media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month december 28, edition 000388, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorial-eng-samarth.blogspot.com
For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com
- WHO KILLED RUCHIKA?
- JUSTICE UNDER TRIAL
- SET HOUSE IN ORDER FIRST - JOGINDER SINGH
- GADKARI SHOULD LEAD BY EXAMPLE - SHRIDHAR PANT
- MIND YOUR FOOTPRINT - RUDRONEEL GHOSH
- WILDLIFE WOES - ANURADHA DUTT
- GADKARI MUST TREAD CAUTIOUSLY - PRAFULL GORADIA
- TRIBALS TILLING LAND AND DREAMS IN GUJARAT - SANJAY DAVE
- TIME TO WALK THE TALK ON RUCHIKA CASE
- PAY OIL BILLS ON TIME
- COMMUNAL CALCULUS - BY RAJEEV DHAVAN
- POWER & POLITICS - PRABHU CHAWLA
TIMES OF INDIA
- POOR PITCH
- ABUSE OF POWER
- BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE - M D NALAPAT
- 'GOVERNMENT MUST COMMIT TO INVESTIGATIONS INTO MASS GRAVES IN J&K'
- SOUNDS OF SOREN - C P SURENDRAN
- RESOLVE TO NOT RESOLVE - YAMINI LOHIA
- SECURED AND SAFE
- MANY SHOTS IN THE DARK
- AN ECONOMIST FOR ALL SEASONS - ABHIJIT VINAYAK BANERJEE
- PAYING FOR TELANGANA FLIP-FLOPS - PANKAJ VOHRA
- SMALL DETAILS KEY TO SUCCESS
- WE'VE INVESTED RS 15K CR IN 11TH PLAN
- LEFT IS RIGHT
- QUESTION OF TIME
- PATRONAGE & ITS PERILS
- AMONG OURSELVES - MK VENU
- OUT OF THE ORDINARY - C. RAJA MOHAN
- COURTING PROTESTS - VINAY SITAPATI
- TALKING ABOUT A REVOLUTION - K. SUBRAHMANYAM
- COOL WAR
- ANYBODY SEEN PATI? - NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
- GOVERNMENT OWNED, BUT COMPETITIVE
- CODED SPENDING
- TEMPER THE ENTHUSIASM ON CHINA - MEGHNAD DESAI
- HOW THE GOVERNMENT SPENT THE YEAR - P RAGHAVAN
- HOW FIRMS RAISED THEIR MONEY IN 2009 - SAIKAT NEOGI
- THE WONDER THAT IS RAJARAJESVARAM
- DISQUIETING FALL IN COLLECTIONS
- EXHUMING THE TRUTH ON SHOPIAN - PRAVEEN SWAMI
- LET THE BENEFITS OF THE ACT REACH THE OPPRESSED - S. VISWANATHAN
- GROUNDWATER MINING: AMERICAN EXPERIENCE - T. N. NARASIMHAN
- FATHER, TEENAGER, SON SEARCHING FOR REAL TIGER WOODS
- MORTGAGE BROKERS TESTED ON PROFICIENCY - BOB TEDESCHI
- JAMMU & KASHMIR CRISIS
- WORST POLLUTED
- A SUM OF ITS PARTS - MOHAN GURUSWAMY
- JUSTICE CHAUDHARY: PAK'S DANGEROUS HERO - AAKAR PATEL
- SIGNIFICANCE OF MUHARRAM
- THE VALUE OF GOOD - ROBIN SHARMA
- RING IN THE RESOLUTIONS - VINITA A SHETTY
- TIWARI GOES UNSUNG
- PROSECUTE RATHORE
- TELANGANA IN TURMOIL
- LAMENT FOR THE MEDIA - BY B.G. VERGHESE
- FORCE OR FARCE? - BY J.L. GUPTA
- OBESE KIDS AND THE BLAME GAME - BY AMINA KHAN
- RAILWAYS VISION STATEMENTS - BY ARABINDA GHOSE
- CHATTERATI - BY DEVI CHERIAN
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- BUYING TIME
- REVISED PAY SCALE
- THE DELIVERY OF WELFARE - A P BORGOHAIN
- MAHATMA GANDI'S ECONOMIC MODEL - SUDHANSU R DAS
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- INCLUSIVE GROWTH CAN LIBERATE THE COMMON MAN - T K ARUN
- WE EXPECT MID-CAPS TO OUTPERFORM IN 2010: MIRAE ASSET'S GOPAL AGRAWAL - DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR
- TIWARI SHOULD HAVE QUIT EARLIER
- ECONOMY WILL RECOVER - BY ARJUN SENGUPTA
- A PERSPECTIVE FROM 'THE REAL AMERICAN' - BY MAUREEN DOWD
- WHEN NETAS TURNED POLITICALLY INCORRECT
- A CHECK ON CHINKS IN THE ARMOUR
- SURESHOT SPOILSPORTS OF 2010 - BY CYRUS BROACHA
- DIAGNOSIS & HOPE
- THE AFGHAN TEAM
- BARUA'S WAFFLING
- INSECTS USE VISION TO FIND FOOTHOLDS: STUDY
- CHINA'S NEWEST PUPPET - BY RAJINDER PURI
- UNWORTHY IDEA
- ONE YEAR ON
- POWER PLAY - S.L. RAO
- AT THE SCENE OF CRIME - GWYNNE DYER
- ARREST AP SLIDE
- POOR PERFORMANCE
- TELANGANA LAVA MELTS TEFLON - M J AKBAR
- FEED THE HUNGRY FOR SUSTAINABLE PROGRESS - BY JOSÉ GRAZIANO DA SILVA
- THE GAMES WE PLAY - BY VINITA KRISHNAMURTHY
THE JERUSALEM POST
- EXPECT AVOIDABLE DELAYS
- REALITY CHECK: NOT BUILT FOR THE OPPOSITION - JEFF BARAK
- THE REGION: OVERCAST WITH A CHANCE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS - BARRY RUBIN
- CIVILIAN CONTROL OF THE MILITARY - JOSEPH FEIT
- THE YEAR OF LIVING FECKLESSLY - CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
- IRAN IS NOT JAPAN - EPHRAIM ASCULAI
- DISCRIMINATION AND CONTEMPT
- ON FREEING JEWISH 'SECURITY PRISONERS' BUT NOT PALESTINIAN 'TERRORISTS' - BY AKIVA ELDAR
- CAUTION: IDEALISTS AHEAD - BY YAIR SHELEG
- THE DOCTOR AND HIS DEED: THE CRUX IS THE SENTENCING - BY ZE'EV SEGAL
- WHEN THE CUSTOMER IS A CRIMINAL - BY VERED LEE
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- AN ESTATE TAX MESS
- WHEN IT'S COLD INSIDE
- THE STEVENS SCANDAL
- ON THE ICE - BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
- THE BIG ZERO - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- SEARCH, BUT YOU MAY NOT FIND - BY ADAM RAFF
- WHERE NEXT?
- A SPLENDID NOTION
- FREED FISHERMEN
- THE UNENDING HOLIDAY SEASON IN INDIA - AAKAR PATEL
- SAYEDAH ZAINAB'S SERMON - FARHAN BOKHARI
- REMEMBERING AN INCIDENT - SAHIBZADA SHOAIB NOOR
- FROM HOPENHAGEN TO NOPENHAGEN - MALIK AMIN ASLAM KHAN
- BEGINNING OF THE END - ASIF EZDI
- SHAADI-PHOBIC - CHRIS CORK
- IS MIAN SAHEB LOSING DEMOCRATIC TOLERANCE?
- SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES OF LOAD SHEDDING, TARIFF HIKE
- SUPREME SACRIFICE OF HAZRAT IMAM HUSSAIN (R.A.)
- HAPPY (?) NEW YEAR - KHALID SALEEM
- FACEBOOK LEADER OR A PM RIZWAN GHANI
- ISLAM IS REBORN AFTER EVERY KARBALA - TANVEER JAFRI
- A PANDORA'S BOX MAY BE? - SHAIMA SUMAYA
- BABE TALK..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- HOLY ASHURA
- DOLE FOR FISHERMEN!
- NO STRANGER IN MY BEDROOM..!
- ASHURA AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE - SYED ASHRAF ALI
- IS MUSIC PROHIBITED IN ISLAM? - ASGHAR ALI ENGINEER
- SHALIT, SHALOM AND A SHIMMER OF LIGHT - DR. TERRY LACEY
- NO COMPLACENCY
- SOUNDING WARNING
- GOVT ACKNOWLEDGES KOIRALA NOBEL NOMINATION - RAJAN POKHREL
- IS THERE A DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT IN NEPAL? THE POLITICAL PARADOX - GANGA THAPA
- TOPICS: NEVER-SAY-SORRY SYNDROME - MRIJESH SHRESTHA
- TSUNAMI'S APPALLING AFTERMATH
- A SHARP REMINDER OF THE TERROR THREAT
- NOTHING BEATS TRADITIONAL TESTS
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- PUPPET PREMIERS AND THE FERRIES
- ASIC'S TURN UNDER CLOSE SCRUTINY
- GLOBAL DOWNTURN MAYBE, BUT THE ARTS FLOURISHED HERE
THE KOREA HERALD
- DREAM COME TRUE
- TERRORISM THREAT
- GOLD REMAINS A HIGH-RISK INVESTMENT - MARTIN FELDSTEIN
- AFGHANISTAN'S CUSTOMARY ANGUISH - CAROL MANN
THE JAPAN TIMES
- DO MORE TO PREVENT SUICIDES
- MR. OZAWA'S SECRETARY ON TRIAL
- STAR ARTISTS REVEAL THE ESSENCE OF A NATION'S BUREAUCRATIC WAYS - BY TOM PLATE
- ECONOMY CHASING ITS TAIL - BY GREGORY CLARK
THE JAKARTA POST
- BREAKTHROUGH IN LICENSING
- FTA CHINA-ASEAN AND RI'S PARADOX POLICY - KIKI VERICO
- THE RISE OF THE INDONESIAN STRATEGIC INDUSTRY - CYRILLUS HARINOWO HADIWERDOYO
- STIMULUS WELL SPENT
- ENFORCEMENT MATTERS
- EAST ASIA NEEDS BREAKTHROUGHS IN COOPERATION
- ASSOCIATION A TRICK OF DALAI CLIQUE
- A YEAR OF PRESIDENT FOR LIFE AND BIRD POOP - BY MATTHEW COLLIN
- TBILISI'S POLITICAL CORPSE SHOULD GET A JUST BURIAL - BY TSOTNE BAKURIA
- CLIMATE AFTER COPENHAGEN - BY BORIS KAGARLITSKY
WHO KILLED RUCHIKA?
A SLEAZY COP AND HIS POLITICAL GURUS
In condemning SPS Rathore, the former Haryana Police chief who has been convicted for child molestation and for creating circumstances that led to his 14-year-old victim committing suicide, it would be judicious not to condone the political establishment that let him get away with his abominable crime. Till a CBI court sentenced him to six months in prison and a fine of Rs 1,000 a sentence that added insult to injury and seemed to mock the family and friends of Ruchika Girhotra Rathore had only gone from strength to strength. For 19 years, even as a police report found a prima facie case against him, he was untouched. In this period, he got every due promotion, ending up as Director-General of Haryana Police. Meanwhile, not only was a smear campaign organised against his teenaged victim, her family was also harassed. Ruchika's brother was taken into custody and tortured and a series of bogus charges slapped on him. Her father was forced into a distress sale of his house and pushed out of Chandigarh-Panchkula. When the family moved to Himachal Pradesh, Rathore stalked them there as well. They were not left in peace even after Ruchika killed herself. Far from being an upholder of the law, Rathore showed himself up to be a pervert and a diabolical mind. His depredations and sheer evil were no secret in the power town of Chandigarh and had been frequently reported on in the national Press. Why then did a succession of Chief Ministers let him get away? Today, there is a strange game of musical chairs on. Mr Bhajan Lal and his sons blame Mr Om Prakash Chautala. Mr Chautala and his sons blame Mr Bhajan Lal as well as the late Bansi Lal. Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who has been Chief Minister for five years, may not be directly responsible but he did nothing till this past week to give the impression that the persecution of the Girhotra family shook his conscience. In truth, Mr Chautala, who ran Haryana either directly or through proxy Chief Ministers in the period of the assault on Ruchika, tried to bury the case and prevent a full-blown investigation. His successors only followed in his footsteps. Why? The answer is simple. Every Government and every Chief Minister found it useful to have a compromised senior police officer even a police chief who would be pliant and cooperative so as to escape prosecution for a patently bestial crime. Ruchika's death and her family's sorrow become negotiable instruments. This was the early 1990s, remember. The Khalistan movement had just been quelled and had left behind its police hierarchies in Punjab and Haryana that had become laws unto themselves. The police-politician nexus was at its strongest in this time, and Ruchika became just another statistic.
Nobody seriously expects the Chautalas and the Bhajan Lals to have criminal cases filed against them. Yet, it would be only fair to carry out an impartial inquiry perhaps even a time-bound judicial one that would lay down the facts and point out, rigorously and systematically, who stymied the course of justice for Ruchika and when and how, who protected Rathore and when and how. Let Haryana's cynical political leadership at least be shamed in the court of public opinion, and undergo a well-deserved media trial. As for that sleazy thug Rathore, he deserves a retrial and a longer term behind bars.
JUSTICE UNDER TRIAL
CASH-AT-DOOR CASE SHOULD BE PROBED FURTHER
The cash-at-door case that had come to light last year has taken a new turn with a special CBI court expressing dissatisfaction over the case closure report. It will be recalled that the case involves the delivery of Rs 15 lakh to the residence of Punjab and Haryana High Court judge Justice Nirmaljit Kaur by a clerk of the then Haryana Additional Advocate-General Sanjeev Bansal on August 13, 2008. The money was purportedly meant for another judge, Justice Nirmal Yadav, and was wrongly delivered to Justice Kaur's residence. It is alleged that the cash was sent on behest of Delhi-based hotelier Ravinder Singh. Following these revelations, the Chief Justice of India appointed a three-judge committee to inquire into the matter. The committee on its part concluded that there was prima facie truth in the allegations against Justice Yadav, even though she asserted that she was being framed. The CBI which had registered a case against the accused Justice Yadav, Sanjeev Bansal, Ravinder Singh and Nirmal Singh sent its preliminary investigation report to former Attorney-General Milon Banerjee. But the latter was of the opinion that there was insufficient evidence against Justice Yadav. The Law Ministry too saw things Mr Banerjee's way. The investigation agency was forced to submit its closure report in the case after it received a letter from Ministry Joint Secretary DR Meena explicitly stating that no further action was required in the case.
But the special CBI court's dissatisfaction with the closure report has created room for doubt. The court has also asked the CBI as to why a closure was being filed against Justice Yadav's co-accused in whose case prosecution does not require any sanction. It must be conceded that the court has a valid point. Given the history of the case, it will be extremely unfortunate if it were to be terminated now. For, there are several questions that need answering. Why did the three-judge committee that was appointed earlier to probe the case find merit in the accusations against Justice Yadav? What it is that compelled the committee to come to this conclusion? Also, given the way the CBI has gone about filing the closure report, it seems that the investigation agency is simply following procedure. But procedure is exactly what the people are afraid has been manipulated. That Justice Yadav is currently a sitting judge of the Uttarakhand High Court makes it all the more necessary that all doubts regarding the case be comprehensively disproved. The judiciary is the backbone of any democratic society. It is absolutely paramount that this institution remains free of any taint. Therefore, if there is even the slightest of doubt that there has been an attempt to buy the 'good wishes' of a sitting judge, the incident must be thoroughly investigated and the culprits, if any, exposed and punished. This is what justice demands.
SET HOUSE IN ORDER FIRST
After any terrorist incident, whether in Mumbai or Delhi, candlelight marches, seminars and protest rallies are organised to express the anger of the people. The objective is not only to assert the extreme unhappiness that the people feel about the state of affairs but also to show their resentment towards the Government.
However, the question to be asked is what can a common man do to help eradicate terrorism. Terrorism comes in various shades. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while addressing a conference of police chiefs in September, stated, "I have consistently held that Left-wing extremism poses perhaps the gravest internal security threat that we face. We have not achieved as much success as we would have liked in containing it. It is a matter of concern that despite efforts, the level of violence in the affected States continues to rise".
These are the periodic sermons that are doled out to security personnel from time to time, without looking into the causes of the problem. Nobody cares if our security personnel have the adequate training, motivation and infrastructure to deal with these terrorists.
In the same vein, the Prime Minister said that Maoism could not be treated as a law and order problem and that dealing with Maoists required a 'nuanced' strategy.
I am frankly foxed and still cannot understand as to what the Prime Minister wants the police to do. Maoists are killing people and security personnel with impunity and all that the Prime Minister can say is that we need to reorient our strategy.
Mr Singh expressed concern at the rise in infiltration both across the LoC and also across the border with Nepal and Bangladesh. "Encounters with armed militants have become more frequent in recent weeks and months...secessionist and militant groups within the state are again attempting to make common cause with outside elements and have embarked on a series of protest movements," he said.
In such a scenario, what a common man should do is a conundrum. The fight against terrorism is neither physically nor logistically possible for the common man to undertake. He has no access to weapons nor is there any Government-run programme to train him for intelligence gathering.
Even the local police, except in few places, is ill-equipped to fight terrorists. In the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai, as opposed to the AK 47s the terrorists had, majority of the Mumbai policemen had only lathis and antique rifles to defend themselves.
During conversation with some people on the fight against terrorism and the role that the common man can play in this regard, it emerged that most of them were disgusted with the current situation. One of them told me that in our country criminals commit crimes in broad daylight without any fear of punishment. He continued that whether it is a criminal or a terrorist, no one is afraid of the law. My friend suggested that the Government should discard its hypocritical policy and make sure that anti-national elements are eliminated at the entry point to India.
Before involving the common man in the fight against terrorism, in which he is least interested, it will be best for the Government to put its own house in order. India has one of the lowest police-to-population ratios, as the following figures clearly demonstrate. India : 142 (police per lakh of population), Japan : 175, UK : 200, Germany : 300, Australia : 290, USA : 315.
What is required is not homilies or discourses but for the Government to shore up its police numbers and give our security personnel the equipment they need to protect the citizens. No amount of speeches by the powers that be will help solve the problem.
A country's police force is a professional body and is not expected to talk to criminals and terrorists in double language as politicians do. It should be given the task of eliminating anti-national elements without any strings attached.
If any speeches are to be made and lectures given, then let the politicians and so-called human rights activists go to the affected areas and harangue with the terrorists and their sympathisers.
Also, the terror threat perception is not uniform all over the country. In relatively peaceful States, discussion on terrorism is only academic. Even where terrorists are active, the common man expects the Government to take the lead without exposing him to the wrath of the death-mongers. We should be prepared to die for our country, but not let our country die for us.
What I have been pleading has been frankly and openly accepted by the Union Home Minister who has said that given the imperatives and the challenges of the times "a division of the current functions of the Ministry of Home Affairs is unavoidable."
He wants a National Centre for Counter Terrorism which does not exist today. It has to be created from scratch. He added, "The Home Minister should devote the whole of his/her time and energy to matters relating to security".
Admitting that the broad architecture of the new security system was an outcome of last year's Mumbai attacks, the Home Minister further said, "A billion plus people felt they had been humiliated, and the country had been brought to its knees by a small band of terrorists. I, therefore, propose a bold, thorough and radical restructuring of the security architecture at the national level."
The bottomline is either one has a terrorist problem or one doesn't. There cannot be a half-hearted approach. It can only be hoped that the Home Minister is able to live up to the promises he has made to the country.
GADKARI SHOULD LEAD BY EXAMPLE
This has reference to the report, "BJP to reach out to underprivileged: Gadkari", (December 25). This being the first policy statement by the new BJP president, it has special significance. Mr Nitin Gadkari has promised to bring about a significant 'change' in the party's outlook. He has said he will reach out to the underprivileged, SCs, STs and minorities with a "new blend of policies" rooted in social service and good governance. What is new in his strategy is the stress on a "new work culture" and that "indiscipline will not be tolerated".
In this era of globalisation, Mr Gadkari would like office-bearers to be akin "to self-start engines" and desires organisational and political planning. In other words, he has laid emphasis on socio-economic reforms. Mr Gadkari has also said that his role model is Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
However, for me the BJP sidelining its core issues of Ram mandir, Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code under Mr Vajpayee's leadership was like the Congress accepting the partition of the country. Although like his predecessor Mr Rajnath Singh, Mr Gadkari too accepts that these will the BJP's core issues, it cannot be denied that there has been a substantive change in party policy.
In fact, I would have appreciated a young leader to work along the path shown by Swami Shraddhanand, whose 83rd sacrifice day fell on December 25 a few days ago. It was Swami Shraddhanand who was adorned by BR Ambedkar as the greatest messiah of Dalits who propagated a casteless rashtra. In other words, he was for a casteless, sectless India. Coming as he does from an RSS background, Mr Gadkari should have refused to accept caste and religion-based reservations and facilities. This would have surely charged up Hindus many of whom feel like second-class citizen in their own country.
Nobody has any objection to helping the downtrodden be they from any community. But that does not mean the majority community should be marginalised. At present, Hindus are under attack on several fronts, both internally and externally. Corruption is rampant and our basic cultural values are being ridiculed. A young, energetic leader must rekindle hope among Hindus. Mr Gadkari is an agriculturist and a successful businessman. The country hopes he will succeed in mobilising the masses in the right direction and help fend off the dangers that presently threaten us. But will our hopes be realised?
MIND YOUR FOOTPRINT
COPENHAGEN HAS MADE IT CLEAR THAT CLIMATE CHANGE NEGOTIATIONS WILL ALWAYS BE EMBROILED IN POLITICS AND ONE-UPMANSHIP. WHAT WE NEED IS A BOTTOM-UP APPROACH. WE NEED TO MAKE CLIMATE CHANGE AN INDIVIDUAL CONCERN AND NOT SOMETHING THAT IS ONLY MEANT FOR OUR GOVERNMENTS TO DEAL WITH
If the Copenhagen climate conference proved anything it is how murky the climate change business has become. The fact that even a week after the conclusion of the summit we are still trying to figure out what exactly happened in the Danish capital and who agreed to what, if at all they agreed to anything, is evidence what a total fiasco the meet has been. The Copenhagen Accord the face-saving document that was put together at the last moment is a masterpiece of jargons and woolly language that mean precious little. It is ironical that the EU, one of the main architects of the primary draft of the accord, is today distancing itself from it.
No one really knows who came out looking better or worse from the summit. Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh insists that India's sovereignty was not compromised at the conference even though he has admitted that there was a 'shift' from our pre-Copenhagen stance. Apparently, India has agreed to international 'consultations' and 'analysis' of its voluntary emission mitigation measures. According to Mr Ramesh, this means discussing the weather over a cup of tea. According to the Opposition in Parliament, 'consultations' and 'analysis' are pseudonyms for 'legally binding targets'. It is anybody's guess what they really mean.
What is, however, clear though is that by the end of the climate conference the whole thing had boiled down to a China versus the US showdown. The Americans realised that getting a draft agreement approved by all 193 countries attending the summit was next to impossible. Therefore, they decided to come up with something with the country that mattered the most to them China. To make the deal seem more representative, India, South Africa and Brazil were also included as the BASIC group a bloc of fast emerging economies. Up till that point, the prevailing understanding was that the US wanted to junk the Kyoto Protocol whereas the developing countries wanted it to be extended. However, if reports are to be believed, it was China that diluted the Copenhagen Accord to the point that it not only prevented any specific emission reduction targets or peak year figures of its own from being included in the document but also kept out targets for developed countries. This is the main reason why the EU sees the final draft of the accord not worth the paper it is printed on.
If developing countries truly acted as a roadblock to the evolution of a climate agreement that has a semblance of purpose behind it, then the entire climate change debate needs to be re-evaluated. For, though it is justified for countries such as India and China to put their socio-economic development before climate change mitigation, they cannot completely wash their hands of the problem. Shared but different responsibility cannot be construed to mean that the developed countries do everything while we sit back and do nothing.
Given the vast number of people living below the poverty line, it is true that economic growth and industrialisation is more of a priority for countries like India than Western nations. But this is precisely the reason why we need to look at growth options that are environmentally sustainable. The negotiations need to be on the pace of implementation of climate mitigation measures and not whether such action is needed at all. The pace has to be faster in the case of developed nations and slower for the developing world. But the developing countries have to gradually, over a period of time, reach the same level of mitigation action as their developed counterparts.
That said, Copenhagen has made it clear that climate change negotiations will always be embroiled in politics and one-upmanship. If we are to solely depend on internationally mandated action to fight global warming, I am afraid we will lose the battle. What we need is a bottom-up approach. We need to make climate change an individual concern and not something that is only meant for our Governments to deal with. Awareness needs to be created regarding one's personal carbon foot-print and how we can adopt simple measures in our daily lives such as use efficient bulbs and tubelights, prevent unnecessary wastage of electricity, use public transport whenever possible, etc, to make a difference. In fact, making adjustments to our cooking and eating habits at home can also lower our carbon-foot prints. The Internet is a fantastic repository of such information.
Lastly, in order to inculcate eco-friendly habits it is very important that we identify with global warming at an individual level. When I was in school I was selected to be part of a high school team that was to participate in a WHO-sponsored jamboree in Maldives. The three-day conference was held on a beautiful island called Feydhoo Finolhu. It had pristine milk-white beaches and crystal blue waters as far as the eyes could see. I have fond memories of that island and hope to go back one day. But I fear global warming will make Feydhoo my fairy-tale Atlantis.
POOR IMPLEMENTATION OF LAWS TO BLAME
As the international community focuses on the imperatives of countering climate change and its disastrous fallout, ecologists worry also about the escalating threat posed to wildlife, of the sky and ground, and aqueous species by human predators. The Earth, for its health and survival, requires a perfect balance between the needs of people and myriad other creatures, with all life dependent upon the natural resources that are indiscriminately plundered and destroyed for the sake of development. But just as reckless greenhouse gas emissions have triggered climate changes, auguring ill for the sustainability of ice caps; mountain glaciers which feed rivers; weather patterns that guarantee agricultural produce; and the familiar rhythm of life, supporting the existence of many indigenous people and wildlife, human greed and brutality have exterminated some species and threaten others with extinction.
The multi-billion dollars global trade in parts and derivatives from animals, birds and aqueous species casts its net wide, encompassing the whole world. India, with its abundant wildlife, is a vital conduit in this illicit trade. Amongst a plethora of creatures hunted down for the international and domestic markets, tigers, leopards, the one-horned rhinoceros and Asiatic elephants fetch the highest price. Cheetahs were declared to be extinct in India by 1952, having been targeted by trophy hunters who included colonial administrators and native rulers and aristocrats. Though Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh has displayed a school boyish enthusiasm for his mission of reviving cheetahs by proposing that India import pairs from Namibia, conservationists feel that his Ministry would do better by focusing on saving the big cats and other rare wildlife that still survive.
In July this year, he is reported to have said that an amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 was being considered in order to curb poaching. The existing laws were not adequate. The complete disappearance of tigers from Sariska reserve in 2004-05, and the equally shocking disclosure this year about their extermination in the Panna reserve bear testimony to rampant poaching. Even the upgradation of Project Tiger into a statutory body, National Tiger Conservation Authority, in 2006; advice of experts; and incessant media glare have failed to rectify the situation. Penalties for anti-wildlife crimes, prescribed under the Wildlife Protection Act, were made more stringent in 2006: First conviction invites a jail term of three to seven years, and a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh; and subsequent conviction invites a seven-year jail term and fine of Rs 5 lakh to Rs 50 lakh.
The law, unfortunately, does not apply to Jammu & Kashmir, which has its own law in this regard. Yet, the State is a key link in the illicit trade network, along with Nepal. China, Tibet and some South-east Asian countries constitute major markets for poached tigers and leopards. Lax judicial proceedings in Indian courts are blamed for letting habitual offenders such as the notorious trader Sansar Chand and members of his gang easily escape prison terms by getting bail. Active in this field since the mid-1980s, he has numerous cases against him but still manages to engineer poaching operations with the aid of family members and accomplices, including people living inside or near reserves and possibly employees of sanctuaries. His arrest on June 30, 2005 unravelled a complex network of suppliers, traders and clientele. Some of the big players in Kashmir, Delhi and Nepal are reported to be handicrafts exporters and shopkeepers. It is a convenient front.
This time, Sansar Chand was not released on bail, even though the Supreme Court suspended his term in August 2009. Other cases pending against him prevented his getting out. Before his June 2005 arrest, he was convicted by the Railway Judicial Magistrate of Ajmer Government Railway Police on April 29, 2004 and sentenced to a five-year jail term. However, his appeal against his conviction in the Ajmer sessions court was admitted. Three weeks later, he was out on bail. Subsequently, he was charged with orchestrating the killings of the 22 tigers in the Sariska reserve. Similarly, Bheema, a suspected gang member, arrested in November by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, was let out on bail in 2005 though he is charged in numerous cases. In order to crack down on poachers and traders, law-enforcers must ensure that those caught serve their full prison terms and pay up hefty fines, as enjoined under the Act. There can be no amnesty for either poachers or their masters, howsoever well-connected. That is the only way to protect India's rapidly depleting wildlife.
GADKARI MUST TREAD CAUTIOUSLY
DEVIATING FROM THE BJP'S CORE IDEOLOGY OF HINDU NATIONALISM, NEW BJP PRESIDENT NITIN GADKARI'S APPEAL TO ACCOMMODATE MINORITIES MAY NOT GO DOWN WELL WITH MANY IN THE PARTY
On the morrow of his becoming president of the BJP, Mr Nitin Gadkari is reported to have declared that he would like to involve, among others, Muslims in the party. This implies that the BJP would support the Sachar Committee recommendations and be sympathetic to those of Rangnath Mishra Commission. The former makes Muslims favoured citizens and the latter introduces for them reservations, which earlier had led to partition. How would Mr Gadkari reconcile his proposal with the Sangh's idea of Akhand Bharat? At the practical level, would it not turn the stomach of many a votary of Hindutva on the shoulders of whom the BJP stands?
Admittedly, the BJP president expressed noble sentiments at a Press conference on December 24. The promise of antyodaya is appealing but it does not give the BJP a USP or uniqueness among parties. Since 1989, the rise and decline of the BJP has been its fluctuating policy on Ayodhya. As the party espoused the cause, it grew from two members in the Lok Sabha to 183 in 1998. In 1999, it dropped the Ram mandir issue from its manifesto and the 2004 general election saw the Vajpayee Government out. Since then the BJP has had no winning card in its hand.
For example, the next general election can be effectively fought with the uniform civil code as a central issue. This has constitutional legitimacy because striving for a uniform civil code is enshrined in Article 44 of our Constitution. It has sociological wisdom; it is also an issue which can fire popular imagination; one man one wife. The absence of the uniform civil code appeases the Muslims and takes the rest for granted. It pampers the Muslim male and discounts the female to the level of a chattel. Moreover, the uniform civil code would be a call for one country, one people, one law. It is also a way for the BJP to woo the Muslim women's votes. That appears the only way of liberating her from the threat of an instant talaq and the continual fear of husband taking another wife. The mullahs are most unlikely to release the woman from these shackles in the name of taqlid or orthodoxy.
Ms Shabana Azmi and many liberated ladies support a uniform civil code for the sake of their gender's liberation. Every argument would favour the BJP espousing the uniform civil code as a thrust promise. The only haddi (bone) in this winning kebab would be the party's desire to attract Muslims. This preference would close any number of options for the BJP. For example, the infiltrators especially from Bangladesh, the trifurcation of Jammu & Kashmir, cow slaughter, child marriage or supporting the inauguration of mosques for women with female imams.
The biggest option closed by the desire is to frame a Hindu-friendly manifesto. Is not realised that today the typical Hindus feel as if they are in a state of siege? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has repeatedly declared "Muslims first" and allotted 15 per cent of the national resources to Muslims. Although there has long existed Minority Commissions, he has added to them a Ministry for Minority Affairs.
Terrorist attacks a la 26/11 may take place occasionally but the fear of a blast anywhere any time is a constant dread. Yet a determined policy against terrorists is inhibited for fear of antagonising mullah opinion. The BJP has an opportunity to promise to introduce a severe anti-terrorist policy. Under British rule, Ajmal Amir Kasab would have been declared an enemy of the state, under the Defence of India Rules, tried summarily, shot dead the next day. For example, when Col Mackeson, the Commissioner of Peshawar, was stabbed to death in 1853, the criminal was treated similarly and cremated to prevent him from ever reaching heaven! All those who aid and abet terrorist attacks should also be treated as anti-nationals and tried under the DIR.
Today, the Hindus feel unprotected as well as discriminated against in their own country. Whereas those, whose grandparents voted for the Muslim League in 1945/46 whose single point agenda was Pakistan, are favoured. But whom do the Hindus turn to? The BJP could be their hope but its programmes are not dissimilar to the Congress'. For a Hindu to hear taunts such as the BJP being a 'B team' of the Congress is painful. Everyone realises that few Muslims would vote for the BJP; it is branded as a Hindu party. A coalition Ministry is formed on the basis of the number of seats the party wins. Manifestoes are then given a go-by; or else how would the DMK work with the Shiv Sena in the Vajpayee Government until 2004? The problem is about the prime ministerial candidate who must be moderate enough to not embarrass the parties with secular pretensions. Why should a party sacrifice seats for the sake of individual ambitions? Surely, an acceptable Prime Minister can be found once the party gets into the driver's seat.
In any case, an ideological commitment is essential to bind a party together especially when it is out of power. I remember the valedictory speech after the abhishek of Mr Bangaru Laxman as president. Its central thrust was that governance was more important than ideology. My question was what is the use of governance when the party is out of power? Then only ideology would motivate its members to win back power? Unless of course the party happens to be proprietary with a leader who has mass appeal.
TRIBALS TILLING LAND AND DREAMS IN GUJARAT
RIGHT TO TILL FORESTLAND NOT ONLY ENSURES DECENT LIVELIHOOD BUT ALSO PREVENTS MIGRATION, WRITES SANJAY DAVE
Bhavsinghbhai Rathwa's house or rather his shack in Kevdi village of Chhotaudepur taluka in Vadodara district is not a home. It remains devoid of almost all family members for more than eight months in a year. They live their lives like nomads or in current parlance 'migrant labourers'. They are left with no choice but to be on the move constantly to take up labour work to make both ends meet.
If only they had a piece of agricultural land, they would live off its produce and not have to migrate. But how would this happen for a poor family like Rathwa's which had no access to resources?
What they did not know was the work of Eklavya Sangathan, a social organisation in the region, which observes issues and attempts to bring succour to those who are struggling at the bottom of the ladder.
It addressed the root cause of migration: Absence of employment opportunities in the vicinity. The most effective way of ensuring livelihood was to secure the rights of those who were not allowed to till the forestland. The organisation took 1980 as the cut-off year and those who had been tilling forestland in years preceding 1980 were to get their rights to continue tilling and reap the harvest. The Eklavya team organised dharnas, presentations and awareness programmes to effect a change in Government policies. The campaign achieved a breakthrough and was successful in securing traditional forestland rights for the people. In 1999-2000 the State Government passed a ruling that those tilling forestland prior to the date could continue tilling four hectares or 10 acres of land within the forest.
This was a life-changing decision for many farmers and their families like that of Bhavsinghbhai Rathwa. After they got the rights to till two acres of land, they did not need to leave their lands which became a dependable source of livelihood. From a poor, landless migrant labourer, he is now a proud owner of a pucca house. In sheer numbers the annual income of entire family earlier was measly Rs 15,000. It is now five times more. Access to forest produce like Mahuda trees has augmented their earning capacity.
There are other success stories emanating from this one move. Of the total 250 families, in the village 71 have got forestland rights. Savlabhai, Bhudiyabhai, Sanabhai and Buchabhai are amongst those jubilant, having acquired the rights to till one-acre land each. With great pride and enthusiasm, they have planted fruit trees like mango, chikoo, mahuda and guava. And are growing maize, pigeon pea, chick pea, chillies, brinjal, paddy in their newly acquired fields. Not only are their livelihoods needs met, the entire region is a picture of bountiful greenery and the promise of a good harvest.
Chandriyabhai Nayka, who used to graze cattle for a living, said, "Earlier, we used to even go to Kutch for farming. Since we have got 1 acre and 8 guntha land, we grow pigeon pea and maize and earn our bread peacefully." The improvement in Chandriyabhai's life speaks for itself. From having one goat, he is now a proud owner of 10 goats. Each goat if he decides to sell will fetch him anything between Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000. Moreover, Chandriyabhai like many others now does need to borrow money to buy foodgrains freeing him from the vicious grip of moneylenders.
In Dobachara village, near Kevdi, 19 people have got land rights. Vadiyabhai Vechlabhai Nayka who everybody know as one of the poorest men in the village now has something to be proud of, the means to earn a decent living.
Mahatma Gandhi's words "If the benefits of development do not reach the most underprivileged then it is not true development" seem to ring true in these villages. The impetus remains with Eklavya which has taken this step to translate this philosophy to touch the lives of many in Gujarat.
Giving marginalised communities which in this case are tribals the right to till forestland is a blessing for the whole nation. They share a intrinsic bond with forests and worship nature. What better way of protecting precious forests and environment?
TIME TO WALK THE TALK ON RUCHIKA CASE
EVER since a Central Bureau of Investigation court convicted former Haryana DGP S P S Rathore for molesting a 14- year- old Ruchika Girhotra in August 1990 on Monday, several other pertinent facts regarding the case have come out in the public domain. We know what the Girhotra family and its friends had to undergo in the wake of the incident, with Mr Rathore using all his influence as a senior Indian Police Service officer to try and coerce the victim to withdraw her complaint against him, ultimately leading to the girl killing herself.
Two senior police officers of that period have come out in the open to say how the investigations and proceedings against Mr Rathore were sought to be thwarted.
Mr R R Singh, who conducted the preliminary inquiry and recommended action against Mr Rathore, has narrated how the latter mounted pressure on him for getting a clean chit. This apart, the fact that Mr Rathore survived and prospered in the regime of successive chief ministers is evidence enough of his clout with the powers- that- be.
We know these things by now, don't we? But we are yet to hear of any concrete action by the authorities to ensure that justice is not just done to Ruchika but that other girls and women don't suffer her fate in the future.
The trial in this case was conducted without the CBI taking into account all the evidence of Mr Rathore harassing the victim and her family in the wake of the incident. Had it done so, then a charge of ' abetment to suicide' which involves far more stringent penal provisions could have been made out against him. This is now possible only if a retrial is ordered in the case by the Supreme Court. As for the CBI, the least it can do is to move a higher court against the lenient sentence awarded to Mr Rathore.
The law ministry must seek to amend Section 354 of the Indian Penal code, which relates to molestation of women.
Since many cases in which the prosecution fails to prove rape are covered under it, the maximum punishment that it prescribes must be enhanced from the present two years. There must also be a provision of minimum punishment under it.
The Haryana government must launch a probe into the role played by different police officers and politicians who tried to shield Mr Rathore. The politicians and policemen of today must expiate for the sins of their predecessors by walking the talk now.
PAY OIL BILLS ON TIME
THE government's move to switch to cash compensation for losses suffered by public sector oil companies on selling diesel, petrol and kerosene at below cost prices is welcome on many counts. It will bring in a welcome measure of accountability on the government. So far, the government has been issuing oil bonds to the oil marketing companies, essentially IOUs which the state- run oil firms could either redeem on maturity several years down the line, or sell off in the market for ready cash. While looking fine on paper, the system had put enormous strain on the finances of the PSU oil firms. Not only were the oil bonds not readily marketable, since the market was also awash with huge volumes of other government debt, but the bonds themselves were issued after inordinate delays, forcing the oil marketers to borrow money from the market at high interest rates to pay for crude oil imports. It is estimated that during the current financial year alone, oil PSUs could end up with losses of over Rs 47,000 crore on account of ' under recoveries' on petrol and diesel alone.
With the government dragging its feet on issuing oil bonds, faced as it was with a record deficit, the cost of bridging the gap through market loans has already pushed Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum into losses, while Indian Oil, once the crowning jewel of PSUs, has barely managed a profit. This means that the shareholders in these companies, which include ordinary investors apart from the government, have been forced to pay an unfair price for the government's populism.
Delaying oil subsidies is self- defeating, since fuel is a strategic necessity, and a viable public sector in this space serves the larger national interest.
BY RAJEEV DHAVAN
The Ranganath Misra report on quotas for minorities is aimed at harvesting votes rather than resolving the problem of backwardness LIKE A Christmas present to the expected- tobe- grateful minorities, the Ranganath Misra National Commission on Religious and Linguistic Minorities has emerged from the forgotten shelves. Envisaged on 29 October 2004, the Commission was constituted on 21 March 2005 with Misra as chair, Tahir Mehmood, Anil Wilson, and Mohinder Singh as members and Asha Das as Secretary.
The Report arrived on 10 May 2007 and was tabled in Parliament on 21 December 2009. Most of the Report recommends the usual remedies of coordination, implementation and goodwill.
Such Reports invariably recommend more committees and chairmen and not surprisingly, the Misra report has urged the creation of a Parliamentary Committee, National Committee, similar bodies in the States, National Coordination Committee, State Minority Commissions, Minority Welfare Departments and Minority Welfare Committees in all districts.
This is in addition to the existing statutory National Minority Commission ( 1993) and National Commission for Educational Institutions ( 1983).
Rules and procedures were recommended for the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation and the Maulana Azad Education Foundation to uplift the minorities economically, with, possibly, the creamy layer licking off the cream. In all this, the report is like countless reports which gather dust and, if implemented, create sinecure posts for absentee members whose offices suffer decay. All goody- goody programmes are not for serious implementation.
The basic approach of the National Commission is to exorcise affirmative action programmes of Hindu notions of caste. The Commission was " convinced that any religion based discrimination in selecting particular castes for affirmative action will conflict with the letter and spirit of the constitutional provisions". But this was exactly the view of the minority judges in the famous Mandal case ( 1992). The Commission notes that ' castes' exist in all religions to ask why affirmative action is restricted only to Hindus. It suggests that the Hindu monopoly on affirmative action be broken in favour of a secular estimate of similarly placed castes in other religions.
The Misra Commission wants the Scheduled Caste ( 1950) and Tribes ( 1951) Orders to be amended accordingly.
What the Supreme Court failed to do in the Mandal case ( 1992) is now attempted by the Misra report ( 2009).
Mandal had spoken of the possibility of Muslim and Christian reservations. But it is precisely the attempt to include Muslim as ' Other Backward Classes' ( OBC) which failed to pass muster before two 5 judge benches of the Andhra High Court.
A 7 judge bench decision is awaited. The problem has been that the High Court has applied much more rigorous tests of backwardness to Muslim disadvantaged than their Hindu counterparts.
Most OBCs are unquestioningly appointed by way of largesse and patronage.
Both the Mandal ( 1992) and the Nagaraj decisions ( 2006) want rigour as did the initial decision in the OBC case ( 2007). Eventually, a lax approach seems to have continued. My own experience of arguing the Andhra Reservation cases for the Muslims is that Muslim demands for reservations are treated with greater strictness than Hindu demands.
But the Misra Commission's approach may defy acceptance. We know that the purpose of reservations in public posts is to ensure that those not adequately represented in the services can share the power of the State. The Misra Report wrongly invokes the " full sanction of the Article 16( 4) of the Constitution" for a 15 per cent reservation in government jobs for Muslims, Christians and other minorities on the assumption that all minorities must necessarily be backward. But all Muslims, Christians and others are not backward only some groups amongst them.
What is being insidiously resurrected is ' communal representation' under the rubric of ' under- representation'. Communal electoral quotas in Parliament and the State assemblies are not being suggested.
The 15 per cent solution applies to empowerment in bureaucracy on the basis of inadequacy of representation.
There are many communities and faiths which though notionally backward, are inadequately represented in the services.
Emphasis on inadequacy of representation on the assumption of backwardness changes the ball game completely to encourage communally inspired demands for all.
Such communal approaches were specifically excluded from the Constitution and smack of a barely disguised communalism.
It is not clear whether this new quota will be an OBC quota or SC or ST quota. Or whether minority quotas will be written into these quotas or added to them? If added, the overall quotas will become 64 per cent; if assimilated, they will cause heartburn in the OBCs, SCs and STs who will have their quota reduced from 50 percent to 35 per cent. Muslims and Christians cannot generally be admitted to reservation.
Reservations have to be for backward groups amongst them.
The 15 per cent solution is also suggested for education.
The St. Stephens case ( 1992) indicated a 50 per cent cap on preferentially recruited minority students in minority aided institutions.
In the TMA Pai case ( 2002) this cap was retained for these aided institutions but subject to the further limitation of getting minority students only from within the State where the institution was geographically located.
Thus, a nationally renowned St. Stephen's could recruit preferred minority students almost exclusively from Delhi! The Misra Commission comes up with a 15 per cent solution so that all " nonminority educational institutions should have earmarked" 15 per cent seats for minorities. This is tit ( 15 per cent) for tat ( loss of 50 per cent out of 100). It has no plausible constitutional basis and will make a further mess out of the existing jungle.
Even after the 93rd amendment protecting the minority institutional rights in this way is not permissible.
The 15 per cent is to be divided into 10 per cent for Muslims and 5 per cent for other minorities.
The Misra Commission assumes that the National Education Policy of 1986 identified Muslims and Neo- Buddhists as most educationally backward.
That was 23 years ago without recommending a religion based quota.
However, the Misra Commission rightly insists that SC and ST quotas must not only extend to Hindus but all similarly placed castes or groups in minority communities.
Equally religious conversion does not change caste standing. The SC order ( 1950) was consciously designed for Hindus and later extended to Buddhists and Sikhs.
The Commission is right.
Castes are part of the Muslim social fabric. It should extend to Muslims and other minorities so that SC and ST lists become ' religion' free. Here Asha Das's dissent seems to be misplaced.
Such a religion free approach should exist for SCs, STs and OBCs.
Equally, the Supreme Court's decision in Soosai ( 1997) making it more difficult for converts from Hinduism to retain reserved status merits examination in the light of the Misra report.
Proliferating language is important. A language dies every day. But for Pakistan, Urdu would have slowly died as a living language. A better prognosis was needed than implementing existing constitutional dispensations and the three language formula.
Without actually saying so ( and suggesting the contrary), the Misra report has moved away from a rigorous ' backwardness' standard into a clumsy communalism.
Lifting minority communities requires a much more pointed and focused policy.
The Misra Report is a political report a testament to political parties seeking communal vote banks by declamation rather than planned implementation.
Beware of ' wise men' bearing gifts.
The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer
POWER & POLITICS
A LOUD WAKE- UP CALL
IT HAS been an extraordinary fortnight in politics. A fortnight of extraordinary U- turns and flip- flops that has brought the once comfortably placed Congress government in Andhra Pradesh to the brink. With 13 pro- ministers resigning, the future of the K. Rosaiah- led government appears bleak. Worse, 11 of the 31 Congress Lok Sabha MPs have also threatened to resign. Should they get serious, the fallout would shake the Centre. Rebellious regional leaders are holding the Centre to ransom and the heavy hand of the Congress high command doesn't seem to carry much weight anymore.
The crisis was triggered by two contradictory statements that P. Chidambaram made within a fortnight. The first, on December 9, announced that a new state of Telangana will be carved out of Andhra Pradesh. Exactly two weeks later, the Centre flip- flopped. Surprised? No. Because the Congress knew, the opposition knew, you, me and everyone else knew that the first statement had nothing to do with any moral, administrative or political choice that the government had made about the new state. It was dragged out of the Centre by the campaign led by K. Chandrashekhara Rao of the Telangana Rashtriya Samithi with the overwhelming support of the people of the Telangana region. The first statement was aimed just at getting Rao, who was on the 11th day of his fast- unto- death and dangerously slipping, to give up his protest and help douse the fire that had been raging throughout Telangana.
The Centre was never serious about Telangana, just as it has never been in favour of smaller states.
