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Monday, February 22, 2010

EDITORIAL 22.02.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

Editorial

month february 22, edition 000436, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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THE PIONEER

  1. SCHOOL UNIFORMITY
  2. IMPERFECT INDUCTION
  3. CAPITULATING TO TERRORISTS - JOGINDER SINGH
  4. NUMBERS DO NOT MATTER - KUNAL SAHA
  5. CHINA HITS BACK AT US - B RAMAN
  6. AN ELUSIVE PEACE - BARRY RUBIN
  7. TWO BALD MEN FIGHTING OVER A COMB - GWYNNE DYER
  8. THE FORGOTTEN VICTIMS OF KOSI'S FURY - NARAYAN JEE CHOUDHARY

MAIL TODAY

  1. BRAVE FOR OBAMA TO MEET THE DALAI LAMA
  2. A WELCOME FIRST STEP
  3. SC ERRS ON CBI VERDICT - BY RAJEEV DHAVAN
  4. POWER & POLITICS - PRABHU CHAWLA

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. FRESH TUNE
  2. POCKET ECONOMICS
  3. UNWELCOME CONDIMENT - ANEESH A
  4. 'QUANTUM COMPUTERS ARE SOMEWHERE ON THE HORIZON'
  5. GOOGLE-HAGGLE - C P SURENDRAN
  6. BATTLING THE BURQA - DILEEP PADGAONKAR

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. BAD ODOUR ON THE FARM
  2. THE OSCAR GOES TO...
  3. POST-INDORE, IT'S ADVANTAGE GADKARI - PANKAJ VOHRA
  4. THREE CHENNAIS - GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI
  5. QUALIFY TO DESERVE WHAT YOU DESIRE - NITIN GANDHI

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. RIGHT TO OFFEND
  2. AFTER THE HYSTERICS
  3. BROKEN MEASURES
  4. LICENCE TO WORK - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
  5. ACTS OF PROBABILITY - M.R. MADHAVAN
  6. THE TURNAROUND STORY - J.P. YADAV
  7. WELCOME TO THE RE-GENERATION
  8. IPAUSE
  9. DRIVING BY COMMITTEE - S. VIJAY KUMAR

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. PMEAC'S POWERSPEAK
  2. IN NEED OF OVERHAUL
  3. IN BUDGET, WHAT MATTERS IS FISC - DHIRAJ NAYYAR
  4. HOW MUCH REFORM IN FERTILISERS? - YOGINDER K ALAGH
  5. LET'S ACCOUNT FOR THE FED'S DISCOUNT - ALEXANDRA RICE

THE HINDU

  1. NEED FOR CAUTION ON FERTILIZERS
  2. FOCUSSING ON FISCAL CONSOLIDATION
  3. A PROJECT TO SECURE AUTONOMY AND EXCELLENCE - N.R. MADHAVA MENON
  4. WHAT IS HAPPENING IN PAKISTAN? - K. SUBRAHMANYAM
  5. POLICING THOUGHT, NOT CONTROLLING TERROR - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
  6. ICELAND'S THAW POINT OVER PRESS FREEDOM - BEN QUINN
  7. UAE QUALITY OF LIFE RANKED TOP

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. A GOOD TIME TO END STIMULUS
  2. INDIA MUST ENGAGE EU
  3. REKHA GOES TO GUJARAT, YEDDYURAPPA CYCLING
  4. LAW OF KARMA: A MORAL COMPASS

DNA

  1. SARAN LOSES OUT
  2. DUE APOLOGIES
  3. JUSTICE DELIVERED - RK RAGHAVAN
  4. PERFORMANCE IS THE WATCHWORD FOR MUSLIMS - FIROZ BAKHT AHMED

THE TRIBUNE

  1. LESS STRIDENT
  2. SC BAN ON MINING
  3. SAFER CLINICAL TRIALS
  4. WHY JUSTICE SHAH COULDN'T MAKE IT TO SC - BY KULDIP NAYAR
  5. ZYADA BETTER ENGLISH - BY ARADHIKA SHARMA
  6. DIFFERENT FORMS OF CORRUPTION - BY D. N. BEZBORUAH
  7. A UK THINKER TURNS HIS BACK ON PARLIAMENT - BY STEVE RICHARDS
  8. CHATTERATI - BY DEVI CHERIAN

MUMBAI MERROR

  1. CURE FOR THE CANCER OF ARTS

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. BIOTECHNOLOGY REGULATION
  2. THE SOIL FOR CHANGE
  3. ITS RISE AND FALL, ACCORDING TO THE CSO - MAHESH VYAS
  4. DEMOCRACIES AND DEFICITS - A V RAJWADE
  5. IS ZAIN A GAIN OR A PAIN? - SUNIL JAIN
  6. THE PRANAB MUKHERJEE BUDGET - SANJAYA BARU

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. THE TIGER'S TALE
  2. SINGLE CENTRAL RATE FO GOODS & SERVICES
  3. INVESTORS' ASSUMPTIONS ARE ALREADY WRONG
  4. EQUITY HOLDS FIRM WHILE OIL, GOLD SHOW STRENGTH
  5. NIFTY SUPPORT ZONE SEEN AT 4700-4800
  6. SIGNS OF SUCCESS AND FAILURE - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
  7. 'PEOPLE ARE BOUND TO SHIFT TO DIGI MEDIA' - ARCHANA RAI & SARAH JACOB
  8. 'WE WILL INVEST RS 2 LAKH CR THIS YEAR' - MAYUR SHETTY
  9. EMERGING MARKETS WILL WIN HANDS DOWN IN LONG TERM: JP MORGAN - DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR
  10. EMERGING MARKETS WILL WIN HANDS DOWN IN LONG TERM - DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR
  11. 'PACE OF STIMULUS WITHDRAWAL NEEDS TO BE DETERMINED VERY CAREFULLY' - ANTO ANTONY & TK ARUN
  12. 'UNDER-DEVELOPED SUB-SAHARAN REGION OFFERS HUGE OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH' - ARUN KUMAR

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. A GOOD TIME TO END STIMULUS
  2. INDIA MUST ENGAGE EU - BY ARJUN SENGUPTA
  3. DEMAND TRUTH FROM POLS, BE READY TO ACCEPT IT - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  4. REKHA GOES TO GUJARAT, YEDDYURAPPA CYCLING - MISRA'S TOUGH LUCK
  5. OUT OF NETWORK - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
  6. LAW OF KARMA: A MORAL COMPASS - BY RAJASHREE BIRLA

THE STATESMAN

  1. BANK BOUNTY
  2. STRANGE SIGNALS
  3. CAMPUS CROWNS
  4. EARTH AND THE WORLD~II - DN BOSE

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. AT A MILESTONE
  2. A LITTLE TOO LATE
  3. THAT HEALTHY FEELING - S.L. RAO
  4. UNEQUAL DREAM - GWYNNE DYER

DECCAN HERALD

  1. A TOUGH CHOICE
  2. WOODS' WORD
  3. PM'S HIGH-WIRE POLITICS
  4. BYLINE: M J AKBAR
  5. AL QAEDA'S QUEST FOR THE BOMB - BY H D S GREENWAY,NYT:
  6. GIFT OF LIFE - BY BHARATHI PRABHU

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. OUR LINK TO THIS LAND
  2. THE REGION: OUT OF DATE AND OUT OF TOUCH - BY BARRY RUBIN
  3. SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT - BY YORAM DORI
  4. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH - BY HADAR SUSSKIND AND LARA FRIEDMAN

HAARETZ

  1. A DUTY TO PROTEST
  2. PREEMPTING A 'WHITE INTIFADA'  - BY SHAUL MISHAL AND DORON MAZZA
  3. CAN ISRAEL'S RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY FINALLY ACCEPT ITS HOMOSEXUAL MEMBERS? – BY ZE'EV SEGAL
  4. THE PRICE OF FOLLY - BY YEHUDA BEN MEIR

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. OPEN THE DOOR
  2. ABOVE THE PAST
  3. CLIMATE CHANGE
  4. FAILING GRADE
  5. THE BANKRUPTCY BOYS - BY PAUL KRUGMAN

I.THE NEWS

  1. THE TAX MAZE
  2. ENDANGERED
  3. NO MERCY
  4. THE PATH TO FREEDOM - CHARLES FERNDALE
  5. KABUL'S WOMEN - SAHAR SABA
  6. THE HIMALAYAN GLACIER CONTROVERSY - PRAFUL BIDWAI
  7. ON AN UPWARD CURVE - TALAT MASOOD
  8. ENTRY DENIED - CHRIS CORK
  9. INDIA'S BELATED TURNAROUND - ASIF EZDI

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. MAINTAIN AND ALSO FINE-TUNE N PROGRAMME
  2. PRESIDENT'S WELCOME YES TO SWISS CASES
  3. THE COLLAPSE OF NETHERLANDS GOVT
  4. LACK OF PROTOCOL LACK OF RESPECT - DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
  5. IMPERATIVES OF A DIALOGUE - HUSSAIN MOHI-UD-DIN QADRI
  6. INDIA'S UNENDING DEFENCE EXPENDITURE - SAJJAD SHAUKAT
  7. CASE OF AN INDIAN LADY ARMY OFFICER - AFSHAIN AFZAL
  8. THE NEED FOR PLAN B - JAMES M LINDSAY

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. POWER SHARING
  2. TOXIC SHIPS
  3. JESUS, MOHAMMAD AND SARASWATI..!
  4. BANKING FOR OUR CITIZENS - DR SYEDA SHARMIN ABSAR
  5. RISE OF A UNIQUE SECULARISM - DR ABU RAWSAB
  6. PHONY ATTACK ON CLIMATE SCIENCE - JEFFREY D SACHS

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. LESSONS FOR LABOR FROM A FAILED EXERCISE
  2. DECIDING ON THE MERITS
  3. WHALES NOT THE MAIN GAME

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. LIBS STILL TOO SELF-ABSORBED
  2. AWB SCANDAL HITS A NEW LOW
  3. GO TO PLAN B TO LIMIT COSTS OF CLIMATE PARALYSIS
  4. THE TRAP THAT LURKS WITHIN TRAPSTER

THE GUARDIAN

  1. CONSERVATIVES: SELLING TAXPAYERS SHORT
  2. GORDON BROWN: BROUGHT TO BOOK
  3. IN PRAISE OF … REFORMING THE COMMONS

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. MOTIVATE TEACHERS
  2. FLEXTIME OPTION
  3. IMF'S PROPOSAL FOR TEACHING PIIGS NATIONS HOW TO FLY - NOURIEL ROUBINI
  4. PUZZLING TIMING OF U.S. ACTIONS TOWARD CHINA

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. NEW CHAIRMAN OF BUSINESS LOBBY
  2. CALL FOR DEBATE ON SMOKING
  3. ROOT OF PREMIER AMBITIONS
  4. DEMOCRACIES THAT LACK LIBERTY - BY IQRA ANUGRAH

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. MUD-SLINGING MATCHES
  2. NATURAL RESOURCE EXPLOITATION IS A SHORT WAY - YANSEN
  3. PROTECTING ALIENS' RIGHTS - ANSWER C. STYANNES
  4. THE COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION - LR WIBOWO

CHINA DAILY

  1. END DECADE-OLD DEFICIT
  2. LESSON OF LABOR CRISIS
  3. MARKET TO DICTATE US HOLDINGS - BY XI XIANRONG (CHINA DAILY)
  4. LOVE-HATE AFFAIR MUST NOT BOIL OVER - BY YAO SHUJIE (CHINA DAILY)

DAILY MIRROR

  1. IN THE LAND OF LOTUSES
  2. TNA AND THE NEW ERA OF TAMIL POLITICS: ARE THEY LIVING UP TO THE CHALLENGE? - BY DAYAPALA THIRANAGAMA
  3. CONTRADICTIONS AND GAPS IN LOGIC
  4. SOCIAL IMPACT OF DEVELOPMENT HAS CREATED A SICK SOCIETY - BYU.L DEVAKUMARA  

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

SCHOOL UNIFORMITY

WHY A NATIONAL CURRICULUM MAKES SENSE

 

Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal's effort at getting the gamut of secondary school education boards to agree on a common curriculum for mathematics and science deserves commendation. Despite arguments that such a move would curtail the autonomy of State boards and hurt India's federalist impulses, a common, contemporary curriculum in science, mathematics and — as Mr Sibal has proposed — in commerce and economics is a necessity. It will enable school boards to draw up individual syllabi while adhering to the same broad curriculum and to that extent ensure equivalence among their students in terms of candidature for higher education and, later, employability. Subjects such as history and geography, which have local contexts, have been left free for the boards to design their own curricula. Why is Mr Sibal's step so overdue? It is because somebody needs to sort out India's blackboard jungle of school systems. There are over 30 school education boards, examinations and benchmarks running parallel in this country. Not just are marking standards different, curricula are different, whole educational cultures are different. Many States — West Bengal and Maharashtra are examples — have had colleges resorting to positive discrimination in favour of State boards, on the grounds that they are more niggardly with their marking than all-India boards. In theory, any Indian school graduate can go to college anywhere in the country. In reality, this is not possible.


Second, State boards are spectacularly uneven. According to Selected Educational Statistics: 2005-06, a document released by the Human Resource Development Ministry, in 2006 as many as 5.02 million children appeared for class XII examinations under one or the other Indian board. Overall, 72.71 per cent passed — but the number ranged from 87 per cent at Central Board of Secondary Education schools to 59 per cent at Assam Higher Secondary Education Council Schools and 36 per cent at Jammu & Kashmir State Board of School Education schools. Results were perhaps a reflection of the relative importance paid to education by a State Government or of the institutional rigour of the individual board. Obviously, the same history and literature texts cannot be used in Assam and in Jammu & Kashmir, but, as Mr Sibal has pointed out, teaching of science and mathematics can be standardised and made to conform to certain metrics. State boards need not and should not be dismantled. However, the need to raise their standards and modernise their curricula and pedagogical tools is unquestionable. What the prevailing unevenness leads to is a situation where which board your school is affiliated to, more than innate aptitude, plays a disproportionate role in determining how 'prepared' you are for entry into elite colleges. This is untenable.


Mr Sibal's next proposal is to have a standardisation examination for all those seeking to apply to college. This process will be modelled on the SAT Reasoning and Subject Tests system prevalent for entry into US colleges. It will complement school examination results and make it easier for college authorities to take an informed decision on a candidate from another State or region. For the Indian college applicant, it will make studying in any college anywhere in his country a genuine possibility.


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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

IMPERFECT INDUCTION

MIG-29 KS WILL REMAIN UNUSED


The Indian Navy might have acquired its most advanced fighters till date, but the timing and the circumstances surrounding their induction are far from perfect. Four Russian-made MiG-29 Ks were inducted at the INS Hansa base in Goa on Friday, which the Navy claims are even superior to the Indian Air Force's Su-30 MKI fighters. Be that as it may, the fact is that these fighters were supposed to be inducted along with Admiral Gorshkov, the aircraft carrier. For, the MiG-29 K is a top-of-the-line carrier-based fighter whose maximum operational potential can only be realised when deployed along with its mother carrier out in deep sea. In fact, the fighters were purchased as part of a $ 740 million contract for Admiral Gorshkov in 2004. It was thought that the aircraft along with the carrier would give the Navy a huge boost in terms of its blue water capability. But given the inordinate delay in delivering Admiral Gorshkov, which is undergoing remodelling and refurbishment, this will not be happening at least in the next three years. What this means is that the MiG-29 Ks will actually be spending one-tenth of their 30-year shelf life operating from shore bases, far below optimum functionality. This also means that the entire process of training personnel on Admiral Gorshkov and the MiG-29 Ks will now be delayed. For, our navymen do have experience in carrier operations and piloting the MiG-29 Ks, but not the two things together. This will have to wait till 2012 or even more until the time Admiral Gorshkov is finally inducted, something that will meanwhile continue to eat into the MiG-29 Ks' lifespan.


What this represents is faulty planning. There is no denying that all the military hardware involved in the defence deal are state of the art. But because the delivery of these machines has not been according to a reasonable time frame, the Navy's plans have been thrown out of gear. This is something that the Government needs to take up with Moscow. The former must impress upon the latter that the delivery of defence equipment beyond a certain deadline depreciates the functionality of that weapon system for the Indian military. The Government spends a good amount of the Indian taxpayer's money to purchase military hardware. Thus, it is totally justified in demanding a certain amount of punctuality in their delivery. When it comes to defence matters, Russia is one of our closest and most trusted allies. There is considerable history behind this. Only last month the two countries signed a $ 1.2 billion defence deal. It is in the interest of both countries for this close relationship to continue. Thus, it would be best if the glitches in the delivery of defence equipment are sorted out at the earliest.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

CAPITULATING TO TERRORISTS

JOGINDER SINGH


India is under siege from several nefarious forces. In the north of the country, terrorists funded and supported by Pakistan are playing havoc, while in the North-East, forces such as the United Liberation Front of Asom and its ilk are leaving no stone unturned to separate that region from the motherland. Terrorism, in its various forms, is literally bleeding us dry.


US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said on more than one occasion that the ISI is playing both sides. That though Pakistan has committed itself to be part of the US-led war on terrorism, it continues to maintain links with the jihadis. Further, Mr Gates has asserted that the relationship Islamabad shares with terrorist groups is a "strategic hedge" as it is unsure who is going to win in Afghanistan.


Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has confessed that the Taliban was jointly created by the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency. He has been absolutely candid in telling the Americans, "I think it was part of your past and our past, and the ISI and the CIA created them (the Taliban) together. We got together, we created this cancer to fight the superpower (the Soviet Union) and then we went away, rather, you went away without finding a cure for it. And now we've both come together to find a cure for it, and we're looking for one."


A US Congressional report, titled 'Al Qaeda and Affiliates: Historical Perspective, Global Presence, and Implications for US Policy,' released in the first week of February says, "US officials remain concerned that Al Qaeda terrorists operate with impunity in Pakistani territory, and that the group appears to have increased its influence among the myriad militant groups operating along the Pak-Afghan border, as well as in the densely populated Punjab province. Al Qaeda is widely believed to maintain camps in western Pakistan where foreign extremists receive training in terrorist operations... By one account, up to 150 westerners (Muslims) went to western Pakistan to receive terrorism training in 2009."


US Vice-President Joe Biden, when asked as to which country worries him the most among Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, forcefully said Pakistan. His reasoning was that Pakistan had nuclear weapons that could easily be deployed. That it had a real significant minority of radicalised people and its democratic institutions were weak. Pakistan's policy, right from its birth, has been to show India down. It has tried several tricks, like the four wars it has fought against India, sponsoring terrorism, whipping up communal hysteria and inciting the Muslim population in our country, etc. Even the hand of friendship that has been extended by New Delhi to Islamabad in the form of the scheduled Foreign Secretary-level talks is being misconstrued by the latter as a sign of weakness. India's biggest problem is that we have no consistent policy towards dealing with Pakistan, except for ad-hocism.


The principal issue, as far as India is concerned, is the export of Pakistani terrorism to this country. Incidentally, Islamabad is trying to convince the Americans that this is a good thing! As skewed as it is, the logic that the Pakistanis are dishing out is that by diverting terrorism to India, they are actually helping the US cause in Afghanistan.

We are all aware that the biggest theatre of terror infiltration into India is the Kashmir Valley. Various hare-brained schemes have been tried by our Government to appease the terrorists and their supporters. Even compensation has been doled out to the relatives of slain terrorists. Needless to say, none of these schemes have worked. In yet another ridiculous move, the Government has endorsed a new surrender policy mooted by the Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister. It is a sort of amnesty scheme under which Kashmiri terrorists in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir will be allowed to return home.

 

A former Chief Minister and the present Union Health Minister has raised objections to this policy on the ground that the decision, if implemented, will cause havoc if some people with ill motives came back to India. Indeed, attempts have been made even to use the bus service between Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and India to smuggle weapons.


On the other hand, no such scheme has been contemplated to rehabilitate the 3.7 lakh Hindus and Sikhs who were forced by the terrorists to leave the Kashmir Valley. Thus, in other words, our politicians are playing into Pakistani hands. There is no doubt that Islamabad's main objective is to create a volatile communal situation in Jammu & Kashmir to the point that the voice of separatism in the State once again reaches fever pitch.


The Government prides itself in reiterating time and again that the principle of secularism is non-negotiable but has no qualms about following a policy of appeasing Pakistan and its agents fomenting trouble in India. Why can't we be clear that those who do not accept the basic values enshrined in our Constitution and have voluntarily left the country to train themselves in anti-India activities have no place in our society? Meanwhile, over 200 Sikhs settled abroad are on the negative list and are regularly denied visas for visiting India on the ground that they protested against Operation Bluestar in 1984. The Government is ready to welcome dreaded terrorists who have settled in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir but refuses to give visas to NRIs whose action of peaceful protest 26 years ago it did not like.


Leaving all these issues aside, it should be clear to the Government of the day that one simply cannot deal with terrorism through a policy of appeasement. One has to break the backs of the terrorists and their masters before exploring negotiations. At present, the jihadis feel that they have the upper hand and that is why the Government of India is begging on bending knees for peace talks. There have been no takers for the Prime Minister's offer of talks which was aimed at the separatist forces in Jammu & Kashmir.


When force is necessary, it must be applied boldly, decisively and completely. There is no better case and better time to apply it now. It is an undeniable truth that force rules the world, and not opinion; but opinion is that which enables use of force. Let the Government work on both.


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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

NUMBERS DO NOT MATTER

KUNAL SAHA


Some of those responsible for healthcare in India have this 'unique' idea that premium technical institutes such as the IITs should start MBBS courses. Apparently, they feel that the sole reason for the pathetic situation of healthcare in the country is the dearth of qualified doctors. This baseless view of things is also evident in the Health Ministry's recent move to introduce a short-term (only three years) medical course called Bachelor of Rural Medicine and Surgery or BRMS to generate more doctors for India's villages.


Poor infrastructure, grossly skewed distribution of healthcare personnel and, above all, a complete lack of accountability are the real reasons behind the abysmal status of healthcare in the country. Churning out thousands of new doctors through the IITs or truncated courses in rural hospitals without fixing these inherent problems will have little or no impact on improving the healthcare system


Even without the countless homeopathic, ayurvedic and other non-allopathic physicians, India has about 7 lakh registered doctors with MBBS or higher qualifications which accounts for approximately one doctor for every 1,600 people. While this doctor-patient ratio in India may not be very high, it is within the range of most developing countries. In fact, some developing countries with significantly fewer numbers of doctors have a much superior healthcare delivery system. For example, despite having almost half the number of doctors per capita (one doctor for every 3,295 citizens) as that of India, Thailand has been able to build a far better healthcare system.


Most eastern European countries, with unenviable healthcare systems, have a high number of doctors. In contrast, developed countries like the US (1 doctor for 390 people) and the UK (1 doctor for 440 people) have a lower number of doctors but can boast of better healthcare, notwithstanding certain required reforms. The bottomline is the standard of medical care is dependent on many factors other than the number of doctors a country has. Unless the inherent flaws in our system are fixed, things will remain the same.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

CHINA HITS BACK AT US

ON THE DAY THE DALAI LAMA MET US PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA IN WASHINGTON, BEIJING SOLD SOME OF ITS INVESTMENTS IN US TREASURY BONDS. THIS HAS GIVEN RISE TO INTENSE SPECULATION THAT THERE'S A LINK BETWEEN THE TWO EVENTS AS WELL AS AMERICA'S DECISION TO SELL ARMS TO TAIWAN

B RAMAN


The China Daily carried the following report on February 18, the day on which US President Barack Obama received the Dalai Lama in the map room of the White House for what was described as a private meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader:


"China drastically slashed its holdings of United States Government debt last December, allowing Japan to retake its place as the largest foreign holder of US Treasury bonds. China sold more than $ 34 billion in short- and long-term bonds, leaving its total holdings at $ 755.4 billion, according to US Treasury data released on Tuesday (February 16). The country sold about $ 45 billion in US Treasuries in the last five months, Alan Ruskin, chief international strategist for RBS Securities Inc, said in a research note. He said it was a "long enough period to hint strongly at a trend". Mr Liu Yuhui, an economist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said now is a good time to cut holdings of US Treasuries as recent European debt concerns have driven up the US dollar. "China has chosen the right strategy in slashing its huge holdings of US Government debt as the greenback rebounds," said Mr Liu, adding that there is no sign of change to the long-term weakness of the US dollar. Massive US deficit spending and near-zero interest rates would also further erode the value of US bonds, said Mr Cao Honghui, director of financial market research at CASS. The White House released a budget plan on February 1 that predicted the deficit for this year would total a record $ 1.56 trillion, surpassing last year's $ 1.4 trillion, which re-ignited China's concern about its dollar assets. As one of the US's biggest creditors, China has sought to diversify its portfolio of foreign exchange reserves over the past year as the share of US dollar-dominated assets is too large."


The Chinese decision to cut down its investments in the US Treasury Bonds seemed to have been taken weeks before Mr Obama sought Congressional approval for the sale of a fresh arms package to Taiwan and the White House announced that he intended receiving the Dalai Lama during the latter's visit to Washington in February, but the prominent publication by the China Daily of the Chinese sale of some of its investments in the Treasury Bonds on the day the Dalai Lama met Mr Obama has given rise to speculation as to whether Beijing was seeking to convey a message to the US that in view of Mr Obama's decision to sell arms to Taiwan and to receive the Dalai Lama, the US can no longer count on China for helping it out of its financial crisis by stepping up investments in the US bonds.


It needs to be underlined that long before the recent tensions in Sino-US relations, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had been speaking of the Chinese worries about the strength of the US dollar and Chinese economists had been talking of the need for China to diversify the investments of its foreign exchange reserves. Suggestions had been made even last year that China should emulate India and invest more in gold.


Moreover, while US announcements on the arms sale to Taiwan and Mr Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama were made in January, US spokesmen had been saying that Mr Obama had mentioned about these things to Chinese President Hu Jintao when he met him in Beijing in November last. Thus, the US contention was that the public announcements of Mr Obama's decisions should not have come as a surprise to Beijing.


Against this background, there is no reason to believe that there is any linkage between the Chinese decision to downsize its holdings in the US Treasury bonds and the decisions of Mr Obama to which China has reacted adversely.

It is, however, interesting to note that the China Daily itself has drawn attention to the fact that while one expert sees a linkage, others don't.


As expected, the Chinese Government has strongly protested against Mr Obama's receiving the Dalai Lama, but at the same time avoided any threatening language. The comments made by the Chinese Foreign Office spokesman in his daily media briefing were restrained in language. Chinese analysts have described the meeting as reflecting the continuing Cold War mentality on certain issues affecting China in the US.


The Chinese have continued to follow their recently-noticed policy of avoiding any demonisation of the Dalali Lama.

The writer is an expert on counter-terrorism issues and a former senior official of R&AW.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

AN ELUSIVE PEACE

IGNORANCE CONTRIBUTES TO HOSTILITY TOWARDS ISRAEL

BARRY RUBIN


Whenever I deal with Palestinians, Arabs, or those describing themselves as supporters of these groups, whether in West Asia itself or in the West, what makes the greatest impression is their total lack of knowledge about Israeli positions towards peace-making that are easily available on the public record.


Among Palestinians, as more broadly with almost all of the public in the Muslim-majority world and a lot of the elite classes in Europe, there exists a mythical Israel, reminiscent of the fabricated anti-semitic stereotypes of the past and which has little to do with reality. They believe Israel isn't interested in peace, doesn't offer the Palestinians anything, opposes any real Palestinian state, intends to keep the West Bank (until Israel's withdrawal from all of the Gaza Strip they would have added that territory as well), and is led by intransigent hardliners. Such a conception was comprehensible — if not fully accurate — describing the situation in parts of the 1980s but has nothing to do with the last 20 years.


In 2010 they have no idea what Israel actually offered in the 1990s' peace process, or at the Camp David summit in 2000, or what President Bill Clinton offered with Israel's agreement in December 2000, or what Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proffered in 2008, or what is in the current Israeli Government's peace offer in 2010. All proposed the creation of an independent Palestinian state, the first three in close to 100 per cent and the last three as equivalent to 100 per cent (with some small, equal land swaps) in size to the pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza Strip.


