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month january 02, edition 000393, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
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- JUSTICE SHOULD NEVER BE TOO LATE
- GESTAPO TACTICS
- IT'S TIME TO LEARN - BY R. SRINIVASAN
- HOW MAOISTS ARE DERAILING BACKERS - BY ALOKE BANERJEE IN KOLKATA
- AI TO SACK PILOTS FOR EXTENDED VACATION - BY PRAKASH IN THIRUVANANTHAPURAM
TIMES OF INDIA
- FROM EAR TO ETERNITY
- DON'T IMPOSE TEST CRICKET
- PRESERVE ITS RELEVANCE
- HARD KNOCKS, HARD BATTLES
- A HAPPY NEW DECADE, MAYBE
- STARTING FROM SCRATCH, AGAIN
- STREET FIGHTERS
- VODKA FOLKS
- LEADERS, UNITE!
- POLICY RESOLUTION
- CHINA'S CHARTISTS - NIMMI KURIAN
- THE PROBLEM WITH PRICES - ARINDAM BANIK
- JOURNALISM AS CANDLE - SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI
- BONDED TO THE BALLOT - KC SIVARAMAKRISHNAN
- CAN'T AFFORD IT - MADHU PURNIMA KISHWAR
- ENTER THE DRAGON - PAUL KRUGMAN
- ZARDARI'S CONSPIRACIES
- INDIA'S DECADE?
- WHEN SKY IS THE LIMIT
- TRANSLATING POTENTIAL INTO REALITY IN ASIA
- GETTING THE EXIT RIGHT
- ANODYNE BLUEPRINT
- LOOKING BACK ON THE PANDEMIC
- THE UNSETTLED DEBATE ON INDIAN POVERTY - R. RAMAKUMAR
- INITIATIVES IN HIGHER EDUCATION - K.N. PANIKKAR
- THE DREAM OF A BRAVE NEW WORLD - V.R. KRISHNA IYER
- NATHULA, THE SHORTCUT TO CHINA
- HOUR OF THE AGENDA
- LET'S RESPECT THE MEN IN WHITE - N RAGHURAMAN
- A CHANCE TO CHANGE
- SANCTION FOR PROSECUTION
- MYSTERY FIRE AT BARC
- LAWLESS IN LALGARH
- REVERSAL OF HIV INFECTION - BY USHA RAI
- FROGS, SNAILS AND PUPPY TAILS - BY ARADHIKA SHARMA
- TAMING THE TERRORISTS - BY KAMLENDRA KANWAR
- TECHNOLOGY TO HEAL A NATION - BY DANIEL HOWDEN
- AN IMPASSE IN IRAN - BY RAY TAKEYH
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- PRICE RISE
- ASSAMESE CINEMA
- RISING COST OF FOOD ITEMS AND INFLATION - DR PRABIN BAISHYA
- CLIMATE CHANGE AND NE - DR ATHIQUL H LASKAR
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- IN OUR INTEREST
- GOOD NEWS ON HYDEL
- OVERHAUL LAWS TO TACKLE CRIME
- A HAPPY NEW YEAR FOR THE CHINESE
- THE RELIGION OF CARBON
- GIVE TOP PRIORITY TO FOOD INFLATION
- DELHI GETS TOUGH
- HILL & DALE
- MR HATOYAMA'S VISIT
- TWIN CHALLENGES BEFORE THE PROPOSED PRESIDENCY UNIVERSITY - BY SANJEEB MUKHERJEE
- YEAR END CHILL
- A SHODDY TIME
- IT WAS NOT AT ALL EASY - IAN JACK
- NEED FOR A REALITY CHECK - SUMANTA SEN
- THE IMAGINATION AND ITS STRANGE FRUIT
- SPINNING THE WHEEL
- BORDERING ON DISTRESS
- CHANGED VERSION
- MOVING FORWARD
- RANK OPPORTUNISM
- A DOOMED REGION - BY KULDIP NAYAR
- QUEST FOR HAPPINESS - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
- LESSON OF THE NEW YEAR - BY MALA KUMAR
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- WHY DIDN'T THEY SEE IT?
- HANDS OFF THE WATERSHED
- CANADA'S FREE PRESS
- REASON FOR HOPE
- THE YEAR-END QUIZ - BY GAIL COLLINS
- THE MIRACLE THAT NEVER HAPPENS - BY BOB HERBERT
- THE ART OF THE DEAL - BY JUDITH H. DOBRZYNSKI
- A NATION OF DO-IT-YOURSELF LAWYERS - BY JOHN T. BRODERICK JR. AND RONALD M. GEORGE
- END OF A SYSTEM
- NOW POLITICAL WEAPONS!
- NO RUSH
- ANNUS HORRIBILIS - BY ARIF NIZAMI
- HOPE OF PEACE - BY DR SYED JAFFAR AHMED
- LOAN WRITE-OFFS FOR ROBBER BARONS - BY ABID HASAN
- WHERE'S THAT COUNTER-TERROR STRATEGY? - BY MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
- SIDE-EFFECT - BY HARRIS KHALIQUE
- THIS IS REAL FACE OF INDIA
- IMPLICATIONS OF UN STAFF RELOCATION
- DEVELOP LONG-TERM POWER, GAS PROJECTS
- THE CANCER OF CORRUPTION - NOSHEEN SAEED
- INDIA'S NEW WAR DOCTRINE - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- US AFGHAN POLICY: IMPLICATIONS FOR PAKISTAN - BILAL ZUBAIR
- PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA - AYESHA ZEE KHAN
- PALESTINE-ISRAEL: A SINGLE STATE - SUSAN ABULHAWA
- ECONOMIC OUTLOOK
- MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY
- LOVE PAKISTAN..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- INTERCONNECTION OF POWER GRIDS ACROSS BORDER - ABDUL MATIN
- INTELLECTUAL TERRORISTS - SYLVIA MORTOZA
- A TIME OF TESTS - TONY BLAIR
- ETERNAL VIGILANCE IS THE KEY
- SEEKING OUR BEST AND BRIGHTEST
- POLICY SPECIFICS, NOT SWEEPING PROMISES
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- ON THE WAY OUT, BOOMERS STILL HAVE THE NUMBERS
- CALM ON, AUSSIE CALM ON
- MOTHERS DELIVER A VERDICT ON MATERNITY HOSPITALS
- UNTHINKABLE? ENGLAND BECOME THE WORLD'S BEST CRICKETERS
- HIGH-SPEED RAIL: TIME TO MAKE TRACKS
- EDUCATION POLICY: THE CLASS OF 2010
JUSTICE SHOULD NEVER BE TOO LATE
THE amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code that have been notified at last raise the vital question of why the exercise took the Centre so long. These amendments were cleared by Parliament last year and though the Act gives the government leeway on the implementation of its provisions, the hiatus of a year between their becoming the law and their actually coming into force can be interpreted as lack of seriousness on the part of the government. Governments explain such delays by citing logistical hurdles that must be overcome before a law comes into force but it is no secret that this is often a tool to put into temporary cold storage any legislation that raises problems for the authorities.
Still, the amended Section 372 of the CrPC which allows a victim to file an appeal against a court order acquitting the accused or letting him off lightly will be welcomed by one and all. The lacuna in the law till now has denied many victims justice, with the corruption and inefficiency of state agencies often ensuring that the accused got away free or lightly.
The amendments regarding rape should make it easier for victims of the heinous crime and also help nail the guilty. However, reports of the Centre not notifying amendments that had been opposed by lawyers, if true, cannot be justified.
The amendment to Section 41( A) of the CrPC which checks the police's power to arrest a person for a crime for which the maximum punishment is seven years is a positive development and the government should not heed the sectional interest of lawyers to dither on its implementation.
Related to this development is the grant of sanction to the Central Bureau of Investigation to prosecute Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in 1984 Sikh massacre cases. This, too is a positive development, though we cannot overlook the fact that this sanction from the government has taken an unconscionable amount of time.
It is already a travesty of justice that a man accused of criminal acts committed 25 years ago has not been tried till date though he has been named by more than one commission probing the riots. Even if he is convicted Sajjan Kumar would have spent the best years of his life as a free man.
In any case, given the CBI's record of investigating high- profile cases and Mr Kumar's political affiliation, civil society will keep its fingers crossed over the outcome of his prosecution.
THE manner in which the Pune police dealt with Neetu Singh, a student of the Film and Television Institute of India in the city, smacks of midnight abductions favoured by the Gestapo and the KGB. She was removed by the police late in the night on a flimsy pretext, taken to Mumbai and then deported to Nepal.
The police claim that she was involved in " anti- national" activities. The question to be asked is, which nation? India or Nepal? In case it was India, she should have been arrested, charged and then possibly deported. But all we have till now is a murky incident that shows India in poor light. There was no attempt at due process, and even today we have not got an authoritative explanation of what transpired.
Her fellow students in FTII reject the contention that she was some kind of a dangerous radical. If she was actually fabricating bombs, plotting attacks on Indian targets, she should have been dealt with more severely. On the other hand, if she was merely a Maoist sympathiser, there was no need to deal with her the way the police did. There is no dearth of Maoist sympathisers in this country, but they are only dealt with severely if they pose a threat to law and order.
There is, of course, the other problem: Can one extern a Nepalese national for no obvious cause? As per rules nationals of either side have the right to enter the other country showing, at the most, a valid identity card. If the police wanted to extern Neetu, they would have to follow due process of some kind.
That did not happen. The government must tell us what is going on for the sake of Neetu Singh, as well as the image of India as a law abiding nation.
IT'S TIME TO LEARN
HOW TO COUNT RIGHT
BY R. SRINIVASAN
THE beginning of a new year is usually a good time to do some stock taking. It is useful to assess how far you have reached towards your goals, and map out the steps needed to reach your final destination.
This is as true for nations as it is for individuals. So where does India stand, as the first decade of the new millennium ends and the second one begins? Are we still a developing nation? Do we still classify as 'emerging", when, very clearly, we have emerged on the centre-stage of global affairs, and have claimed our place at the top table of the world's largest and most influential economies?
Audits which have been done so far, by elected officials as well as independent economists and analysts, suggest that we have done quite well, that going by most widely accepted parameters, India is well and truly on its way to stamping its imprimatur on the new century. The year just gone by, these analysts tell us, demonstrates just why this is so.
The Indian economy grew by anything upwards of 7.5 per cent, during a year when most global economies actually contracted. The Indian stock markets were one of the best performing in the world, yielding investors a return of nearly 50 per cent on their capital. Indian companies continued on their onward march towards global superpowerdom, taking over iconic Western companies and raising record amounts of capital from investors and lenders worldwide.
Overall, India Inc has emerged with a much stronger balance sheet than most of its developed nation counterparts.
India has also stamped its presence with its 'soft power'. The Indian film industry is now a global powerhouse, and wields influence from Afghanistan to Vietnam and Africa and beyond. Indian artists, writers and musicians are no longer sub-continental in their reach or following. We still lag behind in sports, but we have individual world champions in many sports, and our cricket team is the world's number one test playing nation.
So, one can justifiably argue that we, as a nation, have, even if not yet actually ' arrived', are well on our way to getting ' there'. But I wonder whether we have a clear idea of where " there" is, or how we will be able to tell when we have actually reached our destination.
Yes, we have GDP to go by, and we do have a reasonably accurate idea about our population, so we can work out the per capita GDP with a fair degree of accuracy. But apart from that, and a few other easily measurable indicators like electricity generation, or steel or cement output, or the number of kilometres of roads built, we really are shooting in the dark when it comes to measuring more critical indicators, which actually separate the men from the boys in the development race.
As a nation, we simply do not know how to count. It is either that, or we have such a lackadaisical attitude about some important issues that we simply do not care.
How else does one explain the huge differences in numbers representing what arguably is the most important challenge that we have to overcome as a country, if we are to rightfully lay claim to economic superpower status? I refer to poverty, which has been, officially at least, the central focus of our economic policy and government expenditure since independence.
But even six decades after securing the right to govern ourselves and guide our own fortunes, we still do not know how many poor people we have. Oh, we have an idea alright.
The world is aware of our most shaming statistic that we are home to one third of the world's poor.
But beyond that, things begin to get hazy. According to official numbers, which are themselves available more than four years out of date, as of 2004- 05, we had 30.17 crore people classified as poor 27.5 per cent of the population.
That is according to the numbers put out by the Planning Commission, charged with charting out our economic development.
But according to a new estimate worked out by a special task force appointed by the same Planning Commission, and headed by no less an individual than our Prime Minister's former chief economic advisor, the percentage of population which could be classified as poor was much higher 37.2 per cent, in fact. Mind you, that is also for the same base year of 2005- 05.
Neither the Planning Commission nor the task force can give a definitive number for the poverty- stricken as of today.
Statisticians will quibble and say the two numbers cannot and should not be compared, since the panel has also used a new yardstick for measuring poverty, moving away from looking at the poor as simply hungry mouths, and using a basic standard of living as a yardstick.
But that actually emphasises the point that the government actually does not know what it is counting. If the new yardstick which anybody with a streak of humanity will find it hard to quibble with ( it simply uses a universal minimum standard of spending on food, clothing, shelter and healthcare to measure a standard of living) was actually a global standard, then why wasn't it in use already? And why must we wait half a decade for an update on where we stand? Take another globally used indicator for checking the state of the health of an economy employment.
Developed economies release employment statistics at least monthly. Here, we have no clue of what exactly is the level of unemployment with any degree of accuracy or immediacy. The latest employment statistics put out by the labour ministry date back to 2004- 05!
During the global financial crisis last year, millions of people lost their jobs worldwide. A big chunk were from India. The labour ministry itself said, based on a sample survey, that half a million people had lost jobs between October and December, 2008. In a later survey for the next quarter, with a different sample, it concluded that about the same number of jobs had been created! As tools for creating any sort of meaningful policy, such statistics are not merely useless they could actually be dangerous, leading, as they would, to wrong or misguided policy measures.
If the poverty task force's numbers are more representative of actual poverty levels, for instance, it could be argued that millions of abjectly poor were denied access to even the basic succour that the government provides by means of food aid because they were not recognised as poor!
Yet another basic economic measure inflation is also in a mess. Currently, the Wholesale Price Index used as the number to drive price- related policy by both industry and government is running at less than half that of the Consumer Price Index, which is supposed to reflect the impact of price rise on individuals.
After Mamata Banerjee's White Paper on the Railways, I wonder whether even the few accepted numbers that we do use will actually stand the test.
By simply following a different ( and more rational) set of accounting norms, the White Paper reduced the Railways' surplus by Rs 50,000 crore in just a five- year period. And since the Railways generally follow government accounting principles, what does this say about the state of the country's finances? So here's a new year resolution for the government this year, let us learn to count.
HOW MAOISTS ARE DERAILING BACKERS
BY ALOKE BANERJEE IN KOLKATA
THE MAOISTS have lost some of their sympathisers with their attempt to derail the New Delhi- Puri Purushottam Express early morning on Wednesday.
The Maoist- led People's Committee against Police Atrocities ( PCPA) militia in Lalgarh damaged about 400 m of railway line near Gidhni in West Midnapore barely 10 minutes before the train, carrying 900 passengers, was to pass over the track.
The attempt could have resulted in one of the worst disasters in the railways' history.
The bid was foiled when alert patrolmen of the South Eastern Railway noticed the mischief and informed the authorities.
Amit Bhattacharya, leader of the Bandi Mukti Committee, an organisation that fights for the release of Maoists and other political prisoners, said: " Any act that might kill innocent civilians is deplorable." Bhattacharya, who is also a history professor at Jadavpur University, is under close watch of the police who believe he is a Maoist sympathiser.
He had initially refused to believe that damaging of the railway track was the handiwork of the Maoists, but was shocked to know the truth later.
" Collateral damage may occur. Apologies were offered in the past when innocent civilians were killed. But this was a planned act. It can Maoists blew up a track near West Singhbhum in Jharkhand in November.
never be supported," Bhattacharya said on Thursday.
Another suspected Maoist sympathiser Sujato Bhadra, leader of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights, said the act of targeting innocent civilians was a symptom of the moral degeneration of the Naxalite movement.
" One can win a war militarily but may lose it morally.
The movement is shifting away from its projected goal," Bhadra said. The civil rights activist also blamed the government for creating a situation in Lalgarh which encouraged violence.
" The government arrested PCPA leaders, including Chhatradhar Mahato, on false charges. The central police forces are torturing villagers.
This is resulting in counter violence by the Maoists," he said.
The train sabotage attempt was also condemned by former Maoist Asim Chatterjee, who is the youngest central committee member of undivided CPI ( ML).
" Charu Majumdar ( founder of the Naxalite movement) never even dreamt of such despicable acts. You can't create the New Man through the politics of landmines," he said.
PCPA leader Asit Mahato, however, was in no mood to repent for the action of his supporters.
" We had warned the government that we would not allow the running of vehicles and trains during our agitation for the release of two of our workers.
The railways authorities are running the trains to damage our agitation," Mahato said.
When asked why the PCPA targeted a train carrying innocent civilians who were not responsible for the government's actions, Mahato bluntly said, " If they would have died, the government would have had to take responsibility."
AI TO SACK PILOTS FOR EXTENDED VACATION
BY PRAKASH IN THIRUVANANTHAPURAM
AIR INDIA has decided to act tough against foreign pilots who failed to report to duty on time after going on leave for Christmas.
The extended vacation left thousands of passengers stranded on the Kozhikode- Gulf sector. Forty- four pilots are yet to resume duty, forcing Air India to cancel several flights in the past 10 days.
Angry by this transgression, the Air India management has decided to phase out these foreign pilots by the year- end.
" All foreign commanders of Air India will be replaced by Indian pilots within a year," said Air India engineering director and board member K. M. Unni.
He, along with Air India Express chief operating officer Ansbert D'Souza, visited Kozhikode to assess the situation.
The two- member committee admitted that Air India had failed to anticipate such a crisis. The panel said it would take up the matter with the agency that had provided the pilots to Air India.
Asked why domestic pilots were not pressed into service, Unni said: " There's a practical problem in immediately deploying other pilots because Kozhikode is a critical airport. There are valleys on two sides and hills on others.
It is mandatory for a pilot to make six to seven operations in the presence of a trained pilot before permission is granted by the DGCA to operate there." Although there were some pilots with the necessary licence, Air India was not in a position to spare them to operate flights from Kozhikode, he added.
FROM EAR TO ETERNITY
Happy new ear? Hardly. One of the world's most vividly imagined cultural artefacts - Dutch painter Van Gogh's slashed ear - is being twisted. Again. Art aficionados once swore that the posthumously feted post-impressionist painter cut off part of his ear in 1888 in a fit of true artistic delirium. Mental illness, after all, is the signature malaise of romantic figures like poverty-stricken prodigies. Then came the scholarly myth-busters. Lead in his paint, they said, provoked frenzy, leading to auto-mutilation. Madness isn't a sign of genius, then. It's an occupational hazard. Other wits claim belligerent fellow-artist Gauguin robbed Van Gogh of his earpiece. And, now, a researcher suggests Van Gogh-gone-mad didn't do the slash-job. Van Gogh simply got so mad hearing of his brother's wedding plans that he took revenge upon his own offending ear! If that's cutting edge research, it's a mad, mad, mad, mad world.
Next they'll deconstruct Mona Lisa's smile as an optical illusion. Well, some med school killjoys have done just that: the brain, they've said, gets crossed signals about the lady's face, thanks to retina cells transmitting info via ''channels'' that alternate before the world's most abiding visual riddle. So, Leonardo da Vinci's sfumato - 'vanishing' - painting technique didn't do the trick alone. Other neuroscientists say peripheral vision best spies the shadow-smile. Mystery-wise, that puts Mona Lisa six feet under. Lucky Luc Maspero. This French artist killed himself in 1852, choosing death over continued puzzling over Mona Lisa's smile. Had he lived and learnt that befuddlement, not beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder, he might have turned homicidal instead of suicidal.
For surviving art aficionados, there are a few enduring mysteries yet. Such as how a Bollywood action hero can get a piece of the lucrative action as painter and yet say "painting isn't a big deal". What matters, he elaborates, is your "concept" and how you "translate your concept into art". Deep, very, very deep. Fellow artists, go figure.
And art snoops, go figure how desi paint-dabblers translate other people's ''concepts'' into other people's "art". So much so that reputed artist S H Raza once ended up, to his horror, inaugurating an exhibition of fakes displayed as his works! Ponder equally the prodigious mystery of the "original fake": translating one's own "concept" into "art" given a celebrity signature. If originality is genius, can originality-as-fake be far behind?
For the politically engaged, there's the jumbo riddle of Mayawati's hypnotic cloneâ¦ sorry, stone elephants at Ambedkar parks, trunk calling from here to eternity. Don't we ask: tusker, tusker, burning bright, what immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful hyperreality? If monumental folly's a respected artistic tradition, our lady in pink scores big. And if true art always carries an element of playfulness and surprise, she beats any pucca surrealist. Example: in her statues, UP's formidable queen doesn't brandish an elephantine sceptre, as you'd expect. She holds a dainty handbag. This coy object, when jumbo-juxtaposed, has art sleuths all afire about what could possibly be inside. Thank you, Maya Lisa, for not telling.
DON'T IMPOSE TEST CRICKET
Indian captain M S Dhoni wants the ICC to stipulate that Test-playing nations must play a minimum number of matches every year. His concern for Test cricket, echoed by teammates like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid before, is valid. But making Test cricket compulsory is no solution to the falling interest in the format. If cricketing bodies across countries are giving priority to T20 and one-day games over Tests, that's because they are relatively more popular than Tests and bring in revenue.
More Tests would mean fewer T20s and one-day games. That may appeal to cricket aficionados. But they are few in number and they alone can't keep the game going. Cricket's popularity began to soar only after the limited over format was invented. T20 is a further improvisation on the 50-over format. Together, they have raised the mass appeal of cricket and transformed the game to make it more entertaining. T20 has revived spectator interest in cricket, which is evident in the packed stadiums hosting these matches. In contrast, Test cricket is increasingly played before empty stands.
It is best to recognise the new reality and prioritise accordingly. Accordingly, Test matches will have to make way for T20 and one-day games. This trend need not necessarily mean an end to Test cricket. Test-playing nations can continue to play them, but fewer of them as compared to before. Now, if spectators demand more Tests - a clear sign of that will be the attendance in stadiums and TRP ratings - surely the ICC must ask country boards to organise more of them. But, please don't impose Test cricket.
There is a tendency among some cricketers to blame the limited overs format for the decline in Test cricket.
PRESERVE ITS RELEVANCE
Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni could be the poster-child for cricket in the first decade of the 21st century. A rapid ascent to captaincy, victory at the first World T20 championship thereafter and a reign as the top batsman in the world in one-day internationals that continues today - he seems perfectly suited to the accelerating dominance of the shorter formats of the game. So when such a man advocates measures to re-emphasise the importance of Test cricket, it is time to sit up and take notice. Even more so when his suggestion - that a minimum number of Test matches should be stipulated for each country at the highest level - is both feasible and sensible.
The reasons for Test cricket's fundamental importance to the sport have been enumerated often enough by people of high standing in the cricketing world; Mohammad Yousuf of Pakistan is the latest. But perhaps a single example from the recent past will illustrate the point. Cue IPL season 2 held in South Africa and a host of India's bright young stars utterly undone by pitches that actually afforded some bounce and pace. And the Board of Control for Cricket in India's remedy? A recall, if a temporary one, for that epitome of classical skills honed in the game's longest format, Rahul Dravid. It was as clear a pointer to the fundamental necessity of Test cricket as one could ask for.
And yet, the creeping erosion of the space available for Test cricket in annual schedules continues with new leagues and expanded competitions in the T20 format. This must be checked. Traditionalism has nothing to do with it; it is a matter of simple logic. The shorter formats must derive sustenance from Test cricket to survive when it comes to player quality and skills. Weaken the latter and the former will suffer as well. As for the mantra of the market, we have had ample evidence of its frailties over the past year and a half. Market mechanics may dictate short-term gains, but long-term consequences can be a blind spot. And if cricket boards realise the need for more Test cricket in the schedule only when its lack starts to affect the shorter formats in earnest, it may be too late to resuscitate it.
TIMES OF INDIA
HARD KNOCKS, HARD BATTLES
NEW YORK: The best that can be said for 2009 is that it could have been worse, that we pulled back from the precipice on which we seemed to be perched in late 2008, and that 2010 will almost surely be better for most countries around the world. The world has also learned some valuable lessons, though at great cost to both current and future prosperity.
The first lesson is that markets are not self-correcting. Indeed, without adequate regulation, they are prone to excess. In 2009, we again see why Adam Smith's invisible hand often appears invisible: it is not there. The bankers' pursuit of self-interest (greed) did not lead to the well-being of society.
Under the threat of a collapse of the entire system, the safety net - intended to help unfortunate individuals meet the exigencies of life - was generously extended to commercial banks, then to investment banks, insurance firms, auto companies, even car-loan companies. Never has so much money been transferred from so many to so few.
We are accustomed to thinking of government transferring money from the well off to the poor. Here it was the poor and average transferring money to the rich. Already heavily burdened taxpayers saw their money - intended to help banks lend so that the economy could be revived - go to pay outsized bonuses and dividends. Dividends are supposed to be a share of profits; here it was simply a share of government largesse.
The justification was that bailing out the banks, however messily, would enable a resumption of lending. That has not happened. All that happened was that average taxpayers gave money to the very institutions that had been gouging them for years.
The bailout exposed deep hypocrisy all around. Those who had preached fiscal restraint when it came to small welfare programmes for the poor now clamoured for the world's largest welfare programme. Those who had argued for the free market's virtue of "transparency" ended up creating financial systems so opaque that banks could not make sense of their own balance sheets. And then the government, too, was induced to engage in decreasingly transparent forms of bailout to cover up its largesse to the banks. Those who had argued for "accountability" and "responsibility" now sought debt forgiveness for the financial sector.
The second important lesson involves understanding why markets often do not work the way they are meant to work. There are many reasons for market failures. In this case, too-big-to-fail financial institutions had perverse incentives: if they gambled and succeeded, they walked off with the profits; if they lost, the taxpayer would pay. Moreover, when information is imperfect, markets often do not work well - and information imperfections are central in finance. Externalities are pervasive: the failure of one bank imposed costs on others, and failures in the financial system imposed costs on taxpayers and workers all over the world.
The third lesson is that Keynesian policies do work. Those countries, like
Whenever an economy goes into recession, deficits appear, as tax revenues fall faster than expenditures. The old orthodoxy held that one had to cut the deficit - raise taxes or cut expenditures - to "restore confidence". But those policies almost always reduced aggregate demand, pushed the economy into a deeper slump, and further undermined confidence.
The fourth lesson is that there is more to monetary policy than just fighting inflation. Excessive focus on inflation meant that some central banks ignored what was happening to their financial markets. The costs of mild inflation are miniscule compared to the costs imposed on economies when central banks allow asset bubbles to grow unchecked.
The fifth lesson is that not all innovation leads to a more efficient and productive economy - let alone a better society. Private incentives matter, and if they are not well aligned with social returns, the result can be excessive risk taking, excessively short-sighted behaviour, and distorted innovation. For example, while the benefits of many of the financial-engineering innovations of recent years are hard to prove, let alone quantify, the costs associated with them - both economic and social - are apparent and enormous.
Financial engineering did not create products that would help ordinary citizens manage the simple risk of home ownership - with the consequence that millions have lost their homes, and millions more are likely to do so. Instead, innovation was directed at perfecting the exploitation of those who are less educated, and at circumventing the regulations and accounting standards that were designed to make markets more efficient and stable. As a result, financial markets, which are supposed to manage risk and allocate capital efficiently, created risk and misallocated wildly.
We will soon find out whether we have learned the lessons of this crisis any better than we should have learned the same lessons from previous crises. Regrettably, unless the
-- The writer is professor at Columbia University.
TIMES OF INDIA
A HAPPY NEW DECADE, MAYBE
In the last couple of months of this past decade, a group of grizzled boys from a mid-1960s graduating batch of St Xavier's School, Calcutta, got together, virtually. Thanks to an initiative sparked by a classmate - Tuhin - a bunch of us were delighted to get in touch on the web.
Some have gone and some remain. Some went to the old school a few nights back and had a party; the rest of us cheered from distant galleries spanning the world from
The second half of the 20th century till today, when we classmates went from zero to 60 in next to no time, has been a roller coaster ride for the world. Human society rose to dizzying heights and careened to giddying lows. The first 50 years of the 20th century were traumatic: the Great Depression, two world wars killing millions and the dismal dawn of a nuclear age dominate our recollection of that half-century, mostly eclipsing the good news of scientific and technological advances, the birth of the welfare society, and the emergence of two giant new republics, China and India.
The half-century since 1950 saw no world wars but millions died in war anyway. The Cold War began and ended without clearing the dark cloud of nuclear anxiety. Global society saw unprecedented prosperity and longevity for most without solving the problem of stark poverty for far too many. Nevertheless, humankind's creativity burst forth, agriculture had a renaissance, distances collapsed in time and space, and an information and communications revolution began to transform the way we live.
Then came the 21st century's awkward opening decade, which ended on Thursday. A spectre now haunts us all, the spectre of terrorism. And in that haunted atmosphere, profound changes seem to be afoot in the composition of the world's population and quite possibly of its future political, economic and cultural power structure.
Writing in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Jack Goldstone of George Mason University predicts "twenty-first century international security will depend less on how many people inhabit the world than on how the global population is composed and distributed: where populations are declining and where they are growingâ¦"
When the 20th century began Europe, the US and Canada had 33 per cent of the world's population. By 2003, that number had declined to 17 per cent. In 2050, the combined population of the West is projected to be 12 per cent of the world's total.
Meanwhile, the portion of global output (by purchasing power parity) produced by the West fell from 68 per cent of the world total in 1950 to 47 per cent in 2003. If the trend continues, the portion of global GDP produced by Europe, the
By 2050, America, after a century of global leadership, might have to yield ground to China, with its top-of-the-table economic strength, massive population and powerful military. Also likely to have an increasing impact will be the Muslim world. Of the 48 fastest-growing countries by population today, 28 are majority Muslim or have Muslim minorities of 33 per cent or more. The six most populous Muslim countries, including
Question: Where will India, which by 2025 will be the world's most populous nation with a huge swell of youth, fit in the emerging global structure? Will its values of tolerance, democracy and lively popular culture survive to influence the world? Or will authoritarian governance and socio-religious rigidity be the preferred options?
We'll have an inkling of the trends by January 2020. Happy new decade to you all!
STARTING FROM SCRATCH, AGAIN
There is a stark contrast between new BJP president Nitin Gadkari's assertion that you can change lives without political power and the partnership the party has formed with Jharkhand Mukti Morcha's (JMM) president Shibu Soren. It is an indication of how embarrassed the party is at this opportunistic alliance that all the top brass stayed away from Mr Soren's swearing-in as chief minister of the state. Now Mr Gadkari may go blue in the face trying to convince people that the Congress cast the first stone in tying up with Mr Soren earlier. But, an alliance which, given Mr Soren's record, could mean grief for the party is hardly an auspicious beginning for Mr Gadkari.
To make matters worse, top RSS ideologue M.G. Vaidya has expressed his unhappiness at the BJP cosying up to the JMM and thrown his weight behind those in the party who opposed the move. Laid low by factional feuds and poor electoral performances in recent times, the BJP has been struggling to get back on its feet. But with this tie-up, it has lost the moral high ground that it once claimed belonged to it. With the rank and file unhappy with the Jharkhand partnership, Mr Gadkari really has his work cut out to galvanise the party. Unlike his predecessor Rajnath Singh, he does not have towering personalities like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and, to a lesser extent, L.K. Advani to fall back on. The party has been drifting after the UPA bested it a second time around in the last Lok Sabha elections. Barring disrupting Parliament, it has not been able to put the government on the mat on any worthwhile issue. The Liberhan commission report further took the sheen off the party's tallest leaders. Mr Gadkari is going to have to do a lot better than point fingers at the Congress. He will have to come up with a viable plan to revive the party and take up issues that matter to people. His plans that the BJP will get away from politicking and take up development issues could see the party turn the corner if he gets enough support from within.
At present, that does not seem likely. How the BJP will handle the JMM will be a test case for Mr Gadkari. The fact that the RSS, Mr Vaidya apart, is backing him so far is one factor in Mr Gadkari's favour. His best bet would be to increase the party's base by 10 per cent as he hopes to. If so, the largest Opposition party should be back in business.
There is an odd saying: No good deed goes unpunished. Nothing proves it more than what happens to all those who feed street animals. Instead of getting any reward, they are abused. Take the case of a Delhi-based lawyer: she and her mother used to take care of old and handicapped dogs in their locality. But they were verbally and physically attacked by their neighbours and forced to shift out.
Things came to head on October 2, 2009, when goons attacked them. But instead of taking action against the goons, the Station House Officer of the Mehrauli Police Station told the lawyer that he would book her for feeding the dogs.
The case went to the Delhi High Court and it ruled that feeding dogs is lawful and helpful as it keeps them healthy and makes it easier for the municipality to sterilise them. The order has come as welcome relief.
What's important to understand is that objecting to street dogs has nothing to do with dogs. Those who cannot do anything about all the other problems that afflict our cities are delighted to pounce on the dogs. Streetdogs are a boon. They clean up our garbage, control the rat population and provide security to those who live on the street. It was a group of streetdogs at Mumbai's VT station that raised the alarm when terrorists attacked the place in 2008. The dogs were killed but they saved the lives of many who were able to find cover.
-- Ambika Shukla.. writer is an animal rights activist
This one didn't fall out of Gogol's Great Coat. But the truth behind the old stereotype of Russians as incorrigible drunkards, what President Medvedev has called a "national disaster" Russia's pervasive, and perhaps near-apocalyptic, nemesis in the bottle beggars the myth. Thirty-five thousand Russians die every year from alcohol poisoning; probably higher than from road deaths. And drunk driving causes one in every three deaths of Russian men below retirement age.
But it is not, as William Pokhlyobkin (author of the controversial A History of Vodka) would agree, vodka itself but irresponsible consumption of vodka that's guilty. What most poor Russians, who cannot afford certified vodka, drink and there are many is anything from window-cleaning fluids, de-icers, etc to anti-rust solutions sold as bootlegged vodka. The most desperate will consume any kind of poison in a bottle with full knowledge. That's why, neither the restrictions on the price of vodka that came into effect on January 1 nor Medvedev's hope for a New Year resolution about alcoholism raises much hope. For one, a subtext of Russian history is the state's failed attempts to curb alcoholism. Mikhail Gorbachev tried it last, reducing vodka production and banning its sale before
The Left Front has been in power in West Bengal longer than most of that state has been alive. For all those years, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, has worked with the Communist Party of India, or CPI, so effectively that most will be hard pressed to remember precisely why they split in the first place. But that 1964 fraternal squabble was fuelled by two differences. One was geopolitical: those in the CPM had sympathised with Beijing during the 1962 Indo-China war, and were dismissive of the "nationalist, pro-Congress" leanings of the CPI establishment hence, a pro-China CPM and a pro-Moscow (and in socialist India, pro-Congress) CPI. The other difference was ideological: disagreement over "bourgeois compromises" of the undivided Party. Much has changed since. Geopolitically, the USSR's collapse and China's capitalist-fuelled growth has changed their equations with their Indian fans. And on ideology, both parties are now partners in that "sham": bourgeois democracy, free and fair elections. So what stops the "I"s and "M"s from unifying once again?
Nothing will have dominated conversation as we head into the new year as much as food prices. Food price inflation during the third week of December 2009 hovered close to the 20 per cent mark, according to figures released on December 31. There is little question that it is beginning to pinch. And, as Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee pointed out, third-quarter figures for farm production while not as terrible as once feared are unlikely to bring any degree of relief. But, as he went on to explain, there is little evidence that inflation is being pushed up by excess money supply. In other words, food is more expensive because of problems with its supply. And, as is explained elsewhere on these pages today, the root causes of those problems will only clear up when proper investment in farm productivity is incentivised.
But, the short- and medium-term issue is food inflation. And a fear has begun to gain ground that expectations of future inflation will begin to be a problem. In other words, individuals will begin to expect higher prices in the future; they will alter their behaviour and renegotiate contracts; and, thus, that higher "expected inflation" will feed back into actual inflation. The argument might appear persuasive, except that it doesn't appear to be supported by sufficient evidence. Are expectations indeed changing? Is that being reflected in new contracts? There is little to say that it is, and the anecdotal evidence runs the other way.
And, in any case, that is not an argument for tightening interest rates. These columns have consistently argued that interest rates are too blunt an instrument for reining in inflation of the sort that we see or even of any sort that we can currently reasonably project. Yet continued uncertainty about the monetary policy stance has its own costs. The RBI must, in the new year, inject some solidity and certainty into the debate. There are many less drastic instruments at its disposal such as, for example, the credit reserve ratio or CRR if it feels action is unavoidable. It should look at those first. But its priority must remain to flush the system of harmful uncertainty and to do nothing that would harm recovery, and growth.
The Liu Xiaobo case, much to China's consternation, is not likely to find closure anytime soon. On Christmas day, a court in Beijing sentenced the leading dissident and human rights activist to 11 years in prison on charges of "inciting subversion of state power". Liu was accused of "serious crimes", gravest of which was to co-author Charter 08, a document seeking political liberalisation. The document is an indictment of the Chinese government for having "stripped people of their rights, destroyed their dignity, and corrupted normal human intercourse." But while China may have wrapped up the legal case, it may have unwittingly reopened a critical political debate.
For a Party not used to being talked back to, the Charter asked several uncomfortable questions: "where is China headed in the twenty-first century?", "will it continue with modernisation under authoritarian rule?", will it "end the practice of viewing words as crimes?" And with the Charter's call for an end to one-party rule, one can see why this was going to be an inevitable conversation stopper. Such an existential challenge was bound to be a red rag to the "perennial ruling party" as the Chinese Communist Party likes to be known. Political comfort levels are at a low, given that China is preparing for a critical transition of power whose outcome will decide the next line-up of leaders in 2012. That the leadership does not relish being questioned is obvious. But what is less than obvious is whether it has answers to some of these questions.
There are three critical reasons why China's leadership should try and find those answers. The manner in which the leadership responds to these will have long-term implications for its political legitimacy and even survival. To begin with, China runs the danger of political stasis if it risks any further erosion in the normative basis of its power. The weakening of its once-formidable ideological bulwark, combined with the lack of charismatic leadership has opened up fissures in society like never before. What should worry the leadership is its increasing reliance on coercion that is becoming evident with a tightening of controls on dissent in recent months. A nervous state has begun an aggressive hot-pursuit of harmony with a series of crackdowns on "troublemakers" for "subverting state power". "Stability preservation officers" are being appointed to act as the eyes and ears of the government and suppress "elements that endanger stability." If it chooses to equate control with caution, it risks throwing away innovative experiments in the ordering of social space and the state-citizen interface. This will also produce contradictions so complex that could eventually undermine the very stability that the system craves for.
Secondly, it will also have to watch out for any cracks in the political consensus on key policy issues. The overriding emphasis on elite consensus at all costs was a lesson learnt at considerable political cost during Tiananmen and is not likely to be forgotten in a hurry. This will also mean
zero-tolerance levels for any deviations from a formulaic political design. Thus, the idea of political reform as Deng said, "absolutely must not be influenced by Western parliamentarian political ideas. Let there not be even a trace of it!" Hence any calls for a multiparty system, tripartite separation of powers or a parliamentary system of government were, by association, politically incorrect. It remains to be seen whether the party will be able to maintain its almost obsessive desire to present a unified face on some of these questions.
Ultimately, the leadership will also need to figure out how to make the political system responsive, transparent and accountable to the voices, needs and concerns of its people.
Much of this will essentially turn on whether the Party is willing to be a force for change and address tensions within state-society relations. This will probably be the biggest legitimacy challenge that confronts the leadership today.
It will also mean speaking to the loss of public trust and alienation over all manner of governance deficits be it corruption, lack of public scrutiny of government, fundamental freedoms, rule of law or media freedoms. Bridging this psychological barrier in the psyche of the citizen will not be easy.
Liu Xiaobo could be a metaphor for the way this conversation shapes up.
The writer is an associate professor, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
THE PROBLEM WITH PRICES
Food inflation is the biggest of stories facing India as we enter a new year. India's wholesale food prices have risen at the fastest pace in 11 years. An index of food articles compiled by the commerce ministry increased 19.05 per cent in the week ended November 28 from a year earlier, following a 17.47 per cent gain in the previous week. A measure of fuel and electricity prices rose 0.06 per cent, the first increase this year, according to the concerned ministry. Interestingly, India's primary articles index, with a 22.02 per cent weight in the wholesale-price inflation basket and comprising mainly of food items, rose 13.9 per cent in the week ended November 28 from a year earlier, the highest since December 1998.
