crisis and I think they do believe and I subscribe to this that in this environment, you need more discipline with respect to monetary policy than accommodation.


Okay, let us talk about sectors, are there any sectors that you think will grow strongly in India?

 

Look I am an optimist on manufacturing, in a broad array of professional services, not just BPO but retail, insurance. I think again India’s strength is balance and there are a number of sectors and companies in areas the Indian economy, it should benefit from the post-crisis upturn in the world.


And if you look at India and China, would you say that India’s domestic market is bigger source of strength for the country, than China’s local market is?


Yeah, absolutely, I mean the size of the Chinese local market is larger than the size of the Indian local market but in terms of shares of GDP, drivers of country growth, you know, the Chinese consumers are 35% of the Chinese GDP. The Indian consumers maybe 55%, so there is a significantly different role played by the Indian consumer in driving the Indian economy and this is the case in looking to the contribution that the Chinese consumer makes to the Chinese economy.


Would you agree with this India has been relatively insulated to the global markets is certainly being praised as the region wide India is not as badly hit as some other countries by the global recession, would you agree with that?


I think in India’s relatively small net exposure to the external sectors certainly is a reason why the country has not been hit as hard but it is till heavily exposed to capital inflows, especially portfolio equity inflows from overseas investors and when a crisis comes and there is a fly down of emerging market, equities India does have considerable vulnerability to those types of trends, so it certainly escaped the worst of the crisis and I think for the foreseeable future, will continue this but you cannot speak of absolute immunity for India from global problems.

And this next question, we will talk a little bit about this, UPA’s return to power with a stronger mandate, has basically restored or rather it has given an increased confidence inside and outside of India, what is your view on that?


Look, I think the Congress party win in mid-May was very-very important and very decisive. For the past five years running up to that while Prime Minister Singh did lead a congress dominant coalition, he had to exert a lot of energy on the politics of coalition management given the large presence of the communists as a minority partner, that is not a factor now. The communists having suffered a really big defeat in the May election, I think there is greater latitude for Prime Minister Singh to now push ahead on reforms and other types of market opening initiatives; it would be very constructive for India in the years ahead.


Okay, now are you happy with what the UPA has achieved in its first 100 days?


Yeah, look, India was explained to me by a senior Indian leader who I have great respect for; do not look for a Roosevelt or even Obama like frenzy of legislation. In India look for the first 100 days to be dominated by debate, that is the way we do things in India. I think there was some progress that was made in terms of tax relief and on the infrastructure front, there needs to be follow up and I think the Indian leadership is very sensitive to that objective.


Let us do a contrast question here and in contrast to China, India has not really made any big investments in infrastructure, so how fast you think India could grow if it were to invest to better roads, airports, power plants etc.?

 

Look, this will be a huge benefit for Indian growth. There are bottlenecks in terms of manufacturing activity because of the deficiencies on the infrastructure side that impinge on supply chain logistics to support India’s manufacturing base. So I think infrastructure is absolutely key to unlock those efficiencies which could be brought about by a more high productivity oriented manufacturing centre.


Let us say you are a foreign investor, what would you worry about most with regard to India?


Yeah, worry a lot about access to domestic markets, the repatriation of profits back to home markets and then significant shortfalls in infrastructure support that I would need to execute at international standards.

Can you explain on that why is that worry?


You set up a manufacturing plant somewhere in a remote Indian province, how do you get the goods out to and how do you get the supplies in to fuel your manufacturing business, you need infrastructure to accomplish every bit of that.


What about China?


China has mastered the art, infrastructure led, foreign direct investment from multinationals overseas. India can certainly borrow a page from the Chinese script in that regard.


Okay and how far would you agree with this assessment, there is a lot of talk about the balance of the world economy shifting to the East to China and India, to what extent do you agree with that?


It is a great topic, it is a fertile ground for debate. Actually I have a book coming in a few weeks called The Next Asia that explores the possibility in great detail. I am a big fan, a huge believer, a major supporter of Asian economic dynamism but my conclusion is that until Asia really takes actions to stimulate its own internal private consumption, then Asia as an engine to global growth will not come to realise as many people think has already been the case. The Next Asia, again the title of the book needs the Asian consumer to play a key role in driving pan-regional economic growth.


Is there any other thoughts, any other final thoughts you want to leave us with regard to India specifically in its economic growth trajectory?


Well, India definitely has a very balanced growth model, especially when compared with unbalanced growth model such as those problems in China or the smaller Asean economies. I think ultimately balance will serve India well and it allows the Indian economy more latitude in terms of achieving sustainable economic growth at rapid rates over a long period of time.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'RATING IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR AN AUDIT'

APURV GUPTA

 

The quality of information plays an important role in the rating outcome. A credit rating agency, however, might make necessary adjustments to reported figures for arriving at the rating, feels D R Dogra, managing director of CARE, a full service rating company that offers a wide range of rating and grading services across sectors. He tells ET that rating cannot be construed as a substitute for an exhaustive audit or a fraud detection exercise. Excerpts:


The credit crisis has exposed weaknesses in many financial intermediaries. How can rating agencies ensure their views are more accurate and unbiased?


Despite due diligence, there is always scope for improvement. Credit rating agencies (CRA) do not carry out a separate audit but takes cognisance of the information available from annual reports, submissions from management, secondary sources and opinions from lenders/ investors. As such, the quality of information plays an important role in the rating outcome. A CRA, however, might make necessary adjustments to reported figures to rate a company.


Nonetheless, the same cannot be construed as a substitute for an exhaustive audit or a fraud detection exercise. In a wider perspective, CRAs could consider avoiding potential conflict of interest generated by having ancillary business along with ratings business. At CARE we have stopped undertaking any advisory business. All new ratings are assigned by external rating committee.


Are the rating agencies facing a crisis of confidence after the significant default on AAA rated structured debt? Is the call for more competition justified?

 

At this point, it is pertinent to mention the relative stability of structured product ratings in India. Increased competition can help only to a limited extent beyond which the law of diminishing returns applies. There are already five Sebi recognised CRAs in India compared to four main-line agencies in the US. Competition is welcome but we should see that it does not lead to ‘rating shopping’.


Would increased regulatory oversight be the answer?


CRAs are already regulated and subject to greater scrutiny than most other opinion providers. Increased regulatory oversight is not a panacea. The entire financial system, including intermediaries, has to graduate towards greater transparency. Nevertheless, we welcome any regulation to improve the rating standards.


Conflict of interest with issuers paying for credit rating has been a subject of raging debate. Would investor paid or a government-funded model work in India?


If the ratings could be linked to the fees paid by the issuer, only AAAs would dominate the rating list. All accepted ratings are in the public domain and disseminated on the CRA’s website. Issuer-pays-model ensures that clients provide requisite information for the initial rating and especially during the surveillance. In the investor-pays model, it may be difficult for an investor to get requisite information from the issuer during the surveillance process.


Further, the issuer-pays model ensures that ratings are available to all lenders/investors. Conversely, in an investor-pays model, the investor may not want to share the rating outcome with others and there could be pressure to avoid downgrades to avoid mark-to-market losses for the investor. The issuer-pays model has not prevented these downgrades — in the past one year, downgrades have outnumbered upgrades. Thus, the entire debate is misplaced.


Mandatory IPO grading has been criticised, as it is based on parameters such a short-term price performance. Are these investor concerns misplaced?


Investment decisions tend to be governed by the risk-return relationship and risk tolerance of an investor. Besides, valuation also plays an important role in determining the attractiveness of an investment proposition. IPO grading, being focused on the relative fundamentals, does not comment on the above. It has to be necessarily seen as an opinion, which should be juxtaposed against the aforementioned factors like risk-return principle and risk tolerance of an investor.


Also, the short-term share performance is largely driven by market sentiments and not by long-term fundamentals. It should not be seen as an end in itself. It is too early to see the impact of IPO grading as it is hardly two years old. Some of the graded entities do not have even a one-year listing record.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE SHOULD FIND A GLOBAL PACKAGE ON FOOD SECURITY

G GANAPATHY SUBRAMANIAM

 

India has been successful in exporting farm goods to Europe and there is potential to do much more, feels European Union’s Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel. In an exclusive interview with ET NOW, she said that the EU would support special safeguards for Indian farmers and push for the development objective of the Doha round of WTO negotiations. Excerpts:


What kind of timeframe does the EU see for conclusion of the Doha round?

First of all, we have been playing a very active role since Cancun. Last year in Geneva, I think we were very very close (to a deal) and I was desperately disappointed that we didn’t make it. I certainly hope that we will find now the basis for conclusion of this round before the end of the 2010.


How much support would EU provide to Indian farmers?

We know that the structure in India is different from the structure that you see in some of the big agricultural countries. We have been forthcoming on the wish from the Indian authorities to find a solution on the special safeguard mechanism which has been a key for India — giving protection for very important products for the Indian farmers. We will be supportive to find the right solution for your farmers, but on the other hand we would like some market access in India for our processed products where wines & spirits and olive oil is of huge importance.


What kind of market access in agriculture can countries like India expect in EU?

If you look at the trade between India and Europe in agriculture, you (India) are actually very successful in exporting it to Europe. You have an export worth 2 billion euros every year, whereas we are actually lagging behind because we have only managed to export into India for 250 million euros. So, I think we do as well have a potential in exports into your country. You have huge possibilities on your world famous basmati rice and some excellent teas like Darjeeling that should enjoy geographical indications.


Due to poor rains, India is likely to import more food products now. What are the opportunities that the EU is looking at?

First of all, we need to cooperate much better on the research & development to see if it is possible to find seeds that can resist drought, that can resist certain diseases. We should be able to meet challenges that farmers are facing due to climate change. I think this to me the biggest challenge that farmers all over the world will be facing in the coming years. We should find a global package on the food security. There are lots of challenges and we will play a constructive role in trying to find global solutions.


How soon can EU and India reach a trade deal?

We are at the moment discussing an FTA and honestly I would like to see a bit more energy injected into these negotiations. I think the speed, for my temper, is a bit to slow. I think we should try to energise the discussions. It is not a one-way street, certainly not. I, therefore, hope we will be able to make progress on this in the next meeting that will take place here in India.


Have you discussed the European wine industry’s grievances against the tax system with the Indian authorities recently?

I am looking forward to have a meeting with the agriculture minister (of India) and here we have a possibility to discuss bilateral issues. Of course it’s not acceptable from our side that you have a surplus taxation on imported wines in some of the states in India. And I hope to get a positive message from the agriculture minister. Of course we have the WTO panel solution but I would rather be confident in bilateral negotiation and discussions to find solutions. I think that’s more my way of negotiating but if this is not possible, I can of course clearly say that we will not hesitate using the tools available. But I would rather find a bilateral solution.


What is the EU doing to emphasise on the development dimension of the Doha round?

As this is the Doha ‘development’ round, we have tried to emphasise this throughout the whole negotiations by giving special possibilities for the developing countries to develop the agriculture structure. Parallel to this, we are acting on an important aspect. Because of high prices, we saw riots that popped up in some parts of the world. Therefore, we created a facility in Europe with one billion euros to support agriculture in developing countries. I have a certain preference for female farmers because they are normally quite energetic.


They should be give money to buy seeds and fertilisers to start production to be able to feed people, avoiding a migration from the rural areas into the cities. In the rural areas, you can still produce. I think this is the right way and I would like this to be emphasised. We are more focused on the agricultural sector because I think that this has been underestimated for 20-30 years. We have been looking into education, infrastructure which is fine but if you are hungry then you don’t build roads and you don’t learn. Basically we should be able provide enough food in different countries and I will make a stronger emphasis to try to find the right solution.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'BANKS' FUTURE HINGES ON LIQUIDITY MANAGEMENT

SUDESHNA SEN

 

LONDON: Welcome to an era of scarcity. If there’s one key concern bothering the bosses of global banking, it’s liquidity and the battering that the image of the banking industry has taken. Frederic Oudea, who took over as chairman and CEO of Societe Generale last year, believes that the future of the banking industry will hinge on liquidity management — not leverage ratios of banks or capital.


He’s also convinced that there’s no going back to the era of growth, fuelled by borrowings for either developed economies, or global banks. “Thanks to the massive intervention by governments, the situation has stabilised. My conviction is that it remains fragile, the cost of capital will remain expensive and liquidity will remain scarce for the time to come,” he said.


Mr Oudea is also convinced that the future growth in the world will come from emerging markets in East Europe, Africa, Russia, India and China. Developed economies, he said, will have to address their structural imbalances in their global competitiveness. “The fundamental difference is that growth will slow down in developed countries,” he said.


As a French banker, Mr Oudea is coming to the raging discussion about the future of the banking industry from a different viewpoint. When it comes to bonuses, the SocGen chief dismisses the Anglo-American argument that stricter bonus controls will lead to an exodus of talent. “It is good if these things are done internationally, but I’m not worried about retaining talent that will not be mercenary, even if we do it only in France.”


SocGen, along with other French banks, have already implemented controls that include only 50% as variable pay, deferred bonuses, and a clawback feature on the deferred portion for performance. His other key concern is the image beating that the banking industry has taken in the public eye. And he believes it will be a long haul before the banking industry regains the trust of the public to reiterate the social utility of bankers as a breed.

Societe Generale, still in the process of recovering from the aftermath of the Jerome Kerviel scandal last year, is reinventing itself to face the new world order. Mr Oudea rules out big-ticket M&As in the near future, a move towards stronger client relationships, and a focus on private banking and wealth management. And a renewed focus on new markets — in East Europe, Africa, Middle East, and at some future date, China, India and Brazil.


Adds Severin Cabannes, deputy chief executive officer, “India will naturally be in focus for global banks like ours — it’s a sophisticated banking market, but still a lot of people are not covered by it. In addition, a lot of banking is in IT and ITES — which India has in abundance. But there are still restrictions for foreign banks, and we will have to see how it goes.”


At the moment, SocGen is betting on its private banking business to target rich Indians across the world, not just in India.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CLIMATE: US HAS TO ACT, NOT JUST PREACH

BY OUR CORRESPONDENT

 

If the day-long climate summit convened in New York by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this week was intended to impart political impetus to the big event in Copenhagen in December, where the world’s rich and poor nations are due to deliberate under UN auspices a strategy to beat back the ill-effects of climate change, it is had not to register a sense of disappointment. There was considerable anticipation that the star of the show, the US President, Mr Barack Obama, arguably the world’s leading public diplomat, would bring to the proceedings specific commitments on behalf of his country. But this was not to be. Mr Obama spoke fine words to pledge himself to arresting climate change but he fell short of enunciating targets for the United States of America. He is apparently completely unsure about the extent of international commitments that the US Senate would in the end be prepared to accept. This was pretty much the situation at Kyoto in 1997, where the Clinton administration expressed the right sentiments but was unable to get the Senate to endorse these. If three months before Copenhagen, the world’s most powerful economy is unable to accept specific responsibilities, it is hard to see the Copenhagen summit making any breakthrough. By agreeing to cut its CO2 emissions by 25 per cent of 1990 levels, it is Japan — among the developed countries — that gave out the clearest signal of acknowledging the dangers the world faces on account of climate dislocations. On current indications, it is possible that the European Union could also be persuaded to accept the level of emission cuts that Japan has indicated. It is to be hoped that the Japanese and the EU positions would be reflected at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh this week. The Bric — which include India and China — must exert every sinew at G-20 to discourage the United States from pushing the idea of a common G-20 goal for an emissions cut. The G-20 is a body of developed countries and the leading emerging economies. The latter, unlike the former, simply cannot be subjected to an emissions cap. This has not been agreed to internationally, and a move in that direction is certain to be strongly resisted. Of course, without accepting such a cap, countries like India and China have indicated that they would seek to make their contribution to mitigating the effects of climate change through positive measures such as a much larger use than hitherto of renewable sources of energy such as solar or nuclear power in their economic systems, creation of forest carbon sinks, and the use of green technology. India’s minister of state for environment Mr Jairam Ramesh made it a point to emphasise to the media that India would seek to be a “dealmaker” in Copenhagen, not a “dealbreaker”. The Chinese President, Mr Hu Jintao, although not obliged to accept emissions caps, noted that his country was prepared to cut emissions by 15 per cent of its 2005 levels. The positions of these two countries, which are similar, should go some way in reassuring the advanced economies that the economically more significant developing countries are not avoiding being a part of the solution, although they did not create the problem.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A US MOVE THAT IS ALL ABOUT RUSSIA

BY S. NIHAL SINGH

 

President Barack Obama has reset one button in relations with Russia by scrapping his predecessor’s fancy plan to install radars and missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic in favour of a water-borne project nearer the supposed target, Iran. Although there are many more buttons to reset, this removes a major irritant in relations with Moscow, which understandably interpreted the original move as a further attempt to restrict and contain it.
Whatever President George W. Bush’s justification, everyone knew that the former European satellites of the Soviet Union welcomed the move because it would mean the stationing of American troops on their soil to act as a further defence against a future assertive Russia. It was, however, unpopular among the masses that feared the project would provoke Russia. The gloom in official circles in Poland and Czech Republic is vociferously supported by US Republicans who fear that it is sending wrong signals to Eastern Europe.


