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Monday, October 19, 2009

EDITORIAL 19.10.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

Editorial

month october 19, edition 000327, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. MORE DOLLARS FOR JIHAD INC
  2. BUNKUM ON RURAL JOBS POVERTY REMAINS UNADDRESSED
  3. MONSTER TURNS ON FRANKENSTEIN - JOGINDER SINGH
  4. ARM RTI ACT TO THE TEETH - SN SHUKLA
  5. IT'S PAKISTAN'S TURN NOW! - B RAMAN
  6. UNCIVILISED PRETENDERS - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
  7. US CLUELESS ON AFGHANISTAN - BARRY RUBIN
  8. CONSERVING WATER THE TRADITIONAL WAY - DILIP BIDAWAT

 MAIL TODAY

  1. IOA STAND AUGURS ILL FOR THE GAMES
  2. CRACKER OF A YEAR
  3. MATTER OF JUDGMENT - BY RAJEEV DHAVAN
  4. POWER & POLITICS  - PRABHU CHAWLA
  5. DELHI COPS SAY CARPOOLING IS A CRIME

 TIMES OF INDIA

  1. TIME TO ACT
  2. EASY DOES IT
  3. BACK TO THE FUTURE -
  4. 'THE STATE HAS TO BE CHECKED BY CIVIL SOCIETY'
  5. BLEACHING BRINJALS - ANOOP KOHLI
  6. NO LONGER A MENACE -

 HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. STOP PLAYING THE SPOILSPORT
  2. CHEQUE IT OUT
  3. GRASP THE NETTLE
  4. PAWAR MAY HAVE SOME ACES UP HIS SLEEVE

 INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. NEAREST CONTINENT
  2. GLOBAL FOOTPRINTS
  3. NO WINNERS?
  4. GROWTH, BUBBLE WRAPPED - BIBEK DEBROY
  5. BASIN RESERVES - YOGINDER K. ALAGH
  6. 'HOOPER HAS BEEN A GREAT HINDRANCE. HE HAS BEEN SHOUTING... THROWING KEYS AT OUR STAFF... CAN'T HAVE HIM HERE. THAT IS FOR SURE'

 FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. Q2 QUERY
  2. DOW AGAINST DOUBLE DIP
  3. GOOGLING TO REGULATE FINANCE FIRMS - JAYANTH R VARMA
  4. WORLD FACING AN EATING DISORDER? - P RAGHAVAN
  5. THE LINK BETWEEN INFORMAL LABOUR MARKET AND DEFICITS - JAYA JUMRANI

 THE HINDU

  1. HOW TO END THIS DISCORDANCE
  2. DISQUIETING FALLOUT
  3. THE CULTURES OF DEPRESSION  - K.S. JACOB
  4. SOCIAL AND POLITICAL DIVIDENDS FROM NREGA  - VIDYA SUBRAHMANIAM
  5. U.S. AND THE SHADOW OF NEW EAST ASIA VISIONS - P. S. SURYANARAYANA
  6. LIBERTY IN THE DECADE OF EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION - AFUA HIRSCH
  7. WHEN COURT FOILED TRADE BID TO MONOPOLISE A WORD

 THE ASIAN AGE

  1. IT'S TIME TO SPEAK FRANKLY TO CHINA
  2. NOTES ON INDIAN VIETNAM - BY SHIV VISVANATHAN
  3. SARYU CANAL PROJECT IN TROUBLED WATERS - BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA
  4. DEVELOPMENT: GIVE RIGHTS PRIDE OF PLACE - BY ARJUN SENGUPTA

 THE TRIBUNE

  1. ASSESSING BABUS
  2. RAPE AND PUNISHMENT
  3. BODOS AGAIN
  4. LEARNING FROM CHINA - BY K. SUBRAHMANYAM
  5. STRAWS IN THE WIND - BY UTTAM SENGUPTA
  6. C'WEALTH GAMES: CHALTA-HAI CULTURE DELAYS PROJECTS - BY CHANDRA MOHAN
  7. PAKISTAN: THE ENEMY WITHIN - BY OMAR WARAICH
  8. NAVJOT SIDHU SAYS NO TO 'BIG BOSS' - BY DEVI CHERIAN

 THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

  1. MAOISTS' THREAT
  2. PRICE RISE
  3. NREGA: PRESENT AND FUTURE - SAZZAD HUSSAIN
  4. INCLUSIVE GROWTH AGENDA - MOON MOON SARMAH

 THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. BLACKFACE BLUNDER
  2. INTERNET A HUMAN RIGHT?
  3. FROTH IN FINANCIAL PROFITS
  4. TIME TO ADDRESS THE FISCAL PROBLEM - CHETAN AHYA
  5. ATMASUDDHI - TRULY THE ULTIMATE - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
  6. TUNING IN TO WALTZING MATILDA - MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH
  7. IT'S TIME INDIA INC RESETS ITS SOCIAL COVENANTS - SUDESHNA SEN
  8. 'DATA-SHARING WILL IMPROVE UNDERWRITING' - PREETI KULKARN
  9. WE HAVE KEPT MARGIN DESPITE COST PRESSURE - RATNA BHUSHAN

 DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. DEVELOPMENT: GIVE RIGHTS PRIDE OF PLACE - BY ARJUN SENGUPTA
  2. LEARN FROM 11/9: THE DAY BERLIN WALL FELL - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  3. IT'S TIME TO SPEAK FRANKLY TO CHINA  - BY OUR CORRESPONDENT
  4. HOW I CELEBRATED GANDHI'S JANAMDIN  - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
  5. FIE, FATAL FLAW!  - BY MAUREEN DOWD
  6. A LESSON FROM LALGARH  - BY SHIV VISVANATHAN

 THE STATESMAN

  1. 'FORGOTTEN MIDDLE'
  2. FLIGHT OF FANCY
  3. PANCHAYAT BENEVOLENCE
  4. REVIEW BY JUDICIARY - NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT

 THE TELEGRAPH

  1. HARD HIT
  2. SOUNDLY UNCIVIL
  3. THE FUTURE ISN'T GREEN - S.L. RAO
  4. SIMILAR GAME  - GWYNNE DYER

 DECCAN HERALD

  1. GOING GM
  2. REJECT ROTE
  3. LOST TRIBE OF INDIA - M J AKBAR
  4. BORLAUG AND THE BANKERS - JOSEPH STIGLITZ, THE GUARDIAN
  5. BMTC'S HIDDEN AGENDA - H N VENUGOPAL

 THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. IN COLD BLOOD
  2. REALITY CHECK: ISRAEL'S 'NO POLICY' POLICY - JEFF BARAK
  3. THE REGION: ROUND AND ROUND WE GO - BARRY RUBIN
  4. JUST WHAT DID GOLDSTONE EXPECT? - ALAN BAKER
  5. DEBACLE IN MOSCOW - CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER

 HAARETZ

  1. UNNECESSARY DUEL - BY HAARETZ EDITORIAL
  2. BARAK'S REAL EXTRAVAGANCE - BY AMIR OREN
  3. FINISH IT NOW - BY ELDAD YANIV
  4. DON'T RUSH THE SEARCH - BY ZE'EV SEGAL
  5. AN ISRAELI AND A POLE - BY MICHAEL HANDELZALTS

 THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. FED UP WITH ALBANY
  2. OH, THAT ACCOUNT
  3. LIVING IN 3-D
  4. THE BANKS ARE NOT ALRIGHT - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  5. HAVE FAITH IN AN AIDS VACCINE  - BY SETH BERKLEY

 I.THE NEWS

  1. THE NRO DEBATE
  2. DISPUTED BORDERS
  3. MORALITY BRIGADE
  4. A LONG MARCH FOR SOCIAL CHANGE - SARWAR BARI
  5. KLB — A PERSPECTIVE - SENATOR SALIM SAIFULLAH KHAN
  6. LIFE IN KURRAM - FARHAT TAJ
  7. OBAMA'S CHOICE - TALAT FAROOQ
  8. THE KERRY-LUGAR FIASCO - SHAMSHAD AHMAD
  9. CONFERENCE INTERRUPTUS - CHRIS CORK

 PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. DOS AND DON'TS OF SWA OPERATION
  2. MINISTER KAIRA HAS A POINT
  3. VOLUNTEER STUDENTS TASK FORCE
  4. BEGGARS CAN'T BE CHOOSERS'! - DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
  5. MUSLIMS' RIGHTS IN INDIA - AFSHAIN AFZAL
  6. AID IN BAD FAITH  - DR SYED JAVED HUSSAIN
  7. WATER AGGRESSION - ANWAR AHMAD
  8. ROTI FIRST, THEN MANDIR SIR..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS

 THE INDEPENDENT

  1. BAN ON HILSHA CATCH
  2. UNDERSEA DIPLOMACY
  3. 265 KMPH AND A FINE…!

 THE AUSTRALIAN

NOW TO THE BUSINESS END OF CLIMATE POLICY

GREEN INJUSTICE

A POISONOUS OUTCOME

 

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. DONATIONS JUST THE START
  2. TWO KENS WITH A CASE

 THE GURDIAN

  1. A NEW POLITICS: HOW TO GIVE POWER AWAY
  2. IN PRAISE OF ... PHANTASMAGORIA
  3. NUCLEAR POWER: A BUNG BY ANY OTHER NAME

 DAILY EXPRESS

  1. LATEST BANKING BONUSES SIMPLY CANNOT BE JUSTIFIED
  2. BALLS-UP WAS SO DEFLATING - BY MICK DENNIS

 THE KOREA HERALD

  1. NO JUSTIFICATION
  2. NO RED CROSS DEAL
  3. ARE WE REALLY SO UNHEALTHILY FAT? - SANDER L. GILMAN

 THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. NEW LOOK AT JAPANESE TAXES
  2. A COURT TAPE PEOPLE SHOULD HEAR
  3. PULLING OUT ALL THE STOPS FOR AN OLYMPIC BID - BY RAY K. TSUCHIYAMA
  4. KREMLIN CAJOLING HATOYAMA

 THE JAKARTA POST

  1. EXPECTING A SOLID ECONOMIC TEAM
  2. 2009 Nobel Economics Prize: What does it mean? - Ari A. Perdana
  3. WHAT IS THE G20 REALLY FIGHTING FOR? - PAUL DONOVAN
  4. HEALING CONFLICTS THROUGH ARTISTIC ENDEAVOR - JENNIE S. BEV

 CHINA DAILY

  1. EXAMPLE OF SOES
  2. CULTIVATING TALENT
  3. THE WAY TO LOW-CARBON ECONOMY
  4. CHALLENGES ABOUND IN VULNERABLE AREAS

 THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. SOVIET GHOSTS - BY RICHARD LOURIE
  2. ARMENIANS FIRST WANT APOLOGY, THEN PEACE  - BY MATTHEW COLLIN

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

MORE DOLLARS FOR JIHAD INC

US BLANK CHEQUE FOR PAKISTAN


For all its protestations to the contrary, the US has failed to ensure that Pakistan will not misuse the huge $ 7.5 billion aid that will be disbursed over the next five years under the 'Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act' which has been signed into law by President Barack Hussein Obama. The aid, which was to be monitored through restrictive oversight clauses in the Act, popularly known as the 'Kerry-Lugar Bill', for all practical purposes will now be unmonitored. In the past, US oversight authorities have demonstrated through exhaustive audits how American dollars meant for development programmes have been used for feathering the nests of corrupt Pakistani Generals and politicians. It is also known, courtesy American audit reports, that military aid meant to fight terrorism along the Durand Line and elsewhere in that benighted country has been diverted to Pakistan's armoury directed at India. Given this reality, it was expected that this time the US would be more cautious and insist on accountability; that expectation was bolstered by the bluster in the US Congress when the 'Kerry-Lugar Bill' was being debated. Indeed, the Obama Administration had let it be known that notwithstanding simulated protests in Pakistan about American 'interference' in that country's internal affairs, the accountability clause would not be tampered with. But like all other American assurances, this one too has turned out to be bogus and in hindsight, the bluster on the Hill appears to be no more than bluff meant to mislead those with genuine concerns about writing out a blank cheque to a duplicitous regime and its terror-fomenting Army. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who camped in Washington, DC, this past week to rid the new aid package of its restrictive clauses, has returned to Islamabad triumphant. The Joint Explanatory Statement that has been attached to the 'Kerry-Lugar Bill' makes it abundantly clear that Pakistan is free to use American aid as it wishes — if the fresh flow of dollars is used for promoting cross-border terrorism and waging jihad against India, so be it.


It could, of course, be argued that how America spends its money is nobody's concern. Nor would it be in order for a third country to seek to set the terms of American aid for Pakistan. To that extent, the US is at liberty to hand over billions of dollars to Pakistan without asking any questions about how the money will be spent or checking how it has actually been spent. Moreover, superpowers are not accountable for their deeds, or so they love to believe. Yet, when such deeds become the source of grief for others, then it becomes necessary to question them — the motive of the donor becomes as suspect as that of the recipient. The US claims that unless more money is pumped into the criminal enterprise called Pakistan terrorism will continue to flourish. The absurdity of the claim is self-evident. Ever since its formation, Pakistan has not tired of holding out a bowl to America, nor have the Americans tired of putting money into that bowl. But for all its munificence, the US has neither succeeded in creating a stable, democratic state nor has it been able to steer Pakistan away from the path of jihad. It is unlikely that the fresh infusion of $ 7.5 billion will take America anywhere nearer to its elusive goals. To the contrary, Pakistan will continue to remain what it is — the epicentre of global terrorism.

 

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THE PIONEER

BUNKUM ON RURAL JOBS POVERTY REMAINS UNADDRESSED

POVERTY REMAINS UNADDRESSED


It is falsification of fact to imply that the conceptually effective albeit flawed in terms of implementation National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has successfully addressed the problem of rural unemployment. To do so is to claim too much for a programme that is not a perfect social security net. In the light of the 'urgent' concerns voiced by members of the advisory Central Employment Guarantee Council on the obvious failures in terms of implementing a programme that was never designed to guarantee full employment, the claim by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi is the sort of exaggeration that gives a lie to the real achievements of NREGS. It is dismaying that a scheme designed to be self-selective and demand-driven has in the hands of the political class acquired an improbably large role as the ultimate panacea. However much the rise in demand for work that pays the minimum of Rs 100 per day in recent months, in response to the spreading distress on account of drought and the economic downturn, NREGS is still only a partial remedy to a much bigger and deeper problem.


Quite apart from the slippages, leakages and general indifference of the arthritic administrative machinery in the States that are charged with the responsibility of implementing NREGS, the problem of unemployment cannot be resolved through providing 100 days of work per family. The money that is earned, even if it reached the beneficiaries with commendable efficiency and no payouts, will not buy those below the poverty line for whom the NREGS is targeted the necessary goods to guarantee a better quality of life. The money may not even buy sufficient food to adequately feed the entire family. If the purpose of employment is to be able to earn enough to feed, clothe, house, educate and buy healthcare, then NREGS is not near fulfilling this skeletal list of needs. It was not intended to do so either. It is, therefore, misleading to suggest that with the coverage provided by NREGS and the brightening outlook of the economy evident in the unabated Indian lust to buy gold during Diwali the problem of unemployment will be resolved in a couple of years. If labour sells itself at rates that confirm its distressed condition and there are takers for it, it does not fulfil the requirements of 'being employed'. There is no room to assume that the vast army of people living below the poverty line can be raised, substantially and sustainably, above it in the short time that NREGS has been in place, leave alone end the unemployment problem.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

MONSTER TURNS ON FRANKENSTEIN

JOGINDER SINGH


In an audacious attack, heavily-armed Taliban terrorists dressed in fatigues stormed the Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on October 10. What followed was a 22-hour siege that ended with a dramatic commando rescue operation. At the end of the day the death toll stood at 20.

 

The spokesperson for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan movement said, "We claim responsibility for the attack on Army GHQ (in Rawalpindi). It was carried out by our Punjab branch… We have the capability to strike any place in Pakistan... We can target many more important places". He was right. Suicide terrorists have struck at the Federal Investigation Agency headquarters and five other locations, including important police centres, in Lahore on Thursday, killing 39 and injuring hundreds.


Over the past two years, more than 2,500 people have been killed in suicide bombings across Pakistan. It was hoped that after Pakistan was carved out of India in 1947, it would become a model Muslim state. But today, it is a failed state facing a severe existential crisis.


The problem is Pakistan's military rulers have tried to present themselves as the country's last hope. Civilian leaders have been little better. Instead of thinking in the best interest of the country, every Pakistani leader has deliberately encouraged the US to develop a stake in that country's political and military affairs. Today Pakistan's policies are more attuned to American interests than its own. In turn, the US supports Pakistan for every single anti-India step it takes. India is the whipping boy for everything that goes wrong in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Pakistan's rationale for fuelling militancy and separatism in Jammu & Kashmir and terrorism in other parts of India is based on the premise that it is the sole custodian of Muslim interests everywhere, even more so in India. Having fought four wars with us and having been defeated in all of them, it is now fathering terrorist groups to wage jihad against India.


It is impossible to predict the precise, unintended consequences of any US or Pakistani action. But the way things are shaping up it is fast becoming clear that neither the US nor the Pakistani Government has any control on the Taliban's activities. A weak civilian Government and a recalcitrant Army and ISI pose a serious threat to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, a part of which might be seized by terrorist groups.


While Pakistan has never made a secret of its hostility towards India, it is a matter of record that the US has been fighting battles away from its own borders. The theatres of war today are Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. India, on the other hand, has scrupulously kept itself away from international controversies in the interest of its own people.


It is time Pakistan realises that terrorism cannot coexist with prosperity. Caught in its own web of imprudence, indiscretion and misdemeanour, Pakistan, over the past year, has witnessed daily terror strikes. Some are high profile attacks — like the one on the Sri Lankan cricket team in March — while others are now categorised as routine.

Over the years, different regimes in Islamabad have proclaimed that they would not support terrorist groups operating from Pakistan's soil. But this was no more than subterfuge to lull India into a false sense of security. Even while promising to act against terrorists, Pakistan has been aiding terrorist groups and using them to mount terror strikes on India.


But now the chickens have begun to come home to roost. By obliterating the difference between its professional Army and the terrorists, Pakistan is turning some of its soldiers into rogue jihadis.


Meanwhile, angered by the US drone attacks in Pakistan's north-western tribal areas, the terrorists have promised retribution against America and its proxies. The policy of encouraging its Army officers to join or train terrorists like the ones responsible for the fidayeen strikes on Mumbai last year is coming back to haunt Pakistan.

Indeed, in all major terrorist attacks all over the world, including those in the West, the signature of Pakistani terrorists is clear. Of course, this has not been acknowledged either by Pakistan or the US. Insofar as India is concerned, it is obvious that there has been no change in Pakistan's policy of using terrorism as a weapon against India to achieve its objective of forcing a change in the status quo, which it hopes will lead to its acquisition of the Muslim majority areas of Jammu & Kashmir, if not the entire State.


Pakistan's policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds is beginning to backfire. If Pakistanis want domestic harmony and peace, they must shun the policy of spreading terrorism abroad and running training centres for jihadis on their soil. The terrorists have already issued their diktat that Islamabad should stop obeying Washington, DC, if it wants the terror attacks to stop.


Pakistan claims that it is not only fighting its own war but also that of the international community against terrorism. But the truth is that Pakistan still remains a fertile ground for terrorists to breed. Hopefully, New Delhi will not buy Islamabad's bogus claim. Pakistan is the victim of a problem of its own creation. It has to look within for the solution.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

ARM RTI ACT TO THE TEETH

SN SHUKLA


This refers to the editorial "Give it more teeth" (October 14) and the report "Move to exempt file notings from RTI" (October 15). The Centre's proposed amendment to exempt 'discussions/consultations that take place before arriving at a decision,' which it has rechristened as 'file notings,' from the purview of the RTI Act can do more damage than good. This will reduce the potency of the Act to promote transparency and make the Government and its functionaries more accountable.


The proposed amendments about exempting file notings and rejecting frivolous and vexatious applications are not at all required, as the existing provisions in Section 8 of the Act that exempt certain information are adequate to ensure that disclosure of file notings don't hamper free flow of thought within the Government.

 

The provision to reject applications on the ground of being frivolous will be misused to deny information that is not exempt under the Act. The proposed restriction on the Central/State Commissions functioning through Benches runs contrary to the stipulation in Section 12 (4) and (7) and Section 15 (4) and (7). These changes have to be opposed tooth and nail. Most other proposed amendments can be made through rules without tinkering with the legislation. On the other hand, the following are far more important amendments that are required to plug the deficiencies in RTI:


(a) In order to ensure proper selection and independence of Information Commissioners, the selection committee should have as its third member the Chief Justice of India/Chief Justice or his nominee, instead of a Cabinet Minister nominated by the Prime Minister/Chief Minister.


(b) The Act must provide a mechanism for ensuring compliance of the orders passed by the Commission on a complaint or second appeal.


(c) The Act should also provide that the rules framed by Competent Authority under Section 28 shall be subject to the rules framed by the appropriate Government under Section 27.


(d) Section 19(6) should be amended to provide a time limit of 90 days for the disposal of second appeal and complaints by the Commission.


(e) Section 20 needs to be amended to provide for imposition of penalty on the Assistant Public Information Officers and the first appellate authorities also.


The Government would do well to take these suggestions seriously.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

IT'S PAKISTAN'S TURN NOW!

AFTER INFLICTING TERRORISM ON OTHERS ALL THESE YEARS, PAKISTAN IS BEGINNING TO FEEL THE HEAT AND GET A TASTE OF THE HORROR THAT JIHADIS SPONSORED BY THE ISI HAVE UNLEASHED IN INDIA. PAKISTANI SECURITY FORCES, LONG INVOLVED WITH TRAINING BLOOD-THIRSTY FIDAYEEN, HAVE BEEN SHOWN UP AS PAPER TIGERS

B RAMAN


In the wake of the four well-orchestrated commando-style attacks launched by different terrorist groups against security establishments on October 15 — three in Lahore and one in the North-West Frontier Province — Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik is reported to have aptly described the increasingly uncontrollable situation faced by Pakistan in the Pashtun tribal belt and in Punjab as a guerilla warfare launched against the state of Pakistan.


In all 149 fatalities — security forces personnel and civilians as well as terrorists — have been reported in a relentless series of fidayeen attacks launched by different groups since October 5. Among the targets of the terrorists were the highly-guarded but easily penetrated General Headquarters of the Pakistani Army in Rawalpindi, a Lahore office of the Federal Investigation Agency, which is responsible for the investigation of terrorism-related cases, two training institutions in Lahore and a police station in NWFP. Mr Malik used to be a senior officer of the FIA when Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister (1993-96).


The attacks are more and more fidayeen (suicidal) than suicide and have involved a mix of modus operandi — use of hand-held weapons and explosives. Suicide attacks involving explosives-laden vehicles continue to take places against convoys of security forces, but commando-style attacks against well-fortified and supposedly well-guarded fixed establishments of the Army and the police are taking place with increasing frequency — to demonstrate the ability of the terrorists to attack with ferocity despite supposedly enhanced physical security.


Of the four attacks reported on October 15, two were against targets which were attacked earlier — the FIA office in Lahore and the police training academy at Manawan, a Lahore suburb. They had both been attacked in March this year, following which physical security was reportedly enhanced. This could not prevent the terrorists from attacking them again. About 20 terrorists split into three groups are reported to have participated in the three attacks in the Lahore area on October 15 — against the FIA office, the Manawan Police Academy and a commando school at Bedian on the outskirts of Lahore. It is not yet clear whether the Bedian commando school is of the police or of the Army's Special Services Group. It is, however, noticed that the security forces personnel who participated in the fighting against the attackers at Bedian, which reportedly lasted about four hours, were mainly from the Army and not from the police.


At least 10 of the attackers in Lahore perished — some were killed by the security forces and some blew themselves up. The fourth attack of the day on a police station at Kohat in NWFP was carried out by a lone vehicle-borne suicide bomber. There were 32 fatalities in the four attacks — of security forces personnel as well as civilians caught in the firing or explosion.


Poor intelligence, poor investigation, poor physical security in establishments of the security forces, including in the Army's GHQ, inadequate access control, bad road security and poor morale and motivation as seen from the failure or reluctance of the security forces personnel to give a chase to the surviving terrorists and capture them continue to be the bane of Pakistan's counter-terrorism mechanism. One saw this after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team earlier this year when the terrorists just sauntered away after the attack without being stopped or chased and caught by the security forces.

While the morale, motivation, training and resilience of the terrorists belonging to different Taliban affiliates have been steadily increasing, there are worrisome signs of poor morale and motivation among the security forces. One notices also an alarming casualness and a lack of professionalism in performing their counter-terrorism tasks. There is a tendency, even in the Army, to avoid coming to terms with the ground reality, which is that the situation, which has already deteriorated in the Pashtun tribal belt, has now started deteriorating in the non-tribal areas of Punjab. Senior political leaders and military officers continue to behave with a certain nonchalance as if they are the masters of the situation despite the repeated attacks. Seriousness and determination in dealing with the situation are totally lacking.


There are more and more reasons to be worried about the security of Pakistan's nuclear establishments — if not of its nuclear arsenal. If terrorists can lay hands on Pakistan's nuclear waste, which is stored in NWFP, they could threaten the international community with the use of dirty bombs. Even if one feels that the fatalities due to the use of nuclear waste may not be much, the psychological effect on the general population could be high.

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

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

UNCIVILISED PRETENDERS

BENGAL'S PSEUDO-INTELLECTUALS LOOK DOWN ON 'OTHERS'

SHIKHA MUKERJEE


There was the 'cultural revolution' in China, there was 'Soviet art and culture' in Russia and now there is 'Shushil Samaj' or 'civil society' as a way of conduct in West Bengal. Like these predecessors, Shushil Samaj is aggressive, intolerant and unlike the others, curiously unproductive.


By claiming to represent the highest values of democracy — freedom of choice through voting for a political alternative, access to entitlement through espousing the cause of forced displacement as in Nandigram-Singur and other disadvantaged groups as in the tribals of Lalgarh, restraint in the use of force, respect for rights of communities and individuals, clean governance — Shushil Samaj had taken on a lot of baggage. In doing so it co-opted either unwittingly or knowingly people and causes that turned out to have hidden dimensions. However loud Shushil Samaj shouts that Lalgarh leader Chhatradhar Mahato was just a simple tribal leader, there are few who question that he had different guises and connections.


Therefore this smart set that includes itself in the Shushil Samaj seems to have been conned into believing whatever it wanted to imagine. This lack of discernment, this blunted critical faculty, this absence of scepticism, this childish acceptance of their own superiority is a sad comment on how far the Bengali intelligentsia has deviated from the traditions to which it belongs and from which it derives its imperious style.


In every age, in every political conflict there has been a fabulous outpouring of creativity reflecting sometimes the rupture with the past, sometimes the difference with the present and at all times a new direction. Quite apart from the Left's departures from traditional cultural productions and the subsequent divisions within the Left's cultural production, there have been other breaks and changes. Modern and post-modern, avant garde were all movements that produced enormously exciting changes, because these were new ways of imagining, appropriating, possessing the present. Rabindranath Tagore did it and set up a style that is known as Rabindrik. Satyajit Ray did it and brought realism into Indian cinema. Iswarchandra Vidyasagar did it and asserted the claim of every Bengali irrespective of gender to be literate and to have some rights.


All these cultural leaders shared a basic quality — civility.


It is a quality that is different from mere politeness and separates the wheat from the chaff. Famous for its high culture, which is a peculiarly colonial construct, the warmth and gentle courtesy of its average citizen, its political consciousness and its traditions of engagement in the public sphere, Kolkata has a reputation.


Post the last 'Golden Age' and while it struggles along hoping for the next one, its residents and the priesthood of its 'culture' are snobs which is another way of saying that they are arrogant which implies that there is something crass about their contemptuous disregard for 'others'. The priesthood has never been a homogenous lot and unsurprisingly in these tensely divisive times, the priesthood is split between 'us' and 'them'.


The 'us' is defined in terms of political attachment and therefore, whoever is 'them' belongs to the opposite political camp. In other words, either you are with 'us' or tacitly against 'us'. This makes for ugly hostility that disregards the basic requirements of civility.


The division within the priesthood surfaced in 2007 over the police action and the alleged role of CPI(M)'s armed and disguised cadres in Nandigram, graphically labelled 'harmad bahini'. The high priesthood comprised painters, actors, musicians, theatre people, writers and others who could be vaguely termed intelligentsia. Since each such agglomeration of people needs an organiser, it seems by common consent that painter Suvaprasanna became 'it'.

This creative band was obviously adopted, nurtured and encouraged by the Trinamool Congress's supremo Mamata Banerjee. But then, the connection between politics and the arts is usual. It has been so for ever, universally and not just in West Bengal, for those who claim to be the enlightened and there are those who automatically-axiomatically become the conservative.


Irrespective of which camp they belong to, it is expected that the codes of civilised conduct are common to all. In fact, as social leaders the responsibility of distinguished behaviour gets transferred to the priesthood and its followers. Alas, in West Bengal, the priesthood has betrayed its code, or at least one section of it has done so, flagrantly and aggressively, very recently.


But that breach of conduct was only the climax. It only needed an occasion to display itself in all its ugliness, because the new code has been waiting to be asserted as the code.


If painter Suvaprasanna addressed a young reporter in the familiar 'tui' and indulged in vulgar 'tu-tu-main-main' it perfectly fits into the new order of things. If he cast aspersions, questioned the moral codes of a young woman, it only revealed that in West Bengal enlightenment is still limited, in its attitude to women and working women in particular. Because the young woman in question 'belonged' to the opposite political camp, Suvaprasanna considered her fair game for abuse. By defining a professional, that is a reporter, as belonging to a particular camp, Suvaprasanna, and all those who stood by as unprotesting and therefore encouraging spectators, the intimidation, humiliation and manhandling of that young woman, are culpable. By failing to intervene, that camp of the priesthood of culture in West Bengal exposed their culture.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

US CLUELESS ON AFGHANISTAN

THE IDEA THAT IF AMERICA DOESN'T WIN IN AFGHANISTAN, THE TALIBAN AND AL QAEDA WILL, IS DEEPLY FLAWED. MOST LIKELY NO SINGLE GROUP WILL EMERGE THE WINNER IN THIS WAR

BARRY RUBIN


US President Barack Obama seems embarrassingly unable to make up his mind over Afghanistan strategy. His military advisors say he should send more troops because it will win the war; his political advisors say he shouldn't because it might make him less popular. One can't help but expect that Mr Obama's ideological views and instincts lay with those who want to abandon the fight in Afghanistan.


For once I think those instincts are correct.


Or maybe Mr Obama is still wrong. After all, he is the one who described Afghanistan as a "war of necessity" that is "fundamental to the defence of our people." Actually, while the 'war' with radical Islamism, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, Bolivia, Hamas, Hizbullah, Al Qaeda, and other forces could be described in that way, that isn't true of Afghanistan so much.


The truth is that Mr Obama just seized on Afghanistan because as someone who opposes the war in Iraq and the use of force anywhere else he wanted to show that he wasn't a complete pacifist. His support for the war in Afghanistan is — in my opinion but I can't prove it — a function of his image needs and has nothing to do with Afghanistan itself.


But Mr Sarah Palin is also wrong, though her writing shows that the former Governor of Alaska is as sophisticated about foreign affairs as Mr Obama is, and perhaps more so. Here she admirably sums up the problem:

"We can win in Afghanistan by helping the Afghans build a stable representative state able to defend itself. And we must do what it takes to prevail. The stakes are very high. The 9/11 attacks were planned in Afghanistan, and if we are not successful there, Al Qaeda will once again find a safe haven, the Taliban will impose its cruelty on the Afghan people, and Pakistan will be less stable."


The first sentence is, however, just plain inaccurate — and something both Mr Obama and Ms Palin are equally wrong about — and has nothing to do with the real situation in Afghanistan. No, there isn't going to be any Government in Afghanistan that is either stable or representative, especially if it can defend itself.

As for the rest, in Iraq, it is important who governs. In Afghanistan, it is only important that the Taliban does not govern.


America succeeded in Iraq — succeeded, that is, if 'success' is defined modestly — because there was a force that could be nurtured and defended until it was ready to take hold as a stable Government capable of governing the country. Even here, though, we should have no illusions about the unity, honesty, stability, and moderation of such a regime. Let's not forget, too, that the strongest part of that force are somewhat Islamist-oriented Shia politicians.

Nevertheless, on the positive side, for their own interests they want to get along with the United States in part because the mainly Sunni Arab states have rejected it or are even indirectly (especially Syria but also Saudi Arabia) attacking it. The other part of the ruling coalition are the Kurds who have no foreign ambitions and need US support against enemies that surround them as well. And this coalition has no interest in being aggressive toward Iraq's neighbours or causing regional crises.


In Afghanistan, there is no way to win. Instead, there's a hodgepodge of ethnic groups and tribes which aren't going to work together and will also fight the kind of hegemony represented by both the current regime and by the Taliban.


Moreover, Afghanistan is so culturally traditionalist, so puritanically Islamic that no matter how much gum American soldiers give kids, no matter how many schools they build, no matter how much money is paid out, most Afghans are still going to hate the US.


As for the idea that if America doesn't win, Al Qaeda and the Taliban will, that is not at all the only option. There are many other forces in Afghanistan which can prevail. Indeed, the most likely outcome is that no one group will prevail and run the whole country.


For both Americans, and for Afghans as well, Afghanistan is an unwinnable war in ways that Iraq was not. There is no potential force that is going to take hold of the country and provide a stable and moderate central Government. Afghanistan is just too poor, has too undeveloped a political culture, too many ethnic groups, and too challenging a topography.


And there are more problems. The fundamental unwillingness of Pakistan to cooperate in a real way, no matter how much money it's paid, is a crippling problem. No matter how many billions the US pours down the drain in Pakistan, the Government and Army won't do much to help. On the contrary, Pakistan can be relied on to be a negative force, shaping Afghanistan in its own interests.


As for Mr Obama's notion of pouring more money into Afghanistan in the belief that it will create an effective Army and an honest Government that serves the people there is ludicrous. And the idea that anything the US might do could win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people is even more ridiculous. The issues involved are not ones of general principles but relate to the specific nature of the country itself.


What is especially bizarre here has been to see a self-proclaimed liberal President using arguments that liberals were using to ridicule Bush's Iraq policy just a few months ago. If there is any place in the world where the US should focus on counter-terrorism and not on nation-building or fighting a war with the aim of arriving at a long-term stable peace that country is Afghanistan.


That doesn't mean the US should accept a Taliban victory. But there are plenty of war lords and militias ready to fight for their own interests against the Taliban. If there was ever a war that called for payoffs and military aid — but not such advanced equipment as would be dangerous to the US if captured or sold to the Taliban — rather than the direct engagement of US troops, this is it.


How ironic that those who warned so often and wrongly about Iraq being a new Vietnam are more likely to create such a situation in Afghanistan. And what makes it even more ironic is that they would do so in order to make up for their weakness in other places where a willingness to be tough is far more important.


The writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

CONSERVING WATER THE TRADITIONAL WAY

STORING WATER IN TANKAS HAS PROVED A BLESSING FOR THE POOR IN WESTERN RAJASTHAN, WRITES DILIP BIDAWAT


It would not be an exaggeration to say that a desert is the largest training centre for water conservation. Life in any form exists because it conserves every drop of water. It is like a decree or an innate consciousness that runs through all forms of life in a desert.


In the arid zone of western Rajasthan, the Thar, practices to conserve water have been handed down over generations. The onslaught of modern development and environmental degradation has, however, eroded this finely tuned life-system over time. Increasing population, declining land water levels, failure of Government's drinking water schemes, all signify a departure from the idyllic situation of the yore. Increasing pressures on traditional community water resources, poor maintenance of existing traditional water storage structures are part of a bitter legacy of policies and processes far removed from the law of the desert.


Tanka or watershed, a traditional method for rainwater storage, which in some areas is called kund, is however receiving renewed attention in these disturbing scenario. The use of tankas, some of which have existed for years, is prevalent in western Rajasthan, particularly in areas with saline or fluoride toxic land water, perhaps as a protective structure. All across the Thar, in the villages and towns of Bikaner, Churu, Jaisalmer, Barmer, Pali districts thousands of such structures can still be seen.


Constructed organically using locally available material, it basically is a pit dug which has pucca inner walls, plastered with either lime or cement. It is closed from above and according to the rainfall in the area, a catchment area is made to trap the water. Rainwater flows into the Tanka through small holes or doors around it. A deftly skilled artisan is crucial for Tanka construction and they are several of them around. Water is stored during the rainy season in these structures, which have capacity to hold enough water to last the community needs throughout the year. Sometimes during a water crisis, the Tanka is the only source of succor for the people. In Dhadhwakhara village of Churu district, even today it is the sole source of water supply.


However, primarily the Tanka remained very much a 'public utility' system. What is happening is a rekindling of interest, an awareness of the immense value of not only these 'old' structures for public use but for the construction of new tankas for personal use, to meet the individual needs of a family. The changing perception or acceptance of the Tanka as a structure to be privately owned is perhaps because of the water shortage in the desert accompanied by the demand by a growing population. The trend of owning personal tankas gradually growing over the last 15-20 years is now evident in districts of Barmer, Jodhpur, Bikaner and Jaisalmer of the western Rajasthan. Voluntary organisations working in these areas have responded to the present and projected water crises engulfing the country and the world at large, and are ploughing resources into Tanka construction for the benefit of the communities.


The cost of construction of a Tanka having a storage capacity of 30-40 thousand litres could range between Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000. The sturdy structure requiring yearly maintenance is built to last. During its estimated life of at least 40 years life, it could store up to 32 lakh litres of water. Unnati Vikas Sangthan, Jodhpur; URMUL Trust Network organisations, Bikaner, Shyor, Barmer; Grameen Vikas Vigyan Sansthan, Jodhpur and Lok Kalyan Sansthan, Barmer have taken the lead in their areas. Through the construction of tankas, they have been able to transform water conservation into a movement.


The impact on the social and economic patterns within the desert community is palpable. It has lifted the crushing burden on women to fetch water for their families. It has freed children, particularly girls, from the chore of fetching water, allowed them time for their studies instead. For economically and socially weaker sections in society, it has been a blessing. The cost of construction of a personal Tanka having a storage capacity of 30,000 to 40,000 litres could be as high as Rs 40,000, unthinkable for the poor. This is where organisations have stepped in, supported the construction with the community providing labour support.


The initiative has gone beyond the voluntary sector and caught the attention of the authorities and is now being replicated as models in existing water conservation schemes of the Government at the village level. In what is a giant stride in the direction is the priority to this task in under the prestigious programme, NREGA. Tanka construction in districts of Barmer and Jodhpur has been initiated under this. For people in rural areas of western Rajasthan owning a cemented house may not be a top priority but constructing a Tanka to store 30,000 to 40,000 litres of precious water certainly is.

 

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MAIL TODAY

 COMMENT

IOA STAND AUGURS ILL FOR THE GAMES

 

BY seeking the sacking of Commonwealth Games Federation CEO Mike Hooper, the Suresh Kalmadi led Indian Olympic Association has raked up a needless controversy. It is indeed strange for the IOA to realise that Mr Hooper is an ' impediment' in the conduct of the Games two years after he came to Delhi and when the event is almost on us. There is good reason to presume that this has to do with the unhappiness of the CGF with the way the Games Organising Committee ( OC) has gone about its job, first expressed by CGF chief Mike Fennell in a letter and recently at the Games General Assembly in New Delhi. Again, the IOA's decision to reject Mr Fennell's move for a panel of foreign experts reviewing the Games preparations on a monthly basis suggests it is averse to accountability and oversight of any kind.

 

Incidentally, since his status as OC chairperson is subordinate to that of top officials of CGF, Mr Suresh Kalmadi has chosen to act in capacity of IOA chief, giving the issue a ' India vs them' tilt. This is highly unfortunate. Besides, the language used by the IOA against Mr Hooper is unbecoming of its stature as the custodian of India's sporting machinery. The clash that Mr Kalmadi and Co have got into with the CGF is only going to harm the country's name in the international arena and dent our prospects of hosting similar events in the near future.

 

It must be understood that Mr Hooper and Mr Fennell have no vested interests in being unhappy with the preparations for the Games. They have a right to demand that the Games should meet international standards as office- bearers of the body that conducts the event. And if they seem to convey that they know more than Indian officials, this is not entirely without justification. On the other hand, the OC has huge vested interests in the conduct of the Games. There are huge sums of money involved, there is power and there is limelight to be hogged.

 

Also, it is not just foreigners who have expressed unhappiness with the preparations for the Games. Even the Comptroller and Auditor General of India spoke in a similar vein a couple of months back, as did a parliamentary panel.

 

Last, since Mr Kalmadi is asserting himself as IOA president it must be pointed out that he has held that post for donkey's years though he has little to show for it. His removal is necessary if our sporting prospects are to look up.

 

And getting a dynamic person in place of him as the OC chief will lead to a more successful Games. We only need to remember the lead- up to Asiad 82 if we have doubts on this score.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

CRACKER OF A YEAR

 

SAMVAT 2065 ended appropriately on Diwali- eve, with a bang. What began last year as a dark Diwali for investors, with the Sensex having lost more than 10,000 points in the preceding few months, has turned out to be a dazzlingly profitable one instead. Investor wealth increased by more than Rs 30 lakh crore. The Sensex clocked an increase of over 92 per cent, while the broader BSE 500- share index more than doubled between last Diwali and the one just gone by.

 

The two thousand and sixty sixth year of the Hindu calendar promises to be an equally good one, as the fundamentals are even more encouraging. Industrial growth hit double digits by August. With indications of a revival in demand across sectors, a strong show by the manufacturing sector in the final two quarters of the current fiscal year could probably make up more than somewhat for the setback in agricultural output caused by droughts and lateseason floods. For corporates, fiscal 2009- 10 promises to be quite a good one, with the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy ( CMIE) estimating net profits of corporates to grow by nearly 23 per cent.

 

Clearly, India appears to have ridden out the worst phase of the global financial crisis with far more comfort than originally thought. However, challenges remain. The government needs to ensure that the growth momentum is sustained, even as it, and the Reserve Bank tackle the growing threat of inflation. India Inc now needs to run with the ball, utilising its healthy bottomline and easy liquidity to step up investment and job creation.

 

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MAIL TODAY

MATTER OF JUDGMENT

BY RAJEEV DHAVAN

 

We must confront the issue of judges recusing themselves from cases in atransparent way JUSTICE Kapadia has raised an obscure but interesting question, on when judges should recuse themselves from hearing a case. Sometimes Supreme Court judges do this because they have participated in the case in the High Court below; and, do not want to sit in appeal on their own decisions. Attitudes differ. Some judges feel that if they have only passed a minor order in the court below, they should not hear the matter.

 

However, in a matter from Rajasthan, where he had been Chief Justice, Justice Lakshmanan disarmingly asked the lawyers at the bar: "Do you object to my hearing this matter?" Dutifully, the lawyers invariably say: "We have full confidence in your objectivity." Some judges, however, will not touch a case which they considered in any capacity in the court below

.

The second class of cases is where the judge recuses himself because he has a personal interest in the case. The obvious example is where it is the judge's own case, or that of his family or a close friend. The more indirect example is where a judge has some truly remote nexus with a case which has nothing to do with the matter before them. Irrespective of what the case, Justice Sujata Manohar in the Supreme Court would not hear matters concerning a big Mumbai corporate where she had shares.

 

CONTROVERSY

An irresponsible controversy was raised about Justice Kapadia participating in the controversial Vedanta case where he was a member of Forest Bench which allowed the mining of bauxite in Orissa in a eco- sensitive tribal area subject to various concessions and conditions. I say the controversy was irresponsible because I must candidly state, that Justice Kapadia is an upright judge whose integrity is unquestionable.

 

Disclosing his interest, Justice Kapadia said that he owned some shares in Vedanta and with candour asked the lawyers appearing in the case whether he should recuse himself from hearing the case if the lawyers had any objections.

 

Or words to that effect.

 

Distinguished lawyers told the judge that he may proceed to hear the matter.

 

Without casting any aspersion on the judge ( and there are none), the question is : was this the right thing to do? My pen travels in the direction of Pinochet case ( 1999). Five Law Lords heard the case, affirmed Pinochet's extradition by a majority of 3: 2 and declared he had no immunity. Lord Hoffmann was with the majority. After this decision, it was suggested that Lady Hoffmann was connected with Amnesty International.

 

Amnesty had been heard in the case. It was further clarified that Lord Hoffmann was a Director and Chairperson of a sister charity of Amnesty. In the follow up on Hoffmann's recusal House of Lords observed: " However, close these links are, I do not think it would be right to identify Lord Hoffman personally as being a party to the appeal"; and added that cases of automatic disqualification were not limited to cases of proprietary and pecuniary bias. Indeed, this question arose over Lord Denning not hearing Barclay's Bank cases because Lady Denning had shares in that Bank.

 

Similar questions have arisen in India. Prefacing the due process requirements of natural justice, the law declares that justice should not only be done, but must appear to be done.

The usual test is: was there a real likelihood of bias? The higher you go in the judiciary, the confidence of the people becomes more and more important because the fate of the nation is often in the hands of a bench of the Supreme Court where one judge can tilt the balance.

 

In Lord Hoffmann's Pinochet case, the Lords took the view the judge's interest should be disclosed; and added that "( i) t is no answer for the judge to say that he is in fact unpartial and that he will abide by the judicial oath". At this level, it is better that even if there is no likelihood of bias and no opposition from any lawyer and litigant, justice must appear to be done.

 

The Pinochet case came to India through the Punjab Civil Service ( 2006) case before the Supreme Court of India. Here judges, who had decided a service matter in the Punjab High Court on the administrative side, heard the case on the judicial side. Justice Sinha in the Supreme Court plaintively asked: " We also fail to see as to why two senior Judges who had headed the Committee should have been made part of the Bench ( that decided the case)".

 

PUNJAB

The Punjab judges, with disarming candour, asked lawyers appearing in the case if they had any objections.

 

There were none. The judges heard the case. What can any counsel say under these circumstances? If he says the judge should recuse himself, there would be a mild accusation of bias? If he says the judge should continue to hear the matter, justice may not appear to be done even if there is no bias. Equally, no lawyer wants to lose favour with the judge.

 

Justice Sinha took a tentative view that this was a fit case for judges to automatically recuse themselves.

 

However, Justice Dalveer Bhandari held that the lawyers green- signalled the judge to continue, waiving their right to future objection. Raising the defence of waiver seems strange. All this was not over just winning or losing a case. It was a question of justice; and confidence in the judiciary.

 

Personally, it is not fair for a judge to ask lawyers whether he should recuse himself from a case. No lawyer can truthfully answer such a question either on his own behalf or on behalf of a client. It is a question that the judge himself can answer. To pass this on for advice from a lawyer in the case is self- defeating.

 

PROPRIETY

With this, I return to the Vedanta case. Justice Kapadia impeccably followed a practice that if no one objects, a judge may proceed with the matter because his interest in the matter is too remote or incidental to affect the outcome. The practice is not wholly settled.

 

Some judges seek clearance from the bar and the parties; some judges do not. The latter judges do not put the issue to consensual resolution. Justice Kapadia left it to the Bar after stating his interest.

 

That in itself was admirable. But it is not for the bar to decide whether the judge should sit on the bench for a particular matter or not. For those who want to embarrass Justice Kapadia, let them forbear.

 

He is unimpeachable and straightforward.

 

If a judge has shares in a company, and a case comes before him which affects the company's prospects and standing, the judge should refuse to hear the matter. This should be a case of automatic recusal.

 

This is what I argued half successfully in the Punjab case — convincing one judge. In the Vedanta matter, any permission was going to enhance Vedanta's standing and prospects.

 

There may be cases where the doctrine of necessity requires a judge to hear the matter because no other judge is available. But that is not the case here and would depend on the nature of the judge's interest.