The explanations for this outbreak suggest themselves. The weakest monsoon since 1972, which has adversely affected farm output, is the culprit for many experts. The situation is worse because of increasing demand, as well as lower production due to bad weather. This imbalance may likely also cause global prices to rise in the near future, because of India's possible imports of rice from the global market. An increasing corporate presence in agriculture, speculation in commodity trading and agriculture exports are also considered possible explanations.
That may be part of the story. But the real roots of the recent food security crisis go back almost 30 years, when investment in agriculture started to decline because of the growing perception that agriculture was unprofitable. Public investment in agriculture shrank to 2 per cent of GDP. Many policy-makers expressed serious concern regarding declining investment in agriculture during the '80s. The demand-supply disambiguation and unbalanced development are the products of stagnant capital formation in agriculture.
Public investment is a powerful ingredient for capital formation in agriculture. In the process this may sustain private investment. The indirect consequence of a fall in agricultural growth will be felt in all sectors of the economy, given the importance of agriculture in India.
Take the case of eastern India and some parts of the south. The basic unit for organising production in rural areas is either the farm or the village, depending on how rural society is structured. In these regions, agriculture is characterised by small farms in alluvial lowlands; too many people on too little land; production largely for subsistence; and a heavy dependence on cereals and other food staples. Farming with simple handheld tools or ploughs pulled by animals is common. Many farmers are owner-tenants and tenants.
Rice, usually grown under wet conditions, is the staple food crop in these regions. Controlled irrigation facilities are poorly developed, yields are often low, and double-cropping (planting and harvesting two crops in one calendar year) is not universally practised.
Although high-yield varieties of wet rice have been introduced since the '60s, this has not increased production as much as predicted.
In northern India, assured irrigation schemes have helped stabilise annual yields and increase overall production, but the average rice yield per hectare in the mid-'90s was only about half that of Japan. Nevertheless, Asian countries produce about 90 per cent of the world's rice. China and India alone account for nearly 60 per cent of the world total.
The average rice yield is 2.9 tonnes per hectare in India. In comparison, the average rice yield (in tonnes per hectare) is 6.8 in South Korea; 6.2 in Japan and 6.3 in China. Even in North Korea, it is 3.8 tonnes per hectare.
The key issue is: why has productivity remained so low in India, particularly in the rice belt, despite the availability of modern rice technology? Most experts argue that the startling differences in yield I listed are a consequence of poor water management. Irrigation, drainage and flood control investments can alter the water regime and, in the process, the plight of millions of small farmers. The high magnitude of poverty in this region is partly explained by poor water management.
Historically, achieving food security has been the overriding goal of agricultural policy in India. This has many achievements to its name. The introduction and rapid spread of high-yielding rice and wheat varieties in the late '60s and early '70s resulted in steady output growth for food grains. Public investment in irrigation and other rural infrastructure and research, together with improved crop production practices, has also helped significantly increase food grains production.
At a later stage policy entrepreneurs went in for completely linear solutions such as shrinking investment in agriculture because they expected private investment would somehow take up the slack even though there was no way of expecting capital to flow to the farm sector. Of course, at that point, as now, the reduction of the fiscal deficit was a major target. Unfortunately, policy-makers went ahead and acted in the name of fiscal consolidation without thinking about the long-term consequences.
In the absence of supportive policy, and given the sudden vacuum in investment, the growth rate of agricultural productivity began to drop, from some 3.5 per cent in the '80s to about 1.5 per cent today. Interestingly global food stocks have also diminished by about 3.4 per cent a year since 1995.
The development of agriculture in India needs the right signals to be sent out. And a renewed commitment to ensuring that the supply side, and in particular, productivity in the farm sector, must be evident. Once the correct infrastructure, particularly in water management, exists in the sector, supply constraints will begin to fade away, and inflationary pressure will ease. When compared to those overarching needs, words such as fiscal consolidation, speculation, corporate participation in agriculture are nice theories but all marginal in the current context.
The writer is Professor of Economics at the International Management Institute, New Delhi
JOURNALISM AS CANDLE
This week this column should obviously try to review news TV's coverage of the Ruchika Girhotra case. But I wondered what's there to say, really? Between Justice for Jessica and Justice for Ruchika, news TV hasn't changed one bit. Obviously, news TV in campaign mode against an establishment big boy getting away with it is perfectly alright. Equally obviously, a news TV campaign can make its point, force the establishment to take notice without did-we-really-hear-that variety of melodrama (the rule of law is failing every year, every day, said CNN-IBN). Even more obviously, news TV disagrees with this. Would, say, a newspaper editorial call S.P.S. Rathore a scoundrel? You can make the point by not saying that; indeed, you are a very poor commentator if you need to say that to make your point. But news TV panellists use adjectives like this with righteousness, and news TV anchors agree with them with complete sincerity so you inevitably get news TV editorial judgment calls like the "noose is tightening around Rathore" (Times Now) and "teen-molester cop" (NDTV); and from there to showing viewer tweets that ask for Rathore to be hanged (CNN-IBN) is but a small step.
News TV excesses can raise a laugh, and it's a privilege and a pleasure for this column to share a chuckle or two with you the reader over something we saw on the box. Is the Ruchika case too serious an issue for even television journalism around it to be funny? Maybe. But more, and to be perfectly frank, it's the tedium that got to me. So, forgive me, I will be somewhat tedious myself and ask a serious question this time: What are the consequences of television journalism that trashes the whole system in the name of civil society every time a story of terrible injustice breaks? News TV probably reckons this is a silly, irrelevant, naive question. Since I am being tedious, I don't mind being silly, irrelevant and naive.
There have actually been suggestions on news TV that broadcasters should not only, as they do now, organise people's protests under their banner, but also lead protesters in petitioning those in authority. Television journalism as a de jure instrument of justice? Television journalists leading protesters to Union ministers or the chief justice?
Before contemplating that future, let's contemplate what's already current: why should news broadcasters organise protests? News TV thinks this is absolutely alright. But it absolutely isn't. Does BBC organise protests under its banner? Does CNN? Are these broadcasters faint-hearted news organisations that don't care about the media's responsibility in questioning those in authority? There are terrible cases of citizens being victims of establishment callousness or worse in Britain and the United States. Should we pity Britons and Americans that their news TV channels never organise candle-lit marches?
Let's, in this context, mention and dispose of the argument that news TV excesses in this country are a reflection of the fact that we the people in general are not as mature as they the people. The top end of India's social system doesn't have that excuse and news TV, especially English-language news TV, firmly belongs to the top end.
The other argument is that if those in TV studios don't commit excesses, those in power won't budge. I simply don't believe that argument. And, forgive me for being presumptuous, I think most of you don't believe that either.
I am prepared to say this: if I am wrong I will participate in the next TV channel-organised candle-lit march, I will hold up a banner, too, and that banner will demand that news TV be given full prosecutorial and judicial powers. Justice will always be done after that, live and exclusive, and you will hear it on breaking news.
BONDED TO THE BALLOT
Indians are generally believed to love elections. The latest law to emanate from Gujarat on compulsory voting may therefore be considered by some as superfluous. However, it shows that electoral reforms need not originate only from the singular fountain head of the Union government or the Election Commission of India. Since elections to panchayats and municipalities became mandatory after the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments, several improvements have been adopted in some of the states. For instance, the reservation of not less than half the seats and chairpersons' positions for women has been adopted first in Bihar and now Himachal, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Direct elections to the posts of mayors and municipal chairpersons is another, followed in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and now in Rajasthan. Improved procedures for rotation of reserved constituencies, election observers from the civil society, enforcement of candidates filing election expenses etc. have been brought about in some other states, without having to wait for wisdom from Delhi.
The latest law from Gujarat regarding compulsory voting is one such measure. Political scientists and scholars of election practices across the world may have some reservations about the credentials of the state in making such a prescription and its outcome. Thanks to newspaper reports, we now know there are 32 other countries with compulsory voting, of which in atleast 20, the system is enforced. So it is not such an outlandish idea merely because Gujarat has come up with it.
If local democracy has to have any future in this country, it has to depend on local participation. We have had three rounds of panchayat and municipal elections in most of the states in the country over the past 15 years. The turn out in many states has varied from 60 to 80 per cent which is much higher than in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. Nevertheless of late, we are beginning to see a noticeable decline in turn out percentages. The most recent elections for the greater Hyderabad municipal corporation, held for the first time after the municipal area was enlarged to 625 skm merging 12 municipalities and much resistance, elicited a response only of 49 per cent. In contrast, the municipal elections in Madhya Pradesh which took place in December witnessed a turnout of 65 per cent. In Rajasthan it was about the same.
The outcome indicates that in the majority of cases, the winners have been elected on a minority of votes polled, which means a very small portion of the total electorate. Fatigue with elections, absence of worthwhile candidates, evidence about electoral malpractices, middle class apathy and disdain for politicians may all be cited as reasons, but not justifiable. Demands for accountability to citizens make no sense, if the citizens are not interested in exercising their choice.
There could be some misgivings about enforcing compulsory voting, the penalties to be visited on defaulters and the efficacy of adherence. But these are problems which can be overcome. After all the Election Commission of India as well as the state election commissions pride themselves on the enormous scale of their operations. They are fully entitled to the praise they receive but it is not beyond their prowess to set up and administer a compulsory voting system.
The Gujarat law also provides for a voter to cast his vote in favour of none of the candidates contesting. Electoral watch groups in India have been demanding such a provision for a negative vote. The Gujarat law is a more specific reiteration of what is contained in section 49(O) of the Conduct of Election Rules. At least in this respect, it should be welcome.
However, there are one or two points which should be considered. Gujarat has promoted the practice of "samaras" (Gujarati for "consensus") panchayats whereby village panchayats are encouraged to elect their representatives and chairpersons by consensus rather than voting. A special grant of Rs. 60,000 to 100,000 is also offered to such panchayats which have avoided elections. It is reported that about 4,000 village panchayats have received such special grants. In several cases such consensus may be contrived. Gujarat cannot pursue compulsory voting on one hand and consensus election in the same breadth.
The Gujarat election law, undeniably, is a new initiative. The shortcomings and problems will become known only when the law is implemented. It does have the potential to enhance the "representativeness" of the councillors and panchayat members. Political parties will do well to study the operation of the law instead of taking pot shots at each other about who is right rather than what is right.
The writer is professor and chairman of the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
CAN'T AFFORD IT
MADHU PURNIMA KISHWAR
It makes sense to corner first world countries into investing in eco-friendly technologies to control carbon emissions, as was attempted at Copenhagen. But the stand of the Indian government that India cannot afford to enforce better environmental norms because as a country with a huge backlog of poverty, its first priority is "development" implies that India is obliged to commit all the mistakes that the West committed in its pursuit of economic growth. While for the first world countries, the harmful impact of carbon emissions and consequent global warming may represent a future threat, for us in India it is a now-and-here nightmare. The air that citizens of Europe or America breathe is nowhere as lethal as what we in urban India have to inhale. The quality of water available to citizens of first world countries is nowhere close to the filthy, disease ridden water we in villages and cities of India have to consume.
In fact, it is far easier for India to undertake course correction since most of our people are not addicted to pollution-friendly life styles. However, our government seems to be doing the very opposite by aggressively attacking and destroying inexpensive eco-friendly technologies and promoting pollution-friendly technologies. While our cities are choking with carbon emissions, government actively encourages mindless increase in motorised vehicles. Our banks chase customers for car loans at low rates. The poor pay a 30 per cent rate of interest on micro credit but car-loans are offered at 8 per cent to 10 per cent per annum with government officials paying no more than 5 per cent. Not surprisingly, Delhi, the seat of Central government, has 60 lakh motorised vehicles more than all four metros put together. Each day, 1000 new vehicles descend on Delhi roads.
Hostility towards non-motorised vehicles (NMV): As per a 2005 study, 40 per cent of households in India own cycles, with Punjab at a high of 70 per cent. The use of bicycles in most towns and cities of India ranges from 25 per cent to over 50 per cent. But there is not a single inter-village road which has provided separate bullock cart or cycle tracks. On highways 20-40 per cent of the fatalities involve pedestrians and bicyclists.
An IIT Delhi study of 2007 found that cycling accounts for 50 per cent to 70 per cent of the commuter trips of those who work in the informal sector. The average daily wage of people in the informal sector ranges from Rs 120 to Rs 250 per day. Today, transport costs for those who come to the city from far flung areas for earning their livelihood comes close to Rs 80 per day. Therefore, many have to use bicycles. In the absence of separate tracks, cyclists and pedestrians account for nearly 70 per cent of road accident deaths in Delhi.
War against cycle rickshaws: Though private vehicles account for 93 per cent of total motor vehicles in Delhi, 85 per cent have to rely on public transport of which cycle rickshaws are a very crucial part. Rickshaws are an inexpensive mode of short distance commutes as well as feeder service for Metro and public buses. They do not consume any fuel and do not cause air or noise pollution. But government has imposed bizarre regulations and laws with the stated purpose of "eliminating" this vehicle on the ground that cycle rickshaws are out of place in a fast "modernising" India.
Several thousand rickshaws are arbitrarily confiscated and destroyed every year for operating without licenses, which are so tightly controlled that virtually every rickshaw in Delhi ends up being illegal and therefore subject to confiscation. Rickshaws are banned on all arterial and most sub-arterial roads including the inner-walled city areas where cycle rickshaws have been the most popular form of transport. However, due to active public demand for their service, they operate on all these roads illegally. Municipal officials and traffic police look the other way if suitably bribed. Thousands are confiscated every month for going into no entry zones, which have been declared so arbitrarily that it makes their existence illegal almost everywhere. Many more are released after paying heavy penalties. All this totals to a loss of at least 360 crores a year to the rickshaw trade.
Today, Delhi has 600,000 to 700,000 cycle rickshaws and their number is growing daily. This clearly demonstrates that citizens are voting for cycle rickshaw through active demand for their services. Each rickshaw covers a distance of 20-25 kms per day amounting to a total of 120-150 lakh kms for the city's 600,000 rickshaws. If rickshaws are removed from Delhi, it would involve additional petrol expense of nearly 500,000 litres per day.
In 1997, a White Paper on Pollution in Delhi by the Ministry of Environment stated that "Vehicular pollution contributes 67 per cent of the total air pollution load in Delhi." The 2005 RITES study predicts that between 2001 and 2021, Delhi's vehicular trips per day will grow from 10.7 million to 24.7 million. To relieve congestion levels, the report advocated provision of bicycle tracks and other non -motorised vehicles. The Delhi Master Plan expressly mandates promotion of cycle rickshaws, as a measure of pollution control, and as a means of generating employment for self employed poor. And yet, the government agencies argue they have no space for NMVs.
The traffic police is fanatic in its opposition to the creation of separate tracks for non-motorised vehicles on the ground that rickshaws and cycles slow down motor vehicles! That does not mean rickshaws have disappeared. All it means is pullers have to bribe the traffic police to ply on banned roads.
One can provide innumerable cases of similar callous mismanagement in virtually every area of life. Reversing these trends does not require billions of aid money from America or Europe. All it requires is a dose of self respect, a bit of good sense and willingness on the part of our government to learn the basic art and tools of citizen friendly governance which will inevitably lead to eco-friendly policies.
The writer is professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and founder editor 'Manushi'
ENTER THE DRAGON
It's the season when pundits traditionally make predictions about the year ahead. Mine concerns international economics: I predict that 2010 will be the year of China. And not in a good way. Actually, the biggest problems with China involve climate change. But today I want to focus on currency policy.
China has become a major financial and trade power. But it doesn't act like other big economies. Instead, it follows a mercantilist policy, keeping its trade surplus artificially high. And in today's depressed world, that policy is, to put it bluntly, predatory. Here's how it works: Unlike the dollar, the euro or the yen, whose values fluctuate freely, China's currency is pegged by official policy at about 6.8 yuan to the dollar. At this exchange rate, Chinese manufacturing has a large cost advantage over its rivals, leading to huge trade surpluses.
Under normal circumstances, the inflow of dollars from those surpluses would push up the value of China's currency, unless it was offset by private investors heading the other way. And private investors are trying to get into China, not out of it. But China's government restricts capital inflows, even as it buys up dollars and parks them abroad, adding to a $2 trillion-plus hoard of foreign exchange reserves.
This policy is good for China's export-oriented state-industrial complex, not so good for Chinese consumers. But what about the rest of us?
In the past, China's accumulation of foreign reserves, many of which were invested in American bonds, was arguably doing us a favour by keeping interest rates low although what we did with those low interest rates was mainly to inflate a housing bubble. But right now the world is awash in cheap money, looking for someplace to go. Short-term interest rates are close to zero; long-term interest rates are higher, but only because investors expect the zero-rate policy to end some day. China's bond purchases make little or no difference. Meanwhile, that trade surplus drains much-needed demand away from a depressed world economy. My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that for the next couple of years Chinese mercantilism may end up reducing US employment by around 1.4 million jobs.
The Chinese refuse to acknowledge the problem. Recently Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, dismissed foreign complaints: "On one hand, you are asking for the yuan to appreciate, and on the other hand, you are taking all kinds of protectionist measures." Indeed: other countries are taking (modest) protectionist measures precisely because China refuses to let its currency rise. And more such measures are entirely appropriate.
Or are they? I usually hear two reasons for not confronting China over its policies. Neither holds water.
First, there's the claim that we can't confront the Chinese because they would wreak havoc with the US economy by dumping their hoard of dollars. This is all wrong, and not just because in so doing the Chinese would inflict large losses on themselves. The larger point is that the same forces that make Chinese mercantilism so damaging right now also mean that China has little or no financial leverage. Again, right now the world is awash in cheap money. So if China were to start selling dollars, there's no reason to think it would significantly raise US interest rates. It would probably weaken the dollar against other currencies but that would be good, not bad, for US competitiveness and employment. So if the Chinese do dump dollars, we should send them a thank-you note.
Second, there's the claim that protectionism is always a bad thing, in any circumstances. If that's what you believe, however, you learned Econ 101 from the wrong people because when unemployment is high and the government can't restore full employment, the usual rules don't apply.
Let me quote from a classic paper by the late Paul Samuelson, who more or less created modern economics: "With employment less than full ... all the debunked mercantilistic arguments" that is, claims that nations who subsidise their exports effectively steal jobs from other countries "turn out to be valid." He then went on argue that persistently misaligned exchange rates create "genuine problems for free-trade apologetics." The best answer to these problems is getting exchange rates back to where they ought to be. But that's exactly what China is refusing to let happen.
The bottom line is that Chinese mercantilism is a growing problem, and the victims of that mercantilism have little to lose from a trade confrontation. So I'd urge China's government to reconsider its stubbornness. Otherwise, the very mild protectionism it's currently complaining about will be the start of something much bigger.
Two years on, the much-hyped probe into Benazir Bhutto's assassination is being awaited and her killers remain unpunished. Pakistan commemorated Benazir Bhutto's second death anniversary on December 27. At one such, her husband, Asif Ali Zardari was quoted by Daily Times on December 28 as saying: "Non-state actors are trying to disintegrate Pakistan and institutions are being pitted against each other... Conspiracies are being hatched against the four provinces and the federation... but all [such plans]... will be [foiled]... by the people of Pakistan... We know what happens when institutions are weakened... but we are not that weak ... don't think we are weak, or we cannot fight. Do not consider our tolerance our weakness. We know how to fight, but a tussle between institutions will weaken Pakistan. You know what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq." Dawn assessed the effect of the speech on December 27: "President Asif Zardari's speech in Naudero on the second death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto... has stirred a new debate. Most political leaders, including some of the PPP, were not sure which forces the president had accused of trying to destabilise the democratic set-up..." Striking a martyr's note, Zardari added, as reported by The News on December 27: "Zardari described Garhi Khuda Bakhsh as the 'Karbala of the PPP' and said it was a rallying point for Pakistan People's Party. 'But democracy will not be buried here.' He added."
Third time lucky?
In a move which could fulfill a major demand of the charter of democracy signed between former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in 2006, there lies the possibility of removing the restriction on a Pakistani contesting for the prime minister's office for a third term. General Pervez Musharraf imposed this bar in the 2002 General Elections. Daily Times reported on December 31: "Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani reiterated that the 1973 constitution would be restored to its original form, and vowed to do away with the bar disallowing more than two terms in the office of prime minister." Dawn added: "The prime minister said that constitutional amendments made by dictators would be scrapped. He said those who violated the constitution needed to be punished. The prime minister said he wanted strengthening of institutions, not of individuals."
Daily Times reported on December 27: " 'I took some petals from Bibi's grave because they are blessed' said Aamna Abro, using Benazir Bhutto's nickname. 'I'll give them to my ailing mother. I believe they'll cure her,' said Abro, who had travelled about 100 kilometres to make the visit." Another report added: "Moorat Foundation, an organisation of eunuchs distributed 'langar' (charity food) among the people gathered at Liaquat Bagh to observe the second death anniversary of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto... They said they wanted to pay homage to the great leader of the country who struggled throughout her life for the betterment of voiceless segments of the society." This fervour, oddly enough, doesn't seem to be replicated by her own party's government, which has still not been able to bring her perpetrators to justice. Dawn reported on December 27: "Two parallel investigations being conducted by the United Nations Investigation Commission and Federal Investigation Agency on the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto remain clueless even after a lapse of two years... 'I believe that it would be quite harmful for the PPP if it fails to bring the people behind BB's murder to justice,' said Senator Safdar Abbasi, who was with the late leader during the last moments of her life."
Perhaps the most startling and indeed heartening conclusion of The Indian Express-Indicus study on how India will look in 2020, published in FE on Friday, was that India's GDP can grow at an annual average rate of 9.6% in the next 10 years even if no reform were to happen. This will mean that incomes will double by 2020, and some 800 million people (170 million households) will be part of the middle class. The worrying thing, of course, is what will happen to the 500 million people who will continue to subsist below this middle class, in particular, the 250 million people who will still count as very poor even in 2020. This is where the necessity to further economic reform becomes critical. India simply cannot afford to be complacent or rest on its laurels. The study very clearly points out where the weak points are, and therefore where the next round of reform needs to be targeted. The first area of concern is education. Without any reform we will still have 200 million illiterate Indians in 2020 and only 73 million Indians will be graduates or post-graduates. That is pathetic for a country of 1.3 billion people. Outside education, the other sector of real concern is agriculture. By 2020, agriculture will only provide 10% of GDP. Yet it may continue to support half of the country's population. Another serious problem will be the huge disparities between states. UP, in 2020, will have a standard of living the same as Pakistan had in 2005. Bihar and MP may remain similarly backward. And infrastructure, seemingly forever a problem area, will still be a bottleneck.
The UPA will be the alliance in government for the first half of the next decade. Whether reform happens depends a lot on whether some of the constituents of the UPA can shake off their apathy towards it. There are, of course, plenty of forward-looking reformist leaders in the UPA, and they need to prevail if the country is to better the business-as-usual performance. In education, there are enough indicators that the government is determined to change the way things have run until now. The Centre, however, needs a lot of support from state governments, many of which are ruled by opposition parties. Fortunately, the electorate in recent elections has conveyed in no uncertain terms its shift to a politics of aspiration away from a politics of...
WHEN SKY IS THE LIMIT
In November 2009, according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, around 40 lakh passengers travelled on airlines as compared with 30.48 lakh in the same month in 2008. December 2009 has also delivered good news, with both corporate bookings and load factors having taken a decisively upward turn. The latter had dipped to less than 50% when the effect of the global meltdown was peaking in India. But things are clearly turning around now, with analysts expecting a 10-15% surge in domestic air travel in 2010. Before raising a toast to better tidings in the New Year, however, let's take a quick stock of the lessons of 2009, and whether these remain learnt or not. Air India kept seeking government bailouts without delivering any notable improvements in efficiency, accountability or corporate governance. Its losses are piling up by the day, but salary cuts and the like are being stiffly resisted. The flipside of the 2009 downturn was a relief from the high fuel prices of 2008, but balance sheets across public and private sector companies remained in the red. Striking pilots piled on additional losses, with little penalty. Jet Airways did get good year-end news that its proposal for raising $400 million through a qualified institutional placement was approved. The big 2009 trend was a decisive shift to the low-cost segment, and this was true internationally. Traditional power players like British Airways are now in tough competition with the likes of Ryanair and Easyjet. Low-cost carriers will keep legacy carriers on the backfoot in the new decade, too.
The first decade of the 21st century has seen middle India grow beyond expectations and force a rewrite of various international equations. It has seen the number of Indians boarding planes multiply manifold. Airports have been privatised and modernised. But the pace of infrastructural change simply hasn't kept up with changes in consumer volume and expectations. Even the site of a second airport for Mumbai continues to be warred over by different government units. A powerful independent regulator hasn't moved much further from a pipedream, as the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority remains plagued by delays relating to both personnel selection and the monitoring of tariffs and related issues. A minister got into trouble with his crack about the cattle classes, while other Parliamentarians made a big deal about travelling economy. But these were distractions without substance. A decade that saw low-fare airlines...
TRANSLATING POTENTIAL INTO REALITY IN ASIA
The first decade of the new millennium clearly established the Asia-Pacific region's potential to emerge as the centre of gravity of the world economy with the rise of China and India as the new growth poles accounting for more than half of global incremental output in purchasing power parity terms. Ever since a 2003 Goldman Sachs study argued that China and India have the potential to be among the top three economies of the world, a number of projections, including some by IMF, have corroborated this.
It was also the decade when countries in the region began to recognise their mutual interdependence and exploit the potential of regional economic integration in a serious manner. Besides a large number of bilateral free trade arrangements between Asian countries, a number of sub-regional groupings such as Asean, Saarc and BIMSTEC concluded or launched FTAs and those in existence were deepened. Much more importantly, Asian leaders began to recognise their Asian identity and seek to foster it through broader regional arrangements. The global financial and economic crisis of 2007-08 did disrupt the growth momentum in the region with growth rates slowing down in most economies and some going into contraction mode in 2009. However, with governments responding promptly and vigorously with counter-cyclical measures, the signs of recovery have emerged and a V-shaped recovery in 2010 seems within the realm of possibility.
UN-ESCAP's latest projections suggest that developing Asia-Pacific economies are likely to return to an average rate of 6.3% growth in 2010, up from the 3.4% expected in 2009. However, there are a number of risks and policy challenges that need to be addressed for such a growth momentum to build and sustain in the coming decade. With inflationary pressures rising in parts of the region, especially in South Asia, the policy environment is becoming highly challenging. Governments will have to find a new balance in macroeconomic management to maintain stability while not adversely affecting rather weak growth momentum.
The other policy challenge arises from the need to manage portfolio capital inflows resulting from easy monetary policies in the West that are leading to the build-up of asset-price bubbles and putting upward pressure on exchange rates. In that context it is important to consider capital controls on short-term capital inflows.
Furthermore, it is clear that even with recovery, the demand in Western countries, especially the US, will continue to remain weak as they adjust with global imbalances by...
GETTING THE EXIT RIGHT
If 2009 is remembered as the year in which unprecedented global fiscal and monetary stimuli staved off a repeat of the Great Depression, 2010 will likely be judged by the nature and quality of exit from those stimuli. Much was made of how well fiscal and monetary stimuli were coordinated between the world's major economies in the G-20 forum. At least some of the impetus for the coordination came from necessitythe crisis had affected each of the G-20 economies and it was in everyone's self-interest to support a coordinated stimulus. Unfortunately, exit strategies are not likely to be similarly coordinated, because this time around, the economic self-interest of the different G-20 countries will not match. In theory, the G-20 has reiterated its commitment to continue with coordinated stimuli for the time being, but Australia, for example, broke away from the consensus by hiking interest rates three times in the last quarter of 2009. Other countries are expected to take their calls on exit independently of what the G-20 decides.
Clearly, the most important player in the game is the world's largest economy, the US. Ben Bernanke had made it clear that he intends to continue with a very loose monetary policyinterest rates near zerofor the time being. As long as growth remains anaemic and there is no immediate threat of inflation, this is a sensible policy position from the US's point of view. However, more than a year into stimulus, what is appropriate policy for the US may not have a welcome impact elsewhere. There are plenty of cheap dollars floating around in the UScourtesy not just Bernanke, but also TARPthat need avenues of high return. Since US interest rates are too low and the real economy still struggling, the money is being invested abroad, mostly in emerging economies that promise relatively high returns. However, even in emerging economies, much of this money is absorbed into asset classes like stocks and real estate, and not the real economy. Unsurprisingly, many emerging economies are facing the twin problems of asset-price inflation and appreciating exchange rates. The latter is problematic because China continues to peg the yuan directly to the dollar, so emerging economies with flexible exchange rates are losing competitiveness to Chinese exports. Brazil famously responded by imposing a Tobin tax on foreign capital inflowsthat deflated some of the stock market bubble and helped depreciate the Real. But other central banks, including... .
In the summer of 2007, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised Jammu and Kashmir's people a "blueprint for a new future." Late last month, retired Supreme Court judge Saghir Ahmed released the summary of that blueprint and sparked off protests across party lines. Made on behalf of a working group set up by the Prime Minister in 2006 to consider measures for strengthening the relationship between the Union of India and Jammu and Kashmir, Justice Ahmed's recommendations are less-than-substantial. Among other things, he has called on the Prime Minister to set up a mechanism to restore J&K's autonomy "to the extent possible." He has also recommended that the people of the State be allowed to decide whether Article 370 should be made a permanent feature of India's Constitution or, alternatively, abrogated neatly sidestepping the divisions on the issue. There are no serious recommendations on how sub-regional aspirations are to be met. In short, the suggestion is that the State and central governments decide the questions the working group was set up to consider!
But the anodyne findings aren't the reason most major parties are protesting. It is that the Working Group's members had little say in shaping the recommendations that have been made in their name. Justice Ahmed last met the members of the Working Group on September 3, 2007, when each party made a presentation on its position. Members came away from the meeting believing there would be further discussion. Instead, they learnt about the recommendations from the newspapers. The loudest protests have come from the Bharatiya Janata Party but other parties, ranging from the People's Democratic Party to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), have also made it clear they are less than happy. Only the National Conference has backed the report, claiming, for reasons not immediately apparent from the text, that it vindicates the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly's 2000 call for maximal autonomy. In his address at the third roundtable conference on April 24, 2007, Dr. Singh pointed out that New Delhi's efforts to initiate an inclusive dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir had raised hope for the State's future and underlined the need to "keep this process moving forward." Now the government finds itself in the curious position of negotiating with Islamist-led secessionists but not engaging the elected representatives of the State's people. It is not too late to do a course correction and restore the legitimacy of a promising process by resuscitating the inclusive dialogue Dr. Singh promised would shape the future of the State.
LOOKING BACK ON THE PANDEMIC
The year that has ended saw the world coming to grips with a new influenza pandemic after an interval of 40 years. It was not the much-feared H5N1 bird flu virus. Nor did outbreaks begin in East Asia, as was believed to be likely. Instead, the first human cases appeared in April on the other side of the globe. Thereafter, in a world interconnected by rapid air travel, the new virus showed up in country after country. By June, the World Health Organisation officially declared the start of the flu pandemic. Analysing the viral genome, scientists swiftly established that it had jumped to humans from pigs and possessed a mix of human, pig, and bird flu genes. Mercifully, the novel H1N1 strain has been quite unlike the one that set off the catastrophic 1918 pandemic. Swine flu, as the new virus is commonly called, infected many millions of people around the world during 2009. But the vast majority recovered easily. One key difference is that while seasonal flu predominantly kills the old, the new virus has proved life-threatening to younger people too. Pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions have been particularly at risk. Even healthy youth have sometimes fallen victim. Autopsies carried out on some of those who succumbed in New York showed that the pandemic strain was damaging cells all along the airway, including deep into the lungs. Bacterial co-infection greatly increased the risk of developing severe disease.
WHO's assessment is that the true number of fatalities from the H1N1 virus worldwide was higher than the approximately 12,200 reported because many deaths would not have been recognised as flu-related. U.S. health officials recently estimated that 50 million Americans (a sixth of the country's population) caught the disease, 213,000 needed hospitalisation, and nearly 10,000 died of the disease. In India, a young man who flew in from New York in May became the country's first officially confirmed case. Three months later, the virus claimed the life of a Pune schoolgirl. Since then, more than 840 laboratory-confirmed deaths have been reported from various States. In South Asia, according to a recent WHO update, influenza activity continues to be intense, particularly in northern India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Although the moderate impact of the pandemic was the "best possible health news of the decade," the world health body's Director-General Margaret Chan has cautioned that it would be prudent to continue monitoring the virus' evolution for another year. By focussing minds and resources, the pandemic has left the nations of the world better prepared to deal with global health emergencies.
THE UNSETTLED DEBATE ON INDIAN POVERTY
THE TENDULKAR COMMITTEE HAS PITCHED FOR A POLICY POSITION THAT IS STRANDED BETWEEN THE HARSH REALITIES OF POVERTY AND A FISCALLY CONSERVATIVE NEO-LIBERAL FRAMEWORK.
The debate on the extent of poverty in India has been a matter of global interest in the recent years. The primary reason for the global interest in the debate is that the levels of poverty in India and China have come to exert significant influence over the trends in world poverty itself.
Within India too, there has been growing contestation around poverty estimates, particularly in the period of economic reforms. First, there are persistent disagreements among economists on whether the rate of poverty decline after economic reforms was slower than in the preceding period. Secondly, the shift to targeted, rather than universal, welfare schemes has witnessed the use of poverty estimates to decide on the number of households eligible to access these schemes. The report of the Expert Group on the estimation of poverty, chaired by Suresh Tendulkar, is the latest input to the "Great Indian Poverty Debate."
In India, poverty is presently estimated by fixing a poverty line based on a differentiated calorie-norm. A task force of the Planning Commission in 1979 defined the poverty line as that per capita expenditure at which the average per capita per day calorie intake was 2400 calories in rural areas and 2100 calories in urban areas. Average per capita expenditures incurred by that population group in each State which consumed these quantities of calories, as per the 1973-74 survey of NSSO, were used as the poverty lines.
Based on the observed consumer behaviour in 1973-74, the poverty lines arrived at were Rs. 49.09 per capita per month in rural areas and Rs. 56.64 per capita per month in urban areas. These poverty lines were updated for the following years by simply accounting for changes in consumer price indices. Thus, the all-India poverty lines updated for 2004-05 were Rs. 356.30 in rural areas and Rs. 538.60 in urban areas, per capita per month. The shares of population below these poverty lines (the head count ratios; HCR) were estimated to be 28.7 per cent in rural areas and 25.9 per cent in urban areas.
These estimates of poverty threw up a number of controversies. First, it was argued that the poverty lines were extremely low in levels. An amount of Rs. 356.30 per month per person amounted to just Rs. 11.90 per day in rural areas, which was at best a destitute income. The fact that about one-fourth of India's population did not incur even this level of expenditure was in itself instructive.
Secondly, the NSSO estimates were at great variance with the estimates of nutritional outcomes that other surveys like the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) provided. For instance, according to the NFHS-3, the share of underweight children (under 3 years) in rural India was 44 per cent in 2005-06.
Thirdly, there were major methodological problems in the choice of consumer price indices, continuously re-weighted keeping the 1973-74 consumption basket unchanged, to update the poverty lines over time. One striking absurdity that resulted was that in some States, urban poverty rates were estimated to be higher than the rural poverty rates.
The Tendulkar Committee has reviewed the present methodology for measuring poverty and suggested drastic changes for the future. It has recommended the abandoning of the calorie-norm for estimating the poverty line. Instead, the committee has recommended a new method where the present all-India urban poverty line is taken as the basis for estimating every other poverty line in the country. With the urban poverty line as the basis, the parity levels at the State-level for rural and urban areas are to be separately estimated using a typical purchasing power parity (PPP) method. Thus, the new State-level rural and urban poverty lines are to be at those levels at which the average national urban consumption levels can be attained.
The suggestion to use the all-India urban poverty line is justified on the basis of two independent validating reasons. First, the urban population that corresponded in 2004-05 to the poverty line expenditure consumed 1776 calories per capita per day, which was close to the calorie norm of 1800 calories per capita per day suggested for India by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Secondly, the actual levels of urban per capita expenditure in 2004-05 were also sufficient to meet a defined "normative level of expenditure on education and health services." It is thus postulated that the new poverty lines, fortuitously, meet not just food requirements, but also those of education and health that are important basic needs.
Using the above method, the new poverty lines for 2004-05 have been re-estimated by the committee as Rs. 446.68 for rural areas and Rs. 578.80 for urban areas (per capita per month). Further, the new HCRs for 2004-05 are estimated as 41.8 per cent in rural areas and 25.7 per cent in urban areas. These new estimates represent a significant upward revision of poverty in the rural areas, and a small downward revision of poverty in the urban areas. As per the new method, the total number of poor people in India has risen from about 403 million in 1993-94 to about 407 million in 2004-05.
Indeed, the new poverty estimates appear more realistic than the existing estimates. It is certain that the Tendulkar report would reopen the debate on the impact of reforms on poverty. At the same time, the new estimates would also help States expand their BPL coverage in the public distribution system (PDS) using food grains from the Central quota itself. On that count, the report is likely to be welcomed by State governments.
However, the report is unlikely to stem the deep dissatisfaction around the use of poverty estimates to "fix" eligibility in the access to welfare schemes. In important programmes like the PDS, the system of targeting remains firmly in place. As a result, large sections that require welfare assistance are likely to remain excluded from these programmes even if the new poverty estimates are considered.
Take an illustration: in per capita daily terms, the rural poverty line has been raised from Rs. 12 to Rs. 15 a meagre upward revision. In the urban areas, the increase is from Rs 18 to Rs 19 per day. It is most revealing that even such a small upward revision of the poverty line could net in more than 100 million new persons as "poor." In other words, poverty estimates are extremely sensitive to even minor changes in the poverty line.
Juxtapose this with the fact that 77 per cent of India's population lived at an average monthly per capita consumption expenditure (MPCE) of Rs. 16 per day in 2004-05. If the average expenditure of 77 per cent of the population was Rs. 16 per day, there is likely to be a sizeable section of the population above the new poverty line of Rs. 15 per day in rural areas and Rs. 19 per day in urban areas. In a targeted system of welfare provision, these vulnerable sections of the population would remain excluded.
Errors of "wrong exclusion" in targeted programmes in India are due to the separation of the processes of (a) the estimation of the number of poor and (b) the identification of the poor. It is for the absence of a reliable and feasible method of combining estimation and identification that political and social movements have been demanding the universalisation of welfare schemes like the PDS. It is, thus, essential that sample-based poverty estimates from the NSS are not mechanically linked to the eligibility to access welfare programmes. In a country with such mass poverty as India, universalisation remains the most efficient tool for ensuring livelihood security.
A final issue with the report, of much long-term consequence, relates to the wisdom of abandoning the calorie norm. It is indeed true that the levels of calorie intakes are not well correlated with nutritional outcomes. However, abandoning the calorie norm altogether and taking solace from the fortuitous fact that calorie intakes appear adequate at the new poverty lines is an arbitrary proposition. It is unclear whether there is any basis, theoretical or empirical, for this relationship to hold true across time.
In sum, the Tendulkar Committee has pitched for a policy position that is stranded between the harsh realities of poverty in India and the fiscal conservativeness of a neo-liberal framework. The real challenge lies in preserving the positives from the report, and strongly persisting with the demand for a universal social security system.
(R. Ramakumar is Assistant Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.)
INITIATIVES IN HIGHER EDUCATION
THE LAUNCH OF A MAJOR SCHOLARSHIP SCHEME, AS ENVISAGED BY THE KERALA STATE HIGHER EDUCATION COUNCIL, IS SET TO MARK A WATERSHED.
- Academic mapping of the State undertaken
- Higher education poised for a qualitative change
On Sunday, January 3, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will launch in Thiruvananthapuram a higher education scholarship scheme instituted by the Kerala government. The purpose is two-fold. First, it aims to enable needy and meritorious students to pursue higher education. Secondly, it seeks to promote the study of, and research work in, the social sciences, humanities, sciences and business studies.
By means of the scheme, the government hopes to effect a qualitative change in the field of higher education. Much of the interest in, and discussion on, higher education in the State is now confined to the field of professional education, which only a minuscule section of the total number of students actually pursue. Yet, they monopolise the attention of educationists and the State. In the process, the problems that affect the overwhelming majority of students are marginalised.
The Kerala State Higher Education Council that the State government constituted in 2007 has been seeking to promote a holistic view of higher education in order to create well-trained but socially sensitive citizens. Funds to the tune of Rs.100 crore, which will be generated through contributions from the public and a matching grant from the government, will be available for the scheme. The idea is that those who are meritorious should not be denied opportunities for financial reasons.
In the past, school education monopolised the concerns of educationists and policymakers. In recent times, however, higher education has attracted unprecedented attention. Possibly because of the pressures of the evolving global knowledge society, the Central government's educational policy has brought higher education centrestage. The Eleventh Five Year Plan, which was described by the Prime Minister as an 'Educational Plan,' for instance, devotes considerable attention to the improvement of the quality of higher education. A nine-fold increase in the financial allocation for higher education is considered an expression of this intent.