Lacking any knowledge of these offers, or at least knowing only very distorted ones, they can maintain that Israel has offered "nothing" and that therefore the continuation of the conflict is not due to Palestinian intransigence but Israel's alleged opposition to the creation of a real independent Palestinian state. This reminds me of how Mr Mahmoud Abbas, today leader of the Palestinian Authority, responded to some reasonably accurate descriptions in the Palestinian media of what Israel offered in 2000 at Camp David. It is better, he said at the time, not to talk about these things at all, presumably lest some Palestinians might think that it was a reasonable deal.


Indeed, there are a surprising number of people in these categories who have not absorbed the changes made since 1994, when the Palestinian Authority began to take over control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. After all, it has governed these territories for more than 15 years and certainly has responsibility for what has happened there. And even while Israel has real ability to restrict travel, control access for trade, and is able to send in troops at times — along with the continued existence of settlements — these powers are only exercised in response to high levels of terrorist attacks from these places.


Equally, many don't seem to realise that Israel withdrew entirely from the Gaza Strip in 2005, that's almost five years ago, and if Hamas didn't persist in attacking Israel or openly planning for future attempts to wipe it off the map, Israel would leave that area alone entirely.


Anyone who actually lives in Israel knows that — whether they like it or not — Israel is ready to make big concessions and take reasonable risks to achieve peace. They know, whether or not they agree, that the overwhelming majority is ready to accept an independent Palestinian state as long as it is willing to end the conflict and live side by side in peace.


Outside Israel, far fewer people than should do so understand this reality. And that includes journalists, academics, and politicians. If they address the issue at all, they presume that Israel is asking the Palestinians to make some huge or unreasonable concession. Often, as noted above, their understanding of Israeli views is more than 20 years out of date.


But the Palestinians especially and these Westerners generally know even less about Israel's own demands, which is not surprising since they are never explained in the Arabic-language media and virtually never mentioned in the Western media. These include security guarantees, non-militarisation of a Palestinian state, an end to the conflict, and the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Palestine.


The above observations can produce a simple definition of the difference between moderates and radicals. The radicals, both among the Palestinians and their Western sympathisers, know — even if they pretend otherwise — that they want all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea along with Israel's elimination.


This is true whether they seek it through a two-stage process, the dispatch of a million or two Palestinians to Israel in a peace agreement, a one-state solution, or a temporary binational state. Consequently they are indifferent to what Israel actually offers except to distort it for propaganda purposes.


A moderate is someone who actually thinks the Palestinians today want a two-state solution and is genuinely fooled by the ploys outlined above. Consequently, the moderates — few as they are among Palestinians, more numerous in the West — can have the facts explained to them. But the radicals know precisely what they are doing and don't care about any chance for compromise.


-- The writer is director of the GLORIA Center and editor of the MERIA Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, and The Truth About Syria.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

TWO BALD MEN FIGHTING OVER A COMB

THE QUARREL OVER FALKLANDS IS NOT ABOUT OIL BUT POWER. WITH AN ELECTION DUE IN ARGENTINA NEXT YEAR, ANOTHER LOST WAR WOULD NOT BE POLITICALLY HELPFUL BUT A CRISIS COULD BE VERY USEFUL

GWYNNE DYER


Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina's finest writer, dismissed the Falklands War of 1982 as "two bald men fighting over a comb," but it killed almost a thousand British and Argentine soldiers, sailors and airmen anyway. So what would happen if the bald men started fighting over something really valuable, like oil?


Any day now a deep-sea drilling rig will arrive from Scotland and start searching for oil and gas in the North Falkland basin, about 150 km north of the islands. Optimistic predictions suggest that there are up to 60 billion barrels of oil to be found around the Falklands. There might also be not very much at all — but Argentina has begun issuing warnings and veiled threats again.


This may only be bluster, but Argentina has claimed the islands, which it calls the Islas Malvinas, for almost two centuries. The local population are all English-speakers, mainly of British descent, and back in 1982 the islands' economy was based almost entirely on sheep. The Falklands had no value — but Argentina invaded anyway, because the military regime in Buenos Aires needed a boost in popularity and it looked like an easy win.

It should have been an easy victory for the military junta, because the islands are only 500 km from Argentina and they are 13,000 km from Britain. Moreover, Britain had substantially cut its military presence in the region, which suggested to the Argentine Generals that it wasn't really committed to the islands' defence.

The British Foreign Office wasn't (and the foreign secretary of the time had to resign because of his neglect), but Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher certainly was. She sent a British task force to take the islands back, fought a two-month war at the end of an impossibly long supply line, and won. Which seemed, for a time, to have settled matters.


Meanwhile, the previously impoverished islanders grew prosperous by selling licences to exploit the rich fishing resources in the islands' territorial waters. Oil drilling got underway in 1998, but stopped again when the world oil price dropped below $ 10 per barrel. (Seabed oil is expensive oil.) The population grew by 50 per cent, to the present total of 3,000. And all seemed well.


Things started to look worrisome again in 2007, when Argentina's then President, Mr Nestor Kirchner, unilaterally cancelled an agreement with the UK to share the exploitation of offshore resources including possible oil reserves. It would have prevented the current dispute from arising, but the political value of the Malvinas claim in Argentina is greater than the potential economic value of oil from the seas around the Falklands.

In response to the approach of the drilling rig last week, President Cristina Kirchner (the husband-and-wife team take turns in the presidency) decreed that all vessels travelling between Argentina and the Falklands, or those wanting to cross Argentine territorial waters en route to the islands, must seek prior permission. Unfortunately, nobody knows exactly what that means.


Since Buenos Aires insists that all the seas around the Falklands belong to Argentina, it could amount to a blockade of the Falklands. Her chef de cabinet, Anibal Fernandez, said the decree sought to achieve "not only a defence of Argentine sovereignty but also of all the resources" in the area — and Deputy Foreign Minister Victorio Taccetti said his country would take "adequate measures" to stop oil exploration.


On the other hand, Britain now keeps a thousand troops plus strike aircraft and warships in the once defenceless Falkland Islands: An Argentine attack on the drilling platform would not be easy, and another invasion is almost impossible. Nevertheless, Mr William Hague, former leader of the Conservative Party, who is likely to be the British Foreign Secretary after the May election, is urging the Government to reinforce the Falklands now.


Maybe this is all merely a pantomime, but it's not just a quarrel about a comb. It's not really about potential oil resources, either. If it were, Mr Nestor Kirchner would never have cancelled the Argentina-UK agreement on sharing the offshore resources. It's about holding power in Buenos Aires.


That was what really motivated the junta's invasion of the Falklands in 1982. There is an election due in Argentina next year, and one of the Kirchners is likely to run again. Another lost war would not be politically helpful, but a crisis could be very useful. We may be hearing more from the South Atlantic.


The writer is an independent journalist based in London.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

THE FORGOTTEN VICTIMS OF KOSI'S FURY

TWO YEARS AFTER THE CALAMITY, FARMERS ARE STILL WAITING FOR RELIEF, WRITES NARAYAN JEE CHOUDHARY


It would seem that those who were caught in the devastating floods caused by the breach of the Kosi eastern efflux embankment at Kusaha on August 18, 2008 have gone back to a life of normalcy. The acute suffering caused by loss of lives, shelter, livestock and destruction of their belongings may have abated. After all the relief operations had swung into full gear at the time. Even after that, the Government made several declarations and promises to support the flood-affected people.


Nothing could be further away from the truth. The floodwaters laid to waste the agricultural lands in the region. Farming here was the primary economic activity sustaining livelihoods of the majority of rural folk. This was centered around the three annual crops on which hinged not only the livelihoods but the entire rural economy of this flood-affected region. This has been thrown completely out of gear and in vast tracts of agricultural land in Supaul, Madhepura and Saharsa districts, life has simply come to a standstill. The burning issue of livelihood, of survival seems a forgotten one, its ramifications, nebulous. Worse, the priority given by the Government is of the lowest order, making a mockery of not only the people's dire need but their own statements of commitment to relief and rehabilitation.


The reclamation of the land, the restoration of its productivity needs urgent, concerted action. Not only the Government but all stake-holders in development need to put their minds together and pitch in with supportive intervention so that a holistic rehabilitation of the flood-affected people takes place. Not only physically but economically. Not only with a broad-brush of relief measures but through a nuanced approach keeping in mind the type of land and extent of devastation. This needs an acute understanding of the lay of the land, the relationship people have built with it over generations. As well an understanding of the fury of the Kosi and how it has crashed into this established pattern of life here.


The devastation is wide-spread, the impact deep. In five gram panchayats of Chhatapur block, Supaul district, more than 2,000 hectares of agricultural land has been filled with sand, brought in the wake of the Kosi floodwater. Mithila Gram Vikas Parishad, an NGO working in the region organised a meeting with farmers at Jhakhargadh in December, 2009 to estimate the extent of devastation of agriculture land. In Rampur and Jhakhargadh villages, 1,000 hectares of land have been affected. In Lalganj and Hariharpur villages, 800 and 600 hectares have been laid to waste. Taken as a whole, the farmers estimate the devastation in 13 villages across the five gram panchayats to be 7,250 hectares.


The dunes of sand and silt which formed in the aftermath of the Kosi flood have distorted the landscape, degenerated farm-lands and now lie, a vast unproductive stretch. Basantpur Chhatapur, Pratapganj, Triveniganj blocks in Supaul district; Shankarpur, Sigheswar, Alam Nagar Chausa blocks in Madhepura district and Saur Bazar in Saharsa district. Lakhs of acres fertile agriculture land turning unproductive rendering several unemployed.

Yes the Bihar Government has provided Rs 14,000 per hectare for restoration and leveling of farming land. But is the move apt for the farmer of whom 95 per cent are small and marginal? Their traditional bullock-driven plough and small power tiller are not geared for leveling and deep-ploughing. Private tractors owners demand very high charges for leveling the land, impossible for farmers to meet. As many as 80 per cent of the people have not received any kind of land compensation.

What is the way out? The answers lie very much in the land itself — its characteristics and the cycles it undergoes. After land leveling and reclamation, there are several options to maximise the productivity. Crops like maize, mung, bazra, arahar, marua, china, mungafali, sweet potato, parwal, tarbuja crops which do not need much water and fertilisers can be cultivated on lands with one to three feet of sand deposits. Some small plots can be also used for paddy and wheat farming. Cultivation itself will facilitate the process of organic decomposition, which would gradually increase the fertility of the soil over a period of four-five years. In areas where sand deposits are about four to five feet, Shahtut can be planted for rearing cocoons of silk-worms. Typically this would be in an area of 500 to 1000 acres where removing of sand is difficult. Such lands also lend itself well to growing babul and jilebi, jamini ideal fuel, fodder and for use in furniture.


Instead of blanking out the aftermath of the disaster from our collective memory we would do better to be pained by the present reality and strive for a solution for those whose lives have been devastated by the Kosi floods.
 

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MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

BRAVE FOR OBAMA TO MEET THE DALAI LAMA

 

OVER the years, successive American Presidents have expressed what seems like an illogical fear of China, and more often than not, Washington has toed the line dictated by Beijing on contentious issues such as human rights and Tibet. Although all Presidents have " dropped in" on other people's appointments to meet the Dalai Lama, up to now they have refrained from receiving him officially in the White House.

 

It is therefore commendable that the current US President Barack Obama has not bowed to Chinese pressure on the issue of officially receiving the Tibetan leader during his latest visit to America.

 

It is not without any backup that Beijing had raised serious concerns over the meeting.

 

The Chinese have systematically invested more than $ 1 trillion in US government bonds and other financial instruments to get a toehold in the world's most vibrant economy. Obama's courage is commendable on two counts: one, he went ahead with the meeting despite the American economy facing its worst ever financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Secondly, he was brave enough to suggest that the two sides move ahead on the " Middle Path", propounded by the Dalai Lama.

 

China has often responded to awkward questions about the central authority of the Communist Party by resorting to strong police action, or in some cases — the Tiananmen Square or the Uighur uprising in Xinxiang last year, for instance — by calling in the military.

 

Indeed when the meeting between the two Nobel Peace Prize laureates was confirmed, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said: " We have lent a huge amount of money to the US. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am definitely a little worried." There could have been no clearer threat from China.

 

But China can do better than that. As one of the world's superpowers, it can call upon Tibet for talks keeping the Dalai Lama's " Middle Path" in mind. The spiritual leader has long given up his dream for Tibetan independence, and all that he is asking is for his community to be allowed to enjoy real federal autonomy.

 

China must take advantage of the fact that the current Dalai Lama wants a negotiated settlement and has enough authority to implement it. In a few years' time that may not be the case. Once the next Dalai Lama — who would be a child — is installed, with no towering figure like the present Dalai Lama on the scene, the movement for Tibet may slip into the hands of hardliners. A solution that is possible today may not be acceptable at that point of time. Therefore, China's sweeping the Tibetan problem under the carpet now might only result in making the issue more vexed at a later stage.

 

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MAIL TODAY

A WELCOME FIRST STEP

 

THAT India's fertiliser subsidy programme was skewed majorly in the favour of fertiliser producers, would be clear from the fact that the nearly Rs one lakh crore it spent last fiscal in the name of fertiliser subsidies accounted for close to two third of the revenues of fertiliser companies. Despite an expenditure of well over Rs 5,000 per hectare of cultivated land in subsidies, the farm sector has not shown commensurate growth in output. This is because most of the money has ended up with either the fertiliser industry, or a small proportion of rich farmers. The government's move to switch to a nutrient- based subsidy programme from the beginning of the next financial year, therefore, is welcome, as this marks a correct shift in focus of the subsidy programme towards the end user, the farmer. With subsidies for fertilizers other than urea moving to a nutrient- content system, with their market prices being decontrolled, the fertiliser industry would have incentives to go in for innovation.

 

The current scenario of high inflation in food prices, as well as a ballooning fiscal deficit, has undoubtedly helped push the government into action. However, the current shift is only a first step. The ten per cent hike in urea prices, which has accompanied the decontrol of other fertiliser prices, is unlikely to stop a massive shift in fertiliser usage patterns in the short term.

 

This will adversely hit productivity. A direct subsidy regime aimed at farmers, pegged to the area cultivated and the yield, is the best way to ensure proper direction of subsidy expenditure.

 

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MAIL TODAY

SC ERRS ON CBI VERDICT

BY RAJEEV DHAVAN

 

The ruling that courts can askthe CBI to probe cases without astate's consent injures the federal structure

 

INDIAN courts seem to have invented a new slogan about the State police investigating serious crimes: " When in doubt, call in the CBI ( the Central Bureau of Investigation)". It is precisely this question that was resolved by the five- judge bench in the West Bengal versus Committee of Democratic Rights judgment delivered last week. It was a much- awaited judgment.

 

The Mulayam Singh corruption case hinges on this issue. So also, the Moga sex scandal case — pending before the Supreme Court. Every time, the Moga case was listed, the Court adjourned it to await the judgment in the CBI case.

 

Why the Supreme Court takes so long to deliver judgments is not clear. The narco test judgment is awaited for over two years. The Bangalore Akravaty land acquisition judgment has not arrived for one- and- a- half years. In both cases the present Chief Justice of India presided. The judgment on the constitutionality of the panchayat amendment, argued before the chief justice, is delayed. Clearly, the Supreme Court does not lead by example.

 

The CBI judgment is clearly unconstitutional.

 

It violates the federal framework and annihilates statutory provision on the basis that fundamental rights are at risk when the state police are corrupt or under the control of politicians. First, the federal question.

 

Under the constitutional framework, policing is exclusively a state subject. The Union's armed forces can be brought in to quell public order in aid of the civil power. ( Schedule VII, List II, List II E 1 and 2, List I, E2A).

 

Logic

 

The Constitution allows the Union to extend the powers of state police of one state to another State without the consent of that other state ( List I, E 80).

 

There is little dispute that the CBI is not an armed force or a state police. The Delhi Police Establishment Act 1946 under which the CBI is constituted is solicitous of state federalism.

 

Under the CBI statute, the CBI cannot oust the state police's investigative jurisdiction except with the consent of the state. Thus, the Constitution and the CBI statute are crystalclear.

 

Only the state police and not the CBI can investigate state crimes. The CBI needs the state's consent to do so.

 

If this is true, the CBI judgment is, prima facie, illegal and unconstitutional.

 

How, then, did the Supreme Court play ' Houdini' to pull a federal rabbit out of the states' exclusive hat? The Supreme Court's assumption that its constitutional power to do ' complete' justice ( article 142) enables such a dismantling of federalism is totally belied by its own decision in the bar association case ( 1998) which decided that the complete justice power of the Supreme Court could not violate either a statute or the Constitution.

 

Aware of this, the court took refuge in the ' basic structure' doctrine which treats judicial review as part of the Constitution's basic structure. But, the Bommai case ( 1994) also declares federalism to be part of the basic structure. The issue was not the separation of powers, but a straightforward competition between the judiciary and state power. The Constitution sides with the federal structure and the exclusive power of the states to police investigation. The Supreme Court judges virtually set the Constitution at naught and sided with themselves to expand their own judicial power. The Supreme Court's justification that the higher judiciary must enhance its jurisdiction to defend the fundamental rights of the people seems to be declaring that in the defence of fundamental rights, it can do anything and everything — even injure the federal structure.

 

Second, what are the limits of this power reposed in the high courts and Supreme Court to call in the CBI? The Supreme Court feels that this power can be used only in " exceptional" circumstances. The apex court was generously wide in giving considerable leeway to the courts by stating: " This extraordinary power must be exercised sparingly, cautiously, and in exceptional situations where it becomes necessary to provide creditability and instill confidence in investigations or where the incident may have national and international ramifications or where such an order may be necessary for doing complete justice and enforcing fundamental rights". This catalogue ambiguously justifies all kinds of judicial intervention. Legal elephants can run amok with this judicial script. We are back to square one: The more things change, the more they remain the same.

 

Third, is the public interest and governance argument.

 

It is true that state police are under the thumbs of chief ministers in power. The party and other hoodlums pressurise the local police. This is true of all lead cases: Jessica Lal, Katara, Mulayam, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa and others. I agree that the Constitution is a dynamic document which is in a state of " becoming" not simply " being" ( Justice Dwivedi in a famous 1973 case). But, is that sufficient justification for dismantling India's federalism?

 

Options

 

What were the options before the Supreme court? ( i) The Indian Police Act gives the state government the power of " superintendence" of the police — a power which has now been interpreted narrowly by the Supreme Court in the West Bengal Boys case. The courts can always superintend the investigation by state police. ( ii) The high court can transfer cases from one district to another within the state. ( iii) Following, the hawala case ( 1998) the courts can monitor a state police investigation to when the chargesheet is filed. After that the judicial process begins. ( iv) When the Supreme Court feels a case ought to be transferred to another state, it can always do so — as it did by sending the Gujarat riots case to Maharashtra, the Shankaracharya case to Pondicherry and the Jayalalithaa case from Tamil Nadu to Karnataka. It is now abundantly clear that the transferee state's ( and not the original state's) police and prosecutors will exclusively deal with the investigation and prosecution — much to Jayalalithaa's chagrin in the Shankaracharya case. ( v) Alternatively, it could have reposed the CBI option only in the Supreme Court.

 

The court did not examine these options. It chose to ignore the Constitution and statutes to indulge in self empowerment.

 

Fourth, comes the case of the CBI itself. In the Moga police case the CBI frankly told the court it was shortstaffed and busy. But the investigation was forced on it. The CBI did not credit itself in the Bofors case. When the CBI investigates political cases it inspires unease.

 

CBI

 

This became apparent in the Mulayam case where it changed colour depending on when Mulayam's party gave voting support to the Congress led UPA. The CBI is not suited for these cases. Its forte is international crime, economic offences, terrorism, smuggling and so on. The central government wants the CBI to investigate 231 offences under the penal code; and several others under 69 central and 18 state Acts with the consent of the states. In 2007 114 cases were sent to the CBI by courts. In December 2009, the CBI had 988 cases pending investigation, 138 cases pending sanction for prosecution and 9475 criminal cases were pending for trial. The CBI does not have sufficient staff or resources. In big political cases it flounders for posture.

 

In the Havala and Noida scandal cases, the court monitored the CBI investigation to fruition.

 

At worst, the Supreme Court could have directed that only the Supreme Court will have the power to ask the CBI to investigate violations of fundamental rights. Alternatively, it should have looked at other solutions to monitor investigations by state police. In its efforts to empower high courts and itself, the court has gone over- board.

 

The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer

 

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MAIL TODAY

POWER & POLITICS

PRABHU CHAWLA

 

 

VEEP'S POINT OF ORDER

THE BUDGET session of Parliament starts today.

 

All eyes will be on Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee when he presents the Union budget on Friday and corporate India as well as the aam aadmi are eagerly looking forward to it. But our honourable MPs have other worries on their minds, particularly those belonging to the Rajya Sabha. This is because of a get- tough plan unveiled by Hamid Ansari, the Vice President and Chairman of the Upper House to crack down on truant ministers and MPs who are in the habit of taking their parliamentary responsibilities lightly.

 

Ansari has decided to hammer such truant elected representatives with a slew of measures and if these succeed — I don't see why they shouldn't — we will be spared the many shameful occasions in recent times when Parliament sessions had to be abandoned because too many MPs or ministers were absent.

 

The Vice President's initiatives couldn't have been more timely. Delinquency among MPs and ministers is rising by the day and last December, the Lok Sabha stood disgraced when on two occasions, Question Hour was suspended due to lack of quorum as many MPs whose questions were listed in the day's business remained absent. Until the mid- 1980s, this sort of thing was a rarity, but now it's happening with unfailing regularity. Consider these: of late, both houses are half empty when the day's proceedings begin at 11 am with the traditional Question Hour. Even when they do turn up, it is often to hurl abuses or even wrestle with each other. MPs are lucky in that they don't have to report for work until 11 am. In many states, assemblies convene at 8.30 am. One recent study showed that while the first three Lok Sabhas met for an average of 124 days a year, now it is less than 80. Things are so bad that Sonia Gandhi sent missives to her party men and the BJP leadership issued diktats to its MPs to get serious. But these didn't work and I am not surprised, because in the current coalition scenario, I cannot see, for example, the DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi's son M. K. Alagiri, a Union minister, taking commands from anyone except his father.

 

Some ministers and MPs may be plain lazy. But the more likely reason why many of them stay away is because it suits both sides: the former won't have to answer embarrassing questions; the latter won't have to sit up late nights doing homework for the next day's session. And to think that for every minute that each house of Parliament sits, it may cost the exchequer a month's salary of an MP. It's easy to see why there is a near collapse of trust in politicians.

 

Vice President Ansari is not a career politician; he is a distin- Meira Kumar guished retired diplomat and an academician and it comes as no surprise that someone like him has decided to crack down on delinquency. He has made sweeping changes in the Rules of Procedure in the Rajya Sabha aimed at making ministers and MPs accountable. The new rules come into effect from today and will ensure that ministers do not escape answering questions even if the MPs who posed them are not present in the House.

 

Until now, if the MP who asked a " starred question"— where the concerned minister has to give an oral answer as against the " unstarred" ones where written answers are merely placed in the house — is absent, the question lapsed. Starting today, irrespective of whether the questioner is present in the House or not, the minister will have to give the information sought.

 

What's more, other MPs who may want clarifications will now have the right to grill the minister on the subject. Ansari has sent letters to all members of the Upper House about the new rules and it is hoped that our MPs take it as a reminder that they have been elected to serve and they serve best when they attend Parliament. I see no reason why Meira Kumar shouldn't be encouraged to usher in similar changes in the Lok Sabha.

 

Our MPs will then become more responsible and our claims of being a vibrant democracy will sound a lot more credible.

 

P. S. Too many businessmen have " managed" their way into the Rajya Sabha, whose membership entitles them to diplomatic passports. These are being used increasingly for business purposes and the foreign ministry has now issued a circular warning against such misuse.

 

Like truant MPs, businessmen know their rights but it seems they too have to be reminded of their responsibilities.

 

Second thought on Pak talks?

 

AS IN business, so in diplomacy, targets are set, but some being unrealistic, they are doomed from the start or aborted before takeoff. The foreign secretary- level talks between India and Pakistan scheduled this Thursday fall in this category. The overwhelming majority in the Cabinet Committee on Security( CCS) thought that the environment wasn't conducive for talks and was against its resumption.

 

They finally bowed to the PMO's wisdom. The government first said the talks would be open- ended but after the attack in Pune, the nuances are shifting. Foreign minister S. M. Krishna now says the talks will be exploratory in nature, which is like saying " Okay we'll meet, but we will only talk about talking". Home minister Chidambaram says all pending issues related to 26/ 11 will be taken up by foreign secretary Nirupama Rao when she meets her Pakistani counterpart in New Delhi on Thursday. Defence minister A. K. Antony feels there is " nothing wrong" in talking but adds that Pakistani terrorist camps are " still active". The Army Chief accuses Pakistan of sending militants across into Kashmir.

 

Across the border, Pak ministers who were, just a fortnight ago, gloating over making New Delhi " blink first" are now accusing India of putting fresh hurdles in the way of talks. They may be right. For it appears to me that New Delhi would now do anything to wriggle out of the talks. It's a lose- lose situation for the government.

 

If the talks fail it will lose face. If they are cancelled at the last minute, the government will have to answer the question: why were they announced at all? Parliament is in session and I can wage a bet that over at 11 Ashoka Road, the knives are being sharpened. Once again, the dialogue may be the victim.

 

GADKARI ON LOOKOUT FOR A SPINMEISTER

SINCE taking over as the BJP president nearly six weeks ago, Nitin Gadkari has done much plainspeaking to antagonise some of its well- entrenched sections and said and done a lot to re- energise the party. With his deep roots in the RSS, there is general acknowledgement that there is none better qualified than him to lead the BJP, but among his current priorities is one that is very un- RSS like.

 

Gadkari is on the lookout for a spin doctor to head the BJP media cell, which, according to him, should be handled by professionals as opposed to the army of amateur spin doctors who have so far managed to terribly harm its relations with the press.

 

Gadkari is looking for a person with connections and not necessarily convictions. His eyes fell on someone whom even his political opponents grudgingly acknowledge is the King of Spin. He has been a speechwriter to a former Prime Minister as also to a former deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister in- waiting. Unfortunately for Gadkari, he is so much in demand these days that even a king's ransom may not suffice for acquiring his services. Apart from being advisor to a high profile tantrumprone Union minister from West Bengal, he also helps out with writing speeches for a Mumbai based industrialist who is one of India's wealthiest businessmen and figures in the Top Ten in every " richest men in the world" survey.

 

As such, the spin doctor's calendar is full and Gadkari may have to look elsewhere for a match- winning spinner.

 

But over at Akbar Road, Congress leaders still do it the old- fashioned way, only the frequency has increased. In the last week alone, minister Ambika Soni, party spokespersons Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Manish Tewari held separate lavish parties for the media and more are in the offing.

 

These are all well- attended and the Congress gets the positive column inches that the government's record doesn't warrant.

It only goes to prove that the Grand Old Party hasn't discarded the old dictum that the way to a journalist's moving fingers is through his stomach.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

FRESH TUNE

 

BJP presidents are not known for singing in public. They are better known for their serious demeanour and sounding off on lofty matters such as Hindutva and cultural nationalism. So, it was a welcome change to see the new president, the low-profile Nitin Gadkari, humming a tune from Anand, a popular 1970s movie, when he was on stage during the three-day meet. The bush shirt and trousers, in contrast to the traditional attire preferred by most senior BJP leaders, added to the informal touch provided by the roly-poly Gadkari. So did his suggestion that the cadre should avoid the gesture of touching leaders' feet in public. It'll help the BJP if the party leadership eases up a bit and is less strident in its political speak.


Gadkari was candid about party affairs. He asked senior leaders to stop running each other down and work together for the party. He seems to have no pretensions about his stature in the party. He understands that he is one of the many second-generation leaders in the party and owes his position to the RSS. The RSS, he made it clear, will show the way. The stamp of the RSS was all over the meet. Unlike the extravagance of past BJP national meets, leaders were asked to camp in tents. The stress was on presenting a collective leadership and focused on core ideals of the party. The organisation has to work without any fuss or pomp, as the RSS did.