In fact, the new plan for an anti-Iranian security structure in the seas will provide a protective umbrella to Israel and the Arabian Gulf hinted at by the US secretary of state, Ms Hillary Clinton, in the past. The official US explanation is that the change of Iranian emphasis from long-range to short- and medium-range missiles makes a sea-based plan better and smarter. According to Ms Clinton, “this decision is not about Russia”.
Official American stances aside, Russia has welcomed the scrapping of the Bush plan, the Prime Minister, Mr Vladimir Putin, even calling it a “brave decision”. And the US defence secretary, Mr Robert Gates, has made another gesture in declaring, “For more than two years I have encouraged the Russians that we are partners in this missile defence. The Russians have a radar in southern Russia, the Armavir radar, that actually could fill a gap in coverage, and we would welcome the Russians networking with us in this. We think we can make that happen”.


The Obama administration’s hope is that Russia will make a gesture in response, apart from taking back its threat to install missiles in Kalinigrad on the European Union’s head. Since Iran and its nuclear programme is so much in American — and Israeli — cross-hair, Washington is praying that Moscow will be more amenable to tightening sanctions on Iran, should the planned meeting early next month fail to yield results. Mr Putin, on his part, has indicated that he is expecting further friendly moves from Washington, for instance in removing roadblocks to its membership of the World Trade Organisation.


Nato’s new secretary-general Mr Anders Fogh Rasmussen has added his own voice to the Obama administration’s initiative by calling for cooperation with Russia, including possible cooperation between anti-missile systems. He has even suggested that he is willing to listen to President Dmitry Medvedev’s proposal for building new security architecture.


Is a new spring then dawning on the often frosty and ill-tempered relations between the United States and Russia? The significance of the Obama administration’s move is that it has delivered on removing at least one major hurdle troubling the relationship. And implicit in Mr Rasmussen’s approach is the understanding that the question of taking Georgia and Ukraine into Nato over Moscow’s vociferous objections has been put on the back burner. In any event, Ukraine is deeply divided and Georgia’s two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, have declared themselves independent and won Russian recognition.


However, there is nothing to suggest that Washington has given up on its goal of maintaining its pre-eminence in the world into the distant future. What has changed is the emphasis from the Bush administration’s form of unilateralism buttressed by armed strength to emphasising the merits of diplomacy and multilateralism without foregoing the military option. Washington’s post-Cold War goal of containing and restricting Russia has not changed.


The United States still believes that the Euro-Atlantic compact embodied in Nato is valid as is its attempt to secure the loyalties of countries in Russia’s “near abroad”. It is willing to bide its times before bringing Georgia and Ukraine firmly into its orbit but will not agree to Moscow pursuing a policy of “privileged interests” in the region. Similarly, despite Mr Rasmussen’s charm offensive, Nato will remain an organisation inimical to Russian interests because it cannot realistically include the Russian Federation in its ranks.
What the Obama administration’s new plan has done, even if it is only a by-product of changed strategy, is that it has improved the atmosphere between Washington and Moscow to look at their broader common interests. A new treaty to replace the Start agreement should now be easier to complete by the end of the year. Russia has already allowed Nato weapons and troops transit its air space on their way to Afghanistan and there are points of convergence over non-proliferation goals.

 

It is not clear how far Russia will go in pursuing a harsh policy towards Iran because, apart from Moscow’s legitimate interests in Iran, it has doubts over the efficacy and wisdom of imposing further sanctions on Tehran. President Obama’s decision to engage with Iran is wise, despite the turmoil following the presidential election there, but the sub-text of his initiative is that Tehran should suffer more severe sanctions if it does not satisfy Western demands, which seem to be veering round to allowing Iran to undertaking the full nuclear cycle under strict international supervision.


The new spirit of cooperation must nevertheless be welcomed for opening the way to a more cooperative world. In any event, it reduces Washington’s strains with the Continental heavyweights over Europe’s relations with Russia. The original decision of retaining Nato in the post-Cold War world was flawed and expanding its brief to intervene in out-of-area conflicts, as in Afghanistan, seemed to presage an inclination in Washington to employ it as a subsidiary military arm of American foreign policy. Over the decades, Washington has assiduously opposed moves to give the UN Secretary-General the wherewithal to intervene quickly in world crises even with UN Security Council sanction.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

TOGETHER, WE CAN OVERCOME THE CHALLENGES

BY GORDON BROWN

 

The next six months will test international cooperation more severely than at any time since 1945. That may seem strange to say after a year of global crisis that has demanded unity on an immense scale, yet five urgent challenges confront us and we cannot delay our responses. Crucial meetings this week in New York and Pittsburgh will determine by next spring whether a new era of collaboration is possible.


We cannot solve these problems immediately, of course, but momentous decisions are demanded now toward halting climate change, renewing economic prosperity, fighting terrorism, ending nuclear proliferation and overcoming poverty.


This week starts with efforts to reinvigorate talks to secure a new international agreement on climate change in Copenhagen this December. Progress is too slow and a deal now hangs in the balance. But failure will increase the threat not only of humanitarian and ecological catastrophe but also of economic decline.


Investment in energy efficiency and low-carbon energy sources will help drive economic growth over the next decade — as well as reduce dependence on imported oil and enhance energy security. Millions of jobs stand to be created as this investment expands. But it is vital that we give confidence to such investment through a new international climate agreement.


This will not be possible without the cooperation of developing countries. For this reason, Britain has suggested a programme of $100 billion a year by 2020, financed by wealthier countries and the private sector, to help poorer nations develop low-carbon economies.


We must move toward resolving the issues that remain before Copenhagen. If it is necessary to secure agreement, I will personally go to Copenhagen to achieve it. I will be urging my fellow leaders to do the same.
In London five months ago, the world came together to fight the global recession. And this week the world comes together again, this time to forge a global plan for jobs and growth.


So far, action taken in concert has stabilised the international banking system and created the foundation for the resumption of economic growth. Evidence shows that for every dollar spent on fiscal expansion two dollars of growth has followed — and estimates suggest that fiscal expansion will create or save seven million jobs this year alone.


But now the world has to decide whether to stay the course and deliver the promised fiscal stimulus this year and in 2010. Attention must also turn to our next common economic goal: a new system of governance. We need a clear commitment from the Group of 20 on a global compact to provide a framework for jobs, growth and stability over the medium to long term — one that includes objectives for global growth.
For nearly a decade, the battle against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere has also united us.

 

Debates continue in many countries about whether we are right to be there. I believe we are: 9/11 told us all we need to know about the risks of allowing Afghanistan to become a safe haven for Al Qaeda.
But now we need to move to the next stage. We need to develop the strategy I call Afghanisation — building up the Afghan Army, police and civic institutions and handing power to the Afghan people. International agreement — and progress — on Afghanisation must be among the most urgent priorities, and it is something that Nato has to address in the context of a new assessment of the war’s progress by the top American military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.


The world is threatened too by a looming new arms race. President Obama is to be thanked for making nuclear proliferation the theme of this week’s UN Security Council Meeting. It is clear that a new nuclear nonproliferation agreement is needed urgently. To this end, Britain proposes a new and comprehensive grand bargain on nuclear proliferation: access to civil atomic energy via an international uranium bank for states that renounce current or future nuclear arms, together with a reduction of nuclear weapons by nuclear weapons states.


Finally, this week I will be calling on every country in the developed world to help poorer nations trade their way out of recession and deliver essential healthcare to the most vulnerable. This will not be easy and will take time. We must make good on our pledges to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, which are already well behind schedule. But there is one step we can take immediately: to stop charging the world’s poorest, particularly pregnant women and children, for medical treatment they cannot afford.


So in New York I will chair an event that will see a major step toward that goal, with announcements from a range of countries — including Malawi, Ghana, Sierra Leone and others — some of which will revolutionise their national healthcare systems. This will be made possible by innovative financing mechanisms — the focus of a task force that I established with the World Bank last year — that will speed $1 billion to developing nations.


After 1945, the world — fresh from a devastating conflict — summoned its energies to build a new international order. Now we are being tested again. In the days and months ahead, our collective resolve must hold across all the challenges I have outlined. If it can, then something bigger and even more lasting than the great reconstruction of the postwar era is possible: the creation of the first truly global society.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

LIFELONG WAIT FOR DEATH

BY THE DC DEBATE: THE STATE SHOULD EXPEDITE MERCY PETITIONS OF PRISONERS AWARDED DEATH SENTENCE

SET A TIMEFRAME TO REVIEW MERCY PLEA

BY AMITABH SINHA

 

Since the death sentence is only awarded in the rarest of rare instances, and in that it overlooks the constitutional right to live, the sensitivity of such a sentence cannot be undermined. That is probably why even after the Supreme Court gives its final order, the Constitution has paved the way for a re-consideration, better known as a mercy petition to the President of India by someone sentenced to death.


Unfortunately, in our country, the final word on the mercy petition may be kept in limbo for an unspecified amount of time. Here we have to seriously take into consideration the legal doctrine that “Justice delayed is justice denied”. Subsequently, the guilty person can/may also plead the protection of his/her right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution. Eventually, justice is not only delayed, it is also denied.
Two reasons for this state of affairs come to mind. Firstly, the government under the influence of the ruling party must stop using human beings as pawns to further their political cause. A case in point is of Afzal Guru, a terrorist who dared to wage a war against our country.


To delay his execution in a bid to grant him life, is easily the most condemnable conspiracy of the Congress. What else can be behind this move but the policy of the Congress to be soft on terror to woo a supposed minority votebank?


To make matters worse, other mercy petitions are also being delayed unnecessarily to justify the delay in this particular case. In the process, this most sensitive and important issue, that of ensuring the rule of law, has been made mockery of.


Just how much more ridiculous is this farce going to get?


Secondly, the President has to act as the judicial head of the country in dealing with this issue, and in accordance with that position take the help and advice of law officers such as the Attorney- General, and other jurists of repute. It would also be prudent to fix a timeframe in which such deliberations are to be concluded.
It would be a telling comment on the failure of our system if the files, after much delay, just shuttle back and forth in the bureaucracy, thus serving the game plan of vested political interests.


At the end of the day, administration of justice is not the only thing that is important, it is more important that the administration of justice is seen to be done.

 

Amitabh Sinha, advocate Supreme Court and National Head, Think Tank, Bharatiya Janata Party Give prisoners a chance to reform

By Praful Bidwai

 

The fundamental question with regard to the death sentence is whether any human being or any agency or any government has the right to take the life of a human being. Also, while deciding that a person should be condemned to death, has it been ensured that there is absolutely no doubt about the judgment? Has it been determined beyond the slightest doubt that there has been no mistake on the part of the human beings and the agencies involved in arriving at that conclusion? If not, then the rationale of rushing through the proceedings is profoundly unsound.


Moreover, evidence would suggest that this is where the doubts begin to creep in. There have been cases in the United States in which death penalty has been awarded, the person has been executed and three decades later or more, it has been found that he was wrongly convicted. It came to light that false evidence was presented before the court to ensure conviction.


Over the years, several nations have recognised the need for doing away with the death penalty. In fact, one of the conditions for any country joining the European Union is that it should abolish the penalty of death.
Of course, it is nobody’s case that any convict, who has been awarded the death sentence, should be made to wait for his last day years on end. This is unacceptable torture. Therefore, nobody can question their right to get the death sentence commuted to a life imprisonment if the state does not reach a decision early enough. Snuffing out a life from a person also means that he has not been given a chance to reform. People commit crime under various circumstances and, over a period of time, they also rethink about it. The rationale of death sentence as a deterrent has failed completely.


However, the issue goes far deeper. The very concept of taking a human life is fraught with risks of justice not being meted out. Justice Bhagwati had said that the provision of death sentence was directed at the poor. And there is also empirical evidence to suggest the class bias. In such a scenario, one must be absolutely sure whether the conclusion arrived at is beyond the slightest doubt.


In the end, if one believes that “to err is human”, then the whole question of whether a human agency should be allowed to take life becomes redundant. If human beings make mistakes, then human agency is also likely to do the same. And in such case, it should not have the right to take away a human life.

 

Praful Bidwai is a senior journalist and social activist(As told to Prashant Pandey)

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

DALAI’S TAWANG PLAN MAKES CHINA SEE RED

BY BY NITISH SENGUPTA

 

One fails to understand why China is opposing the Dalai Lama’s visit to the monastic town of Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. There was once a time when this part of Arunachal Pradesh had close ties with Tibet, then a strange monastic-political entity headed by the Dalai Lama. This relationship ended with the departure of the Dalai Lama from Tibet in 1959. The Dalai Lama was rightly given shelter in India with his followers because of the deep respect and reverence he enjoys in India.


China’s claims — on India’s border areas like Ladakh, Aksai Chin or in Arunachal Pradesh — are entirely based on the strength of the fact that the Dalai Lama had some kind of tenuous hold, more spiritual than political, over the people living there.


We need not, at this stage, go into the question of how right India’s policy was in permitting China’s military occupation of Tibet between 1950 and 1959. Before the Dalai Lama fled from Tibet, India had an excellent relationship with the Tibetan government, so much so that Indian pilgrims did not require a passport or a visa to visit Kailash Mansarovar and other pilgrimage centres located in Tibet. The border was not demarcated and there was no question of any dispute or clash between Tibetan and Indian officials. The Indian Army was stationed at Lhasa and Gyantse.


In 1950, when China sent its Army to take possession of Tibet, India went out of its way to accept China’s dubious claim over Tibet and, in a rare gesture, withdrew the Indian Army garrisons from both Lhasa and Gyantse.


It also allowed the Chinese Army to walk free over the Tibetan plateau. Thereby, compromising her own security as subsequent events were to make very clear. China’s border guards at the Indo-Tibetan border started questioning Indian pilgrims on their way to Kailash Mansarovar. They held all pilgrims without passports and visas and started harassing them.


The Indian government, instead of protesting vocally, submitted to their brandishments. We need not go into the question whether it was right on the part of the Indian government to acquiesce in China’s military takeover of the Tibetan plateau or whether India could have in any way prevented it. But the point I would like to emphasise is that China’s claim to Aksai Chin or Barahoti or Arunachal Pradesh are essentially on the basis of the arrangements that the Dalai Lama’s government maintained in relation to the Indo-Tibetan border. We cannot, therefore, rule out the great position that the Dalai Lama has in all these regions and the spiritual hold he has over the people living there.


There is nothing wrong in the Dalai Lama expressing his wish to visit Tawang and to preach among the local people there, as he has been doing elsewhere. There is every thing wrong in Beijing’s reacting to this pathologically.


Whether this is a stray event or part of a deep-seated China’s strategy to weaken India, is an open question. Some time ago when a blog from China suggested that China should try to disintegrate India by appealing to the country’s various secessionist groups, it could be dismissed as one mad man’s ranting and not necessarily China’s strategic thinking. But it was the failure of the authorities in Beijing to disown and regret this blog which is a matter of much surprise. The fact is that to this day there has been no official denial from China. Are we to assume then that that it was, perhaps, Beijing’s cleverly thought out strategy to weaken India?
This was followed by several reports of border incursions by China in Ladakh, the middle sector and Arunachal Pradesh. Beijing has contradicted these reports and joined its views with those who are describing Sino-India border as peaceful.