Several new institutions, including Central universities, Indian Institutes of Management and Indian Institutes of Technology, are either planned or have been set up. Regional universities have been granted inter-university centres, and allocations to universities have been substantially increased. The purpose is to ensure better access to higher education, which at present is a paltry 10 per cent, and to raise the quality of education to global standards.
Such a change requires massive infrastructure modernisation and qualitative improvement in intellectual resources. In the absence of either of these, what is being attempted may touch only the fringes of the system. As a result, a 'privileged' stratum would continue to be perpetuated, despite the policy of reservation. The majority of students will continue to crawl at the bottom of the scale. The vital question in higher education is how to overcome this contradiction. A vast majority is deprived of opportunities for higher education. Even those who manage to get admission, pursue studies in sub-standard conditions, both in academic and infrastructure terms. After successfully competing for the so-called institutions of excellence, many of them are unable to pursue studies for financial reasons. Cases of such students taking their own lives are not rare. Neither public-private participation nor the entry of foreign universities is likely to be of help to such students.
Higher education today has two inadequacies: the economic inability of the aspirants, and poor quality of education. Initiatives taken in Kerala during the last couple of years have been directed to address these issues. The key to improving the quality of higher education is effecting a fundamental change from the present inflexible system to one that would release the creative energy of students by ensuring their academic freedom. The groundwork for such a change has to be undertaken at the undergraduate level. Currently this is the most neglected area of education, though an overwhelming majority of students belongs to this category. During the last 60 years, school education and postgraduate programmes have undergone several rounds of 'reform', but the real base of higher education has remained practically unattended.
The Kerala State Higher Education Council has recently taken steps to rectify this situation by undertaking a complete restructuring of undergraduate programmes. The nature of this restructuring seems to have been misunderstood at the popular level as the introduction of a choice-based credit and semester system and a shift in the mode of evaluation from a numerical system to a grading system. The credit-semester system involves only a change in the organisational pattern: it is not an innovation that affects the soul of academic practice. The real change should be marked by a transition from rigidity to freedom in academic practice and from disciplinary insularity to inter-disciplinarity in terms of the method.
This change is realised in the scheme introduced in Kerala through a complete overhauling of the undergraduate programme. The courses will now consist of 10 compulsory ones which all students will take, regardless of their area of specialisation. These courses serve to sensitise students to socially important issues and to familiarise them with disciplines other than their field of specialisation. The purpose of such exposure to different disciplines is to equip students to undertake interdisciplinary study and research later on.
The other components of the programme are core courses, complementary courses, open courses and methodology courses. Each student will do a project. The complementary and open courses give students the freedom to opt for courses of their choice. For instance, a student of physics could do a course in history or theatre or a student of economics could do a course in mathematics or music. This is an ideal situation and most of our institutions do not have the capacity to implement it in its ideal form. What has happened in Kerala is the acceptance of the principle: the first step, even if it is a faltering one, has been taken to bring about a healthy departure. That the universities in Kerala have successfully implemented the scheme gives the confidence to take further steps to push higher education in the State to compete with the best in the field.
The success of the experiment depends on the ability of students to cope with the academic expectations. While the wealthy and 'intelligent' migrate out of the State or the country to earn coveted degrees, the poor and the 'dull' congregate in the Arts and Science colleges. From these, most of them come out without any intellectual capital. This is not because they lack intelligence, but because education is not their first priority. Many of them earn their livelihood by working in the night; others are too starved to take any interest in what goes on in the classrooms in the name of teaching. The number of such students is not negligible.
While the country is gearing to welcome foreign universities and private institutions with five-star ambience are being set up, a majority of students indulge in knowledge production in what could only be called 'academic slums'. A pre-condition for preparing this section to receive quality education is to provide them financial security, without which the quality of their participation cannot be improved.
It is with this purpose that the Higher Education Council proposed the scholarship fund. It proposes to distribute a thousand scholarships each year for undergraduate students and 600 for post-graduate students. The amount of the scholarship is Rs. 12,000 in the first year of study, Rs. 18,000 in the second year, Rs. 24,000 in the third year, Rs. 40,000 in the fourth year and Rs. 60,000 in the fifth year. Preference would be given to students who opt for the social sciences, humanities, business studies and fundamental sciences.
This effort is being complemented by a variety of initiatives to improve the quality of education. In order to ensure the maximum utilisation of intellectual resources, college clusters have been created. A State policy of education has been formulated to have a clear picture of the goals. An academic mapping of the State has been undertaken in order to base administrative actions on a sound footing. Committees have been set up to review and reform post-graduate programmes, teacher training and teaching methods, and to review university Acts.
Higher education in Kerala is poised for a qualitative change. That several Nobel laureates are gong to interact with students and teachers of universities and colleges in the State during the year is perhaps an indication of this healthy change.
(Professor K.N. Panikkar is the Vice-Chairman of the Kerala State Higher Education Council.)
THE DREAM OF A BRAVE NEW WORLD
COPENHAGEN SAW A GLOBAL COLLAPSE BECAUSE AMERICA IS, AS EVER, CONTROLLED BY CORPORATE POWER.
V.R. KRISHNA IYER
Barack Obama's forefathers called the British Crown's bluff at the Boston Tea Party, battled it and won the historic American War of Independence. Much later, India fought the same British Crown without arms for swaraj and won its Independence. America made a unique Declaration of Independence, beginning the end of slavery and colonialism. India made a magnificent "tryst with destiny" for the sake of equality and Independence, and to wipe every tear from every eye, as proclaimed by Jawaharlal Nehru.
Nehru was inspired by the greatest human being of his generation, Mahatma Gandhi. India aspired to become a socialist, secular, democratic republic. It may be relatively poor in material terms but has sublimated itself with the noblest felicity of spirituality. Indians are not mendicants for military gains or other weapons for victory, but want peace and security. These aspirations have been articulated in India's Directive Principles of state policy.
These two great democracies ought to work together to implement the conscience of the Constitution as expressed by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who was the Chairman of the drafting committee of the Constituent Assembly and as approved unanimously by that Assembly.
Article 51 of the Constitution commits India to the "promotion of international peace and security." It requires that "the state shall endeavour to promote international peace and security; maintain just and honourable relations between nations; foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of organised peoples with one another; and encourage [the] settlement of international disputes by arbitration."
This is the crux of India's foreign policy that should strive for a cosmos where none violates the other and there is peaceful co-existence, so that humanity as a whole shall be a haven of fellowship and ensures security and non-alignment all around.
Mr. Obama is a Gandhian, too. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was himself a disciple of Gandhi. Swami Vivekananda, the spiritual wonder, made his acclaimed lecture to the World Parliament of Religions on September 11, 1893 in Chicago. Thus India and the United States have bonds that are on a higher plane than mere military and business deals. The great American people, in electing Mr. Obama President, expressed their historic commitment to a faith in human rights, regardless of race, class or region.
Independent India's Founding Fathers were true to the ancient heritage of the Buddha and Ashoka that motivated Mahatma Gandhi to take to the path of non-violence and truth in a world of ubiquitous terrorism and economic violence and where mighty corporate power came to rule the roost. A visit by Mr. Obama to India will prove to be an inspiration for a world where justice social, economic, political and cultural will be supreme. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has jettisoned the ideology of George W. Bush and invited him to Bharat Mahan.
Dr. Singh, who visited Russia and China before going to Copenhagen, is a statesman with a vision of one-world. His mission encompasses spiritual values that go beyond crass materialism and is instilled with compassion for all living creatures in the spirit of the Buddha. Thus, from the Volga to the Ganga to the Mississippi and the Yangtze, India wants a friendly universe. That is Advaita, the fundamental philosophy of India. The West came to India with the ethos of the Christian White, while India maintained a tolerant theology that has been forever pacific. The White House and the Red Fort did not practise the pathology of protest and conversion but integrated Jesus Christ with the Krishna cult. So, too, Islam came with trade. The Indian ancestors did not resist Allah but integrated religion into their culture. So India is secular in a transcendental sense.
The U.S. itself has people from many countries. India and the U.S. share many values. It is not about the nuclear power of annihilation but about a socialist culture and a secular wonder of fraternity and Gandhian culture. That is the foundation of Indo-American friendship, formed by means of a transformation of values. Big business and material consumption do not by themselves represent development. Privatisation, globalisation and nuclear annihilation constitute a thanatology that both the countries should jointly resist.
May you be the founder, Mr. Obama, of a majestic marvel of a brave new world. You are not merely of the American White House but part of the history of humanity. You may be misunderstood by some, but as Emerson put it: "Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood."
Mr. Obama is great; so too is Dr. Singh. The shared destiny of these two countries is not heading downhill but rather evolving into a higher cosmos that is free from chaos, not polluted by obdurate obscurantism.
The rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is a recipe for planet earth to perish, sooner than later. Way back in 1972 (June 5 to 16) in Stockholm, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took a leading role there in conscientising humanity about the need to fight environmental pollution in order to save the biosphere. Nearly four decades later the nations of the world met in Copenhagen last month to unite on serious issues of climate change and to save the earth from destruction, disease and despair.
But, alas, Copenhagen amounted to a suicide. The Indian Prime Minister did his best. But the richer countries would not agree. Do they not realise that if the planet perished the rich would go down too? Humanity's death knell seemed close at hand, but some nations, intoxicated by their riches as they have been, forgot that fact and resisted change. The world summit ended in disappointment and despair. Mr. Obama, the new wonder, could not commit America to save Copenhagen as the hope of a new world.
Thus today the Indian Prime Minister seeks to salvage the world, while the American President is powerless to vote for the victory of humanity. Here it is not the new White House, but 'America Incorporated' that governs the white world, leaving the coloured mankind to seppuku. The revised draft presented by the U.S., India, China and a half-hearted Britain spelled surrender to the capitalist-exploitative appetite. The writing on the wall is of planetary extermination.
After all, the President of the United States, be he white or black, is still an American.
NATHULA, THE SHORTCUT TO CHINA
True, the year may not be 2030. There is no Scotty, yet to beam me up. So, being a known traveler, I do not understand one thing. Why do they find it hard to believe when I tell them it took me just 5 minutes to physically enter Tibet-occupied China? Even Tintin could not do it.
Okkkaayy, (taking a deep exasperated breath), I will give you the proof. In fact, I will even you show how it can be done. Maybe, then India will be inspired to make me a mascot for Hindi-Chini sisterhood.
Well, my story starts as I completed my 53 months of summer in DNA and I realised that I hadn't had a proper vacation. Inspiration came in the form of an invitation from a maverick army officer. Knowing my penchant for mountain treks at height of more than 2,000 ft, he dangled a 'dream climb' of 14,200 ft if I came to Sikkim.
And one fine extremely cold December morning in Gangtok, I was all set. A multi-coloured muffler covering my ears. A colourful scarf tied around my neck. A huge jacket (combat olive green preferably psst..robbed it from the army). Nike shoes (Woodlands don't work here). And lastly, an elegant bag for my cosmetics.
Having completed the above exercise, I excitedly jumped (actually, I had to bend) into my chariot (jeep) waiting to take me to my dream climb. The sky was painted with many hues of blue. Those coniferous trees high school geography taught me were now here.
And then 12,600 ft above sea level, I saw her Kanchenjunga, the world's highest mountain at her best. Majestic in her demeanor, the ravishing beauty was trying to shoo away the clouds that had masked her.
And, suddenly or so it felt after a wonderful three hour journey, I had completed my dream climb. I had reached Nathula, the world's highest motorised roadway. Popularly known as whispering ears, Nathula Pass formed the gateway to Tibet before it went under Chinese control, being the shortest route to Tibetan capital Lhasa. Nathula was part of the famous silk route.
Let me halt here for a minute and share a beautiful experience I had with the Indian soldiers. With just 6kms to reach Nathula, my urban lifestyle finally undid all the high altitude strength I had garnered during my trekking experience. As I felt breathless and nauseous, we stopped at an army unit along the way. And within seconds, a swarm of soldiers were making arrangements to ease my discomfiture.
One rushed to get the medic, another pulled out a chair for me to sit, another rushed in to get hot tea and biscuits. Does anyone have time to take care of some unknown in our heartless cities? For me though, everytime I think of it, I get a sense of gratitude. Thank You.
And then I walked through the gate that said "Nathula'', on the right side was a photography prohibited area, a few metres from there was the Indian Army post. Behind me was a building with the tricolor proudly fluttering which brought out the Indian in me.
I was standing in front of a building of red and golden pillars and a star. I walked close to it and hey! what am I seeing? There was a fence.
Err, so that is C-H-I-N-A. That was China! Within minutes, a nattily dressed young Chinese soldier came close to the fence, smoking and clicking his camera nonstop. He had decided to get pictures of every single young lady on the Indian side.
Soon, he shed his initial indifference and started posing for photo with us tourists. Camaraderie was evident in the air in the way the Indian and Chinese soldiers interacted.
Then it happened. In the midst of all these photographs, I managed to sneak my hand to the other side of the fence. That was like entering Tibet occupied Chinese soil. And how much time it took me? 5 minutes. And the proof. The Indian army officer who captured me "entering'' into China on the camera.
HOUR OF THE AGENDA
When the Congress-led UPA returned to power in May, 2009, with the impressive Congress tally of 206, it seemed that the pressures and uncertainties of coalition politics were things of the past. And that prime minister Manmohan Singh is almost his own man with the Congress read party president Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Rahul Gandhi supporting him to the hilt so that he can take India forward on the reforms road.
And like the Indian cricket team which looks quite formidable on paper, so too Singh's cabinet is a pool of conspicuous talent. But as the Indian team has the knack of crumbling on a clear day, Singh's team has been showing an erratic tendency. Minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor's twitter is not really the issue though it is symptomatic of what seems to plague the government of the day.
First, there was the faux pas at Sharm el Sheikh in July, with its reference to Balochistan and the many inconsistent rationalisations that were doled out in the days following that. It was not as bad as it was made out to be by the oversensitive chorus of critics, but it did show that Singh and his aides were not keeping their eyes on the ball as it were.
A few months later there was the flutter over alleged Chinese incursions, which the government would neither deny nor confirm, allowing the media and commentators to create a belligerent mood. Then there was Tibetan leader Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh and the government fumbled when it did not allow the international media to cover the event and when it seemed to have secretly urged the exiled leader not to rock the boat.
The third major foreign policy issue where the government dithered was with the regard to Copenhagen climate summit. Minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh and prime minister's special envoy on Shyam Saran were pulling different directions, though in retrospect it seemed that Ramesh had a clear inkling of the way things were going to be Copenhagen and how India would play along with the US. It turned out just that way, with India almost falling in line behind US and China. No great harm was done at Copenhagen but it was clear that India did not seem to know where it stood and where it ought to stand.
Move to the domestic front. The less-than-normal monsoon frightened the government, and it seemed helpless in the face of rising food prices. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and food and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar looked like troubled batsmen unable to tackle the vagaries of weather. And when the second and quarter growth figures turned out to be encouraging and positive, Mukherjee just managed to smile sheepishly.
The bigger fumble was the announcement on formation of Telangana. Home minister P Chidambaram was indeed truthful when he said that responses over the fortnight were due to the changing ground reality. What he forgot to mention was that the government has not thought through the issue that goes back to the 2004 national common minimum programme (NCMP).
Drift? That is what it is. It is characteristic of the Congress culture where expediency is turned into a virtue. That is not a good thing for India which has been catapulted into a prominent position in the world councils in the wake of the financial market meltdown of late 2008. It is a fact not sufficiently recognised in the Congress, in the government and in the country that prime minister Singh is looked up with respect if not awe among his global peers, from US president Obama to British prime minister Brown to French president Sarkozy.
This has not been so since Nehru's days. But self-effacing Singh is fighting shy of the leadership role thrust on him and he is content to push India's unimaginative growth agenda economic reforms are not radical any more and he would not want to tell the world what needs to be done, and which it wants to be told.
India would not have to wait till it overtakes the Chinese and American economies in 2050 to stand and have its say. The world needs India's sane input now. This is the first real chance for India to set the agenda, an opportunity it did not have in Nehru's time. What is needed is pluck and imagination. Singh is the man of the hour only if he knew it. India needs to dare.
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
LET'S RESPECT THE MEN IN WHITE
That Mumbai boasts of the best healthcare facilities in the country is as true as the fact that thousands of foreigners from various countries flock here to seek the benefits of the state-of-the-art health-related infrastructure.
But the oasis of well-being stops abruptly at the heart of city and suburbs, since healthcare majors are interested in setting up hi-tech amenities only in these areas.
One may look down on their approach and say that they are interested only in catering to the rich classes. One
only has to tour the fringes of the metropolitan region to know our Achilles' heels. While modern sickbays have come up in places like Mulund and Thane, they have completely neglected the extended suburbs.
Healthcare industry is still in a nascent stage in places like Dombivli, Kalyan, and suburbs till Ambarnath, on the Central side, and on the Western side from Dahisar to Virar. Suburbs up to these places and beyond have become home to the burgeoning population of the young middle class professionals. Do you think it is only the money factor that deters corporate houses from penetrating these places?
Not really, I believe. Let me share some observations. Firstly, while the world gets to let their hair down and
party their hearts out, hospitals here double their strength over the year-end. It is not only the police who are on guard, but also doctors and medical staff. Holiday leave is strictly forbidden, for any junior doctor / nurse wanting leave to spend a quiet supper with his or her family is reprimanded. Medical experts languish in ICU and OPD wards because the number of accident cases double during the New Year's Eve carousing. One reason for this is the rising incidents of drunken driving.
One private hospital, I'm frequenting for the last one week has a record of at least 11 accident victims getting admitted every December 31. And all of them pertain to cases of drunken driving. The last week of the year which begins with the celebration of Christmas seems to give a green signal to tipplers to hit the bottle full-throttle. Police officials corroborate that some inebriated drivers are way above even the normal limit.
When such smashed drivers (pun intended!) meet with accidents say, in a place like Kalyan, they are rushed to a nearby hospital, irrespective of the fact they are specialised hospital and not multi-specialty.And on top of that, they have a band of ruffians for an entourage. These local toughies intimidate, browbeat, bully nurses, wards boys and even senior doctors to give 'their patient' the best possible assistance. If something goes wrong or God forbid, the doctors are unable to resuscitate their loved kin, all hell breaks loose. The hospital infrastructure becomes a casualty in the spilling over of their fury. Remember the fate of Singhania Hospital in Thane after the death of a local politician?
Besides, peculiar type of infections attack healthy people due to unhygienic surroundings, thanks to the local civic bodies. Doctors here fight two battles at the same timeunknown infections to the medical fraternity coupled with lack of good pathology and known goons whose kith and kin contract such diseases.
Our attitude to the men in white must change, if we want to see a more healthy society. Doctors are really doing a fabulous job in these trying circumstances. Let's give them a whole-hearted round of applause.
A CHANCE TO CHANGE
The sudden flurry of activity from the Union home ministry to change police and court procedures, in the aftermath of the public reaction to the Ruchika Girhotra case, points to some very deep systemic failures. The current changes are a direct result of the media attention on the case and the resultant anger. Yet, surely none of this was unknown to anyone.
The police routinely harass the innocent on behalf of the powerful. A small example is an unrelated but eye-opening case reported in Mumbai yesterday where a traffic police constable was beaten up by mathadi head-load carriers workers when he stopped them from parking illegally, but could not get the relevant police station to take down his complaint. The reasons given were that the mathadi union is very strong and that the workers had already paid bribes to the policemen!
In the past week, the home ministry has asked for police stations to take all complaints as First Information Reports, has agreed to the re-opening of the cases against SPS Rathore, the former director general of the Haryana police, and the Centre has amended the Criminal Procedure Code to allow victims to hire their own lawyers. These may have been knee-jerk decisions in that they are a direct result of the Ruchika case, but it also true that they were necessary and long overdue.
It is a massive failure on our part that we have been unable, as a society, to fix the system so that rule of law and the principles of jurisprudence prevail. These are the cornerstones of a civilised society and every time anyone tries to subvert the system, our foundation weakens.
It should not be, therefore, that once the generated interest in the Ruchika case reduces and the media moves on to another story, the focus on necessary systemic changes disappears. It is clear that police reforms, where the functioning of the police is made independent of political control and where an independent authority takes charge when police officers are indicted, cannot be delayed any longer. No government so far has seen fit to go forward on these reforms, sadly because politicians have the most to lose.
Rathore managed, according to the charges made against him, destroy the lives of one family without compunction and with ample help from his colleagues and the larger government apparatus. What we need in answer to that is not merely punishment for him but a total overhaul. The hoopla generated over the Ruchika case will be worthwhile only if future Rathores know that they cannot get away with it. Otherwise, we will be back to oppression as usual.
SANCTION FOR PROSECUTION
PUT SAJJAN KUMAR'S TRIAL ON FAST TRACK
The Delhi Lt-Governor's sanction to the CBI to prosecute former MP and Congress leader Sajjan Kumar for his alleged involvement in the horrendous 1984 anti-Sikh riots is indicative of the Centre's belated resolve to bring the culprits to book. That it took as many as 25 years for the authorities to seek his prosecution for his questionable role in the riots that followed former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination is inexplicable. A case was registered against him after the G.T. Nanavati Commission report in February 2005 recommended fresh examination of complaints in which Sajjan Kumar had been named and no chargesheet had been filed. As he is a former MP, the Lt-Governor's sanction for prosecution was mandatory. But then, the Centre should not have taken so much time to sanction his prosecution. The ends of justice will be met only if his prosecution is put on fast track for an early trial.
Undoubtedly, the Calling Attention Motion moved by Mr Tarlochan Singh in the Rajya Sabha last month helped expedite the Centre's action on Sajjan Kumar. It is noteworthy that in response to this motion on the progress of relief to the victims of 1984 riots and the measures being taken to punish the guilty, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram told the Rajya Sabha that he would request Lt-Governor Tejinder Khanna to decide by December-end. Now that his clearance has come, the case has become the CBI's responsibility. The CBI is now duty-bound to ensure that there is no further delay in the trial and prosecution of Sajjan Kumar.
One does not know as yet the fate of Mr Jagdish Tytler, former Union Minister. The Congress gave tickets to him and Sajjan Kumar to contest the last Lok Sabha elections, but retracted following a public outcry. On December 16, 2009, the Union Home Ministry clarified that there was no case pending for sanction of prosecution related to Mr Tytler. Meanwhile, the death of Surinder Singh, a key witness accused of flip-flops regarding Mr Tytler's involvement in the riots, has given a new twist to the case. The Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, New Delhi, will hear on February 10, 2010, the CBI's justification of the closure report defending Mr Tytler. People's confidence in the criminal justice system can be restored only if the culprits, however high and powerful they may be, are brought to justice for their role in one of nation's most traumatic events since Independence.
MYSTERY FIRE AT BARC
THERE IS NO ROOM FOR COMPLACENCY
There is cause for concern over the mysterious fire that broke out in the chemical laboratory of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai on Tuesday in which two researchers were charred to death. According to the Director of the Chemistry group of BARC, Mr Tulsi Mukherjee, the chemicals in the lab were "non-inflammable" and the lab did not have any explosives. Yet, the fire erupted with "a loud bang" shattering a couple of windows, pointing to the possible presence of explosives. That the mishap occurred against the backdrop of a recent Intelligence Bureau alert which said that India's nuclear facilities could be under a terror threat cannot be dismissed as inconsequential. Significantly, a former Director of BARC, A.N. Prasad, has been quoted as saying that it could be "some one's" way of checking the preparedness of the nuclear centre in the backdrop of the intelligence reports of a possible terror attack. While the Department of Atomic Energy spokesperson S K Malhotra was emphatic that there was no "reactor, radioactivity or radiation" involved in the accident, that too is not enough to lull the authorities into complacency.
This is the third time in the recent past that a nuclear establishment in India has been the victim of mishaps. The first incident occurred at the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Karnataka where a 'disgruntled' staffer allegedly contaminated drinking water with a small amount of heavy water. Routine urine samples from a number of staff at the plant were found to have elevated levels of radiation. The second incident occurred at the Tarapur Atomic Power Station where CISF personnel nabbed several people attempting to smuggle out some computer-related parts. That in the Kaiga incident investigations have hit a dead end and in the Tarapur one no deterrent action has been taken speaks for itself.
It is indeed imperative that the latest case of the fire at BARC not be taken lightly. After the forensic probe is completed, the authorities must get to the root of the incident and fix responsibility without fear or favour. Besides, there is no escape from a heightened vigil.
LAWLESS IN LALGARH
BLAMING THE CENTRE OR THE STATE IS POINTLESS
While expressing his satisfaction over an "eventful but peaceful year", Union Home Minister Mr. P. Chidambaram admitted his disappointment at the situation in Lalgarh in West Bengal. The situation, he said on Thursday, was "pretty depressing" and admitted that even the presence of a strong contingent of central para-military forces in the area had failed to restore normalcy. Lalgarh first came to limelight a year ago following a landmine blast triggered by the Maoists and targeted at the West Bengal Chief Minister and the then Union Minister for Steel, Ramvilas Paswan, who were traveling together. The police crackdown that followed alienated the local people and within a few weeks, the Maoists forced the state government to retreat and the police to abandon their posts in the area. Emboldened, the Maoists encouraged local people to revolt and take law into their own hands. Local strongmen owing allegiance to the ruling Left Front were killed, their houses burnt and CPM offices vandalised. The CPM retaliated in kind and soon violence spun out of control, giving the Maoists a free run and prompting them to declare Lalgarh a "liberated zone".
Central para-military forces with 6000 men were dispatched in June last year to assist the state police to enforce the writ of the state. But six months later, the situation actually appears to have worsened. There has been no end to violence. Police stations have been attacked, policemen kidnapped, para-military forces ambushed and people continue to be killed in the area. The state government is unable to control the situation, and as late as last month the government submitted before the High Court that it was unable to find civil contractors willing to work in Lalgarh. Even the forest rangers have been found seeking protection from the Maoists.
Lalgarh has exposed the weaknesses of the entire political and administrative system and the longer it remains adrift, the administration is bound to look more vulnerable. Tougher and more coordinated measures , and not a blame-game, are required to put an end to lawlessness and bring the culprits to book irrespective of their identity or ideological affinity.
REVERSAL OF HIV INFECTION
DISTINCT POSSIBILITY OF SUCCESS IN SIGHT
BY USHA RAI
Great strides have been made in the care and treatment of people living with HIV, and at the core of the transformation of the lives of those infected and affected are the positive people themselves. It is with great courage that they have come forward to acknowledge their status and do advocacy for those not so brave to speak up or even access the life-saving ART (anti-retroviral treatment).
From purely urban locales, their networks have spread deep into the districts, and small bands of trained peer educators are actually tracking down and bringing for treatment not only all those infected but also those who have defaulted from treatment.
The vice-president of the Indian Network of Positive People (INP+), Senthil, recalls that just five years ago in Chennai, a pregnant woman, who went for delivery of her child to a Primary Health Centre and declared her HIV positive status, was locked up in a room. Nevaprine tablets and a bottle of water were chucked into her room and from closed doors she was ordered to take it to prevent the transmission of the infection to the child in her womb.
Even when she delivered her baby no one came to help the mother or give the mandatory drug to the newborn. It was only when the complaint reached the district medical administration that someone was sent to cut the cord.
Now in South India, thanks to the strong advocacy of the positive people's network, 75 to 80 per cent of PLHIV are not only able to deliver their babies in PHCs but also have surgeries too. But in North India the stigma and discrimination persists and accessing health, education and other basic services is still not easy. Despite the slow pace of awareness in the vulnerable states of central and north India, when 350 PLHIV recently got together in Delhi to discuss access to care and treatment, the hall resonated with hope and a new vigour.
The Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria (GFATM), an international financing organisation, showed confidence in the joint efforts of the well-known health NGO Population Foundation of India, the National AIDS Control Organisation, the positive networks and their partners to commit $ 500 million over the next six years.
This puts an end to the uncertainty over the continuation of India's ART programme in the six high prevalence states and the eight vulnerable ones as the current phase of GFATM funding comes to an end in the six high prevalence states next March. The government's target now is to scale up to 375 ART centres from the present 227 that are currently giving treatment to 2.8 lakh people with the help of 256 Community Care Centres and 204 Link ART centres.
In fact, Mr Taufiqur Rahman of the Global Fund feels that with the current level of political commitment to the treatment of and support for PLHIV, India can hope so see a reversal of infection in the next six years. This unique public-private partnership of four years under the Global Fund has turned the infection from being considered a death warrant to a chronically manageable disease.
There is a woman, HIV positive for 20-odd years, who has managed without ART. Today close to 300,000 PLHIV have access to care and treatment. The second line of ART is available even if so far only a few educated, urban elite with the right connections have access to it.
So, how has the turn-around happened? The district-level networks (DLN) are the key to transformation. Some 283 DLNs have been established in 27 states. It is these networks of positive people that follow up all issues, whether it is availability of ART, stigma or discrimination or a close scrutiny on defaulters who are tracked down, counselled and persuaded to go back to drugs.
By 2012 another 220 districts will be covered by the network and by 2015, the entire country will benefit from the advocacy and service delivery mechanism of the DLN. Support group meetings are held thrice a month at the DLNs and there is a sharing of views, challenges and successes of positive people.
Despite access to ART, managing opportunistic infections like tuberculosis, malaria and hepatitis is a problem because the PLHIV have to go to other departments for treatment. The INP+ had to fight for ART, then treatment for opportunistic infections and subsequently the second line of ART. Not even a thousand of the 200299 people registered with INP+ are on second line ART. After being on first line ART for about two years, it is important to test the PLHIV for the second line ART. But there are just about 20 machines in the country for doing these tests.
The champions of the DLNs are the peer educators, all of them volunteers. They are members of the community who have been selected and trained for their leadership qualities, standing in the community and their communication skills. There are some 13,500 peer educators in the country and each of them is responsible for 10 cases or clients. It is they who are responsible for bringing back into the fold defaulters or those who have dropped out from treatment and care.
Between 2007 and 2009, some 5457 dropped out and 60 per cent of them were brought back for treatment. Those who drop out are those who are still scared of being seen at an ART centre because they have not told the family about their status. In fact, it is easier to trace defaulters in a village, where everyone knows everyone else, than in a city, says Senthil. That is how deep and strong the arms of the network are!
The kind of work done by the DLNs is best exemplified by the story of Ramoji, (name changed) 19, from Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. As a 16-year-old in class 11 he suffered serious injuries in an accident and was in need of blood for surgery. His parents were poor and illiterate and finally ended up buying blood from an attendant in the hospital for Rs 100. Six months later he developed high fever and persistent coughing and was diagnosed as HIV positive. Ramoji's parents then rejected him and would not let him into the house.
The Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centre, fearing he may commit suicide, referred him to the Guntur DLN which assured him that he could lead a happy life like other members but would have to be on medicines. The DLN members even explained the infection to the parents and asked them to take him back, but to no avail.
The DLN then moved him into a religious institute where he stayed in the hostel and concentrated on his studies. After a few months he fell ill again and was taken by the DLN to Guntur General Hospital where they found his CD-4 count had dropped very low and he was put on ART. Back at the hostel one day, the religious head asked him to give up medicine and trust in God. If he took medicines he said he would have to move out.
Despite knowing the consequences of giving up medicines, desperate for a roof over his head, he gave up medicines. The next time he fell ill, his CD-4 count was 5 and his survival seemed difficult. He was in a care and support centre for 45 days and the DLN members ensured he did not default on his ART medicines again.
After he recovered, the DLN decided to make Ramoji economically independent. After training he was made an outreach worker and given Rs 3000 as wages. Ramoji stayed in a working men's hostel, paying Rs 2000 towards his board and lodging. He has completed his 12th boards while working for the DLN and has now enrolled for his graduation through distant learning.
But the silver clouds on the HIV horizon need to be nurtured. There is scope for better governance and utilisation of funds coming to India.
FROGS, SNAILS AND PUPPY TAILS
BY ARADHIKA SHARMA
Mom MOM". My 16-year-old son bangs the door and comes into where I am fixing his milk in the kitchen. He yanks me to him roughly, gives me a careless kiss on my eyebrow and demands something 'nice' to eat.
"No Mom, something exciting"
"Chocolate cookies? Rasgulla? Homemade cake?"
"Boring," he said morosely and then a smile lights his face.
"I know! I want MAGGIE!" Then seeing my expression he says, "Don't worry ma, I'll make it myself."
The old rhyme was true. While girls are made of sugar and spice and all that's nice, boys are made of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails. My boys manage to constantly shock, disgust and irritate me. The only reason I tolerate them is because no one will adopt them and well, let me admit, they make me laugh and laugh and laugh!
Does the boy think I'm deaf? "Yes boy, here I am two feet away from you."
"Mom, smell this," and he comes close to me and breathes out with all his might into my face. When I move my head away involuntarily, he says, hurt: "Mom, smell smell please, then I'll tell you why." Fearing the worst (Cigarette? Alcohol?) I take a full whiff of his mouth odour.
"What?" I demand, backing off.
"Is my mouth smelling fresh? I mean a girl won't be put off because of bad breath, will she?"
This is worse than cigarettes and alcohol.
"GIRL? Which girl?"
"Oh! No girl mom. Just asking."
Sure; I believe that. Is it too early to talk about birth control?
"Mom MOM I need you urgently."
He's standing before the mirror, with the most tragic expression.
"Mom, where did THESE come from?" he says pointing to a rash of acne.
"From your dirty thought about girls." I said heartlessly.
"Well, would you prefer that I was gay then?" He retorts while poking at his pimples.
I almost said that that would involve dirty thoughts about boys but desisted.
"Mom mom see the new picture that I took"
"Goodness! What in the world is it?"
"It's the picture of a dead cat that I saw lying in the rubbish bin. One of its eyes was hanging out. I'll show you the closeup"
How wonderfully aesthetically pleasing!
These conversations took place within the span of a week. The creatures bathe, brush and shampoo only because some girl may look at them. They talk only loudly, they watch all kinds of nonsense and exchange dirty SMSes, and they are totally irreverent and disrespectful about their teachers and parents.
QED: Boys are definitely made of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails!n
TAMING THE TERRORISTS
POOR DETERRENCE AND DELAYS ARE TODAY'S REALITIES
BY KAMLENDRA KANWAR
The recent report that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation has turned down India's request for extradition of terror suspect David Headley has caused consternation in this country. It is being surmised that Headley's interrogation in India in connection with the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008 could prove an embarrassment for the Americans because he was purportedly working for US intelligence at one stage.
While this is entirely plausible given the record of US intelligence agencies, there is another aspect of the American refusal to extradite which we must not run away from. It has to do with the fact that the Indian legal system is slow, laborious, and prone to corruption. Cases drag on for years and years, and often end up in acquittals because of witnesses being unwilling to come forward and depose against dreaded gangsters and terrorists. Even when punishment is meted out, it is often not enough to deter criminals.
The Americans, on the other hand, mete out swift justice, and where guilt is proved, punishment is hard and deterring. American investigators have already indicated that Headley could be handed out a sentence of up to 300 years imprisonment. If that be so, it is ridiculous to say that Headley could be extradited after completion of his sentence in the US.
In the famous President John F. Kennedy assassination case, the man who killed the alleged assassin of the then President was sentenced to 500 years in prison. In India, though the Supreme Court has ruled in a 2005 judgement that life imprisonment must mean the remaining life of the convict, in effect most convicts are released after putting in 14 years, with commutation for good conduct.
Oddly, even those charged with offences relating to subversion often get away with no conviction or relatively light sentences due to lack of evidence and failure of the prosecution.
There was the classic case of a former alleged Khalistani terrorist who was extradited from the US in 2006 after a 12-year effort but was set free in April 2008 in all the three murder cases registered against him by Punjab police. Khalistan Commando Force activist Kulbir Singh Barapind alias Kulbira was acquitted by a Jalandhar court for want of evidence.
What was embarrassing for the Punjab police was that it failed to provide conclusive evidence before the court during trial against Kulbir Singh. In one case, he was charged with killing three brothers and the wife of one of them in a village near Jalandhar in September 1992. The family of the victims could not identify Kulbir Singh as the killer.
In another, Kulbir Singh was charged for the murder of former Akali Dal legislator from Banga, 45 km from Jalandhar, and three others in 1992. Here also, the case fell for want of evidence. He was acquitted in a third murder case in Phillaur as well.
Though there were cases against the alleged terrorist under TADA, the Punjab police could not pursue those as it had given in writing to the US courts that he would not be tried under any special law (like TADA) after his extradition.
Likewise, there have been cases of terror suspects extradited from Dubai to stand trial in cases of terrorism being acquitted because the prosecution case collapsed on the judge's scrutiny in court.
The cold reality is that the shocking weakness of our criminal justice system allows dreaded terrorists to go scot-free for lack of evidence since protection to witnesses is inadequate and judges can be intimidated.
It is common knowledge that supercop K.P.S. Gill's success in virtually banishing terrorism from Punjab soil
was largely attributable to the large number of terrorists his police killed in 'encounters' which everyone knew were fake. During the height of terrorism in Punjab there was not a single conviction for terrorism because of the scare that terrorists had created around them.
Virtually the same situation prevails in Andhra where activists of the People's War Group invariably go free even if they are nabbed by the police, because of the fear they evoke.
It is indeed not uncommon for 'fake encounters' to be staged by police to eliminate activists who would otherwise not be brought to justice.
The Mumbai bomb blasts case of 1993 was a high-profile case. That it took 13 years for even a special court to pronounce its judgment was in itself a sad commentary on our judicial system and our prosecuting apparatus.
With such inordinate delay in such an important case the message that goes out is of a soft state that is ill-prepared to deal with terror and terrorists.
Indeed, a part of the reason that the two principal suspects Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon are sitting pretty in Pakistan (they sneak out to other destinations only to return there), leading a life of opulence and grandeur, is the failure to complete the process of justice for such a long time.
India's entreaties to the western world to put pressure on Pakistan to hand over Dawood would arguably have carried much greater weight had the conviction come about in proper time.
More than 29,000 people have died in terror attacks in India between 1994 and 2009. And all the perpetrators who were convicted for the dastardly acts are biding time in different jails at the expense of the taxpayers.
Chief public prosecutor in the Special Court for the 1993 blasts trial Ujjwal Nikam summed up the anguish of millions of Indians when he said: "It would be a mockery of justice if the death penalty is not imposed."
Nikam was speaking after three convicts in the Mumbai serial blasts were given death sentence.
His anguish stemmed from the fact that India was yet to execute a single death sentence awarded to a terror convict despite the fact that from January 2004 to March 2007, the death toll from terror attacks in the country was 3,674, second only to that in Iraq during the same period.
The government has set up special anti-terror courts for speedy trial in cases relating to terror attacks, but once convicted the perpetrators move higher courts and claim clemency from the President. According to a statement by Home Minister P Chidambaram, 28 clemency petitions are pending with the President's office and each one is considered according to its serial number.
Mohammad Afzal Guru, convicted for the attack on Parliament in 2001, is one among many terror convicts, serving death row, who have appealed to the President for clemency. He was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court in 2004 and the sentence was scheduled to be carried out on October 20, 2006 but it was stayed. Subsequently, a mercy petition was filed which is still pending.
Likewise, one of the assassins of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Nalini, is languishing in jail for the last 18 years with the death sentence passed on her awaiting the outcome of the mercy petition to the President.
One cannot but recognize that the criminal justice system needs an overhaul so that terrorists and hardened criminals do not get away due to the fear psychosis they create. At the same time, it is vital that justice be meted out swiftly and effectively with adequate deterrent against future transgressions of law.
TECHNOLOGY TO HEAL A NATION
BY DANIEL HOWDEN
At ground level, stuck in Nairobi's crawling traffic, the city can seem endless. But seen from the air the sprawl quickly dissipates, giving way in Ocean and to the north and east, beyond Mt Kenya, to the wilderness.
Yet it is in these remoter stretches of East Africa that much of the population lives. All across the continent, the vast majority of people live in rural areas far beyond the reach of even the modest type of modern medical care that is available in the cities.
The gulf in facilities between research hospitals like Kenyatta in central Nairobi and the handful of clinics in the semi-desert of Mandera near the border with Somalia is vast. But according to Dr Johnson Mussomi, it need not be unbridgeable.
The Kenyan physician has lent his knowledge and expertise to an effort to use low-cost modern technology to dissolve distance and bring "tele-medicine" to an estimated 30 million people across East Africa.
"It may be as simple as two health professionals discussing a case over the phone," Dr Mussomi explains, "or as complex as using satellite technology and video-conferencing facilities to conduct a real-time consultation in different countries." In rural Kenya, telemedicine allows inexperienced doctors to liaise with specialist consultants many hundreds of miles away.