The rapid growth of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh since their breakup from large unwieldy states nine years ago is proof that smaller is better. Proposals for the creation of these states lay pending with successive Congress governments for years but it was the BJP- led NDA government that brought them into existence. In the 62 years since Independence, the Congress may have changed its economic philosophy from socialist to mixed, and then to market driven, but when it comes to administration, the Grand Old Party has always been wary of carving up big states for fear of losing control over large and prosperous parts of the country.
Such fears, I think, are unfounded. Though out of power in both states now, the Congress has had long government tenures in Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand, both states where along with the BJP, it remains a dominant player. Power has eluded the Congress in Jharkhand thus far but if last week's assembly results are any indication, it may not remain so for- TRS chief Rao ever. Conceded, the small matter of Hyderabad is the biggest hurdle in the creation of Telangana but I believe that if the new state comes into being, the Congress has a better chance of coming to power than the TRS that has spearheaded the cause of the new state. Of the 294 members of the Andhra Pradesh assembly, 119 are from Telangana. Of them, the Congress contingent is the largest at 51, more than thrice as that of the TRS. If West Bengal were to be carved into smaller states, the loss would be that of the CPM and not the Congress. If a new Vidharba state were created out of Maharashtra, the Congress- NCP combine can be expected to steamroll the opposition.
Where it currently has one chief minister, the party will have two and I assume that in states where it has none, bifurcation will enable the Congress to grab at least one. Politically, it is desirable, administratively it is more viable, so why are they still hesitating? It has to do with Congress apprehensions of the longevity of the UPA government itself.
Though its ministers and party leaders strut around with the confidence of a regime that has a two- thirds majority, the UPA is still short of a simple majority and depends on support from outside, of parties like Mulayam Singh Yadav's SP, which is opposed to breaking up large states into smaller ones. It's a Catch- 22 situation for the UPA. There is no textbook formula that can please all the parties and whatever steps the government takes is bound to make one section happy and leave the other livid. This crisis is a test case for the high command and all evidence suggests the leadership is absolutely confused about its Telangana stand.
Sonia has kept a studied silence so far and let others decide.
Wake up calls don't come louder.
It is time she took charge and restored order.
JUST GET RID OF INCOMPETENT BUREAUCRATS
TRUST P. Chidambaram to set the cat among the bureaucratic pigeons. Addressing an IB function in New Delhi last week, the Union home minister said it won't be a bad idea if the performances of all IAS, IFS and IPS officers aged 50 and above were reviewed " so that room can be made for better performers to move upwards . and the others given a generous pension and granted permission to take up alternative commercial employment". Barring the babus in starched safari or dark suits, Chidambaram's suggestion should be welcomed by all, particularly the political class who have to face a public review board every five years. In the private sector where the bottom- line is ' perform or perish', such exercises are undertaken every year. No such apprehensions for our babus who have total job security, are guaranteed promotions, do not have to fill key result areas forms and after the Sixth Pay Commission was implemented, take home a handsome package. Admittedly, there are many committed officers with drive and vision but a far many more are content just appending signatures and pushing files.
That's why I would take Chidambaram's statement a step further and suggest that the review should start, not at 50 years, but at the level of the district magistrate/ collector.
The DM/ collector should be insulated from political pulls and pressures of local state government and be guaranteed a posting for three or five years at the end of which his or her performance should be reviewed. A less than creditable performance should not be held as reason to deny the officer promotion, as some schools and colleges do when allowing a student to go on to the next class even if he or she has failed in part subjects.
But the buck should stop at three successive less- thandesirable score sheets and laggards should be compulsorily retired. I am sure we will then see a more responsive administration.
BJP TOPS ONE BLUNDER IN JHARKHAND WITH ANOTHER
WANT lessons in " How To Dress Up Defeat As Victory"? Ask the BJP leadership. After humiliating back- to- back defeats in Parliament and several assembly elections, 11 Ashoka Road has forgotten what victory tastes like. So it has decided to sup with the devil himself. The BJP high command's decision to back Shibu Soren's bid for chief ministership is baffling and understandably has raised the hackles of local party leaders and cadres in Jharkhand.
The detailed results from Jharkhand show that the party's campaign managers are clueless about their jobs.
While all other parties have gained over the last polls, BJP was the sole loser and a heavy one at that. It had 30 seats last time, it has 18 now.
Among the losers were 19 sitting legislators, including five former ministers. Babulal Marandi's Jharkhand Vikas Morcha ( P) gained the most in the elections.
The JVM( P) fought 25 seats, leaving the rest for its alliance partner Congress and won 11, giving it a 42 per cent success rate. The BJP on the other hand fought 67 seats and won just 18 seats. The story would have been different if the BJP leadership hadn't blundered in spurning former partyman Marandi.
By tying up with Soren, the BJP is actually compounding one blunder with another. One exchief minister, Madhu Koda, is currently in jail on charges of looting thousands of crores.
Soren, also former chief minister and former union minister, has been in and out of jail so often that even the police stopped keeping count.
Jharkhand is among India's richest states in terms of natural resources but its rulers have always considered public wealth as private property. The state deserves better. The Congress has rightly said that it will not back Soren as chief minister.
Instead of supporting Soren, the BJP should back any move that the centre may initiate to put the state under another spell of President's rule. Such good sense is not likely to prevail in the power hungry BJP. Its leaders should keep in mind that while supping with the devil, it is advisable to use a long spoon.
IF TRUE, here's something to dampen the New Year spirits of the workaholic that is our Union home minister P. Chidambaram. In normal circumstances, whenever a high dignitary from the centre plans to visit a state, the central government seeks the advice of the state chief minister. I gather that the governor of Chhattisgarh ESL Narasimhan has suggested to the Prime Minister's Office that Chidambaram be dissuaded from his planned visit to the Naxal- affected areas in Raipur and Dantewada.
The home minister's much publicised padayatra on January 7 is basically a confidence building measure, but Narasimhan, a former chief of the Intelligence Bureau, feels it would be dangerous for the home minister to go ahead with his plans that include spending a night with NGOs in Naxal- affected areas in Chhattisgarh.
For Chidambaram, tackling the red menace is an ideological mission. Besides beefing up the internal intelligence network, he has drawn up an elaborate strategy to deal with Naxals. He has drafted 80,000 highly trained and well- armed personnel drawn from three central paramilitary forces and state police to take on the Naxals in the districts most affected by red terror in central India. If reports of Narasimhan's dampener are true, it will be the first time that a governor has thrown a spanner in the Union home minister's official work. My hunch is Chidambaram will treat this as just another warning from a file pushing babu and go ahead with his plans.
TIMES OF INDIA
It's rare that an international cricket match gets called off because of the pitch. And that too at a major cricket centre. But that's precisely what happened at the Kotla in Delhi on Sunday. The match was abandoned after 23 overs had been bowled because the pitch was deemed too dangerous to play on. In the few overs that were played, the ball took off alarmingly at regular intervals with Lankan batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan getting a nasty blow on the arm on one occasion. Nearly midway through the Sri Lanka innings, their skipper Kumar Sangakkara decided that his team had had enough and decided to call his players off.
The sorry episode is a slap in the face of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Delhi & District Cricket Association. The primary blame lies with the Delhi cricket association for not being able to prepare a pitch that could last 50 overs, let alone a single day. And this after there had been several complaints about the Kotla pitch through the year. During the run-up to the game several people, particularly the Delhi players, had raised misgivings about the pitch. But the Delhi cricket administration ignored these warnings and even promised a pitch full of runs. Sunday's match showed how hollow these claims were.
The BCCI, too, must share the responsibility for the happenings at Kotla. It is the Indian cricket board's responsibility to ensure that all centres hosting international matches meet accepted standards. There is even a BCCI-appointed grounds and pitches committee for overseeing pitches, which has been disbanded with immediate effect after the Kotla fiasco. As a result of the events on Sunday, Delhi's prospects of hosting World Cup matches are in doubt. According to ICC rules, a poor pitch could result in the suspension of the venue's international status for a period between one and two years. It would indeed be a matter of great shame if the country's capital is stripped of the right to host World Cup games.
What is particularly troubling about the entire affair is that the world's richest cricket board cannot ensure the basic playing conditions needed to stage international matches. This raises the question as to what the BCCI does with the enormous sums of money that it makes from the game. What happened in Kotla would be unthinkable in any major venue in other cricket-playing nations. Stadiums with adequate facilities and proper playing conditions are taken for granted there. But sadly the BCCI cannot even ensure that.
TIMES OF INDIA
ABUSE OF POWER
The way a university professor was branded a 'Naxalite' and assaulted by policemen in Bihar is most disturbing. According to Jamia Millia Islamia professor Rahul Ramagundam, he and a companion were beaten up by the police for asking why homes of Dalits in Amausi village were being demolished. While we still await the police version of events, why is it that prima facie we don't find anything surprising about the events? That's because the police far too often abuse their authority, and more so in the poorly governed states.
Instances of human rights abuse by the police are too many to recount. In the past few days, the way former Haryana inspector-general of police S P S Rathore tried to subvert justice after being accused of molesting a teen has come to light. This is partly due to the media having taken up the molestation case as a wrong that needs to be redressed. But there are many more instances where the police routinely abuse their authority that go unrecorded and unreported. Those at the receiving end are more often than not unlettered and poor people who don't have the means to raise their voices against the state. It's only when the violations assume shocking proportions such as the Bhagalpur blindings of nearly three decades ago where several undertrials were blinded by the police that we sit up and take notice.
There is a different kind of abuse of power in Naxalite-affected areas. Here in the name of maintaining law and order, the police often overstep the line. The incident at Amausi falls in this category. Anyone who is seen to be sympathetic to tribals or the oppressed is in the danger of being branded a Naxalite. This is an absurd policy on the part of the administration. There are so many people who believe that tribals or Dalits have legitimate grievances against the state but at the same time are critical of Naxalites and their strategy. If the police and the administration cannot make this distinction, it would only prove to be counterproductive to their strategy of containing Naxalites and other militants.
We need to rethink the way the police function as an institution. The police haven't yet shed many of their colonial-era trappings and still have an adversarial relationship with citizens. They haven't been able to win the trust of the people, something that is reflected in popular culture. Incidents such as the one involving the Jamia professor who is ironically a respected Gandhian scholar and activist only help in reinforcing the poor image of the police.
TIMES OF INDIA
BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE
M D NALAPAT
The Copenhagen Climate Summit was designed by its sponsors to create an international regulatory architecture for climate policy that would emulate the World Bank and the IMF in being controlled by the US and the EU. Next, to put in place carbon emissions targets that would increase the cost of production of manufactures in large developing economies such as India and China, and provide a climate rationale for protectionist tariffs in the developed world against products from such countries. The arbitrary changing of the baseline for emissions cuts from 2005 to 1990 indicates this intention, for the latter year predates the huge strides in industrial expansion by both India and China.
Small Pacific Ocean countries with very little in-house expertise in climate change have been used as the stalking horse to push through this ambitious agenda. However, those behind the move neglect an inconvenient truth. That the world would still move rapidly towards a meltdown, even should the various carbon curtailing methods suggested at Copenhagen be accepted and implemented. The reason is that several of them are ineffective in reducing carbon emissions, despite being promoted for that very purpose. In fact, the reason behind their propagation is the steady expansion of 'green' technology enterprises and carbon credit markets in the developed world, both of whom are expecting to secure a financial windfall from the implementation of the policies they are (understandably) championing.
An example of a measure that is largely ineffective in reducing the risk of environmental degradation is the biofuel industry. Several of them need almost as much or more fossil fuel to produce as they save at the pump. In countries such as the US, the green excuse of ethanol has been used to justify billion-dollar subsidies to large agricultural enterprises. Many biofuels take up huge amounts of water to produce, and result in the collateral damage caused by the destruction of forest cover in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia to plant biofuel crops. However, few bother to compute such ecological costs to an industry that is being developed in the name of conservation.
What the carbon lobby fails to mention is that carbon equivalents chiefly methane do many more times damage to the environment than carbon dioxide emissions. Protectionist measures that use climate as the excuse include the rating of food by ''food miles''. Consumers in the EU are thereby encouraged to buy home-grown produce, rather than that imported from South America or Africa. However, what they are not told is that the growing of such produce in EU greenhouses uses up much more energy (and hence creates much more climate damage) than that expended in flying such goods in from afar. Studies have shown, for instance, that cut flowers from Kenya have a much lower carbon footprint than flowers from Europe, because of the heat needed to grow the flowers in artificial environments.
Climate activists can be assured of media coverage, should they picket an airport. They should instead reassemble at dinner tables. The meat industry produces far more greenhouse gases than the entire transport industry. A single pound of beef uses up nearly 2,600 gallons of water, besides nine pounds of foodgrain, before it ends up in a meat store. However, we do not see Al Gore and others from the developed world placing the same emphasis on vegetarianism as they do on limiting emissions from India and China, two countries that have together lifted 600 million people out of poverty since 1990. Al Gore would like the developing world to buy the expensive green technologies being developed in the US and the EU, even though far more effective solutions are available locally, if only Third World governments look to their own people, rather than to 'experts' from the countries that place carbon above climate.
Once the permafrost in Siberia and the Arctic starts to melt, the release of methane will overwhelm the earth's defences, unless these get shored by up lifestyle changes that result in climate-friendly diets and energy-saving infrastructure, especially in buildings. Brazil, Indonesia and Russia need to be told to halt the destruction of their forests, while every country needs to plant trees on a war footing. Trees not only in forests, but by the roadside, in fields and near factories. Terraces need to have small gardens, so that plants can work their miracle of converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. The earth's oceans need to be replenished with seaweed, so as to expand its carbon-carrying capacity. In short, there is no short cut. Only a comprehensive change in lifestyles and in energy usage will save the planet, not simply the capping or even cutting of the emissions output of India and China.
The writer is a political commentator.
TIMES OF INDIA
'GOVERNMENT MUST COMMIT TO INVESTIGATIONS INTO MASS GRAVES IN J&K'
The International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir, a human rights group, released a report 'Buried Evidence: Unknown, Unmarked, and Mass Graves' recently to highlight the issue of unmarked mass graves in the Valley. Angana Chatterji , a co-convenor of the tribunal and professor of anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, spoke to Humra Quraishi about the report:
Where are these graves?
These graves are located across the Valley. We documented the existence of 2,700 unknown, unmarked and mass graves, containing 2,943-plus bodies, across 55 villages in Bandipora, Baramulla and Kupwara districts of Kashmir. Of these, 87.9 per cent were unnamed, 154 contained two bodies each and 23 contained between three and 17 bodies. Exhumation and identification have not occurred in sizeable cases. We examined 50 alleged "encounter" killings by Indian security forces in numerous districts in Kashmir. Of these, 49 were labelled militants/foreign insurgents by security forces and there was one case of drowning. Following investigations, 47 were found killed in fake encounters and one was identified as a local militant. None were foreign insurgents.
Why are they unmarked? Is there a pattern and purpose about the anonymity?
They are unmarked as their identities (of the dead) are unknown. The armed forces and the Jammu and Kashmir police routinely claim the dead buried in unknown and unmarked graves to be "foreign militants/terrorists". If independent investigations were to be undertaken in all 10 districts, it is reasonable to assume that more than the 8,000 enforced disappearances since 1989 would correlate with the number of bodies in unknown, unmarked and mass graves.
What explanations did you get from community leaders and from the local administration?
Gravediggers and community members tell us that the bodies buried in the 2,700 graves were routinely delivered at night, some bearing marks of torture and burns. In certain instances of fake encounter killings, where the bodies of victims have been identified, it was found that civilians resident in one geographic area in Kashmir were killed in another area. At times, these bodies were transferred to yet another area and, then, buried. Some local security forces personnel and state employees testified to us in confidence. We also attempted to formally contact senior government and security forces officials, requesting explanations. Our requests were declined.
We were able to identify graves within selected districts and inquire into instances where photographic verifications and/or exhumations had taken place. The graves, we were able to ascertain, hold bodies of men with few exceptions. Violence against civilian men has expanded spaces for enacting violence against women in Kashmir. The graveyards have been placed next to fields, schools and homes, largely on community land, and their affect on the local community is daunting. The government of India and the government of Jammu and Kashmir must commit to transparent investigations into the graves, drawing upon credible and international expertise, and institute an independent commission of inquiry.
TIMES OF INDIA
SOUNDS OF SOREN
C P SURENDRAN
Though the people of Jharkhand have braved the Naxal strictures and turned out in strength a little over 60 per cent of the electorate cast votes the verdict for the 81-seat assembly is hazy. Jharkhand supplies 50 per cent of India's minerals and coal-based needs. Nearly 30 per cent of its 25 million population is tribal. Another 12 per cent of the people belong to scheduled castes. Most of them live in fear of being displaced from their land by developmental politics.
The mainstream parties exploit this fear and insecurity, though everyone Congress, BJP, JVM and JMM is "for the people". The language they have spoken before and after the elections has a uniformity of phonemic emphases.
Which is why the voters have turned in a verdict that indicates they want change, but are not sure who to trust as the agent of that change, since all mainstream parties speak more or less the same language. There is nothing in the language to distinguish between Shibu Soren from his rival Babulal Marandi of JVM or the local Congress leaders, or the BJP, or for that matter another ex-CM, Madhu Koda.
Soren, a tribal himself, sees the answer to all the ills of the state in his own hirsute person. In 2006, he had to quit as minister for coal in the Union cabinet because of his involvement in a case in which he was accused to murdering his private secretary Shashi Nath Jha in 1994. The life term that he was awarded was later set aside by a Delhi district court because the court said the CBI had "miserably failed" in proving Soren's involvement in the crime. He is also involved in other criminal cases. Soren was sworn in as the Jharkhand CM in 2008 the sixth in eight years only to lose his chair in a by-election in January.
The Congress party, which morally disowned him since his alleged role in the murder is now guardedly trying to form a government in the state with the support of the JMM, as is the BJP. Three years and an election victory is all that has taken the mainstream national parties to see Soren in a new light. Expediency, as ever, is the solution to all problems.
One irony sets off another. Soren, on his part, is ready to join hands with the Congress or the BJP clearly, it is all the same to him if he is sworn in as CM: "I do not want to be kingmaker. I want to be king. Only i can give the state a stable and corruption-free government."
As an enraged Hamlet said, "Words. Words. Words." Indian politics is a balloon swelling with hot air. Just about anyone can use words like honesty, efficiency, corruption-free government and a thousand other words which have emptied themselves of meaning, but still unquestionably sound right, and hope to be taken seriously.
The necessary condition of politics is survival. These right sounding words are the basis of that survival. The use of familiar sounds in the language empowers Soren and others like him to be an active choice for the more morally-pretentious mainstream parties, just as it gives the latter a valid excuse to slide sideways towards him on the nuptial bed of politics.
One of Mahatma Gandhi's great contributions was to enrich political discourse with a new, experienced language. The language of his politics was personal, charged with the discovery of himself. His voice was distinct. Poor Jharkhand may have turned out in strength at the polls, but if the results spell confusion, it is only a reflection of a political discourse awash with clichis. Everyone from murderers to movie stars, politicians to policemen has come to use the same sound bites, entirely free from the responsibility of authenticating his language with his individual experience. The real problem that the Jharkhands of India face is not elections. The democracy-gene of the native is likely to take care of that. It is the old question of authenticity of leadership and the related problem of language.
TIMES OF INDIA
RESOLVE TO NOT RESOLVE
There are two markers to the end of every calendar year and the beginning of a new one. They are afflictions that strike the best of us, making it impossible for us not to give in to their conceit. One, of course, is the much-used, much-abused New Year resolution. From the third week of December every year, otherwise perfectly rational people give in to the temptation of believing that the date of January 1 will somehow magick their bad habits away. The idea of renewal is irresistible, even to those who make the same resolutions year after year, only to fall into their regular routine of junk food and smoking before the month is out, thus bringing themselves nothing but guilt.
The other, far more annoying, conceit is the end of year list. Ubiquitous as it was before the internet was ever dreamed of, it has taken on a whole new arrogance now that the Web has made it so easy for every Tom, Dick and whatshisname to shout out to the world how, clearly, Avatar is the best film ever made. No, really. It is impossible to navigate through cyberspace without at least inadvertently falling into the clutches of The List. Even serious, otherwise sensible newspapers, magazines and journals succumb to this end of year madness. Top 10 books, top 10 movies, top 10 books on movies... and these are only the most innocuous (if widespread) of the bunch. You haven't read a top-whatever list until you stumble across such gems as the top 10 birds that can kick your ass (perhaps the only 10 birds that can do it, particularly if one is... substantial), or the top 10 urinals, which is not information that ever needed to be tabulated. There are even lists on which the best lists are.
This obsession with lists cuts across boundaries, sexes; pretty much every divide. Why must we categorise things into our favourites and bests? And who chose the perfectly arbitrary number of 10, anyway? And why do we think the end of a calendar year is about anything but setting ourselves up for the same fall all over again? My theory is that it's our way of putting the past in neat little categories where they belong. Aside from me, nobody cares if i think the Star Trek reboot trumps Serenity in the best non-Star Wars space opera movie stakes, after all. I could create my list, somebody with too much time and not enough work would notice it and disagree, we'd argue and then lather, rinse and repeat in 2010.
SECURED AND SAFE
Pranab Mukherjee has little difficulty negotiating New Delhi's corridors of power. He has been doing it for nearly half a century. The lanes of the country's financial capital are another matter. The stock market is a maze best left to the strong-hearted, but one could reasonably expect the finance minister or the managers of his security and travel to get to a bank awards ceremony in one shot. In the event, Mr Mukherjee did reach the Trident in the Bandra-Kurla complex after taking a detour to Nariman Point, where the Oberois have their older and more famous hotel. The two hours spent on the road gave the minister a valid excuse to be late for a do, unlike some of his political brethren who would regard the passage of this length of time as their due before popping their heads into their drawing rooms to meet the people.
But do look at the brighter side. If Mr Mukherjee's security detail does not know where it is going, the minister is indeed safe. Helluva target to attack. "The minister's just left his bungalow to present the Budget in Parliament. Hold on, the cavalcade took a wrong turn and is now headed towards Manesar " Or, "The minister is scheduled to arrive at Bretton Woods in 15 minutes. How on earth did he reach Sherwood Forest?" Get the picture.
It's also good for the markets. Keeps it guessing. "The unemployment dole has been trimmed because the finance minister's security have lost his briefcase..." Worryingly though, did you show you earned less last year than what you bought that SUV for? Check across the passenger seat, the grandfatherly gent peering at you is...
MANY SHOTS IN THE DARK
If the curious case of the dog that didn't bark at night had been investigated in India, chances are the canine would turn into a mouse, then night would have become day and finally, that there is no case at all. The twists and turns in the Ruchika Girhotra case would be laughable if it were not so tragic. From the start, the criminal justice system has worked to protect the powerful and penalise the victim. We now gather that the 14-year-old child who committed suicide after being molested by former Haryana Director General of Police S.P.S. Rathore never really stood a chance at getting justice. Her autopsy report was allegedly doctored to show that she died of an overdose of slimming pills, many records related to the case have disappeared and, now in the end, the accused has got away with a mere six-month jail term.
This case is not unique in demonstrating the complete mockery that has been made of forensics and investigation in this country. Witnesses often change their testimonies with no fear of perjury charges. In the infamous BMW case, the killer car suddenly became a truck. In the Hemant Karkare case, his bullet-proof jacket appears to have acquired a life of its own. And making a farce of the judicial proceedings, we have Ajmal Kasab who transforms from Bollywood aspirant to short-order cook to an innocent bystander by the day. This casts doubts on the whole system in which people had reposed such faith given the decline in other institutions. And this has also opened the floodgates for what could become a dangerous form of public vigilantism. There is no doubt that there was a miscarriage of justice in cases like that of Jessica Lall and Priyadarshini Mattoo. But if there is a case for the powerful keeping their hands off the legal system, there is equally a case for the public to respect the sanctity of the law.
Unfortunately, today many have come to believe that only public pressure will bring the guilty to book. There has to be a thorough overhaul of the procedures that lead up to framing a case. From gathering forensic evidence to interrogating suspects, the whole approach seems shambolic and worthy of the keystone cops. This has led to demands for retrials and reopening of cases that should be permitted only in the rarest of rare cases. And, of course, such public pressure can only work in very few cases, the rest, whether miscarriages or not, fall through the cracks. If the judicial system on which the very foundations of democracy rest shows such alarming cracks, we are going down the slippery slope to anarchy.
AN ECONOMIST FOR ALL SEASONS
ABHIJIT VINAYAK BANERJEE
Paul Samuelson, a truly great economist, died on the 13th of this month. The last time I saw him will now remain the only time we ever got to talk about India. It was at the weekly faculty lunch at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), at the height of the summer holidays. The few of us who were around had congregated at what was traditionally Paul's end of the table. I ventured some comment about the failings of the Indian State. He looked up from his plate and said, "Chakravarty [Sukhamoy Chakravarty spent some time at MIT in the 1960s] had such faith in the Indian State," his expression making it clear that he did not, but went on "...but a brilliant mind...it was the times...everybody believed in these things".
That was typical of Paul; he believed in being blunt but also in generosity of judgement. He delighted in ideas; at the faculty lunch, almost till the very end, it was often Paul who would get the real conversation going (at least at his end of the table): "What did you think of X's piece in the [Wall Street] Journal?", Have you read Y's latest?" Though Paul always had his own answer, it was a real question. Paul was an intent, if slightly intimidating, listener his brows furrowed, eyes blazing like little pieces of charcoal. If he did not agree, he did not hesitate to offer a correction, or to lay out his alternative view. While I will not say that this had nothing to do with vanity, the primary goal, quite clearly, was to set the tone for the kind of conversation that was appropriate for a lunch at the MIT economics department.
Paul loved the department. It was his creation, to the extent that any department of nearly 40 faculty members can be a creation of one man. He set the norm for the kind of economics that we practised (and practise), that combines a respect for theory with a commitment to remain connected to ground realities. He hired many of the people who made, and make, the department what it is. And perhaps most importantly, he built probably the most-influential machine for training high-quality economists that has ever existed. It is no accident that every single academic economist in a position of seniority in the Barack Obama administration, including both Larry Summers and Ben Bernanke, have a strong association with MIT.
But then, in a sense, Paul also created modern theoretical economics. What sets modern economic theory apart from all the other social sciences, is the degree of its reliance on formal models. Formal models are artificial universes that economists use as the laboratories for their thought experiments. These universes are tightly described by a set of explicit (and often extreme) assumptions that allows the economist to focus on the interplay of one specific set of forces, to the exclusion of others. The point of a model is not to mirror reality but rather to get us far enough away from it so that we can think clearly about each piece that goes into our description of the world.
Economic theorists come in two flavours. There are those who come up with interesting new models that others then adopt and play with, and those who build tools that make it easier for others to analyse models. Paul belonged to both camps. He was the first to recognise the importance of developing tools for analysing models: his early work and thesis research published as the Foundations of Economic Analysis, were all about building tools including ones that no one had yet realised that they would need to make models more tractable. In his subsequent work, stretching from the 1940s to the 1980s, Paul built many models that became the starting point of different fields. I was taught international trade theory at Jawaharlal Nehru University at a time when conventional economic theory was clearly out of favour there, but much of the course was built around the basic model that Paul had developed in the late 40s and 50s. It was that unavoidable.
And thus it has been for so many of the core fields in economics public finance, macroeconomics and the theory of financial markets. Somewhere, very early, there is a model by Paul. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, unlike many other distinguished economists, he never lost sight of the fact that a model was a model, a tool for learning about reality not reality itself.
To the end, he resisted the abuse of economic models to justify unjust social policies; this is what he wrote in 2008, celebrating Obama's victory: "The 2008 US presidential election brought an end to the Bush administration blunders, and to other post-Reagan 'make the poor and middle classes subsidise the ultra rich' enactments. These are bad morals and not justified by higher growth efficiency." Few economists would have could have said it so bluntly or so well. This was the last piece he wrote.
Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee is Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics and Director, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, MIT
The views expressed by the author are personal
PAYING FOR TELANGANA FLIP-FLOPS
The mishandling of the Telangana crisis continues to haunt the Congress. The party is finding it difficult to extract itself from this self-created mess. Emotions are so high that Congress MLAs and MPs are prepared to even defy their party president, a departure from the past. Attempts by senior leaders to cool tempers on either side have failed. The Centre with its flip-flops is fast losing credibility among supporters of both sides.
The Congress and the Centre have not even made a serious attempt to bring on board its allies in order to ascertain their opinion. Equally, no measures have been taken to gauge the Opposition's viewpoint. In the process, the decision to carve out a separate state of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh and subsequently put the plan on hold has demonstrated that only a handful of people oblivious of ground realities were handling the issue within the Congress. These people were advising both the Congress president and the Prime Minister.
It is virtually certain that those (mis)handling the issue convinced the party and government leadership that this would be in the interests of both the Congress and its government at the Centre and state. But this misdirected initiative has eroded the supremacy of the Congress president, who has brought the party this far in the last 11 years.
Both MLAs and MPs are not prepared to abide by the party and government wishes. Some of them have even faxed their resignations. Their stand is that they would rather be with their people (since they have to be re-elected) than with the party.
The obsession of some in the party's core group with the creation of the separate state has led to a situation where even common sense political modalities have been ignored. There is no denying that the demand for Telangana is a historic one.
But if this has to be met, there are certain steps to be undertaken. The first would have been to separately and then collectively ascertain the views of the Congress party's own MLAs and MPs from Andhra Pradesh. Today, it is being said that even ministers in the central government from the state were kept in the dark. The only explanation of this could be that those who were pushing for the case with the Congress president were not conversant with the situation on the ground.
Second, the historic reasons why Andhra Pradesh was created have also to be examined. The events soon after Partition and the manner in which the then Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had to use force to prevent the Nizam of Hyderabad from getting his way is significant to this debate. The reorganisation of the Telugu-speaking people was subsequently done and the state in its present form was created. It may just be a point of view but the creation of the new state at this juncture when so many issues including those concerning internal security need greater attention is something that needs to be looked into by the Centre with a microscope.
The argument that smaller states are good for development does not necessarily hold good. Barring the experience of Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, which were carved out of Punjab more out of political compulsions, there are not too many examples of small states thriving. Jharkhand continues to be in the news for either political instability or corruption. Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh have still a long way to go and the example of the Northeast also indicates that peace is still elusive.
The Centre must announce a commission for the re-organisation of states without any further delay and take into account the demand for a separate Telangana. Andhra Pradesh is not only one of the best states in the country but politically very vibrant. The pride of the Telugu people must be kept intact and solution should be found through wide consultations and not pre-conceived notions. Between us.
SMALL DETAILS KEY TO SUCCESS
The use of the term chalta hai (trait of a person who does not want to get serious) is on the increase these days. Since the pace of life has become faster, it leaves us with no other option. Or, at least that is given by most of us as the apparent excuse to accept whatever comes our way. However, there is a danger in not checking this tendency.
Big things are hidden amidst very little ones. We want to achieve the moon, skipping small things on the way. This cannot happen in any real sense. How we keep our shoes when we take them off, how we put up a poster during a concert are small but important details.
We need to keep these in mind if we wish to develop the knack of being able to catch the subtle and the abstract, both of which are necessary ingredients to grasp anything of depth.
There is a story of a young Jew who wanted to study The Torah, the holy book of the Jews. But he did not want to study under any of the many great Rabbits (Jewish priests in Jerusalem.)
When asked why he wanted to go to one special Rabbi in an obscure hamlet, his reply was that he wanted to observe how this great man tied his shoelaces!
It is not easy to pick up deep concepts. One has to struggle a great deal and the chalta hai attitude can be a big hurdle in achieving this goal.
These days during classical music concerts, claps come in only when the tabla and the instruments being played fight it out. We do not know when to say Aah! It comes only when a subtle shade of a note is applied at the right place. Not everyone can catch this.
(Edited extracts from the book Chintan)
WE'VE INVESTED RS 15K CR IN 11TH PLAN
POWERGRID, a Navratna public sector undertaking under the Ministry of Power, owns and operates 73,000 circuit kilometres of transmission lines with 124 sub-stations. S.K Chaturvedi, chairman and managing director of the power sector giant, spoke to Hindustan Times on a range of issues. Excerpts:
POWERGRID plays a pivotal role in the power transmission sector. Can you elaborate on your existing operations.
POWERGRID, the Central Transmission Utility (CTU), is engaged in power transmission business with the mandate for planning, co-ordination, supervision and control over complete inter-State transmission system and operation of national and regional power grids. The company has been able to consistently maintain the availability of this transmission network at over 99per cent, comparable with best international standards.
What steps are being taken by POWERGRID during 11th Plan to enhance inter-regional power transfer capacity?
Inter-regional power transfer capacity of the national grid is likely to be enhanced to more than 37,000 mega watt by 2012. In line with the plan to establish an integrated national grid in a phased manner, various inter-regional transmission schemes have been commissioned and undertaken during the year. National Grid with inter-regional power transmission capacity of 20,800MW has already been established.
What steps have been taken to develop new technologies for power transfer from large generating stations?
POWERGRID's network comprises mainly of 400kV AC and 500kV HVDC transmission lines. The company has also introduced 765kV transmission voltage by commissioning and operating the country's first 765 kV transmission line. Considering the huge power transfer requirements and severe Right of Way constraints, we have initiated action for introducing next higher transmission voltage of 1200kV in AC and 800kV in HVDC.
Your company has planned an ambitious capital expenditure of Rs.55,000 crore for 11th Plan. How do you plan to raise the funds?
POWERGRID has made an investment of about Rs.15,000 crore in the first two years of 11th Plan. For the current fiscal (FY 2009-10), we have a target of Rs. 10,500 crore.
LEFT IS RIGHT
Murali Kartik for most of the past decade appeared to pose difficult questions to Indian cricket. Since his early
appearances, especially the 1999-2000 season, he'd elicit cries of recognition, that India had finally in its sight someone who could revive its traditions of left-arm spin. But it would be a chequered career for the Railways bowler, he would be in and out of the national team, and theories would keep swirling why this was, not least about a bias against left-arm spin. But perhaps it was also because the past decade was colonised by Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh and it was also, remember, a time when India would at a pinch prefer to carry an extra batsman so that the deserving reserve spinner would often sit it out. Nonetheless, there was always regret that left-arm spin was not getting the place it deserved.
So, here is that question once again, posed for the new decade: can India find ways of accommodating the profusion and aspirations of its new generation of left-arm spinners? As a survey in The Sunday Express highlighted, the domestic game has a long list of bowlers knocking on opportunity's door from 20-year-old Iqbal Abdulla (Mumbai) to 17-year-old Aushik Srinivas (Tamil Nadu) to Kartik himself. And the debate has begun once again: how soon and how often do you expose a young left-arm spinner to limited-overs cricket? Thankfully, opinion on that is not all orthodox, because given the expansion of opportunities that league formats provide, it will be the left-arm spinner's challenge to prove himself on unforgiving tracks. After all, in the last decade we saw the resurgence of leg-spin because a bunch of leg-spinners showed they could conquer any format.
A few years ago, Daniel Vettori said, "Left-arm spinners are a dying breed and there are only a few of us left." May the future prove him wrong.
QUESTION OF TIME
So everybody's in agreement. Former Director General of Police S.P.S. Rathore got away too lightly. Union Law Mini- ster Veerappa Moily says that he is "deeply concerned" about the verdict. The Centre is also initiating action to take away Rathore's police medal and to reduce his pension. Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda feels the case should be revisited and has promised security for Ruchika Girhotra's family. And the Central Bureau of Investigation plans to appeal for a higher sentence. So far so good. Now for the chase.
The CBI's stance is reassuring, but hardly blame-free. After all, the CBI did not chargesheet Rathore for "abetment to suicide", leaving him with just a molestation charge that, under India's inadequate laws, carries a maximum sentence of two years (the abetment charge was later inserted by the CBI special judge, but dropped by the Punjab & Haryana high court). The current political resolve amongst the Central and state governments is reassuring. Unfortunately, it is this very political intent that had given cover to the constant harassment of Ruchika's family and her eventual suicide, not to mention Rathore's promotion to the very top of the state police hierarchy. It is hoped that this renewed political will results in two clear changes a push to re-examine the case and file charges afresh, and the tightening of the law regarding child molestation.
The way ahead has one more minefield: time. It took 19 years from Ruchika's molestation in 1990 to the "guilty" verdict last week. Those 19 years were in itself a denial of justice. They also allowed the space for a powerful accused to intimidate his victim and her family as the CBI special court notes in at least one instance. As the CBI prepares to file an appeal, as new charges are contemplated against Rathore, and as the push for reforming our child-molestation laws begins, the long delay in justice for Ruchika and her family underlines the need to act quickly this time round.
PATRONAGE & ITS PERILS
At a time when the Telangana issue threatens to blaze out of control, the last thing the Congress needed was an inconvenient sex comedy on its hands. Whatever the truth about Congress veteran and Andhra Pradesh governor N.D. Tiwari's personal life, this lurid drama has hurt the party plenty with its spokespersons having to field questions on the issue. Now that Tiwari has sent in his resignation, the Centre should be hard-pressed to find a replacement soon. And that choice will be revealing because this scandal has turned the glare on the manner in which critical constitutional bodies like the governor's office have been hijacked by political favour-mongering.
Unfortunately, there has been established a long tradition of ensconcing battle-scarred Congress politicians and favoured civil servants into Raj Bhavans if their record does not qualify them for the office, they can undermine the party's own credible authority by their presence in the state. Through the decades, governments at the Centre have eroded the office of governor through blatant partisanship sometimes as reward for services rendered, other times to safely remove someone from the political fray. Decades ago, the Sarkaria report on Centre-state relations had strongly cautioned against appointing politicians as governors, and recommended choosing persons who were seen to be minimally involved in the political skirmish.
This destructive Congress tradition has, of course, been enthusiastically taken up by other dispensations, even those professedly committed to federalism. Now, as it hunts for Tiwari's successor, the Congress would do well to remember that trust and credibility are supremely important in politics the X factor that decides how political actions will be interpreted. No matter how sound their policy record or organisational skill, politicians are publicly evaluated through this gut-level trust. At this delicate juncture in Andhra Pradesh's politics, the Congress can't afford to squander any more of that credibility by falling back on the bad old ways. With Andhra Pradesh's legislature and state government continuing to be divided down the line on regional considerations, and with the chief minister unable to assert himself as an impartial and authoritative broker, this is one time when the presence of a constitutional functionary seen to be outside of the fray as the governor is is critical. Tiwari's successor must be someone who can establish herself or himself as an honest broker.
There is a mindset change taking place in India's negotiating stance on critical global issues, whether it pertains to climate change, world trade or the attempt to evolve a new financial architecture under the aegis of the G-20 group of nations. The Indian position on all these issues is increasingly being informed by bilateral and regional considerations rather than the ideal of multilateralism. At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, one might even suggest that the world is currently witnessing the death of multilateralism at various levels. This phenomenon is creating completely new equations between the current and some emerging economic powers, giving a further boost to bilateralism. The dynamics of this process are very interesting, and are rooted in certain objective realities on the ground.
At the heart of this process is the growing paranoia in the United States that it is fast losing ground as a global economic leader. Some of the top US think tanks in recent months have ranked the decline of the American dollar as a much bigger threat than Islamist terror being incubated by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in this part of the world. This fear was well articulated in a year-end television debate conducted by the US business channel CNBC, in which some of the leading American CEOs and Obama advisors spoke candidly about the threats to their nation as an economic power.
Most telling was a comment by Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, America's most valued company with a footprint in every part of the world. Immelt's New Year message to Americans was that they must get off their butts, stop being lazy and start producing more goods and services and export to the rest of the world, if the nation is to survive as a leading economic power. "Why are America's total exports just 7 per cent of its GDP whereas Germany's is 40 per cent? We have to do something about this. I see myself as a paranoid hustler who is trying to go to every nook and corner of the world trying to sell GE products," he said. He even suggested that Americans must work hard first before complaining about American jobs being outsourced to China and India.
Immelt's self-description as a "paranoid hustler" struck me as most telling. Is this America's new way of looking at itself? It is important for students of global trade and diplomacy to go deeper into this new self-characterisation by the head of the largest global multinational company. Some of these characteristics can be seen in the strategies adopted by the US in the climate change negotiations at Copenhagen.
And if you try to analyse this new approach being evolved by the US at various global platforms, it will become clear why the world is gradually moving away from multilateralism. For instance, it was pretty evident even before the start of the Copenhagen summit that the US was interested in doing bilateral deals with emerging economies like China, India and Brazil. The reason is simple: green investments in energy and infrastructure will be of the order of $33 trillion by 2030, according to an estimate by the UK. Over 70 per cent of these investments will naturally happen in China, India and a few emerging economies where over a billion poor people will start consuming electricity to run their basic home appliances and transport over the next decade. It is only logical to expect America to "hustle" for such a massive chunk of business, with a substantial green component.
So a hustling America will get impatient and want to strike bilateral deals with the BASIC (China, India, Brazil, South Africa) bloc of nations. On a purchase power parity basis China and India alone will add over $7 trillion to their GDPs in the next five to seven years. The US will surely want to get a big piece of this cake.
The BASIC countries must also respond to the US as they have much to gain as their negotiation this time will be from a position of relative strength. The fundamental change that has occurred is some of the paranoia that developing economies suffered from a decade ago has got transferred to the US! Barack Obama's visit to China recently showed how much leverage China has over America, post the global financial crises and the recession in the West.
Multilateralism is also dying because some emerging economies, especially among the BASIC bloc, are growing in a non-linear trajectory whereas the OECD bloc will most likely witness linear GDP growth (1 to 2 per cent average). On a purchase power parity basis the share of the bigger emerging economies may easily touch 60 to 65 per cent of global output a decade from now.
So it makes eminent sense for the US or even the European Union to focus their attention on just a few fast growing, high population/ big market size economies to do bilateral deals, whether it is on climate change or global trade. The reason why America encouraged the formation of G-20 was precisely that it wanted to deal with a group of nations that are seen as emerging economic powers.
Multilateralism had far more relevance in the past when the US and EU needed to get some 100 small and fragmented economies to sit around a table to build a consensus on one issue or the other. Increasingly, given the rapid and non-linear change in the relative size of various emerging economies, the West finds it easier to deal with just a few nations. This approach will get more legitimised in the years ahead.
This is not a totally unlikely scenario; in the years ahead the US and EU might seriously attempt free trade agreements on goods and services with India and China. If that happens, there will be no need for WTO!
The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express'
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
C. RAJA MOHAN
The most significant aspect of the Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's visit to India this week lies in the fact that it's taking place. In charge of Japan's destiny at a critical juncture since the end of World War II, Hatoyama could well have deferred on Tokyo's obligation to hold annual summits with Delhi.
Seeking a bold regime change in Japan, Hatoyama has put himself in the middle of many simultaneous battles at home: to win support for the first budget of his government; tame the power of the all-powerful bureaucracy, redefine the terms of the post-war alliance with the United States, and hold together a volatile political coalition that ousted last August the Liberal Democratic Party from power after decades of near uninterrupted rule.
Yet, Hatoyama has chosen to travel to India and signal the continued political commitment of the new Japanese government to the strategic partnership with Delhi. It is India's turn then to roll out the red carpet for Hatoyama and find ways to work with him in building another Asia that is in tune with the Japanese and Indian aspirations.
Since 2005, the Indian and Japanese prime ministers have been visiting each other's capitals every year. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travelled to Tokyo at the end of 2006 and 2008; and Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe came to India in 2005 and 2007. This sustained high-level contact during the last few years has helped impart momentum to one of the most underdeveloped relations among Asia's major powers.
It might be tempting for Delhi to focus on a laundry list that presents itself during Hatoyama's visit finalise the framework for Tokyo's financing of the Delhi-Mumbai freight and industrial corridors; push forward the bilateral talks on trade liberalisation; deepen political and security cooperation; and work together to stabilise Afghanistan, promote global nuclear arms control, and mitigate climate change.
All these are important issues that Delhi and Tokyo must address. If Dr Singh limits himself to the routine, he will miss a major opportunity to transform the quality of Delhi's political conversation with Tokyo. Dr Singh, instead, must unambiguously frame, in private and in public, three important Indian propositions on the great changes that Japan is contemplating today.
One, it is certainly not India's business to tell Japan how to reorganise the relations between its different political institutions at home or rework the premises of its foreign policy. What Delhi needs to signal at this moment is strong political empathy with the Japanese people as they navigate an extraordinary transition.
Two, there is a profound anxiety in Tokyo as the Japanese population ages, its economy stagnates, and Beijing overtakes it as the number one power in Asia. India must publicly express its confidence in the resilience of the Japanese people and their ability to overcome the current difficulties.
For all its troubles, Japan will remain one of the world's largest economies for a long time to come. Japan's reputation as a leading centre of technological innovation in the world too is unlikely to be contested in the near future.
Third, India must affirm that a strong Japan exercising a leading role in Asia is welcome. Unlike many other Asian countries in Asia, India has not sought unending apologies from Japan for its imperial past. More than 60 years after World War II, it is time that Asia looked to the future than the past.
During Hatoyama's visit, Delhi must strongly endorse the essence of his main foreign policy initiative to build an Asian economic and political community. Given the widespread questions on how exactly Tokyo's new rulers want to go about the task of integrating Asia, especially in the US and China, Delhi would be all ears. From the Indian perspective, Dr Singh would surely underline the convergence of interests with Japan in promoting an open and inclusive economic and security architecture for a multipolar Asia.
As India and Japan find ways to work together to secure the future of Asia, whose tectonic plates are rumbling ominously, they might want to commemorate the vision of two men who were the first to promote the notion of Asian unity.
One was Rabindranath Tagore and the other was Japanese art curator Okakura Kakuzo, whose interaction in the early years of the last century laid the foundation for the intellectual construction of modern Asia.
As it happens, their 150th birth anniversaries fall in 2011 and 2012 respectively. What better way is there for Dr Singh and Hatoyama to affirm their shared commitment to build a new Asia than establish a joint research institute on Asian affairs that is named after these two gentlemen?
The writer is the Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress, Washington DC
As this decade ends and predictions fly on the "big event" of the next one, here's a question you're unlikely to read elsewhere. What will the next decade's Shah Bano be? The reference being to the 1985 Supreme Court decision to apply criminal law to provide maintenance to a divorced Muslim woman, even at the cost of reinterpreting Shariah. The court judgment (a) weighed into a political hot potato; (b) becoming a rallying point for upholders and critics of "secularism", and c) had clear political consequences, even if it wasn't a landmark legal precedent. To reframe the question in American-lingo: what will our next "Roe v. Wade" be?
Such predictions are speculative. Your guess is as good as mine. But one way to bring validity to such whim is to map past winners and formulate trends. So, first, the biggest political court judgments of the past three decades.
The Supreme Court's iconic intervention in the 2000s was on the Gujarat riots. In response to allegations of state complicity into the 2002 riots, the Supreme Court created a special team to investigate crimes, transferred cases out of Gujarat, and closely monitored justice delivery. Its unambiguous message: that Narendra Modi, "a modern day Nero", was being watched. Vying for second place is the 2009 Delhi High Court judgment decriminalising homosexuality. Though the case is technically not yet a Supreme Court one and the political impact has been peripheral, the judgment has the potential to alter the lives of an estimated 23 lakh gay Indians.
The winner of the 1990s, without question, is the 1993 Indira Sawhney case, popularly known as "Mandal I". While backward class reservations have been implemented in some Indian states since Independence, Prime Minister V.P. Singh's executive order reserving seats for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in Central government jobs created a hailstorm. The Supreme Court's approval of OBC reservations, while limiting all reservations to 50 per cent and excluding rich OBCs from quota benefits ("creamy layer exclusion"), has set the political paradigm for caste-based reservations since. The S.R. Bommai judgment on limiting the misuse of article 356 was arguably more legally-engaging, but it lacked the street demonstrations that Mandal I provoked. On the other hand, "Mandir" (Ayodhya) was probably a hotter political issue in the 1990s, but it lacked the court intervention to beat Mandal I to the top of the '90s list.