However, no clarification on the part of China regarding the controversial blog does not mean that India should retaliate by encouraging secessionism in China, say, among the Muslims in Xinjiang or in supporting the Dalai Lama’ request to China for restoring Tibet’s autonomy. That will be realpolitik in the extreme. Surely secessionism is much more of a problem for China than for India. But Indian authorities should take note of secessionism in India seriously and prevent all possible developments where China might fish in.


There can be no doubt that the so-called Maoist insurgency in the Northeast is being aided and abetted by elements in China. Our government should try to collect evidence, confront China and prevent any possibility of Maoist upsurge, as they say, from “Pashupati in Nepal to Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh”, through the states of West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.


Where are the Maoists getting money, arms and explosives from? Our civil and military intelligence should pull up their socks. Could one draw any connection between the burgeoning insurgency in Northeast and China’s interest in the oceanic flanks of the India peninsula? For example, along with China’s onshore and offshore strategic assets in Burma, the deepwater port at Gwadar, Pakistan, represents China’s first strategic foothold in the Arabian Sea.


These are natural concerns of our nation without indulging in realpolitik or Machiavellianism. Also, the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force must take all possible steps to neutralise the advantages of China’s well-entrenched presence in the Tibetan plateau.


We should learn a lesson from tiny Vietnam which gave the Chinese Army a fitting military reply a few years ago. There is little room for being conciliatory at the expense of important strategic concerns. China’s so-called claims on some Indo-Tibetan border areas became invalid the moment it repudiated the Dalai Lama and his rule over Tibet. It is time we boldly assert that.

 

Nitish Sengupta, anacademic and an author, is a former Member of Parliament and a former secretary to

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

CRACKS IN IRAN’S CLIQUE

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

For the first time since Iran began enriching uranium that could be used in a nuclear weapon, we have a glimmer of hope for a diplomatic solution to this problem — as long as we are not too diplomatic, as long as the Iranian regime is made to understand that biting economic sanctions are an absolute certainty and military force by Israel is a live possibility.


The reason we now have a slight chance — and I really emphasise slight — for a negotiated deal is because Iran’s nuclear programme has always been a survival strategy for Tehran’s ruling clique: what Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert with the Carnegie Endowment, calls “the small cartel of hardline clerics and nouveau riche Revolutionary Guardsmen who run Iran today”.


After stealing June’s elections, this ruling cartel is now more unpopular and illegitimate than ever. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cannot hold a rally in Tehran without hearing “death to the dictator” chants more than “death to America”. As a result, his government can ill afford real biting sanctions that would make life in Iran not only politically miserable but even more economically miserable — and his dictatorial clique even more unpopular.


I wouldn’t exaggerate this because this regime has never minded inflicting pain on its people, but this time it may be more vulnerable. That is why we may be in a position to say to the Iranian regime that continuing to grow its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium outside international controls, and suffering real economic sanctions, could threaten its survival more than it would help.


On October 1, William Burns, the American under secretary of state, will join diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China for talks with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator to see whether any deal is possible.
While real sanctions are necessary to exploit this moment, they are not sufficient. We also need to keep alive the prospect that Israel could do something crazy. I don’t favour Israeli military action against Iran and hope we’re telling Israel that privately. But I do believe that US officials, particularly the secretary of defence, Robert Gates, need to stop saying that publicly. Gates is a smart power player. He knows better. If any US official is asked for an opinion on whether Israel should be allowed to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, there is only one right answer: Refer them to former vice-president Dick Cheney’s 2005 comment that Israel “might well decide to act first” to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and say nothing else. Why should we reassure Iran?


I would hope by now that the murderous crackdown on Iran’s mass democracy movement by the country’s oil-funded ruling cartel would have removed the last scales from the eyes of those Iran watchers who think this is simply a poor, misunderstood regime that really wants to repair its relations with the West, and we just have to learn how to speak to it properly. This is a brutal, cynical, corrupt, anti-Semitic regime that exploits the Palestinian cause and deliberately maintains a hostile posture to the West to justify its grip on power. A regime that relates to its own people with such coercive force is not going to be sweet-talked out of its nuclear programme. Negotiating with such a regime without the reality of sanctions and the possibility of force is like playing baseball without a bat.


The US is being advised to explore a variety of sanctions, including encouraging capital flight from Iran, thereby creating a run on the Iranian currency. It is also considering a global ban on companies doing business with Iran’s oil industry, which would be a big blow to the regime, because its oil industry — which provides the vast majority of government revenues — needs modernising and that requires foreign technological help and financing.


By improving relations with Russia, President Barack Obama has done a good job of increasing his leverage with Iran. But as the negotiations begin, there is another dimension that we have to keep in mind: Obama officials want to be careful not to say that all they care about is a deal that neutralises Iran’s nukes, and, if we get that, we have no problem with those in power in Tehran. That would be a rebuff of Iranian democrats. This will get tricky.


“The Obama administration must reconcile how to deal with a disgraced regime, which presents urgent national security challenges, while at the same time not betray a democratic movement whose success could have enormously positive implications for the US”, said Sadjadpour.


“If we neglect to be vocal about human rights”, he added, “our message to the Iranian people is ‘We don’t care about you. We only care about nukes’. Ultimately, it has to be Iranians themselves who change their history. We can’t want it more than they do. But it should be a US foreign policy imperative not to do anything to deter the green movement’s success or alter its trajectory. We cannot forget that the underlying problem we have with Iran has more to do with the character of its regime than its nuclear ambitions”.


By arrangement with the New York Times

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

NUCLEAR DIVIDE

 

INCREASINGLY murky is becoming the controversy over the country’s nuclear weapon status, which for an issue so critical to national security is being articulated in the least-appropriate forum ~ the media. Tragically, what began as a call to validate/enhance the gains of Pokharan II before pressure to subscribe to the NPT and CTBT became unbearable has taken off on some dangerous tangents.


The latest being “whistle-blower” K Santhanam’s assertion that India stood “naked” in its nuclear asymmetry with China. While initially that would complicate the government’s bid to play down reports of all not being tranquil on the Line of Actual Control, it might subsequently be accepted as insightful explanation for that soft-pedalling. Just add that to a former army chief’s line that the military’s confidence in the quality of the ultimate weapon was being eroded and it becomes evident that the use of words like “maverick” and “horrific” by the National Security Adviser do not bring the argument any closer to closure. Rather, it is undeniable that this has gone far beyond analysis of technical data, whether the yield was 45 or 25 kilotons, or if the Atomic Energy Commission (not a 100 per cent technical body) is competent enough to certify the yield of the thermo-nuclear device activated during the Shakti series of tests. After Santhanam has stated that a secret report on the “fizzle” had been submitted in 1988 itself (to answer the charge of maintaining a curious silence for 11 years) it is boiling to a questioning of the credibility of the claim to possess a “credible nuclear deterrent”. In the larger national interest that credibility requires re-assertion, and that will not be attained by the National Security Adviser, and a couple of others, being let loose on the media. When the dispute was in its infancy this newspaper had suggested a comprehensive statement from none other than the Prime Minister. In opting to take the Narasimha Rao-line of masterly inaction, Manmohan Singh has fuelled the snowballing of a full-blown crisis. Santhanam’s call for an independent scientific evaluation cannot be ducked. But more importantly, the yawning nuclear divide has to be bridged. Cross-talk is no solution, neither is timid silence in the hope that the fires will die down. The Indian people do not deserve to be condemned to such debilitating darkness.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

IT SEEMS CLEAR

 

ARUNACHAL PRADESH goes to the polls on 13 October with little doubt about the Congress returning to power. The Pradesh Congress Committee’s denial of media reports of there being a rift over the chief minister’s post suggests that the incumbent, Dorjee Khandu, will continue. He is from Tawang and, after being installed in March 2007, he admitted it was a chance event “that came” his way.


In fact, veteran leader and one-time longest serving chief minister Gegong Apang ~ he returned to the Congress fold before the 2004 assembly elections after being in the opposition for eight years ~ formed a government but many legislators revolted against his “whimsical allocation of portfolios, rampant corruption, a dictatorial attitude and cronyism” and voted him out. Even “his own band of loyalists” is said to have switched allegiance. The Congress tally of 34 seats in the 60-member House in 2004 was, however, not considered a convincing mandate compared to the 53 it got in 1999.


Apang is unlikely to keep quiet over the leadership issue. Though Sonia Gandhi has forgiven him for toppling Mukut Mithi’s overwhelmingly majority Congress government (it had 59 members) in August 2003 and opening the door for BJP rule under him ~ the central command does not seem to have much faith in him. Actually the saffron motive was to use Apang in the 2004 poll to return with a popular mandate but just when things were looking up the BJP lost power and Apang returned to the Congress. He might have still been in the hot seat had he not antagonised Delhi by forming the Arunachal Pradesh Water Resources Authority in defiance of the Centre’s proposal to set up the North-east Water Resources Authority so that it could have a greater say in the state’s privatisation of water resources. Meanwhile, the regional Nagaland People’s Front bid to contest elections ~ just because Arunachal Pradesh has a large number of Nagas ~ by changing its nomenclature to the Naga People Front has been stalled with the Election Commission referring the party’s proposal to the Union home ministry. The ostensible idea was to win seats in Tirap and Changlang districts and boost the Greater Nagaland concept.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

ENERGY AND CLIMATE

BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA


Energy occupies the centrestage in the Prime Minister's agenda. Dr Manmohan Singh had put the future of his government at stake to conclude the nuclear deal with the United States. The objective was to ensure that the supply of uranium was available for the generation of electricity. Simultaneously, he is concerned about the impact of energy consumption on climate change. As he told a meeting of the Planning Commission: "We import over 70 per cent of our petroleum energy needs and are also moving to a deficit position in coal. Rational energy policies are also critical for rational responses to the threat of climate change."


But there are no easy solutions. Fossil fuels like coal lead to carbon emissions that in turn result in warming. Nuclear energy creates the problem of storage of radioactive waste. Hydropower leads to huge environmental losses such as forests and bio-diversity and also harms our riverine culture. We are, therefore, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Reduction of energy consumption presupposes that its price should be raised. This forces us out of the global market and threatens our economic survival. On the other hand, increased production of energy leads us to an environmental trap.


Several measures

A way out of this dilemma is to improve energy efficiency. The use of CFL lamps instead of bulbs, for example, can lead to a huge saving of energy. The use of hybrid cars can save petrol. Better insulation in buildings can save energy used in air-conditioning. Implementation of such measures can reduce our consumption of energy and help us escape the environmental trap.


However, these clean technologies can be used to increase ~ rather than reduce ~ consumption. The showroom that was lighted by 10 bulbs may now use 100 CFL lamps because it costs less to burn them. California had encouraged the use of hybrid vehicles. But this did not lead to reduced consumption of oil. Instead of burning up less fuel, people started travelling more frequently and extensively. The family, that went to the supermarket once a week, started going twice because travel became cheaper. My argument is not against enhanced efficiency. This must certainly be encouraged. But this is unlikely to reduce energy consumption.


The increase in the production of clean energy can give rise to similar problems. Wind and solar energy are more environment-friendly than thermal, nuclear or hydro. While these sources do not emit carbon, they create radioactive waste or destroy our riverine culture. But there are limits to the amount of energy that can be generated from these sources. Uttarakhand is assessed to have a hydro potential of 40,000 MW while the wind potential is a mere 700 MW. Excessive exploitation of these sources may cause further environmental harm. For example, if the entire Thar Desert were to be covered with solar panels, then the hot air will neither rise nor pull in the clouds from the Arabian Sea. This will change the pattern of our monsoons. Windmill farms can impede the flight of birds. We will, therefore, have to reduce our consumption of energy if we want to save our environment and ensure the survival of our civilisation. The best way to do this is to raise the cost of energy so that people use less. But such a policy hits the roadblock of global competition.


We need to produce goods at low cost to remain competitive in the global economy. The high price of energy will make our goods expensive and price them out of the global market. The cost of electricity in China is about Rs 2-3 per unit for commercial establishments against Rs 5-6 in India. Industries like aluminum smelting and steel mills are heavy consumers of energy. Our products will be priced out of the global market. Thus we will have to keep the price of energy low to remain competitive. The result will be increased consumption of energy and our falling into the environmental trap.


Arguably, the solution is to partially withdraw from globalisation. We may impose a high import duty on imports and provide export subsidy to exports. Say, the cost of production of a T-shirt in India increases from Rs 40 to Rs 50 due to the higher price of energy. The cost of production in China and the sale price in the world market remain at Rs 40 because energy is available cheap in China. Our government can impose an additional 25 per cent import duty to cope with this situation. The cost of an imported T-shirt will then increase to Rs 50 in the Indian market and make it possible for domestic producers to compete with imported goods made from cheap energy. Similarly, the government can provide a subsidy of Rs 10 to Indian manufacturers on the export of T-shirts. They will then be able to sell at Rs 40 at the prevailing global rates despite paying a high price for energy. We can thus afford to hike the price of energy in the domestic sector while remaining competitive in the global markets. Just as a farmer builds a small mud wall to retain the rain water in his field, we too can build a small import barrier to maintain high energy prices in the domestic market. Of course, we will require to abandon 'complete' globalization and embrace 'partial' globalization. 


HARMFUL PRACTICES

Indeed, the logical corollary of globalisation is that every country will have to follow the harmful practices of the most irresponsible and decadent. The country that sells its natural resources at a throwaway prices or the country that pays low and exploitative wages to its workers or the country that destroys its rivers for the generation of electricity will have the lowest cost of production. It will thereby profit in the global markets. Other countries will have to perforce follow the same harmful and exploitative practices if they have to remain competitive.


Therefore, all countries that have embraced complete  globalisation are today engaged in a race to the bottom. We should withdraw from this policy and adopt only partial globalisation that helps us to protect our environment and ensure survival of our civilisation. The Integrated Energy Report of the Planning Commission does nothing of the sort. It is focused entirely on increasing the production of energy along with improving the efficiency of usage. The report says nothing about the need to reduce energy consumption. The only rational response to climate change is to increase the price of energy in the domestic market and reduce consumption.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

POVERTY PERCEPTIONS

 

BOTH in terms of its response to and perception of poverty, the Centre has verily tied itself up in knots. At the core of the confusion, that may well hold up alleviation, are discrepancies in projections of the Planning Commission and those of the government-appointed NC Saxena committee. The latter’s report has clearly had a resounding effect, crucially the finding that 50 per cent of the country’s rural population struggles in poverty. This is almost double the figure worked out by Yojana Bhavan, which had estimated the poor at only 28 per cent. Curiously enough, the Centre appears keen on going ahead with the Planning Commission’s figures not least because poverty alleviation will then entail a reduced expenditure. If the Saxena report is implemented, it will obviously call for a substantially higher outlay, besides being an admission of even greater failure. The Planning Commission’s note to the committee is a giveaway: “Fixing the BPL percentage at 50 per cent will have tremendous financial implications and once granted it cannot be reduced.”


The Saxena committee has based the parameters on the food ministry’s current data and not the Planning Commission’s findings with 2002 as the base year. In effect, the government is prepared to cater to 28 per cent of the BPL category, but not 50 per cent. It scarcely realises that it makes a spectacle of itself if it consciously gives short shrift to its own committee. The Saxena panel was entrusted with fixing and defining the parameters and then form its own estimate. It has performed the task commendably and with studious application, but the message of its report has proved embarrassingly unpalatable. The subtext is much closer to the bone and rural development minister CP Joshi’s response is neither here nor there. Nonetheless, it does provide a clear indication of the particular projection the Centre is prepared to accept. He almost finds fault with the committee to buttress the plan body’s survey. “The Saxena committee was not asked to count the poor but to develop a methodology to identify the poor .”