To put it more simply, in the words of Dr Mussomi: "It saves lives." Computer equipment and training for the project are provided by the UK-based organisation Computer Aid, which is one of the three charities being supported by the Independent's Christmas Appeal this year.
Telemedicine builds on the past success of the better-known Flying Doctors programme, which flew medics to a circuit of rural clinics to treat patients unable to reach urban hospitals. The new project aims both to make more efficient use of the service that Flying Doctors provides, and to open up the new possibilities technology has to offer.
For Dr Mussomi the project provided a reason to come home after 23 years practising medicine further south in Botswana and Namibia.
Speaking in his office at Nairobi's Wilson airport, where he runs the Telemedicine outreach programme, Dr Mussomi recalls his own first experience of flying out of Nairobi and into the world in which many of his less fortunate compatriots live.
"It was a shock," he remembers. "My first impression was of people neglected by their own government. The hospitals or clinics had been built but there was nothing in them." He insists that making a real difference to what these clinics can offer does not require large amounts of money. "If you provide one computer, one scanner and one digital camera, it can change the whole hospital." With some basic IT facilities, hospitals can produce reports which reveal everything from the number of patients treated, the diseases encountered, and the prevalence of malaria and HIV.
These statistics have radically improved the effectiveness of the Flying Doctors programme, allowing the medical personnel who run it to plan their visits more accurately.
As well as enabling clinics to order what they need when they need it, the "e-learning" programme has helped "to end the isolation of rural doctors and nurses", Dr Mussomi explains.
The kind of problems the programme treats run from patients with cleft palates, which should have been treated when they were babies; to women who have suffered for years with urinary problems after childbirth for want of an operation that takes less than one hour to perform. "In the last year," Dr Mussomi says, "these operations have been able to change the lives of 9,000 people."n
By arrangement with The Independent
AN IMPASSE IN IRAN
BY RAY TAKEYH
The mayhem that has swept over Iran in the past few days is once more calling into question the Islamic Republic's longevity. Recent events are eerily reminiscent of the revolution that displaced the monarchy in 1979: A fragmented, illegitimate state led by cruel yet indecisive men is suddenly confronting an opposition movement that it cannot fully apprehend. It is premature to proclaim the immediate demise of the theocratic regime. Iran may well be entering a prolonged period of chaos and violence.
In retrospect, the regime's most momentous, and disastrous, decision was its refusal to offer any compromises to an angered nation after the fraudulent presidential election in June. The modest demands of establishment figures such as Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, including for the release of political prisoners and restoring popular trust (via measures such as respecting the rule of law and opening up the media), was dismissed by an arrogant regime confident of its power.
Disillusioned elites and protesters who had taken to the streets could have been unified, or their resentment assuaged, by a pledge by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for the next election to be free and fair, for government to become more inclusive or for limits to be imposed on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's prerogatives. Today, such concessions would be seen as a sign of weakness and would embolden the opposition. The regime no longer has a political path out of its predicament. Ironically, this was the shah's dilemma, as he made concessions too late to fortify his power and broaden the social base of his government.
Another irony is that the Islamic Republic today is led by a politician as vacillating as the shah was. Khamenei's forbidding posture conceals an uncertain personality. Like the shah, Khamenei seems reluctant to order a massive crackdown that would involve summary executions and random shootings of the thousands of protesters. Whether the regime's security forces have the strategic depth and willingness to engage in such conduct is unknown. Thus far, the regime has opted for a containment strategy: unleashing Basij militias to beat and intimidate the protesters while arresting many of its former loyalists. Yet this not only fails to quell the demonstrations but also erodes the cohesion of the security forces who have the demoralising task of routinely confronting their compatriots. Meanwhile, as the movement continues to defy authorities, it is likely to become more radicalised.
Unlike in 1979, the clerical state today has had the luxury of confronting an opposition movement that is incohesive and lacks identifiable leaders. The candidates who challenged Ahmadinejad for the presidency, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, seem more like intrigued observers than masterminds of recent events. This should be cold comfort to the regime, however, because the longer the movement survives, the more likely it is to produce its own leaders.
The most remarkable aspect about the events in Iran since June has been the opposition's ability to sustain itself and to generate vast rallies while deprived of a national organisational network, a well-articulated ideology and charismatic leaders.
Put another way, the Islamic Republic has reached an impasse; it can neither appease the opposition nor forcibly repress it out of existence.
As the United States and its allies wrestle with the issue of Iran's nuclear program, they would be wise to recognise the changes to the context in which their policy was framed. The Obama administration should take a cue from Ronald Reagan and persistently challenge the legitimacy of the theocratic state and highlight its human rights abuses. The Islamic Republic, like the Soviet Union, is a transient phenomenon. America's embrace of individual sovereignty will place it on the right side of history as the fortunes of history inevitably change.n
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
With prices of foodstuff continuing to skyrocket, the hapless common man is finding it increasingly hard to cope with the worsening situation. With only a few days to go for the Magh Bihu, the festival of feasts, it is apparent that the festivities associated with the occasion will elude a majority of the populace. While rising prices have emerged as a most disquieting concern in recent times thanks to the laxity of the Government in ensuring some semblance of control in the market the situation invariably deteriorates before any major festival. Items such as rice, milk products, sugar, fish, etc., have registered a steep rise on the run-up to the Magh Bihu. The artificial shortage of coking gas cylinders which are being sold at rates as high as Rs 1,000 in the black market is another disturbing phenomenon occurring during festive seasons. All this raises a fundamental question what is the Government doing to curb this anarchy in the market? The disgusting answer is that it has made a total surrender before the unscrupulous traders who are running the market as per their whims.
By letting the common man bleed, the Government has shown that it is little interested in addressing a matter of vital public interest. If there has been any crucial area of governance left so shamelessly unaddressed by the Government, it is the abnormal and unprecedented rise in the prices of foodstuff. All along, the Government's response has gone little beyond terming price rise as an all-India phenomenon. While prices have undoubtedly recorded an increasing trend all over the country, nowhere has it been so bizarrely abnormal as in Assam. We have a situation where the price of the same commodity and of the same quality varies noticeably in markets within the city. This exposes a total lack of monitoring and enforcement on the part of the Government and the administration. Forget about commodities coming from outside, there has been an unexplainable hike in the prices of locally-produced common vegetables and fruits. The Food and Civil Supplies Department supposed to keep a watch on the prices of essential commodities and verify the traders' justifications for effecting a hike is virtually non-existent. The public distribution system (PDS) that could have provided succour to the common man also lies in doldrums due to widespread corruption.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
Assamese films have been badly affected by refusal of cinema hall proprietors to exhibit such films beyond one or two weeks. This is because sufficient number of viewers are not available. The proprietors cannot absorb the losses. Industry and artiste associations therefore have been making representations to the government to allocate Rs 100 crore for new cinema halls to exclusively exhibit Assamese films. There have been no positive response so far from the government in this behalf. Meanwhile, the Third Assam State Finance Commission (TASFC), chaired by the formed chief secretary HN Das, has made certain revolutionary and innovative recommendations. Among its 103 recommendations is one for allocation of Rs 100 crore for construction of multi purpose rural halls in "the market places of bigger villages." To quote the relevant position at paragraph 9.9 of TASFC's voluminous 346 page repeat "there are no proper halls for holding entertainment shows in the rural areas. Roaming theatre parties hold their shows in moveable stages and galleries which are carried in trucks from place to place. But proper theatre or cinema halls are not available even in bigger villages. There has been public demand for construction of such halls particularly by the Assamese film industry. TASFC recommends that a total amount of Rs 100 crore may be provided as grants-in-aid to ZPs (zilla parishads), as the nodal agencies, for distribution to APs (Anchalik Panchayats) for construction of such halls in the market places of bigger villages by obtaining viable project reports. These halls should be multipurpose. They should have 35mm and digital projection systems and stage lights with digital sound system. These halls should be available for both cinematic and dramatic performances. These halls should be available for meetings, conferences and conventions."
In his explanatory memorandum on the actions taken on the recommendations of TASFXC the Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi conveyed acceptance of this recommendation to the Assam Legislative Assembly when he laid the TASFC report on the table of the house on December 11, 2009. This is laudable. However, if past experience is any guide such recommodations are often negated by delay in sanction of funds by the State Finance Department. It is, therefore, imperative that the concerned organizations such as ZPs and APs mount pressure on the government to take immediate steps for allocation of necessary funds in the State Budget and to follow up such allociations by sanctions to the nodal agencies.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
RISING COST OF FOOD ITEMS AND INFLATION
DR PRABIN BAISHYA
Food inflation has caused concern to the general consumers all over the country. This inflation reached a 10 year height of 19.95 per cent by the week end of December 5, 2009. During the second week it came down to 18.65 per cent but again soared upto 19.83 per cent in the third week. During the current new year's harvesting period of rice and potato etc food prices are likely to come down a little as a result of more supply and decline of many cultivator buyers consuming home grown products till March-April next. It may be noted that the food inflation rate is exorbitantly higher than the general inflation rate moving upward from a negative one to around 4 per cent now.
Food inflation is, however, not a new phenomenon of the Indian economy. It started rising, of course with ups and downs, since 2007. The wholesale price index of inflation rate of food articles which was 3.31 per cent high on first December 2007 reached 3.49 per cent on February 16, 2008, 6.54 per cent on and 7.47 per cent on August 9 March 29, 2008 as against the prices of manufactured commodities had come down due to recession of the year (Economic and Political Weekly, October, 10, 2008, p. 18). In December 26, 2009 the food price index number stood at 292.1 as against all commodities monthly average index of 238.8 against the base index of 100 in 1993-94. (EPW. December 26, 2009, Current Statistics, P. 108. This index indicates about 3 times higher food article prices than the base year index of 100.
Besides primary food articles covering wheat, rice, pulses, potatoes etc inflation of food products also had increased from 2.45 per cent on December, 2007 to a maximum of 15.02 per cent on June 21, 2008, i.e. an increase of 12 per cent points. The food products include manufactured food items like edible oil, oil cakes and dairy products. Edible oil inflation increased from 9.70 per cent on December 22, 2007 to 21.42 per cent on March 15, 2008 i.e. by 11.72 per cent points. The wholesale index of food products stood at 2514 as compared to 100 of the base year 1993-94.
The Prime Minister, Finance Minister, Food Minister and other political leaders of the parties in power are preaching the welfare of the aam admi, i.e of the common man of the country. Can the common man buy food items to the required quantity at such a high price to satisfy their hunger? What about food security of 3017.20 lakh people below the poverty line in 2004-05? It is said that agricultural production compared to the previous year had fallen to the tune of 1.6 per cent during 2008-09, but why inflationary rise of food articles by 9.66 per cent during December, 2006 and April, 2007? During mid-2009 the Prime Minister had cautioned the hoarders and profit makers of food articles, but they paid little heed as they knew that no practical action could and would be taken by the government as they were paying election money to the political parties. The big traders are engaged in future market, they hoard articles through forward trading of buying the articles in the godowns of other traders to the lifted and sold in the future when prices would rise due mainly to non-availability of the commodities in the market. A government with a commitment to peoples' welfare should have checked the godowns, dehoarded them and sold the food articles in the market; but as the government is guided by the principle of free market economy, it does not like to interfere with the 'invisible hand' of the market.
A similar situation of high price of essential commodities prevailed during and after the Chinese war of 1962. I had written in an article in this journal of August 7, 1964 that profiteers were hoarding the primary articles like sugar, mustard oil, kerosine oil and rice and wheat and had sold them in the black market at sky rocketing prices. To meet the situation the government had instituted the State Trading Corporations in the States for selling food articles at prices fixed by the State government and ultimately the Food Corporation of India was established for procurement and distribution of food among the population. In the current prevailing situation of abnormally high food prices why the precedents of the then Congress government of fixing maximum prices of essential commodities cannot be followed by the present government remains a mystery. According to an expert of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, the Food Corporation of India has sufficient stocks and can augment it by larger procurement and imports if necessary and can release 7 to 8 million tonnes of rice to the Public Distribution System (PDS) and thereby help the below poverty line population.
In the context of shortfall of production of cereals due to drought-like conditions prevailing in several States including Assam during the last Monsoon period it may be said that Indian agriculture still remains a gamble in the monsoon as coverage under irrigation is only 44.2 per cent of the cropped area of the country in 2004-05 while in Assam it is a negligible 7.6 per cent as per Agricultural Statistics at a Glance, 2007, Government of India, prefaced by an Assamese expert of Indian Economic Service Dr A K Neog (now Rtd). In the context it may also be noted that while food grains production per hectre in Punjab and Haryana is respectively 3986 kg and 3045 kg, it is only 1416 kg in Assam, i.e. less than half the yield of the mentioned States.
Anyway, besides facing and improving the problem of high food inflation by procurement of Rabi crops and by importing rice and wheat to meet the emergency and distributing them through the public distribution system, long term measures of irrigation system, supply of improved technology like power tillers and tractors, timely supply of high yielding varieties of seeds and manures should be undertaken. Agriculture being a State subject, the main responsibilities lie with the State governments. In the context, the government of Assam should take strong measures to control annual floods and at the same time increase irrigation facilities by motivating the indigenous cultivators for boring shallow and deep tube wells through agricultural finance as the immigrant cultivators have already undertaken the initiative by themselves in and around the Char areas and are producing Boro and Iri crops.
(The writer is an ex-Principal of Sualkuchi BMS College)
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
CLIMATE CHANGE AND NE
DR ATHIQUL H LASKAR
Global warming is perhaps one of the most overused and least understood words of the decade. 'Least understood' not in the sense that people are not aware of its definition and repercussions, but that not much is done on the ground level to control it. 'Going green' may be the most fashionable path to take among the elite but what about the massive global population that doesn't place nature's balance among their life's priorities? The recent conference at Copenhagen held some hope that things across the world will change for the better but the outcome was far from path breaking and evoked mixed reactions. It is no news that climates all over the world are taking a turn for the unexpected and springing unpleasant surprises on the habitation.
Recently during my trip to Texas in the US, I was surprised and shocked to find myself in the middle of snowfall in a state that is well known for its warm climes. The climatic twist sent the entire city in a tizzy and there was panic everywhere and the scenario was nothing short of an emergency. The traffic was stalled, commercial establishments were closed, school closings and delayed opening schedules were announced, and frightened Texans locked themselves indoors till the sun shone again. My own daughter being a doctor working at the Emergency department of a downtown hospital in Houston has been offered in-house overnight stay to avoid driving on black-iced roads at night. Brigades of Fire-engines, Snow plows, salt trucks of city halls in Dallas, Houston, St.Marcus, Austin, and other adjoining townships were put in standby mood. All preventive public safety measures were being announced in frequent intervals on radios and televisions round the clock. However, the cold wave passed as rapidly as it had arrived and the weather was back to the usual in a day or two. There is no denying that this incident was triggered by Global Warming and similar incidents have been reported from other parts of the world too. If this is not reason enough to worry, then what is?
We, as Indians, however have a reason to be proud as PM Manmohan Singh took the initiative and set an example for developing nations by promising to reduce India's greenhouse emissions by 20 per cent before the year 2020. His opinions and views impressed leaders from all over the world including the US president Barrack Obama who later said, "For them, even voluntarily to say, we are going to reduce carbon emissions relative to our current ways of doing business by X per cent is an important step. And we applaud them for that."
India, being one of the most populated and rapidly urbanising countries, is more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than one would imagine. The fact that our country will be significantly more affected by small changes in global temperatures may be one of the main reasons why our Prime Minister is doing his best to motivate the world to take concrete steps in that direction. According to a study conducted by the United Nations in 1989, "In India, the signs already back up forecasts that as the mercury rises the Indian subcontinent, home to one-sixth of humanity, will be one of the worst-affected regions." If an overpopulated, poverty stricken and industrialising country like India can voluntarily work towards curbing the effects of global warming and climate change, why can't others?
Within the Indian subcontinent, the northeastern region is likely to be the worst hit by any resulting catastrophe. The geographical features of the northeast make the region one of the first and the worst when it comes to the effects of global warming.
The factors that add to the susceptibility of the region may be listed as follows: (i) Its proximity to the Himalayas which house a large number of glaciers a source of origin for several rivers. (ii) The Bay of Bengal is drained by two major rivers (the Brahmaputra and the Ganges) and is surrounded by land on three sides. (iii) The tiny groups of islands that comprise Lakshadweep are relatively low-lying.
As is evident, the east coast of India is more vulnerable to the impact of climate change and the resulting rise in the sea level. This is not however to say that the west coast is entirely safe from the impending hazards. If the waters of the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea rose in level, the possible ramifications could be listed as follows: (i) A sudden and drastic increase in river volumes could cause flooding in the plains thus destroying villages and crops. (ii) Rise in temperature and sea level could affect the arrival of monsoons which would have a direct and adverse impact on the agricultural scenario. (iii) The islands around Sunder-bans are at a grave risk of being completely submerged. In fact, two small islands have reportedly disappeared over the past decade which is not good news for the ecosystem and wildlife of the area. (iv) Coastal villages, roadways and human habitats on the east coast are under threat and millions of people may have to be displaced even if the sea levels rose to about a meter (this is according to a study conducted by the Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1993). (v) The incidence and intensity of climate induced natural disasters like floods, cyclones and droughts are likely to increase. (vi) Rise in oceanic temperatures spells doom for the fragile ecosystems like coral reefs and other native species. More than 70 per cent of the corals around the Andaman and Nicobar islands have been killed due to changes in water temperature.
According to researchers and experts, if Bangladesh loses a part of its coastline owing to rising sea levels, it could mean grave trouble for northeastern states as it would possibly result in a large influx of immigrants into the region. Moreover, people in the NE region are primarily dependant on abundant rainfall for the cultivation of paddy and maize. Erratic rainfall patterns could affect agricultural produce, thus impacting the economy of the states.
Considering the statistics and risk factors, it is imperative that the people of India, especially the Northeast act fast and act smart. Small changes in our lifestyle and habits can go a long way in reducing greenhouse emissions and shrinking our carbon footprint. If all Indians pledge to unite against the effects of global warming, being an overpopulated country may actually prove to be an advantage!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IN OUR INTEREST
Just about every invention of the past decade contributed to the couch potato syndrome, which has led humans to assume proportions that are diametrically opposite to the diminishing specs of their favourite gadgetry. Indeed, the design mantra of the Noughties could be summed up as smaller, thinner, lighter.
That's how the leading gizmos of the decade have been: flat-screen TVs and iPods, mobile telephones and laptop computers, storage disks and pen drives. Amply aided by remote control consoles and keyboards, the average human now has to exert himself for only the most basic of functions, that too because so far no one has come up with anything smart enough.
Perhaps we should think of some new ways of preventing human degeneration into utterly sedentary creatures. Technology has to now save us from becoming easy prey for lifestyle diseases.
Thus, spectrum must be crammed so that mobile calls get routinely dropped, forcing people to make the effort to get off their chairs, travel and talk in person. Data services must be made so slow that emails and echats simply will not cut it any more: only physically making contact will do the trick.
Vehicles cannot get any smaller, cheaper or more economical so that rather than taking their dinky cars everywhere, people will use public transport and or walk rather than try to find suitable parking spaces and juggle rising fuel bills.
In fact, while they are at it, traffic conditions should not be improved so that people do not use any cars anyway. High-definition television and DTH cannot be taken to such levels that watching movies from the sofa become a better idea than hoofing it to the cinema hall. Electricity, gas and water cannot be guaranteed 24-hour services so that people don't become dependent on microwaved meals and washing machines, and stay limber for actual cooking and washing. Come to think of it, the simplest solution is: India!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
GOOD NEWS ON HYDEL
There's welcome action on the power front. NTPC, our main thermal generator, has inked a pact with Bhutan to construct a 600 mw reservoir-based hydel project on the Amo Chhu river, for cross-border sale of power.
The move promises to shore up hydro-electric potential in this decade, and so arrest the falling hydel-thermal ratio that has been dropping for years. India, after all, is committed to building hydel projects aggregating a capacity of 10,000 mw by 2020 in Bhutan.
For grid stability, the ideal hydel-thermal ratio is deemed to be 40:60; yet, by 2005, our hydel share was down to 26 per cent and currently would be lower still. Given that hydel capacity is ideal for high, 'peak' demand, at the least cost, we clearly need to step up hydropower.
The areas of high gradient, like Bhutan, are also ideal for hydel projects, with minimum submergence etc involved. Meanwhile, NHPC, our largest hydropower producer, has reportedly identified six hydel projects with a capacity of 10,000 mw in Arunachal Pradesh, of which 2,000 mw of capacity is under various stages of construction. The state has an estimated hydel potential of 50,000 mw but actual generation is a mere 400 mw. Also, NHPC is planning projects in Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim and Manipur.
Hydropower is renewable, non-polluting and inflation-free energy. What's required is proactive policy to coagulate funds and fast-forward construction. In parallel, we need adequate evacuation capacity and 'smart' grids for smooth offtake.
However, in the teeming plains of India, with an adverse land-man ratio, dams are best avoided unless the benefit-cost ratio is sufficiently attractive, as in the recently-completed Narmada project. The rapid depletion of groundwater is, sadly, pushing up the benefit-cost ratio of dams, however.
Estimates suggest that the potential for micro, mini and small (up to 25 mw) hydel projects is at least 15,000 mw pan-India, as much as a tenth of the installed base of generation of all types. For bigger projects, as in the Northeast, what's needed is close monitoring of implementation, say with a Planning Commission-identified taskforce. Project delays in hydel would be costly indeed. Concurrently, we need to follow through with distribution reforms to stem leakage and power theft.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
OVERHAUL LAWS TO TACKLE CRIME
The government has, after a year's delay since Parliament passed them, notified vital amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which would enable a victim to appeal against an outright acquittal or a milder penalty than is warranted, and also help speedy prosecution of sexual offences and otherwise help their female victims.
This is welcome. Now, the government should move on to notify two amendments that temper the police's powers of arrest and seek to remove flimsy adjournments of court proceedings, which have been kept in abeyance because of protest by lawyers and others.
India's legal infrastructure to deal with crime dates back to 1861, when the British first framed the Indian criminal procedure code. The law has been amended time and again, majorly in 1898 and then in 1973. But these amendments do not amount to complete overhaul of the kind a democratic polity needs.
Even now, prior permission of the state is required to prosecute a state functionary, a provision that allows corrupt civil servants and politicians to escape punishment, through patronage by those who control state power. Such provisions reflect the spirit of subordination of the populace to the ruling apparatus, of control, that was natural to a colonial dispensation. But these are wholly out of place in a democratic society in which supreme power rests with the people, the citizens.
As it is, how effectively laws operate however liberal the laws are, in themselves depends on the actual distribution of power between the people and the state. This distribution is pretty skewed in most parts of India (ask Ruchika's parents). On top of that, if the laws are themselves skewed in favour of the powerful, the end result would be anything but justice.
Governments are led by politicians, and they respond to things that are urgent, rather than important. Thanks to public outrage over the Ruchika case, the government has moved to notify the present amendments to the CrPC. We need overhaul of the laws, not such sudden swings from indifference to selective activism, catalysed by outrage. The aam aadmi deserves such serious commitment to reform.
A HAPPY NEW YEAR FOR THE CHINESE
It's the season when pundits traditionally make predictions about the year ahead. Mine concerns international economics: I predict that 2010 will be the year of China. And not in a good way.
Actually, the biggest problems with China involve climate change. But today I want to focus on currency policy.
China has become a major financial and trade power. But it doesn't act like other big economies. Instead, it follows a mercantilist policy, keeping its trade surplus artificially high. And in today's depressed world, that policy is, to put it bluntly, predatory.
Here's how it works: Unlike the dollar, the euro or the yen, whose values fluctuate freely, China's currency is pegged by official policy at about 6.8 yuan to the dollar. At this exchange rate, Chinese manufacturing has a large cost advantage over its rivals, leading to huge trade surpluses.
Under normal circumstances, the inflow of dollars from those surpluses would push up the value of China's
currency, unless it was offset by private investors heading the other way. And private investors are trying to get into China, not out of it. But China's government restricts capital inflows, even as it buys up dollars and parks them abroad, adding to a $2 trillion-plus hoard of foreign exchange reserves.
This policy is good for China's export-oriented state-industrial complex, not so good for Chinese consumers. But what about the rest of us?
In the past, China's accumulation of foreign reserves, many of which were invested in American bonds, was arguably doing us a favour by keeping interest rates low although what we did with those low interest rates was mainly to inflate a housing bubble. But right now the world is awash in cheap money, looking for someplace to go. Short-term interest rates are close to zero; long-term interest rates are higher, but only because investors expect the zero-rate policy to end some day. China's bond purchases make little or no difference.
Meanwhile, that trade surplus drains much-needed demand away from a depressed world economy. My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that for the next couple of years Chinese mercantilism may end up reducing US employment by around 1.4 million jobs.
The Chinese refuse to acknowledge the problem. Recently Wen Jiabao, the Prime Minister, dismissed foreign complaints: "On one hand, you are asking for the yuan to appreciate, and on the other hand, you are taking all kinds of protectionist measures". Indeed: other countries are taking (modest) protectionist measures precisely because China refuses to let its currency rise. And more such measures are entirely appropriate.
Or are they? I usually hear two reasons for not confronting China over its policies. Neither holds water.
First, there's the claim that we can't confront the Chinese because they would wreak havoc with the US economy by dumping their hoard of dollars. This is all wrong, and not just because in so doing the Chinese would inflict large losses on themselves. The larger point is that the same forces that make Chinese mercantilism so damaging right now also mean that China has little or no financial leverage.
Again, right now the world is awash in cheap money. So if China were to start selling dollars, there's no reason to think it would significantly raise US interest rates.
It would probably weaken the dollar against other currencies but that would be good, not bad, for US
competitiveness and employment.
So if the Chinese do dump dollars, we should send them a thank-you note.
Second, there's the claim that protectionism is always a bad thing, in any circumstances. If that's what you
believe, however, you learned Econ 101 from the wrong people because when unemployment is high and the government can't restore full employment, the usual rules don't apply.
Let me quote from a classic paper by the late Paul Samuelson, who more or less created modern economics: "With employment less than full... all the debunked mercantilistic arguments" that is, claims that nations who subsidise their exports effectively steal jobs from other countries "turn out to be valid". He then went on to argue that persistently misaligned exchange rates create "genuine problems for free-trade apologetics". The best answer to these problems is getting exchange rates back to where they ought to be. But that's exactly what China is refusing to let happen.
The bottomline is that Chinese mercantilism is a growing problem, and the victims of that mercantilism have little to lose from a trade confrontation.
So I'd urge China's government to reconsider its stubbornness. Otherwise, the very mild protectionism it's currently complaining about will be the start of something much bigger.
THE RELIGION OF CARBON
"I cried because I had no shoes. Then I saw a girl with Jimmy Choos... Which made me laugh, it was quite a treat
This poor girl had size 12 feet" From Dhoka Cola by Bachchoo
In distant happy days of school we were set physics experiments. I made a mess of Boyle's Law. We were each given the "apparatus" a pump contraption, scales, weights, a Bunsen burner, rulers, thermometers and other trappings. We were to heat and squeeze and measure the gas and note our readings in a table and from the readings generate a graph.
My experiment went grievously wrong. I think I heated the pump and cracked the glass and blithely went on recording my findings. The graph I produced looked like a Coca Cola bottle. I was in school what my daughter today would call a "nerd", academically efficient and always near about the top of my class and year.
The physics teacher was appalled. He said my results could be used to prove that apples shot straight from trees into the stratosphere, that I had managed to reverse the laws discovered by Boyle, Newton and Hook his sarcasm didn't stretch to the names of Einstein and Heisenberg.
The fellow whose tables and graph were perfection and paraded to the class was one Master X. (No, he wasn't a follower of Malcolm, I avoid naming him in case he is now an MP or minister and in some way dangerous.)
Master X was not normally very adept at academic things. He spent his time crafting deadly little darts out of old plastic toothbrushes and shooting these at random victims through ingenuously improvised miniature cross-bows made of wire and springs and things. Nevertheless, his triumph at Boyle led me to ask him how he had done it. He gave me the information in exchange for more toothbrushes stolen from my house. What you do, he said, is draw the graph first, then circle points and take down their numbers in the table. Work backwards.
"But how did you get the graph"? He looked at me as though I was an idiot.
"Copy it on tracing paper from the Senior Cambridge physics text book and smuggle it in your underwear into the lab"! This was a unique way of arriving at a scientific result and, of course, if everyone followed it, we would get a uniform and gratifying result.
I recall this tiny sin against science because I am more and more persuaded through diligent reading that a very much larger sin against science is being visited on the world in the shape of the global warming heresy. Yes, yes, yes, I know, and some of my best friends whom I am in danger of losing over the matter, believe that all that succeeding generations will inherit from us is stranded polar bears and the death of the planet. And yes, endorsed by the governments of the world Hillary and Barack himself! carbon-induced warming is now the religion of the enlightened. Great pilgrimages have been made to Kyoto and Copenhagen where the creed was read, where the dire warnings of the prophets of doom were overlooked or only partially heeded and the guilt of humanity for the final reckoning reinforced.
The momentum of the belief that carbon emissions cause global warming and that this will lead to the melting of ice caps, the rise of the sea level, flooding of continents, devastation of vegetation, destruction of the habitat of myriad species, tsunamis, earthquakes, the spread of malaria and viruses etc is almost unstoppable. As the decade ends, we have seen the first religion born of scientific data.
From a coterie of prophets who warned of disaster, the religion has grown with state support. Just as Christianity took off when Constantine accepted the faith and Buddhism when Ashoka realised the error of his ways and took to it, the Anthropogenic Global Warmingism (AGWism) has now acquired the status of the official religion of the United Nations.
And yet unlike any other religion, its fundamental beliefs are still examinable but have, I contend, been left unexamined.
It would be completely futile or suicidal to address the pilgrims to Mecca or to the Vatican or Lourdes or Gangotri that there isn't a God and they are labouring under a mass delusion. Not so with AGWism. The science of climate change may be very complex but it is still amenable to investigation. One can decide on a definition of the earth's temperature (and there seems to be no dispute about such a definition), on methods of recording it which are widely in use, and one can test their reliability. Then there is the question of factors affecting the rise and fall in such temperatures.
Can it be scientifically demonstrated that magnetic activity on the sun affects the shower of cosmic rays to the earth and that this affects global temperatures? Can it be demonstrated beyond doubt that the movements of ocean currents account for warming and cooling? How much do they contribute to change? Can it be demonstrated with reference to the entire history of the patterns of global temperatures, which can be fascinatingly discovered from geological, arboreal and other sources, that carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming and are the main cause of it?
There are also political questions associated with AGWism. Is it true, for instance, that the "consensus" of "2,500" "climate scientists" who believe in AGWism is, in fact, a clique of scientists from various disciplines (Dr Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, is a railway engineer) and non-scientists nominated by their governments and that hundreds of dissenting scientists have been kept out of the corridors of power and publication of this "consensus"? Is it true that US government spending on "climate-related" research has totalled $32.6 billion since 1989 with another $36.1 billion going into "climate-related" technologies from the US alone? Does this constitute a politico-financial capitalist lobby with a vested interest in the trade in "carbon credits", the buying and selling of the right to emit CO2 which it is estimated could eventually cost the world $10 trillion a year?
A country such as India, which at Copenhagen stated its own developmental needs and is not yet a dedicated convert to AGWism fundamentalism, has a duty to break with the IPCC consensus and attempt to answer the fundamental scientific questions around AGWism itself, with the wealth of data and unbiased neutral scientific evidence now available. As the AGWists said at Copenhagen, it may be too late, but something's better than nothing.
GIVE TOP PRIORITY TO FOOD INFLATION
A new decade has dawned with a heavy hangover of inflation on the food front, which soared to 19.8 per cent for the week ending December 12, despite expectations that it might wane due to a good rabi crop. The government's most immediate priority in 2010 will have to be dousing this inflationary trend and also managing the food economy efficiently. There is something desperately wrong for while the granaries are full, the farmer is not benefiting in any way as food prices keep rising. In Punjab, for instance, the farmer gets between Rs 12-15 for one kg of the Pusa variety of basmati rice, but when it reaches the consumer it costs Rs 100 per kg. So who is making money? Potatoes, which have seen the biggest price increase, sell for Rs 20 per kg in Mumbai while the farmer gets barely Rs 5 per kg. Even considering supply-side constraints, there appears little justification for such wide disparity in prices from the production to the retail end. Unless the government tackles the question of food prices, inflation will spread to other articles that in manufactured goods, for instance, is already witnessing a rise. While inflation is the most important issue, there are other priorities requiring urgent attention. Tax reform, creation of infrastructure both physical and in areas like health and education, and employment are perhaps the most crucial. It is imperative that the government sticks to implementing the new direct tax code, which replaces the existing 50-year-old one. The language and the whole structure needs to be simplified so that the taxpayer is able to file his annual return without the help of a chartered accountant. This would also eliminate multiple taxes. In addition, implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) should not be delayed any further. The other aspect of tax reform, which the government is already concerned about, are the multiple tax treaties that India has with close to 77 countries. These give a lot of scope for round-tripping, and in many cases the source of funds remains unknown. The government could also consider expanding the scope of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to enhance its outreach to include the vast army of unemployed in urban India. The NREGS, in addition, could also be oriented more towards asset creation. Infrastructure creation remains a major priority, and it has taken on a certain momentum. There is a long list of unfinished projects: bottlenecks must be tackled and new projects expedited as every single day's delay only escalates costs. The international situation needs to be watched carefully; for it will have a direct and substantial impact on our economy. If, for example, the American economy recovers, the price of crude could spiral upwards, and this will have an immediate impact on inflation particularly in India, which is heavily dependent on crude imports. This will also send the government's subsidy bill shooting up or, alternatively, result in a hike in fuel prices. On the other hand, if the US economy does not recover anytime soon, exports will languish and trade as an engine of growth will be stymied. The coming year will be a difficult one, which will call for some tough economic choices, but this is unavoidable if India is to continue on its path towards playing a major global role.
DELHI GETS TOUGH
RED SIGNAL TO THE LEFT FROM CHIDAMBARAM
WHEN Union home minister chooses the last day of the year to describe the situation in Lalgarh as "depressing'', it means that the Centre is far from convinced by what the chief minister has been saying to bail his government out of an awkward situation. It is significant that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee uses two sets of arguments to explain his government's persistent failure to cope with a situation in which Maoists have been targeting workers of his party. In West Bengal, he claims that Trinamul has been lending tacit support to extremists. The refrain has continued despite a confession by the state home secretary that the government has found nothing to indict the opposition. In Delhi, the chief minister sings a different tune. He talks of the "limitations of technology'' as being the main hurdle in the operation by the joint forces. The reference is to mobile phones used by the Maoist leader Kishenji to direct the operations which, the chief minister claims, do not indicate the spot from where he is operating. That Mr Chidambaram is far from convinced is evident. The state government can only draw from the lesson he wants to deliver, just a few days after Mr Bhattacharjee met the Prime Minister to explain his case.
Mr Chidambaram has reason to be perturbed by the duplicity as much as by the fact that the joint operation has been virtually of no avail in Lalgarh. While he has chosen to ignore Mamata Banerjee's repeated appeals to withdraw the joint operation which she describes as futile and oppressive, he may well ask the chief minister what the West Bengal police has done to lend the central forces the support they need to hunt down the killers. Even as he was expressing his disappointment, two workers of the CPI-M were being gunned down. It is easy for Alimuddin Street to find a quick answer to the question as to why a particular party is being targeted. The CPI-M deceives itself by refusing to believe that the real causes for the uprising lie elsewhere. The desperate measures to begin relief measures would have made sense if the Left Front had begun by acknowledging its failures on the development front. Since that would be politically suicidal, it has taken refuge in distorted arguments which Mr Chidambaram describes charitably as being "partially correct''. The truth is harsher than what the chief minister may like to accept. It is a red signal that he can only ignore at his own peril.
HILL & DALE
HOT AIR BLOWS ACROSS THE SNOWS
THE pitch for statehood appears to have been overshadowed in the raging confrontation in the hills of Darjeeling and the plains of Jalpaiguri. It is the sinister manifestation of inter-ethnic strife that threatens to bring large parts of North Bengal to a halt. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha must realise that the cause of statehood can only suffer a setback if its stormtroopers smash an ambulance and thrash the driver, as they did during Thursday's highway blockade. The likes of Bimal Gurung and Roshan Giri ought to be aware that the morcha runs the risk of losing whatever sympathy it may have aroused over such issues as economic exploitation by the State. Equally have the Bengali organisations in the Dooars and Siliguri behaved irresponsibly in a part of the state where tension rages an inch beneath the tenor of daily life and violence a further inch below tension. After a measure of progress in the recent tripartite talks on Darjeeling, the hills as much as the plains have become still more volatile. And there is an element of competitive frenzy in the recourse to agitprop. The GJMM's call for a bandh in its "Gorkhaland map", covering Siliguri and the Dooars on 2 January has been countered by the plains agitators with a three-day bandh. It is a different matter that the morcha's bandh call has been withdrawn after the government's assurance of tripartite talks.
The plains people are being still more reckless in trying to emulate the potentially dangerous Lalgarh model. Towards that end, a Janasadharaner Committee, so-called, has been formed obviously to whip up the provincial fervour against the ethnic group. The fact that both sides are determined to continue with the blockades reaffirms that disruptive agitation has taken precedence over negotiations that must be geared to a solution. The trends are portentous if both sides are intent on brewing a lethal cocktail of hill disenchantment, sub-regional jingoism, tribal disaffection and provincialism. The scenario gets murkier as hot air from the plains blows across the snows of the hills.
MR HATOYAMA'S VISIT
FAIRLY ENCOURAGING ECONOMIC OUTLOOK
QUITE the most critical aspect of the Japanese Prime Minister's recent visit to India was the reinforced commitment to economic cooperation. That Yukio Hatoyama, heading the country's Left-of-Centre coalition for the past four months, has endorsed several vital projects suggests a continuity of policy. Pre-eminently, these are the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, the $ 90 billion infrastructure project, the hi-tech rail freight corridor in addition to the assistance for Kolkata's East-West Metro. Neither country, to be sure, expected a forward movement in such weightier and sensitive segments as nuclear proliferation.
Its historical background being what it is, it was only to be expected that Mr Hatoyama would articulate Japan's anxiety over proliferation and urge India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Dr Manmohan Singh has been as diplomatic as he could be, shifting the onus onto the USA and China and focusing largely on civil nuclear cooperation. The Prime Minister has advanced a nuanced stand, making it clear that the scenario can change only if the USA and China ratify the CTBT. Matters nuclear, therefore, turned out to be of lesser moment than economic partnership on which both countries are clearly on firmer ground.
Besides China, India could emerge as a prime destination for Japanese foreign direct investment. Which presupposes the conclusion of an economic partnership agreement to boost bilateral trade and investment and cooperation on such global issues as climate change. The pact that has been concluded in Delhi has a remarkably wide canvas. The "New Stage of India-Japan Strategic and Global Partnership" will call for considerable pooling of resources and will entail a test of diplomacy to fructify. Not least because it covers such sensitive segments as security and counter-terror cooperation. The framework would seem to be in place as it envisages what the action plan calls a "2-plus-2 dialogue'' involving the external and defence ministries of both countries. Dr Singh has initiated the first move by mooting the proposal of atomic trade. If Mr Hatoyama has been non-committal on civil nuclear cooperation, let trade and industry get precedence for now. The prospects are fairly encouraging.
TWIN CHALLENGES BEFORE THE PROPOSED PRESIDENCY UNIVERSITY
BY SANJEEB MUKHERJEE
THE recent past of Presidency College has been the most ignominious period in its long history. From one of the best undergraduate colleges it has become just another government college. If the rise of the Left in
The history of setting up universities has been closely linked with the culture and politics of the Bengali bhadralok and not merely to the initiatives of British India. Visva-Bharati and Jadavpur universities were created under the impact of the nationalist movement. And contrary to popular belief,
After Independence, the successive Congress governments did not show any major interest in running or controlling the universities.
The politics of the CPI-M was part of a grand design; it planned to wrest control and exert its influence over all institutions and public spaces from the hands of what they described as the 'ruling classes'. Educational institutions, especially universities, were central to this long-term strategy and the government was able to turn the universities into the pocket borough of the CPI-M and its education cell. From professors to peons, from vice-chancellors to vice dens the writ of the party has been supreme. In the name of fighting elitism and democratising institutions, majoritarianism and mediocrity came to be the hallowed principles of universities. Loyalty to the party and party bosses was the sole test of competence and excellence.