The spirit of accommodation that Gadkari called for among leaders reflected in the tone and tenor of the meet. He recognises that the BJP needs to reach out to people beyond its committed voters if it wants to gain office at the Centre. Here, Gadkari seems to be walking in the footsteps of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi. Similarly, the mandatory reference to a Ram temple was made in the form of a request to Muslims to help the kar sevaks build the temple in Ayodhya. The sentiment has not changed but there's a difference in tone as the demand has turned into an appeal. While the Ram temple is a drum the BJP continues to beat, there was a welcome shift of emphasis towards development issues. It would benefit the country enormously if its principal political formations were to compete on development programmes rather than on identity issues.


The meet also saw the emergence of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Chouhan on the national stage. Senior party leader Sushma Swaraj said his administration provided compassionate government as against Narendra Modi's good governance in Gujarat. The move to bring the two leaders on par wasn't subtle at all. That may be inevitable when the party seeks to present a collective leadership.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

POCKET ECONOMICS

 

The nation awaits this weekend with bated breath the annual Union Budget presentation. As soaring food prices continue to pinch the ordinary citizen, and in the context of the global financial scenario, everyone from individuals to industry has a wish list they hope the finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, will deliver on. And as always, tax-paying citizens will tune in most keenly to that part of the minister's Budget speech that deals with income tax.


Leading up to B-day, women and child development minister Krishna Tirath has made a pitch for lower tax rates for working women. The Budget might have already been sewn up, but this is an idea that merits serious consideration. There is already some relief in place for working women by way of a higher tax exemption ceiling. However, Tirath is seeking to push the envelope further. This is a welcome move. Empowering women economically is a proven, effective tool in bettering the prospects of women, and by that coin, society at large.


The gender gap in India runs deep. In the Gender Gap Report 2009 released by the World Economic Forum, India ranks a pathetic 116th among the 136 countries considered. That's a shameful reflection of the condition of women in a country that is on a growth song. Our march to greater prosperity will be severely compromised if one half of our society continues to be left behind. The problems women face in India manifest themselves in several ways. High maternal mortality rates, female infanticide, crimes against women, and under-representation in the work force are just a few of them. Even as government and civil society groups collaborate to address these issues, there are a few immediate measures that can be taken by the government, which will give a boost to long-term initiatives.


Gender budgeting should be at the top of the government's economic agenda. Lowering tax rates for women will put more money in their hands and encourage those not yet in the job market to join the work force. Similarly, property tax rules should be amended further to encourage ownership of assets among women. When women are economically independent and secure, they can exercise choice, enabling them to get out of repressive conditions. Moreover, they would contribute more to our growing economy, making it a win-win situation.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

UNWELCOME CONDIMENT

ANEESH A

 

Finding hair in your food is like finding a bowel-challenged skunk in the backseat of your brand new car. It's a sight so revolting that the urge to retch often lasts longer than a week. The presence of hair in your food, despite its unacceptable nature, is not as uncommon as one might like it to be. From five star restaurants to roadside dhabas, there isn't a place that can boast of a flawless hairless food record. The reaction to the complaint of hair in your food although differs. In a five star restaurant, not only do you get a truckload of apologies, you might also end up getting the entire meal free of cost. On the other hand, in a dhaba, the waiter would just stick his hand out and remove the strand lodged between your food and with a smile dismiss it as a 'small one'.


Wikipedia states that "the cause of people's disgust with hair in food could be that hair is not easily digestible and is the wrong shape for being processed in the body". Sorry Wikipedia but i hardly think that if the hair one found in one's food is soft and rectangular in shape one would enthusiastically chew it up. I broached this topic with my friends and they claimed to have had seen, over a period of years, strands that were grey, red, long, short, pointy, curly, conjoined and even one with a louse clutching on to it. As expected, most of them agreed that they wouldn't continue eating once they find hair in their food. Surprisingly, there were a few friends who were of the opinion, "What's the big deal? It's just hair. It's not like it's a bug." I'm not condoning the presence of bugs in food. It's equally revolting. However, bugs are separate entities, they are not part of the human body. Nothing grosses out a human being more than stuff that come off another human. The oddest thing one has found in one's food was a 'smooth Indian otter' stamp. It gave a whole new meaning to the phrase 'food stamp'. I got the dish replaced after complaining about it, but it gave rise to some questions that still perplex me. Who was posting mail while making food? Had they licked the stamp already? Was the chef trying to mail me the food? I'm glad, anyway, that it was a 'smooth' Indian otter and not a hairy one.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'QUANTUM COMPUTERS ARE SOMEWHERE ON THE HORIZON'

A NEW AND UNPREDICTABLE STATE OF MATTER, PREDICTED BY S N BOSE AND ALBERT EINSTEIN IN THE 1920S, WAS FIRST DEMONSTRATED IN 2001 BY AMERICAN SCIENTIST ERIC A CORNELL, WHO WON THE 2001 NOBEL PHYSICS PRIZE FOR HIS WORK. RECENTLY IN BANGALORE, HE SPOKE TO PRASHANTH G S ABOUT PHYSICS AND QUANTUM COMPUTING:


How do you perceive physics in the 21st century?

In the 20th century, physicists would pursue their own agenda, look at problems internal to physics. Now, there is hybridisation with a range of areas. Physicists can't remain insular any longer that would leave them in the cold. Methods in physics are used to understand economic trends, statistical models are more pronounced and it's the golden age of astrophysics.


What's the relevance of physics in contemporary science?

Physics is at the centre, top and bottom of science. Its unique character lies in its economy of ideas that achieves a lot, in its economy of explanatory power, of virtually any aspect of science, technology, medicine. Physics leans heaviest on mathematics, while chemistry is heavily influenced by physics, especially in the empirical understanding of the elements. And then, there's the physics-biomedical connection.


What's the status of physics as an academic discipline in the West?

Any number of disciplines require a knowledge of physics. Even medical students have to learn physics though there's less of that now. Electrical, mechanical engineers etc employ physics. Then there's biomedicine, astrophysics, mathematics with linkages to physics... In terms of funding, it's hard to complain. Biologists tell the story of life to the government that we won't all die if research in biology is supported. Likewise, we physicists tell the energy story to the government, truth and some fluff. We tell them we can produce energy at low cost and geopolitical risk or we can conserve energy in ways such that you actually won't need to produce energy at all. We even tell the security story how lasers help detect explosives, etc. We're not really ignored.


You received the Nobel for work on the Bose-Einstein condensate? Could you explain it in simple terms?

It's about the ultimate triumph of the wave, about opening a window into the field of quantum mechanics. A movement beyond classical mechanics.


You did work on low-temperature physics and laser cooling. What are its implications for daily life?

Accurate clocks and GPS systems, which depend on them, are accurate thanks to laser cooling. The next-generation GPS systems will work via laser cooling - in other words, the navigation works on accuracy and measurement. If you want to measure anything carefully, you would want to get it all cold. I've always felt quantum computers are somewhere on the horizon. They're really promising. Only that quantum computers require very good low temperatures.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

GOOGLE-HAGGLE

C P SURENDRAN

 

A little over a month ago, when Google made defiant noises of shutting down its office in China, the stand-off was phrased with great fanfare as the new clash of civilisations. Google stood for the innovative, knowledge-based western culture: the free world. China, well, for China: mixed ownership, private property rights, strong shut-your-mouth government intervention.


Google said in January that it was likely to close down its China-based search engine as it believed digital bandits in China stole some of its computer coding and attempted to break into the e-mail accounts of Chinese dissidents. It is interesting to note that the agency representing the universal spirit of freedom has been relegated in our mind from a country or a people to a multinational company that specialises in organising information online.

Safeguarding freedom and human rights is traditionally associated with the dogged American pursuit of happiness. The US monopoly of freedom is now strangely the home turf of Google. The US is happy to back it, of course. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton's defence of Google last month in a reaction to Chinese cyber vandalism was proof that US foreign policy now extended to the internet.


Clinton added to the four basic freedoms that Franklin Roosevelt stated in the 1941 State of the Union address, against the backdrop of Hitlerian assaults on the democratic sensibility of the world. The four basic freedoms are freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear that "people everywhere in the world ought to enjoy." Clinton added the freedom to connect. As she said in her speech on January 21: "... ultimately, this issue isn't just about information freedom; it is about what kind of world we want and what kind of world we will inhabit. It's about whether we live on a planet with one internet, one global community, and a common body of knowledge that benefits and unites us all, or a fragmented planet in which access to information and opportunity is dependent on where you live and the whims of censors."


Since Google is the champion of a new freedom spawned by a new technology, what it does is likely to largely define the nature of the lifestyle of future generations. But, it has been a disappointing battle so far. Google officials say they are in talks with the Chinese government since mid-January, when they threatened to walk out of China, unless that country rolled back its censorship laws.


China's online population is 384 million, the largest in the world. Most of them prefer the local engine Baidu to Google. Reports estimate that by 2014, China's internet ad market could range from $15 billion to $20 billion annually, up from about $3 billion now. If Google stays on, it is likely to net around $5 billion to $6 billion of the revenue even if it plays second fiddle to Baidu.


That's a lot of money to kiss goodbye to. Which is why after the fleeting first moments of bravado and grandstanding, Google has kept a low profile and the much-hyped confrontation with the 'Other' culture has muted down to confabulations.


One of the famous philosophies of Google is "you can make money without doing evil." This is a questionable premise as a lot really depends on what you mean by evil. Baldly put, if Google chooses to stay on in China despite censorship and hacking, it'd be for profit. And that'd be at the expense of basic freedoms and at the expense of a few hundred lives at least. If that transpires evil would have been perpetrated any way.

The current clash of civilisations turns out to be not so much about a new freedom as an old and careworn spectre: the ethics of business. It'd be great fun to see if one of the world's most innovative companies can indeed find a way around making money without doing evil. Virtually, or otherwise.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

BATTLING THE BURQA

DILEEP PADGAONKAR

 

No end is in sight to the fierce debate raging in France over an imminent move to ban the wearing of the burqa in public establishments. On the contrary, just about any matter involving Muslims adds fuel to it. Right now the media are focused on an issue that, on the face of it, is of little relevance to the sartorial choices of an insignificant number of Muslim women.


Last December, Quick, a fast-food chain, introduced 'halal' hamburgers in six of its 300-odd outlets. It contained smoked turkey instead of beef and pork. The chain took care to ensure that the birds were slaughtered under the supervision of a duly-qualified cleric. Commercial interest clearly dictated its decision for the six outlets are all located in towns and cities with a large Muslim population.


That, however, was of no concern to Quick's critics. The right-wing, xenophobic National Front led the charge against it. But others who are known for their hostility to the Front joined in the chorus of criticism as well. The burden of their dirge was two-fold. One, the food chain, by serving only 'halal' burgers, effectively discriminated against non-Muslim customers. And two, they included in the bill money that would go to cover the cost of the services of the cleric.


Both factors, the critics argued, were an affront to something that is a matter of life and death to the French: secularism. They saw in the food chain's decision yet another instance of a supine surrender to the diktat of Muslim extremists. In his blog, a well-known journalist pointed out that in a large city in the north of France, swimming pools run by the municipality had reserved some hours exclusively for women, and some others exclusively for men. Another cited the case of male gynaecologists who were assaulted for examining female Muslim patients. Yet another blogger railed against Muslims for offering prayers out in the open. Christians, he wrote, pray only in a church and Jews only in a synagogue. Why have Muslims been given a special dispensation? And why can't Muslims convert to other faiths when 'infidels' are free to embrace Islam?


Doubtless aware of this burgeoning public mood, President Nicolas Sarkozy chose to address on June 22 last year what in his eyes was arguably the most potent symbol of extremist Muslim belief: the burqa. It constitutes, he said, an affront to "our values" and it runs contrary to "our idea of the dignity of the woman." It imprisons her behind a flowing robe that covers her from head to toe, cuts her off from any social contact and deprives her of every shred of identity.


Just a day later, at the request of its president, the National Assembly decided to set up an 'information mission' consisting of parliamentarians drawn from all political parties. It was given six months to prepare a report on the practice of wearing the burqa on French territory. The mission, headed by a communist deputy, heard the evidence of more than 200 individuals in Paris, Lille, Lyon, Marseille and even Brussels. It unanimously agreed that the burqa, even if it is worn only by a small number of Muslim women, was a "veritable challenge" to the republic. And it called for a number of steps to ban it from all public spaces where it would pose a serious danger to security and public order.


Among the first such steps it proposed was a resolution that the National Assembly would adopt condemning any practice which breaches the freedom of others and the expression of any opinion that could disturb public order as laid down by the law. The mission's report quoted several authorities on Islamic jurisprudence as saying that there was no religious compulsion for a woman to cover every inch of her body, including her face. Indeed, this particular dress was specific to the cultures of certain Muslim populations in the Middle East and South Asia.

The report is now with the country's highest constitutional body, which will give its opinion on whether the resolution, and any other legislative measure that might come later, is in conformity with the letter and spirit of the Constitution. The authorities are equally keen on ensuring that these moves do not run afoul of the European Union's documents on human rights. A negative view from either of them would severely embarrass the government and prevent it from taking any serious measures to arrest and roll back the menace of Talibanisation.

We have a different concept of secularism. Our emphasis is on equal tolerance of all faiths and of their sartorial or other manifestations. Yet, at a time when most western governments and faint-hearted liberals have adopted a namby-pamby approach to the growing incidence of Islamic extremism, the French determination to uphold freedom of religion without any compromise with the forces of intolerance is evidence of an enlightened spirit. For, it places reason above faith, law above parochial conceit and the Constitution above all those who claim to be the sole guardians of nationalism, divine intent or cultural rectitude.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

BAD ODOUR ON THE FARM

 

The idea behind controlling fertiliser prices in India was to encourage demand. In the event, what it achieved was a severely constricted supply. And it comes at a staggering cost: the Centre ended up paying Rs 95,000 crore as fertiliser subsidy in 2008-09, Rs 65,000 crore more than what it had budgeted for. The decision to decontrol prices of non-urea fertilisers from next April, therefore, had a very powerful argument working in its favour. But the partial decontrol leaves equally powerful questions unanswered. Half the subsidy last year went to fertilisers that are ostensibly off price controls. The move to free 18 of the 19 fertilisers used in the country gets somewhat diluted when it comes with an assurance that farm gate prices will not be allowed to rise abnormally.

 

That is a promise farmers can take at face value.

 

The government has kept the lid on fertiliser prices for eight years despite an unbearable cost push. The Indian farmer does not have a huge appetite for artificial soil nutrients — the Dutch use four times as much fertiliser per hectare as we do — but prices of the stuff that go into making fertilisers, principally fuel, have gone through the roof in the past decade. Especially in India, where around half the output uses expensive naphtha and fuel oil. Till the industry significantly switches to natural gas, the cost pressure will remain inexorable. India has hardly any competitive advantage in producing fertilisers, yet it has built up the world's third largest capacity. Indian fertiliser companies have lived on artificial respiration for too long and may find it difficult to survive in the wild.

 

The significant reform to emerge from last week's Cabinet decision is in how, henceforth, fertiliser companies will be compensated for selling below cost. The move to a nutrient-based subsidy ought to make it worth the companies' while to produce complex fertilisers that can arrest falling — in some cases negative — productivity. It should also restrict the slide to an obsessive dependence on nitrogenous fertilisers at the cost of those built around phosphorous and potassium. The new subsidy also has place for secondary soil nutrients like sulphur, calcium and magnesium, and seven micronutrients. So far, India has been relying purely on imports to source souped-up fertilisers that can deliver a majority of these nutrients in one bag.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE OSCAR GOES TO...

 

Move over George Clooney, there is a new kid on the block. Yes, it's the Tiger and what a performance. The only prop missing when he finally fessed up to having had multifarious rolls in the hay was the icy blonde wife. Now we really feel for old Tiger. It wasn't his fault that every floozie from the west to east coast wanted to kip down with him. As a public personality, he couldn't turn them away, could he? And after a hard day's work on the greens, he needed a little colour in his life. Oh, and we forgot, he couldn't help himself because little did he know that he suffered from this potentially fatal disorder called sex addiction.

 

The moment one of the blonde babes whom Uncle Tiger had taken under his wing actually suggested that he was a cheating, lying sexual predator, he sought professional help. He saw the light, like Saul on the road to Damascus, when the wife clipped him around the ears with a nine iron. Now that he has come to the realisation that he cannot mooch around the sex rehab clinic reciting 72 Hail Marys everyday, he wants his old life back. And all the world loves a sinner, so an artful public confession about what a bad boy he had been is the route to redemption. And with mummy by his side gushing a la Sally Fields, "I'm so proud of you. Mom will always be there for you." Excuse us while we throw up.

 

But, there is a bright side to all this. Just in case Tiger has lost his touch, and we use the word loosely, both
on the field and off, he could easily begin a new career in Hollywood or even Bollywood. After all, this is the international blockbuster remake of the cringeworthy dialogue, 'mere paas ma hai.' For all of you who thought that Tiger's handicap would keep him down, be sure that there is a hole new world out there for him.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

POST-INDORE, IT'S ADVANTAGE GADKARI

PANKAJ VOHRA

 

The crucial meeting of the BJP's national council in Indore has set the agenda for the party both in terms of who will get positions of prominence in future and the core issues. A seemingly confident party president Nitin Gadkari sent out a message to the cadres that functioning will be more broad-based thereby implying that the days of coterie politics are over. However, time will tell whether he will be able to contain the all-powerful coterie owing allegiance to L.K. Advani.

 

The mega conclave acted as a unifier to an extent but, at the same time, the filmi touch provided by Gadkari's rendering of a popular song of the 70s took away from its seriousness. At one level, the BJP looked like a party of stage performers. The party's desire to get to the core issues was reflected in the president's reference to the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya and also how the saffron brigade has to keep up with the changing times.

 

Significantly, Advani's relevance to the party seemed to have diminished despite his attempts to assert his supremacy by repeatedly referring to his role over the years and making Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley leaders of the Opposition. He expressed a desire to take "leave" but at the same time said that he will continue to be a rath yatri, meaning that he was not going to retire from active politics.

 

Gadkari, of whom few people had any expectations, was unambiguous during the conclave in telling the workers that their appraisals would depend on their work in villages and that they should not waste time touching the feet of various leaders in Delhi. He made it clear that in his regime, positions of prominence will be based on performance and that this would also determine who gets tickets. The direct implication of this was that many Rajya Sabha leaders who had become important in party affairs in the past few years would have to connect with the masses. Second, the days of drawing room politics were over and it was time the party took to the streets to enlarge its vote share rather than play the politics of manipulation.

 

The agitational aspect highlighted by Gadkari seemed to send the right kind of signal to the workers who have been wondering why its leadership has not resorted to street protests on the price rise issue, Kashmir and internal security problems. The street protests have, at best, been token. This means the new chief may have to look at leadership in all states.

 

The Indore conclave also showed how much Rajnath Singh's relevance has diminished. He seemed more a leader of the past than the present. The RSS imprint on the meeting was also evident from the fact that the Ayodhya matter came up and it was felt that it should be resolved through dialogue. It was also made clear that there would be a distinction between the 'functional' and 'ornamental' teams. Without naming anyone but admitting that there was a power struggle in the party, Gadkari sought to tell his colleagues they should contain their personal ambitions and not harm the overall interests of the outfit.Many things will fall in place once the new president re-constitutes his national executive and other bodies like the parliamentary board and the election committee. In fact, nominations to these bodies will demonstrate whether the party is going in for a more broad-based strategy or will remain in the clutches of the old coterie. The Indore conclave will go down as an event that launched Nitin Gadkari, a man who was considered a nobody on the national stage. His success will depend on how he provides new direction to the party, which has lost its moorings. Round one to the new BJP chief. Between us.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

THREE CHENNAIS

GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI

 

'House full, sir,' the man at the ticket counter says to me.   

 

He has said the same to others queuing up to buy tickets in the Chennai cinema showing Three Idiots.  

 

 "Full for the matinee and the evening shows?"

 

He nods sympathetically. "Full for the late night show also, sir."

 

"Then, for tomorrow?"

 

"Full for tomorrow also. And for day after tomorrow also, sir."

 

"Ayyo, then for which show can I buy tickets?"

 

"Sir, buy online. Best. Online booking starting at midnight tonight."

 

"Okay then," I mumble and turn away, feeling very sorry to have to disappoint my visiting daughters who wanted to see the much-recommended movie.

 

Outside, the taxi driver who had brought me is waiting.

 

"Buy tickets online," he had advised me on the ride.

 

"I have never bought tickets online. In fact, it is a long time since I bought cinema tickets. When I used to do that, it was always at the counter."

 

"What film?" he had asked.

 

"Three Idiots".

 

"Three...?"

 

"Idiots."?"

 

"A film like that?" he exclaimed in wonderment. "English?"

 

"Mixed. Hindi and English, I think. It has Aamir Khan and Madhavan."

 

"Oh then, house full."

 

"Really?"

 

"We shall see."

 

"You were right," I tell the driver on coming out. "No

 

tickets."

 

"Ayyo. But sir, always there are tickets. People doing block-purchase of tickets."

 

"Block...?"

 

"Yes, sir. Cinema hall has its own people, people working there. Friends, then VIPs, officers, big people suddenly asking for tickets. Hall has to give, no? So they block. Inside, sir, surely plenty tickets."

 

Two days later, a friend of a friend tells the young ladies at home that she knows a person who works in the cinema and could easily get the tickets. Much as I want them to see the film, I hope the 'system' has been right and that the courteous young man at the counter had told me the truth.

 

But no, the tickets arrive. From 'inside' of course.

 

"Will you come?"

 

"I don't think so."

 

"Why?"

 

Because I'm the fourth idiot.

 


THREE MAESTROS

 

December is the season of music in Chennai. The Music Academy featured, among others, the three leading vocalists of the Carnatic tradition: Vijay Siva, T.M. Krishna and Sanjay Subramaniam. Even one as untutored in the nuances of music appreciation as myself could not but see that Siva was sublime, Krishna spectacular, and Sanjay sparkling. The plangent raga 'Ahiri' was rendered by Siva with the delicacy of a twilight before moonrise. The emotionally wrenching 'Brindavana Saranga' was sung by Krishna with the tremulous passion of a divine supplication, and the rhythmic 'tanam' was delivered by Sanjay with an aortic pulsation.

 

A striking feature of all three concerts was the mathematical exactitude of timing. They started within seconds of the stroke of 7 in the evening and ended with razor precision at 9.30. As the hall emptied itself onto the parking lot and beyond, the cognoscenti dressed in rustling silk or 'lace' dhoti discussed the recitals' finer points. They dissected the adequacy of the accompanists, of the acoustics and, indeed, of themselves as the audience. Each listener went his or her way reassured that whatever else by way of India's cultural legacy may be under the threat of challenge and change, Chennai holds Carnatic music in its tender and uncompromisingly caring clasp.

 

I was lucky enough to be seated next to vidwans each evening and treated to nuggets of listener-discrimination. "Siva," I was told on the first evening, "is subdued, restrained, free from all gimmickry. He is, in fact, a rishi among musicians." On the young T.M. Krishna, my neighbour said, "He has everything it takes — looks, style, elan. Krishna not only sings, he captivates. He is, simply, a star." Of Sanjay Subramaniam, the description was even more picturesque. "Sanjay is a marathon runner. He gets set, revs, shoots, and goes on and on until he has won. He is an athlete among them."

 

"Have you been attending all the concerts?" I was asked.

 

"No, not really. I do not know the ragas, I cannot keep the tala, and as to the sahitya, I miss most of it if it is in Telugu, Kannada or Sanskrit."

 

"Oh, I see. So you are a music tourist only."

 

And thirdly, our real heroes

 

The beach in Chennai's Thiruvanmiyur draws morning and evening walkers who, in their ardour and ambition for fitness, rank next only to those who walk along the Marina. Young fathers training their small children in aerobics; middle-aged dodgers of coronary and cerebral strokes; youthful couples in love; once-youthful couples in mutual toleration; 'foreigners' sprinting; ear-phoned professionals in a hurry; hearing-aided pensioners in none — all jostle to beat the sun, burn adipose, and prepare to face another harsh day. The Coromandel coast is at its most moody and playful here, ebullient and sluggish, smiling and snarling.

 

The beach has three kinds of visitors. One, those who come to burn their calories. Two, those that come to cool their nerves. And three, those who come 'simply'. Despite valiant efforts by the city corporation and NGOs, this third category of 'beachers' deposit on it in a relentless flow of every manner of non bio-degradable garbage. The beachline here has a remarkable group of volunteers who clear the litter to the best of their ability. There is also a company that hires cleaners who remove the litter each day.

 

I asked a serene-looking aproned woman who was raking some plastic bags and rubbish off the road onto a mobile bin how much she was paid by her employer. "Rs 3,200 a month," she said. I offered her an invisible genuflection with the thought that if our decorated artistes and medallioned professionals, our Shris, Bhushans, Vibhushans and Ratnas deserve the nation's segmentised admiration each for his or her field of achievement, this untiring woman with her unthanked broom deserves our unsegregated admiration and our unqualified apology.

 

Gopalkrishna Gandhi was the Governor of West Bengal from 2004 to 2009.

 

The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

QUALIFY TO DESERVE WHAT YOU DESIRE

NITIN GANDHI

 

A teacher once told her students that she had not failed anyone. A wave of cheer went round the class. She added that she had not passed anyone either, it was the students themselves who had done it.

 

Eknath Eswaran has said this so beautifully, "You are what your deep driving desire is. As is your driving desire, so is your will. As is your will, so are your deeds. As are your deeds, so is your destiny."

 

In the case of the students, their desires were not backed up with enough will and hard work. So, how could they expect the teacher do what they didn't deserve?

 

It is the sum total of our desires or vasnas that matters, since our karmas are largely dominated by our vasnas. This desire, however, should be so strong that other secondary desires lose their charm. If we have hundreds of small vasnas, we achieve nothing. But if we have one strong vasna, we get what we desire. Moreover, we qualify to deserve what we desire.

 

To deserve something, it is necessary to set goals and work towards them without losing focus. You cannot sail in many boats at the same time. Our needs or desires can be classified into four categories. Swami Shvender says the first type is met without much effort — food and shelter.

 

There are some that we get with a bit of effort like education, a clean house, etc. For some, we have to put in a lot of effort — doing well professionally. The fourth category includes those desires that can never be fulfilled — our wish to get respect from everyone.

 

Most of our desires fall in the first and second categories. It is the third category that takes one onto the path of progress and spirituality.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

RIGHT TO OFFEND

 

Even if he accomplished nothing else, Shah Rukh Khan managed to persuade Karan Johar. Khan's refusal to withdraw his statements on how Pakistani cricketers were welcome in the Indian Premier League — even if he swiftly whittled away at his initial, uncompromising attitude in a series of conciliatory tweets and public messages — has caused Johar to re-evaluate the wisdom of his earlier capitulation to Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena over the use of the word "Bombay" in the Mumbai-centric movie Wake Up Sid.

 

Johar told The Indian Express that he is "a different person" now than he was a few months ago when Wake Up Sid came out. On that occasion, the fear that the movie's opening weekend would suffer had led him to rush over to Raj Thackeray and personally apologise on behalf of "creative people" who "make mistakes" of this sort. But he now recognises that his giving in to Raj then was not unconnected to Raj's uncle Balasaheb deciding to go after My Name is Khan now.

 

But it isn't just that one occasion. Johar's apology was unsurprising, the automatic reaction of an "apolitical" public figure in India who suddenly gets targeted by a thug who wants a bit of populist mileage off a careless statement or two. And each such backing down — the product of a culture which appeases the noisiest, of a lack of confidence in the protective capabilities of the state — empowers those who would demand an apology next time and incentivises the development of a politics in which taking offence is the quickest way to build a reputation for son-of-the-soil pluckiness. For, after all, in a country as layered and diverse as India, you do not have to really look far for statements that could, if read a particular way, offend someone. A cycle of statement-offense-apology-empowerment is as constricting to speech as would be any more obviously draconian, restrictive regime.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

AFTER THE HYSTERICS

 

After the suspicion and hostility of a few held up the introduction of Bt brinjal, the prime minister's economic advisory council has stepped in to provide some good sense. In the context of Bt cotton's success, the council recommended farm evaluations and a comprehensive risk analysis of GM crops, the results of which should be brought into the public domain as soon as possible.