Faced with the two sets of figures, the Centre would do well to reflect that the poor can’t remain an indeterminate group or worse, whose numbers are a subject of state-sponsored controversy. Such an approach borders on the ridiculous. If tackling poverty entails a higher outlay, so be it. Ducking and diving reality is only a convoluted exercise in self-deception. If not anybody else, the Maoist will see through the game.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

BAD FORM

 

One of the unwritten rules of democracy is that being minister places a person above the pettiness of party politics. A minister owes responsibility to the office he occupies, the chair on which he sits. He has to rise, when the occasion so demands, above his personal prejudices or even the biases of the political party of which he is a member. Mukul Roy, the Union minister of state for shipping, violated this simple convention on Tuesday. It has been reported that he walked out of a meeting of the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce to which he had been invited as chief guest. The ostensible reason for Mr Roy’s exit was that he found he had to share the dais with two ministers of the West Bengal government, Nirupam Sen and Asok Bhattacharya, who belong to the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Trinamul Congress, the political party to which Mr Roy owes allegiance, has taken a decision not to share any platform with CPI(M) ministers and leaders at any ‘private’ event. The quotation marks around the word, private, are deliberately put and are significant. It is difficult to define what is private for a person who is in public and political life. Mr Roy was not attending a dinner or a function at an individual’s house. It is difficult to describe a meeting of a chamber of commerce as a private event. What is of importance is that neither Mr Sen nor Mr Bhattacharya was present at the meeting in their individual capacity but because they hold ministerial office. Mr Roy and his political party are welcome to harbour any grievance they want against any political party, but he cannot display prejudice against ministerial office.

 

Mr Roy’s behaviour underlines a feature of political life in India, which is a cause for concern for all those who value democracy and the ethics associated with it. This is the failure to distinguish between an individual and the office he holds. The dignity of public office, irrespective of the person who holds it, is critical for the proper functioning of democratic institutions. There is something called peer-group protocol that demands that ministers show respect for their counterparts even when political and ideological differences divide them. Mr Roy refused to recognize this protocol and thus made a spectacle of himself. There are others, like Mr Roy, who are new to public office. They must learn propriety.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

SEEDS OF DOUBT

 

Months after the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, unveiled his AfPak policy amid much fanfare, he was found asking himself on television last Sunday if this was the “right strategy”. The re-think has been inspired by the request for more troops by General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the US forces in Afghanistan, who is also Mr Obama’s man for the job. Technically, the president should have little problem in acquiescing to the demand since the AfPak strategy, at its heart, is committed to defeating the Taliban in active combat through a surge in troops. Of course, development and the strengthening of the country’s civil institutions are also part of this policy. But the US and its allies have already shown their belief in the workability of the ‘surge factor’ by commissioning more troops in Afghanistan — immediately after the announcement of the policy, and before the August elections in Afghanistan. The situation must have changed dramatically in Afghanistan since that time to sow seeds of doubt in a man who has consistently wanted more active and prolonged involvement in the country. Unfortunately, other than two obvious developments, nothing in the subcontinent appears to have altered much, given the inconclusive presidential election in Afghanistan and the surge in Taliban activity. The two are connected. That the August elections threw up no clear verdict is as much an evidence of the ineffectual leadership of Hamid Karzai as of the effectiveness with which the resurgent Taliban have spread fear and throttled the political machinery. This could not have been entirely unforeseen. In other words, the Americans could not have been so foolish as to depend entirely on the winnability of Mr Karzai to facilitate their exit strategy.

 

Mr Obama’s reluctance to commit himself to more troops has to be explained by other changes then: first, his obvious domestic difficulties, which have increased steadily, and second, the role of the allies. Italy is as unwilling as Germany to chip in any more. Finally, the increasing possibility of using former warlords to fight the war against the Taliban on behalf of the foreign powers. The European powers are supposed to be already weighing the pros and cons of implementing this policy more forcefully. This can only mean that Mr Obama can sit on General McChrystal’s recommendations for a little longer.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

UNTIL THE NEXT PARTY

BRITISH POLITICIANS ARE CURRENTLY SHOUTING INTO EMPTY ROOMS

WESTMINSTER GLEANINGS -ANABEL LOYD

 

The prime minister used his keynote speech to the trades union conference last week to plaster over damaging treasury leaks on public-spending cuts and the cracks in government policy with pointless attacks on the Opposition. With his opinion poll ratings at rock bottom, playing petty politics and lying about public spending is not the way to go — he needs, at the very least, to appear to have a grasp on future policy and the economy, whether or not it is actually the case. The truth is, as we all know, the Conservative leadership and shadow government are as yet untested and only as appealing to floating voters as the government is not. Brown may be viewed as too flawed and depressed to remain Labour leader, but there are others around who could still give the Conservatives a serious run for their money.

 

The biggest egg in the Labour basket is Peter Mandelson, right in the middle of the wheeling and dealing he enjoys and is extraordinarily good at, so long as he doesn’t overreach himself — this time, I suspect he won’t. Mandelson remains as unpopular as ever with the Left and has never been short of enemies of any hue. Nonetheless, as he is pushed out on every occasion that we should be hearing from the prime minister, he is attaining the demeanour of an elder statesman, and sounds more as if he knows what he is talking about than anyone else. Well, he won’t be leader and prime minister from his unelected seat in the House of Lords, but he can pull the strings and make the Conservatives look like inexperienced amateurs if he orchestrates a flawless Labour election campaign when the time comes. He certainly knows how.

 

That is all as may be, but my impression is that our politicians are currently shouting into empty rooms— their audience isn’t there and doesn’t care. Perhaps this will change as Parliament revs up again. Members of Parliament were disastrously discredited by the expenses scandal, which may have gone quiet for now but will come back to bite one and all in an election campaign next year. We are about to hit party-conference season again, and a bit of interest will be drummed up, but probably not much in average British sitting rooms. Even news junkies would rather follow the international news that somehow seems, and probably is, so much more important than dreary domestic politics.

 

The international story is what affects us most over time, whether wars, climate change or economic highs and lows. The domestic political scene increasingly seems merely parochial, villagey infighting. We know that most of the major issues in our lives will be dealt with through international political consensus. Whether or not we agree with him on all counts, the leading role of President Obama in that consensus gives us a nice warm feeling, even if the gilt on his image at home has become a little less shiny.

 

Meanwhile, we are all out to play as the happy news pours in that the market economy, a year after the Lehman collapse, has survived. For the haves, it is true; the top executives are earning more than ever in basic salary even if publicly unacceptable bonuses have been reduced. Lesser survivors are bored with the gloom and are beginning to party again. The return to work at the end of a wet summer here has encouraged a general breaking out from numbing despondency — gallery openings, full restaurants all over London and a greater optimism, whether or not based on reality. God knows what is happening to the have-nots and the vast numbers of newly unemployed including this year’s school and university leavers. Those who can are out spending, and it is dangerously easy to put the blinkers on and think we are heading back to what we perceive as the good times.

 

It seems to me that there is a way to go for most people. Personally, I am still pinning my hopes on that one-in-however-many-million lottery win, but nothing like a few parties and free drinks to cheer things up. It will be interesting to see if delegates to the Party conferences over the next three weeks achieve a believable air of sober reflection and serious planning. The Conservative leadership must succeed in appearing humble in the face of general disaffection with politicians. David Cameron has made an art form of righteous indignation, even fury. He and his cohorts have to be deeply sensitive to the needs of the country as a whole, baiting their grimmer messages with something a little more upbeat for a Conservative future. They need to make very sure that their conservatism is seen to have a large, not a small, c. It may be unfair, but Cameron still smacks too much of old-world privilege for his own good and his man-of-the-people act has not been wholly successful.

 

Gordon Brown would do better if he managed to look less like the grim reaper and could appear comfortable in his own skin. He has to give a better impression of openness and honesty, to appear to have solid, reliable beliefs and policies, a vision of the country beyond the next election and a means to follow up words with implementation. I doubt it is possible for a leopard to change his spots to the extent that he will blossom anew in the image of leadership and regain public trust. As for the Liberal Democrats, who can tell? Currently, they look quite good, quite reasonable, relatively intelligent and completely irrelevant. They do seem to hold some appeal for the politically-minded young who see Labour as bankrupt and the Conservatives as overly exclusive, but I doubt any major effect on general-election results when young people must feel so completely let down by their elders and their leaders.

 

Many who will be first-time voters in the next general election left school this summer. The lucky ones have three years of university ahead of them before the horrors of the job search. A huge hike in university entrance numbers, together with more students staying to do further degrees in the absence of probable employment, has left others with the right qualifications disappointed and completely at a loss. The weight of numbers has caused huge problems with student loans, leaving some students who have places without the money to pay for tuition or maintenance. For others, there is no available accommodation. This is supposedly being rectified, but may result in more dropping out and more on the unemployment lists, adding their number to their immediate seniors who have lost their jobs on a ‘first in, first out’ basis.

 

It is hard to see the attraction for them of any of our major political parties. They have all been tarred with the brush of dishonesty; their policies and agencies don’t work and they continually mouth empty promises. There is an insistence from all parties that everyone should work, and yet there are no jobs to be had and life is too expensive to live. Why bother voting? In fact why bother at all? I’m off to put the duvet back over my head until the next party.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

A NEW STORY IN NUMBERS

FIFTH COLUMN -R.C. ACHARYA

 

The middleman has always been the bane of any society. Acting as a facilitator or a go-between, the middleman is always the weak link in effective communication between two parties, and the elimination of this person is what the proposed unique identification number promises to achieve. Nandan M. Nilekani, having dreamt of the concept of UIN and having thought of its design, could not be expected to let go of this opportunity of a lifetime. Manmohan Singh has chosen to give Nilekani a cabinet post, and Nilekani, with nearly 30 years of experience in information-technology related matters, can be expected to do the job in record time.

 

After going through the chapter titled “ICT in India”, as well as the subsequent pages of Nilekani’s excellent book, Imagining India, one realizes the enormous impact the UIN scheme will have not only on the daily lives of the citizens but also on the nation’s economy. Its promise of effective delivery of the various policy initiatives for the common man will revolutionize the life of India and its people. Most importantly, the UIN would enable various agencies — government or private — to obtain highly accurate feedback, which is presently impossible because of the existence of a large number of middlemen.

 

As pointed out by Nilekani in his book, the UIN, which started as a pilot project a few years ago, was initially seen as nothing more than a means to effectively identify and then check the influx of illegal immigrants. Even today, it is looked upon as such in some quarters. In Nilekani’s scheme of things, however, the UIN would be an all-encompassing tag to connect every individual identity that a person possesses — the ration card, passport, permanent account number, election identity card, credit card, driving license and so on.

 

LITTLE INTERFERENCE

The UIN is modelled on the Social Security Administration of the United States of America. Nilekani states that the UIN will be effective in empowering India’s citizens and in doing away with the middleman when it comes to interaction between the citizenry and public and private institutions. The UIN would be at the core of any system that an organization may build to facilitate interaction with the people.

 

However, Nilekani might find the going far from easy. He would have to tackle nearly 600 government departments and their heads, who would want to hold on to their respective fiefdoms. These men will undoubtedly make matters worse for Nilekani even if he chose to flaunt his rank and let them know of his reported proximity to the prime minister. Given his personal commitment and competence, the aura and the respect that he commands in the IT industry, intellectual community and business circles, there should be no dearth of brilliant minds eager to join Nilekani’s venture.

 

New Delhi’s babudom seldom fails to defer to the political hierarchy. The induction of Nilekani to the rank of a cabinet minister was thus a master stroke by the prime minister. This move will give Nilekani access to resources that would otherwise have remained out of bounds had Nilekani been just another government secretary. Nilekani will have many doors to pry open, and persuade those sitting behind them to change their minds.

 

However, problems will remain even after the UIN project becomes a reality. The ubiquitous middleman is unlikely to give up without a good fight. With a penchant to beat the system, the middleman can still upset plans unless the system ensures a reduced probability of human interference and corruption. As pointed out by Nilekani, the introduction of the simple “First in, First out” rule eliminated the possibility of middlemen demanding and being paid bribes in the updating of land records in Karnataka. This is the way to go forward.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

PROTECTING THE BEAUTIFUL AND ENDANGERED CREATURES

THE GOVERNMENT MUST SUPPORT COMMUNITY-BASED PROJECTS IN THE FORESTS OF ASSAM TO ENSURE THE GOLDEN LANGURS’ SURVIVAL, WRITES ASHISH KOTHARI

 

“They’re just about 50 metres away, let’s go quietly,” whispered my colleague as we peered through the dense foliage of the forest. Earlier that morning, rain had driven away the summer heat, but it was still humid and sweaty. Every once in a while, we had to flick or pull off a leech as we trudged up a steep slope.

 

We were in the Kakoijana reserved forest of western Assam, and on the lookout for the Golden Langur. I had heard that several villages here were involved in protecting the forest and its wildlife, and was on a visit with Arnab Bose of the NGO, Nature’s Foster.

 

The sound of rustling leaves up ahead stopped us on our tracks. Arnab spoke quietly into his GPS set, listened to the response, and told me excitedly, “They’re just ahead of us, 12 of them on a tree, let’s go very quietly, this troop is rather shy. Kartik is standing just under them.”

 

Kartik Oraon, I’d learnt earlier, was a local resident, an adivasi boy, who had been trained by Nature’s Foster to use a GPS set while tracking the langurs. I was keen to find out more about him, for he must surely be one of the few adivasis in the area to have this skill. But first, the langurs. A few steps further up, we broke into a small clearing, and Arnab pointed up through the foliage. “There’s one,” he said. A langur was sitting on its haunches high up on a tree branch, looking down intently at us. Its jet-black face contrasted with its distinctly golden body, the fur glistening in the sunlight that had just pierced through the clouds. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw a movement on its right, and suddenly a crash, as one of the langurs jumped onto a lower tree branch. The other langurs too decided we were a bit suspicious-looking, and one by one, they all scampered across branches and jumped down to a tree below and out of our vision. Within a couple of minutes, they were all gone. But by then, I have had my first good look at these beautiful creatures.

 

Beautiful and endangered. The Golden Langur (Trachypithecus geei), found only in Northeast India and Bhutan, is threatened by hunting and the destruction of its forested habitat. It is on the list of endangered species of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and on Schedule 1 (completely protected species) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India. Which is why any method of protection of the species is well worth looking into.

 

As the sound of the langurs moving through the vegetation died down, Kartik appeared. He had been tracking the troop since early morning, partly to help us locate it, and partly to continue his observations of langur feeding behaviour as part of a scientific study that Nature’s Foster is conducting. He is one of the 12 local youths trained in such research, which they combine with their own considerable local knowledge to good effect.

 

Kartik is one of several villagers passionately involved in protecting the langurs and their habitat. Theirs is a story that is familiar to anyone working on community-based conservation in India. The forests of the Kakoijana hill range, once thick and diverse, had been decimated by a combination of factors.

 

In the late 1960s, the forest department cleared a part to raise a commercial teak plantation. Then, in the early 1980s, the Assam agitation (against outsiders settling in the state) created conditions for the absence of any responsible agency in the area, and elements within and outside the villages looted the forest for quick returns. By the latter half of the 1980s, much of the hill was virtually naked, and only then did the villagers at its foot realize the consequences — water sources drying up in summer, yet flooding in the monsoons. Not to mention serious shortages of fuel, fodder, and other forest products, and conflicts with wildlife moving into croplands in a desperate search for food.

 

In the late 1980s, the residents of Ujan Rabhapara decided to take matters into their own hands. They resolved in front of their temple not to cut any tree, and to help regenerate the degraded forest through various methods, including through plantations. Thaneswar Rabha, an elder who was then the president of the village development committee, says, “The idea spread to other villages also, as everyone realized that a forest-less future was bleak.”

 

In the mid-1990s, members of Nature’s Foster heard about the villagers’ initiative while on a nature education trip to the area. This was also the time they found the presence of some Golden Langurs. Excited, they and other NGOs proposed that the area be declared a wildlife sanctuary. But simultaneously, on discussions with villagers, they realized that a community-based approach may work better than a legal designation managed by the forest department, which had inadequate resources and political will. Thus began a quiet, slow process of engaging with the local communities, addressing not only conservation issues but also problems of livelihoods, agricultural production, water, health, and education. As Arnab explained, the going was far from easy. The timber and poaching mafia had to be tackled, and the forest department won over to a community-based approach. There was also the cultural challenge of dealing with very diverse local communities — the hill range is surrounded by 28 villages with Rabha, Bodo, Garo, Koch Rajvanshi, Santal, Nepali, and Bengali (Hindu and Muslim) communities.