GIVEN this record of the Left in the field of education, would it be safe to leave the future of Presidency College in their hands? Unless civil society and intellectuals intervene decisively
Presidency College was for long intellectually equipped to face the world and if it has to be transformed into a university this heritage should be its primary capital. The question of upgrading the college either to an autonomous institution or a university has arisen precisely to uphold the tradition of excellence that was its greatest asset. Its affiliation to
Two changes have come about in Presidency. First, like any other government college its teachers are liable to be transferred in a routine manner and through party channels. Second, with the devaluation of the West Bengal Education Service, better candidates prefer teaching in private colleges or universities rather than be at the mercy of the state and party bureaucracy. As a result, almost all the good teachers have left Presidency. Outstanding new recruits are seldom assigned to the college. This elementary fact rules out any continuity of the academic tradition except by a fresh process of selection. Even in its heyday, the college was a world class undergraduate institution with a large number of teachers fit to teach in any leading university. Its physical infrastructure, including the library, were strong enough to secure the status of a university.
Presidency always had tremendous potential and the efforts of a section of the faculty led to the setting up of the Indian Statistical Institute and the Bose Institute. If the institutional space of Presidency could accommodate them, it would have transformed itself into a world class university much earlier. So today if Presidency has to become a university it would have to explore the possibilities of tying up with some of these institutions.
Form where will
THE physical infrastructure is inadequate for a university. We need to take stock of the existing intellectual and physical resources available in
Second, we need to take a call on the question whether institutions, engaged entirely in research, ought to be funded by the government. Notably, the Institute of Development Studies Kolkata (IDSK), the Netaji Institute for Asian Studies, and the Centre for Archeological Training. The Indian Institute for Business Management and Social Welfare could also be a centre under
In the natural sciences there are some excellent centrally funded research institutes, pre-eminently the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science and the Bose Institute. At a time when the national government has come up with a plan to set up a dozen world class universities, civil society and intellectuals could persuade both the Centre and the state to join hands and convert them to form the post-graduate core of Presidency.
Such an arrangement will not pose legal problems as education is on the Concurrent list of the Constitution. The existing resources ought to be mobilised to set up the proposed world class universities.
The writer teaches in the Department of Political Science, University of Calcutta, and is an alumnus of Presidency College.
YEAR END CHILL
Public memory is myopic. It tends to see the recent, over the more distant, past. But sometimes, the events of the recent past do genuinely overshadow what went a little before. The year 2008 was one such year. All the major events that seemed to have had determining influences on the shape of contemporary history were clustered in the last three months of the year. At the end of November, there was an attack on India, even though the bullets flew and grenades burst only in parts of Mumbai. Terrorists coming from Pakistan attacked some of Mumbai's iconic buildings and killed innocent people. The violence exposed the failures of the intelligence agencies and an inept Union home minister had to step down. What was much more important was the fact that the attack led immediately to a heightening of tension between India and Pakistan. India is convinced that the Pakistan government is not taking adequate steps to eradicate terrorist outfits on its soil. India suspects that the ISI sponsors these outfits to act against India. The year ends in an atmosphere of chill between the two countries. The promise of a lasting peace is a receding horizon.
The sound of gunfire in Mumbai was preceded by the declining rustle of money. The Indian economy and the Indian stock exchange went into a downswing. The meltdown was caused by an unprecedented crisis in the global economy. The Indian economy, the optimists argue, has been saved from the worst effects because its fundamentals are strong. So India, the argument is, will register growth but not as high as was projected before the onset of the crisis. The pessimists hold that India is on the brink of a recession and no one can say when the bad cycle will end. The meltdown does not augur well for the New Year with threats of job and salary cuts, shrinkage of employment opportunities and resultant social unrest hovering over the country. The cookie has crumbled and the hope is that enhanced public expenditure will cement the bits and pieces together again.
Closer home, West Bengal saw the evaporation of hope when Ratan Tata announced in October that he was withdrawing the Nano project from the state. This decision was forced upon him by the irresponsible agitation launched by Mamata Banerjee at the site of the proposed Nano factory. The year was a bad one and there is no guarantee that 2009 will be better.
A SHODDY TIME
Flung at an American president on his way out of office, it was a pair of shoes that seemed to belie the recession shadowing the world. When the Iraqi journalist threw his "farewell kisses" at George W. Bush, he did so on behalf of the widows, orphans and those killed in Iraq during its occupation led by the United States of America. It immediately became the most symbolic gesture of the year, filling the world with glee, while just one of the shoes fetched an offer of $10 million from an inspired Saudi national. In 2008, this shoddy farewell came in the wake of worldwide celebration and hope as Barack Obama unmade centuries of racist history to make it to the world's most powerful job. Yet, during these last few weeks of transition from Mr Bush to Mr Obama, the latter remains an unknown. Mr Obama has been silent on the desperate battle raging between Israel and Gaza, as Israel vetoes international suggestions of a ceasefire and the Palestinian death-toll nears 400. Although his promise is to transform the US's role in tackling climate change, west Asia, Iraq and Afghanistan (where the US is trying to organize local militias in fighting the Taliban) are going to be his greatest challenges as the world watches.
Afghan unrest spilled over into Pashtun Pakistan, even as Islamabad elected a new government, while troops are getting ready in Iraq to come home to the US and Britain. The first democratic government in Nepal has put its newly unemployed king in his place, while Zimbabwe, together with Congo, Somalia and Sudan, continues to be ravaged by a brutal failure of democracy. Radovan Karadzic is under arrest, but Robert Mugabe is still at large as the democratic West looks on with postcolonial caution. Olympic triumphs, devastating earthquakes and adulterated milk have not deflected China's hostile attention from the Dalai Lama, who has made it clear during his recent European tour that he wants autonomy within China, and not independence, for Tibet. This will disappoint some who look up to him. As Bangladesh fills south Asia with optimism after elections, members of the National League for Democracy were arrested in Rangoon, just a few days ago, for demanding the release of Aung San Suu Kyi; her house arrest has been extended for another year, as she completes 12 years of detention. And the Pope continues to believe that protecting the earth from homosexuality is quite as important as saving the rainforests.
IT WAS NOT AT ALL EASY
THE GREATEST MAKER OF MODERN THEATRE
NOTEBOOK -IAN JACK
The news of Harold Pinter's death came on Christmas Day. He was 78. It wasn't unexpected. Cancer of oesophagus had been diagnosed eight years ago and the treatments plus several other illnesses had weakened him in the time since. Still, it was a sad surprise. However fragile Pinter came to look, with his walking stick and soft shoes and the little cap he wore to compensate the loss of his hair, he had an aura that seemed indestructible. Very few people have such self-belief. It was awesome to behold, and sometimes frightening to encounter.
It doesn't do to speak ill of the dead de mortuis nil nisi bonum, the Romans said so the obituaries passed over or euphemized this aspect of his character. His biographer, Michael Billington, alluded to "a reputation for being short-tempered" in The Guardian as though Pinter was merely irritable. His rages were much more primeval. The late Simon Gray, who was perhaps Pinter's closest friend, described them eloquently in his memoirs. "When he becomes angry the eyes become milky, the voice a brutal weapon that is virtually without content. What I mean is that he speaks violently, really violently. His voice is like a fist driving into you, but he uses almost no words, three or four at most 'shit', 'fuck' and 'I' are the ones you hear [the rest are] dark and ugly sounds incomprehensible because not intended to be comprehended except as dark and ugly sounds, and full of eloquence therefore."
As a reporter and then an editor, I met Pinter occasionally. Then, through my friendship with Simon, I began to see him more frequently. I was always rather careful and he was always very charming. Then, last May, a dinner was organized for the publication of a book by Simon, as it turned out the last volume of his memoirs to be published during his lifetime. As I had to make a little speech, I turned up early. Pinter arrived soon after and stood on the outside of our little crowd, talking to nobody. I went over and thought I heard him grunt some words like "How are you?"
"Fine," I said. "How are you?"
"I didn't ask you that question," Pinter said. "I never ask people that question. It's a bloody stupid question."
There was nothing I could say. I prepared to wait out the storm.
"How are you? How are you? What an insufferably silly question," Pinter continued, bleating the phrase as though it were Baa-baa black sheep. "Sometimes I come into my office in the morning and I hear my secretary on the phone saying, 'Fine, thank you,' and I know the stupid question she's just been asked." His voice was turning into its familiar bark. "Why do people say it? Why? Such a pointless and ignorant question."
A few people had gathered around us by now, spectators to the car crash. One of them, the novelist, Howard Jacobson, came to my aid. "Oh, come on Harold, it's just a little social grease, helps make the wheels go round," Howard said.
"Really? Do think you so?" Pinter said. "Well, I don't. Bloody stupid question. I never ask it and I don't expect people to ask it of me. Where's my chair?"
A chair was found. The great playwright and Nobel laureate sat down. Slightly dazed by the assault (though it was only a mild one by Pinter's standards), I wondered how harmony was to be reintroduced. And then a small miracle happened. My wife came forward and knelt at his feet. She'd been talking to a couple of women elsewhere in the room when Pinter came in and telling them how much she admired him as a playwright. The women said she should tell him that, he'd be pleased, and my wife, who had never met him, said she couldn't possibly, but the women prevailed and so there she was, sitting suddenly at his feet and looking up and saying (so she told me later), "I was doing the ironing and listening to the BBC News when I heard you'd won the Nobel prize, and I put down the iron and cheered."
I couldn't hear my wife saying this. All I could tell was that Pinter had heard something that had utterly changed his mood, so that he now sat like a benign pope, listening and smiling to a supplicant in a pretty dress who was expressing her forthright (and sincere) admiration for his genius. The situation had been retrieved. We all went in to dinner. We ate and drank and I made my little speech, never turning to look at Pinter (whom I felt would certainly not be laughing). He was on the same side of the table and only a seat away. Over the coffee, I heard him saying to the woman between us, "How are you? How are you? Isn't that a bloody silly question?" I thought then not an original thought that Pinter's plays are often most easily explicable as a display of the playwright's character; the sinister interrogations, the menace behind apparently innocent remarks, the capricious switches in mood, the brute power wielded over the weak he found all these things in himself and then put them on stage, brilliantly.
His plays are what we should remember him for. His anti-American politics may have helped win him the Nobel the Swedish Academy is America-phobic but to my mind they represented just as black-and-white a division of the world as George W. Bush's. No shades of grey. The US was always an instrument of evil and never of good, and you don't need to be an apologist for Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Guantanamo Bay to see raging emotion at work here rather than reason. In any case, what were Pinter's politics if you exclude his loathing of the US? To be fair, he spoke up for human rights everywhere, for imprisoned writers and victims of torture. But his opinions on less dramatic but more intractable problems remained unknown, at least to me. Economic globalization, the National Health Service, taxation, poverty: I never heard him speak of them. It would be hard to call him a 'socialist', no matter how much he may have disliked Mrs Thatcher. His reputation as a political writer came late, when he was in his fifties and sixties, and it owed more to his personal protest at American foreign policy than anything to be found in his plays.
And then of course there was his poetry. When personal about cricket or his cancer it was never less than interesting, but it became comically splenetic when the US was in the frame. His celebrity guaranteed publication of the briefest and crudest poem so long as it had his name attached to it. He would write the poem furiously, sometimes over a drink on a table napkin, and fax it off to newspapers, where editors would smile or scratch their heads and put it on the front page. I sometimes wondered if he realized how he was being mocked, and I was told no he didn't, he was like Picasso in his last years, believing that his own signature elevated the simplest pencil marks to the level of genius. "Why does he hate America?" a friend of mine said. "Probably because it's more powerful than he is."
But, de mortuis nil nisi bonum, my last memory of Pinter is different. Our friend Simon Gray died in August and the funeral was arranged in a church near his home in Holland Park, west London, where Pinter also lived. Pinter was frail now, and had to be helped to the pulpit, where he climbed the steps slowly and then read aloud a passage from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. He spoke gravely and clearly; if nobody understood the poem's mystery, that was Eliot's fault rather than Pinter's. Then the mourners walked to Pinter's house for the wake, the funeral drinks, which had been generously organized by Pinter's wife, Lady Antonia Fraser.
It was a lovely August day. The party spilled from the house into the garden. People drank wine and fondly remembered their friend. As I was leaving, threading my way through the flower pots, Mrs Pinter called over and asked me to sit beside Harold for a while at their big garden table. I think her husband may even have patted the empty chair. I steeled myself: "How are you?" mustn't escape my lips. "That was a terrific reading you gave in church," I said. "Really tremendous." "Yes, and it wasn't easy you know," Pinter said, looking at me firmly. "I can imagine how hard it must have been for you." "Not easy, not at all easy," Pinter said. There was just a tiny suggestion in his tone that I hadn't quite grasped the difficulty of it, but after that things began to go very well. There were some wasps hovering over the table, which led to a conversation about wasps as they appeared in a play it might have been one by Simon Gray. Pinter remembered how two characters are trying to get the right word for what wasps do: sting or bite? One character says finally, "No, they suck." Pinter relished the word as he spoke it making sucking sound the most evil thing. A young man sat down next to us, quite drunk, and suggested pompously that the wasp business in the play was metaphorical, didn't Pinter agree? I waited apprehensively for the worst 'red rag' and 'bull' were words that occurred to me but Pinter replied quietly that no, he thought not. That was all. He sat in the sun for a few minutes more and then went carefully indoors for his afternoon nap. In that moment he was the epitome of gentleness. That quality, too, can be found in his plays. Every aspect of his strange self is inside them, and therefore of our strange selves. With his death the world has lost its greatest maker of modern theatre.
NEED FOR A REALITY CHECK
FIFTH COLUMN -SUMANTA SEN
Mention 'tribals' and most people would conceive the picture of an impoverished people who survive by doing odd jobs or hunting with bows and arrows. This mental picture has not changed, and it also includes images of pots of home-made liquour and young girls with magic in their eyes and a smile on their lips.
These days, the picture also comprises another component: militancy. The general impression is that after years of deprivation, the tribals have now decided to take up arms and are willing to respond to calls for an armed uprising. The Santhal revolt against the British is often cited as an example in this context. The renaming of Esplanade East as Sidhu Kanu Dahar has been an attempt on Calcutta's part to immortalize that incident. But what is the reality on ground?
Some time ago, a lot of noise was made about starvation deaths in Amlashol in West Bengal. A team of Opposition leaders made it to the village, expecting the tribals to talk of hunger and misery. But what they demanded most was a school for their children. A totally impoverished people cannot have time to bother about education, and the Amlashol residents were certainly not so much of an exception as to put the mind before the stomach. Economic deprivation in varying degrees is a part of life in this country, and the tribals are not the only ones to feel the pinch. Tears are also shed over reports that tribals are surviving on mango kernels and rats. If the Naga or the Mizo tribal has no qualms about eating dogs, why should tribals in the plains not eat something that has been a part of their traditional menu? Indeed, the conditions in tribal hamlets today are far removed from what they were 30 years ago.
What is often not realized is that over the years, tribal society has also witnessed the emergence of a new, affluent class. The majority of tribals may find themselves outside this class, but they have something to aspire to within their social framework. So they see no reason for that framework to be disturbed, and in this, they are at one with the rest of the Indians. This is what Maoists do not seem to realize. Perhaps their perverse politics stands in the way.
Unfortunately, authorities also fail to appreciate this reality. If tribals give vent to anger over certain issues, the administration shows a tendency to get unduly rattled. The tribals want to be a part of the society but the latter have problems with this. One had noticed this in Tripura after the riots in 1980, and it took the Marxist leadership years to bridge the gap. Consequently, in the last elections, the number of tribal seats held by the Opposition was only one. In Chhattisgarh and in Tripura, the tribals said 'no' to calls for chaos and did not opt for an uncertain change.
Anger is natural in a society which gives cause to it. Tribal societies are not an exception in this regard. But there is no indication that tribals are prepared to take the ultimate plunge, no matter what practitioners of pulp fiction or armchair radicals may write or preach. Those seeking to fish in troubled waters in Lalgarh or Belpahari would do well to take a look at the Tripura Upajati Yuba Samaj experience.
THE IMAGINATION AND ITS STRANGE FRUIT
What if...? This is one indulgence that costs nothing. Four of The Telegraph's regular columnists tweak the past to find out if the New Year would look any different If one is dabbling with might-have-beens, why be mean and stick to a single possibility? This is one indulgence that costs nothing, so let's be lavish and consider a whole bunch of things that the good fairy might cause to happen in the New Year. Or crank the time machine to make them happen in times past.
What if the Indian army had marched into Tibet in 1962, for instance, instead of fleeing helter-skelter into Assam, or Saddam Hussein given the Americans a bloody nose in 2003? Would India have returned captured Chinese territory in the sacred name of Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai or victorious Iraq invaded and annexed a defeated US like another Kuwait?
As for 2009, what if the UN declares Pakistan's ISI a terrorist organization? Or the two warring Bangladeshi women abandon the pretence of being Raziya Begums and return to household chores like the middle-class, middle-aged ginnis they really are? What if Nepal's Maoist party proves it is royalist-ridden (as Prachanda complains) by restoring ex-King Gyanendra?
Nearer home, would the shock of Subhas Chakraborty shedding his hat silence raucous vehicle horns and drive 35,000 autos into the oblivion where humbler rickshaws are rusting? What if Dalits and OBCs denounce the crutch of reservation, and reinvented Mamataa Banerjee, basking in the glory of that additional 'a', demands a ban on bandhs? Might the Nano return then to the womb in which it was conceived? What if all public servants in Bengal report for duty on time, stay the full day's course and discharge all their duties without grumbling or demanding bribes? What, for instance, if newspapers abandon trivia and return to serious news?
It would be a new world. But it's all wishful thinking. As my mother used to say, "If stands stiff in the corner."
Sunanda K. Datta-Ray
SPINNING THE WHEEL
.but to say so at the time would have drawn insults ranging from 'fantasist' to 'lunatic', enquiries would have poured forth as to what substances, legal or illegal, this writer had been ingesting and so on. However, life throws the craziest dice, wilder than anything I or anyone else could have predicted and so, here we are. One can now state it for the undeniable reality it was and is: the last-minute compromise on Singur, the so-called 'thieves pact' between the Left Front, Mamata-mool and the then newest son of Bengal 'Roton' de Tata led to a meltdown of power-structure as has never before been seen in independent India; it left the Left Front completely naked, clutching their greed; it terminally exposed Ms Banerjee for the shrill but cynical opportunist she has always been, and it was a (not that) early signal as to where Profiteers.Inc themselves were headed about to drive off the cliff-edge at high speed with only shreds of rubber clinging to their tyre-rims; it drew a genuine protest from the people of Bengal, local at first, then in expanding pockets and then in a viral that went state-wide. I know I am repeating well-digested events but it still feels good to say it: if the collapse of the state government and its party's power-tentacles was satisfyingly startling, the disintegration of Trinamool and Iron Mashima was equally rewarding to witness; but the best, of course, was the emergence of a genuine third option the rag-tag Coalition of the Unexpected that took oath a month after Barack Obama was sworn in was thrown up out of the pressure-cooker Bengal had been for nearly a decade preceding, and nothing, not the 26/11 Bombay attacks, not the low-level 'Election War' against Pakistan begun by the Congress, not the almost-implosion of Bangladesh, nothing, thankfully, came in the way of the new government treating the situation in Bengal for the very different and critical war it was, nothing stopped them from taking the people along with them for one of the biggest, quickest and most radical of social and political clean-ups the sub-continent has witnessed. At the time I'd wanted to dub it the 'Spinning Wheel Revolution'. Cautious good sense had stopped me then from publishing this coinage, but now the time for certain kinds of caution and certain kinds of good sense is past and I can say it out in loud print.
BORDERING ON DISTRESS
If Kasab and his comrades hadn't attacked Bombay, Pakistan would have escaped the trauma brought on by India's vicious response. President Zardari wouldn't have had to suffer the tedium of having to labour the obvious: that terror knows no nationality, terrorists are non-state actors, Pakistan is a State, therefore terrorists can't be Pakistani. The world would have been spared the vapourings of literal-minded Western newspapers, which established to their own stupid satisfaction that Kasab and his friends lived and trained in Pakistan. Their investigations merely proved the existence of dangerous non-state actors described in the census as resident non-Pakistanis (RNPs). Finally, the Indian cricket team would have toured Pakistan, played gripping Test matches in empty stadiums, and won the hearts of the millions of Pakistanis not watching them play. They would have had the pleasure of being hosted by the director general of Pakistani cricket (the protocol equal of the director general of the ISI), Javed Miandad, otherwise famous for having married his son to the daughter of that celebrated non-resident Indian, Dawood Ibrahim, who the Indian State insists lives in Karachi, but who, as every reasonable man knows, is a non-resident non-Pakistani (NRNP). To sum up, if India hadn't brought these terror attacks upon itself, Pakistan wouldn't have suffered.
What if Lal Bahadur Shastri had not died unexpectedly of a heart attack in Tashkent in January 1966? When he was named prime minister in succession to Jawaharlal Nehru, most people thought he could never quite fill those outsized shoes. Shastri was a little man, and also a quiet man. Yet his understated character masked a fierce intelligence, personal integrity, a high degree of political courage, and a vision for India's future. In his first months in office he shifted his most capable Minister, C. Subramanian, from the steel to the agriculture ministry and helped him lay the seeds of the Green Revolution. He started loosening state controls over the economy, and urged businessmen to be more efficient and innovative. Then, in the next year, he led India bravely and successfully in a war forced on us by Pakistan.
Shastri was a Gandhian in his personal life, and a Nehruvian in his inclusive idea of India. But he was also his own man, whose actions as Prime Minister in 1964 and 1965 showed that he knew how to consolidate Nehru's policies when required, but depart from them when necessary. His death was a tragedy for his family, for the Congress party and for India. Had he lived another five or ten years, India's economic surge may have begun in the 1970s itself. Given his interest in agriculture, the surge may have been more inclusive than it has recently been. Had he lived that long, we would not have had the Emergency, or the capture of the once great Congress party by a single family. Nor, given his principled commitment to Hindu-Muslim harmony, would we have had the rise to influence of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Had Shastri not died in 1966, Sanjay Gandhi would have ended life as a failed auto mechanic. And Rajiv Gandhi would still be alive, indulging his passion for photography from his hard-earned Indian Airlines pension, and showing his photos to his loving wife and his non-political children.
''JAPAN IS COMMITTED TO STRONG TIES WITH INDIA.''
For over a decade now, India and Japan have both desired to leave behind the indifferent relationship of the Cold War era and develop a strong and vibrant bilateral partnership. There has, however, been a major obstacle to overcome. Being the only country to suffer the devastating nuclear attack, Japan has found it very hard to accept India's de facto nuclear power status since 1998. On its part, Delhi has appreciated the Japanese position and tried to convince it that India would always be ready to join any meaningful, universal, non-discriminatory global nuclear disarmament initiative. The Japanese leadership hasn't really accepted the Indian position. And yet, this has provided it a basis for convincing public opinion back home and secure popular support for transforming Japan-India relations.
As a result, the bilateral relations have moved a long way in the last few years. That Tokyo is committed to build a strong partnership with India was evident when Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama undertook a three-day visit to the country earlier this week. The visit underscored a strong political consensus in Japan on ties with India. For one, Hatoyama, who led his Democratic Party of Japan to a stunning election victory just four months ago, has reaffirmed the India policy of the predecessor Liberal Democratic Party. That he chose to visit India within four months of assuming charge is a clear pointer that his government intends to move faster on the India front.
The two countries have already unveiled a common vision for the relationship. It envisages a global strategic partnership between the two countries. It involves a vibrant people-to-people level contact and expanded cooperation in economic, political and defence fields. Hatoyama's engagement with the captains of Indian industry in Mumbai ahead of his political engagements in Delhi is a clear pointer to Tokyo's focus on expanding economic and trade ties with India. Significantly, Japan was the single largest foreign investor in India in 2009. There is immense scope for Japan to enter India's promising civil nuclear energy sector which is being opened up in a big way for foreign investment. Hatoyama appeared willing to bring the civil nuclear item as an agenda on the bilateral negotiating table. With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh adopting a conciliatory approach on the nuclear disarmament issue, including India's position on the controversial Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the two sides could be closer to overcoming the nuclear hurdle in the bilateral ties.
''SOREN'S GOVT WILL NOT INSPIRE ANYBODY.''
Jharkhand's newly sworn-in chief minister Shibu Soren has the fickle history of governments in the state, the opportunism of his allies and his own tainted reputation to contend with in his bid for survival and stable office. The Soren government is the seventh in the state's nine years of existence and none of them completed its full term. Soren himself is doing his third stint. Both his previous terms were short-lived the first time he did not secure a majority in the Assembly and the second time he lost the election to become a member of the Assembly. This time also he has to win an Assembly election in six months. Soren wanted to become the chief minister at any cost. When the election threw up a fractured mandate, he declared that his party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, would join any party to form the government.
The BJP was equally desperate after a string of losses and setbacks. Its alliance with the JMM is an act of crass opportunism. The BJP and the other parties in the alliance, the All Jharkhand Students' Union and the JD(U), had attacked the JMM bitterly during the campaign and painted Soren as one of the country's most tainted politicians. Now the rationale for the alliance is that the Congress also had kept Soren's company, even though he was known to be corrupt. It is unfortunate that a politician who is a living symbol of criminality and corruption is an acceptable leader for parties which claim lofty traditions or high political morality.
Soren's legal problems are not over. He was once convicted in a murder case. Though he was acquitted later, the case is still being pursued in the supreme court. There are other criminal cases against him, at different stages and in many courts. No one would hope that a person of Soren's background would provide good, clean and efficient administration to a state that has sorely lacked it. Jharkhand is among the country's richest states but its people are among the poorest. Large areas of the state are controlled by the Maoists. A new government generally starts on a note of hope, but the Soren government will not inspire anybody, either with the politics that went into it or with the personalities that are part of it.
A DOOMED REGION
SOUTH ASIA HAS THE LARGEST NUMBER OF POOR AND THE ILLITERATE IN THE WORLD. VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS ARE IN THOUSANDS.
BY KULDIP NAYAR
When I longingly look at Europe having one visa, one currency (euro), stronger than dollar, and one parliament to reflect on the decisions taken by individual parliaments, my eyes woefully go to South Asia which is nowhere near normalisation, much less cohesion. It is wracked by internal conflicts and outer dangers. The two main countries, India and Pakistan, are not even on speaking terms. The limited trade between Srinagar and Muzzafarabad was suspended a few days ago.
Not that the European countries, 27 of them, did not quarrel. They had, in fact, wars for hundreds of years and killed thousands of nationals of one another. But they were ultimately seduced by the idea of conciliation and cooperation which has brought them prosperity and stability.
But South Asia remains stagnant. It does not map tidily onto progress for their peoples. It is still stuck in distrust and disruption. Its leaders, leave apart the founders, have never risen above their pettiness and parochialism. It seems that countries in the region realised at one time that they could benefit through friendship and founded the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). But their ego and enmity towards one another are so strong that they have not allowed the institution to function. They simply cannot cast off their animosity to begin a new chapter.
The result is that South Asia has the largest number of poor and the illiterate in the world. Child mortality is the highest. Violations of human rights are in thousands. And the infrastructure that the governments should have built is the weakest. Whatever they earn they spend on armaments the deadlier, the better. And they have enacted so many draconian laws in the name of security that they have even encroached upon the space of individual freedom.
What the rulers in the region do not realise is that governance has to be not through the police or the paramilitary forces, but through the willing consent of the people.
Development is the key. The more people are better off, the lesser would be the tension.
India's GDP is increasing by eight to nine per cent per year. But when 70 per cent of its people and states like Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and eastern UP do not have enough even to afford two square meals, what does growth mean? The fallout has been the larger sway of Maoists who believe in armed struggle to free the masses from poverty. In Pakistan, particularly in Punjab, the growth of Talibanisation has been primarily due to dire poverty. Those wallowing in it have come to believe that fundamentalism is the only solution to their problems.
The menace of the Taliban can be fought provided the army is focused and supported by the joint front of political parties. But the Muslim League (Nawaz) has its eyes fixed on some gain from the turmoil. I was disappointed by Nawaz Sharif's latest speech which deprecated the Asif Zardari government for not making amendments to the constitution to make it more democratic, but did not have a word against the Taliban. He cannot ride two horses at the same time.
In Nepal, the government feels that it can reap a rich harvest if it plays the China card against India. The Nepalese prime minister has visited Beijing in the belief that if Kathmandu were to introduce a new factor, China, in its affairs it would end New Delhi's dictation. The real malady is that different political parties have not learnt how to behave in a democratic set-up.
CHINA AS BIG BROTHER
In fact, the point of concern for South Asia is the manner in which China is trying to act as a Big Brother in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and even Bangladesh. Islamabad is already on Beijing's side. However, some countries in the region wash off their hands with the argument that it is New Delhi which should worry because China's strategy is to surround India. Yet Beijing's real ambition is to dominate the region, which is pursuing a different culture and is striving to establish a society that remains democratic, without following a doctrinaire line.
The responsibility of unleashing the forces of destruction lies on the eight SAARC countries. Terrorism was the genie which the Pakistan government brought out from the bottle. Many gullible people still believe that the Taliban only want true Islam to come back. Does it mean the killing of the innocent and the denial of right to education and freedom to women?
New Delhi has released the Frankenstein of balkanisation by issuing its fiat at midnight that the government is proposing to take measures for creating the state of Telangana. The Manmohan Singh government's flip-flop has reignited fires of individual identity throughout the country. Already in schools of some of the states songs exalting the regional idea have been introduced into textbooks. History books taught in lower classes have disclosed a marked tendency to exaggerate past achievements of the dominant linguistic groups. The government may rue the day when it announced the formation of Telangana because it has led to a sense of frustration, with grave consequences, if similar demands are not met.
In Pakistan, there is a demand for autonomy by Baluchistan, the North Western Frontier Province and Sind. It looks as if the country faces a real danger of disintegrating. In contrast, Bangladesh has consolidated itself through a democratic government. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has retrieved the disturbed Chittagong Hill Tract by giving it more authority. Decentralisation of power is the only way to keep nations together. No country in the region seems to realise this. I hope that Sri Lanka has learnt the lesson.
Otherwise, other elements from among the Tamils may rise and constitute themselves into another LTTE to demand for the right to rule themselves.
Busy as they are in politicking, which only means power and corruption, governance in South Asia is practically non-existent. There is a nexus of politicians, the police and bureaucrats. India, although more democratic in the region, has small fires of defiance burning all over. More stringent measures, which are the only mantra that Home Minister P Chidambaram has learnt, may build up resistance. This is a lesson for the rest of South Asia.
If countries in the region had a common union, they would have together fought some of the challenges they face terrorism and backwardness. But they would rather shoot at their neighbours than cooperate. Cooperation may help the countries to extinguish the prairie fires, a la Che Guevara, raging within. At present, the countries are wasting all their energies in harming one another. This is the reason why South Asia remains a doomed region.
QUEST FOR HAPPINESS
HAVING LIVED A REASONABLY CONTENTED LIFE, I WAS MUSING OVER WHAT A PERSON SHOULD STRIVE FOR TO ACHIEVE HAPPINESS. I DREW UP A LIST OF A FEW ESSENTIALS WHICH I PUT FORWARD FOR READERS' APPRAISAL.
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
First and foremost is good health. Any ailment, however trivial, will deduct something from your happiness.
Second, a healthy bank balance. It need not run into crores but should be enough to provide for creature comforts and something to spare for recreations eg: eating out, going to the pictures, travel and holidays on the hills or by the sea. Shortage of money can be only demoralising. Living on credit or borrowing is demeaning and lowers one in one's own eyes.
Third, a home of your own. Rented premises can never give you the snug feeling of a nest which is yours for keeps that a home provides: If it has garden space, all the better. Plant your own trees and flowers, see them grow and blossom, cultivate a sense of kinship with them.
Fourth, an understanding companion, be it your spouse or a friend. If there are too many misunderstandings they will rob you of your peace of mind. It is better to be divorced than to bickering all the time.
Fifth, lack of envy of those who have done better than you in life. Envy can be very corroding; avoid comparing yourself with others.
Sixth: do not allow people to descend on you for gup-shup. By the time you get rid of them, you will feel exhausted and poisoned by their gossip-mongering.
Seventh: Cultivate some hobbies which fulfil you: gardening, reading, writing, painting, playing or listening to music, going to clubs or parties to get free drinks or to meet celebrities is criminal waste of time.
Eighth: Every morning and evening devote 15 minutes to introspection. In the morning ten minutes should be spent in stilling the mind and five in listing things you have to do that day. In the evenings, five minutes to still the mind again and ten to go over what you had undertaken to do.
Nathaniel Cotton (1721-1788) summed up my views on the subject in one verse:
If solid happiness we prize,
Within our breast this jewel lies;
And they are fools who roam:
The world has nothing to
From our own selves our joys must flow
And that dear hut, our home.
I am not a humble man. I am not cowed down by men in powerful positions or of great wealth. But I do feel humble when I meet people who dedicate their lives to looking after sick or needy humans and animals. On her death anniversary (August 31).
I recalled the three days I spent with Mother Teresa in Calcutta over 40 years ago. We walked through crowded streets, rode in trams to visit her various hospitals, creches for abandoned children and home for the dying. I wrote a humble tribute to her for the 'New York Times' and put her picture on the cover of 'The Illustrated Weekly of India'. Till then she was little known outside Calcutta; after that more people got to know about her work. She sent me a short note of thanks. I have it in a silver frame in my home in Kasauli.
It was the same with Bhagat Puran Singh. I heard of his Pingalwara (Leper Home) in Amritsar and persuaded members of my family charitable trust to donate a block for boarding patients. Dr Manmohan Singh, then finance minister, inaugurated it. Whenever I think of Bhagat Puran Singh, I feel humble.
Though I have no respect for Maneka Gandhi as a politician, I give her full credit for being the first Indian to make her countrymen aware of their duty to protect animals. She has done more for them than anyone else I know.
There are quite a few people living near me who do their bit by animals and humans: There was Bheem Varma of Coach Behar (nephew of Maharani Gayatri Devi) who spent his evenings going round feeding stray dogs. After he died, his wife Reeta Devi took on the job. In addition she now runs two mobile clinics one donated by Kapil Sibal, the other by Sir Elton John which go round different parts of the city with doctors, nurses and medicines to treat sick people free of charge. She has been promised more mobile clinics, one by the Poddars, another by the Ansals. In a couple of months she will be running four mobile hospitals treating over 2,000 people a day.
My niece Veena Balwant Singh now spends her entire day taking packets of food and medicines round many parts of New Delhi to feed and medicate stray dogs. That costs a lot of money. A friend of hers has pitched in to share half the expenses. In the evenings she runs into Parveen Talha of the Union Public Service Commission who also feeds stray dogs in Lodhi Gardens before she goes home for the night. I have known her for over 20 years, but never knew of her love for animals.
There must be thousands of such kindly men and women for whom taking care of sick, hungry humans and animals is a sacred duty. I don't do any such thing, only write about them. But I do feel humble in their presence.
LESSON OF THE NEW YEAR
FOR THE OLD MAN, WHAT HE DID CAME NATURALLY TO HIM.
BY MALA KUMAR
The excesses of the night, or should I say, early morning, had had their toll. 'Coffee,' our cocker spaniel, had hogged some of the cake and pasta that we had made to usher in the new year, and he wanted to eat grass to make his tummy feel better. So while most of our neighbours snoozed and made up for lost sleep, we were out in the sun, looking for grass on the sidewalks. The winter sun seemed harsher today on my sleep-deprived eyes.
That's when we met an old man, in the next lane. He was dropping dried leaves into a place close to the two saplings he had planted some months back. I was sure he had just planted a third sapling and was camouflaging it to prevent goats and cows from chewing it up.
"New sapling for the new year, is it, 'thatha'?" I asked him. He continued to dig quietly, not able to hear me. Then I bent down and asked him what he was doing. "Just making a compost pit," he replied. "You see, that is a mango tree, and this is a jackfruit tree. Compost will be good for these trees."
So there, in hot afternoon on new year's day, I got my first little lesson of the year in management: It isn't enough to start new projects, it's more important to sustain existing ones.
For a minute I wondered why the old man was caring for trees whose fruits he would never live to eat. I didn't ask him, and so he did not give me a sermon on why we need to be 'good,' why we need to grow trees for the next generation, how the fruits of labour are sweeter than the fruits themselves, how it is only ours to do and not to expect the fruits, and so on.
Instead, the nonagenarian went on gathering dried leaves from here and there to feed the compost pit. 'Coffee' had had his fill of green grass and wanted to get back home to catch up on lost sleep. For him, and for the old man, what they did came naturally.
Being good... isn't that the most natural way to be?
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHY DIDN'T THEY SEE IT?
It will take some time before all the facts about the Christmas Day terrorism plot are known and analyzed. One thing is already clear: The government has to urgently improve its ability to use the reams of intelligence it receives every day on suspected terrorists and plots. That was supposed to have been addressed after the infamous "failure to connect the dots" before the 9/11 attacks. The echoes of the earlier disaster in this near-disaster are chilling.
There were plenty of clues about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow a hole in the side of Northwest Flight 253. But no one in the vast (and vastly expensive) intelligence and homeland security bureaucracy put them together.
In May, Britain refused to renew Mr. Abdulmutallab's visa and put him on a watch list. In August, the National Security Agency overheard leaders of an Al Qaeda branch in Yemen discussing a plot involving a Nigerian man. In November, Mr. Abdulmutallab's father, a respected banker, warned the American Embassy in Abuja (he even met with an official of the Central Intelligence Agency) that his son was being radicalized and had disappeared in Yemen.
The son was put on the least-restrictive American watch list one that flagged him for future investigation. His plane ticket to Detroit was bought with cash. He boarded the trans-Atlantic flight with no luggage. Homeland security officials routinely receive lists of passengers before planes take off and the Transportation Security Administration can request that a plane return to its departure airport if a suspicious passenger is on board. Still no one raised an alarm.
Following the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, Congress created the National Counterterrorism Center to unify the government's data collection and ordered the welter of intelligence agencies to put aside their rivalries and share what they know and suspect. Everyone insists that is happening; but still something went terribly wrong.
According to The Times, a preliminary review ordered by President Obama has found that because of human error, the agencies were still looking at discrete pieces of the puzzle without adequately checking other available databases and, in some cases, were not sharing what they knew. The State Department says that it relayed the father's warnings to the National Counterterrorism Center. C.I.A. officials in Nigeria prepared a separate report on Mr. Abdulmutallab that was sent to the C.I.A. headquarters but not to other agencies. At this point, we don't know who was told of the N.S.A. intercepts.
Either the National Counterterrorism Center didn't get all of the information it was supposed to get or it utterly failed to do its job, which is to correlate data so any pattern emerges. No doubt sorting through heaps of information and determining what is urgent or even worthy of follow-up is daunting. Still, it is incredible, and frightening, that the government cannot do at least as good a job at swiftly updating and correlating information as Google.
Long before Mr. Abdulmutallab was allowed to board that flight to Detroit, some analyst should have punched "Nigerian, Abdulmutallab, Yemen, visa, plot" into the system. We are still waiting to find out whether Britain told Washington that it had revoked the suspect's visa. Shouldn't that have been on file?
We will reserve judgment about whether anyone should be fired for what President Obama has rightly called a "systemic failure."
Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, didn't help matters when she briefly asserted that the system worked. Her system clearly has serious flaws. So does the intelligence system. We are sure that the turf war between Leon Panetta, the C.I.A. director, and the director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair (his job was created after 9/11 to oversee all 16 spy agencies), is not helping. Neither are the Republicans, who predictably seized on the plot for political advantage by absurdly accusing Mr. Obama of being weak on national security.
What is needed now is what was needed after 9/11: a clearheaded, nonpoliticized assessment of what went wrong and nonhysterical remedies that work this time. The United States cannot be enclosed in an impermeable bubble. But Mr. Abdulmutallab never should have been allowed to board that plane.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
HANDS OFF THE WATERSHED
New York City has now officially registered its ringing opposition to a proposal by state regulators to allow natural gas drilling in the watershed that supplies drinking water to more than eight million city residents. Albany should amend its proposal and put the area permanently off limits to drilling.
The watershed covers roughly a million acres of farms, forests, lakes and streams northwest of the city. Its subsurface rock formations contain rich deposits of natural gas and are part of a much larger geologic formation known as the Marcellus Shale, which runs northward from West Virginia into New York's southern tier.
The state wants to exploit this resource because it could add to the region's energy supplies and give a much-needed lift to the upstate economy. But the watershed contains just one-tenth of the state's known gas deposits. That means New York would not be giving up all that much if it does the right thing and bans drilling there.
Last fall, Albany issued a thick set of rules intended to regulate drilling. Environmentalists and city officials immediately cautioned that while carefully regulated drilling could proceed in other parts of the state with minimal environmental damage, it would be foolish to risk the city's water supply.
A new report commissioned by the city, and written by scientists and engineers who specialize in gas drilling, confirms those fears. It says that the drilling process which is done by injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into the rock formations "creates a substantial risk of chemical contamination and infrastructure damage." That, in turn, could force the city to build a $10 billion filtration plant and negate the sizable investment it has already made to keep the watershed clean. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is to be commended for commissioning the report and demanding a quick turnaround.