 

This article is not about Justice Kapadia or the Vedanta case. This important issue surfaces all the time.

 

The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer

 

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MAIL TODAY

POWER & POLITICS

PRABHU CHAWLA

 

BRING BACK THE BILLIONS

OCTOBER 15, 2009 was a day that many rich and powerful Americans dreaded. Last Thursday was the deadline set by the Obama administration for American tax dodgers, who considered Switzerland an address of convenience, to come clean on the billions of dollars they had stashed away in Swiss banks and other tax havens around the world. More than 4,500 Americans have already admitted to holding money abroad and many more were expected to follow as the deadline approached.

 

Now consider this: according to reports earlier this year, Indians held more money in Swiss accounts than people from all other countries put together. The figure of US$ 1.2 trillion (Rs 60 lakh crores, the equivalent of India's annual GDP)) may have been trotted then by opposition parties in the heat of an impending General Election but there is no doubting that well heeled Indians have stashed away money that is enough to build hundreds of hospitals, thousands of schools and lakhs of primary health centres. One of the pledges made by LK Advani during the last poll campaign was that, if elected to power, the NDA will bring back this humungous amount of money within its first 100 days in office. In the true spirit of elections, Manmohan Singh mocked at Advani's charges, yet found the matter serious enough to later forward to finance minister Pranab Mukherjee a letter Advani had written on the matter.

 

Election campaigns are all about rhetoric and tall promises but nothing much happens afterwards. Which is proof that scandals are good poll issues that are best brushed under the carpet once the heat and dust of elections is over. At every election, the UPA too waves its own scandal chargesheet at the NDA but later both sides choose to live and let live. The Obama administration made a promise and then bullied the Swiss government to act and warned UBS, Switzerland's banking giant, of punitive action. Even Nigeria got back almost a billion dollars stashed away in Swiss banks by despot Sani Abacha while Croatia got back millions embezzled from the country by a former president.

 

If tiny Croatria can do it, why can't India, an emerging superpower and an aspirant for a high seat on the Security Council? My guess is no different from yours. It's a cosy club they have there, the politicians, businessmen, powerful bureaucrats, real estate sharks and others who all believe in status quo. More than a year ago, the German government offered to hand over to India a list of account holders in Liechtenstein's LTG which was in its possession. The government sat on it for long and it was only after Ram Jethmalani filed a PIL that it assured the Supreme Court that the authorities were following it up. Yet it invokes the confidentiality clause to avoid making the information public. Faced with the wrath of MPs in both houses of Parliament, all that Pranabda would say was that he " will look into it". I have reasons to believe that with so much focus on offshore holdings, many Indians have already pulled out their money and invested them in acquiring businesses. With the Swiss Ambassador in New Delhi announcing last week that his government was ready to amend its laws, I suspect more and more Indians will be lining up to pull out their money.

 

In the past, governments had tried and mostly failed, because of a lack of will to go after evaders. On the home front, many schemes had failed altogether though the Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme ( VDIS) that the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram unveiled in 1997 helped the government mop up about Rs 10,500 crore. Even that was just a drop in the ocean considering that it accounted for less than three percent of India's GDP. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is on record that he is averse to another amnesty scheme.

 

But I know a lot many people in North Block who think otherwise.

Bring on another scheme, they say. Let the dodgers bring their money in, don't ask them about the source of their wealth, make it conditional that their money be invested in key areas like health, education, water management, urban renewal etc where more than 80 percent of the money is looted by middlemen.

The tax dodgers will at least make sure someone else is not going to walk away with their money. The government can then utilise the crores it currently spends on the social services sector to build airports, expressways, convention centres, stadia etc. And still be left with spare change to make a bid for the 2020 Olympics.

 

RSS SENDS OUT WARNING TO BJP'S ALLIES

THE RSS seems to be getting tired of being repeatedly bitten by the hand that it feeds.

 

Under its new chief Mohan Bhagwat, there is a new mood of aggression in the organisation and this was evident in its decision to hold the three day national working committee meeting last week in Rajgir, near Patna. The venue was deliberately chosen. The RSS feels that Bihar's JD( U) chief minister Nitish Kumar has been following a policy of minority appeasement and cites the government's decisions to allot land for setting up of a centre of the Aligarh Muslim University in Katihar and to give scholarships to Muslim girl students as the latest in a chain of steps aimed at appeasing minorities.

 

By holding the session in Rajgir, the RSS hopes to tell Kumar, who heads a coalition government, that the BJP's support will be conditional to the government not compromising on the core issues of Hindutva. Nitish had earlier irked the BJP by asking both LK Advani and Narendra Modi to stay away from the Lok Sabha poll campaign. The RSS didn't spare the BJP's deputy chief minister Sushil Modi, a good man if ever there was one in Bihar politics, for lying low while the government pursued its minority appeasement policies.

 

There is a feeling in the RSS that the BJP is being used by allies to stay in power even as they expand their base at the cost of its own ideology. The message from Rajgir was: in a coalition, the BJP should insist on following its agenda and force alliance partners to agree to a common minimum programme that does not compromise on the core values of Hindutva. No one would have failed to notice the paeans of praise that Bhagwat had for the home minister P Chidambaram's efforts to squeeze the life out of the ultra leftists.

 

PM & MONTEK DON'T SEE EYE TO EYE FOR ONCE

LIKE two great minds that think alike, Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia have rarely disagreed on anything. Ahluwalia has been a Manmohan favourite for long and if the economist turned prime minister's hands were not tied politically, Montek would have even been made the finance minister when the new government assumed office in May.

 

Last week, for the first time perhaps, the prime minister and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission differed publicly. In 1985, then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, on a visit to Kalahandi in Orissa, one of the poorest districts in the country, had said that of every rupee that the government spent on welfare schemes for the poor, only 17 paise reached the intended beneficiaries.

 

Statements of top government and Congress functionaries in recent times make it clear that after all these years, Rajiv's words still ring true. During a campaign rally sometime in April this year, Rahul Gandhi recalled his father's words and said the situation had only become worse since then.

 

Last week, while addressing a seminar in New Delhi, Ahluwalia too quoted Rajiv Gandhi and said it was a tragedy that even after a quarter century, the government had not figured out how to plug the leaks.

 

But the very next day, the prime minister refuted Ahluwalia's remarks. " Leakage of funds earmarked for development does exist but I don't admit these leakages are as big as is being mentioned", Manmohan said in Mumbai.

 

I am no judge to decide who is right, but what I do know is that since Rajiv uttered those words, government allocation for social sector spending must have gone up by more than 200 percent. Considering that last year the Centre and states together earmarked nearly Rs 3,51,000 crores on social sector spending, the scale of the loot by crooked politicians, middlemen, agents and contractors can only be imagined. And as the already filthy rich become richer, the poor can only become poorer. Manmohan and Montek can differ on the quantum of pilferage, but implied in this is an admission of a huge, faulty delivery system. The shame is that they can't seem to do anything about it.

 

FINANCE Minister Pranab Mukherjee found instant stardom when he wielded the axe on External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and his junior Shashi Tharoor and asked them to move out of their 5- star hotel rooms. As if to show that austerity was serious business, Pranabda himself took a economy class flight to Kolkata one day; Sonia Gandhi flew by a commercial airline to Mumbai and babus began to get used to sitting cramped in cattle class. In the last few weeks, however, the signals have been mixed. Pranabda flew in a chartered aircraft to Kochi for a INTUC function; Rahul Gandhi took a private jet to Kerala and bullet proof cars for travels within the state were flown in by the IAF. How gratifying then it is to note that there are people who still swear by austerity.

Last Wednesday, I called up Anand Sharma, the Commerce Minister. He was in the US. And, get ready for this, he told me he was actually on a train from Washington to New York. Last month, P Chidambaram, on his first visit to the US as home minister, also travelled by train on the same leg. The proof of the austerity pudding will of course be if, on their return, they condescend to travel by Mamata Didi's Indian Railways. We shall wait and see.

 

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MAIL TODAY

INTERACTIVE

DELHI COPS SAY CARPOOLING IS A CRIME

 

I AM a student of Delhi Public School, Vasant Kunj, and commute everyday from Faridabad.

 

I travel in my personal vehicle with four other students on a petrol- sharing basis in order to prevent the extra expenditure on petrol and control pollution.

 

However, on October 13, I was stopped by a member of the Delhi Police traffic force and was fined for using my vehicle as a taxi, whereas we were using it as a carpool.

 

All my attempts to explain that it was not a taxi service and that it is a car pool to save money and control pollution did not wash with him.

 

My fundamental concern is this: On the one side we have the ministry of environment and the chief minister's office exhorting us to use car pooling as a way to curb pollution and save on fuel. On the other hand, those who do it are fined by an ignorant police force who does not know the difference between a taxi and a car pool.

 

I really hope that this ( car pooling) is made legal in the sense that all policemen — traffic and otherwise — are educated on it. This will only help us students and youngsters to preserve our environment when we grow up.

 

Adhirath Sikand Delhi Public School

 

DISCRIMINATION ON CASTE IS A SHAME

THE recent attack on Dalits trying to enter the temple in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu is a matter of great shame. This temple entry was part of several such programmes planned to ensure that Dalits are not discriminated against in temples.

 

It is pertinent to recall that nearly eight decades ago, Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar also met a similar fate when he organised the Kalaram Temple agitation.

 

How little things have changed since then.

At the same time, India has refused to join in the United Nations Human Rights Commission's efforts initiated last month to draw global norms to abolish the caste system from the face of the earth.

UN efforts to set up norms and guidelines to monitor these discriminations should be most welcome. Today nearly 200 million people are victims of this descent- or caste- based discrimination.

Human society has eradicated apartheid and racebased discrimination, but the persistence of caste- based discrimination is a huge embarrassment.

 

Ram Puniyani via email

 

OBAMA DESERVES THE NOBEL PRIZE

 

I HAD been questioning the wisdom of the Norwegian Nobel Committee's decision to award the 2009 Nobel Prize for Peace to the US President Barack Obama.

 

My doubts have been set to rest by his unique act of celebrating Diwali in the White House. It is a message to the world that he practices what he preaches in letter and in spirit.

 

His goal to make the world a peacezone forever is well- illustrated by his acts of kindness and inclusiveness.

 

With his speeches meant to bridge the ideological gap between the US and the Islamic world and his interest in making the world nuclear weapons free, he has shown that he has courage of his conviction.

 

He truly deserves the Nobel.

 

C. G. Sivakumaran via email

 

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IMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

TIME TO ACT

 

The war of words between the organising committee for the Commonwealth Games 2010 and the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) has turned for the worse. The committee wants CGF chief executive officer Mike Hooper to be shifted out of New Delhi, which has been rejected by CGF president Mike Fennell. The Centre must step in immediately and take over the preparations for the Delhi Games.


The Commonwealth Games are meant to showcase New Delhi as an international venue for sports and reflect India's soft power. But evidence indicates that the preparations are in a mess. If matters are allowed to remain so, the Games are likely to suffer. Inefficient administrators with petty egos must not be allowed to run riot and in the process damage the country's reputation. The Centre must make the Union sports ministry the nodal agency for the Games and local stakeholders like the Delhi state and municipal governments and civil society should be roped in to complete pending work on a war footing.


It is appalling that the present organising committee has sought to paint the CGF's timely warning on the delay in preparations as an "imperialist" design. The committee's demand that Hooper must be ousted for demanding a technical review panel to monitor progress against deadline is just petty. Even more amusing is the committee's complaint that a recent inspection team sent to Delhi by the CGF didn't boost its morale. The CGF has only confirmed the criticism raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General's office a few weeks earlier. The CAG report had said that work on 13 out of the 19 sports venues is behind schedule. Close on the heels of the CAG report, Fennell had sought the prime minister's intervention to speed up the preparations. Not much seems to have changed since then. It is instructive that a CEO for the organising committee was appointed only on Thursday when the Games are less than a year away.


The organising committee's concern that the CGF recommendations will lead to a multiplicity of agencies is valid. But that's no argument to maintain status quo. Similarly, foreign experts are likely to cost a lot of money. But do we have a choice? The organising committee's record in implementing projects is far from satisfactory. The inability to take justified criticism in its stride makes it even less reassuring. A badly organised event is likely to hurt national sentiments and lower India's prestige in the international community. There's a job to be done and the government must get professionals, irrespective of their nationality, to get it done.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

EASY DOES IT

 

In a significant first for India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, the country's biotechnology regulator, has deemed Bt brinjal suitable for consumption. That clears the path for it to become the first genetically modified (GM) food crop to be commercially cultivated. Bt brinjal, and by extension all GM food, has been at the centre of a fierce debate over the safety and utility of GM food products. Criticism has focused on the assumption that altering the genetic make-up of a food item is bound to have consequences, which could prove to be deadly.


However, globally and in India, the safety risks posed by transgenic food items have been found to be grossly overestimated. GM food is widely available in countries like the US and Canada, where such food is not even distinguished from traditional food items by labelling. No adverse effects on health have been reported for any transgenic product introduced anywhere in the world so far. Besides, it is a myth that traditional food has no toxic effects. GM food has also been found to have the same nutritional value as unmodified food by various studies.

India cannot afford to ignore technological options to increase agricultural productivity. The Food and Agriculture Organisation, a UN agency, has warned that worldwide food production needs to increase by a staggering 70 per cent by 2050 to prevent mass starvation. A significant chunk of those impacted will be in India. Food production in artificially irrigated areas is levelling off and the country urgently needs a rethink on how to meet the needs of its still-growing and more prosperous population.


Biotechnology could provide the answer. GM foods are high-yield and require less pesticide. Still, it is indisputable that stringent and transparent testing is required before GM foods are released into the market to ensure that they are safe for human consumption. To that end, minister for environment Jairam Ramesh's statement that the government will take a carefully considered decision on Bt brinjal is welcome, as is the request for public feedback on the report. And the feasibility of labelling GM foods should be considered, to give consumers a choice. That might be a difficult proposal to implement, given that many Indians buy vegetables from hawkers and corner shops. But it may be possible to put this in place in departmental stores and supermarkets. The Union government must evaluate the GM option seriously and with no ideological hang-ups. With proper regulation in place it could solve India's food production problems, now and in the future.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

BACK TO THE FUTURE

 

A statement sometime ago by a Pakistani foreign ministry spokesperson pleading for Kashmir's independence, though ignored in India, was widely commented upon in the Kashmir Valley as a climbdown from a traditional position. It appears to respond to the slogan of "we want azadi" often raised in popular demonstrations. Azadi is Urdu for independence and freedom, concepts that sometime contradict each other. The question is: do people need independence if it denies them freedom? This has never been debated in Kashmir.


When Sheikh Abdullah, the most popular leader Kashmir ever produced, assumed power after the state's accession to India and the end of Dogra rule, he hailed azadi after four centuries of slavery, Kashmir having been ruled by Mughal, Afghan, Sikh and Dogra rulers. People celebrated as well. However, neither the ruler nor the people bothered about freedom. No dissenting voice was tolerated. The system was so regimented that office-bearers of the ruling National Conference were appointed as government officers and vice versa. The Sheikh dismissed my suggestion that government officers should not hold party office by citing how successfully the system worked in the Soviet Union.


At the time i asked Nehru, then India's prime minister, "Can such a state remain a part of a democratic India?" He said India's Kashmir policy revolved around Abdullah's personality: "We cannot afford to oppose him."


Gradually, discontent started brewing in the state. As all outlets for expressing it were blocked, it sought a secessionist outlet. In sheer desperation, G M Karra a legendary leader of the Quit Kashmir movement against Dogra monarchy in 1946 who was sidelined by the new government raised the slogan in favour of Pakistan in June 1953. In Jammu, discontent took the form of an agitation sponsored by the Jana Sangh for Kashmir's "full integration". The Sheikh, to steal Karra's thunder and provoked by the Jammu agitation, started making anti-India noises.


Many international forces also played a role in aggravating differences between Nehru and Abdullah, leading to the latter's dismissal and arrest in August 1953. I was one of the first persons outside the Valley to oppose this action of the government of India. Nehru asked me, "Weren't you critic of the Sheikh?" I replied that i was a critic because he was not a democrat but was opposed to his removal in an undemocratic way. Moreover, the Sheikh had been replaced by a ruler "no less authoritarian and far more corrupt". Nehru replied, "Unfortunately, Kashmir politics revolves around personalities."


In 1954, i was able to persuade socialist leaders to set up a pro-India opposition party in the state. I argued with Nehru that if that were done, anti-government sentiments might not become anti-India. He warned that "for the sake of gaining four annas, you might lose 10 rupees". Of course, the experiment was ruthlessly crushed.

 

The first effective experiment of two-party system in the Kashmir Valley was made in 1977, when Abdullah again came to power and the Janata Party, then ruling at the Centre, contested the assembly election as an opposition party. The revived National Conference won handsomely. But it demonstrated for the first time that loyalty to India and loyalty to the government of India were not synonymous. Moreover, all anti-India and anti-government parties, including Karra's and Jana Sangh, had rallied round a pro-India opposition party.


This did not continue for long. In 1984, Farooq Abdullah, who had succeeded his father and won the subsequent elections, was dismissed allegedly for hobnobbing with India's opposition parties. He continued in opposition, and provided a pro-India outlet to anti-government sentiments. But by 1986, he lost patience and formed a coalition government with the Congress. Till then people opposed to the state government had supported the Congress; those opposed to the central government had supported the National Conference, leaving no room for an anti-India party. As both avenues closed, dissent eventually sought a secessionist outlet, supported by militants from Pakistan.


The lesson from Kashmir's recent history is that removal or reduction of outside authority in the state may lead to an authoritarian regime. This is a lesson also for those demanding autonomy or self-rule. If the jurisdiction of federal autonomous institutions like the Supreme Court, Comptroller and Auditor General and Election Commission is withdrawn from the state, without corresponding autonomous state institutions, it will lead to an authoritarian regime and remove checks on the Union government's interference in the state's affairs.


Moreover, Kashmiri leaders have to decide whether they are concerned with the Valley or the whole state. To ensure the state's unity, a federal decentralised system is a necessity. The decision announced by Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah in July 1952 to grant regional autonomy and a similar decision by the state People's Convention, convened by Abdullah in 1968 as leader of the Plebiscite Front, could be a basis for evolving a composite, cohesive identity for a state as diverse as J&K. A common inter-regional party can contribute to reconciling regional aspirations and prevent regional tensions.


The writer is director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'THE STATE HAS TO BE CHECKED BY CIVIL SOCIETY'

 

Political scientist Ghanshyam Shah was on the jury that heard presentations on 'What it means to be a Muslim in India today', a conference organised by Anhad in New Delhi last week. He tells Jyoti Punwani why he is both depressed and hopeful after the meet:


What impressions did you come away with?

Depressing. I felt a sense of helplessness. To be a Muslim in contemporary India is to face constant fear and insecurity, discrimination and humiliation. You have to prove your patriotism every now and then. Rule of law, the soul of a democratic civilised society, is frequently violated by the state, more so in the case of the deprived and dispossessed. This is irrespective of the party in power, be it the Congress, the BSP or BJP; and even CPM as in the case of Lalgarh.


Had you expected this?

Not to this extent. I somehow believed that violation of the rule of law is an aberration, confined to certain states. Now i learnt that it is widespread and frequent; it's almost being legitimised. Fake encounters in which the officers have wilfully killed the alleged 'accused' are legitimised by a few political leaders. More shocking, such officers are celebrated by self-styled, non-partisan 'intelligentsia' in places like Gujarat; ironically for 'peace' and 'security'...

From your long experience of studying communal violence, do you retain hope in the state acting against such violence?
Yes, despite the fact that the situation has worsened since the 1960s. What is the way out? The alternative is anarchy and tyranny; perhaps the rule of might. I do not put complete faith in the state on any matter. I am not statist. The state, an inevitable institution to govern society, has to be constantly pressurised, checked and monitored by civil society.

 

You have recommended the prosecution of policemen who have lodged false cases against innocent Muslims. Will any government ever act against policemen for acts of communal prejudice?

Your fear may be valid. But i do not give up hope. The issue is not of mere prejudice. We demand punishment to those officers whom the Supreme Court's Special Investigation Team finds guilty of tampering with evidence and who have deliberately misused their authority to persecute innocent citizens. If the government and Supreme Court do not listen to these demands, we -- all those who believe in a democratic just social order -- have to raise our voice again and again. This is a basic principle of liberal democracy.


At the meet, the minority affairs minister spoke of his helplessness.

Despite helplessness and constraints, the minority affairs minister can play an important role in building pressure on the decision-makers. However, our demands are to the prime minister, home minister, law minister -- the government and the judiciary, to take steps towards redressal of the victims' grievances. They are needed to fight against 'terror' and also to build a just society.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

BLEACHING BRINJALS

ANOOP KOHLI

 

Papa Bear saw his plate, and said, "Someone has touched my brinjal." Mother Bear looked at hers and added: "Someone seems to have pinched the peel off mine". Baby Bear was in tears, sobbing inconsolably, "Mine is a mutant!" It is rather disturbing to tell the rest, when they found the Bt scientist crashed on Baby Bear's bed.

 

Brinjal, the vegetable supposed to have originated in India and then spread to Persia, Arabia, America and Brazil via Portuguese traders is a perennial, easy-growing plant. Never caught on to the taste of the royals, and despite its close to 2,000 varieties, has never hit the billboards, or affected the sensex, or even shifted political opinions like onions or potatoes. Its various colors from purple to green to whitish (eggplant as called in US), and its shapes from round and bulbous, which has engendered a famous vernacular proverb pertaining to changing political alliances, to oval and even elongated banana-shaped, have not added in any way to its market value. Its versatility to be cooked, fried, baked or pickled still fails to raise its status to an elite versatile food item, or even an eatable of great value to the common man as potato or onion, green chilli, even garlic. The fact is that it is pretty bland, spineless, and is so easily manageable, that it has hardly commanded the sort of respect it should have deserved. If "brinjal" were a car, it would be in the category of the Indian HM's Ambassador great utility, the official Indian car, but too plain and compliant to every mechanic to enjoy any status.

 

Naturally, after the Bt cotton (non-eatable), this is the first plant to have given in so easily to the same gene translocation as the one in Bt cotton. The gene provides pesticide protection. That doesn't matter for cotton unless you are in the habit of chewing your shirt cuffs. Maybe, the lingering pesticide effect keeps away the malarial mosquito, or the dengue virus, amounting to saving on mosquito coils, even vying to be the best material to make mosquito nets. No harm in interested lobbies starting to claim such benefits. Grab the market share, till someone proves it otherwise. It's a marketing suggestion for the textile industry, take it or leave it!

 

Regarding the unassuming "brinjal", the facts are slightly different. You actually eat a high concentration of the gene that acts like a potent pesticide. Not that we do not take in pesticides, and eggs of tapeworms and roundworms from the famous "salaamiwallas" in each of the popular markets of Delhi. The rich and famous line their cars rather obediently without honking. No one breaks the queue, but is rather anxious to grab his order before the stock is over. People tell you stories how "chacha" started forty years ago all by himself, and now his stuff is served on order in Parliamentary select committees, how there is a regular demand during  cabinet meetings, whatever be the government right, left or a coalition. Remotely, one may claim that the gene may have a wormicidal effect as well, but by common reasoning you are not prescribed a teaspoonful of "baygon" whenever you accidently swallow a mosquito, each time you yawn at the boat club lawns.

 

The stern fact is that "Bt brinjal" should not go into circulation, till there is sufficient proof that it has no "carcinogenic" effects in animals, and till such studies are ethically carried out in humans. The other danger is that by bringing it in circulation, due to the ease of cross-pollination of this plant, very soon the natural crop will be indistinguishable from the Bt variety. For concerns of safety, you never carry out genetic modification in the land of a particular crop's origin. That is the Cartagena Protocol for you.

 

What would life be without brinjals. Actually you may not miss it as the page three of your paper, but there are cultural pockets that may feel deprived. Udupi, where the brinjal dish, 'Udupi Gulla' is a favourite snack. Besides it is linked to the offerings to Lord Krishna in the Sode Math temple. The Mattu Gulla of Andhra is pretty much the same. In Bengal, agreed that fish and rice rule the common man's appetite, but "began bhaja" is a frequent change, besides the brinjal ritual, "gota sheddo" the next day after the Saraswati Pooja.

Now that the variant plant has got clearance, I would start by offering it to the holy animal, first to wish away any catastrophe, and more scientifically to clear its milk from pesticide fed grass. You can give it to your canine friend, may be that would get it rid of its fleas. The devilish swine can have as much, at least it will stop throwing those dreadful tapeworm eggs that go straight to your head! Ayurveda always has a slot open for a new ointment for hemorrhoids and anal fissures.

 

There is a lesson in the end, quite contrary to the wisdom and times of the saint-philosopher Kabir. Be a date palm, bamboo, sugar cane, or even eucalyptus that so shamelessly sucks out from the water table. It never pays to be so easily available and pliable as the humble brinjal. You just roll over someone's plate without gathering any sauce!

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

NO LONGER A MENACE

 

A recent report that Dennis the Menace is to acquire a new avatar, a less menacing image, for a new BBC series intrigued me no end. How could the lovable scamp whom one had known since childhood ever change, except for the worse? I never tire of reading about his pranks. Could the inveterate rogue who specialises in making life miserable for Mr Wilson ever turn a new leaf? Could the little rascal who never loses an opportunity to take advantage of Mrs Wilson's kindness ever reform himself? That Dennis drives his parents crazy is beyond doubt the Mitchells constantly wear either a harassed or a bewildered look thanks to their offspring's shenanigans. If he isn't acutely embarrassing them, he's either annoying them or confounding them with questions he shouldn't be asking. As for the grumpy Mr Wilson, the mere sight of Dennis heading up his driveway is enough to irk him. He considers Dennis intrusive and an outright nuisance of which Dennis, of course, is blissfully unaware. On the contrary, he believes in being sociable with the Wilsons, his neighbours, and despite Mr Wilson's constant grumbling, Dennis enjoys the indulgent Mrs Wilson's hospitality to the hilt. In fact, the kindly lady has a soft spot for him, even when his exasperated mother makes him stand in a corner for being naughty.


The snooty, pedantic and bespectacled Margaret, of course, is the one Dennis nettles the most. No matter how hard she tries, she can never get the better of him. Even her well-intentioned efforts to refine him boomerang on her, making her feel he's incorrigible. However, the fact is that he's hell bent on discomfiting her time and again in the presence of the friendly and raven-haired Gina with whom he never falls out. Joey, his sidekick, and Ruff his shaggy, benign dog are Dennis's constant companions, aiding and abetting him in his never-ending mischief. I, for one, shall always associate Dennis with his standard trademark image tousled hair crowning an impish face and a catapult sticking out of his hip pocket as though itching to be used at the slightest provocation. It's an indelible and much-loved impression built up over several decades. Anyone trying to change it would be tampering with the quintessence of the legendary Dennis Mitchell something Hank Ketcham, his creator, would never have approved of.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

 

STOP PLAYING THE SPOILSPORT

INSTEAD OF CRITICISING HOOPER, SURESH KALMADI SHOULD GET DOWN TO WORK

 

The Commonwealth Games 2010 is still a long way off the starting block. But the Games Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi is the undisputed winner of the controversy prize. In a recent broadside against the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) CEO, Mike Hooper, Mr Kalmadi described the former as useless and an impediment to the committee's functioning. Tempers have been running high over allegations that the Games are running behind schedule. But to suggest, as an Indian Olympic Association board member has done, that criticism of the preparations smacks of imperialism will do nothing to enhance India's image.

 

That the president of the CGF, Mike Fennell, has come out in support of Mr Hooper further diminishes the credibility of Mr Kalmadi and his supporters. It is inexplicable that Mr Kalmadi should want to open a can of worms by demanding Mr Hooper's expulsion at this late stage with officials raking up how much Mr Hooper is costing the committee to buttress their claims. India has already received a considerable amount of negative publicity both within the country and outside on the slow progress of preparations for the Games. This is the time to hunker down and get things moving as fast and smoothly as possible with the minimum distraction. The latest controversy has only focused more attention on the Games and the many lacunae in its completion so far. Differences among the many organisers should be sorted out in private and not aired in public.
Though comparisons are odious, we ought to have learnt a lesson from the Chinese whose planning and execution of a mega event like the Olympics went off as smooth as silk.

 

From the word go, the Commonwealth Games 2010 has been mired in misunderstandings and controversies.
Even if these disputes are resolved and the Games go off well, there will be a lack of confidence in India's ability to host such events in future. The public would be happier with a regular update on the progress of the infrastructure for the Games than be subjected to such mudslinging. The attack on Mr Hooper conveys the impression, whether rightly or wrongly, that Mr Kalmadi is looking for a scapegoat. This is hardly an advertisement for a country that claims that it is up there with the best of them in any arena.
Clearly, it is time to show a little more sporting spirit if we are to get the Games off the ground without further hitches.

 

The Commonwealth Games 2010 is still a long way off the starting block. But the Games Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi is the undisputed winner of the controversy prize. In a recent broadside against the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) CEO, Mike Hooper, Mr Kalmadi described the former as useless and an impediment to the committee's functioning. Tempers have been running high over allegations that the Games are running behind schedule. But to suggest, as an Indian Olympic Association board member has done, that criticism of the preparations smacks of imperialism will do nothing to enhance India's image.

That the president of the CGF, Mike Fennell, has come out in support of Mr Hooper further diminishes the credibility of Mr Kalmadi and his supporters. It is inexplicable that Mr Kalmadi should want to open a can of worms by demanding Mr Hooper's expulsion at this late stage with officials raking up how much Mr Hooper is costing the committee to buttress their claims. India has already received a considerable amount of negative publicity both within the country and outside on the slow progress of preparations for the Games. This is the time to hunker down and get things moving as fast and smoothly as possible with the minimum distraction. The latest controversy has only focused more attention on the Games and the many lacunae in its completion so far. Differences among the many organisers should be sorted out in private and not aired in public.
Though comparisons are odious, we ought to have learnt a lesson from the Chinese whose planning and execution of a mega event like the Olympics went off as smooth as silk.

From the word go, the Commonwealth Games 2010 has been mired in misunderstandings and controversies.
Even if these disputes are resolved and the Games go off well, there will be a lack of confidence in India's ability to host such events in future. The public would be happier with a regular update on the progress of the infrastructure for the Games than be subjected to such mudslinging. The attack on Mr Hooper conveys the impression, whether rightly or wrongly, that Mr Kalmadi is looking for a scapegoat. This is hardly an advertisement for a country that claims that it is up there with the best of them in any arena.
Clearly, it is time to show a little more sporting spirit if we are to get the Games off the ground without further hitches.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

CHEQUE IT OUT

 MUKESH AMBANI HAS TAKEN A PAY CUT. MAYBE HE'LL SPREAD THE SAVED AMOUNT AROUND. WE'RE WAITING EAGERLY

 

Mukesh Ambani, known in circles to be a rich man, has decided to take home a pay cheque that will be considerably lighter than what he was getting last month. Considering that he will be now paying himself an annual package of Rs 15 crore -- down from more than Rs 44 crore last year -- Mr Ambani will still be known in circles as a rich man. But in addition to that, he will be known as a man who isn't bewitched by the lure of money.

 

As the CEO of RIL, Mr Ambani's gesture is a reflection of "his desire to set a personal example of moderation in executive compensation". With a top-notch chief executive officer like Mr Ambani taking a pay cut, as opposed to some executive directive from politicians making a saintly point, we are pretty sure that CEOs all across will now happily do the same. Some may reduce their salaries by crores; some by a few lakhs; and some even by a symbolic rupee.


But it's the symbolism that matters -- and will make everyone realise that austerity is the new flash.

 

Having been the highest paid CEO in the country, Mr Ambani's sacrifice is bigger than it looks. Now, his salary is a humble 98 per cent below the 5 per cent Companies Act limit of the company's net profit. Who knows, this might even trigger the other Mr Ambani, also known in circles as a rich man, to go one up and give up his company and clothes for a higher cause. But does all this make our lives -- and those so much worse off than we are -- any better? After all, it would make sense if that extra Rs 29 crore saved by Mr Ambani could be distributed among others like RIL guards, drivers and, if we may be so bold as to suggest, us. But then, the other Mr Ambani will probably not like that.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

GRASP THE NETTLE

OBAMA'S BIGGEST CHALLENGE IS TO FIND THE BEST WAY OF PREVENTING AFGHANISTAN FROM BEING A HAVEN FOR TERRORISTS, WRITES MALEEHA LODHI THE DEBATE OVER TROOP NUMBERS IS REALLY ONE ABOUT HOW DEEPLY TO COMMIT TO A CONFLICT THAT IS INCREASINGLY UNPOPULAR. THE DEBATE HAS BEEN POLARISING

 

President Barack Obama weighs his options on Afghanistan amid dwindling public support in America for the war. Political debate has escalated in Congress and the media about both the aims of the Western mission and its chance of success at a time when there is growing uneasiness within a fractious international coalition whose members see a lack of strategic clarity in Washington.

 

President Obama has promised a careful re-assessment of strategy before making any decision. He has said he will not be rushed into making up his mind about sending more troops until he has "absolute clarity about goals".

 

While he mulls over the assessment submitted in August by General Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) forces in Kabul, the fraud-ridden presidential election in Afghanistan has thrown Washington's political strategy into disarray.

 

With no legitimate political structure in place, this denudes any counter-insurgency plan of its most critical requirement. Although frenetic damage limitation efforts by Western diplomats are in progress, the uncertainty created by a deeply flawed election is feeding into growing public scepticism in the US as well as in Europe.

As American casualties have risen, public support for the war has waned. A series of opinion polls indicate the changing public mood in America and rising war weariness in the midst of pressing domestic concerns.

 

It is among President Obama's own party that support for the war had been flagging. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has warned that there is little appetite in Congress to authorise additional forces beyond the 21,000 that are already on their way and which will take the total of US forces to 68,000 by year end. With most Democrats opposed to continuing or expanding the conflict, this has placed Obama in the awkward position of relying more on the Republicans for support in the war.

 

It is in this challenging environment that the White House is reflecting on the recommendations made by General McChrystal. The bulk of this review of reviews was leaked last month. In the 66-page report the General describes the situation in Afghanistan as "serious but with success still achievable". He warns that unless he is provided more troops and a robust counterinsurgency strategy the war may be lost.

 

McChrystal has submitted a formal request for additional forces possibly for as many as 40,000 troops to the Pentagon. But this has not yet been sent to the White House to enable it to first rethink overall strategy.

 

The debate over troop numbers is really one about how deeply to commit to a conflict that is increasingly unpopular. The debate has been polarising. Republicans like Senator John McCain have called for committing "decisive military force". Powerful Democrats have argued against deeper involvement in which an escalation strategy exposes the US to the risk of being bogged down in a Vietnam-style quagmire.

 

The debate has also pitted Vice-President Joe Biden, who advocates a narrow counterterrorism approach that focuses on al-Qaeda and General McChrystal who is pressing for a broader counter-insurgency strategy.

It is now more than apparent that the Obama administration rushed into a policy review of Afghanistan and hastily announced its conclusions in March 2009, 60 days after assuming power. This represented a compromise among different views and sought to bridge the minimalist/maximalist approaches by offering something to everybody.

 

What was rolled out on the ground reflected little break with the past. For all the emphasis on a civilian surge and a stronger diplomatic thrust, the military prong remained predominant. And mission drift followed.

 

President Obama now confronts tough choices that he sought to avoid in the first seven months of his presidency. The immediate decision is whether to accede to the military's request for more troops or to scale back and redefine both the mission and its goals. His administration probably calculates that it has less than a year to show progress before public support evaporates.

 

The choice for him is not between walking away from Afghanistan and pursuing an open-ended military engagement. Both are unfeasible. The challenge is to find the best way of preventing the country from being a haven for terrorist networks.

 

He can no longer take the decisions that are necessary without addressing strategic questions: Is the goal of the military mission now simply the avoidance of defeat? What does `success' in Afghanistan really mean? Can Afghanistan be stabilised by doing more of the same? This is what another troop surge implies. Is it possible or even feasible for outsiders to undertake nation-building?


How can a viable political strategy be fashioned in the aftermath of the fraud-stricken Afghan election? How can talks with the insurgents be initiated? On what terms?


If training and expanding the Afghan National Army and police is the basis on which an ultimate exit plan depends, how can progress be expected when that process remains skewed in favour of non-Pashtuns? How can such forces take over more responsibility for their country's security if they suffer from this deficit?
It is on how President Obama addresses these questions that future stability in Afghanistan may hinge. He has shown a sense of realism in stating in recent interviews that he does not believe in an indefinite occupation and is not interested in being in Afghanistan to "save face."

 

He needs above all to recognise the need for a transition strategy that includes a process of reconciliation undertaken by Afghans themselves, investing seriously in more representative and viable Afghan security forces, and forging a regional compact. Unless a radically different tack is followed, the outcome may not be any different than it has in the past eight years.

 

Maleeha Lodhi was Pakistan's Ambassador to the US and Britain and former editor of The News, Islamabad The views expressed by the author are personal

President Barack Obama weighs his options on Afghanistan amid dwindling public support in America for the war. Political debate has escalated in Congress and the media about both the aims of the Western mission and its chance of success at a time when there is growing uneasiness within a fractious international coalition whose members see a lack of strategic clarity in Washington.

President Obama has promised a careful re-assessment of strategy before making any decision. He has said he will not be rushed into making up his mind about sending more troops until he has "absolute clarity about goals".

While he mulls over the assessment submitted in August by General Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) forces in Kabul, the fraud-ridden presidential election in Afghanistan has thrown Washington's political strategy into disarray.

With no legitimate political structure in place, this denudes any counter-insurgency plan of its most critical requirement. Although frenetic damage limitation efforts by Western diplomats are in progress, the uncertainty created by a deeply flawed election is feeding into growing public scepticism in the US as well as in Europe.

As American casualties have risen, public support for the war has waned. A series of opinion polls indicate the changing public mood in America and rising war weariness in the midst of pressing domestic concerns.

It is among President Obama's own party that support for the war had been flagging. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has warned that there is little appetite in Congress to authorise additional forces beyond the 21,000 that are already on their way and which will take the total of US forces to 68,000 by year end. With most Democrats opposed to continuing or expanding the conflict, this has placed Obama in the awkward position of relying more on the Republicans for support in the war.

It is in this challenging environment that the White House is reflecting on the recommendations made by General McChrystal. The bulk of this review of reviews was leaked last month. In the 66-page report the General describes the situation in Afghanistan as "serious but with success still achievable". He warns that unless he is provided more troops and a robust counterinsurgency strategy the war may be lost.

McChrystal has submitted a formal request for additional forces possibly for as many as 40,000 troops to the Pentagon. But this has not yet been sent to the White House to enable it to first rethink overall strategy.

The debate over troop numbers is really one about how deeply to commit to a conflict that is increasingly unpopular. The debate has been polarising. Republicans like Senator John McCain have called for committing "decisive military force". Powerful Democrats have argued against deeper involvement in which an escalation strategy exposes the US to the risk of being bogged down in a Vietnam-style quagmire.

The debate has also pitted Vice-President Joe Biden, who advocates a narrow counterterrorism approach that focuses on al-Qaeda and General McChrystal who is pressing for a broader counter-insurgency strategy.

It is now more than apparent that the Obama administration rushed into a policy review of Afghanistan and hastily announced its conclusions in March 2009, 60 days after assuming power. This represented a compromise among different views and sought to bridge the minimalist/maximalist approaches by offering something to everybody.

What was rolled out on the ground reflected little break with the past. For all the emphasis on a civilian surge and a stronger diplomatic thrust, the military prong remained predominant. And mission drift followed.

President Obama now confronts tough choices that he sought to avoid in the first seven months of his presidency. The immediate decision is whether to accede to the military's request for more troops or to scale back and redefine both the mission and its goals. His administration probably calculates that it has less than a year to show progress before public support evaporates.

The choice for him is not between walking away from Afghanistan and pursuing an open-ended military engagement. Both are unfeasible. The challenge is to find the best way of preventing the country from being a haven for terrorist networks.

He can no longer take the decisions that are necessary without addressing strategic questions: Is the goal of the military mission now simply the avoidance of defeat? What does `success' in Afghanistan really mean? Can Afghanistan be stabilised by doing more of the same? This is what another troop surge implies. Is it possible or even feasible for outsiders to undertake nation-building?
How can a viable political strategy be fashioned in the aftermath of the fraud-stricken Afghan election? How can talks with the insurgents be initiated? On what terms?
If training and expanding the Afghan National Army and police is the basis on which an ultimate exit plan depends, how can progress be expected when that process remains skewed in favour of non-Pashtuns? How can such forces take over more responsibility for their country's security if they suffer from this deficit?
It is on how President Obama addresses these questions that future stability in Afghanistan may hinge. He has shown a sense of realism in stating in recent interviews that he does not believe in an indefinite occupation and is not interested in being in Afghanistan to "save face."

He needs above all to recognise the need for a transition strategy that includes a process of reconciliation undertaken by Afghans themselves, investing seriously in more representative and viable Afghan security forces, and forging a regional compact. Unless a radically different tack is followed, the outcome may not be any different than it has in the past eight years.

Maleeha Lodhi was Pakistan's Ambassador to the US and Britain and former editor of The News, Islamabad The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

PAWAR MAY HAVE SOME ACES UP HIS SLEEVE

IN THE BJP, THE LEADERSHIP TUSSLE IS LIKELY TO BECOME SHARPER. BAL THACKERAY WILL WANT THE CORONATION OF UDDHAV DURING HIS LIFETIME.RAJ MAY TRY TO PREVENT THIS BY THROWING IN HIS LOT WITH THE CONGRESS-NCP

 

The course of Indian politics is likely to be determined after the results of the three assembly polls are declared later this week. The possibility of new alignments and, perhaps, a major revamp in the Congress party is on the cards. Of the three states, the outcome of Maharashtra is vital to the relationship that exists among various coalition partners. There are enough indications that there may not be a clear winner in this poll. The next government may have to be formed with the help of either independents or smaller parties.

 

The outcome is also eagerly awaited because it will show how Sharad Pawar behaves with the Congress. He has been licking his wounds all this while and could spring a few surprises if the Congress tally is less than the Nationalist Congress Party's (NCP). In the run-up to the polls, he was repeatedly humiliated and will want to get his own back. But Pawar is a thoroughbred politician and it is difficult to predict how he will react to uncertain situations like this. If he parts company with the Congress, he will certainly calculate its consequences. If he takes such a decision, he and his other party colleagues may have to leave the central government.

 

The ramifications of a break-up in the Maharashtra coalition will be evident in the national arena. Whether he will want to sit with the rest of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha is a call he will have to take. But he will definitely not allow the Congress to lead the state government if his party emerges with better numbers. The situation is such that whether one likes it or not, Maharashtra politics is Pawar-centric. He is the tallest leader of the state. He knows how to manipulate things better than anyone else.

 

Old timers will recall that in 1978, he had toppled the Congress (S) and Congress (I) coalition, led by Vasantdada Patil, along with his mentor, the late Y.B. Chavan. In doing so, he outwitted a politician of the calibre of Indira Gandhi. So, he can easily get the better of the current Congress politicians if the dice is loaded in his favour.

 

The Congress is also split in several camps. Vilasrao Deshmukh, who is backed by a powerful section of the high command, has dreams of becoming the chief minister for the third time. Ashok Chavan, who was handpicked by Rahul Gandhi, will also hope to retain his chair. Narayan Rane rightly or wrongly believes that he has every right to be the next CM. Sushilkumar Shinde who had a very successful but brief tenure is apparently more content being at the Centre. There are others too. But everything depends on the final numbers.

The game is wide open. The Shiv SenaBJP combine is also keeping its fingers crossed. This combination is expected to do better than the ruling coalition in many areas. The coalition has its share of problems but the leadership question will be settled once it is known who has the larger tally. At this stage, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena could demand its pound of flesh and play a role that is detrimental to the Shiv Sena's interests.

 

In the BJP, the leadership tussle is likely to become sharper as Gopinath Munde and N. Gadkari may be locked in a battle.


In the Sena, Bal Thackeray will want the coronation of Uddhav during his lifetime.


Raj may try to prevent this by throwing in his lot with the Congress-NCP.

 

On the other hand, the Congress-NCP alliance will face a dilemma if it does not get the numbers on its own since that would mean that the mandate is against it. But in politics the rules of the game are determined by the one who holds the aces. In this case, the aces may be in Pawar's hands.Between us.

 

pvohra@hindustantimes.com

The course of Indian politics is likely to be determined after the results of the three assembly polls are declared later this week. The possibility of new alignments and, perhaps, a major revamp in the Congress party is on the cards. Of the three states, the outcome of Maharashtra is vital to the relationship that exists among various coalition partners. There are enough indications that there may not be a clear winner in this poll. The next government may have to be formed with the help of either independents or smaller parties.

The outcome is also eagerly awaited because it will show how Sharad Pawar behaves with the Congress. He has been licking his wounds all this while and could spring a few surprises if the Congress tally is less than the Nationalist Congress Party's (NCP). In the run-up to the polls, he was repeatedly humiliated and will want to get his own back. But Pawar is a thoroughbred politician and it is difficult to predict how he will react to uncertain situations like this. If he parts company with the Congress, he will certainly calculate its consequences. If he takes such a decision, he and his other party colleagues may have to leave the central government.

The ramifications of a break-up in the Maharashtra coalition will be evident in the national arena. Whether he will want to sit with the rest of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha is a call he will have to take. But he will definitely not allow the Congress to lead the state government if his party emerges with better numbers. The situation is such that whether one likes it or not, Maharashtra politics is Pawar-centric. He is the tallest leader of the state. He knows how to manipulate things better than anyone else.

Old timers will recall that in 1978, he had toppled the Congress (S) and Congress (I) coalition, led by Vasantdada Patil, along with his mentor, the late Y.B. Chavan. In doing so, he outwitted a politician of the calibre of Indira Gandhi. So, he can easily get the better of the current Congress politicians if the dice is loaded in his favour.

The Congress is also split in several camps. Vilasrao Deshmukh, who is backed by a powerful section of the high command, has dreams of becoming the chief minister for the third time. Ashok Chavan, who was handpicked by Rahul Gandhi, will also hope to retain his chair. Narayan Rane rightly or wrongly believes that he has every right to be the next CM. Sushilkumar Shinde who had a very successful but brief tenure is apparently more content being at the Centre. There are others too. But everything depends on the final numbers.

The game is wide open. The Shiv SenaBJP combine is also keeping its fingers crossed. This combination is expected to do better than the ruling coalition in many areas. The coalition has its share of problems but the leadership question will be settled once it is known who has the larger tally. At this stage, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena could demand its pound of flesh and play a role that is detrimental to the Shiv Sena's interests.

In the BJP, the leadership tussle is likely to become sharper as Gopinath Munde and N. Gadkari may be locked in a battle.
In the Sena, Bal Thackeray will want the coronation of Uddhav during his lifetime.
Raj may try to prevent this by throwing in his lot with the Congress-NCP.

On the other hand, the Congress-NCP alliance will face a dilemma if it does not get the numbers on its own since that would mean that the mandate is against it. But in politics the rules of the game are determined by the one who holds the aces. In this case, the aces may be in Pawar's hands.
Between us.

pvohra@hindustantimes.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

NEAREST CONTINENT

 

Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor, speaking in New York, has injected what sounds like some solid good sense into how India's connection with Africa is talked about. India's engagement in Africa is not in any way a competition with China, he said, it is independent of that; indeed, he said "it is unconstructive to see any of these relationships in terms of a third country." Any proper Africa policy for India would indeed be based on India's own many interests in enhancing its connections to that continent, quite independent of China's interests there. It is also certainly the case that choosing to either mimic China's methods in Africa unaltered, or ignoring them completely, is not an option.