 

As we drove around the 1,724 hectare hill range, the effects of this work were clearly visible. Where the effort has started two decades back, as at Ujan Rabhapara, the entire hillock is forested. Where it is more recent, the lower slopes are regenerating well but the higher parts are still barren as outside forces manage to get there to cut trees. The forests protected by Siponsila, Chorapara and Jhakuapara-II Pahartali (where we saw the langur troop) are amongst the densest and the most diverse, partly due to their relative inaccessibility.

 

Most villages joined the effort in this millennium. Hence many areas are only regenerating now. There is the added problem of the domination of teak, an exotic species originally introduced by the forest department into Assam. Nevertheless, wildlife appears to have been benefited significantly, if the langur population is anything to go by. A 2008 census yielded over 488: though there is no comparable figure for the 1980s, local and NGO accounts suggest that the numbers were far smaller. Recently, four langurs from Kakoijana even crossed over human-dominated areas and settled in another hill (Bhumeswar), about 10 kilometres away, perhaps an indication that parts of Kakoijana are reaching saturation level.

 

Other wildlife to be seen constitute the pangolin, barking deer, crab-eating mongoose, Rhesus Macaque, and over 150 species of birds. Nature’s Foster is hopeful that hornbills, once common here, will repopulate the area once the trees grow taller and provide nesting habitat.

 

Villagers use various means of protection with orally transmitted or written rules. No live tree is allowed to be cut, but fallen branches can be collected. No hunting is permitted. Violators are fined amounts ranging from Rs 51 to Rs 5,001.

 

A very recent initiative by the villagers provides hope that the community-based conservation project will sustain itself. In 2008, the villagers formed the Pateshwari Golden Langur Green Conservation Foundation with help from Nature’s Foster. This consists of 16 villages; the other 12 are also forming a federation (having differed from the first 16 over the name, but otherwise pledging to work together). The federation presents a unified front to external forces and agencies, and helps to resolve inter-village issues. This is especially important in situations where the villagers are threatened by the timber and poaching mafia, as has happened with Kartik Oraon and the residents of Siponsila while patrolling the forests.

 

The federation is also currently trying to understand the legal status of the area, to discuss how it can get a more secure backing for its initiative. Fortunately, Nature’s Foster and other NGOs have dropped the demand to make it a wildlife sanctuary, realizing that the top-down restrictions and management prescriptions that this will lead to may alienate the villagers. The communities now need help in understanding the pros and cons of various conservation categories under the wildlife act (conservation reserve and community reserve), biodiversity act (biodiversity heritage sites), forest act (village forests), forest rights act (community forests), or other national and state laws. They are clear that they want the helping hand of the forest department, but not its dominating influence. So far, the department has reportedly not interfered in the community efforts, and is present in about a dozen villages with joint forest management projects on lands below the hill. But this and other government departments, as also NGOs, need to help the villagers with livelihoods and employment opportunities, desperately needed in many of the settlements. They must also help tackle the challenge of local caste, gender and class inequities (by bringing more women into the federation decision-making committee, for instance).

 

One hopes that the government will continue to see the wisdom of supporting Kakoijana as a community-led effort through sensitive need-based inputs. In fact, Kakoijana is only one of the several community-based initiatives for conserving the Golden Langur and its habitat, others being the well-known Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary, and some parts of the buffer area of the Manas Tiger Reserve. In recognizing and supporting these initiatives, Assam’s agencies will join a growing league of governments, NGOs, and donors who are recognizing the role of community conserved areas in securing the future of nature and wildlife.

 

The author is with Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group, Pune

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

FARM EDUCATION NEEDS REFORMS

THE VEERAPPA MOILY COMMITTEE ON ADMINISTRATION REFORMS HAD REPORTED A GRIM PICTURE OF EDUCATION IN AGRICULTURE SECTOR.

BY Y P GUPTA


Vice-chancellors of farm universities had suggested reorientation of farm education and restructuring of undergraduate education to meet the global challenges. The need for a revamp and upgrade of farm education in the country has assumed considerable urgency in view of dismal state of affairs in the farm sector.
There are 41 state farm universities and one Central farm university in the country, set up on the American pattern of Land Grant College Education, based on internal grade evaluation system. The annual state expenditure in some of these universities is quite enormous. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research also provides funds for financing various research projects.


The main objective of these universities is to impart agricultural education at the graduate and post-graduate levels and to provide practical training in respect of field problems in agriculture and allied subjects, as well as to integrate research, teaching and extension work for development purposes.


The progress of these institutions with some exceptions has been far from satisfactory. There have been no accountability in these universities. Many of them are riddled with intrigue and infighting, which have adversely affected farm education and academic standards. Casteism in particular has played havoc. There have been frequent agitations over removal of one or the other vice-chancellor. There have been a lot of wasteful expenditure and irregularities in certain universities.


FAILURE OF EVALUATION

The decline in the farm education is attributed to the faulty system of internal evaluation. A study conducted by Rais Ahmed says that the practice of giving high marks in the internal assessment is rampant. The internal system was blindly adopted without considering its suitability to Indian conditions, where corruption in society has taken deep roots, and morality has sunk very low, and where students, once admitted, consider it their birthright to acquire degrees at any cost within the stipulated period. The consequences proved disastrous since many teachers had to sacrifice quality and standards of teaching to gain popularity while those with integrity became unpopular.


The Randhawa Committee had reported that the quality of education had suffered because the grading pattern and examination system are defective. The committee observed that there was a wide divergence in the standard of evaluation by different teachers.


For, in this situation, students neglected their studies and followed ‘short-cuts’ to get good grades easily. In the process, standards and norms are sacrificed, the academic atmosphere is vitiated. Consequently, doctoral degrees became cheap commodities which could be had for the asking. The unfortunate part is that the system led to routine repetitive work as an easy way to obtain degrees.


Also, these universities are easily amenable to local and political influence. Students are exploited and patronised by local leaders to suit their personal convenience. The post of vice-chancellor has become political in character. They are often chosen to suit political bosses rather than for their academic or managerial skill. They survive on political patronage.


These institutions have been autonomous for efficient working to enable them to successfully achieve their aims. But today, the university autonomy is being continuously eroded through political interference, as a result of which academic standards have deteriorated. Also, autonomy has been exploited to build up ‘empires’ with a coterie of ‘yes-men.’


And a farcical impression is created that these institutions are functioning democratically through various committees, and that policy decisions are taken with the participation of teachers. In reality, these bodies, often consisting of ‘yes-men’ subservient to the vice-chancellor, are far from independent. They do more harm than good by empowering the vice-chancellor with extraordinary authority in rendering legitimacy to the arbitrary actions. Very often, appointments are made on the whims of the vice-chancellor and not on merit.


In the changing scenario, a review of the land grant college system for education is badly needed to make it relevant to the present needs. The course curriculum needs revision and restructure with emphasis on practical training both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels to make the teaching programmes relevant to the needs of the society.


There is also a need to strengthen the selection mechanism for the vice-chancellor’s post to get competent persons with the requisite scientific and managerial expedience for the job. And there should be proper procedures to ensure accountability for the public funds.


(The writer is a former principal scientist at IARI, New Delhi)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

HEIGHT OF THE MATTER

THE FRENCH MEDIA IS MAKING A MOUNTAIN OUT OF A MOLEHILL OF NICOLAS SARKOZY’S ALLEGED ATTEMPTS TO LOOK TALLER THAN HIMSELF IN PUBLIC. THOUGH OFFICIAL CIRCLES HAVE DEBUNKED THE SPECULATION, THE CONTROVERSY RAGES ON.

BY SATISH K SHARMA

 

We have it from Napoleon, no less, that man’s biological height — actual or assumed — is a non-issue. One day, searching for a book in his library, the little corporal saw it placed on a shelf well beyond his reach. Seeing this, Marshal Moncey, who was much taller, helped the emperor out saying, “I am bigger than you, sir.” Not to be outdone, Napoleon replied, “No, Marshal, you are only taller!”


David Lloyd George, prime minister of UK during the latter part of the World War I, was all of 5’6”. Once when someone took a dig at his short stature, he said, “In Wales (Lloyd George was a Welsh), we measure a man from his chin up. You evidently measure from his chin down.”


Of all the handicaps, a short height is the easiest to overcome. It hasn’t prevented people even in sports and cinema, two fields where physical attributes count, from attaining dizzy heights. Gary Player is only 5’7” and yet won nine major golf titles. All he had to do to offset the height handicap was to make the arc of his golf swing flatter.


Talking of cinema, Tom Cruise is again 5’7” and yet rose to be a Hollywood star. Ditto with the reigning Khans of Bollywood. In fact, both Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan lose no opportunity to joke about their short stature.


Reports have gone to the extent of saying that Sarkozy’s alleged attempts to look taller are to reduce the ‘gender gap’, so to speak, between him and his wife Carla Bruni. But, hey, a man trying to measure up to a lady is a lot better than cutting the other party down to size, literally.


What if the height gap is too much? Well, you use your ingenuity. During the shooting of the movie ‘Boy on a Dolphin’ the director was in a bind. For, the film had Sophia Loren appearing opposite Alan Ladd who, at 5’5”, was more than three inches shorter than her. So, throughout the filming the leading lady was made to walk in a trench.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE MOR TRAVESTY

 

Whenever assorted gangsters go on shooting and bombing sprees to settle intra-mob accounts - occasionally racking up collateral damage among innocent passersby - the resultant public outcry invariably produces stentorian pledges from officialdom to eradicate organized crime. Just how this purportedly uncompromising war is waged was demonstrated last Monday in Nazareth District Court.

 

Nahariya's own underworld kingpin Michael Mor was sent up for 11 months for threats and extortion attempts against judges and policemen. He has been in custody since last February and that period will now be deducted from the anyway inordinately lenient sentence. Thus Mor's release is expected within two to three months. That the judge ordered he reside south of Haifa for 13 months thereafter is no particular hardship. Mor can conduct "business" comfortably by remote control.

 

This case has drawn particular attention because last July the Haifa District Court convicted four policemen - all with prestigious records and promising careers - for concocting a vigilante plot to combat Mor. They claimed to have acted in self-defense, that "it was him or them," after Mor repeatedly threatened their families and after grenades were tossed into their homes.

 

Nobody denied that Mor menaced the cops and their families. Unfortunately, the police offered no effective assistance when called upon to help its own beleaguered officers who put their lives on the line for their community's sake. When the quartet gave up on legal recourse, all that mattered legally - and rightfully so - was that they resorted to illicit means to try to deter him, including planting explosive devices near his home and car. The four face heavy sentences and will afterwards be unemployed, perhaps unemployable.

 

The Nahariya cops weren't the only ones in Mor's sights. When he was in detention, he was recorded brazenly issuing blatant, vulgar and unequivocal threats against both police and judges involved in pressing weapons charges from 2006 against him. He swore he'd rip "their wives and children to bits" and "drive the cockroach cops back into their holes. They'll be afraid to walk the streets."

 

Yet by the time these recordings were submitted in evidence, an "arbitration process" was already under way between prosecution and defense. Ultimately, 35 of 37 charges were dropped. The prosecution argues that it aimed to "cool Nahariya down" and that "only time will tell" whether the deal was or wasn't a good one.

 

KNOWING THE protagonists, however, it is reasonable to assume that the effect of the Mor deal and consequent sentence will be exceedingly bad. By the scales of common sense, the light sentence is a disgrace, a travesty of justice. If anything, it augurs a systemic breakdown.

 

This isn't only a lay perception. Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonowitz has described the brief jail term handed to Mor as "wind in the sails of lawlessness. Mor's case is one of the gravest in recent memory. This crime boss boldly threatened policemen and judges, but is allowed to walk out. The message this sends to fellow felons is ruinous."

 

 

Trying hard to make lemonade from acutely bitter lemons, Police Inspector-General Dudi Cohen pledged to "stay on Mor's tail." He went on to recycle familiar bombastic promises to "defeat crime syndicates."

 

But how?

There's no denying the police initially fell down on the job. Yet when Mor was belatedly brought to reckoning, the available legal remedies weren't utilized, despite ironclad proof. By law, the threats Mor made could have earned him nine years' imprisonment. In most Western countries he would have been sent away for many years. There is nothing wrong with our law-books either; they're just ignored. No judge is obliged to endorse out-of-court bargains. That this untenable "arbitration" was endorsed, indeed, constitutes a compelling argument for mandatory minimum sentences for given offenses.

 

The twin images of Mor walking free while the vigilante officers are imprisoned undermine the safety of all of us. They represent a potent disincentive for potential candidates even remotely considering law-enforcement service. On top of being overworked and underpaid, why would anyone seek mortal risks knowing that crime pays while lawmen are left to fend for themselves?

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

RIGHT OF REPLY: BNEI AKIVA - TODAY & TOMORROW

YONA GOODMAN

 

The Bnei Akiva movement was founded on Lag Ba'omer 5689 (1929), so this year it is celebrating its 80th anniversary. This provides a good opportunity to examine the place the movement fills in contemporary Israeli society, with a view toward the social banner that has been at its forefront in recent years: "To be a movement of the people."

 

This expression implies a double goal: To maintain an open and honest dialogue with every person and group in Israel and the Jewish people in general, and to accept into the movement all sectors of the diverse population of the country.

 

This main educational goal - to establish in this country a just society with internal and moral strength - is regularly translated into innumerable educational programs and seminars, weekend study sessions and permanent voluntary frameworks. In view of the great abundance of ongoing and constant educational activities related to social justice, the article written by Prof. David Newman is quite a surprise ("Bnei Akiva - then & now,"
September 8). He attacks the movement for being "right-wing," emphasizing the Land of Israel and mimicking the haredi sector.

 

("Bnei Akiva - then & now,"

 

But this "learned" article was printed just a month after Bnei Akiva published a book with dozens of articles by rabbis and spiritual leaders (whose influence so upsets Newman) laying a broad ideological framework for the movement's volunteer social and welfare projects. Ironically, even the picture that illustrates his malicious article contradicts his own arguments. Newman laments the fact that while in the past, Bnei Akiva promoted aliya, today he feels that it concentrates on radical activities. However, the picture accompanying the article that accuses us of ignoring our primary goals, such as aliya, shows members of our world movement - young people who have come on aliya in the framework of Bnei Akiva.

 

BNEI AKIVA leads many programs whose goal is reaching out to deprived segments of Israeli society. Some examples: the active seeking-out and enrollment of physically challenged youngsters into the movement's ranks; the setting-up of chapters in underprivileged neighborhoods; the organizing and staffing of summer camps for children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

 

Newman evidently knows that his readers are well aware of Bnei Akiva's activities in the realm of welfare projects. He therefore has no alternative but to mention them, but he makes the astounding claim that these activities are performed by members of the movement as a revolt against the current educational line! He conveniently ignores that these "revolutionaries" operate with the support of coordinators who receive a salary from the movement and who run Bnei Akiva seminars to train these teenagers, whom Bnei Akiva sees as role models. If these young men and women are revolting against anything, it is against the imaginary world of articles like the one written by Newman.

 

NEWMAN GOES on to accuse Bnei Akiva of looking back over its "right shoulder" to see whether it satisfies the demands of the haredi community. Well, we see nothing wrong with learning good things from anybody, including the haredi world. But the truth is that Bnei Akiva's main effort is not looking backward, but forward, toward the great challenges that face Israel, and to strive to contribute in coping with them.

Bnei Akiva feels that Israeli society sees before it what appear to be two faulty life ideologies. One promotes becoming entrenched in a narrow haredi world, based on the belief that observing the Torah requires complete estrangement from modern living. The other is blindly accepting everything modern while rejecting Jewish traditions and values, something which might transform us into a "country of all its inhabitants."

 

But we believe there is a third alternative, one that is the proper Jewish way: to be full partners in building up the country while maintaining complete loyalty to the Torah.