The good news is that the Chesapeake Energy Corporation, believed to be the largest leaseholder in the watershed, has already announced that it will not drill there. But its decision is voluntary and not binding on other companies. The only sure way to guarantee the protection of the watershed, and New York City's supply of drinking water, is to quarantine the area.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
CANADA'S FREE PRESS
In a welcome move toward increased freedom of expression, the Supreme Court of Canada has issued two rulings that will give reporters a new legal defense for "responsible communication."
Libel law in Canada has long been heavily tilted against the news media. It has been far too easy for corporations and rich individuals in Canada to sue over news reports they do not like. Canadian journalists have had to worry far more than their American counterparts about being hit with large damage awards.
Last month, the Canadian Supreme Court changed the rules. One of the cases involved a lawsuit by a forestry executive who won a judgment of about $1.5 million against The Toronto Star, a newspaper that published an article suggesting that he had used political connections to get approval for a golf course expansion.
The Supreme Court ruled that the judgment against the newspaper was improper because it had failed to give adequate weight to the value of freedom of expression. The court announced a new defense of "responsible communication on matters of public interest." Journalists and other speakers can avoid liability, the court ruled, if they can show that the information they communicated whether it turned out to be true or false was of public interest and they were diligent in trying to verify it.
In the second case, a lawsuit by a former Ontario police officer against The Ottawa Citizen newspaper, the court reached a similar result. It reversed a jury award of $100,000 to the officer, who objected to the newspaper's reports that claimed he had misrepresented his search-and-rescue work at ground zero in New York City after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In its opinions, the Supreme Court recognized the importance of free speech and a robust news media to a functioning democracy. That is good news for Canadians and all people who respect and value Canada's press.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
REASON FOR HOPE
Two-and-a-half years ago, Michael Ragusa was 13 years old when he was in a car accident that left him with more than two dozen skull fractures. "Medically, there is no hope," one doctor warned his mother, Anne Wollman.
Ms. Wollman didn't give up, and neither did Michael. After months and months in seven different hospitals, he was able to go home. He is quadriplegic and has some cognitive deficits. But he is relearning basic arithmetic, and, with some coaching, he recently wrote his name.
"First they said he would never survive; then they said his brain would never function; then they said he would never move his arms," Ms. Wollman says. "Michael has surpassed all of the 'nevers.' "
In order to bring Michael home, Ms. Wollman had to move herself and her two other sons into a wheelchair-accessible home. She also had to secure an adjustable hospital bed. She put an ad on Craigslist and, within an hour, was offered a hospital bed worth $16,000 by donation. There was only one problem: no mattress. The one made for the bed, designed to prevent skin breakdown and bedsores, cost $1,665 a sum she didn't have.
Ms. Wollman called Westchester Jewish Community Services, a beneficiary of UJA-Federation of New York, which is one of the seven agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. The Westchester agency drew $750 from the Neediest Cases Fund and $915 from two other funds to purchase the mattress.
Donations to The Times's Neediest Cases Fund go to seven charities: the Children's Aid Society; the Brooklyn Bureau of Community Service; Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York; Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens; the Community Service Society of New York; the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies; and UJA-Federation of New York.
To help, please send a check to: The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, 4 Chase Metrotech Center, 7th Floor East, Lockbox 5193, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11245. You may also call (800) 381-0075 and use a credit card or donate at: www.nycharities.org/neediest.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE YEAR-END QUIZ
BY GAIL COLLINS
It is time to take the challenge. Test your knowledge of events and quotations from the last year.
1. January: In his farewell address to the Washington press corps, George W. Bush said, "Sometimes ...:
a) "... you underestimated me."
b) "... you misunderstood me."
c) "... you misunderestimated me."
2. April: Joe Biden said he "wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now" because of his fear of:
a) Confined places.
b) Catching the H1N1 virus.
c) Being cornered by a reporter who wanted to remind him that he's in charge of overseeing the way that the stimulus money is spent.
3. August: During the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, there were many, many discussions of what made it such a special moment in American cultural history. For one of the performers, David Crosby, the answer was:
a) "Good music."
b) "Nobody killed anybody; nobody raped anybody; nobody shot anybody."
c) "Anything looks historic if you do it in the mud."
4. September: At the United Nations, the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, called for the abolition of Switzerland. Qaddafi has been irked at the Swiss ever since they:
a) Voted to ban the construction of minarets.
b) Refused to take sides in the ongoing "Twilight" fan war between Team Edward and Team Jacob.
c) Arrested his son Hannibal for beating two servants with a coat hanger.
5. October: George W. Bush made his debut speech as an ex-president at a "Get Motivated!" event in Fort Worth, Tex., where he shared the venue with pitchmen peddling how-to-get-rich books and investment seminars. His spokesman explained that Bush had agreed to the gig because:
a) "He enjoyed sharing his thoughts on decision-making and managing complex organizations."
b) "He wanted a good forum to break in that story about taking Barney the dog out for a walk with the pooper-scooper."
c) "He found himself with extra time on his hands, now that 'Guiding Light' has been canceled."
IDENTIFY THE SPEAKER:
6. "You're a punk! You're a dog! You always were a dog your whole life, you punk dog."
a) Mitt Romney to Seamus, the Irish setter he strapped on the roof of the car during a family trip to Canada.
b) John Gotti Jr. to a prosecution witness during one of his four murder-racketeering trials.
c) Westminster Kennel Club official, awarding best in show to Stump, the 10-year-old Sussex spaniel.
7. "I had to hurt people in a way, but I feel I did it with integrity."
a) "The Bachelor" reality star Jason Mesnick, on why he waited until the post-engagement TV special to tell his fiancée that he was dumping her.
b) Kanye West, on why he stormed the stage during the MTV Video Music Awards to say that Beyoncé deserved to win more than Taylor Swift.
c) Levi Johnston, on deciding to tell all in Vanity Fair and bare much for Playgirl.
8. "It's not what I chose, you know. It was kind of chosen for me."
a) Jon Gosselin, on his former career as full-time reality-show househusband.
b) Balloon boy.
c) Tom DeLay, on selecting the cha-cha for his "Dancing With the Stars" debut.
FINISH THE SENTENCE:
9. Hillary Clinton, bidding farewell to her career as a U.S. senator from New York: "I've had a lot of fun ...
a) ... if you like to think of visiting Oneonta as fun."
b) ... eight state fairs, 45 parades, 62 counties, more than 4,600 events across the state."
c) ... one disgraced governor, several indicted state legislators and more face time with Chuck Schumer than anybody could possibly imagine."
10. Barack Obama: "There are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office. And then there are moments like this ...
a) ... when I'm watching the Super Bowl with Arlen Specter."
b) ... where I pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland."
c) ... when the special White House screening is 'High School Musical 3.' "
Which of the following did a South Carolina elected official NOT do in 2009?
a) Went off to visit his lover in Argentina while telling aides he was going to hike the Appalachian Trail.
b) Jumped up and yelled "You lie!" during Barack Obama's health care address to Congress.
c) Said he wished he'd thought of publicly insulting the president first.
d) Snuck up behind a senator with whom he'd disagreed and beat him senseless with a cane.
ANSWERS: 1-C; 2-B; 3-B; 4-C; 5-A; 6-B; 7-A; 8-A; 9-B; 10-B.
Extra credit: D (that was a South Carolina senator in 1856).
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 4, 2010
An earlier version of this column incorrectly identified the elected official from South Carolina who assaulted a senator with a cane in 1856. He was a member of the House of Representatives, not a fellow senator.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE MIRACLE THAT NEVER HAPPENS
BY BOB HERBERT
Here we go again, said the Jets fan.
That would be me.
I've been fortunate enough to avoid drug addiction and alcoholism, and I gave up smoking cigarettes a very long time ago. But I am a Jets fan. And being a New York Jets football fan is an illness. So keep that in mind, and please be kind as you read this.
There was a single moment of glory on Jan. 12, 1969, when the great Joe Namath, with his white shoes and long hair and a right arm that could write poetry with a football, led the Jets to the greatest upset in pro football history: defeating the mighty Colts of Baltimore in the Super Bowl, 16-7.
Google it. You'll see.
I was young and thought that was the start of something big. Once you take that first hit of a powerful drug, you think that exalted, blissful feeling can be repeated. You can spend the rest of your life trying to experience it again.
I should have known the following December that something freakish was afoot. All the Jets had to do was win one more game just defeat the Kansas City Chiefs to go back to the Super Bowl. Behind 6-3 in the fourth quarter, the defending world champions had a first down on the Chiefs' 1-yard line. The 1-yard line!
It was cold. The wind was blowing. And the beginning of decades of unimaginable, humiliating futility for Jets fans was upon us. The Jets could not advance the ball that 1 yard.
They tried and tried and tried again. It never happened. They got within a foot of the goal line, but they couldn't
cross it. They lost, and the Chiefs went to the Super Bowl.
There is something otherworldly about the perennial ineptitude of this franchise. Gerald Eskenazi, a former sportswriter for The Times, called his history of the team "Gang Green: An Irreverent Look Behind the Scenes at Thirty-Eight (Well, Thirty-Seven) Seasons of New York Jets Futility." That was in 1998, and nothing has changed since then.
I bring this up because now, more than four, long decades after their one brief moment in the sun, Jets fans are setting themselves up for yet another brutal disappointment. A couple of weeks ago, the coach, Rex Ryan, mistakenly thought that his team, playing terribly, had blown any chance to make the playoffs. It turned out that he was wrong.
Then the Jets went on to beat the undefeated Indianapolis Colts, and if they beat the Cincinnati Bengals in a nationally televised game on Sunday night they will enter the postseason countdown to the Super Bowl.
And that's the specialty of this team. It's not just that it's been bad for most of the past half-century. The insidious aspect is that time and again the Jets rise from the ashes of their awfulness, just enough to offer the hope that something wonderful is about to happen. And the fans get all pumped and crazy, and then the roof caves in.
We should know better, but we can't help ourselves.
There was the time, for example, when my heroes were playing the Dolphins in Miami and the winner of that game would go on to the Super Bowl. The Jets had a good team that year, and I figured they had Miami's number. But the weather gods opened the skies over South Florida and it rained for days. It poured. The Dolphins refused to protect the field with a tarpaulin. The result was a vast basin of mud that paralyzed the Jets' high-powered offense. Miami won 14-0.
Things often happen with the Jets that seem inexplicable. After one of their typically dismal seasons, they fired the coach, Pete Carroll, who had lost his last five games. He was replaced with a coach, Rich Kotite, who had lost his last seven.
The owner, the late Leon Hess, said he had made the switch because he wanted to "win now."
That didn't happen. Kotite was a spectacularly terrible coach.
Jets fans have come to take a certain twisted pride in their team's horrendous history, competing to see who has the worst and most vivid memories. Years ago, whenever I had trouble sleeping, I'd listen to Joe Benigno, who then was the overnight guy on WFAN sports radio and as big a Jets fan as I am. He'd tell hilarious stories of his extreme anguish over the team's amazing capacity to find creative ways to lose. The bigger the game, the more innovative the effort.
So here we go again.
Long-suffering Jets fans will be glued to their televisions on Sunday night, hoping for the win that will shoot their team into the playoffs. So we can begin praying again for the miracle that never happens.
Charles M. Blow is off today.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE ART OF THE DEAL
BY JUDITH H. DOBRZYNSKI
THE squeeze is on. Museums everywhere are having trouble making ends meet, what with the overblown expansions they've made, the decline in investment income and the steep drop-off in contributions from foundations and individuals. Many have cut staff, frozen pay, trimmed exhibition schedules and slowed or stopped acquisitions. For some, that may not be enough: the American Folk Art Museum, to cite one example, recently admitted that it isn't making debt payments.
What's next? In some corners, there's fear that museum officials will do what is absolutely forbidden by art-world rules: raise operating cash with a sale of artwork. Already some respected figures David Gordon, former head of the Milwaukee Art Museum, and Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, for example are saying that the rule against selling art for any purpose other than buying more art is wrong.
But the mere mention of art sales for operating money turns some purists purple with apoplexy, and could restart the uproar that occurred last year when Brandeis University bruited but backtracked from the idea of selling works from its Rose Art Museum, eventually prompting Jehuda Reinharz, the university president, to step down. Just before that, the National Academy Museum sold two Hudson River School paintings to pay its bills, eliciting tough sanctions from the normally hands-off Association of Art Museum Directors.
Many people don't understand the problem. If the choice is between allowing a museum to fail (or make crippling cutbacks) and selling some art, what's the big deal? Sell art! Most museums, after all, hold many works they have no room to display and stuff them into back rooms and off-site storage facilities. If museums are allowed to cull their collections to raise money to buy more art, why can't they sell those very same pieces to solve their financial problems?
The big deal is this: The strict constructionists believe that once selling art to cover operating costs is allowed, it will become the first resort in bad times, not the last.
On that score, they may be right. It's human nature to test the line and, having gotten away with something, to do it again. Some museum trustees and other large donors are themselves stretched, relatively speaking, by this recession and can't or won't increase their gifts. Yet no one knows when the economy will restore investment portfolios and bank accounts to their previous health. The money has to come from somewhere.
Maybe it's best to amend the unwritten sales ban, but not end it. What if a museum had to argue its case for de-accessioning art before an impartial arbitrator?
This neutral party would need to be schooled in art, art law and nonprofit regulations.
Moreover, the museum would need to open its financial books completely, so that the arbitrator could see that all other reasonable avenues of fund-raising, as well as cutbacks, had already been exhausted. And it would need to open its cataloguing records and storerooms, to show that the departure of the works in question would not irreparably damage the collection and that no donor agreements would be violated.
Most important, as part of any deal permitting the sale of art, the de-accessioning museum would have to offer the works to other museums first. If it received no offers, it could sell the pieces via a public auction and any American museum would then have the opportunity to match a winning bid if it promised to keep the work in a public collection.
Who would administer this system? There's no regulatory agency for art museums. For large museums, the Association of Art Museum Directors could step up to the plate. For university museums, the Association of College and University Museums and Galleries could do the job. Likewise, the American Association of Museums, which accredits a larger spectrum of museums, might need to play a role. Each would hire professional arbitrators when necessary.
If those groups wouldn't do the job, it could fall to a state agency, a charities bureau or the attorney general's office, whichever oversees nonprofits.
Museums' money troubles are unlikely to disappear soon. And until they do, de-accessioning shouldn't be impossible just nearly so.
Judith H. Dobrzynski, a former reporter and editor at The Times, is a writer.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A NATION OF DO-IT-YOURSELF LAWYERS
BY JOHN T. BRODERICK JR. AND RONALD M. GEORGE
AMERICA'S courts are built on a system of rules and procedures that assume that almost everyone who comes to court has a lawyer. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different. An increasing number of civil cases go forward without lawyers. Litigants who cannot afford a lawyer, and either do not qualify for legal aid or are unable to have a lawyer assigned to them because of dwindling budgets, are on their own pro se. What's more, they're often on their own in cases involving life-altering situations like divorce, child custody and loss of shelter.
As the economy has worsened, the ranks of the self-represented poor have expanded. In a recent informal study conducted by the Self-Represented Litigation Network, about half the judges who responded reported a greater number of pro se litigants as a result of the economic crisis. Unrepresented litigants now also include many in the middle class and small-business owners who unexpectedly find themselves in distress and without sufficient resources to pay for the legal assistance they need.
As judges, we believe more needs to be done to meet this growing challenge: an inaccessible, overburdened justice system serves none of us well. California took a major step forward in October when it became the first state to recognize as a goal the right to counsel in certain civil cases. (The state also committed to a pilot project, financed by court fees, to provide lawyers for low-income citizens in cases where basic human needs are at stake.)
But this is only a beginning. It is essential that we promote other efforts to close the "justice gap."
One such effort involves the "unbundling" of legal services. Forty-one states, including California and New Hampshire, have adopted a model rule drafted by the American Bar Association, or similar provisions, which allow lawyers to unbundle their services and take only part of a case, a cost-saving practice known as "limited-scope representation" that, with proper ethical safeguards, is responsive to new realities.
Traditionally, lawyers have been required to stay with a case from beginning to end, unless a court has excused them from this obligation. Now, in those states that explicitly or implicitly allow unbundling, people or businesses can hire a lawyer on a limited basis to help them fill out forms, to prepare documents, to coach them on how to present in court or to appear in court for one or two hearings.
For example, a lawyer could advise a client in a divorce proceeding about legal principles governing the division of marital assets or provide assistance in calculating child-support obligations. A lawyer might also draft pleadings or legal memos or provide representation at a hearing to obtain a domestic-violence restraining order.
What could be wrong with this? Well, some lawyers have expressed concern that limited legal representation will encourage litigants to dissect their cases in an effort to save money, sacrificing quality representation that the litigant might otherwise be able to afford. We have also heard the argument that by offering too much assistance to self-represented litigants, the courts themselves are undermining the value of lawyers and the legal profession. Apparently, some are concerned that the court system will become so user-friendly that there will be no need for lawyers.
We respectfully disagree. Litigants who can afford the services of a lawyer will continue to use one until a case or problem is resolved. Lawyers make a difference and clients know that. But for those whose only option is to go it alone, at least some limited, affordable time with a lawyer is a valuable option we should all encourage.
In fact, we believe that limited-scope-representation rules will allow lawyers especially sole practitioners to service people who might otherwise have never sought legal assistance. We also believe that carefully drafted ethical rules allowing lawyers to handle part of a case give the legal profession an opportunity to help the courts address the ever-growing number of litigants who cross our thresholds. This cause has special relevance now as state courts are faced with serious cutbacks in financing, forcing some to close their doors one day a week or a month, lay off front-line staff members and delay jury trials. None of this bodes well for the judicial system or for those seeking to vindicate their rights through the courts, whether they have a lawyer or not.
We need members of the legal profession to join with us, as many have done, in meeting this challenge by making unbundled legal services and other innovative solutions like self-help Web sites, online assistance programs and court self-help centers work for all who need them. If we are to maintain public trust and confidence in the courts, we must keep faith with our founding principles and our core belief in equal justice under the law.
John T. Broderick Jr. is the chief justice of New Hampshire. Ronald M. George is the chief justice of California.
I. THE NEWS
END OF A SYSTEM
Provinces are now free to determine what system of local government they wish to put in place. The subject was handed back to the federating units by the centre at midnight on December 31. Following this, local governments have been dissolved in all the provinces except, predictably enough, Sindh. In that province the existing setup will stay in place until new elections are held. Elsewhere, administrators from the bureaucracy have already taken over. The much-trumpeted LG system put in place by former president Musharraf in 2002 was described by those who designed it as a means to devolve power to the grassroots level. Critics complained that in reality it concentrated power in the hands of the centre, thereby strengthening autocratic rule. The truth probably lay somewhere between these poles. Under the LG system, people had greater say over decision-making at the lowest levels, with elected officials replacing bureaucrats who had held sway since colonial times. Seat reservations for women also brought marginalised groups into the political process though female councillors consistently complained they were not allocated development funds and discouraged from taking part in discussions. The system, however, acted to withdraw powers from the provinces. This has been a prime factor in the outcry against them in all the provinces, except Sindh. Punjab has been most vociferous in its expression of resentment, with the PML-N government unhappy over the fact that many nazims were affiliated with the rival PML-Q.
The rationale behind the move is that it will restore greater national harmony by doing away with a major source of provincial grievance. This is not inaccurate. There is also nothing necessarily amiss with having a different system operating in each province. Allowing units to evolve administrative means best suited to their specific needs may help each of them run more effectively. This having been said, the wisdom of throwing the baby out with the bathwater must be questioned. The LG system was not perfect. Indeed far from it. But it did have merits, and did act to empower people. In time it could have evolved to do so more effectively. After all, the principle behind devolution is a sound one. It needs to be promoted and more ways found to give ordinary people a say in the running of their affairs.
I. THE NEWS
NOW POLITICAL WEAPONS!
The cryptic messages delivered from time to time by our president continue to strain nerves. No one seems to be quite sure what he is talking about or what exactly he means. In an interview with a TV channel, Mr Zardari has now warned he has certain 'political weapons' that he could deploy at the right time. He says 'political actors' are at work against the government. Possibly taking counsel from aides alarmed by his tirade against 'non-state actors' in Larkana, he now says relations with the military are excellent and that the elements he had identified in his speech at Naudero were behind the attack on the Ashura Day procession in Karachi.
The president should speak out clearly and name those he believes are engaged in all kinds of conspiracies. His refusal to do so simply keeps us in quite unnecessary suspense. Mr Zardari and those who form his inner circle must realise that his comments act to weaken him by suggesting that he is a cornered man who sees no choice but to resort to desperate means to try and save himself. If he is to survive, he must persuade us that he is a mature statesman able to handle crises calmly and in control of events that take place. The current tactics adopted by the president simply add to the perceptions that he is a man driven by growing paranoia and is striking out wildly in all directions. Other aspects of Mr Zardari's latest interview seem even odder. He says the PPP believes Baitullah Mehsud was behind his wife's assassination. Party leaders had angrily denied this contention from the Musharraf regime days after the events of December 27, 2007. There is no explanation for this change in stance. The president also speaks of a threat to his own life. He does not say from whom, but the impression we are left with is not reassuring and can do nothing to bolster the image of a man who himself concedes his popularity is slipping.
I. THE NEWS
Establishing an authority to counter terrorism at this time would appear to be a good idea which is presumably why such a body was created a year ago. Sadly, whilst civilians and police die in their hundreds there is no sense of urgency in terms of activating the National Counterterrorism Authority (NACTA). It seems that this essential body is a victim of political inertia and bureaucratic lethargy, and is now also affected by the fallout from the NRO affair as it is within the purview of the Interior Ministry whose minister is currently experiencing a little difficulty. NACTA was allocated funds in the last federal budget but has been unable to spend them as the files authorising expenditure flit from office to office avoiding signature as they do. It has no staff, no premises and no equipment. As a consequence it has failed to fulfil its initial task, namely to devise a national counterterrorism strategy. That we do not have such a strategy in place, after years of terrorist activity right across the country, is little short of criminal neglect, and indicative of how little the government values the life and property of the ordinary man and woman.
An official speaking anonymously to this newspaper professed embarrassment at being asked by foreign diplomats about our antiterrorism strategy and having to own up that we did not have one. The EU is prepared to commit a million euros to the project, the UK has said that it will supply expertise and equipment and there is generally a warm welcome to the agency internationally. The president has mentioned NACTA in his last address to parliament's joint session; and he is said to have been briefed about its work and functions. It must have been a very brief briefing as there was nothing to tell him. The director of NACTA is said to be on the verge of resigning out of frustration as well he might. In order to avoid further discomfort we suggest that NACTA be activated at the earliest date, properly staffed and resourced and told to get on with its job as expeditiously as may be. Files get shuffled as the sky rains body parts. It's no way to run a country, is it?
I. THE NEWS
BY ARIF NIZAMI
Pakistan's annus horribilis, which was the year 2009, ended on a sour note. As if the travails of the people struggling to survive under the scourge of endemic terrorism, hyperinflation and perennial shortages were not enough, the carnage in Karachi on the day of Ashura was termed as our 9/11 by one of the MQM ministers. Only a day earlier, the vitriolic speech of the president at Naudero on the second death anniversary of Ms Benazir Bhutto proved as a dampener on the already sagging morale of the nation.
Those who had hoped that the situation created after the Supreme Court's decision to declare the NRO ultra vires had been somewhat diffused after hectic meetings between the president, the prime minister and the army chief were utterly surprised and disappointed by the tenor of the president's speech. It was more confrontationist, the hallmark of a beleaguered opposition leader, rather than presidential.
The speech, if it was meant to boost the morale of the party workers, is bound to have the opposite effect. If the party chairperson who happens to be the head of state armed with powers under the 17th Amendment openly laments the real or perceived conspiracies hatched against him and seems utterly helpless to foil them, apart from having to leave the Presidency in an ambulance, what kind of confidence does it instil in the ordinary worker of the party?
Judging by the kind of pressures he has to face, the victim syndrome afflicting President Zardari is somewhat understandable. He probably feels that the apex court and the army, to oust him, have launched a pincer movement, or this is what some of his key advisors tell him. Apparently Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kiani's assurances to the contrary have not been able to diffuse the situation.
In the light of conciliatory statements on the eve of Ms Benazir Bhutto's death anniversary that the army and the government were on the same page, there was no need for such a hard-line speech. However, if actually "great conspiracies" are afoot to undermine democracy in Pakistan, Mr Zardari should have been a little more specific in identifying the hidden hands. With political institutions still weak, such conspiracy theories can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Those who have the most to lose should not throw caution to the winds.
If our chequered political history is any guide, leaders who have played the conspiracy card have not been able to retain power. The late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the early days of the movement against him in 1977 suddenly emerged in Sadar in Rawalpindi and declared he was the victim of an American conspiracy to oust him. He even angrily tore off in public a letter ostensibly written to him by then US secretary of State Cyrus Vance. Later, during the PNA movement, he appeared on national television angrily thumping and claiming that he was secure in his chair, only to be ousted by the wily Zia-ul-Haq a few months later.
Similarly, when in April 1993 tension between then-president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif was at its height, Mian Sahib, on the advice of some of his hawkish advisors, decided to take him on. He addressed the nation on television, declaring that he will not take dictation any more. Within 24 hours President Ghulam Ishaq sacked him, of course with the blessings of the army chief.
Thankfully, the situation on the ground is not bad as has been portrayed by President Zardari in Naudero. Politics is not a zero-sum game anymore, with none of the major political parties inviting the army to take over or even wishing it. Politicians, whether in the government or in the opposition, are talking to each other, albeit hawks on both sides sound vitriolic in the media. Thankfully, their leaders are seen paying lip service to the system and placating each other.
President Zardari, in yet another article in the foreign media, has spoken about forces in the country that according to him were allied with dictatorship in the past are now threatening to undermine the legitimacy of his government. It is rather unusual for a head of state to write columns for foreign newspapers on domestic issues, and whoever is the president's ghost writer is not doing service to his boss by writing them and getting them published. If such conspiracies are afoot they should be exposed and foiled within, as the US administration, in the ultimate analysis, would be perfectly comfortable in working with any government in Pakistan that serves its strategic goals.
The so-called Sindh Card has also come into play again, besides protestations to the contrary. On the eve of the Supreme Court decision on the NRO, there were orchestrated demonstrations in Sindh. Thankfully, Mr Zardari subsequently disowned the Sindh Card by paying lip service to the federation and chanting the slogan "Pakistan khappey" at the Naudero rally.
However, the Sindh home minister, Zulfiquar Mirza, thinks otherwise. He claimed on the eve of the rally that it was only on the advice of his party boss that in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Ms Bhutto two years ago, he refrained from chanting the slogan "Pakistan na khappey."
The maverick Mirza, who is a personal friend of the president and husband of the speaker of the National Assembly, Fehmida Mirza, should have been sacked, on two counts. Firstly, by doing disservice to his party and Pakistan and secondly for failing to anticipate or take measures to prevent the immense loss of life and property in Karachi, which happened on his watch as home minister.
The Pakistan People's Party is the largest political party of Pakistan with electoral support in all provinces of the country. It has historically bagged more popular votes than other parties in most general elections. Its founder died for Pakistan, whereas his daughter, despite formidable odds and danger to her life, returned to the country and was martyred at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpndi.
Presently the president, the prime minister, the speaker of the National Assembly and the chairman of the Senate belong to the PPP. It is the ruling party at the federal level as well as in three provinces, and a coalition partner in Punjab. For it to invoke the Sindh Card simply does not make sense, unless the present party leadership is bent upon converting the party into a nationalist party of Sindh. Much earlier, when Hafeez Pirzada and Mumtaz Bhutto tried to play the Sindh Card party chairperson Ms Bhutto did not hesitate to show them the door.
Instead of painting himself into a corner, President Zardari should take a more proactive and pragmatic approach to the present crisis. Admittedly, Ms Bhutto's second death anniversary was an emotive occasion for him and the party. But mere emotional outbursts will not resolve the issues which are of a serious nature and hence threaten his position as president and possibly the evolving democratic system.
The best approach will be to embark upon a consensus-building exercise across the political spectrum. Prime Minister Gilani is the best-suited person for this job. Repeal of the 17th Amendment is a promise made too often. The month of December, the latest deadline given by Mr Zardari, has also passed. Probably under the present circumstances his close political consorts will be advising him not to yield any constitutional powers. To empower the parliament and the prime minister, however, is the best recipe for strengthening the system and obviating the possibility of extra-constitutional formulas being applied.
Standards of good governance and transparency need to be upgraded by the presidency as well as the prime minister. The present culture of incompetence corruption and cronyism is eating into the entrails of the present system and has given way to general cynicism about fruits of democracy.
Measures that could symbolically indicate a change in direction need to be taken urgently. This could include bidding farewell to some of the known incompetent and corrupt members of the team. If at some stage President Zardari has to make a personal sacrifice to set an example, he should not hesitate to do so. The PPP secretary general, Jahangir Badar, claimed the other day that the army and the PPP are natural allies. However, the reality is different. It is time serious efforts are made to resolve differences between the civilian leadership and the military. And for that President Zardari should take the initiative.
The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email: arifn51@hotmail .com
I. THE NEWS
HOPE OF PEACE
BY DR SYED JAFFAR AHMED
The arms race in South Asia has now turned into a nuclear and missile race as well, leading to a huge increase in social sector backwardness of these nations. The sad fact remains that the largest contingent of the world's population living below the poverty line now lives in South Asia. Moreover, after 62 years of independence, the indicators of social development in India paint a dismal picture. The reports of National Human Rights Commission of India show extremely unsatisfactory conditions with respect to health and education, and the rights of labour, women and minorities. The same is true for Pakistan as per reports of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
The greatest hope in these two countries can be pinned upon their respective civil societies, which are engaged in checking the highhandedness of their governments and are actively working to resolve the problems of their societies. They have also advised their governments to resolve long-standing issues peacefully, and have tried to strengthen ties and promote understanding at various levels. They have forced the governments to start the Track-II, Track-III and similar diplomatic moves. Though nothing much is gained from such efforts these have helped checking further deterioration in difficult situations.
The history of confidence-building between India and Pakistan spans many years. Despite the fact that these countries could not achieve a major breakthrough, yet these CBMs have saved them from major disasters. For example, in the post-1980 years, when the two had joined the nuclear race, the CBMs saved them form any major collision. A good step in that direction was the agreement on informing each other about their military exercises beforehand. The other CBMs include the willingness for non-violation of each other's airspace, an agreement about the non-use of chemical weapons (1992), establishment of a hotline at military level, and agreement about not attacking each other's nuclear installations (1988). These measures eased the prevailing tension. When the two nations became nuclear powers in the late 1990s, it was the CBMs which, along with the respective civil societies of the two nations, kept the hope alive for a rational approach amidst war hysteria.
The 9/11 incident added to the tension, when India got closer to the West and USA, and Pakistan was declared a suspect despite its past loyalty. With war escalating in Afghanistan, Pakistan was pressured to stop intervention in Kashmir. With the Kashmir issue being put on the backburner, certain groups thought it was again postponed. The fact is that no solution to the Kashmir problem is possible unless the central role of the Kashmiris is not accepted, and to this end it is inevitable for both India and Pakistan to be flexible in their position and be ready to accept that Kashmir is not merely a piece of land, it is a living entity comprising millions of humans who should decide their fate themselves.
The question arises whether India and Pakistan will remain at loggerheads till the Kashmir issue is resolved? Can't they collaborate in other areas? Will we keep our societies poor, backward, and deprived of education and health for an uncertain period? Will our priorities remain focused on enhancing defence capabilities? Will we keep defacing ourselves like we did in the past? Will our past prevail as our future as well?
Obviously, no sensible person would respond in the positive to such questions. In the hardest of times of human history, it was mankind's intellect and wisdom which opened new vistas of hope. The South Asia of today finds itself in a totally different setting as compared to that of ten or fifteen years ago. New challenges have come up as the aftermath of the Cold War, dissolution of the socialist bloc, expansion of open-market economy, and the advances of globalisation, affecting seriously the backward nations. Various small nations have formed unions or blocs at the regional level to cope with the speedy onset of globalisation, thus pooling up their resources and capabilities. They have faced strict conditions of the large industrialised countries quite bravely.
Mutual cooperation has also facilitated the fulfilment of their needs and helped them avoid dependence on industrialised countries. The ASEAN countries are also experimenting with inter-state trade on the European Union model. Both these blocs are doing about 30-40 per cent of their trade at the bloc level, whereas the SAARC countries have managed only 3-4 per cent of their total trade at their bloc level.
India has wholeheartedly welcomed the open-market economy and its corporate sector is trying its best to avail itself of the possibilities opened as a result of globalisation. Once the major industries in India were under the control of the state. Jawaharlal Nehru had also preferred building a big infrastructure, which in the later years served as the base of development of the private sector. But globalisation and its accompanied trends of privatisation and open market have also multiplied the problems of the disadvantaged sections of the society. Apparently, the capitalist class and the business community is elated by the backing of the west, and the deprivation of the downtrodden is not visible to them. But the paradox will ultimately force India to revisit its policies.
In Pakistan, too, the economic contradictions are complicating the situation, and unemployment and poverty are escalating. This is beside the fact that these issues are not generally addressed in the parliament or the media due to more immediate issues like the frequent breakdown of law and order and the military operations underway to establish the writ of the state. Yet we have to grapple with these problems at some point. If Pakistan and India arrive at some agreed framework to solve some of their economic problems at the South Asian level, and if this is joined by other countries of the region, too, it would go a long way to ease the problems.
Indian raw material can come to Pakistan, and Pakistani products can find in India, an eight-time bigger market. A new set of political relations can also develop from trade relations which may also help lead to the solution of the Kashmir issue. Some more helpful measures can be the visits of the parliamentarians of the two countries, politicians' interaction with other country's institutions and centres of public opinion; and the ties between the civil societies of the two countries. In a fast changing world and an age of information revolution, the two countries can offer their sources of knowledge for the benefit of each other. The writers and artists have been visiting each other, but not very smoothly. They can best represent the creative faculties of their societies and be their best ambassadors. Sending books and magazines across the border has become almost impossible, given the inflated cost of postage. The traffic of students and teachers is also negligible.
Hence, people on both sides are unaware of each other's publications and research outputs of the universities. Unfortunately, we know each other very little. There are five or six centres of Pakistan studies in Indian universities, but in Pakistan there is none solely devoted to Indian studies. It means that we do not want to know much about a country which we regard as our adversary. The attitude needs change as all diplomatic as well as other socio-economic relations between nations in today's world rely heavily on informed knowledge and intensive research.
With respect to improvement of Indo-Pak relations, the aspects which can pose a challenge in the future need to be examined. On top of the list is the environmental issue, affecting water and food resources. Environmentalists agree that the future conflicts in the world, particularly in South Asia, will be on the issue of water. If this is so, India and Pakistan need to start serious dialogue about water resources, before they reach a crisis point, and while doing so, they should keep in view the larger interest of human welfare, and rise above the narrow considerations often glossed with nationalistic verbiage.
Normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan is also necessary because the third generation after partition has arrived, which does take the adverse past as a part of history, but is not willing to allow it to become an obstacle in its way. The failure of the colonial administration in preventing the 1947 carnage and properly managing the process of partition is there to remain as a bad memory, but the new generation does not want it to thwart its way to progress. Experiences of other nations demonstrate that differences may remain there besides working relationship and cooperation. Many countries, such as USA and Canada, or the European countries, live together with good terms despite having long standing differences on various issues. These differences are not blown up to stifle mutual existence.
South Asia is not merely a region of acute problems and contradictions; it is a region of opportunities, too. The faculties and the potential of this region are its greatest asset and virtue; on the basis of it, South Asia can emerge as an exemplary region, provided the narrow mindset and the even narrower political agendas are discarded and the possibilities are allowed to be realised. The aspiration for peace in South Asia is not merely a dream; it is also an achievable target.
The writer is a professor at the Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi
I. THE NEWS
LOAN WRITE-OFFS FOR ROBBER BARONS
BY ABID HASAN
The recent Supreme Court observations on loan write-offs is another welcome development in re-establishment of rule of law and accountability of those robber barons who defrauded banks and unjustly benefited from state largesse. The main beneficiaries of the loan write-offs programme, over a 20-year period, were fifteen hundred or so well connected political and business elite that benefited at the expense of the taxpayers and the poor.
Loan write-offs are a normal risk of the banking business all over the world. Loans are written off when borrowers cannot pay because of natural disasters, war, economic crisis, or simply bad investment decisions. Banks incur losses when loans are written off. When banks are government-owned, the government has to bear the loss and inject taxpayers' money into the banks to keep them solvent. Thus, in Pakistan's case, when the banks wrote off about Rs150 billion of bad debts, the government had to inject over Rs110 billion into the banks to prevent them from collapsing.
The genesis of Pakistan's high level of bad loans was the poor governance and deep politicisation of the government-owned banking system, during the 20 years starting the early 1980s. Through collusion between bankers and borrowers, banks were "raided" by the high and mighty who borrowed imprudently, knowing fully well they would not be able to pay back nor be subject to any criminal wrongdoing. Thus, by the end of 1990s, the banking system was on the verge of collapse resulting from huge losses due to very high levels of non-performing loans. Consequently, the government had to inject over Rs110 billion of new capital which, along with other banking-sector reforms, including privatisation, enabled the banking system to achieve stability and soundness.
Many countries have used taxes to support loan write-off programmes for small farmers and small borrower. For example, during the recent financial crisis, the UK government provided support to small borrowers (loans under $20,000), and the US had a programme to restructure home mortgages for low-income families, while tens of thousands of richer families had to sell their expensive homes to avoid defaulting on their mortgages. In Pakistan's case, the government would be fully justified to use taxes for financing loan write-off for businesses destroyed in the 2005 earthquake or as a result of terrorist attacks. However, there are very few examples of a generous loan write-offs programme for the rich borrowers, such as that pursued by Pakistan.
In case of large borrowers, no serious effort was made to distinguish between defaults resulting from genuine difficulties (i.e., a natural disaster, an economic downturn) or from excessive borrowing and the owners' siphoning-off company funds for personal use. The banks should have undertaken a rigorous review to assess whether the rich and large borrowers made any serious effort to raise money to pay-off loans and inject new funds into their financially troubled companies such as, selling their personal assets including luxurious homes, luxury cars and jewellery, making their children study in Pakistan rather than overseas, leading a simpler life expected of a bankrupt person, etc. In the absence of such a review, there was no real hardships imposed on large wilful defaulters and scarce tax revenues were used to bail out poorly performing companies with rich owners.
For large borrowers, instead of writing off the loans, the banks should have pursued the option of converting the loans into equity which would have provided some possibility of the banks recovering their money when the companies became profitable. Also banks did not require change of ownership or management. In most countries with higher accountability standards, when banks restructure or write-off loans, existing owners and/or existing company management is changed. Consequently, in Pakistan, losses were socialised, while gains were privatised.
The policy to let large and wilful defaulters off the hook was not subject to serious public debate or public scrutiny. The Rs100 billion or so of loan write-offs for around 1,500 large borrowers was essentially a gift from the taxpayers to these rich folks. In most countries, other than those where there is high degree of accountability and public scrutiny on the use of taxpayers' money, politicians and bureaucrats do not treat public money with the same degree of financial prudence as their own money. Since there was no rigorous public scrutiny and funds were not coming from the pockets of the decision-makers whether the president, the prime minister, the finance minister, or the SBP governor they were all too willing to provide a "subsidy" of Rs100 billion to rich robber barons. This subsidy exceeded the entire annual education budget of Pakistan during the period that the programme was implemented. Moreover, future generations have been saddled with over $1 billion of external debt, which was borrowed to pay for the programme.
Importantly, write-offs are discriminatory and inequitable. They benefit the inefficient and wilful defaulters, giving them a competitive advantage over the good borrowers, whose operating costs becomes higher than those of defaulters when the latter's debt service is written off. The government justified write-offs to revive growth. However, there is no credible evidence to indicate that write-offs indeed increased growth. The Musharraf government was desperate for legitimacy, and this imprudent largesse of tax money was a convenient way to "buy" the support of big businessmen.
Revisiting this matter and recouping written-off loans for all write-off beneficiaries from 1971 to 2009, will be an almost impossible challenge considering the long elapsed time and difficulties in retrieving records and revisiting history. However, a selective approach targeting the large defaulters may hold the promise of recovering some of the taxpayers' monies. The Supreme Court may wish to consider establishing a "Blue Ribbon" Committee headed by an eminent banker with high integrity and comprising forensic auditors, lawyers, etc to review loan write-off cases of the top, say 500, defaulters and all those (and their immediate family members) who are currently holding public offices and in leadership positions in political parties.
The committee would be tasked to determine, within three-four months, the following: (i) whether fraudulent and collusive means were used to obtain the loans in the first place, and whether companies were used to enrich owners at the expense of the banks; (ii) the reasons for the default and whether there were adequate "public interest" reasons to let the borrowers off the hook; (iii) how much of the written-off amount can be collected now either in cash or shares of the company considering the current wealth and income levels of the beneficiaries, and profitability of the companies.