 

On the one hand, India retains much cultural capital in Africa that is simply unavailable to China. Whatever the other flaws of Nehruvian foreign policy, in a continent conditioned by its tragic history to be sensitive to exploitative relations, having a reputation for international contacts characterised by openness and equality is a good thing. China's involvement in Africa intensifies yearly; but it has seen several missteps at various points, of a sort that are only likely to intensify any perceived difference in attitude between India and China.

 

On the other hand, ignoring the fact of China's political engagement with Africa would be foolish. Not because of any attempt at competition, but because there is something India needs to learn from it. The big idea to take away is that China's political leadership has correctly understood that Africa is a region sensitive to political contact. And the highest political leadership hammers that home relentlessly in regular official visits to African countries: Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit in February to five African countries meant he has made at least four trips since taking office in 2003, easily more than one every two years; Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has been a similarly frequent traveller. Many of those visits are not to Africa's headline states, like Nigeria and South Africa (both visited recently by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh), but to smaller, often neglected African countries which value the visits correspondingly more. India as an idea cannot be represented to Africa merely by the corporations and individuals headquartered here that are there to do business. More is needed. In the years after Independence, India built up enviable soft power in Africa as a "good" power, with responsible, anti-colonial credentials. The mechanisms to maintain that, such as the non-aligned movement, have fallen into disrepair. The UPA government must prioritise the building of bilateral relationships that can serve the same function, for India's sake, as well as Africa's.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

GLOBAL FOOTPRINTS

 

Even before asking whether an IIM-Singapore, IIM-Dubai or IIM-Frankfurt makes sense, the question to ask is one about autonomy. If the Indian Institutes of Management believe that a foreign campus benefits them, why should the government block it? It is good that on this question Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal is signaling a break from his predecessor Arjun Singh's orthodoxy. Amongst the many facets of the license and permit raj in higher education Singh persisted with was his 2006 decision to veto IIM-Bangalore's request to set up a Singapore campus. Sibal has been as energetic as his predecessor was vacilating, as constructive as his predecessor was politicking. His latest announcement that the Centre does not have any "in principle" objection if the IIMs want to set up campuses overseas is hopefully the first of many measures to inculcate autonomy in higher education.

 

Sibal's announcement comes at the end of an ugly stand-off between the IIM/IIT faculty and the HRD ministry. No matter what the merits of the argument, the spectacle of those who nurture India's brightest minds haggling for more money was a sorry sight. Sibal ended the stand-off with the IIMs, in part, after agreeing to radical changes. The foremost is increased autonomy for these institutes of excellence. Sibal said that the appointment of directors and board members will be by an independent collegium; the government will not have a role in these selections.

 

As it happens, the IIMs are right in arguing that foreign campuses will benefit the institutions. A world class brand, one whose alumni are counted amongst the best qualified, must be allowed to chart its growth path. From exchanges of students to those of faculty, these foreign outposts could revitalise the Indian core. There is also the demand-supply mismatch. Given how many students, in India and increasingly abroad, want the benefit of an IIM education, more campuses serve a larger social good. Whichever way one looks at it — institutional autonomy or common sense — Sibal's decision to clear the way is a good one.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

NO WINNERS?

 

Allegations and counter-allegations, disputes and resignations have paved the way towards the uncertain political climate in Afghanistan. Nearly two months have passed since Afghans took to the polls, and the controversy over the result appears to be far from over. In fact, this political impasse and the accompanying inquiry into the elections have tossed the shaky country on an even more uncertain path.

 

Will fresh assessments from the Afghan Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) stabilise matters as Karzai continues to defend his victory? The already raging controversy over the credibility of the result, giving Karzai just over 50 per cent of the vote, was compounded by the resignation of Peter Galbraith, the highest-ranking American diplomat in Afghanistan and deputy to UN ambassador Kai Eide. Galbraith has been publicly contending that despite the façade of an inquiry there is still a "preferred" candidate and that the process through which fraud is being assessed is skewed in Karzai's favour: "Let's not mince words: there was one candidate who had control of the state apparatus." Taken together, this is why there exists skepticism over whether the EEC inquiry and the Afghan backed Independent Election Commission's next step will heal the situation. The IEC, the body responsible for the final count, is seen by Karzai's critics to be weighed in his favour.

 

The kind of uncertainty that has prevailed is harmful both to the Afghan state and the countries involved in fighting the insurgency there. Speed and discretion are key. Afghan law stipulates that should the IEC declare the elections to be fraudulent, 15 days would be allotted for a fresh election to be held. It is high time this political stalemate is resolved, especially as the winter approaches.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

GROWTH, BUBBLE WRAPPED

BIBEK DEBROY

 

Good news is filtering through. The index of industrial production grew by 10.4 per cent in August 2009, FDI was $3.27 billion in August, FII inflows and IPOs are back, the Sensex has crossed 17,000, first quarter GDP growth was 6.1 per cent, the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers reports a jump in car exports in the first half of the financial year, salaries in the diamond sector have increased in Surat, the drought wasn't as bad as was feared, and so on. Each such number can be questioned and, tortured sufficiently, will yield the right confession. However, there is no denying that the so-called shoots are increasingly green, not brown, and not just in India, but globally. Moving Indian growth beyond 6.5 per cent will require an export pick-up.

 

Having said this, the focus shifts to how we can prevent this in the future, both in India and in the world economy. This takes one to the famous letter written by the British Academy to the Queen on July 22. "When Your Majesty visited the London School of Economics last November, you quite rightly asked: why had nobody noticed that the credit crunch was on its way?... Many people did foresee the crisis. However, the exact form that it would take and the timing of its onset and ferocity were foreseen by nobody. What matters in such circumstances is not just to predict the nature of the problem but also its timing... It was a cycle fuelled, in significant measure, not by virtue but by delusion. There was a broad consensus that it was better to deal with the aftermath of bubbles in stock markets and housing markets than to try to head them off in advance."

 

Delusion, bubbles — those are strong words. However, they are the buzzwords now. Money is the root of all evil, to misquote from the Bible, justifying the economist's lambasting of easy money. And to quote correctly from the Bible, the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, justifying the economist's lambasting of perverse incentives in the financial sector. Even better is the preceding quote from Timothy: "But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction."

 

Therefore, we must contain delusion and bubbles, so that never again in the field of economic development is so much ruin and destruction owed by so many to so few (from the financial sector). Bubble, especially an economic bubble, is a most intriguing expression. Many Indians will argue, independent of global shock, that there was a real estate cum housing bubble in India, a land price bubble, perhaps even a stock market bubble. Bubbles will eventually be pricked, causing pain and suffering. Therefore, to guard ourselves in the future, we must prevent bubble creation. In hindsight, a posteriori, many instances of price correction are described as bubbles.

 

But that's not the point at all. To do something about bubbles and prevent bubble creation, we must know when there is a bubble a priori. Despite all analysis and theorising, we have never known, and will never know, in advance when there is a bubble. (Since asset prices are involved, perhaps we should say bauble.) There is a bubble when asset prices are significantly higher than intrinsic values. That sounds good, but is no more than tautology unless we can figure out what intrinsic values are. Let's take a simple example. The intrinsic value of any asset is discounted present value of a future (net) revenue stream. Consequently, if interest rates drop (whether nominal or real makes no difference conceptually), intrinsic values of assets increase. People invest in those assets, reinforced by wealth effects, and giving this avaricious tendency an apparently dirty name like speculation gets nowhere. For most mortals, life is about avarice and speculation. To get semantics right, increase in intrinsic values doesn't constitute a bubble. All we have established is interest rates, lending policies of banks and monetary policy influence intrinsic values and can make them volatile. However, notwithstanding measures of financial leverage, there is no a priori means of knowing the right interest rate.

The earliest documented so-called bubble was the Dutch tulip mania of 1637, described in Charles Mackay's 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Most people also quote Mackay for South Sea Bubble of 1720 or the Mississippi Company bubble of the same year and there have been several other "bubbles" after Mackay's book, including dot com bubble and real estate bubbles in many countries in recent years. Mackay didn't write only about economic bubbles, as the title of the book makes clear. He discussed alchemy, prophecies, fortune-telling, witch-hunts, haunted houses and crusades. In the apparent global consensus now emerging on financial peccadilloes, most people will agree Bernie Madoff should be condemned in the same breath as these anachronistic practices. What this ignores is what Mackay flagged in his book, madness of crowds, so-called herd mentality. Ponzi schemes work because of this. Positive feedback blows up both booms and busts disproportionately. It is incorrectly believed lemmings commit mass suicide. However, lemming populations fluctuate. That's the commonality with human beings and economic business cycles.

 

Limited points about financial sector regulation, supervision and corporate governance are fine. But beyond that, no amount of regulation can neutralise human behaviour. Or ensure that if one set of human beings behave in one way, another set will behave in exactly the opposite way, so that amplitudes of cycles are reduced. Any regulation contrary to human behaviour is doomed. Stated differently, if we seek to curb busts, we have no option but to restrain booms too. Instead of booms and busts, boosts and bums is probably a better expression. Excessive regulation and state intervention will curb enterprise, initiative and innovation. We won't get the boosts either and will be left with the bums. Rather oddly, discussions on global financial crisis often quote Walter de la Mare, "Life's troubled bubble broken." Or perhaps it is not that odd, since Walter de la Mare first worked for the statistics department of Standard Oil before writing psychological horror stories. The quote is from a poem titled, "The Song of the Mad Prince", extremely appropriate if prince is interpreted as government and madness with excessive controls after September 2008.

 

That poem is believed to be a reference to Hamlet. To paraphrase Hamlet's most quoted line, to control or not to control is not the question. Beyond some regulatory improvements, we should learn to live with business cycles, so-called bubbles, avarice and greed. If there is one austerity we need, that should be on government controls.

The writer is a Delhi-based economist (express@expressindia.com)

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

BASIN RESERVES

YOGINDER K. ALAGH

 

So big dams on the Brahmaputra are in fashion again. There is a grandeur in all rivers but the Brahmaputra is awesome. Miles across, it boggles the imagination. It can create islands as big as the Majuli with its silt; it can change its course and tear into them in flood. We planned the Sardar Sarovar to be forty thousand cusecs and that was big — twice the size of any other irrigation canal in the world — but in the Brahmaputra Arunachal tanks they are casual about twice that size.

 

She is an untamed river. She can change course and cause havoc. The mechanics talk of big dams, the thoughtful ones of first training the river. That will not be easy. You will need extraordinary skills to conceptualise such an effort: hydrology, drainage, mechanics, hardware, civil engineering, and above all integrative skills — for, like we did with ISRO, no one's been there before. Anyway the final call will be society's, to make the final determination about man's intervention on this scale. And anyway here you will also need diplomats, many of whom stopped thinking after Bismarck.

 

Before our colonial masters created and closed the Inner Line, the Brahmaputra was a river of communication for the areas within our borders, and with China, Myanmar and the east. It can be the strong arm of our civilisation to the East if we have the vision. How will we convince the contractors and the "immediate growth"-wallahs? Tough, but let's try. The Brahmaputra is too big not to be seen as a whole river. Did you know that in its upper reaches the deforestation is some of the worst in the world? We can't measure it, for it is outside India, but we know from satellites over Tibet. All that silt comes down to us — and of course also affects Bangladesh.

 

So I must talk of the international aspects, or I will lose my readers. Let me take you to the Mekong. They have an agreement on that river, a shaky one, but it is there.

 

I know because they involved me in it, saying that the Sardar Sarovar delivery planning was the best for Asiatic peasant agriculture — though it is, alas, not implemented now even by Gujarat's engineers.

 

So look particularly at one feature of the Mekong agreement: the off-monsoon flow of the river, to the downstream lake Tonle Sap in Cambodia, has to be a minimum. Lakhs of households make a living off that, so the water flow to the lake has to be protected. These are countries, sharing the Mekong basin, that have gone to war with each other in the past and skirmish occasionally even now. China and Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. But they agreed. If you have a vision you can surround the contractors, the generals and the flag wavers.

 

Once you can come to an agreement with the countries sharing the waters, once that is agreed upon, dams do not need to be quite so large. In fact, the dams will probably be much smaller — as they were in the Mekong after Tonle Sap was agreed upon.

 

But first, we must develop that vision. We will need Bangladesh with us; and they should bite, since we agreed on the Jamuna. At the rate that country is using its groundwater it will want river water to replenish its underground reservoirs.

 

There is another rabbit in the hat. The so-called jungle that was submerged by the Sardar Sarovar was largely scrub, having been cleared a long time ago. I have trekked there and knew that it was growing luxuriously only in the imagination of some activists. But the Arunachal jungles are India's pride and probably priceless. I will watch the man who does a pre-project benefit cost on that with great interest. On a larger plane, our foresters can help a lot in catchment treatment in the river as a whole, when it is taken seriously at the international level.

 

We are thinking on many issues out of the box, as on climate change, food security and employment. Let's do so on the Brahmaputra. We have nothing to lose in hemming the short-sighted ones who want to construct in a hurry, both abroad and at home. You would be surprised how quickly global opinion can dam them in an international venture.

 

The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand (express@expressindia.com)

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'HOOPER HAS BEEN A GREAT HINDRANCE. HE HAS BEEN SHOUTING... THROWING KEYS AT OUR STAFF... CAN'T HAVE HIM HERE. THAT IS FOR SURE'

 

Indian Olympic Association chief and Chairman of Commonwealth Games Organising Committee Suresh Kalmadi claims that as of today the committee is behind schedule in only five functional areas and in these too, it will catch up by the end of this month. In this interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24x7's Walk the Talk, Kalmadi claims that the country will be fully prepared for the Commonwealth Games

 

My guest this week is somebody who will decide whether one year from now we are a very proud country or a very embarrassed country. Suresh Kalmadi, welcome to Walk the Talk.

It will be a very proud country, no doubt about it.

 

I could use a nastier introduction. I can describe you either as a Shera in his den or a mouse in his den, because if the Commonwealth Games goes wrong, you will be in trouble.

It won't go wrong, I can assure you. India has got a great capacity and we are going to organise the Commonwealth Games very well.

 

But nobody who sees what is going on seems to buy that.

When they see the results, they will agree.

 

Not your foreign partners, not your Indian partners, not the media. You are in the minority.

The media will soon see everything coming up.

 

How far behind are you right now?

We have got 35 functional areas. In about 20 functional areas we were behind some months back, but as of today we are behind in five functional areas. But we will catch up in these by the end of the month. We will be fully prepared for the Commonwealth Games.

 

Tell us how things have gone wrong between you, the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), between some of your foreign staff.

We have excellent relationship with the CGF. We have paid Rs 100 crore to 40 international consultants as fees. In sports like rugby, we can take people (foreign experts), but in games like wrestling, which is our forte, we can't take in people. We differed with the CGF on that. We have taken people for a range of activities — from catering (we will have 10,000 people in the Games Village) to technology. We have taken in good people and now, the difference between CGF and us is regarding two-three foreign experts.

 

There has been a public spat — Mike Fennell, the President of the CGF, standing up and saying that time is your enemy, pointing his finger at you.

They want to keep us on our toes. They want to put pressure on us. And we have taken their advice very seriously.

 

So you have no problem with how Mr Fennell spoke and what he said.

We have absolutely no problem. Fennell has been advising us well. He has come about 12 times to India and 10 times he has spoken very well.

 

 

Ten to two is not a bad record.

Not a bad record.

 

But what about Vijay Kumar Malhotra saying that this is Commonwealth Games and not imperial games? You have thrown out the committee he was going to appoint.

We have not thrown out any committee. They wanted to send an international committee here. We have only said that it should be amalgamated with the coordination commission, so that there is no duplication.

 

There is no sovereignty issue now that foreigners will be the final authority.

No. Some federations did say that 'don't put foreign consultants over us because we have got our own people'. Vijay Kumar Malhotra is the head of the archery federation and they have organised world tournaments here. Digvijay Singh, the head of the shooting federation, did not want to hire international experts because they have got good people here. So, there's no substantive difference.

 

You had a fight with your CEO.

We have enrolled Mike Hooper. Actually, the host city must have an office in London and keep one person there, but we had an agreement with Fennell to keep Mike Hooper. He has been here for two years. We have provided him a good bungalow, but we have found that he has not been as effective as he should be. There have been minor spats with the entire staff. He has been having verbal duels with almost all my staff. He has been a great hindrance. He has been shouting at our staff. He threw keys at one of them. Besides, we have not got any advice from him.

 

Maybe that was a hint to you. Suresh Kalmadi throw the keys away and disappear.

No. We have taken up the matter with Mike Fennell. He has written to me that we will discuss this issue when we meet in London on October 28.

 

You have complained about him whistling in the office.

No. We had complained when he threw keys at one of my staff. And that was about to become a police case, but I intervened and asked Mike Fennell to remove him. We have had lots of problems with him. Mike Fennell has asked us to concentrate on certain areas, but we can't do so with him around. Having him around will deter our progress. We can't have him here. That is for sure.

 

Every country goes through these tensions before a big event. But in India, things get done on the last day and until six o'clock people will be climbing on something, putting last brushes of paint.

That is not going to happen. Everything will be on track, including most of the infrastructure.

 

But there's a lot of criticism even from within your party and government, say by former sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar.

I don't want to comment on that. He has said that as a poor country we can't afford these sorts of games. That was his view. But we have to organise this. We have to develop Olympic sports in this country. This is a land of cricket and it is time we developed Olympic sports.

 

And F1?

Yes, that's also sports.

 

Your current minister doesn't think so.

We have different views, but I am concerned with the Commonwealth Games.

 

Could it be because sports ministers think that while they are called sports ministers, you are the defacto sports minister? You have a better office than 20 ministers in this Cabinet.

No. I love sports and I love to organise sports. I am happy we got quite a few medals in the Olympics. In the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, where 71 countries participated, we topped the medal tally.

 

Your website claims almost as if you were responsible for getting the first gold medal. It says that as IOA president Suresh Kalmadi got India the first gold medal in an individual sport.

I am a little responsible. Everybody is responsible, the Sports Ministry, the parents...

 

But Olympic sports are in a mess in this country?

We have to improve the situation. I am happy that the Prime Minister has given funds that are more than the budget of the Sports Ministry for training athletes. For the first time, there is money for sports medicine and equipment.

 

A lot of facilities were built during the Asian Games in 1982 and the same things were said. But after that they were not used. What is the guarantee the same thing will not happen now?

In the Asian Games, there was not enough accommodation. The accommodation made for the athletes is where you now find the Delhi government's secretariat. Now, we have made accommodation in all the stadiums, so that post-games people can use them for training. There are no training camps in Delhi.

 

The Nehru Stadium is only being used for rock concerts and exhibition cricket matches.

The amount charged by the Sports Ministry for such events should be reduced. You hire a stadium for Rs 10,000 per day — something that not all sports can afford.

 

Somehow I believe that these venues will be ready before the Games. But would you say the same thing about your performance as the head of Indian athletics? Athletics is in a deep mess for the past 10 years and 20 national records, equally divided between men and women, have not been broken. Which athletic power sees so many of its records unbroken for 10 years?

We will do well in the Commonwealth Games. In the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, a number of people did well in athletics.

 

Why have we done badly in the past 10 years? There was one spurt after 1982. We had two good relay teams. We had a couple of men who brought at least silvers if not golds.

We still have good relay teams. The last few years, we have not done so well, but hopefully we will come up in the Commonwealth Games.

 

Why this decline? Could it be because controls over doping have become much tougher?

Now we have a dope centre. We have been tighter on doping, that would not be a reason.

 

Could we have done better if we had experts?

Getting foreign coaches would definitely help athletics. At one time we could not get them — we had just 2,000 dollars. You can't get good coaches with that amount. But now the government has increased it to 5,000 dollars. Now we are in a position to get good coaches.

 

But we have got so many foreign coaches for hockey and we have not been able to handle them?

We had one foreign coach for hockey, but now we have got the right one.

 

Another reason why people are sceptical is that here's a country which has postponed its National Games five times. We should hold it once every two years, but we hold it once in five years.

You are wrong. We have held the National Games in Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Guwahati, Manipur, Chandigarh and we have had National Games once in two years.

 

Not since 2002.

Last 10 years we have had National Games every two years or less than two years. You can check the official records.

 

Why this fifth postponement?

Because of the elections. There is also the security problem.

 

But those problems will bedevil your case because you can't go to the world and say I have security problems, I have frequent elections.

Elections are there, but the average time National Games are held is once in two years. We have planned the next National Games in Kerala and after that in Goa. Infrastructure is coming up at all these places.

 

Has the setting up of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) been a hindrance?

The SAI can do much more than what it's doing.

 

I sometimes say it should be renamed Stadiums Authority of India.

I agree with you. They should not have their own teams. They should be training the Indian teams, they should look after the stadiums.

 

Do you talk to Sports Ministers, bureaucrats? What answer do you get from them?

It's been changing so fast that they have not been able to be effective.

 

Who is the most effective minister or bureaucrat that you have met so far?

Margaret Alva was the most dynamic Sports Minister. She took action straightaway and sided with the players.

Very few people remember that you were an Indian Air Force pilot. From a pilot to a politician to a businessman to a sports administrator — tell us more about yourself.

 

I was always keen to be a politician. My father used to hear the nine o'clock news every day. That is how I got addicted to politics and I said that in the Indian Air Force I have seen the disciplined side, now let me see the disorganised side. So I jumped into politics and sports administration. My wife had married me because I was an Air Force pilot, going home at one o'clock. Then I got into politics and sports administration and she kept saying, 'how much time are you going to be away?' Finally, I landed up here and I am hardly with her.

How did sports happen?

 

Sports happened because in school and at the National Defence Academy I was into sports and when there was a vacancy in Pune Athletics Association, I was made its president. Then it was a long journey after that.

 

Which one of your postings in the Air Force do you remember the most?

My posting in Agra was quite long and I enjoyed it. Also, I took part in both the wars — in 1965 and 1971. We used to land in Leh when there were no proper runways.

 

So you can land your plane without a proper runway, you can hold the Commonwealth Games without a proper stadium.

No, that won't be good.

 

You are getting into F1 now as a personal business, because there is money in it.

No, I am not at all into it.

 

You may have played sports in the academy, but you are not a sports expert. Is that something that bothers you?

I am the president of the Olympic committee for the past 10 years. I have always made sure that the secretary is a technical person. This combination works because the president has to collect money.

 

In the 1988 Seoul Games, one of your athletes said to me, 'if Suresh Kalmadi tells me the distance between two hurdles, I will stop running'.

I don't remember that.

 

Can you tell the distance between two hurdles?

I can't. That is for technical people to say.

 

If Indian athletics continues to decline who is to be held accountable?

The president of the Athletics Federation, the secretary, along with the Sports Authority.

 

And the life president?

Life president is a token job.

 

Nothing that is ever given to Suresh Kalmadi is a token job. Whatever else happens, we are all on the side of Indian sports and to that extent you have our goodwill and with the job that you have at hand, as I said, you could either make us all and yourself very proud and happy or embarrassed. So, good luck to you.

I can assure the country that we will have a great Commonwealth Games. No two ways about it and hopefully the Olympics after that.

 

So, one year from now we will see a Shera in his den and not a chuha in his den. Thank you.

Thank you.

 

Transcript prepared by Mehraj D Lone

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

Q2 QUERY


Some early corporate results for the quarter ended September show that India Inc is on a rebound as sales, and therefore toplines, are picking up on the back of a softer interest rate regime, adequate liquidity and buoyant consumer sentiments. Results of some private sector banks, which have taken the lead in reporting their financials early, show that the slow balance sheet growth and decline in net interest income were compensated by strong treasury gains and better cost control during the quarter. In the quarter ended September, banks continued to lower deposit rates, but kept lending rates unchanged. Banks are also reporting an uptick in credit disbursement and companies that have taken sanctions for credit are now making the disbursement. The positive momentum is expected to continue unless RBI increases interest rates in the forthcoming monetary policy. It should not, though. Analysis of advance tax paid by companies show sectors like consumer durables and auto, which are mainly credit-driven, have aided the recovery in corporate growth. But sectors like real estate and hospitality continue to remain laggard and would depend on the overall recovery of the economy. The benefits of operational efficiency drives taken up by companies and low commodity prices will play out in the numbers for the quarter. For IT companies, the upward revision of earnings guidance by bellwether Infosys Technologies underlines the fact that business fundamentals are improving and companies are reporting increasing sales queries. But, going ahead, the dampener for IT will be the appreciation of the rupee against the dollar and the impact will be higher on mid-sized companies, as they lack the bargaining power to revise contracts with large clients.

 

For auto companies, the 17% increase in domestic sales during the quarter ended September came as a huge boost, considering the fact that the sector was the worst-hit because of the economic slowdown. Low interest rates and consumer sentiments helped push up the topline of auto companies and the current signs of revival in the economy are pointing to an improvement in the movement of freight which will augur well for commercial vehicles where sales are recovering, but at a slower pace. Low interest rates are very crucial and will be the key determinant to see how the sector pans out in the next few quarters. For the cement industry, delayed monsoon has resulted in extended construction activities and incremental demand for cement. As cement consumption grew by 14% in the quarter, huge capacity additions would create oversupply and put pressure on pricing. Overall, as more large cap companies report their results in the weeks to follow, the direction of corporate earnings will emerge more clearly. It is likely to be positive.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DOW AGAINST DOUBLE DIP


The Dow Jones industrial average crossed the 10,000 mark on Wednesday last week for the first time since October 2008—at that time, in contrast to this time around, it was on its way down from a peak of over 14,000. Now, the Dow has gained over 50% of its value since a terrible low in March 2009—that was when the decline after the Lehman crash bottomed out. Stock markets are always characterised by animal spirits; so, symbolic numbers mean a lot. Getting back to 10,000 after a year when the economy went through its worst cycle since the Great Depression will be a major confidence-booster to investors in the US and indeed investors in other parts of the world. It is important, also, to remember that recovery of stock markets in the US means a lot for the overall economy than, say, for a country like India. The US markets are a lot deeper than ours and many more people directly or indirectly have a stake in the stock market. In India, only a small minority has a stake.

 

Imagine how pensioners, who finally see their 401(k) retirement packages come back to life, feel. This will certainly spur them to consume more, a stimulus which is much needed. Similarly, other savers who directly or indirectly invested in the markets will have just witnessed a return of some of the wealth they lost in the last one year. This wealth effect is likely to be as significant in the upturn as it was during the downturn. Remember also that stock markets always tend to recover faster than the real economy does. In this, they are an indicator of imminent recovery of the real economy in the US. And even if the figures on unemployment don't look so cheery for the moment, they are likely to begin to recover at some point in the remainder of this financial year. That's good news for the US and good news for the rest of the world that still depends on the US as the leading economic engine. If there is indeed a solid recovery by the end of the financial year, we will have witnessed a turnaround that was expected to take much longer when the crisis broke out in September 2008. This definitely proves the importance of the coordinated fiscal and monetary stimuli taken across the world. In the US, one can expect cheap money to be around for a while yet in combination with a sustained stimulus. There is too much at stake to risk a double dip now.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

GOOGLING TO REGULATE FINANCE FIRMS

JAYANTH R VARMA

 

After its dismal failure to detect the Madoff fraud despite plenty of warnings, the US SEC conducted a review by its own Inspector General of what went wrong. This report published in August was uninteresting as it explained it all away as incompetence and inexperience of the staff concerned.

 

This explanation was not completely convincing given the detailed information that people like Markopolos provided to the SEC over several years. In any case, there is little point in a 450 page report that reaches a conclusion that could be arrived at simply by applying Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity."

 

At the end of September, however, the Inspector General released two more reports (totalling 130 pages) indicating that incompetence might not be the whole story. A survey carried out by the Inspector General found that 24 percent of the SEC enforcement staff felt that cases were improperly influenced or directed by management and 13% stated that they had observed lack of impartiality in performance of official duties.

 

In this article, however, I will focus on the Inspector General's recommendations (which the SEC has already accepted) for improving the enforcement and inspections processes at the SEC. These recommendations represent very significant changes in the mindset of how to run these divisions not only at the SEC but at other regulators worldwide.

 

The report recommends that 50% of the staff and management associated with examination activities should have qualifications like the Certified Fraud Examiner and Certified in Financial Forensics. This recommendation is a sanitised version of what Markopolos recommended when he testified to the US Congress in February about the SEC failure to uncover Madoff despite his detailed complaints.

 

Markoplos argued that talented CPAs, CFAs, CFPs, CFEs, CIAs, CAIAs, MBAs, finance PhDs and others with finance backgrounds need to be recruited to replace current SEC staffers. He also claimed that SEC staffers with credentials like CPA and CFA are not allowed to have their designations printed on their business cards presumably because if the SEC allowed its few credentialled staff to do so, it would expose the overall lack of talent within the SEC.

 

The Inspector General recommends that all examiners should have access to relevant industry publications and third-party database subscriptions sufficient to develop examination leads and stay current with industry trends. It also talks about establishing a system for searching and screening news articles and information from relevant industry sources for potential securities law violations.

 

This recommendation responds at least partially to Markopolos's testimony that most of the time all the SEC uses is Google and Wikipedia because both are free and the SEC regional offices do not have access to industry publications and academic journals.

 

The SEC estimates that it would cost $300,000-$400,000 annually to provide data access in one room in each office; providing access to each examiner will cost a lot more. It also estimates that it would cost $3-4 million to implement the system for searching news reports and other media, but this appears to be a one time cost rather than an annual cost.

 

The Inspector General wants examiners to have direct access to the databases of the exchanges, depositories, clearing corporations and various self-regulatory organisations rather than having to get data from these agencies as and when required. This is a huge change of mindset because it blurs the distinction between the self-regulatory organisations as first line regulators and the SEC as the apex regulator. It moves the SEC into the regulatory frontline.

 

In line with this change, the SEC proposes to train its examiners in the mechanics of securities settlement (both in the US and in major foreign markets), in the trading databases maintained by the various exchanges as well as in the methods to access the expertise of foreign regulators, exchanges, and clearing/settlement agencies.

 

Turning to investigation, the Inspector General wants all investigation teams to have at least one individual on the team with specific and sufficient knowledge of the subject matter (like Ponzi schemes or options trading) as well as access to at least one additional individual who also has such expertise or knowledge.

 

During the last quarter century, many regulators elsewhere in the world have looked upon the SEC as the gold standard in securities regulation enforcement and have consciously or unconsciously fashioned themselves on the SEC.

 

The lesson from Madoff is that the role model should not be the SEC of recent decades but the SEC of the 1930s and 1940s under chairmen like Douglas who believed that the management of the SEC was a higher form of business management. Or perhaps, the role model should be the modern New York Attorney General's Office.

 

For regulators who are far behind even the current SEC in terms of talent and resources, the SEC experience should be a wake-up call to put their houses in order.

 

The author is a professor of finance at IIM Ahmedabad

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WORLD FACING AN EATING DISORDER?

P RAGHAVAN

 

The World Food Day celebration on October 16 was the first after the world food crisis in 2007-08, when the idea gained ground that growing food consumption in China and India was the single biggest reason for the mess. In India, as elsewhere across the globe, the focus is still on prices rather than production, as tackling supply bottlenecks requires a much larger time span.

 

But confronting price instability is also equally important as it threatens global food security by undermining the legitimacy of global markets as a secure source of food supply, which can add to the credibility of cynics who continue to predict worst-case scenarios pointing to the large number of food riots across the globe.

 

No doubt, the challenges are daunting, given the formidable targets that are to be achieved if the world is to move closer to greater food security even as it is saddled with feeding an additional 2.3 billion, pushing up global population to 8.8 billion in 2050.

 

Most recent estimates made by multilateral agencies indicate that this will mean that world cereal production should increase from around 2 billion to 3 billion tonnes by 2050 and that of meat from 250 million to 460 million tonnes during the period. Most of this growing demand would come from developing countries. While cereal requirements of developed countries would have to be ramped up 35% to 1.2 billion tonnes, that of developing countries need to surge by 61% to 1.8 billion tonnes. In the case of meat, the production would have to move up by 23% to 1.3 million tonnes, while that of developing countries would have to increase by 132% to 3.3 billion tonnes.

 

This would require voluminous resources that will be difficult to cobble up easily, given the constraints not only of land and water but also of available technology. Consider land, the basic input. Currently, only 1.6 billion hectares or 12% of the total land surface of 13.4 billion hectares is used for crop production. The expert view is that the arable land will expand only by 120 million hectares, with most of the increase happening in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. But its impact will be partially neutralised by the 50 million hectares decline in cropland in developed countries.

 

Estimates made by FAO show that increased production requirements in the developing countries would have to come from rising yields, especially in the case of rice and wheat. While wheat yields must rise 72% in the developing countries, those of rice should go up by 123% as the size of land used for rice production is even expected to decline.

 

Overall estimates for all major crops indicate that 80% of the increase in production would have to come from more intensive agriculture in the form of higher yields (71%) and cropping intensities (8%). The scenario is only slightly different in the case of South Asia, where India is the major player, as 87% of the increase would have to come from yield improvement and 8% from higher cropping intensities. The contribution of arable land expansion can only be just 5%.

 

So, both China and India, the two emerging economies with the largest population, would have to ramp up food production much faster. But both nations have little more than 170 million hectares of arable land and only a limited scope for extending cultivation. In China, land availability is even expected to decline.

 

India is already high up in the global cereal production ranking—taking the lead in rice production, next to China in the case of wheat and just below China and Brazil in the case of maize. Studies show that though the growth of yields have been decelerating, the potential is still vast as actual yields in most cereal growing regions of India are still far below the agro ecologically attainable yields.

 

Another major factor that boosts confidence is that both India and China—net importers till the turn of the century—have now emerged as net exporters, annually supplying 4-6 million tonnes in the last four years up to 2008. But a recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute estimates that China's net cereal imports would exceed 50 million tonnes in both 2025 and 2050. India will remain a net cereal exporter till 2025 and then become a net importer by 2050.

 

A major advantage that would be in India's favour in meeting its cereal requirement needs is its low per capita consumption of meat, which now stands at around 5 kg. Moreover, higher incomes and population in India are unlikely to boost meat requirements on the same scale as China because of a larger share of vegetarians, which now stands at a high 40%. Growing meat exports from India are a pointer to the trend.

 

Efforts at improving yields are in the right direction. Now, both countries have to encourage a larger role for private sector investments to improve the pace of commercial applications of new technologies.

 

p.raghavan@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE LINK BETWEEN INFORMAL LABOUR MARKET AND DEFICITS

JAYA JUMRANI

 

According to Nasscom, India (also known as the world's back office) employs only a fraction of its population in the IT and outsourcing industry—only 2 million of its more than 500 million workers. So, which sector employs the majority of India's population? The just released joint study of ILO and WTO indicates that a whooping 93% of India's workforce is employed in the informal sector—the largest percentage of working population for any country in private unregistered enterprises. The informal economy has won the numbers game in India on the basis of 2004 data. Women workers account for about one-third of the total informal workers in India and the informal sector constitutes about 60% of the net domestic product. The levels of informality vary substantially across countries, ranging from as low as 30% in some Latin American countries to more than 80% in certain sub-Saharan and South Asian countries. The informal economy is highly segmented by location of work, sector of employment and, across all these segments by social group and gender. But the majority of the informal workers share one thing in common i.e. the lack of formal recognition and protection, which makes them susceptible to poverty traps, besides hampering the economy's dynamic efficiency. The study estimates that the countries analysed will lose up to 2 percentage points of average economic growth due to their informal labour markets structure. The global recession has negatively affected workers everywhere. However, little attention has been paid to the informal economy. There is a misconception among people that the informal economy serves as a cushion for formal workers during periods of economic transition. However, in practice there is no cushion to fall back on and the workers have no option but to keep operating. To both reduce poverty and increase growth, an innovative policy response for the informal economy is the need. Spending programmes like NREG are one way out. But the government should reform labour laws at the earliest. It will help control the yawning fiscal deficit.

 

jaya.jumrani@expressindia.com

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

HOW TO END THIS DISCORDANCE

 

The tone, although not the substance, of India-China relations has recently been through a problematical phase, with misperceptions and motivated media campaigns creating the impression of some kind of crisis. That this is not so has been made clear by the governments of both countries; in their own ways, they have made the point that the positive overall trend of the "China-India Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity" remains unaffected. What then is the problem? The answer needs to be explored in historical perspective, against the background of the post-1962 bilateral relationship. The reality of the past two decades is that the parallel rise of the two giant neighbours, economically and politically, on the world stage and the various specific bilateral steps taken have helped mature, diversify, and deepen the relationship. China is India's largest trading partner, high-level political visits and exchanges have now become the norm, people-to-people ties have grown, and common interests and positions have been identified on key international issues — notably trade, climate change, and the need to counter protectionism. But above all, the long and complicated boundary between India and China has remained peaceful and tranquil, free from any destabilising incidents.

 

It is worth recalling that the breakthrough that made all this possible was a high-level political accord forged with helmsman Deng Xiaoping by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi during his December 1988 visit to China. The historic accord, which was elaborated and firmed up in bilateral agreements and vision documents concluded in 1993, 1996, 2003, 2005, and 2008, and in a number of practical arrangements developed over the two decades, was this. While the two sides would do their best to arrive at a fair, reasonable, and mutually acceptable settlement of the boundary dispute, they would strictly maintain "peace and tranquillity" along the Line of Actual Control (LoAC) pending a settlement. Meanwhile, the differences would not be allowed to obstruct the all-round development of bilateral relations. Not surprisingly given the political sensitivities of both sides, the Special Representative talks on the boundary question have made only slow progress. The real problem is not the slow pace but the periodic public reiteration of maximal territorial claims, which guarantee tit-for-tat and have unintended negative effects for the bilateral relationship by stoking nationalistic sentiment in both countries. This practice goes against the spirit of Article VII of the April 2005 Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People's Republic of China on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question. That Article stipulates that "in reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas." Thus China needs to avoid airing public protests over the happenings, including prime ministerial visits, in the State of Arunachal Pradesh just as India needs to do more to restrain the anti-China political activities of the so-called 'Tibetan-government-in-exile' on Indian soil. The best way to do this is to forge a high-level political agreement — on the model of the Deng-Rajiv accord of December 1988 — that ensures that a sense of balance, sobriety, and tranquillity are maintained in the public posturing on boundary claims in keeping with the maturation and potential of the bilateral relationship. This Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao should certainly do when they meet on the sidelines of the October 23 Asean Summit in Thailand.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

DISQUIETING FALLOUT

 

Under the shadow of the global crisis, the latest New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP) bidding round has evoked a disappointing response, despite the official claim that the performance compares favourably with the experience of other countries. Only 36 of the 70 blocks on offer received bids. The response was slightly better for the auction for Coal Bed Methane (CBM IV) round. The numbers however tell only part of the story. The bidding was partly salvaged by the public sector oil giant Oil and Natural Gas Commission, which bagged 17 bids, was the star of the show. The ONGC might have felt obliged to underwrite a major part of NELP-VIII but in the absence of serious competition it could have also made commercial sense to pick up acreages at very attractive prices.

 

India's biggest private sector petroleum company, Reliance Industries (RIL) was conspicuously absent in the oil and gas bids. The company has just commenced production of natural gas from a block in the KG basin it was awarded earlier this decade. RIL's gas venture and the successful exploitation of an on-land oil field in Rajasthan are the two success stories of the exploration policies. Yet, far from being a showpiece, the gas sector has in the recent period shown up the official policy in a bad light. The major lacunae in the ways NELP is interpreted have been exposed. As it is, large multinationals such as Shell, Exxon Mobil, and Chevron have kept away from the bidding. Recent developments, including the reinforced perceptions of flawed governance in the sector, will dampen the interest of international oil companies further.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

THE CULTURES OF DEPRESSION

THE FAILURE TO RECOGNISE THE HETEROGENEITY OF DEPRESSION, THE DISCOUNTING OF CONTEXT, PERSONALITY, STRESS AND COPING AND THE EASE OF PRESCRIBING ANTIDEPRESSANTS MAKE ITS MANAGEMENT LESS THAN OPTIMAL.

K.S. JACOB

 

Diverse models of depression have been proposed and debated. Much of the confusion that exists in this area is because of disputes about the nature of mental illness. The confusion is compounded by the fact that core depressive symptoms, such as sadness and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, are also found in medical diseases, as reactions to stress and as part of normal mood.

 

Medical model: The medical model considers psychiatric disorders as diseases, supposes brain pathology, documents signs and symptoms and recommends treatments. The disease halo reserved for the more severe forms of depression is also conferred on people with depressive symptoms secondary to stress and poor coping skills. The focus for diagnosis of depression centres on symptom counts without assessment of context, stress and coping skills. The provision of support by health professionals mandates the need for medical models, labels and treatments to justify their input. Insurance reimbursement also necessitates the use of disease labels. Consequently, psychiatric culture now tends to view all depression and distress through the disease/medical lens.

 

Perceptions in primary care: Patients visit general practitioners (GPs) when they are disturbed or distressed, when they are in pain or are worried about the implication of their symptoms. Bereavement, marital discord, inability to cope at work and financial problems also lead people to seek help from their doctors. In this context, the major challenge is to distinguish between distress and depression. Depression in patients encountered by GPs is often viewed as a result of personal and social stress, lifestyle choices or a product of habitual maladaptive patterns of behaviour. Consequently, GPs often subscribe to psychological and social models of depression.

 

Population perspectives: Social adversity is often seen as a cause of depression by the general population. Under such circumstances, people are reluctant to consult their GPs, counseling is the preferred treatment and antidepressants are viewed with suspicion by patients as they are considered addictive. Religious models are also popular. The general population seems to simultaneously hold multiple (and often contradictory) models of illness. They seek diverse treatments from assorted centres offering healing. The protracted course of depression secondary to chronic stress, lifestyle and poor coping results in people shopping for varied solutions.

 

Pharmaceutical approach: The pharmaceutical industry has espoused the cause of the medical model for depression. It has aided and abetted the medicalisation of personal and social distress to its advantage. Sponsoring educational activities and professional psychiatric and user meetings and conferences have helped shape medical and patient opinions. While pharmaceutical companies play a major role in the development and testing of new treatments firmly rooted in the medical model, in actual practice theirs is a culture driven by profit rather than by science.

 

Competing cultures: The medical model is defended by the powerful biological psychiatry movement within the specialty of psychiatry and by the pharmaceutical industry. But the other models and cultures of depression emphasising psychological and social issues are equally valid in the contexts of primary care and the community, but lack the academic clout and financial resources to present their points of view. The different 'cultures of depression' and the pressures from these divergent perspectives need to be acknowledged.

 

The issues which need to be re-examined include: (i) the heterogeneity of the concept of depression, (ii) the (in)adequacy of a single label of depression, relying solely on symptoms counts, to describe the diverse human context of distress, (iii) the need for clinical formulations which clearly state the context, personality factors, presence or absence of acute and chronic stress and extent of coping, (iv) the fact that antidepressant medication is not the solution to mild and moderate depression and should be reserved for severe forms of the condition, (v) re-emphasising the need to manage stress and alter coping strategies, using psychological treatment for people with such presentations, (vi) de-emphasising medicalisation of personal and social distress and, (vii) focusing on other underlying causes of human misery including poverty, unmet needs and lack of rights.

 

Clinical presentations: The syndrome of depression includes depressed mood, loss of pleasure in almost all activities, poor concentration, fatigue, medically unexplained symptoms, insomnia, guilt and suicidal ideation. Three categories of depression can be identified from a clinical and treatment point of view. The first, called adjustment disorder, is a normal reaction to acute and severe stress in people with a past record of good coping. The magnitude of the stress would temporarily destabilise many people with good coping strategies. By definition, the condition is time-limited and people usually settle back to normal lives within a few weeks or months. There is an absence of a family history of depression or suicide. The self-limiting nature of the condition means that support is all that is usually required and results in good outcome.

 

The second type of depression is characterised by its chronic nature (called dysthymia). Stressors, usually mild and multiple, precipitate, exacerbate and maintain the symptoms. The onset of such depression is usually in early adult life and such people usually have a long history of depressive symptoms. Their moods fluctuate and are usually responsive to changes in the environment. They also have a history of maladjustment and poor coping in response to past stress. The mainstay of treatment is psychological interventions which focus on improved coping, changes in personality, attitude, philosophy and life style.

 

The third category is called melancholia. In addition to the basic syndrome of depression, symptoms of melancholia include a pervasive depressed mood with minimal response to environmental change, global insomnia, early morning awakening with low mood worse in the mornings, significant loss of weight and restlessness, agitation or slowed movements. Melancholia usually occurs later in life and there may be a family history of similar depression or suicide. Such presentations may be also part of a bipolar disorder (manic depression), which has extreme mood swings, or may be due to medical, neurological and endocrine disease. The treatment of choice is antidepressant medication, management of the underlying medical causes and hospitalization.

 

Management: Clinicians and psychiatrists managing patients with depression should be able to hold multiple models of depression. They should be able to appreciate the diverse cultures of depression and choose appropriate treatment strategies. Clinically, there is a need to look beyond symptoms and explore personality, situational difficulties and coping strategies in order to comprehensively evaluate biological vulnerability, personality factors and stress. The treatment package for such presentations should include psychological support, general stress reduction strategies (for example, yoga, meditation, physical exercise, leisure, hobbies) and problem-solving techniques (for example, cognitive therapy) for subjects presenting with 'depression'. Antidepressant medication should be reserved for the severe forms of depression with hospitalisation and electroconvulsive therapy for those with high risk of harm to themselves and to others. People can present with a mixture of clinical presentations requiring a combination of approaches. A psychosocial formulation of the clinical presentation, background and context will put issues in perspective.

 

The progressive medicalisation of distress has lowered thresholds for the tolerance of mild symptoms and for seeking medical attention for such complaints. Patients visit physicians when they are disturbed or distressed. Grief at loss, frustration at failure, the apathy of disillusionment, the demoralisation of long suffering and the cynical outlook of pessimism usually resolve spontaneously without specific psychiatric intervention. Distress and emotions should not be mistaken for pathology; fear and apprehension should not be labeled as anxiety, or sadness as depression.

 

The failure of individual models and cultures to explain all aspects of depression seen in diverse settings has led to the development and use of multiple models, which argue for the need to accept the many perceptions as partial truths. These models should be viewed as complementary rather than competitive, with some being more valid in a specific context than others. Patients present to physicians with their illnesses while doctors diagnose and manage disease concepts. The failure to bridge the gap between disease and illness and healing and cure is a major cause for the contemporary confusion in the diagnosis and management of depression. There is a need for more pragmatic approaches which move beyond the specific models of depression and narrow 'cultural' perspectives.

 

(K.S. Jacob is Professor of Psychiatry at the Christian Medical College, Vellore.)

 

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THE HINDU

OP-ED  

SOCIAL AND POLITICAL DIVIDENDS FROM NREGA

IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS, WHAT MAKES ANY NREGA SOCIAL AUDIT WORTH ALL THE PAIN AND EFFORT IS THE AWARENESS IT CREATES AMONG POOR BENEFICIARIES.

VIDYA SUBRAHMANIAM

 

It is a measure of the hard labour that awaits NREGA activists in other States that a social audit conducted under blazing arc lights, and with so much official support, such as the one in Bhilwara in Rajasthan, could run into so many roadblocks. Virtually all of the Rajasthan government ( in September Rajasthan became the second government after Andhra Pradesh to set up a Directorate of Social Audit) was at the disposal of the Bhilwara audit team which also had the full backing of C.P. Joshi, Union Minister for Rural Development, elected to Parliament from Bhilwara.

 

Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan activists Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey said they chose Bhilwara for the audit exercise because they wanted to see if the Minister could face up to an NREGA audit in his constituency; after all, there was no knowing what the audit would reveal. Yet a question arises: Would Mr. Joshi have shown interest in the Bhilwara audit had he not been its MP? Secondly, what happens to NREGA work in States that lack men and women of the calibre and commitment of Ms Roy, Mr. Dey and other MKSS activists? Can a programme's success be made dependent on a few individuals? What happens when the government shows no interest which is the case in most States?