 

In India, the Bt brinjal case fed into a reflexive hysteria about biotech — that these monstrous GM plants would contaminate their 'natural' neighbours with GM pollen and eradicate biodiversity, or that they would spur the growth of 'superweeds', resistant to pesticides, or that they could have health hazards for those who unwittingly consume them. These are vital concerns. But while they have been put to field trials, their vague fears still managed to scupper a decision on what could have been a dramatic improvement for small farmers — boosting yields and cutting pesticide costs. After China, India is the biggest producer of brinjal. It is mainly cultivated by small farmers who have to contend with the fruit and shoot borer — a hardy little bug that has now developed resistance to many conventional pesticides. The environment ministry, however, decided to roll over institutional propriety and go with the anti-Bt activists, despite an array of expert opinion and many sane, responsible voices in his own government defending technology and underscoring its importance for Indian agriculture.

 

Instead of framing in the issue in ideological terms, it makes sense to have a clear regulatory framework that would assess the state of scientific knowledge on GM crops and foods, and address these anxieties. The PM's economic advisory council is entirely right in demanding a consensus and a new outlook on the technology. On one hand, much of the innovation is being driven by the private sector. On the other, relying largely on corporate data on risk assessment is a dodgy proposition. After the wreckage of the Bt brinjal episode, the government needs to firm up the regulatory framework to dispel the notion that there now exists an uncompromising moratorium on GM technology and its case-by-case implications. Delay only costs us.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BROKEN MEASURES

 

West Bengal is broken. Nothing that is the state's own works anymore. Very soon, it may need to import all kinds of services and personnel from other states or from the Centre. Even in countering the gravest internal security threat to the country, Bengal is yet to step out of its kindergarten picnic. How can it? Its own senior police officers have to cover their face for fear of Maoist wrath. And after they have criticised their government, they are promptly suspended. About that, there's no hesitation on anybody's part. Where was such urgency and ready reflex when Maoists stormed the Silda Eastern Frontier Rifles camp and left behind ashes and bodies?

 

EFR Special IG Benoy Chakraborty may certainly be punishable for breach of protocol. However, Chakraborty, by covering his face in black cloth while publicly blasting his government and a junior in rank, has painted for Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee the only honest picture of the state. Setting aside his allegations against West Midnapore Superintendent of Police Manoj Verma, whatever the IG said about the location, infrastructure, environment and functioning of the Silda camp is right. Those are precisely the questions the nation has been asking, and will be asking, of the Bengal government. Chakraborty, reportedly, had asked repeatedly for the camp to be moved. That was not done, despite the "death band" that police personnel in Maoist-afflicted areas wear. In fact, it is unfortunate that a senior police officer had to take recourse to such a public venting of grievances, making himself, his force and his government look ridiculous.

 

Behind the Silda massacre and its shameful fallout stands a government that has systematically emasculated its police, making the latter the gatekeepers of partymen. (What was the Silda camp itself set up for initially? To protect CPM men.) Bengal is synonymous with political and police violence. As with everything else, the rationale behind police recruitment, posting and promotion in Bengal has not been merit, but subservience to the party. In the face of Maoists, the same force is the picture of incompetence. Bhattacharjee, who holds the state home portfolio, should ask himself whether, and when, his government will learn its lessons. The morale of his state is broken. Right now, it can't find its feet. The "oasis of peace" is really a bloodied paradise of ineffectuality. After three-plus decades of subverting every aspect of administration, government, police and people now share their defeatism.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

LICENCE TO WORK

SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE

 

For the world's most rapidly urbanising country, can Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Budget 2010-11 create possibly the world's biggest stimulus by allying the interest rate leverage he has as the owner of 70 per cent of the Indian banking sector with a rights programme for self-employed workers? It could be a very Indian solution to the problem of how to give loans to sub-prime customers.

 

This could happen if he announces the government's intention to give rights over their profession to those in the underbelly of the cities. It is one announcement that can create a momentum which can be fabulously appropriate for an economy developing as a pillar of the global economic order. It is quite different from the property rights model that Hernando de Soto has so famously suggested. Partho Mukherjee, senior fellow at New Delhi's Centre for Policy Research, has pointed out that a slum dweller cannot leverage rights to a property unless he has the right to pursue a livelihood. The scope for the massive bottom-up leverage in an urban economy emerges because it addresses jobs and also allows the benefit of softer interest rates to reach those who need it the most.

 

Simply put, this would mean those who ply a rickshaw, operate a vendor cart or sell wares moving house to house get a formal recognition to run their business. Calling this a licence could be difficult as this would draw up images of oppressive government machinery but a solution to that should be easy.

 

A formal right on livelihood is dynamic in an urban setting. The worker is not tied to the place he stays but can move anywhere in or across the cities, using the right as collateral to obtain loans, so vital to run his business. It also costs far less to the municipal bodies as they do not end up signing away scarce real estate that the owner can do little to improve. More, there is always the risk that those rights can be bullied away by a mafia. But a movable right is linked only to the worker carrying no collateral risk. Obviously the plan is urban centric where there is a rush to chase the most lucrative opportunity to attract customers. A rural area will suffer no such constraints.

 

Moreover, since it pretty much does not extend the means of the state to give anything more that the status quo, it is far more doable. The plan can be nicely dovetailed with the Unique Identification Numbers that Nandan Nilekani will start distributing from this year. The number plan can be the missing piece in the scheme as it would allow each worker to be accurately mapped with his licence.

 

In addition, it does not strain the ability of the respective governments to run the scheme. It would not need a mapping of the urban space through the dense slums to establish difficult rights, which in turn is sure to be contested. A profession on the other hand can be replicated across as many people as those who come up to claim the status.

 

For a fiscally strapped government, this is a more promising alternative to a right to provide jobs. Already the NREGA has begun to chip away more than Rs 30,000 crore from the annual government budget. If food inflation persists for long, that sum will be replaced by a much larger number. A national right to livelihood is therefore difficult to envisage in these circumstances.

 

Even without that hangover and the bill for stimulus, the space for effective economic policy-making this time has dwindled as the room for tax changes has been vacated by the government. Mukherjee has commissioned a rehaul of the tax policy through two major works that will stretch late into the year — the direct tax code and the goods and services tax. Without them he would obviously not take on a substantial rewrite of the tax laws. The changes, if any, will only be restricted to finance some of the tax breaks written in the fiscal stimulus bill. It has cost him Rs 42,000 crore in 2009-10.

 

Would a plan of this sort get the financial institutions interested? One would believe so. To take an example from the small scale and micro sector, banks, when evaluating a line of credit assess the product line being churned by the unit to decide if a loan is worth it. Only after they are satisfied about the income generating and sustaining property of the unit, do they move on to the next phase. At that stage, the bank moves on to assess the cover on the loan, based on the collateral the factory or unit owner can offer. In most cases, the additional collateral is the property.

 

In the case of the workers from the urban slums too, the loan or even the chance to sell their licence would depend on the income generating potential of the business. This would obviously provide space for very small loans, but those would be based on more clear assessment of the risks than a plot or even a house. The Indian banking sector has begun taking some quite interesting steps to make this section of urban India bankable. Models like business correspondents and no-frills savings accounts tap into this segment. But thereafter when it comes to the logical next step of giving a loan, the plan comes unstuck. We are back in the rolls of paperwork with miles of guarantors and referees.

 

Extension of property rights in an urban space is sure to create a crazy rush for construction of hovels plus creation of another set of differences among the poor, without too much of a gain. The work-based scheme will avoid all those traps and allow the state to play an unbiased role in creating a bottom-up approach to prosperity. As it turns out, it could be a very easy call for the finance minister.

 

The writer is Executive Editor (News), 'The Financial Express' subhomoy.bhattacharjee@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

ACTS OF PROBABILITY

M.R. MADHAVAN

 

Another session, another opportunity to pass important bills. Will the government take the initiative this time? The Budget Session of Parliament commences on Monday with the President's Address and ends in the first week of May. Other than the financial business of the general and railway budgets, a number of bills are also likely to be introduced and discussed.

 

At the beginning of the last session, the government had listed 19 pending bills that it intended to take up for consideration and passing. Parliament passed only four of these bills. Several of the remaining 15 bills have been pending for a significant amount of time, and only a few of them will likely be passed this session. The list includes two bills related to agriculture; these regulate the seed and pesticide sectors. There has been significant opposition (including from the standing committee) to one provision of the seeds bill that requires inter-farmer sales of seeds to conform to the same quality norms as that of seeds sold by companies. The Communal Violence Bill was mentioned by the government as the response to the Liberhan Commission report. This bill, pending since 2005, lacks political consensus, and is unlikely to be taken up in the present form. Other bills in the list include one that relaxes norms on maintaining labour registers by small firms; one that permits NRIs to vote; an amendment of the Industrial Disputes Act to widen the coverage; an amendment of the Employees' State Insurance

 

Act to include the Rashtriya Bima Suraksha Yojana. There is no significant opposition to these bills.

 

The list also included the Women's Reservation Bill. The standing committee has given its recommendation that the bill be passed, but the report includes two dissent notes (both by Samajwadi Party MPs).

 

Most political parties including the BJP and the Left have expressed their support for the bill, and it will be interesting to see whether this bill is taken up this session.

 

Several bills listed for introduction last session were not introduced. The Civil Nuclear Liability Bill has been opposed on the grounds that it caps the liability of nuclear power suppliers and operators at a very low level, and provides a free sovereign guarantee above that level. The Equal Opportunities Commission was recommended by the Sachar Committee, and will likely have a wide impact if it covers the private sector. Two important bills on land acquisition and rehabilitation of displaced persons lapsed in the last Lok Sabha; these bills figured in the President's Address in July but there appears to be opposition within UPA-II.

 

A number of bills related to the financial sector have either lapsed or are pending for a long time. These include bills related to pension, banking, insurance and microfinance sectors. Many of these bills were piloted by the then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram (and some were originally drafted by the NDA government). It will be interesting to see whether Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee champions these issues. News reports indicate that the finance ministry is unlikely to introduce the new Direct Tax Code Bill to replace the income and wealth tax acts; the draft bill is likely to be reworked to include some of the public feedback, and will probably be introduced only in the Monsoon Session.

 

The law minister and the HRD minister have made headlines with their reform agenda. The law minister has issued a vision statement and will likely introduce the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill. This bill is expected to address two issues: the disclosure of assets of judges and the process of impeachment. The HRD minister has indicated his intent to reform the higher education sector. A draft bill to set up a new regulator has been posted for public feedback.

 

The government has talked of the need to press for inclusive growth. The strategy involves growth oriented reforms in financial and infrastructure sectors, building human resource capability through education, and creating safety nets such as the proposed right to food act. The political conditions are conducive to take tough steps — the BJP has indicated broad support to many bills, there is enough time till the next general elections to get the benefits of these measures and, unlike UPA-I, the government does not depend on support from Left parties. The government will have no excuses if it misses the opportunity to take India to a higher growth platform in an inclusive manner.

 

The writer works with PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi

 

express@expressindia.com

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE TURNAROUND STORY

J.P. YADAV

 

Nitish Kumar is basking in the glory of Bihar's brilliant turnaround, which made national and international headlines. The state averaged a miraculous annual growth of 11.03 per cent — next only to Gujarat (11.05 per cent).

 

But developments in the state since then have been no less amazing. The chief minister is facing a sudden surge of rebellion from his flock. State Janata Dal (United) president Lalan Singh resigned from his post, accusing Kumar of running the party and the government like an 'autocrat'. Lalan's rebellion surprised everyone as he was known to be Nitish's closest aide so much so that the Opposition projected him as the symbol of upper caste hegemony in the government.

 

Lalan's revolt threatens to destabilise Nitish with elections only months ahead. Other upper caste leaders in the JD(U) are tacitly backing him. Some local newspapers that sang paeans to Nitish till recently have started publishing stories of scams targeting his office. One of his ministers, Excise Minister Jamshed Ashraf, has alleged a Rs 500 crore-scam in his department — and claimed the chief minister's office was involved in the swindle. On Thursday, the CM sacked Ashraf. Just ahead of the elections, men once closest to Nitish are hunting for his head.

 

The revolt by the upper caste leaders, identified with the government, is said to be a result of Nitish's arrogance and autocratic style. But it has a larger social significance too. Coincidently, as chief minister, Lalu Prasad Yadav faced a similar rebellion just as he geared up for re-election in 1995. At that time, it was Nitish who led the revolt, backed by the same upper caste leaders. George Fernandes, Nitish, Lalan, Shivanand Tiwari and some others broke away from Lalu to form the Samata Party. Lalu won hands down; Nitish faced a humiliating defeat. But what followed was the infamous multi-crore fodder scam, with Lalan and Tiwari being the main movers in the case.

 

Mandalisation in the early 1990s pushed the upper castes to the fringes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. After his initial attempts with the ultra left CPI-ML (Liberation) failed, Nitish, leading the oust-Lalu campaign, found a friend in the BJP. The upper castes saw Nitish as someone who could defeat Lalu. Nitish just missed the bus in 2000 and in February 2005. But in November the same year, when Bihar went to the polls after a short span of central rule, Nitish decimated Lalu.

 

Aware that he owed his victory more to the backward classes than the upper castes, Nitish set out to consolidate his base. He began by reserving 20 per cent seats in panchayats for the Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs). Comprising over 100 castes and about 30 per cent of the population, the EBCs were deprived of their share in the political pie. Nitish also wooed the Muslim backwards, 85 per cent of the community's population. Next was his idea of "Mahadalits" or the deprived Scheduled Castes. The chief minister aimed at building a formidable support base of backwards minus Yadavs (Lalu), Dalits minus Paswans (Ram Vilas Paswan) and the majority of Muslims.

 

Nitish practised this social engineering silently, always keeping the larger agenda of development on the forefront. But it was only a matter of time before the upper castes, who used to call the shots in Bihar till 1990, turned uneasy. Aware that Nitish was fast nibbling at their traditional support base, the opposition led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal, accused him of playing into the hands of the upper castes. They projected Lalan as a symbol of this.

 

Wily politician that Nitish is, he couldn't have let the charge stick. He began distancing himself from the upper caste leaders close to him and cut the strings they used to pull in the government. Unease turned into anger when an official commission on land reforms recommended granting rights to share-croppers. Though Nitish clarified that the government had not accepted the recommendations, the fear of losing their land gripped the upper castes. In the subsequent by-elections, the JD(U)-BJP fared badly.

 

It is a mystery why Nitish made the commission's report public. Some say he didn't expect upper castes to oppose it so vociferously. Others feel he couldn't have been so naïve, and the move was aimed at further consolidating the EBC and Dalit voter.

 

When Lalan quit, Nitish remained defiant and consciously avoided a compromise. As elections approach, the chief minister seems to be making his 'backward lurch' more pronounced. It was evident when, in his presence, anti-upper caste slogans rent the air during the birth anniversary function of backward leader Jagdeo Prasad, who was killed in the 1970s.

 

Nitish seems confident that he can stage a comeback even if the upper castes, who account for 15 per cent of the population, desert him. If his gamble succeeds, he would achieve what Lalu did. Nitish, people close to him say, is certain that at least 40 per cent of the electorate — backwards and Dalits- are solidly behind him. The upper caste leaders rubbish this; Nitish should understand, they say, that EBCs and Mahadalits are still dependent on the affluent forward castes for their livelihood and thereby need their backing to cast votes. Upper castes, who had their choice limited to Lalu and Nitish, now have the Congress. Nitish realises this and so his call to the backwards is getting shriller by the day.

 

Bihar is headed towards a gripping electoral battle that would impact national politics. For the BJP — trying to recover after the Lok Sabha defeat — it would be the first major test in the Hindi heartland. The Congress' possible resurgence will be keenly watched. If Nitish continues to bat for the backwards, his ally BJP could get marginalised and that would mean the strengthening of the Congress. Above all, Bihar will test the relevance of a regional leader who has performed amidst talk of the return of national parties.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

WELCOME TO THE RE-GENERATION

 

A small news item from Tracy, California, caught my eye last week: "Tracy residents will now have to pay every time they call 911 for a medical emergency. But there are a couple of options. Residents can pay a $48 voluntary fee for the year, which allows them to call 911 as many times as necessary. Or there's the option of not signing up for the annual fee. Instead they will be charged $300 if they make a call for help."

 

Welcome to the lean years.

 

Yes, sir, we've just had our 70 fat years in America, thanks to the Greatest Generation and the bounty of freedom and prosperity they built for us. And in these past 70 years, leadership — whether of the country, a university, a company, a state, a charity, or a township — has largely been about giving things away, building things from scratch, lowering taxes or making grants.

 

But now it feels as if we are entering a new era, "where the great task of government and of leadership is going to be about taking things away from people," said the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum. Indeed, to lead now is to trim, to fire or to downsize services, programmes or personnel. We've gone from the age of government handouts to the age of citizen givebacks, from the age of companions fly free to the age of paying for each bag.

 

Let's just hope our lean years will only number seven. That will depend a lot on us and whether we rise to the economic challenges of this moment. Our parents truly were the Greatest Generation. We, alas, in too many ways, have been what the writer Kurt Andersen called "The Grasshopper Generation," eating through the prosperity that was bequeathed us like hungry locusts. Now we and our kids together need to be "The Regeneration" — the generation that renews, refreshes, re-energises and rebuilds America for the 21st century.

 

President Obama's bad luck was that he showed up just as we moved from the fat years to the lean years. His calling is to lead The Regeneration. He clearly understands that in his head, but he has yet to give full voice to it. Actually, the thing that most baffles me about Obama is how a politician who speaks so well, and is trying to do so many worthy things, can't come up with a clear, simple, repeatable narrative to explain his politics — when it is so obvious.

 

Obama won the election because he was able to "rent" a significant number of independent voters — including Republican business types who had never voted for a Democrat in their lives — because they knew in their guts that the country was on the wrong track and was desperately in need of nation-building at home and that John McCain was not the man to do it. They thought that Mr. Obama, despite his liberal credentials, had the unique skills, temperament, voice and values to pull the country together for this new Apollo program — not to take us to the moon, but into the 21st century.

 

Alas, though, instead of making nation-building in America his overarching narrative and then fitting health care, energy, educational reform, infrastructure, competitiveness and deficit reduction under that rubric, the president has pursued each separately. This made each initiative appear to be just some stand-alone liberal obsession to pay off a Democratic constituency — not an essential ingredient of a nation-building strategy — and, therefore, they have proved to be easily obstructed, picked off or delegitimised by opponents and lobbyists. So "Obamism" feels at worst like a hodgepodge, at best like a to-do list — one that got way too dominated by health care instead of innovation and jobs — and not the least like a big, aspirational project that can bring out America's still vast potential for greatness.

To be sure, taking over the presidency at the dawn of the lean years is no easy task. The president needs to persuade the country to invest in the future and pay for the past — past profligacy — all at the same time. While it would certainly help if the president voiced a more compelling narrative, I am under no illusion that this alone would solve all his problems and ours. It comes back to us: We have to demand the truth from our politicians and be ready to accept it ourselves. We simply do not have another presidency to waste. There are no more fat years to eat through. If Obama fails, we all fail.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

IPAUSE

 

The technology industry has sucked in a deep breath and paused for a rare moment of reflection.

 

Over the last three years, consumers have been peppered with one form of game-changing product after another. First there were the tiny laptops called netbooks. Then Apple's iPhone, which set off a wave of touch-screen and application-based smartphones. Amazon.com's Kindle e-book reader shook up the publishing industry. Google released its Android cellphone software and began developing its Chrome operating system, both of which are emerging as alternatives to Microsoft's Windows for simple computers. And last month, Apple unveiled the iPad, which could usher in a new wave of innovation as the industry gauges whether customers really want tablet PCs without keyboards.

 

For the moment, however, the tech industry's innovation engine is in idle. The annual Mobile World Congress here, in Barcelona — traditionally a place to introduce products that blend computer and phone functions in novel ways — has featured tweaks on existing designs.

 

"It's like with evolution, where you have a mutation and then a great explosion of diversity," said Scott A. McGregor, the chief executive of Broadcom, which makes chips that go into a wide range of consumer electronics. "Then, you have a period where you see which creatures can survive the big change."

 

Tablet computers generated plenty of excitement at the gathering, which ends Thursday, although hardware makers promoted modest variations on the concept rather than major breakthroughs that would distinguish their products from Apple's iPad. For example, NTT East, a Japanese telecommunications carrier that is part of the NTT Group, has started trials with a tabletlike device called the Hikari iFrame. The company has pitched this touch-screen product, which runs Google's Android software, as a way for inexperienced computer users to get on the Internet.

 

In a back room of the booth rented by Marvell, a chip maker, people who asked nicely could catch a glimpse of the iWonder. The white, touch-screen product presents an interface similar to that of Apple's iPad, with colorful icons and standard computing functions, like a Web browser and office productivity software. The Android-based device was chunkier than the iPad, however, and took a while to start up. Foxconn, a Taiwanese contract manufacturer whose factories build a wide range of consumer electronics products, including the iPod and iPad, designed the iWonder, which should be available soon in China for about $100.

 

"The iPad helped set the bar and let everyone know what Apple's vision of a tablet should be," said Kyle Fox, a product marketing manager at Marvell. "I do know there are a flood of tablet designs coming out in the next 12 months."

 

In the cellphone arena, long the focus of the show, companies showed off some new features aimed at gamers and environmentally conscious consumers. Fujitsu has built a smartphone that splits into two pieces: the display and the keyboard. NTT DoCoMo, another Japanese company that is part of the NTT Group, will sell the device under the Prime Series F-04B name. DoCoMo pitched the product as the answer for gamers who want to set their display down and hold the keyboard like a controller. But the phone may appeal to businesspeople as well, since users can swap the keyboard for a tiny projector for presentations. DoCoMo is also aiming at people with an environmental bent by sticking a solar panel onto one of its phones. Ten minutes of sun exposure can keep the phone going for a minute of talk time.

 

The phone garnering the most attention came from HTC, a Taiwanese manufacturer. HTC

 

recently built the Nexus One smartphone for Google, but in Barcelona, it one-upped that product by releasing the HTC Desire. The Desire has just as much horsepower as the Nexus One but has an elegant interface designed by HTC. Both phones run Google's Android software, which can be customized.

 

Meanwhile, the booth of Powermat, a maker of cellphone accessories, was so crowded that it resembled a dance

club. Showgoers lined up outside the entrance and were let in one at a time by Powermat representatives who were trying to keep the space from being overrun. As the company's name suggests, Powermat sells a mat that can charge devices like phones and netbooks without cords. To make this magic happen, customers need to buy a new battery, phone back or phone case that includes chip technology from Powermat. Powermat has been selling stand-alone devices since last fall. This year, it plans to help partners introduce a line of furniture equipped with its technology, said Ran Poliakine, the company's chief executive.

 

"You'll see something like a table that will include a spot to charge your phone," Mr. Poliakine said. Staples, the office supply chain, should have the furniture on sale by midyear, he said. Over time, Powermat hopes to get its technology implanted into things like kitchen counters and even walls: a household could power a flat-panel TV straight from the wall without any cables.

 

While the trade show lacked a true breakthrough device, manufacturers were promising more excitement to come soon. For example, Nvidia, a graphics chip maker, said it had built a speedy new chip, the Tegra 2, that would soon appear in a range of products, including cars and smartphones. Executives said that by midyear they expected manufacturers to use this chip to create faster tablets and phones that would handle demanding content like high-definition movies as well as standard PCs.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

DRIVING BY COMMITTEE

S. VIJAY KUMAR

 

As another Budget Session of Parliament commences, one can expect the usual hard wringing about the continuing erosion of the parliamentary system, apparently evidenced by the reduction in the number of days of sitting — from over 100 in the 1980s to less than 85 now — and by the reduction in the number of bills passed by the two houses. Whatever may be true of other charges, at least on these two counts, it is important to set the record straight. 

 

Prior to 1993, Parliament on average did in fact meet for 100 days or more in a year. However, in 1992, the Committee on Rules of the Rajya Sabha, in its fifth report, recommended the setting up of three parliamentary committees, on human resources development, on industry and on labour, "with the object of enlarging and qualitatively enhancing the association of MPs with key sectors of national reconstruction so as to maximise utilisation of the rich experience and expertise of members from both houses." The matter was further discussed in a joint sitting of the rules committees of both houses in March 1993; and, as a result, 17 department-related parliamentary standing committees were constituted, with representation from both houses.

 

The functions of these committees was to consider (with respect to the specific ministry concerned): demands for grants; legislative proposals (bills); the annual report; and national basic long-term policy documents referred to the committee. A convention developed by which the Budget Session was held in two parts, with a break to enable the committee to consider these issues and present a report to Parliament. Not surprisingly, the number of sittings of the two houses decreased to that extent — but clearly, in the process, parliamentary scrutiny of the executive, far from decreasing, has actually become more focused and purposeful. 

 

How much of Parliament's time is spent on legislative business is of course important, but only in its context. India has actually a fairly systematic and robust legislative framework, going back to pre-independence times (particularly, and not surprisingly, given colonial structures, regulatory legislation). Most recent legislative initiatives have focused on addressing issues arising out of technology (informatics, communications, biotechnology, etc.) or out of converting regulation-oriented legislation into service- or development-oriented legislation (the Police Act, the Companies Act, Mines & Minerals Act, etc.) either by amendment or replacement.

 

Given the increasingly complex and technology-driven world we live in, it is the quality rather than quantity of the legislation that ought to be of concern. (Given also the perception in some quarters that often legislation tends to give too much authority or discretion to the executive in the matter of framing subordinate legislation in the form of Rules.) The fact that parliament itself is devoting less time to consideration of legislation is really not the issue. The issue is: how much time and effort are department-related committees devoting to examining bills introduced in parliament? How much expertise can they access to ensure that the legislation meets certain basic standards, takes into account international best practices and comprehensively addresses issues relating to technology?

 

What is important, therefore, is that the procedures around department-related standing committees ensure their evolution into effective instruments for the proper management of the legislative framework. I have argued on these pages in favour of re-orienting "department-related' committees into "subject-related' committees to ensure seamless coverage — and also to allow them access to expertise, to create reports of lasting value. This will of course, mean changes in the rules of procedure governing the committees. A logical corollary of this change, if effected, would be for such committees to go into the existing legislation on the subject and make general recommendations on its appropriateness and possible changes. Parliament is not only the forum for framing of legislation; it is also the most appropriate forum for evaluating its effectiveness. 

 

As the Ides of March come, the department-related committees will go about the humdrum business of examining the demands for grants and annual reports of Central ministries. The question is; what, after the Ides of March are gone?

 

The writer was Joint Secretary of the Rajya Sabha from 1998-2002. 

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PMEAC'S POWERSPEAK


The forecast of a steady improvement in growth rates from 7.2% for 2009-10 to 8.2% and 9% in the next two years in the annual review by the Economic Advisory Council of the Prime Minister once again validates the thesis of a quick and steady recovery. And the optimistic projections are not based on the expected recovery in agriculture growth, which the council has projected to average around 4.5% in the next two years. In fact, the estimates bank more on non-agricultural growth, which is projected to pick up even faster from 8.5% in 2009-10 to 8.8% and further to 9.8%. However, the main driver will be the services sectors, where growth will increase from 8.7% in 2009-10 to 10.1% in 2011-12. This is only to be expected as the domestic services economy is far more immune to global growth shocks. Services constitute over 57% of India's GDP and a good part of these is driven by items such as communications, construction and financial services, which have shown decent growth even against the backdrop of a global recession. The council, however, seems far less optimistic of the prospects in the industrial sector, where it estimates growth to move up only marginally by 7 decimal points to 9.2% over the next two years. What is striking is that the projections show that manufacturing growth will move up by an abysmally low 3 decimal points to 9.2% over the next two years. One reason for such pessimism seems to be the less than expected recovery on the trade front, with merchandise exports declining by 10.7% to $168.7 billion in 2009-10. India's export-to-GDP ratio has risen steadily over the past decade, and we are far less immune to recession in the West today than we were some years ago.

 

Another major obstacle is the infrastructure deficit, especially in power, which the council points out to be one of the two major obstacles to improving medium- and long-term growth prospects, the other being low productivity in agriculture. The large power deficit, which is much higher than the 10-15% in the official figures, not only leads to production losses but also to greater dependence on high-cost captive power, which erodes margins.