As part of its review, the Supreme Court may consider invoking the appropriate laws to debar from holding public office all those (including their immediate families) who are unable to fully pay back their written-off loans within 60 days. This action, along with the above targeted approach, would: (i) send a clear signal to large and politically well connected borrowers that they have to not only treat bank loans with responsibility but also return taxpayers' funds wrongly provided to them; (ii) convey an unambiguous message to politicians and their immediate families that rule of law equally applies to them, thereby strengthening democracy; (iii) establish a precedence to curb future policymakers from using taxpayers monies imprudently; (iv) assure taxpayers that wasteful use of tax monies to benefit the few, at the expense of the many, will be scrutinised by the court. Overall, recovering unjustified written-off loans would strengthen good governance as well as the banking system.
The writer is a former World Bank adviser. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
WHERE'S THAT COUNTER-TERROR STRATEGY?
BY MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy.
The challenge of indiscriminate bullets and bombs in our markets, our universities, our places of worship and our police stations is not going to be met with verbal diarrhoea. Yet, that's all we can seem to muster in the face of this challenge. The problem is not that Pakistan is incapable of responding to this challenge. The problem is that too many Pakistanis, especially in government, seem to want to counter live bullets and detonating bombs with speeches about the ideological and existential nature of this threat. Tom Jones adjures us to fight fire with fire. Pakistan's generic response to this challenge seems to be to fight fire with spitballs.
What lies behind the obsession of right and left, progressive and traditional, liberal and conservative to collectively want to mutilate this conflict into an ideological war that it is not? Perhaps it is the overwhelming instinct ingrained in an irrational public discourse.
Forget conceiving of a viable response to the challenge, Pakistan's national discourse doesn't even have a widely agreed upon nomenclature to describe the conflict. Serious people, for example, would not use the word Taliban in every sentence, because the term Taliban is a deeply imprecise and inaccurate summation of the plethora of terrorists that the Pakistani state (among others) has helped gift to the Pakistani people.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) is not the Taliban. And the LeJ, as much as it may share part of its name with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), is not the LeT. And neither of those two organisations takes its orders from Jalaluddin Haqqani, or from Jaish-e-Mohammad's Masood Azhar. It is safe to say that the origins, sources of financing, and even pool of recruits for these organisations will sometimes put them at crosshairs with each other, as much as their shared appetite for the blood of innocents will often put them in synchronicity.
The term Taliban itself is imprecise. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is not simply the Pakistani "version" of the Kandahari Taliban. No mater how thick and deep the connections between Mullah Omar's core team and Pakistani intelligence may be, these are specific, separate and distinct groups. In fact, the TTP and the Kandahari Taliban have serious political differences.
With that kind of stark disparity across the different terrorist groups that operate in and around Pakistan, the notion that Pakistan is in an ideological war with "the Taliban" is disingenuous. Even the notion that Pakistan is in an ideological war with terrorists is unhelpful. It sacrifices nuance and accuracy. No wonder carpet bombing seems to be such a popular solution to this challenge. Pakistan is in a conflict in which it needs to counter terrorism.
In 2009 alone, more than 2,227 civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. One thousand soldiers have laid their lives on the line defending this country. How did this country of 180 million people, with a middle class of more than 30 million and with a purchasing-power-parity GDP that ranks it as the 26th largest economy in the world, get here, kneeling before the cartoon-bravado of cave-dwelling terrorists? Worse still, how can this country with so much at stake, still have no counterterrorism (CT) strategy?
On July 25, 2008, I wrote an article prematurely celebrating the advent of Pakistan's CT strategy. That was informed by conversations and news items that confirmed the prime minister's intent to formulate such a strategy. The prime minister should know that since that promise almost 18 months ago, a total of 3,603 civilians and 1,327 soldiers have died in terrorist attacks. That is a total of 4,930 Pakistanis. The blood of these Pakistanis is squarely on the hands of terrorists, but in all societies, those that are in charge must bear some responsibility. The prime minister is in charge.
The prime minister's task is not an easy one. The challenge of constructing a set of civilian institutions that are not just resilient to being repetitively bombed, but also robust in preventing such bombings and proactively rooting out perpetrators is massive. One way to try to begin understanding just how grand the scale of the challenge is, is to consider data points in other countries where police services work reasonably well.
I recently had a chance to visit the Australian state of Queensland. Queensland is a state of about 4.4 million people. The Queensland Police Service (QPS) has a total of about 14,000 employees. That comes to about 314 citizens per cop.
In the province of Punjab, there are 170,031 sanctioned police posts for a province of roughly 90 million people. The citizen-to-policeman ratio is not flattering at roughly 530 to one. In Karachi, a much more desperate situation exists. For a population estimated to be close to 18 million, there are 26,873 policemen giving this grand metropolis a citizen-to-policeman ratio of 670.
The ratios clearly indicate that Pakistan doesn't have enough cops. But it gets worse if we start to compare police salaries.
The basic pay scale level for an Inspector, which is the senior-most non-commissioned police officer in Sindh, is roughly Rs16,000 per month. The senior-most non-commissioned policeman in Queensland is a staff sergeant, and earns about AU$85,000 a year, or roughly Rs530,000 per month. That is more than 33 times what his policeman brother in Karachi makes. Even at BPS 22 level, which is the head of the Sindh Police, average monthly salary and allowances are set at about Rs56,811. Or 1/10th of what a non-commissioned Aussie cop makes. Of course, these comparisons are often unfair. Australian and Pakistani costs of living are as far away as Melbourne is from Lahore. But the discrepancy is still huge.
Let us put this fiscal challenge in perspective. There are 670 inspectors (which is equivalent to the staff sergeant level in Queensland) in Karachi. To provide less than half the level of salary made by Queensland cops to only those 670 inspectors alone, the government of Sindh would need to come up with an extra Rs2 billion per annum in funds. The entire annual budget for the Sindh Police? Less than Rs24 billion.
A CT strategy will need to think through not just the verbal anti-Taliban bluster that Pakistanis (myself included) are so keen to demonstrate. It will need to get serious. One small aspect of such seriousness will be to think through the fiscal implications of how Pakistan's provincial police services will be retooled, and refinanced. Not just for today, but for the long-run, in terms of the pensions liabilities that such a retooling will imply. And it will have to re-layer such a retooling with an FIA that is more Tariq Khosa and less Rehman Malik. In short, we've not even begun to scratch the surface of a viable CT strategy in Pakistan.
4,930 Pakistanis deaths may not have been entirely avoidable, had Pakistan drafted a CT strategy back in July of 2008, when the prime minister said he would. But the confidence of a nation would have been buoyed by revisiting that document, every time the country was attacked. If nothing else, it may have held incredible inspirational value.
In the absence of a coherent, cogent and organic CT strategy, it is no surprise at all that Pakistanis on the progressive side seek the comfort of an ideological war, and Pakistanis on the traditional side seek comfort in the bosom of conspiracy theories. In the aftermath of killing fields that truly stretch from Khyber Agency to the gates of Karachi, it doesn't really matter who is killing innocent Pakistanis. It matters that they are being killed. The killing needs to stop. The prime minister is in charge. And stopping the killing is the job of those in charge.
I. THE NEWS
BY HARRIS KHALIQUE
As 2010 arrives with the departure of another gloomy year that sat heavy on us, I am one of those Pakistanis who still refuse to give up. We are cheated, betrayed, wronged, deceived and taken for a ride for 60 years by the ruling class, civilian and military alike, which has all the power and pelf. They are responsible for the denial of the majority's right to live as free women and men in safety and comfort, the right to have enough food and clean drinking water for ourselves and our children, the right to clothing and shelter, the right to education and sound health, the right to be equal in the eyes of the law, the right to leisure and the right to lead a decent, respectable life.
This country belongs to its people. They have to reclaim it. It was colonised by the foreigners for centuries and then re-colonised by the Brown Sahibs. It is our blood and toil that buys them their luxury. The middle, lower-middle and working classes of Pakistan have to come together. The peasants, labourers, destitute communities and non-literate masses cannot put up a fight, wage a struggle and embark on a sustained endeavour for bringing peace, prosperity and happiness to our cherished homeland unless the educated and enlightened middle class joins their ranks. The efforts of the middle-class professionals to associate themselves with the elite, to serve the powerful and to try to become one of them bear fruit for none. Even if some individuals move up the ladder, the majority lags behind and never succeeds in changing their class. Trying to become one of the oppressors rather than resisting them is deplorable anyway. It is time the middle classes took an informed and value-based decision to support the downtrodden in order to change Pakistan. In unison, we can resolve the fundamental questions faced by the state and society the question of equal economic opportunities, the question of provincial autonomy and national rights, the question of democratic governance, the question of religious extremism and finally, the question of inclusion of women and non-Muslims as equals in both the affairs of the state and the dealings in our society.
I reiterate that Pakistan is as artificial or natural as any other country. It is about the state delivering for its citizens without prejudice that makes a country function. Those who see disintegration as the solution must consider that a few more oppressive states would be the outcome in the absence of movements having a class dimension to their struggle. But those at the helm of affairs must realise that both in 1947 and 1971, South Asia witnessed break-ups because the ones exercising authority refused to accept legitimate demands of a section of their populations. Therefore, today, I feel closest to the disgruntled Baloch youth. They want a change to have their rights realised, their dignity restored and for control over their local resources. At this point in time, they may not see any hope in a state which they consider an oppressor and a usurper of their rights. However, it is not patriotism and the wish to avoid widespread bloodshed alone that make me think a little differently. The designs of global imperialism warrant us a long-term view. Our chance to flourish as a people remains in creating a new social and economic order in Pakistan that saves us from playing in the hands of monopolistic capitalism and the wars it throws up from time to time.
The writer is an Islamabad-based poet and rights campaigner. Email: harris@spopk. Org
THIS IS REAL FACE OF INDIA
FOREIGN Office spokesman on Thursday very categorically and convincingly responded to the threats being hurled by India. Reacting to the statement of the Indian Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor that his country can fight wars with Pakistan and China simultaneously and that India would finish Pakistan within 96 hours of a war, the spokesman declared at the weekly news briefing that our eastern neighbour must not undermine Pakistan's capability to defend itself against aggression.
The statement of the Indian Army Chief has shocked not only people in Pakistan and in the region but also to some circles in India that were keen to see improvement in relations between the two countries. In fact, this was not a casual or off-the-cuff remark by General Kapoor but part of the new military doctrine and, therefore, it should be taken very seriously by the authorities concerned in Pakistan and also in China. In the first place, India is alarmingly increasing its military muscle as it has not only started local production of lethal weapons of all sorts through foreign collaboration but has also embarked upon a defence shopping spree. Encouraged by the keenness of the United States and other countries of the West to enter into closer nuclear cooperation with India, the policy makers in New Delhi have also started giving loud thinking to their plans to go for more nuclear tests as part of the programme to give new dimensions to their nuclear and missile programmes. All this confirms widely held belief that the United States is preparing India to take up responsibilities as mini superpower in this part of the world to browbeat not only Pakistan but also keep China under check. It is with this objective that Americans are trying their best to help India consolidate its political, economic and strategic influence in Afghanistan. Secondly, the threat from the Indian Army Chief comes at a time when Pakistan was passing through the most critical juncture of its history and the statement is obviously aimed at multiplying woes of the country. The spokesman has, therefore, done well by inviting attention of the world community towards hegemonic and jingoistic mindset of India that could threaten regional and global peace. Though in the given situation it is unlikely that the influential capitals of the world would pay any serious heed to the caution by Islamabad yet we must mount an aggressive diplomatic campaign to unmask India's real face. At the same time, our strategists and analysts should go deeper into the statement of General Kapoor and take necessary steps to safeguard vital security interests of the country.
IMPLICATIONS OF UN STAFF RELOCATION
AT this time when Pakistan is mounting war against terror as a frontline State and has thrown up its entire resources to win this unconventional war, it is the responsibility of each and every member of the international community to put their weight behind the country to ensure speedy realization of the goal. This is because the success or failure of Pakistan in this war has direct bearing on regional and international peace, stability and prosperity.
In this backdrop, one would expect the world community not only to provide financial and military assistance but also express complete solidarity through words and deeds. But the decision of the United Nations to relocate its foreign staff to some other country in view of the security situation is bound to send the opposite message to people of Pakistan. No doubt, bomb blasts and suicide attacks have become an order of the day and the terrorists are attacking foreign and UN targets as well but this should not deter our resolve to face the challenge squarely. If UN and other aid agencies and entities opt out of Pakistan then it would not only affect the much-needed developmental activities but would also create negative image of Pakistan. There are some forces that are trying to portray Pakistan as a failed State and such decisions would help strengthen their propaganda. There are scores of foreign companies and thousands of foreign nationals working in different fields and many of them are also living safely in Islamabad and carrying out their routine activities. If the UN feels so strongly about security and safety of its staff then instead of relocating abroad it should shift them to the Diplomatic Enclave in Islamabad where foolproof security arrangements are in place and foreign missions feel fully protected. We hope the UN authorities would review their decision.
DEVELOP LONG-TERM POWER, GAS PROJECTS
ACCORDING to a report by our correspondent, all the main trade bodies including Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry have expressed grave concern over the unending unscheduled load-shedding of electricity and gas that is badly affecting the export oriented industries. During a meeting, they have warned to lock up their industrial units in protest against power and gas shortages.
It is for more than two years that the country is in the grip of severe power and gas crisis affecting each and every segment of the society but the economy is the worst sufferer. Industrial production that was already stagnant due to poor law and order situation and political turmoil has gone down further as a result of which our exports are shrinking. It is also because of the loss of production at home that imports are going up at an alarming rate and prices are surging beyond the absorbing capacity of the consumers. What has complicated the problem more is the fact that power and gas prices in Pakistan are one of the highest in the world, pushing the cost of production and rendering our products uncompetitive in the international market. Regrettably, despite its tall claims the present Government has miserably failed to deliver on its oft-repeated commitment of ending the curse of load-shedding by December 2009 and now there are apprehensions that the crisis would hover for the foreseeable future despite addition of rental power plants that would surely push the power rates further up. Similarly, CNG stations and transporters are on strike these days because of load management of gas necessitated by its shortage with the onset of winter. It seems that the Government lacks necessary vision to overcome these crises through short, medium and long-term measures. As far as gas shortage is concerned, instead of closing down CNG stations two days a week, the problem can be tackled by making it obligatory on them to operate from eight in the morning to five in the evening when there is less load due to less domestic consumption. There is also a need to accelerate local exploration and speed up implementation of gas import projects. As for the power sector, coal, hydel, solar and nuclear resources should be taped to their optimum without political or other considerations.
THE CANCER OF CORRUPTION
Corruption is defined as, "the use of public office for private gains" (Rose-Ackerman, 1974) another definition proposed by Shleifer and Vishny, "the sale by government officials of government property for personal gain." Corruption is the key factor that leads to the ineffectiveness of development and growth; it deepens poverty, exacerbates inequalities, skews economies against the poor and contributes to weakening the vital institutions of governance. It depletes the very strength needed to march forward and erodes the very foundations of growth. World Bank studies estimate that the negative effects of corruption can reduce a country's economic growth rate by as much as a full percentage point each year.
Corruption is an epidemic disease, a plague and a curse that undermines economic, political and social development of a country. It is contemplated murder of the growth, efficiency and stability of the economy; it is working against national interest; it is spreading moral degradation; it is an activity considered illegal or unauthorized that has detrimental effects; it is transfer of money into a few hands while depriving millions of their fair share and by all means, punishable by law
Corruption infiltrates in third world countries, where weak and vulnerable national governance institutions such as the parliament, the judiciary, civil service and police are subservient and quiescent; where a limited democratic culture is promoted and where human, natural and technological recourse are under developed; where loyalties are bought and conscience sold; where democracy and free and fair elections are a dream and dictatorship a reality; where the will of the people is muffled and the whims of the selected are entertained; where a wider population suffers because of limited awareness of their fundamental rights and therefore become victims of plunder. In this context corruption also becomes a human rights issue as well as political.
Corruption prevails and multiplies because of elite exertion of acquiring wealth through traditional inheritance or via a connection close to the centre of power. The elite are the ones who win most government contracts; are able to obtain loans from state-owned financial institutions; are able to apply for government allocations of public land and the ones who lobby effectively for tax concessions, changes in investment regulations and successfully influence the government policy. Their influence appoints their nominees on top key positions. Thus an incestuous relationship between business, politics and bureaucracy gel together for accumulating wealth and power; the powerful political players create a political bureaucracy that functions parallel to the ruling party and this alternate power structure has tentacles in all economic, social and political sectors. This structure has one primary purpose to maintain hold on state power. During agitations the nouveau riche class will change loyalties as fast as lightening. They only finance their own interests and are loyal to themselves. These informal corrupt power structures are responsible for poverty and economic inequality and because of them the poor and the weak face the true brunt of corruption because it diverts resources from the poor to the rich and distorts public expenditure. In the economies where institutions are weak these political elite flourish and are considered above and beyond the law. They have introduced the 'short cut culture' of accumulating wealth; instead of putting in hard work, showing competence and acquiring knowledge, individuals wait for a single big deal to gain sudden wealth especially the youth.
Corruption is mostly a public sector phenomenon and it involves businessmen and government officials of senior rank; the figures involved are significant enough to damage the economy. In simpler words when public officials use their office not to maximize social welfare but to serve their individual interests, they are corrupt from head to toe. The person bribed for any service must necessarily be acting as an agent for another individual or organization since the purpose of the bribe is to induce him to place his own interests ahead of the objectives of the organization for which he works.
Corrupt practices include amounts of money or gifts changing hands; writing off bank loans, awarding contracts to dear ones who never supply the service or the goods, kick backs paid to officials on government public works contracts; in such contracts its quality does not reflect its cost. large scale of scams whose figures are so huge that they have macroeconomic implications that cause banks to collapse, inflation to raise, the exchange rate to decline. The impetus for looting is often political and it happens with the acquiescence of the dominant political players in any given country; the primary movers in the companies behind these scams are in connivance with the higher-ups and the cuts and percentages go towards funding election campaigns. Looting is a premeditated activity; the creation of a project for which resources are allocated and spent, knowing fully well that the project will not be completed. Corrupt officials, profit off money, from massive infrastructure projects, that are too large and too complex to manage; inefficient methods of construction, result in an excessive waste of capital.
Corruption sustains informal power structures that contribute to a further weakening of vital institutions of governance; that can also lead to political crises and threaten democracy or the legitimacy of any government; such corrupt practices have collapsed governments in the past and will continue to do so if a conscious effort to control and eradicate corruption is not made.
The cancer of corruption has eaten away the fabric of Pakistan's economy and destroyed the morale of the people; corruption, smuggling, black marketing, commissions etc are now accepted as a phenomenon and the culture of corruption is so deep-rooted in our society that it is considered a must to carry cash to bribe, even to get perfectly legitimate and legal job done. An environment where corruption is rampant and corrupt activities are seen as an important method of accumulation, is often characterized by dysfunctional attitudes towards what constitutes corruption; such an environment deters foreign investors and increases the cost of running businesses. A fight against corruption must be waged and a road map for action against officials indulging in corruption must be laid down. The challenge of fighting corruption is economic because it increases poverty, retards economic growth, shrinks production and fuels poverty; it is political because corruption inhibits good governance, creates political instability, breeds impunity and undermines vital governance institutions sustaining shadow power structures that thrive on it; it is social and cultural because eradicating corruption with laws, regulations and punishments will elevate integrity, competence and hard-work.
The government of Pakistan must recognize the problem of corruption and devise effective strategies to combat the deeply entrenched corrupt systems. Once we cut down on corruption our economic efficiency will increase. The Gross Domestic Product would experience the opportunity to grow at a phenomenal rate. It is time to make plans for the future and think of investing in the nation by reducing the levels of poverty and embarking on a road to progress and prosperity. It is time to establish institutions to counter corruption; to investigate and prosecute those found guilty; to embark on education campaigns against corruption; reviewing and revamping systems which present opportunities for corruption and most importantly ensuring punishment through legal recourse; a simple legislation against corruption could achieve fruitful results. The government must step up its resolve to eradicate the endemic problem of corruption for the sake of development, prosperity and good governance. An anti-corruption strategy and stringent measures to curb the menace of corruption will accelerate growth and reduce poverty. No nation can develop to its full capacity if its social system is plagued by corruption and inefficiency.
INDIA'S NEW WAR DOCTRINE
India is preparing for a possible 'two-front war' with China and Pakistan, Indian newspaper reported on Wednesday. According to newspaper's report, Indian Army is now revising its five-year-old doctrine to effectively meet the challenges of war with China and Pakistan, deal with asymmetric and fourth-generation warfare, and enhance strategic reach and joint operations with IAF and Navy. Work on the new war doctrine - to reflect the reconfiguration of threat perceptions and security challenges - is already underway under the aegis of Shimla-based Army Training Command. The head of the command Lt General AS Lamba went so far as to say that a massive thrust in Rawalpindi to quiet Pakistanis within 48 hours of the start of the assault. "The armed forces have to substantially enhance their strategic reach and out-of-area capabilities to protect India's geo-political interests stretching from Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait. This would enable us to protect our island territories; as also give assistance to the littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region," said General Kapoor.
In beginning November, Pakistan's defence analysts had reported about India's planning for so-called 'Cold Start' strategy and preparing for a limited war against Pakistan. General Kapoor's statement on 24th November 2009 confirmed the hegemonic thrust of India's nuclear doctrine. Indian Army Chief had indicated that India was setting the stage for a limited war against Pakistan since long. Despite the fact that efforts are afoot to downplay India-China border dispute and rivalry, there is a consensus among defence analysts that Arunachal is a flashpoint like or even more than Taiwan. Bharat Verma, editor Indian Defence Review, in his article titled 'Unmasking China' in July/September 2009 issue, had presaged that there could be a war during the month of October 2009 between India and China, which luckily did not happen.
China claims some 90000 square kilometer of Arunachal Pradesh, which was once a part of Tibet. But India takes the plea that it is part of India, which it inherited from the British Raj. The first Chinese Premier Zhou En Lai had written to Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru rejecting latter's contention that the border was based on 1914 treaty of Simla Convention, adding that Chinese government had not accepted McMohan Line as legal. It appears that Asia is going to be the next theatre of war, thanks to the US and the West's machinations and India's ambitions to be a regional power with their support. Recent events in Tibet and Xinjiang however have sparked regional concerns. Bharat Verma, editor of the Indian Defence Review, in an interview with Times of India had claimed that "China would attack India before 2012 to divert the attention of its own people from unprecedented internal dissent, growing unemployment and financial problems that are threatening the hold of Communists in that country".
In fact, the global financial meltdown and recession have impacted China least, as it has recorded more than 7% growth as compared to 2 to 3% of the most stable economies of the world. Anyhow India's talk of possibility of war with China is to attract attention of the US and the West with a view to having further concessions and help to strengthen India's armed forces. Chinese leadership remains well composed as usual and does not intend to create war frenzy. In 1962, when India tried to flex its muscles, Chinese troops had advanced to 48 kilometers in Assam plains and also occupied Indian forces' strategic posts in Ladakh. The border clashes with China were a direct consequence of the Tibetan problem that cropped up when the Dalai Lama had fled to India. Since then it has become a flashpoint that could spark a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
Over the years, both countries held series of negotiations to resolve the territorial dispute but to no avail. But after British Foreign Office clarification on 29th October 2008 admitting that Tibet was part of China, India should have reviewed its policy of claim on Arunachal. Britain should also give its version on Kashmir dispute, as this dispute also owes its origin to British Raj. It should support the United Nations Security Resolution giving the people of Kashmir the right to join Pakistan or India through the UN supervised plebiscite, international community.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Pakistan's stability has always been the cornerstone of China's foreign policy. China and Pakistan signed a deal in 2006 to upgrade the Karakoram Highway, which runs from the trading city of Kashgar in China's far western Xinjiang region to Gilgit in Pakistan and on to Islamabad. Chinese President Hu Jintao had rejected the Indian protest over Chinese help to Pakistan and vowed that China would continue to support projects in Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas.
On the other hand, Chinese government had strongly protested over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Arunachal Pradesh, and had expressed its anger over the planned visit of Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh. China had however warned that there should no political speeches, and Dalai Lama avoided any political statement during the trip, as he did not like to exacerbate the tension between China and India.A few months ago, according to Indian press reports China's soldiers, helicopters and even fighter jets have been intruding in the disputed territory to slowly and steadily retrieve the area. Though Chinese media has never created hype about its territorial dispute with India, yet recently Chinese diplomats, intellectuals and leaders of the public opinion assert claims over Arunachal Pradesh. In May 2009, international media had carried reports that India has significantly upgraded its military prowess along the border it shares with China, deploying two army divisions along with a squadron of top-of-the-line Sukhoi Su-30MKI warplanes at a critical base in the north-east. Three Awacs command-and-control aircraft was also deployed to boost India's ability to track troop and equipment movements on the Chinese side of the border.
Whereas the US seems to have invoked its policy of containing China and to create a situation to stymie its progress, Beijing is also making preparations to meet any eventuality, and building up its military strength to project power not only regionally but also to contend the US as a major player in global politics. Nevertheless, Chinese leaders hope that frictions can be contained and overwhelmed by the two nation's shared interest in prosperity. Chinese leadership also understands that economic power is the most important and most essential factor in comprehensive national power, which is why China has all along focused on increasing its economic strength, keeping in mind that its military strength depends on the former.
Indian leadership should not exacerbate the tensions in Asia, and should understand the consequences of saber-rattling and ultimate war with two atomic states. It should also understand that during peace time, army generals should not come out with aggressive statements because that can be construed as declaration of war.
US AFGHAN POLICY: IMPLICATIONS FOR PAKISTAN
Barack Obama unveiled his much awaited, discussed and speculated new Afghan policy on December 1. In his speech "Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan", the US president underscored his priorities regarding the new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. These include stabilizing Afghanistan, training the Afghan National Army and police, scouring corruption out of the Afghan government and a long-term engagement with Pakistan against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists. It also includes 30,000 additional combat troops from US including 5,000 trainers making the total number of US forces in Afghanistan to 98,000.
President Obama indicated that the US forces would not remain in Afghanistan for ever, following the announcement of new strategy for Afghanistan. The foremost feature of Obama's Afghan plan is its 'Exit Strategy' starting in the mid of year 2011. The prime objective of this new strategy is to dismantle and eliminate al-Qaeda and Taliban in three years time by clearing the eastern and southern insurgency dominated areas. Gradually, responsibility of these cleared areas/provinces would be shifted to the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, local authorities, tribal groups and various other security units.
Many factors would have gone through the minds of policy makers while devising this exit plan. Soaring casualty rate of Western troops, the high economic costs of war and fruitless eight years of adventurism have been the factors to bring a decisive end to this arduous military campaign. Certainly, this war plan would not be without implications for the US, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the whole region. The questions that could only be answered on the outcome of this war would be: Will US be able to achieve its perceived objective in coming three years that have not been achieved in previous eight years? What if the US and allied forces may not be able to achieve their targets? What would be the aftermath of this fierce campaign for the stakeholders particularly Pakistan in the years to come? Islamabad has shown serious wide-ranging reservations about the new US strategy mainly on the thrust of the policy and its implementation. Washington's discussion with Islamabad lacked details of policy review, information pertaining the deployment areas of additional troops, the new US approach towards Balochistan and widening the sphere of drone attacks. Moreover, the US approach to equate Pakistan with Afghanistan seems without any thought processing and justification.
Pakistan is particularly skeptical about the increasing US troops in the areas bordering Balochistan. Previously Pakistan has denied allegations by US administration about the presence of Taliban Shura in Quetta. Complications would appear, if the US increases troops in the areas bordering Balochistan, forcing al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents to flee to the rugged mountainous region of Balochistan. Many in Pakistan believe that America is orchestrating this move to find a rationale to expand the sphere of drone attacks. Such move would further the anti-America sentiments and perhaps widen the suicide bombing in other areas in Pakistan. Moreover, it could derail the engagement process under way with the Baloch separatist nationals.
Similarly, Pakistan should be apprehensive about the double standards of US regarding engagement with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Recently, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has shown little reservation regarding Afghan President Karazai's talks with the moderate Taliban and al-Qaeda. Moreover, the US administration has also admitted their low profile talks with the Taliban at certain level. Being unconvinced of Pakistani approach to distinction between Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other jihadi outfits, the US administration finds itself into talks with Taliban. It certainly appears to be loosening American grips from the Afghan war but expecting Pakistan not to get into any dialogue or agreement even bearing fruits.
Another matter needed to be address is that the US has equated Afghanistan and Pakistan on similar grounds in its new Afghan policy. This approach has misled many across the globe that Pakistan is somewhere on the brink to be paralleling Afghanistan and situation is alike for both states. Thus a similar strategy needs to be taken for both countries to counter militancy. Irrationality of this policy has developed serious image problem for the Pakistani nation. Americans are well aware about Pakistan's vibrant civil society, political institutions, infrastructure and well trained armed forces and security agencies. Moreover, the only Islamic nuclear state holds no parallel with the war torn Afghanistan. Therefore, concerns regarding US similar approach for Pakistan and Afghanistan should be conveyed at highest level in Washington.
This American approach would also hamper the growth of already fragile democracy in Pakistan and weaken the democratic institutes.. Pakistan is facing ample domestic political problems and the new US policy would further expose government from being criticized by civil society, media and political parties. However, for the first time in a press briefing the Foreign Office spokesperson has been vocal of Pakistan's limits to the cooperation in war against terror and condemned the drone attacks as attack on Pakistan's sovereignty. It indicates at least awareness of our political leadership that their power emanates from people and not West. Likewise, Pakistan has paid highest price in the war on terrorism. Along with thousands of lives laid by military and civilians, the socio-economic fallouts are grave. According to Pakistan Finance Ministry the expected direct cost of war on terror will reach Rs 114.03 billion in 2008-09 from Rs 108.527 billion last year. Growing expenses on operation Rah-e-Rast and Rah-i-Nijat have obligated the government to divert its resources from development to fulfill defence and security requirements, generating vacuum for the development sector. Commerce and industrial sectors are badly hampered by growing wave of terrorism. The business activity across the NWFP and Punjab has seen gross declines. Educational activities have come to halt in the affected areas and it will take some time to resume. The issue of Internally Displaced People (IDP) because of the military operation in Swat and South Waziristan has created humanitarian crisis. In Swat only 1.7 million people had to flee their houses to take refuge in refugee camps and settled areas. South Waziristan is witnessing the same dilemma and conditions would further aggravate if the scope of drone attacks widen.
On the other hand the responsibilities on part of the US in Afghanistan have been well short of real success. To provide economic development, literacy, rooting out poppy cultivation, peace and security to masses and dismantling the terrorist networks were some responsibilities that the US and allied forces were to fulfill. Moreover, supporting a capable, accountable and workable broad based government in Afghanistan is still a far cry. Most of the Afghans still consider American and allied troops as the occupants and the rigged elections in Afghanistan were devoid of much needed legitimacy to Afghan national government.
Recently China, Pakistan and even India have shown reservations about allied forces leaving Afghanistan in haste. Such approach would make the Afghan affairs messy because of the limitations of present Afghan regime to answer serious problems their country is facing. If West seriously believes that Pakistan is critical for peace in Afghanistan, then Pakistani leadership should be consulted and taken into confidence before taking important decisions affecting Afghanistan. Similarly, policies detrimental to the sovereignty and territorial sanctity of partners in war against terror would develop trust deficit and suspicion amongst allies. The future of Pakistan-US relations depends upon the outcome of the new US strategy.
AYESHA ZEE KHAN
Pakistanis as a nation have been encountering a plethora of bomb blasts since the Russian invasion on Afghanistan almost 30 years back. Our Army jawan's targeted, our security personnel brutally killed, civilians, women and children suffering from these deadly attacks leaving us battered, perforated and bruised on a daily basis now. As if this wasn't enough to torment the people, the constant price hikes, the fading act of wheat, sugar from the consumer market. The constant, electricity breakdown; list of impact of this ongoing crisis.
One obvious and tragic price of this open war is the toll of death and destruction. But there is an additional cost, a psychological cost borne by the survivors of war and socio-economic pressure, and a full understanding of this cost has been too long repressed by a legacy of self-deception and intentional twisting. After peeling away this "legacy of lies" that has perpetuated and glorified warfare there is no escaping the conclusion that combat, and the killing that stays at the heart of combat, is an extraordinarily traumatic and psychologically costly endeavour that profoundly impacts all who participate in it. This psychological cost of such a crisis is most readily observable and measurable at the individual level. At the national level, a country at war can anticipate a smallbut statistically significantincrease in the domestic murder rate, probably due to the glorification of violence and the resultant reduction in the level of repression of natural aggressive instincts essential to the existence of civilization.
At the group level, even the most elite unit is usually psychologically destroyed when between 50 and 60% casualties have been inflicted, and the integration of the individual into the group is so strong that this destruction often leads to depression and suicide. However, the nation (if not eliminated by the war) is generally resilient, and the group (if not destroyed) is inevitably disbanded. But the individual who survives combat and bomb blast may well end up paying a profound psychological cost for a lifetime. The increasing impact of these effects on hundreds and thousands of survivors is pervasive, with significant potential to have a profound effect on society at large. A psychiatric casualty is a participant who is no longer able to partake in combat due to mental (as opposed to physical) debilitation. Psychiatric casualties seldom represent a permanent debilitation, and with proper care they can be rotated back into the line. Research has demonstrated that, after combat, psychiatric casualties are strongly predisposed toward the more long-term and more permanently debilitating manifestation of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The actual casualty can manifest it in many ways, ranging from effective disorders to somatoform disorders, but the treatment for the many manifestations of combat stress involves simply removing the affected from the combat environment. But the problem is that the military does not want to simply return the psychiatric casualties to normal life, it wants to return them to combat these casualties understandably reluctant to do so. The evacuation syndrome is the paradox of combat psychiatry. A nation must care for its psychiatric casualties, civilians who are of no value on the battlefield indeed, their presence in combat can have a negative impact on the morale of other combatants and they can still be used again as valuable seasoned replacements once they have recovered from combat stress. But if combatants begin to realize that within them the insane are being evacuated, the number of psychiatric casualties will increase dramatically.
The civilian victims of war may suffer the greatest psychological harm, for they have not been prepared by the expectation of military training to manage the stress, shock, and fright of violence and loss as soldiers have. The civilian population from the Northern and tribal areas of Pakistan in particular; the IDPs who were drawn away from their safe surroundings and pushed out deliberately to live in the camp sites and makeshift toilets to use. The children who have lost their parents in this uncalled for war are the real casualties we need to take into consideration. Even if collateral casualties among civilians are few, significant wars universally scare many more people into fleeing from danger if soldiers do not deliberately force them away (as in "ethnic cleansing"); wars typically create up to vast populations of displaced refugees who may live dangerous and desperate lives with uncertain futures.
If this isn't enough the sleep disorders faced by people affected in this mental trauma are huge. Insomnia or lack of sleep in simple terms is another problem faced by people living in the proximity or war/ bomb blast. The body clock starts ticking and tells the neural links that the surroundings are unsafe for sleep. The results of this are very dangerous to health of the civilians and the soldiers alike. Continued proximity to the war/bomb blast situation combined with an "expectancy" of rapid return to combat, are the principles developed to overcome the paradox of the evacuation syndrome. These principles of proximity and expectancy have proven themselves quite effective since World War I. They permit the psychiatric casualty to get the rest that is the only current cure for his problem, while not giving a message to still healthy comrades that insanity is a ticket away from the madness of the battlefield.
Even with the careful application of the principles of proximity and expectancy the incidence of psychiatric casualties is still enormous. During World War II, 504,000 men were lost from America's combat forces due to psychiatric collapseenough to man 50 divisions. The United States suffered this loss despite efforts to weed out those mentally and emotionally unfit for combat by classifying more than 800,000 men 4-F (unfit for military service) due to psychiatric reasons. At one point in World War II, psychiatric casualties were being discharged from the U.S. Army faster than new recruits were being drafted in. Swank and Marchand's World War II study of US Army combatants on the beaches of Normandy found that after 60 days of continuous combat, 98% of the surviving soldiers had become psychiatric casualties and the remaining 2% were identified as "aggressive psychopathic personalities." Thus it is not too far from the mark to observe that there is something about continuous, inescapable combat which will drive 98% of all men insane, and the other 2% were crazy when they got there.
Where can anyone begin to detail the consequences of war? Prominent or insurmountable losses compile and historians duly record them. But the "little" tragedies of which personal hells are made; these may so easily be forgotten. Even worse, they may never be fully known, except perhaps by a very few. The impact of war may be terrible. Many may suffer immediate pain, horror, destruction and death. But the legacy of war may just as easily be absences: things which never were, or things which were lost to those who go on afterwards. A contribution never made. A composed state of mind never regained. These "little" things are tremendous things to some human world called a person, yet they are so difficult to really know.
In order to understand war, we must try to appreciate the real effects of war in scales both sweeping and individual for the sweeping developments come down to the individual, where they are really felt. Only this way can we understand war as humans suffer it. We must not shy away at this basic education demanded by the enthusiasm of fighting future war simply because war disgusts, or because of any other lack of encouragement. Mental anguish during and after warfare should not be underestimated compared to more visible wounds inflicted on other parts of the body which bleed. The invisible wounds to the psyche may actually feel more acute (and are certainly more common), whether resulting from combat it self, living in or near a combat zone, personal connection to a soldier, or simply exposure to war from bomb blasts as the member of a warring population, including intake of propaganda and ideology.
This nation of ours was created to lead as in the times of Khalifa Harun Rashid, or Aaron the Upright as he was popularly recognized, in 763 when he laid down the foundation of the Abbasid's rule in Baghdad. Exemplary advances were made in those times in Mathematics, Literature, Science, Astronomy, and Medicine. Baghdad was known to be the centre for learning. Eminent names in their professions were brought forward to serve the nation. I am still hopeful as the citizen of this God gifted country. I believe we were created on a special day and for a definite purpose. The philosophy of Allama Iqbal needs to be revisited for I believe the youth of this nation are the future custodians this country has.
PALESTINE-ISRAEL: A SINGLE STATE
Prior to the establishment of Israel, Palestine had been multi-religious and multi-cultural. Christians, Muslims and Jews, Armenians, Greek Orthodox, to name a few, all had a place there; and all lived in relative harmony. Other nations fought wars and waged epic struggles to attain the kind of coexistence that was already a reality in Palestine. But while the world strives toward the noble truths that we are all created equal, Israel legislates the notion of a Chosen People with exclusive rights and privilege for Jews.
Where countries have worked to integrate their citizens to create the richness of diversity, Israel is working in reverse, employing racist policies to "Judaize" the land whereby property and resources are confiscated from Christians and Muslims for the exclusive use of Jews. Where there is consensus that certain human rights are inalienable, Palestinians have lived subject to the whims of soldiers at checkpoints; of airplanes and helicopters raining death onto them with impunity; of curfews and restrictions and denials; and of violent armed settlers who fancy themselves disciples of God. Living under Israeli occupation, in refugee camps or in exile, we Palestinians have endured having everything callously taken from us Ð our homes, our heritage, our history, our families, livelihoods, freedom, farms, olive groves, water, security, and freedom. In the 1990s, we supported the Oslo Accords two-state solution even though it would have returned to us only 22% of our historic homeland. But Israel repeatedly squandered our generosity, confiscating more Palestinian land to increase illegal Jewish-only colonies and Jewish-only roads.
What remains to us now is less than 14% of Historic Palestine, all of it as isolated Bantustans, shrinking ghettos, walls, fences, checkpoints with surly soldiers, and the perpetual encroachment of expanding illegal Israeli colonies.While the Palestine Authority has led us into a shrinking land mass, less water, more restrictions, ominous walls and merciless slaughter, notable individuals and popular movements have mobilized for Palestine as once happened for South Africa. Moral authorities like former President Jimmy Carter, Nobel Laureates Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire, and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson have condemned Israeli Apartheid. Organizations supporting the Divestment and Boycott Campaign against Israel include religious institutions such as the Presbyterian Church, The World Council of Churches, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Anglican Church, the Federation of European Jews for a Just Peace, among many others. It includes civil and professional organizations such as the National Lawyers Guild, the Irish Municipal, Public and Civil Trade Union in Ireland, as well as labor unions in Canada, Britain, and other nations. An academic boycott of Israel has spread throughout the UK and other parts of Europe and taken root in US universities across the country. The International Solidarity Movement has seen thousands of individuals come to the Occupied Territories to protect Palestinians from the violence of settlers during the olive harvest; to protect children on their daring daily journeys to school; and to bear witness to the inhumanity of military occupation. The Free Gaza movement has transported by boat hundreds of people willing to risk their lives to bring greatly needed supplies to the besieged people of Gaza. This Christmas, internationals will march to the Egypt/Gaza border to break this siege.