 

Mr. Dey argued that the MKSS social audit had visibly and strongly demonstrated the positive effects of civil society-government collaboration. The unity of purpose shown in Bhilwara by social auditors, government, media and the office of the Comptroller and Auditor-General was replicable in other States. Indeed, if Minister Joshi took the trouble to watch over the audit in his constituency, it only showed that there was huge political capital to be made from pushing NREGA.

 

Through the audit the Bhilwara team was inundated by calls from people impressed by its work in the district. And a day after the gargantuan exercise wound up, Congress MP from Alwar, Jitendra Singh, turned up in Bhilwara asking that the MKSS organise an NREGA audit in his constituency.

 

The Rajasthan experiment is itself based on the Andhra Pradesh government's success with conducting NREGA audits. The A.P. government did this off its own bat, at the urging of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, whereas in Rajasthan the push came from civil society. The A.P. government was the first to institutionalise social audit by means of a Social Audit Directorate. Since then the state government has gone a further step with a committed budget for social auditing and provisions to host audit results on its NREGA website.

 

At a meeting the Bhilwara audit team had with Rajasthan government officials and other experts, Sowmya Kidambi, an MKSS activist deputed to work with the A.P. government, strongly advocated bringing audit results into the public domain via computerisation, arguing that this had greatly increased transparency in Andhra Pradesh.

 

In the final analysis, what makes any NREGA social audit worth all the pain and effort is the awareness it creates among poor beneficiaries, who slowly but surely learn to hold the programme's managers to account. A quick survey by The Hindu in a cross section of Bhilwara's villages showed that the village people had fully internalised their rights and entitlements. But because of the patriarchal, dominating nature of the panchayat set-up, most of them lacked the courage to speak up. This situation would gradually change if accountability was built into the system.

 

Accountability could also impact social evils like untouchability, which the audit team found was widely prevalent in NREGA sites. In many panchayats, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe NREGA beneficiaries were given separate utensils and prevented from accessing common resources.

 

The social and economic spin-offs from even partial implementation of NREGA were only too evident in Bhilwara. NREGA beneficiaries were unanimous that the programme had improved their lives. For years the Bhil tribal community in Malanas in Gram Panchyat Jindras had battled hunger and poverty, travelling out of the State in search of work. Today, most Bhil wives are employed under NREGA, bringing stability and assured incomes to families that were until recently desperately poor. NREGA also made valuable contributions in times of drought which was the case in Rajasthan this year. Though poor, few families in Bhilwara seemed on the brink of starvation. Besides, as many villagers pointed out, the minimum wage of Rs. 100 a day under the NREGA had increased wage levels across the private sector, benefiting both families that could not avail NREGA work and families that had completed the NREGA quota of 100 work days per family. As MKSS activist Shanker Singh remarked: "NREGA has greatly increased the bargaining power of poor people. They are no longer willing to work cheap."

 

POVERTY REDUCTION POTENTIAL

One has only to look at the funds the NREGA has placed in the hands of local administrators to understand its poverty reduction potential . Bhilwara alone drew Rs. 330 crore from the NREGA budget in 2009-2010. As MKSS activists stress, "funds are available for the asking now. Assuming the programme is properly utilised, NREGA can change the complexion of poor India."

 

Yet the Bhilwara social audit also revealed that funds can easily get into the wrong hands. Indeed, even as the MKSS team deservedly takes credit for the massive Bhilwara social audit, it must know that it can hardly rest on its laurels. On the concluding day of the audit, a Rajasthan Minister suggested that while sarpanchs caught with their hands in the till must be made to refund the misappropriated funds, they ought not to be punished. This is exactly what the sarpanchs demanded at the various jan sunwais (public hearings). If this point were conceded, the social audit would lose its purpose, irreversibly damaging NREGA. Other dangers include threatened official amendments to a job programme hailed far and wide as progressive and empowering.

 

Even with all these ifs and buts, the Bhilwara exercise is worth emulating by other States. For as the audit and the responses to it showed, there is political dividend to be had from investing in NREGA. If politicians can use NREGA to win elections that will surely be the job guarantee programme's best guarantee for survival.

 

Which politician would not like that?

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS ANALYSIS

U.S. AND THE SHADOW OF NEW EAST ASIA VISIONS

A POSER IS WHETHER THE U.S. WILL FEEL TEMPTED TO PLAY THE INDIA CARD AGAINST CHINA, AS MR. HATOYAMA'S JAPAN GRAVITATES TOWARDS BEIJING.

P. S. SURYANARAYANA

 

The East Asia Summit (EAS), a slowly-stabilising geopolitical forum that includes India and China as also Japan, is running behind schedule by a year. The fourth annual meeting of the EAS leaders, which Thailand is set to host later this month, should have taken place last year itself. Thailand's internal political crisis explains the delay; and vivid still are the images of Thai protesters disrupting the planned summit last April.

 

It may be politically correct to avoid a value judgment now as to whether or not the delay has been a blessing in disguise for the 16-state EAS forum. However, two new political "visions" of East Asia as a potential community, overlapping and even competing in scope, are now in focus. The prospective summit will take place in the shadow of these "visions."

 

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who assumed office after the EAS met in Singapore in 2007, has proposed an Asia Pacific Community. More recently, the new Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, has envisioned an East Asia Community. A logical question is whether the United States, now a self-proclaimed resident power in East Asia, will figure in the nuclei of these communities.

 

The question is acquiring a politically-compelling tone, too. U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to attend a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Singapore later this year. Also likely then is a summit between the U.S. and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The 10-nation ASEAN prides itself on being the "driving force" behind the EAS and a host of other crisscrossing East Asian groups. This aspect and Mr. Obama's new status as a Nobel Peace Prize winner are seen to raise the stakes of the prospective Singapore summitry.

 

The sheer prospect of such concentrated summitry has now stoked interest in how the patented visions of Mr. Rudd and Mr. Hatoyama will sparkle. It will be a political anticlimax if these leaders shy away from shining the spotlight on their visions at the EAS meeting in Thailand later this month. Now, whether Mr. Rudd and Mr. Hatoyama win the minds of the other EAS leaders or not, the U.S. already finds itself in the shadow of these visions.

 

Given this new reality, what are the defining features of these two vision-proposals? The answer is not easy to come by, if only because Mr. Hatoyama still chooses to keep the cards close to his chest. He has not so far defined his idea of an East Asia Community in terms of either geography or geopolitics. Three questions are in order.

 

Will this Community be the same as the existing ASEAN+3 framework with an institutionalised structure and functions? The ASEAN+3 entity has in its fold all the 10 Southeast Asian countries plus China, Japan, and South Korea. These three are Northeast Asian powers that have long-standing ties with the ASEAN countries.

 

The second poser is whether Mr. Hatoyama's Community will be the same as the EAS forum with a prescriptive political and strategic agenda as well. At present, the EAS is a leaders-driven forum that can discuss any issue of cooperation or conflict among the 16 participant-countries. The ASEAN+3 countries share the EAS seats with India, Australia, and New Zealand as full participant-countries. So far, the EAS forum, too, has by and large limited itself to economic and social issues and not the pan-regional or global political challenges. The last question is whether the East Asia Community will give a pride of place to the United States, still a proactive player in the region?

 

Japan remains a key ally of the U.S. But Mr. Hatoyama has made no secret of his desire to steer Tokyo towards a new equation of equality with Washington. Such a political preference, not a firm policy as of now, certainly applies to the Japan-U.S. bilateral relationship. As for his idea of an East Asia Community, Mr. Hatoyama has emphasised that he has "no intention to exclude the United States." Japanese spokesman Kazuo Kodama has told this correspondent that Mr. Hatoyama has also outlined a preference for "open regionalism."

 

Mr. Rudd has not kept anyone guessing about the place of the U.S. in his vision of a new Asia Pacific Community. There is of course no specificity about whether or not the U.S. will be to this Community what the Sun is to the Solar System. Besides China and Japan, India too finds a prominent mention in Mr. Rudd's East Asian perspective. In his presentation, which the ASEAN has endorsed, the Community will confront all regional challenges including those with a global reach. The subjects, too, would encompass the entire spectrum, including tricky political issues.

 

However viewed, the equations among the U.S, China, Japan, and India will be critical to the formation and functioning of a Community in East Asia. A related poser is whether the U.S. will feel tempted to play the India card against China, as Mr. Hatoyama's Japan gravitates towards Beijing. Huang Jing, Singapore-based specialist on China-U.S. ties, has told this journalist as follows on this critical issue: "The new Japanese government has made it very clear that it will want to return to Asia — mainly because they want more independence from the United States. They want a better relationship with China [too]. … Japanese Constitution is a marriage contract between Japan and the United States. If you really want to rewrite this marriage contract, the entire marriage has to be reconsidered. … If this new administration in Japan just wants a functional [level] equal relationship with United States, that's fine!"

 

On China as a factor in the Japan-U.S. equation, Mr. Huang said: "When they first met in New York, Mr. Hatoyama recommended to [Chinese President] Hu Jintao the East Asian Community [idea]. Mr. Hu Jintao's response was very well-guarded. The reason is very simple. Whenever Japan makes a fundamental move in foreign policy, it always involves the United States of America. Although Japan is very important on China's foreign policy agenda, the number one importance still goes to the United States. … I do not believe that China will try to develop any kind of relationship with Japan at the expense of the China-U.S. relations."

 

On the India-China-U.S. angle, Mr. Huang said: "Realistically, there are three factors [why] China will not worry about India's relationship with United States or Japan. One, both China and India have followed independent diplomacy. Second, there is a fundamental conflict of interests between India and United States [on the nuclear issue] and [also] the developed world, in terms of trade, climate change, energy, industrialisation, you name it. So, unless those issues have been solved, it is very difficult for India to develop a substantial relationship with any developed country. … And, the third factor is that China and India see more and more common interests on regional stability and security [issues], especially after the Xinjiang riots. … So, I am really optimistic [that] India and China will [move to] convergence rather than divergence."

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS ANALYSIS   

LIBERTY IN THE DECADE OF EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION

AFUA HIRSCH

 

With spectacular irony, fundamental rights and freedoms around the world were violated over the decade almost as rapidly as new mechanisms to protect them were being assembled. In the U.K., less than a year after New Labour's Human Rights Act promised to protect civil liberties in 2000, new counterterrorism laws began eroding them. Indefinite detention without trial, control orders, asset-freezing and secret court hearings became part of a new legal order — a 2004 House of Lords judgment declared, "the real threat to the life of the nation... comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these."

 

Military invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan made the problem global, with questions about the Iraq war's legality soon overshadowed. Photos of Lynndie England and other U.S. military personnel torturing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2004 took public opinion to a new low; British forces, too, became embroiled in allegations of mistreatment. Osama bin Laden remained elusive, but hundreds of other terrorist suspects did not. As "extraordinary rendition" entered the popular vocabulary, the U.S. stood accused of kidnapping men as young as 15 and rendering them to countries where interrogation techniques ranged from extracting fingernails to electrocution.

 

The U.S. developed its own definition of torture and began transporting captives to ghost prisons and a little-known military base in Cuba. Guantanamo Bay came to symbolise the injustice of the Bush era as hundreds were detained without prisoner-of-war or civilian protection. Undoing the ensuing damage proved harder than many imagined — Obama's pledge to restore the rule of law and close Guantanamo was frustrated by the question of what to do with its inmates. In Britain, the return of Binyam Mohamed this year brought new insight into conditions at the camp and evidence of British complicity in torture.

 

Elections in Iraq in 2005 and Afghanistan in 2009 revealed that steps towards democracy would be taken incrementally, as elsewhere the struggle for democracy pursued a bloody path. The sight of crimson-clad monks bleeding on the streets among thousands of pro-democracy protesters in Burma's "saffron revolution" in 2007 shocked the world. In Africa, enduring areas of conflict and totalitarian rule obscured progress elsewhere. Ghana, Mozambique and Rwanda continued to achieve peaceful transitions of power and growth, while the prospect of oil across West Africa brought cautious hope.

 

In 2006, the arrest of former Liberian president Charles Taylor offered unprecedented accountability, and his ongoing trial for alleged war crimes was followed by the first attempt to bring to trial an incumbent head of state, as the international criminal court issued a warrant for Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir.

 

Europe remained home to numerous violations of international human rights, not least in freedom of expression, with Russia and Turkey accused of an astonishing number of repressive acts. The European Court of Human Rights regressed in its attitude towards balancing the rights of free speech and privacy, while in the U.K. newspapers argued they were being crippled by exponential libel costs and celebrities invoking privacy rights. Privacy was less precious for non-celebrities as the growth in DNA databases continued apace, with the U.K. retaining DNA from more people than any other country — other states looked on as British plans suffered a setback in 2008 when a legal challenge ruled that this violated fundamental rights. Nor did other aspects of Britain's agenda escape the spotlight, as the uniquely British obsessions with CCTV and personal liberty seemed increasingly incompatible.

 

The decade ends as it began, with new aspirations to safeguard people and values conflicting with failures in implementing them. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

 

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THE HINDU

ONLINE & OFF LINE

WHEN COURT FOILED TRADE BID TO MONOPOLISE A WORD

 

A reader's query about the word "homemaker," which is increasingly used in preference to "housewife", prompted me to undertake a quick study. It was worthwhile and enlightening. The reader, Saurabh Sharma, basically asks, "What is the origin of the word and why did it emerge? " He does not conceal his own preference for the word as a replacement for "housewife," which he describes as "old-fashioned."

 

The meanings given for "homemaker" by British English dictionaries such as Oxford and Cambridge until recently were generally based on the word's usage in Britain and other European countries. The Chambers' Twentieth Century Dictionary in its 1901 edition, in fact, showed "homemaker" only as an equivalent of "housewife." The Chambers 21st Century Dictionary in its 1999 edition gives the meaning as "someone whose main activity is managing the household, especially someone who makes the home more pleasant." The absence of a gender reference is notable. The 2002 edition of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary gives the meaning of "home maker" (two words) as "a person, esp. a housewife, who creates a (pleasant) home." The Concise Oxford Dictionary simply says that the word means "a person who manages a home." There is no reference to either the gender or the quality of service ("pleasant home").

 

HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT GENDER-NEUTRAL

It turns out that "homemaker" is a word of North American origin. It came into usage between 1885 and 1890, according to some American dictionaries. The word needs to be seen in the context of what "housewife" meant. Dictionary.com gives the meaning of "housewife" (noun) as "a married woman who manages her own household esp. as her principal occupation" (Origin 1175-1225). "Homemaker" means "1. a person who manages the household of his or her own family, esp. as a principal occupation" and 2. a person employed to manage a household and do household chores for others as for the sick or elderly." The origin of the word is traced to 1885-1890. The meaning is gender-neutral.

 

A homemaker is, therefore, a person whose prime occupation is to care of his or her family and/or home. The word of North American origin entered mainstream English but the word is not in common usage in countries other than the United States and Canada. The word emerged to denote those, particularly women, who had to leave their paid jobs and take care of their families. In Britain, the existing word "housewife" served the purpose. Americans preferred to use "homemaker," which they had coined, because they thought that it was more inclusive than "housewife." It denoted those who left their jobs to take up work at home — rather than gender or marital status, as in the case of "housewife," which many saw as offensive.

 

Why in the first place they were made to give up paid employment has to be seen in the context of the impact of the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, which changed the face of Britain and subsequently other parts of the world, including the United States. The first phase of the Industrial Revolution saw the migration of a substantial number of people, men and women, from villages to towns, to work in factories and textile mills that emerged thanks to the scientific inventions of the period. The second phase of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, spurred on not only by more inventions but also by the capital that had accumulated in the hands of industrialists, had its impact on social, economic, and political conditions, though in a different way. The factories found women workers "misfits incapable of handling huge machines and tools," and dismissed them. It caused social unrest far and wide. The period also saw the emergence of a strong women's movement in the United States.

 

'SUBSTANTIAL INFRINGEMENT UPON COMMON SPEECH'

In a significant judgment disposing of an appeal in 1973, the United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, held: "[Moreover,] monopoly rights in a single common word, as opposed to combinations of different words, involve a much more substantial infringement upon common speech." The Appeals Court upheld the district court's direction to the Patent Office to cancel the registration of the service mark, "Homemakers," issued to the appellant, Homemakers Home and Health Care Services, Inc, which was earlier known as "Homemakers, Inc."

 

It also reversed the lower court judgment that granted relief to Chicago Home for the Friendless, a no-profit charitable service concern. Chicago Home used the word "homemaker" to describe its services. "Neither of these types of use," the Appeals Court held, "remotely justifies the conclusion that the term has acquired the requisite secondary meaning to support the common law right to protection of a trade name." It categorically declared: "We think neither party is entitled to a monopoly in the use of the term 'homemakers.'" Touché.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

 

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  THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

IT'S TIME TO SPEAK FRANKLY TO CHINA

 

For about two decades, the India-China story had been one of hope in spite of the lingering boundary issue. The principle on which the interaction between the Asian giants rested was not to hold the many potential areas of cooperation hostage to a single point of discord. Deng Xiaoping, the master template maker of post-Cultural Revolution China, recognised in a flash that in order to build and strengthen his country, and make it count in the world, he would have to expand cooperation and reduce differences with neighbours. The singular gains for China accruing from such an understanding are there for all to see. The broader region around China also gained in terms of stability provided by Beijing's quest for greater trade, investment and economic cooperation, which replaced Beijing's earlier national chauvinistic belligerence in its dealings with the region as a whole, particularly with India. In the context of India, it was Deng who signalled to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that the two sides could do normal business to mutual benefit instead of remaining shackled by the ghost of 1962. Is there a possibility now that Deng's present-day successors may be contemplating putting brakes on the understanding that has characterised Sino-Indian ties for the past two decades?

 

Whatever the answer to this question, India needs to prepare itself to deal with any situation that may be thrown up. Economically, politically, militarily, and in terms of its weight in the international system, it is a more capable entity than it was in 1962. China's might too has grown manifold in this period. But so have its inherent vulnerabilities, particularly on the internal political front. There is apprehension in some quarters that this may impel it in directions that detract from its status as a peaceful rising power. However, the emphasis in New Delhi's interaction with Beijing should lie in continuing to emphasise the gains to be made by both by visualising an even greater understanding between them than that which has already brought the two countries multiple benefits. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has done well to hint at his desire for a meeting in Bangkok with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of an Asean summit. Dr Singh would be well advised to reciprocate. When the two do meet, the Indian Prime Minister might be expected to speak with frankness, and cover all issues across the board, including urging the Chinese leadership to ensure that Chinese propaganda outfits such as People's Daily and Global Times stop their crude and vituperative outpourings against this country. No diplomatic effort can succeed if the Indian people are not well disposed.

 

The time may also have come for India to propose to get the boundary issue out of the way. To this end, a last preparatory meeting of experts to be followed by a bilateral summit — all in quick order, and within a timeframe of only a few months — could well turn out to be just the idea that cannot be regarded as premature.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

NOTES ON INDIAN VIETNAM

BY SHIV VISVANATHAN

 

This article is a set of observations, doubts and reflections on what is called the Maoist problem. It is an attempt to provide a wider framework so that we are not caught within the urgency and immediacy of action. One states this because facts have a framework and it is this that lets us read them in a particular way.

 

Listen to the narratives of Lalgarh, it sounds like a miniature Vietnam. A contingent of police begins a long march of 15 kms to intercept targets which are 2 kms away. The equipment is impressive — night vision rifles, AK-47s, the ubiquitous space maps backed by the equally ubiquitous informer. Statistics are rampant. Body count and number count of engagements, executions virtually serenade each other, creating the erotic machismo of war.

 

The newspaper becomes a literacy class in internal war, a geography lecture on some remote village which has not yet entered the middle-class imagination. The language combines the metaphors of dominance and the epidemic. Government dominated areas usually claim geography, the circle of control, Maoist areas appear as epidemic, as if Mao is now a virus. The third metaphor is always that of the powder keg and the volcano, the description is always that of the key village as explosive potential.

 

There is also an information war. The government creates a network of informants and the Maoists in turn frequently execute the poor tribals as "informers". Borrowing a page from quiz contests, the Maoists ask where the money from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme went.

 

Minor tyrants like panchayat leaders, ration-card shopowners get treated to the Hobbesian world of Kangaroo courts and kidnapping. It is not Marx that reappears but Thomas Hobbes as Lalgarh returns to a battle of all against all.

 

In the 60s, when the original Naxal battles took place, students in Delhi would give examples of the Dialectic. They would claim that the landlord's head was thesis, the revolutionary sickle, anti-thesis and the beheaded landlord was synthesis. One does not hear such nonsense today but the ruthlessness of violence is more stark and indifferent.

 

The language also changes. A word often used for a troublesome village is laboratory. But the connotations are not of change or transformation but the idea of a test case. The emphasis is on repetition. If Lalgarh bodes repetition, it is threatening, therefore the state must subject it to erasure.

 

The normalcy of life changes. The privacy and sanctity of the body no longer holds good and bodily intrusion, humiliation rituals become the order of the day. The rituals of frisking, checking, mutilating and torturing follow in logical readiness.

 

One index of civilisation in any society is the state of children. Both the Indian state and Maoism fail miserably. The state talks of development yet it fails in these areas by the way it has ignored children. When Naxals offer simple solutions from home science or intermediate technology, the state looks hostilely at them. Yet in turn the Maoists today seem to be conscripting teenagers into the war. Those who refuse to join are executed.

 

The point I want to make is simple. If the Vietnamisation of war and the Africanisation of society increases, Lalgarh becomes a genocidal moment of history. Mr Chidambaram is familiar with governance yet in terms of most development indices India lags behind most African countries in terms of child health, mortality and nutrition. To argue it's a case of benign neglect will not do. What one witnesses is the sheer illiteracy of governance. India is a failed state in these regions. Having failed to fight poverty it declares war against the poor.

 

Oddly, one word which has changed its valency in recent times is the village. It has become exotic and touristy. Just as cities have become science cities and Special Economic Zones, villages are being repotted as prefabricated villages for tourists and government display. As the village disappears from the imagination, sites like Singur, Lalgarh get tropicalised in the mind into regions of hell lush with insurgence, tribes and poverty.

 

We are a people who have retropicalised and reorientalised our geography. The village of the 50s and 60s has disappeared. It is this distancing which allows the middle class to use the language of security with the impunity and indifference and demand the bombing of our own people.

 

How does one read such a situation? Does one turn super patriot and demand the extermination of these Maoists? Does one treat it as a challenge to state power and justify any form of violence?

 

One is tempted to borrow two terms from the writings of the Italian philosopher, Georgio Agamben. Working from the logic from the camp and the failure of the Weimar regime, Agamben elaborated two concepts that might be useful here. The first is the idea of Bare Life (Homo Sacer) and the other is the idea of States of Exception.

Bare Life is skeletal life, a life which has no rights, which is treated as a zombie and an object of disposal. One is tempted to argue that the skeletalisation of poverty has driven "Bare Life" beyond the camps into ordinary life.

There are huge sectors of India where poverty has become pathological to such an extent that India is a failed development state. The Maoists might exploit this skeletalisation but their sympathisers have shown how simple exercises in hygiene and health might save a people.

 

Beyond skeletalisation stands the State of Exception. A democracy when threatened suspends the rule of law to save itself. In an ironic sense, it sacrifices democracy to save democracy. Security and Internal war becomes reasons to save the state. Oddly, the state of emergency survives long beyond the emergency, autonomous of its original cause. States of Exception accumulate like confetti destroying the vision of democracy.

 

The Vietnamisation of our society triggered by Bare Life and States of Exception has created a situation of deep and profound violence. It cannot be dealt through the logic of management. One needs to question the categories we constructed. In this lies the real challenge.

 

Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

SARYU CANAL PROJECT IN TROUBLED WATERS

BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

 

While trying to understand why hardly a year goes by when some part of India experiences drought even as another region is devastated by floods, one came across an amazing case study in corruption and apathy: the Saryu canal project in Uttar Pradesh. This project epitomises everything that has gone wrong with the country's efforts at irrigating agricultural land — as had been written in this column last week, statistics compiled by the Union ministry of agriculture indicate that despite spending more than Rs 130,000 crore on major and medium irrigation projects over the last 15 years, the net area irrigated by canals in India has actually come down.

 

It is common knowledge that irrigation departments in states are among the most corrupt departments in provincial governments. It is also well known that over the years, Uttar Pradesh has come to symbolise much of what has gone wrong with the country's development experience. Still, the case of the Saryu canal project is so stark that it bears some detailed examination. Here are some of the key findings of a report prepared by the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) of India that was made public earlier this year.

 

The project envisaged diverting the waters of three rivers — Saryu, Ghaghara and Rapti — that originate in Nepal. The waters of the Saryu and the Ghaghara were to be diverted to a main canal by erecting two barrages and another dam was to be built to divert the waters of the Rapti. The intention of the project was that through eight connected branch canals, the distributaries and minor rivers in the trans-Ghaghara and trans-Rapti basins would provide irrigation facilities to farmers spread across eight districts in eastern Uttar Pradesh and the Terai region near Nepal in and around Bahraich, Gonda, Sravasti, Balarampur, Siddharth Nagar, Sant Kabir Nagar, Basti and Gorakhpur.

 

When work on the Saryu canal project started in 1977-78, the original targets were to create irrigation potential of 1,404,000 hectares in a "command area" of 1,200,000 hectares (ha) over a period of eleven years, that is, by March 1989. Ten years later, in 1998-99, the targets were scaled down to 10.76 lakh ha and 9.2 lakh ha respectively. At the end of March 2008, the actual irrigation potential created was only 1.9 lakh ha or a pathetic 18 per cent of the revised target that, in any case, had been substantially brought down. Around 30 per cent of the canals had not been executed although almost the entire amount (97 per cent) of the total funds allocated or Rs 2,522 crore had been spent.

 

Curiously, more than two decades after work on the project started, in February 1999, the Expenditure Finance Commission discovered that the Rapti part of the project was "not economically viable" and ordered that work on this section be stopped and a separate report prepared after conducting a detailed survey. The state irrigation department, however, did not stop work. A sum of Rs 68.65 crore was spent on this section of the project in the decade between 1993 and 2003.

 

In 2003, the state government decided to suddenly wake up. One executive engineer and two assistant engineers who were supposed to be responsible for carrying on work on the Rapti section in an "unauthorised manner" were suspended. Still, the department spent over Rs 7 crore over the next five years on maintaining the barrage that had been built, over and above the Saryu link channel and executed masonry work on a spur to protect the Rapti link channel from flood.

 

The CAG report notes that "improper planning and non-adherence to the instructions regarding the phasing and stoppage of work on (the) Rapti system resulted in blockage (of funds) and unfruitful expenditure of Rs 93.84 crore (till July 2008) besides recurring expenditure on annual maintenance of (the) barrage and the Rapti link channel to protect it…"

 

The Saryu canal project has been partly funded by the Union government's Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) using loans from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard). Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People, a non-government organisation, points out that the AIBP is meant for "last-mile" irrigation projects, that is, to complete work on projects that have been substantially completed and that the Saryu canal project should not have come under this category under normal circumstances.

 

The story of apathy, criminal neglect and corruption does not end here. A 76-km Khalilabad branch canal was approved in 1981 but a small stretch of 600 metres could not be completed because land could not be acquired as a graveyard fell in this stretch and the landowner refused to sell the land. A quarter century after construction work commenced and Rs 27.6 crore had been spent, the local authorities upheld the contention of the landowner.

 

That's not all. Between 1991 and 1993, a 100 tubewells were dug ostensibly to control the subsoil water table. But these were not connected to the canals. Then, two-thirds of the pump-houses that were built became non-operational due to theft of equipment like transformers, conductors and starters.

 

The big picture: as per 2006-07 estimates, the CAG calculated that the time over-run on building the Saryu canal project is 19 years and the cost escalation is Rs 2,222.83 crore or an incredible rise of 743 per cent! The project is still not complete — till March 2008, 1,445 ha remained to be acquired; 2,220 km of canals, 3,673 km of drains and over 2,500 masonry works remained incomplete.

 

Will the project ever be finished? Probably not. And no one will be taken to task.

 

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

DEVELOPMENT: GIVE RIGHTS PRIDE OF PLACE

BY ARJUN SENGUPTA

 

Development literature is now increasingly talking about rights-based development built on the appeal of the right-rhetoric when every government professes its commitment to realising human rights.

 

Human rights are norms that bind a society and governments derive their legitimacy from fulfilling them. The source of these rights is many — natural rights, divine rights, inherent rights of human beings or self-evidence. The American Declaration of Independence of 1776 considered these rights as self-evident, proclaiming if the governments cannot fulfil those rights they lose their legitimacy and people can justly overthrow them.

 

After the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948), however, any set of norms that a community accepted through due process, would be considered as human rights as fundamental norms that every agency would be responsible for fulfilling. The UDHR was followed by the enactment of several international treaties recognising some civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights as binding norms of international community. They are to be enjoyed and exercised individually even if provided collectively by the government. They have to be provided equitably to all members of society and the authorities responsible for providing them must be accountable and can be reprimanded by the judicial system through a due process of law, making human rights enforceable legal rights.

 

In 1986, building upon UDHR, the United Nations adopted the declaration on "the right to development", which could not go through the full non-creating process of making it enforceable legal rights, because of both conceptual and operational differences among the countries. UN held regular discussions for more than 12 years and then in 1998 appointed me as the independent expert on the "Right to Development" to work out the contents and implementation of this right. Over the next six years, I gave about 10 reports to the Human Rights Council which was discussed at intergovernmental meetings in Geneva and New York and they triggered substantial debate, including a Nobel Symposium to specifically discuss my contention about the difference between right to development and rights-based development.

 

The debate has by now produced enormous literature and a growing consensus on some major issues, such as the definition of development in a form of human rights. Amartya Sen's definition of "development as freedom" formed the basis — a process of realisation of those freedoms identified as development. Some of their freedoms have been accepted through the non-creating forums of international treaty as enforceable human right, such as the covenant of civil and political rights and of economic, social and cultural rights.

 

Right to development is defined as the right to the process of realisation of those freedoms and corresponding fundamental rights. What was still needed to be explored was a consensus about the method of implementation and the responsibility of the governments and other powerful actors to realise those rights. Rights-based development, however, is one step prior to the right to development and is concerned with the realisation of the rights in a manner consistent with the definition of human rights.

 

The reach of the process of development built upon a rights-based approach is enormous. The essentials of these rights call for a programme of action where such rights can be fulfilled, identifying specific duties of specific duty bearers such as the state or local governments or empowered institutions.

 

The programme must be implemented within available fiscal, monetary and technological resources and while they may not all be realisable immediately, the programmes must have a roadmap for progressive realisation. Most importantly, once such programme is adopted, the accountability of individual duty bearers can be tested through different institutional mechanisms including the courts of law.

 

In India, today, some social programmes have been accepted as rights to which all eligible individuals are entitled. Let me illustrate the power of this approach by using first the example of right to food security, where all individuals as members of families below the poverty line would be entitled to Rs 5 per kg of rice at Rs 3 per kg.

 

The programme of action behind this right must lay down the eligibility of people who can claim this right and the duty of each agency responsible for procuring food and supplying them to those who are eligible. Now suppose if an individual who has not got this right goes to the court of law asking for enforcement of the right, the court can summon the authorities such as the local public distribution centres who must be able to explain that they made their "best efforts" to provide the food but could not because the next higher authorities like the Food Corporation or the district agencies failed to supply them. If the court is satisfied that all efforts were made at that level to supply the food, can summon the higher authorities to explain why they have failed. The court may reprimand them, ask for corrective action including compensation and if the failure was due to willful negligence the courts may actually penalise them.

 

In other words, once providing food security is accepted as right, it lays bare the vulnerability of all the agents responsible for the failure to provide that right at different stages of the process.

 

Similarly, consider the example of NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), where 100 days employment at minimum wages are guaranteed to unskilled rural labour. It is clearly recognised that such a right can be realised only progressively and subject to the availability of resources. But within those constraints each local authority would adopt a programme of action recognising eligibility, providing jobs and wages to a given number of people accommodated in the first stage.

 

Here again a rural worker who is entitled for such a job but does not get it can claim his right must be fulfilled. There may be a number of mechanisms for amicably settling these claims, including dispute settlement and social auditing.

 

It is not difficult to work out specific programmes with identifiable responsibilities of authorities for fulfilling their rights and rights-based approach to development call for a clear identification of specific responsibilities. The failures then can definitely be justifiable and the reach of this accountability can go quite far irrespective of the politics and the level of authorities. It is this which has changed the course of implementing development.

 

Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ASSESSING BABUS

NEED TO MAKE THEM EFFICIENT AND ACCOUNTABLE

 

Union Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar's concern over the failure of the performance appraisal system for civil servants is timely. His suggestion for a third-party assessment in view of the existing system's ineffectiveness to suitably reward the performers merits a fair trial. Unfortunately, though several committees have examined the issue over the years, nothing much has been done. The present system has major limitations. According to the Second Administrative Reforms Commission Report (2008), it lacks in suitable quantification of targets and evaluation against the achievement of targets. There should be no scope for confusion among civil servants over what is good performance and the level expected from them, by their superiors and the public. Since the present system shares only an adverse grading, an officer is unaware about how he/she is rated in work and efficiency.

 

The UPA government evolved a system that speaks of a participative work plan through a consultative process. But this has limitations. It does not adequately assess an officer's potential and competence to shoulder higher responsibilities. While emphasising career development, it does not link it with performance improvement. Moreover, there are too many levels for numerical ratings and the new format does not remove subjectivity while assigning ratings to the officers' attributes. Mr Chandrashekhar's idea for a third-party assessment of civil servants, in cooperation with the superior authorities concerned, may look fair and objective. But it remains to be seen whether it would be free from the superiors' bias or political influence.

 

The proposed Civil Services Code Bill, due to be enacted by Parliament soon, is expected to throw up a new system, unlike the current practice of annual confidential reports, which will evaluate bureaucrats on their job-specific achievements and the number of tasks that they perform as a team leader in a particular department. As people have huge expectations from the civil servants, a lot needs to be done to make them efficient and truly accountable. Why can't they be subjected to the CTC (cost to company) formula of assessment as in the private sector? The CTC for bureaucrats should include not just their pay, DA and perks but also the costs incurred by delays and time overruns due to inertia, incompetence and poor performance. The people do want a more responsive and efficient administration.

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

RAPE AND PUNISHMENT

ACCUSED CAN'T BE LET OFF THE HOOK

 

Rape is the most heinous crime committed against women. Yet its seriousness is not realised fully. While society, by convoluted twist of logic, often shifts the onus of the crime to the victim, even the judiciary can be soft on the rape accused. So much so that the Supreme Court had to pull up Punjab's lower court as well as the High Court for allowing itself to be hoodwinked in a case involving two men of Nakodar. For some strange reason, observed the apex court, while the accused were not charged with rape, the High Court even reduced their sentence. The Supreme Court, where the case came up for hearing, did well to censure the lower courts and order that the two accused be taken in custody. For, it is because of tardy judicial proceedings and low conviction rates that the guilty get away.

 

Over the years rape has become India's fastest growing crime. There has been an astounding increase in the number of rape cases since 1971. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 20, 277 cases were reported in 2007. In Punjab a rape is reported daily. Add to it the number of cases that go unreported and the actual figures are likely to be much higher. Societal stigma continues to haunt the victims. The insensitive attitude of the police and the apathy of other investigating officials not only add to the trauma of the victim but also create an hostile atmosphere that stops women from reporting the crime.

 

In a nation where the conviction rate in rape cases is as low as 27 per cent, speedy justice and deterrent punishment alone can curb this appalling crime. The judiciary has delivered some landmark judgements like in the case of a German tourist in Chandigarh which have proved that justice can be both swift and fair. Such convictions should be a norm and not an exception. Courts must ensure that the guilty do not go scot-free. The state must not fail in protecting women's dignity and basic human rights that are unfortunately being violated with nauseating frequency.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

BODOS AGAIN

THE STATE IS PAYING FOR TAKING MILITANTS LIGHTLY

 

Violence unleashed by militants in rural areas, specially in the North-East, largely goes unnoticed for a variety of reasons. But when innocent lives are lost due to carelessness of the state, it should cause serious concern. The indiscriminate killing of 12 villagers in Assam, including women and children, by Bodo militants recently is one such instance. The villagers invited reprisal by refusing to give in to the militants' extortionist demand for money. But even after the villagers received threats from militants and despite conveying the information to the authorities, the Assam police failed to prevent the massacre when militants belonging to the "no-talk" faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) attacked village Bhimajuli in Sonitpur district with sophisticated weapons. Angry villagers took to the streets with traditional weapons and attacked convoys of the Director-General of Police and several Cabinet ministers when they tried to reach the village to take stock of the situation. The Army had to be called out to prevent the escalation of violence and a communal flare-up between ethnic Assamese and Bodo tribals.

 

The state government must be held squarely responsible for allowing the situation to spin out of control. Even after the Bodo peace accord was signed with the Bodo Liberation Tigers in 2003, forcing the NDFB to declare a unilateral truce in 2004, "preliminary talks" with the militants did not begin till August 2009. The militants who favoured talks were lodged in special camps set up by the government while the "no talk" faction, led by Ranjan Daimari, continued with its subversive activities. The faction is accused of serial blasts in Assam in October last year, which left 80 people dead and over 400 injured. The outfit is also accused of being in league with the ISI.

Had the government not lowered its guard after setting up the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Council and lost the chance of isolating and marginalising the militants, some of the tragedies could have been averted. Neither the Scheduled Tribe status nor the Bodoland Council seem to have made much of a difference to the Bodos on the north bank of the Bramhaputra.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

LEARNING FROM CHINA

INDIA HAS THE ADVANTAGE OF BEING YOUNG

BY K. SUBRAHMANYAM

 

Our strategists, retired diplomats, ex-service officers and media persons have been engaged in an intense debate on how to deal with a rising China which appears to be playing the game of nations to our disadvantage. China has had a decade and half lead in initiating economic reforms. It has consistently maintained a faster growth rate than India.

 

China has expanded its international trade at a pace not conceivable by India. Its military modernisation and infrastructure development are very much in advance of India. Its economic decision-making is not hampered by party politics. It is our neighbour and it has an unresolved dispute with us in respect of Arunachal Pradesh. It has ambitions of being one of G-2 with the United States in global financial system.

 

Though China disavows ambitions of being a hegemonic power, it shows all signs of moving towards that goal. This is evident from its nuclear proliferation to Pakistan and supporting Pakistan's role as a counter-vailer to India, opposing the waiver of Nuclear Suppliers Group for India and permanent seat for India in the Security Council.

China is likely to overtake the US in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the next couple of decades. In Asia there is only one nation which is comparable to China in terms of population, skilled labour force and potential in terms of GDP in the longer run and that is India. It is, therefore, natural in spite of all public declarations to the contrary that China should view India as a likely future rival and attempt to slow down India catching up with it. This should be a natural expectation in realpolitik.

 

There is no point in complaining about it and bewailing that China is playing the game of nations to our disadvantage. It is up to us to catch up with China in a realistic way.

 

We should bear in mind that some 50 years ago China was bracketed with India. China had its successful revolution two years after Indian independence. China had two man-made disasters, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution which resulted in 30 million deaths.

 

China from its revolutionary birth till 1990 for 40 years faced continuous security threats from superpowers. In spite of all that travail, China has become the second powerful nation in the world and its manufacturing hub and one of the significant leaders of international financial system. How did they do it and are there lessons in it for India?

 

The Chinese knew how to manipulate the international system to their advantage. Even as they were fighting their revolutionary war to capture power they made overtures to the US arguing they were not Soviet-type Communists.

 

However, the Americans in their short-sightedness, rejected their signals and firmly aligned themselves with the Kuomintang. Mao set out to woo a not- too-friendly Stalin. He agreed to Stalin's harsh terms and obtained the Soviet military and economic aid.

 

China had to fight the Korean war and incur hundreds of thousands of casualties. The Soviet aid was used to industrialise China rapidly and develop its military forces and the military industry. The US used to transgress China's territorial waters and its airspace regularly. The Chinese used to issue 457th, 571st and so on serious warnings to the US but observed restraint.

Their relationship with the Soviet Union deteriorated due to ideological differences with the Soviets cutting off their technology transfer on the nuclear weapons progrmme midway and withdrawing their technicians and stopping all their industrial aid programmes. The conflict worsened to the extent of erupting into armed conflict on the Ussuri river in 1989. There were signals of Soviet nuclear threat.

 

The great ideologue Mao, who conducted an annual 'Hate America' campaign, who talked of fundamental antagonistic contradiction between capitalism and socialism and whose pilot son had been shot down in the Korean war, had no hesitation in allying himself with the US to obtain extended deterrent security vis-a-vis the Soviet nuclear threat.

 

China provided bases for the US in Xinjiang to monitor Soviet nuclear tests when the Iranian Ayatollahs closed down the US monitoring bases in Iran in 1979. Then came Deng Xiao Peng's economic reforms and opening up of China to US multinationals. The US companies used Chinese soil, Chinese labour and Chinese raw materials to make cheap goods to be exported to the US and the rest of the industrial world. The profits went to the multinationals. The Chinese export surpluses were not used for the benefit of the Chinese population but were invested in the US to enhance the credit availability to the US population to make them buy more consumer goods. Simultaneously, the Chinese reserves grew making China a major holder of US treasury bonds, giving it a leverage over the US.

 

By collaborating with the retail stores chains of developed countries and providing them access in China, the Chinese products are being marketed all over the world. And China has been transformed from an isolated ideological fundamentalist to a major member of the international community holding spectacular Olympic Games in three decades. No one will question today the independence of Chinese foreign and strategic policies.

All this has been achieved not by China ploughing a lonely furrow and insisting on self-reliance. From the beginning, China realised that it has to absorb investments and technology from the international system wherever they were available. Then came the added realisation that market access was needed and that in turn called for international collaboration. Instead of adopting a jingoistic attitude towards the challenge posed by China, there should be calm unsentimental strategic planning on how to deal with this problem.

 

India has a number of advantages. It is an English-speaking, democratic country. Its rise as a power does not cause concern to the international community unlike the case of China. The entire global arms market is open to India while China has at present no access to the US and European markets. India's entrepreneurial system is better tuned to the international one.

 

Major powers have a stake in not allowing China from becoming an untethered hegemon in Asia. In the longer term, India has the advantage of a younger age profile even as China will be ageing. Therefore, the debate on the Chinese challenge should be conducted on constructive lines instead of the present display of unbecoming chauvinism.

 

Most of our people have forgotten that India did invoke the countervailing Soviet factor when faced with the Pakistan-China-US line-up in 1971. It is the stake of major powers in India as a potential balancer in Asia that resulted in technology denial regime against us being ended.

 

For Jawaharlal Nehru, nonalignment was a strategy in a bipolar world and not an ideology. Now that the Cold War has ended and the world has globalised, India is in a position to exploit the international system to its advantage without ideological hang-ups.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

STRAWS IN THE WIND

BY UTTAM SENGUPTA

 

A "calm" chief minister sips tea, read the photo caption in the newspaper. One is yet to see an "agitated" person sipping tea, I reflected. Hotter the tea, I guess, the more calm one is required to be lest the lips get scalded. I know because this has happened to me a number of times. Upset over something or the other, but unable to give vent to my anger, I have often unmindfully swallowed tea so hot that part of the delicate skin on the lips peeled off.

 

But I am digressing. Chief Ministers sipping tea rarely make for a newsy photograph. But after a crucial election and while awaiting results, it acquires a significance of its own. Jagannath Mishra opening his mouth wide to bite into a relatively large piece of chicken made the covers of several periodicals which carried inside reports of corruption in his government. But a 'calm' CM sipping tea was meant to signal that he is cool and confident of his success. Or it could have been meant as a calming influence on his more agitated followers?

 

And everyone tells me Bhupinder Singh Hooda is returning as Chief Minister in Haryana. Being a Congressman, even Hooda cannot be certain, I am sure. But there is little harm in letting people know that he is "a candidate and not a claimant" to the CM's office, provided of course that he leads the party to secure an absolute majority in the Assembly.

 

That seemed a foregone conclusion a month ago. The opposition was in complete disarray and everyone was fighting against everyone else. With the index of opposition unity so low, there was much to be gained by advancing the election which was not due till next year. It helped when a periodical anointed Hooda's Haryana the 'No. 1 state' in the country just ahead of the election. There was no correlation, of course, between the advertisements placed in the periodical by the Haryana government and the ranking.

 

The Congress, gushed another periodical, was on the cusp of creating history in Haryana by winning two successive elections. Hooda, it declared, would be the first Haryana Chief Minister to complete a full term and then return for a second innings without taking off his pads.

 

But a few days into the campaigning and I found the Chief Minister complaining in his election speeches about the opposition's unfair campaign. In one newspaper he fumed that the campaign was a slur on the good people of the state. Another newspaper quoted him as declaring that the rival's campaign was an 'insult' to the state. This cannot be the cool, calm and confident Hooda, I reflected. Why does the man sound so rattled ?

 

Colleagues conceded that infighting within the Congress had peaked. A large number of rebels were eating into the official candidates' support base. The party had made mistakes while putting up candidates and in the choice of their constituencies. All the heavyweights in the party were busy clipping the others' wings, etc.

 

And all of them conceded that the Indian National Lok Dal, Hooda's main rival in the state, had improved its position. "The Congress might lose 10 to 15 seats," they said, " and the INLD may double its strength in the House but the Congress will still form a government." Hooda, it seemed, had reasons to be 'calm'.

 

But the very next day the newspapers carried the photograph of the outgoing 'transport and education' minister (now we know why the state is not No. 1 in either transport or education) Mange Ram Gupta, who was far from being 'calm'. The anguished minister was quoted as wondering aloud, " I don't understand why the bureaucracy is so weak that it gives in to pressure from INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala." The minister was accusing Chautala of pressurising the administration to register a case of intimidation against him, his sons and grandsons.

 

Normally ministers are the ones who pressurise the administration. Why would things be different in Haryana, I wondered.

 

If these are straws in the wind, I reflected, can Bhupinder Hooda afford to be 'calm'?

 

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THE TRIBUNE

C'WEALTH GAMES: CHALTA-HAI CULTURE DELAYS PROJECTS

BY CHANDRA MOHAN

 

Stalwarts of the organising committee like Kalmadi and Chauhan were stung by Fennel's chilling comments on poor preparedness for the next year's Commonwealth Games and request to see the Prime Minister.

 

Politicians that they are, one could forgive them for their tongue-in-cheek reaction that all would be hunky dory for the opening.

 

What should make us all sit up and think is the response of a performing CM like Sheila Dixit: "Last-minute readiness is Indian culture. All will be fine by next October". Isn't this our real character?

 

Kaya-palat promises for Delhi had been made by great Kalmadi and his crew when they went to Sydney to fight our case for hosting the Games. Eleven world-class stadiums with metro-connectivity; phenomenal extension of the metro sprawl and tens of flyovers across Delhi and NOIDA to smoothen traffic; a jazzy games village to house 8,000 athletes in NOIDA and a 1-km covered rail corridor to sound-proof it; 10,000 new hotelrooms for the visitorinflux etc.

 

All those promises had been forgotten by the time they landed back at Palam. Blue-page notes which followed got lost in red files in our easy-going please-all style. Can you believe it, responsibility was finally put in the lap of a 500-member organising committee. The task of building seven new stadiums entrusted to the great CPWD which has yet to finalise the design of one. The fate of road-carpeting of and pedestrian walkways along all roads in Delhi and NOIDA, dozens of flyovers etc. is no different.

 

M.S. Gill, Union Minister for Sports confirmed Fennel's anguish. A special visit of the PM's Special Secretary, TKA Nair, to the main sites reflected the Prime Minister's concern.