The 1980s of course was Shah Bano; a classic case of a Supreme Court taking sides in a culture war. Following protests from the Muslim clergy, the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi backpedaled with a law to annul the Supreme Court verdict.
The repercussions have continued since his attempt to "balance" constituencies by opening the Babri Masjid for Hindu prayer set the tone for its eventual destruction.
Now to the future. What will the next decade's defining political judgment be?
Several options are possible. For one, the Supreme Court is currently hearing cases that reevaluate our medical-ethics, such as on surrogacy. These issues redefine how we perceive ourselves, question "who are we". But whichever way the court turns, mass protests and political opportunisms are unlikely to result. There are then, the caste questions: either reservations in the private sector or a mandatory caste census. But these might not come up before court, and if they do, the court might well rely on the Mandal I paradigm. There is also Ayodhya. If the courts finally pronounce on the property "title" of the Babri Masjid/Ram Janma Bhoomi land in the next ten years, there will surely be political repercussions. But is there enough life in the Ayodhya embers? If the damp reaction to the Liberhan Commission Report is any indication, the answer seems no.
More likely is the possibility that the courts will pronounce on the complex triangle that tribal rights-mining-Naxalism is. These unresolved legal issues are spilling over to the socio-political arena. The absence of effective mining regulation corrupts the politics of the tribal belt across Eastern India, not to mention Karnataka. The question of tribal rights also has important repercussions on Naxalism. If the court were to pronounce on this question in some way (it's difficult to predict the exact jurisprudence), the case may well have a lasting impact on Indian polity.
My own hope though, is for a different kind of defining judgment.
The last couple of years have seen the higher judiciary questioned in unprecedented ways. In the spot light is the opaque judge selection system (the Supreme Court self-selects), archaic exit system (impeachment is so hard, it hasn't ever been successful) and scary contempt provisions (truth is not a defence). Given the murmurs within the judiciary and public questioning without, our apex court's defining judgment in the coming decade might well be on itself. It might introspect, acquiesce to a more transparent selection system, and agree to the outside scrutiny of judges. Simultaneously, its energies might turn elsewhere: to its administrative responsibilities to clear a backlog of over 30 million cases throughout the judicial system (though, to be fair, the Supreme Court itself has a backlog of only around 50,000 cases).
There is some irony in the world's most powerful court presiding over such a lengthy backlog. Perhaps the Supreme Court's defining action in the coming decade won't be a landmark case that redefines politics. It will be to redefine its power and reduce its backlog. Now isn't that some prediction to make?
TALKING ABOUT A REVOLUTION
When the debate on the outcome of the Copenhagen climate conference took place in the Rajya Sabha, the Opposition charged the government with having slid back from the earlier commitment made to Parliament, and said that the country's sovereignty had been compromised.
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh admitted that India had deviated from its original stand on verification of emission mitigation actions, but asserted that this would not affect India's sovereignty. Responding to the charge that rich nations had been allowed to move away from Kyoto Protocol obligations, the minister explained that India, having tied up with BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), had to go by the consensus while dealing with the US. He pointed out that while President Obama came with four words: review or scrutiny or verification or assessment, the BASIC group's position was "consultation and analysis within clearly laid guidelines that would not affect national sovereignty." The minister also clarified that it had been China, not India, which was the point of concern and whose verification reporting had been
questioned by the international community.
Both the debate and the media commentary around Copenhagen failed to pay attention to the following passage from the joint statement of the prime minister and the US president after their Washington summit.
"Recognising that energy security, food security, climate change are interlinked, and that eliminating poverty and ensuring sustainable development and a clean energy future are among the foremost global objectives, the two leaders agreed to enter into a Green Partnership to address these global challenges. The two leaders affirmed their intention to promote the full, effective and sustained implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in accordance with the Bali Action Plan. Recognising their special role in promoting a successful and substantive outcome at the UNFCC 15th Conference of Parties at Copenhagen in December 2009, they reaffirmed their intention to work together bilaterally and with all other countries for an agreed outcome at that meeting.
The two leaders also affirmed that the Copenhagen outcome must be comprehensive and cover mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology, and in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, it should reflect emission reduction targets of developed countries and nationally appropriate mitigation actions of developing countries.
There should be full transparency through appropriate processes as to the implementation of aforesaid mitigation actions. The outcome should further reflect the need for substantially scaled-up financial resources to support mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, in particular, for the poorest and most vulnerable. It should also include measures for promoting technology development, dissemination and transfer and capacity building, including consideration of a centre or a network of centres to support and stimulate climate innovation.
India and the US, consistent with their national circumstances, resolved to take significant national mitigation actions that will strengthen the world's ability to combat climate change.
Recognising the need to create the clean energy economy of the 21st century, Prime Minister Singh and President Obama decided to launch a Clean Energy and Climate Change Initiative. The goal would be to improve the lives of the people of both countries by developing and improving access to technologies that make our energy cleaner, affordable and more efficient. The initiative will include cooperation in wind and solar energy, second generation bio-fuels, unconventional gas, energy efficiency, and clean-coal technologies including carbon capture and storage. The success of this initiative is expected to enhance the ability of India and the US to provide new economic opportunities for their people and create new clean energy jobs."
The two leaders had already agreed that the Copenhagen outcome should reflect emission reduction targets of developed countries and the nationally appropriate mitigation actions of developing countries. They further said that there should be full transparency through appropriate processes as to the implementation of the aforesaid mitigation actions. It is obvious that even in the Washington summit, the need for transparency of mitigation actions of large developing emitters of greenhouse gases was a matter of mutual concern for India and the US. China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases today
It should be noted that during the summit, Manmohan Singh and Obama have envisaged a partnership between India and US not only in dealing with the development of an international agreement on climate change but in launching a Clean Energy and Climate Change Initiative, the success of which will provide new economic opportunities for their people and create new clean energy jobs. Ultimately the global response to climate change has to be in terms of new technologies for clean energy generation.
In fact it calls for a new industrial revolution, far more extensive and lifestyle-altering than the information revolution.
When he was still a presidential candidate, Barack Obama wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on September 23, 2008, saying that we "should be working hand-in-hand to tap into the creativity and dynamism of our entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists to promote development of alternative sources of clean energy. Imagine our two democracies in action: Indian laboratories and industry collaborating with American laboratories and industry to discover innovative solutions to today's energy problems. That is the kind of new partnership I would like to build with India as President."
This new industrial revolution in response to climate change can ensure that the US retains its technological pre-eminence for a long time to come, and partnership between India and the US can provide us the same opportunity for rapid growth as US partnership with China did in the eighties and nineties with respect to consumer goods.
Some new thinking is called for on climate change. There has been, perhaps a justifiable trend so far to look at it as a North-South issue. Tears are being shed for our parting company with the group of 77 and our being a part of the six power summit which finalised the Copenhagen accord. But as Thomas Friedman has pointed out in The New York Times, what is called for today is an R&D race for clean energy. This is an opportunity for India. We should be thinking about what a partnership with the US offers instead of bewailing past wrongs That hundred billion dollars being promised will come from the new industrial surge arising out of the race for clean energy. Will India join this industrial revolution or allow it to pass by?
The writer is a senior defence analyst
The greatest gap between Western and Russian thinking today may not be on Afghanistan or Iran. It may well be on Europe. The first signs of the unraveling of the European security system built after the Cold War are evident.
Almost unnoticed, Moscow last month proposed a new draft treaty on European security thus making good on President Dmitry Medvedev's call after the Russo-Georgian war of August 2008 for changes to the current system. In parallel, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov brought forward a second and more worrying document in the NATO-Russia Council. This is the latest in a series of Russian moves to alter how European security is run, to constrain NATO and, above all, to stop any further enlargement of the Western alliance.
Both documents suggest that we are on different planets when it comes to thinking about Europe's future. Rather than moving into the 21st century, a revisionist Russia seems determined to revert to a 19th-century policy of "spheres of influence." With the Obama administration understandably focused on the war in Afghanistan and the looming challenge of Iran, Moscow may hope that a West in need of Russian cooperation on these issues could be willing to acquiesce to Russian claims of such influence on its borders, allowing it to stop further encroachment of Western institutions.
The Charter of Paris for a New Europe in 1990, and the Istanbul Charter for European Security in 1999, were supposed to establish a kind of "bill of rights" designed to create the political foundation for a post-Cold War peace. These rules rejected spheres of influence, recognised the right of all countries to equal security and to choose their own alliances as part of a new cooperative security structure. Moscow agreed to the rules at a time when it, too, wanted to shed its imperial past and join an enlarging Western community. But as the pro-Western drive in Russia waned and the imperial impulse began to return in the late 1990s, Moscow concluded that these rules were encouraging Western enlargement at its expense. I saw this thinking firsthand as a US negotiator for the Istanbul Charter of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. At a dinner with my Russian counterpart in 1999, I explained our concept of strengthening a universal set of norms and rules covering the entire OSCE area, including Russia. But the deputy foreign minister drew a line through my sketch of Europe and claimed: "That is your half and this is ours. And the problem is that yours is getting bigger."
Today these charters are dead letters in Moscow's eyes. Russians are almost unanimous in their belief that the West exploited the rules to expand its sphere of influence. But the enlargement of NATO and the European Union were not some geopolitical gambit by the West to humiliate Russia.
Let's remember why those clauses are in the Charter of Paris. Europe's bloody history illustrated that spheres of influence do not produce real security, that compelling nations to align with countries against their will is a recipe for conflict and that changing borders by force only sows the seeds for future conflicts. We wrote those clauses to protect small states from the predatory behaviour of more powerful ones. We were convinced that democratic integration was the best foundation for future peace on the continent.
President Obama is right to try to "reset" relations with Moscow. Dealing with a revisionist Russia requires engagement. But we must first be clear about which Russian interests we consider legitimate and which we do not. Moscow has a right to equal security and to ensure that no new threat appears on its borders. It does not have the right to interfere in the affairs of its neighbours, to seek to topple their governments or to deny their foreign policy aspirations. On those issues our position must also be clear. Resetting relations with Moscow must include the Kremlin returning to the principles of the Charter of Paris.
The writer was deputy assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration.
ANYBODY SEEN PATI?
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
If anybody knows Pati Castillo in Houston, please tell her to phone home. Pati is a 30-year-old Honduran whose children and other family members live in a gang-ridden slum here in the Honduran capital. Her mother, tearing up, says that nobody has heard from Pati in two months. Pati's cellphone number never answers.
This family's troubles offer a reminder that the most grievous victims of the global economic crisis triggered in large part by American banking excesses aren't just Americans. They include residents of slums and villages in places like Haiti, Honduras and El Salvador people who had nothing to do with derivatives or subprime mortgages.
The United Nations calculates that because of the economic crisis and continuing high food prices, the number of people going hungry around the world has risen to about one billion. Often, they include the 13 members of Pati's family here.
The family members, including Pati's four children, live in a one-room home on a steep hillside in the El Pastel slum. When I arrived a week ago, gang members were selling drugs on the street. And when I left, a boy was sniffing glue outside. Gang members have set up checkpoints and demand payment of a "war tax" to pass.
(A local priest, the Rev. Augustín Vásquez, escorted me in and glared his way through one gang checkpoint. "You ask money from a priest?" he asked indignantly. And he charged on through. Final score: God, 1; gangsters, 0.)
Pati's mother, Iris, has a job at a music school that brings in about $100 a month, after commuting expenses. But that isn't enough to keep everyone fed and clothed. So three years ago, Pati decided to sacrifice for her children's future: She set out across Central America and Mexico for the United States.
After what her mother described as a brutal journey, Pati reached Houston. She found a job as a waitress in a restaurant there and shared a cheap apartment with several other Central American women. Every month, her mom said, she sent home $200 through Western Union.
With this regular windfall, the Castillo family began to live a better life and overextended themselves. They bought a stove and refrigerator on an installment plan, assuming that Pati's money transfers would continue indefinitely. "That was a big mistake," Iris admits ruefully.
Then the economic crisis hit, and jobs began to disappear worldwide. Honduran, Salvadoran and Mexican garment factories that export to the American markets were crushed. Remittances, which amounted to about 22 per cent of the Honduran economy, tumbled.
Pati lost her job in June. As an illegal immigrant, she found it impossible to find a new one, so she stopped wiring money home. "My daughter decided she will probably have to come back by herself," Iris explained.
The last anybody heard from Pati was two months ago. Maybe she couldn't afford her cellphone anymore; maybe she is en route back home; or maybe desperation pushed her to try something unsavoury and to take risks although her mom doesn't believe that. "She's well brought up," Iris said. "I don't think that she would do anything bad."
In the meantime, the Castillos are adjusting to a two-thirds drop in family income. They are bracing themselves for their stove and refrigerator to be repossessed, and they have cut back sharply on food. The adults and older kids get just beans and rice; only Pati's baby niece gets milk; and the younger children get a few eggs for protein.
"Sometimes the kids go hungry, but I work as hard as I can to prevent that," Iris said grimly.
Father Vásquez confirmed the Castillos' story and said it is common since the fall in remittances and the
collapse in the economy (in Honduras's case, greatly aggravated by political instability after a coup last summer). "The recession in the US is felt at a grass-roots level here," he said. "I see a lot of kids who don't get breakfast now before going to school." Many children cope, he said, by sniffing glue.
Similar dramas are playing out in slums and villages around the world. In Haiti, I've seen a school nearly emptied of children because remittances stopped coming from relatives in Miami.
"One-sixth of the people on earth are hungry," said Josette Sheeran, director of the United Nations World Food Program. "We're seeing epidemics of child malnutrition." Ms Sheeran notes that evidence has mounted that babies who are malnourished in their first two years of life are likely to suffer lifelong intellectual impairments that later feeding can never overcome.
Yet just as global needs are surging, the crisis is causing a faltering in the commitment to help.
So, Pati, wherever you are, good luck finding a job and call home. Your family, and so many others, need comfort and help.
GOVERNMENT OWNED, BUT COMPETITIVE
After announcing ambitious plans to divest government stakes in public sector undertakings (PSUs), the government has taken another step to accord more freedom to PSUs. The creation of a new category of high-performing PSUsMaharatnasthat will be allowed more freedom to operate without obtaining permission from the government is a good move. In particular, PSUs in the Maharatna category will have more freedom to expand overseas, through investments, mergers & acquisitions and joint ventures. Foreign investments up to Rs 5,000 crore will not require prior clearance from the government. For the moment, 18 Navratna PSUs are allowed to invest only up to Rs 1,000 crore overseas without prior approval from the Cabinet. The criteria laid down to qualify as a Maharatna is fairly stringentan average annual turnover of Rs 25,000 crore, net profit after tax of Rs 5,000 crore and net worth of Rs 15,000 crore over the last three years. This ends up allowing only three PSUs to make the gradeONGC, NTPC and SAIL. Still, one can immediately see how even just these three firms can benefit from the government's move. SAIL chairman SK Roongta told FE that this will help his firm acquire sources of raw material abroad. ONGC has been one of the few PSUs that have been looking abroad for a while now.
There are, of course, two major problems of government control over PSUsone is, of course, the milking of PSUs as sources of patronage. The second is the complicated and time-consuming process of obtaining permission. In a globalised economy, firms, whether government-owned or not, need to make quick decisions if they are to be competitive. So, while disinvestment will proceed slowlyit will take a while before government reduced its stakes well below the 50% markPSUs need to be given more management freedom in the interim. Seen in that context, granting some additional freedom to three PSUs isn't a landmark achievement. More firms need similar freedoms. It's possible that setting a high bar to obtain Maharatna status will drive other PSUs to reach the qualification markit could act as an incentive for at least the Navratnas. But will parent ministries give enough space and freedom for the Navratnas to scale up to Maharatnas and for non-Navratnas to scale up to Navratnas? We certainly hope so. At least the UPA, in its second avatar, has signalled clear intent to change the way PSUs function.
We will, in another few weeks, be upon another budget session. The discussion will inevitably be dominated by the tax measures finance minister Pranab Mukherjee will be planning. Despite the government's clearly enunciated plan to remove discretion from tax, there are plenty of sceptics around, who are not convinced. They feel that the budget this time will again be used as a stage to push through exemptions and exceptions. This government has a wonderful opportunity to prove the sceptics wrong this budget season. Shorn of discretion, the tax planning regime will become far more stable and it will be a regime that extends time horizons beyond the usual one year. While considering removing discretion from taxation, the government also needs to look at the other side of the balance sheet. The expenditure budget of the government has always been a piecemeal affair. And as of now, the expenditure budget of the government accounts for almost 17% of India's GDP, at above Rs 10,00,000 crore. This is a massive sum, which receives interest even in policy circles only in parts. Yet if the flexibility of the government to constantly tweak tax laws comes to an end, each finance minister will have to concentrate on the expenditure side.
Just as we have built up a tax code to guide revenues, there should be an expenditure code, too. At the moment, there are only rules to control overall spending, beginning with the existing fiscal responsibility Act that put limits on fiscal and revenue deficits. There are also manuals within each department that guide public servants on how to account for each rupee. But they do not give any yardstick to judge the usefulness of the expenditure. The two efforts to address this launched by the government were zero-based budgeting and outcome budget to fill in this gap. Both were the brainchildren of two former finance ministers and were possibly jettisoned because of those connections, as soon as new finance ministers took office. This is unfortunate, indeed. The new governments, therefore, begin from scratch. Moreover, in each initiative the plans were restricted to some sectors of government functioning. In this entire start-stop process, what have emerged are a series of contradictory instructions that have raised the workload for expenditure management cells in the ministries. A code to guide the government on how it should spend money is therefore badly needed now.
TEMPER THE ENTHUSIASM ON CHINA
One of the remarkable results of the crisis has been the rebalancing of global forces from the West to the East or from the North to the South if you like. China has emerged not only as a major economy that has taken the lead in reflation, but also a pivotal nation in global negotiations. Thus we now hear of the G2, be it at Copenhagen or in G-20. China is no longer an 'emerging' economy. It has jumped straight to the top.
It is a risky thing to do but I wish to express some doubt on the China mania. If you extrapolate the recent growth rate for ever in the future then China will indeed take over the US sooner or later. But the world does not run on such smooth lines. That is the least the crisis should teach us. We should recall the way in which Japan was extrapolated during 1970s and 1980s as a miracle economy that was going to bypass the US. Japan seemed to have the winning formula with plenty of savings and a ministrythe Ministry of International Trade and Industrywhich harnessed the energies of businessmen and bureaucrats to chart out future innovations. The giant namesSony, Mitsui, Mitsubishi seemed unbeatable. The US looked tired and soon Paul Kennedy, the famous historian, was talking about the decline of American power.
But the 1980s already contained the seeds of American revival. The Silicon Valley proved to be the winning private sector venture capital solution to America's future. Japan was to deliver the fourth generation of computers but Bill Gates beat them to it. The Japanese banks could not handle the full liberalisation of globalisation. Japan proved that it could not handle change, which it had not anticipated. It spent the next 10 years in a recession.
China shows many of the same signs. Its growth is mainly due to the harnessing of larger inputs, not so much due to technological change. Just as the USSR grew exhausted when it had used up its surplus labour, China risks the same future.
My favourite number is the Incremental Capital Output Ratio (ICOR) for China. China saves around 50% of its income and receives around 5% of FDI. It manages a 10-11% growth rate. This implies an ICOR of about 5 or 5-plus. India's ICOR is around 4 to 4.5. In the latest reflation, China has again chosen the highly capital-intensive infrastructure sector to revive the economy. Yet again much capital is being deployed for not much growth rate.
China creates infrastructure ahead of demand and thus there is an oversupply. The implied rate of return must be pretty low, at least initially. This capital could have been deployed for domestic consumption or even needs like healthcare. But China cannot deviate from its chosen path of exports or infrastructure. The consumer sector is riddled with market uncertainty, and traders have to take risks. The Chinese planner is risk averse. The contrast with India is marked. India is niggardly with infrastructure, whose supply lags behind demand by years. But it is very keen on consumer demand as a driving force.
There are now reports that China has generated much excess capacity in steel and cement and other investment goods. The closing down of Tata's Corus plant in Northeast England recently is a sign that steel price will collapse very soon and spread an industry-specific recession in steel. There has been an oversupply of credit and China faces the tough task of unwinding a lot of credit-fuelled asset creation.
It is quite possible that China may yet find its way out of this crisis and its own path of reflation without any mishaps. It may be that these signs of excess capacity in industries and oversupply of credit may yet be unwound with a soft landing. But doubt remains on two scores. First is the unwillingness of China's policymakers to free the RMB, which in turn implies their reluctance to shift the emphasis to domestic consumers away from investment goods industries. I say unwillingness because I do not wish to say inability. Yet China's macroeconomic policy remains clumsy.
The second danger is the lack of innovations. China has not put its name to any notable new products or processes. Every growth spurt in the past that has been lacking such Total Factor Productivity Growth has run out of steam. I very much think that China may join the league. Again I could be wrong, but now and then it is good to look beyond exponential growth paths.
The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer
HOW THE GOVERNMENT SPENT THE YEAR
At first glance the most recent numbers on central finances are reassuring with overall performance broadly in line with the budget estimates, as pointed out in the Mid-Year Review of the Economy. But a closer look at the more detailed ministry-wise spending patterns show some very disconcerting trends. For one there is a sharp disparity in the share of budget allocations spent by the different ministries. And what is worse is that the expenditure of some of the major ministries, where there is a large subsidy component, has far exceeded the norms, while those of the many other economic ministries, that play a pivotal role in boosting the long-term growth prospects, are way below par.
Leading the list of the big spenders is the ministry of consumer affairs, food & public distribution, which has already spent 84% of its budget allocation in the first seven months of the fiscal. This is on account of the huge expenditure incurred by the department of food & public distribution, which had already spent Rs 45,076 crore of the Rs 53,262 crore allocated in the budget. The primary reason is the large procurement and demand for PDS grain, which will ensure that the food subsidy Bill significantly exceeds the budget allocation of Rs 52,489 crore.
The second biggest spender is the ministry of communication & information technology, which spent as much as 78% of the annual budget allocations during April-October 2009-10. And both the department of posts and the department of telecommunications have spent heavily. The worst-case scenario was in the department of posts, where the cost of running the unviable postal system has ensured that the department has already spent 98.8% of its entire budget allocation of Rs 6,021 crore. The spending of the department of telecommunication was only slightly lower at 80%.
The other major spender was the ministry of chemicals & fertilisers, which doles out the fertiliser subsidy. Numbers for the first six months of the fiscal show that the ministry has spent close to three-fourths of its budget allocations. The government effort to roll back fertiliser subsidies by reducing the spending from Rs 75,849 crore in 2008-09 to Rs 49,980 crore in 2009-10 budget estimates has obviously not been backed with matching measures to bring down subsidy payouts.
A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that if the past trends continue through the rest of the year, the spending of these three ministries alone would exceed the annual budget projections by Rs 41,684 crore, which would mean that their actual expenditure can exceed annual budget allocations by more than a third. And apart from these major three, there are another eight ministries that have already spent 64-75% of the budget allocations in April-October. These are ministries of labour & employment (75%), textiles (67%), law & justice (66%), civil aviation (66%), science & technology (65%), personnel, public grievance & pensions (65%), mines (64%), and women & child development (61%), all of which have spent more than the pro rata share of 58%.
Equally, if not even more, disturbing is the slow pace of spending by other ministries that play a significant role in improving economic and social infrastructure or in building governance capacity. This is an impressive list that includes ministries of rural development, human development, road transport & highways, power, panchayati raj, petroleum & natural gas, micro, small and medium enterprises, development of north eastern region, housing & urban poverty alleviation, heavy industry & public enterprises, and new & renewable energy.
Expenditure in these ministries during April-October 2009-10 was less than 50%. Apart from these there were another 14-odd ministries who spent less than half their budget allocation in the first seven months of the year.
Topping this list is the ministry of heavy industry, with jurisdiction over many important public sector units, which has spent only 11% of its annual budget allocation of Rs 829 crore. The ministry of housing & urban poverty alleviation was another major laggard, spending only 16% of its annual budget outlay of Rs 858 crore. Similarly, ministry of panchayati raj could also make only limited headway so far, spending just about a quarter of its annual budget outlay of Rs 4,781 crore.
But more distressing is the slow pace of spending by important infrastructure-related ministries. For instance, the ministry of shipping, which has close to 45% of its annual outlay of Rs 1,756 crore allocated to ports, could spent only 15% of the amount till now. Similarly, the ministry of power has only been able to spend 21% of its allocation of Rs 9,202 crore, even when power deficits in the states remain at fairly high levels.
The list of laggards include other ministries with high visibility and large budgets like the ministries of rural development, HRD, road transport & highways, and petroleum & natural gas, which could only spent 41-48% of their annual budget allocations during April-October 2009-10.
HOW FIRMS RAISED THEIR MONEY IN 2009
Despite the global liquidity crunch and sluggish credit disbursement by banks, corporate India raised Rs 2,58,000 crore from January to November this year. This is a tad lower than Rs 2,61,000 crore that was raised by companies from the primary market during the same period last year.
The most favoured route of fund raising this year was through the Qualified Institutional Placements (QIPs), which was introduced in May 2006. Companies were increasingly using the QIP route to raise funds to fuel growth as transaction costs were lower than that of public issue. According to SMC Capital, from January to November, Indian companies raised Rs 28,726 crore through this route, as compared with just a paltry Rs 2,104 crore during the same period last year.
Besides QIPs, initial public offerings also saw some momentum towards the end of this year. As many as 20 companies raised about Rs 19,000 crore through this route and the pipeline for next year looks impressivefive companies, aiming to raise Rs 307 crore, have already got the clearance from Sebi. Another 44 companies, aiming to raise about Rs 29,000 crore, have filed prospectus and are awaiting clearance from Sebi. However, the IPO market has not taken off at all when compared with 2007.
For rights issue, the lack of confidence among retail investors was a dampener. From January to November this year, companies could raise only Rs 3,626 crore as compared with Rs 29,684 crore during the same period last year. The foreign market also proved attractive for Indian companies to raise funds because of lower interest rates. In fact, ADRs and GDRs have jumped up by more than 29 times from $0.1 billion in January-November 2008 to $3.16 billion in January to November this year. While foreign currency convertible bonds have seen a jump of over 50%, external commercial borrowings saw a dip of 45% as compared to the same period last year, despite the central bank modifying certain norms during the liquidity crisis.
Companies can now take advantage of the liquidity that is in the system and fire power their growth opportunities in 2010.
THE WONDER THAT IS RAJARAJESVARAM
Only a few monuments of global importance have received the kind of attention the Brihadisvara temple at Thanjavur has from historians, archaeologists, artists, dancers, and epigraphists alike. The grandest of South Indian temples, an architectural masterpiece, enters its millennium year in 2010 an occasion to celebrate its importance and contribution to world heritage. The monumental scale, clarity in design, and structural innovations set it apart from all other temples. When Rajaraja I, the illustrious Chola emperor (985-1014 CE), completed the building of the temple in 1010, it far exceeded anything that was built before. The high point of design is the vimana (tower over sanctum). This unusually tall vimana was a structural innovation of the first rank. Designing a 60-metre-tall tower was a great challenge that was ingeniously resolved. For the first time in temple history, a double-walled sanctum that coalesces at the third tier to support the tower was built. On top of good design, the choice of granite contributed to its endurance. About 50,000 cubic metres of granite were utilised to build this complex. This was a stupendous effort considering that there was no granite quarry in the surrounding region.
Debates on the construction of Rajarajesvaram, as the temple was known during the Chola period, remain inconclusive. Stories abound about how a simple linear ramp stretching to a distance of seven kilometres was built and workers dragged the stones to the pinnacle. Alternative versions that suggest the construction of concentric short ramps around the tower are also in circulation. However it was built, there is no disputing the unsurpassable precision of the temple's layout and the perfection of design compliance. The abundant and richly detailed inscriptions found on the temple walls make it a treasure-house of historical information. Various aspects of medieval society and temple management were revealed by assiduously studying these inscriptions. The sensational discovery of Chola frescoes in 1931 in the dark passage around the sanctum, under the light of a 'Baby Petromax,' enhanced the importance of the temple. Seven panels were revealed when later-period paintings hiding them were removed (and safely transferred for conservation elsewhere). Rajarajesvaram's contribution to the history of dance is no less important: it is the only temple to have 81 of the 108 karanas or dance postures carved on its walls. Happily, the conservation efforts within this world heritage site, one of the wonders of the medieval world, are commendable. However, the experience of the diligent heritage-tourist can be enriched if the site museum can be designed better and comprehensive information provided in an accessible manner.
DISQUIETING FALL IN COLLECTIONS
The data on tax collections released recently by the Finance Ministry provide an interesting snapshot of the state of the economy as a whole. During the first eight months of the year (April-November 2009), indirect tax receipts were down 21 per cent from a year ago. On present trends, the budget estimate for all indirect taxes is unlikely to be achieved. Taxes under all the three major heads excise, customs, and services tax have reported significantly lower growth. Customs duties have yielded a little over Rs.52,000 crore, against the budget estimate of Rs.98,000 crore for the whole year. Excise collections at Rs.60,000 crore are 56 per cent of the budget estimate of Rs.1,06,500 crore. Taxes on services are close to the half-way mark but, under all heads, considerable ground will have to be covered in the remaining four months. Even granting that tax collections are generally more robust during the last quarter, there is likely to be a significant shortfall in indirect taxes. The Finance Minister's hope that direct tax collections during the year will offset the decline in indirect taxes is unlikely to materialise. Direct tax receipts during the first eight months are at Rs.1,83,822 crore. If the budget estimate of Rs.3,70,000 crore is to be met, tax collections during the last four months should exceed this figure.
In what is optimistically seen to be the harbinger of things to come, advance tax collections till December have increased by 20 per cent. Buoyancy in this area can be attributed to the rebound in specific sectors rather than broad-based recovery. There is evidence that some companies have cut costs, boosted productivity and rode the downturn better than many others. Economic growth, which during the second half of 2008-09 slipped below 6 per cent, has since been climbing it posted an impressive 7 per cent during April-September. It is likely that the growth rate will be as high as 8 per cent for the whole year. As economic growth becomes more broad-based, tax revenues will certainly pick up. Already, the recovery in exports, reversing a prolonged decline, should augur well for higher customs duty collections. It remains to be seen how the government will balance the need for continuing the economic stimulus provided by way of tax cuts and the need for higher revenue and fiscal consolidation. With major tax reforms on the anvil, it is hoped that the tax system will capture the gains from economic growth more accurately.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
EXHUMING THE TRUTH ON SHOPIAN
POLITICIANS IN KASHMIR WHO SET OFF FIRES AFTER THE DEATH OF TWO WOMEN IN SHOPIAN MUST BE HELD TO ACCOUNT.
Last summer, the bodies of two women were washed ashore on the banks of the Rambiara river in Shopian. Eight people were to die, and some 400 suffer injuries as the embers fanned by the deaths set off fires across urban Kashmir.
For the angry young Islamists who spearheaded the protests, the deaths of the two women were murders murders, moreover, carried out by a predatory Hindu state in its campaign to annihilate Kashmiris.
The body of one of them, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association's investigation recorded witnesses as stating, "was lying half naked on dry sand. Her clothes were torn and hair, clothes and body were dry. Blood was dripping from her nose and it appeared sindoor had been thrown in her forehead."
"During our investigations," association leader G.N. Shaheen said, "we found that the perpetrators belonged to a particular community and they had even vandalised the bodies of the victims." In case anyone had missed the point, Mr. Shaheen added the rapists were "fanatic Hindus."
Now, the Central Bureau of Investigation has filed a charge sheet which rips apart the claims of the secessionist-linked Bar Association, politicians like People's Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti and much of the media. Backed by forensic detective work by the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, the Central Forensic Sciences Laboratory in New Delhi, the Forensic Sciences Laboratory in Madhuban and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, the CBI has concluded that the women were neither raped nor murdered.
Inside the bodies of the victims, AIIMS forensic experts found several pieces of evidence suggesting drowning. Pin-sized petechial haemorrhages were found on the membranes of their lungs and bronchi. Larger patches of Paltauf's haemorrhages bluish-red areas found in the lungs of about half of all drowning victims were also visible. Doctors also discovered accumulations of fluid within the alveoli, suggesting pulmonary oedema, another sign of drowning.
None of the findings in themselves was conclusive. So, experts at the Central Forensic Science Laboratory in New Delhi and the Forensic Sciences Laboratory at Madhuban proceeded to conduct tests which matched the soil recovered from the victims' lungs with the earth in the Rambiara. Further tests showed that diatoms a kind of eukaryotic algae inside the victims' lungs were similar to those found among some organisms in the river. During autopsy, the doctors also recovered small insects from the victims' lungs. Experts at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute identified the insects as silverfish small, wingless creatures commonly found under the bark of trees, under rocks, in rotten logs and among leaf litter.
But the finding that the victims were drowned did not rule out the possibility of murder or rape. The AIIMS evidence shot down the first possibility in short order. The body of one victim did indeed have a lacerated wound in the forehead, likely caused by hitting against a hard surface but the forensic examiners believed it was "not sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course." There were no external ante-mortal injuries on the other victim.
No evidence of rape, the experts stated, emerged either. The hymen of one of the victims was found intact. Four Shopian hospital staff members Javed Iqbal Malik, Tariq Ahmad Tantrey, Mohammad Ismail Sheikh and Mohammad Ismail Sodagar corroborated the findings, telling the CBI that there were no injuries on the private parts of the victims. Their clothes, six other witnesses told the CBI, were also intact at the time the bodies were found.
How could the AIIMS findings be so different from that of two separate teams of doctors who carried out earlier autopsies? Breathtaking incompetence may have played a role. Shopian doctors Bilal Hassan and Nazia Hassan ruled out drowning as a cause of death, claiming to have carried out a flotation test using samples of lung tissue from a victim. In fact, the AIIMS team determined, the tissue was from the heart.
Moreover, the lung flotation test has long been known to be less-than-conclusive proof of drowning especially in fresh water, which has a lower density than salt water. Janson Payne-James, Anthony Busuttil and William S. Smock's Forensic Medicine: Clinical and Pathological Aspects explains that the test rests on the fact that lung weights are usually higher in people who were drowned. But "a normal weight is possible in some drowning cases." The more sophisticated tests conducted by the CBI experts were either unavailable or unknown to the Shopian doctors.
Nighat Shaheen, Ghulam Qadir Sofi and Maqbool Mir, who made up the second autopsy team, are also charged by the CBI with fabricating evidence. The team insisted that a victim's hymen was damaged an assertion the AIIMS experts' videotaped autopsy debunks. Evidence that Dr. Shaheen had fabricated evidence, first reported in The Hindu, also figured in the CBI investigation. She claimed to have taken vaginal swabs from the victims, but later tests revealed that they had in fact been lifted from unconnected women. The CBI claims that Dr. Shaheen offered them three contradictory accounts of how this had come about including a claim, now disproved, that she had supplied a vaginal swab from her own body under duress.
The CBI investigators were unable to arrive at a precise determination of just how the women were drowned. Human rights groups who have investigated the case say water in the Rambiara was just ankle-deep.
But official records gathered by the CBI show that the river was flowing at its year-high flood, 228 cubic feet per second, just days before the women's death. There is, of course, no direct relationship between the flow of water in the river and its depth. However, the CBI discovered multiple witness testimonies suggesting that the river was indeed flowing at dangerous levels the most important being a videotaped media interview given by the husband of one of the victims the day after her death. He asserted that the water level in the river was so high that "even a man could not have crossed it." Independent witnesses, the CBI states, corroborated this claim, with one adding it was also the opinion of the victim's family. They also noted that two separate witnesses earlier said the victims had froth around the nose, a classic sign of drowning.
Efforts to link police personnel to the crime went nowhere. Much of the case rested on the testimony of Ghulam Mohaiuddin Lone and Abdul Rashid Pampori, who claimed to have heard the women crying for help from inside a police vehicle parked on the Zawoora Bridge. However, the CBI noted, their testimony was contradictory on at least five issues. Later, the CBI says, it acquired statements from the men that they had been coerced into making the allegations. Forensic tests on 23 police vehicles and 47 officers posted in the area also threw up no evidence that they were in any way linked to the deaths.
The Kashmir High Court Bar Association says it has a letter from AIIMS forensic medicine expert Sudhir Gupta, casting doubt on the forensic findings. Dr. Gupta has offered no independent corroboration of this claim; indeed, in an in-house AIIMS correspondence obtained by The Hindu, Dr. Gupta asked for a copy of the letter so he could give a "legitimate reply." The AIIMS spat has led to some bizarre media allegations, including assertions that its experts helped to rig forensic evidence in the murder of a Delhi teenager a case the institution had nothing to do with. Dr. Gupta, whose name was struck off the rolls of the Medical Council of India in 2004, on plagiarism charges, may or may not be a credible witness, but if there is any serious critique of the evidence marshalled by the CBI, it must be assessed and responded to.
Failing this, many must hold themselves to account for the bloodshed that followed the deaths in Shopian. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and his government must take part of the blame. The government buckled under pressure from Islamists, transferring senior police officials who insisted that the deaths were an accident, suspended others on charges of destroying evidence and paving the way for the judicially-mandated arrests of four suspects, now exonerated. Politicians in the PDP, and among the secessionists, who cynically cashed in on the deaths to further their agenda must also be held to account. Media and civil rights groups, which paid little attention to evidence that from the outset cast doubt on the rape-murder story, cannot evade responsibility either.
Many in Jammu and Kashmir, reared on the half-truths and deceits fed by large sections of the media, are likely to believe the CBI account. It is imperative that proceedings from here on be carried out with complete transparency to avoid further muddying of the waters.
LET THE BENEFITS OF THE ACT REACH THE OPPRESSED
It is heartening that last week's column, "An act with teeth, but of no use in protecting the weak," on the law against atrocities on Dalits has received a good response from a cross section of readers. Most of them agree that the Act is not being properly used in protecting Dalits from atrocities and ensuring justice to the victims. A few readers have expressed the view that the indifference or lack of will of the police and the administration alone cannot be blamed for the ineffective enforcement of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. They contend that while virtually all political parties claim they have concern for Dalits, not all are serious in their expression of support. This becomes clear particularly when Dalits are in deep distress. And without pro-active pressure from political parties, neither the police nor officialdom can be moved to act.
"Dalit organisations," says N.R. Satyamurty of Cuddalore, "should disown the parties which do not show real interest in them. They should be able to identify parties which pay only lip service to their cause." He adds: "At the same time, there are instances when Dalits misuse the Prevention of Atrocities Act and harm innocent OCs [people from Other Castes] when they face disputes with them over other matters." And suggests: "Curbing the misuse of the Act will go a long way in creating a conducive atmosphere."
INSTANCES OF ALLEGED MISUSE
J.P. Reddy of Nalgonda, in a lengthy e-mail message, suggests: "The need of the hour is the strict and proper implementation of this Act in letter and spirit to benefit all those who are victimised on caste basis and harassed physically and mentally ." He wants the police to investigate the complaints with all sincerity and in detail, so that there is no abuse of the Act. He cites two incidents of alleged misuse of the Act. The first relates to a case filed under the Atrocities Act by a Deputy Superintendent of Police against a woman Deputy Inspector General of Police who reprimanded the DSP for his alleged administrative lapses as part of a regular exercise of her power. The matter is now before the Andhra Pradesh High Court. The second is a complaint filed by Dalits against a caste Hindu Chief Editor of a Telugu daily that allegedly published adverse comments against some Dalit leaders in a front-page editorial of the paper. Provoked by the editorial comments, a group of Dalits stormed the newspaper's office and assaulted some employees. The employees hit back and also slapped an "effigy" of Dalits. Dalits have lodged a complaint to the authorities under the Atrocities Act. In both the cases, Mr. Reddy contends, the Act has been abused.
As for the criticism that there has been abuse of the Act, there can be no two opinions. Any legislation intended to serve a good purpose can be abused. This cannot be encouraged on any account. One way of preventing abuse could be a more thorough investigation of the complaint. There is, however, absolutely no case for removing the Act from the statute book or diluting its provisions, as some sections of people have been demanding in certain parts of the country. In several cases, the police themselves are reported to be instrumental in abusing the Act. There have been instances of the police misusing the Act to foist cases against particular non-Dalits who support the Dalit cause. A district secretary of a party, a non-Dalit, who used to lead agitations against atrocities on Dalits was booked under the Act, by allegedly forcing a Dalit to complain against him. A prominent woman advocate, also a non-Dalit, was charge-sheeted under the Act. Both proved their innocence in court by showing up the complaints to be false and obtained under duress.
But such instances are few and far between. The real problem with implementation of the Atrocities Act is that the police are generally unwilling to file a criminal case against those who really commit offences under the Act. They have their own ways of neutralising the legislation. For example, when the affected Dalits give a list of non-Dalits who assaulted them, the police have been known to compel them to include one or two Dalits in the list. Alternatively, they get the non-Dalits to give counter-petitions alleging an assault on them. This helps the law and order machinery to treat the case as 'group clashes' or 'a mere law and order problem' and to close the file after some 'peace meetings.' Usually, there is some kind of socio-political pressure on the police to resort to this course.
"WALLS IN MINDS"
It will be appropriate to cite here some observations made by P.S. Krishnan, a former Union Government Secretary and a well-known writer on social justice, in a recent article in Frontline ("Walls in minds," December 4, 2009: http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2624/stories/20091204262402500.htm): "The benefits of this basically and conceptually sound Act have not fully, or even largely, reached the S.Cs and S.Ts on account of deficiencies in the Act and in various aspects of its implementation." Mr. Krishnan's analysis of annual reports on the Act covering the period from 1999 to 2003 shows that only 50 to 60 per cent of the cases reported to the police lead to charge-sheets; and only eight to 21 per cent of the cases in which charge sheets are filed go on to the trial stage. As for convictions, they happen in only 11 to 13 per cent of the cases that are tried. And finally: "The percentage of convictions is only 1 to 2 per cent when calculated against all cases that reach the court."
Three readers, Henry Thiagaraj and R. Ramakrishnan, both from Chennai, and Gopal Raju, have endorsed my appeal to the media to "proactively report and analyse the chronic and deep-seated realities of this oppression [of Dalits] as a daily phenomenon." Mr. Ramakrishnan wants those in public life, including mediapersons, to shed the caste tags in their name as a first step.
GROUNDWATER MINING: AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
RECENT GEOPHYSICAL STUDIES REPORT LARGE-SCALE GROUNDWATER MINING IN THE INDUS-GANGA BASIN. INDIA CAN GAIN USEFUL INSIGHTS BY EXAMINING AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN ADAPTING TO UNACCEPTABLE GROUNDWATER OVERDRAFT.
T. N. NARASIMHAN
In September, Virendra Tiwari of the National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad, reported in Geophysical Research Letters that approximately 54 cubic km of water is being mined annually from a 2.7-million sq.km area extending from Delhi in the west to Bangladesh in the east. Using similar satellite-borne gravimetry, a research group from NASA reported an annual groundwater depletion of about 18 cubic km from Rajasthan, Punjab, and Haryana. For a number of years, alarming declines in water levels due to groundwater overdraft have been reported from many parts of peninsular India. Clearly, groundwater over-exploitation poses a threat to India's economic future.
Water-well drilling technology and use of deep-well turbine pumps were introduced in India during the 1950s by the Exploratory Tubewells Organisation, forerunner of the Central Groundwater Board. As part of this programme, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey trained the first batch of India's earth scientists in groundwater hydrology. Over the past five decades, groundwater has unquestionably played a major role in India's agricultural production, and provided domestic water supplies to rural communities throughout the nation. Hand in hand, vigorous groundwater use has also led to unsustainable overdraft. This problem of overdraft, however, is not limited to India.
In the United States, many large groundwater basins have suffered and continue to experience non-renewable depletion of storage. It is instructive to examine the nature of groundwater overdraft in the U.S. and understand how the country is adapting to meet the emerging crisis.
During the second half of the 19th century, as America expanded westwards, the new settlers discovered large, deep groundwater basins throughout the country. In the arid western parts, aquifer systems in these basins contained vast quantities of water accumulated during wet climatic eras of the geological past. These basins sparked large-scale irrigated agriculture and the settlement of large metropolitan areas.
At the turn of the 20th century, the deep-well turbine was invented so that large quantities of water could be lifted from these aquifers from great depths. The turbine pump, aided by the birth of hydroelectric power and AC motors during the 1890s, made unprecedented quantities of groundwater available for human consumption. Over the past century, groundwater has been exploited vigorously in the U.S. for municipal, irrigation, and industrial purposes. In parallel, the Geological Survey has accumulated valuable data on the impact of this exploitation on groundwater availability.
For a glimpse into this overdraft, we may consider the following five basins: the Dakota Aquifer System (1,71,000 sq. km.), the Atlantic Coastal Plain System (44,000 sq. km.), California's San Joaquin Valley (9,730 sq. km), the High Plains Aquifer System extending from South Dakota to Texas (443,000 sq. km), and South Central Arizona (8,070 sq. km). Groundwater production from these systems significantly exceeds the ability of ambient natural precipitation to replenish. During the 20th century, non-renewable water mined from these systems amounted to over 365 cubic km. Unintended consequences of groundwater mining included continuous decline in water levels, drying up of perennial streams that depend on groundwater for base flow, demise of deep-rooted phreatophytes, land subsidence and ground fissuring. Evidence is overwhelming that irrigated agriculture and industries that rely on groundwater from these systems cannot be sustained for long.
During the 19th century and early 20th century, water laws were formulated in the U.S. to maximise economic growth through incentives for exploitation. Appropriative water rights were granted to users. Groundwater was treated as private property. During the second half of the 20th century, the traditional mindset of exploitation and growth found itself confronted by uncertainty of resource availability and interconnectedness of surface water and groundwater. Adapting to the changing reality gave rise to a serious social challenge.
Those who own water rights and have commercial interests like to exercise their rights to groundwater as private property, citing economic benefits to society. Others who are concerned about long-term resource integrity for the present and future generations like to see integrated, sustainable management of surface water and groundwater. Society is in a state of transition, continuously adjusting to these two opposing forces.
Legally, private rights to groundwater continue. Whereas navigable surface water is subject to public trust, groundwater remains outside its scope. In practice, as groundwater productivity declines, water levels fall, and ecological impacts become obvious, regulatory statutes are invoked to identify critically affected areas and regulate groundwater production.
Social transition is characterised by intense debate among groundwater users, groundwater professionals, environmentalists, NGOs, and academia on the future of sustainable groundwater management. Information on groundwater is openly disseminated by State and federal agencies. Private foundations dedicated to water education are active in providing material on groundwater to citizens and to children in schools. Although progress may be slow in arresting overdraft, there are encouraging signs that sustainable groundwater management will eventually materialise out of sheer necessity.
The latest findings of groundwater mining in the Indus-Ganga basin suggest that India's water use is already on the threshold of exceeding availability. The deep-well pump, a technological marvel when it was invented, has also created an unforeseen problem. To overcome the problem, society must show resilience and adapt.
In a democracy, such resilience is inherent in constructive, open debate among informed citizenry that enables sacrifices and compromises. In this regard, America's groundwater experience, and the way the country is making efforts to adapt technologically and socially to groundwater mining, should be of value to India's own efforts to achieve sustainable adaptation.
(T.N. Narasimhan is Professor Emeritus, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California at Berkeley.
FATHER, TEENAGER, SON SEARCHING FOR REAL TIGER WOODS
The golfers lamenting Tiger Woods' indefinite leave from the PGA Tour because he is their cash cow are out of bounds. Only two people are truly dependent on Woods, and earlier this year, he could not stop smiling when he talked about them. His two-year-old daughter, Sam, and 10-month-old son, Charlie, brought out Woods' softer side in interviews. When I covered Woods early in his career, the only warmth he exuded in news conferences came from the vibrant reds of his signature Sunday shirts.