 

Tradition and Jewish values are not burdens that limit our ability to build a modern state, rather they serve as a source of inner strength, providing stability and meaning to our continuing efforts to rebuild our eternal home. As opposed to Newman who accuses us of schizophrenia, we see this as a healthy approach, allowing Israeli society to stand on two feet: Judaism and Zionism together giving it the stability it needs to continue striving for the future which is precious to us all.

 

Nothing in our attitude toward social projects conflicts with our continued love for the land and promoting the ideal of settling on it. For us the land is not a basis for real estate transactions but the very foundation of our nation, which has been given to us by the Almighty. This approach is a loyal extension of the original Zionist vision, which others have abandoned.

 

If teaching the love of the land together with loving the people is "extremism," we hope that the number of extremists will increase. Between us: the desire to build a Jewish country in this land is rationalism and not extremism.

 

WHAT IS the essence of our movement? We are Zionists and religious. Being religious, we expect our members to participate in IDF combat units, because it is a sin to shirk one's military duty and because there is a mitzva to help defend the nation and its land. As Zionists, we encourage our members to study Torah, because we want to help deepen the Jewish roots of our country.

 

This is the path of Bnei Akiva now, and with God's help we will remain on this path tomorrow, continuing our close cooperation with the other youth movements in an effort to establish a country that is Jewish, Zionistic and modern. King Solomon wrote, "Without vision a nation will lose its foundation." As Jews we believe that the opposite is also true: With proper faith and a true vision, a nation and a viable country can be developed - today, and even more so, tomorrow.

 

The writer, a former secretary-general of Bnei Akiva, is currently a member of the executive board of the movement. He is the head of the Education and Faith in our Day department of Orot Academic College.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

A CRASH COURSE IN GLOBAL ECONOMICS FOR THE G20

DANIEL IKENSON AND ALEC VAN GELDER

 

G20 leaders are convening in Pittsburgh this week during a sticky time for global trade relations. Brazilians, Canadians, Mexicans and Chinese are angry with the Americans. The Indians and the Chinese are furious with each other, as are the Europeans and the Americans. Most of this stems from new trade restrictions imposed despite repeated pledges from G20 countries to avoid protectionism.

 

To quell the anger and gain a constructive focus in Pittsburgh, leaders must recognize how outdated it is to view the world as "us" versus "them." A crash course on the global economy is in order.

 

The largest "American" steel producer is the majority-Indian-owned Arcelor-Mittal, with headquarters in Luxembourg and Hong Kong, and listed on the New York Stock Exchange and five European stock exchanges.

 

The largest "German" producer, Thyssen-Krupp, a conglomerate with 670 companies worldwide, is investing $3.7 billion in a carbon and stainless steel factory in Alabama, which will create 2,700 permanent jobs there.

 

California's steel industry consists almost entirely of rolling mill operations, which process imported carbon steel slabs from Brazil, Russia and other countries. The Californian finished products are disqualified from President Barack Obama's Buy American procurement rules for failing to meet the statutory definition of American-made steel. This illustrates the impossibility, futility and harm of attempting to define producers by national characteristics.

 

TODAY, THE factory floor is no longer contained within four walls, one roof and national borders. Instead, the factory floor spans the globe, allowing firms to optimize investment and output decisions by matching production, assembly and other functions to the locations best suited for those activities.

 

Nokia is a Finnish brand, but produces most of its components and performs most of its assembly in other countries.

 

Lenovo is a worldwide Chinese computer brand name, but it maintains headquarters in Singapore and the US, operates research centers in the US and Japan and assembles products in India, Mexico, Poland and China.

 

Apple's ubiquitous iPods are designed in labs in California, then assembled in China drawing on labor and components from South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Japan.

 

This is true not only for big business, but for many of the goods now considered essential to our daily lives - from roses to screws to coffee.

 

TRADE POLICIES over the past 25 years have generally accommodated this new reality. According to the World Bank, between 1983 and 2003 only three countries (out of 136) increased overall trade restriction, while developing countries were some of the biggest reformers, having reduced their weighted average tariffs by 21 percentage points (from 29.9 percent to 9.3%). To emphasize how these reforms are self-helping, two-thirds of those cuts were unilateral. Trade has also benefitted from huge improvements in transportation and communications.

 

These gains are often discussed in terms of their impact on producers, but the consumer is by far the biggest winner, getting a more consistent supply and better choice of cheaper, better products.

 

This global factory has changed the old "us versus them" characterization of international trade for good - and for the good. Trade is increasingly the process of importing a good, adding value to it and then exporting it to another producer further down the production chain. These complicated production and supply chains rely upon the rapid flow of goods and services across borders.

 

The current economic crisis, however, has tested our leaders' commitment to these reforms. Political leaders condemned protectionism at the G20 meeting in November 2008 and then again in April 2009. They returned home to yield to vested interests, imposing anti-trade measures that add complexity, cost and delay to internationalized production and supply chains.

 

Such an approach made no sense when times were good. It is especially wrongheaded when times are tough.

 

BANNING CONTAINERIZED shipping (perhaps the most important technique in 20th-century trade) or broadband Internet connections (which have paved the way for millions of call-center jobs) would clearly be ridiculed. Yet it is equally ludicrous for governments to promote "temporary" tariffs to shelter "domestic" industries, or subsidies for "local" producers, or "environmental" regulations that hobble foreign competitors.

 

World leaders need to understand this in time for Pittsburgh. The only real stimulus the global economy needs is to continue the reforms that have guided the past 30 years of unprecedented global expansion: reduce trade barriers and remove the regulations and administrative burdens that prevent people from maximizing their potential in the global economy.

 

Daniel Ikenson is associate director of the Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies and author of No Longer Us versus Them: Trade Policy for the 21st Century, published by International Policy Network and the Freedom to Trade Campaign. Alec van Gelder is project director at International Policy Network.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

MOVIES IN NABLUS, DRAMAS IN BETHLEHEM

DANIEL DORON

 

In the Palestinian Authority's chaotic world, Nablus, a center of Islamic militancy, has just inaugurated a cinema. Young professionals watch American movies and then crowd into new fashionable coffee shops to discuss business and entertainment.

 

In relatively peaceful Bethlehem, however, a Fatah conclave attempting to reconcile its warring factions erupted in riot.

 

Recent reports of prosperity returning to the impoverished West Bank cities were truly astonishing. Arabs usually pour fire and brimstone on Israel when talking to the press. Now they are talking about how a reduction in terrorism enabled Israel to remove barriers in the West Bank and generated a dramatic economic recovery (7% growth!). Well-groomed young Palestinian Arab men, and amazingly also women, fearlessly told Israeli TV how terrific it was to ignore inflammatory politics for a while and enjoy life instead.

 

But the fights in the Bethlehem Fatah conclave were a reminder that belligerency still dominates Arab politics and may frustrate the yearning for a respite among a more prosperous, younger generation. Unfortunately, the politics of violence is generously rewarded by various "peacemakers" who help foment major crises out of minor issues.

 

TAKE THE issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. They are supposed to be an insurmountable obstacle to peace, choking Palestinian growth. But they occupy less than 4% of the land in a 90% empty West Bank. There is plenty of space there for everyone, and Jews should be able to live there just as Arab Israelis are allowed to live in Israel. Still, even Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, a respected economist who understands the crucial importance of peace for development, had to run on an Israel-bashing platform to stand any chance of election.

 

The Fatah conclave resulted in a takeover by a younger, more radical generation. They unseated President Mahmoud Abbas's cronies, who lived high on the billions in aid money. These "young Turks" (most are 50 and older) are determined to get their share of this booty, and for this, militancy serves them well. For decades Arab terrorism has kept the UN, the State Department, European chancelleries and legions of "human rights" organizations pushing for a Palestinian state as if it was the only human rights issue in the world, no matter how brutally the PA is already treating its people. No one seemed concerned by the likelihood that an irredentist Hamas-style state will wage a bloody jihad against Israel with Iranian help.

 

The hope for a quick political fix that more Israeli "accommodations" will produce springs eternal, as the present Obama initiative proves. Most policy wonks seem indifferent to the proven connection between the rule of law, economic development and a less militant political culture. But the fact is that for two decades, from Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 to the first 1987 intifada, the disputed territories enjoyed an intense "economic peace process."

 

Israeli occupation maintained a framework of law and order, and the integration of these backward territories with the advanced Israeli economy let them flourish economically and socially. Arab agriculture was revolutionized, employment was full, the population's standard of living quintupled, while health, education and women's rights all advanced dramatically.

TRUE, OCCUPATION, even a relatively benign one, will provoke resistance. But could not other creative political arrangements be devised to encourage moderates among the Palestinian Arabs and suppress the radicals and terrorists, so as to permit continued economic growth and the evolution of a peace-seeking civil society? Instead the Europeans, the Americans and, yes, the Israeli peace camp promoted radical Arab factions. The Oslo agreements imposed the rule of a terrorist organization. The disasters that ensued were predictable.

 

It took decades before the US managed (through Gen. Keith Dayton) to help train Palestinian militias to restrain terrorist activity in the West Bank, because it was impossible to convince Arafat and later Abbas that the West Bank could be taken over, like Gaza, by Hamas terrorists. When Arafat consistently, and Abbas intermittently, did everything to inflame the conflict and encourage terrorism, little was done to stop them.

 

Pending a political resolution, could an interim cessation of hostilities not have been enforced in the West Bank and Gaza long ago to assure peace-promoting economic development and the creation of a civil society? Would it not be more productive than providing billions to radical leaders, assisting them to build militant dictatorships?

 

Lasting peace must grow from the bottom up, from an "economic peace process" that proves what advantages peace has to offer on a daily basis. It cannot come from signing peace agreements with radical and corrupt entities propped up by corrupting Western handouts.

 

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu suggested that Israel initiate such an "economic peace process" to accompany the political one. The Palestinian leadership, habitual naysayers, responded with contempt. They obviously prefer their masses to be miserable so they can exploit their rage for a jihad against Israel.

 

But even some less-opinionated politicians and pundits accused Netanyahu of using the economic initiative to delay instant political salvation.

 

Perhaps the young Arab men and women interviewed recently on Israeli TV had a message for them that should be taken seriously?

 

The writer is director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress (ICSEP).

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

RATTLING THE CAGE: PLAYED FOR A SUCKER

LARRY DERFNER

 

It's been a terrible week for tough love. One of the worst. First the Goldstone report was left to twist in the wind by the Obama administration, by Europe, by J Street and by the ghost of the Israeli peace camp. Then, at Tuesday's "summit" in New York, President Barack Obama gave his clearest signal yet that he was caving in to the Netanyahu government on the peace process, dropping the idea of a "freeze" on settlements for the softer, kinder call for "restraint."

 

This has been a great week for Israeli war-lovers and settlers and an atrocious one for Palestinians, peaceniks and human rights advocates. And the person to blame, above all, is Obama.

 

I'm worried about this guy. He has wonderful goals, but he doesn't seem to have a clue as to how to achieve them. When somebody tells him "no," he's stumped. His instinct is to retreat into his Ivy League professor's mode, turn up his nose, say to himself, "I'm not going to sink to that level," walk away and go on thinking his deep thoughts.

 

That's fine for a professor, but not for a leader. In a leader, that translates as an unwillingness to fight. It translates as weakness. And the worst reputation a leader can get, the one that can destroy him like no other, is one for weakness.

 

THAT'S THE reputation Obama is getting - especially in Israel. We're laughing at this guy now. Look, Binyamin Netanyahu stared down the president of the United States! The settlers have stopped worrying. All is well again in our little "villa in the jungle," as Ehud Barak, the government's man of the Left, likes to describe this country.

 

And if Israel is happy - 21st century Israel, that is, Israel the right-wing monolith - then the Republican Party is happy, too. We're allies, Israelis and Republicans. If we stare down Obama, the Republicans are encouraged, and vice versa.

 

In the campaign to cripple the Obama administration, to destroy his presidency, Israel is doing much, much more than its share. As noted, this past week has been especially fruitful. We lobbied the US State Department into shooting down the Goldstone report, and now the Obama administration is effectively an apologist for alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza. We wore down Middle East envoy George Mitchell on the settlement freeze, and now it may only be a matter of time before we see "hilltop youth" building a new outpost called Havat Obama.

 

We're making the president of the United States look pathetic. He's becoming a national joke. And the Republicans are laughing along with us.

 

THIS CANNOT go on. Obama, for the sake of his presidency, cannot allow this to go on.

 

Which is why I'm optimistic that he won't. Obama didn't come this far and didn't set such lofty goals to be hamstrung, to become a lame duck, so soon after entering the White House. He may not be a gut fighter, but he's too ambitious, too smart, and he's surrounded himself with too many barracudas to let the likes of Likud, Israel Beiteinu, Shas and the settlers do him in.

The spin around here is that he's learned his lesson. He's learned that it was a mistake to insist on a total settlement freeze, a mistake to think he could dictate terms to us, a mistake to think he could change the Middle East with the force of his personality. From now on, goes the local consensus wisdom, Obama will be more patient, he'll go along to get along; after all, if he doesn't, Bibi and Co. will teach him another lesson.

 

I also believe Obama has learned something from this bruising experience, but not what Israelis think. Instead, he's learned that there is no meeting point between him and the Israeli government on the peace process, that one of them is going to have to give in, and God help him if he's the one. Obama's learning that if he allows the most right-wing government in Israeli history to dictate his Middle East policy, that policy will fail utterly and his presidency will suffer the most devastating blow.

 

He's learning that at some point in the not-too-distant future, he's going to have to either bend Israel to his will or admit defeat in the Middle East and get blamed for the next war.

 

There are lots of ways he can bend Israel to his will. George Bush the Elder did it with money - by holding back $10 billion in loan guarantees as a penalty for settlement construction, then releasing the money after settlement construction was frozen. I'm sure Rahm Emanuel can think of dozens of ways to squeeze the eminently squeezable Bibi Netanyahu. All that's required is Obama's go-ahead.

 

He's not there yet. But he's getting there. He'll have no choice.

 

SO AS disappointed as I am in Obama, I'm not giving up on him by any means. He's still new in the job, and he has certain strengths that should serve his purposes well. He's a quick study, especially when it comes to learning from his mistakes. He rebounds from adversity. He's patient.

 

True, it's been a miserable week. It's been a miserable year, in fact. But from a strictly realpolitik view of US-Israeli relations, I still think there's a decent chance that in the end, tough love will conquer all.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

FUNDAMENTALLY FREUND: HE'S NO MAHATMA OBAMA

MICHAEL FREUND

 

If anyone still thinks of US President Barack Obama in superhuman or pseudo-messianic terms, those thoughts can now surely be put to rest.

 

Just prior to his joint meeting on Monday in New York with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the leader of the free world put on a performance that was so dreadfully uninspired as to border on the unpresidential.

 

In a statement to reporters, Obama could barely contain his annoyance, emphatically declaring that "simply put, it is past time to talk about starting negotiations - it is time to move forward. It is time to show the flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise that's necessary to achieve our goals."

 

Sounding like a scorned substitute teacher being ignored by his pupils, Obama lectured his Middle Eastern guests, telling them, "Permanent-status negotiations must begin, and begin soon. And more importantly, we must give those negotiations the opportunity to succeed."

 

SOME MAY cheer this "straight talk" as precisely the kind of push that is needed to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But the truth is that it is more a reflection of the president's impetuosity than of a well-crafted policy. As such, its chances of success are highly doubtful.

 

Indeed, the US media was rife with leaks from administration officials about how "impatient" Obama is. Fox News, for example, reported: "Though it's early in the Obama administration, aides suggest he's running out of patience with both sides." The New York Times took note of "the president's impatience with the slow pace of the peace negotiations," and Politico revealed that White House "aides indicated that Obama is frustrated and impatient with what they described as foot-dragging by the Israelis and inflexible positions from the Palestinians."

 

The president is clearly a prisoner of his own restlessness, diving head-first into one complex and knotty problem after another with little to show for it but bruises. Thus, the same man who tried to rush through an unprecedented overhaul of America's colossal health-care system in just a matter of a few weeks, now seeks to solve a century-old conflict by forcing a photo-op meeting in New York in order to jump-start negotiations in its wake.