 

Fennel's remarks hurt the flourish with which we have been flaunting our democracy and the superiority of our growth model in facing the recent global meltdown. But if you look deep, our standard habit of late reaction has helped Dame luck. It is time we admit that last-minute reaction, over-shot targets and shoddy quality have now become our accepted norms. We love to build fancy edifices, but their maintenance is no one's cup of tea. Primitive systems dominate objectives. Performance and merit do not matter, seniority dominates rewards.

 

While skeletons of chalta-hai casualties pile up in our cupboards, we have become experts in finding alibis, excuses and scape-goats.

 

The monotonous frequency of MIG-21 crashes year after year and loss of their pilots could not shake the decision-makers to the urgency of replacement of obsolete maintenance rigs purchased in the sixties.

 

What jolted them into action were only incidents like a near-miss collision of a VIP flight at Mumbai and accidental dropping of a bomb by an air force pilot in civilian areas during a peacetime exercise.

 

Santhanam's recent revelation of exaggerated claims of our thermo-nuclear capabilities in Pokhran II tests reflects the depth to which the disease has spread.

 

For the last few years we have been show-casing Delhi Metro as the national epitome of our construction and organisational skills. Two major accidents in quick succession during its extension in Zamroodpur three months ago followed by two derailments have punctured that lone symbol.

 

We must understand that detailed planning, PERT charts and meticulous execution have become global Standards in the cut-throat competition of today's Internet-linked and instant-anywhere communication world. Six-Sigma Quality is taken for granted.

 

Shrinking time between order and delivery is driving the fine-tuning of systems. Delegation down the line to the lowest coupled with accountability is a sequel to shorter lead times. Performance is rewarded and laggards are dumped on the roadside.

 

In the backdrop of this global trend, the appointment of a Secretary in the Prime Minister's Office for monitoring all projects above Rs. 50 crore comes as a total surprise. Cure lies in correcting the system; not adding another layer of monitors. It only wastes more energy in useless paperwork and adds to costs.

 

It is time we forgot to live in our world of illusions and overplay our democracy card. What is driving global corporations and capital to India is its billion-strong market at the cusp of better living and lifestyles. Opportunity offered is infinite. But let us not forget that their motive is totally mercenary. What is the RPI? If we fail to add to their profits, they will not blink an eye and shift elsewhere.

 

But then there could also be no greater opportunity for us to propel us into the club of developed nations.

 

Whichever system or law which stands in the way must go. The world will not wait; it will only laugh and find a better place. Like Ratan Tata's ultimatum to the West Bengal government on Nano, Honda's threat to close their scooter plant in Manesar (near Gurgaon) in the face of persistent labour trouble might not be empty.

 

Let us go deep and find permanent solutions. The euphoria of large capital inflows should not lull us into creating an "unbalanced, unstable, uncoordinated and unsustainable" economy.

 

We will have to realise that our current run of welfare measures, howsoever desirable, are only tenable for a rich affluent economy, which we are not. Cautionary bells of oncoming inflation are already being rung by the RBI Governor. What we must begin is to emulate what Japan did in the fifties and South Korea in the eighties.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

PAKISTAN: THE ENEMY WITHIN

BY OMAR WARAICH

 

Pakistan was reeling last night after the Taliban intensified its bloody campaign of violence, launching five separate attacks in a single day, including the first ever with female assailants.

 

At least 28 victims died in three attacks carried out by gunmen on police targets in Lahore and two car bombs in Kohat and Peshawar. "The enemy has started a guerrilla war," said the Interior Minister Rehman Malik. "The whole nation should be united against these handful of terrorists, and God willing we will defeat them."

 

Thursday was the fifth day of bloodshed in Pakistan in the past week-and-a-half. The violence, which has claimed more than 100 victims and demonstrated the Taliban's brutal reach across the country, comes as Pakistan launches a series of air strikes on South Waziristan, paving the way for what it has promised will be an ambitious army ground offensive on the Taliban stronghold.

 

The highly co-ordinated Lahore attacks began at 9am, unfolding simultaneously in three separate locations including the Federal Investigation Agency, the national law enforcement body. They represented the region's most sophisticated militant assault since last November's bloodshed in Mumbai. Like those attackers, the Lahore teams were equipped with dried fruit, apparently prepared to dig in for the long haul.

 

Normally-bustling Lahore was brought to a standstill as security forces spent hours exchanging gunfire with the militants. The longest siege took place at an elite commando training facility in Badian, near the airport.

 

The attackers scaled the back wall, with some standing on the roof shooting at security forces and throwing grenades in a stand-off that lasted four hours. "They [the militants] were wearing black, all black," said Inam Mansoor, an ambulance driver who helped recover the injured from the compound. "They were carrying guns and had backpacks."

 

The Interior Minister said that the attackers included three women – the first time that women have been involved in militant violence in Pakistan. There is speculation of the involvement of female madrassa students from Islamabad's Red Mosque, the scene of a deadly siege in July 2007, who travelled to southern Punjab in the aftermath.

 

Lt. Gen. Shafqat Ahmad said five attackers died in the fighting – three were killed in the firefight and two more were killed when they blew themselves up.

 

Meanwhile, in the heart of the city, gunmen entered the Federal Investigation Agency building, which was targeted with a truck bomb eighteen months ago, when 21 people were killed. yesterday, four government employees and a bystander lost their lives. At the Manawan police training academy, which had already been targeted earlier this year, nine police officers and four militants were killed.

 

Before the violence escalated in Lahore a suicide car bomb was detonated near a police station in the north-west city of Kohat, killing three police officers and eight civilians. Finishing off the bloody day, another car bomb exploded in Peshawar, outside the residence of the province's chief minister's driver. A six-year-old boy was killed, while nine others, mainly women and children, were badly wounded.

 

The attacks, which came just days after a daring raid on the army quarters in Rawalpindi, have raised fears of a deeper plunge into chaos as Taliban militants based along the Afghan border and in the north-west have demonstrated their ability to strike across the country. Last night security was being beefed up in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, and residents in the capital, Islamabad were also braced for the worst.

 

Of particular concern is the apparent operational nexus that has emerged between the Pakistani Taliban, based in the tribal areas, and militants from the heartland province of Punjab.

 

Sajjad Bhutta, a senior government official, said that the attackers who unleashed yesterday's violence appeared to be a mixture of both. Many were wearing suicide vests and blew themselves up when cornered. "They were not here to live. They were here to die. Each time they were injured, they blew themselves up," he said.

 

In recent years militant groups, once nurtured by the Pakistan army to lead an anti-Indian insurgency in Kashmir, and vicious sectarian groups have drawn closer to the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qa'ida.

 

Splinter groups of the notorious Jaish-e-Mohammad were recently involved in fighting against the Pakistan army in the Swat Valley. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, considered by some to be al-Qa'ida's Pakistan "franchise", is believed to have been involved in attacks on the Islamabad Marriott and the Sri Lankan cricket team.

 

In June Pakistan's government ordered the army to launch an offensive in South Waziristan, believed to be the lair of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants. Since then the military had been conducting air and artillery strikes to soften up militant defences. The government says the land assault against an estimated 10,000 hard-core Taliban militants is imminent, and that the army will decide when to send in the ground troops. But in the meantime the Taliban is getting plenty of retaliation.

 

In a statement, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi last night said that the country would not be swayed from its tactics. "Such barbaric, inhuman and un-Islamic terrorist acts only strengthen our resolve to fight terrorism with more vitality," he said.

 

By arrangement with The Independent

 

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THE TRIBUNE

CHATTERATI

NAVJOT SIDHU SAYS NO TO 'BIG BOSS'

BY DEVI CHERIAN

 

The reality show "Big Boss" has produced many celebrities — right from Shilpa Shetty, Rakhi Sawant to Rahul Mahajan. So wonder why cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu backed out of "Big Boss". He had even accepted the first installment of his payment, but backed out at the very last minute.

 

The deal was finalised and only the contract remained to be signed. A chartered plane was especially sent to pick him up from Chandigarh and fly him to Mumbai. But Sidhu did not show up. Sidhu refused to come to the airport and told the channel that he didn't want to be a part of the show anymore.

 

Why did he develop cold feet at the last minute? Did his political party object? Remember Sanjay Nirupam, the Congress MP from Mumbai, who went for "Big Boss" but left in a week? Once out, he made rude remarks about the show and its participants.

 

DOWNSIZING GOVT

Austerity has become a big thing for the UPA Government. The basic issue is: Why do we need so many ministers? Who needs them after all? We started with less than 20 departments after Independence. Then why do we have to head towards the century mark?

 

To support so many ministers we need an army of IAS babus, who do not have to deliver but only keep things in check. Why do we have departments for subjects that are already decontrolled?

 

In good old days we could remember the names of central ministers on our fingertips. Today you have to scratch your head after naming a few. The position no longer carries the importance and dignity accorded earlier. Yet almost every MP wants to become a minister and tries more for a lucrative ministry than for anything else.

 

What is the point in asking ministers to go in for an economy drive when all IAS babus get free air tickets for their jumbo-sized families and continue to enjoy amazing perks? Are these perks meant to reward them for their notable contribution in turning the corporations into red? Why are these babus still being pampered? Does it serve the cause of austerity?

 

PSUs, which should be managed by junior or middle-level technocrats, are headed by IAS babus with all the privileges and trappings of power. Wonder, what happened to the lofty, grandiose plans of downsizing the government!

 

Lastly, look at the joke called "security cover" in our country. At best there are only 15 to 20 persons in the entire country who actually deserve security but see how thousands flaunt the security cover.

'Amitabh chalisa'

A fan has penned an "Amitabh chalisa" on the lines of the legendary "Hanuman chalisa", summing up the superstar's 40 years of film career in 40 lines. This Bollywood super hero turned 67 on Sunday. There is also a temple built in South Kolkata by his fans.

 

"Amitabh chalisa" is both poetic praise and prayer to the superstar who has inspired generations of Indians since his 1969 debut film "Saat Hindustani". It contains snippets from the star's eventful life.

Kumar, the writer, gathered information from magazine articles and blogs about his idol to write the poem. He started writing the "Amitabh chalisa" in June and finished it on October 8. He has never met the superstar. Well, Amitabh must be really touched by all this adoration of his fans.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MAOISTS' THREAT

 

Armed Maoist groups have become one of the biggest threats to internal security of India with their acts of violence in different States of the country and though such groups are yet to establish their roots in the north eastern region, the police and security forces must keep a close watch on the situation as those groups will definitely try to establish their bases in the region in the days to come. In recent times, the Maoist groups have become very active in the States like Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and parts of West Bengal, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh and the activities of those groups have become a major cause of concern for the Government of India and security measures have been augmented in the affected States to deal with the situation. But fortunately for the North East, such groups have not yet been able to establish strong roots in the region, but if they manage to do so, the situation in the entire region, already affected by insurgency for decades, may go totally out of control. Considering the gravity of the situation, the governments of the north eastern States as well as the police forces and security forces engaged in the counter-insurgency operations should keep a very close watch on the situation and devise a mechanism to share inputs regarding activities of the Maoist groups with the police forces of the State where such groups are active. On its part, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) should also play a role in ensuring regular sharing of information among all the States of the country to prevent Maoist groups from spreading their wings to all the States of India.


With a number of militant groups already active in the North East, the possibility of the armed Maoist groups trying to establish contacts with the active militant groups cannot be ruled out and according to reports, the militant outfits including the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) had some contacts with the Maoist rebels in the 1990s. As the Maoist groups on principle support the "nationality struggles" by all the rebel groups, they will definitely try to come into contact with the militant outfits of the North East as such nexus will be beneficial for both the Maoists and the local groups. On the other hand, the Maoists normally try to establish their roots among the downtrodden sections of the society by harping on the issues concerning them before the armed members of the groups move in to indulge in acts of violence. With thousands of farmers affected by floods and erosion as well as drought this year, are languishing because of lack of adequate support from the Government, the Maoist groups may try to make them pawns in their game plan, while, the Maoist groups may also target the tea labourers by to establish roots among them to raise the problems faced by the labourers.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

PRICE RISE

 

At long last the State Government seems to be awakening to the deteriorating price rise situation. The Chief Minister has issued directions to the authorities concerned including the district administrations and the Food and Civil Supplies Department to ensure effective monitoring and initiate action against middlemen and hoarders – interventions that ought to have come much earlier given the gravity of the situation. Notwithstanding the countrywide rise in the prices of foodstuff, its impact in the State has been aggravated by the thriving coterie of middlemen and blackmarketeers. These developments expose the appalling monitoring and enforcement on the part of the government machinery that allows the unscrupulous traders to run their diktat in the market.


Price rise being a matter of vital public interest, the State Government would do well to put in place a long-term mechanism to check unnatural hike in prices of essential commodities. Its plan to set up a corporation in the joint sector to merchandise essential commodities is welcome but it has to be ensured that it does not end up the STATFED way. The thriving racket of middlemen has been a persistent bane for not just the consumers but the entire farming community, small and marginal traders in particular. Constant monitoring and a sustained crackdown on the middlemen as also the hoarders is an imperative need for restoring a semblance of normalcy in the market. Streamlining the corruption-riddled public distribution system (PDS) is another urgent need.

 

Essential items, mostly foodstuff, meant for the PDS are regularly finding their way to the black market under the very nose of the administration. Unless the Government acts tough on such gross anomalies, no one is going to take the Chief Minister's pledge to tackle price rise seriously. Rather, one would be tempted to regard those as hollow utterances made by politicians who themselves do not believe in what they utter. To reinstate some order in the situation, the Chief Minister will have to take a sustained personal interest in the developments and match his words with action. This has been one crucial area of governance left brazenly unaddressed by the State Government, and rectifying measures must be carried to their logical conclusion. The Food and Civil Supplies Department – now reduced to a white elephant – needs a thorough revamp if it is to perform its assigned role. We also need a mass consumer movement that can be an effective shield against arbitrary and unreasonable price rise.

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

NREGA: PRESENT AND FUTURE

SAZZAD HUSSAIN

 

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) has been considered as the biggest public employment scheme in the history of mankind. This was introduced in India by the UPA Government on February 2, 2006 which was the product of the Left leaning thinkers and socialist-welfare economists of our country. However, there have been some example of such programmes elsewhere in the world like in Argentina, known as the Jefez de Hoger Plan initiated after the economic collapse of that country in 2002. However, this plan was confined to municipal areas of that country where it covered community service, health, education, child care and self-employment. But in India NREGA was aimed at the rural poor for its enormous stature, where employment and wage was the main component. It facilitated the rural poor to demand a job without losing his or her dignity as their rights enshrined in the Constitution. Initially NREGA covered only 200 backward districts of India which was increased to 350 the following year. From April 1, 2008 it has been extended to cover the entire country. Thus, NREGA has completed three years of its run in India. However, a close look at the progress of this scheme so far will show a relatively unimpressive figure so far as the stated objectives of NREGA are concerned.


The scheme has failed to bring difference to the Indian poor in the wake of unprecedented drought and price rise this year. Without correcting the shortcomings of the last three years' the Government has announced NREGA-II. The future appears bleak if NREGA is also allowed to move in its present form.


The rural development programmes of independent India in the last six decades have been the top to bottom approach where exploitation of the poor was rampant because of the use of contractors. Failure and corruption generated in the past decades due to the conventional system compelled the people to think that NREGA would usher in great change in the sphere rural of development. It gives rise to programme that spring not from its willful benevolence, but as a legally binding response by the State to the right to work. It promises 100 days work for each household of the rural poor and gives importance to quality products and creating assets for future income generation without NREGA works, management of irrigation, flood and drought etc. NREGA is also included under the RTI periphery and Gaon Panchayats have been involved in the planning and executing works under this programme. Despite all these brighter provisions NREGA has not been performing in equal terms in all the States of India over the last three years. Experts have pointed out various reasons and constrains for this underperformance. According to Lalit Mathur, former Director, National Institute of Rural Development, NREGA has impacted considerably upon the lives of rural poor in the last three years. Many poor households are coming forward for job-cards, migration in Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Orissa have been falling, wages are increasing from the minimum levels in many districts and participation of women in work has been increasing. But no State has succeeded in achieving 100 days work for any household. According to annual reports of the Union Ministry of Rural Development, only 43 days work was provided on an average by the State in 2006-07 and 35 days in 2007-08. The CAG Report of 2007 exposed the administrative indifference and hurdles for the poor show of NREGA. The failure to appoint administrative and technical experts in blocks and GPs are attributed to the failure of this programme in India. For example, one fulltime District Programme Officer has to be appointed solely for NREGA works. But most of the States are giving additional charges to the BDOs as the PO of NREGA.


The study conducted by Mihir Shah, member Planning Commission shows that delay by the administration is responsible for the failure of NREGA in most of the States. In most of the cases the works of NREGA are planned by the JE of the blocks who are already constrained by their own workload. The JE sends the plan for approval to the Assistant Engineer who again takes time for the same reason in sending his approval to the BDO. The BDO can approve a plan upto Rs 2 lakh and above, while the plan is sent to the district headquarter for approval. Once approved, funds are released and the cheques are signed by the GP, PO and the BDO. Thus a lost of time is consumed by this administrative process. The provision of wage payment by banks and nearest post offices is also contributing to the delay in payments for NREGA works.


Payments of wages takes three to four months instead of 15 days due to the burden of opening additional accounts in banks and the distance of Post Offices from the villages. Moreover, the tyranny shown by the engineers in the work measurement, absence of maintenance of records like muster rolls and job-cards also contribute towards the delay in payment by banks against NREGA works. According to Jean Dreze, member Central Employment Guarantee Council, it is the government functionaries who find such bank payments a hurdle for siphoning off NREGA funds, which is why they consider it a headache and are trying for a backlash against the entire programme.

Similarly, planning is made at the top level for the works in the block level and send them to the GPs for imple-mentation. This has had a negative impact on the works undertaken in NREGA. For example, in the drought hit block of Wardafnagar under Srgora district of Chattishgarh, 75 per cent of NREGA funds was utilised for construction of roads where actually work on watersheds should have been done. In Beelmukh GP under Ghilamora Development Block of Lakhimpur district in Assam, Rs 27 lakh was sanctioned for the year 2008-09 for plantation of pineapples, whereas the area is suitable for pulses and sericulture. As a result the pineapple plantation in Beelmukh GP is in a shambles now.


Amidst such delay of payments, faulty planning and administrative indifference during the last three years, NREGA-II was launched on August 20. The political importance of this programme increased as NREGA played a crucial role in the return of UPA to power in the 2009 polls. To appease the political leadership, the School of Planning and Architecture hastily made a blue print of NREGA-II to be sent to Rajeev Gandhi Seva Kendras to be set up in every GP of the country. Many sincere members of CEGC were shown the door to make way for Congress MPs.


For the success of NREGA in the future, Mihir Shah and members of Samaj Pragati Sahayog have offered certain suggestions and recommenda-tions. The appointment of fulltime POs and coordinators in every block, a fund of Rs 50,000 crore for NREGA costings, capacity building by HRD, introduction of 1 year diploma course on NREGA in colleges and the use of I-T to end administrative delays are some of the suggestions for the future of NREGA. A software has already been developed in Andhra Pradesh for fast movement of NREGA works which could easily be made available in other States also with proper social auditing and increased public awareness and monitoring. As we are experiencing drought and price rice and the Right to Food Act is in the offing, NREGA has a lot to offer to the rural poor in India in the future.

 

(The writer teaches English at Lakhimpur Commerce College)

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

INCLUSIVE GROWTH AGENDA

MOON MOON SARMAH

 

Inclusive growth has become a buzz word in Indian politics. Both the economisr PM and Finance Minister has given emphasis on the agenda of inclusive growth. The dictionary meaning of inclusive is, 'including of much or all.' Recently, unnecessary wars, internal rifts and acts of terrorism have crippled the Indian economic backbone. In the midst of all these, the Indian economy is said to be booming with an unprecedented average growth rate of 8.8 per cent during the last three years. The service sector became dominant in terms of GDP, although agriculture continues to be the largest sector. Chanding demographic profile, increasing income levels, and urbanisation have given us an upward rising curve of development. India became the largest consumer of yellow gold and third largest in global diamond jewellry. The Indian luxury car market has also expanded. Rising consumption levels leads to income generation and job creation. But the growth was not inclusive. At the same time, corruption, fundamentalism and poverty have continued to mushroom. At least 300 million of its population is still living below the poverty line. The BIMRU states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh) Orissa, Chattisgarh have the highest rate of poverty.


The problem became more acute, following the present financial crisis. The Indian economy has indeed been deeply hurt from the crisis, with the GDP growth rate slowing down to 5.8 per cent during the second half of 2008-09. The damage has been extensive especially on SMEs, workers in unorganised sector and other vulnerable groups. To revive the growth momentum of the economy, the Government must take bold step enhancing the inclusiveness of the process. But what should be the roadmap in fulfilling this agenda?


The traditional methods including easing the monetary policy and fiscal steps such as subsidised home loan and incentives for exporters of labour intensive goods, which have already taken, could not achieve the cherished goal of achieving the greatest good of the greatest number. India's growth is driven by domestic demand and therefore the Government should intensify its inclusive growth efforts to make rural India more prosperous, which is a greater driver of domestic demand. Additional spending on some special package provides an opportunity to enhance the inclusiveness of resulting growth. The package should target the weaker section of society to make the growth process more inclusive by paying special emphasis on development of rural infrastructure such as rural roads and housing, primary and secondary education, health and sanitation etc. Expenditure is oriented towards inclusiveness, which helps to stimulate the economy. On the other hand, such kind of expenditure will increase fiscal deficit. Efforts should be on to extract more within a tolerable fiscal deficit.

The inclusive schemes introduced in the Eleventh Plan are the 'National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme', and 'Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.' NREGA is aimed at benefiting BPL households in rural India by enabling at least one member of such households to find guaranteed employment for at least 100 days in a year. The most eligible rural families that the NREGA hopes to benefit are those of the landless labourers as well as small and marginal farmers. It covers disabled as well as old age people. The beneficiaries thus prefer to stay at their native villages, thereby arresting migration. It is a powerful tool of economic redistribution and social equity. Though it puts people's right to seek work in a legal framework on job card basis, it has some leakages. The achievements of NREGA have been uneven, in many states. Even the job cards are yet to be properly issued. Corruption and delayed payment of wages plague the NREGA apparatus in some states.


In Assam, villagers had failed to reap the benefits of NREGA, which was implemented in six districts in 2006-07, 13 districts in 2007-08 and 27 districts in 2008-09. It is a matter of great concern that Rs 106 crore remained unutilised in the financial year 2008-09 in Assam, which ranked 15th in overall progress and development among 20 big states of India. Can we apply the common saying of 'step motherly attitude of Central Government towards Assam?' Even job cards have not been issued properly for the applicants. Again, most job card holders got neither job for 100 days nor money against the number of days they were not given jobs. The targeted beneficiaries will not be benefitted unless the DRDA is transparent in implementing NREGA.


Another flagship programme of the Union Ministry has failed to make much headway in Assam. The programme aims at improving rural road connectivity, but for the snail's pace of work here, a huge amount of money remains unutilised. In this case Assam can be classified with Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal as the worst performers. The slow pace of work can be attributed to the negligence and insincerity of the people concerned. Absence of proper monitoring and late work orders to contractors has resulted in delay in completion of work. Corruption and non unilisation of funds are two obstacles in achieving the targeted objective of inclusive growth. People's participation is very important in implementing the Government's programmes and schemes in an effective manner. No Government can succeed in its objective unless people extend their cooperation. Necessary steps should be taken to sensitise the public and encourage them to come forward and help the authority in performing their duties. Non-governmental organisations, social activists and committed individuals are some potent tools for sensitising and empowering the masses.


Assam has traditionally been an agrarian economy. But use of traditional methods of cultivation, marginal landholdings and greater dependence on monsoon has put agriculture in a distressed situation, thereby adding to economic woes of the rural masses.


Nearly 3.6 per cent families in rural Assam donot get enough food around the year. Besides the traditional crops, agro-climatic dicersity and fertile soil permits growth of a variety of fruits, flowers, medicinal plants etc. In this era of globalisation, the poor farmers can make their fortune through scientific cultivation of these products which have a promising future in the international market.


Another unexplored area of agriculture is live-stock farming. The grasslands and swampy areas provide ideal fodder for herbivorous animals. The animal-man ratio in Assam (50.2 cattle per 100 person) is higher as compared to the national average (46 cattle per 100 person). Yet milk products and meat are minimal. Commercialisation of livestock is yet to make a dent in the region. The socio-economic condition and illiteracy of livestock farmers are two great hindrances in this case. Even today poor farmers sell their cows and buffalos at the time of scarcity. These are some examples of under utilisation of resources and capacities. How can Assam attain the stage of inclusive growth without empowering the farmers with the necessary infrastructure?

 

(The writer is a Lecturer in the Department of Economics, MDKG College, Dibrugarh).

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BLACKFACE BLUNDER

The fashion world has apparently been outraged that its bible — a glossy magazine, naturally — has committed the heresy of painting a white model black, thereby setting off a volley of accusations of racism. Not that the magazine has not trodden the razor's edge before by deliberately playing up demeaning stereotypes or controversial images and then feigning ignorance of offending sensibilities.

 

This April, it showed a supposedly pregnant teenage model smoking, but worse still, in September 2008, it carried a fashion spread in which some of the world's most expensive accessories dangled from the limbs of some of India's poorest citizens. Were they casting aspersions on India's success story or merely seeking 'edgy' images, regardless of whether they were offensive? The latter would seem more likely, taking this incident along with the other two. There is nothing in the few accompanying words to explain why they had to resort to painting a pale blonde Dutch supermodel chocolate-brown, though 'dutched chocolate' is a process by which cocoa is treated with an alkalising agent to "improve" the colour and make it smoother and milder.


Given the legendary fiery tempers of top black models like Naomi Campbell, maybe the magazine did some none-too-subtle dutching and ended up landing in, well, hot chocolate. While it seems more like a case of shock photography gone awry, this feature committed a crime that even has a specific name: blackface, or parodying on racial lines.


If there is to be a blanket taboo on such portrayals, though, we should protest against Peter Sellers playing an Indian in The Party with tanning cream and a weird staccato accent. Race is not the primary driver of colour preference in India, but the advertisements for fairness creams do routinely have 'before' and 'after' images in which artificial darkening/lightening of faces is clearly resorted to, and connections made between skin colour and success. Today, no more than pro-forma protests mark such reinforcements of colour-related stereotypes in India. That is a far more dangerous stereotype to become inured to.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INTERNET A HUMAN RIGHT?

 

Public libraries in the US are expanding their collection of books that can be read online. This highlights the myriad ways the internet has changed the lives of those with access to it. Indeed, the fact that some months ago France's highest court ruled that access to the internet was a 'fundamental human right' rather strikingly posits how far individual and institutional thinking on what the internet means to society has progressed.

 

It is not too presumptuous to imagine a day when the logic underlying the French court's ruling can replicate itself in other parts of the world. Indeed, given its transformative potential and our ever-increasing dependence on it, access to the internet should certainly be envisaged more as a right than merely as a service provided by someone. Sure, critics have room to complain that such a notion is frivolous if not downright outlandish.


Millions do continue to live without access to basic healthcare, food and shelter around the world. This is an argument for universal internet access, rather than against it. From basic information and education, access to public services, and creation of new rural businesses that rely on detailed, multi-media interaction between end-producer in the village and intermediary in the town, to freedom of expression, the internet is increasingly playing an enabling role in every sphere of human endeavour.


Granted, there is, just as with other technological leaps, scope for a critique, covering pornographic content, obsession about the virtual world to the exclusion of the real, piracy, dominance of the US, facilitation of subversion, etc.


But on balance, the net offers positive empowerment. Which makes it imperative for the government of India to make high-speed data connectivity an integral part of rural and human development. The tens of thousands of crores sitting idle in the Universal Service Obligation fund and with the public sector telecom major BSNL can find no better use than building an optical fibre network to every single Block headquarters. High-speed wireless technology and our telecom service providers' proven ability to make money from millions of small transactions can take it forward from thereon, to make universal internet access a reality. The point is to get things moving.

 

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FROTH IN FINANCIAL PROFITS

 

It's not all about money, honey. Large American banks, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have reported profits of over $3 billion in the quarter ended September 2009. Citi, too, has turned in a profit, beating expectations of loss. All this is heady stuff, leading many to conclude that happy days are, if not quite here, just around the corner. This would be a big mistake.

 

These bright numbers do not weaken the case for fundamental reform of the financial sector across the world, with greater regulatory oversight, larger capital requirement, coordination across regulatory jurisdictions and reform of compensation to align bonuses with performance of the assets whose origination earns the bonus in the first place. The current froth in financial sector profits floats on a sea of artificial liquidity pumped in by governments to avert economic collapse.


Finance should be able to function and stay profitable, once this extra liquidity is sucked up. Governments and regulators across the world must remain committed to the decision to exercise rigorous regulatory oversight and stringent prudential norms as decided at the meetings of the G-20 nations in London and reaffirmed at Pittsburg. Any slackening of that resolve can potentially lead to a recurrence of the financial crisis of 2008, something the world can ill-afford any time soon.


The G-20 nations and the Financial Stability Board (established after the London Summit of the G-20) have done a substantial amount of work to identify root causes of the crisis, developed sweeping changes required to improve the integrity on the financial sector. Yet, their task is not complete — policy development and implementation of all the reforms required will take time. The robust turnaround in the performance big banks could now lend muscle to already voluble dissent over tighter regulation. Financial sector companies may want to go back to the era of unrealistic compensation and unregulated derivative products. Governments and regulators should withstand such pressures.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TIME TO ADDRESS THE FISCAL PROBLEM

CHETAN AHYA

 

Over the years, the government has slowly and steadily addressed a number of critical structural issues enabling the acceleration in economic growth. However, one area that needs improvement is the management of public finances. While fiscal discipline is important for macroeconomic policy credibility and sustainability, flexibility is necessary for managing unexpected shocks to the economic environment.

 

A fiscal policy following both these tenets would help the government intervene during times of economic difficulties without increasing the risk of macro instability. Such a policy could give a government the ability to use the budget as a counter-cyclical policy tool to regulate aggregate demand. Unfortunately, India's fiscal policy appears not to have followed either of these two budget-management principles over the past few years. Addressing this structural hurdle will be critical for sustaining strong 9-10% growth without increasing the risk of macro instability.


Global credit crisis has pushed deficit levels from bad to worse. After going through a phase of correction from the early 1990s to 1997, the underlying trend has been deteriorating. The national fiscal deficit (including off-budget items) as per our estimates is likely to remain high at 10.7% of GDP in F2010 (YE Mar-10) after having widened to 11.8% of GDP in F2009. To be sure, a number of one-off factors took deficit levels to an all-time high in F2009. However, the poor record of public finance management is evident from the fact that the lowest point of the fiscal deficit in the past 10 years was 6.8% of GDP in F2008.


As a result, growth in public debt is averaging significantly ahead of nominal GDP growth. We estimate the public debt to GDP ratio will rise to 79.2% in March 2010 from 59.3% in March 1997. India now has one of the highest public debts and fiscal deficits among large emerging markets. India's public debt to GDP is over three times the average for Asia ex-Japan excluding India. Similarly, India's fiscal deficit is also the highest among key emerging markets.


How does India manage this large deficit? We see a few key factors to explain this situation. First and probably the most important factor that helps India manage this high level of public debt is the fact that India's deficit has been funded largely through domestic debt as opposed to external debt. In fact, the ratio of external public debt to India's total public debt in the past 10 years has averaged at 10.2% compared to 60% for all emerging markets.

Second, the central bank has been careful in liberalising the capital account for residents. There are still significant restrictions for individuals. Household savings remain captive for the government to fund its deficit. Third, banks are required to invest 24% of their total net demand and time liabilities (NDTL) in government approved securities. This ensures a captive demand for government paper. Fourth, capital inflows ensure the private sector does not suffer from crowding out even as the government incurs very high level of deficit.


What is the medium-term solution? Over the next 12 months as tax revenues recover and government expenditure growth decelerates from a high base, we believe there will be a cyclical reduction in the fiscal deficit. We expect the fiscal deficit to reduce to 9% of GDP in F2011 and further to 7.3% of GDP in F2012. However, this will not be enough for a reduction in public debt to GDP. The government needs to initiate a fiscal policy that will reduce debt to GDP ratio to at least 63% — the average levels in 1990s.


The two key factors that influence the debt-to-GDP ratio are the amount of primary deficit and the differential between nominal interest rates and nominal GDP growth. The primary deficit is total receipts less non-interest expense or, in other words, the fiscal deficit less interest payments. Primary deficit stood at 4.6% of GDP in F2010, as per our estimates. Assuming that the effective interest rate on government debt remains steady at current levels and nominal GDP growth averages 12.5%, we believe that government needs to reduce the primary deficit to 0.5% of GDP (implied national fiscal deficit of 4.5% of GDP) by F2017 to cut the public debt to GDP to 63% by that year.


How can government reduce primary and fiscal deficits? We believe that a heavy fiscal deficit burden is one of the major hurdles to the government achieving its GDP growth target of 8-10% on a sustainable basis. A sustainable reduction in the government's deficit would likely have to entail difficult and sensitive measures, in our view.


First, the government needs to cut non-interest revenue expenditure. If we compare with other countries in the region, India's tax to GDP ratio is one of the highest. The main reason for the high level of fiscal deficit appears to be higher expenditure. Over the past four years, there has been little control on non-development expenditure, which has been one of the key factors for the rise in total expenditure to 33% of GDP in F2010 from 28.4% of GDP in F2006. Indeed, including off-budget expenditure, total expenditure increases to 33.7% of GDP in F2010.

Second, interest costs currently form about one-fourth of total receipts and one-fifth of total expenditure. Indeed, interest costs have been consistently higher than capital expenditure since the mid-1990s. To control the interest cost component, India needs not only to stop accruing fresh debt for funding less efficient current consumption expenditure but also to reduce its stock of debt to GDP as discussed earlier.


Third, one more sustainable effort of cutting expenditure would be for the government to accelerate divestment of public sector companies to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio in a short period. We estimate that the total market value of government holdings in these companies (listed and unlisted) at US$425 billion.


The hope is that the government will initiate the effort to be on the right path following the recommendations of the 13th Finance Commission, which will release its report on December 31, 2009.


(The author is Managing Director, Morgan Stanley Research)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

ATMASUDDHI - TRULY THE ULTIMATE

K VIJAYARAGHAVAN

 

Actually feeling, experiencing and living out an effective, worthwhile and meaningful way of living is, doubtless, the ultimate objective of every aspirant (the sadhaka). Innumerable obstacles (vigna) stand in the way in the form of enemies within and without. While the obstacles without are identifiable, those within are more subtle, often hidden even to a discerning eye. These are in the form of impressions (samskara) accumulated over the years and, according to the ancient Indian faith, even many previous births.

 

Whatever be the case, every human has in store various obstacles, which he has to overcome and eliminate, through observation, analysis, practice and perseverance (sadhana). One who cleanses his soul of these 'toxins' obtains the ultimate — atmasuddhi. Purely from a religious point, this is that state of God realisation, in the manner conceived of by the Bible: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mathew: 5,8).


Even from a strictly rational or agnostic point of view, atmasuddhi is a very practical concept, though hard to realise. A simple analogy is that of cleansing one's physical system, after going through illness, infection or contamination of the system by harmful bacteria. The patient has to exercise discipline concerning food, rest and lifestyle. This too is a form of sadhana, as this process also involves one of 'making up' or compensating for one's past bad karma through good karma.


The analogy, as above, can now be extended to the spiritual purging of the 'toxins' or obstacles within through the needed regimen, discipline and efforts (sadhana). The increased atmasuddhi that would result would lead to weakening of obstacles or enemies without too, resulting thus in more favourable situations, relationships and developments all over. These, after all, are mirrors of the extent of clarity (atmasuddhi) within!


In the above regard, there are various techniques designed to approach the desired objective. While the devout would derive sustenance through prayers, the religious through rituals, the agnostic would rely on analysis, study and changes in his approach to things and issues. All authentic, time tested and validated techniques, which also would be rooted on diligence, truth and goodness of heart, would, sooner or later, lead to the common objective — increased atmasuddhi, which, doubtless, is that truly ultimate in all feeling, experience and realisation!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TUNING IN TO WALTZING MATILDA

MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH

 

How often have you read about Australian interest rates in our dailies? Cricket, yes! Attacks on students, yes! Deadlocked talks on supply of uranium, yes! But interest rates and Australia?

 

Yet earlier this month when the Reserve Bank of Australia raised interest rates 0.25 percentage points, most business dailies not only reported the news but also referred to it a number of times in the subsequent days. Could it be that the Australian economy has suddenly become more important to India?


Not quite! The new-found fascination with interest rates in Australia is entirely to do with the fact that it is the first G20 country to raise rates after the global crisis. (Israel too had increased rates in August but it is not a member of the G20). Add to this the fact that the Australian economy managed to avoid a recession (it contracted only in the last quarter of 2008) and is the only one in the developed world to expand in the first half of 2009.


Top that with another input, almost as relevant: its central bank governor, Glenn Stevens, has been rated 'A' by Global Finance in its annual rating of central governors (October 2009) and it's immediately obvious why Australia has become the cynosure of all eyes. With country after country fearing the consequences of withdrawing the stimulus and yet knowing they must, the big question is: has Stevens got it right?


For India, the timing of the move, exactly a fortnight before the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) comes out with its second quarter review of monetary policy for 2009-10, ups the ante in the debate about our own exit strategy. Latest numbers show industrial growth at a record 22-month high of 10.4%, the sensex at a 17-month high, the auto sector set to cross its earlier record of 10 million, foreign direct investment up an incredible 41% in August while portfolio investors don't seem to get enough of Indian equity shares.


Yes, exports continue to lag but the steady inflow of foreign exchange (with its fallout on money supply in a regime where the government cannot afford to allow the rupee to appreciate beyond a point) is bound to have a spillover on prices. The signs are already there: both the wholesale price index and, more worryingly, consumer price indices are surely but steadily inching up even as crude oil prices look menacing.


The problem is, the government has already made it clear it does not wish to see the stimulus withdrawn. So has industry. The governor could stick his neck out and disregard their views if he knew for sure the recovery is for real. But does he? Does anyone?


As Global Finance put it, the actions of central bankers "may have ensured that the world economy and financial systems were saved — but at an enormous cost...Those deserving central bankers who worked long hours to hold things together cannot afford to rest on their laurels. They must now consider the consequences of what they have done, or not done. At some point it will become necessary to stop the presses from printing more money before another bubble forms."


And that brings me to the most vexatious point: bubbles are notoriously hard to spot in advance. Unlike the duck test — if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck — there is no foolproof bubble test. Worse, given the lag between policy and impact, bubbles call for proactive measures much in advance, when they are still at the duckling stage.

So what is governor Subbarao to do? He's been rated 'B' on the grounds that, "India expects to turn in a chunky 6.7% growth in GDP this year but all is not rosy. Inflation is stubbornly refusing to budge from its average 6% and there are signs that the central bank's efforts to combat the credit crunch by boosting liquidity will only add to inflationary pressures...While adopting a more accommodative stance in the wake of the financial crisis, Subbarao has hinted his expansionary policies could be reversed in the near future as the economy shows demonstrable signs of improvement".


Question is, what is a 'demonstrable sign of improvement'? A rising index of industrial production, a stock market that's run up more than 70% in the year to date, record FDI, record portfolio flows? As Subbarao struggles to find the right answers, knowing full well that it's 'damned if he does and damned if he doesn't', he can take solace from the fact that he's still ahead of Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve who's been rated 'C'.

s
He could do no worse than recall Chuck Prince's famous words: "When the music is playing you've got to get up and dance". Well the music is playing; he needs to decide whether he wants to dance! If he calls right, he could still have a shot at matching his predecessor's 'A'. All the best, Guv!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IT'S TIME INDIA INC RESETS ITS SOCIAL COVENANTS

SUDESHNA SEN

 

It isn't often I revisit the same subject in such quick succession, but sometimes, well, one is ahead of the curve. The last time I wrote about CEO compensation, Salman Khurshid hadn't woken up to it. I know it's Diwali season, and growth crackers are going off in India.

 

But. In the past few weeks I've been picking up some rather interesting subtexts from the Indian media. A Naxalite arrested makes headline urban news. Strikes, in aspirational white collar professions. (Oh alright, pilots are always on strike but that was in PSUs.)


A manager killed by agitating workers. It used to happen in Europe, not India. Rising xenophobia against expat workers. Little hints here and there, markers of the huge social upheaval that's happening all around the world.

It gives me a very '70s show kind of feeling. You can, in the "partying, shopping and dressing up" mood ignore it. But industrial unrest, read a deepening socio-economic divide and increasing outrage about income inequalities, is hitting India just as much as it is hitting the rest of the world. The mood, as I sense it, is moving from "I wanna that millionaire" to a sense of injured entitlement among the vast middle and lower classes.


Half of the Indian population is already alienated and angry, which is why Naxalites pretty much run large tracts of rural India. Now, there's a very real chance that the entirely new generation that India is betting on for growth is beginning to go the same way.


Unionism and strikes is just a symptom of a deepening divide. If I read the tea leaves correctly, and unfortunately, I usually do when it comes to predicting doom and gloom, it's going to get a whole lot worse. It's all very well to start airlines and malls and things and suddenly give a young, previously poor, population a taste of the good life. But then you can't brutally snatch it away from them without a backlash.


I've been reading some fascinating figures in ET recently about the kind of compensation India Inc gives its bosses. I'll eat all my British hats if every single one of those companies hasn't implemented savage "cost-cutting" measures across the rank and file.


How exactly d'you think your employee feels when she reads you are taking home crores while you're cutting toilet paper in her office loo? The first thing she's gonna do is go join a union.


The next thing she's gonna do is go home at the end of her work shift and keep her Blackberry off on weekends. Indian corporates routinely expect far more bang for their buck from their employees than western ones — just look at the killing working hours, as one example.


You don't get that kind of engagement, or whatever fancy management term you call it, through routine paychecks. It comes from the intense hunger and aspiration of the Indian working class for upward mobility and prosperity.


India Inc can sit on its high horse and tell Mr Khurshid to back off from dictating CEO salaries, but they'd better, ummm, tone it down if some of 'em don't want to be lynched. Fred the Shred, the former boss of RBS, got his house stoned, his car trashed by neighbours, his kids threatened. Dick Fuld of Lehman is pretty much hiding out on a country estate. And that's in law-abiding Europe and America.

It ain't just about money. Across the world, the spectacular collapse of the 'markets are always right' capitalist model, as practiced by Mr Greenspan and co, has broken a fundamental social covenant.


For example, in the UK, to put it simplistically, the financial sector generated the wealth, by creating debt products on which the middle and working classes lived, and the government took care of the poor, stepping in to re-distribute the wealth as benefits. Everyone got a share of the pie, so if the wealth generating class got an extra slice, nobody complained.


What's been exposed now is the huge ethical and common sense vacuum at the centre of this social contract, and nature hates vacuums. Nobody, anywhere in the world, is buying the mantra that Big Business knows best. Shareholders as monitors of big business? That's a cruel joke, and even more so in India.


That is why governments world over are intervening, Manmohan Singh is gently ticking off India Inc, and airline staff is going on strike and brawling all over the front pages of national newspapers. About the last thing India can now afford is an alienated, militant, and angry white collar working class. For heaven's sake, we're supposed to specialise in services. Remember the, well, '70s, when all Indian service sector staff were bureaucrats?

It's not really about any fuzzy-wuzzy ideological things. It is just a very bad business idea to ignore a groundswell of discontent — and being ostrichy about it is equally silly. The issue is not really CEO pay. The issue is the covenants that business has with the rest of society.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'DATA-SHARING WILL IMPROVE UNDERWRITING']

PREETI KULKARNI

 

Post-detariffing, the intense competition amongst non-life insurers vying for the same share of pie has resulted in the profitability plummeting by nearly 80%. Bharti-AXA General Insurance is therefore looking at growing the pie by reaching out to under-penetrated segments like rural areas and lower income groups in urban areas. In an interview with ET , Bharti Axa CEO Amarnath Ananthanarayan

 

What has been the impact of the global crisis on your foreign partner Axa? How has it affected its plans for India?
The impact has been positive in the sense that now AXA has become the largest insurance company in the world, in terms of gross written premium. The market share is around 3.8% - life and general put together—for the period ending April-August 2009. This has obviously helped us grow. Has there been a strain on the profitability? Yes, a bit on the life side a bit. However, the strain has been more severe on other players in the market. So we have actually benefited from the downturn because of the good risk that we took.


There has been no impact on the expansion plans in India. In fact, we got a cap infusion of Rs 40 crore last month from Bharti-AXA put together. So from Rs 190 crore, paid up capital has gone up to Rs 230 crore. I was in Paris a couple of weeks ago, and they are quite bullish—there has been no change in strategy with regard to India. Amendments to the insurance act propose to introduce a quota for third party insurance for all companies.


Do you feel that this is better than the pool?

Overall, as a concept, it is better than the existing motor pool arrangement. There are nitty-gritties that need to be ironed out as to how it will be implemented. We have sent our comments to the IRDA. So we don't want to comment about it now.


IRDA chairman has said that countries where detariffing has been introduced have seen major upheaval for four years before rates stabilised. Do you expect the same here?

Hopefully, we will learn sooner. But he is right. Data show that it takes 3-4 four years for the rates to stabilize. It's already been 2-2.5 years since detariffing was set in motion in India. Hopefully by next year, things will stabilize. And it needs to happen. Otherwise, I think we are not sending right signals to anyone if revenue is coming down in a sunrise industry like insurance, in a growth economy like India. As an industry, we need to be more proactive about fixing the problems we are facing right now.


IRDA has said that non-life insurance companies not sharing data is accentuating the underwriting losses. What is your view?

As of now the overall loss ratios shared, but no one knows where (which clients) the losses are coming from. Data-sharing will certainly improve underwriting. But is data not being shared the cause of current problem? We don't think so. The real problem right now is detarrifing, which has caused insurers to discount a lot of premiums. This is on the commercial vehicles side. On the health side, again because of competition, the group mediclaim policies are going at prices even below the loss ratios—that is the major cause of the problem. Non-life companies are not doing the right risks. The profitability has come down by 80% in the last three years for the entire general insurance industry. Basically, while premiums have gone up, claims have gone up at a higher rate, which means the pricing is not right.


Why is that telecom companies have not been able to make as much headway as banks in cross-selling insurance?
The reach of telecom companies is second only to India Post. But, telecom as a distribution channel is still evolving. This is an area we need to develop. If you look at bancassurance, world over, it has been a traditional channel for long—people know what needs to be done to establish a bancassurance channel. However, the telecom channel is merely 3-4 years old even outside India, while bancassurance has been around for 20-30 years. It has taken more time for best practices to come to India and insurance companies have taken time to adopt these practices. Will the telecom channel take off in India? I am sure it will happen, and happen at an exponential pace. Hopefully next time we meet, I can give you some good news.


What is the composition of your portfolio?

Nearly 50% of our portfolio comprises motor insurance. 25% is rural and the rest consists of fire, marine, construction risks etc. Health makes up for around 25%, but it is part of rural, so it will be double counting if you say that rural is 25% and health is 25%.


What are you doing to improve your underwriting margins?

Our margins are pretty okay. It is loss-making as of now because of the extra expenses involved in opening new branches, hiring people and so on. Underwriting-wise we are there—we are not doing a bad job at all. As a start-up, we have to take certain calculated risks, but I don't think we are in the 80% discount mode. We are walking away from a lot of contracts where the risk is not good – be it group mediclaim or other highly discount-driven products.

 

We are now focusing more on rural and retail while looking at corporate clients too. The reason is simple—if there is a factory that is already insured by someone else, the only way we can get in is by either pushing them out, which means lower pricing, or provide more benefits for same premium, which means profitability will not be there. So we want to play in a market which is traditionally the underserved market... people in the rural areas, and also the lower income groups in metros who do not have insurance. People like us have the financial wherewithal to handle emergencies—but people like these, who need insurance the most, are deprived of it. Therefore, they can benefit from our offerings and we can benefit because of the lesser competition. So we are focusing on working with NGOs, self-help groups, co-operative and regional rural banks to cater to these segments.