This year was different. Returning to competitive golf in late February after a nine-month injury-induced absence, Woods drew me in with a smile that started in his eyes when he talked about his children. When he was asked about the birth of Charlie or how he occupied himself while recovering from knee surgery, his eyes grew moony and his voice was lilting a marked departure from his monotone.
He talked about cutting practice short to spend time with Charlie. He expressed delight in the rapid development of Sam. "I didn't realise how much I loved being home," he said.
This melting glacier of a golfer was so much more interesting, and likeable, than the ice man who had won 14 major titles. Woods' global warming required further examination, so I tracked him around the course in a kind of scavenger hunt in the first months of his six-win campaign. I was searching for more clues to flesh out the Clark Kent alter ego of golf's Superman, and I collected enough material to write two articles. After a late-night accident last month and Woods' subsequent admission of infidelity, the headlines of those articles read like punch lines: "The Family Guy Is Back on the Course" and "All Eyes Are on Tiger, the Father."
Woods' parenting role model was his father, Earl, who was committed to rearing him after having two sons and a daughter in a failed first marriage. Earl, a retired Army officer, attributed the divorce to military obligations that took him away from the family. Asked how he would manage to be there for his children when golf takes him away from home so much, Woods told me, "It's going to be a lot more difficult, there's no doubt."
Maybe it is impossible. Perhaps Woods was destined to be like his father, only not in the way he had hoped. Over lunch on the veranda at the Masters one year, Earl Woods said, "I've told Tiger that marriage is unnecessary in a mobile society like ours." The way Woods talked about his children, I was sure he was going to prove his father wrong. Karen Crouse Regular guy?
To hear his old friends and college buddies tell it, Tiger Woods was a regular guy in the classrooms and dorm rooms at Stanford in the 1990s. Maybe he was. If those recollections are honest, those friends may be dealing with shock at revelations about his off-course scandal or guilt in having been complicit in it.
Woods was definitely not a regular guy when I first encountered him in 1992. A whippetlike 16-year-old, he was at the Riviera Country Club to play in the Los Angeles Open, a PGA Tour event. This was before all the millions and the minions and the image-building and the carefully shaped messaging that created the cardboard-cutout Tiger that lived in 30-second television spots and on billboards.
Even then, Woods knew where he was most comfortable and where he belonged. Oozing confidence, he waded through the crowds, eyes set on the sanctuary inside the yellow gallery ropes. That was his space, where the joy of creativity and competition could be expressed with an array of shots rarely seen in a threesome of professionals, let alone from one skinny amateur.
I was cured of athlete worship at age 11 near the old Yankee Clipper Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, when my hero Mickey Mantle told me exactly what to do with my autograph request. Since then, sports have always been first about the throws, hits, catches, blocks, tackles and shots, and not so much about what the athlete had for dinner and with whom. For me, Woods with his passion for performance, mastery of mind and will to win was the ideal athlete to cover. His quotations might have been boring, but the shots rarely were.
In 1996, while on his way to a third consecutive U.S. Amateur crown, Woods turned to John Strege, then the golf writer for The Orange County Register, Woods' hometown newspaper, and to me, and said, "Watch this."
What he was about to do was hit a ridiculously difficult pitch from a downhill, sidehill lie to a close-cut hole on an elevated green some 10 yards distant. We watched him hit the shot to three feet and make the par-saver. Since then, on every continent, inside the sanctuary of the ropes, Woods has hit hundreds of shots that fairly screamed, "watch this."
Those are among strokes of genius that once framed his life, a life roped off and kept as guarded as his yacht, Privacy. His secrets no longer private, Woods will see whether sanctuary still exists inside the yellow gallery ropes. Everyone will be watching. Larry Dorman Golf is hard, life is harder We stood silently in the sun on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean until Woods turned and said: "How about this? This is the life."
One could have said the same about nearly all of Woods' life. We were together a little more than a year ago, and Woods, the world's greatest golfer, was the attraction at the Trump National Golf Club south of Los Angeles. About 40 everyday golfers, winners in a sweepstakes sponsored by Nike and Golf Digest, had the chance to play one hole with Woods, who later conducted an hour-long clinic, then answered questions for 90 minutes. Invited to report on the event, I also played a hole with Woods, listened to the lessons at the clinic and took notes during the Q-and-A session. Even before the events of the last month capsised Woods' life and image, my strongest recollection of the day was how frequently he talked about his father, his mother and his two children. Playful and teasing on the tee box, he said his father, Earl, built his mental stamina with merciless gamesmanship and distracting tactics whenever they played. During the clinic, many of his golf tips began with Woods saying, "My father always said ..." He explained, for example, that when he was six, Earl told him he could swing as hard as he wanted as long as he finished his swing in balance.
"As my pop said, 'You can't tell a little kid to swing at 75 per cent, but you can tell him that if he's falling over, he's swinging too hard'," Woods said. "Adults could use the same advice." A little while later, Woods discussed the understated role of his mother, Kultida, who not only drove him to practice nearly every weekday, but also drove him all across California for weekend competitions. At those events, she walked the course with him, offering encouragement and, often, motivational counselling.
In the question-and-answer period, Woods talked about his daughter, Sam, and the way she made him see his life as having permanence beyond golf. Whatever the situation, it seemed that the touchstones of Tiger Woods' life were family-related as he continually referred to pivotal life lessons learned at home.
The Tiger Woods I saw that afternoon outside Los Angeles was more at ease than I had ever seen him in a competitive environment, and he seemed sincere. I will always believe the tributes to his parents were genuine. The funny stories he told about his daughter sounded like the awed and affectionate banter of any new father. Maybe that was the real Tiger Woods within this context: Tiger Woods was fooling himself. Bill Pennington
(Bylines are at the end of individual essays.)
© 2009 The New York Times News Service
MORTGAGE BROKERS TESTED ON PROFICIENCY
In recent months, loan officers around the United States have begun taking federally mandated licensing examinations, which many in the industry consider beneficial for borrowers in the long run. According to the Conference of State Banking Supervisors, which oversees the testing, 31 per cent of the roughly 10,000 people who took the national test from July 30 to November 30 failed it, and about 27 per cent did not pass the state-specific component.
The results may give pause to some borrowers in New York and New Jersey, which only recently began administering the examination, and in Connecticut, which won't offer it until April 2010.
If nearly one in three loan officers cannot pass the test, how can borrowers enter the mortgage process with confidence?
The examination is not required of everyone only those who work for mortgage brokerages and lenders. Employees of conventional banks such as the Bank of America and the J.P. Morgan Chase need only register with the National Mortgage Licensing System, which is administered by the state banking supervisors.
The examinations are largely a response to the mortgage industry collapse, which according to some critics was a result of poorly qualified and unregulated loan officers' providing loans to borrowers who had little chance of paying them off.
Applicants who fail the test must wait 30 days before they can try again. If they don't pass the test by the State-imposed deadline, they cannot lend in the State. (In New York and New Jersey, the deadline is July 31, 2010, and in Connecticut, the deadline date is yet to be finalised.) Licences are renewed yearly. While loan offices need only pass the examinations once, they must keep up with various continuing education requirements.
Thomas Pinkowish, an industry consultant and a co-chairman of the education committee of the Connecticut Mortgage Bankers Association, said prospective borrowers should not be shaken by the idea that one of three loan officers might not be able to pass the test.
© 2009 The New York Times News Service
JAMMU & KASHMIR CRISIS
There is enough vagueness and enough mischief in the report of the working group headed by former Supreme Court judge Saghir Ahmed on autonomy for Jammu & Kashmir.
This is one group of the six set up by the prime minister to work on that state. First, about the vagueness: The committee's recommendations are merely that. It says that the question of autonomy as contained in the J&K report of 2000 could be considered.
Then, the mischief: the report, which should have been submitted to the prime minister, was submitted to chief minister Omar Abdullah. Apparently, Abdullah wanted an action plan to implement the recommendations in consultation with the Centre. It is something that should ring the alarm bells because such decisions need to discussed properly, in Parliament as well as in the J&K assembly before implementation.
What is intriguing and disturbing is the suspiciously quiet way in which the report has been submitted. There is much justification in the BJP leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley's objections that the judge did not hold meetings for two years and then just went ahead to write and submit the report. Unfortunately Jaitley the lawyer has been content to draw attention to procedural faults. But it is much more dangerous. It is about the fundamental aspect of the J&K issue.
J&K it is an integral part of India and as such subject to the provisions of the Indian Constitution. The state's constitution was prepared, discussed and adopted long after the national one. It follows then that J&K is part of the federal set up as envisaged in the Constitution.
If autonomy is to be conceded to the state then it has to become applicable to other states as well. There cannot be exceptions for J&K here. It has no special status other than that already accorded by the Constitution. The working group also says that the status and scope of Article 370 should be discussed.
It is not surprising that the main opposition party in the state, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) is not satisfied with autonomy and harps on self-rule, and the separatist Hurriyat groups want a tripartite negotiation involving India, Pakistan and J&K (including the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir).
Prime minister Manmohan Singh and his cabinet colleagues cannot any more hide behind bureaucratese. They have to declare that J&K's aspirations fall within the Constitution.
Whatever the outcome of the Copenhagen summit and the supposed "accord", the fact that we are polluting the earth cannot be contested.
The recent study by the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi and the Central Pollution Control Board, shows the extent to which industrialisation increases pollution in our cities. The 10 worst polluted areas in the country are Ankleshwar and Vapi in Gujarat, Ghaziabad and Singrauli (Uttar Pradesh), Korba (Chhattisgarh), Chandrapur (Maharashtra) and Ludhiana in Punjab, Vellore in Tamil Nadu, Bhiwadi in Rajasthan and Angul Telcher in Orissa, all of which are industrial hubs.
These 10 of the 88 studied have been tagged as "very alarming" and indeed that may well be an understatement. The impact of the pollution is manifold. The immediate and most visible effect is on the environment rivers full of effluent, loss of green cover and so on.
The less visible but insidious effects are on health various diseases from breathing polluted air, drinking polluted water and even from consuming food products which may originate from the area. Both these are long-lasting effects and the populations continue to suffer for generations.
The Union minister for environments and forests Jairam Ramesh has declared that, "We might put on hold new approvals in these 10 polluted hotspots till their environmental health is restored." This restoration of health however requires a long and painstaking programme which covers all aspects of the degradation. Experience with industrial pollution around the world shows that once the problem gets entrenched, eliminating it may take years.
The cure can be as painful as the disease, especially for a country raring to go ahead with its plans for industrialisation. Let it be remembered that even agriculture has been industrialised these days and machinery and chemicals are ubiquitous.
The challenge before us is enormous and while this study paints a stark picture, it only reasserts or re-documents what people already know. Anyone who has passed through Vapi has seen water bodies which are red, yellow and green and has smelt the chemicals in the air. Vapi's destruction was not a secret. What is distressing is that many new areas have been added to the list.
The heat of the argument over climate change has done us one disservice. It has turned the argument away from environmental degradation, which remains a core concern. We have to, in today's fashionable language, fight this battle holistically.
A SUM OF ITS PARTS
In the wake of the Telangana crisis and the nationwide clamour for more small states, the Government of India seems to be contemplating another States Reorganisation Committee.
There many arguments in favour of this. But the most important one might be that, following our failure to decentralise public administration, this might now be the only way to make government more responsive to people's needs and concerns by taking it closer to them.
What contributes most to these demands for small states are a sense of strong regional affinity that is stronger than the linguistic identity, uneven economic conditions leading to wide and easily discernable disparities in development, and the perceived concentration of political power with an identifiable political elite like the Kammas in Andhra Pradesh and Marathas in Maharashtra.
Contributing in equal measure to these is the non-ideological political climate that has descended upon us after one foreign economic paradigm failed and its economic opposite was deemed as the only way to go. What are after all the differences on economic philosophy and management between the BJP, Congress, TDP, Samajwadi parties and even the CPM?
The late Dr Rasheeduddin Khan most eloquently made out a case for smaller states way back in April 1973 in the seminar, at that time edited by the late Romesh Thapar. He had India divided according to its 56 socio-cultural sub-regions and a map showing these was the centrepiece of the article. Whenever I think of better public administration that map always appears.
Since the subject of small states has begun to emerge as a major issue again, with the recent by-poll results in Telangana writing its message very clearly on the wall and with Ramadoss raising the banner in Tamil Nadu and a vociferous cry for a Bundelkhand out of UP, it is a matter of time before small states will become a major political issue nationwide.
The Congress Party's election manifesto in 2004 had a new States Reorganisation Commission on its agenda. Then why did it put it on the backburner and let it now boil over?
The seminar map is a veritable blueprint for the structuring of India. Out of UP and Bihar eight distinct sub-regions are identified. These are Uttaranchal, Rohelkhand, Braj, Oudh, Bhojpur, Mithila, Magadh and Jharkhand. The first and last of these have now become Constitutional and administrative realities.
But each one of the other unhappily wedded regions is very clearly a distinct region with its own predominant dialect and history. For instance Maithili, spoken in the area around Darbhanga in northern Bihar, is very different from Bhojpuri, spoken in the adjacent Bhojpur area. Similarly Brajbhasha in western UP is quite different from Avadhi spoken in central UP.
India's largest state in terms of area, MP, is broken into five distinct regions, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra into four each, AP, West Bengal and Karnataka into three each, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Orissa into two each and so on.
Since 1971, India's population has doubled to cross one billion. Even at constant prices (1980-81) the GNP has grown by a factor of 20. In 1971 the total money supply (M3) was Rs.11,019 crore, whereas it has now grown to over Rs. 500,000 crore. Naturally the size and scope of government has also changed.
The 1980-81 budget of the Government of India was a mere Rs 19,579 crore. It is now about Rs. 1,000,000 crore. The annual budgets of state governments too have grown likewise. States like UP, Maharashtra and AP now have annual budgets of over Rs 50000 crore each.
The total population of India in 1947 was about 320 million. Today, we have about that number of people who are below the poverty line. In the meantime India has become a very youthful country with 70 per cent of its people below the age of 30 of whom about 350 million are below the age of 14.
Clearly the task of government is not only much more enormous, but also much more complex when the rising expectations, impact of new technologies and demographic changes are factored in.
Political demands of viable sub-regions for new administrative arrangements are not necessarily antithetical to the territorial integrity of the country. They would not lead to balkanisation but to the restructuring of national identity.
The "Report of the States Reorganization Commission, 1955" states: "Unlike the United States of America, the Indian Union is not an indestructible union composed of indestructible states. But on the contrary the Union alone is indestructible but the individual states are not."
It would be unfortunate if demands for the restructuring of India by creating more states are seen only as mere political contests, where the just causes of individual socio-cultural and agro-climatic regions are merely weapons in the hands of out-of-work politicians deprived of a share of the benefits of office.
The writer is a commentator on social and political afairs
JUSTICE CHAUDHARY: PAK'S DANGEROUS HERO
While suicide bombers are taking Pakistan apart, justice Iftikhar Chaudhary is intent on a populist, and dangerous, purge of politicians. He is getting rid of elected leaders by disqualifying them from office and the man he is ultimately hunting is president Asif Ali Zardari.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court overturned former president Pervez Musharraf's decree withdrawing 8,000 cases against politicians, including Zardari, who is Benazir Bhutto's widower. The cases were withdrawn in 2007 after a compromise that allowed exiled politicians to return to Pakistan and contest elections that they had been barred from because of the pending cases. They did this in 2008 and formed the government. Many of the cases were, Musharraf admitted, political in nature and should never have been filed.
Now Chaudhary has reopened the cases, and as charge sheets are filed, the leaders will be asked to step down. Zardari himself spent over eight years in jail without being convicted. While as president he has immunity from the charges against him, there is now pressure on him from the media to quit office.
Meanwhile, the Taliban are despatching increasing numbers of suicide bombers against cities. There have been 35 suicide attacks since November 1, one every 48 hours. Since June, when the army routed the Taliban from their strongholds in Malakand and Swat, the number of monthly militant attacks in Pakistan, including suicide bombings, have actually gone down from 250 to 170, according to the Brookings Institution. In the frontier province, the attacks have fallen from 160 to 70.
This happened because Zardari assured political support to his army. What Pakistan now needs is an extended period in which its government's focus is only on wiping out the Taliban. There are three reasons why.
First: the window is limited. US president Barack Obama has announced a pullout from Afghanistan starting July 2011. So far, the 'hammer and anvil' strategy where America attacks from the west and Pakistan blocks the escape of the Taliban in the east, or vice versa has worked.
Second: the media and the public are not on Zardari's side. Pakistanis generally dismiss suicide attacks as the doing of Israel, India, and America. This is despite the Taliban often claiming responsibility.
Third: Pakistan's economy is not picking up after the recession unlike other major Asian economies. Instability from the suicide bombings has led to capital flight. American aid, currently about $2 billion a year, much of it coming in cash against 'expenses' for tackling the Taliban, will stop after 2014 if Pakistan refuses to continue cooperation.
It is vital to Pakistan, to America, and to India that Zardari, who understands the Taliban threat his wife was murdered by them in December 2007 be allowed to finish the job he started. He is capable of seeing it through if Chaudhary leaves him to do the job.
Zardari's primary opponent is Nawaz Sharif. So far, he has maintained that in the interest of democracy he will stand by Zardari. But there will be pressure on him to turn populist as the elections of 2012 approach, and in Pakistan that means being anti-American and anti-war on terror.
So why is justice Chaudhary going after Zardari? Two reasons. The first is that Zardari was reluctant to reinstate him and other judges fired by Musharraf. The second is that Chaudhary is a big hero with the Pakistani public and its media for his defiance of Musharraf. Zardari's war against the Taliban is most unpopular and Chaudhary would love to be seen as the man who ended it. He does not see the consequences that will follow, for America, for India, and, most of all, for Pakistan.
The writer is a journalist based in Mumbai
SIGNIFICANCE OF MUHARRAM
Whoever fasts during the month of Muharram on the day of Ashurah, shall receive the reward of 10, 000 Angels and whoever fasts during the month of Muharram on the day of Ashurah, he shall receive the reward of 10,000 martyrs and he shall receive the reward of 10,000 people performing Hajj and Ummarah. And whoever on the day of Ashurah, places his hand over the head of an orphan, in response Allah Tallah will raise his status in paradise for each hair on the orphan's head.
And whoever on the night of Ashurah opens the fast of a Momin (a true Muslim believer) would be as if he opened the fast of the whole Ummah of the Messenger of Allah.
Any person who fasts during the month of Muharram on the day of Ashurah, Allah Tallah shall write for him sixty years of worship. During which the day spent in fast and night standing in worship.
And whoever takes a bath on the day of Ashurah shall not become ill from any illness except the illness of death and whoever on the day of Ashurah applies collyrium on the eyelids, then his eye shall not hurt during that whole year.
And whoever on the day of Ashurah visits an ill person would be as if he visited all the siblings of Hazrat Adam (may Allah be pleased with him). And whoever on the day of Ashurah gives water to drink once, thus it would be as if he has not disobeyed Allah Tallah even to the blinking of an eye.
And whoever on the day of Ashurah prays four rakahs, in each rakah prays Surah Fatiha once and Surah Ikhlas fifty times, for him Allah Tallah will forgive the sins of the previous fifty years and sins of the coming fifty years.
And Allah Tallah for him will create 1000 palaces with Nur (light) in the upper class." .
Compiled from various sources
THE VALUE OF GOOD
After I gave a speech for a major telecommunications company, a woman walked up to me with tears in her eyes. "Robin, there was a man who actually lived your message. He died a few months ago. He was my dad." She paused, and looked down at the floor.
"Five thousand people showed up at his funeral," she said. "The whole town was there." Was your dad a well known businessperson?" I asked. "No," she replied. "A popular politician?" I wondered. "No," she whispered. "Was your father some kind of a local celebrity?" "No Robin, he wasn't at all." "Then why did five thousand people come to your dad's funeral?" I had to ask.
Another long pause. "They came because my father was a man who always had a smile on his face. He was the kind of person who was always the first to help someone. He always treated people well and was unfailingly polite. He walked the earth ever so lightly. Five thousand people showed up at my dad's funeral because he was good."
Whatever happened to valuing being good? Reality TV shows exhibit the worst of human behaviour. We see music superstars who swear every five seconds. We read about corporate leaders who fill their pockets to buy bigger boats while shareholders lose their life savings. Greed isn't good. Some people laugh at the notion of being nice and decent and noble. "That's a sign of weakness," I hear. Nope. It's a sign of strength. Soft is hard.
It's easy to put yourself first. It's easy to get angry when someone disagrees with you. It's easy to complain or condemn or take the path of least resistance. What takes guts is to stand for something higher, to behave greater and to be of service to others. Like Mandela. Like Gandhi. Like King.
Sorry for ranting but this is a big topic for me. I'll be the first to tell you I'm far from perfect. But I'll tell you one thing -- I do my best to be good. That quest keeps me up at night. And I hold myself to a standard far higher then anyone could ever expect for me. Do I always get it right? No. Do I always model my message? No. I try each day, but I slip sometimes.
I'm not saying that treating people with respect means you don't hold them to high standards and expect excellence from them. It doesn't mean you don't set boundaries and get tough when you have to. Showing leadership isn't about being liked by all. It's about doing what's right. And what's good.
Robin Sharma is the author of The Greatness Guide (Jaico)
RING IN THE RESOLUTIONS
VINITA A SHETTY
As I swirl the Blue Nun in my glass, I do a bit of eavesdropping between sips of the crisp, scented and delicious wine. It's the festive season and I'm at the Bagchi home, exploiting their hospitality to the fullest.
Subroto Bagchi, co-founder and Gardener of MindTree and a dear friend, his elegant wife, writer Susmita Bagchi and their lovely daughter Niti have set the tone and created the ambience for a memorable evening.
Lazily savouring the nuances of grapes grown on the Banks of the River Rhine in Germany with friends, at the most wonderful time of year, the words New Year Resolution suddenly make me sit up. Having failed miserably year after year to make and keep one, I try to catch what others have lined up for the next year on the resolution front.
In one corner, conversation centres on Subroto's sleek bicycle resting against the wall. I ask Krishnakumar Natarajan (KK) the ever smiling and genial CEO and managing director of MindTree Ltd, what his resolution is. It's a straightforward one, he tells me: "I plan to lose 10 kg this year and get fit." And yes, he says, a bicycle is part of that plan.
But resolutions are meant to be made and followed only in the new year, so when dinner is served everyone makes a beeline for the table that's groaning with delectable food, extra kilos be damned. Writer and playwright Girish Karnad is relaxed as he talks of keeping it simple, while his wife Dr Saraswathi Ganapathy later says, "Take life easy, don't stress too much."
As I leave, I spot Girish getting some quick shut eye on a corner sofa. At peace with himself and the world, I'm sure keeping it simple comes easy to him all year round.
I have always admired the dedication Arjuna award winner and champion swimmer Nisha Millet Chatterjee has to her sport and to mentoring young talent. So when she tells me that her resolve is to first lose the extra weight she has put on, I believe her.
Nisha is training for a triathlon in February, "I have to work not only on my swimming, but also get going on some cycling and get comfortable doing an 11 km run. Time to bring back the super-fit and hopefully slimmer Nisha," she laughs.
My friend Raghava KK, self-taught artist, quintessential Bangalore boy, sculptor and talent extraordinaire is in town on a quick break from New York. As I make plans to meet with him and his wife Nethra the next day, he tells me that his resolution is to incorporate an element of social work in everything he does. "It's something I used to do earlier but somehow lost it along the way" he says.
After a sinful meal at Caperberry, I shamelessly blame co-owner and executive chef Abhijit Saha for making my weight loss goals for the next year tougher. But it's only when he tells me that his new year resolution is to try and take one day off per week to create a balance between his professional and family life, do I realise that it is one resolution that tops the list year after year (after weight loss, of course).
"Last year was very hectic, so this year, along with making time for my family, I also want to try and actively participate in an environmental cause," Saha says. For some, resolutions are all about making the next year better than the last one. As Oprah Winfrey put it, "Cheers to a New Year and another chance to get it right!" Looking back at the year that was, Jet Airways general manager for Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Harish Shenoy, wants to "make a qualitative effort to overcome the last lap of the recession and provide cheers both at home and office."
V Ravichandar, chairman, Feedback Consulting, cuts to the chase. His resolution: "To live more each moment!"
Happy New Year Bangalore
TIWARI GOES UNSUNG
IT'S CURTAINS FOR GOVERNOR WITH A ROVING EYE
THE ignominious exit of Mr Narayan Dutt Tiwari as Governor of Andhra Pradesh in the wake of a sting operation by a local Telugu news channel, which showed an old man in a compromising position with three women in the Raj Bhawan bedroom and claimed that the man captured on camera was Mr Tiwari, marks the inglorious end of a long and chequered career. For the record, Mr Tiwari has ascribed his resignation to "health reasons", but the conclusion is inescapable that the high-level meeting between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and central ministers Pranab Mukherjee and A.K. Antony on the issue of the alleged sex scandal had much to do with it.Clearly, the Congress party, of which Mr Tiwari had been a veteran leader for over four decades before becoming Governor, was keen to shake off the embarrassment of the association of such a leader with it. At the same time, the sex scandal broke at a time when Andhra Pradesh was going through a turbulent phase. With the Telugu Desam having declared its intention to seek Mr Tiwari's resignation, the already sensitively-poised political situation with Telangana being on the boil would have worsened further.
The 86-year-old old warhorse could well have fought his way had it not been for his long standing reputation of having a roving eye for women. Recently, one Rohit Shekhar, son of the daughter of a former Union minister from Haryana, had fought a legal battle in the Delhi High Court pleading that Mr Tiwari was his father. The court, however, took the view that the case was time-barred because Rohit had not made such a claim all these years. In the 2006 assembly elections in Uttarakhand, of which Mr Tiwari was then Chief Minister, a popular music video that was supposed to be a political satire on politicians had purportedly taken a dig at his wayward ways and embarrassed the Congress party.
With Mr Tiwari gone and the movement for a separate Telangana in full cry, the Centre must look for an incumbent who has the right credentials to run the state efficiently in the event of President's rule becoming inevitable. Indeed, the Governor's office may well become a crucial element in resolving the tangled web that Telangana has now become.
LEGAL SYSTEM SHOULD NOT BE HELPLESS BEFORE ROGUES
NOW that the Ruchika molestation case has pricked the conscience of the nation like rarely before, even Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily has been constrained to admit that it presents an example of "travesty of justice". The punishment of only six months imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1,000 to former Director-General of Police of Haryana SPS Rathore for molesting a 14-year-old girl, that too after 19 years of legal tussle, is "atrocious and the delay is unpardonable", he has opined. But just the expression of regret would not be enough. What is necessary is reopening the case. If that can happen in the Best Bakery and Manu Sharma cases, so should be done in this particular instance. The abetment to suicide trial is the need of the hour.
Here was an officer who misused his high position to the hilt to torment the girl's family which forced her to later commit suicide. Even the FIR in the case was filed nine years after the incident and Rathore was charge-sheeted after a decade. He has brought the entire police force into disrepute. Just because he twisted the investigation to his advantage does not mean that he should go virtually scot-free, with that notorious smirk on his face. Not only he but all those politicians and officials who helped him in this sordid escape are answerable to society. Even the judiciary has to do some serious introspection as to how and why wheels of justice got stalled in this particular case.
Just stripping the disgraced top cop or reducing his pensionary benefits would not make up for the conspiracy of silence. He should get exemplary punishment for his sins. Let this be a test case to restore the public's confidence in the legal system. The proposal to categorise and fast-track cases relating to violence against women, particularly rape, molestation and dowry, should become a reality with la affaire Rathore.
TELANGANA IN TURMOIL
PROLONGED UNREST WILL CRIPPLE ITS ECONOMY
THE Telangana situation is deteriorating by the day, plunging the entire Andhra Pradesh into chaos. Reports that Maoists are seeking to take advantage of the explosive situation must goad the Central and state governments to redouble their efforts to defuse it. That a joint action committee of the Congress, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and actor Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam Party has threatened an indefinite bandh in the region from Tuesday is a matter of concern for a state where work has been at a virtual standstill for over two weeks. With Mr K. Rosaiah having been catapulted to the chief ministerial chair by the high command without adequate support from partymen after the death in an air crash of the popular Rajasekhar Reddy, he lacks the acceptance to make his peace overtures work.
The Telangana legislators from various political parties who have turned in their resignations to their party leaders must understand the implications of their actions. While neglect by the more affluent regions and consequent backwardness were the reason for the demand forstatehood for Telangana, the hard reality is that the current movement and the bandhs and hartals that are on would only pile up the misery for the people of Telangana. Investors too would begin to shy away if political uncertainty and violence continue for long. Tourists would start shunning Hyderabad which is the nerve-centre of the Telangana movement. That all this would be disastrous for the state's economy should worry all right-thinking people.
Clearly, the options for the Centre are narrowing. Imposing President's rule and keeping the State Assembly in suspended animation, once dismissed as an option, is now emerging as a possible wayout in the short run. With Mr N.D. Tiwari having quit as Governor in the wake of a sex scandal, it would be interesting to see who succeeds him in this key state at this crucial juncture. Imposition of President's rule can at best be a patchwork solution. Ultimately, a way out of the impasse has to be found on a permanent basis.
LAMENT FOR THE MEDIA
SAD DECLINE IN PROFESSIONAL VALUES
BY B.G. VERGHESE
AS the year closes, one must with sadness and shame pen a lament for the Indian media. India is rightly proud of its vibrant democracy despite shortcomings and flaws. Among the instrumentalities of our free society is the media which has seen exponential growth in both the print and electronic segments with a huge and burgeoning viewership and readership in all regions and languages.
The communications revolution has given the media an instant and global reach and, with convergence, a multi-dimensional capability. It has grown in range and sophistication and is now immensely powerful and even feared not only by the public but by the organs of state. It was always true, but today information truly is power. This carries with it a corresponding responsibility imbued with a sense of trusteeship in providing the people with the kind of information needed for democratic participation, empowerment and informed choice.
It is in this regard that we must lament a disgraceful fall in standards as revealed by well-documented stories of the sale of electoral coverage by sections of the news media through "packages" relating to the kind of treatment sought. What earlier seemed an isolated, low-level viral outbreak appears to have gained virulence and epidemic proportions. Alarm bells have sounded. One respected editor of a leading Hindi daily recently resigned on this score while another Urdu editor who contested the elections was also asked to pay for coverage, although on concessional terms after he protested that he was himself a journalist.
A complaint was lodged with the Press Council some months ago by the late Prabhash Joshi and others and the matter is now being investigated by it. Meanwhile, new evidence has come to light from the just concluded Maharashtra polls. The sitting Chief Minister, Mr Ashok Chavan, was found to have shown no more than Rs 10,000 for media advertisements in his election returns though pages and pages of advertising had appeared in his favour which in aggregate in value could even be in excess of the total permissible electoral expenditure for an Assembly seat. Not content with this, he publicly awarded substantial monetary prizes to each of the three polling stations that gave him the highest votes. What is this if not an ex post facto electoral inducement and an act of dubious morality if not an outright electoral malpractice. Who paid, Mr Chavan or the exchequer? If the former then this must be added to his election expenditure which could inflate his returns above the prescribed ceiling. Some one has filed an election petition on Mr Chavan's election expenses and the case will be watched with interest. Technically, he may plead that the advertisements were, unknown to him, placed by "friends". None will be taken in by such subterfuge and the papers must be asked to disclose who paid the bills.
The rot set in with economic reforms and deregulation which led to a rapid expansion of economic activity with new ventures, M&As, rising stock values and corresponding public relations spending. Business reporters were baited with freebees and, in turn, started demanding or assuming favours, something governments had long done with housing plots and so on. The Editor's Guild prescribed a code to curb business sops. But then managements entered the lists and "advertorials" crept in obliterating the distinction between news and ads. This was followed by "private treaties" in which advertising was bartered for company shares to mutual benefit with promotional news writing and sponsored news.
News was commodified and dumbed down to provide titillation, sensation, hype and sound-bytes rather than substance to catch "eyeballs", enhance sales even if it meant dumping copies at vantage points, The media's mission to provide unbiased news, outside the editorial page, yielded to the market. News has become commerce. Managers have increasingly taken over from editors, some of whom have fallen prey to bloated salaries and perks. Many family papers have gone the same way with money overriding mission. Honourable exceptions apart, this represents a sad decline in professional values though many journalists are acutely unhappy and embarrassed by these trends. Some of the largest papers have been the worst offenders.
The 24x7 news channels too have not been blameless. They are by nature shallow unless they take special pains to give depth to their coverage. Some anchors have turned inquisitors, slanting discussion to preconceived views and seeking to impose their opinions on panellits. That there are some excellent programmes too only shows what we are missing. And in this scenario, the government, Parliament, the media, advertisers and the entertainment world have wilfully conspired to all but kill public service broadcasting and radio. The well-heeled consumer has trumped the citizen who looks to the media for empowerment, access and participation in life and living.
The matter is too serious to be left to drift. Maybe the Press Registration Act needs review to entrench the position of the Editor who is even now responsible for everything published, including advertisements. Can the law require public interest directors to be appointed to boards of all media houses from tiered panels to act as guardians of the public interest. The establishment of self-regulatory bodies for the broadcast media by no means precludes the necessity for mandatory broadcast regulations as found in every part of the world. This need not curb media freedom. Fast driving requires good brakes. Should "private (ads for shares) treaties" be required to be mandatorily disclosed by the paper/channel concerned? Can the Election Commission compel separate accounting of all advertisements and advertorial support for candidates under election expense?
These are obviously extremely sensitive and complex matters that impinge on freedom of expression. But when freedom becomes licence, democracy is in peril.
FORCE OR FARCE?
BY J.L. GUPTA
WE had driven from Switzerland to Belgium. Through cities and streets. Even the Black forest. Everything was smooth. Nobody changed a lane without giving an indication. Nobody overtook any vehicle from the wrong side. No one honked. And there were no cops anywhere. To an Indian who is used to seeing policemen in every nook and corner, it was a surprise. What if there is an accident?
My nephew Shireesh, who I thought was just a beginner at the Bar, had an answer. He (I learnt) had been invited to speak at an international conference in Stockholm. The venue was the Town Hall where the Nobel prizes are given. He had an exclusive audience with Crown Princess Victoria in the Golden Room. This is the room with gold on its walls. And it is in this room that the Nobel Prize winners are presented to the King and Queen of Sweden before the ceremony. So, I was curious and wanted to know the details.
The young man was understandably reluctant to blow his own trumpet. But he readily shared an experience.
He had taken the train at the Frankfurt airport. When he was walking out of the station, one of the two young men who were standing in a corner of the street threw a bottle of beer at him. He ducked and escaped an injury. But what followed was interesting.
In less than a minute two jeeps had appeared. Almost out of nowhere. With men in uniform. Two men had caught hold of the two young men and taken them away. The other two from the second jeep asked Shireesh about his destination. They drove him to his hotel. And on reaching there asked: "Would you like to press the charges?" He expressed reluctance as he had to catch the morning flight to Stockholm.
Thereafter, not a question was asked. The officer gave him his phone number and left with the request: "Please let me know whenever you want to go out of the hotel." And sure enough, next morning, he was escorted to the airport.
Shireesh's experience is illustrative of the efficiency of the German police. They are not seen in the streets. But they are seeing everyone. Everywhere. All the time. Day and night. They act when required. The State protects people. The taxpayer gets what he deserves.
Inevitably, it also confronts us with the stark reality that we face. A comparison with what we have. The picture of potbellied, foul-mouthed men in uniform comes alive. They look the other way when a person needs protection or the public property is destroyed by street urchins. They stand as dumb and mute statues when buses are burnt. And these symbols of State's authority have become a source of harassment and torture for the masses they are meant to help.
What service does the police service do? Do we have a force or is it a farce?
OBESE KIDS AND THE BLAME GAME
UNFAIR TO TARGET THE PARENTS
BY AMINA KHAN
WHEN Dr Sadaf Farooqi and colleagues discovered a genetic abnormality that caused severe obesity in a handful of children, she had no cure. Yet, the scientist transformed four families' lives nonetheless.
The British parents had been living in fear of losing their childrenthe youngsters' severe obesity had been seen as a possible sign of abuse or neglect, and they had been put on the list of the country's social services department.
"They were being blamed for their children's condition, receiving frequent visits from social services, frequent reviews, knowing people could have their children taken away," Farooqi said.
Farooqi told authorities that this abnormalitya DNA deletionwiped out a key gene involved in the body's response to leptin, a hormone that controls appetite. The children were taken off the list.
Farooqi's study, published on December 6 in Nature, affected only five of about 1,200 severely obese youngsters. But as more genes related to obesity are unearthed, and as rates of childhood obesity climb, courts, social services and parents increasingly will have to grapple with difficult social and legal questions:Can extreme childhood obesity be considered abuse? How much of a child's weight can be blamed on the parents, and how much is out of their control?
A three-decade rise in childhood obesity rates has meant that related abuse and neglect cases are more often making their way into the courts. According to a 2008 report by the Child Welfare League of America, "California, Indiana, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas have had to determine whether morbidly obese children whose parents are unable or unwilling to control their children's weight against medical orders are properly considered abused or neglected."
In 2007, North Carolina mother Joyce Painter was told she would lose her 255-pound, 7-year-old son if he did not show progress in his weight loss within two months.
And, in June, South Carolina mother Jerri Gray lost custody of her son Alexander Draper after being charged with criminal neglect. The 14-year-old weighed 555 pounds. Gray is facing 15 years on two felony counts, the first U.S. felony case involving childhood obesity, said her lawyer, Grant Varner.
Such cases will require authorities to consider not only genetics but the helplessness parents can face in trying to regulate a child's behavior, especially that of a teen, in today's calorie-dense environment.
So far, genetic tests have played a limited role in cases of childhood obesity in which authorities have become involved (Draper has not been tested, Varner says). The tests are fairly new, expensive and assess only a few of the genes known so far to strongly influence obesity.
In any case, for all but a small number of people, genes tell only part of the obesity story.
"What genetics does is sort of set the range of weights for you," said James O. Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado in Denver. "If you're somebody who is genetically predisposed ... you may never be lean, but there's still a wide range of weights in there."
But today's environment is likely to push many kids to the higher end of their range, said Dr Marc Jacobson, who sits on the American Academy of Pediatrics' obesity leadership work group. In 1955, he said, McDonald's fries were 210 calories but the large portions more often consumed today are 500. A Coke was 6.5 ounces, versus 20 ounces in today's plastic bottles. No wonder, he said, that today U.S. kids have an obesity rate of 15 per cent, and that another 15 per cent are overweight.
"Food is available 24/7. Domino's delivers. We're not programmed for that kind of environment," Jacobson said. "We're programmed for an environment where food is scarce."
Some of the factors are hard for parents to control, especially if they live in disadvantaged communities, said ethicist Erika Blacksher, a research fellow at the Hastings Center, a nonpartisan bioethics research institution in Garrison, N.Y.
"It's unfair to hold parents accountable for factors such as whether their neighborhoods have safe places for their children to play ... or when their neighborhoods don't have grocery stores that sell healthy foods," she said. "We don't want quick, easy, negative, punitive responses and tools."
Melinda Sothern, a clinical exercise physiologist at Louisiana State University New Orleans who works with obese children, says physicians and social workers can be quick to rush to judgment and assume a parent is neglectful in such cases.
She cites an 8-year-old she treated who, at 6, had a body mass index of 48. The boy was so obese that he had to have knee surgery and use a machine to counteract his sleep apnea.
Genetic tests for two known obesity genes came up negative. The endocrinologist and social worker then suggested he be taken out of the home.
But, Sothern said, her patient's mother was a single working mom in post-Katrina Louisiana who was not quite poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. She was making her doctors' visits and enrolling her son in karate class.
Similarly, Varner said, Jerri Gray could not be held entirely responsible for what her son ate and did outside the home.
"She's a single mom. She's at work, busting her butt to make sure there's a roof over their heads, and this kid's at school six, seven hours a day," Varner said. "Trying to control a teenager-that's trying to knock down a solid brick wall with your bare hands.
By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
RAILWAYS VISION STATEMENTS
BY ARABINDA GHOSE
THE documents White Paper on Indian Railways (IR) and the Vision 2020 for IR released by Railway Minister Mamata Bannerjee on December 18 should be treated as landmark achievements which should be taken not as rebuttals of the claims made by the Railway Minister's predecessor Lalu Prasad Yadav as regards to the unprecedented performance by railways under his stewardship from 2004 to 2009.
At the outset, one has to say that there has been no fudging of figures by the Railways during these five years since the railway accounting system under the leadership of Financial Commissioner, who is also the Member Finance of the powerful Railway Board, and differences in perceptions are the only aspect that has gained currency during the controversy.
It cannot be denied that the railways did record a surplus "before dividend" of Rs 88,699 crore during these five years, but to describe it as "profit before dividend" may not be palatable for those dealing with railway finances or writing about them. For, there is no concept of "profit" or "loss" in railway accounting .The terminologies used is "excess" and "shortfall".
Having been a railway correspondent for nearly four decades in New Delhi, one has to admit that the documents published that day are probably the most comprehensive in the 156 years of the Indian Railways and will remain a collector's item for rail enthusiasts. Mamata Bannerjee has earned the respect and gratitude for such people by leading the team that prepared such comprehensive documents.
In the last nearly 20 years, railway ministers had been publishing documents of this type. The first the Status Paper on the Indian Railways published by Railway Minister George Fernandes in 1990. Nitish Kumar had followed this example twice during his tenurethe first in 1998 and later a revised one in 2002. However, the December 2009 documents are really valuable for the lovers of the Indian Railways and railways in generalin India or abroad.
It is somewhat baffling why Lalu Yadav described the white paper as a "black paper" or "non-paper". This should not have been done by a former Cabinet Minister. The Railways did make progress during his stewardship. Only, one would regretfully observe, that he thought it was because of the performance of the Railways that the economy showed such outstanding development. Perhaps his advisers had convinced him that the Railways generated freight traffic during his tenure. He should have realised that it was the economy that had generated freight traffic and his credit lied on exploiting the situation.
One has to blame his non-railway Officer on Special Duty (OSD) for the erroneous perception he developed about railway economics. When he had taken over as the Minister of Railways in May 2004, he had paid tributes to his predecessor Nitish Kumar of the NDA in these words:" I am glad to report that in the year that has just ended (2003-04), the Railways have moved 557.39 million tones of originating revenue earning traffic against the target of 550 million tones and 38.65 million higher than the previous year's loading"
The Hindi version of the speech, which Lalu Yadav had read in the Lok Sabha, on July 6, 2004, has been highlighted in green to show the importance he had attached to this aspect of his speech. Yet, from the very next year, his tone changed and he started mentioning the fact that the Railways had nearly gone bankrupt in 1999-2000 and had recovered probably because of the efforts of his team, which included the non-Railwayman OSD. The suspicion that the OSD had generated this view in strengthened by the fact S. M. Kumar wrote a book titled "From Bankruptcy to Billions" creating the impression that he and Lalu Yadav had achieved the recovery from 2000 to 2003-4, while the fact, which Lalu Yadav himself admitted in his first speech as Railway Minister on July 6, 2004, is that it was the NDA itself which had achieved the recovery and had handed over to the UPA a fairly healthy Railway system.
One would like to suggest that the controversy should not be carried forward and all sections of the government, including the former allies, should come together for meeting the formidable challenges facing the Indian Railways.
The Railways, according to these documents, proposes to set up bullet train systems totally 2,000 kilometres by 2020, a laudable goal. Huge challenges face the Indian Railways in the coming years and one feels that all sections of the people should support the efforts of the government, never mind who remains the Railway Minister or the party in power.
BY DEVI CHERIAN
IN the last one week, the BJP has done an overhauling in a big way. A young, Nitin Gadkari was appointed as new President of the party. Sushma Swaraj, the articulate and moderate MP, is a welcome change from Mr Advani. Arun Jaitely who is the leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha and Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha will both offer competent and effective leadership. But at this moment, the BJP needs a dynamic leader. Was the former Maharashtra BJP chief the only option? His performance in Maharashtra was not really up to the mark. One has recently witnessed the new BJP President in the Capital with a fleet of cars in front and back driving from one Central leader to the other. It seems he is doing the Delhi darshan. Does one think he is a match to Rahul Gandhi charisma?
The worrying aspect of the new changes in the BJP is that they are still being done by the RSS, the ideological mentor of the BJP. This leads us to the question: Is this the path for the BJP to come back to power or will this revert the party to its Jansangh days? That would be a sad situation for this nation.
The 83-year-old L. K. Advani is now the Chairman of the BJP's Parliamentary party. Some say, at this age
people usually are retired and settled. Jaswant Singh is being wooed back by the BJP and obviously the two top leaders, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitely, now are the two pillars and will have to work together. Both are young and dynamic.
TELANGANA IMPACTS CONG
chaos in Andhra Pradesh is leaving the high command quite worried. After the announcement of Telangana, the results are happy, worried and dangerous too. The young Telangana MPs who are close to Rahul Gandhi are overjoyed as they see themselves either in the Cabinet or at least as main advisors on this issue to the Centre. Former senior ministers think the UPA has dug its grave. At a recent dinner hosted by the Prime Minister, the young Jag Mohan tried to make up and do some PR, led by Subi Ram Reddy to meet Sonia Gandhi. But they were met with a royal snub. So, they quietly melted into the background. The Congress cancelled its daily briefing in Parliament for five days. They feared that the Andhra MPs may raise the uncomfortable Telangana issues here. The fifth day Lok Sabha was adjourned sine dine and most MPs left for their constituencies.
Senior Congress men are trying desperately for a breakthrough in this issue. Also, the conditions in Karnataka are not very good. Most probably the BJP and the Congress are trying to put their houses in order there. The problem, of course, is: Who can handle the notorious mining Reddy brothers? The Telangana issue has a positive effect too for the Congress. It has weakened Chandrababu's hold. Secondly, it has cut to size Jag Mohan Reddy. Jagan's support base has gone down tremendously after his united stand of Andhra Pradesh. For once the new Andhra Chief Minister K. Rosaiah is feeling secure after the former Chief Minister YSR Reddy's demise.
It seems Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan is rapidly losing ground. He has been sulking recently as the PCC President is slowly and steadily gaining ground. Even though at any given opportunity his own party people of the Congress pull his leg. Chauhan, who prefers to be called 'the son of the soil', ironically tasted a crushing defeat on his home groundVidhisha district. In the recently-concluded civic elections, Amit Boss of the Congress won and became the Corporator of Ward No. 33, where Shivraj's house is located. Boss happens to be Chauhan's next-door neighbour. They even share a common wall. So, this was clearly a great victory for Pachouri.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
It has been a case of act in haste and repent at leisure for the Congress as far as the Telangana issue is concerned. The decision to carve the State of Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh has raised a veritable hornet's nest, with the Congress caught on the back foot by the backlash it has provoked. Its problems come from two directions. The decision has split Andhra Pradesh into warring camps, with the pro as well as anti-Telangana camps devising strategies, including resignation by MLAs, MPs and Ministers, as also bandhs and strikes that threaten to burst out into a conflagration which the Government may not be able to control without losing political ground. The chief of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, K. Chandrashekhar Rao, whose fast unto death had forced the Centre's hand in making the granting of statehood announcement, has threatened to infuse even greater violence into the movement if the Centre went back on its words. It is ironic indeed that it had been the desire to prevent such violence which had been one of the reasons which induced the Centre to grant statehood after Hyderabad witnessed anarchy with mobs laying seize to the State Assembly. If the Congress had thought that it could induce its supporters in the Rayalaseema and coastal regions to accept the partition, it has been proven woefully wrong, as the spate of resignations by its MLAs reveal.