 

An upward spike in manufacturing activity at this stage of economic growth can happen only if power generation keeps pace, warns the council. So the council is of the opinion that while it is important to substantially shrink the fiscal deficit, the capital expenditures, particularly in the infrastructure sector, should be strongly safeguarded. It also argued for more viability gap funding to facilitate larger private sector investments in the infrastructure sector. The preferred area for spending cuts was subsidies where an expenditure freeze will contribute substantially to the pruning of the deficits, points out the council. In short, India's growth story is intact but policy change must put greater emphasis on sectors where productivity surge can be maximum given the same amount of capital employed.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

IN NEED OF OVERHAUL


The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has cleared what amounts to yet another bailout for Air India, a Rs 800-crore equity infusion this fiscal. This is just the latest chapter in a long ongoing saga in which the national carrier promises to cut costs in exchange for the government's help. While the 'help' is promptly absorbed, the cost cuts remain indefinitely postponed. Consider, first, that Air India had targeted a cost reduction of Rs 1,911 crore in 2009-10. But it has only been able to achieve Rs 753 crore thus far. Second, and more disturbingly, every time the airline attempts to cut manpower or wages, it faces the likes of strikes and retreats. It must be emphasised that the airline has around 31,000 employees, while its private sector competitors—which offer almost similar fleet strengths and networks—carry less than half this weight. Third, and this is the most damning fact, Air India recently proffered a turnaround plan that actually showed losses continuing into 2017. The plan got hauled up by the GoM, so a new one is being prepared. But past records suggest that much-needed harsh moves—ranging from safeguarding hard cash and controlling costs to watchfully lining up capacity with demand—are simply not the airline's strong points. Exactly what these strong points are, other than those proffered in nationalist rather than level-headed speechifying, nobody quite knows at this point.

 

Meanwhile, Japan Airlines has declared bankruptcy. It was repeatedly bailed out by assorted governments, but all of that came to naught. Jobs will be cut drastically now, board members will be replaced and foreign alliance partners will be welcome. Our columnists have argued that a similar fate can only be delayed for Air India, not averted. The longer the government fosters the delay, the more the exchequer will end up paying. Especially as Air India's existing management shows little signs that it is becoming truly serious about substantive restructuring. Even the one important move that was taken in this direction—Air India's merger with Indian Airlines—was undermined by entrenched bureaucracies. Instead of costs having been cut, we now see increased personnel overheads and higher expenditure in general. It's not as if good advice hasn't been on the table for some time now. The 2003 report of the committee on a roadmap for the civil aviation sector had recommended early privatisation and transfer of management control to a strategic private investor. So, if the existing Air India business model is essentially unviable, is the government's ongoing support really justified?

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

IN BUDGET, WHAT MATTERS IS FISC

DHIRAJ NAYYAR

 

The government's pre-Budget move to reform India's archaic and burdensome fertiliser subsidy regime is a timely acknowledgement of the need to rein in the fiscal deficit. India's resilience through the global economic crisis can be explained by a number of factors, but what mattered when the financial crisis hit was the reasonably good state of the balance sheets of three critical components of any economy—households, corporates and the government.

 

Household and corporate balance sheets (including bans and financial institutions) were on the average sound—no overleverage, and in most cases limited exposure to overseas debt. The balance sheet of the government, on the other hand, was plagued by a fiscal deficit of around 6%. But by the standards of stimulus-prompted fiscal deficits (many in double-digits) in the West, India's deficit looks reasonable. And the external debt component of the deficit is quite negligible.

 

Still, there are enough reasons now for the government to take the fiscal deficit seriously. For one, we have reached that point in the global economic cycle where all attention is focused on the state of government balance sheets. For the longest time, once the recovery began sometime in the middle of 2009, the commonly held view was that the big challenge for government policymakers would come from the side effects of very loose monetary policies. Most fears centered on asset-price bubbles and other inflationary pressures in both the West and in emerging economies. And then came the Dubai World default, the first sovereign debt default in the duration of this crisis—until then problems had been confined to household and corporate balance sheets, mostly in the West. It didn't take long for markets to notice the massive government deficit-debt problems in certain European economies—the now infamous PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain). The fear factor from Europe has been enough to deflate a number of potential bubbles, at least in stock markets. And nudge countries like India, which still need to attract investment from abroad to make a renewed effort to get the fisc back into shape.

 

But even if we chose to ignore the foreign dimension because of our limited dependence on foreign debt—a potentially expensive proposition, of course, if we want to attract investment—there are still reasons to be concerned about the fisc. Remember that unlike in Western economies, where fiscal pressures have built up largely due to stimulus efforts (including greater spending on unemployment benefits), India's deficit has little to do with the post-crisis stimulus. Of course, some limited and specific tax concessions were made in the three stimulus packages of December 2008 and January 2009, but these were tiny compared to the unplanned stimulus that had happened in the run-up to the general election—the pay commission awards, the loan waiver and the continued extension of NREG. All of these, of course, played out as stimulus ex-post and stood the economy in good stead through the crisis, keeping consumption buoyant even as investment stuttered along. But unlike post-crisis stimulus, there is no question of a rollback in any of these.

 

The third reason to be concerned about the fiscal deficit is the toll that continued government borrowing is taking on the bond market. Bond yields are already under pressure because of inflation—government borrowing is additional stress. If borrowing isn't reined in, there is a lurking danger of the government crowding out productive private sector investment. That is something we can ill-afford in our quest to achieve 9% growth in the near future.

 

So, what Budget watchers should wait for more anxiously than anything else this Friday are the government's plans on fiscal consolidation. No one seriously expects the UPA government to slash public spending directed at social sectors. In fact, this will likely be scaled up. And there isn't much room to increase taxes (other than the rollback in stimulus), though a firm announcement on the direct taxes code and GST may eventually help the government to mop up higher tax revenues while reducing the burden on individuals—essentially by broadening the base and bringing untaxed sectors into the tax net.

 

That leaves us with the subsidy bill and disinvestment. The promise to rationalise fertiliser subsidies was made in the last Budget—it took almost a year to materialise. But at least it happened. The finance minister could help the fisc this time by boldly announcing that he intends to accept the recommendations of the Kirit Parikh Committee report on deregulating oil prices, preferably immediately but at the least in this fiscal year. The government must, of course, lend more speed to disinvestment but there may be some caution on proceeding fast after the NTPC FPO fiasco. Getting SBI and LIC to mop up NTPC shares is hardly the optimal divestment strategy. Nor, as is now being discussed, is getting LIC and GIC to buy divested PSB bank shares at all satisfactory.

 

But most of all, the FM needs to restore credibility to the government's balance sheet, a credibility that disappeared with the junking of FRBM-I. Might the yet unknown recommendations of the 13th Finance Commission on the fiscal deficit provide the anchor?

 

dhiraj.nayyar@expressindia.com

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

HOW MUCH REFORM IN FERTILISERS?

YOGINDER K ALAGH


Finally we got a so-called nutrient-based fertiliser policy. This newspaper was the only one that reported it without adjectives and stuck to facts. Nitrogen (N)—urea or added on in NPK—is still controlled. Phosphorous (P2O5), added on in DAP, SSP and NPK, and potassium (K2O), available in MOP or added in NPK, as well as other nutrients, are now, in principle, market-based in their pricing and will be influenced by a limit on the subsidy to be given primarily on 'economic' considerations, to be determined by an inter-ministerial panel headed by the secretary (fertilisers).

 

Since the price of urea is controlled, this is not the classical nutrient-based pricing formulation. As the Report of the Working Group on Urea Policy recommended to promote the balanced use of fertiliser, different fertilisers must be priced according to their nutrient value. This was very important to me as I chaired that group and now its report is available for citation. It said, "The per unit price of nitrogen in urea shall form the basis for all fertilisers." It said so on account of the terrible long-term costs of excess use of subsidised nitrogen, which it documented. It summarised the available scientific evidence on all this and pointed out that the traditional prescription for application of the primary nutrients in the ratio of 4:2:1 has no scientific basis and is a historical formula whose origin is unclear. More recently, distinguished scientists in a technical meeting called by the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) under National Professor Rajendra Prasad repeated the agro-climatic evidence, said that the single ratio is bunkum, and described in great detail the agro-climatic ratios required, as in my group's report. The fellows of the NAAS—I am one of them—are suitably chastened by the biotech business and will, I guess, keep quiet.

 

Forgetting the long-term concerns of agro-climatic sustainability, as commentators on short-term economic policies, the merit of what we have done after five years is first to underline that there are no free lunches. The price of urea is to be raised by 10%, and to work a nutrient-based policy we had recommended that urea prices should be aligned with improvement in the terms of trade in agriculture. Now, of course, in spite of all the exhortations of Dr Gulathi and IFFPRI, there is no subsidy to urea manufacturers in India, with the efficient ones meeting the costs of the inefficient ones and imports subsidised. Their quantities and, now again, prices are rising, so the price rise is well taken. The preferred policy of the Urea Working Group was a single long-term cost price and a defined policy for inefficient units to shape up or shut down. If done at that time, we could have moved over to a nutrient-based policy then. But we should do it now.

 

The second advantage of the new policy is to recognise that in P and K we don't have the raw material base and efficient trade is the only option. A subsidy cap is justified in that sense and also from the long-term macro viewpoint. Without any counter-cyclical measures, I am not quite clear on what the idea is of not letting companies raise prices of P and K in a wildly swinging global commodity market. But I guess somebody will explain that when an attempt is made to change prices.

 

Will the new policy lead to better balances and newer products? Not controlling every imported batch and every dispatch will, I guess, help. I believe the more powerful incentives have already been given. In 2006, government should have announced the policy of balancing existing capacities by not price- controlling them, as recommended by the group I chaired. It took two years to do it but more than two million tonnes of capacity has been created since. The policy on specialty fertilisers and newer products, which also gives market-determined incentives, took the government more time to announce but now is fully in force. This segment of micro-nutrients, organics and items like water-soluble fertilisers is growing at a very high rate. I am happy because the policies recommended by my group five years ago are now working. They matter more than the current announcement, which can do no harm. But we still look forward to a single group in urea and a nutrient-based price, taking into account the limits the budget can afford. The market will then take off. Until then it would be prudent to accept that nutrients don't come down in the rain.

 

The author is a former Union minister

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LET'S ACCOUNT FOR THE FED'S DISCOUNT

ALEXANDRA RICE


The US Federal Reserve Board's move on Thursday to increase the primary credit rate—more commonly known as the Fed discount rate—from 0.5% to 0.75% has sparked speculation amongst investors concerning other potential rate changes. The discount rate is one of the measures the Fed used to protect the US economy during the instability of the economic crisis, notably by dropping the rate dramatically so that banks could receive emergency loans from the Fed. Thursday's hike was the first discount rate increase since June 2006, indicating, according to economists, that the Fed believes the worst of the crisis is over.

 

The initial reaction to the decision was uncertainty as the move took most Fed-watchers by surprise. Even though Fed chairman Ben Bernanke had taken care to announce the impending increase during his February 10 testimony before Congress, few expected it to happen just eight days later. The hike is designed to encourage banks to borrow more from each other rather than from the Fed, especially as use of the Fed discount window has been rare recently due to the strengthening economy.

 

While the impact of the discount rate increase is relatively small, the change has prompted speculation regarding whether other Fed actions are on the horizon, such as monetary tightening and, specifically, an increase in the federal funds rate, which affects interest rates for individuals and businesses. This possibility and the element of surprise prompted jittery markets immediately following the announcement. However, the Fed has been careful to offer reassurances that any such moves are still a long way off, especially since the economy remains relatively weak. The recently released US Consumer Price Index and inflation figures for January—both low—confirm that such changes are unlikely.

 

Still, investors say that the Fed discount rate hike indicates that the era of loose money is beginning to come to an end. After the initial shock of the 'surprise', US markets have responded well because investors see it as a sign that the economy is getting back on its feet. Given the reaction to this relatively insignificant Fed discount rate increase, future policy modifications by the Fed can be expected to stir up investors even more.

 

feedit@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

NEED FOR CAUTION ON FERTILIZERS

 

Armed with Cabinet approval, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee seem all set to introduce the new nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) policy for fertilizer pricing in the Union Budget to be presented on February 26. The move has generated controversy with the Left parties attacking it as anti-farmer and even parties within the United Progressive Alliance government such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam expressing reservations about the impact of the new policy on the farm gate price for fertilizers. If the sole purpose behind the NBS policy was to promote the balanced use of different nutrients like nitrogen, potash, phosphorous, and sulphur, there would be no reason for anyone to object. The excessive use of urea, for example, has pushed nitrogen in the soil to a high level in many parts of India, affecting crop production. That certain nutrients are used indiscriminately because of price despite their inappropriateness for particular crops, soil and local ecologies is a problem that needs to be addressed, in part, by the revival of agricultural extension services that were one of the first casualties of the reforms process two decades ago. But the proposed fertilizer subsidy scheme stems from another impulse: the desire to decontrol prices.

 

While assurances have been sought, and reportedly received, from the fertilizer industry that the price line would be maintained around the current level during the 2010 kharif season, there are sound reasons to worry about what will happen to fertilizer prices thereafter. The squeeze on India's farmers began way back in 1991 when Finance Minister Manmohan Singh first began to reduce the fertilizer subsidy. As input prices increased, farmers, especially those with marginal, small, and medium holdings, reduced their fertilizer consumption with detrimental effects upon yields. The price mismatch across different nutrients further complicated the picture. The NBS policy might make all fertilizers available at uniform rates, thus allowing the farmer to choose what is best for his land without worrying about opportunity cost. But if overall prices start rising, farmers are likely to cut back. That this is more than likely to happen is clear from the reaction of the industry. From the retention price system of the 1970s to the price system prevailing now, fertilizer companies have been clear that the only way they can realise their "full potential" is by full decontrol. Short of that, the industry was lobbying for a nutrient-based fixed subsidy alongside the freedom to set the maximum retail prices (MRPs). The UPA's new policy is in line with this wish.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

FOCUSSING ON FISCAL CONSOLIDATION

 

The Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council's Review of the Economy 2009-10, coming as it does just a few days before the Union Budget, is particularly significant this year. The EAC has brought up to date the major macroeconomic trends, a task that will be carried forward by the Economic Survey and the budget. While sharing its growing optimism with other official as well as non-official agencies , the EAC has entered certain caveats. Significantly, in projecting the economic growth, it has sharply revised upwards its October forecast of 6.5 per cent, pegging the rate at 7.2 per cent with an upward bias and thereby endorsing the CSO's advance estimates. The EAC is not alone in marking up the growth forecasts since the beginning of the year. The Reserve Bank of India, in its review of the third quarter, had estimated a growth rate of 7.5 per cent, sharply higher than its own earlier forecast of 6 per cent. The mid-year Economic Survey had said that the economy will grow by 7.75 per cent. Even if the optimism is justified and the economy actually grows at around 7.5 per cent, it would still be below the 9 per cent-plus growth recorded in the three years beginning 2005-06. It is, however, clear the economy is surely on its way back to a higher trajectory. The EAC expects the economic growth to touch 8.2 per cent in 2010-11 and 9 per cent the next year.

 

The two principal worries are inflation and the "unsustainable" fiscal situation. While concurring with the RBI's projection of 8.5 per cent WPI inflation, the EAC assesses that the high food inflation now hovering over 18 per cent could spill over to other sectors if corrective steps are not taken immediately. They include timely release of food grains for the public distribution system and import of essential commodities that are in short supply. Holding that the large revenue and fiscal deficits recorded over the last two years cannot be allowed to continue despite their proven counter-cyclical effects, the EAC wants the fiscal consolidation to be attempted without in any way affecting the stimulus aspect. With adequate fiscal adjustment, it would not be difficult to reduce the Centre's fiscal deficit by one to 1.5 per cent of the GDP in 2010-11. Disinvestment and spectrum auctions will boost revenues by 0.8 per cent. There is little scope for compressing capital expenditure while effecting fiscal correction. Infrastructure spending remains critical. Correctives must focus more on expenditure management since much of the fiscal expansion is attributable to increases in expenditure rather than tax cuts.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

A PROJECT TO SECURE AUTONOMY AND EXCELLENCE

THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON HIGHER EDUCATION AND RESEARCH BILL AIMS, IN LETTER AND IN SPIRIT, TO SECURE THE TRUE AUTONOMY OF UNIVERSITIES AND INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING.

N.R. MADHAVA MENON

 

The Member-Secretary of the Kerala State Higher Education Council, in an article published in these columns on February 6, 2010 on the draft National Commission on Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill, argued that the Bill "does not allot appropriate levels of autonomy to States and universities, and in the process violates the principles of federalism and autonomy in the governance of higher educational institutions". As one associated with the Task Force which prepared the Draft Bill, I felt that the article was written either without a proper understanding of its provisions, or with a motive to prejudice the public mind against true autonomy of higher academic institutions.

 

The author also invoked the concept of federalism to attack the Bill, presumably to say that the Union, without competence to legislate on the subject, is attempting to take away the States' authority. Is it his case that the Acts in respect of the University Grants Commission (UGC), the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) which the NCHER is to replace, were also passed by Parliament without constitutional authority? What does he make of Entries 63 to 66 of the Union List and Entry 25 of the Concurrent List in this regard? If the argument is for consultations with States before a law affecting the States and the Union is adopted, that precisely is what the Union government is doing by putting the draft Bill in the public domain and asking the Task Force to visit each State to gather views and comments from the stakeholders. Of course, based on such feedback, the Bill may undergo changes before it is submitted to Parliament for consideration.

 

Reforming higher education is the common interest of the Union and the States and there is no room for dispute in this regard. The Yash Pal Committee recommended that the key reform needed is restoring the autonomy of universities (not the autonomy of the State governments, which is the function of the Constitution) by avoiding multiple regulators and preventing politicisation of university administration. Autonomy of universities involves autonomy from Central and State governments as well.

 

The Preamble of the NCHER Bill says it is an "Act to promote the autonomy of higher education institutions for the free pursuit of knowledge and innovation, and for facilitating access, inclusion and opportunities to all… and to provide for an advisory mechanism of eminent peers in academia." One would expect critics to give reasoned arguments on how the provisions of the Bill contradict these objectives, or in what manner it could be better achieved.

 

Centralisation

 

The attempt to unify the multiple regulators and standardise the norms and procedures in a transparent manner is interpreted by the author of that article as centralisation of powers. Yes, the Bill seeks to vest the standard-setting and policy-planning functions in the NCHER. However, the delivery of educational services is a decentralised activity at the institutional level, and the NCHER plays only a facilitatory role in it. It is therefore wrong to say that an "authoritarian system" is being put in place.

 

Entrusting education in the hands of educationists is what is proposed. In this, they have to function democratically under legislative mandate and on the advice of acknowledged experts in different fields of knowledge. The NCHER cannot be seen as a "benevolent dictator" under the provisions of the draft Bill, as it is to function through various bodies set up with educationists in different branches of knowledge. Its functioning is to be reviewed once every five years and it is to report annually to the President or the Governor on the state of higher education in the country or State as the case may be.

 

Collegium

 

The Collegium of Scholars and learned men is indeed an innovation proposed for advising reform on the structure and content of higher education. They are to be Nobel Laureates, Fellows on learned societies of international repute, Jnanpith Award winners and people of similar distinction. Respecting the federal and democratic principle, the Bill seeks to have nominees of States also in the Collegium. Utilising the expertise and experience of learned men and women settled within and outside the country to promote standards of higher education is the intended objective of the Collegium proposal. If there are suggestions on how the objective can be achieved by changing the composition and constitution of the Collegium, these are to be welcomed. It is an idea with a purpose. It is not intended to give a subordinate status to the nominated members, though the core members are expected to serve the Collegium for a longer period for obvious reasons. All Collegium members serve in an honorary capacity without having to be present physically at one place.

 

The States and Union Territories have their nominees in the Collegium. The nominees are also expected to be educationists or eminent persons of equivalent status. The core members are not the nominees of the Union government. They are there by virtue of their accomplishments in higher education and research and are invited because of their expertise, experience and status in higher education. If it is desirable to limit the term of the core members also, it can be recommended on the basis of cogent reasons. It is the anxiety to keep the government out in constituting the Collegium that led the Task Force to recommend the method of inviting persons on the basis of their accomplishments in education and research. It is not to be seen as an assault on federalism or democracy. It is the concern for the autonomy of the institution that elections or nominations in the usual course cannot accomplish. Leaving the Union or State governments to "nominate experts of their choice," as contended in the article, may not serve the objective for which the Collegium is put in place. The Collegium members are not to be government employees; nor can it be assumed that they would agree to become members of the Commission, as suggested in the article.

 

The State governments' power to set up universities will not be taken away or eroded by the NCHER. As it happens today with the UGC and the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), the authority to accredit universities, determine standards and finance them will be regulated by the new Commission. Academic clearance is not to be given by the Commission on its own. Accreditation is to be done by an independent accreditation agency recognised under law on the basis of credible evidence gathered according to objective parameters. Towards this end, the NCHER may authorise the academic operations of new universities on the basis of norms and standards set for the purpose. How does the authority of the AICTE or the Medical Council of India (MCI) or the Bar Council of India (BCI) to accredit institutions erode the States' authority to set up universities, as argued in the article?

 

Vice-Chancellors

 

An innovative measure to secure academic autonomy that is proposed in the Bill relates to the selection of Vice-Chancellors. Many ills of higher education, at present, can be traced to corruption and manipulation involved in the appointment of Vice-Chancellors. The Bill empowers the Collegium to prepare a registry of suitable persons with expertise and experience after a worldwide search and to keep it updated from time to time. It is not necessary that only persons who figure in the registry be appointed. Whenever the Central or State governments want to appoint Vice-Chancellors they can ask, if they so like, for a panel of names from the Commission as per their requirements, and the Commission may provide it. This is to facilitate the search and to present available candidates of distinction within and outside the country. There is no infringement of autonomy in the process; rather, it enhances autonomy by removing potential risks to such autonomy. The States' choice of the person and the right to choose one from outside the registry is in no way compromised by the provisions in the Bill.

 

Let there be no confusion or misunderstanding that the Bill, in letter and in spirit, aims to secure the true autonomy of universities and institutions of higher learning. The autonomy proposed will, hopefully, percolate down to each department and each member of the faculty so that teaching and research tend to innovate, experiment and compete for academic excellence and inclusive development. Looked at from this perspective, the NCHER Bill provides a framework and a strategy for securing autonomy of academic institutions and providing an environment for competitive excellence in higher education.

 

( Professor N.R. Madhava Menon was a Member of the Yash Pal Committee and of the Task Force which drafted the NCHER Bill.)

 

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THE HINDU

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN PAKISTAN?

THERE ARE UNDERLYING WORRIES WHETHER IN EXCHANGE FOR COOPERATION IN FIGHTING THE AFGHAN TALIBAN AND THE OTHER TERRORIST GROUPS PAKISTAN WOULD HAVE OBTAINED U.S. AND NATO PROMISES TO GET THEIR MEDIATORY INTERVENTION ON THE KASHMIR ISSUE.

K. SUBRAHMANYAM

 

First came the news of the arrest of the commander of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Baradar, in Karachi, said to be in a joint operation of the Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan (ISI) and U.S. agencies. Though the arrest was made on February 8/9, the information became public only on February 15/16. He was reported to be under joint interrogation of the agencies of the two countries. Though this information was first denied by the Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmation later came from the ISI's spokesman and subsequently from the Foreign Minister, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi. He said the action was not under pressure from allies but in Pakistan's own national interest. Now it is reported that 124 terrorist suspects have been arrested in Pakistan, including five senior members of the Taliban Supreme command and nine militants with close links to Al Qaeda. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator John Kerry have praised the new cooperation between the Pakistan Army and Intelligence and the U.S. So has the U.S. Special envoy to the Af-Pak area, Richard Holbrooke, who was visiting Pakistan. Mullah Baradar was earlier considered to be a key person in the negotiations between the Taliban and the Karzai regime.

 

Some observers have described these developments as Pakistani moves to gain the goodwill of the U.S. and NATO to ensure that Pakistan will have its way in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal in 2011. Others think that these actions place Pakistan in an advantageous position to facilitate negotiations between the Karzai government and the reconcilable Taliban as per the strategy formulated in the London conference. As is to be expected, in Delhi the main focus is on what it would mean for India and how Pakistan would use these developments against India. There are underlying worries over whether in exchange for cooperation in fighting the Afghan Taliban and the other terrorist groups Pakistan would have obtained U.S. and NATO promises to get their mediatory intervention on the Kashmir issue. Further concerns are, relying on the U.S. gratitude for action against some of the jehadi groups whether Pakistan may carry out more terroristic attacks on India and hope for the U.S. and NATO putting pressure on India not to retaliate. The Indian fears have very valid bases and the Indian agencies have to assess the consequences arising from the latest developments for India carefully and initiate steps for optimum preparedness to meet such contingent threats.

 

Need for objective assessment

 

At the same time it is very essential for the Indian intelligence community to carry out an objective assessment of the measures reported to have been initiated by Pakistan against the Afghan Taliban and the Al Qaeda. How far are they genuine? It should not be forgotten that Pakistan claimed to join the U.S. in the war against Taliban in October 2001 and in reality ensured that the leaderships of Taliban and Al Qaeda, significant numbers of their cadres as well as the Pakistani Army and ISI personnel serving the Taliban regime were rescued from the forces of the Northern Alliance and were brought to safety in Pakistan.

 

During the Afghan war in the 1980s, the Pakistan Army and the ISI, acting as the sole conduit for U.S. aid to the mujahideen, appropriated the bulk of the aid and armaments to themselves and to their favoured jehadi groups which later transformed themselves into the Taliban, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Al Qaeda and other anti-western jehadi groups. Therefore the Pakistani claims and actions cannot be taken at face value. Even among the U.S. observers there is considerable scepticism about the Pakistani actions. This present change in strategy is being handled at a very low key and the arrests of Mullah Baradar allegedly in collaboration with U.S. agencies has not produced the anti-U.S. outbursts to be expected from the anti-U.S. popular opinion in Pakistan. Obviously the army's guidance in shaping public opinion is at play.

 

An objective assessment will call for a careful calculation of the risks and benefits the Pakistani Army leadership should have taken into account in this switch of strategy, if it is genuine. On February 2, 2010 the Director of National Intelligence told the Senate, "Islamabad's conviction that militant groups are an important part of its strategic arsenal to counter India's military and economic advantages will continue to limit Pakistan's incentive to pursue an across-the-board effort against extremism,… Islamabad has maintained relationships with other Taliban-associated groups that support and conduct operations against U.S. and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] forces in Afghanistan,…. It has continued to provide support to its militant proxies, such as the Haqqani Taliban, Gul Bahadur group, and Commander Nazir group…..The Al Qaeda, Afghan Taliban, and Pakistani militant safe haven in Quetta, will continue to enable the Afghan insurgents and Al Qaeda to plan operations, direct propaganda, recruiting and training activities, and fundraising activities with relative impunity." There was no hint in the report that Pakistan could even modify its strategy in the very near future under certain circumstances. The arrest of five members of Quetta Shura tends to contradict the thesis that Baradar was arrested as he was for reconciliation.

 

Mullah Baradar's Taliban is offering stiff resistance to the U.S.-U.K. forces at Marjah in Helmand province of Southern Afghanistan. Mullah Baradar's "flowers" (inertial explosive devices) are proving formidable obstacles to the U.S.-U.K. advance. Is there no expectation of the Afghan Taliban's resentment being expressed against Pakistani cities and Army targets? In the absence of the central leadership how will various Afghan Taliban groups with conditioned jehadi suicide bombers at their disposal respond to the alleged betrayal of the Pakistani Army of a trusted ally? If there is no significant response to this betrayal in Pakistani territory from the Afghan Taliban cadres, is it not likely the Taliban within Afghanistan will become more reconcilable without any good offices from the Pakistan Army, and will not the task of the U.S. and the ISAF become that much easier?

 

Existential war

 

If, on the other hand, there is large-scale resentment over the Pakistani betrayal, the Pakistani Army and security services will have a whole-time task on their hands in dealing with that resentment expressed through terrorist acts, as has become the normal practice of such jehadi groups. These considerations apply in equal measure to Al Qaeda also since some of its members are also reported to have been arrested.