Is underwriting a challenge in case of these segments?

That will be there, but this will be an unknown challenge, whereas corporate is a known challenge. The latter is not going to be profitable for sure, till rates spike up. I would rather take an unknown than known—there is a potential loss, but potential profit as well. Also, we've created a manual for claims which enables the NGOs to settle the claims themselves—there is no need to come to us for approval. This brings down the servicing costs dramatically and even the NGO feels empowered.


What is your distribution strategy going to be, going forward?

We can't get away from traditional brick and mortar channels. For instance, we cannot do without inspection of motor vehicles for renewals. That will continue to be a strong channel for us. We will also focus on partnerships with NGOs, traditional banks and RRBs. Also for us, both technology and telecom will form an important component, from the distribution as well as claims servicing standpoint.


Could you elaborate on your plans for this year?

We are present in 40 locations as of now. We want to get it to close to 100 by December this year. In addition, we have a little over 1000 employees, we intend to increase the number to 1300. Similarly, we plan to scale up the number of agents from 2000 to 3000. We completed one year of operations in August this year. The premiums collected between August 2008 and March 2009 amounted to Rs 32.3 crore. But from then to month ended September 2009, we've booked an additional Rs 100 crore premium. So we are slightly over Rs 130 crore now. So that is the kind of growth we see for ourselves going forward.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE HAVE KEPT MARGIN DESPITE COST PRESSURE

RATNA BHUSHAN

 

Vinita Bali, an alumni of the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management, is referred to as 'turnaround expert' with excellent marketing and intuitive skills. She not only spruced up the Nusli Wadia-promoted Rs 3,143-crore Britannia into a diversified packaged foods company, but also steered it through completion of the share buyback from Groupe Danone after a protracted board room battle, acquisition of Fonterra's 49% stake in a dairy JV, and taking full control of bakery retailer Daily Bread.

 

Since she joined Britannia in January '05, Ms Bali has taken the company through intense pressures on profit margins, heightened competition, spiralling raw material prices, and slow economic growth. A career spanning soft-drink concentrate (Rasna) to chocolates (Cadbury) to soft drinks (Coca-Cola), biscuits and now textiles (Britannia and now Bombay Dyeing), Ms Bali's plate is brimming. ET caught up with the company's MD and CEO of four years to share her thoughts on constant challenges and competitive pressures. Excerpts:


In four years, you have transformed Britannia into a health and nutrition-focused company with differentiated packaged foods brands. What is the way forward for growth?

There is obviously no magic elixir. Growth invariably is the outcome of profitably growing revenue, with a sharp focus on operational excellence and cost effectiveness. This calls for being innovative in terms of new ideas and being disciplined in implementing those ideas. That apart, there is scope for continual improvement in procurement, manufacturing, logistics, and more.

 

How challenging has it been to deal with pressures of market shares and profitability specially with the economic slowdown?

As you yourself have pointed out, a slowdown in the economy means we have to learn to run faster than we have in the past and also run faster than other choices available to consumers.


As you would have noticed in the results we have declared so far which pertain to the first quarter, we have maintained margins despite significant increases in input costs and a disposable income growth that is lower than last year.


FMCG companies have been banking heavily on rural growth. What percentage of your sales are coming from rural markets? Do you see escalation of growth from rural markets or balanced growth from urban and rural?

The importance of rural markets varies by brand. For example, in our dairy portfolio, rural does not play a significant role at all, as yet. But in some of the universally-consumed biscuits like Tiger, Marie and 50-50, the share of rural can be as high as 40 to 50%.


Besides, overall distribution has gone up. Additionally, we have created and unlocked new opportunities like the Rs 200-300 crore business of personal consumption packs at the very affordable Rs 5 price point.


Britannia's FMCG business is split into biscuits, dairy and retail (Daily Bread). But the company appears to be going slow on dairy and Daily Bread ventures (which Britannia recently took 100% control of), with biscuits remaining the core focus.

That is not true. While biscuits continue to be the core part of our portfolio, we have made a significant shift in the other businesses with dairy, bread, cake and rusks contributing to approximately 20% of our business, compared with less than 15% four years ago. As for the Daily Bread business, it is focused in Bangalore and right now we are not looking at a national foot print for the brand.


With the direct role of Bombay Dyeing in your charge now, what are your plans for the home textiles business? With the top-deck of the textile business being reorganised, are you planning to rejuvenate the Bombay Dyeing brand to address a younger consumer?


I would prefer to talk about Bombay Dyeing separately. Suffice it to mention that Bombay Dyeing is run by a CEO who is responsible for delivering on the plans approved by Bombay Dyeing.


Biscuits is a very price-sensitive category. How are you dealing with spiralling input costs like that of sugar?
Through a combination of revenue management and cost effectiveness, we have adopted various measures to cut costs and improve productivity to maintain margins. We have also focused on reducing energy requirements and cutting out waste through better use of energy. We look at costs, revenues and pricing as a dynamic proposition.

Britannia has announced the establishment of a foundation to promote nutrition in the country. How do you see the foundation panning out in India? Will all future launches from Britannia focus on nutrition?
The role of the Britannia Nutrition Foundation is to increase the level of understanding and competency of the many dimensions of nutrition. It is a significant step in our aspiration to provide wholesome and healthy products, and more importantly to focus all round attention on the issue of nutrition, which is a social issue needing urgent attention in our country.


To add to that, we have a large and growing portfolio in biscuits and dairy which delivers health and nutrition. For example, we have been removing ingredients that are unhealthy – Britannia is the only company to have removed transfats from its biscuit portfolio. We have provided iron fortification in Tiger and vitamin and mineral fortification in Milk Bikis, bread and Marie.


In our dairy portfolio we make available products like milk and dahi which are low in fat, or have fat option under the Slimz range. We are always exploring introducing healthy foods across segments. We are always exploring products at both ends of the spectrum from healthy and nutritious like Nutrichoice and Marie, to delightfully indulgent like Bourbon and Pure Magic for the simple reason that both are relevant to most people.

In the fast growing glucose segment, Tiger is trailing Parle-G .

Parle-G has historically dominated the glucose segment and Britannia's entry in this segment was about a decade ago in 1998. Over the years, Britannia has invested in creating a differentiated offering and Tiger is now available not just as a plain glucose biscuit, but fortified with iron. The Tiger franchise has also been extended to banana, coconut and cream.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DEVELOPMENT: GIVE RIGHTS PRIDE OF PLACE

BY ARJUN SENGUPTA

 

Development literature is now increasingly talking about rights-based development built on the appeal of the right-rhetoric when every government professes its commitment to realising human rights.

 

Human rights are norms that bind a society and governments derive their legitimacy from fulfilling them. The source of these rights is many — natural rights, divine rights, inherent rights of human beings or self-evidence. The American Declaration of Independence of 1776 considered these rights as self-evident, proclaiming if the governments cannot fulfil those rights they lose their legitimacy and people can justly overthrow them.

 

After the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948), however, any set of norms that a community accepted through due process, would be considered as human rights as fundamental norms that every agency would be responsible for fulfilling. The UDHR was followed by the enactment of several international treaties recognising some civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights as binding norms of international community. They are to be enjoyed and exercised individually even if provided collectively by the government. They have to be provided equitably to all members of society and the authorities responsible for providing them must be accountable and can be reprimanded by the judicial system through a due process of law, making human rights enforceable legal rights.

 

In 1986, building upon the UDHR, the United Nations adopted the declaration on "the right to development", which could not go through the full non-creating process of making it enforceable legal rights, because of both conceptual and operational differences among the countries. The UN held regular discussions for more than 12 years and then in 1998 appointed me as the independent expert on the "Right to Development" to work out the contents and implementation of this right. Over the next six years, I gave about 10 reports to the Human Rights Council which were discussed at intergovernmental meetings in Geneva and New York and they triggered substantial debate, including a Nobel Symposium to specifically discuss my contention about the difference between right to development and rights-based development.

 

The debate has by now produced enormous literature and a growing consensus on some major issues, such as the definition of development in a form of human rights. Amartya Sen's definition of "development as freedom" formed the basis — a process of realisation of those freedoms identified as development. Some of their freedoms have been accepted through the non-creating forums of international treaty as enforceable human rights, such as the covenant of civil and political rights and of economic, social and cultural rights.

 

Right to development is defined as the right to the process of realisation of those freedoms and corresponding fundamental rights. What was still needed to be explored was a consensus about the method of implementation and the responsibility of the governments and other powerful actors to realise those rights. Rights-based development, however, is one step prior to the right to development and is concerned with the realisation of the rights in a manner consistent with the definition of human rights.

 

The reach of the process of development built upon a rights-based approach is enormous. The essentials of these rights call for a programme of action where such rights can be fulfilled, identifying specific duties of specific duty bearers such as the state or local governments or empowered institutions.

 

The programme must be implemented within available fiscal, monetary and technological resources and while they may not all be realisable immediately, the programmes must have a roadmap for progressive realisation. Most importantly, once such programme is adopted, the accountability of individual duty bearers can be tested through different institutional mechanisms including the courts of law.

 

In India, today, some social programmes have been accepted as rights to which all eligible individuals are entitled. Let me illustrate the power of this approach by using first the example of right to food security, where all individuals as members of families below the poverty line would be entitled to Rs 5 per kg of rice at Rs 3 per kg.

 

The programme of action behind this right must lay down the eligibility of people who can claim this right and the duty of each agency responsible for procuring food and supplying them to those who are eligible. Now suppose an individual who has not got this right goes to the court of law asking for enforcement of the right, the court can summon the authorities such as the local public distribution centres who must be able to explain that they made their "best efforts" to provide the food but could not because the next higher authorities like the Food Corporation or the district agencies failed to supply them. If the court is satisfied that all efforts were made at that level to supply the food, can summon the higher authorities to explain why they have failed. The court may reprimand them, ask for corrective action including compensation and if the failure was due to willful negligence the courts may actually penalise them.

 

In other words, once providing food security is accepted as right, it lays bare the vulnerability of all the agents responsible for the failure to provide that right at different stages of the process.

 

Similarly, consider the example of NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), where 100 days employment at minimum wages are guaranteed to unskilled rural labour. It is clearly recognised that such a right can be realised only progressively and subject to the availability of resources. But within those constraints each local authority would adopt a programme of action recognising eligibility, providing jobs and wages to a given number of people accommodated in the first stage.

 

Here again a rural worker who is entitled for such a job but does not get it can claim his right must be fulfilled. There may be a number of mechanisms for amicably settling these claims, including dispute settlement and social auditing.

 

It is not difficult to work out specific programmes with identifiable responsibilities of authorities for fulfilling their rights and rights-based approach to development call for a clear identification of specific responsibilities. The failures then can definitely be justifiable and the reach of this accountability can go quite far irrespective of the politics and the level of authorities. It is this which has changed the course of implementing development.

 

Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament andformer Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

LEARN FROM 11/9: THE DAY BERLIN WALL FELL

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

A few weeks ago, Americans "observed" the eighth anniversary of 9/11 — that day in 2001 when the Twin Towers were brought down by Al Qaeda. In a few weeks, Germans will "celebrate" the 20th anniversary of 11/9 — that day in 1989 when the Berlin Wall was brought down by one of the greatest manifestations of people power ever seen.

 

As the Obama team tries to figure out how to proceed vis-a-vis Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, it is worth reflecting for a moment on why Germans are celebrating 11/9 and we are reliving 9/11 — basically debating whether to re-invade Afghanistan to prevent it again from becoming an Al Qaeda haven and to prevent Pakistan from tipping into civil war.

 

The most important difference between 11/9 and 9/11 is "people power". Germans showed the world how good ideas about expanding human freedom — amplified by people power — can bring down a wall and an entire autocratic power structure, without a shot. There is now a Dunkin' Donuts on Paris Square adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate, where all that people power was concentrated. Normally, I am horrified by American fast-food brands near iconic sites, but in the case of this once open sore between East and West, I find it something of a balm. The war over Europe is indeed over. People power won. We can stand down — pass the donuts.

 

The events of 9/11, by contrast, demonstrated how bad ideas can bring down skyscrapers and tie a great country in knots.

 

I toured Paris Square the other day with Ulrike Graalfs, a programme director at the American Academy in Berlin, where I am a visitor, and she mentioned in passing that she was in America on 9/11, as a student at the University of Pennsylvania, and she was a nine-year-old schoolgirl standing on the Berlin Wall on 11/9. I was struck by her recollections.

 

On 9/11, she said, she was overwhelmed by the sense of "anger and hurt" that so many of the Penn students around her felt — feelings so intense it made it impossible for them to see, what she, a foreign student could see, "how much the rest of the world was standing with America that day". By contrast, on 11/9, "there were people singing and dancing and someone lifted me up on the wall", she said. "I still get emotional thinking about it. I saw my father jump down on the other side. I was terrified. It was very high. I thought it was going to be the end of my father. He started debating with an East German soldier. But the soldier didn't do anything. He just stood there, stiff". People power won, and Germany has been united and stable ever since.

 

The problem we have in dealing with the Arab-Muslim world today is the general absence or weakness of people power there. There is a low-grade civil war going on inside the Arab-Muslim world today, only in too many cases it is "the South versus the South" — bad ideas versus bad ideas, amplified by violence, rather than bad ideas versus good ideas amplified by people power.

 

In places like Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Pakistan you have violent religious extremist movements fighting with state security services. And while the regimes in these countries are committed to crushing their extremists, they ra-rely take on their extremist ideas by offering progressive alternatives. That's largely because the puritanical Islamic ideology of the Saudi state or segments of the Pakistani military is not all that different from the ideology of the extremists. And when these extremists aim elsewhere — like at India or at Shias or at Israelis — these regimes are indifferent. That is why there is no true war of ideas inside these countries — just a war.

 

These states are not promoting an inclusive, progressive and tolerant interpretation of Islam that could be the foundation of people power. And when their people do take to the streets, it is usually against another people rather than to unify their own ranks around good ideas. There have been far more marches to denounce Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad than to denounce Muslim suicide bombers who have killed innocent civilians, many of them Muslims.

 

The most promising progressive people-power movements have been Lebanon's Cedar Revolution, the Sunni Awakening in Iraq and the Green Revolution in Iran. But the Cedar Revolution has been stymied by Syrian might and internal divisions.

 

The Tehran uprising has been crushed by the iron fist of the Iranian regime, fueled by petro-dollars. And it is unclear whether the Iraqis will set aside their tribalism for a shared people power.

 

So as we try to figure out how many troops to send to stabilise Afghanistan and Pakistan, let's remember: Where there is people power wedded to progressive ideas, there is hope — and American power can help. Where there is people power harnessed to bad ideas, there is danger. Where there is no people power and only bad ideas, there will be no happy endings.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

IT'S TIME TO SPEAK FRANKLY TO CHINA

BY OUR CORRESPONDENT

 

For about two decades, the India-China story had been one of hope in spite of the lingering boundary issue. The principle on which the interaction between the Asian giants rested was not to hold the many potential areas of cooperation hostage to a single point of discord. Deng Xiaoping, the master template maker of post-Cultural Revolution China, recognised in a flash that in order to build and strengthen his country, and make it count in the world, he would have to expand cooperation and reduce differences with neighbours. The singular gains for China accruing from such an understanding are there for all to see. The broader region around China also gained in terms of stability provided by Beijing's quest for greater trade, investment and economic cooperation, which replaced Beijing's earlier national chauvinistic belligerence in its dealings with the region as a whole, particularly with India. In the context of India, it was Deng who signalled to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that the two sides could do normal business to mutual benefit instead of remaining shackled by the ghost of 1962. Is there a possibility now that Deng's present-day successors may be contemplating putting brakes on the understanding that has characterised Sino-Indian ties for the past two decades? Whatever the answer to this question, India needs to prepare itself to deal with any situation that may be thrown up. Economically, politically, militarily, and in terms of its weight in the international system, it is a more capable entity than it was in 1962. China's might too has grown manifold in this period. But so have its inherent vulnerabilities, particularly on the internal political front. There is apprehension in some quarters that this may impel it in directions that detract from its status as a peaceful rising power. However, the emphasis in New Delhi's interaction with Beijing should lie in continuing to emphasise the gains to be made by both by visualising an even greater understanding between them than that which has already brought the two countries multiple benefits. The Chinese Premier, Mr Wen Jiabao, has done well to hint at his desire for a meeting in Bangkok with the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, on the sidelines of an Asean summit. Dr Singh would be well advised to reciprocate. When the two do meet, the Indian Prime Minister might be expected to speak with frankness, and cover all issues across the board, including urging the Chinese leadership to ensure that Chinese propaganda outfits such as People's Daily and Global Times stop their crude and vituperative outpourings against this country. No diplomatic effort can succeed if the Indian people are not well disposed. The time may also have come for India to propose to get the boundary issue out of the way. To this end, a last preparatory meeting of experts to be followed by a bilateral summit — all in quick order, and within a timeframe of only a few months — could well turn out to be just the idea that cannot be regarded as premature.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

HOW I CELEBRATED GANDHI'S JANAMDIN

BY KHUSHWANT SINGH

 

I celebrated Bapu Gandhi's birthday in a manner he would not have approved of — yet I shamelessly describe myself as a Gandhian. I raised my glass of Single Malt Scotch Whisky to wish his spirit life eternal and prayed: "Bapu, may our words and actions be guided by you: We know we have let you down many times; we continue to pay you lip service on your birthdays and death anniversaries; we sing Vaishnav Jan to tainey kaheye jo peerh paraaye jaaney ray and Ishwar Allah Teerey Naam. But we do not hesitate to go for each other's throats in disputes over temples and mosques. We have named a township after you, Gandhinagar. The man elected from there led a march which ended by breaking down a Muslim place of worship. Gujarat, the state we honour because you were born there has as its head a man who connived at the killings of over a thousand Gujarati Muslims, forgetting that a Gujarati Muslim was your first client and took you to South Africa to fight his cases. Even worse, there is growing number of bigots who believe that your preaching Ahimsa — non-violence — deprived us of martial qualities and made us a weak nation. Consequently, though we call you Father of the Nation, we are confused about your role in nation building. So all we do on your birth anniversaries is to take a chhuttee — holiday — from work; we take our families out for picnic, the zoo or to a cinema. We do not subscribe to your motto: 'Work is worship.'

 

I persist in believing you were the prophet of our times and showed us the right path. We know more about you than we know about any of our other prophets because their lives have been overlaced with miracles imagined by their followers. You exposed yourself with absolute candour hiding nothing. You believed in Satya, truth, however embarrassing it was for you. So, though I do not share many of your values, I do my best to be truthful. I often fail but do not give up only because one of the things I learnt from you is to never give up. So, a second toast to Bapu: "May your spirit continue to guide us till Kingdom come."

 

SOLACE IN VERSE

Harsh is the son of Ashok Desai, one of the top lawyers of the Mumbai High Court. He was trained to be a lawyer and follow in his father's footsteps to practise at the bar or enter the Judicial Service. However, his heart was not in the law and he gave up before he got very far. He got married. That also did not hold him for very long and he called it off. Now, his sole interests are reading and writing poetry. His first collection of poems You Say It's Not True has been recently published by Full Circle. It is a slender volume, he sent me an advanced publication. I went through the poem and to whet the reader's appetite chose one which obliquely sums up his life:

 

I feel the burden of my Genes

At forty am a poet of sorts

Alcohol is now only a matter of time

All the men in the family have walked down that line.

I feel the burden of gravity

And the pull of mother earth

And the need to float free

Of the land of my birth

I feel the burden of a heavy heart

And of a relationship gone sour

I just seek a fresh start

And a walk not too far.

 

I feel the burden of having to earn

To push and pull and shove

I just want to learn and sing

And smile and maybe love.

 

Gay problem

Lady A: "I'm worried."

Lady B: "Why? What's the matter?"

Lady A: "My son has finally got married."

Lady B: "Then you should be happy."

 

Lady A: "It is like this. My son is gay. We've known that for a long time, so we never forced him to marry. But now he has married another man and brought him home to live with us. My worry is whether I should treat this other man as a son-in-law and spoil and pamper him; or whether I should treat him like a daughter-in-law and scold him and make him work in the kitchen."

 

(Contributed by Rajeshwari Singh, New Delhi)

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

FIE, FATAL FLAW!

BY MAUREEN DOWD

 

One singular leader who wrote elegantly about his ideals, was swept into the presidency and then collided with harsh reality had some advice for another.

 

In an interview with Alison Smale in the New York Times last week, Vaclav Havel sipped Champagne in the middle of the afternoon and pricked Barack Obama's conscience.

 

Havel, the 73-year-old former Czech President, who didn't win a Nobel Peace Prize despite leading the Czechs and the Slovaks from communism to democracy, turned the tables and asked Smale a question about Obama, the latest winner of the peace prize.

 

Was it true that the President had refused to meet the Dalai Lama on his visit to Washington?

 

He was told that Obama had indeed tried to curry favour with China by declining to see the Dalai Lama until after the President's visit to China next month.

 

Dissing the Dalai was part of a broader new Obama policy called "strategic reassurance" — softening criticism of China's human rights record and financial policies to calm its fears that America is trying to contain it. (Not to mention our own fears that the Chinese will quit bankrolling our debt).

 

The tyro American President got the Nobel for the mere anticipation that he would provide bold moral leadership for the world at the very moment he was caving to Chinese dictators. Awkward.

 

Havel reached out to touch a glass dish given to him by Obama, inscribed with the Preamble to the US Constitution. "It is only a minor compromise," he said. "But exactly with these minor compromises start the big and dangerous ones, the real problems."

 

Our President would be well advised to listen. Havel is looking at this not only as a moral champion but as a playwright. Obama (who, as Robert Draper wrote, has read and reread Shakespeare's tragedies) does not want his fatal flaw to be that he compromises so much that his ideals get blurred out of recognition.

 

As Leon Wieseltier writes in the upcoming New Republic: "The demotion of human rights by the common-ground presidency is absolutely incomprehensible. The common ground is not always the high ground. When it is without end, moreover, the search for common ground is bad for bargaining. It informs the other side that what you most desire is the deal — that you will never acknowledge the finality of the difference, and never be satisfied with the integrity of opposition. There is a reason that 'uncompromising' is a term of approbation."

 

FDR asked to be judged by the enemies he had made. But what of a President who strives to keep everyone in some vague middle ground of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, without ever offending anyone?

 

White House advisers don't seem worried yet that Obama's transformational aura could get smudged if too much is fudged. They say it is the normal tension between campaigning on a change platform and actually accomplishing something in office.

 

Yet Obama's legislative career offers cautionary tales about the toll of constant consensus building.

In Springfield, he compromised so much on a healthcare reform bill that in the end, it merely led to a study. In Washington, he compromised so much with Senate Republicans on a bill to require all nuclear plant owners to notify state and local authorities about radioactive leaks that it simply devolved into a bill offering guidance to regulators, and even that ultimately died.

 

Now the air is full of complaints that Obama has been too cautious on healthcare, Afghanistan, filling judgeships, ending "don't ask, don't tell", repealing the Defence of Marriage Act and rebuilding New Orleans; that he has conceded too much to China, Iran, Russia, the Muslim world and the banks.

 

The White House website that went up during President Barack Obama's first week in office bragged about the four trips that Sen. Obama made to the Gulf region after Katrina, promising to "keep the broken promises made by President Bush to rebuild New Orleans". He may be doing a better job than Brownie's boss, but Obama didn't make his first visit to New Orleans until Thursday. He stayed just a few hours before jetting off to a fundraiser in San Francisco.

 

At the New Orleans townhall, 29-year-old Gabriel Bordenave complained about the slow pace of the recovery. "I expected as much from the Bush administration," he told Obama. "But why are we still being nickel-and-dimed?"

 

The President gave a technocrat's answer about the "complications between the state, the city and the feds in making assessments of the damages".

 

"Now, I wish I could just write a cheque," he added. When an audience member yelled "Why not?" he dryly noted, "There's this whole thing about the Constitution."

 

The President should remember, though, that when you're cooking up a more perfect Union, sometimes you've got to break some eggs.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

A LESSON FROM LALGARH

BY SHIV VISVANATHAN

 

This article is a set of observations, doubts and reflections on what is called the Maoist problem. It is an attempt to provide a wider framework so that we are not caught within the urgency and immediacy of action. One states this because facts have a framework and it is this that lets us read them in a particular way.

 

Listen to the narratives of Lalgarh, it sounds like a miniature Vietnam. A contingent of police begins a long march of 15 km to intercept targets which are 2 km away. The equipment is impressive — night vision rifles, AK-47s, the ubiquitous space maps backed by the equally ubiquitous informer. Statistics are rampant. Body count and number count of engagements, executions virtually serenade each other, creating the erotic machismo of war.

 

The newspaper becomes a literacy class in internal war, a geography lecture on some remote village which has not yet entered the middle-class imagination. The language combines the metaphors of dominance and the epidemic. Government dominated areas usually claim geography, the circle of control, Maoist areas appear as epidemic, as if Mao is now a virus. The third metaphor is always that of the powder keg and the volcano, the description is always that of the key village as explosive potential.

 

There is also an information war. The government creates a network of informants and the Maoists in turn

frequently execute the poor tribals as "informers." Borrowing a page from quiz contests, the Maoists ask where the money from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme went.

 

Minor tyrants like panchayat leaders, ration-card shop owners get treated to the Hobbesian world of Kangaroo courts and kidnapping. It is not Marx that reappears, but Thomas Hobbes as Lalgarh returns to a battle of all against all.

 

In the 60s, when the original Naxal battles took place, students in Delhi would give examples of the Dialectic. They would claim that the landlord's head was thesis, the revolutionary sickle, anti-thesis and the beheaded landlord was synthesis. One does not hear such nonsense today, but the ruthlessness of violence is more stark and indifferent.

 

The language also changes. A word often used for a troublesome village is laboratory. But the connotations are not of change or transformation but the idea of a test case. The emphasis is on repetition. If Lalgarh bodes repetition, it is threatening, therefore the state must subject it to erasure.

 

The normalcy of life changes. The privacy and sanctity of the body no longer holds good and bodily intrusion, humiliation rituals become the order of the day. The rituals of frisking, checking, mutilating and torturing follow in logical readiness.

 

One index of civilisation in any society is the state of children. Both the Indian state and Maoism fail miserably. The state talks of development yet it fails in these areas by the way it has ignored children. When Naxals offer simple solutions from home science or intermediate technology, the state looks hostilely at them. Yet in turn the Maoists today seem to be conscripting teenagers into the war. Those who refuse to join are executed.

 

The point I want to make is simple. If the Vietnamisation of war and the Africanisation of society increases, Lalgarh becomes a genocidal moment of history. Mr Chidambaram is familiar with governance yet in terms of most development indices India lags behind most African countries in terms of child health, mortality and nutrition. To argue it's a case of benign neglect will not do. What one witnesses is the sheer illiteracy of governance. India is a failed state in these regions. Having failed to fight poverty it declares war against the poor.

 

Oddly, one word which has changed its valency in recent times is the village. It has become exotic and touristy. Just as cities have become science cities and Special Economic Zones, villages are being repotted as prefabricated villages for tourists and government display. As the village disappears from the imagination, sites like Singur, Lalgarh get tropicalised in the mind into regions of hell lush with insurgence, tribes and poverty.

 

We are a people who have retropicalised and reorientalised our geography. The village of the 50s and 60s has disappeared. It is this distancing which allows the middle class to use the language of security with the impunity and indifference and demand the bombing of our own people.


How does one read such a situation? Does one turn super patriot and demand the extermination of these Maoists? Does one treat it as a challenge to state power and justify any form of violence?

 

One is tempted to borrow two terms from the writings of the Italian philosopher, Georgio Agamben. Working from the logic from the camp and the failure of the Weimar regime, Agamben elaborated two concepts that might be useful here. The first is the idea of Bare Life (Homo Sacer) and the other is the idea of States of Exception.

 

Bare Life is skeletal life, a life which has no rights, which is treated as a zombie and an object of disposal. One is tempted to argue that the skeletalisation of poverty has driven "Bare Life" beyond the camps into ordinary life.

 

There are huge sectors of India where poverty has become pathological to such an extent that India is a failed development state. The Maoists might exploit this skeletalisation, but their sympathisers have shown how simple exercises in hygiene and health might save people.

 

Beyond skeletalisation stands the State of Exception. A democracy when threatened suspends the rule of law to save itself. In an ironic sense, it sacrifices democracy to save democracy.

 

Security and Internal war become reasons to save the state. Oddly, the state of emergency survives long beyond the emergency, autonomous of its original cause. States of Exception accumulate like confetti destroying the vision of democracy.

 

The Vietnamisation of our society triggered by Bare Life and States of Exception has created a situation of deep and profound violence. It cannot be dealt through the logic of management. One needs to question the categories we constructed. In this lies the real challenge.

 

Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

'FORGOTTEN MIDDLE'


TO be the "Forgotten Middle" between a neglected base and an increasingly embellished superstructure is perhaps the worst of both worlds. That succinct expression used in the World Bank report underscores the predicament of secondary education in India. The subtext of the message from which the authorities ought to derive a lesson is that learning at the secondary level has been the victim of the emphasis ~ scarcely effective though it is ~ on elementary education and the higher levels. To the extent that even the national government's funding has been disproportionate. Given the importance of the foundational stage, there can be no issue with the fact that 52 per cent of the total spending on education is allotted to primary learning. The secondary level has to make do with 30 per cent. Relatively neglected is this crucial and intermediate segment, indeed a transitional phase between the primary and the under-graduate stages. The World Bank has buttressed what ought to have been obvious to the planners, notably that secondary education plays an important role in building up a skilled workforce. It is above all a stage in which one's proclivity for disciplines can be assessed. Considering that this level has now come to incorporate two years of what used to be the UG course, the truncated budget has decidedly denuded the rating of the 10+2 stage, one that completes a definitive phase of one's education.


What must be particularly shocking for a country perceived to be on course to become a world power is that India's Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) at the secondary level is a mere 52 per cent, way below that of China at 92 per cent, Sri Lanka 83 per cent and Vietnam 72 per cent. There is a 40 per cent gap in the expenditure between lower and higher income groups, a 20 per cent gap between urban and rural enrolment and a 10 per cent gender disconnect. It occasions surprise that the country's education establishment needs to be acquainted with elementary data by the World Bank. It is the widening gap between primary education and institutions of higher learning that needs to be bridged. Having highlighted the loopholes, the World Bank rests its case with the hope that the Rs 500-million loan for the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan will be fruitfully utilised to bridge this damaging gap. And not suffer the fate of urban renewal missions.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

FLIGHT OF FANCY

 

NOTHING more than some futuristic loud-thinking it might have been, perhaps in response to a query, but a senior IAF officer was clearly over the top in speculating on a role for his organisation in countering Somali piracy and suggesting the endurance of the SU 30 fighter would facilitate its patrolling the troubled waters, even if not bringing its firepower to bear. When a Vice Chief talks in that vein it is inevitable that official sanction would be read into the statement, due note taken by relevant sections of the international community. At one level the implications could be diplomatic, at another inter-service rivalry could be fuelled while at yet another the reaction could be ridicule. Even as they welcome the up-gunned anti-piracy effort, nations along the East African seaboard are wary of the international naval presence in their waters, so IAF fighters zooming overhead are unlikely to be appreciated. Employment of air-power is ever escalatory (at home the government has ruled it out of the anti-naxal campaign) and the US, French, British and even Russian units operating off Somalia have limited their air action to helicopters. Maybe maritime reconnaissance planes could be useful, but the IAF does not hold such assets, and with target identification so complex and the risk of collateral damage so high, using frontline fighters (refueled in the air?) to "buzz" what are little more than dhows is akin to the elephant-gun to kill an ant syndrome. Wonder if, despite "jointsmanship" being the contemporary mantra, the air force and navy have ever seriously discussed such operations. With or without an MEA input. Or does the Vice-Chief's observation add to the other forces' complaint that the fly boys always project an extended role for themselves, possibly to boost their budgetary allocations.


In recent times it has become apparent that top defence officers, like the netas, are finding it difficult to resist media attention ~ the "box" does make idiots of us all ~ and are letting their tongues run away with them on issues that have more than military angles. Far too many off-the-cuff remarks are made on the "sidelines" of unrelated events. Nobody wants to deny the "generals" opportunities to glitter in media-limelight, but they must display maturity and restraint that matches the brass they sport.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

PANCHAYAT BENEVOLENCE


THE idea could have been laughed out of court were it not an indicator of the failure of governance. After a string of electoral setbacks, West Bengal's rural and panchayat development department has woken up to the reality that the rural populace is overwhelmingly ignorant of its rights and the welfare schemes supposedly on offer. To bridge the perceived communication gap, minister Anisur Rahman has urged the union I & B minister, Ambika Soni, to earmark a 60-minute slot on Doordarshan to acquaint the people with the panchayat benevolence that remains docketed in the files even after 32 years. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Rural Bengal would long ago have been familiar with the touted schemes had they materialised. If the people had indeed benefited ~ tangibly and not theoretically ~ it would have been redundant to enlighten them through television. Mr Rahman ought to have couched his appeal to the I & B minister with the admission that all or nearly most of the schemes have floundered on the rock of corruption and sloth. The conclusion is inescapable that the welfare measures, such as they exist largely on paper, are now merely of audio-visual value.


Doordarshan need not be made a party to this calculated propaganda; the state government controls a TV channel and can trumpet its perceived benevolence regardless of whether the target group is being hoodwinked. If the people have certain rights, as the minister claims, it ought to have been his department's duty to ensure that the entitlement is fulfilled. The exercise towards an information overdrive ~ in place of effective action ~ suggests that the NREGS isn't the only public sector disaster. If widows of BPL families are not receiving pension as guaranteed, it is a testament to the administration's failure to disburse their dues. The minister resorts to a convoluted exercise in deception when he claims that the purported beneficiaries are not aware of the scheme. Overall, Mr Rahman only exposes the failure of the rural and panchayat department by proposing a TV slot on the development index. To at least some people elsewhere in the country, the programme might appear ludicrous.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

REVIEW BY JUDICIARY

NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT


Judicial review is a salient feature of our Constitution. It enables the judiciary to keep the executive and legislature under control. The concept has been borrowed from America where the original constitution accepted it implicitly. But it was Chief Justice Marshall who, in the celebrated case of Madison v Marbery (1802), enunciated that "it is the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is." In his reckoning, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and, since the judiciary has to act as the final interpreter and guarantor of the Constitution, a law which goes against the statute book is "ultra vires and void". Similarly, if an executive order contravenes any provision of the Constitution, the former can be struck down in order to maintain the supremacy and sanctity of the Constitution.


Those who scripted the Indian Constitution recognised this doctrine and though they were influenced by the British system, they did not follow the British model. In Britain, the Parliament is "sovereign" in the sense that it can make any law, repeal or change any law and amend any portion of the Constitution as it likes.


BRITISH SYSTEM

However, the Indian Constitution has been drafted in a different manner. As observed by the Bench in the case of Gopalan vs Madras (1950), "... though it has adopted many of the principles of the British parliamentary system, it has not accepted the British principle of the absolute supremacy of the Parliament in matters of legislation."


The judiciary can keep the legislatures under restraint in three different ways. First, powers have meticulously been divided between the Centre and the states and neither the Parliament nor a provincial assembly can intrude into the other's jurisdiction. In case of such a conflict, it is the Supreme Court which can, under Article 131, conclusively settle the issue.


Second, part III of the Constitution has guaranteed several Fundamental Rights to the individual. These rights are legally enforceable. Third, the constituent power of Parliament is similarly circumscribed. It is true that in the case of Sankari Prasad V Union (1950), the Supreme Court had held that Parliament was competent to amend any provision of the Constitution. But, in the case of Golaknath V Punjab (1967), it changed its earlier view and ruled that Parliament would not thereafter be able to abridge or take away any fundamental right by way of a constitutional amendment. However, in its verdict pronounced in the case of Keshavananda Bharati V Kerala (1973), it was held that Parliament was empowered to amend the provisions regarding the fundamental rights, but it could not damage or destroy the "basic structure" of the Constitution by an amendment. The legislature cannot move beyond the jurisdiction as determined by the superior courts.


The executive has similarly been brought under the judiciary's control by the Constitution. It has to act under judicial regulation and restraint. In case an executive order transgresses upon any of the Fundamental Rights, it can, under Article 13(2), be declared as unconstitutional and void by either the Supreme Court or a High Court.
Clearly, our Constitution has adopted the principle of judicial review in explicit terms. The Supreme Court acts as the final interpreter and guardian of the Constitution. It can judge whether or not a law enacted by the legislature or an order of the executive is ultra vires. As it held in the case of Nar Singh V UP (1956), "It acts as the interpreter and guarantor of the Constitution. It has a duty to see that its provisions are faithfully observed and, where necessary, to expound them."


In the case of Ram Singh V Delhi (1951), the Supreme Court observed: "It is our privilege and duty to see that neither Parliament nor the executive exceeds the bounds within which they are confined by the Constitution."


THE THREE ORGANS

However, some of our political leaders have not accepted this view. They maintain that the Constitution has clearly demarcated the powers between the three organs. The judiciary cannot keep the legislature and executive under restraint. It bears recall that Jawaharlal Nehru had asserted parliamentary sovereignty when he observed: "No judiciary, no Supreme Court can come in the way of the sovereign will of Parliament." This view has influenced politicians in general to the extent that they often blame the judiciary for interfering in the affairs of the two other organs of government.


While it is true that our Constitution has allocated the powers, it is wrong to claim that they are placed at par or that they are totally independent of each other. As the doctrine of judicial review has been incorporated in the Constitution, both the executive and legislature must function within the limits as determined by the judiciary.


The scope of judicial review in India is not as wide as it is in America. The US constitution has recognised that no person shall be deprived of his life and liberty "without due process of law". Article 22 of the Indian Constitution has used the phrase "without procedure established by law." The difference in the wordings of the two Articles is significant. The Supreme Court of America not only examines whether the law has been duly enacted, it can also assess whether the law itself is good or bad. In other words, it can quash even a duly-enacted law if it, by such judicial scrutiny, seems to be unethical or undemocratic or immoral.


But our judiciary cannot go so far. It can only examine whether the law has been properly enacted and whether it is consistent with the written provisions of the Constitution. If an unethical law can be tactfully framed without infringing upon any specific provision of the Constitution, the judiciary cannot strike it down. This is why the Bench held in Gopalan's case that our legislatures are free to pass any law within their own territory and that the judges cannot, in such case, intervene and question the intention of the law. Thus, it can be firmly asserted that we have adopted the American idea of judicial review in a slightly modified form.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

HARD HIT

 

The steady onslaught of the Taliban in Pakistan is targeted at places where it is supposed to hurt the most — the man on the street and security personnel and installations. Over the past few days, marketplaces and residential areas in Peshawar and Lahore have been bombed with as much impunity as police stations and security locations. The targets have been carefully chosen. The recent anti-Taliban movement in Pakistan which saw the army flush out militants from Swat and spread deeper into the north-west was borne on the shoulders of powerful public opinion against militancy, which in turn propelled the army forward. The violence in Pakistan is aimed at breaking the back of the operation. The bloodshed and the resultant fear and anxiety are expected to force the people — particularly in cities, where opinion is formed and conveyed — to review their support for a State pogrom against the Taliban to ensure peace. The targeting of the army is more sinister. It is supposed to state that the Taliban are no longer happy to play the army's errand boys. They are capable of carrying their war into army cantonments and headquarters, and if pushed, even to nuclear installations. And given their multiple links within the country, with other militant groups deep inside Pakistan's hinterland, with political constituencies and members of the civil society and the army, the militants have the potential to set off an unprecedented wave of unrest and discord in Pakistan.

 

The fear is real. Pakistan, which is witnessing the current spate of violence as a fallout of its military operation against the Taliban in the north-west, has no option but to consider more military action in Waziristan and other contiguous areas with the risk of equally frustrating results. The opening up of many fronts of war — in the borders as also in Punjab, from where the recent violence has come — is likely to complicate the civilian government's choices and worsen its relations with the army. It might even spark off a civil war since Pakistan is perilously divided on how to wage the war and against whom it should be fought. What can hold the country together is the army and the civilian leadership working in unison. Unfortunately, the two continue to function at cross-purposes. And the army, simultaneously playing victim and victor, is bound to make a bid in the coming days to wrest the initiative Pakistan's Western allies so want to deny it.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

SOUNDLY UNCIVIL

 

Festivals in Calcutta seem to foster sheer indifference rather than a heartwarming inclusiveness that is supposed to bring sweetness and light to the lives of the people. The frenzied celebration of Kali Puja and Diwali over the weekend makes it evident that festivals, for scores of Calcuttans, are purely selfish pursuits, to be observed according to personal norms, without any consideration for the law or for other human beings. There is a 90-decibel cap on bursting noisy firecrackers, and then there is the police, as helpless and clueless as ever. In between the law and its keepers are the outlaws, also known as the 'revellers', whose idea of fun leaves the rest of the city, including the chief minister of the state, seething with fury. It does not matter if newborn babies and grievously ill children at the neo-natal ward of a hospital are startled by thunderous explosions, elderly people are kept awake all night, or ordinary citizens, who prefer to enjoy their festivals in peace, are distressed to no end: the show must go on.

 

Could the police have done things any differently to ensure a more amiable closure to the festive season? Probably. Instead of procrastinating for weeks, the police should have organized public awareness campaigns early enough to spread the word about the ban and the consequences of flouting it. Whatever little the police or state ministers did to urge people to behave themselves was done in Bengali, a language that eludes many inhabitants of a cosmopolitan city like Calcutta. Moreover, it is an open, if guilty, secret with the police that loud firecrackers are smuggled into West Bengal from states that do not have an embargo on sound pollution. This illegal traffic begins months before Kali Puja or Diwali. By the time the police decide to act, the black markets are teeming with forbidden firecrackers and the nexus between the nefarious traders and their equally reprehensible clientele has deepened irredeemably. It is easy to point fingers at the police every time civil society is at its uncivil best, but difficult, if not inconceivable, to face facts for what they are worth. The law and its custodians would continue to be puppets in the hands of wayward citizens unless the latter stop behaving like truant schoolchildren. The issue at stake here does not pertain to a silly game of hide-and-seek with the police, but concerns the well-being of the entire city.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THE FUTURE ISN'T GREEN

ENERGY SECURITY IS AN UNCERTAIN GOAL IN INDIA

S.L. RAO

 

Energy security is a major objective of all countries. Some are proactive and aggressive in this pursuit, like China; others like India are slow and procrastinate on major decisions and allow hope to overtake realistic assessments. This makes energy security in the foreseeable future an uncertain goal for India.

 

Any discussion of energy security must keep in mind the Indian realities. Although in overall terms of commercial energy use to gross domestic product we seem among the most efficient in the world, this hides disturbing facts. Most farmers, many poor and urban households, and some industrial and commercial establishments are heavily subsidized on electricity. They either get it free, certainly in most cases below cost of delivery to them, and many of them steal electricity. This amounts to large subsidies, which have made our distribution enterprises, mostly state electricity boards, suffer huge losses every year. Generation, transmission and distribution are dominated by government enterprises. Especially in generation and distribution, they are inefficient. Even the National Thermal Power Corporation, the jewel in the public-sector crown, has a record of falling short of Plan targets for adding new capacities. In this time of global warming, India's record on clean coal technologies is among the worst. While independent electricity regulatory bodies at the Centre and in the states are over ten years old, most state regulatory commissions are subservient to the state governments. Coal and gas, our principal fuels for electricity, are in the non-transparent control of the government.

 

India has a poor record on water management and pricing. Most of our cities and towns depend on bore-wells for water, consuming large amounts of electricity, and do little to recharge the aquifers. Ground water is the principal means for irrigation in agriculture, again consuming large amounts of electricity and with no metering or regulation on crops produced with that water. Excessively low water tariffs encourage excessive use of water in urban and rural India.

 

None of these problems can be speedily resolved. They are part of electoral politics. There is no political leadership to correct them. Unlike China, the Indian government has been hesitant, inefficient and relatively unsuccessful in negotiating and acquiring overseas energy resources. Clean coal technologies (supercritical boilers, carbon sequestration, and so on) are absent in India, resulting in excessive carbon emissions in relation to energy produced. Politics prevents governments from radical use of fiscal measures to cut the use of high-energy equipment for individual, commercial and industrial purposes.

 

After the Bush administration recognized India as a nuclear power, and nuclear technology and uranium supplies have resumed, nuclear power is expected to make a significant contribution to our power supplies by 2030. The expectation is far-fetched for many reasons. For one, India will remain vulnerable to the five existing nuclear powers squeezing us at short notice on supplies. The costs of nuclear plants from the West are expected to rise by 15 per cent per year, and the generation costs (at 20 cents per unit) are already much higher than thermal generation in India today (a maximum of 5 cents). With the constraints on raising tariffs in India, nuclear power will need substantial subsidies from government. Overseas investment is essential since the government and the private sector cannot find the funds by themselves. Foreign and private investors will need guarantees on returns. Worries about handling nuclear waste are resurfacing and will cause a slowdown.

 

We have ambitious targets for hydroelectric power. But hydroelectric power is an unlikely solution to our need for diversifying energy sources. This is because the maximum hydro-potential is concentrated in the states of the Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttaranchal. All have serious geological and seismic faults. They are very difficult to access and, in the case of Northeast, the problem of evacuating power is beset by geographic and political problems. Except for Uttaranchal, the other two are also beset with armed militancy and terrorists who can disrupt and destroy constructions. Each state also has local aspirations that could make land acquisition and evacuation of power difficult.

 

India purchases hydro power from Bhutan. This income has more than doubled Bhutan's per capita income. Such trade is possible also with Nepal, which has large hydro potential. These projects could also help the control of floods in Nepal and in India. However, there is great suspicion of Indian motives and the feeling that India is cheating Nepal by offering a very low price for the power.

 

Global concerns about climate change, mainly because of carbon emissions, have made India and China the targets for immense pressure to reduce power generation by burning coal, their major fuel resource. India has now adopted a more nuanced response to this pressure by disclosing its plans and its willingness to have them inspected, without making commitments on emission targets. India's plans on renewable energy must be more ambitious, and fiscal and statutory muscle must ensure that the targets are achieved for solar energy, wind, biomass and cogeneration. These are our best prospects for diversifying from coal-based electricity.

 

There are many other measures that India has not taken but should take. Thus the building codes must change to demand that buildings are more energy-efficient. Similarly, energy efficiency can be mandated for all electricity-using equipment. Water conservation during rains could be mandatory and save energy in pumping water. Public transport could be given differential tax concessions in relation to private transport. In estimating costs of renewables for tariff determination, incurred costs might be reduced to the extent of their social benefit. This will make renewables more competitive to others. Indian governance is so diffuse that there is little coordination between different ministries directly concerned with energy, let alone others that could facilitate improving energy supplies, like the ministries of external affairs and of defence, which should be coordinating closely with the ministries of power, oil and gas, water and so on. Some beginning apparently has been made with water, but it is very modest.

 

There is also considerable regulatory confusion, which prevents optimal use of available energy and initiatives in afforestation that could help to reduce India's carbon footprints. For example, the power exchanges are prevented from futures trading in electricity because of the confusion as to whether the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission or Forward Markets Commission has jurisdiction. Over Rs 10,000 crore collected from the private mine owners for reforestation is lying unused because there is lack of clarity about who is to monitor its use.

 

There are thus many tasks to undertake if we are to move towards energy security. The pricing of electricity and hydrocarbons (petrol, diesel, kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas) have to reflect costs. Someone must have the political courage to exercise leadership. Independent regulators must function independently and this means that appointments, tenures and functioning have to be insulated from external influences. Even if the government cannot be restructured for better coordination, we can restructure the independent regulatory mechanisms by combining regulatory agencies for better functioning. The departments of water, power, oil and gas, and atomic energy, must have cells in the external affairs and defence ministries to ensure coordination with them.