Simultaneously, the decision to create a Telangana State has galvanised outfits in other areas to renew their clamour for separate States, including demands which had become dormant or are outlandish. Opportunist attempts to stoke the fire by individuals such as Mayawati with her demand for Bundelkhand and Harit Pradesh fall into the last mentioned category. But in many cases the demands are long pending and have strong backers, as in the case of the demand for Gorkhaland, with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha at the helm of the movement. Similarly in Assam, the Telangana concession appears to have woken up supporters of separate States such as Bodoland, Dimaraji, Kamatapur etc. from their torpor. The unexpected developments have now forced the Centre to acknowledge that "the situation has altered since the announcement of a separate State" since "a large number of political parties are divided on the issue." Clearly it is seeking to buy time to weather the storm a hasty decision has unleashed, as revealed by the news that it is considering setting up a States Reorganising Commission to take up the entire gamut of separate statehood demands. The Centre will now need all the tact it can muster to find a way out of the stalemate and frame a via media solutions before a potentially explosive situation, both in Andhra Pradesh as well as other parts of the nation, gets out of hand.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
REVISED PAY SCALE
he pay revision issue of nearly half a million State government employees has created a long drawn out controversy blown out of all proportions by the inept handling by the political party in power and the insatiable greed of the employees who want more money but pay only lip service to work culture. From the beginning the Chief Minister went on repeating the same statement that the Government of Assam would pay at least a rupee more than the Central Government. His cabinet spokesman bettered the Chief Minister's bravado and used rather unparliamentary language to slam the opposition parties. The Pay Commission was under considerable pressure to submit the report early. It was almost hustled to prepare the report within limited time. In regard to pay scales the Commission did not have much choice. Their unofficial mandate was to recommend the Central Government pay scales. The media went on reporting charges and counter charges levelled by the parties to the controversy. The employees associations stepped up the steam as time passed. They went on threatening that nothing less than central pay scales and rates of allowances would be accepted. Even before the report was out these associations started threatening strikes and other types of demonstrations. In this milieu the Pay Commission seems to have done a commendable job by recommending pay scales, grade pay and allowances which are generally acceptable. Certain anomalies have been pointed out but these can be sorted out by the committee appointed in this behalf. In the past also similar arrangements had been made in regard to such anomalies. The employees' associations are now fighting among themselves only to impress upon their own members, as to who could extract the most from the Government. They do not seem to have any genuine grievances left.
What the State government should emphasise now is the work culture. State government offices must work the same hours as the Central Government offices. The holidays and leave also must be at par with the Central Government. Ordinary people, who are actually paying for the employees' emoluments and who should be the masters in a democracy, must get due respect when they visit any office and their work must get priority on each such occasion. If the employees start any agitations the Chief Minister must be firm and sternly put down all indiscipline in the same way as AK Antony did a few years ago in Kerala when the employees went on strike. In Kerala today the administration is much better and there is no indiscipline among the employees. The time has come for Assam Government to put behind the pay scale controversy and start working in right earnest for development of the State and for the welfare of its thirty million people.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
THE DELIVERY OF WELFARE
A P BORGOHAIN
The other day Rahul Gandhi has said," The government must reach the people". The government is headed by the Prime Minister at the Centre and the Chief Minister at the States like a president heading a company in the corporate world. Planning Commission and other bodies and intellectuals assist the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers to formulate metho dologies for the welfare of the people of India. The government is a conglomeration of various departments each headed by a Minister equivalent to the Chief Executive Officer of a company. The officers, the field staff, the work force of the government is headed by a Secretary. All the Secretaries are headed by the Cabinet Secretary at the Centre and the Chief Secretary at the State.
The performance of the government is reflected in the performance of the ministers in our democratic set up and after every five years, their performance is gauged by the people of the country. Non performers are dethroned. Unlike the CEO of a company whose performance is gauged daily by the share holders in the share market, the ministers' performance is gauged by the people only after five years. But, like the Board of Directors and the president of a Company can dismiss a non performing CEO, the Prime Minister or a Chief Minister along with party's high level committee can decide on the performance of the minister and dismiss him. But the Secretaries, the officers and work force who are the main architects of the delivery of welfare remain intact for their entire service tenure irrespective of their performance. But a non performing minister can ruin the performance of the party in the next election.
The people of India have political power and with the rise in labour productivity since 1970 acquired economic power as well. Before that Governments regarded country's population as its great liability. The poor and illiterate people of India were a burden for the rest of the world also. Now India produces two million English speaking graduates, 15000 law graduates and about 9000 PhDs every year. Three lakh engineers are added every year to the existing 2.1 million. The poor and the illiterate are now the work force of India. They want better education, good school buildings, and good teachers. Many of them can now afford expensive result oriented private schools. They want a doctor, a hospital in their village. They want nutritious food, safe drinking water and proper sanitation. They want a good black topped road and access to money. The vast Indian masses are now the human capital of India and its potential as an economic power contributes to the growth of Indian economy. The creativity and innovation of our people will increase if we provide them light to read at night and good roads to go to their work. Prime Minister Monmohan Singh said, "It is in India's superb human capital that our advantage lies."
In 2000 the fund starved government could not maintain earth roads. But by the end of 2007, 48215 km of earth roads were converted to black topped roads under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojanas in rural India at a cost of Rs.21081.21 crore. The National High ways were in shambles in the last century but this century's first decade had created assets that make India proud in the face of the world; two lane, four lanes, eight lane high ways linking major cities of India have been constructed with world class accessories. The government launched flagship programmes namely, Bharat Nirman, National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, National Rural Health Mission, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, modified Sarba Siksha Abhiyan with expanded mid-day meal programme for improvement in the quality of life of our people. Government launched the Rashtriya Krishi Vikash Yojana with an allocation of Rs. 25,000 crore for the 11th Five Year Plan. The National Food Security Mission is also launched with an amount by over Rs.4800 crore. The budget estimate for 2009-10 of Govt. of India provide for a total expenditure of Rs.10, 20,838 crore. The 11the Five Year Plan (2007-12) has earmarked $500 billion for India's infrastructure.
It is the government that steers this huge allocation of fund to reach the people for education, health, electricity, drinking water, roads, irrigation and agriculture. Great men have innovated ideas for the upliftment of Indian voters both rural and urban and funds have appeared. But does the delivery mechanism need an overhaul? The processes and capabilities of the government work force need fundamental reforms. What is the punishment for a government employee for non performance? A warning by the superior which is quite frequent in our system but suspension and dismissal are long drawn processes in government service unlike the corporate sector. The employees have enough of constitutional safeguards but the constitution did not provide for their work process and time bound performance. They do not think that speed is life. They do not know the discipline of execution. Any government department is a confederation of fiefdoms, each with its own leaders with his own fads. Many employees would not move to do a work until his own interests are fulfilled. The innovators have found out that the delivery mechanism for converting our goals into concrete results is badly damaged. To repair the damages e-governance is created but will that be enough until a constitutional safeguard to the rights of the voters to receive the benefit of welfare in time is implemented. The constitution should bind the government employees with time bound performance for the benefit of the masses of India and compel them for acceptance with a smile, the punishment awarded for a breach thereof. Implicit obedience to the commands of the constitution could only bring in discipline among government employees. Article 311 of the Constitution needs elaborate discussion and change in view of modern day requirements of integrity and efficient performance.
Fund flow is the essence of all development programmes to alleviate poverty. Time bound payment of bills of agencies executing contract works by the government employees maintains the pace of execution of the work in the field. A recently issued Government of India circular read, "In addition to the existing system of bank authorization, State Rural Road Development Agency (SRRDA) (headed by the Chief Engineer of the State) may adopt an alternative system in which each PIU (Project Implementation Unit) (headed by the District Drawing and Disbursing Officer) will prepare an authorization statement on the basis of the bills passed by it every fortnight and send to the SRRDA. The authorization statement shall contain the details of the payment namely-name of work and package number, name of authorized payee and his bank account number, sanctioned amount of the project, expenditure on the project up to previous fortnight and amount payable to him during the current fortnight for each package. Based on the authorization statement, the SRRDA shall issue an authority letter/ online payment instructions to the bank to credit the amounts in the accounts of the payees mentioned in the authorization statement under intimation to the PIU for making necessary entries in the cash book.''
This instruction is the brain child of a holy executor who realizes the essence of execution. Moreover it talks about fortnightly payment to the contractor, vigorously stressing the need for regular and the time bound flow of fund to the contractor. Now, the Chief Engineer of the State, on receipt of the authorization letter from the District could make the payment in two minutes. But the Chief Engineer has his own fads. He will order a double check. He will ask the District Officer to send the passed bill and all other documents required for passing a bill along with the authorized letter and requisitioned the services of many officers to check the documents in his office. Now the contractor will bring all these documents from a far flung district to the capital of the state and stay in a hotel for one month for his passed bill to be passed again by the officers in the head quarter till he receives his payment. This is an example of indiscipline in execution.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
MAHATMA GANDI'S ECONOMIC MODEL
SUDHANSU R DAS
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a lawyer by profession. But the economic model Mahatma Gandhi offered to his countrymen has enough clues to restore nature's imbalance and tick the livelihood cycle of millions of people across the world. Mahatma Gandhi only rediscovered India's immense economic potential, which was very much there for centuries. Economic historian, Angus Maddison in his book The world economy, a Millennial Perspective noted India had the world's largest economy between 1 st and 15 th century AD. India had 32.9 per cent share of world economy in the 1 st century AD to 24.5 per cent share in 1500 AD. In 1700 AD, India's share in world income was 22.6 per cent, which was almost equal to the entire Europe's share. It sunk to 3.8 per cent in 1952. Indian economy thrived on a balanced growth of agriculture, industry and trade. When India's wooltz steel became popular in European nations, its agriculture products mainly spices, handloom and handicraft products had no competitor in the world. Mahatma Gandhi was the keenest observer of micro economic activities in the Indian sub continent as he found Indian way of life was scientifically designed to sustain a wide range of economic activities. A simple marriage ritual creates jobs for gold smith, weavers and people in eatable sector etc. A famous pilgrim center gives livelihood to people selling flowers, handicraft, religious artifacts, running hotels and restaurants. Gandhi was not against import of goods. As he said, "I donot boycott anything merely because it is British. I simply boycott all foreign clothes because the dumping down of foreign clothes in India has reduced millions of my people to pauperism ." It is because of Gandhiji many Indian cottage industries have survived today and earn huge foreign currency for India. India's handicraft export grows at nearly 20 per cent per annum and the annual export of handicrafts crossed Rs 16,000 crore. The Export Promotion Council has set an export target of Rs 25,000 crore by 2010.
After so many decades when the world leaders have realized the importance of living closer to nature when global warming has threatened the livelihood of billions of people across the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report 2007 reveals global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70 per cent between 1970 and 2004. The CO2 emissions have grown between 1970 and 2004 by about 80 per cent. Climate scientists have predicted the possible increase in cyclone intensity by 10 to 20 per cent would affect the livelihood of millions of people in 7500 km Indian coastline. "Every year more than 200 million people are affected by natural disasters across the world," said Salvano Briceno, head of the UN's International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. The kind of environmental decay world over clearly indicates the global leaders have not used the science and technology for the safeguard of the humanity. Rather many science and technological innovations have been used to help a handful of global traders to thrive on the ruins of environment across the world. In 1913, farming, forestry and fishing accounted for 28 per cent of employment in US, 41per cent in France and 60 per cent in Japan. The developed nations reduced their dependence on natural sectors to 6 per cent and contributed to global warming in dangerous proportion. The World Bank estimated that by 2035 as many as three billion people mainly in developing countries could live under severe water stress.
This has happened because the kind of development today is based on a few mono sectors growth, which triggers large-scale migration of people to cities. Mahatma Gandhi said urban centres would not provide quality of life to such a huge Indian population. He had predicted urban area would become chaotic once we shift our focus from agriculture and cottage industry to a few mono sectors. His prediction has come true today as there is visible chaos in big Indian cities. Today more than 30 per cent of urban population in India lives in slum. The quality of life in Indian urban centres has reduced considerably not due to availability of funds but due to migration of people from rural areas and unplanned expenditure.
Mahatma Gandhi's sustainable economic model, which could provide livelihood to the majority of people without putting unnecessary pressure on environment is now looked upon by world leaders with amazement. Gandhi's development mantra "production by the mass not mass production" is going to influence economic policies of nations across the world. The world leaders must have to put a stop to their economic misadventure, which precipitate into global warming and threatens to wipe out human civilization. The recent Climate Conference in Copeheagen has witnessed some fat greedy cats fighting over a fish without knowing the fish is a bait for them. There is an old saying Marana kale biparita budhi (a person loses his rationality at the time of his death) The solution for global ills in fact lies in Bapu's return.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INCLUSIVE GROWTH CAN LIBERATE THE COMMON MAN
T K ARUN
Ma Nishada! Hold it, wild man. With this injunction begins a poetic career that vests immortal fame on an ordinary Indian. Valmiki, himself anerstwhile wild man who robbed travellers for a living, uttered a couplet cursing a hunter who had shot an arrow through one of two birds engaged in the act of love. And, inspired by the poesy of his verse, went on to narrate the story of the Prince of Ayodhya in similar couplets.
Information on how ordinary people lived in ancient India is scant. One can infer a lot from literary sources. In contrast to Valmiki, Shambuka was beheaded for trying to acquire enlightenment beyond his social status.
In Shudraka's play Mricchakatika, a herdsman becomes king, a shampooer becomes a Buddhist monk, courtesans become wives and the common people have the right to protest against injustice. Ordinary folk had some agency and the scope for social mobility. The Maurya in Chandragupta Maurya stands for the son of Mura. Mura was a menial but her son became emperor.
The laundryman in the Ramayana, heeding whose disapproval of his king retaining a queen who had spent time in the household of another man Rama abandons Sita, is a mortifying patriarch, no doubt, but also a commoner whose views had to be respected by the king.
The Mahabharata also provides contrasting pictures of social mobility for the subaltern classes. Ekalavya, the Nishada youth whose archery skills rivalled Arjuna's, had to give up his thumb, and with it, his ability to notch an arrow to the bowstring, to prevent the calamity of a low-born surpassing a prince in the martial arts. For similar reasons, Karna, brought up by a charioteer and his wife and thus deemed of low caste, was prevented from taking part in the contest to win Draupadi's hand, and earlier shooed off from the arena where the young princes of Hastinapur were showing off their martial skills.
Yet, the Pandavas and the Kauravas were all themselves descendants of an ambitious fisherwoman, whose first child, Vyasa, was born of an encounter with a passenger on her boat. When her second and third sons, from King Shantanu, died childless, she got their wives impregnated by her eldest son, who was no blood relation of the line named after Bharata, son of Dushyanta and Shakuntala, but managed to see his sons Dhritarashtra and Pandu continue the royal lineage of the dynasty of the moon.
In mediaeval India, we find the Bhakti movement throw up a whole range of low-caste poets and saints who enjoy the respect of all society. The colonial experience seems to have curbed social mobility. Social divisions, always unequal, became reified, and got codified into gazetted hierarchy.
That the British found the Moghul system of extracting surplus capable of significant refinement meant that ordinary people had been left with a little more of their produce by the pre-colonial rulers than what the British thought they needed to keep toiling away. Famines, impoverishment and revolts marked the period till the British crown took over control from the East India Company.
In the early 18th century, India accounted for nearly a quarter of world output. By the time India got Independence, that share had come down to about 3%. The common man bore the brunt of this relative shrinkage and virtual absolute stagnation of per capita income.
The first three-and-a-half decades after Independence also saw slow growth, slow urbanisation and predominance of the agrarian life and its consciousness in shaping Indian culture and the destiny of the common man.
In the meantime, the world outside India's make-believe socialistic model had seen the miracle of the mass market and historically unprecedented prosperity. More people moved out of subsistence poverty in the burst of sustained growth after the end of World War II than in any prior period in human history. Factory girls wore silk stockings, the privilege of queens of yore, and bright village boys won scholarships, launched businesses that grew into fortunes. In India, a small middle class came into being while the government insulated Indian business from the winds of change sweeping the world.
The eighties saw the beginning of India's liberalisation. Information technology and telecom began to work the miracle that fully matured only by the turn of the century. The growth process left behind, forever, the Hindu rate of 3.5%. However, the period up to 1990 saw the polity splinter. Separatism racked the north-east and the northwest, religious revanchism grew into a mass movement across India, a struggle for dignity by the oppressed Tamils of Sri Lanka slipped into the hands of bloodthirsty terrorists who created outposts of support in India's south, a huge corruption scandal stripped the system of legitimacy, and a political ploy to corner rivals by the prime minister of a minority government, by the expedient of extending reservations to a large group of backward castes other than the most backward, completed the process of political fragmentation.
In 1991, India formally launched globalisation and liberalisation, opening up new possibilities of emancipation for the common man. The subsequent period saw the demolition of the Babri mosque, shaking the ordinary Muslim's faith in India's secular commitments, and the return of political stability to Assam, Punjab, the south. Elections were held in Kashmir.
The Asian crisis of 1997 and over-investment in the mid-'90s brought an end to resurgent growth. Growth picked up pace only in 2003-04. Thereafter, till the financial crisis that began in September 2008, India's per capita income grew in excess of 7% a year, despite terror and insurgency in one-fourth of all districts.
The slogan of inclusive growth does not have the hollowness of 'garibi hatao' of the past. Incomes are going up in rural areas along with telecom towers and social mobility. Only the failure to innovate policy thwarts the immense scope for empowerment that globalised growth offers the common man in India. Today, it is the politician who shouts Ma Nishada, not in anguish or anger over any crime committed by the common man in pursuit of his daily bread, but only for want of emancipatory imagination or will.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE EXPECT MID-CAPS TO OUTPERFORM IN 2010: MIRAE ASSET'S GOPAL AGRAWAL
He feels India is fairly valued, if not expensive, at these levels. However, there are a host of opportunities still available for investors, especially in the mid-and-small-cap space, the important thing being that one should be able to identify them early on. Meet Gopal Agrawal , CIO and head (equity), Mirae Asset Global Investments, who, in an interview with ET, advocates a stock-specific approach for 2010 and advises investors to buy companies having good business models with high debt as risk taking is back.
Where do you think the market is headed in the coming year, and what do you see as the key driver of sentiment?
We expect global markets, including emerging economies, to continue with their upward trajectory in 2010, though we don't expect returns to be as spectacular as they were in 2009. The strong co-ordinated actions taken by various governments and central banks across the globe in terms of stimulus and fiscal packages have already started to show effect and major economies have come out of global recession though all the news flow is still not positive. However, the important thing is that positives are now overweighing negatives.
The TED spread (difference between interest rates on inter-bank loans and short-term US government debt) having narrowed down and VIX (volatility) index also back to normal levels indicate that investors have regained appetite for risk. From here on, company-specific news flow, earnings and GDP upgrades will determine the market direction. We expect investors to make superior risk-adjusted returns if they are able to invest in well-managed equity diversified funds India has been the beneficiary of sustained capital flows into emerging markets, so much so the central bank was considering controls. Do you expect this trend to continue or are we headed for a pause?
Yes, India has witnessed sizeable capital inflows in the past. Its strong and resilient consumer demand, impressive IIP numbers and GDP growth of around 7% during the period of severe global recession makes India a favourable investment destination for FIIs. We believe that if the Indian government is able to take progressive steps towards curtailing fiscal deficit and increase infrastructure spending, it will give further fillip to FII inflows in the country.
What is your view on earnings? Some believe that earnings may surprise on the upside in 2010. Do you agree?
We expect earnings growth of over 20% in FY11E, but rising commodity prices, strong consumer demand and expected CAPEX boom could surprise earnings on the positive side.
Do you see a possible shift in investment strategy for 2010? What are the themes you see being played out?
We believe that in 2010, a stock specific approach would be able to generate superior risk adjusted returns compared to the conventional top-down sector-specific approach. As economies across the globe emerge out of recession, we expect strong growth of over 7.5% in BRIC nations, which will lead to resources, infrastructure spending and corporate CAPEX-related themes being able to deliver relatively superior returns. In addition, given the current scenario of high global liquidity and benign interest rates, we would advise investors to buy companies having good business models with high debt as risk-taking is back. Any equity infusion will improve sustainability of company's growth and deleveraging of its balance sheet.
Where would you advise investors to park their money sectorally, or even by asset classes? What would an ideal basket be?
We expect mid-caps to outperform in 2010, because of superior earnings growth, valuation discount to largecap and risk taking coming back into action. We would advise investors to pursue a prudent asset allocation with exposure to equities, gold and resources. In the resources space, we would advise investors to take exposure to agricultural and bulk commodities. We are also selectively positive on pharma and IT companies.
The mutual fund industry has been going through some tumultuous times over the past few months, and mutual fund investments seem to have taken a back seat with equities being looked at more favourably. Your comment?
We expect investors to invest more favourably in equity mutual funds in 2010 as they have recovered their losses from most of the schemes and are, in fact, sitting on decent gains. Given that bank deposit rates are low amid a rising inflation scenario and a return of investor aptitude towards riskier asset classes, including equity, retail investors should definitely increase their investments in equity mutual funds in the coming months.
TIWARI SHOULD HAVE QUIT EARLIER
It is a good thing that the Governor of Andhra Pradesh, Mr N.D. Tiwari, has resigned and that his resignation has been accepted by the President of India, at whose pleasure he served. It is to the credit of the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi's sagacity and high sense of rectitude that the situation was brought to a close with such finality. It is only because it became known that Mrs Gandhi had expressed extreme annoyance at a high-level party meeting about what had happened that the word went out to Raj Bhavan in Hyderabad and the governor resigned. Till then there were the usual attempts to try and pass off the episode as a conspiracy. For the Congress high command to have waited for an investigation of the incident would have been politically damaging considering that the three-and-a-half-minute video that purports to show the now former governor is among the most viewed clips on YouTube. Any delay would have prolonged the fallout of the unsavoury episode and armed the Opposition with a dangerous weapon. As it is the entire Opposition in Andhra Pradesh had united in protest and demonstrations were held outside Raj Bhavan by women's groups. It would have created the impression that the governor was fiddling like the Roman Emperor Nero while Andhra was burning. The charge against Mr Tiwari may or may not be true. The footage of the sting operation, carried out by an Andhra Pradesh newspaper and TV channel, is grainy and the persons involved not clearly visible. But politicians and parties know that mud of this nature, once flung, sticks. Going by the fact that the target of the so-called sting was a person with dual responsibilities as the representative of the Centre and also the constitutional head of the state it was only proper that he resign immediately of his own volition. Mr Tiwari, a leader from the Pahadi region of Kumaon, is the only Indian politician with the distinction of being the chief minister of two states Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal. He has also been a Union minister four times. A seasoned politician, he has seen many ups and downs in his long career and should know the rules of the game. On an earlier occasion he had taken the stand that as a governor he enjoyed immunity from prosecution. This time, attempts by Mr Tiwari's aides to dismiss the incident and even say that he would continue in his post did no good; they only served to embarrass the high office he held. Mr Tiwari, presumed innocent unless proven otherwise, should have resigned of his own accord to uphold the sanctity of the office of the governor of a state. If the camera footage holds true, it is a fit case for the dismissal of such a high official. The government machinery has started to move on this one. The Union home ministry has sought a report from the AP chief secretary on the allegations that have been levelled against Mr Tiwari. The state chief secretary is also understood to be consulting legal experts on the possibility of Mr Tiwari facing legal charges after his resignation and the fact that no one has lodged any formal complaint against Mr Tiwari as yet. Allegations of misuse, and even abuse, of power, are not new in Indian politics. The tragedy lies in the alarming frequency with which they crop up again and again. Power lends arrogance to its wielder. This arrogance translates into the belief that one can do anything, an above-the-law ideology as it were. The allegations that emerge from the so-called Hyderabad Raj Bhavan sting operation, whether or not they are true, highlight the need for a calling to account of those in high office.
ECONOMY WILL RECOVER
BY ARJUN SENGUPTA
The Indian economy should recover from the recession caused by the global meltdown. India's exposure to the world economy is quite limited. It is mainly through the exports market and partly through foreign investment flows either as equity or debt capital that financed private investment. The extent of the dependence, however, is quite low. The recession in the exports market affects only few sectors, such as textile and labour-intensive manufactures and some industrial raw materials and engineering goods with limited feedback on other intermediate products. The effect of recession on final demand, mostly from domestic market, remains limited when there is a downturn, although expansion in demand often is significant in pushing up domestic production.
The fluctuations in capital flows may, however, have much larger impact, especially when an increasing amount of private investment has been financed by foreign borrowing. Now that the international capital market is reviving and the rate of return in the Indian industries remains reasonably high, the revival of the international capital market will act as an impetus for Indian investment. The existence of a large domestic market provided a basic cushion for the Indian economy to the negative effect of global recession. But as the world demands start picking up the market response would go beyond the domestic interdependence to further increase the growth impulses in the Indian economy.
I, therefore, feel that the Indian economy will get back its high growth trajectory in 2010 unless some unforeseen development takes place. Several reforms may improve the matters, but they are not that important to keep the growth momentum. The investors should not lose their confidence in the continuation of the growth outcomes, which would result if there is no reversal of policies.
But does the revival of the economic growth answer all the major concerns of Indian development? By now, almost two decades of high economic growth after the economic reforms of 1991 have taught us a lesson that high rate of growth may be necessary, but is insufficient to produce the inclusive development that has been the principal goal of the Indian policy. Inclusive development does not mean that all sections of the economy should experience some development. Sustained high growth for some years will, in due course, impact most sectors through increasing demand and supply and general increase in productivity. Inclusive development implies increasing equity, improving the livelihood conditions of the poor and more than the average growth of the economy. Nobody in our country today would ask for growth for the sake of growth. It should improve the welfare of the people reducing the disparity in income and opportunity, poverty and destitution, lack of health and education. The least advantaged must improve their welfare more than the national average.
A number of studies have shown that high performance of economic growth in India has not made much impact on the income and welfare disparities. India is now divided the poor and the vulnerable and the rich luxury consumer.
I think the challenge to the Indian economy next year and in the years to follow would be how to change the dismal dichotomy between two Indias? This division not only makes mockery of tom-tomming our high growth rate as the index of prosperity, it is also fraught with the danger of widespread violence and anarchy forcing the policymakers to reverse the reform process with investors eventually losing their confidence in our economic prospects. If that happens, it will take very little time for the high growth performance of the country to collapse. It is high time that we change the emphasis of our economic policy and plan for an inclusive development that removes the prevailing disparities.
The United Progressive Alliance government has worked out major programmes, which can tilt the balance in favour of the poor, if faithfully implemented. Five programmes National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Bharat Nirman, rural infrastructure including roads, irrigation, sanitation, and electricity, Savarashiksha Abhyan and Rural Health Mission would take us a long way towards changing the nature of our economic development. If the government added to this the employment creating programmes in our informal economy, providing the 92 per cent of our unorganised workers access to enterprise, credit, technology, and marketing, it would place us firmly on the path of development bringing equity and social justice to the high level of economic growth.
We have, however, learnt a major lesson from our attempt to implement these programmes they are not dependent only on provision of finance or public expenditure. With economic growth, the volume of revenue realisation has increased over the last five years, which has allowed us to increase public expenditure on these projects. But we have failed to work out effective delivery of these programmes, without leakage and inefficiency and with accountability and transparency. We no doubt need financial provision, but more importantly we need organised public action, making the stakeholders responsible for delivering the programmes and being accountable through a proper process of evaluation and scrutiny and mid-course correction when necessary. In other words, we need a different approach to governance where accountability should be established, whether by the panchayati raj institutions or local level organisations. We need a new model of governance.
Planning for development in India, from now on, should be done from the point of view of equilibrating demand and supply and generating investment and capacity expansion of specific sectors where there are bottlenecks. The methods of carrying out those exercises will have to be much more decentralised going to the grassroots level. A simple top-down approach will not work because the top does not have and cannot have all the information necessary for implementing the programmes.
Apart from decentralisation, this new model of governance involves a new model of accountability and transparency holding the different agents responsible for carrying out specific functions. Where agents fail in discharging the responsibilities, there should be a mechanism of correction as well as reprimanding and punishing. The government machinery at the district, state, and Central levels must fully engage in identifying their responsibilities. They would derive their legitimacy from carrying out that exercise of governance and there should be a method of changing them if they fail. I very much hope that year 2010 would mark the beginning of a process of reforming our system of governance, so that we can achieve our cherished goal of economic growth with equity.
Dr Arjun Sengupta is a member of Parliament and former economic adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi
A PERSPECTIVE FROM 'THE REAL AMERICAN'
BY MAUREEN DOWD
As my brother Kevin headed off to Christmas Eve Mass in the Maryland suburbs, I asked him how he thought the first year of the US President, Mr Barack Obama, had gone. He didn't have to pray long over that one. "Fine", he replied, "if you like unmitigated disasters like the Hindenburg and the Redskins season".
If it's Christmas, it must be time for my conservative brother to take over my column and turn it a blazing shade of red. So without further ado, here is Kevin unplugged, offering a perspective from "the real America", as one of his favourite Republican philosophers, Sarah Palin, likes to put it:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Who could have guessed on November 4, 2008, that the mood this Christmas would be so festive? Yet a feeling of optimism pervades as we watch the old Christmas movies and marvel at the winter wonderland.
The Republicans, of course, got exactly what they deserved in 2006 and 2008 mainly because they acted like Democrats. Deficit spending and sex scandals are not a good recipe for success.
But by forcing through a government takeover of healthcare, the auto industry and the banks, the President and his congressional henchmen have brought us in a time machine to Russia 1917. These massive changes have been done in secret and along bullying, straight party-line votes.
It is stunning to watch rich lawmakers driving their own expensive cars off the cliff and signing on to such a socialist agenda. In dismissing the tea parties and pushing through plans the American people obviously don't want, they have made the fatal disconnect between the representatives and the represented.
President Obama continues life in the high-occupancy vehicle lane, fawned over by the press and the crowned heads of Europe. In between apologies, the President should have reminded those pompous blowhards that without our interference, they would all be speaking German.
My dad was a DC policeman, and I would like to apologise to the Cambridge police for the President's assumption that they "acted stupidly". You would think that Mr Obama would have afforded the police the same consideration he gave to the mass-murdering Muslim Army major when he said: "I would caution against jumping to conclusions".
President Obama should remember that Icarus tried to fly to the sun because, as he said, "it is the only thing in the universe that can match my brilliance". How did that work out? Here are some reflections for 2009:
To President Obama: Thank you for saving the Republican Party and for teaching all of us that too much of anything is a bad thing.
To Bill Clinton: You did too much work on Northern Ireland for the Nobel committee. Next time, do nothing.
To Harry and Nancy: The Twilight Zone once had an episode where the town got the exact opposite of what it wanted. Farewell, Harry!
To John McCain: Thank you for your chivalry in banning Palin attack dogs including my sister from the campaign plane.
To Sarah Palin: Keep up the good work. Anyone who annoys Keith Olbermann that much is a friend to all of us.
To Glenn Beck: Thanks for being the only journalist interested in stories that used to win Pulitzer Prizes.
To Al Franken: So, 250 years of Senate tradition trashed. Stuart Smalley would have done better.
To Desiree Rogers: Get back to the gate. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson can't get in.
To the Salahis: Thank you for showing us that shame has no bottom.
To Valerie Jarrett: So much for the Olympic Village in Chicago.
To Chris Dodd: The only thing lower than your polls is your mortgage interest rate.
To Adm. Mike Mullen: The military should be more interested in the men and women who serve than in celebrating diversity.
To the Democratic senators: Go last next time; the bribes are much bigger.
To Sheldon Whitehouse: You, senator, are an idiot.
To Dick Cheney: You, sir, are a patriot. Thanks for firing back.
To George W. Bush: Thank you for your dignity. Did you really start the plague in the 14th century? Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
To Hillary: Who knew how much you would be missed?
To Al Gore: A global warming conference in the middle of a Copenhagen blizzard is not a good visual.
To Max Baucus, Eliot Spitzer & John Edwards: Party on, dudes.
To John Ensign, Mark Sanford & David Vitter: Don't party on, dudes.
WHEN NETAS TURNED POLITICALLY INCORRECT
IT'S TIME TO SAY GOODBYE
Union railway minister Mamata Banerjeeon West Bengal Chief MinisterBuddhadeb Bhattacharjee
It is time for the Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee-led CPI-M government to go. Marx and Mao in West Bengal have become one. In Keshpur, they took the help of Maoists and now they have brought Kishenji. The Chief Minister is spreading lies about me and my party. All we need to do is to wait for some more months and the CPI-M will become non-existent. There is no democracy in West Bengal. The Buddhadeb government is trying to thwart the democratic process and to suppress the Opposition's voice at gun-point. They have killed many of our party leaders and supporters.
THE CPI-M AND THE MAOISTS ARE TWIN BROTHERS.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is nothing but a pseudo-intellectual. He spends time in the company of film personalties, artists and writers to project himself as a man of letters. He tries to present himself as the quintessential Bengali bhadralok who is steeped in the rich culture of the state but it is all a sham. In September last year, the then governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi took the initiative to resolve the Singur impasse and brought the chief minister and me to the negotiation table.
At one point during the talks at Raj Bhavan, Mr Gandhi recited a few lines from a famous poem of Rabindranath Tagore which appropriately summed up the prevailing situation. After reciting first few lines, the governor stopped expecting either of us to complete the poem. Mr Bhattacharjee remained silent. After looking at him for a moment I recited the subsequent lines. Every educated Bengali who knows his Tagore would have been familiar with the poem.
STOP BEING AN OPPORTUNIST
AIADMK CHIEF JAYALALITHAAON DMK CHIEF KARUNANIDHI
Karunanidhi keeps mum when the Tamil people are badly affected but his scream will reach right up to Delhi should his family face any problem.
He has betrayed Tamil interests in the Mullaiperiyar Dam issue and is now shedding crocodile tears.
He failed to instruct the state's lawyers to file an objection when the Supreme Court decided to refer the Mullaiperiyar issue to a Constitution Bench. And he did not instruct the state officials to raise the water level in the dam to 142 feet.
Was that Kerala's crime or Karunanidhi's? He is an opportunist willing to leak even a defence secret if that could help him or save his post. Karunanidhi is the main cause for the Tamils being massacred in Sri Lanka.
Absolute power corruptsTourism minister of Karnataka G. Janardhan Reddy and his brother Karunakar Reddy on Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa Mr Yeddyurappa might assume that he is smart and can get away having all the fingers in the pie. But people have seen through his game. The cliché of being pro-farmer and pro-dalit has not worked from day one.
No one seems to believe him and in fact, his platitudes have become jokes. Mr Yeddyurappa is trying to make people believe that we are desperately hanging on to power. It is he who is trying to do that and now the effort is showing for all who care to see it. He was so jealous that he even came in the way of philanthropic efforts of mine owners like us, who came forward to contribute what we could for the flood-relief fund.
Try to keep your Word
RJD PARTY CHIEF LALU PRASAD YADAV ON CHIEFMINISTER OF BIHAR NITISH KUMAR
Nitish Kumar is a politician with a double face. As chief minister, he has been laboriously fooling people of Bihar by sitting in the communal BJP's lap and periodically offering half-hearted sops to Muslims. The past four years of the NDA rule have turned Bihar into a far worse jungle than what they pilloried as the jungle during Lalu Raj. Nitish Kumar ke sushashan ka hawa nikal gayi hai. (Nitish Kumar's claims of good governance have been exposed.) All sorts of crime have grown manifold in the state; attacks on Dalits have increased; Maoist presence has spread to more areas; corruption has reached new heights; and bureaucrats just don't obey the government's orders. Nitish Kumar's weekly "janata durbar" has become a weekly drama due to officials' apathy towards social justice and development. Nitish tried to please Bihar's landless by promising land reforms, but stepped back under pressure. He is taking orders from the Sangh Parivar. He allowed the RSS to hold its conclave for the first time in Bihar. Nitish is also dividing the dalits by creating a Mahadalit category for political gains. For Bihar's educated youth, there are hardly any employment opportunities in the state. Bad governance still keeps the industry wary of investing in Bihar. Misuse of Central funds is rife, but Nitish still cries for more funds.
THE GREAT DRAMA PRINCE
UTTAR PRADESH CHIEF MINISTER MAYAWATI ON CONGRESS GENERALSECRETARY RAHUL GANDHI
Congress ka yeh Yuvraj sirf natakbaazi karta hai. I have been told that he visits the homes of dalits to show sympathy and then bathes with a special soap to cleanse himself. Dalits can see through such facades.
Alice in blunderland
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari on Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal
The Chief Minister of Punjab is a good man with a mindset rooted in the 1960s. He is completely out of sync with the aspirations of a restless generation in the state. Mr Badal's tenure over the past two-and-a-half years is a perfect account of the transition from Alice in Wonderland to "Alice in Blunderland".
REWARD FOR INEFFICIENCY?
BJP PRESIDENT NITIN GADKARION UNION HEAVY INDUSTRIES MINISTER VILASRAO DESHMUKH
It is only a mockery of democracy that after being proved inefficient in the state, the Congress decided to reward Vilasrao Deshmukh with a berth in the Union Cabinet. The 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks exposed Mr Deshmukh and his deputy R.R. Patil's inability to maintain law and order. Both of them had to step down from their posts after the attack. The case against Ajmal Amir Kasab is still pending. But Mr Deshmukh got a promotion while Mr Patil is back as Maharashtra's home minister. It only shows that Mr Deshmukh, Mr Patil and their parties are not serious about anything. Over and above that, last year, I had said that while he was chief minister, the government had tried to favour an infrastructure company by twisting the pre-qualification norms. The pre-qualification condition for building a new Rs 820 crore Sion-Panvel eight-lane highway (along with securitisation worth Rs 1,500 crore of five toll nakas at five main entry points of Mumbai) that the bidder should have executed work of Rs 200 crore on build-operate-transfer basis in the past was suddenly introduced by Maharashtra State Roads Development Corporation to benefit a certain company. I was proven right when the state government cancelled the tender and invited separate tenders for the Sion-Panvel highway and collection of toll.
THE DAYS OF 'RAJ' ARE OVER
SAMAJWADI PARTY MAHARASHTRA UNIT PRESIDENT ABU AZMION MNS CHIEF RAJ THACKERAY
Raj Thackeray's politics is going to harm Maharashtra. He is only misguiding the people and dividing the society. His hate politics will push Maharashtra to the brink of backwardness. Mumbai is the financial capital of India and people come here in search of opportunities.
The migrants also contribute to Mumbai's progress. But Raj Thackeray's politics is driving people away from the city. This will adversely affect the development of Mumbai and Maharashtra.
His politics will also hamper unity of the country. The state government must take strict and immediate steps to stop him. A person like him has his place only in prison. I am sure Raj Thackeray will change his policies because he won't be able to grow beyond a certain limit with this rigid viewpoint. I don't think he is even honest about his Marathi plank.
He is using "Mumbai for Marathis" only to achieve his short-term goals, but it will damage the social fabric of the country if he is not stopped.
HOLLOW MAN WITH NO IDEALS
CONGRESS MP JAGADAMBIKA PALON FORMER BJP CHIEF RAJNATH SINGH
Rajnath Singh is a hollow man. He deliberately referred to me as a kar sevak during the debate on the Liberhan Commission report in the House to malign my image and gain cheap publicity. I openly challenge him to prove his point. I want to ask him whether he owes allegiance to a temple in the name of Lord Ram or to the Constitution of India? In a desperate attempt to play communal politics, he also said in the House that a temple existed, exists and will exist at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid. Such leaders should not be allowed in Parliament as they set wrong precedents for India's democracy.
To me, Rajnath Singh is a fake leader of the saffron party as he was not associated either with the Ayodhya movement or the kar seva at the disputed structure on December 6, 1992. All this shows that Rajnath Singh is an irrelevant person.
BJP LEADER SHAHNAWAZ HUSSAIN ON RJD CHIEF LALU PRASAD YADAV
The former chief minister of Bihar ended up derailing the development course of the state. Look how badly the state suffered during his tenure. Bihar, under his chief ministership witnessed lawlessness and disorder. People used to feel unsafe and the state was in news most of the time for the wrong reasons. The number of financial scams that took place during Lalu Prasad's tenure are known to everyone.
As told to Yojna Gusai, Amit Agnihotri, Parul Chandra, Anand S.T. Das, Prasad Patil, Bhaskar Hegde and
A CHECK ON CHINKS IN THE ARMOUR
PAK, CHINA POSE THREAT
A.K. ANTONY DEFENCE MINISTER
Pakistan and Afghanistan is the epicentre of terrorism. There is a threat (in a global context) of terrorists laying hands on the nuclear weapons. The consequences of such a situation are unimaginable. The increasing nexus between China and Pakistan in the military sphere remains an area of serious concern. We have to carry out continuous appraisals of Chinese military capabilities and shape our responses accordingly. The terror infrastructure in Pakistan needs to be dismantled. We have been telling all countries that terrorist camps across the border are a threat not only to India but to the entire world. India expects cooperation from the entire world community in its efforts for action by Pakistan against terror outfits operating from its soil.
JOGINDER SINGHFORMER DIRECTOR, CENTRAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION (1996-97)
Intelligence agencies need to pull up their socks as they have been found wanting on several occasions. There is been hardly any improvement on that front. India is a soft state and we need to change our stand especially when threat of global terrorism is looming large on us. We have been saying that we will fence our international borders but haven't done it so far. The Centre needs to change some of its policies that are adversely affecting the internal security of the country. For example, in Jammu & Kashmir the government announced that they would give financial support to the families of terrorists killed by the Indian Army and now they are planning to give non-refundable aid up to Rs 5 lakhs to the unemployed youth of J&K. Such policies to pamper certain people must stop. Our laws are pro-terrorists and trials in courts take ages. Cases of organised crime and terrorism should be tried in special courts so that the terrorists would be dealt with firmly. Kasab's trial is an excellent example of how soft and tardy we can be with militants.
Victims of terrorist activities in the country should be suitably and promptly compensated. Under the modernisation plan, there should be no compromise on procuring and using the best possible equipment. Our immigration laws and infrastructure needs to be pruned. Immigration posting is considered a punishment posting. This should be reversed.
We should outsource security to private security agencies to some extent and make them stakeholders in the security with stringent controls. Involving communities in security will reduce the financial burden on the government. Politicians should stop using security issues for votebank politics.
DO REVERSE ENGINEERING
AIR MARSHAL P.K. BARBORA, VICE-CHIEF OF INDIAN AIR FORCE
The internal politics over the years is such that whatever defence requirements are cleared by the government, they are opposed by the Opposition and the same happens when the Opposition comes to power. This impinges very badly especially on defence. As far as defence (export) goes, we don't even match up with Pakistan. Forget about ethics. China has done all the reverse engineering. Has anyone ever had the courage to question China? No one cares a hoot. If you can't do it yourself, you should know how to (do) reverse engineering. We have not been able to move forward for some reason or the other. India has taken steps to invite foreign direct investment in the defence sector but these are not bold enough.
DR M.R. SRINIVASANFORMER CHAIRMAN,ATOMIC ENERGY COMMISSION
Enhance protection to nuclear installations with security barriers on par with that provided in the United States and other countries. India must join forces with international organisations to access data on the movement of terror organisations like Al Qaeda and stop them from gaining access to our nuclear facilities/weapons. Retrain men of the armed forces to make them adept at handling sophisticated weapons and communications' systems.
Check the antecedents of Army personnel posted along the borders to prevent them from taking to smuggling across the borders.
Deploy equipment like thermal imaging cameras on international borders, particularly in parts like Rajasthan and the Northeast, to stop militants from crossing over.
Set up a special maritime security force to monitor the coastline and stop dubious vessels from dropping anchor. All state governments ought to acquire advanced weapons, communication systems and bulletproof vests for police personnel in order to prevent a repeat of high casualty witnessed during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
Improve the coordination between state police forces, the armed forces and civilian establishment and have a plan in place so that each arm knows how to respond during a crisis.
Raise the morale of security forces by providing good housing and other facilities to their families as these men are leading a troubled and distracted life now. Include security concerns in the education system, alert school children about the risks involved and train them on how to react during a crisis.
SECURE COASTAL BORDERS
C.V. RANGANATHANFORMER CONVENOR OF NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISORY BOARD AND FORMER AMBASSADOR TO CHINA AND France
The Central government must develop Andaman and Nicobar islands into a modern and efficient maritime station in order to protect the country's security interests in the Indian Ocean region. Security must be enforced along water sources shared with neighbours with a vigil on flow of the river water in order to prevent illegal immigration and spread of epidemics. Threats of cross-border terrorism should be considered as international threats and a cooperation with international security agencies for elimination of such fundamentalist forces is needed.
In order to secure the support of people living in border areas, the Central government must remove the feeling of isolation among them through implementation of developmental schemes. Infrastructure and communication links along the Himalayas and border areas in Northeast to help the armed forces is crucial.
Vigilance along the borders even as the Union government attempts to improve relations with all neighbours needs to be enhanced.
We must step up security as well as create awareness among people in the coastal area and those adjoining land borders so that strangers in these places are tracked down immediately. Improving the institutional interface between security agencies, local groups and resident welfare associations in order to prevent fundamentalist groups from enticing young men and women to join them. Increase awareness among people about security will immensely help. Also there is a need to sensitise the public about these issues through a publicity campaign on potential threat from militant organisations.
INDIA JOINS THE ELITE GROUP
DR MANMOHAN SINGHPRIME MINISTER
Our government is fully committed to ensuring the defence of our national interests and protecting the country's unity and territorial integrity. The construction of a nuclear submarine (INS Arihant or "destroyer of enemies") is a special achievement. We can take legitimate pride that we have joined the select group of five countries (US, Russia, UK, France and China). We do not have any aggressive designs nor do we seek to threaten anyone. Russia's invaluable cooperation in the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project symbolises the close strategic partnership that we enjoy with Russia. The launch of the submarine is a historic milestone. This submarine is the outcome of a productive public-private partnership. The launch represents the determination and patriotism of Indian scientists who had overcome several hurdles and barriers during the project.
FUTURE UPGRADES FOR IAF
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL FALI H. MAJOR (RETD)FORMER CHIEF OF THE INDIAN AIR FORCE
The Central government must speed up the procurement process to help the Indian Air Force build the capability in terms of aircraft and weapons. The government must also hasten the process of acquisition of equipment ordered by the both indigenous and imported to help achieve air dominance in the region in the near future.
The Centre must prod public sector undertakings to handover equipment to the IAF within a set time limit and provide product support throughout the year.
Gaps in ground-based air defence system through deployment of surface-to-air missiles, radars and sensors must be closed.
The joint development of fifth generation fighter aircraft along with Russia must be supported to the hilt.
Besides, we must go ahead with the process of purchasing the medium multi-role combat aircraft immediately after the ongoing process of evaluation of fighters.
All indigenous research and development efforts for development of electronic warfare (EW) suits and niche weapon systems must be speeded up with the help of local technological base.
All IAF personnel must be listed for retraining programmes to help them grasp advanced technologies in aerospace and electronic warfare. The government must create and maintain good amenities for Air Force personnel in order to keep their morale high. The infrastructure must be developed in advance for all future acquisitions fighter jets and weapons because these are next generation systems that demand new standards of maintenance.
Enhance security at all the IAF bases in cooperation with respective state governments in order to insulate these facilities from militant and terror activities.
WE WILL STOP INFILTRATION
GENERAL DEEPAK KAPOORARMY CHIEF
The United States has not allowed a second 9/11 to happen. Indonesia has not allowed a second Bali bombing to happen. India has allowed people to get away after Parliament attack, Delhi blasts and finally the Mumbai terror attacks. The time for all of us has come to say "no more". The attempts of ceasefire violation (from Pakistan) have increased because this enables infiltration to be carried out when the firing is on and can be used as a diversionary tactic.
Attempts will be made by the other side to try and disrupt the stable and peaceful environment in Jammu and Kashmir and to push in as many infiltrators as possible before the winter sets in. It is the trend that we are witnessing and the attempts of infiltration are going on.
ADMIRAL NIRMAL VERMAINDIAN NAVY CHIEF
The responsibility of coastal security that the Indian Navy bears does not distract it from its primary duties. On coastal security, the preparedness by security agencies is much better now (as compared to what it was before the Mumbai terror attacks). A massive coordinated exercise by various agencies had been conducted earlier off the coast of Tamil Nadu and the Navy, the Coast Guard and state marine police were all involved. Certain gaps in coastal security as revealed by that exercise were plugged. I have been assured that if a fishing vessel were to go missing, then the chief minister would come to know about it within three hours. Such exercises should be conducted periodically.