 

No doubt this is an existential war for the sovereignty and security of Pakistan and the application of a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy to the cancer of religious extremism eating into the vitals of Pakistan may have become inescapable at this late stage as had been stressed by President Obama. While scepticism of the Pakistani Army's new strategy is entirely justified one should not overlook the possibility of their launching on a new strategy fully overconfident of their capabilities to prevail, as they did in 1965, 1971 and 1999 and coming to grief. Their bona fides are likely to come under test as Mr. Obama insists on his aims in his just war to dismantle, disrupt and defeat the 'holy warriors' on Pakistani soil, the main battlefield.

 

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THE HINDU

POLICING THOUGHT, NOT CONTROLLING TERROR

THE HOME MINISTRY'S POLICY ON VISAS FOR FOREIGN SCHOLARS ATTENDING CONFERENCES IN INDIA IS JUST AS BONE-HEADED AS ITS RECENT RESTRICTIONS ON THE ENTRY OF TOURISTS AND NON-RESIDENT INDIANS.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

 

As Union home minister P. Chidambaram grapples with the new architecture for counter-terrorism that he says India desperately needs, here's a suggestion he ought to consider: Dismantle the Department of Bad Ideas. Never heard of it? This is the section of his ministry which recommended that preventing foreign tourists and non-resident Indians from visiting India twice in a two month period would somehow protect the country from the likes of David Headley. That the alleged American terrorist travelled here to and from Pakistan multiple times on a business visa — for which the new restrictions do not apply — is a matter of detail the Ministry of Home Affairs seems to have overlooked.

 

One month on, the geniuses in Bad Ideas have struck again. Scholars from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Sudan, as well as scholars from any country who are of Pakistani origin, they reminded us last week, will no longer be given visas to attend conferences, seminars and workshops in India unless the MHA grants them "security clearance" in advance.

 

Security vetting

 

This is what the security guidelines, first framed in 1999 during the paranoid days of the BJP-led Vajpayee government and amended thrice since then, state. Any event that is either (i) on a subject which is political, semi-political, religious, communal or linked to human rights, or which has a bearing on external relations or national security, or (ii) is to be held in an area requiring an inner line or restricted area permit regardless of subject, or (iii) is to be attended by scholars from the eight red-flagged countries, must be referred to the MHA for "security clearance" at least six weeks before its commencement date. As the MHA stated in a recent press release, the lengthy timeline is needed to "ensure that security clearance for the event and for the participants could be suitably assessed … Security vetting is a time-consuming process".

 

Now why is this a bone-headed idea from the security standpoint? Consider the example of a Sri Lankan professor of political science at a small college in Kandy who plans to use an invitation to present a paper at a Pune University conference on food technology to plan an act of terror in India. In Mr. Chidambaram's fantasy world, the university would apply for clearance from the MHA, whose procedure for "security vetting" is so good that it would uncover the professor's terrorist proclivities and deny him a visa. So far so good. But guess what? If the same professor were to simply apply for a tourist visa, he would get it without any security vetting!

 

It is one thing for Mr. Chidambaram to be wary of visitors from these eight countries but why does he believe scholars are potentially more dangerous than their less educated compatriots and, therefore, in need of "security vetting"? In fact, it is not just scholars from the red-flagged eight who worry North Block but academics from anywhere in the world who may be invited to speak on a "political", "semi-political", religious, "communal" or human-rights related subject. Were the recent Nobel-prize winning NRI chemist, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, to be invited to give a talk on the relationship between chemistry and the Vedas, for example, he would require "security clearance" from the Home Ministry.

 

Security vetting for scholars is only the most restrictive hurdle that academic institutions need to surmount but there are a raft of other clearances that all conferences with foreign speakers must secure. And it doesn't require a Nobel prize to guess that what the MHA is concerned about is not "security" but ideas and thought.

 

According to the "liberalized" overall "Guidelines for organisers of international conferences, seminars, workshops etc. being held in India' — issued by the ministry in 2000 and still in force today — official clearance from a "nodal ministry" is needed to invite foreign scholars and experts for any event "where substantive discussions/deliberations/interaction and exchange of thoughts and ideas will take place on a specific subject matter." The nodal ministry will then decide whether to permit the event or refer it on to the MHA if any of the three conditions cited above are triggered.

 

Business and corporate meetings with foreign participants are excluded from the purview of visa restrictions, as are sporting and cultural events. But what is striking about the ministry's guidelines is the attempt to regulate and control every branch of learning. Thus, the rules say that the organizers of an academic event involving foreign scholars must first approach their "nodal/administrative ministry" — defined as that ministry of the Government of India "which is dealing/regulating framing rules etc. in respect of subject matter chosen for the event". Now a conference on education can be referred to the Ministry of Human Resource Development but one wonders which ministry the organizers of an international conference on the hermeneutics of Gadamer would have to go to in order to get "clearance" for their event, or one on emergence of nationalism in 19th century Europe! Presumably knowledge isn't knowledge if our omniscient babus are not framing rules for it. A scholar can't be a scholar if she or he has no "nodal ministry".

 

At the heart of the home ministry's guidelines on conference visas is the fear of knowledge, ideas, discussion and scholarship. And this in a government headed by a former professor of economics. Which brings me back to the visa rules for tourists announced last month. Another Very Well Known economics professor recently told a very, very important person about the difficulty some equally eminent friends of his were experiencing getting a visa for India because of the new mandatory two month 'cooling off period' 'between visits. The VVIP apologized and indicated that a top official in the Ministry of External Affairs could intervene on their behalf. But surely India has more pressing tasks for its top officials than getting foolish restrictions waived, the professor is said to have replied.

 

Sadly, all appeals to reason and logic and all attempts to shame have failed as far as the two month rule is concerned. Meanwhile, the travel horror stories multiply. An NRI groom had to turn back from Delhi airport unmarried because he had visited India just a few weeks earlier. A U.S.-based techie Singapore who used to visit his ageing mother in Bangalore on his way to and from Singapore can no longer do so. A British couple who left their luggage in a Mumbai hotel and flew to Colombo for an extended holiday were unable to come back to claim their bags. The world-renowned African-American scholar, Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard, couldn't get a visa for the Jaipur Literary Festival in January because he could produce neither his birth certificate nor his 10th grade marksheet — apparently the only documents the Indian consulate in New York is willing to accept as proof that he was not really of Pakistani origin!

 

Needless to say, none of the mindless restrictions the MHA has imposed will help prevent terrorists from coming to India. Most will come without a visa; the others will have the ingenuity to come up with all the required paperwork. As for genuine tourists and scholars – who care for and love India — many will be scared off while those who brave the absurdity of our rules will be resentful. The organizers of academic events would rather plan their conferences and workshops in Sri Lanka, Nepal or perhaps even Malaysia or Singapore, confident that they would face less restrictions on what they can or cannot discuss than they would in India.

 

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THE HINDU

ICELAND'S THAW POINT OVER PRESS FREEDOM

BEN QUINN

 

Free speech campaigners were cheered by plans put before Iceland's parliament last week to reinvent the island nation as a "journalism haven" for those fleeing stringent libel laws elsewhere.

 

But news of the development overlooked one rather depressing local factor — the widespread collapse of trust in much of Iceland's national media.

 

Many regard the country's main newspapers as mouthpieces for the partisan political interests that failed to prevent last year's economic collapse.

 

A particular focus of contempt is Morgunbladid, the oldest established daily. Since last year, its editor-in-chief has been David Oddsson, Iceland's Prime Minister during 13 years of light-touch regulation and privatisation, and the man later in charge of the Central Bank when the collapse finally occurred.

 

Mr. Oddsson's arrival coincided with mass lay-offs of experienced journalists, while critics accused him of using the paper to rewrite history after quotation marks appeared around the word "collapse." Morgunbladid has also been a fervent opponent of the deal for the repayment of money owed to Britain and Holland from the collapse of the Icesave online bank.

 

Investigative journalism and criticism of the establishment aren't dead yet, though. Away from the big two national dailies, some of the most impressive recent scoops have been down to DV, the nearest thing Iceland has to a downmarket tabloid.

 

A major upsurge in blogging has also occurred although perhaps this isn't surprising given the role social networking sites played in last year's "saucepan revolution." Blogs range from the English language Icelandweatherreport.com to one written by Iceland's best-known political commentator, Egill Helgason, famed for his lack of deference.

 

Indeed, he provided a reminder of the power of the media to stir things up when, on his influential weekly talk show, he asked the sleaze-busting French magistrate Eva Joly if she would be willing to "help" Iceland. Just days later, the government followed up by bringing Joly on board as an adviser to an official investigation into Iceland's discredited financial oligarchs. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE HINDU

UAE QUALITY OF LIFE RANKED TOP

 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been ranked as the country with the best quality of life in the Middle East and North African region, a local business journal reported on Sunday.

 

The Gulf nation has been globally ranked as the 15th best in the world, out of 160 countries or regions evaluated, Arabian Business said, citing the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)'s 2009 Quality of Life Index.

 

The ranking is a reflection of the prosperity enjoyed by the UAE over the past years and the result of ongoing strategic initiatives proposed by the government across all sectors, including economy, security, health and education, the report said.

 

The UAE's ranking was based on its impressive civic development and administration and high GDP growth, as well as family and healthcare services, life expectancy and safety and security, it added.

 

The government's development plans have also significantly improved the country's ranking in several international reports and indexes across different areas, such as competitiveness, economic and international investment, tourism and security, reflecting an upwards trend in the UAE's competitiveness and quality of life, the report said.

 

"Being ranked number one in the Middle East and North Africa by the EIU is an achievement we are proud of, but our goal is to be on par with the best countries in the world," Abdullah Nasser Lootah, secretary general of Emirates Competitiveness Council, was quoted as saying.

 

The EIU, part of the London-based Economist Group, a group of companies that sell publications and services under The Economist brand, is a research and advisory firm providing country, industry and management analysis worldwide.

 

The EIU's Quality of Life Index relates subjective life satisfaction surveys to objective determinants of the quality of life across 160 countries or regions, according to Arabian Business. — Xinhua

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

A GOOD TIME TO END STIMULUS

 

The Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, headed by former Reserve Bank governor C. Rangarajan, has sent out a strong indication that the withdrawal of stimulus measures should be undertaken in the Union Budget to be presented later this week. It has upped the GDP growth forecast for 2010-11 to 8.2 per cent, over the 7.2 per cent figure projected by the Central Statistical Organisation.

 

The underlying tenor of the review of the economy by the PM's advisory council is that unless the government returns to the path of fiscal discipline, there is danger of inflation getting out of control and interest rates hardening.


This Budget is the appropriate time for the government to take strong measures to reduce the fiscal deficit by withdrawing the stimulus package on the taxation front. The situation is favourable both economically and politically for withdrawing the stimuluses. The economic recovery is robust, according to the latest figures of the index of industrial production. No doubt electricity and basic goods recorded a slower growth rate, but as the economy picks up and the headline macro figures are strong, these sectors now lagging behind in the pace of growth will automatically get a boost in 2010-11. The government has already been withdrawing on the expenditure side and moving towards reducing the fiscal deficit. Several ministries, such as rural development, chemicals and fertilisers and finance, have not spent the money that was estimated in the previous Budget. For instance, according to the Reserve Bank of India's Macroeconomic and Monetary Development Third Quarter Review 2009-10, between April to November 2009 the Central government's capital expenditure was just 45.8 per cent of the budgeted estimate, while its Plan expenditure was a little better, but still less than the budgeted estimate, at 53.4 per cent. The drop in fertiliser subsidy was largely due to the fall in prices in both domestic and international markets. But the decline in fertiliser subsidies helped to offset the 39 per cent increase in food subsidies during April-November 2009. The government's cutbacks were more on the social side of expenditure. What is disturbing is that the landmark National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme saw a significant amount of money remaining unspent because several state governments failed to initiate schemes under this programme. There is no genuine commitment by states to this programme since jobs are given only when they are asked for, and there is no push from the government's side.


But having said this, it is undeniable that the economic environment is conducive to a withdrawal of the stimulus on the taxation side. This means excise and other concessions provided in the stimulus package can be discontinued in the coming Budget without disrupting growth. Even exports, which were lagging behind, have now picked up, according to the commerce minister Anand Sharma. Politically too the government is still in its first nine months, and can take heard-headed decisions as the next general election is due more than four years away. The first two years of a government allow it some leeway to take potentially unpopular measures, and make it less vulnerable to pressure by special interests. Across the rest of Asia too, governments have by and large already started withdrawing their stimulus packages, particularly easy credit. China has gone ahead more aggressively, and so has Australia. The RBI, in comparison, has been rather soft in withdrawing the easy credit window given to banks at the height of the financial crisis. India and other Asian countries have always maintained that the global financial crisis, which created havoc and chaos in the United States and Europe, did not have the same impact in Asia. Not surprisingly, therefore, Asia has decoupled first regarding stimulus packages, and India certainly should not be left behind.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPENION

INDIA MUST ENGAGE EU

 

The European Union (EU) has become India's major international partner. though it may not have replaced the United States in importance. But in all major areas of international interactions, the EU is offering an alternative — though often complimentary — to our relations with the US. In today's multipolar world, the US does not enjoy the monopoly of influence anymore.

 

For a long time our foreign policy establishment tried to balance the US and the Soviet Union that gave us a wide range of manoeuvrability. But since the fall of the Berlin Wall, which heralded the end of the Cold War, we lost this manoeuvrability and became almost dependent on our alliance with the US. Our traditional association with Iran, Iraq and Palestine was threatened as we practically gave up our leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement, which passed on to Cuba and Venezuela, who kept a distance from the US. We got embroiled with Pakistan but our manoeuvrability was constrained under pressure from the US.
Gradually, new power centres emerged: China and, most importantly, the EU. China is emerging as another superpower and it is possible for us to build a strategic relationship with China especially if we associate Russia with it.
But both China and Russia have dependency relations with the US in many areas preventing us much operational flexibility.
In the economic sphere, both for trade and investment, the EU has become India's largest partner. Since 2004, our exports to the EU have been increasing and our total trade has almost doubled. The EU is also one of the largest contributors of foreign direct investment in India. More significantly, India has also emerged as a major investor in the EU counties with Indian investment increasing from one billion euros in 2004 to 3.7 billion euros in 2008. This will grow with the continuous high growth of India and its dependence on the US will keep decreasing.
In the nuclear field, we recently had a breakthrough in our relationship with the US. But the opportunities provided by some of the EU countries and Russia can be significant for us to resist any pressure for entering into arrangements not always in our national interest, whether for nuclear fuel reactors technology. We should be able to use this flexibility to our maximum advantage, playing on the interest groups in the US.
On terrorism and counter measures, the EU countries are fully with India and will not force us to compromise on our positions in favour of Pakistan. Indeed in Afghanistan, the EU's position is much closer to ours. Similar is the situation with respect to Iran and Palestine if not quite so with Iraq, where the EU itself is divided. EU has not taken a position as a community on India's permanent membership of the Security Council, although several member countries bilaterally have expressed their complete support.
I am not suggesting that the EU see eye-to-eye with us on all international issues. That a mature country like India should never expect. We follow our own interests in external policies that may not coincide with positions that the EU countries take. What we seek in foreign policy is not complete congruence of our approaches but a manoeuvrability of operations in the pursuit of our national interest. The space of this manoeuvrability has expanded with the EU emerging as a major power centre and as a counterpoint to the US. Whether these are related to issues of trade and investment, nuclear fuel and technology or strategic military requirements, flexibility in our operations would allow us a greater chance of harmonising our relations with all the major power centres.
To pursue this we must cultivate our relations with the EU countries carefully and comprehensively, making India-EU partnership programmes major fulcrums of our foreign policy. For that we must understand how the EU works. A community of states that started as a Customs Union and Common Market evolved into a Union of 27 countries in Europe. Most of them are highly prosperous although some of the recent entrants are sometimes lagging behind in their economic performance. The European Commission, which is the government of the European Union, has a wide mandate allowing it to coordinate the positions of the individual countries.
Still there are areas where bilateral relations between the countries dominate the competence of the commission. We have bilateral relations with almost all the member countries and we must cultivate them fully to our advantage by coordinating our approach with that of the commission. If we carry with us countries like France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK, we can get the commission as a whole to conform to our interests, especially when it is mandated to coordinate the common policies. Besides trade and investment, the common policy would cover areas of security, technology and global institutions. India must learn to deal with them.
Besides the commission, the EU has a Parliament with members directly elected from different countries. Its financial and legislative powers are limited, as they cannot supersede the areas of bilateral competency. But it has enormous influence on the formulations of the policies of the member countries. All the EU countries are democratic and public discourse on major issues is the principle source of influence on their policy-making.
The European Parliament is not only a forum for open discussion but also a mechanism of harmonising the national policies. The 2009 Lisbon Treaty covering now the issues of extended action in common foreign and security policy will expand significantly the influence of the European Parliament.


India, unlike many other countries, has a great advantage of being a parliamentary democracy. Its traditions and practices are highly respected by the members of the European Parliament. We must make full use of our position through a continuous dialogue and exchange of visits and studies between our Parliaments, developing common positions on all matters of our national and mutual interests.


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

 

Arjun Sengupta

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

Rekha goes to Gujarat, Yeddyurappa cycling

Reporters' Diary

>>  Misra's tough luck


Feb.22 : There seems to be something really wrong with the horoscope of the senior BJP leader, Kalraj Misra. Every time he plans a move, something goes wrong.

It happened in 1999 when he was all set to replace Kalyan Singh as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Mr Misra's supporters had even ordered a new set of clothes for the swearing-in when a relatively unknown Ram Prakash Gupta beat him to the post.


After almost a decade in political wilderness, Mr Misra is now planning a comeback. As a first step, he invited BJP stalwarts ranging from L.K. Advani and Nitin Gadkari to Arun Jaitley to his son's wedding reception in Lucknow last week. But fate willed otherwise and the Pune blasts forced them to cancel their visit.
A visibly upset Mr Misra was left entertaining the likes of Mr Singh.


Tough luck, again.


***
>>  After Big B, it's Rekha


If Amitabh Bachchan arrives, can Rekha be far behind? At least in the case of Gujarat, we can say this loudly

enough.
The Narendra Modi government had recently roped in Big B as the brand ambassador of Gujarat.
Now, the grapevine is Rekha will be walking the ramp to promote Patan Patola saris.
Patolas are traditional double ikat silk produced in Gujarat. Patan is the only place in India where these expensive saris are produced. However, the designing of Patola saris is a dying art and the artisans are hoping that Rekha will once more make them fashionable.
Likewise, the melody queen Lata Mangeshkar will be crooning Jai Jai Garvi Gujarat when the state celebrates 50 years of its formation on May 1.

Other celebrities will also appear in the video version that will be modelled on Mile Sur Mera Tumhara.

***
>>  Shame, shame


It is common practice for well-off families of India to invite ministers to opulent weddings to show their influence. And if they can get a chief minister, then they evoke the envy of all and sundry. However, the Rajasthan chief minister, Ashok Gehlot, made it amply evident recently that he was not amused by all this.
Addressing a gathering of Gandhians last week in Jaipur, Mr Gehlot said, "I get upset and feel ashamed when people come to my house with wedding cards which cost Rs 2,000 each. They also spend Rs 1,000 per plate in the feast when we have no money to help the poor". And Mr Gehlot can say this with confidence since he allowed only 11 baratis in his own wedding and also held a simple marriage function for his daughter.
He added that if he attended such weddings he would also become as shameless as those who conduct them. We can be pretty sure that nobody will be sending him wedding invites for a while.


***
>>  No nostalgia for Mamata


Many who dialled the number of the West Bengal Opposition leader, Partha Chatterjee, last week were puzzled when they did not hear the familiar caller tune, Coffee Houser shei adda ta aaj aar nei. The hugely popular Manna Dey number nostalgically laments the passing away of an era. The reference is to the famed Coffee House at College Street, which was the favourite adda of university students. It was close to Mr Chatterjee's heart too. Why then did he discard it? Apparently on a directive from the party boss, Mamata Banerjee, who could not forget for an instant that the Coffee House was the hub of Left-wing writers and intellectuals and was associated with Communist politics. So why be nostalgic about something which you are working hard to defeat?

***
>>  Wheels of development!


In Indore, BJP president Nitin Gadkari has not only dragged party leaders out of five-star hotels and into humble tents, he also made them — except for the party's octogenarians —  bicycle to the venue of the party national council. Also visible, and smelling, was his rural touch — with the grounds smeared with cow-dung.
Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa thought he knew what he was in for. He probably didn't expect this surprise: After riding some 200 metres on the bicycle, he suddenly realised that it had no brakes! Alarmed, the 67-year-old chief minister managed to bring the bicycle to a stop by putting his feet to the ground. As he turned around to see his ministerial colleagues Suresh Kumar and Arvind Limbavali and state BJP chief Eshwarappa, the witty Mr Kumar calmed him down. "Relax, it only means that the wheels of development that you have ushered in will not stop!"


***
>>  A minister's plainspeak


The ORIsSA minister, Damodar Rout, is known for calling a spade a spade. The state's industry captains and media leaders had a taste of his plain talk recently.

A leading media institution organised an event at a star hotel to release one of its new publications, a book on the industrial development of Orissa. Mr Rout was invited as a chief guest. All through the function, speakers showered praises on the industrial houses of the state, terming them brand ambassadors of Orissa. The industry captains happily concurred. Finally Mr Rout got up and ridiculed the whole array of speakers by terming them a "mutual appreciation club". He reminded them that Orissa is known outside for its rich culture and heritage — the Sun Temple for instance — and not for its industralists. "We need to propagate these great brands that earn us honour and respect", he said. The media and industry stalwarts had no choice but to sit with downcast eyes.

***
>>  Sangma breaks his silence


The former Lok Sabha speaker, P.A. Sangma, broke his months-long silence last week, much to the relief of the ruling combination in Meghalaya headed by the chief minister, D.D. Lapang.

The silence of the veteran for the last few months seems ominous to them since Meghalaya politicians switch loyalties at the drop of a hat. The state, known for hop-skip-and-jump politics, has already seen three governments since the March 2008 polls. But when Mr Sangama stopped his "maunvrat" and opened his mouth, he chose to make the comment that the Prime Minister should be from the Lok Sabha. Mr Lapang rejected this argument, but relief was writ large on his face since for once, Mr Sangma seemed to focus on the Centre rather than the state. Mr Lapang hopes to complete one year of his government in May and it looks as if Mr Sangma would allow him to do so. But one can never say for sure.


***
>>  The smell of heritage

Beauty and ugliness exist cheek by jowl. The Union tourism minister, Kumari Selja, discovered this to her horror during a recent visit to Orissa.


Ms Selja was in the Orissa capital to review the Central-sponsored tourism projects in the state. She was dismayed at the snail's pace of the schemes. Apparently to pacify her, the state tourism minister, Debi Prasad Mishra, took her to "Ekamra Bana", a beautiful herbal park close to the famous Lingaraj temple in the city.
Ms Selja was also taken around the park and was seen enjoying its ambience sipping coconut water.
But suddenly she covered her nose with her handkerchief, entered her car and sped away.
Later it was found that she was repelled by the foul smell that emanated from the famous Bindusagar tank, an 11th century heritage structure, which was full of weeds and algae. Obviously, Ms Selja would not like to talk about Orissa tourism for a while.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

LAW OF KARMA: A MORAL COMPASS

 

Every time you see a child tapping for alms at your window, or children suffering from leukemia or any other ailment, or young lives snuffed out in their prime, or elderly people incapacitated in their sunset years, somewhere deep within you, there is a sense of sadness. Regardless of the fact that you may not even know them. It's just the emotions stirred at that point in time.


And mulling over this, brings a story to the fore from the Buddhist lore. Once upon a time, a lady who had lost her child, went to the Buddha weeping inconsolably. She pleaded with him to bring the child back to life.
The Buddha advised, "As for pain, sorrow and death, go to a 100 houses and get a piece of cloth from just one family that has not traversed the path. Come back. If you find such a family, I will breathe life into your son".
She thought this was a no-brainer. But as she went from house to house, for days on end she couldn't find a single family bereft of pressure, tension, pain and bereavement. Dismayed, she went back to the Buddha. He explained that we are all transients and life is ephemeral, reiterating the need for detachment which the Gita says as well. Detachment in every form, can lead to the end of the transmigration of the soul and merging with the maker.


In this context, the law of karma underpins the transmigration of the soul. "Karma" is "action". The Gita says that whatever we are in this life and whatever birth we take in the next life when the soul leaves this body and migrates elsewhere, is the outcome of our actions, good and bad.


Three forms of human actions determine the path of our karma. First, actions that are uplifting, where you think beyond yourself, that is "karma" which elevates. Second, actions that are not good, actions accomplished with an ulterior motive, even thought processes where you degrade someone or spread negative vibes, that is "vikarma". And the third is "akarma", that is actions dictated by a sense of duty, unfettered by any kind of attachment and devoid of any egotism. Akarma is the liberator.


Swami Chinmayananda has succinctly summed up the law of karma. "Every moment of our life, we are not only living the fruits of our past actions, but also creating those of tomorrow". Every action is recorded in the book of God. He rewards or admonishes us based on this. Swami Chinmayananda says, "The law of karma is based upon the final conclusion that this life is not an end in itself. It is just one of the little incidents in our eternal existence". A sage advice that stems from this, is traverse the path of good.
The law of karma is a great moral compass that sets a fine direction to our life's trajectory.

 

Rajashree Birla is the chairperson of the Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives
and Rural Development

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

SARAN LOSES OUT

 

There is nothing unusual about turf battles and personality clashes in government-political set up. The resignation of Shyam Saran, prime minister's special envoy on climate change, was inevitable. It was clear even before the UN summit on climate change at Copenhagen in December that Saran and minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh were pulling in different directions. Saran, a career diplomat, was arguing the Indian case deftly but unyieldingly. Ramesh saw the need for greater flexibility and used his political perch which afforded him enough freedom to say what he thought. Of the two, Saran was the more experienced negotiator and he did his best for the country at Copenhagen.

 

The minister is forever shifting goal posts. For example, he has recently mooted the idea that India must give up its plea of calculating carbon emissions on per capita basis which keeps it low in the league and look at the realistic one based on total emissions. This is music to the Western countries, which insist that China and India must accept their fare share in the emissions and not wriggle out. Ramesh will argue that this is good for India in the long term, but at the moment it seems like giving in to Western pressures. Saran must have bristled at the minister's latest foray but there is not much he would have been able to do because prime minister Manmohan Singh is inclined towards the Ramesh line.

 

The exit of Saran would mark the end of the clash over policy and process on climate matters, and government can now speak with a single voice — that of minister Ramesh. It is debatable whether this is beneficial for the country as such. Contrarian voices — such as Saran's — have been valuable in making choices. Dissent and dissonance are not always bad things. There is need to hear the other side in weighing options. That would be missing now.

 

Saran must also have left because he has been overlooked for the post national security adviser which he could have been assigned after the death of JN Dixit. But MK Narayanan, who was until then national security advisor (internal), was given charge of external security as well. Saran who played a key role in the India-US civil nuclear deal could have contributed more as the NSA. It seems that it is a miffed Saran who is leaving government but he has done much that he could look back with pride and satisfaction.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

DUE APOLOGIES

 

The saga of ace golfer Tiger Woods is curious not just for his seemingly profligate sex life and his constant cheating on his wife but also, and perhaps more significantly, for the lessons in it for all celebrities who live their lives in the public eye. In the two months since news of Woods' marital infidelities broke, he has lost sponsorship, not played any golf and now had to come out in public and apologise for his crimes and misdemeanours.After all, in the decade or so between the revelations about then US president Bill Clinton and the intern Monica Lewinsky and the serial romps with cocktail waitresses by Woods, the media has grown manifold, the paparazzi is everywhere and the internet has become a family member.

 

Not only, then, is there nowhere to run and nowhere to hide there is also, it seems, a higher moral standard to which those in the public eye must answer. If in the past to be rich and famous meant a licence for bad behaviour, today that truism no longer holds. A Paris Hilton, famous only for being rich and famous, went publicly to jail for violating her parole in a drinking and driving case. All her money and fame only made a spectacle of her sentence.

 

Woods however has not broken the laws of the land as much as a promise to his wife and to, in a manner of speaking, society as a whole for not upholding the sanctity of marriage. Yet it has been argued that Woods broke his covenant with his fans and the world in general by not being the man he appeared to be. His public image, perhaps manufactured by spin doctors, was of a good, clean family man. The truth it turned out as something quite different.