When compared with the accomplishments of these grassroots movements, the futility of "negotiations" becomes painfully apparent. It is clear that we cannot look to our leaders (elected or imposed) to achieve justice. Just as only the masses could bring South Africa's Apartheid to its knees, it will be the masses who will also bring Israel's Apartheid crashing. The continued expansion of international action demanding the implementation of Palestinian basic human rights is inevitable.
The notion of religious-ethnocentric entitlement and exclusivity for one people at the expense of another has been rejected the world over. Palestinians reject it and we assert that we are human beings worthy of the same human rights accorded to the rest of humanity; that we are worthy of our homes and farms, our heritage, our churches and mosques, and our history; and that we should not be expected to negotiate with our oppressors for such basic dignities. The two-state solution was and remains an instrument to circumvent the basic human rights of Palestinians in order to accommodate Israel's desire to be Jewish. Polls show that Palestinians refuse to be the enemies of our Jewish brothers and sisters anywhere, just as we refuse to be oppressed by them. It is time for our shared land to be the inclusive and diverse country it had been. It is time for leaders to follow the people's determined movement toward a single democratic state, with liberty and justice for all, regardless of religion. Islamic Iview
Belying the doomsayers' dire prediction, Bangladesh achieved a GDP (gross domestic product) growth rate of 5.9 per cent in the last fiscal year. This year international financial bodies like the Asian Development Bank has forecast a substantial fall in the GDP growth to 5.2 or even below. The Bangladesh Bank governor and local financial experts have fiercely contradicted the contention and estimate that the economic growth would be similar to the last year's. They expressed their optimism on the eve of the New Year, noting that such a target would be achievable even if further investment is hard to come by 'due mainly to scarcity of energy and power'.
Their extra confidence is backed by the recent signs of recovery in major economic fundamentals.
However, all is not well on the economic front. The prospects of export and import do not look as bright as it should and a long shadow of inflation is looming large. So the economic outlook depends on a number of variables like the optimum use of our existing capacity mainly in the agriculture, manufacturing and service sectors. No doubt that the agriculture sector contributing as much as 20 per cent to the economy is performing very well but all calculations may be upset by natural calamities like floods, cyclone and droughts.
Happily, two paddy crops -Boro and Aman -have had bumper harvests. Also farmers have proved how enterprising they are by diversifying crops all across the country. Today, they are cultivating exotic cash crops like strawberries and plums (baukul and apple kul) in large swathes. Many have proved their innovative skills in fish farming. Then jute cultivation is becoming profitable, once again. Add to this the latest initiative by the government to subsidise fertiliser and issue cards for withdrawing agricultural inputs from designated dealers, you have a fairly promising picture of a thriving economic sector.
Clearly, there is greater potential to be exploited. The government claims it is going to add another 800 megawatts of power soon. Even if it can, the demand in the summer will increase and catch up with the rise. Other options like purchase of power from India are being explored too. If that happens, we may look forward to having more investment and economic growth.
MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY
The fallout of the widespread illiteracy among the population, only emerging now from the cloud of authoritarianism of successive dictatorships, is that people cannot be expected to use their right of franchise effectively. Therefore when the prime minister says that the smooth functioning of democracy is the sine qua non for protecting people's rights and interests, she is right. But as an elected government does not necessarily measure up to being a democratic government, and, as the absence of the opposition from parliament causes it to relinquish its traditional role, the press is forced to step in to fill the void that is created. Those in a position of authority must understand that their position does not necessarily invest them with wisdom. Instead a newspaper that calls for healthy, open public debate, and welcomes intellectuals capable of analysing both the prevailing political and economic conditions, helps the public to participate in lively discourses.
However it has always been the belief that democracy and a free press flourish side by side. So if taken from this point of view, newspapers play an important role in fostering democracy. It is only an autocratic government that feels insecure of the press and holds that it should not be given unfettered freedom. That is why when the prime minister gave a call to editors and media persons at a meeting to help in the uninterrupted functioning of our hard-earned democracy, we should respond in a positive way because a free media is the cornerstone of modern democracy. Moreover in this day and age, any attempt at controlling the media is an affront to people's intelligence. The Bangalees are just as capable now as they ever were of leading a life of freethinking that has shaped their destiny.
" About two-thirds of those polled in India and almost three-fourths of those in Pakistan said they desire a peaceful relationship between the two countries.." Times of India, 1st Jan Couldn't have been a better New Year's gift than the headlines in the Times this morning, 'Love Pakistan' it said, followed by pages and pages how it was imperative peace reigned between the two neighbours, who shared same culture, same love for cinema, almost the same language, and once the same land.
Nearly ten years ago when I was asked by the Pakistan Observer, one of the biggest papers in Pakistan to write a daily column for them, I panicked. How was I equipped to write banter for Pakistan? How would my writing agree with people who were hostile with mine?
But, a decade later I must say, it's like writing for the people of India. We share same thoughts, laugh at the same things, have politicians at the top who continue doing the most ludicrous stunts to survive up there and we both have those same diabolical men and women called terrorists who blow themselves up to blow up our own sons and daughters and other loved ones and bring us to tears day after day, year after year!
I realized a partition had taken place geographically, but inside, deep down we are family; bonded, connected, and like two siblings fighting, albeit fiercely, waiting for someone to point out, "Hey boys enough! You're only killing yourselves!"
That day I think has come.
War, my dear brothers and sisters in Pakistan and India, has got us nowhere. Money we should've spent on our poor we've spent on arms. If we could buy books instead of AK 47's, if tractors could replace tanks, bridges, mines, if judiciary could be strengthened instead of the size of the army, if peace could reign instead of the threat of war, then a formidable sub-continent could together challenge the rest of the world in trade and commerce.
Europe was made up of scores of little nations who waged bitter war with each other till a little while ago they sat and thought, "Aren't we a bunch of fools?" Today the EU is a strong, powerful union with a mighty voice heard worldwide.
That day has come for the peoples of India and Pakistan.
What a powerful combination we could be if we in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka laid aside petty differences, subdued our egos, put resources together and faced the world as one people!
That day has come..!
INTERCONNECTION OF POWER GRIDS ACROSS BORDER
It is reported that the Government of Bangladesh recently approved in principle a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Delhi, seeking open-ended import and export of electricity with an option to purchase power from both public and private sectors of India. A team of Bangladesh delegates initialled the MoU between the governments of Bangladesh and India on cooperation in the power sector during their visit to Delhi in November, 2009. According to a government spokesman, Bangladesh will sign an agreement with Delhi on the basis of this MoU during the prime minister's visit to India this month. As a result of the deal, both the countries will be able to sell or buy electricity from each other depending on availability, need and price of electricity. The deal will allow Bangladesh to import not just 100MW power as proposed earlier but 400-500MW from India in the near future. Similarly, it will allow the Power Development Board (PDB) to sell power to India when it will have surplus electricity.Once the agreement is signed, it will take at least two years to install necessary equipment for interconnection of the power grids of the two countries.
Officials of the two countries have identified Iswardi as the best point in Bangladesh and Baharampur in West Bengal for setting up the equipment for interconnection between the two grids. The MoU also approves a joint venture power project between the PDB and the National Thermal Power Company of India, which will allow the two national companies to jointly set up power plants in the two countries.
It may be recalled that back in 1997, the government of Sheikh Hasina explored the feasibility of interconnection of the two power grids but the idea was abandoned for unknown reasons. At that time a certain political group, renowned for its anti-India stance, was opposing the idea of interconnection of the grids as, according to them, this would amount to surrendering our sovereignty to India! Such an absurd argument only exposes their ignorance about operation of modern electrical power systems around the world. In this article, an attempt will be made to explain the technical and economic advantages of interconnection of power grids across national boundaries.
Bangladesh now generates around 4,000 MW of electrical power against an estimated demand of about 5,500 MW. As a result, load shedding has become a common phenomenon in Bangladesh. If the government pursued the idea of interconnection in 1997, the present power situation in Bangladesh would have been much better than what it is today.
A power system comprises electricity generating plants, transmission lines, distribution lines and and load centres. The load of the system varies from time to time during a day, from day to day, from month to month and from year to year. Every year each power plant needs to be shut down for a couple of weeks for routine maintenance. These are known as scheduled shut-downs. Scheduled shut-downs are necessary to keep the plants running for the rest of the year. It is possible that some power plants will trip i.e. shut themselves due to some faults without any previous warning. These are called unscheduled shut-downs. A stable and reliable power system is designed to meet the demand of the load under all conditions of scheduled and unscheduled shutdowns. This requires adequate reserve generating capacity over and above the peak demand. In smaller systems this reserve margin can be as high as 50% or more of the peak demand. In a large system, the reserve margin can be as low as 20% or less.
The reserve generating capacity requires high capital investment. Normally the reserve capacity remains idle most of the time but it is utilised only during scheduled or unscheduled shutdowns of operating power plants. It is, therefore, desirable to reduce the reserve generating capacity from economic consideration. One way to do so is to interconnect the power grid across the national boundary. If the Bangladesh grid is interconnected with India, the size of the grid will increase several times and as a result it may be possible to operate the national power grid with as little as 10% or less reserve generating capacity resulting in substantial savings in capital investment in power generation.
Normally, the maximum unit size of a power plant in a system is restricted to 10% (usually less) of the peak demand. A larger grid thus will allow larger and more economic generating plants to be integrated in the grid with the advantage that it will reduce the per kW cost of generation of electricity. This economy of scale is particularly significant in case of nuclear power plants which have high capital costs but very low fuel costs compared with those of fossil fuel fired power plants. Bangladesh is planning to build the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant with Russian assistance. The interconnection of the Bangladesh grid with India will allow construction of the most modern generation-III nuclear power plants ranging from 1000 to 1300 MW without any problem of system stability. This will substantially reduce the system generation cost. With very limited indigenous energy resources, Bangladesh has no other option but to depend heavily on nuclear energy for its future power needs. If several nuclear large plants are constructed at Rooppur and in other places like Chittagong and Khulna to meet the growing power need, it may be possible for Bangladesh to emerge as an energy exporting country from its present status of energy importing country.
Interconnection has additional technical advantages as it improves both stability and reliability of the system. A reliable power supply will encourage both domestic and foreign investment that will stimulate the economy of the country. Power plants usually operate at higher plant factors in an interconnected system. This further reduces the system generation cost. The different time zones in an interconnected region provide additional advantages as the peak demands occur at different times in different countries allowing exchange of power at the critical peak periods. Instead of having a single point of interconnection at Iswardi, it is desirable to have several points of interconnections all along the boundary of Bangladesh. This will facilitate exchange of power not only with West Bengal but also with the eastern states of India.
Because of technical and economic advantages, the power grids in North America and Europe are interconnected. China is now interconnecting its own isolated national grids and has plans for interconnection with the Russian grid. India is already interconnected with Bhutan and Nepal. The proposed interconnection with Bangladesh may ultimately pave the way to a SAARC power grid. India is already planning to interconnect with Sri Lanka and Pakistan according to a recent report published in an English daily of the country. The interconnection of the south Asian grids is highly desirable because of the huge untapped hydro potential in the region. In India, against the potential of 1,50,000 MW only 36,000 MW is exploited, in Bhutan against 30,000 MW only 1,500 MW, in Nepal against 83,000 MW only 680 MW and in Pakistan against 27,000 MW only 6,500 MW. Geographically widely spread India grid can facilitate interconnections with these countries. If the untapped hydro potential in the region is exploited preferably by joint collaboration of the regional countries and the grids are interconnected, it will supply huge amounts of green energy to a very large market. Interconnection of the power grids across national boundaries in the region will thus be beneficial to all the participating countries.
(The writer, former Chief Engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, is a specialist in nuclear power, energy and power system planning)
If we try to rationalise what makes a "fanatic" do what he does, we find ourselves delving into things unknown or inexplicable. The latest is the case of the would be bomber from Nigeria who, despite his father's immense wealth and position, and despite his own university background, tried to blow up the Northwest/Delta Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day. Why he would try to do such a thing we do not know but, when we hear how all too many involved in the new transnational terrorism are far from being products of slums, or backwoods religious schools, are students who have typically lived and become radicalised in the west, we may begin to get a frightening insight into how their minds work. All are well off, educated people, often with roots in Africa or Asia, cause us to ask what went wrong?
After 9/11, Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation delved into the backgrounds of 79 people who were behind five major attacks - the World Trade Centre attack in New York (1993), the east African embassy bombings (1998), 9/11, Bali (2002), and London (2005) and came to know that, of the 63 whose education was known, two-thirds had been to university - half of them in the west. Four had been, or are, working on doctorates. The largest group had studied engineering and the next most popular field of study was medicine.
When discussing radicals or fanatics, we are reminded of several interesting quotes made by famous people who can shed some light on the working of a fanatic mind. The first, Napoleon Bonaparte, said, "There is no place in a fanatic's head where reason can enter." Certainly not! But E M Cioran put it even more precise when he said, "The fanatic is incorruptible. If he kills for an idea, he can just as well get himself killed for one; in either case, tyrant or martyr, he is a monster!" But Finley Peter Dunne really hit the nail on the head when he said, "A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the case."
Time Magazine in an article illustrates the problem. It writes, "In one of the smartest neighbourhoods in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, there, on Asa Street, is the residence of Alhaji Umar Mutallab, the former chief of the United Bank for Africa and the First Bank of Nigeria, two of the country's largest financial institutions. In the past few days he has however, become better known as the father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the young man accused of trying to blow up Northwest/Delta Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day." The country's Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, voiced his concern at a church service in Abuja. "A Nigerian has created an additional problem for us by wanting to blow up an aircraft, that means that those Nigerians who travel out of this country will be subjected to unnecessary harassment and searches." That is facing reality.
But it gets worse because a leading scholar of Islamic history, Malise Ruthven, writing in open Democracy soon after 9/11 said, "There are a disproportionate number of scientifically trained people in fundamentalist movements because they are less critical of simplistic religious messages as technical specialisation tends to discourage critical thinking. He noted the "schizophrenia" experienced by people who work with scientific principles while living a pre-scientific mindset." Other writers have seen fundamentalism as stemming from the severe unease experienced by people making the transition between traditional life based on received authority, communal identity and stability, and modern life based on urban plurality and the notion of progress.
Some of the most charismatic terrorists such as America's elusive Unabomber, was a Harvard graduate. Abimael Guzman, leader of Peru's Sendero Luminoso, was a university professor, and the intellectual leader of the Maoist rebels in Nepal, Baburam Bhattarai, has a doctorate in urban planning! And among the Al Qaeda hierarchy, Aimen Al-Zawahry was a medical doctor and Mohamed Atta an engineering student, fluent in three languages. Bin Laden is himself a construction engineer. They all seem to be enigmas but data emanating from a number of sociological studies indicates that university-trained people in scientifically-allied professions like medicine and engineering strike well above their demographic weight in radical circles.
Other militants generally belong to groups who follow the rules of classic guerrilla warfare and combine military assaults with political work among local civilian populations. They tend to form small committees that are neither violent nor militant. These committees go out and preach to people telling them what is good and what is bad in the eyes of Islam. They praise those who go to the mosque and shame others. They tell people they are here to bring in Shariah law and only when they are accepted, do they become militant. If that sounds frighteningly similar to the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, it is because it is. But behind such physical acts of violence there has to be financial sources, training, education, and most of all, indoctrination. However, although Madrassah education has been blamed in recent times for the wave of extremism that has overcome the nation, yet in the past 150 years they were never involved in violence.
Human beings cannot afford to be fanatical about anything, not even about justice or loyalty, because it ends by murdering helpless people. Even Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran, one of the most conservative and anti-American Muslim clerical leaders, called the fight against terrorism a "holy war." He joined a host of learned Muslims who have loudly condemned terrorism as forbidden in Islamic law. The grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz bin Abdallah Al al-Shaykh said, those who kill themselves in attacks do not, as they might imagine, die as martyrs but as suicides, suicide being unequivocally forbidden in Islamic law.
In a pre-modern peasant economy where religion and fatalism predominate under the watchful eye of the clerics, it was inevitable that Islam would rise as an alternative ideology for the distressed, if only to protect them from divine retribution and man-made disasters. As a powerful political ideology, symbol of unity and cultural identity it has a great relevance particularly when man-made disasters, gross mismanagement, rampant corruption, blatant nepotism and favouritism, black marketing, hoarding of essential goods, hyper-inflation, semi-famine conditions are the main characteristics of the country, whether under a "secular-socialist" regime or "democratic entity." But until 9/11 it was not so prominent because Bangladesh had other unifying characteristics, since then however, over course of time, there arose a need for Bangladesh to ally itself to the Muslim world.
Although Islam was established in the socio-political, cultural and even economic arena of the country, when the military cracked down on political activity, Islamists were able to use the religious attitudes of the people to further their own political ambitions. The absence of other political outlets created the space they needed to entrench themselves into the political arena. Yet there was another factor too. The export of manpower to the Middle East which led to the import of Wahabism. This link allowed individuals and governments to invest in mosques and community groups without any form of regulation, and this led to an extensive infiltration of radical Islam in the country.
(Sylvia Mortoza is a staff writer of The Independent)
A TIME OF TESTS
This is a tough time to be a decision-maker. We live in an era of low predictability. The world appears in constant flux. The challenges are immense. And most of all, there is, in many instances a clash between the correct short term politics and the correct long term policy.
On the economy, the climate debate and security, the immediate pressures pretty much run one way: increase the role of government in the economy; put the climate deal off to more congenial financial times; and get out of substantial military commitment to fighting global terrorism. Yet in each case the right long-term policy almost certainly points to the opposite course. What is the way to bridge this gap between short and long term? To decide how to do that is to decide fundamentally what we believe in and what we want from our future. In deciding this, only the head can guide us in how to do it; but the heart must tell us what it is we truly believe in doing.
In the economy, the near universal conventional wisdom after the collapse of the banking system, was that the market had failed and the state had to step in. Old copies of John Kenneth Galbraith's The Great Crash of 1929 and Keynesian tracts were dusted off and avidly re-read. And it is true: the market did fail and the state had to step in. The fiscal and monetary stimuli were important in themselves, but even more so because they indicated that the strength of government was going to be utilised to prevent contagion and further collapse.
But if we move to analysing what sort of recovery we can expect and what sort of future economy we are trying to fashion, it is by no means clear that we need a continuing, intrusive state role. On the contrary, we need the private sector to regain its sense of enterprise, innovation and vigour; we need to be careful of regulating so as to squeeze the availability of credit; and we should certainly avoid protectionism. True, the private sector will have much re-structuring to go through and the big deficits have been accumulated in the crisis must be unwound. This will mean a radical re-structuring of the state and its services. But in the end, business not government will power the global economy forward.
In other words, the claim that the market failed is too alarmingly broad. Actually, one part of the market failed, but government and regulators were part of that failure. If we believe that this is true, it will ultimately be the creativity (in the best sense) of the private sector that will see us return to prosperity. So we need to make decisions in the coming weeks and months which help the private sector and not harm it.
Likewise, in respect of the environment and energy, whatever the financial pressures, if we think that the earth's climate is probably changing as a result of human activity, we need to set the global economy on a low carbon path to the future. This doesn't mean that we can come out with unrealistic propositions as we struggle for a new global treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. We should not make the best the enemy of the good. There are major things we can do on the basis of existing knowledge on deforestation, energy efficiency and renewables to make a big difference over the next decade. We will then require a long-term framework of incentives to develop the technologies of the future. But the point is: now is not the time to put off action.
The seriousness of China on this issue, and now India, the enthusiasm of Brazil and others in the emerging markets to participate in tackling climate change: all of this offers a huge opportunity that should be grasped. And for the West, we should all remind ourselves about $100 a barrel oil. There are exemplary reasons of energy security why we need to change the nature of our economies to drive down carbon dependence.
In security questions, the choices here are perhaps the hardest of all. A public, understandably disheartened by the length of the current military campaigns and loss of life in Afghanistan and Iraq, is sympathetic to the idea of disengagement. But this is also where, most of all, we need to decide what it is we truly believe in. The reason it is hard going in Afghanistan right now, for example, is that the forces we are facing are making it so. They are doing this by the use of terrorism and by brutal intimidation of the civilian population and in defiance of the expressed and plain will of the international community.
Time and again what is clear is that people, given the chance, do want governments that are accountable, proper rule of law and the ability to choose their own destiny. Those using terror, whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen and the list could go on and on, do so to de-stabilise nations and to thwart the will of the people to live in peace.
Disengaging now will not leave people free from our interference; it will put them at the mercy of groups whose extremism threatens the very way of life that we stand for and to which they aspire. So no matter how difficult it is, we should remember what it is we believe in and why.
So now is a moment, even amongst all the uncertainty, for some clarity and that clarity comes best from a worked out strategy based on a strong set of convictions.
(The writer was Prime Minister of the UK from 1997-2007. e-mail: www.tonyblairoffice.org)
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009.
ETERNAL VIGILANCE IS THE KEY
TERRORISM REMAINS AS POTENT A THREAT AS EVER
JUST a week after 290 people survived an airborne terrorist attempt over Detroit, the US embassy in Jakarta is warning of a new year attack on the holiday island of Bali. After the bombings of 2002 and 2005 that killed 92 Australians, nobody would take the warning anything but seriously, especially as it comes six months after suicide blasts killed seven people - including three Australians - at two leading Jakarta hotels.
At the start of a new decade, the terrorist threat to developed and developing nations from Islamist extremists remains acute, demanding eternal vigilance. While the war in Afghanistan is being fought to lessen the possibility of that unfortunate nation becoming a wholesale sanctuary for terrorists, two key strategies are vital to curb the threat in the wider world. These are, firstly, physical screening at airports and venues where a threat is perceived and, secondly, employing the most sophisticated intelligence gathering and sharing.
The attempted Christmas Day bombing of the Northwest Airlines flight has prompted authorities to adopt wider use of body scanners at airports.
It is believed such technology would have detected the explosive device that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, had strapped to his body, which went undetected in Amsterdam. But no screening system can be entirely foolproof, which is why intelligence gathering and sharing are paramount.
It beggars belief that Abdulmutallab was given a visa to the US and allowed to fly after being refused a visa to re-enter Britain and after his father had contacted the US embassy in Nigeria about his son's fanaticism. It has also emerged that the US National Security Agency intercepted conversations among al-Qa'ida leaders in Yemen discussing a plot to use a Nigerian man for a terrorist attack. But Washington's spy agencies failed to join the dots and combine the intercepts with other facts that should have seen Abdulmutallab barred from flying to the US.
The lesson from the near-tragedy is that the most sensitive, costly intelligence in the world is of little use when it is not passed on and applied to no-fly lists and to refusing travel visas. To date, Australian authorities have shown commendable expertise in thwarting planned atrocities. The coming years will continue to test their vigilance and expertise, both here and in the wider region.
SEEKING OUR BEST AND BRIGHTEST
NOMINATE THIS NEWSPAPER'S AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR
DAY by day, week by week throughout 2009, we reported their achievements and, in a few cases, their occasional stumbles. As usual, this newspaper's Australian of the Year will be drawn from a diverse range of people who are unusually brilliant, brave, successful, creative, generous or inspiring. It's time for readers to nominate who they think deserves the honour.
Reviewing the past year shows it will be a difficult choice. Tasmanian-born micro-biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine, is likely to figure on many people's lists. So will cricket captain Ricky Ponting, who despite losing the Ashes, fought back to become Test cricket's most successful captain of all time. In a world fighting terror, trooper Mark Donaldson stands out for bravery. He was awarded a Victoria Cross in Afghanistan, the first in more than 40 years, for rescuing a coalition interpreter under fire. Then there are the leaders who steered Australia to escape recession despite the global financial crisis -- Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan, Treasury secretary Ken Henry and reserve bank governor Glenn Stevens. Or what about lawyer Noel Pearson, whose vision for his indigenous people is taking shape, or blind singer Geoffrey Gurumul Yunupingu? Selecting a winner is a celebration of our best and brightest.
POLICY SPECIFICS, NOT SWEEPING PROMISES
IT'S TIME TO ACCEPT SOCIAL PROBLEMS ARE NOT EASILY FIXED
FOR the 100,000 Australians who will sleep in a shelter or on the streets, there is little to look forward to as the new year begins. And as Matthew Denholm reports in The Weekend Australian, this unacceptable situation shows no sign of an early ending. Despite Kevin Rudd making housing the homeless a policy priority, a year after the states and commonwealth agreed on a national plan there is little progress towards the Prime Minister's target of halving the number of people living on the streets by the end of the decade. This slow start is not Mr Rudd's fault - the wheels of bureaucracy grind exceeding slow. Nor was he wrong to set such an ambitious target - demanding help for the most disadvantaged is precisely what prime ministers should do. But as a former head of the Queensland cabinet office, Mr Rudd could have taken greater care to counsel caution, to remind us all that policy change in a federal system is always slow. Money and good intentions do not deliver reform, campaign commitments and sweeping statements at summits do not secure solutions. Nor does endless activity. As the 1979 cabinet papers released yesterday demonstrate, Malcolm Fraser worked very hard as prime minister This is a lesson that is especially important in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, when advocates of the interventionist state and an activist public service assume ever more public money is a sovereign cure for society's ills. The continuing plight of the homeless is only one of many intractable issues that defy the resources of government. Despite increased federal funds and a blueprint delivered in the middle of last year, Mr Rudd's promise to fix the hospital system goes unfulfilled. While Canberra is committed to spending buckets of money buying Murray-Darling Basin water licences, no national plan to repair the river system is being implemented. For all the good sense of Education Minister Julia Gillard's plans to make schools publicly accountable for their performance, the opposition of some states and their teacher unions makes them difficult to implement. Regardless of the way immensely able public servants laboured long on the proposed emissions trading scheme, it appears to be as cumbersome as it is incomprehensible. And in an especially scandalous example of policy inertia, of the $645 million the federal government has set aside for remote indigenous housing, $45 million was spent in the first 15 months, without one house being built.
There is no doubting our federal system contributes to these specific setbacks, given the way it ensures double handling of decisions on just about every domestic issue. State ministers and officials intent on protecting provincial power bases will always find sensible or self-serving reasons to avoid co-operating with Canberra. Nor is this always an entirely bad thing - the Whitlam government could have done even more damage without opposition from the states. But for good or ill, federalism ensures sweeping change is simply impossible and makes reform a matter of incremental gains on specific issues.
Both the Howard and Rudd governments have demonstrated this with the Northern Territory intervention. In the place of sweeping solutions to indigenous disadvantage, such as the discredited assumption that land rights were a universal panacea, the intervention deals with precise problems - the way welfare payments support drug and alcohol abuse and the violence against women and children that follows. Certainly it is expensive and unpopular with supporters of the status quo and it will take a generation before we see its success - increased numbers of children who have grown up in stable homes and who break the cycle of poverty and dysfunction in many remote indigenous communities. But the intervention sets an example worth following. Mr Rudd is not the first leader to see his honourable policy ambitions thwarted by bureaucracy. But he can stay true to his intentions by focusing on what is possible. Bob Hawke never recovered from his impossible promise that "no child will live in poverty by 1990". By setting out specific objectives year by year, Mr Rudd can avoid a similar fate - and assist people who need his help most.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
ON THE WAY OUT, BOOMERS STILL HAVE THE NUMBERS
IT'S here. As of yesterday, the oldest baby boomers will start to retire from the workforce, and as they move on to the age pension, the squeeze on government revenue which has been predicted for so long will begin to occur.
The projections of the second intergenerational report, released in 2007, were less alarming on this phenomenon than those of the first report five years earlier. Increased immigration, a higher birthrate and greater participation rates had boosted the projected numbers in the workforce to 2047 - the report's time frame - compared with the retired population. Improved terms of trade had made projections of gross domestic product look better, too. Even so, the ageing population was projected to slow economic growth from an average of 2.1 per cent a year for the previous four decades, to 1.6 per cent for the next four. All that, of course, was before the global financial crisis. The current outlook will not be known until the release of the third report, expected soon. According to the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, it will project a larger and younger population than its predecessors, but ageing still confronts the economy with difficult spending pressures.
But the gradual withdrawal of the baby boomers from working life is more than a demographic change and a challenge to those framing future budgets. It is also a cultural change.
The baby boomer generation reached adulthood in the West in a period of domestic peace and prosperity which has rarely been matched in history. Its large numbers and privileged life, together with other social trends including the sexual revolution following the invention of the contraceptive pill, marked it as different, and endowed it with a confidence and a sense of entitlement which produced an astonishing ferment in Western democracies. The protest movement against the Vietnam War in America and Australia, and the broader protest movement against the status quo in countries such as France and Czechoslovakia, were all local variations of that general trend.
That ferment always assumed that the baby boomer generation was an agent of change - at times revolutionary change. The famous image of Che Guevara symbolised that revolutionary spirit - even though more recently it has been viewed with an ironic twist, a wry recognition that revolution promises more than it ever delivers.
But revolutions come to an end; revolutionary spirit becomes diverted from idealistic self-sacrifice into securing individual gains and defending the status quo against further change. Young revolutionaries interested in liberty, equality and fraternity become conservatives more concerned with the size of their mortgage, the convenience of their plasma television or the slenderness of their golf handicap as they move through life. So it has been with the baby boomers.
Once in the workforce the baby boom generation showed themselves not so very different from those who came before or after. Australia's laws and culture encouraged owner-occupied housing after World War II, and the boomers responded eagerly, as their parents had, to the incentives. Their enthusiasm has kept the proportion of owner-occupied housing steady around 70 per cent of all housing over five decades, but it has also driven the price of houses up. The generous tax rules on housing, and rising disposable incomes, have led an entire generation to invest and reinvest in ever more elaborate homes. The larger bulk of that generation within the population has accentuated the effect, and has squeezed generations which follow out of the market.
The baby boomers are happy, though others may not be. And given the number of boomers, politicians are eager to keep them happy. The recent state of politics illustrates how conservatism has come to dominate as the boomers have aged. After 11 years of John Howard, perhaps Australia's most conservative prime minister ever, this country's voters, among whom baby boomers, of course, predominate, elected Labor's most conservative prime minister ever. At state level, particularly in NSW, Labor's sclerotic factional system - based on ideological divisions from the boomers' heyday - has produced a decadent administration which is incapable of framing or articulating a coherent vision of the future, or of mustering the means of achieving it. Like the anciens regimes of 18th-century Europe, or the post-Stalinist eastern bloc regimes in the 1980s it clings to power without purpose or hope.
The baby boomers are starting to move on. In their day their dreams and their achievements were great. But the world has changed. Australians of all ages must retain the intellectual flexibility to ensure the certainties of their generation's passing era do not become the obstacles to future progress.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
CALM ON, AUSSIE CALM ON
EXCITING news from the soft drink industry: a new line of beverages has been developed that reduce excitement. Instead of the nervous jitters and insomnia of caffeine drinks, they induce calm. The products, according to one imbiber, take five or 10 minutes to sink in and leave a feeling of relaxation and slight euphoria. We would say whoopee, except that would be, in the circumstances, entirely inappropriate. So let us greet this excellent news instead with a resounding "whatever " Unexciting drinks are clearly needed in this techno age age when attention spans are getting shorter, life is getting louder and the rising daily intake of caffeine is hyping people into an absurd frenzy which can be relieved only by sitting at a computer and killing aliens for 72 hours straight. What happens, though, if the two types are mixed? Those who have one too many cans of central nervous system stimulants may be tempted to try some unexcitement by way of balance. The net effect should be like drinking tap water. Now there's a thought.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
MOTHERS DELIVER A VERDICT ON MATERNITY HOSPITALS
MOST women nurse intense memories of giving birth and of the exhilarating - and exhausting - first weeks of their newborn's life. At a time of such heightened sensation, mothers will understandably view the quality of maternity care in this country through the filter of their personal journey. But collate the experiences of thousands of women, as The Age has done through a major survey, and some common threads emerge. The most concerning theme centres on an apparent shortage of resources in public hospitals, leaving many women feeling as if they and their infants are being exposed to unacceptable risk. But before we elaborate on such findings, a few caveats are necessary.
To begin with, survey results of this kind need to be interpreted with a degree of caution. After all, the respondents replied to questions posted on Fairfax's Essential Baby website - in other words, they came to us and not the reverse. Common sense suggests that people with a sense of grievance or activists for a cause would be particularly motivated to participate. For this reason, the overall positive finding - most mothers were generally satisfied with their experience of the system - is an encouraging one.
Nevertheless, the shortcomings identified through this survey of 2792 mothers, including 2162 Victorian women, are alarming and appear backed by expert opinion. More than a third of mothers believe the system is seriously overstretched. More than 1000 mothers think maternity units in public hospitals have come to resemble herding yards and a sizeable minority of women say shortages had put at risk their lives and those of their babies. To an extent, these findings tally with those of an internal hospital report seen by The Age only three months after the new Royal Women's Hospital opened in June 2008. The report warned that a critical lack of money, staff and resources would almost certainly lead to death and serious injury for women and babies, if it hadn't already. ''I have never seen so many adverse outcomes and near-miss events,'' the writer, a senior consultant, said after reviewing 14 case histories last year. ''The hospital is dangerously overloaded with maternity cases.''
Professor Euan Wallace, director of obstetric services at Southern Health, and a key adviser to the Victorian Government on maternity services, says he has never seen the life of a mother or baby put at risk because of a lack of resources and points out the uncomfortable truth of birth being at times a risky business. But soaring demand and chronic shortage are a dangerous combination regardless.
The lack of resourcing is also related to the perception that Melbourne's new $250 million hospital, planned before the recent baby boom, has already been shown to be too small. Unsurprisingly, some women are calling for the hospital's expansion or for the building of yet another facility. Professor Wallace agrees Victoria has a shortage of hospital beds, while his colleague, Dr Ted Weaver, president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, says women are being discharged from hospital too soon and without support.
The lack of support is felt most keenly by women with breastfeeding problems. A lack of breastfeeding support emerged as a major issue for respondents and again this is not surprising. Lactation consultants say funding changes late last year reduced access to intensive breastfeeding services at public hospitals, leaving poorer women with few options for seeking help. This is a serious shortcoming in the system because women who struggle to establish breastfeeding typically give it up, to the detriment of their infants. Suggestions for improving access to services include extending the Medicare rebate to private lactation consultants and increasing the number of post-hospital home visits by midwives. In any event, this is one problem that can be fixed relatively easily, yielding long-term health and economic benefits.
The public/private divide in maternity services goes beyond breastfeeding support, of course. Women in private hospitals, for instance, usually get a longer stay than those in the public system. Caesarean rates are also higher in private hospitals, which may account for slightly better outcomes for both babies and mothers in that system. However, a majority of respondents think Australia's caesarean rate of 30 per cent is too high and some of the experts agree. Changing the status quo would be difficult in the absence of a wider cultural shift away from litigation.
UNTHINKABLE? ENGLAND BECOME THE WORLD'S BEST CRICKETERS
It was only one Test match. But what a victory for England in Durban when they bowled South Africa out for a second time to win by an innings and 98 runs on Wednesday morning. The best he had seen away from home, captain Andrew Strauss suggested afterwards. It raises the dazzling prospect that England might finally make it to the top of the bewilderingly complex Test rankings in the foreseeable future. Beating Australia in the Ashes series last summer was a good start. That ended the Aussies' decade-long international dominance of the league table and reduced them to third, behind India and South Africa. Now Australia need to defeat Pakistan convincingly in their current series just to stay there. It is true that England are still trailing in fifth place, behind Sri Lanka and some way off the pace of the leaders, who are all within 10 points of one another, with even Sri Lanka 10 points ahead of England. But if Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad can continue their fine bowling form and Strauss keeps up the good work with the bat and if Kevin Pietersen returns to his world-beating best then they could put the country that invented the game 300 years ago, and remains one of the strongest supporters of the traditional five-day Test, back at the top. Imagine, victory in the football World Cup, a triumphant hosting of the 2012 Olympics and becoming the top Test side. Only one small crack in the pathway to cricketing glory: mounting a successful defence of the Ashes in Australia next winter.
HIGH-SPEED RAIL: TIME TO MAKE TRACKS
As the old year ended, China launched the fastest train service in the world. As the new one begins, Britain gets a chance to catch up. The government, belatedly, wants to build a north-south fast line. Over Christmas the High Speed Two company presented Lord Adonis, the transport secretary, with detailed plans for the first section. But 250 mph trains dashing between big cities remain just a computer-modelled fantasy. If they are ever to run, this is the moment Labour , the Lib Dems and the Conservatives must agree common terms and make it a shared national project before the costly, argumentative and muddy part of the project gets under way.
A new line is not a project for this government, and not only for the next one. Its construction will outlast several parliaments and prime ministers. Paradoxically, that is why delay or division now could derail the project. If the current impetus is not used to the full, opposition will grow. Some will worry about the cost, others about the disruptive effects of slicing a line through the countryside from London to Scotland. The railway might end up as one of those good ideas which almost everyone wanted but which, in Britain, turned out to be too hard to do.
No one doubts the opposition's enthusiasm the Tories backed the principle of a new line a year ago, before the government, and George Osborne singled out high-speed rail for support in an interview recently. The test will be whether the party pushes ahead quickly if it wins the election. It makes sense for the Tories to let Labour do the heavy lifting and win a shared mandate for a specific new route on polling day. Planning is advanced. The government will issue a white paper in March which could become, by the autumn, a detailed hybrid bill to gain permission for the route. (The bill, announced last month, intentionally keeps the project clear of the new Infrastructure Planning Commission, which the Tories oppose.) But even on this timetable, passing the law will take at least three years, followed by financing. Construction is unlikely to start until 2017, with trains running in 2025.
Any hesitation after the election perhaps to map out an alternative route, as the Tories say they may do would push the project into the parliament after next. What the project needs is a heavyweight champion to keep it on track. The shadow transport minister, Theresa Villiers, lacks clout. This is the moment for the Tories to appoint someone who believes in great national projects and has a record of making them happen quickly. So step forward, Lord Heseltine. Britain's transport revolution could be your lasting monument.
EDUCATION POLICY: THE CLASS OF 2010
A swath of first-time voters at the next election will bring a unique distinction to the polling booth. These 18-year-olds are the first generation of schoolchildren ever to be educated entirely under a Labour government. This is the Blair-Brown generation, a cohort that will come of age after an experience entirely shaped by the government's education reforms. They were the guinea pigs for the smaller primary class sizes pledged in the 1997 election; as they moved from primary to secondary, so the bog-standard comprehensive was buried. As they prepared for their final exams, Ed Balls's diplomas began to come on stream. And as they head for university or further education, they will be fearing tuition fees and degrees compressed into two years and the knowledge that graduate unemployment is at record levels. Yesterday we reported that the director general of the CBI, Richard Lambert, did not think much of Labour's success in making education the engine for economic and social reform, as Tony Blair once promised. Today we report a government adviser attacking status-seeking parents for shunning the state sector. After more than a decade of big spending and cautious reforms, education has lost none of its capacity to divide.
Labour's record is not all bad. The years of public parsimony were reversed: schools spending alone increased by more than 50% to £31bn. More teachers are being trained, more are staying in the profession, and the most ambitious plan for the renewal of school buildings and facilities since compulsory education was introduced in Victorian times was launched. Standards have improved: the statistics are always controversial, and the effect of targets more so. But 7% more 16-year-olds are passing five good GCSEs including English and maths than 10 years ago, and in this year's Sats 80% reached the expected level in English by the time they finished primary school, while 79% did so in maths. In 2000 those figures were 75% and 72% respectively. The battle to open up university access has made some progress, and research from Bristol University suggests that the link between parental income and school performance is being weakened.
That is the most important development if education's first objective is taken to be driving social and economic improvement. But where Labour has been weakest is in providing a consistent explanation of what it wants its reforms to achieve. Sometimes they are to produce a skilled workforce in which case, the Lambert criticisms are serious. Sometimes they are to break down social division (so David Woods's attack today on the chattering classes' refusal to commit their children to the local comprehensive matters). Sometimes they are about parental choice and the alleged benefit of the marketplace for efficiency and outcomes. Uncertainty about ends has led to confusion about means. "Standards, not structures" was replaced by a parade of academies and faith schools. The number and variety of qualifications has increased to a level of bewildering complexity, governed by a parallel world of unpopular and sometimes incompetent quangos. The stratification they represent risks reproducing the very divisions comprehensives were intended to undo.
And now education has to live with the new age of austerity. Mr Balls believes £2bn of Whitehall cuts can preserve the frontline in schools. Headteachers disagree. And the universities secretary, Lord Mandelson, is clear that higher education's years of plenty are over: more than £300m of cuts will inevitably hit students and teachers hardest. When the money stops, the success of Labour policies will really be tested. Good reform is resilient enough to transcend cuts. But if it is higher spending alone that has made a difference then the future for the generation of children starting school next autumn is bleak.
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