 

We must be prepared for greater consultation with locals before we proceed with hydro projects. We must do the same with neighbouring countries so that we can restore their confidence. Insurgencies in areas with hydro potential are escalating. We must resolve the local socio-economic issues that cause insurgency. Incentives for private investments in renewable energy must be holistically thought through. Legislation to enforce green buildings, use of public transport, ground-water ownership, regulating water withdrawals and recharges and rain-water harvesting are urgently required. Heavy differential taxation will move demand towards energy-efficient equipment.

These suggestions and others are not new. They have just not been honestly implemented. That is what makes the prospects for India's energy security so uncertain.

 

The author is former director-general, National Council for Applied Economic Research

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

SIMILAR GAME

GWYNNE DYER

 

"Anyone who says that within the next few years an agreement can be reached ending the conflict (between Israel and the Palestinians) simply doesn't understand the situation and spreads delusions," said the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman recently. But Barack Obama does say that. In fact, they gave him the Nobel Prize for saying it, didn't they?

 

Speaking in a radio interview, Lieberman added: "There are conflicts that have not been completely solved and people have learned to live with it.... We have to be realistic. We will not be able to reach agreement on core and emotional subjects like Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees." He said all this just as Obama's point man for what we used to call the "peace process", George Mitchell, arrived in Israel.

 

Undaunted by Lieberman's comments, Mitchell gabbled the usual nonsense about how "we're going to continue our efforts to achieve an early relaunch of negotiations...because we believe that is an essential step toward achieving a comprehensive peace." Doesn't he understand that the "peace process" has been dead for years? The Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas also pretends that the peace process is still alive. Indeed, it did so even in the last years of Yasser Arafat's life. It has to go on pretending, because if the PA admits that the peace process is dead, then it becomes no more than an Israeli instrument for indirect control of the Palestinians.

 

We had a vivid demonstration of this recently, when Judge Richard Goldstone submitted his report on last winter's three-week war in the Gaza Strip to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The document reported that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants had committed war crimes, and possible crimes against humanity, and a resolution was put before the council that could ultimately have led to prosecutions at the International Criminal Court.

 

HAND IN GLOVE

Israel launched a propaganda blitz to discredit Goldstone's report, and together with the United States of America it mounted a diplomatic campaign to postpone any formal consideration of the report until next March. By then, it would be old news. Standard tactic, but here's the bizarre bit: the Palestinian Authority also supported delaying the vote by six months.

 

Unsurprisingly, this public evidence of the PA's subjugation to American and Israeli policy caused a great outcry among Palestinians even in the West Bank, and Mahmoud Abbas ordered a 'probe' into who had made such a wicked decision. The truth is that the Palestinian Authority is just as complicit in the charade of a continuing peace process as the Israeli or American governments, and cannot afford to abandon it. Only the radical Islamists of Hamas openly acknowledge the same reality that Lieberman describes (although from a very different perspective). So what it offers Israel is a long-term truce, but only if the Palestinians get their pre-1967 borders back now.

 

A long-term truce is all that Lieberman is offering, and even that is not going to happen because he has no intention of returning to Israel's pre-1967 borders. Neither does his boss, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, although he wraps his refusal in more diplomatic language. All of Obama's pleas have failed to extract from Netanyahu even a promise to freeze the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, let alone to negotiate a withdrawal from them. Obama has not moved from pleas to actual pressure because the Israelis effectively control the US Congress on this issue, and he will not risk alienating the Congress over Israel while he is trying to get legislation through on health care, climate change, and other urgent issues. Still, there is no doubt that Obama's intentions are good. So are mine. Where's my prize?

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

GOING GM

"CONSULTATION AND CONSE-NSUS NEEDED ON GM FOOD."

 

The debate over genetically modified (GM) crops in India has crossed an important stage with the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) recommending commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal. Even after the green signal, which follows years of research, tests, analysis, and discussions, the government is cautious, and rightly so, in view of the still widely held apprehensions about the environmental, public health and other implications of GM technology. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh has said that the government would hold further discussions with scientists, agricultural experts and farmers' and consumers' organisations before giving final clearance for Bt brinjal. The GEAC's approval is sure to elicit still stronger opposition from various quarters and it is for the body to make public its data, details of testing methods and its decision-making process so that the entire issue becomes transparent.


Commercial production of Bt cotton in the last seven years has belied fears about its negative impact. It has boosted production and helped farmers, who have accepted it and have no complaints about it. Most of the country's cotton acreage is under Bt cotton now. There is need for more caution in the case of a food crop. But much of the world has accepted GM crops, both food and commercial. GM foods like brinjal, tomato and cauliflower are widely used in the US, Brazil and China. Britain has also recently accepted them, though Europe is still holding out. The green revolution of the 70s has exhausted itself and the next leap in food production has to come from the use of GM crops.


Renowned agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug was a strong advocate of using gene technology to improve crop yields. Increasing food shortages, rising prices and burgeoning populations make adoption of new technologies necessary. India has to increase productivity and output at a faster pace than other countries and therefore cannot afford to let tranformational technologies to pass it by.


The legitimate questions of those who oppose GM technology need to be answered convincingly. Some of the doubts arise from ignorance, misinformation and even vested interests. There are vested interests on the other side also, represented by multinational seed corporations. In a democracy, debate and consensus that emerge from it are important in decisions that affect the lives of people. The government should expedite the process of consultation and consensus-building and take a decision at the earliest.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

REJECT ROTE

"TEACHERS SHOULD LEAD THE WAY FOR A CHANGE."

 

There is much that India can learn from a World Bank study comparing Indian school curriculums with international syllabi. The study draws attention to excessive reliance on rote learning of textbook content in Indian school curriculums. In contrast to international curriculums like the Geneva-based International Baccalaureate (IB) and the British International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE), which focus on creative thinking and provide students with real life communication-oriented exercises, Indian curriculums encourage memorisation and reproduction of texts, the study says. In the process, schools fail to develop higher-order thinking or meta-cognitive skills during the learning process. What the World Bank study says is not new. Students are expected to 'mug up' the syllabus and regurgitate what is in their textbooks. This has made schooling a drudgery and learning a burden, rather than the exciting exploration and adventure it should be. For the sake of short-term information that helps students pass examinations and score good grades, long-term analytical and reasoning skills are being bartered.


The National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has been taking steps to move school education away from textbooks and rote learning to include interactive teaching methods and learning through doing and understanding. But change has been slow in coming. This is not surprising, given the problems that teachers confront in implementing new teaching and learning strategies. Children enjoy learning through field trips where they are encouraged to observe, draw on their experiences and reach conclusions. But most schools do not have the funds for such exploratory methods. There is also the problem of the capability of teachers.


For generations, teachers have been expected to lecture, to impart knowledge in a top-down fashion. That has to change. They need to be open to encouraging, not limiting, the child's inquisitiveness, her capacity to question and challenge. Without teachers leading the way in bringing change in classrooms, students will continue to stagnate in outmoded ways of learning. They will need to be equipped with new skills.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

LOST TRIBE OF INDIA

"AMONG RICH, THERE ARE BUSINESSMEN WHO HAVE SKILL AND GENIUS AND ALSO CREATORS OF ILLEGITIMATE WEALTH."

M J AKBAR

 

Is poverty boring? Or is it merely inappropriate, just too in-your-face during the holiday week that precedes Deepavali? It doesn't seem right to behave like a sourpuss when the national mood is celebratory, when traffic and shopping are indistinguishable from each other in Delhi and Mumbai, when those of us who can afford to be happy are happy with a bang, and when a strange form of cricket full of hugely unknown players dominates the television set.


I can blame it on 'Hindustan Times'. This week it carried a front page report quoting a study done by worthies in the highest echelons of government, which showed that the number of Indians living below the poverty line had actually increased by 10 per cent, taking the figure up to 38 per cent. Add the marginals and more than half of India exists at subsistence levels. That sounds too polite actually. More than half of India does not sleep with a full stomach.


There are two categories growing in the Rising India of elephants, tigers and various Maharaja animals that grace the covers of silly books: the super rich, and the abysmally poor. At the top of the wealth peak are both legitimate businessman who have the skill, entrepreneurship and financial genius to turn enterprise into a pot of gold. Alongside them are the creators of illegitimate riches, the well-dressed, greasy scumbags who make deals with banks and politicians, loot the country and stash billions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts that, naturally, our authorities can never access.


Since it is the commonly acknowledged dream of newspaper-reading Indians to turn our nation into a superpower within the foreseeable future, an objective question needs to be answered. Is poverty a hindrance to superpower status? Oliver Twist, Uriah Heep, Micawber and Scrooge lived in the world of Dickens and Charles Lamb wrote on chimney sweeps, young boys who climbed up chimneys to clean the soot. This did not prevent Britain from becoming a world power under the watchful eye of Queen Victoria and her successors. Did the British nabobs mope about the wretched beggars and prostitutes on the streets of London, or did they simply get on with conquering the world?


An impoverished population can actually be quite useful for such an enterprise. You need foot soldiers and cannon fodder for imperial armies: what would Britain's generals have done in World War I without their local poor, or the million Indians ready to put on a uniform for a soldier's pittance? The rich are not easy to turn into a battlefield statistic. A thrusting economy also needs cheap labour to keep prices competitive. China's story is heavily dependent on the virtual slave labour on assembly lines; equally, Indian businessmen need sweatshops, just as Americans once did when they were in a comparable stage of economic growth.


Face it: those who invested in the poor for their political survival have been marginalised in the last two decades, and those who invested in growth have flourished. The latter had a ready answer, of course: only growth could eliminate poverty. The latest statistics show that it has not. Charity is alien to the culture of wealth, so the private sector is more interested in profit than welfare. The state, which should ensure that welfare gets priority, is more concerned with the glamour of growth. So, after nearly two decades of economic reform the poverty levels have increased at an astonishing pace, taking us back to the 70s, at least on this count.

SOCIALISM
We began our exercise in nation-building with Gandhi's talisman: whenever in doubt, think about the poorest amongst us and consider whether what we are doing would benefit him. Every socialist, whether inside Congress or outside, carried it around as a badge of honour. Look where the socialists have ended up, including of the tricolour variety. Socialists have become the lost tribe of India.


Communists had no time for Gandhi. They opted for either two beards or a moustache: the fulsome growth of Marx, or the pointy triangle of Lenin, or the Ottomanesque upper lip of Stalin. All three have been shaved clean in Kerala and Bengal. They might soon have to rename themselves the Communist Party of Tripura. Trade unions have become the spoilt brats of our system, limited only to their constituency interests, contemptuous of the unorganised poor.


Why have the poor turned away from 'povertywallahs'?


They have not. The 'povertywallahs' have abandoned the poor. The naxalites, who had been virtually eliminated from politics by the mid-70s, have expanded into space vacated by the socialists and communists. Between them, they would have most of the seats in over 150 districts, which would probably have made them the largest bloc in parliament.


The true opposition in India has moved away from parliament, which is not good news for either democracy or India. The naxalite vote does not get translated into seats, because naxalites do not offer candidates, or indeed play the artful game of electoral manipulation along seams of caste or community or faith. It is perfectly understandable that the two principal parties in parliament, Congress and BJP, are outdoing each other in schemes for massive state aggression towards naxalites. It is in everyone's vested interest that naxalites are crushed, physically. The government throws around palliatives in time-honoured fashion, promising development the moment naxalites are killed. Why did it need naxalites to remind the government that these districts required development? That is not the only question. When Montek Singh Ahluwalia, honestly and bravely, reminds the country that Rajiv Gandhi was right, and that only 16 paise in the development rupee actually reaches the target, he is ignored. I suppose they will start calling him a socialist next.


Sorry for being a party-pooper, or at least trying to be one. Remember Queen Victoria, and have a happy Deepavali!

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

BORLAUG AND THE BANKERS

PERHAPS ONE OF THE WORST EFFECTS OF GREED WAS TO DEPRIVE THE WORLD OF MORE PEOPLE LIKE BORLAUG.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ, THE GUARDIAN

 

The recent death of Norman Borlaug provides an opportune moment to reflect on basic values and on our economic system. Borlaug received the Nobel peace prize for his work in bringing about the 'green revolution', which saved hundreds of millions from hunger and changed the global economic landscape.


Before Borlaug, the world faced the threat of a Malthusian nightmare: growing populations in the developing world and insufficient food supplies. Consider the trauma a country like India might have suffered if its population of half a billion had remained barely fed as it doubled. Before the green revolution, the Nobel prize-winning economist Gunnar Myrdal predicted a bleak future for an Asia mired in poverty. Instead, Asia has become an economic powerhouse.


Likewise, Africa's welcome new determination to fight the war on hunger should serve as a living testament to Borlaug. The fact that the green revolution never came to the world's poorest continent, where agricultural productivity is just one-third of Asia's, suggests that there is ample room for improvement.


The green revolution may, of course, prove to be only a temporary respite. Soaring food prices before the global financial crisis provided a warning, as does the slowing rate of growth of agricultural productivity. India's agriculture sector, for example, has fallen behind the rest of its dynamic economy, living on borrowed time, as levels of ground water, on which much of the country depends, fall precipitously.


CONVICTION AND PASSION

But Borlaug's death at 95 also is a reminder of how skewed our system of values has become. When Borlaug received news of the award, at four in the morning, he was already toiling in the Mexican fields, in his never-ending quest to improve agricultural productivity. He did it not for some huge financial compensation, but out of conviction and a passion for his work.


What a contrast between Borlaug and the Wall Street financial wizards who brought the world to the brink of ruin. They argued that they had to be richly compensated in order to be motivated. Without any other compass, the incentive structures they adopted did motivate them — not to introduce new products to improve ordinary people's lives or to help them manage the risks they faced, but to put the global economy at risk by engaging in short-sighted and greedy behaviour. Their innovations focused on circumventing accounting and financial regulations designed to ensure transparency, efficiency, and stability, and to prevent the exploitation of the less informed.

There is also a deeper point in this contrast: our societies tolerate inequalities because they are viewed to be socially useful; they are the price we pay for having incentives that motivate people to act in ways that promote societal wellbeing. Neoclassical economic theory, which has dominated in the west for a century, holds that each individual's compensation reflects his marginal social contribution — what he adds to society. By doing well, it is argued, people do good.


But Borlaug and our bankers refute that theory. If neoclassical theory were correct, Borlaug would have been among the wealthiest men in the world, while our bankers would have been lining up at soup kitchens.


Of course, there is a grain of truth in neoclassical theory; if there were not, it probably wouldn't have survived as long as it has (though bad ideas often survive in economics remarkably well). Nevertheless, the simplistic economics of the 18th and 19th centuries, when neoclassical theories arose, are wholly unsuited to 21st century economies. In large corporations, it is often difficult to ascertain the contribution of any individual. Such corporations are rife with 'agency' problems: while decision-makers (CEOs) are supposed to act on behalf of their shareholders, they have enormous discretion to advance their own interests — and they often do.


Bank officers may have walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars, but everyone else in our society — shareholders, bondholders, taxpayers, homeowners, workers — suffered. Their investors are too often pension funds, which also face an agency problem, because their executives make decisions on behalf of others. In such a world, private and social interests often diverge, as we have seen so dramatically in this crisis.


The skewed incentives distorted our economy and our society. We confused means with ends. Our bloated financial sector grew to the point that in the United States it accounted for more than 40 per cent of corporate profits.

But the worst effects were on our human capital, our most precious resource. Absurdly generous compensation in the financial sector induced some of our best minds to go into banking. Who knows how many Borlaugs there might have been among those enticed by the riches of Wall Street and the City of London? If we lost even one, our world was made immeasurably poorer.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

BMTC'S HIDDEN AGENDA

BUS DRIVERS HAVE BEEN SPECIALLY TRAINED TO GIVE MAXIMUM JERKS.

H N VENUGOPAL

 

The other day I ran into a BMTC official. He was at pains to explain to me how his organisation was trying to provide transport service with a humane touch keeping the health of commuters in mind. I was a bit surprised. Pray explain, I said.


Look, most of our commuters do the paper pushing or key board operating job. It means sitting glued to the chair for 8-10 hours daily. Again, when they reach home, they hit the chair. If they get a seat in the bus they will sit again. This means sitting for some 12 to 15 hours daily. Where is the time for the exercise? You are right, I said.

Sitting for such a long time leads to deep knee thrombosis and early arthritis. That is what our concern is. That's why we make people travel standing in the bus and so, in their interest, we have curtailed the trips. Fewer trips mean crowded buses and this means one has to stand and travel. Some exercise for the knees, you see. I saw the point.

Again we make people travel long distance. Wherever you have to go you have to change the bus at Majestic or KR Market or Shivajinagar. No direct routes. This means more exercise for the people. Health is our priority. No? Of course, I said.


Good. Travelling standing means exercise to hands, legs, waist, head — in short — to all parts of the body. It is 'sarvaanga aasana' indeed. Legs have to be constantly moved to accommodate the co-passenger, his luggage, vegetables, grocery items; by holding the top bar at various angles, in different ways, free traction is obtained  and specially so when bus stops, starts, turns, jerks. Excellent, I said.


Our drivers have been specially trained to give maximum jerks to produce the required stimulus to the arms, hand and wrist. By constantly bending and turning the back and the waist get enough exercise. I am sure people are healthy now. At this rate, doctors will be unhappy with us. Agree? I agreed.


But people have not appreciated this and we are berated. The media has also not appreciated this, he lamented.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

IN COLD BLOOD

 

You might think ordinary Israelis began their work week on Sunday focused on the UN Human Rights Council's lopsided endorsement of the unfair Goldstone Report; or perhaps the continuing absence of a Turkish ambassador in our country; or even what the attack on senior officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, not far from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, might mean.

 

But what actually grabbed most folks' attention was the slaughter - and we do not use the word carelessly - of three generations of the Oshrenko family, grandparents, parents and children, in Rishon Lezion early Saturday. The six victims have been named as Ludmilla and Edward Oshrenko, both 56, Dimitri and Tatyana Oshrenko, 32 and 28, three-year-old Revital and three-month-old Natanel. News of the killings was so appalling that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu used the weekly cabinet meeting to express the pain and horror all Israelis feel.

 

Criminologists will reassure us that crime is not galloping out of control, merely trotting apace with previous years and comparable to other advanced societies. Indeed, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there were 171 murders in Israel (population 7.4 million) during 2008 - though police have officially labeled only 122 of these as definitely murders. By comparison, the New York City (population 8.3 million) updated murder figure for 2008 is 516. London (7.5 million) averages around 170 homicides annually.

 

Rishon, with a population of over 200,000, has been solidifying a bad reputation for weekend violence largely traceable to its expansive entertainment and bar district. Last month, for example, Vodja Milnik allegedly stabbed IDF Sgt. Uri Chen to death during a brawl. Readers of The Jerusalem Post have become resigned to the reality that our Sunday edition is often loaded with news about weekend hooliganism in various localities, including the capital.

 

There are no obvious commonalities between the usual weekend mayhem our society seems to have reconciled itself to - stabbings, shootings, youthful brawling, teenage binge-drinking, and nuisance loitering - and the Oshrenko case. Still, if we are to be brutally frank, we can acknowledge that not a small amount of the weekend violence involves youths whose families stem from the former Soviet Union and who have remained cut off, even here in Israel, from their Jewish heritage.

 

There is a limit to what we know or are allowed at this juncture to say about the Oshrenko tragedy. There is speculation that this nadir of brutality - people say the country has never experienced anything like it - is traceable to "the Caucasus mafia."

 

We know that the Oshrenko family, who reportedly owned several thriving businesses, among them a delicatessen located on the block where they lived modestly, did nothing to attract unfavorable attention from their neighbors.

 

THE murders are, mercifully, a horrible aberration. But a good way to honor the memory of the family is to reinvigorate efforts to make Israel a less violent society. Naturally, that requires better policing, capable prosecutors and wise judges; yet something more is called for.

 

No one expects 21st-century Israel to be a Herzlian utopia where citizens spend their Friday nights either around the traditional Shabbat table (though, happily, many do) or around campfires engaged in earnest ideological discussion about the fine points of Zionist ideology.

 

But surely it would not be overreaching to strive for a middle ground between a country that is a caricature of its founders' ideals and one that is oblivious to them altogether. Put another way, if young people are inculcated with good - dare we say Zionist - values, we ought to have nothing to fear if they want to spend part of their Friday nights clubbing. The key, however, is to impart Zionism, civility and, by example, ethical norms.

 

In mourning the Oshrenkos, we would do well not to berate ourselves as a uniquely violent society (because we're not); nor, at the other extreme, to imagine that there is absolutely nothing to be learned because this crime is unique. Instead, let us urge the institutions that shape societal values - the Rabbinate, the media and entertainment industry, schools and families - to transmit messages of inclusion, on the one hand, and zero tolerance of violence on the other.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

REALITY CHECK: ISRAEL'S 'NO POLICY' POLICY

JEFF BARAK

 

The confluence of the crisis in relations with Turkey and Israel's failure to block the endorsement of the Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead leads to some interesting conclusions. The first is that while Ehud Barak clearly lacks any sense of the appropriate behavior for a leader of a social-democratic party, he was right when he wanted to call an early halt to the war in Gaza.

 

Three days into the fighting, Defense Minister Barak backed the call for a humanitarian cease-fire promoted by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Like many former military commanders, Barak is aware of the limitations of force and was keen to avoid being drawn into a quagmire in the streets of Gaza.

 

But overruled by Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, the IDF continued fighting with little appreciable gains and the operation lasted 22 days. Had the cease-fire taken hold earlier, saving hundreds of Palestinian lives, the effect of Operation Cast Lead on world opinion, particularly in Muslim countries such as Turkey, would have been much more muted and the chances are that we would have been spared the Goldstone report.

 

One wishes that Barak could show the same clarity of mind he possesses in military matters in his behavior as the leader of the Labor Party. The recent scandal surrounding his wasteful trip to Paris is but further evidence of his politically autistic character.

 

Coming just a month after the government decided to cut all overseas accommodation expenditure by 25 percent, a record bill of more than NIS 944,000 for an overblown entourage of 50 people to the Paris Air Show simply puts Barak in the Marie Antoinette scale of socially sensitive leaders. It seems that home life in his NIS 30 million Tel Aviv ivory tower has truly cut Barak off from how the Israeli mainstream lives and thinks.

 

Furthermore, his decision last week to bump Isaac Herzog from the Ministerial Ethics Committee - without first telling Herzog - and taking the position himself is another example of how Barak succeeds in alienating those who have been his close political allies. Given the recent questions raised as to why NIS 6.5 million has been transferred to consulting companies run by Barak's daughters since he became defense minister, it is hard to avoid the impression that the committee's work will engage Barak in a clear conflict of interests.

 

BUT BARAK's real political original sin was joining this government and becoming Binyamin Netanyahu's fig leaf. Livni was wrong in wanting the continuation of Operation Cast Lead, but her dissection of the Netanyahu government in the Knesset's opening session last week in her speech as the leader of the opposition was devastatingly accurate. Since Netanyahu moved into the Prime Minister's Office, she noted, "We defeated America, we humiliated the Palestinians and we isolated ourselves."

 

Indeed, had the Prime Minister's Office not been so quick and vocal in celebrating its initial success in getting the Palestinians to drop their original pursuit of the Goldstone report, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas would have avoided the sharp internal criticism that led to his U-turn and his call for an immediate United Nations Human Rights Council discussion of the report. As Livni said, the Israeli leadership's immature desire "to run and tell the boys" wiped out its accomplishments.

 

More worrying, again as Livni pointed out, this government has no policy save that of survival, adding that Netanyahu's second achievement "and unfortunately that's the way you see it - is that you succeeded in not doing anything at all." This policy of "not doing anything" is a return to the dark years of Yitzhak Shamir's premiership in which the country was embroiled in costly spats with Washington over construction in the West Bank and the outburst of the first intifada.

 

During the Olmert government, when peace talks with the Palestinians were ongoing and, importantly, were a genuine attempt to reach an agreement, we enjoyed the diplomatic freedom (and the quiet support of the moderate Sunni Arab world) to initiate two wars against Iranian proxies, Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

 

Today, when Netanyahu is touting Iran's nuclear ambitions as the greatest threat to the Jewish people since Hitler but simultaneously flouting American attempts to restart the peace process with the Palestinians, our freedom of action has been drastically eroded. The Turkish cancellation of military exercises with the IDF and the Human Rights Council endorsement of the Goldstone report are the first warnings of a new, damaging period in relations with the world.

 

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman can fly to as many far-away countries as he likes (and the atmosphere here certainly improves the more days he is abroad) in his wishful-thinking attempt to build future alliances to replace diplomatic reliance on Washington, but as long as Israel refuses to negotiate seriously with the Palestinians, its standing in the world will continue to plummet. Lieberman's recent hosts in Russia, Argentina and Brazil, it should be noted, continued their traditional UN policy at the weekend and voted against Israel.

 

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE REGION: ROUND AND ROUND WE GO

BARRY RUBIN

 

Every day, dreadful things happen in the Middle East and in the echoes of that region - diplomacy, news coverage - in the West. Yet things are by no means as bad as they seem. Precisely because a lot of what happens simply doesn't reflect reality, ultimately the material effect is minimized.

 

Let's examine two aspects: Israel-Palestinian (and Arab-Israeli) along with the effort of Islamists to seize power in Muslim majority countries. The second - not the first - of those two is by far the most important issue in the Middle East, arguably the most important issue for our entire era. Then, a few words about US President Barack Obama's learning opportunity.

 

Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Despite all the noise, absolutely nothing has changed on this issue since the end of the Gaza war in January. The Palestinian side is intransigent and has no interest in serious negotiations. Hamas has been intimidated into virtually stopping its attacks on Israel. (Note to Western leaders: Force still works at achieving reasonable goals.) Israel's morale and national unity is relatively high and the economy continues to do well, especially in light of the international recession.

 

A potential crisis in relations with the US has been brilliantly defused by the government. The Obama administration has still not taken, despite a lot of questionable verbiage, any material step against Israel.

 

Therefore, all this talk of freezing construction, final-status negotiations, Western pressure, Palestinian threats and so on has amounted to absolutely nothing in practice.

 

What is the long-term prospect? On one hand, there will be decades more - an entire generation at least - without formal peace. That doesn't mean war either, but rather a status quo punctuated by sporadic low- to medium-level violence. The biggest danger, a Hamas takeover of the West Bank, has been pushed back. Israel's defensive capacity gains strength. Life will go on.

 

Again, please note that there is possibly no issue in the world which generates as much media coverage, academic publication and debate, peace plans and conferences and Western officials' speeches as much as the Israel-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflict. And yet nothing really changes.

 

Islamists Seizing Power

Islamist governments now rule in Iran, the Gaza Strip and to some extent in Sudan. In every other country (including Israel) in the region (including Central Asia, Pakistan and Afghanistan), radical Islamists pose the main opposition to the status quo. With every ounce of energy and a great deal of innovation, they are trying to seize state power. Will they succeed and if so, where? Are they really the wave of the future?

 

While the Islamists have a lot going for them, they also face many problems. First, don't underestimate the incumbent regimes. Arab nationalism still appeals to a majority of Arabic-speakers. The rulers have many resources at their disposal, including money and repressive power. The Islamists have not taken over any state since the Iranian revolution 30 years ago.

 

They are often divided. While they have definitely picked up speed, they are still saying and doing many things which most Muslims deem to contradict traditional Islam.

And the Islamists also make a lot of mistakes.

 

Within their own countries, confessional differences among Muslims often matter a great deal. In Lebanon, for example, Shi'ite Islamists led by Hizbullah have unnecessarily antagonized Sunni Muslims, while in Iraq the revolutionary Sunni Islamists are rejected by the Shi'ite Arab majority and ethnic Kurds. In North Africa, the large ethnic Berber minority opposes Islamism.

 

At home and internationally, the intransigence of radical regimes (Iran, Syria and Hamas) and movements alienates potential allies. By making such huge demands and refusing to make small concessions, they throw away opportunities and virtually force the West to confront them despite the preference of many for appeasement. Similarly, the constant aggression forces Western public opinion to reject concessions.

 

Nor can the Middle Eastern dictatorships, whether Islamist or nationalist, defeat the West or Israel. The centralization used to preserve the dictators' power inhibits prosperity. In the longer-term, the oil-producing countries will run out of petroleum and the rest of the world might even develop alternative and more efficient energy use.

 

US Policy

Something very big - but predictable - is starting to happen: The Palestinians, and no doubt soon a lot of the Arab world, are turning against Obama. He will find shortly that unless he gives everything and asks for nothing, they will soon be calling him another Bush.

 

The fact that Obama is perceived as weak doesn't help him any.

 

Cairo speech, UN speech, distancing from Israel, engaging radicals? All these things will get him nowhere. Help him on Iran? Well they weren't going to do that any way. The hostility is partly due, of course, to the interests of the Arab rulers, partly to the radicalism of the opinion makers there, partly to the Islamists who always outbid their incumbent rivals and need anti-Americanism as one of their main tools to stir passions.

 

This is how the Middle East works. But many in the mass media, academia and Western governments (especially the Obama administration) have absolutely no idea. They basically accept the concept that if you are nice enough, give enough and bash Israel enough, the Arabic-speaking political forces - and maybe even Iran - will love you and be nice to you, or at least leave you alone.

 

When this proves wrong, as it does periodically (1990-1991, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait; 2000, failure of Camp David followed by September 11), there is a period of comprehension when policies get better. Might this be a stage coming next year?

 

All the silly articles in Western newspapers, wrong-headed speeches by Western leaders, threats of mass murder by Islamist clerics and all the other things that could be added to this list do not change the material realities of the Middle East. Or, to use a supposed Arab saying, the dogs bark but the caravan moves on.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

JUST WHAT DID GOLDSTONE EXPECT?

ALAN BAKER

 

It is difficult to think of a figure of the international stature and reputation of Richard Goldstone, with his rich experience as an international criminal prosecutor and investigator of human rights situations, as being naive or unrealistic. It is all the more difficult therefore, to fathom the curious justifications that he proffers for the very one-sided and critical report issued in his name by the United Nations.

 

He criticizes Israel's decision not to cooperate with his Fact-Finding Mission, but naively ignores the very one-sided and politically hostile mandate of the mission as set out by the United Nations Human Rights Council, that determined in advance that Israel had committed war crimes. Any concession towards impartiality that he claims to have received from the president of the HRC never materialized into a change in the council's mandate, which remained rabidly one-sided and politically loaded.

 

Similarly he strangely ignores the fact that one of the senior members of his mission - Prof. Christine Chinkin - had, during the course of the fighting in Gaza, already voiced her opinion in the most public manner through the British media, accusing Israel of war crimes.

 

In such circumstances, how, in all logic, could any reasonable observer familiar with the United Nations and its inquiry procedures expect Israel to cooperate with such a politically prejudiced and gravely flawed inquiry? In doing so, Israel would have been perceived to have accepted the substantive elements of the Human Rights Council's initial criticism.

 

AS SOMEONE who is aware of this impossible situation, and as a reasonable and not-unsympathetic person, one might have expected Goldstone, as a condition for his agreement to head the mission, to insist that the mandate be genuinely and formally impartial. Had he been asked by the UN secretary general himself to conduct such an inquiry, without the political bias and gung-ho emanating from the HRC, the Israel government would have been hard-put to refuse cooperation, as has been the case in similar instances in the past.

 

While indeed the mission heard, saw and was persuaded by the very one-sided picture elaborately staged by Hamas in Gaza, including hand-picked witness testimony and internationally televised and web-circulated public hearings, Goldstone's complaint that they were not provided with input from the Israeli side is simply untrue to the point of being ridiculous. Several prominent Israeli and other international lawyers (including myself) and Jewish organizations forwarded to the mission and to Goldstone personally, vast amounts of information, including the official papers issued by Israel's Foreign Ministry, legal opinions, facts and media cuttings regarding the Hamas rocket barrages, violations, ambulance hijackings and the like.

 

I appeared before the mission in Geneva, together with a senior delegation of Magen David Adom (MDA), in an attempt to persuade it of the seriousness of the terrorization of Israel's southern population by the Hamas rockets, and the psychological effect on the public. The delegation detailed the wide-ranging activities by MDA in treating those affected - including Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. Others, including representatives of Israeli families harmed by Hamas, appeared before the mission.

 

But obviously all this was to no avail, since Goldstone and his team chose, for whatever reason, to ignore this extensive information in favor of a Hamas-organized production and some very selective Israeli and foreign non-governmental organizations known for their criticism of Israel.

 

Goldstone really adds insult to injury when he attempts to acknowledge, and even express a modicum of condemnation, of the UN and international media's Israel-bashing and tendency to hold Israel to a different standard than other countries. Is it not because of his one-sided, flawed and blatantly biased report that legal warfare has now been declared on Israel and on Israeli political and military leaders?

 

If the right to defend against terror is downplayed to the point of being denied by Goldstone and his team, then the message to the international community and to terror organizations is clear.

 

His repeated insistence, despite the information and data to which he had access, that Israel intentionally and even willfully targeted Palestinian civilians, is an accusation that requires serious and substantive treatment by Israel. This dreadful and malicious charge that serves as the core of the Goldstone report appears to rely on a curious mixture of irresponsible political statements by Israeli political leaders and accusations by various NGOs and Hamas propagandists. But without even attempting to make an independent and professional military analysis of Israel's position, and of the tactical choices faced by Israel, the accusation cannot be treated as well-founded criticism.

 

THE ISRAELI government cannot ignore the call by Goldstone and everyone else, to institute an official governmental inquiry. If indeed Israel has the substantive answers to the accusations levelled by Goldstone, then there is no reason to delay any further the establishment of such an inquiry. It would not, as has been claimed, be perceived as submitting to terror or caving in to international pressure, and would not be seen as lack of faith in our soldiers and officers.

 

Considerable damage has been done by the Goldstone accusations. Such damage cannot be repaired by hasbara, which has proven itself to be utterly useless, or by repetitive, weak statements by Israeli ministers and deputy ministers.

 

Israel must act to control that damage by establishing an inquiry manned by a prominent retired Supreme Court justice and serious military and legal experts. Such a move would instantly neutralize and deflate international criticism; it would provide a viable claim of non-admissibility to any attempt to prosecute Israel or Israeli leaders before international or national courts and tribunals.

 

Above all, such an inquiry would answer many of the questions that are still gnawing away at Israel's psyche, and given the length of time needed to carry out a serious and professional task (unlike the Goldstone Mission), time itself will place the Gaza conflict in its correct perspective.

 

The writer, a widely acknowledged international lawyer, served as the legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry and as ambassador to Canada. He is currently a partner in the Tel Aviv law firm of Moshe, Gicelter & Co.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

DEBACLE IN MOSCOW

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER

 

About the only thing more comical than Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize was the reaction of those who deemed the award "premature," as if the brilliance of Obama's foreign policy is so self-evident and its success so assured that if only the Norway had waited a few years, his Nobel worthiness would have been universally acknowledged.

 

To believe this, you have to be a dreamy adolescent (preferably Scandinavian and a member of the Socialist International) or an indiscriminate imbiber of White House talking points. After all, this was precisely the spin on the president's various apology tours through Europe and the Middle East: National self-denigration - excuse me, outreach and understanding - is not meant to yield immediate results; it simply plants the seeds of good feeling from which foreign policy successes shall come.

 

Chauncey Gardiner could not have said it better. Well, at nine months, let's review.

 

What's come from Obama holding his tongue while Iranian demonstrators were being shot and from his recognizing the legitimacy of a thug regime illegitimately returned to power in a fraudulent election? Iran cracks down even more mercilessly on the opposition and races ahead with its nuclear program.

 

What's come from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taking human rights off the table on a visit to China and from Obama's shameful refusal to see the Dalai Lama (a postponement, we are told). China hasn't moved an inch on North Korea, Iran or human rights. Indeed it's pushing with Russia to dethrone the dollar as the world's reserve currency.

 

What's come from the new-respect-for-Muslims Cairo speech and the unprecedented pressure on Israel for a total settlement freeze? "The settlement push backfired," reports The Washington Post, and Arab-Israeli peace prospects have "arguably regressed."

 

And what's come from Obama's single most dramatic foreign policy stroke - the sudden abrogation of missile defense arrangements with Poland and the Czech Republic that Russia had virulently opposed?

 

For the East Europeans it was a crushing blow, a gratuitous restoration of Russian influence over a region that thought it had regained independence under American protection.

 

BUT MAYBE not gratuitous. Surely we got something in return for selling out our friends. Some brilliant secret trade-off to get strong Russian support for stopping Iran from going nuclear before it's too late?

 

Just wait and see, said administration officials, who then gleefully played up an oblique statement by President Dmitry Medvedev a week later as vindication of the missile defense betrayal.

 

The Russian statement was so equivocal that such a claim seemed a ridiculous stretch at the time. Well, Clinton went to Moscow last week to nail down the deal. What did she get?

 

"Russia not budging on Iran sanctions: Clinton unable to sway counterpart." Such was The Washington Post headline's succinct summary of the debacle.

 

Note how thoroughly Clinton was rebuffed. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared that "threats, sanctions and threats of pressure" are "counterproductive." Note: It's not just sanctions that are worse than useless, but even the threat of mere pressure.

 

It gets worse. Having failed to get any movement from the Russians, Clinton herself moved - to accommodate the Russian position! Sanctions? What sanctions? "We are not at that point yet," she averred. "That is not a conclusion we have reached... it is our preference that Iran work with the international community."

 

But wait a minute. Didn't Obama say in July that Iran had to show compliance by the G-20 summit in late September? And when that deadline passed, did he not then warn Iran that it would face "sanctions that have bite" and that it would have to take "a new course or face consequences"?

 

Gone with the wind. It's the US that's now retreating from its already flimsy position of just three weeks ago. We're not doing sanctions now, you see. We're back to engagement. Just as the Russians suggest.

 

HENRY KISSINGER once said that the main job of Anatoly Dobrynin, the perennial Soviet ambassador to Washington, was to tell the Kremlin leadership that whenever they received a proposal from the United States that appeared disadvantageous to the United States, not to assume it was a trick.

 

No need for a Dobrynin today. The Russian leadership, hardly believing its luck, needs no interpreter to understand that when the Obama team clownishly rushes in bearing gifts and "reset" buttons, there is nothing ulterior, diabolical, clever or even serious behind it. It is amateurishness, wrapped in naivete, inside credulity. In short, the very stuff of Nobels.

 

Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated Washington Post columnist.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

UNNECESSARY DUEL

BY HAARETZ EDITORIAL

 

Defying diplomatic good sense, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that he opposes a resumption of Turkey's efforts to mediate between Israel and Syria in light of the Turks' recent behavior. In his view, Turkey can no longer be described as an "honest broker." This is an empty threat, mainly because the Netanyahu government has not shown any interest in resuming peace talks with Syria, with or without a mediator. Thus the real harm done by Netanyahu's words lies in his eagerness to repay Turkey, and especially its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in double measure for its criticism of Israel. This is an unnecessary duel that both sides, Turkey and Israel, ought to try to calm.


Turkey has close relations with Syria, Iran, Egypt and the Gulf states, and also with Israel. It succeeded in reviving the talks between Israel and Syria and has offered its services in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in the talks over Gilad Shalit's release. At the same time, Turkey is not the only friendly country that has joined the international outrage over the way Israel harmed innocent civilians during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The list of countries that supported the UN Human Rights Council's decision to adopt the Goldstone report is not limited to those that belong to the "automatic majority" against Israel. Even Britain and France opted to skip the vote rather than oppose the Goldstone report.


The implicit assumption in Netanyahu's remarks - that the leader of the only Muslim country that maintains truly normalized relations with Israel is supposed to close his eyes to the brutality of the Gaza operation - attests to Israel's blindness, above all.

 

The Turks do not deserve to be punished by Netanyahu, even if their prime minister has employed a crude vocabulary and attacked Israel publicly over its responsibility for the deaths of innocents. Good relations with Turkey are vital to Israel's security and economic interests. And Turkey deserves praise for its willingness to restart the negotiations with Syria.


In contrast to Israel, Turkey understands the need to distinguish between negotiations and rebukes. And it is not Turkey that will suffer if it is removed from the list of honest brokers. Rather, it is Israel, which is liable to lose an important channel of communications that could facilitate future talks with Damascus.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

BARAK'S REAL EXTRAVAGANCE

BY AMIR OREN

 

Mordechai Surkis, the mayor of Kfar Sava, sat next to the cabdriver, his head turned uncomfortably to the left. In the backseat were defense minister Shimon Peres and his aid for the territories, Micha Lindenstrauss. They were in Paris on their way to meetings on the rehabilitation of the Palestinian refugees. They had met Surkis on the plane and offered him a ride from the airport to town. "What's wrong, Surkis?" asked Peres. "Why don't you sit back and enjoy the scenery?"


"If I do I can't see the meter," said the old Labor Party stalwart. "The francs are flipping by so quickly."

That was eons ago, in the early 1970s, long before Peres became prime minister or president and Lindenstrauss state comptroller. It was also long before Labor's current leader, also the defense minister, flew off for the Paris Air Show and found himself under heavy fire for the profligate use of public funds. The times, and most of the people, have changed, but the criticism of Ehud Barak is justified. This, however, is not the worst way Barak has let the public down. Far more serious is the manner he has squandered time and opportunities in important areas for the future of this country and its citizens.

 

Barak's joining up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was good for Netanyahu and bad for the country. Likud had at least four former top defense officials on its list for the last elections, all of them products of the traditionally Labor-linked agricultural settlement movement: Yossi Peled, Moshe Ya'alon, Assaf Hefetz and Uzi Dayan. Barak could easily have been just another one of them. Indeed, he was maneuvered into an inferior position and made to look like an ambitious but inept general when he ended up in the pocket of his ally, Histadrut labor federation chief Ofer Eini. In fact, he lost his freedom of action and is now the jointly held property of Netanyahu and Eini.


If this is an acceptable political situation, one can only sympathize with Barak's predecessor, Amir Peretz, for fearing to respond favorably to Netanyahu's feelers after the 2006 elections and form a Labor-Likud government under Peretz instead of the Kadima-Labor government under Olmert. It is easy to surmise what his opponents, with Barak at their head, would have said if Peretz had dared to head a government of 30 ministers and countless deputy ministers.


In the virtual absence of Avigdor Lieberman from the diplomatic front, Barak boasted that he was also foreign minister during the first few months of the Netanyahu government. If that was so, he has a major share in its diplomatic failures. Israel's defensive strategy has no chance of succeeding and offers no hope for a better future. We don't need a "good old boy," but rather a leader who will launch a farsighted initiative. We don't need a small-time middleman between Netanyahu and U.S. envoy George Mitchell on his way to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. If Barak recoils from such a role, he will turn himself into Netanyahu's Yisrael Galili, the man who developed Golda Meir's barren policies.


Another challenge facing Labor and Barak is in law enforcement, from the cop on the street up to the Supreme Court. As expected, and despite all warnings, Barak let other parties take the justice and public security portfolios (just as Peretz under Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer under Ariel Sharon sneaked ahead of him to become defense minister.)


By waiving these key positions for determining the character of Israeli society, and allowing them to fall to Lieberman appointees, Barak displayed impotency in dealing with law-enforcement issues and walked away from the war on crime and corruption. It was more important for him to reward his backers, Ben-Eliezer and Shalom Simhon, with economic portfolios.


The current battle in this war is over Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman's proposal to split the attorney general's functions. A decade ago, Barak was saved from being indicted for election fund-raising offenses because then-attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein, whose opinion allowed Barak to claim he was innocent, also headed the prosecution, which accepted Barak's claim and closed the case.


Barak recently approved the military advocate general's promotion to major general. If he ultimately reconciles himself, despite his objections, to Neeman's scheme, consistency will demand a splitting of the MAG's functions to the Israel Defense Forces' legal adviser and a chief military prosecutor. Not reasonable? Neither is Neeman's proposal.


Barak, who has forgotten his promise as chief of staff that "whatever doesn't shoot will be cut," will lose what remains of his pretensions of leadership if he continues to avoid acting courageously and fritters away his influence

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

FINISH IT NOW

BY ELDAD YANIV

 

In the early 1990s, when Judge Richard Goldstone headed a commission of inquiry on the rising violence in South Africa toward the end of apartheid, he garnered the same kind of compliments from the Afrikaners as he has been getting from Israel over the last few weeks. But the "Jew boy" wasn't the problem then, and he isn't the problem now. And PR isn't the solution. Take a look in the mirror; it's not Goldstone, it's us. We're the problem as well as the solution.


Israel is being pushed to the side of the world stage and will yet find itself in the same position South Africa was during the final years of the right-wing "crocodile," P.W. Botha, a conservative ideologue. The Goldstone report is a cruel but accurate image of Israel the leper as seen by the "anti-Semitic" Goldstone and Israel's good friends around the world, who are having a hard time continuing to defend the country.


When Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for the rights of black people in the United States, it didn't bother anyone that South Africa had benches for white people only. But then the weather changed, winter turned to spring and racism became a crime once more, first in the United States and then around the world. That's exactly what's happening in Israel now. George W. Bush retired to his ranch and America has gotten tired of the settlers. Everyone understands what every decent and patriotic Israeli also realizes: Israel won't be in Hebron or Ofra when it celebrates its 70th anniversary. So why not be done with it before then?

 

When will be the appropriate time? When Ankara recalls its ambassador? When Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon is arrested in London? When the Security Council imposes sanctions? When Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi start saying behind our backs the same things the Swedes and Norwegians say about us to our faces?

We could be total suckers and not be done with it until then, or we could decide now, the way David Ben-Gurion took action at 4 P.M. one Friday afternoon: mightily, and in thrall to a Zionist vision. Complete the ugly, injurious fence that causes injustice but saves lives and turn it into Israel's internationally recognized border. Patriotic Israel realizes that the Palestinians must not beat us in the War of Independence and become the majority here, just as Ben-Gurion understood in 1948 when he made his decision. So the Arabs oppose dividing the land under reasonable conditions and want to talk until they form the majority here? Let them oppose. The world agrees, and we act.


Israel didn't have to wallow in Lebanon for 18 years because of the Katyusha threat, and it doesn't need to immerse itself in Hebron for 42 years because of the Qassams. The Israel Defense Forces successfully defends our internationally recognized borders from security threats. We've waited too many years to give the Palestinians an answer on this, and time is against both sides of the conflict - mainly us.


And when Israel establishes recognized borders, maybe peace will make a surprise appearance. The Palestinians will no longer be living under occupation, no one in the world will listen to them anymore, and the leaders of Egypt and Jordan will be worried about staying in power if it's not quiet in Palestine. So maybe something will move and we'll bury the sword.


And if not? We will continue to seek peace while establishing ourselves as a model society with recognized borders; we will be respected members of the European Union and sought after by the entire world.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must decide whether it will be on his watch that Israel closes the book on its control over the territories, just as Ariel Sharon closed the book on Israel's presence in Gaza and Ehud Barak did in Lebanon. Or not, in which case Bibi will be followed by the Israeli F.W. de Klerk, who will lead us to a safe harbor and a historic, and final, victory in the War of Independence.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

DON'T RUSH THE SEARCH

BY ZE'EV SEGAL

 

On January 10, 1997, the cabinet chose Roni Bar-On, then a member of the Likud Central Committee, to be the next attorney general. The appointment was listed on the meeting's agenda under "miscellaneous." It was concocted in smoke-filled rooms and concealed from the public's eye. Two days later, justice minister Tzachi Hanegbi announced the new attorney general's resignation on a live television broadcast.


The lessons learned from this hasty appointment led to the establishment of a committee headed by former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar to consider the attorney general's role. This panel recommended that a law be enacted to regulate the process of choosing the attorney general. Instead, the government made do with a cabinet decision on the issue, adopted in August 2000. In any case, the decision was in line with the principles advocated by the Shamgar Committee.