 

And yet, although his crime has no bearing on his ability to play golf, one of the world's greatest sportsmen stands in the dock for not setting a good enough example in his private life. Woods was held up as an ideal and the world is not willing to accept that its idols can have feet of clay.

 

This then is the burden of celebrity in the 21st century. On Friday, the champion golfer announced he does not know when he will return to competitive sport because he must first fix his family. The strict and relentless gaze of public opinion has cost him money, reputation and the means of livelihood, while his own acts may or may not have cost him his family.

 

There is a salutary lesson here for all those who crave celebrity at any cost: the price is very heavy indeed.

 

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DNA

JUSTICE DELIVERED

RK RAGHAVAN

 

The Supreme Court could not have been more forthright in reasserting its right and that of the high courts to order a CBI probe into any matter of national and international importance or where there is prima facie evidence that a cognisable offence had been committed. In the apex court's opinion such a probe did not require the consent of the State government. This most perceptive ruling came on February 17, 2010 while dismissing a West Bengal government challenge of a Kolkata High Court order directing a CBI investigation into a police firing in Midnapore in which several Trinamool Congress workers were killed. This is a welcome decision if you keep in mind that we are a country, where despite all protestation of being civilised, very few fear the law or the consequences of flouting it, because of their close links with those in authority. Otherwise how do you explain instances of corruption in high places and so much of highhandedness at the grass roots of the civil service, most of which go unpunished. The vivid TV images a few days ago of a sub-inspector beating up a Dalit woman suspected in the murder of her husband are hard to ignore. In many states, the state vigilance cannot even conduct a preliminary enquiry against an IAS or IPS officer guilty of misconduct, without the permission of the state government. Where the officer concerned is a favourite of the chief minister, such permission will never come. In such an ambience, corruption naturally flourishes unchecked. (Recall the recent income-tax raid in a state where an IAS couple was found to have Rs3 crore in hard cash at their home! The husband has been suspended from service, but that is about all. We may not hear of this again for the rest of our lives!)

 

 Through its recent ruling, the apex court did not establish any new procedure. It was merely reiterating the status quo while responding to an ingenuous plea by the West Bengal government that no CBI enquiry could be ordered by courts without obtaining the consent of the state government concerned. The latter's stand is that 'police' and ' public order' are state subjects under Schedule VII of the Constitution of India and hence courts could not exercise direct authority in these two areas without upsetting the existing federal structure . The apex court has now clarified the position by stating, that in the discharge of its duty to protect the fundamental rights of citizens and to render justice to them, it had the right to order suo motu any inquiry by the CBI into matters of great public importance. All law-abiding citizens should wholeheartedly welcome the judgment as a blow for justice and maintenance of integrity in public life.

 

In my view, the judgment did not go far enough to say that the CBI could function in a state without depending on the mercy of the state government. The ridiculous position now is that the CBI cannot operate in a state without the latter's consent. The CBI can have all the trappings of an office, but cannot exercise any authority whatsoever without such consent, even in respect of investigation against Central government officials involved in corruption. There have been instances in which, following a change of government, some states withdrew such consent already given to the CBI, purely on political grounds. Fortunately, the apex court ruled sometime ago that consent, once given, could not be withdrawn arbitrarily. This unsatisfactory state of affairs will have to go if CBI has to make its presence felt. Obviously, this matter was beyond the purview of the latest Supreme Court judgment.

 

The only way out of the current morass is for the Centre to bring in a CBI Act that will make it clear that CBI personnel are not 'police officers' but are merely public servants vested with powers of investigation like 'search' and 'arrest' under the CBI Act and not under the Criminal Procedure Code 1973. This is analogous to the powers enjoyed by customs officers (who are not police officers in legal parlance) under the Customs Act. It is the only way to avoid dependence on state governments which look at the CBI with great suspicion and generally regard it as an 'agent' of the Centre.

 

There is one final thought. People often question, rightly or wrongly, the political neutrality of the CBI. Is there a way we can make that organisation secure against political interference? I do not feel this can be done under the present dispensation, where the CBI is under the Department of Personnel attached to the PMO. The only possible arrangement can be total supervision of the CBI by the courts. This is impractical, given the volume of work handled by the CBI. The next best thing is for the judiciary to monitor investigation in at least a few important cases. The number of such cases currently under SC/HC supervision is modest. There is therefore a case for the courts to enlarge this number. I do not think the executive can object to this salutary arrangement, which alone will ensure, that in important cases, the victim gets the needed relief.

 

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DNA

PERFORMANCE IS THE WATCHWORD FOR MUSLIMS

FIROZ BAKHT AHMED

 

It agonises people like me who follow the voice of reason and sanity that the issue of quotas (a non-issue) for Muslims has turned into such a major point of contention. What is clear however is that the political establishment is not sincere about the community's education and social uplift. It is still treating the
Muslims as a vote bank.

 

The Congress, which has approached the Supreme Court regarding the beleaguered minorities' reservations after the Andhra Pradesh High Court refused it, is only good at paying lip-service. The Muslims must accept the fact that for the third consecutive time since 2004, the AP government's attempt to provide reservations to the Muslim community failed judicial scrutiny. Earlier, the high court had quashed the government order in 2004 and another Act in 2005. West Bengal is making the same mistake. Salman Khursheed, the minorities affairs minister ought to know that history has proved time and again that reservations on communal lines are not in the interest of national unity and integrity.

 

For the Congress, the lesson comes from India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru had stated while addressing an important session of the Constituent Assembly on May 26, 1949: "If you seek to give safeguards to a minority, you isolate it. Maybe, you protect it to a slight extent but at what cost — at the cost of isolating and keeping it away from the main current."

 

It would be worth examining also as to what the other founding fathers say about reservations. While a vote was sought for the charter of providing political safeguards to the minorities according to articles 292 and 294 of the 1949 draft Constitution, five leaders (all Muslims) out of seven, namely Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Hifzur Rehman, Begum Aizaz Rasul, Hussainbhoy Laljee and Tajammul Hussain had voted against it. Interestingly, Sardar Patel had vehemently supported the charter.

 

The problem with this kind of lop-sided reservation is that the real beneficiaries of reservation may be the economically well-off among the "backward community" members who generation after generation reap the benefits at the expense of those who are poor and illiterate.

 

The minority tag must be shunned by the Muslims. A day after the
reservations bill was passed (August 28, 1947), Maulana Hasrat Mohani, a member of the Constituent Assembly, had objected to the use of the word "minority" for Muslims. "I refuse to accept Muslims to be a minority. Now you say you have done away with this communalism. Are we not calling a minority to refer only to Muslims? The Muslims refuse to be called a minority if parties are formed on political line," he had stated. Maulana was not allowed to speak further on the subject as the bill was already discussed and passed. As per this observation, the Muslims were a minority decades ago but now they are not. In fact, they are the second majority.However, two years later, Muslims were removed from the list of reservation beneficiaries while the scheduled castes have been receiving these benefits.

 

The process of reservation will hardly solve the community's problems. It is divided into umpteen castes and sub-castes, a system Muslims have borrowed from the Hindus. Muslims have four major caste divisions: Ashraf at the top (Syed, Sheikh, Mughal and Pathan), Atraj, the second rung (Rajput, Tyagi, Thakur, Jaat), Azrab, the third rung (Julahe, Kunjre, Darzi, Mirasi, Qasab, Naiee, Mahigir etc), and Azlab, at the lowest rung (Halalkhor, Chamar and Lalbezi).

 

However, there is a way out of reservations. Let the Centre as well as the states institute financial aids on the basis of performance instead of seat reservations. If Muslims will compete, participate and become go-getters, India is bound to prosper. The voices of reason should demand that educational standards and qualifications should be uniform, whatever the language, religion or region.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

LESS STRIDENT

BJP GROPING FOR A NEW LINE

 

Every leader has his own personal imprint and the full flourishes of the one to be carried by Nitin Gadkari will take some time to manifest. But some contours are already visible after the three-day national executive meeting in Indore, which concluded on Friday. If Indore speeches are an indication, Hindutva may have a less aggressive face. Demands like the Ayodhya temple and abolition of Article 370 would continue to be raised but not with the usual stridency the Sangh Parivar is given to. The same approach may be visible on the reservation for Muslims. If indeed that line is adopted, it would mark a little shift considering that the BJP has been losing ground rapidly because of its exclusivist agenda. Instead, it seems inclined to corner the government on more popular issues like price rise and the "soft approach" on dialogue with Pakistan.

 

It looks like the party is groping a bit. It has not endorsed the Shiv Sena line on "outsiders" in Maharashtra but has not criticised its ally outrightly either. Mr Gadkari is expected to focus more on organisational matters so that the party can attract young blood. A group headed by former chief Rajnath Singh will oversee the BJP's "Ganga action plan" under which there will be a membership drive in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal — the states which are to go to the polls in the next two years. Then there is also Gadkari's own Antyodaya project.

 

How much progress he actually makes will depend on the other stalwarts of the party. Factionalism is rife in the BJP. Former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and her loyalists did not even attend the executive meeting. Then there are many inner contradictions. It has to reconcile the feelings of leaders from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh over the anti-North Indian sentiments in Maharashtra. There are also major differences over organisational elections in these and other states. Mr Gadkari is going to have his plate full. He will be judged more for his actions than his rhetoric and how he rises up to challenges. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

SC BAN ON MINING

ARAVALLI'S ECOLOGY CAN STILL BE SAVED 

 

The Supreme Court has rightly banned as many as 157 mines in the Aravalli hill ranges of Rajasthan. In an important ruling, the Special Forest Bench consisting of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justice Aftab Alam has ordered satellite mapping of the entire 15,000 sq. km of the Aravalli hill range to gauge the extent of ecological devastation caused by illegal mining in violation of a 2002 ban. The Aravalli ranges across 15 districts in Rajasthan are rich in minerals such as iron ore, lead, asbestos, wall clay and China clay worth Rs 5,000 crore. Indiscriminate mining continued in these ranges even though their licences had expired long back on the "sole pretext" that the miners had applied for renewal, the Bench observed.

 

The court's ban order is indicative of its firmness to protect the environment at any cost. In May 2009, it had issued a similar ban in the 448 sq. km. area of the Aravalli ranges falling in Haryana's Faridabad, Gurgaon and Mewat districts. Over the years, the apex court has been trying to balance mining operations with environmental protection. For some time, the court did not impose a total ban on mining so long as it was possible to undertake such operations on the principle of sustainable development. However, it cracked the whip once it was convinced that the position had only worsened.

 

The Rajasthan case is far worse. As there is an inherent connection between hills and water, mining has disturbed the catchment areas in the state. The Aravallis used to feed the whole of livestock from the Thar desert in the past. Now the hills are devoid of the green cover due to mining and soil erosion. Mining has particularly disturbed Bhilwara, Rajsamand and Alwar areas. In Bijolia in Bhilwara district, called Rajasthan's "wheat bowl", the locals buy grain from outside after the start of large-scale mining. Though it is feared that the ban on mining will trigger unemployment and halt economic activities, it will ultimately benefit the people as they will resume farming activities and the wells will also be recharged. The latest ban will save Aravalli's ecology just as the 2002 ban protected the Sariska Tiger Sanctuary in Alwar district from the clutches of the mining sharks.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

SAFER CLINICAL TRIALS

INDIA MUST ROOT OUT UNETHICAL PRACTICES

 

With India emerging as a hub of clinical trials for drugs, the need for tougher norms cannot be overlooked. The government's decision to tighten the regulatory mechanism is welcome, provided it is put in place with earnestness. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh's concern over the increasing use of animals in clinical trials and call for alternatives, too, should have gladdened the hearts of animal lovers. Indeed, India, which made the registration of clinical trials with the ICMR compulsory last year, needs to root out the unethical practices prevalent in clinical trials.

 

Unsafe and illegal drug testing has been a matter of concern lately. While cruelty to the animals involved in trials has often raised the hackles of animal rights activists, human experiments have also not been above board. The shocking revelation of death of an infant in Bangalore and of 49 babies in the AIIMS in over two and a half years have been grim of reminders of how Indians are becoming guinea pigs. Over the years clinical trials in the country have grown at a rapid rate. While India stands third among the destinations for clinical trials after the US and China, by 2011 it is estimated that this counry will be carrying out 15 per cent of the total number of clinical trials. India has emerged as a favoured destination for clinical trials because of lower costs, the quality of healthcare and healthcare professionals and the huge number of people available. However, poverty and illiteracy pose a major challenge to ensuring the implementation of the parameters necessary for clinical trials.

 

While the Indian Council for Medical Research guidelines on clinical research need to be followed with greater vigil, stringent laws to punish violators are an imperative. Awareness drives can educate the persons undergoing experiments about the dangers involved in clinical trials. Pharmaceutical companies, too, must be conscious of their social responsibility and understand that unethical trials are not only detrimental to the people but also harm their reputation and interests. Undeniably, India stands to benefit from these trials which open doors to better healthcare. But this cannot be an excuse for the violation of rights, especially of vulnerable sections.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

WHY JUSTICE SHAH COULDN'T MAKE IT TO SC

THE COLLEGIUM MUST PROVIDE AN ANSWER

BY KULDIP NAYAR

 

This is yet another case of supersession of judges, not in the technical sense but in all other respects. Justice A.N. Shah, who retired from the office of Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court a few days ago, was one of the finest judges in the country. He was also the senior-most judge. Yet he was not elevated to the Supreme Court. The strong opposition by Justice S.H. Kapadia, a Supreme Court judge, against Justice Shah reportedly blocked the appointment. Justice Kapadia is a member of the five-judge collegium which selects judges for the high courts and the Supreme Court. All the other four judges were believed to be in favour of Justice Shah. But they were helpless because the convention is to have a unanimous choice.

 

When Indira Gandhi superseded in 1973 three Supreme Court judges—Jayanti Manilal Shelat, Kawdoor Sadananda Hegde and Amar Nath Grover — to appoint a junior judge, Justice Ajit Nath Ray, as the Chief Justice of India, she punished them because of their independent outlook, not tagged to what she considered "progressive".

 

Justice Shelat had only a month to go for his retirement. But Justice Hegde had still two years left. A petition relating to Mrs. Gandhi's election was pending in his court. He had found that the affidavit given by her was against the facts. He, in fact, tried to help her but her advisers thought otherwise. Justice Grover resigned because he was senior to Justice Ray.

 

It was a blatant and outrageous attempt at undermining the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and lowering the prestige and dignity of the Supreme Court. Mrs Gandhi wanted to make the judiciary subservient to political pressures and dependent on government patronage and influence.

 

However, this was not the reason for the supersession of Justice Shah. In his case, his courage to stand up was his undoing. He had dared to cross Justice Kapadia's path when the two were on the bench of the Bombay High Court some years back. The collegium meeting, where the name of Justice Shah was discussed, was reportedly a noisy sitting with four judges on the one side and Justice Kapadia on the other.

 

How could he have his way in the face of four other judges is still baffling. They do not seem to have put up a fight for Justice Shah. Whatever the truth, Justice Kapadia applied the veto. I recall another instance of supersession. Justice Arijit Passayat blocked the appointment of Justice A.K. Patnaik, then the Madhya Pradesh Chief Justice, nearly one and a half years ago for reasons not known. The latter is an outstanding judge who has stood by the people whenever he has found them aggrieved. Human rights activists and other members remember with admiration his famous judgment to stop building of the Narmada Dam after attaining a particular height until the oustees were rehabilitated. (The Narmada award is that the uprooted should be settled at new places six months before their land is taken by the government).

 

Take another case of the collegium's authoritative attitude. Justice Gyan Misra, a woman Chief Justice heading the Jharkhand bench, is high in seniority. When she was ignored both the President and the Prime Minister sent back her file for reconsideration, probably because the Supreme Court has not had any woman judge on the bench for the last four or five years. The collegium still went ahead and appointed Justice C.K. Prasad, superseding Chief Justice Gyan Misra. This is not aimed at questioning the excellent credentials of Justice Prasad but pointing out that a woman judge was denied the Supreme Court slot.

 

One thing clear from these instances is that the collegium acts like a secret agency, opaque and bizarre in its selection. It should tell the reason why a particular judge was ignored. It is understandable when Justice Shah after retiring admits before the Press that he couldn't "pretend not to be hurt" on not making it to the Supreme Court. This is the highest position that most in the legal fraternity seek. Justice Shah's disappointment of missing the top position was natural. When Justice Kapadia and Justice Passayat blocked the elevation of Justice Shah and Justice Patnaik, the first two must give reasons for doing so. It should not be a capricious decision. It must be backed by reasons. It cannot be left to the bias or prejudice of any judge on the collegium.

 

The collegium comprises five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court for appointment to the apex court and the high courts. The high courts have a three-judge collegium for appointment to the lower judiciary, including the Sessions Judge. Shouldn't the decision be taken by a majority? There should be an effort to reach a consensus. But if that is not possible, one member should not have the final word.

 

The government can retrieve the situation to some extent by appointing Justice Shah as the Law Commission's chairman. But Law Minister Veerappa Moily, respected for his integrity, is reluctant to do so lest Justice Kapadia, who is the next in line for the post of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, should feel offended. Mr Moily is unnecessarily bringing in the wishes of Justice Kapadia to a post which is entirely in the domain of the government. The Supreme Court has nothing to do with it.

 

One must admit that the judiciary in Pakistan has become an example of probity after the lawyers have won the battle for reinstating Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to the Pakistan Supreme Court. President Asif Ali Zardari arbitrarily appointed Justice Saqib Nisar as the acting Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court and also elevated Justice Khwaja to the Supreme Court. There was no consultation with Chief Justice Chaudhry. The two judges refused to take the oath because they wanted the appointment to be approved by Chief Justice Chaudhry. The entire nation has stood behind the Supreme Court chief and has blamed President Zardari for throwing the country into a constitutional crisis. Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has criticised President Zardari's appointment as "the murder of democracy." Ultimately, Mr Zardari's notifications in this regard have been withdrawn.

 

What the Indian judiciary can learn from the Pakistan judiciary is that the judges, if not appointed through a correct procedure, refuse to take the oath of office. The Supreme Court specially needs to take note of it. The manner in which it has superseded Justice Shah is simply not acceptable. It is another matter that people cannot do anything. This is an issue which Parliament should discuss at its next sitting, particularly how to stop the judges of the collegium from settling personal scores.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

ZYADA BETTER ENGLISH

BY ARADHIKA SHARMA

 

I remember going to an Indian-Chinese-continental restaurant in Jalandhar a few years ago and ordering the 'Chow Mien-Manchurian' listed in the dog-eared menu. The waiter, a friendly soul, asked me solicitously, if I would prefer the 'Chow Minnie' with garlic tadka or with ginger tadka?

 

That only confirmed my belief that we Indians add our special tadka to everything in our path, making it uniquely ours, be it Indian, Chinese, Mughlai or Continental. This is especially true of the Queen's language. I've always loved to mark and collect the quaint usages that we employ with impunity.

 

We have no qualms in doing direct translations from Hindi or vernacular into English, using the same grammatical rules. A mother may tell her kids, "Why are you dancing my head? Listening to your shouting, my head is going round and round and eating circles."

 

"You agree with me, no?"

 

An Indian may not find anything wrong with the above usage at all, but it's only an Indian who will add the "no" to "Do you agree with me?' and how about "Boss only told that I could go early" instead of "Boss told me to go early"?

 

In the South, you may come across this conversation:

 

"Why are you standing here?"

 

"Simply!" (Meaning, "just like that")

 

Basically, we love to use words like, no/only/simply because it's a part of our Indian English. We'll overuse actually/ seriously /obviously/generally. Seriously, there's no particular reason. We just do it like that only!

 

Our special ability lies in the alteration of the preposition. Recollect, how often you hear the phrase, "Let us discuss about this" instead of "Let us discuss this." The sentence coming up has so much Indian-ness contained in it that I don't even want to attempt an analysis, "I'm not understanding only, why you are doing like this always."

 

The verbs 'is' and 'are' are often placed at random in a sentence, usually after the pronoun, rather than before: "Why you are staring at that girl? Tell, no, what you are thinking? You are liking her? Shall we start talks with her family?" Then we just love to use the progressive tense in stative verbs. Where the Queen may say, "I like it very much," we'll definitely say, "I am liking it very much."

 

So, my dear readers, please tell me your 'good name" and then we go out for some pizza- shizza. Good idea, no?"

 

The world over, people may talk of the McDonaldisation of Society. We Indians have an answer to that, no? We tadka-fy the society.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

DIFFERENT FORMS OF CORRUPTION

HOW BUDGETS ARE TO BLAME

BY D. N. BEZBORUAH

 

Lately, the public protests against the rising prices have risen to a crescendo all over the country. This is inevitable, considering that the cost of food has literally gone through the roof, without anyone being able to do a thing about it.

 

Even if ours is not a totalitarian state, controlling prices is quite possible through "coercive" persuasion and by reducing the number of middlemen drastically. The rest of the equation, at least in terms of falling vegetable prices, is not difficult to explain. Nothing has been done so far either to cut out the number of middlemen or to discipline them. As a result, two interesting phenomena are visible. While the prices of locally grown vegetables have plummeted almost to the old levels, onion prices have stubbornly remained at their election-time levels. Likewise, the prices of pulses and sugar have not weakened at all.

 

The thrust of this article, however, is neither vegetable prices nor just food prices. It is what the coming Union Budget is going to do to inflation and how it is going to stoke more corruption to increase the day-to-day costs incurred by the common man because of corruption. One of the most significant things that might happen in the coming Budget is that fuel prices may be deregulated so as not to have the heavy burden of government subsidies that we have been used to over the years. Some amount of subsidy will doubtless be retained on cooking gas and kerosene. Even then the price of a cylinder of LPG may be raised by Rs 100 and kerosene prices may go up by Rs 6 a litre.

 

At present the discount given by the government on each cylinder of domestic LPG is Rs 287.59 and on each litre of kerosene Rs 18.06. If fuel prices are not increased beyond the present level, Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum will lose Rs 46,000 crore in revenues during this fiscal. According to the present policy, revenue losses on petrol and diesel are met by firms like the ONGC. Of the revenue loss of Rs 31,574 crore expected on LPG and kerosene, the government has so far given only Rs 12,000 crore. Such an arrangement cannot be allowed to go on indefinitely. We have had for decades populist measures that are politically right but economic disasters. Even now, we have all the political parties swearing to oppose any move to hike the prices of fuel. They have said that an increase in fuel prices cannot be permitted.

 

Have all the political parties been able to prevent a huge increase in the prices of different commodities? Have they been able to prevent the change in airfares from just Rs 68 to well over Rs 2,000 between Guwahati and Kolkata? Why should prices remain static just because the Bihar Assembly elections are due in a few months? Did they remain static when we had the Lok Sabha elections?

 

However, I am far more worried about the fraud that Budgets embody. Let me take just two examples. One is the huge subsidies that we have in our Budgets for a whole range of things. First of all, there are subsidies for the terminally sick public sector undertakings (PSUs), which go on year after year and for all sick PSUs. Most of the PSUs are sick because they are obscenely overstaffed and terribly mismanaged. And we conveniently forget that they are so overstaffed because of the efforts of politicians. It is the political leaders who insist on the PSUs taking on more employees than they can sustain and putting almost every PSU under a politician chairman who knows nothing about managing such organizations.

 

We thus have two infallible ingredients for failure from the beginning: overstaffing and mismanagement. And we go on pretending from year to year that these PSUs can be turned around and brought back to sound health. This pretence itself is a form of corruption that we sustain at great public cost. It is a form of corruption because this pretence at public cost is immoral. The acid test is that no politician would recommend such subsidies if the money were to be paid out of his own pocket. But plundering the exchequer is all right as far as politicians are concerned.

 

The other fraud is the pretence that all politicians are losing a lot of sleep over the very high levels of unemployment in our villages. They are not concerned about what happens to Bharat. But having huge allocations for rural employment guarantee schemes is the best way of earmarking funds that can be easily siphoned out to augment party funds for elections. That is what happened with the interim Budget just before the last Lok Sabha elections. They left all heads with the allocations of the earlier Budget, but increased the allocation for rural employment alone by 87 per cent. All such corrupt practices lead to huge leakages of public funds into private pockets or the coffers of political parties. This is not to be tolerated in a country where our leaders give sermons to us about transparency and accountability. Thus, it is time the citizens began asking the Union Finance Minister whether the cost of corruption - whether in terms of subsidies to moribund PSUs that can never be revived or in terms of the allocations made for rural employment that are siphoned out for other needs - has been taken into account in preparing the Budget. After all, these are forms of corruption, and one can see how much of corruption the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) has generated all over the country.

 

While talking about such forms of corruption, one is reminded of what happens routinely when a contractor lands a government contract in Manipur. He is told how much the cut for the underground is. He is also told that the government will pay this additionally and even take the trouble of handing it over to the underground. But the contractor would have to sign a receipt for the additional amount as well. The rest of the arrangement would naturally have to be restricted to verbal instructions.

 

This is a terrible equation since a percentage of the cost of a development project goes to the underground with the knowledge and blessings of the state government. But there is a trifle more honesty about this bizarre arrangement that the series of Union Budgets that have continued at least the two-fold corruption mentioned above for years on end.

 

There is much more corruption in the form of subsidies on power, fertilizers and other agricultural inputs that go to land owners who are exempt from paying direct taxes rather than to actual farmers. All this corruption goes unbudgeted. No one complains because those in the corridors of power are generally beneficiaries of the game and the public has apparently come to terms with corruption because it is too tiresome to combat it. This, indeed, is a very sad scenario.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

A UK THINKER TURNS HIS BACK ON PARLIAMENT

BY STEVE RICHARDS

 

James Purnell joins the departing herd. The so-called Blairite Labour MPs were hopeless at acting together when fighting political battles, but they move as one in leaving the Commons at the next election. Purnell joins other former cabinet ministers, including Alan Milburn, Steve Byers, and Patricia Hewitt, who have opted to pursue alternative careers, a route taken by Tony Blair on the day he left No 10.

 

As a relatively youthful figure Purnell's departure is the one with wider implications. He had a future and chose to turn away. A few senior Labour figures saw him even as a possible successor to Gordon Brown, although Purnell was always adamant that he had no interest in the leadership.

 

His departure is a blow to David Miliband, a contemporary who stays behind to fight for the leadership after the election. Miliband worked closely with Purnell when they were advisers to Blair in opposition and in No 10. At a Labour conference fringe meeting a couple of years ago, when there was feverish speculation about a coup against Gordon Brown, I asked Purnell how often he spoke to Miliband. "We speak most days ... sometimes several times," he said with a provocative evasiveness. The coups went nowhere but Miliband has lost an ally in the battles to come.

 

So close to an election, Purnell's announcement is bad news for Gordon Brown. Another high-profile departure conveys a sense of impending doom whether it is intended to do so or not. Youngish MPs do not leave Parliament when sunny days of stimulating power appear to stretch ahead.

 

Labour's opponents will also argue that the departure of another former minister associated with Blair shows the party is moving leftwards. The reality is more complicated. Purnell never exuded a great appetite for party politics. I am not surprised that he is leaving the Commons and predicted he would do so when he resigned from the Cabinet in the summer. He is close friends with another former adviser to Blair, Tim Allen, who runs a thriving consultancy company. Perhaps Purnell will seek a more financially rewarding role by following a similar path. He has also shown considerable support for non-party bodies such as London Citizens. Next week Purnell is taking part in a five-day residential training course in Hemel Hempstead with 50 civil society leaders, including teachers and nurses, under the auspices of Citizens UK. The Conservative leadership is showing considerable interest in the organisation as well.

 

Purnell's limited hunger for party politics was matched by an indifference to the manoeuvring and scheming that are an unavoidable part of mainstream politics. His cabinet resignation was announced without consulting other disaffected colleagues. If he had wanted to bring about the downfall of Brown he might have let others know. He did not do so. Brown stayed and the former rising cabinet star left for a somewhat shapeless career as a backbencher and a thinker. Soon after he left the Cabinet, Purnell became more actively involved with the think-tank Demos, another organisation which now has close ties with the Conservative leadership.

 

Purnell was proving to be a more interesting thinker than the stereotype might have suggested. He was moving on from the Blair era. In a recent article he argued that New Labour had been paralysed by caution and went too far in its accommodation with markets. Purnell also formed a relationship with the leftish MP, Jon Cruddas. The two of them sought common ground partly to avoid a civil war in the event of Labour's defeat and, more constructively, in the hope of establishing a more pluralist culture in their party and beyond. Cruddas is another potential leadership candidate who will be disappointed by Purnell's decision to leave the front line.