HI-TECH WEAPONS NEEDED
M.M. PALLAM RAJUMINISTER OF STATE FOR DEFENCE
We are concerned because Pakistan is crossing the minimum nuclear deterrent threshold. The internal security situation in Pakistan is deteriorating and India does not know how long the Pakistan government would be able to safeguard its nuclear weapons. The rapidly developing political, economic and military strength of India, is unfortunately supported by a fragile internal security scenario, and could become a significant factor for instability in the region and in the world. Our defence forces and paramilitary forces are under-equipped, inadequately trained and improperly supported. Armaments, ammunitions, state-of-the-art equipment and support systems in telecommunications, surveillance and other areas are needed.
As told to Sridhar Kumaraswami,B.R. Srikanth and Bala Chauhan
SURESHOT SPOILSPORTS OF 2010
BY CYRUS BROACHA
The Commonwealth Games are around the corner. In fact, if you live in Vasant Vihar or Defence Colony, they are actually just around the corner.
Sadly we are not yet a sporting conscious country.
I myself know very little of sport, since as you all know, my area of expertise is oil paintings from the Harappan period. Yet I find myself besieged by queries from 30 readers, most of them respond by the same name of Deepak. The questions most asked are: What is Commonwealth Games? Is Commonwealth Games male or female? And the rather difficult I dare you to translate Commonwealth Games into Hindi.
Quite frankly these questions, I can't answer. However, after a highly conscientious exploration of all sporting faculties and potential available in the country, a task that consumed a total of 23 minutes last night, I found a few disciplines in which we Indians can excel ourselves and bring glory to the nation at the Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010.
Long distance running
The 1,500 metres, the 300 metres, and the 500 metres are where we are sure shot to win gold and glory. These events are dominated by ectomorphic stick-figure athletes who are lean in body, but muscular in mind. Athletes groomed from the Telangana region, weaned as they are on hunger sticks, are perfectly poised to sweep the Opposition aside. An added incentive would be, if the Telangana athlete was pushed in training by an athlete who believes in an undivided Andhra, the two lightweights would thus push each other to hitherto unseen levels of athletic performance. This is a sure shot. But the Central government must make sure not to resolve the issue either way until the games are over, lest athletes start eating normally again.
Regional party members from the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and the like will be able to throw the shot putt over world record breaking distances with the right motivation. And what better motivation than a north Indian standing at a world record distance from the shot putter.
During the Javelin competition, the roles can be reversed with the regional hoodlum easing into the position of target practice.
Here we see India's secret weapon coming to the party. Prominent members of the Samajwadi Party will be able to see this event. This, however, comes with a rider. The Marathon must start from Noida and continue in the direction away from Uttar Pradesh. Oh and one more thing, to ensure increased acceleration, Mayawatiji must be present at the starting line.
50 metres air rifle & 10 metres air pistol shootingHere we have more winners than we actually need. Prominent politicians' sons from across the country are sure to corner the gold in this one. Though they may feel a little demotivated shooting clay pigeons, since they are far more comfortable and having been trained on a diet of defenceless live humans.
Snatch and jerk... Mamata Banerjee and Uma Bharti will vie for top honours here. Both have spent a lifetime training for the event. Mamata for example having lifted the house of Tatas out of West Bengal using the incompleted snatch and jerk technique should have little trouble against far less spirited competition when she gets under the bar.
Swimming: 100 metres backstroke
Only one name stands tall Madhu Koda. A sure as night follows day, Madhu Koda will win this premier swimming encounter. No backstroker worth his salt can beat his preparation which includes lying on his back for the last 46 consecutive days. Even trips to and from jail do not interrupt his training. A man so true to his craft owns the backstroke. One more gold to India's cause.
Few people know that India invented the cycle, 14,003 years ago. Of course at that time the "cycle" didn't have a seat, and this led to a flourishing proctor logon practice across all 10 giant rivers of India. However, seat or no seat, we Indians always have a great chance at this event. Our two foremost experiments are a certain M. Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalithaa. They practise throughout the year by consistently cycling and recycling governments between themselves.
The 4 by 100 metres
This sport may just about be the most surefire winner for Hindustan. China is good, Japan is great, but India have the edge thanks to a unique training procedure. Here, instead of the baton money's passed between the runners. Our crack foursome of Ramalinga Raju, his brother what's his name Raju, Abdul Karim Telgi and Suresh Kalmadi (making his debut), will be impossible to beat.
The obstacle race
Of course, it is owned by the athlete with No. 10 jersey. Dr Manmohan Singh, surrounded on every side by obstacles, has mastered the course after having rid himself of his weakness, (while always rearing it's head from the left flank), he has no pretenders to his throne.
I have made this list of 10 definite champions in a great hurry, more are sure to cover themselves with Commonwealth glory in the months to come.
Tiger Woods may have raised the bar, for all athletes and forever. But we Indians are undeterred. Whatever Tiger Woods can do we can do better.
This is in spite of not being a sport-conscious country. After all we have always lived with the maxim, (borrowed from C.L.R. James) "What do they of sport know, who only sport know?" Jai Hind!!!!
DIAGNOSIS & HOPE
DR AHLUWALIA STOPS SHORT OF A PRESCRIPTION
Through a robust presentation at last week's CII-organised forum, Montek Singh Ahluwalia has pretty much implicitly conveyed the message that the "food inflation" is artificially generated. This is in sharp contrast to the cerebrally challenged claim of the Agriculture minister some days ago that it was all because of global warming. Dr Ahluwalia has confirmed the misgivings of the people, holding out an assurance of a drop in food prices as 2010 unfolds. The pleasant expectation of a drop will be welcomed as much by the CII conclave he addressed as by aam aadmi. In the interim, the latter, at least in Bengal, has been advised by the government to switch over to wheat from the pricier rice. The Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission has attributed the price rise to a "faulty distribution system", with the retail rate absurdly higher than the wholesale. Last week, the food inflation rate touched a ten-year high of 19.95 per cent. Obliquely enough, he has indicted the functioning of governmental machinery. Of course, the extensive drought contributed. But Dr Ahluwalia's statement makes it plain that a natural phenomenon has been exploited to the hilt by the manipulators, their operations tacitly condoned by national and state governments. It is a bitter paradox of the country's agricultural economy that while the drought affected productivity, the foodstock position, in the reckoning of the key man at Yojana Bhavan, was "adequate". So what exactly went wrong? If stocks of cereals are adequate and prices can be moderated from January, the question survives as to what prevented the government from taking action thus far?
Instead the consumers were fed a regular diet of homilies. The country is having to pay ~ and prohibitively so ~ for the contrived failure to rein in speculators and check hoarding. And the malaise has afflicted even basics such as rice, wheat, pulses and sugar. There is not a single item of essential consumption whose price and supply position have not been speculated upon. Dr Ahluwalia has drawn a theoretical distinction between "food inflation" and "inflation" per se that requires what he refers to as "blunt monetary measures". What he left unsaid is that the first calls for equally blunt administrative measures on the part of his government. Of which there is as yet no trace of an effort. A distinction between the two varieties of inflation is a matter of purely academic interest, of no relevance at all to lessen the pangs of hunger. Dr Ahluwalia is spot on in terms of diagnosis; but as a government appointee he has stopped short of a prescription. Save a slender hope of a drop in prices from New Year's day.
THE AFGHAN TEAM
PLACATE THE WEST, APPEASE THE WARLORDS
Afghanistan's post-election cabinet suggests that Hamid Karzai has bowed to American pressure as much as to his warlords to whom the President owes not a little for his spurious re-election. This is clear from the retention in his cabinet of a legendary warlord from western Afghanistan. Though the exercise will scarcely make amends for his fraudulent election, he may have been able to balance US demands to get rid of the corrupt and appease local power players. Two ministers, linked with corruption, have been replaced. Which makes it clear that he was under western pressure to put together a team of reformists. Most importantly, the warning by international leaders that troops could be held back and development assistance frozen if Karzai didn't act against corruption, indeed honour his pledge to end what he conceded was a "culture of impunity", appears to have worked. His decision to retain the key cabinet ministers is likely to be endorsed by the West. And the critical feature of the new set-up must be that under pressure, international as much as local, Karzai has dispensed with half the existing ministers and inducted an equal number.
World leaders are believed to be happy with the performance of the interior, finance and foreign ministers. The cabinet, therefore, has clearly been put together in keeping with Afghanistan's terms of engagement with the Western powers. And crucially no less, under the dictates of the patronising warlords. They too have extracted their price. At the end of the day, the unveiling of the cabinet is of lesser moment than Barack Obama's double-think on the Af-Pak policy and the judicial stricture on the Pakistan President. The cabinet may just be a relatively agreeable element in the overall construct.
BUT DELHI MUST RETHINK ULFA POLICY
SELF-styled Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Barua has switched his campaign for a plebiscite into high gear by appealing to writers and intellectuals who were thus far critical of the outfit to do a rethink and support its demand. Public opinion may waver and there may be hard feelings on the issue, but the Assamese intelligentia recently urged the Centre to define sovereignty so as to pave the way for talks. And this is significant. The plebiscite question has come up only after the Centre put its foot down on sovereignty, Ulfa's core demand. But something needs to be done to break the logjam if Assam is to take advantage of Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa's "arrest". He cannot possibly be confined in jail for long. Barua is the last of the Ulfa hardliners still at large and unless he surrenders ~ which is unlikely ~ there can be no breakthrough. However, there is no reason why the Centre cannot think of offering him immunity from arrest in the event of his willingness to return home. That is one way of looking at things from a peace perspective. But Barua's life could be in danger if he returns. This reminds us of what Jawaharlal Nehru had to say about exiled Naga leader Angami Zapu Phizo who slipped into the UK unnoticed in 1956. He said India did not want him back because if he returned it would be difficult to protect him from those waiting to take revenge for the killing of their near and dear ones.
Apart from their demand for sovereignty, Union home minister P Chidambaram wants Ulfa to give up violence and surrender arms. Yet, in respect of the Maoists, he had said that "if they shun violence, laying down of arms was not a prerequisite". In which case, the Centre must rethink its policy in respect of Ulfa. Meanwhile, Barua cannot hope to win public support with appeals from his hideout; he must show up.
INSECTS USE VISION TO FIND FOOTHOLDS: STUDY
PRESS TRUST OF INDIA
LONDON, 26 DEC: Scientists have shown for the first time that insects, like mammals, use vision rather than touch to find footholds.
They made the discovery, thanks to high-speed video cameras technology the BBC uses to capture its stunning wildlife footage that they used to film desert locusts stepping along the rungs of a miniature ladder.
The results are published this month in Current Biology. The study sheds new light on insects' ability to perform complex tasks such as visually-guided limb control, usually associated with mammals.
According to lead author Dr Jeremy Niven of the University of Cambridge, "This is another example of insects performing a behaviour we previously thought was restricted to relatively big-brained animals with sophisticated motor control such as humans, monkeys or octopuses."
Because insects such as bees and flies spend a lot of time flying, most research has concentrated on how insects use vision during flight. Many insects that spend a lot of time walking, such as stick insects, crickets and cockroaches have relatively small eyes and use long antennae to 'feel' their way through the environment.
Locusts spend time both walking and flying, and have short antennae and large eyes, which made Dr Niven wonder whether they used vision to find footholds.
To answer this question, the team built a miniature locust-sized ladder and filmed the locusts walking along it. They counted the number of times the locusts missed steps, comparing the number of mistakes they made in different situations. "By combining all these different experiments, we showed that locusts use vision to place their legs. We showed that when locusts can't see one front leg they stop using that leg to reach to the next ladder rung, favouring the leg they can see," Dr Niven explains.
"Big-brained mammals have more neurons in their visual systems than a locust has in its entire nervous system, so our results show that small brains can perform complex tasks. Insects show us how different animals have evolved totally different strategies for doing similar tasks," he says.
CHINA'S NEWEST PUPPET
INDIA MADE INTO A PROXY IN COPENHAGEN
BY RAJINDER PURI
THE former National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra, has stated that information inputs from China suggest that its analysts envisage a two-front attack against India by China and Pakistan within the next four to five years. Mishra urged the Prime Minister to focus not only on a 9 per cent growth rate but devote equal attention to security threats from China. Mishra could be mistaken. The government seems to have taken care of any security threat from China. It has consciously made India into a proxy of China, willing to act according to Beijing's bidding. If New Delhi is becoming Beijing's puppet, why should China attack India ?
The Copenhagen summit clinched India's new role as China's proxy. Even before the summit Jairam Ramesh scampered to China to cozy up to Beijing in order to forge a joint front for climate change. What was the need to do that? After the summit Ramesh said that differences between the developed nations led by America and the developing nations arose mainly because of the "deficit trust" that the West had with China. He claimed that no such deficit trust existed with India. He was entirely correct. India's pollution level is many, many notches lower than China's. India has no real problem with international verification except of unequal and non-reciprocal arrangements that might infringe on its sovereignty. Then why on earth did India latch itself to China's coat-tails?
At Copenhagen, Premier Wen Jiabao urged India to stand firm with China for a united stand against western pressure. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave assurance he would. Why? India could easily have held firm to its own position with greater acceptance by both the West and the G77 nations without incurring the displeasure caused by the opaque, non-transparent and polluting role of China. Perhaps the government was disarmed by some private assurances given by China? That seems to be the case judging from the euphoria that gripped official and media circles by Premier Wen's assurance given just before the Copenhagen summit that China will not interfere in South Asia or in the internal affairs of India.
But China has always claimed that it never interferes in the affairs of South Asia or of India. After Wen's assurance will China stop issuing paper visas to Kashmiris from the Valley? Will China stop bullying road builders on our territory in Ladakh and force them to stop work? Will China stop encroaching at several points along the border? Will China stop arming and strengthening Pakistan against India ?
Apparently not. After the Copenhagen summit, a Chinese defence official justified Beijing's sale of warships and submarines to Pakistan on the ground that India was receiving similar systems from the US and Russia. On the face of it this is unexceptionable.
Why should China not have the right to arm Pakistan to ensure that it can maintain an adversarial role against India? Is this interference in South Asia? Technically, no. Actually, it confirms the hyphenation of India and Pakistan by Beijing. It confirms China's role in beefing up Pakistan's intransigent attitude against India. Therefore, without "interfering" China is helping maintain the status quo in South Asia as India remains encircled by hostile nations aided by China . One cannot blame China for pursuing a policy that it perceives to be in its interest.
But what about India ? Does it have the faintest perception of the policy that would suit its interests? That does not seem to be the case. Possibly India is emboldened to pursue its demeaning, self-destructive role because of approval by its mentors in the US. These mentors are the ones that cheer on India to achieve a 9 per cent growth rate without any attention to its national security and self-respect. These mentors are the dominant group of America's corporate world which destroyed America's pre-eminent global economic position, which compromised America's security, which helped launch unjust wars in Asia, which are attracting public criticism from US citizens who are beginning to even question the system, and which made America more unpopular in the rest of the world than ever before. These mentors belong to what this scribe has always described as the real Axis of Evil comprising America's corporate world and China .
Will the government ever delink itself from this evil axis and from the coat-tails of China? Fat chance! Beijing has invited Foreign Minister SM Krishna to China in the first week of April 2010. The Ministry of External Affairs has gratefully accepted the invitation. China's Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, said that Copenhagen marked a "new beginning" in the bilateral relations between China and India. How right he was. Now India, like Pakistan , is part of China's camp. China will now be much better placed to bring about accord between its two squabbling proxy nations of South Asia, India and Pakistan. Unless of course this servile government miraculously develops a spine.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist
In his May budget, Pranab Mukherjee repealed the fringe benefit tax, which his predecessor, P. Chidambaram, had imposed in 2005. It was a tax to be paid by the employer on all perquisites, including those whose benefit did not go to any particular employee. Mr Chidambaram then realized that he had left out certain employers, such as individuals, joint Hindu families and trusts; so, in 2007, he amended the rules to bring them into the net. Apart from the monetary burden, taxation of perquisites forces employers to maintain complicated records. So it was unpopular. Bearing in mind the exigencies of the forthcoming general election, Mr Mukherjee abolished the tax. But the canny revenue officials always keep a trick or two up their sleeves. They have a rule buried in their copious rule book, which makes perquisites taxable in the hands of employees. On December 18, they slipped in an amendment to the rule under which even contributions to a superannuation fund and stock options will be taxed as perquisites, not to mention the salaries of the driver and gardener provided by an employer. Now employees will have to recalculate their perquisites during this tax year, and pay tax on the entire year's perquisites in the remaining three months of the year. They can still avoid the bother if they can persuade their employers to declare that the perquisite was given for an official purpose. But that will only make employers' lives miserable. So, some pained confabulations between employers and employees are in order.
In effect, therefore, Mr Mukherjee's repeal of the FBT was repeal of the name, not repeal of the tax; the revenue department had hidden provisions which made perquisites taxable anyway, and now they have called a few other things perquisites and subjected them to tax. Poor salaried men will soon be wondering if the FBT was not better than the complicated rules of the Central Board of Direct Taxes.
In principle, it is unobjectionable that income should be taxed by whatever name it is called. Taxation of salaries always creates an incentive to call them by a different name, so most countries tax benefits given under other names. But income should be taxed without making the taxpayer's life a nightmare. Hence, if perquisites must be taxed, they should be taxed in the hands of the employer, who has to maintain accounts anyway. They should be taxed at a low, flat rate, to keep things simple. Instead of complicated rules specifying particular benefits as subject to tax, a general rule taxing all benefits should be introduced, and exceptions given therefrom. Amongst those exceptions must be all benefits given towards making the employee's future more secure, whether they are called pension, superannuation, or employee stock ownership plan. For the government has given long and deep thought to their taxation, and settled upon the exempt-exempt-tax principle. Let it stick to its resolve for once.
ONE YEAR ON
A year ago, Israel's catastrophic escalation of military action in Gaza had killed 1,400 Palestinians, which led to the collapse of one of the countless 'ceasefire' agreements between the two neighbours. Under severe international pressure, Israel made a truce of sorts, brokered by Egypt and France. However, the terms set by Israel were utterly preposterous to stop the demolition of Gaza for three hours every day to allow a 'humanitarian corridor' to carry aid into the devastated strip of land. Meanwhile, the regime change in the United States of America raised hopes of peace, especially after Barack Obama's magnanimous overtures of friendship to the Muslim world. In September this year, Mr Obama met Binyamin Netanyahu, the ultra-nationalist Israeli prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, the equally uncompromising Palestinian president. They exchanged pleasantries, smiled for the press photographers, shook hands, then went home. That meeting, like the scores of joint discussions preceding it, proved to be the usual exercise in futility.
So, the killing of six Palestinians by Israelis last Saturday was something that was waiting to happen. Twelve months of relative stability must have felt unbearably long for Israel, which fell out of favour with many of its Western patrons, notably with Britain, for its intransigence last year. Emboldened by the mandate given to the rightwing parties in the general elections early this year, Mr Netanyahu's government has unleashed a rule of terror with impunity. Israeli human rights activists, who are opposed to the war in Gaza, have been cruelly suppressed by the State. Now, with the fresh outbreak of violence instigated by Israel, Palestine may retaliate in kind and that would put Middle East back to Square One.
TRADING WOULD HELP INVESTMENT IN ELECTRICITY
COMMENTARAO - S.L. RAO
When Volkswagen decided to set up a car factory in India, it had no certainty of how much it could sell and how much profit it would make. The company had confidence in its products based on successful and profitable performances in many other countries. It could also bank on the goodwill of Indian target consumers for the original 'Beetle', the iconic Volkswagen of the 1960s. Electricity in India has been different. Investors, especially those from overseas, want guaranteed sales, guaranteed returns and guarantees of payment for sales. This is because of the dominance of state government-owned enterprises whose monopoly in the distribution of electricity has diverted government resources into consumer subsidies and operational inefficiencies instead of into investments in health, education, infrastructure and agriculture. Mumbai has made a break in the 'natural monopoly' conferred by ownership of transmission and distribution wires. Consumers can demand to be supplied by another service provider over wires owned by non-government enterprises.
We owe this to the creative imagination in the structure created by the Electricity Act, 2003. It tried to create an environment which could expand capacities despite the constraints imposed by the concurrent nature of electricity in the Constitution (both Centre and states have authority over it); and the near-monopoly over distribution of state electricity boards. Over time, this had led to uneconomic tariffs, as many interest groups were supplied free electricity or power below cost. Because of inefficiency, overstaffing, indiscipline, and collusion in thefts of electricity by the SEB staff, poor maintenance, and delayed replacement of ageing equipment, the SEBs have been losing vast sums of money.
The Electricity Act, 2003 redefined captive generation, recognized electricity trading and mandated open access on transmission and distribution wires. Open access enables anybody who wants to send electricity across wires owned by someone else to do so if there is available capacity and payment is made of the tariff determined by the regulator.
Captive generation now "includes a power plant set by any cooperative society or association of persons for generating electricity primarily for the use of members of such cooperative society or association". Thus any group of persons can set up a captive generation plant and each member must have a shareholding in it. It is no longer incumbent that Tisco, for example, has a power plant for the exclusive use of its steel plant. Such power is outside government control and regulation and can be bought and sold at prices that are market-determined.
There is a surcharge for open access "to be utilised for the purpose of meeting the requirement of current level of cross-subsidy". It was to be eliminated, though the Left parties managed to make the coalition government change that to "progressively reduced and eliminated" and made sure "that such surcharge may be levied till such time as the cross-subsidies are not eliminated". However no surcharge is to be levied for open access by captive plants. The surcharge for open access using transmission and distribution lines belonging to the state enterprise or any other party will be determined by the State Electricity Regulatory Commission.
The electricity regulatory commissions are required to "promote the development of a market" (including trading). The act now recognizes trading. It is clear to me that it follows that generation plants can now be set up that are wholly or partly dedicated to trading. These are the merchant plants, that is, producing electricity for trading purposes. Thus an investor can promote an electricity generation plant as he can any other product, and depend on the market to buy the electricity at any price acceptable to the consumer and producer. The competitive forces of supply and demand in the market will determine the price, not a regulator. The price level will vary depending on these forces. The regulator will ensure that market forces are enabled to work freely and that there is no anti-competitive practice.
If Jindal Power is making huge profits with merchant power, these will drop as more merchant power capacity gets installed, as investors flock to where there is a good profit. This will add to the generation capacity and alleviate shortages. The SEBs will of course have to supply the smaller consumers.
There is provision in the act for the ERCs to "fix the minimum and maximum ceiling of tariff for sale or purchase of electricity in pursuance of an agreement". In a market, the tariff is normally determined at the equilibrium between demand and supply. The tariffs for traded electricity should therefore be settled between the concerned parties and not be subject to regulation. The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission recently used this provision in the act to place a ceiling on tariffs for traded electricity. It did so because at that time the tariffs were very high owing to the failure of the monsoon. It adversely impacted hydroelectric generation. The buyers were primarily SEBs, which were obligated to supply agriculture and domestic consumers who were paying prices that were mostly below cost. Charging them more would have caused public agitations. If tariffs were not raised for consumers, the SEBs would have lost more money. The CERC must have intervened to prevent such problems.
However, as other large users (industries, railways, housing colonies, and so on) become customers for merchant power, the SEBs may depend only on power supplied by government agencies and not have to buy in the market. The markets will then determine prices and the CERC's intervention to hold prices down may become unnecessary.
With the establishment of electricity exchanges with excellent linkages between different centres, it should have been possible for electricity to have been traded on firm future supply and demand. Unfortunately, an unresolved dispute between the Forward Markets Commission and the CERC on who will regulate futures trades has delayed futures trading.
Thus, an electricity generator can get a tariff in different ways: a long-term tariff on the basis of bidding competitively for a project on the basis of a tariff (as has happened with the ultra-mega power plant so far about 10,000 megawatts is under construction); have it determined by the ERC on the basis of norms for costs and a predetermined return on equity, proposed capital expenditures, fuel and other costs; or be an electricity merchant depending on the vagaries of the market to get revenues to cover expenditures (as happens with most other products and services).
This last option enables the investor in electricity generation to earn depending on the market and not on a fixed return determined by the regulator. Many investors prefer such a risk and produce electricity that they will sell either through the exchange on a spot or future basis or on bilateral contracts. Open access will enable them to transmit the electricity. They can enter into contracts for transmission capacity to assure delivery.
Until India moves away from subsidized tariffs, much of the electricity generated will continue to be regulated and sold for use by households, small enterprises, farmers, and so on. The law limits trading to large users (above 1 MW). These could include housing colonies and industries.
State governments and colluding SERCs have used a clause in the act that gives state governments the power to issue directions under "extraordinary circumstances" to deny open access. States would rather keep all electricity generated within their borders for their use. The government is at last changing this clause. After six years since the act was passed, open access should finally enable merchant power and substantial additional generation.
Open access is the lynchpin for trading merchant power and massive private investment in generation is essential if our electricity shortages are to be brought under control.
The author is former director- general, National Council for Applied Economic Research
AT THE SCENE OF CRIME
GWYNNE DYER - FIFTH COLUMN
"The city of Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport," said John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, on the night of December 18. "There are no targets for carbon cuts and no agreement on a legally binding treaty."
The guilty men included the American president, Barack Obama, and the Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who took the first planes out. Xie Zhenhua, the head of China's delegation, lingered behind to declare that "the meeting has had a positive result, everyone should be happy." But many people are unhappy, including most of the 130 presidents and prime ministers who showed up for the conference.
Their countries spent two weeks struggling unsuccessfully to bridge the gulf between the rich and the poor nations over who pays to fix the eminently fixable problem of global warming. They were clear on the goal they wanted a treaty that would hold warming to a safe level (although they could not agree on what that level was). Most of them even wanted to make it legally enforceable. The Copenhagen Accord, by contrast, was a drive-by shooting, agreed in a few hours among the United States of America, China, Brazil, India and South Africa. It contains no hard numbers for emission cuts and no deadlines. Yet, Barack Obama insisted that it was a "meaningful" result, because they had "agreed to set a mitigation target to limit warming to no more than 2C and, importantly, to take action to meet this objective."
For this, 192 countries spent two weeks negotiating at Copenhagen? It was an utter waste of time. Even I knew that it was bound to end up like that. Two weeks ago, I wrote: "The Copenhagen summit will certainly fail to deliver the right deal. The danger is that it will lock us into the wrong deal, and leave no political space for countries to go back and try to get it right later." Well, Copenhagen certainly didn't lock us into the wrong deal. The reason no deal was possible is because public opinion in the developed countries is still in denial about the fact that the final climate deal must be asymmetrical. Until the people grasp that, especially in the US, there will be no real progress.
TIME RUNS OUT
For two centuries, the countries that are now "developed" got rich by burning fossil fuels, filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, to the point where it now has little remaining capacity to absorb carbon dioxide without tipping us into disastrous heating.
This means that the rapidly developing countries like China, India and Brazil will push the whole world into runaway warming if they follow the same path in growing their economies. Since they are relatively poor, however, they have been investing mainly in fossil fuels, just as the West did when it was starting to industrialize.
So how do we deal with this unfair history? The developed countries must cut their emissions deeply and fast, and give the developing countries enough money to grow their economies with the clean energy. That's the deal, but most voters in the US don't understand it yet.That's why Obama couldn't promise to cut American emissions to 20 or 25 per cent below the 1990 levels by 2020, as most other industrialized countries were offering to do. Instead, he could only offer a paltry 4 per cent and he couldn't even guarantee that. Until Americans start to take climate change seriously, Obama will not be able to move. It is politically impossible for the Chinese to make concrete commitments until the Americans do.
Each year in which we don't reach an adequate climate deal is probably costing us about 50 million extra premature deaths, but that's just the current tariff. By 2015, the annual cost in lives will be going up steeply. Time is not on our side.
ARREST AP SLIDE
'CONG MUST SEEK A CONSE-NSUS WITHIN THE PARTY.'
The ruling Congress at the Centre and the Rosaiah government must get their immediate priorities right in Andhra Pradesh. They must quickly restore a semblance of political order that is a prerequisite to contain the violent protests over the controversial Telangana statehood issue. No purpose would be served at this juncture by merely blaming the Opposition for the present turmoil. The political blame-game can be reserved for another time. If anything is horribly wrong on the political front, it is the problem within the state Congress. The party high command hadn't even brought its state leaders, legislators and supporters onboard before Union Home Minister P Chidambaram made two diametrically opposite statements on the statehood issue. The flip-flop, in a matter of 15 days, provoked both the proponents and opponents of Telangana to take to violent ways. It is important to convince everyone that the Telangana statehood issue cannot be settled through violence.
Belatedly though, the high command realised the need to engage in consensus-building. Much of the chaotic political situation in the state at present could be cleared if the ruling party's ministers, legislators and parliamentarians learn to speak in one voice. Therefore, first and foremost, the high command must seek a consensus within the party's state unit. It is guilty of avoiding this exercise even though it had put the Telangana statehood issue on its agenda almost 10 years ago. Clarity within the ruling party will help Opposition parties too to firm up their views and this would help pave the way for seeking a larger political consensus on separate statehood. Political consensus-building has to be a sincere and convincing exercise, and not be perceived as just a devious way to put the issue in cold storage, again.
In the midst of this Andhra slide, the high command is unwisely loud thinking about setting up a second states' reorganisation commission to look into the statehood demand. In the prevailing emotive atmosphere, this could be easily construed as a tactic to buy time. Even if the idea is a serious and sincere one, it is imperative to seek wider political support for it in Andhra Pradesh. And, since such a panel would also open up the possibilities for creating more states, the Congress at the Centre would be well served by building a national political consensus on it. The risk of opening the proverbial Pandora's Box unthinkingly is better avoided.
'THERE IS A NEED TO INCREASE JOBS IN RURAL INDIA.'
It is ironic that the state which boasts of spearheading India's Information Technology revolution and accounts for over 40 per cent of the country's software exports has a third of its population living below the poverty line. An expert committee set up by the Planning Commission has found that Karnataka is the poorest among the four southern states. The data indicates that of the southern states Karnataka managed to achieve the highest reduction of poverty over a decade, with its headcount ratio of people in the BPL category falling from 49.5 per cent in 1993-94 to 33.4 per cent in 2004-05. While poverty among the rural population has fallen, Karnataka stands first in the south in this category as well. And its performance with regard to tackling urban poverty is far from satisfactory. In fact, Karnataka's headcount ratio of poverty in urban areas is higher than the national average. Poverty in the state is deep-seated.
The extent of poverty in Karnataka as revealed by the Planning Commission figures is a damning indictment of the policies being adopted and the implementation of poverty alleviation programmes by successive governments in the state. There is much trumpeting regarding the achievements of the state in science and software, its growing number of malls and millionaires. However, these achievements mask a terrible truth. A large section of state's population is living in conditions of biting poverty. Karnataka's poverty is akin to that in Rajasthan or Assam.
There are important pointers for policy makers in the figures put out by the Tendulkar committee. Urban poverty is assuming serious proportions. This does not mean that planners should focus more on urban poverty than on the plight in rural India. Rather, the roots of the unfolding poverty in our towns and cities lie in rural desperation. Poverty and unemployment in villages is driving millions to migrate to cities in search of jobs. And there are few jobs on offer in towns, worsening the plight of these people. The government needs to increase opportunities in rural India. That will tackle rural poverty and migration to cities. Our neighbours have done a better job than us in tackling poverty. We need to draw inspiration from Kerala, a state far smaller than Karnataka but better off. What is holding back Karnataka? There state is rich in human and natural resources. There is no reason why it should remain at the bottom of the heap.
TELANGANA LAVA MELTS TEFLON
'THERE WAS ALWAYS A SUGGESTION IN PC'S DEMEANOUR THAT HE WAS NOT QUITE AT HOME IN HIS MINISTRY'
M J AKBAR
Teflon may be synthetic but it is not a negative: it is in great demand among both cooking utensils and politicians. It might even be called history's finest non-violent armour, for it protects your reputation from stain. If everything greasy simply rolls off the skin, leaving neither scar nor wound, then you become impervious to criticism. For politicians it becomes a near-magical coat, since they need a double-defence mechanism: safety not only from the Opposition's barbs but also from their own mistakes. Even when Teflon cracks it does so without a sound. The world gets to know of the breach long after it has occurred, leaving you time for repair.
Ronald Reagan used to delight in being called the Teflon politician. Even the Iran-contra scandal bypassed him, while frying half the White House that reported to him or maybe he bypassed the scandal. The net result was the same. He kept on smiling till his last day in office, his only regret being that he could not get a better successor. But then, no American president has been overwhelmed by his vice-president, so that is not valid evidence in the evaluation of George Bush the Elder.
Two members of the present Union government have been blessed with Teflon: Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram. Singh was born with it; Chidambaram ordered it at wholesale rates for use in his public persona. As finance minister he concentrated on spreading the good news and left the bad news to lesser mortals like bureaucrats or even a permanent demi-god like Montek Singh Ahluwalia. He made all announcements about recovery and growth. It was brilliant political strategy.
Since the home minister is the de facto chief policeman of the country, and the police are rarely blessed with good news, Chidambaram refashioned himself as the homeland security minister, raising his challenge to terrorism rather than mere crime. This clearly affected his mindset. He began to see every problem as an existential threat to the nation, treating Naxalites, for instance, as terrorists rather than a violent political movement born out of hunger and the state's neglect of the poor. Even when he did not expressly say so, there always seemed to an 'or else!' tagged to every statement he made. There was always an undercurrent suggestion in his demeanour that the home minister was not quite at home in his ministry, but Teflon was the great veneer that never let any uncomfortable thought emerge.
Telangana is the first crack in this Teflon, but of course we have not yet heard the sound of any crack since, as noted, the rupture is noiseless. The phrase 'flip-flop' has been well imagined. The first flip may be necessary for purposes of either display or convenience, but a second flip is always a flop, leaving you open to ridicule. The home minister was handed his moment when he announced the formation of a separate Telangana state on Dec 9. It was the kind of opportunity that prime ministers reserve for themselves, for new states are not born each day.
Delegation of duty?
But Manmohan Singh let his junior change the internal map of India. He might have been too busy: after all, he has been rushing from one country to another, with nary a day even for parliament. Or, more likely, the prime minister might have been a better politician than others think he is. Singh can measure the heat of a hot potato from a long distance, and Telangana was the hottest potato in a decade. He left this potato in the mouth of Chidambaram, and its heat melted the Teflon. Close observers of Delhi's power plays might have noticed a press release that suggested that the statement on the reversal of the Telangana decision would be made jointly by Sonia Gandhi and Singh.
They did not do anything so rash. The hot potato went back to Chidambaram. All he could do, once again, was juggle it on his tongue. Justifications for the second tongue-twister fell flat. Some over-clever types in Delhi tried to make a scapegoat of the new Andhra Chief Minister K Rosaiah, even though the latter had warned his high command not to divide the state. All they managed was to weaken yet another branch on which their authority rested.
The Union government has sent a message to Andhra Pradesh: pile on the pressure, and Delhi will buckle. Chandrashekhar Rao went on a fast and got his wish in rather quick time; the rest of Andhra picked up the hint and tweaked its own pressure points, inducing a back-breaking somersault. It is Telangana's turn once again to indulge in rampage-politics.
A question needs to be raised: why is coastal Andhra Pradesh so insistent on keeping a region that is so adamant on divorce? It cannot be a territorial matter since Telangana is not seceding from the Indian Union, and there is no law which says that an Andhra businessman cannot own a Telangana company or, for that matter, property in Hyderabad. Language is clearly no longer the most important glue for states, and if people get convinced that there is imbalance in development they will demand a better option and seek it in their own lifetimes. There is no point offering them gold in 2020 and coal today. It won't work.
Chandrashekhar Rao surely believes that he is the father of Telangana, but this child would never have been born without the mismanagement of Delhi. This volcano could have smoldered for many more years without exploding, and perhaps this period could have been used to redress the economic imbalance. But Delhi fired the volcano, and it now has lava on its face.
FEED THE HUNGRY FOR SUSTAINABLE PROGRESS
THE FIRST MDG HAS BECOME HARDER TO REACH AND INTERNATIONAL AID IS STILL INSUFFICIENT.
BY JOSÉ GRAZIANO DA SILVA
When we place an undernourished child on the scale, we are weighing not only a weakened organism, but also the synthesis of a system of reasoning as cruel as the one that cuts down trees, blows destruction and excludes the possibility of a decent life to over one billion people worldwide. The conscience of the 21st century can no longer neglect that, as long as there is hunger, there will be no sustainable future.
Nothing that resembles the systematic production of excluded populations will result in a lasting equilibrium. The challenges that humanity faces cannot be dealt with by repeating the segmented approach predominant in the developing pattern of the 20th century that left us as legacy different social and environmental deadlocks.
The impact of climate change is specially harsh on the populations that are poor, institutionally unprotected and less capable of reacting quickly to extreme events. Among them are, for instance, are those excluded from the market, small-scale farmers and the rural poor. In almost all regions of the world, the poorest people live in areas with a greater vulnerability to climatic events that are accentuated by cyclical phenomena such as the El Niño and La Niña.
VOLATILITY IN FOOD PRICES
Climate change also increases the intensity and unpredictability of climate-related events. The consequences are already visible, for instance, in the rise of agricultural insurance costs and in the water shortage in some parts of the world. This is the greatest limitation to the expansion in food production. Furthermore, the uncertainty related to climate contributes to the volatility in food prices.
Up to 2050, developing countries may experience a decline of between 9 and 21 per cent in overall potential agricultural productivity as a result of global warming.
Even a relatively slight increase between 1°C and 2°C in the global temperature may have significant impacts in the world food security because, if effective adaptation measures are not taken, it would cause a fall in productivity and would reduce land suitable for agriculture in lower-latitude regions around the equator, where most of the developing countries are located.
On the other hand, the number of people in the world is expected to grow at a rate of 80 million per year, roughly the equivalent of the population of Ethiopia. In 2050, there will be over nine billion mouths to feed. To guarantee food supply, FAO estimates it is necessary to add, per year, the equivalent of the agricultural production of Australia.
Therefore, there is no Malthusianism in recognising that climate change may threaten food security. However, there is enough land, as well as technology and knowledge available to increase production and feed every single person in the world. And in 2050, it will be possible to feed everybody almost without expanding the agricultural frontier.
What is still missing are more investments and political commitment that would allow us to explore the production potential to its fullest. This reaffirms the urgency of an articulated action to beat hunger and the environmental imbalance at the same time.
As Copenhagen may have inaugurated a new cycle that will allow us to effectively mitigate climate change, the World Summit on Food Security that took place at FAO, in November, suggests an inflection point in the fight against hunger.
What has been exhausted in this case may have been ever more important. Since the 80s, governments, mainly in the developing countries, have been urged to transfer the responsibility of guaranteed domestic food supply to the international market and its 'just in time" supply of cheap food. Thus, rural development policies, specially those focused on small-scale farming, were dismantled. Emergency food stocks dwindled. The proportion of official development assistance destined to agriculture fell from 17 per cent in the 80s to less than five per cent nowadays. In a world of abundant supply and obliging markets, what sense was there to channel scarce public funds to poor farmers?
The answer came in the form of a disaster: food prices exploded in 2008 and the number of undernourished people worldwide reached a sombre record, rising from 873 million to over one billion in just two years.
The First Millennium Development Goal has become harder to reach and international aid is still insufficient. In light of this, the response from the Rome Summit was clear: it is time to strengthen the development pillar of the twin-track approach to fight hunger and the primary responsibility for fighting hunger needs to be reclaimed by the developing countries. Strategies to promote food security cannot be imposed from the outside; they need to be built based on national dialogues inside the countries with, if necessary, the support of the international community.
THE GAMES WE PLAY
AFTER SEVERAL TANTRUMS MY SON RELUCTANTLY ACCEPTED THE DOWNS WITH THE UPS.
BY VINITA KRISHNAMURTHY
When we were children, board games used to be the mainstay of our holidays. So when my five-year-old was given a game of snakes-and-ladders, I gladly introduced him to the world of rolling dice and colourful counters.
Initially, he just went along with the game, fascinated by the yellow ladders and twisting serpents. I was delighted that he picked up addition of numbers while playing. Slowly, laboriously he would count the dots on the face of the die and move the counters on the board. When we used a pair of dice, he added all the dots and made the moves. Finally, he could add the number of dots to the number on which the counters stood and move them in one go. Our math lessons went off very well.
But the games did not. Peals of laughter and sounds of delight accompanied my tumble down a snake or his ascent up a ladder. However, if he slid down or I climbed up, the dice would be hurled far away, the counters scattered and the board would have to be saved from certain mutilation. I doubt he appreciated my explanations of 'you-win-some, you-lose-some', but after several tantrums and gallons of angry tears, he reluctantly accepted the downs with the ups.
That was many months ago. We now play one game before bedtime or till he wins so that his day doesn't end in disappointment. The smile on his sleeping face is proof of time well-spent. Was learning the math as important as learning to enjoy the game?
When he plays the game of life, I'd rather he remembers to shrug nonchalantly when metaphorical snakes pull him down, to be modest after successfully climbing a ladder of achievements, patient when a series of 'ones' makes progress frustratingly slow and to be happy for friends who have achieved more. Since that would be asking for the moon, the least I could hope for is that he doesn't forget to keep rolling the dice and moving on which is far more important than reaching the 'finish' first.
THE JERUSALEM POST
EXPECT AVOIDABLE DELAYS
Against the relentless menace of Islamist terrorism, Westerners need to find a middle ground between a state of permanent - and unsustainable - high-alert, and the reckless attitude of "What, me worry?"
The days when travelers could journey by air without fear of their planes being hijacked are history. So, too, are the days when Israeli authorities could reasonably think that removing security checkpoints in Judea and Samaria would have no fatal consequences.
First the West Bank: The security services are to be commended for an outstanding operation Saturday which liquidated three Fatah terrorists responsible for last Thursday's drive-by murder of Avshalom Chai, a 45-year-old kindergarten teacher and father of seven. One of Chai's killers had been released recently from an Israeli prison; another had promised to eschew terror in return for amnesty.
The killers were tracked to two dwellings in Nablus's Old City, part of a larger sector under Palestinian security control. The cell may have been Hizbullah-run, or overseen by extremist Fatah leaders, or may have acted autonomously. We know only that ballistic tests connected the three to the Chai shooting.
The European-funded advocacy group B'Tselem criticized Israel's failure to take the hardened terrorists alive. But from the data available, we believe that Israeli forces - operating for hours in a hostile environment - acted prudently. We note that B'Tselem did condemn the murder of Chai by reiterating its view that deliberate attacks against civilians are a war crime.
It's hard to know whether reinstating the roadblocks in the greater Nablus area, which the government recently removed at the behest of the Obama administration, will prevent future attacks against Israeli motorists in the northern West Bank. Checkpoints cause inconvenience to Palestinian commuters by extending journey times. But there is often no way to intercept terrorists without inconveniencing the general public - not on a northern West Bank road and not at international airports.
Those who defend freedom must make it hard for terrorists to disrupt the lives of innocents while minimizing the misery caused them in the process.
ONE way to reduce inconvenience and increase security at busy airports is by a greater use of profiling. Farouk Abdulmutallab should not have been free to try and blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 with 289 people on board over Detroit on Christmas Day.
Profiling would likely have identified the 23-year-old engineering student as a potential Islamist terrorist; he would have been methodically searched and stopped at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.
Abdulmutallab, the privileged son of a banker, got his US visa in London in 2008. Family members told The Daily Telegraph that the bomber had been radicalized while a student in Britain. To his credit, Abdulmutallab's father recently warned American consular officials in Lagos that his son posed a danger. The young man was then placed on a catch-all anti-terrorism database, but not on the "no fly" blacklist that would have prevented him from boarding any US-bound airliner.
Mercifully, an alert passenger subdued Abdulmutallab just as he was igniting his explosive device. Those responsible for security in Lagos (which he may have reached from Yemen) and in Amsterdam (where he changed planes for Detroit) need to explain how they let him get on an airliner with a concealed syringe and the crystalline high explosive, pentaerythritol, sown into his underwear, reportedly, in a condom.
IN response to the Abdulmutallab affair, US and European authorities are initiating more stringent and time-consuming searches of all passengers. Absurdly, travelers headed for the US may be required to remain seated during the final hour of their flights - no toilet - and will not be allowed to keep anything on their laps.
Rather than adding profiling to security procedures, thereby identifying possible Islamist terrorists - protecting the rights of the many while infringing minimally on the rights of the very few - all passengers will be subjected to unnecessary, sometimes painful, inconvenience.
The alternative to profiling is requiring all passengers to go through whole-body imaging scanners that can reveal objects beneath a person's clothes. But these devices are pricy and raise all sorts of civil liberties issues.
Unless Western decisionmakers reverse course, their adamant and misguided refusal to utilize profiling will senselessly subject millions of air passengers to a form of collective punishment.
THE JERUSALEM POST
REALITY CHECK: NOT BUILT FOR THE OPPOSITION
Tzipi Livni's days as Kadima's leader are numbered, regardless of whether she takes her party into Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government or not. The only surprise is that it has taken this long for her bubble to burst, and the major question remaining is whether Netanyahu will be successful in his cynical, though legitimate attempt to destroy Kadima.
Livni's position is untenable. If she accepts Netanyahu's offer and enters his government in return for a handful of minister-without-portfolio positions, she will be admitting she made a colossal error of judgment when she refused to join forces with Netanyahu at the beginning of his term.
Back then, Netanyahu was offering her half the kingdom and at least two of the top three ministerial portfolios - the Foreign Ministry for her and Defense for Shaul Mofaz. It was only Livni's insistence that Netanyahu agree on rotating the premiership with her that spiked the deal - not any major ideological chasm between her and the Likud leader. That stubbornness has come back to haunt her as she faces the humbling prospect of joining Netanyahu's government as very much the junior partner, despite heading the largest party in the Knesset.
It's not as if she can argue today that Kadima's joining the coalition will help moderate its stance, because Labor has already cashed in on that claim. With Netanyahu signing up, at least verbally, to the notion of two states for two peoples and declaring a 10-month construction freeze in the West Bank, there is little more for Kadima to demand given the Palestinian refusal to resume negotiations.
On the other hand, if Kadima remains in opposition, Livni will be left with a dispirited faction, some of whose members have openly called for joining the government and who remain ripe for the Likud's picking. Meanwhile Mofaz, scenting blood and keen to revenge his narrow and questionable defeat in the previous Kadima leadership election, will not hesitate to reissue his challenge.
THIS TIME around, Mofaz will be in a much stronger position, for there is a limit to the number of Livni failures Kadima members can be expected to stomach. Let's not forget, Livni has twice failed to establish a government despite enjoying the advantage of Kadima's parliamentary strength - the first time when she replaced outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert in the previous Knesset and secondly after the latest Knesset elections nine months ago, even though Kadima then polled one more seat than the Likud.
Moreover, Livni has failed to lead while in opposition. The only Kadima initiative in this Knesset has come from Mofaz, and his plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state within temporary borders. Livni has hoisted no flag for her supporters to follow, and it is unclear exactly what Kadima stands for these days. Heading the opposition when the governing coalition is so large and so wide-ranging is a difficult task, but Livni has made no headway whatsoever in denting the government's omnipotence.
Kadima was founded because of an idea: Ariel Sharon's belated understanding that Israel needed to end the occupation and create, unilaterally if necessary, new borders for the country that would ensure its survival as a Jewish and democratic state. Helped by Labor renegade Haim Ramon, who was motivated by a deep desire to destroy his former party, Sharon created a new party attractive to voters on the center and center-left of the political map.
As Yossi Beilin has pointed out, under Olmert's leadership Kadima moved further leftward, seeking a full, final-status agreement with the Palestinians, something Sharon himself never envisaged. In the 2009 elections, the votes for Kadima came from former Labor, Shinui and Meretz voters, but the majority of the Knesset members on the Kadima list have their roots in the Likud. Now that Netanyahu has crossed the Rubicon in terms of accepting the idea of a Palestinian state, there is little holding them back from returning to the Likud and abandoning Kadima if Livni turns down Netanyahu.