Now, a search committee headed by former Supreme Court justice Theodor Or is about to convene to choose a new attorney general, as incumbent Menachem Mazuz is retiring in January, six years after taking office.

 

The new attorney general must have expertise in both public and criminal law; this is clear both from the cabinet decision's statement that the universities' representative on the search committee must have such expertise and from the decision's reference to the Shamgar Committee's conclusions about the attorney general's qualifications. He must also have broad experience, both formal and substantive, that gives him a professional background equal to that demanded of a Supreme Court justice.


But in the current situation - given Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman's intention of splitting the attorney general's role by transferring his power to file criminal charges to the state prosecutor or some kind of "super prosecutor" - the committee should refrain from recommending candidates to the cabinet before the nature of the job is clear.


If the justice minister succeeds in carrying out this reform, which requires legislation, the attorney general's job will consist mainly of civil, economic and commercial issues, along with representing the state in the High Court of Justice - except in the case of petitions against decisions not to indict someone, usually a public figure. Those decisions would be defended in the High Court by the state prosecutor or the "super prosecutor."


The search committee can begin vetting the candidates its members have proposed immediately, with the understanding that only a candidate with significant support is worthy of having his name passed on to the cabinet by the committee. But the committee's final decision on which candidates to recommend to the cabinet requires that four of its five members deem him "qualified, suitable and appropriate." And this final determination cannot be made before knowing whether changes will be made to the attorney general's role.


The last search committee, headed by former Supreme Court justice Gavriel Bach, submitted three names to the cabinet: then-district court judge Uzi Vogelman, who was appointed to the Supreme Court last week; District Court Judge David Cheshin, who has experience in a wide range of legal fields and has been mentioned as a possible candidate this time around as well; and Mazuz. That committee gave great weight to the fact that then-justice minister Yosef Lapid favored Mazuz, and ultimately, so did the cabinet.


Neeman, the current justice minister, has done well by refraining (at least so far) from recommending any particular candidate to the committee. His restraint gives the committee even greater freedom to apply its best judgment. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was also premier when Bar-On was appointed, has also refrained from submitting candidates to the committee, as indeed he should, even though the cabinet decision of 2000 authorizes him to do so.


To ensure the appointment of the most suitable candidate to one of the government's most important posts, the justice minister must finalize his position on the thorny question of the attorney general's powers - an issue he has been studying for several months now. It is also possible to appoint an acting attorney general to replace the outgoing incumbent for three months, or even to extend that term via a cabinet decision. That would be preferable to making decisions on either of the two relevant questions - whether to split the attorney general's role and who the next attorney general should be - without weighing all the relevant factors.


The former question is extremely controversial. Thus a new public committee, which would not necessarily be composed of former justice ministers and attorneys general and could make use of the enormous amount of material that has since been amassed, ought to reexamine the Shamgar Committee's recommendation not to split the job. Appointing an acting attorney general would be preferable to a hasty choice. And it is reasonable to assume that Or and his colleagues on the committee will not lend their hands to an ill-considered

move.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

AN ISRAELI AND A POLE

BY MICHAEL HANDELZALTS

 

Prof. Shlomo Avineri was born in Bielsko, Silesia, and according to him ("A European passport? No thank you," September 29), he is entitled to a European passport, but he forgoes his right. He then enumerates the many complex reasons why many Israelis seek a European passport, so as to shame those who did apply for conduct befitting "any persecuted and stateless Jew quick to latch onto any opportunity to survive."


He goes on to remind us that Israel was founded not only to ensure the Jewish people's right to self-determination. The Jewish state was formed, and grants citizenship - Israeli, not Jewish, mind you - "mainly because Europe had failed and betrayed us, as well as its own principles, and did not protect its Jews. The European betrayal preceded the Holocaust and prompted Theodor Herzl - for whom European culture was an essential element - to realize that the Jews had no future in Europe." He also chides the Israeli holders of European passports for their "ugly and immoral parasitic behavior" as "they do not pay taxes in these countries and are not really interested in what goes on there" and for what he labels "a cynical exploitation of Europe's collective sense of guilt."


"Our modern culture is to a large extent a product of the Continent," he admits. And this Europe embarked in recent decades on a path of forging a common European citizenship, which is not supposed to obliterate anyone's remaining French, German or Polish at the same time. Insisting on Israelis having one passport only is traveling the other way.

 

Many Jews hold Israeli passports due to the Law of Return, or due to being born in Israel, and that does not preclude their holding another passport from the state they dwell in, mostly the United States. Many of them do not pay taxes in Israel, and sizable numbers come, or are brought here, to vote. An Israeli passport is granted automatically to those who can prove they are Jewish, and is withheld, or granted only after long and exasperating formal procedures, to those who are supposedly entitled to it for humanitarian reasons, or to those who simply wish to share our lot as citizens of Israel.


The civil rights of a citizen of a sovereign state include the right to hold as many passports as citizens can get (provided the law allows for dual citizenship, and Israeli law as of this writing does) or to feel content with only one, without anyone questioning one's motives. I have an Israeli passport due to the Law of Return and also hold a European passport, as I was born in Poland and feel very much part of its culture. I'm a Pole because that's the way I like it. And I'm for Israel allowing all Israelis to be whatever they like to be, as long as they abide by Israeli law and do no harm to their fellow Israelis.


For many years now, the State of Israel has been pursuing policies, in terms of the occupation and other issues, that cause quite a few of its citizens to feel ashamed of being Israelis. True, Israeli policies largely result from grave, even existential, threats. True, many states and authorities that surround and endanger us treat their citizens far worse. And it is also true that Israeli governments conducting such policies were democratically elected.

The parties and leaders I've voted for since 1968 either did not win or failed to deliver on their campaign promises. And, after being a witness unable to change the situation on many things done by the State of Israel that made me ashamed to be an Israeli, I've even considered (and that was before I had a European passport) relinquishing my citizenship and applying to remain in Israel as a permanent resident who pledges to pay all taxes due and to obey all Israeli laws. I'm an Israeli also because I like it that way. This is the state in which I've chosen to lead my life, and it is a state I deeply care about. This is my language, Hebrew, and this is my culture, Israeli and Jewish.


The way to make Israelis content with an Israeli passport is not to hound those who applied for and received another passport, but to make civil life here - for all the country's citizens and inhabitants - something all Israelis can be proud of. That is the ultimate test.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

FED UP WITH ALBANY

 

New Yorkers have been complaining for many years about their abysmal state government, but it has simply grown worse. The state has become a national embarrassment, a swamp of intrigue and corruption, a $131 billion monster controlled by a crowd of smug officials whose main concern is keeping their soft jobs. By now, most New Yorkers have given up hope that these officials are capable of cleaning up their own mess.

The clock is ticking. In one year, unless the Albany crowd pulls off some miracle, which we doubt will happen, it will be up to the voters to get them out, all of them.

 

•To recap some recent outrages:

Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who promised to reform Albany on Day One, was forced to resign on Day 441 after his bizarre antics with a prostitute. His replacement, David Paterson, has been weak and ineffective. The state comptroller was forced to resign after confessing to a felony involving his misuse of state resources. Three of his close associates have been arrested on charges of bribery and grand larceny.

 

A dozen legislators in the last few years have been convicted of serious crimes including bribery, mail fraud, extortion and racketeering. Joseph Bruno, the Senate majority leader who resigned last year, is fighting federal charges that he collected more than $3 million in fees from companies trying to do business with the state.

 

After failing to do the people's business for years, the Senate was shut down for a month this summer by two Democratic senators. Pedro Espada Jr., one of them, is under investigation for not filing campaign finance forms and over allegations that he funneled state money into his own business. The other, Hiram Monserrate, was convicted last week of assaulting his girlfriend.

 

How do we let such people anywhere near a legislature? The answer is in voters' hands. It is time to change the culture.

 

In coming weeks, we will outline some of the ways this inbred system allows so many lawmakers to abuse the public trust, and how new faces in Albany could change it. Our goals are to make a once-respected state run better and more openly, to make elections fairer and more competitive, and to create a more ethical government with tougher rules and real enforcement.

 

ALBANY NEEDS ADULT SUPERVISION In 2007, under Mr. Spitzer, the state passed changes to its ethics laws that fell far short of genuine reform. Two agencies that monitored ethics and lobbying were merged into one ethics commission, which in classic Albany fashion resulted in the firing of David Grandeau, one of the few people brave enough to go after lobbyists and legislators. The good-government types called him Albany's Eliot Ness.

 

A year after the Spitzer reform, a top official for the new ethics commission was accused of being unethical. He allegedly passed information about an ongoing investigation of Mr. Spitzer's office to one of Mr. Spitzer's aides. What made this troubling was that as governor, Mr. Spitzer had appointed a majority of the new ethics commission members, just as lawmakers control the group that polices them.

 

New York needs independent monitors with powers to oversee the ethics of those in the state government and Legislature.

 

STOP THE SEWER MONEY New York's campaign finance laws are notoriously loose, allowing unions, businesses and the wealthy to have their way with Albany. An individual can give only $4,800 to a candidate for president, but $55,900 to a candidate for governor. Write a check to a New York political party for "housekeeping" and it can have as many zeroes as you like. Those fattened political parties can give unlimited amounts to candidates.

 

Even worse, the loose limits are paired with looser enforcement. One assemblywoman has been fined 63 times for not filing any campaign contribution data for over a decade.Finally, New York politicians can use campaign money for almost anything — funds have been used for pool covers, country club dues and even legal fees after the lawmaker has left office to do time in jail. The New York State Board of Elections is supposed to monitor those expenses, but as a spokesman for the board told one reporter: "Unless you out-and-out stick it in your pocket and walk away, everything's legal."

 

The goal should be public financing of campaigns like the system in Connecticut, and strict rules for reporting and using that money. New York City's rules are a good model.

 

IT SHOULDN'T BE SO EASY TO HIDE $131 BILLION The state budget is deliberately opaque. A few officials — mostly bureaucrats — have attempted over the years to explain what's going on, but nobody in Albany is really trying to put a budget online, so even those knowledgeable about finance can't read it. Details are guarded like state secrets. Want to know how much taxpayers spend on roads downstate? Forget it. How much do they spend on Sing Sing prison? That's not in the public data. It's time to make the state budget an open book — at least as open as New York City's.

 

THE STATE'S $116 BILLION INVESTOR New York's comptroller is the sole trustee watching over $116.5 billion in pension investments. This should not be happening anywhere, but especially not in Albany.

 

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has proposed a 13-member commission to manage pensions. The idea is a good one, requiring appointments to the board by state leaders and employees with pensions. But this new board should not become another parking place for political hacks. While we need a better system than one person controlling so much money, it must be done right — with a board picked for its financial expertise with fiduciary duties to protect the pension.

 

FAIR ELECTIONS SHOULD NOT BE SO HARD New York's lawmakers have made voting and running for office notoriously difficult. Registration to vote should be automatic. Elections should not be an income source for sleazy lawyers whose business is bumping candidates off ballots. It's time to open the polls to more voters and expand opportunities for more candidates.

 

THE MAPMAKING SCANDALS Every 10 years New York lawmakers draw their own districts, so legislators pick neighborhoods or communities they know are on their side, a process that is often unfair to New Yorkers, since the politicians' trick is to match the voters to the incumbents, rather than force candidates to consider the interests of their voters.

 

The maps are so bizarre that one upstate district has been nicknamed "Lincoln riding a vacuum cleaner" because of the way it looks as it reaches here and there to pick up enough friendly voters for a one-size-fits-one-party district. If there is one change that could make a real difference, an independent commission serving as the state's fair mapmaker for the Legislature would be it.

•In many states, reform only comes when people are truly ashamed of their lawmakers and vote them out of office. New York's moment of shame is now.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

OH, THAT ACCOUNT

 

There is some good news for law-abiding taxpayers and the United State Treasury. The Obama administration is smoking wealthy tax cheats out of their offshore hiding places. More than 7,500 Americans rushed to take advantage of a voluntary disclosure program that ended last Thursday, telling the I.R.S. about offshore accounts with up to $100 million in undeclared funds.

 

Most turned themselves in after Swiss authorities and the banking giant UBS bowed to American pressure and UBS agreed to hand over data on as many as 4,450 secret accounts held by Americans in Switzerland.

 

Every year the government loses billions in tax revenues this way. And it is far past time to reintroduce some fairness — and credibility — into a system that is great at taxing the little guy but too often lets the rich, and their sophisticated financial advisers, off the hook.

 

The investigation into UBS has led to criminal investigations of scores of taxpayers. A handful have pleaded guilty. And more such pleas are expected. It is producing other benefits overseas. In recent months, dozens of formerly uncooperative sanctuaries, from Singapore to Liechtenstein, have rushed to sign on to new multinational agreements on information sharing.

 

The Treasury Department is negotiating with several countries to establish common protocols to exchange information about foreign accounts. The Internal Revenue Service is opening offices in Beijing, Sydney and Panama and opening a new unit to investigate evasion by high-net-worth individuals, at home and overseas. It should keep pushing — hard.

 

Congress must do its part and swiftly pass tax-related legislation wrapped into President Obama's 2010 budget. The new legislation would require foreign banks doing business in the United States to disclose information about accounts held by American clients and withhold taxes on all the income generated by these accounts. It would require banks to determine and disclose the ultimate ownership of accounts held by offshore shell companies, and withhold taxes from them.

 

These initiatives might produce something unheard-of in the annals of public finance: They could ensure the rich get into the habit of paying all their taxes.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

LIVING IN 3-D

 

The last few years have seen a boom in 3-D movies. And a new generation of cameras, projectors and light-processing technologies — relying on such things as circularly polarized light — has transformed the process. Watching old 3-D movies, you felt as if you were looking at a flat screen with occasional protrusions. Watching the re-release of "Toy Story" — and especially the trailer for the 3-D version of "A Christmas Carol" — you feel as if you're looking through the surface of a snow globe and sometimes as if you're falling right into it.

 

Leaving the theater we found ourselves thinking about the best 3-D effect of all: walking out of a 3-D movie and into a 3-D city. (What a subtle world we live in!) The actual world doesn't have to create the illusion of its three-dimensionality. Its depth is so pervasive that we forget to notice it. We register it with a kind of 3-D equanimity, taking in everything as part of the natural field of view. There's an unexpected serenity, a calmness, in how we see.

 

That was the pleasure of walking up Broadway from the theater. When a man looking for spare change said "Hey, bub!" his face didn't leap into the foreground, nor did we suddenly see ourselves walking toward him from his point of view. The light mist that was falling didn't hang like the northern lights between us.

 

It was a pleasure to take 3-D for granted and marvel, for a few blocks at least, at the subtlety of the special effects inherent in ordinary perception.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITOTRIAL

THE BANKS ARE NOT ALRIGHT

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. O.K., maybe not literally the worst, but definitely bad. And the contrast between the immense good fortune of a few and the continuing suffering of all too many boded ill for the future.

 

I'm talking, of course, about the state of the banks.

 

The lucky few garnered most of the headlines, as many reacted with fury to the spectacle of Goldman Sachs making record profits and paying huge bonuses even as the rest of America, the victim of a slump made on Wall Street, continues to bleed jobs.

 

But it's not a simple case of flourishing banks versus ailing workers: banks that are actually in the business of lending, as opposed to trading, are still in trouble. Most notably, Citigroup and Bank of America, which silenced talk of nationalization earlier this year by claiming that they had returned to profitability, are now — you guessed it — back to reporting losses.

 

Ask the people at Goldman, and they'll tell you that it's nobody's business but their own how much they earn. But as one critic recently put it: "There is no financial institution that exists today that is not the direct or indirect beneficiary of trillions of dollars of taxpayer support for the financial system." Indeed: Goldman has made a lot of money in its trading operations, but it was only able to stay in that game thanks to policies that put vast amounts of public money at risk, from the bailout of A.I.G. to the guarantees extended to many of Goldman's bonds.

 

So who was this thundering bank critic? None other than Lawrence Summers, the Obama administration's chief economist — and one of the architects of the administration's bank policy, which up until now has been to go easy on financial institutions and hope that they mend themselves.

 

Why the change in tone? Administration officials are furious at the way the financial industry, just months after receiving a gigantic taxpayer bailout, is lobbying fiercely against serious reform. But you have to wonder what they expected to happen. They followed a softly, softly policy, providing aid with few strings, back when all of Wall Street was on the ropes; this left them with very little leverage over firms like Goldman that are now, once again, making a lot of money.

 

But there's an even bigger problem: while the wheeler-dealer side of the financial industry, a k a trading operations, is highly profitable again, the part of banking that really matters — lending, which fuels investment and job creation — is not. Key banks remain financially weak, and their weakness is hurting the economy as a whole.

 

You may recall that earlier this year there was a big debate about how to get the banks lending again. Some analysts, myself included, argued that at least some major banks needed a large injection of capital from taxpayers, and that the only way to do this was to temporarily nationalize the most troubled banks. The debate faded out, however, after Citigroup and Bank of America, the banking system's weakest links, announced surprise profits. All was well, we were told, now that the banks were profitable again.

 

But a funny thing happened on the way back to a sound banking system: last week both Citi and BofA announced losses in the third quarter. What happened?

 

Part of the answer is that those earlier profits were in part a figment of the accountants' imaginations. More broadly, however, we're looking at payback from the real economy. In the first phase of the crisis, Main Street was punished for Wall Street's misdeeds; now broad economic distress, especially persistent high unemployment, is leading to big losses on mortgage loans and credit cards.

 

And here's the thing: The continuing weakness of many banks is helping to perpetuate that economic distress. Banks remain reluctant to lend, and tight credit, especially for small businesses, stands in the way of the strong recovery we need.

 

So now what? Mr. Summers still insists that the administration did the right thing: more government provision of capital, he says, would not "have been an availing strategy for solving problems." Whatever. In any case, as a political matter the moment for radical action on banks has clearly passed.

 

The main thing for the time being is probably to do as much as possible to support job growth. With luck, this will produce a virtuous circle in which an improving economy strengthens the banks, which then become more willing to lend.

 

Beyond that, we desperately need to pass effective financial reform. For if we don't, bankers will soon be taking even bigger risks than they did in the run-up to this crisis. After all, the lesson from the last few months has been very clear: When bankers gamble with other people's money, it's heads they win, tails the rest of us lose.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

HAVE FAITH IN AN AIDS VACCINE

BY SETH BERKLEY

 

VACCINE researchers don't often find themselves at the center of public controversies. But a storm has erupted over the announcement last month that an experimental AIDS vaccine tested in Thailand proved modestly effective. It was billed as a major scientific advance — the long-awaited hard evidence that it is possible to inoculate people against AIDS. But now the trial has been called into question in a way that is overblown and possibly destructive.

 

At a biotech conference last week, I asked a major industry scientist what he thought of the Thai trial announcement, and, although no additional data had been presented, he replied simply, "I don't believe it." Unfortunately, such pessimism may be hard to dispel and may ultimately thwart other efforts to develop an AIDS vaccine.

 

Even before this controversy erupted, it had been an effort to maintain sufficient support for AIDS vaccine research and development. In 2008, private and public spending on this vital mission declined by 10 percent from the year before. A few fanatical AIDS activists have even called for ending the American government's considerable support for AIDS vaccine research, and spending the money instead on AIDS treatment. Patient care is vital, of course, but it alone can only mitigate, not end, the pandemic.

 

This is why it is essential to clear things up.

 

The Thai study was the largest AIDS vaccine trial yet, following 16,402 volunteers for six years. It was a collaborative effort by, among others, the United States military, the National Institutes of Health and the Thai Health Ministry. (The organization I head, a nonprofit that conducts vaccine research and development but was not involved and has no commercial interest in the candidates tested.) The trial partners initially announced that the vaccine combination reduced the risk of infection by 31.2 percent in a statistically significant analysis.

 

A few days later, the trial collaborators began to brief researchers privately about additional data, including a second type of analysis that indicated the vaccine regimen had been slightly less effective than the first analysis suggested. This second analysis was not statistically significant, meaning that chance, rather than the protective effect of the vaccine candidate, might explain why fewer volunteers in the vaccinated group than in the placebo group were infected with H.I.V.

 

Some researchers questioned why both analyses weren't announced at the same time — which certainly would have been preferable — and suggested to reporters that the second analysis called the first one into doubt. The trial sponsors say they thought the complexities of the second analysis and all additional data were best explored in a peer-reviewed paper in a scientific journal and at a presentation at the AIDS Vaccine Conference in Paris this week. But with news outlets reporting that the trial results may be a fluke, there is a risk that they will be forever tainted, whatever the final analyses show. What's more, the stain of dubiousness may remain on all AIDS vaccine research and development.

 

That would be a shame. Although the candidate duo tested in the Thai trial did not prove to be a vaccine ready for the market, it may provide an unprecedented opportunity to learn how an AIDS vaccine can work. A comparison of blood samples from volunteers could indicate what specific immune responses the combination may have activated to provide protection. If so, this knowledge could help scientists improve upon the more promising candidates that have emerged since the trial candidates were designed a decade ago, and determine which ones are most likely to work.

 

This illustrates why the controversy over statistical significance is exaggerated. Whether you consider the first or second analysis, the observed effect of the Thai candidates was either just above or below the level of statistical significance. Statisticians will tell you it is possible to observe an effect and have reason to think it's real even if it's not statistically significant. And if you think it's real, you ought to examine it carefully.

 

Even if the Thai vaccine regimen turns out, on examination, to have had no real benefit, researchers will still learn from the trial, as they do from every study. Moreover, other noteworthy advances featured at the Paris conference this week will offer fresh hope for an AIDS vaccine. Years of investment and dogged science are providing leads for solving one of today's most pressing research challenges. Some 7,400 new H.I.V. infections occur daily throughout the world. Clearly we need better methods of preventing the spread of H.I.V., and no public health intervention is more powerful or cost-effective against infectious disease than a vaccine.

 

Seth Berkley is the president and chief executive of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE NRO DEBATE

 

The NRO has finally landed in parliament, as laid down by the Supreme Court at the end of July this year. The ordinance, introduced by former president Pervez Musharraf in October 2007, was stated to be aimed at ending political victimization and vendetta. The PPP government will be hoping the controversial ordinance, which paved the way for politicians accused of corruption to participate in the electoral process, will be approved by parliament. There is indeed conjecture it may deliberately have been put before both houses in the midst of the row on the Kerry-Lugar Bill, in the hope that this bigger issue would allow the NRO to be slipped through unnoticed. It is worth noting though that while the PPP is taking much of the flak for the NRO, the largest number of beneficiaries belong to other parties or else were, at various points in time, a part of the bureaucracy.


The early signs suggest quite clearly there will be a new storm over the NRO. Voices have already been raised in parliament against the law. Tensions will then run high over the matter for some time. There is also speculation that the tabling of the NRO could fit in with a bigger game plan – possibly one directed against the presidency. It is too soon to say if there is much weight behind these rumours. But they come at a time when uncertainty already runs high in Islamabad and there is once more ceaseless rumour of change. Many games of different kinds are said to be afoot. There is a possibility that the NRO could feature in the script for the future being written out and leading towards a drama the conclusion of which we still cannot predict.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

DISPUTED BORDERS

 

Tensions between New Delhi and Beijing have been rising for some days, and centre around Indian objections to Chinese assistance for Pakistan to build a dam in Azad Kashmir. The old border dispute between China and India – the two giant countries which stretch across a huge expanse of Asia – has also reared its head. The border under question lies in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, and a visit to it by the Indian prime minister brought terse comment from the Chinese. Other issues, such as permission by India to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet to visit Arunachal has also raised hackles across the border. Pakistan's close relations with China have long been watched with suspicion by New Delhi, particularly since the short war it fought with China in 1962. The new row between the two countries appears to bring to an end an era during which China and India had been moving closer. Beijing has meanwhile made a statement clarifying that it has no intention of backing out of its commitment to Pakistan, made last month, to help with the construction of the Diamir-Bhasha Dam. This is of course encouraging for Islamabad. The new Chinese commitment to one of its closest allies will help strengthen the relationship between the two countries and bolster ties in various areas, opening up the way for further cooperation.


India has no right to make an attempt to make an issue out of this or make a complaint to Beijing. In its own part of the disputed Kashmir territory, it has not hesitated to set up development projects of its own. One of these, a dam on the Neelum River, threatens to block water to the Pakistan-administered portion of the area. Opposition to the project from Pakistan has had little impact in New Delhi. And while India may consider Gilgit-Baltistan to be a part of Jammu and Kashmir and hence make a claim on it, the rest of the world does not clearly see it that way. For the region, the tensions between India and China are unfortunate. But New Delhi must not make an attempt to drag Pakistan into a dispute with Beijing. The relationship between Pakistan and China is a long and old one. Built on solid foundations, it will continue in spite all the rather obvious Indian efforts to jar it.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

MORALITY BRIGADE

 

The storm raging at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) over what has been termed 'public displays of affection' suggests why we, as a nation, face so many problems today. It is ironic that while on the one hand we face a crisis of governance, economic meltdown and terrorist threats on an unprecedented scale – on the other hand it is issues such as those at LUMS that take up so much time and energy. The campus controversy, now trickling out beyond the walls of the university, involves just such a 'public display of affection' between a female and a male student. A vigilant fellow student captured the moment and sent out emails seeking support to condemn such behaviour. University authorities are currently contemplating a ban on PDAs, even though many students showed no desire to condemn what happened and in fact reacted with some hostility to the fact that it had been documented and included in email messages.


The whole thing is in fact a non-issue. Why should there be so much interest in the behaviour of two individuals which affects no one else? We don't need more vigilantes in society, who feel it their right to appropriate to themselves the guardianship of society's morals and behaviour. This attitude reflects our overall national psyche which makes us a nation that excels in lecturing (and hectoring) others for all kinds of imagined and perceived faults, all the while ignoring our own flaws and problems (that is also unfortunately why whenever terrorists acts happen so many of us are quick to spread and believe all kinds of wild conspiracy theories blaming the rest of the world, when the attackers are quite clearly from within us and our very own creations). It is time to jump off the moral bandwagon so many in the country are on. We have many real problems to grapple with. We must not waste time on others that should not concern anyone at all.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

A LONG MARCH FOR SOCIAL CHANGE

SARWAR BARI


"This is a stronghold of Bijarani, Somroo, Jhakhrani, Oghai and Taighani sardars," answered a handsome Sindhi villager who was sitting next to me on a charpai at a roadside restaurant on the Super Indus Highway, where we had stopped to have tea. My peculiar appearance (white beard, moustache and a ponytail) and interest in their issues caught the attention of others, who wanted to share their thoughts. In order to trigger a debate, I asked about the role of these tribal sardars in local development and their well being. No one had anything good to say about the sardars and the successive governments in which the former have played a major role. Almost everyone complained about their tyranny, and the lack of educational and health facilities. Among them was a teacher who said that it had been many years since a school was opened or upgraded in his taluka. In fact, most schools had become non-functional despite the swelling population.


One man said that in his area, 100 people have been killed over the theft of a buffalo and the sardars have been playing a huge role in the perpetuation of the feud. Since most rural populations are organised on primordial lineages, very often in the case of a conflict, the feuding parties would approach different local factional leaders for help. In return, they would have to vote for him or his nominee in elections. They blamed their sardars for the perpetuation of feuds as it allows them to have control and exert power over the population. According to them, the local police, revenue officials and lower judiciary collaborate with the sardars in this nefarious game. The government officials are bound to serve the sardars, as they are the peoples' representatives and the law makers too. "Why did you vote for such candidates?" I asked them. Their answer was crisp and sharp. "Our choice is restricted between one feudal sardar or the other."


They also complained that most mainstream political parties issue tickets to those candidates who were wealthy and have their own vote bank which means "bonded haris," according to the teacher. He also said that these "sardars are the gatekeepers of our areas — they don't allow anybody to unite the people." An old man said that "be it military dictators or civilian governments, these sardars have remained in power as a class."


However, the gatekeepers were challenged a few days ago when the Awami Tehrik launched a long march from Kandh Kot — the hub of the sardari system of Sindh. The march was kick-started by Rasool Buksh Palijo and his party workers on October 8. Thousands of Awami Tehrik workers – both men and women – were at the venue. The people were chanting slogans against the jirga and sardari system, condemning the practice of karo kari, asking for educational and health facilities and demanding opportunities for employment.


The issues that are being raised through the long march reflect the true aspirations of the people. Throughout the three days that I spent with the people at the long march, I saw men, women and children of goths along the Super Highway waiting to welcome us. Some were holding traditional snacks; others had set up sabeels of cold water for us. Most of them joined us in sloganeering. I was curious to know who and what had motivated them to welcome the marchers. Most said the local influential sardars had in fact instructed them not to welcome the marchers. They dared to defy the orders of their sardars. Moreover, many passersby would show gestures of solidarity.

The marchers covered about 20kms on day one. We spent the first night in Ghauspur – a small town on the highway. Next morning, we walked for another 20kms and finished the day at Karampur another small town on the same highway. We spent the second night at village Pirbux Shujra. Hassan Ali, a local leader of the Awami Tehrik, was our host. The area we covered in two days is a stronghold of Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, the Federal Minister for Education. I was curious to know what changes in education had come about since he became the minister. The villagers told me that there had not been any improvement and that they did not expect much in the future. They said out of the 20 odd schools only four were functional in their union council.


In order to verify the claim of the villagers, I spoke to some independent people of the area who repeated what I had already heard. I then visited various websites. The data I found about Human Development Index (HDI) ranking of, and allocation of budget for, education in these districts proved what the people had told me. According to the National Development Report 2003-UNDP, Shikarpur and Jacobabad fall at the bottom of the HDI ranking list. According to a recent survey conducted by the Sindh government, these districts have one of the highest numbers of ghost schools and have high absenteeism among teachers and health officials. The overall literacy rate in these districts is much lower than the national average (30 per cent). The national average is 54 per cent. In comparison to other districts, the budget allocation for educational development has been less than three per cent; the rest goes to recurring costs, that is, to cover salaries of the absentee teachers and ghost schools.

The area is infamous for crimes against women; that is, karokari, wanni etc. The role of tribal chiefs is shameful in this regard. They have been using the jirga as a tool to please men in order to keep the women in complete subjugation.

Therefore, the decision to start the long march from Kandhkot was significant. It was like throwing the first stone against the tribal-feudal chiefs who have been kept in power for decades, now by an unholy alliance of the PPP and MQM and before by uniformed politicians. The MQM, whose rhetoric against the feudal elite is revolutionary, has actually been helping feudal sardars to maintain status quo.


Coming back to the long march, I was pleasantly surprised that despite fear of retaliation from the local feudal lords, dacoits and terrorists, nobody carried any weapons. Nobody was scared. The marchers were peaceful and highly disciplined. They walked on the left of the highway, which helped the traffic move smoothly — a rare occurrence during processions. The girls and boys, and men and women strode towards their destination. They sang revolutionary songs, shouted slogans and were proud of being part of the march. Despite harsh weather, poor facilities and unsuitable walking shoes nobody wanted to give up. I told Palijo this should have been called a walk of endurance.


The route of the march will cover the length and breadth of Sindh. The total distance from Kandhkot to the Karachi Press Club (KPC), where it will end, is about 1,000kms. The distance will be covered in 46 days. This is perhaps a historic and unique event in the history of social movements in Pakistan. Yet, the mainstream media finds little news worthiness in it. All over the world, the media tends to give coverage to elitist, glamorous and bloody events. The Pakistani media is no different. Marginalising peaceful and democratic demonstrations can push people towards extreme steps. We can't afford to let this happen any longer. A man in the roadside hotel said: 'the long march is good but not enough; we need to take up arms against the oppressors." I tried to convince him otherwise by giving him a comparison of the Swat Taliban, Lal Masjid militants and the lawyers' movement. One was bloody and the other was peaceful. Who won, I asked him. He kept quiet. He did not want to argue, perhaps out of courtesy. The writing on the wall is clear — the people of Pakistan are fed up with the existing leadership and prepared to play their role. Social movements across all four provinces and FATA must join hands in order to transform social base of our polity. We know very well only social movements have brought meaningful social change and democratic development in history.

The writer is a civil society activist. Email: sarwar.bari@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

KLB — A PERSPECTIVE

SENATOR SALIM SAIFULLAH KHAN


Pakistani-US relations have a chequered history. The ties alternated between warm embrace and cold indifference. Pakistan entered into military alliances with US in the 1950s and also signed a Mutual Security Assistance Agreement. However, during the 1965 war, the US adopted a neutral stance inviting serious charges of betrayal. During the Bangladesh crisis in 1971 the US again fell short of Pakistan expectations. President Nixon indicated a tilt in favour of Pakistan and the 7th Fleet was ordered to move to the Bay of Bengal.


The Soviet invasion in Afghanistan in December 1979 determined resistance opened a new chapter in our bilateral relations. The US offered Pakistan handsome economic and military assistance and became a partner with the Pakistan against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. During this period Pakistan's clandestine nuclear programme created severe strains with Washington. The US assistance programme was subjected to a number of amendments mostly relating to the nuclear issue. Major amendments were Symington Amendment, the Pele Amendment and the Pressler Amendment. These all were geared to stall Pakistan's nuclear programme. The law required the US president to certify to the Congress that continued assistance to Pakistan is in the national interest of the US and that Pakistan during the report period has complied with the requirements of the bill. It was routinely done every year, and the restrictions on aid were ignored, as Pakistan was indispensable for the success of US geostrategic interest in the region.


This brief reference to the history of bilateral relations is essential to the understanding of the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Pakistan's stellar role in the War Against Terror has domestically created discord and division. Most parties believe that Pakistan efforts are in support of US agenda in the region and not in Pakistan's long term interest.


The Kerry-Lugar Bill has ignited the whole nation and a subject of intense national debate inside and outside Parliament. Across the political spectrum the debate and discussion has neither focused on the bill nor is moderate and constructive in its intent. Streams of articles, editorials and opinions have regrettably generated more heat than light.


While it is true that the conditionalties attached to the bill in many instances run counter to Pakistan national interest, it is equally true that to regard the Bill against the dignity and sovereignty of Pakistan amounts to overreaction. The reservations expressed by the Army have further reinforced conflicting assessment of the government and political forces. Most critics look upon the bill as an attempt to dominate if not dictate the security and economic policy of Pakistan in the name of good governance and development. The intrusive and unacceptable provision include a certification by the secretary of state that Pakistan continue cooperate in investigating nuclear proliferators, is making sustain efforts against terrorism including blocking support by elements with the military and intelligence network, for taking action against terrorism basis and that the security forces are not subverting the political and judicial processes.


The American version of the strings attached to the Bill is entirely different. The authors of the bill insist that the bill is aimed at "strengthening the friendship and cooperation between the American people and the people of Pakistan."


The controversy in the coming days may take a nasty turn unless the government handles the situation with care and caution. It is unfortunate that the government did not act in time, nor it has yet realise the adverse impact of the raging controversy. Government reaction to the ISPR release on the reservations of the Army on certain articles is likely to create a wedge between the Army leadership and civilian government. During the last 18 months, the Gilani government has shown its incompetence and inability to comprehend the sensitivity of the issues creating a poor impression of its governance and capacity to act decisively. The Presidency's reaction to the ISPR release as having crossed the fine line by interfering with civilian government prerogative and jurisdiction, is not prudent either.


Senator John Kerry will visit Islamabad early next week and this opportunity must be exploited to clear the air and downplay the differences. The government lost the opportunity to negotiate the terms in early March when the draft bill was discussed. Reports indicate that Zardari gave the green signal to the proposed draft. The visit of Senator Kerry should be availed to get a more formal and authentic version of the explanatory note attached to the bill, following Foreign Minister Qureshi's visit to Washington last week.


The various conditionalties and their impact have been discussed at different forums and hence I will avoid repetition. My concern on this bill is the strains it is likely to create, both domestically and with the US to the detriment of our national interest. The controversy must now stop. The debate is likely to create a rift in civil military relationship with have disastrous consequences. The negative Pakistani reaction to the bill has created a similar harsh reaction on the Hill. The statements by influential congressmen and Senator John Kerry show their frustration and resentment, and unless Pakistan demonstrates caution and moderation in its approach towards the US intention and policy it could ruin the goodwill and friendly sentiment so painstakingly cultivated.

The writer is a former federal minister. Email:
campoffice@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

LIFE IN KURRAM

FARHAT TAJ


Until recently when I heard about Sunni IDPs in Kohat from Parachinar, my own perception was that Parachinar was a 100 per cent Shia town and the Sunnis living there were Afghan refugees. I had this perception despite the fact that I belong to a Pakhtun area with mixed Shia-Sunni population that is not far from Parachinar. Moreover, I have seen Shias from Parachinar becoming victims of most barbaric acts of terrorism committed by the Waziristan-based Taliban.


I decided to meet the Sunni IDPs from Parachinar in Kohat. Later, I also had separate meetings with Shia and Sunni tribal elders from Parachinar. It turned out that there is a native Sunni Pakhtun minority in Parachinar: about 6,000 people. They belong to Zazi, Ghilji, Parachamkani, Ali Sherzai, Mengal, Muqbal and Utayzai tribes. The biggest tribe in Parachinar is Shia Toori. The Shia section of the Bangash tribe also lives there.


For centuries both Shia and Sunni tribes lived in peace under the tribal code of Pakhtunwali. Most disputes were peacefully resolved through jirga. Clashes were tribal rather than sectarian. In April 2007 there was a brawl in Parachinar among people linked with external sectarian organisations. The clash soured relations between Shai and Sunni Pakhtuns in the town. In November 2007 there was another clash in which many Sunni tribesmen, women and children were killed, their houses and businesses were burnt and a number of them were made to flee Parachinar. They now live as IDPs in many parts of NWFP.


In Kohat there are 120 IDP families from Parachinar. They live in a deplorable condition in rented houses. I saw sick children whose parents had no money to buy medicine. There were widows with no one to care for and children who wanted to attend school, as they did in Parachinar, but have ended up doing child labour. The IDPs alleged that the extremist elements within the majority sect in Parachinar rumoured that there were Taliban among them, encircled their neighbourhoods and staged the carnage. It makes it easier to kill your adversary if you name them as the Taliban, because the word Taliban has become a symbol of hate among the tribal people. They said that in some houses there were no men at the time of attack and minor children and women were besieged and fired upon. A mother told me of her son, Azam Khan, who she made to take up a machine gun and fire in defence. The boy was 14 years old at the time and a student of class seven. She said that she asked her son to kill her and his sisters before the attackers broke into their house. She wept and said that she wished to see her son become a doctor and never thought she would make her take up a machine gun.


They told me that for seven days they remained under siege. There was no food and water. No one came to help them. After seven days, a colonel came and ordered a house search in the neighbourhood in which he found no Taliban. Everyone was a permanent resident of the area. The residents were evacuated by the security forces to Sadda, a Sunni majority area outside Parachinar. From Sadda they went to various parts of NWFP where they now live as IDPs. They were of the opinion that the Shia extremists punished them for atrocities committed against Shias in other parts of Pakistan.


Later I had separate meetings with Shia and Sunni tribal elders from Parachinar to discuss the situation. There were accusations, counter-accusations, claims and counter-claims. Both sides showed me video clips depicting acts of terrorism committed against each side. Unless there is a proper impartial investigation, it is difficult to say who did what and how.


The fact is that both Shias and Sunnis have greatly suffered in sectarian clashes. Parachinar remained cut off from the rest of Pakistan for three years while Shias were publicly beheaded in areas outside the town. The other fact is that both sides have been abandoned by the state. For seven days the Sunnis were fired upon and no state help came. In two years many IDPs have not even been registered by the government. Those who have been registered by the government have received little state help. For Shias of Parachinar it is still very unsafe to travel on Parachinar-Peshawar road.


Both Shia and Sunni tribal elders hold state policies vis-a-vis Afghanistan responsible for the death and destruction in Parachinar. The Shia elders said that Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists ran into Waziristan after the US bombed them in Afghanistan. The terrorists sought passage via Parachinar to Kabul, because this is the shortest route to the Afghan capital. The Toori tribe flatly refused to provide the Taliban this safe passage and hence its current predicament where it is being punished by the Taliban.


Both sides hold individuals in official positions for playing a role in the ongoing tensions in Kurram and in particular Parachinar. The Shia elders alleged that two political agents of the area asked them to facilitate the Taliban's movement or be ready for the consequences. Fortunately however, elders from both sides are keen to restore the excellent relations that the two groups have always had in the past. They agreed that in essence the sectarian tension in Parachinar is the tribal rivalry between the Toori, who are Shia, and the Mangal, who are Sunni, over resources like land and water. Had there not been so many external forces involved, the Toori and Mangal tribes would find a solution while the rest would act as bystanders. Due to external pressures, both Tooris and Mengals have dragged other tribes into the rivalry along sectarian lines. One group of tribal elders accused a foreign-funded jihadi madressah around Parachinar of spreading sectarian violence. The other group of elders held a religious scholar from Gilgit and interference by one of Pakistan's neighbours as being behind the atmosphere of intolerance. Elders of both sects also alleged that a local, with links to the Sipah-e-Sahaba, was fomenting the sectarian disharmony.


The mainly Sunni Ali Khel tribe in Orakzai agency stood up to the Taliban when they threatened the Shia section of their tribe. Both Shia and Sunni tribal elders met in a grand jirga to work out the details of an anti-Taliban lashkar. The jirga was attacked by a suicide bomber, killing over 100 tribal elders. Orakzai was taken over by the Taliban after the mass killing of the Ali Khel tribal leadership and everyone — the majority Sunni and minority Shia and Sikh communities — suffered under the Taliban occupation.


In any civilised society the majority has a responsibility to protect the minority. It is the turn of the Shia tribal elders of Parachinar to do what the Ali Khels did in Orakzai.


The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo, and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. Email: bergen34@yahoo .com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

OBAMA'S CHOICE

TALAT FAROOQ


Talking to NBC recently, President Obama said that while there is no deadline for American withdrawal, he would not expand US military operations in Afghanistan without a success strategy. He has ordered a full review of the US military strategy in Afghanistan to ascertain whether it is effective enough to eradicate terrorist networks and address American domestic security concerns.


The US commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, has advocated substantial military reinforcement if the US-NATO forces are to succeed against Al Qaeda/Taliban groups. The strategy would be to create safe havens for the Afghans and to defend them against Taliban attacks. Some analysts are asking whether going on the defensive would weaken the Taliban and encourage the Afghans to rise against the enemy? While there is some support for the Taliban in the south, the non-Pakhtuns' experience under the Taliban from 1996 to 2001 leaves them cold at the prospect of another Taliban government. Could this motivate the anti-Taliban Pakhtuns and different non-Pakhtun groups to join hands and, with Western assistance, take on the militants? The success of the strategy would invariably depend on the level of commitment of America's NATO allies and the level of local support for American presence in Afghanistan.


Another option is based on formulating a withdrawal strategy of allied forces from Afghanistan. Public opinion in Europe and in the US is shifting towards this. Those in favour contend that in the event of a withdrawal the affected South Asian and Middle Eastern countries might forge closer security relations with the US and the West by initiating enhanced security cooperation against the terrorists. In this case the withdrawal may not necessarily translate into defeat for the West in the long term.


Those who oppose this possibility warn of a resurgent Al-Qaeda and consequently more attacks on American soil. They argue that an untimely US departure would be seen as American defeat and Afghanistan would descend into further chaos. It would destabilise south Asia and its powerful reverberations would be felt in the Middle East. It would provide the terrorists with psychological and strategic benefits with disastrous geopolitical consequences not only for Afghanistan that but for the entire region. At present the Afghan forces are not in a position to take over from the US/NATO forces. The creation of a numerically strong and operationally effective Afghan force will take substantial time. The Russian permanent Representative to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, has warned that an American-NATO withdrawal would be detrimental to Russian security as it could entail militant incursions into Central Asia and the Caucasus. Pakistan's foreign minister has also cautioned against an untimely pullout, saying it would be a devastating blow to Pakistan.


Any sudden change in the prevailing geopolitical environment, whether troop surge or troop withdrawal, is bound to affect Pakistan adversely. An influx of refugees and militants into its territory from its porous borders could spell disaster for Pakistan's security and would stretch its economic and military resources to the limit. A swell in violence would put an unbearable strain on the law enforcement agencies and innocent civilian deaths could translate into full-scale anarchy or civil war, especially in Balochistan and the NWFP. It is of vital interest to both Pakistan and Afghanistan that the US does not just get up and leave; this could further destabilise the region and entail massive erosion of US credibility in the international arena. Nor would it be sensible for the US to boost its military presence to engage its troops in a long-term Afghan war.


This region is no Vietnam that US policymakers can discard at will. The Vietcong did not have the capability to launch attacks on American soil nor was Vietnam an oil conduit. American economic and security interests in the Middle East and Central Asia outweigh the benefits that its containment policy could have accrued in Indochina. Al-Qaeda's potential access to Pakistan's nuclear weapons, Iranian nuclear ambitions, constructive engagement with Russia and China and a prosperous India to counter-balance China, remain important parts of the matrix. The US needs to maintain a strong military presence here to ensure eradication of Al-Qaeda and secure American national interests. Boots on the ground send a more powerful signal than military bases and naval power projection. Obama will have to think twice before he can get the boys home. The Republicans are pressuring him to send additional troops and honour his election promise of an American victory; his stance on the issue could influence the outcome of the forthcoming congressional elections. He therefore has to find a feasible third option.


This third option must contain not only economic and military components but, more importantly, a political ingredient. All Afghan groups, including the non-Al Qaeda Taliban, should be brought (or bought) to the negotiating table. It is easier said than done, but without the initiation of a political process both the US and this region would remain caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. A comprehensive political framework could begin to take shape with local and regional consensus, and even as America-NATO carry out a progressive withdrawal a Muslim peace keeping force along with the Afghan military and police could fill the gap with the consent of the stake holders. Despite diverse backgrounds there are certain commonalities in human nature and human interests and with the right approach the Afghans may work towards political reconciliation.

America must finish honourably what it started a quarter of a century ago. No amount of Patriot Acts and Homeland Security legislations can cordon off the Americans forever on a planet that they share with other nations. Ghosts have a bad habit of revisiting not just the scene of the crime but also the homes of the accomplices. Obama therefore must not give in to short-term political solutions at home. During his term in office President Obama would like to undo, or at least mitigate, the consequences of the post-9/11 unilateralism of the neo-cons. For the sake of global peace one hopes that he will choose the right path and not just the easy one.

The writer is executive editor of the magazine Criterion, Islamabad. Email: talatfarooq 11@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE KERRY-LUGAR FIASCO

SHAMSHAD AHMAD


The Kerry-Lugar Bill was supposed to bring a "larger conceptual framework" and mutuality content to the "transactional" US-Pakistan relationship. It has done just the opposite. There has been a serious backlash in Pakistan over the intrusive conditionalities attached to US military aid which are seen by the people at large and major civil and military stakeholders in the country's power structure as compromising national sovereignty.


The bill does no good to the US-Pakistan relationship which already has had a troubled history. Its original author, Joe Biden, while running for president in November 2007, had envisioned a new policy for Pakistan advocating the need for new dynamics in the US-Pakistan relationship with greater mutuality content and people-centred socio-economic development. His strategy envisaged moving from an issue-specific relationship to a normal, functional relationship with Pakistan.


Last year in July, Senator Joe Biden presented a bipartisan bill in the Senate involving an annual aid package of $1.5 billion for five years renewable for another five years, with an additional $1 billion as "democracy dividend," and an appropriate "performance-based" military assistance which was to be subjected to rigorous oversight and accountability. It was a well-meaning initiative designed to strengthen democracy in Pakistan.


After the US presidential election last year, the Biden-Lugar bill became the Kerry-Lugar Bill with several changes in its content and wording. The provision on non-security assistance remained the same but the idea of a democracy dividend disappeared. Obviously the democratic credentials of the post-Musharraf NRO-based government in Islamabad wer