 

This is no way to run a country, and certainly no way to bring about a real and lasting peace - not among bickering members of Congress, and certainly not between Arabs and Israelis.

 

YET PERHAPS the strangest thing of all is that Obama himself should know better than to act with such rashness. After all, just two weeks ago, on a highly-publicized visit to a high school in Arlington, Virginia, he cited Mahatma Gandhi, who was a pillar of patience, as one of his key influences.

 

Asked by a precocious ninth-grader whom he would like to dine with, the president replied, "You know, I think that it might be Gandhi, who is a real hero of mine... He is somebody whom I find a lot of inspiration in."

 

Assuming that to be true, it is hard to understand how Obama failed to learn the key lesson that embodied Gandhi's storied political career, which India's founding father once pithily summed up as follows: "Patience and perseverance, if we have them, overcome mountains of difficulties."

 

As he stood alongside Netanyahu and Abbas, Obama sounded nothing like the iconic Indian leader. "We have to find a way forward," he said, as though offering some profound new insight that no one else had thought of previously. "Success depends on all sides acting with a sense of urgency," Obama added, once again invoking haste as a cornerstone of his approach.

 

Little thought seems to have gone into how to reach his stated goals, other than to express irritation and let off some steam.

 

But instead of coming across as willful and determined, Obama sounded petulant and arrogant, particularly when he sought to suggest that the Middle East's complexity and history must be shunted aside to move forward.

 

With all due respect to the American president, he is obviously no Mahatma Obama. He is a man in a rush, who obviously thinks he knows best - better than Israel's public and its leaders - what is in Israel's interests.

 

But here, too, the president would do well to recall the words of his icon. It was Gandhi who proclaimed that "it is unwise to be toosure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err."

 

Even the man occupying the White House.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

WASHINGTON WATCH: THE 'AGINNERS' AND THE POLITICS OF HATE

DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD

 

We buried my father last week just before Rosh Hashana. He was 92. He had no loyalty to any political party; he didn't like either one very much. He was mad at FDR to the end for not doing enough to help the Jews, and hated Richard Nixon because he was an anti-Semite who tried to destroy the Constitution. He voted Republican for many years because the head of the ticket in several Ohio elections chaired the annual Israel Bonds drive a few years running.

 

He was an admirer of Ariel Sharon and regularly inquired about the old general's health even as his own was failing. The two had a lot in common - their bull-in-a-china-shop style, their emerging political views and even their physical appearance.

 

Dad didn't talk much about his own mortality, but said he was worried about that of the president of the United States; he felt the atmosphere in the country reminded him of Israel before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, another of his heroes.

 

MY DAD didn't vote for Barack Obama, thought he was "trying to be Santy Claus to everyone" with his tax dollars. But he had a great deal of respect for the office and the man, and was deeply troubled by the hatred being stirred up in the country.

 

That doesn't mean dad was some soft liberal; he was tough, conservative and not always the poster boy for tolerance. He was repulsed by the Christian fundamentalists who dominated the Republican Party, and didn't care much for the liberals running the Democratic Party. We disagreed on a lot more than we could agree on when it came to politics. We shared a love for Israel, but he was a hard-line Likudnik - although, to my surprise, he made the transition to the middle with his hero, Sharon, and for most of the same reasons. He never had much sympathy for the Palestinians, and he believed that the Arabs would wipe Israel off the map if given half a chance, but felt that it was in Israel's interest to separate into two states.

 

He was an avid student and voracious reader of history - particularly Jewish history and the American Civil War. I think his greatest satisfaction - outside his four children, 10 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren - dated back over 70 years, to his experience as a yeshiva student in Cleveland.

 

He remembered the Depression not just for the economic hard times, but also for the outbursts of anti-Semitism that characterized much of the 1930s. To him many of the hate radio voices of today were echoes of one from his youth, Father Charles Coughlin, the rabid anti-Semitic radio preacher who praised Hitler and accused FDR of "leaning toward international socialism" (sound familiar?) and being a tool of the Jews.

 

Dad didn't listen to talk radio; it just made him angry, he said, and he thought most of those on it were "stupid." He said people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and their ilk reminded him of Father Coughlin. He called them "aginners." They don't stand for anything, they just want to tear things and people down and tell you what they're against, he liked to say.

 

"They're aginners, not builders," he explained. "It's always easier to be an aginner."

 

The aginners don't have to take any responsibility, they don't have to solve problems. Actually they prefer to create problems for others, he'd say. Often the aginners are haters, racists, elitists. Or they are stirring up rage for purely mercenary reasons.

 

NO PARTY has a monopoly on aginners, although the conservatives appear intent on cornering the market these days and have the greatest access to the mass media - despite absurd claims about the "liberal media." Race baiting is a popular focus for hate-talkers like Beck, who has accused the president of hating white people, and Limbaugh, who is alerting the nation to the looming crisis created by two black teens beating up a white kid on a Missouri school bus.

 

The Jewish community produced our own contingent of aginners in last year's campaign, accusing Obama of being a Jew-hating, closet Muslim out to destroy Israel.

 

When it came to politics, my father and I found little in common, but there was one thing we could agree on - the aginners. Dad would have agreed with The New York Times's resident conservative columnist David Brooks, who said Beck and Limbaugh, with their agenda of fear and hate instead of ideas and policy, aren't going to take over the country, but they are taking over the Republican Party, and that's not good for the country.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

DON'T DESCEND FROM THE SUMMIT

BY HAARETZ EDITORIAL

 

The White House was careful to lower expectations before Tuesday's meeting in New York between U.S. President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. And indeed, as was to be expected, the meeting did not narrow the gaps between the parties on core issues; it did not even produce an understanding on a settlement freeze. Nine months after Obama appointed George Mitchell as his special envoy to the Middle East, the U.S. administration cannot point to any real progress toward an agreement on the Palestinian track. The Syrian and Lebanese tracks are similarly at a pre negotiations stage.


It is regrettable that so much time was wasted on the effort to create an equation under which settlement activity would be frozen in exchange for a thaw in Arab states' relations with Israel. Foot-dragging in the political process plays into the hands of the region's extremists. America's failure to restart the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue strengthens doubts about diplomacy's utility and boosts the temptation to replace it with violence. Though he did so belatedly, Obama was wise to drop his preoccupation with settlements and El Al flights over Saudi Arabia - what are known as confidence-building steps - and instead launch an effort to get negotiations going on a final-status agreement.


It is to be hoped that the triumphal crowing from Netanyahu's camp after the summit does not mean the prime minister interprets Obama's decision to pull back from his demand for a total settlement freeze as a carte blanche for construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Provoking our Palestinian peace partner cannot be reconciled with a commitment to a two states for two peoples solution. Israel also has no interest in making Obama look like a weak leader who cannot impose his will on a small, friendly state. The United States holds the key to restraining the Iranian nuclear threat, and is also Israel's bulwark against imposed political solutions.

Israel should be thankful that Obama took time off from his many burdensome domestic concerns to demonstrate to the world that he is personally committed to advancing moves aimed at ending the Middle East dispute. The New York summit was an important step, but by no means sufficient. Now is the time to move forward from mere handshakes to real action.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

ON OBAMA'S BLOCK

BY ARI SHAVIT

 

Community worker Barack Obama called in the two neighborhood toughs for a chewing out at the Waldorf-Astoria. I am losing my patience, the president told the Israeli prime minister and the president of the Palestinian Authority. I've had enough of your antics, your provocations and your childish shenanigans. I am sick of your 100-year fight that is shattering windows, gutting shops and ruining life on the block.


Although I'm not a cop on the beat like Rudy Giuliani, I'm no patsy either. If you two don't get together for a powwow to end to this damned gang war of yours, I'll deal with each one of you, personally. I'm not some sissy from Boston or Stockholm, I'm from Chicago. And in Chicago, they know how to handle gang lords like you. If you don't shape up - and quick, I'll lick you into shape.


Obama is right, but he has only himself to blame. To build a community you have to understand it; to this day, Obama hasn't shown that he understands the Middle East. And you need a realistic defining concept, around which to rearrange the community; to this day Obama lacks such a concept. Are Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas irritating? For sure they are. Are they small-minded? Of course. But these two are not the cause of the problem; they are its symptoms.

 

If the community worker doesn't get what the problem is, he doesn't stand a chance of coping with it. Even if he chews the tough kids out again and again, or even knocks their heads together, Barack Obama is headed for failure in the Middle East.


This is the problem: The Israeli-Palestinian status quo is unacceptable. The continued occupation of the West Bank denies the Palestinians of their rights, as individuals and as a people; it endangers the nature of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and it harms the interests of the West. A bid to end the occupation unilaterally is doomed to fail.


The lesson of the disengagement from Gaza was that withdrawal without a political agreement only inflames Palestinian extremists, pushes peace further away and maybe even brings war closer. Such a withdrawal could lead to a Palestinian humanitarian disaster, to a strategic weakening of Israel and to undermining the very regional stability that the United States is interested in achieving.


But the attempt to end the occupation through achieving peace has failed. The lesson of Oslo, Camp David and Annapolis is clear-cut: Even the most moderate Palestinian leadership is not prepared to accept Israel's most far-reaching peace proposal. In 16 years of a painstaking and exhausting peace process, the Palestinians never agreed to a single concession on a core issue. Their refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, to agree to demilitarize a Palestinian state or to give up their demand for the return of refugees to Israel has blocked peace in the past, is blocking peace in the present and will continue doing so for the foreseeable future. As of now, there is no genuine Palestinian partner for the partition of the country. Obama's Palestinian problem can't be swept under a carpet of words.


It is a cruel reality: The occupation is unacceptable and impossible, and unilateral withdrawal is hazardous. Those are the three sides of the trap. This is our neighborhood. That's the situation the community has to cope with.

Obama's two predecessors in the White House bashed their heads against the Middle East wall. Bill Clinton tried to precipitate a peace revolution, but failed. George W. Bush tried to foment a democratic revolution, but created chaos instead.


The lesson the incumbent should learn from these resounding flops is there's no room for revolutions in the Middle East. This region must be given evolutionary, and not revolutionary, treatment.


The key word is: process. Not a KO punch, but a long and thorough chipping away that will gradually change Palestinian society and at the same time lead to the end of the occupation. No one is more suited to the task than Obama. This talented community worker will have to see this blighted and violent neighborhood for what it is.

Instead of wasting time on doomed efforts to get Netanyahu and Abbas on the road to an illusory Peace-Now solution, Obama should initiate a gradual, deep and cautious process, one that will relentlessly partition the country.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

GIDEON LEVY / OBAMA, YOU WON'T MAKE PEACE WITHOUT TALKING TO HAMAS

BY GIDEON LEVY, HAARETZ CORRESPONDENT

 

It's as if U.S. President Barack Obama did the least he had to. He "rebuked" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. That's not how a president with star power acts. That is not how a superpower does things. America is again falling down on the job, and Obama is betraying his mission and the promise of his presidency.


True, it's an anomaly that the United States wants a peace settlement more than the hawkish parties to the conflict, but the leader of the free world has a crucial role, and iheis not fulfilling it. Nine months after Obama assumed the presidency, precious time has been totally wasted, in the Middle East at least, and suspicions are growing that the promise of his presidency is on the wane, even if the man is attractive and uproariously funny on David Letterman. Laugh, laugh, but ultimately, where are the results?


Beautiful speeches like the one last night at the UN General Assembly are no longer enough. Being America means enjoying numerous international privileges, but also involves a few obligations. One of them is to look after world peace. Just as it set off for war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of global goals, however dubious, and just as it is working to prevent a nuclear Iran, America is also obligated to act to settle the Middle East conflict. That is not its right but its obligation. Locals don't want its services in either Iraq or Afghanistan, but America is shedding its own blood there nonetheless. Why? Because it believes this is essential to world security.

 

When he was elected, President Obama declared that the Middle East conflict was endangering world peace. Nothing is more true. The potential danger between Jenin, Gaza and Jerusalem is no less serious than that in the killing fields of Kandahar and Mosul. But what is the president doing to eliminate the fuel that feeds international terrorism? Or at least to show that he is doing something? He ruins nine whole months over the issue of a construction freeze in the settlements, and even that pathetic goal was not achieved.


It has to be one way or the other: Either Obama thinks a solution to the conflict isn't a worthy goal and so should get out of the picture and devote his energies elsewhere or he means what he said and must use all his power and act. Meanwhile, instead of change, we have gotten distressing continuity. Instead of "yes we can," we have gotten "no we can't."


Obama needs to turn things upside-down and break with convention. That's why he was elected. Two decisive steps would change things completely: an American effort to introduce Hamas into the negotiations and pressure on Israel to end the matter of the occupation. Simplistic? Perhaps, but the complex and gradual solutions haven't gotten us anywhere up to now. Like it or not, without Hamas peace is not possible. The fact that Obama has put his trust only in Abbas' Fatah has guaranteed failure, which was foreseeable. History has taught us that you make peace with your worst enemy, not with those who are seen as collaborators by their own people.


You also don't make peace with half a people, in half of the territory. Obama didn't even try to break this unnecessary spell and automatically went, unbelievably, down the path of his predecessor, George W. Bush. The president who was willing to engage North Korea and Iran and dares Venezuela and Cuba didn't even think about entering negotiations with Hamas. Why is it okay to talk to Iran but not to Hamas? Obama, too, thinks Hamas is fit for negotiations only over the fate of a single soldier, Gilad Shalit, but not over the fate of two peoples.

The second step, which is no less essential, is applying pressure on Israel. Given Israel's total dependence and in the face of its blindness to the price of the occupation, Obama's friendship with Israel is actually to be judged by the steps he would seemingly take against Israel. As Israel's isolation in the world only grows, and the danger of Iran threatens the country, Israel's best friend must pressure its ally and save it from itself. Instead, we got another condemnation of the Goldstone Commission report, this time from the new American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, who had held the promise of major change.


It's not too late. True, the initial momentum has been lost, but now, following this week's "summit of rebukes," America must hurry up and rebuke itself and mainly ponder how to get out of the booby trap to which it has succumbed. Now, too, only America can (and must) do it.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE RESTRAINING OF OBAMA

BY ISRAEL HAREL

 

The journalists accompanying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the United States are devastated. It turned out that the U.S. president, and not Israel's prime minister, gave in on the matter of the settlements.


After all, the journalists and their colleagues back home predicted that Barack Obama, as opposed to his predecessors, would put a complete stop to construction in the settlements. How could he make such a grievous mistake and shatter their vision!


And if he cannot overcome Netanyahu, and exchanges "construction in the settlements has got to stop" with anemic "restraint," how can he overcome North Korea or Iran? Is this really the leader of the free world?

 

Senior members of Obama's administration had prepared a list of tough, but not bizarre, demands from the Likud government. Then came the energetic extreme left activists in Israel and they persuaded them - the prime minister after all bows to demands - to bring brutal pressure to bear on Israel.



Stopping construction in the settlements, especially in Jerusalem, they said, was the key to getting Netanyahu to give in and jump-start a diplomatic process.


This is not the first time that the "peace camp" has stood helpless before a situation it created itself, following its messianic activism that denies the reality (did someone say Oslo?) it brought upon itself, and upon all of us. If it were not for these activists, happy to continue concocting policy behind the government's back, there would almost certainly be talks today between Israel and the Palestinians.


But they want to prove that it does not matter what the voter chooses or who the elected government is - hegemony in important areas, first and foremost the peace process, is still in their hands.


And of course, their influence on the American administration (although it is immoral, and usually useless, to invite foreign governments to pressure your country) is greater than that of the government.


The demand the Americans presented, to stop construction even in Jerusalem, gave Netanyahu two choices: to give up and bring about a crisis in his cabinet that he would not be likely to overcome, or to stand tall and declare - enough. He declared it. When it turned out that the sky did not fall, he gave permission (albeit recycled permission) to construct 455 housing units in Judea and Samaria.


The American dictate - patronizing, insulting and arrogant - had the Palestinians euphoric. They hardened their position accordingly: talks with Israel only in exchange for complete cessation of construction, including in Jerusalem. So what has changed since the days of Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak (when they each served as prime minister and there was no construction freeze)?