IT WAS always said of Kadima that this was not a party built for opposition. Without any political past to draw on and a dictatorial party constitution that prevents an open and honest discussion of the party's policies and leadership, Kadima has found it difficult to shape itself to life outside of the corridors of power.
Furthermore, Livni is not a "peopleperson." She neglected her rank-and-files MKs, a dangerous mistake given the amount of spare time opposition MKs have at their disposal for plotting, and deliberately snubbed Mofaz when he raised his diplomatic initiative. This character trait of Livni's is not new; when she was foreign minister all her close advisers resigned, one after another, due to the difficulties of working with her.
Netanyahu is well aware of all this and hence his move first of all to entice a significant number of Kadima MKs to break away from the party and then his offer to Livni. The prime minister is not being sincere when he says the current state of affairs demands Kadima join the government; his present coalition is wide and stable enough to see him through any number of political crises.
The 10-month settlement freeze has bought Labor's continued membership in the government, Shas has no reason to cause Netanyahu any problems and Israel Beiteinu is more concerned over the possibility of Avigdor Lieberman's indictment than its failure to advance any elements of its manifesto.
Netanyahu is simply making mischief, and he is able to do so because Livni only became Kadima leader because she was the antithesis of Ehud Olmert in terms of her personal behavior and not because of any personal accomplishments. But as she and Kadima have learned, it takes more to head a political party than not smoking cigars or enjoying first-class travel at somebody else's expense.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE REGION: OVERCAST WITH A CHANCE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS
In contrast to my rather gloomy assessment of the Obama administration's prospects in the Middle East, Israel's prospects look rather good. This is granted, of course, that the chances for any formal peace (note the word "formal") with the Arab states or the Palestinians are close to zero. In addition, there are two longer-term threats in the form of Iranian nuclear weapons and Islamists one day taking over one or more Arab states.
But let's enjoy ourselves while we can. It's also important to remember in the Middle East, optimism does not mean forecasting blue skies but merely ones only lightly overcast.
It's funny, though, how much better Israel's situation is than is generally perceived. Consider the pluses:
The potential of a clash with the US has been averted, most likely for the remainder of President Barack Obama's term. All the lessons received by the US in the region - to whatever extent it learned them - are favorable to Israel, showing how ready Israel is to help US efforts, at the same time as demonstrating how hard it is to get peace and how limited the other side's cooperation is. The possibility of US rapprochement with Iran or Syria has been destroyed by the latter.
On the surface the situation with Israel looks dreadful, but where it counts the support is sufficient. France, Germany and Italy have friendly governments, while in Britain an acceptably positive regime is about to be replaced by a warmer one. (It helps to have low expectations.)
Despite their rhetoric, Palestinian Authority leaders are basically satisfied with the status quo. Their strategies for forcing more concessions from Israel without giving anything leave them smug but without prospects for success. The danger of a Hamas takeover has been averted. The economic situation in the West Bank is about as good as it's ever been. And the PA rulers prefer to avoid renewed violence. That's not nirvana but it ain't bad either.
Hizbullah doesn't want renewed war this year, seeking to carry out revenge terrorist attacks away from the Lebanon-Israel border. Hamas is probably cowed enough by the early 2009 fighting (outside observers still don't realize the extent to which its gunmen broke, ran away and hid behind civilians, but the Hamas leadership knows), though we can't be certain.
While the international economic slump has hit Israel, the country has been more insulated from its negative effects than one might have dared hope. Its remarkable technical innovation in hi-tech, science, medical and agricultural technology continues to make rapid progress.
Israel has a government with a high level of popular support, which really seems - after so much ineptness and ingenious plans that didn't do much good - to be on track. There is, by Israeli standards, a high degree of national consensus.
Iran still doesn't have nuclear weapons.
THAT'S NOT at all a bad list. There are many who think that Israel cannot flourish, perhaps cannot even survive, without having formal peace with the Palestinians or with Syria and the Arabic-speaking world in general. This is simply untrue. The lack of a signed peace treaty with everyone (not to mention that such documents exist with Egypt and Jordan) is not the same as war. From the usual standards of no war, no peace, this is a pretty good one.
Of course, there are negatives, yet they really don't amount to anywhere near as much as it seems at first glance. The virtual defection of Turkey's regime from the Western alliance (yes, it really is that bad) and the end of the special relationship between Jerusalem and Ankara is a bad thing. But the Turkish semi-Islamist rulers are restrained by their desire to play a role in regional peacemaking and not to make the Americans or Europeans too angry.
Most distressing of all is the noise. The virulent hatred of Israel in large sections of the American and especially European intelligentsia, which goes along with the endless outpouring of academic, media and EU sniping, can be dispiriting.
Yet even here, there is some silver lining. The more extreme and outright crackpot the attacks, the less credible they are. Public opinion polls, especially in the US, are not so bad.
What's most important is this: A willingness to assess your problems accurately, guided by reasonable expectations. Not being crippled with ideology, blinded by misconceptions, swayed by bad international advice and the desire to be popular. And with determination and courage to implement policies that do the best with the hand you've been dealt.
If only others were doing the same thing, the world - and especially the Middle East - would be a better and more peaceful place.
Unfortunately, prospects for US policy in the region are considerably less rosy.
The Obama administration's first problem is that it has literally no way forward on what is over-optimistically called the Israel-Palestinian "peace process," since it isn't going to put real pressure on the PA to negotiate. Nothing may happen before Israel ends its 10-month construction freeze next September. So the US government will pretend to work hard, send envoys zipping around, peering for some opening to leap into action. But this charade should be pretty transparent.
Then there's Iran. Originally, the administration was going to increase sanctions in September. That was moved back to the end of December. Now it is too late to meet that deadline. At best, we are going to see negotiations in January and maybe - maybe - increased sanctions in February. But who knows?
That's not all. The administration keeps pretending it has China and Russia on board for sanctions. This is just untrue and will soon become obvious. Either there will be no sanctions, ridiculously weak sanctions or more serious sanctions without these two. Once again, there is no easy way out for the administration from looking like a failure.
And by the end of next year or earlier, it will be clear that any sanctions applied aren't working. The year 2010 is the make or break year for stopping Iran. Not hard to guess which it will be if current trends continue. The world needs the US leadership to learn a great deal real fast. Let's hope that happens in the year to come.
THE JERUSALEM POST
CIVILIAN CONTROL OF THE MILITARY
The Jerusalem Post reported on December 20 that the IDF "would surprise the settlers with what the army termed 'paralyzing force.'" It has been further reported that special forces would be used in raids against settlers if needed. Several days previously, the Post reported that rabbis from the hesder yeshivot criticized Defense Minister Ehud Barak for suspending Har Bracha from the hesder program stating that the army is "being used for purposes that are not related to the defense of Israel."
Many automatically dismiss the rabbis statements as the ill-founded statements of religious "fanatics". In light of the actions contemplated against the settlers, this hasty conclusion is inappropriate. Recall that only three years ago, chief of General Staff Dan Halutz fired OC Ground Forces Maj.-Gen. Yiftah Ron-Tal for making the virtually identical statement, i.e. "Did the army have to participate in the disengagement. It wasn't its job..."
No one, including Halutz, considers Ron-Tal a religious fanatic. The question Ron-Tal asked in the context of the Gaza disengagement is equally valid with respect to the building freeze in Judea and Samaria.
Both the rabbis and Ron-Tal are focusing on a critical problem confronting all democracies: how to ensure that the elected civilian government controls the military. This is not an issue of right wing versus left wing on the peace issue. Regardless of one's policy view of the wisdom or folly of the building freeze or the Gaza disengagement, use of the armed forces against civilians is a grave step that should be tightly circumscribed. Unfortunately, Israel's legal framework lacks safeguards adequate to prevent inappropriate use of the military. This is a grievous error that can seriously damage the unity of the army upon which national defense depends.
IN THE United States, use of the armed forces in civilian law enforcement is generally a felony punishable by two years in prison. The Posse Comitatus Act was passed in response to the South's harsh experience with the military during the Reconstruction era. PCA prohibits the use of the army in civilian law enforcement. While in form only a statute, it has been accorded quasi-constitutional status as embodying the fundamental American principle of the supremacy of civilian over military authority.
PCA prevents damage to military readiness by reducing political controversies within the armed forces, an institution that requires unquestioning obedience. Additionally, it prevents the use of army personnel, untrained in respecting citizens' rights when engaged in law enforcement. American military doctrine mandates the use of virtually unrestrained force to "shock and awe" the enemy; civilian police are trained to use minimum force in dealing with citizens.
PCA does not absolutely proscribe the use of the military in civilian law enforcement. Its restrictions can be overridden by express congressional action; in fact, legislative exceptions have occasionally eroded this salutary rule. (The National Guard, as a state militia, is not subject to its provisions.) In the 1980s and 1990s, Congress improvidently authorized use of the armed forces in drug enforcement as well as in times of acute civil disturbance and other nation threatening emergencies, e.g. nuclear. However, PCA - whose English law antecedents date back to the Assize of Arms (1181) - remains robustly valid today.
The policy considerations underlying PCA are of even greater concern in Israel's fledgling democracy, where generals routinely parachute directly from their army posts into the most senior political echelons and democratic ideals are not deeply rooted in 240 years of history. At various critical points in the Israel's relatively short history, there has been some risk of the army overriding civilian authority. It may be true that foes of the settlement freeze and the Gaza disengagement who urge soldiers to disobey orders have endangered the unity of the IDF. However this unity is also damaged when governments, without Knesset authorization, order the army to take action against civilians, whether those civilians are Jews or Arabs.
Understandably, in the heat of a crisis, short-term concerns often dominate the government's considerations. This underscores the need for a preexisting legislative framework outlining the exceptional circumstances during which the government may use the IDF against Israeli civilians. Even the strongest proponents of the settlement freeze and Gaza disengagement should shudder at the notion that the IDF will use "paralyzing force" against civilians for the sin of building expansion. Whatever the abstract merits of those policies, the long-term consequences to democratic control of the military must also be taken into account.
OTHER ALTERNATIVES exist. Why has not the government learned the lessons of Amona and Gaza and trained adequate numbers of police to obviate the perceived need for using the IDF against civilian opponents? William H. Taft, counsel to the US Defense Department, surely got it right 25 years ago when he said that "military involvement in civilian affairs consumed resources needed for national defense and drew the armed forces into political and legal quarrels that could only harm their ability to defend the country."
The justice of the High Court, who sanctioned IDF use in the Gaza evacuation, set a dangerous precedent. By sanctioning the use of the IDF against civilians to enforce policies they favor, the justices will be hard put to forbid the use of the IDF when government policy is not to their liking. Thus the principle of civilian control of the military and its handmaiden, forbidding use of the armed forces against civilians in all but the most dire of circumstances, ideally should be a basic law, adopted after the most sober considered deliberation.
It is past time for the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee to hold hearings on a bill designed to resolve this governance issue in accordance with fundamental democratic norms. If hearings are delayed until the IDF inflicts substantial casualties among Israeli citizens, politicization of this vital issue is inevitable and rational discussion will be impossible.
Ron-Tal and the rabbis have both raised a vital question which demands a thoughtful but expeditious answer. In the absence of authorizing legislation, if the IDF is used in enforcing a settlement freeze, damage will be done to the principle of civilian control of the military and if this principle is further eroded, Israel's democratic institutions will suffer significant avoidable injury.
The writer is a human rights lawyer based in New York. A graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, he was a partner for most of his professional career in the New York law firm Simpson Thacher and Bartlett, where he is currently counsel.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE YEAR OF LIVING FECKLESSLY
On Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not just reject US President Barack Obama's latest feckless floating nuclear deadline. He spat on it, declaring that Iran "will continue resisting" until the US has gotten rid of its 8,000 nuclear warheads.
So ends 2009, the year of "engagement," of the extended hand, of the gratuitous apology - and of spinning centrifuges, two-stage rockets and a secret enrichment facility that brought Iran materially closer to becoming a nuclear power.
We lost a year. But it was not just any year. It was a year of spectacularly squandered opportunity. In Iran, it was a year of revolution, beginning with a contested election and culminating this week in huge demonstrations mourning the death of the dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri - and demanding no longer a recount of the stolen election but the overthrow of the clerical dictatorship.
Obama responded by distancing himself from this new birth of freedom.
First, scandalous silence. Then, a few grudgingwords. Then relentless engagement with the murderous regime. With offer after offer, gesture after gesture - to not Iran, but the "Islamic Republic of Iran," as Obama ever so respectfully called these clerical fascists - the US conferred legitimacy on a regime desperate to regain it.
Why is this so important? Because revolutions succeed at that singular moment, that imperceptible historical inflection, when the people, and particularly those in power, realize that the regime has lost the mandate of heaven. With this weakening dictatorship desperate for affirmation, why is the US repeatedly offering just such affirmation?
APART FROM ostracizing and delegitimizing these gangsters, we should be encouraging and reinforcing the demonstrators. This is no trivial matter. When pursued, beaten, arrested and imprisoned, dissidents can easily succumb to feelings of despair and isolation. Natan Sharansky testified to the electric effect Ronald Reagan's Evil Empire speech had on lifting spirits in the Gulag. The news was spread cell to cell in code tapped on the walls. They knew they weren't alone, that America was committed to their cause.
Yet so aloof has Obama been that on Hate America Day (November 4, the anniversary of the seizure of the US Embassy in Teheran), pro-American counterdemonstrators chanted "Obama, Obama, you are either with us or with them," i.e., their oppressors.
Such cool indifference is more than a betrayal of our values. It's a strategic blunder of the first order.
Forget about human rights. Assume you care only about the nuclear issue. How to defuse it? Negotiations are going nowhere, and whatever UN sanctions we might get will be weak, partial, grudging and late. The only real hope is regime change. The revered and widely supported Montazeri had actually issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons.
And even if a successor government were to act otherwise, the nuclear threat would be highly attenuated because it's not the weapon but the regime that creates the danger. (Think India or Britain, for example.)
Any proliferation is troubling, but a nonaggressive pro-Western Teheran would completely change the strategic equation and make the threat minimal and manageable.
What should we do? Pressure from without - cutting off gasoline supplies, for example - tocomplement and reinforce pressure from within.
The pressure should be aimed not at changing the current regime's nuclear policy - that will never happen - but at helping change the regime itself.
Give the kind of covert support to assist dissident communication and circumvent censorship that, for example, we gave Solidarity in Poland during the 1980s. (In those days that meant broadcasting equipment and copying machines.) But of equal importance is robust rhetorical and diplomatic support from the very highest level: full-throated denunciation of the regime's savagery and persecution. In detail - highlighting cases, the way Western leaders adopted the causes of Sharansky and Andrei Sakharov during the rise of the dissident movement that helped bring down the Soviet empire.
Will this revolution succeed? The odds are long but the reward immense. Its ripple effects would extend from Afghanistan to Iraq (in both conflicts, Iran actively supports insurgents who have long been killing Americans and their allies) to Lebanon and Gaza where Iran's proxies, Hizbullah and Hamas, are arming for war.
One way or the other, Iran will dominate 2010. Either there will be an Israeli attack or Iran will arrive at - or cross - the nuclear threshold.
Unless revolution intervenes. Which is why to fail to do everything in our power to support this popular revolt is unforgivable.
Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated Washington Post columnist.
THE JERUSALEM POST
IRAN IS NOT JAPAN
In Jerusalem Post interviews (December 25), two prominent Russians reiterated the frequently heard statement that "Moscow is not convinced that Iran plans to weaponize its nuclear program, and has not been shown evidence convincing it otherwise." Former Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov went further to note that "[Iran] may be more like Japan, which has nuclear readiness but does not have a bomb..." While the first statement may be technically correct, in the narrowest sense, the second one does sound, especially to Israeli ears, like a lame excuse for Russia not to take strong action against the ongoing nuclear weapons development project in Iran.
The development of target deliverable nuclear weapons consists of three major parts that can be developed independently of each other: production of the fissile materials (high-enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium) for the nuclear core of the weapon; the weaponization part, in which the fissile material is placed inside an explosive mechanism; and the delivery system - missiles, in the case of Iran. The Iranian activities on the first and third parts are there for all to see. Iran's uranium enrichment program is forging ahead, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency's periodic reports, and the offensive missile capability is impressive in its achievements.
In addition, there is mounting evidence that Iran has been working on the weaponization part of the nuclear weapons development project. Work on the neutron initiators of the explosive process was evident in the recent disclosure of the work on the uranium deutride initiator. The IAEA reported information concerning uranium metal hemispheres that, if consisting of HEU, form the core of the nuclear explosive device and have absolutely no civilian uses.
IT IS the uncovering of the Qom underground small-scale enrichment plant that serves as the long sought-after "smoking gun." Iran tried to explain the existence of this small plant as being for peaceful purposes, which is irrational, given the existing huge enrichment facility at Natanz. There is no explanation for this plant other than the provision of the final stages for the production of HEU - the essential material for nuclear weapons.
That the Iranians have not yet reached this stage does not detract from the unavoidable conclusion that their ultimate aim is to have everything ready for the moment when and if an order is received to produce, in short order, deliverable nuclear weapons. That this order may not yet have been given may be true. The alarming potential, most assuredly, will be there. This does not seem to worry Russia.
The comparison between Japan and Iran is no less worrying. Although Japan has, no doubt, the fissile materials production capability, there is no evidence of work on the weaponization and the delivery systems parts. Moreover, Japan is under strict IAEA inspections and abides by the Additional Protocol, while Iran does not. On the other hand, Iran is on record in its vituperative statements of wanting to destroy Israel. Iran is a supporter of terrorism and terrorist groups and is a menace even without its nuclear program.
Japan can be considered to be a member of the international community in good standing, while Iran was found by the IAEA to be in breach of its non-proliferation obligations, disregards all IAEA and UN Security Council resolutions, which Russia supported, and is under UN sanctions. The comparison between the two so different countries is therefore unpalatable.
No doubt, Russia has its own reasons for not wanting to antagonize Iran on the one hand and to mildly confront the West on the other. These probably consist of the internal situation with the strong Muslim community in Russia, the energy and investment market, the international power play with the US and others. In addition, Russia appears not to be very worried by the prospect of a nuclear Iran, as it supposes that it will not be threatened by these weapons. These may be some of the reasons why Russia repeats time and again the above statements, as part of its game, and is hardly bothered by the facts.
The writer is a senior research associate at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies.
DISCRIMINATION AND CONTEMPT
The affair surrounding discrimination against Mizrahi students at the Beit Yaakov girls' school in the West Bank settlement of Immanuel crossed yet another threshold this week. As the Noar Kahalakha nonprofit organization again petitioned the High Court (this time over Ashkenazi students' contempt of court in refusing to attend class following the ruling requiring the school's integration), Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi of Shas said that "there is a Sephardi school - there is no longer discrimination."
With a wink from the head of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox community, the Shas leadership added insult to injury by denying discrimination and aiding in the blatant violation of the High Court's ruling in August. This ruling said the school must halt segregation, which the court found to be a serious breach of the law.
Since the filing of the first petition on the matter, the school in Immanuel has turned into a test case. The school's contemptible practices include segregation between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi students (Jews of European and Middle Eastern origin, respectively), demanding different dress codes, dividing the school into two sections and even requiring that each group enter through its own door.
The High Court upheld the unique character of the ultra-Orthodox education system, which justifies division of students based on religious - though not ethnic - criteria, but rightly noted that "the right to community education is not absolute, particularly when it comes into conflict with the right to equality." No excuse - whether based on halakha, tradition or anything else - can justify the humiliation and crass exclusion of individuals, all the more so of young girls.
The Shas leadership is demonstrating scorn for both the law and its own electorate. The party shows a tragic lack of concern for its constituents, testifying to the inversion of values among the leaders of this supposedly socially-based party. Shas, after all, was created in the 1980s - ostensibly as part of the struggle against ethnic discrimination.
It's hard to believe that these students' parents will accept the deceit that there is "no discrimination" taking place because Shas' Ma'ayan Hahinuch Hatorani school system has created an institute in Immanuel specifically for Mizrahi students. This is merely a front - pretending the school is "kosher" is itself a sin.
The Education Ministry threatened sanctions last week against the school in Immanuel, but has yet to take decisive action. There is no reason the school should enjoy the benefit of the doubt - which Petah Tikva religious schools did not receive in their refusal to admit students of Ethiopian origin earlier this year - until the High Court returns to hearing the case. The education minister must instruct the director of the Beit Yaakov school system to remove every last sign of discrimination within his institutions, and immediately. If the school's contemptible practices persist, the state must use all measures at its disposal to end them - from denying funding to using force to ensure equal treatment.
ON FREEING JEWISH 'SECURITY PRISONERS' BUT NOT PALESTINIAN 'TERRORISTS'
BY AKIVA ELDAR
In a few years, hopefully not too many, Palestine's education minister will publish a letter to students ahead of the launch of the new curriculum his ministry initiated, in cooperation with the Arafat Heritage Center. The curriculum will extol the work of the Palestinian freedom fighters who were executed by the Israeli occupation forces.
The program will include an essay contest on the life's work of Raad Sarkaji, Adnan Subuh and Ghassan Abu Shreikh, three young men from Nablus who were shot to death by Israeli soldiers on December 26, 2009, on suspicion of assassinating a Jewish settler on the land of Palestine. "I hope this curriculum, which tells of the devotion of the martyrs to Palestinian independence, will strengthen the students' bond to and knowledge of the Palestine Liberation Organization's struggle to establish the state," the Palestinian minister will write. "I believe that the stories of the martyrs, and their faith and willingness to sacrifice will set an example for our youth."
True, these lines, with the appropriate changes, are taken from the salutation by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who has initiated new educational activities on the 12 Jewish men who were sent to the gallows or committed suicide during the British Mandate. An official at the Education Ministry said Sa'ar had tapped ministry experts to promote subjects that are close to his heart. The official protested to Haaretz reporter Or Kashti that the minister was injecting his ideology into the study material. A senior historian added that the fact that these 12 men were victims does not justify turning them into a subject of study.
So what should we tell the little girl who lives on Shlomo Ben-Yosef Street who wants to know about the first person sent to the gallows, who took part in an attack on an Arab bus and was hanged by the British on June 29, 1938? What shall we say to the boy from Etzel Street who asks about the the Etzel pre-state underground that set a "price tag" for the foreign occupier? Shall we change the subject, or shall we speak ill of the group that responded to the killing of its members by the British occupier with the murder of more than 70 Arab men, women and children in terror attacks in the markets of mixed cities?
Sa'ar clearly does not want teachers to encourage students to plant bombs on Arab buses. The 12 men who went to the gallows are, for better or worse, part of the Zionist ethos. Nations immortalize and even beautify the stories of the lives and deaths of those who fell on the way to achieving freedom. And we have achieved freedom.
The Palestinians are, at best, halfway there. Of all people, Sa'ar and his colleagues on the right, who foster the heritage of terror and sacrifice, should understand that the Palestinians, too, have a moral and educational obligation to their "fallen." We are not the only ones who have the right to mention in our history books "the heroes" who "sacrificed themselves" in the struggle against the occupation. Those who extol the Acre prison break that freed Jewish "security prisoners" cannot oppose the release of Palestinian "terrorists" with "blood on their hands" with the goal of releasing captive soldier Gilad Shalit.
However, the ethos of death and the glorification of massacres of Palestinians (or of Jews, such as the case of the Etzel arms ship the Altalena, which was shelled by the newly created Israel Defense Forces) are the complete opposite of the "exemplary values" that Sa'ar writes about in his letter to teachers. The right values - reconciliation, equality and nonviolence - he should seek elsewhere; he should encourage principals to invite to their schools members of Combatants for Peace, a group of young Israelis and Palestinians who have seen each other through their gunsights and decided to lay down their weapons and fight shoulder to shoulder for peace.
Israel's children can get to know Etzel fighter Shlomo Ben-Yosef, who wrote before his execution that "I am going to die, and I am not sorry at all because I am going to die for my country!" But Israel's children should also get to know Yitzhak Frankenthal, who founded the Parents Circle. For 15 years, ever since his soldier-son Arik was killed by Hamas, he has not for one day stopped preaching against violence between the two nations and for a release from the burden of the occupation. Thus, perhaps, Israel's children in 2020, who live on the street named after the men who went to the gallows, will not have to learn about the sacrifices of the soldiers of 2010.
CAUTION: IDEALISTS AHEAD
BY YAIR SHELEG
At the height of the dispute that erupted between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the Har Bracha yeshiva and its head, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, the Makor Rishon religious weekly published an interesting cartoon that took up nearly the entire width of a page. The cartoon showed Barak comfortably seated in an easy chair, while telling his Filipina housekeeper: "As long as you don't express support for refusal [of IDF orders], it's all legal." As if to say, how dare Barak preach to Rabbi Melamed about the rule of law, or official or ethical norms?
The cartoon, as well as the decision to give it so much prominence, reveal that despite the prevailing image, the vehement opposition of many religious Zionists to the evacuation of settlements is not motivated solely by an ideological resistance to evacuation itself. While that is the primary reason, the intensity of that opposition and the willingness to deepen the rift with Israeli society as a whole also stem from an increasing repugnance of the hypocrisy of the larger society's dominant elite. That elite is demanding that the settlers honor the rule of law and the principles of governance, even though the same group does not, in many other instances, deign to do the same.
But religious Zionists are not just talking about double standards, which Israel Harel has also discussed recently in these pages. In effect, they are making a broad cultural and ethical comparison that doesn't just pit the politicians against the rabbis, but contrasts the norms prevalent among the "Tel Aviv elite" as a whole to those prevalent among religious Zionists. In other words, how dare the hedonistic and degenerate Tel Avivians - whose sons seek to join combat units less and less - judge the idealistic camp? Those they are judging are prepared not just to live in "caravans" for many years for the sake of settling the land, but are continuing - even after the disengagement - to volunteer en masse for the best combat units, and for other national missions, including helping economically deprived cities and working for the Magen David Adom rescue service.
Precisely because this comparison is quite alluring from an ethical perspective, and because many are indeed seduced into supporting the settlers for this reason (even if they do so silently), it is important to warn others that idealism is not equivalent to justice. Those who are corrupt may actually be right every once in a while, and idealists can wreak major disasters out of a values-based zealotry - as took place during the Second Temple period. Public debate must therefore stick to the crux of the issue, not veer off into ethical comparisons of the debaters.
Judaism, in its wisdom, distinguished in ancient times between just and topical decisions, and external, irrelevant considerations. The Torah established the impressive rule that "neither shalt thou favor a poor man in his cause" - meaning reverse discrimination has no place in the law. The State of Israel suffers today from failure to abide by this rule.
The heart of the international community instinctively goes out to the Palestinians, not necessarily because of well-reasoned recognition that they are in the right, but primarily because they look more unfortunate on television. The rule of judging the parties based on the substance of their positions must be upheld - not only in the face of socioeconomic gaps, but also in the face of ethical ones.
Nonetheless, as it will clearly be difficult to maintain such a rational position over time, it's important to draw the inverse conclusion as well: Corruption, even when it appears "only" as immodesty and not as a criminal offense, is not just an ethical problem, but also hampers the ability of those in power to win public legitimacy for their decisions and impairs their ability to enforce those decisions. This is particularly true when it comes to difficult decisions like the evacuation of settlements, which should be enough to make politicians very cautious about how they conduct themselves, and to make society at large view the fight against corruption as an existential matter.
THE DOCTOR AND HIS DEED: THE CRUX IS THE SENTENCING
BY ZE'EV SEGAL
The Tel Aviv District Court last week took a highly unusual step when it upheld an appeal by Dr. Yaakov Sarov against a 15-month jail term imposed by a magistrate's court after he was convicted of taking a bribe. The higher court drastically cut the sentence to six months of community service.
This rare and appropriate measure has put the spotlight on sentencing, which is generally considered less complex than deciding whether to convict or acquit. In the absence of binding rules or even guidelines for determining penalties, apart from the laws on maximum sentences, it is customary not to regard sentencing as worthy of attention beyond the public sensitivity that surrounds it. But actually, setting punishment raises questions that are no less grave than determining guilt or innocence.
Situations can arise in which courts recognize what can nearly be termed "limits" to criminal responsibility as a basis for leniency in sentencing, sometimes even without being acknowledged explicitly. This was recently clarified by Prof. Hadar Aviram in her article in a book in memory of the defense counsel David Wiener. It is in this context that the sentencing in the Sarov case must be seen.
The district court rejected the appeal against the conviction as well as the defense's claim that Sarov, head of the emergency ward at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital, acted out of "necessity" and was in "a state of paralytic fear" when he took money from an emissary of the criminal Yosef Abutbul because of worries about possible harm if he refused. However, the court reduced his sentence significantly after it determined that he had not acted out of greed and that the person paying the bribe in exchange for preferential treatment was known to be "a criminal who knows no red lines."
The court did not recognize fear as grounds for negating criminal responsibility in taking a bribe, but did find that it was justified in fixing the sentence to take into account that "fear had perhaps arisen." Thus the judges acknowledged "virtual necessity" as grounds for leniency in sentencing.
The reasoned judgment written by District Court President Devorah Berliner on the sentence, not something that is often analyzed properly, is a work of craftsmanship that gives the issue all due respect. She correctly emphasizes that along with the nature of the crime, which is severe in itself, and the identity of the criminal, this case had no element of exploitation of patients for personal enrichment. Also, the circumstances surrounding the offense were particularly and exceptionally telling.
The judge's analysis, while overcoming the courts' natural tendency not to interfere in sentencing on appeal, led her to the natural conclusion that this was not a case of venality. Instead, special circumstances were at play in which severe distress was the lot of the doctor, not the person bribing him.
Sarov was defined by many character witnesses - his patients - as being "wed" to the emergency ward. Judge Berliner made sure to write in her judgment that working in the municipal hospital was "apparently" now a thing of the past for Sarov. Her use of the word "apparently" hints that the door has not necessarily closed on his work at the hospital, and the judgment as a whole, which refrained from attaching moral turpitude to his actions, could serve as a message to the health and justice ministries as well as the Tel Aviv municipality. They should not prevent him from returning to his difficult and responsible work at Ichilov's emergency ward. The judgment can be interpreted as the foundation that will let Sarov go back to his job.
WHEN THE CUSTOMER IS A CRIMINAL
BY VERED LEE
During my first visit to the bustling red-light district around Tel Aviv's Old Central Bus Station, the expensive SUV's couldn't be missed. The drivers behind the dark windows honked their horns to summon the prostitutes, blind to the black and blue marks on the women's bodies from shooting heroin, impervious to their suffering. An entire cross section of the Israeli population was represented by the "clients": migrant workers, soldiers, Arabs, elderly gentlemen in suits and high-techies in cars bearing the logos of their companies. In broad daylight, some went into the squalid massage parlors, while others took homeless minors, most of them addicts, into their company cars.
Some time later, when a brothel opened in my apartment building and customers sometimes came to the wrong floor, reality finally knocked on my door, in more ways than one. Again, I saw religious and secular people, men from the middle class and up, veterans and new immigrants, a veritable melting pot. Young men 25 to 35 arrived together, in pairs and groups, demonstrating that in Israel whoring is not a lonely activity but a social pastime, part of the culture. Like going to the movies or having a date at a pub.
Last week, MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) submitted a bill supported by 25 other lawmakers providing for six-month jail terms for people convicted of purchasing sexual services, with first-time offenders able to enter an educational rehab program instead of going to prison. The bill was formulated by attorney Naomi Levenkron, director of the College of Management's legal clinics. In the past, former Meretz MK Zahava Gal-On tried to have a similar bill enacted.
The measure is based on the understanding that prostitution is a crime, that prostitutes inhabit a living hell in which their "human dignity and freedom," to use the title of one of our Basic Laws, are trampled into dust. In Sweden, which was the first country to enact a similar law, in 1999, the number of women working as prostitutes shrank by two-thirds.
Criminalizing the consumption of commercialized sex seems such an obvious step that it's not clear why it has not long been part of our law. In other criminal areas such as gambling and drugs, the law has seen the purchasers as offenders from the start, even if not the main culprits. And gamblers and drug users harm themselves and their families first of all, while the purchasers of sex harm an often helpless stranger. Still, they have avoided prosecution, and it's the victims who are frequently arrested in brothel raids.
The double standards are nicely illustrated linguistically, with the pejoratives "prostitute" or "whore" used for the women, while the men are called "customers" or "clients." The new bill would put an end to this kind of sanitization of language; the purchasers would be tagged as criminals, not clients. The bodies of human beings, be they women, men or children, are not just another commodity; anyone who traffics in them in any way should be liable to punishment.
The Knesset inquiry committee that examined trafficking in women in 2004 estimated that each month about 1 million acts of prostitution take place in Israel. From the scores of interviews I have conducted with men and women who work in the sex industry, it emerged that many of these transactions are accompanied by violence, debasement, rape and other abuse. There is no price for these "extras," and there is no compensation for the psychological damage suffered by those condemned to work as prostitutes.
If there is any place the free market cannot be left to set prices, this is it. In March 2008, the price for certain sexual services around the Old Central Bus Station, set by supply and demand, fell to NIS 5. The time has come for the "customers" to pay the true price for their dehumanization of sex workers and to be marked as criminals in every sense of the word.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
AN ESTATE TAX MESS
For much of the last eight years, the majority Republicans pushed through tax break after tax break that mostly benefited the wealthy. Now in the majority, Democratic lawmakers have failed to stop yet another tax benefit for the richest of the rich from taking effect in 2010.
The tax in question is the estate tax, which President George W. Bush and Republicans and some Democrats in Congress were determined to cut from the day Mr. Bush took office in 2001. Even then, the tax hit only a tiny portion of Americans, but estate-tax foes sold Americans a myth about a "death tax" that prevented average people from passing on hard-earned money.
The result was a measure that made big reductions in the federal estate tax, phased in through 2009, and then repealed the tax, for one year only, in 2010. After that, the tax is to be reinstated at pre-2001 levels. Writing the law in that convoluted way helped to mask the true costs. It also created an untenable situation in which a one-year repeal is followed by reinstatement.
There was a giant catch, as well. In 2010, the one-year repeal of the estate tax is coupled with a new tax that will hit smaller estates. That tax could affect up to an estimated 70,000 estates next year, compared with the current estate tax law, which applies to about 5,500 estates annually. If that sounds wacky, it is. It would also be harmful to many small family businesses, precisely the group that estate-tax cutters say they want to help.
Today, the estate tax applies to estates that are worth more than $7 million (for couples), or $3.5 million (for individuals). More than 99 percent of all estates are exempt, so there is no reason to reduce or repeal the tax.In addition, under today's law, when heirs sell inherited property, no capital gains tax is due on the increase in value that occurred during the lifetime of the original owner. (If your parents pass on stock worth $2 million that they bought for $200,000, and you sell it for $2 million, you owe no tax on the $1.8 million gain.)
But when the estate tax is repealed in 2010, the capital gains tax will kick in once the gains in an estate exceed $1.3 million. There's an extra $3 million exemption for assets left to a spouse.The bottom line is this: there will be many more losers than winners under estate-tax repeal, and the losers will be among Americans who are farther down the wealth ladder.
Earlier this month, the House voted to continue the estate tax permanently as it is this year, with its more-than-generous exemptions and no tax on the sale of inherited assets.The Senate has failed to act. Republicans refused to consider the House bill or even a two-month delay to allow time for debate. Democrats correctly refused to consider a proposal to increase the exemption to $10 million for couples and $5 million for individuals, an unconscionable giveaway to the wealthy at a time when ordinary Americans are suffering. Compared with keeping the 2009 law, it would cost $250 billion more over 10 years. Democratic Senate leaders have said that in 2010, they will seek to restore retroactively the 2009 estate tax rules. Fairness, progressivity and the need for revenue demand just that. But failure to act in a timely way is a disturbing display of intransigence and failed leadership. That bodes ill for the more daunting tax debates next year, when the rest of the Bush tax cuts are set to expire.
American taxpayers need and deserve better.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHEN IT'S COLD INSIDE
In yet another measure of the economy's troubles, a record number of households 8.3 million received federal aid to help pay their energy bills in 2009, up from a record 6.1 million in 2008. Based on early applications for 2010, more than 10 million families are likely to need help to keep the heat on this winter. Many of them have never needed help before.
The surge has caught policy makers unprepared. In the past, rising energy prices usually drove the need for heating assistance. Of late, there have been no sudden price increases. Indeed, average costs are expected to decline modestly this winter. This relatively benign outlook for energy prices led Congress to hold the 2010 appropriation for heating assistance at $5.1 billion the same level as in 2009.
So what happened? What happened was the recession, which cost jobs, which squeezed incomes. Nearly one in five American workers is currently unemployed or underemployed in a job that offers less pay or fewer hours. And as savings dwindle, many families are simply running out of money, forcing tradeoffs: the rent, the mortgage payment or the utility bill? Food, medicine or heat?
Federal heating assistance is supposed to ensure that no one faces such brutal choices. It is aimed at low-income families and pays about one-half of a recipient's bill, on average. It is also supposed to ensure that no one is exposed to the illnesses that inadequate heating can bring, and that no one is tempted to use dangerous heat sources like kerosene lamps, which pose fire hazards.
Of the $5.1 billion set aside for heating assistance, nearly $600 million is in a contingency fund that requires presidential approval to spend. President Obama should quickly release those funds.
In addition, Congress needs to approve a supplemental appropriation for more heating aid when it returns early next year. Based on current projections, meeting the need this winter would require an additional $2.5 billion. The alternative no heat for struggling families is unacceptable.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE STEVENS SCANDAL
In 2004, Moody's, the ratings agency, downgraded Stevens Institute of Technology's bonds to near-junk status because of operating deficits and rising debt. The downgrade intensified bickering between officials of the New Jersey school and its faculty members, some of whom distrusted the school's books.
Faculty members called for an outside auditor and full disclosure, but administrators managed to hold them at bay. Now comes an eye-opening lawsuit against Stevens by New Jersey's attorney general that will not be so easily dismissed.
The suit charges the institute's administration and its president, Harold Raveché, with plundering a dwindling endowment and giving Mr. Raveché $1.8 million in illegal low-interest loans for vacation homes, half of which were forgiven.
It also asserts that some trustees misled the full board about the school's financial condition. And it says a committee ignored independent consultants' finding that the president's salary, which tripled to $1.1 million over a decade, was inappropriately high for a school of that size.
The controversy could be dismissed as a local flap were it not for the fact that disputes about financial management of colleges and universities have become increasingly commonplace. For this reason, academics around the country are watching closely to see how the Stevens case plays out. Further, the suit should lead the Legislature to strengthen New Jersey's weak laws governing the financial behavior of colleges and other nonprofit institutions.
The board is politically powerful, and some faculty members and alumni worry that it will use its connections to stall the suit once the current attorney general, Anne Milgram, gives way to her successor after the new governor is sworn in next month.
That must not be allowed to happen. The new attorney general needs to pursue this case vigorously, while the Legislature turns its attention to strengthening financial oversight of colleges and other nonprofits.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
ON THE ICE
BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
The school buses have already left, and now the first teachers are heading for their cars and trucks, the day over, the afternoon thick with relief. The bitter cold of the weekend has lifted. Out on the ice, just past the school, there is a precise rectangle of banked snow, the outline of a skating rink that was carefully shoveled and swept clear when the snow was deep. But now, after a few warm days, the entire pond is clear of snow, all but the boundary of the rink, where a solitary man is lacing his hockey skates.
He skates away from his shoes, stick in hand, puck before him on the ice. He isn't thinking about speed or a slap shot. He skates just bent enough to clap the blade on the ice, urging the puck forward and yet boxing it in. The whole pond is his. He is holding himself in, making the ice last, measuring his possession of it by the slowness and grace of his movements. Behind him the snow peaks rise, for this is Livingston, Mont.
He worries the puck a little chivying it from side to side, like a fox toying with a vole. Or perhaps it's a gentler motion than that, as though he were domesticating the puck, showing it the limits of its freedom. You must imagine the slow sweep of his legs, the clacking of the stick, the deep-night blackness of the puck itself on the dull gray ice, which is soundless except for the gnashing of his blades.
Now he skates down the pond, and now he rounds back, as if to revisit his shoes. I think of Wordsworth's midnight ecstasy on the ice. But this is a spot in time every bit as moving. The light is tumbling out of the sky like a snowfall of dusk. The school buses are turning homeward again. Before long, the houses along this pond will spill an amber glow through their windows into the night. But for now there is more than enough light reflected by the ice to keep skating. There is nothing prepossessing about the man out there except the grace of his movement and the way he keeps house with his hockey stick.
To be walking past a pond while a man skates across the afternoon is to feel suddenly stiff-gaited and woefully destination-bound, even though this is just a leisurely walk. The best I can hope for out here, on the pavement, is a stone to kick ahead of me. But inside I am skating through the fading light too, feeling the depth of the ice under me, the poise of my blades. Like the man on skates, I know that now is the precious time. Out on the ice, he is guarding the moment, keeping it close with his stick.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE BIG ZERO
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
Maybe we knew, at some unconscious, instinctive level, that it would be an era best forgotten. Whatever the reason, we got through the first decade of the new millennium without ever agreeing on what to call it. The aughts? The naughties? Whatever. (Yes, I know that strictly speaking the millennium didn't begin until 2001. Do we really care?)
But from an economic point of view, I'd suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true.
It was a decade with basically zero job creation. O.K., the headline employment number for December 2009 will be slightly higher than that for December 1999, but only slightly. And private-sector employment has actually declined the first decade on record in which that happened.
It was a decade with zero economic gains for the typical family. Actually, even at the height of the alleged "Bush boom," in 2007, median household income adjusted for inflation was lower than it had been in 1999. And you know what happened next.
It was a decade of zero gains for homeowners, even if they bought early: right now housing prices, adjusted for inflation, are roughly back to where they were at the beginning of the decade. And for those who bought in the decade's middle years when all the serious people ridiculed warnings that housing prices made no sense, that we were in the middle of a gigantic bubble well, I feel your pain. Almost a quarter of all mortgages in America, and 45 percent of mortgages in Florida, are underwater, with owners owing more than their houses are worth.
Last and least for most Americans but a big deal for retirement accounts, not to mention the talking heads on financial TV it was a decade of zero gains for stocks, even without taking inflation into account. Remember the excitement when the Dow first topped 10,000, and best-selling books like "Dow 36,000" predicted that the good times would just keep rolling? Well, that was back in 1999. Last week the market closed at 10,520.
So there was a whole lot of nothing going on in measures of economic progress or success. Funny how that happened.
For as the decade began, there was an overwhelming sense of economic triumphalism in America's business and political establishments, a belief that we more than anyone else in the world knew what we were doing.
Let me quote from a speech that Lawrence Summers, then deputy Treasury secretary (and now the Obama administration's top economist), gave in 1999. "If you ask why the American financial system succeeds," he said, "at least my reading of the history would be that there is no innovation more important than that of generally accepted accounting principles: it means that every investor gets to see information presented on a comparable basis; that there is discipline on company managements in the way they report and monitor their activities." And he went on to declare that there is "an ongoing process that really is what makes our capital market work and work as stably as it does."
So here's what Mr. Summers and, to be fair, just about everyone in a policy-making position at the time believed in 1999: America has honest corporate accounting; this lets investors make good decisions, and also forces management to behave responsibly; and the result is a stable, well-functioning financial system.
What percentage of all this turned out to be true? Zero.
What was truly impressive about the decade past, however, was our unwillingness, as a nation, to learn from our mistakes.
Even as the dot-com bubble deflated, credulous bankers and investors began inflating a new bubble in housing. Even after famous, admired companies like Enron and WorldCom were revealed to have been Potemkin corporations with facades built out of creative accounting, analysts and investors believed banks' claims about their own financial strength and bought into the hype about investments they didn't understand. Even after triggering a global economic collapse, and having to be rescued at taxpayers' expense, bankers wasted no time going right back to the culture of giant bonuses and excessive leverage.
Then there are the politicians. Even now, it's hard to get Democrats, President Obama included, to deliver a full-throated critique of the practices that got us into the mess we're in. And as for the Republicans: now that their policies of tax cuts and deregulation have led us into an economic quagmire, their prescription for recovery is tax cuts and deregulation.
So let's bid a not at all fond farewell to the Big Zero the decade in which we achieved nothing and learned nothing. Will the next decade be better? Stay tuned. Oh, and happy New Year.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SEARCH, BUT YOU MAY NOT FIND
BY ADAM RAFF
AS we become increasingly dependent on the Internet, we need to be increasingly concerned about how it is regulated. The Federal Communications Commission has proposed "network neutrality" rules, which would prohibit Internet service providers from discriminating against or charging premiums for certain services or applications on the Web. The commission is correct that ensuring equal access to the infrastructure of the Internet is vital, but it errs in directing its regulations only at service providers like AT&T and Comcast.
Today, search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's new Bing have become the Internet's gatekeepers, and the crucial role they play in directing users to Web sites means they are now as essential a component of its infrastructure as the physical network itself. The F.C.C. needs to look beyond network neutrality and include "search neutrality": the principle that search engines should have no editorial policies other than that their results be comprehensive, impartial and based solely on relevance.
The need for search neutrality is particularly pressing because so much market power lies in the hands of one company: Google. With 71 percent of the United States search market (and 90 percent in Britain), Google's dominance of both search and search advertising gives it overwhelming control. Google's revenues exceeded $21 billion last year, but this pales next to the hundreds of billions of dollars of other companies' revenues that Google controls indirectly through its search results and sponsored links.
One way that Google exploits this control is by imposing covert "penalties" that can strike legitimate and useful Web sites, removing them entirely from its search results or placing them so far down the rankings that they will in all likelihood never be found. For three years, my company's vertical search and price-comparison site, Foundem, was effectively "disappeared" from the Internet in this way.
Another way that Google exploits its control is through preferential placement. With the introduction in 2007 of what it calls "universal search," Google began promoting its own services at or near the top of its search results, bypassing the algorithms it uses to rank the services of others. Google now favors its own price-comparison results for product queries, its own map results for geographic queries, its own news results for topical queries, and its own YouTube results for video queries. And Google's stated plans for universal search make it clear that this is only the beginning.
Because of its domination of the global search market and ability to penalize competitors while placing its own services at the top of its search results, Google has a virtually unassailable competitive advantage. And Google can deploy this advantage well beyond the confines of search to any service it chooses. Wherever it does so, incumbents are toppled, new entrants are suppressed and innovation is imperiled.
Google's treatment of Foundem stifled our growth and constrained the development of our innovative search technology. The preferential placement of Google Maps helped it unseat MapQuest from its position as America's leading online mapping service virtually overnight. The share price of TomTom, a maker of navigation systems, has fallen by some 40 percent in the weeks since the announcement of Google's free turn-by-turn satellite navigation service. And RightMove, Britain's leading real-estate portal, lost 10 percent of its market value this month on the mere rumor that Google planned a real-estate search service here.
Without search neutrality rules to constrain Google's competitive advantage, we may be heading toward a bleakly uniform world of Google Everything Google Travel, Google Finance, Google Insurance, Google Real Estate, Google Telecoms and, of course, Google Books.
Some will argue that Google is itself so innovative that we needn't worry. But the company isn't as innovative as it is regularly given credit for. Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Groups, Google Docs, Google Analytics, Android and many other Google products are all based on technology that Google has acquired rather than invented.
Even AdWords and AdSense, the phenomenally efficient economic engines behind Google's meteoric success, are essentially borrowed inventions: Google acquired AdSense by purchasing Applied Semantics in 2003; and AdWords, though developed by Google, is used under license from its inventors, Overture.
Google was quick to recognize the threat to openness and innovation posed by the market power of Internet service providers, and has long been a leading proponent of net neutrality. But it now faces a difficult choice. Will it embrace search neutrality as the logical extension to net neutrality that truly protects equal access to the Internet? Or will it try to argue that discriminatory market power is somehow dangerous in the hands of a cable or telecommunications company but harmless in the hands of an overwhelmingly dominant search engine?
The F.C.C. is now inviting public comment on its proposed network neutrality rules, so there is still time to persuade the commission to expand the scope of the regulations. In particular, it should ensure that the principles of transparency and nondiscrimination apply to search engines as well as to service providers. The alternative is an Internet in which innovation can be squashed at will by an all-powerful search engine.
Adam Raff is a co-founder of Foundem, an Internet technology firm.
I. THE NEWS
Former and retired members of armed forces and intelligence agencies can get very 'leaky' once they have left their former jobs. 'Secrets' seep out over time and one such set of long-suspected but never-before-confirmed set of secrets of interest to us comes via a former NATO officer in an interview with the 'Guardian' newspaper in the UK. American special forces have conducted at least four raids into the tribal areas since 2003, one of which has been reported on, the others not. The raids were not notified in advance to our government and insertion and extraction was apparently by helicopter and therefore a violation of our airspace. Whilst we knew about and protested the raid in September 2008 at least three previous incursions were unknown to a wider public. Two of them were targeting high-value Taliban and Al Qaeda figures, and the third was to retrieve a crashed drone which the Americans feared we would find and then use the wreckage to reverse-engineer the technology it revealed.
Four 'boots-on-the-ground' raids between 2003 and 2008 bodes ill for the fractious relationship we have with Uncle Sam. It is going to reinforce the anti-American sentiments that are now nationwide and beginning to find their way into the political mainstream as well as the popular and populist media. Unfortunately, the Americans are going to play themselves further into the hands of the extremists because it is clear that they are planning to expand the drone strikes, are satisfied that the Quetta Shura is a reality that we are not doing enough to counter so they just might and that Balochistan more generally is a 'safe haven' for the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Our own reaction is reportedly angry, as well it might be. A senior but unnamed Pakistani official is quoted as saying that there have been 60 joint operations between the CIA and the ISI in NWFP and the tribal areas in the last year a very significant degree of cooperation. American generals are said to believe that we are playing 'a double game' by turning a blind eye to the Afghan Taliban in Balochistan as they are seen as future strategic assets in our wider bid to limit India's (now considerable) influence in Afghanistan. This is a tale set to run and run, and it seems that no matter how much we do, whatever we sacrifice, it is never enough to satisfy America.
I. THE NEWS
A SPLENDID NOTION
Rare it is for the Supreme Court of the nation to bring a hint of a smile to our faces, but the suggestion that eunuchs be appointed as collectors of taxes and of loans from defaulters is worthy of our consideration. The court has advised that the government devise a strategy which would enable the eunuch community to earn an honest living rather than engaging in begging or prostitution or dancing at weddings. It would appear that in parts of India this strategy is employed with some success, and there is no reason to believe that we could not match India's achievements in this respect. The court heard that the social welfare and health departments of Sindh were already involving the eunuch community in the polio vaccination programme and it would be but a small step to see them engaged in loan and debt recovery.
Unsurprisingly the eunuch community has greeted the court's suggestion with some delight. They would seek to replicate the model used in India, where eunuchs are paid a percentage, 4 per cent, of whatever is recovered. The eunuch group is given the address of the defaulter or debtor and then proceeds to sing, dance and bang drums outside his house until he pays up. Bona-fide tax collectors accompany the eunuchs to ensure that fiscal proprieties are strictly observed and that the exchequer benefits appropriately. Such is the fear of the eunuchs that they are finding considerable success in this new line of work. Our own eunuchs may be attracted by the thought of the sums they may be helping to recover and 4 per cent of a billion rupees is enough to guarantee some much-extended singing, dancing and general raising of an embarrassing ruckus. Levity aside, this is an eminently sensible and humane suggestion coming down from the legal heights and we see no reason why this marginalised community should be denied an opportunity to turn their skills to good and profitable purpose. It may stretch credulity to imagine that they would be employed to recover defaulted loans valued in billions of rupees, but there are other more modest sums which could be pried from the pockets of defaulters. There is no reason either why they should not deploy their charms in an attempt to net some of the bigger fish as no man is completely above embarrassment.
I. THE NEWS
The 100 Indian fishermen freed from Malir Jail on the orders of the prime minister should now have reached homes across the border. Their joyous faces as they headed towards reunion with their families signified how long they had waited for just this moment of liberty. It had been delayed because of the Indian government's rather curious insistence that it needed to make administrative preparations before it could receive the fishermen.
But even as these men achieve freedom, over 500 other fishermen remain at Malir Jail. An unknown number of others from Pakistan languish in Indian prisons. In almost all cases they have been held after accidentally straying into the waters of the other country while out at sea in tiny fishing boats that have no navigational equipment or other means to pinpoint precise locations. The depletion of fish due to pollution and other factors also forces fishermen to venture further and further out, to bring in a good catch. The fate of these fishermen has come up before. New Delhi and Islamabad have agreed, during talks, that they should not be detained for prolonged periods. In practice this still happens. Often families for months have no idea as to the whereabouts of those held. In addition, the fishermen complain that during detention they frequently lose the boats and nets seized with them by arresting authorities. For people who live off the sea this means they are unable on their return to earn their keep. Families suffer during their absence. It is time a mechanism was drawn up to prevent such unnecessary suffering inflicted as a consequence of politics on some of the poorest citizens of both countries.
I. THE NEWS
THE UNENDING HOLIDAY SEASON IN INDIA
In India, secularism is inclusive. Europe's secularism measures distance of the state from Christianity. Indians think of secularism as equal respect for all religions. This is supposed to reflect the Hindu belief in tolerance. One famous Sanskrit line is: Vasudhaiva kutumbakam. Vasudha is mother earth and kutumb is family and so the line means the whole world is a family. However, our recent record of religious violence shows that inclusive secularism isn't always followed. Often unhinged views on religion are tolerated under this formulation of non-interference, and journalist George Verghese described Indian secularism as 'equal respect for everyone's communalism'.
But the doctrine of inclusive secularism is India's constitution and perhaps at some point we will become good enough to deserve that fine document. Since the state tries to be inclusive, every religion's celebrations are official holidays in India. Our calendar is the most colourful in the world.
Many urban Americans now greet each other this season with the words 'Happy holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas'. This is typical European thoughtfulness of the feelings of others. The 'happy holidayers' want to share their joy but want not to offend Jews and others. Personally I like 'Merry Christmas' and see no reason why anybody should be offended that Christians are celebrating the birth of their saviour. In India, however, you couldn't say 'Happy holidays' because we have them through the year. Let's have a look.
January has four: Makar Sankranti, Vasant (or Basant) Panchami, Republic Day and Moharram. Sankranti is one of the few solar holidays we have, since the Hindu calendar, like the Islamic one, is lunar. Sankranti always falls on January 14, when the Sun transits into Capricorn. Gujaratis do not celebrate it in a religious way, though some other Hindus do, and on this day we fly kites all day and eat laddoos of til (sesame seed). All faiths celebrate it in Gujarat even though it may be seen as a Hindu festival. Surat's best kites are made in the suburb of Rander, by Muslim craftsmen of the first calibre. I used to go with a friend's father in the 80s, and the old man we would buy kites from had been supplying the family for 40 years.
Vasant Panchmi is the fifth day of the Hindu month of Mesh, and the first day of spring. It is essentially a North Indian festival, which is why it is also celebrated in Lahore, but not in Karachi. The reason for this is that cities like Bombay and Karachi don't really have a winter or a spring, our seasons being: hot, warm and wet.
Republic Day is when India's constitution was put into force in 1950.
Most Indians do not recognise Shia as separate from Sunni and we think Moharram as something all Muslims commemorate. In Bombay, the chant in the procession is: 'Ya Hasan ya Hussain, Hum na they, hum na they'. In Calcutta, where many Muslims are not Urdu-speaking, the chant is 'Hasan-Hussain dada-bhai' indicating that the Imams were elder and younger brother, or simply 'Hasan-Hussain zindabad'.
Moharram is moving, and while I was familiar with the second line of Muhammad Ali Jauhar's famous couplet, my gooseflesh flared the first time I read the whole poem and reached its end: Qatl-e-Hussain asl mein marg-e-Yazid hai/Islam zinda hota hai har Karbala kay baad (Hussain's murder will actually be tyrant Yazid's end: Islam revives itself after every tragedy).
February has Maha Shivratri and Eid-e-Milad. Shiv is the god Hindus believe will ultimately destroy the universe, but is worshipped because he consumed a deadly poison and saved the world. As an offering to him, many Hindus leave (and consume) ganja or cannabis indica, the drug that is associated with the cult of Shiva.
Eid-e-Milad is celebrated with processions, but it seems to me that these are led mainly by modernist organisations like the Jamaat-e-Islami and, in Bombay, the Raza Academy.
March has the festival of Holi, marking the end of winter. We celebrate Holi by smearing colour and splashing water on each other and, unsurprisingly, young men and women enjoy it the most because there is a fair amount of licence in touching. The drink consumed is bhang, cannabis indica paste and with milk. Government-licensed stores sell it through the year in many states, and it is not difficult to see why the hippies were drawn to India.
March also has Ram Navami, birthday of Lord Ram, and Mahavir Jayanti, the day remembering the last of the great Jain saints. The Jain religion is interesting because it does not believe in god or creator. A small community, mainly found in Rajasthan and Gujarat, Jains are the most successful of India's trading communities.
April has Good Friday, marking the crucifixion of Christ; and Vaishakh or Baisakhi, the start of the harvest season.
May has Buddha Purnima, marking the passing of Lord Buddha. For most Indian Buddhists, however, the big days are April 14, Ambedkar's birthday, and December 6, the commemoration of his death. Dr Ambedkar was author of India's constitution and leader of the Untouchables or Dalits. His conversion to Buddhism in 1956 began an exodus of Dalits out of Hinduism, and most Buddhists in India are today from this community. December 6 is also the day in 1992 when the Babri Masjid was torn down.
August has Independence day on the 15th, one day after Pakistan's because astrologers held the 14th as inauspicious and asked Nehru to wait till midnight.
August also has Onam, Raksha Bandhan and Parsi New Year, which is celebrated in Bombay and Gujarat mainly. I think the Parsis are the best Gujarati community and they are the greatest of all Indian communities.
Onam is a Hindu festival celebrated in Kerala with a magnificent snake boat race. Raksha Bandhan is when girls tie a thread, a rakhi, around their brother's wrist and seek his protection (and his cash). It is a secular festival and it is said that emperor Humayun responded to a rakhi sent to him by Rani Karnavati of Chittor when she was under attack from the Sultan of Gujarat. Humayun came too late and the Rajput women had burnt themselves. Akbar would later level Chittor in his most savage siege, in 1568.
September has Janmashtami, which celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna. On this night we play teen patti (and lose money). Punjabis are in my experience the best card players in India, because they are flamboyant and brave bettors unperturbed by bad hands. The month also has Eidul-Fitr and Ganesh Chaturthi, on which we pacify the god of obstacles. This is Ganesh with his elephant head, whose idol we bring home and later immerse in water amid dancing and singing. The festival is quite recent, and was made popular in the 1890s by Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
October has Gandhi Jayanti, marking his birthday, and Dussehra, marking the death of Ravan at the hand of Ram.
November has Diwali, the biggest Hindu festival where we celebrate the victory of light over darkness. Because we do this by setting off far too many crackers, we also celebrate the victory of cacophony over silence. It also has Bakra Eid (which I personally am partial to over other Eids because I am sent biryani) and Guru Nanak Jayanti, when the Sikhs remember the founder of their religion. The fifth of the 10 great Sikh gurus, Arjun, is cremated in Lahore, and his Gurdwara is next to the tiny, elegant tomb of Allama Iqbal in the Badshahi masjid area. A Pakistani acquaintance of mine in Islamabad is married to an Indian girl and their son is called Arjun. Though Pakistan forbids Muslims from entering the Gurdwara, we all went in anyway and the priests were delighted to cuddle the little boy.
December has Christmas, and right now it is quite pleasant around my flat in the heart of the Catholic suburb of Bandra.
All of these are just the official government holidays. We have many other local festivals including nine nights of Gujarati women dancing for fecundity during Navratri, and four days of Durga pooja in Bengal, celebrating the destroyer goddess.
We are a religious people and it shows in our life.
Indians are a billion people inflicting our pieties publicly on each other. And we are constantly demanding the attention of god, though we claim to believe through the Hindu belief in advait (non-dualism) and the Sufi doctrine of wahdat al-wajood that he is everywhere.
The writer is director with Hill Road Media in Bombay. Email: aakar @hillroadmedia.com
I. THE NEWS
SAYEDAH ZAINAB'S SERMON
"It is quite sufficient that Allah is your Judge and Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon his progeny, is your opponent and Jibraeel as the supporter (of Muhammad). All those who instigated you to do what you did and all those who put you in charge due to which you are a playing havoc with the lives of Muslims will know for certain how evil the end of the oppressors is and which of you shall have the worst place and will be the least protected."
(An excerpt from the sermon of Sayedah Zainab bint-e-Imam Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam.)
Almost 1,400 years after the epic battle in Karbala led to the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of prophet Mohammad and son of Imam Ali and Sayedah Bibi Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Mohammad, the words spoken by Sayedah Zainab still hold true.
In a world which has seen mounting conflict for years, including that in Iraq where Imam Hussain's passionate followers will come together in one of the largest annual congregations anywhere, to mark the day of his martyrdom on the 10th day of Muharram-ul-Haram, "Ashura" Sayedah Zainab's sermon carries profound significance.
For Imam Ali's daughter taken as prisoner along with other women and children, after the battle in Karbala, her sermon in the Damascus court of Yazeed ibn-e Muawiya, the self-proclaimed caliph of the Omayyad Dynasty, marked her towering moment.
Surrounded by the prisoners of Karbala, including her close family members along with the well-wishers of the household of Prophet Mohammad, Sayedah Zainab pulled together unprecedented courage, seldom seen before or after her moment of grief. Indeed, she turned her grief into triumph by her courage and skill of oratory, inherited from her father, her mother and her grandfather.
For Muslims of today, Sayedah Zainab's sermon carries great significance as a personal example to be emulated, but more importantly as a guiding principle for their lives.
Across Pakistan, in the midst of the bloodletting of the past year and a fast growing practice of Muslims killing Muslims in the name of Islam, Sayedah Zainab's words provide much food for thought. While some may seek to dominate others through their blatant violence, there must be acknowledgement of the futility of tyranny.
More broadly for the Islamic world, seeking inspiration from Sayedah Zainab's eloquent words must be built upon at least three guiding principles.
First and foremost, tyranny can endure for a while, even a long while, but not indefinitely. Nowhere is there a clearer demonstration of this view than in the palace once occupied by Yazeed in Damascus, where pilgrims who visit it in large numbers seek not to remember the perpetrators of the crime in Karbala but, indeed, to pay homage and respect to Sayedah Zainab. Among the most widely practiced rituals inside that towering complex, the place where Sayedah Zainab delivered her sermon, is a must stop for visitors.
Sayedah Zainab's place of burial in Damascus has itself become a frequent destination for pilgrims. Many use their pilgrimage to remind themselves of the endurance of Sayedah Zainab's words for all time to come.
Second, there is an equally powerful reminder for Muslims in witnessing a real-life example of the fate that must be the final outcome of empires built on tyranny. In Damascus, there is simply no evidence of a final resting place for Yazeed, his close family members or, indeed, any of his followers.
For a king who ruled through the power of the sword and claimed to be the justified ruler of his time, Yazeed's fate is indeed no different from the fate of those before and after him who ruled through the strength of their weapons, hoping to retain their legacy for times to come.
For Muslims in today's world, be it for those fighting Israeli occupation of Palestine or elsewhere facing occupying forces, such as in Iraq, the underlying lesson is clear. Occupation through excessive military force is capable of bringing a military victory in the short term, but the long-term sustainability of such occupations must always remain in doubt.
Finally, events leading to the tragic battle of Karbala, carry an all-too-powerful message as well. The build-up to the epic battle began when Yazeed's accession to the throne of the Muslim empire was quickly followed by demands for Imam Hussain to formally commit his loyalty, or "bayat," to the new ruler.
For historians, a baffling question must remain: would the course of events have been different if Yazeed had abstained from formally seeking the loyalty of Imam Hussain?
Whatever the answer, Sayedah Zainab's prediction of the fate of oppressors would have remained unchanged, underlining the fundamental principal that empires built upon tyranny will neither establish a living legacy nor last for long in historical terms.
The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on political and economic affairs. His email address is: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
REMEMBERING AN INCIDENT
SAHIBZADA SHOAIB NOOR
Three years have passed since Dec 28, 2006 when a shameful incident occurred on Rawalpindi's Mall road in front of Flashman Hotel. For most of us it was a day like all other days, but not for one family in Pakistan. For this family and to a limited extent for me this day, its happening and the bitterness it evokes will remain etched in memories probably forever.
A teenage Pakistani boy was beaten by a police contingent led by SP Yasin Farooq, SP Muhammad Azam and DSP Rana Shahid with batons, his trousers ripped off him in the process and his spectacles crushed. The boys' family consisting of his mother, brother and 7 year old sister watched this tragedy unfold in front of their eyes in full view of the national media. Thousands of people around the world watched these images later when the news item was published in all national dailies. After being beaten and deprived of his trousers that had fallen to the ground in the ensuing melee, this boy was then bundled off in a police truck like a common criminal and taken to nearby police station where he sat for hours in his shirt with nothing around his lower body except a sheet of cloth, that some one had thrown at him out of mercy, around his legs. He was later released with out charges. For those who don't know his name, it is Mohammad Bin Masood Janjua.
What was his crime? What evil was he about to perpetrate that demanded such a brutal punishment? Indeed his crime was a most foul one ever dared by a Pakistani citizen. He was protesting peacefully against the disappearance of his father along with a group of few others whose loved ones were missing too. He had dared, along with others in that group to deliver a letter of appeal to the Vice Chief of Army Staff at GHQ requesting to find out the whereabouts of his father missing since the summer of 2005.
A contingent of police descended upon this small group mostly comprising of children, women and the elderly and they were asked to disperse. The crowd refused and requested permission to move to the gates of GHQ to deliver their letter. No amounts of pleas for mercy would budge the police contingent bent on protecting the GHQ from a bunch of old people and young children. The police officers in charge had decided that they would not lose face in front of their superiors over a simple matter of dispersing frail, powerless children and elderly. The police did its duty in the most exemplary fashion possible.
I was overseas at the time and could not believe my eyes when I read the related news item and saw the pictures of this disgraceful event on a web site. I was dumbfounded. I am sure much worse has happened to many ordinary citizens of Pakistan at the hands of their own state but this was the fist time I had seen it happen in broad daylight.
Some may have forgotten this sorry and sad spectacle but I still remember it, I have a photo copy of the picture and news item, laminated and stuck on my wall. I look at every day and wonder what can an innocent man subjected to such a treatment by his own country do?
For days I walked around in senseless anger, bitter and ashamed of being part of a nation that would tolerate and permit such an outrage but better sense soon prevailed. I consider this day as the day when the dormant human being in me, lulled to sleep with promises and hopes of a better future and a comfortable life was awakened. I decided to stop whining and start acting.
A few phone calls later I was able to contact Mrs Masood Janjua and Mohammad personally. I had decided to lend what ever moral and material support I could in my capacity as a private citizen. I was also curious to know what this family's feelings would be towards the Pakistani state. I expected them to be full of hate, vengeance and bitterness. I expected to meet a hysterical family and what did I find? I was surprised and am still surprised whenever I recall the serenity and calmness of this family upon our first meeting. Expecting them to be hysterical and angry, I found a polite middle class family not at all bitter. I found them to be determined and resolute to carry out the struggle to find the whereabouts of their missing father in a dignified and law abiding manner.
Three years on, the Janjua family is still fighting on and seeking justice. Their case is in the Supreme Court and the restoration of the judiciary has given them hope. They are determined to find out about what happened to the head of their family. There are many more who have disappeared with out a trace and the Defense of Human Rights organization started by Mrs Amna Masood Janjua is carrying forward their cause as well. There is a brighter side of this story also, Mrs Janjua has not been alone in her struggle; Pakistanis, around the world from all walks of life have come forward and lent support to her in what ever way possible. The current political government has also promised her some help, though only verbally. Some of the missing persons have arrived home or their whereabouts have been disclosed to their families.
I hope these people will find out what happened to their near and dear ones and the Pakistani state will finally come to the rescue of its own citizens because what good is a state in which its own citizens are meted out a treatment like the one received by Mohammad Bin Masood Janjua.
For those who are interested they can always access the archives of the national dailies where they will find this news item along with the picture, a slap on the face of any one who has some conscience, to be endured, till this wrong is corrected and Masood Ahmad Janjua and hundreds of other missing persons are returned to their families or their whereabouts disclosed.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in Australia.
I. THE NEWS
FROM HOPENHAGEN TO NOPENHAGEN
MALIK AMIN ASLAM KHAN
Delegates from 193 countries and an unprecedented 119 heads of state and government turned up at Copenhagen, as did renowned eco-campaigners such as Prince Charles, Richard Branson, Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai and Al Gore. The intention was to discuss measures against climate change and support an ambitious agreement on the problem. This historic political gathering for two tumultuous weeks also drew more than 3,000 journalists. Around 40,000 visitors had to withstand frigidly cold weather for hours just to get entry passes into the Bella Centre.
Delegates and participants were greeted with banners urging for Copenhagen to be turned into "Hopenhagen." Ultimately, though, it turned into what Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez aptly called "Nopenhagen."
The disappointing culmination of this historic gathering was an accord of convenience between the world's top carbon polluters who inked a document which was neither legally binding nor had any timetable or deadlines. It was, thus, no surprise that this farcical document was unable to get the endorsement of the UN system.
There will be a number of fallouts of this failure in terms of the moral authority of the global political leadership and the multilateral system for confrontation of global challenges. Already there is finger-pointing and shifting of blames, ironically, by the very countries which were part of the impotent accord. The G77-China negotiating group is already beginning to show cracks. While the dynamics of these shifts will play out in the coming months, their having been part of the Copenhagen circus, it is pertinent to draw out and put on record some some useful observations regarding the event:
Firstly, the process of drawing together such a large gathering of negotiators primarily driven by national interests was by its nature chaotic and fractious. The process should have been planned with this possibility being factored in. Such largely attended meetings are designed to technically converge within an agreeable band before being put to the political leadership and are certainly never left open to be finally hijacked by a select few. A planned effort to turn any confusion towards some degree of clarity was absent at Copenhagen.
The high-level segment proved to be an endless series of long-drawn statements and political posturing which was carried out without any real negotiations and, subsequently, the process evaded the political deal which the world was waiting for.
Secondly, the spirit of collective ownership, instead of being carefully nurtured towards agreement, was strategically sabotaged from the onset with the leaking of parallel draft texts reflecting, at best, partial consent by some of the parties. The first was informally floated at the start of the negotiations, supposedly as a discussed text between 42 select countries prior to the meeting. The second was another text which was "lurking" for release at the start of the high-level segment.
Instead of generating any convergence of opinions, these "floating" documents were severely castigated and rejected by the majority of the participating countries. In the meanwhile, they created an air of mistrust, doubt and suspicion, while laying the foundations for an irretrievable political divide.
Thirdly, the Bali Plan of Action decided in 2007 specifically called for a two-track process which included discussions for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol by the developed countries, in tandem with work on long-term cooperative actions to be undertaken with the developing countries. Two years of intellectual input and intensive negotiations had gone into creating the basic technical documents for the Copenhagen Conference.
However, from the start of the negotiations there was incessant effort by the organisers to keep the focus of negotiations on the developing-countries track while bypassing the Kyoto track, which could only receive due attention after vociferous protests in the plenary. This underhand effort to sabotage or kill the Kyoto process and lump both the tracks together did not, and could not have, worked. It only deepened the mistrust and ensured that the negotiations remained politically deadlocked.
Fourthly, the EU which had carved out an enviable and painstaking global leadership on the climate issue failed to raise the level of their ambition above the already announced emissions cut of 30 per cent from 1990 levels. The block which had collectively rescued the Kyoto process after the unceremonious US withdrawal and which had sustained the global carbon market by taking up self-regulated emissions targets, could not inspire political action at Copenhagen.
Considering the fact that the meeting was being held in a country of the European Union, the public expectation was extremely high and the political atmosphere exceptionally conducive. However, all this could not be capitalised upon. One of the reasons for the materialising of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 was the selfless and unbiased leadership provided by the host country, Japan, which transcended regional politics or political groupings. At Copenhagen, such skill and statesmanship was found wanting on the part of the host country.
Finally, representing the world's largest carbon polluting country, President Barrack Obama made all the right noises but failed to make his mark on a world stage which seemed to be tailor-made for him to take charge. Climate change was, after all, one of his rallying cries during the election. It is an issue which he had strategically placed it second in priority to global terrorism. However, all the hype surrounding his return visit to Scandinavia, just days after receiving the controversial Nobel peace prize, could not deliver any substance.
He came empty handed to Copenhagen and delivered a speech which just repeated commitments made earlier, while adding some thinly-veiled attacks to China. All of this obstructed rather than aided the global agreement process.
Looking back, while some silver linings of the accord can certainly be counted in terms of an initial entry by the US into the climate negotiations process and the sneaking admittance of China and India towards measurable emission-controls, its pitfalls remain strikingly obvious, as stated above. Most alarmingly, the minimalist agreement at Copenhagen unilaterally shirks responsibility for climate adaptation as it drastically failed to provide any comfort or support to the unwilling victims of climate change.
Instead of urgently delivering adaptation funds to the countries bearing the brunt of climate change they have been left in the lurch to cope with its dangerous consequences. Countries like Pakistan, which are the worst victims of climate injustice, will thus have to pay the price of this global indecisiveness. Climate change losses have already cost its struggling economy a whopping $3.8 billion over the past decade and this figure will only inflate as we struggle to cope with the challenge of climate adaptation without a strong and accessible global climate framework.
With such a large divide between political delivery and people's expectations, the time may be ripe for a people's enquiry to be held on the Copenhagen catastrophe. In the charged "March for Climate Justice" in the streets of Copenhagen, there were two placards which caught my eye. One read: "Politicians Talk Leaders Act" and the other demanded: "Change the Politics Not the Climate." Copenhagen fell short on both counts.
This single-largest collection of politicians failed to generate global leadership while bickering politics evaded an agreement the world so desperately needed. For the time being, narrowly defined vested interests have certainly slammed shut the door to a viable political agreement. However, the committed social mobilisation evidenced at Copenhagen may just be opening the door for a global people's movement to take charge of this issue.
The writer is former minister of state for environment and a member of the Core Group on Climate Change. Email: amin@ comsats.net.pk
I. THE NEWS
BEGINNING OF THE END
The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service
The reaction of the Zardari camp to the Supreme Court verdict declaring the NRO unconstitutional is not surprising. It is not so much the striking down of the ordinance that has set alarm bells ringing in the Presidency as the specific steps ordered by the court for the implementation of its decision.
The government had already resigned itself to the annulment of the NRO by the court. It could also have lived with the consequential revival of the corruption cases because prosecution would have been left to the NAB which the government controls. To leave nothing to chance, the government has now also placed it directly under the law minister, the illustrious (Dr) Babar Awan, who only a few days earlier had defied the NAB's orders to appear before it in a case of alleged bribery.
What Zardari had not bargained for was that the Supreme Court would also give directions to ensure the proper investigation and prosecution of corruption cases in accordance with the law and establish a monitoring mechanism for this purpose. The court's strictures on the conduct of the NAB chairman and some other top officials, as well as the suggestion for their replacement by persons of competence and integrity, was a further indication that "business as usual" would not be tolerated. Worst of all, from Zardari's point of view, was the court's order directing the government to take steps to revive requests to Switzerland and other foreign countries for mutual legal assistance in money laundering cases, one of which implicates Zardari in graft amounting to $60 million.
Zardari has sensed that if the Supreme Court judgment is fully implemented, his continuation in the presidency would be seriously jeopardised. The fact that he has been reduced to taking the cover of presidential immunity under the Constitution underscores that morally he does not have a leg to stand on. As the prosecution of his cronies proceeds under the watchful eyes of the media, his position will become even more untenable. And a conviction by a court in Switzerland or any other foreign court would be fatal, because it would not be possible to blame it on his political adversaries, the "establishment" or a politicised judiciary. It would not only lead to a loss of power but also of hard-won millions, something that Zardari treasures even more.
So the Zardari camp has resorted to a desperate strategy. Its central plank is the effort to discredit the Supreme Court, while selectively implementing only those parts of its verdict that do not directly affect him. The government is trying to buy time by taking the position that it would await the detailed judgment before taking steps for its implementation. This is to be accompanied by a scapegoating of other institutions such as the army and the media. In parallel, there is to be a reaching out to the PML-N, to temper the hostility of the main opposition party.
The assault on the Supreme Court is being left to second-ranking PPP leaders. Salmaan Taseer, who has been badly rattled recently by Zardari's offer of the Punjab governorship to Aitzaz Ahsan, is evidently taking great pains to win back Zardari's favour. He also has the advantage that because of his constitutional immunity, he cannot be punished for contempt of court.
That is not to say that judgments of the Supreme Court are above critical comment. But this criticism must address the substance of the case, not the person of the judges. Asma Jahangir's comment that the judgment in the NRO case was "politicised" comes close to being an attack on the integrity of the court. It is also reminiscent of Zardari's famous boast last year that he would not allow the restoration of the chief justice because he had become "politicised."
In an article in Dawn, Asma Jahangir has suggested that the judgment violates the principle of separation of powers between the judiciary, the legislature and the executive and creates an imbalance in favour of the judiciary. That would be fair criticism if it had been substantiated, but she has failed to do so. She has also not explained on what basis she claims that the judgment has used the principle of "closed and past transactions" selectively.
Asma Jahangir finds fault with the judgment on two other grounds as well, but for reasons that do not hold water. First, she alleges that the Supreme Court's decision in the PCO case to give the parliament an opportunity to enact the NRO as a law was a "jeering gesture unbecoming of judicial propriety." She seems to be suggesting that when delivering the judgment in the PCO case, the Supreme Court had already decided to invalidate the NRO but did not reveal its intentions, a serious but unsubstantiated allegation.
Second, Asma Jahangir bemoans that one of the grounds for striking down the NRO is that it has been held to be in violation of Article 62 (f), which requires a member of parliament to be "sagacious, righteous and non-profligate and honest and ameen," a condition that was introduced by Zia. She is right that this is a bad law, but she must also know that since it is a part of the Constitution, the judiciary cannot ignore it just because its author was a hypocritical military dictator.
Zardari is trying to keep open the lines of communication with the PML-N because his priority is to get its support for a repeal of the NAB Ordinance and to get the new accountability law passed quickly. One of the clauses which has surreptitiously been added in the revised bill stipulates that the old NAB cases will also be tried under the new law. Once it is enacted, the accumulation of assets that cannot be explained by lawful income one of the main charges against Zardari will cease to be an offence, the investigative powers of the state will be drastically curtailed and penalties and disqualification period for those convicted will be reduced. All these changes, in particular the decriminalisation of what the UN Convention against Corruption calls "illicit enrichment," are against Pakistan's commitments under this instrument. If our legislators are serious about fighting corruption they should ask the government to redraft the bill to bring it into conformity with the convention. Gilani did no favour to himself by his outburst on Dec 18 a la Fauzia Wahab in which he defended Zardari against corruption charges. Gilani's failure to remove ministers against whom corruption cases have been reopened and to order the investigation of recently unearthed cases implicating Zaradri in graft (Agosta and the Islamabad land scandal) makes him look, more than ever, like the clueless, spineless and gutless head of a rudderless government rather than the executive head of the country that he claims to be. Anyone who thought that he would rise to the occasion and take the country out of the crisis will by now have been disabused of the notion.
The Supreme Court's decision signals the beginning of the end for those forces which opposed or obstructed, sometimes openly and sometimes clandestinely, the struggle for the rule of law which was launched when Musharraf declared "emergency" in November 2007. The nation has won four major victories during this period over deeply entrenched opposition: the ouster of a discredited military dictator; the restoration of the lawfully constituted judiciary; the annulment of the PCO; and now the striking down of the NRO. Two immediate tasks remain: to remove from the highest offices of state those who have been looting the country's wealth and to bring them to justice; and to undo the deformities introduced in the Constitution by Musharraf. We must give priority to the former. If, and only if, it is accomplished will the latter be possible.
I. THE NEWS
There is something about weddings that pushes me over the boredom threshold within seconds of arriving in the tented mausoleum of marriage, populated by flinty-eyed begums and heady with the reek of money having been spent. A distant relative got married recently, and as she is somebody I knew and liked (unusual in itself) I took myself along to her nuptials. She had held out for years and is now probably on the wrong side of forty, but had eventually succumbed to the combined onslaught of battalions of armoured aunties. The tent was truly vast perhaps the biggest tent I have ever been in my life. It was set with the usual array of circular tables with the bride's people to the left and the groom's to the right. Fashionably late, the newlyweds arrived in the middle of a phalanx of video-wallahs and blue satin-clad flower girls and to give her credit she looked a treat. By contrast her new husband looked like he had only recently resurfaced after a long period in a coma. The party proceeded down the carpet and seated themselves on the dais and then nothing much happened for what seemed like an only slightly abbreviated version of eternity.
Finding myself at a table with the bride's sister a close friend of my wife for whom I was acting as proxy we caught up on sixteen years of news fairly quickly and were left with little to say thereafter. I knew, but did not recognise, many of the guests the recognition failure being attributable to never having seen them in anything but workaday dhotis or shalwar-kameez in my home village. People were repeatedly introduced to me and I had to be taken through a lengthy genealogy before the penny finally dropped and the smiling but bemused person shaking my hand popped into my memory. They mostly looked deeply uncomfortable in their brand-new clothes that may only get worn once and sat looking at one another mostly in silence.
The newlyweds sat and had themselves photographed with a selection of relatives from both sides, cake was distributed followed by hot food which seemed to be dead bird marinated in farmyard wastes, the bride went off for an hour or so to change into something a little more expensive than the wedding dress, more photos got taken before people started to drift away and I read my book.
If there is one lesson that Pakistan has taught me it is always, but always, take a book with you. Take two just in case. Thus it was that I had in my backpack a couple of weighty tomes with which to while away the hours within which several hundred people sat around looking at one another and not doing very much else unless there was some deep subliminal festivity going on that I simply was not tuned to. Take a book if you are going to any appointment which has a time attached to it because you are going to be waiting around until the person you have the appointment with decides they have wasted enough of your time and turns up hours, possibly even days, late. Take a book because you can fill the vast empty reaches of cosmic time that lie around unattended slowly mutating into terminal boredom with something moderately useful and improving.
Duty done, I wandered out of the tent with another relative. I asked him what he thought of the evening's events. 'It so boring', he said. 'All weddings are boring. You brought a book good idea. Think I'll do that next time.'
The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
IS MIAN SAHEB LOSING DEMOCRATIC TOLERANCE?
AFTER a marathon consultative session with his party stalwarts, PML-N Quaid Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif demanded complete implementation of the Supreme Court verdict on NRO and expressed his disappointment that the Government has clubbed provincial issues with constitutional amendments instead of going for the repeal of the 17th amendment which was a non controversial issue after the February, 2008 elections. The tone and tenor of the former Prime Minister was that of defiance and carried an aggressive posture over non-fulfilment of his demand in the past about two years.
The one point agenda of Mian Saheb appears to be to get the 17th amendment abrogated that had among other things barred a candidate for becoming the Prime Minister for the 3rd time. The disappointment shown by the PML-N Quaid is quite understandable as he is leader of the major opposition party and has every right to become the Chief Executive if and when people give their verdict in favour of the PML-N to run the affairs of the State. Mian Saheb is well within his right to point out the weaknesses or failures of the Government but should not leave the path of democratic tolerance because the beauty of this system is that it gives the elected Government the right to complete its term. According to PPP circles assessment, once the 17th amendment is repealed, the PML-N Quaid will be totally a changed man and go all out demanding mid term elections. It is a battle of wits between the two parties, but we expect that the issues of the 17th amendment and the implementation of Charter of Democracy would be resolved in due course of time during expected talks between President Asif Ali Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif and presentation of the report by the constitutional reforms committee. Instead of showing impatience, the PML-N should appreciate that it takes time to build a national consensus when it comes to all important constitutional amendments that also include the contentious issue of provincial autonomy. In his interaction with the media, Mian Nawaz Sharif referred to several shortcomings on the part of the Government, though saying that they want to support democracy but that does not mean that they would compromise on principles. No one would object over the right of the opposition for keeping an eye on the functioning of the government and for playing a constructive role to ensure good governance and transparency yet it is also necessary to support the nascent democratic system and to ensure that there should be continuation of dialogue on contentious issues for their resolution. As the PML-N Quaid himself admitted that the serious challenges confronting the country including menace of terrorism, poverty, unemployment and economy cannot be resolved by any single party, we expect Mian Saheb who is a seasoned and respected politician not to become impatience as that would hurt his own popularity and instead show farsightedness and democratic tolerance and see to it that political temperature should not rise.
SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES OF LOAD SHEDDING, TARIFF HIKE
WHILE the country is again in the grip of long hours of load shedding another shocking news for the consumers is that the power tariff would be raised by 13.5% from January 01, 2010. These two measures, without an iota of doubt would have serious consequences for the industry and the common man because the power rates have gone beyond their absorption capacity.
With the onset of winter season, power supply had become near normal and industry started showing some encouraging signs of recovery and domestic consumers heaved a sigh of relief but the annual closure of canals and resultant reduction in release of water from Tarbela and Mangla dams greatly curtailed the hydel power generation. At the same time natural gas shortage affected the generation capacity of some of the thermal plants. Several hours of load shedding for over a month would drastically cut our industrial production while higher tariff rates would increase the cost of production meaning more inflation at home and less export of the products as the goods would become uncompetitive in the international market. Though some more generation plants are in the pipe line yet the main issue of higher tariff needs to be addressed on priority basis otherwise the industries would close down and people come on streets. No doubt PEPCO is suffering losses but these are due to inefficiency, power theft and obsolete distribution system. If line losses and power theft are adequately checked, the country can overcome the menace of load shedding and keep the tariff rates at affordable level. Increasing charges for electricity is no long term solution and there is need to look at alternative resources of energy, as is being done in other parts of the world. Exploitation of oil, gas and coal resources and construction of water reservoirs on top priority basis is the only answer to the problem and we strongly impress upon the Government to pay due attention to it rather than going for short term solution by hiring rental power plants.
SUPREME SACRIFICE OF HAZRAT IMAM HUSSAIN (R.A.)
ASHURA, the 10th of Moharram is being observed today to highlight the supreme sacrifice of Hazrat Imam Hussain (R.A.) who refused to endorse Yazid's tyranny and embraced Martyrdom along with his companions. The spirit inherent in the tragedy of Karbala is one that defies injustice and coercion unto death.
The history of those ten days totally transformed some segements of society and in our view the war between truth and injustices still goes on and there are many manifestations in it. Muslims in many parts of the world are following the teachings of Hazrat Imam Hussain (R.A.) and fighting imperialist forces who are out to usurp their rights and impose their evil domination. The martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain (R.A.) imparts us lessons of courage, bravery and passion for sacrifice for larger good. The great Imam showed the Ummah the way to live honourably, with dignity and his sacrifice formed a glorious chapter in the history of mankind. The life, conduct and character of the great Imam is a beacon of light for everyone without any discrimination. Imam Husain, by challenging Yazid and in the process laying down his life, changed the world and re-shaped human destiny forever. The supreme sacrifice of Hazrat Imam Hussain (R.A.) will remain a source of inspiration and guidance to the mankind forever.
HAPPY (?) NEW YEAR
As another New Year dawns, the proverbial man-in-the-street is learning to scrape though the hard way. Whether or not he comes through unscathed or even survives the exercise is the moot point. There is little on offer in the nature of consolation. The pain is accentuated by the fact that it is only the lowly man-in-the-street one can easily identify oneself with. Bereft as he is of the knowledge of higher economics macro or otherwise and shorn of practically all that man is supposed to live by, his principle concern is less to achieve the next notch in 'per capita income' and more to keep body and soul together until the next salvo. The question is: where does he go from here, if anywhere?
Looking over the shoulder, he recalls the distant rosy promises. And yet he somehow never could get rid of the queasy feeling at the pit of the stomach that "there is something rotten in the Kingdom of Denmark". He could feel that his lot was sinking rather than rising. The prices of everyday commodities were shooting up through the ceiling. He had hopes, though, that they would come down with the fall of the international price of crude. They did not. As he decides on the unkind cuts in his family's daily intake, can one blame him for wondering what went wrong and where? Meanwhile, looking at the macro picture, poverty kept on increasing, just as the rich kept on getting richer. Add to this the fact that the economic czars of the country were working in a frenzy to dispose of the family silver and you have a picture that is getting murkier and murkier with every passing day. All in all, in layman's terms, the question remains: why is the micro-economy of the country not moving hand in hand with its macro sibling?
The portents hardly look promising. The price of property boomed to high heavens; corruption touched hitherto unachieved highs and shopkeepers merrily kept on raising the prices of necessities at will. Sources of water supply were being contaminated with impunity, while the price of bottled water spiraled steadily upwards. Parents were denied places for their children in public sector schools, while the Higher Education Commission poured millions into hair-brained schemes to produce a handful of PhDs out of the hat. The cost of living skyrocketed, just as the purchasing power of the common man touched rock bottom.
What is the man-in-the-street to give credence to, then: the hogwash of the statisticians/economists in the pay of the authorities, or the facts of life? The priorities of the nation appear to have gone horribly awry. Should our planners, such as they are, not be paying attention to curing the ills besetting the common man rather than nurturing illusory statistics?
The man-in-the-street understandably feels let down. He finds he is being shortchanged at every step. The web of statistics and the rosy picture of the future macro-economic development spun before him notwithstanding, what is he to make of the contradictory statements coming his way in the field of the security of the state, he has loved and cherished? Needless to add, it is he alone that is called upon to bear the burden.
When the government of the time went for the nuclear option, it was he who was asked to make the supreme sacrifice. It was he - and not the powers that be - that was once exhorted to 'eat grass' rather than give up the nuclear option. And look where that landed him?
Then, came the infamous U-turn. It came to pass that the man in the street was told that the country's salvation lay down the CBM path. He swallowed the glib talk of the spin-doctors and the Foreign Office spokespersons hook, line and sinker. Time and again, he was informed that there was more to the 'composite dialogue' than met the eye. In his naiveté, he not only swallowed that line but also enthusiastically applauded every time the oracles informed him that light was discernable at the end of the tunnel.
And now, he is left groping, wondering where the mirage of honourable peace with our neighbour that had been flashed before his tired eyes has vanished. All that he can discern is tattered bits of tape that had been used to paper-over the ever-widening cracks in the otherwise rotten edifice.
The country, meanwhile, is plunged up to its neck in an open-ended 'war on terror', in which it has constantly been exhorted to "do more". Do more for whom and for what? "Friendly" drones, meanwhile, make a hash of the country's 'sovereign' airspace, while our leaders whine for respite. Makes one wonder where the self-respect of this once proud nation has gone.
We are all what we have been brought up to be. Such is the way with all species. One can hardly expect fish to thrive in desert sands. The problem is that we have to deal with not natural environment but contrived and man-made environmental conditions. When a segment of the people is brought up in bubbles, so to speak, where the very atmosphere is conveniently controlled to the optimum degree, subjective rather than objective considerations take hold.
Some babies in the sterilized environment are now being weaned on 'designer water', while the less privileged ones continue to be poisoned by contaminated drinking water. What on earth happened to natural clean drinking water? Do we have to pamper the multinationals to an extent that provision of clean drinking water figures nowhere in our set of priorities? One is neither an economist nor a planner. Nevertheless, one has come to believe that no people can either survive or prosper on a diet of statistics alone. Mere percentages thrust down the throats of common folk just will not do. When targeting the man-in-the-street, let our advisers and planners eschew the habit of talking of macro or micro-economic indicators or of strewing statistics in his path. Let them, instead, measure the annual progress of the country in terms of easy to understand (and assimilate) targets. What interests the common man is the trickle-down effect of the economic policies, not mere platitudes.
Be that as it may, the man in the street still holds on to the shreds of hope that the New Year would bring good cheer. Optimism dies hard. Here's wishing him all the best!
FACEBOOK LEADER OR A PM
Facebook leader is a leader who tries to please everyone. In contrast democratic leaders uphold public will. Gillani's press conference with TV anchors has shown that he is nothing more than a Facebook leader serving everyone but democracy. Gillani while responding to questions of corruption said that bring the proof and action will be taken. PM, perks are a type of corruption which country's ruling politicians, bureaucracy and military elite is enjoying in the form of free fuel, electricity, accommodation, luxury cars, army of servants. There is no legal and moral justification for perks. I am of the opinion that law lords should "suo motuly" scrap the perks. Reportedly, UK government has less than 130 vehicles, whereas allegedly our leaders have 23 planes in their use. I remember George Orwell's "Animal Farm" in which "ruling pigs" self-authorized themselves extra apples on the pretext of "thinking" for rest of the farm animals. Pakistan is no Rome where tax was levied to maintain ruler's lifestyle.
It is opined that 30 percent of total corruption is in government departments and banks. In 1997 Nawaz Sharif government appointed 30 judges to settle 48,000 registered bank loans cases of 217 billion rupees. The alleged 1065 billion rupee loss to national exchequer due to US-UK brokered NRO deal. The reports of 193 billion rupee loan right off from 1999 to 2009. The 2005 Karachi Stock Exchange Scam that cost 25,000 families allegedly some 800 billion rupees while Islamabad, State Bank of Pakistan and Securities and Exchange Commission looked the other way. The reports of PAC about unauthorized spending by country's foreign missions and alleged role of Establishment and Finance Divisions in allowing Musharraf keep large number of contract employees in violation of relevant rules. Reportedly, National Savings Organization (NSO) has been enlisted on Stock Exchange. It will jeopardize pensions of government servants on line of complete washout of US 401K pension fund. NSO must be withdrawn from listing to save pensions. The move begs questions about the powers of board members of institutions dealing with public money, finance ministry and State Bank in allowing investment of public funds in stock exchanges without clear approval of the parliament and individual stake holders. The legality of ex-PM working with an international investment fund, and ex-State Bank Governor working as ME advisor, World Bank. A recovery of portion of the total squandered wealth could help settle country's $60bln foreign debt, get rid of the black Kerry-Lugar Bill, lift IMF yoke, and bring a permanent end to foreign meddling in country's policies.
A major chunk of corruption is being done by the private sector spearheaded by multinational companies in Pakistan. Reportedly, 80 percent of country's wealth is controlled or owned by multinationals. The corruption nexus can by broken by mandating companies to publish their spreadsheets periodically for public scrutiny. Reportedly, international law mandates multinationals to publish kickbacks, resultant benefits and profits. Next, Supreme Court as part of constitutional 'checks and balances' on issues dealing with public money should through high courts control business courts to ensure transparency, accountability in corporate sector at the grassroots.
The North Carolina business courts are successfully dealing with complex corporate and commercial laws under the purview of Chief Justice of North Carolina Supreme Court http://www.ncbusinesscourt.net/.
As part of fight against corruption, North Carolina model should help end NAB, reduce expenditure and allied controversies including political victimization and legislation for new accountability setup. It will help generate more jobs for young lawyers. Next, judiciary and media should get their staff trained from Transparency International to track, trace and end corruption in the corporate sector. Similarly, the culture of self-accountability by the individual institutions has to be replaced with across the board court accountability. Institutions cannot play as judge and jury both. It is nothing but "cowboy justice". Self-regulation is also against the spirit of Sharia and thus country's constitution.
Gillani while commenting on infamous Kerry-Lugar said Pakistan can always refuse it. PPP government failed to get a vote in the parliament on K-L Bill because parliament would have rejected it to protect national interests including Pakistan's nuclear program. Poverty experts are of the view that foreign financial aids cannot end poverty. "If foreign aid brings in one dollar it takes away hundr