The American recklessness resulting from the influence of the Israeli left has changed. If Obama demands a total freeze, how can Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas compromise and renew talks for less?


One of the results of this impossible demand is, to the sorrow of those who cooked up the "construction has to stop" formula, the renewal of construction in Judea and Samaria. And no power in the world can now stop the dictates of the natural demands - as well as ideology - of life.


Settlement in Judea and Samaria is a solid, permanent and deeply rooted reality. A long and terrible war of terror could not vanquish it, oceans of horrific and cruel propaganda, especially from those within Israeli society who hate it, could not break its spirit. The complete opposite happened. All the more so, external dictates will not rattle its foundations.


Functional arrangements for the future of Judea and Samaria have their place, but the starting point is clear: Settlements will not be uprooted and their size will not be limited. Even the restrained Obama has begun to realize this. So when will the extreme left in Israel also restrain itself and realize it?

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE MODESTY MINISTRY

BY NERI LIVNEH

 

The destruction of buildings in Jerusalem's Mamilla neighborhood, in the interest of enabling massive construction, has eliminated a number of charming spots, including a stone wall bearing the pleasant sign, "Holy place - no urinating allowed." It is a fitting Jerusalem response to the simple sign plastered on the wall of my Haifa school, "No urinating on the wall" - that is, no urinating at all, with no distinction between the sacred and the profane.


This is a distillation of the difference in how things are handled in the Holy City as compared to any other city. In Jerusalem, one cannot urinate in holy places, but it is sometimes allowed to urinate on what is not sanctified, even if it constitutes what secular types call "culture" and is therefore dear to their hearts.


In this historic city - which saw King Solomon cavort with his thousand wives, which saw the Bible's heroes failing to overcome their urges and flaws - sanctity today takes another form, that of narrow-minded religiosity. King David would presumably condemn the admonitory posters known as pashkevils in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood, while anyone who insists on reading the Song of Songs as a metaphoric ode on love between Israel and God would likely have banned its publication.

 

For 13 years, the play "Alma," based on Israeli playwright Yehoshua Sobol's English-language script, has been staged worldwide to great acclaim. The play is based on Alma Mahler (Gustav Mahler's wife), who counted many of the great men of her day as her lovers; it therefore has several love scenes and erotic references. Set considerations led the Cameri Theater, in conjunction with Austrian producers, to put on the play in the Underground Prisoners Museum, operated by the Defense Ministry. The ministry later announced that since the work was being performed in a "holy place," it should be modified to fit the prim values of ultra-Orthodox society, as is customary in Jerusalem.


Particularly jarring were the modified nude scenes: Even a doll appearing at the play's end was clothed in the interest of modesty. Sobol was asked to insert changes in the text for Defense Ministry approval, which he obligingly did.

 

We could, of course, have dismissed this whole story, which could only happen in Jerusalem. But this time, those at fault were not the city council or the ultra-Orthodox, but the Defense Ministry.


Two things are disturbing in this matter: first, the fact that the Defense Ministry sees itself as a cultural censor, and second, the benighted and closed-minded manner in which this body, secular in its very essence, perceives the concept of sanctity.


Whatever sanctity could be attributed to the Underground Prisoners Museum - formerly a British Mandate prison - is the sanctity of life, or the sanctity of the fight for the homeland, or maybe even, as the Defense Ministry likes to say, the sanctity of arms. There can be no starker contradiction than the one between the holiness attributed to those who fought to live freely in their own country - most of whom were secular - and the Defense Ministry's attempts to suit the play to a city that is becoming increasingly ultra-Orthodox.


One could understand if the ministry had forbidden a play with post-Zionist overtones, or a performance slated for the Underground Prisoners Museum that portrayed the suffering of the British occupier. But where is the contradiction between the struggle for liberation, on one hand, and on the other love and eroticism, which are the very stuff life is made of?


If the Underground Prisoners Museum is indeed a holy place, then there, especially, it should be forbidden to urinate on the values of freedom and liberalism - upon which artistic creation is based, and upon which the Hebrew State was supposed to be built.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

WHAT MR. OBAMA SAID, AND DIDN’T SAY

 

With his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, President Obama took another step toward repairing America’s battered image. There was no bombast and bullying, but he still managed to challenge other countries to take more responsibility and this country to ask more of itself. No one can argue with the importance of the issues he dwelled on: nuclear proliferation, climate change, the global economy and Middle East peace.

 

There was, however, one large gap. Mr. Obama said almost nothing about Afghanistan, which just a month ago he called a “war of necessity,” fundamental to American security and to the broader fight against terrorism.

The United Nations is not the ideal place to address Americans’ doubts about the war, the brewing rebellion within his own party or the fierce disagreement among his top advisers about whether to send more troops or begin to draw them down. Seven years of neglect by the Bush administration has made defeating, or even containing, the Taliban far harder. And any policy decision must be carefully reviewed. But there is not a lot of time.

 

The anxiety in this country is profound. Many of the allies whose troops are also fighting and dying in Afghanistan are looking for a way out. We all need to hear a clear statement from Mr. Obama about his goals for Afghanistan and his strategy for getting there.

 

If the plan is still to train the Afghan Army and bolster the desperately flawed government so it can hold off the Taliban, what will that take and for how long? If that is no longer realistic, and Mr. Obama decides to draw down American troops, how will he ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a haven for Al Qaeda and a launching pad for attacks on the United States?

 

If the United States decides to cut its losses in Afghanistan, how will Mr. Obama persuade Pakistan (a far more tempting prize with its nuclear weapons) to press the fight against the Taliban and other extremists.

 

Let’s be clear: Mr. Obama has made enormous progress in the short eight months since he took office. He has overturned some of the most odious Bush-era policies: banning torture and pledging to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He has persuaded the world once again to hear, and to listen to, what America has to say, but he is still figuring out how to fully capitalize on that good will and credibility.

 

The president learned a chastening lesson in recent weeks about the limits of his hortatory power when Israel shrugged off his call to halt all settlement activity and Arab leaders refused to make any concessions until Israel agreed to do that. Mr. Obama is not giving up. In his speech on Wednesday, he called instead for “negotiations — without preconditions — that address the permanent-status issues”: security, borders, refugees and Jerusalem.

 

If that even more difficult diplomacy has any chance of moving ahead, the administration may have to put forward its own final-status plans, maps included. And it will certainly have to use all of its influence and economic power to pressure leaders on all sides — Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs — to commit to a deal.

Mr. Obama will face another difficult test in the coming weeks over Iran. His willingness to talk is encouraging, but absent a lot more pressure, there’s almost no chance that Iran’s leaders will ever abandon their nuclear ambitions. And the talk in Israel about military strikes is frightening and must be taken very seriously.

Mr. Obama will have to call in his chits — with Europe, Russia and China — to get them to commit to a much tougher set of sanctions. President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia is sounding a bit more receptive, but he still will need to be pushed hard.

 

Mr. Obama bolstered his case on Wednesday when he promised that the United States would also live by international nuclear rules — an idea that his predecessor, George W. Bush, disdained. Mr. Obama said he is committed to negotiating new arms reduction agreements with Russia, promised to push the Senate to ratify the test ban treaty and urged that long-stalled negotiations on an international treaty to end the production of nuclear weapons fuel begin in January. On Thursday, he is chairing a United Nations Security Council summit on disarmament and nuclear security.

 

Mr. Obama was right when he said “those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.” After eight years of President Bush’s unilateralism, that is a particular relief. The world is also looking for clear American leadership, and, fair or not, Afghanistan has now become Mr. Obama’s war. America, its allies and the world need to hear his plan.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

CIGARETTE BAN WITH A LOOPHOLE

 

The Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of cigarettes with candy, fruit or clove flavors this week in an effort to stop the industry’s long-running tactic of using flavors to attract youngsters and addict them as lifelong customers. The ban, required under a law enacted in June that gave the F.D.A. the power to regulate tobacco products, is a welcome first step to rein in this rogue industry.

 

Disturbingly, there are signs that some manufacturers, distributors and retailers may try to circumvent the ban by shifting young smokers to other flavored tobacco products, such as small cigars that may not quite fit legal definitions of a cigarette but can be made every bit as attractive to young smokers with a dash of chocolate, vanilla or fruit flavoring. In anticipation of the ban, domestic manufacturers had already largely stopped production of flavored cigarettes.

 

The problem with the law is that it did not clearly define what a cigarette is. Traditional definitions revolve around the wrapping. Cigarettes are wrapped in paper; cigars are wrapped in tobacco leaves or paper constituted from tobacco. That seems like a trivial basis for deciding which products may be flavored and which may not.

So far, F.D.A. officials have been deliberately vague in stating whether the ban applies to flavored small cigars that seem comparable to cigarettes and to so-called cigarillos, which are slightly larger but still smaller than traditional cigars.

 

The agency wisely warned manufacturers that it was examining options to regulate both menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco products other than cigarettes. It makes no sense to ban flavors in cigarettes and then allow the industry to addict young people to flavored cigars.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

A SMALL STEP BACK FROM USURY

 

Federal lawmakers should curb their enthusiasm over the news that some of the country’s largest banks are revising usurious overdraft policies aimed at catching debit card users unaware and wringing as much money out of them as possible.

 

The new policies, announced by JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America on Tuesday and Wells Fargo on Wednesday, do not go far enough and could eventually be reversed when the spotlight moves elsewhere and the banks feel free to change their minds. The banks’ moves are no substitute for federal legislation that would make fair overdraft fees a permanent part of the regulatory landscape.

 

Current policies are a far cry from a decade ago when most banks simply denied debit transactions, without a fee, when a customer’s account was empty. Citibank has a no-charge denial policy.

 

But over the last decade or so, most major banks have adopted a euphemistically labeled “overdraft protection” system, under which unsuspecting customers are charged as much as $35 for overdrawing an account by the price of a cup of coffee or a bottle of aspirin. Under this scenario, a series of small, incidental purchases totaling less than $20 can rack up $300 in fees.

 

Chase said that it will cut the maximum number of overdraft charges per day to three from six and will eliminate overdrafts for debit cards unless the customer opts in to the program. Bank of America said it will also cut the number of overdraft charges allowed per day and will make it easier for customers to opt out of the service.

 

Congress should end the widespread practice by the banks of automatically enrolling customers in these programs. This should be a program that people opt into, as in the Chase model, and only after they have been told in plain language about the costs. Customers should also have the option of terminating a transaction — at the A.T.M. or with a cashier — before they incur a fee.

 

The new policies do nothing about individual overdraft charges, which are still much too high and can carry an annualized interest rate that exceeds 3,500 percent. That’s usury, no matter how you cut it, and it should be disallowed under federal law.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

PRISONERS’ RIGHTS

 

In 1996, Congress passed a law that made it much harder for inmates to challenge abusive treatment. It has contributed significantly to the bad conditions — including the desperate overcrowding — that prevail today. The law must be fixed.

 

In the name of clamping down on frivolous lawsuits, the Prison Reform Litigation Act barred prisoners from suing prisons and jails unless they could show that they had suffered a physical injury. Prison officials have used this requirement to block lawsuits challenging all sorts of horrific conditions, including sexual abuse.

 

The law also requires inmates to present their claims to prison officials before filing a suit. The prisons set the rules for those grievance procedures, notes Stephen Bright, the president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, and they have an incentive to make the rules as complicated as possible, so prisoners will not be able to sue. “That has become the main purpose of many grievance systems,” Mr. Bright told Congress last year.

 

In the last Congress, Representative Robert Scott, Democrat of Virginia, sponsored the Prison Abuse Remedies Act. It would have eliminated the physical injury requirement and made it harder for prison officials to get suits dismissed for failure to exhaust grievance procedures. It would have exempted juveniles, who are especially vulnerable to abuse, from the law’s restrictions.

 

The bill’s supporters need to try again this year. Conditions in the nation’s overcrowded prisons are becoming increasingly dangerous; recently, there have been major riots in California and Kentucky. Prisoner lawsuits are a way of reining in the worst abuses, which contribute to prison riots and other violence.

 

The main reason to pass the new law, though, is human decency. The only way to ensure that inmates are not mistreated is to guarantee them a fair opportunity to bring their legitimate complaints to court.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

A TOM DELAY MAKEOVER

BY GAIL COLLINS

 

Let’s talk about midcareer life changes. Or, what the heck, late-career life changes. We’re Americans. We don’t acknowledge deadlines.

 

Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, was ridiculed for doing the cha-cha on “Dancing With the Stars.” But you have to admit, DeLay’s decision to make a spectacle of himself on national television was a terrific game-changer.

 

His performance did create the kind of uncomfortable feeling you experienced when your crusty Uncle Fred got drunk at your graduation party and tried to sing “My Way.” But I bet not a single person watching DeLay slide across the floor on his rhinestone-encrusted knees with that manic grin on his face was thinking: “Gee, I wonder how that money-laundering indictment is working out for him?”

 

And look at Sarah Palin. Everybody thought that she was a desperately uninformed goofball whom the Republican Party might, nevertheless, someday nominate for president in an effort to cement its reputation as worst major American political organization since the Know-Nothings. Then this week she went off to Hong Kong and gave an 80-minute, closed-door speech to financial fund managers, for which she was paid an undisclosed but indisputably vast sum of money. The early reviews from people exiting the ballroom ranged from “well prepared” to “boring.”

 

Given that she started the day as a celebrity whose deepest recorded thought was how only dead fish go with the flow, this was quite a triumph. If Palin can arrange to make all her future speeches in Asia, with no reporters present and tons of money falling out of the ceiling at every stop, I think she has a real shot at rehabilitation.

 

For those in need of a life change without a six-figure speech in the offing, consider the advice given by the heroine of “The Good Wife,” the new TV series about the wife of a disgraced politician: Just keep trudging along. “It’s the superficial things that matter most right now,” said Alicia Florrick, the lead character, as she extolled the virtues of fixing your makeup and getting a good haircut.

 

This worked great for Alicia. Her hair looked great even while she was visiting her husband in the clink. And by the end of the first episode she had managed to restart the legal career she abandoned in her youth, win her first case, free a second-grade teacher unjustly charged with murder and reconnect with a hunky former law school classmate. Just by taking it one day at a time. And not all that many days, at that.

 

Sometimes, friends can show you the way. Barack Obama has been trying to put his pal David Paterson on a more fulfilling path than Paterson’s current one, which involves being governor of New York and dragging down the entire Democratic slate in the 2010 elections. So far, the White House’s efforts have not gotten a particularly warm reception.

 

But perhaps that was because until now, New York didn’t have a lieutenant governor. If Paterson had left Albany to be, say, chief of an exciting new think tank located in a really excellent office in Manhattan, control of the state would have fallen to ... well, hard to say. Probably whichever state senator could do the best impression of a junior high school delinquent shaking down the third graders for their milk money.

 

But this week, the state’s highest court ruled that Paterson’s desperate attempt to swear in Richard Ravitch as lieutenant governor while Ravitch was dining at a steakhouse in Brooklyn was actually legal. Who’d have thought? Despite his peculiar initiation, Ravitch is an eminently respectable guy who has held almost every appointive office in the state except Grand Marshal of the Columbus Day Parade. If Paterson decides he needs a life makeover, it’s clear sailing.

 

Here is the exciting part. Then there would be an opening for another new lieutenant governor! And I think I would be a really excellent candidate.

 

I am totally up for an exciting new challenge, but preferably one that does not involve mouthing “Wild Thing” while attempting to ballroom dance. And it would have to be something that would not force me to quit my current job, which I really like. So lieutenant governor would be perfect. Nothing ever gets done in Albany, and I could just sit in my shiny leather chair and work on my laptop all day.

 

New York has lost an uncommon number of elected officials over the last few years. So they’re probably starting to run out of people to plug up the holes. And I have good qualities that set me apart from many other possible contenders. For instance, I am not currently under indictment. And I have been very active in New York politics, in the sense that I have voted in all the elections, including that one for public advocate the other week in which only about 10 people took part.

 

If this doesn’t work out, there’s still the haircut.  Nicho