 

His departure is both bigger than it seems and less significant. On one level it is the personal decision of another Labour politician with only a limited commitment to the vocation. Blairites never gave the impression they were ready for the long haul. Most of them did not survive in the Cabinet very long even when Blair was Prime Minister. Indeed some – including Purnell – were promoted after Blair had left.

 

But Purnell is part of a bigger, more portentous exodus, as MPs from across the political spectrum turn their backs on Parliament. Some of those departing were useless, but not all of them. Voters are fed up with politics. An ominous number of MPs, including Purnell, seem to share their disillusionment.

 

By arrangement with The Independent

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

CHATTERATI
MATURING OF THE POLITY

BY DEVI CHERIAN

 

Instances of the Congress and the BJP agreeing on anything are too rare. So, everyone was shocked when BJP chief ministers, especially when Gujarat's Narendra Modi, praised the Home Minister for impeccable handling of internal security. It shows to some extent a maturing of the Indian polity.

 

We are so used to the opposition parties protesting against government policies just for the sake of it. After the Mumbai tragedy, the BJP lashed out at the UPA government and tried to make it a poll issue. This did not sell right for the BJP with voters. Terrorism is the biggest threat worldwide today. No party can afford to play politics on securing the country against possible terror attacks. Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise that both the Congress and the BJP seem to have realised that the country expects the political class to tackle the danger of terrorism unitedly.

 

Anyway, it is time our political parties realised what it meant to be in the Opposition and how to play the role responsibly. The culture of parties indiscriminately going hammer and tongs at the governing party should be finished. In a mature democracy, the Opposition must play a constructive role. So, one was so impressed and relieved at this new development. Let us see how long it lasts.

 

One man, one post

 

One has been hearing of one man, one post for some time. So, everyone is anxiously waiting for a reshuffle in the Cabinet and the AICC. But speculation about the AICC reshuffle is quiet now with all in the Congress lobbying for Cabinet berths at the Centre as UPA-II will complete its first year in May. And as usual, the backbiting and leg-pulling has started. But now the mood at the AICC headquarters is not for a change. No one wants to disturb the process of organisational elections.

 

Rahul Gandhi as a charismatic leader has made the Congress party "feel good". The one role everyone longs for in the Congress is to strengthen the hands of the young leader. Rahul, Congressmen feel, has revived the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, made the party number one in Maharashtra and will now concentrate on Bihar. In Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the Congress is bringing talent and youth into the party. Also Rahul's taming of Bal Thackeray has gone well with all Congress men.

 

Lobbying for Cabinet berths in the Congress is interesting now because those in the second line in the ruling party want to prove their mettle by becoming ministers. Youngsters feel that the Prime Minister and the Congress chief can create a space for a second rung in the Cabinet by giving other assignments to senior ministers. The lobbying could become intense once the biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha are over. Many Union Ministers term will also get over.

 

Pawar politics

 

Sharad Pawar is at the receiving end from all political parties, including the Congress, on the price rise issue. Pawar personally went to call on his old friend Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray and this visit has put the Congress on guard. Pawar, however, claims that he went to request Bal Thackeray to control his forces when the cricket matches will take place in Mumbai. But, surprisingly, Pawar did not take his Home Minister Patil with him for this visit. Wonder what comes first to Pawar —cricket or price rise.

 

The relationship between Pawar and the Congress is rocky. R.R. Patil as state Home Minister is cozying up to the Congress. He specially went to watch "My Name is Khan" at a multiplex in Mumbai and even stood in a queue and bought a Rs 350 ticket. With Pawar being pressurised for wearing too many hats and not concentrating on the Agriculture Department, one wonders if he went there for support and for what.

 

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MUMBAI MERROR

EDITORIAL

CURE FOR THE CANCER OF ARTS

THE VERY ILLS AILING TRADITIONAL ARTS – GLOBALISATION AND IT – CAN BE CREATIVELY USED FOR THEIR PROMOTION BY SETTING UP IT-LINKED ARTISTS' VILLAGES WITH SOUND FINANCIAL VIABILITY

 


Globalisation and IT – the two dominant forces shaping our world today pose a threat to our arts. Globalisation has imposed uniformity in taste, be it junk food, pop music or jeans.


Pop culture makes traditional arts unpopular. Their markets shrink and disappear. Those who rely on our traditional arts and crafts for a living cannot survive due to this. IT is closely linked with knowledge and can be applied in every art. However, this is a mixed blessing. It can kill craftsmanship skills nurtured over generations leading to the mass extinction of talent and imagination.


A traditional painter, who has developed manual skills in painting, gives up his practice and starts using computer software for p a i n t i n g . Similarly, a r t i s t s skilled in h a n d - l o o m s such as
kalamkari may opt for the easy option of computer-aided design. Loss of manual skills does a d - versely affect the development of creative imagination. This is particularly true of animation in the world of entertainment for painting and drawing skills.


   Information, Communication and Entertainment (ICE) define an important sunrise sector of our knowledge economy today. With a little imagination, ICE can be used to tackle the silent cancer affecting our traditional arts. With its easy scanning and enormous storage, IT can be used to preserve our entire heritage of ancient manuscripts in Sanskrit and other languages. In Carnatic music, IT has aided in much an unexpected way. Carnatic music is closely linked to mathematics. Nostalgia for home and the common link of mathematics has curiously resulted in a vigorous revival of interest in Carnatic music among many south Indian IT professionals. Leading artistes of Carnatic music earn handsomely thanks to the synergy of IT with classical music.
   Disney nurtured artists sketching individual frames. Now, thanks to computers, animation has become an important sector of Hollywood.


   One possible cure for tackling the silent cancer of our traditional arts and crafts is setting up one or more IT-linked artists' villages. The idea of an artists' village is not new. Long ago, Rabindranath Tagore tried to create an artists' village in Shantiniketan. Chennai has Dakshin Chithra, Hyderabad has its Shilpagram, and Bangalore has Nrithyagram.


Not all these villages, however, provide a direct link with the ICE economy. They also do not do two things, which are vital for tackling the cancer of Indian arts. The first is continuously training new generations of talented youth. They must be able to learn from the masters under the time-tested guru-shishya parampara. Secondly, they must also be trained in IT so that the artists' village can act as outsourcing studios for ICE products such as cartoons, textile designs, handicrafts. After software codes, back office work, design and research, it will be content creation for animation.


Talented traditional artists from all over the country have to be brought to a central arts village. Here, their interaction will lead to a new creative cultural synergy and the environment for nurturing new talent.
There is a dearth of content in entertainment today. Our rich reserves of folktales and Puranas can be a rich source for global entertainment.


The entire project must be designed on a sound financial basis, so that after the initial investment for the infrastructure, continuous subsidy or doles are not required. On the other hand, there has to be effective business alliance with multinationals in the entertainment sector. This will aid the master artists and the new generation of students to get attractive remunerations, which can lead to their financial viability.


Such a synthesis of ICE and arts can ensure the survival of our traditional arts in the modern age, and also make them flourish.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

BIOTECHNOLOGY REGULATION

 

The controversy around Bt brinjal has served at least one good purpose. The government has fast-tracked the process of setting up a biotechnology regulator. A regulatory authority is to be set up under an Act of Parliament. A longstanding proposal that has been gathering dust in the Department of Biotechnology has seen the light of day. The Union Cabinet is expected to consider this proposal and bring it to Parliament. The draft of the Bill, which is currently in the public domain, seeks to create a three-member National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA) to regulate and monitor the application of biotechnology for various purposes. It will oversee biotechnology businesses with separate divisions for agriculture and allied fields; human and animal health; and industry and environment. While the proposed structure of the NBRA has met with general approval, there are some issues that merit further consideration. A tug-of-war has already begun between different ministries on which ministry should exercise administrative control over the mooted authority. What needs to be realised is that biotechnology is essentially a multidisciplinary science which finds application in numerous fields to evolve useful and commercially important products. As such, the discipline cuts across the domains of several ministries, including those of science and technology (which is now piloting the Bill), agriculture, environment, health, and industry. Each one of these ministries can stake their claim over the administrative control of the NBRA and justify it too. However, since it is important to grant full autonomy to the NBRA to enable it to take independent decisions based on well-conceived and transparent procedures, it should be under none of these ministries. Otherwise, it will end up being like the present Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) whose verdict over the Bt brinjal was overruled by a concerned minister. The best option, under the circumstances, would be to make such an authority report directly to the Prime Minister's Office. A separate appellate tribunal can, of course, be set up for addressing the grievances against the regulator's decisions. There are some inadequacies in the NBRA Bill which need to be looked into. While the Bill has provisions for amending existing laws, such as the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, and the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, in order to remove any discrepancy between the new law and the existing ones, provisions in this regard should be clear so that there is no multiplicity of supervisory control and regulatory overkill. The GEAC, which is set up under the Seeds Act and the Environment Protection Act, 1986, may become redundant once the NBRA is created. It may have to be liquidated by amending the environment protection law. An important task for the biotechnology regulator would be to lay down in clear terms the evaluation procedures for biotech products, including gene-altered crops and living beings. It will have to spell out the tests and trials to be conducted for different products and the mode of carrying them out satisfactorily, transparently and impartially. The sole aim should be to make sure that the new product is risk-free and safe for the environment and human and animal health. There should ideally be a time limit for approving or rejecting a product so that the developers are not made to wait endlessly.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE SOIL FOR CHANGE

 

Finally, they have bitten the bullet on fertiliser subsidy. For the past three years, the Union government has agonised on the issue of mounting expenditure on this account and has not had the courage to cut the subsidy. While Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced his intent to introduce a nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) in his last Budget Speech, he has finally shown courage to do so on the eve of this year's Budget presentation. Whatever fertiliser minister Alagiri's politically motivated reservations, this policy initiative has got the Cabinet's approval. Even as the government proposes to free some fertilisers from price control, it has promised to hike urea price, which remains under government control, by 10 per cent. Urea price was last revised in February 2002. Twice before in the past eight years, successive governments had proposed doing this but had to roll back the move in the face of organised opposition. This time too the jury is out on whether or not the government will succumb to party political pressure. The argument that farmers need this subsidy has been rubbished enough. The truth is that there are far too many vested interests who have prospered in the name of farmers. With the fertiliser subsidy ballooning in the past few years, overshooting budgetary provisions by wide margins, huge unpaid subsidy arrears have been built up, impairing the financial health of the industry. No fresh investment in capacity addition has, as a result, come in this sector for nearly a decade now. That is why the industry has welcomed the NBS regime, which will lead to direct payment of subsidy to farmers. While farmers may object to higher urea prices, there would be more rational application of fertilisers which is good in itself, with subsidies encouraging excessive fertiliser use.

 

 The NBS system implies fixing subsidy on the basis of the nutrient content of a fertiliser rather than on a per tonne or per bag basis. Agricultural scientists and fertiliser industry representatives have been seeking this change in subsidy computation for a long time because it is advantageous for all stakeholders in the fertiliser sector. The present system of product-based subsidy has done immense harm to agriculture by tilting the price advantage in favour of urea. As a result, farmers tend to use more of urea and less of other fertilisers, contributing to a nutrient imbalance that has lowered soil fertility and crop yields. Besides, the present system holds no incentive for the fertiliser manufacturers to add micro-nutrients like sulphur, zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium to fertilisers. There has been a decline in crop productivity in India because the soil is deficient in these elements. The NBS system allows these nutrients to also benefit from the subsidy. This will encourage the industry to produce innovative fertiliser products having nutrient combinations customised to meet the needs of different crops and soil conditions. Farmers will be able to choose appropriate products according to their specific needs and reap better harvests. This measure, along with the freedom given to manufacturers to fix farm gate prices for their products, will promote competition to the ultimate benefit of farmers.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

ITS RISE AND FALL, ACCORDING TO THE CSO

THE CSO NEEDS TO EXPLAIN HOW ITS ESTIMATE OF GROWTH IN INVESTMENT CHANGED FROM A RISE OF 8.3 PER CENT TO A FALL OF 1.7 PER CENT

MAHESH VYAS

 

According to the Central Statistical Organisation's (CSO's) revised series, gross capital formation declined by 1.7 per cent in real terms in 2008-09. The revised series uses 2004-05 as the base year in place of the base year of 1999-2000 which was used earlier. The decline in capital formation is a reversal of what the earlier series indicated — a growth of 8.3 per cent in capital formation in the same year.

 

 The figure of 1.7 per cent is reached before the CSO adjusts the capital formation numbers for errors and omissions. After such an adjustment (which itself is about 2 per cent of the capital formation), the fall is much steeper at 4 per cent in real terms.

 

It is doubtful that such a large revision has been caused entirely by a change in the base year. The CSO should clarify what has caused this big change in its estimate of growth in capital formation within a period of less than 10 months — from a reasonably robust growth of 8.3 per cent to a fall of 1.7 per cent.

 

The magnitude of the current revision raises doubts about the data sources or the methodology adopted by the CSO. It is best that the CSO explains the differences in some detail to build confidence or it suitably modifies its data sources or methodologies to improve the estimates. It is imperative that CSO's methods and estimates are credible so that they can be relied upon, particularly in times of a crisis such as the one in 2008-09.

 

Prima facie, it appears that the CSO got its change in inventory numbers wrong in its first estimates published in May 2009 (these used 1999-2000 as the base year but this change in base year is unlikely to be relevant to the level of revision). It had then estimated that change in stocks would be nearly 3 per cent higher as of March 2009 compared to that of March 2008. Now, it estimates that the change in stock was, in fact, 61 per cent lower.

 

The CSO's revised estimates could well be more accurate than their earlier estimates. But the question is why the CSO got it so way off the mark in its first estimate. The quarterly financial statements of listed companies had clearly indicated a winding down of inventories in the December 2008 and March 2009 quarters. There was a year-on-year increase in the prices, so the real fall in the change in inventory during the year was even sharper than seen in the financials of companies. So, the CSO could have seen the fall in the build-up of inventories then. Why could it not?

 

But change in stock plays a small role in the overall capital formation estimates. More than 80 per cent of the capital formation estimates are in fixed capital formation (this is in construction and installation of plant and machinery). In this case, the CSO has cut its estimates of growth by half — from 8.2 per cent earlier to 4 per cent now. This is a significant cut and it merits an explanation from the CSO.

 

Gross fixed capital formation grew between 14.3 and 15.3 per cent per annum between 2005-06 and 2007-08 (as per the new series). These growth rates are only slightly different from the 13-17.6 per cent band in which they ranged in the old series. Compared to these growth rates, the fall to 4 per cent in 2008-09 is quite significant. But, this significant fall in the growth in fixed capital formation is at odds with the inferences we can draw from the other independent data sources.

 

For example, audited financial statements of manufacturing companies do not indicate such a fall in investments. The aggregate gross fixed assets (GFAs) of large- and medium- sized companies grew by 20.2 per cent in nominal terms in 2008-09 (according to the CMIE's Prowess database). This was the best growth in the GFA in nominal terms in the past decade. But, since inflation was high during the year, the inflation-adjusted growth dropped sharply — to 11.2 per cent. This growth is much higher than that indicated in the revised series of the CSO.

 

While differences in growth rates are understandable (after all, fixed capital formation and growth in gross fixed assets of companies are related but different measures), the difference in direction is difficult to appreciate. While the CSO's estimates indicate a serious slowdown, the CMIE's Prowess database shows no slowdown in the growth rate compared to the preceding years. Gross fixed assets of these companies have grown consistently between 11 and 13 per cent per annum in real terms since 2005-06. The 11.2 per cent growth in 2008-09 indicates no fall in the momentum.

 

In fact, the 11.2 per cent growth seen in 2008-09 in GFAs of manufacturing companies in the Prowess database is best juxtaposed against the CSO's estimates of growth in fixed capital formation in the private corporate sector, which, it believes, fell by 5.1 per cent. Now, here is a sharp difference in magnitude and direction. How do we reconcile such large differences between official estimates and inferences drawn from alternative publicly available data?

 

GROWTH IN CAPITAL FORMATION AT CONSTANT 2004-05 PRICES (% change)

 

2005-06

2006-07

2007-08

2008-09

Gross capital formation

15.30

16.1

14.8

-1.7

Gross fixed capital formation

15.3

14.3

15.2

4.0

Public sector

14.7

20.0

11.1

10.0

Private sector

41.7

18.7

20.6

-5.1

Construction

70.8

13.1

-4.7

6.2

Machinery and equipment

31.8

21.1

31.0

-8.5

Household sector

-3.4

6.1

31.0

11.2

Change in stock

24.8

35.0

15.1

-61.2

Valuables

-2.2

15.0

15.1

23.6

Gross capital formation adjusted
for errors & omissions

14.7

14.5

16.9

-4.0

Source: Quick Estimates of Central Statistical Organisation

Within the private corporate sector, according to the CSO, fixed capital formation in construction did grow (by 6.2 per cent), but it fell sharply (by 8.5 per cent) in machinery and equipment. What this means is that the growth in capital formation fell in 2008-09 essentially because inventories were wound down and because the private corporate sector did not add more plant and machineries compared to the previous year. What was the private corporate sector constructing that it was not filling them with machinery? How can one explain such a divergent trend? Possibly, the data on cement consumption is a lot more reliable than the data on production of machines.

The CSO's advance estimates indicate that it expects gross fixed capital formation to grow by 5.2 per cent in 2009-10. This is modest given that the earlier year (according to the CSO) had also seen a modest growth of only 4 per cent. The CMIE's CapEx database shows that investments have grown well in 2009-10 and are likely to continue to show a robust growth in 2010-11

.

The author is managing director and CEO, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

DEMOCRACIES AND DEFICITS

IF BANKS ARE SUPPOSED TO BUILD CAPITAL WHEN TIMES ARE GOOD, SHOULD GOVERNMENTS NOT BE DOING THE SAME?

A V RAJWADE

As the finance minister gives the final touch to the Budget, which will be presented to Parliament later this week, he must surely be pondering over the fiscal problems being faced by Greece and many other countries in the world — from PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) to STUPID (Spain, Turkey, the UK, Portugal, Italy and Dubai) to the US which was recently threatened with a downgrade of its AAA rating, thanks to the huge fiscal deficit.

 Problems in some of the Euro-zone countries have undermined the single European currency in recent months. It has dropped from just about $1.51 to a euro in December to $1.38 last week. Speculators have made billions in shorting the euro [and government bonds, through the credit default swap (CDS) market — buying credit protection without having a credit exposure is equivalent to shorting the bond]. The biggest fiscal crisis right now is, of course, in Greece, an ancient civilisation which gave birth to democracy. (To be sure, Plato's Republic advocates rule by a philosopher king and, in some ways, is more radical and commune-oriented than Marxism!) What is amazing is that such a small economy — Greece's GDP is just 2 per cent of the Euro-zone's — can undermine the euro, hitherto a very successful manifestation of a supra-national central bank and currency. What the recent changes in exchange rates have also manifested is that, whatever the fate of the dollar in the long run — and I have been a dollar bear for quite some time now — the fact remains that, at least today, it remains the safe haven currency notwithstanding the US' own financial and fiscal weaknesses.

A bigger question for political economists is whether, by their very nature, democracies have become ungovernable, and the fiscal deficits in many of the countries are more a reflection of this fundamental issue, as much as of the global financial crisis and the recession. (To be sure, there are exceptions: Countries like Germany continue to limit fiscal deficits even while financing a strong social safety net, next perhaps only to Scandinavia's.)

One reason why democracies are becoming more difficult to govern; unable to undertake fundamental reforms except when faced by crisis, is the unwillingness of the political leadership to actually "lead" — too many of them prefer to make policy by holding a wet finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. Yes, in a democracy, the will of the people should prevail — but does this mean that political leaders should not "lead", merely follow the vocal minorities, leaving the inarticulate majorities to fend for themselves? The answer, in theory, is "no" but, obviously, in practice it is too often "yes". Perhaps too many of our political masters have no deep convictions (the ease with which even senior leaders move from "communal" to "secular" parties is but one example) — or time horizons extending beyond the next election, hoping to win it by provision of free/subsidised goods and services. Back in 1961, US President John F Kennedy called upon Americans not to ask what America could do for them, but to ask themselves what they could do for the country. I have been scratching my head to recall an Indian leader calling upon the people to tighten their belts, to pay more taxes, to consume and waste less, etc.

The situation in terms of vocal minorities determining policies is not very different in other democracies: Consider the way a few million Jews in the US determine the blatant double standards of its policy in the Middle East, which has fertilised decades of Islamic terror, led to huge fiscal deficits and inflicted untold miseries on millions. Consider again the way a small number of farmers dictate the agricultural subsidies in the EU, Japan and the US, undermining the Doha round of world trade talks, etc.

But to come back to our Budget, there are a lot of similarities with Greece: Fudged deficit figures to hide the true deficit; rise in public sector pay unrelated to productivity growth; subsidies to the better off; etc. Greece, at least, was hit by the recession. We are on a weak fiscal wicket after five years of unprecedented fast growth. If banks are supposed to build capital when times are good, should governments not be doing the same? Winston Churchill once described democracy as the worst form of government, but for all the others: Is the latter really true?

Tailpiece: One of the arguments of the opponents of Bt brinjal, and indeed of the minister himself, is that the research was not publicly funded. The assumption obviously is that only publicly-funded research can bring to bear the required degree of objective outlook and honesty to the research. This is an uncalled-for slur on the honesty and professionalism of 99 per cent of our countrymen who do not serve in "publicly-funded" institutions. While the faith in the integrity of the public sector is touching, the fact is that "publicly-funded" organisations have become far more corrupt — from the judiciary to defence forces to police and civil administration.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

IS ZAIN A GAIN OR A PAIN?

IT'S ALWAYS FOOLHARDY TO BET AGAINST SUNIL MITTAL, CONSIDERING HE'S ALWAYS COME UP TRUMPS

SUNIL JAIN

It's always foolhardy to bet against Sunil Mittal, considering he's always come up trumps and built a powerhouse in just 15 years. At a time when the industry was up in arms against Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) being allowed a backdoor entry into the mobile phone market, Mittal used the ensuing disarray to snap up licences and ramp up his empire; at a time when people were finding it tough to handle one foreign partner, Mittal kept rotating partners. So, when Mittal plans to buy up Zain's Africa business for $10.7 billion, there must be something to it even though his stock continues to tank. There are good reasons for why the market doesn't like the deal, though the severity of the fall makes you wonder if there's more to it:

While Zain's overall revenues rose 14 per cent and ebitda grew 26 per cent in the first nine months of 2009, its Africa revenues fell from $3,067 million in the first nine months of 2008 to $2,697 million in the same period of 2009 and ebitda dropped from $1,046 million to $900 million.

If, as Airtel officials say, this is due to sharp currency fluctuations, it underlines the seriousness of the task ahead since depreciating currencies mean Mittal's outgo on future capex expenses will rise in local currency terms.

Nigeria is Zain Africa's biggest market and its revenues fell from $1,194 million in 2008 to $986 million in 2009 (first nine months for both) and ebitda slid from $399 million to $331 million. Subscriber numbers also fell 6 per cent. The dispute over whether Zain can sell its Nigerian operations can queer the deal, though in India, it has to be pointed out, firms that have bought licences with court cases going on have only prospered.

Bharti will have to deal with 15 different regulatory regimes in Africa as opposed to just one in India.

But, and this is why Bharti first bid for MTN and now for Zain, Africa represents the unexplored continent, full of opportunities. If Bharti can lower Zain's costs, it can replicate its Indian model — lower tariffs to get customers to talk more, resulting in higher ARPU (average revenue per user). As compared to India where customers talk for around 400 minutes a month, talk time in Africa is around 150 minutes, around the same it was in India seven-eight years ago.

The caveat here is that Zain's biggest market, Nigeria, already had a market penetration of 45 per cent and an ARPU of $7. In other words, ARPUs are likely to fall since the best customers have already been snapped up.

The flip side is you have hugely under-penetrated markets like the Democratic Republic of Congo which have a lower penetration (14 per cent) and a higher ARPU ($8) despite a much lower per capita income (in PPP dollars, Congo is 340 versus Nigeria's 2,142).

There are no simple correlations between income levels and ARPUs — Niger has a third of Nigeria's per capita income but ARPUs are 42 per cent higher.

Unlike India, which has 12-13 operators in each area, Africa has three-four.

Fixed lines in Africa are even less than in India, so as incomes rise, mobile phones are really the only communication option.

The crux is Bharti's skill in shaking up Zain's operations. Bharti cannot hope to get Indian-style capital efficiencies in Africa since these are driven by population densities — one phone tower can service a lot more customers in densely-populated India than it can in the sparsely-populated Africa. Even so, Bharti insiders are sure they can shave off 20-30 per cent from Zain's costs and use this to stimulate ARPUs.
 

ZAIN MATHS
ANNUALISED BASIS

Bharti 

Rs cr

Ratio*

Idea 

 Rs cr

Ratio*

Revenues 

39,412

2.7

Revenues 

12,133

1.5

Ebitda 

16,273

6.5

Ebitda 

3,312

5.5

Net profit 

9,394

11.2

Net profit 

916

19.9

Market cap 

105,650

 

Market cap 

18,260

 

RCom 

Rs cr

Ratio*

Zain** 

 $ mn

Ratio*

Revenues 

22,877

1.5

Revenues 

2,923

3.7

Ebitda 

8,380

4.0

Ebitda (2009) 

961

11.1

Net profit 

4,646

7.2

Ebitda (2011)# 

2,000

6.7^

Market cap 

33,395

 

Net profit 

-32

 

 

 

 

Market cap @

10,700

 

* Market cap to revenues/ebitda/net profit;  ** Taken on the basis of Zain's share in each country's telecom operators. If all revenues/ebitda used, revenue and ebitda multiples are 3 and 8.9; # Bharti projections;  ^ based on Bharti projection and Zain share of each country's operators; @ Bharti acquisition price 

At current valuations, Zain is overpriced — as compared to Bharti's ebitda multiple of 6.5 and Idea's 5.5, Zain is 11.1 (this falls to 8.9 if you take Zain Africa's entire ebitda instead of just that part which accrues by virtue of its share in each African country's telcos). But if ebitda rises to $2 billion in 2011, as Bharti expects, multiples come down to 6.7 (5.5 if you take the entire ebitda as accruing to Bharti-Zain). Eventually, the Zain play is a bet on Africa's growth and Bharti's ability to turn Zain around. Right now, the markets aren't believing either.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

THE PRANAB MUKHERJEE BUDGET

WILL THE FINANCE MINISTER PRESENT A LEGACY-SEEKING BUDGET?

SANJAYA BARU

 

After more than a quarter century, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee will be presenting this week what he could finally claim is "his" Budget to Parliament. In his first stint as finance minister, in the early 1980s, the shadow of Indira Gandhi would have loomed large for such a claim to be made at the time. In July 2009, Mr Mukherjee did present his first Budget in the present avatar but the strategy for that was shaped more by the legacy of his predecessor, the fiscal stimulus plan of the prime minister, and the compulsions of an unexpected election victory that had to be consolidated with follow-up victories in the state assembly elections that were due later in 2009, most importantly in Maharashtra.

Moreover, apart from the six weeks he had in office to prepare that Budget, Mr Mukherjee was also working with a team he had inherited and on crucial issues, he deferred to the wisdom of the key advisors to the prime minister at the time, Dr C Rangarajan, chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, and Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman, Planning Commission.

On the critical issue of the level of the fiscal deficit, Mr Mukherjee's instinct was to follow Dr Rangarajan's more conservative approach of bringing the Budget estimate for fiscal deficit below 6.0 per cent of GDP, but an unsure Mr Mukherjee preferred to follow the advice of Mr Ahluwalia, who plugged for a higher plan outlay and got the finance minister to agree to let the fiscal deficit to GDP ratio slide up to 6.8 per cent.

So tentative was Mr Mukherjee about his Budget proposals in July 2009 that his office let it be known that he would not give any post-Budget interviews. This was the Pranab-babu of the 1980s, wanting to take his time before responding to media queries. Clearly his advisors failed to bring him abreast with the new world of 24x7 television and India's integration into a global economy that never sleeps.

As market indicators began to tank, on the unexpected news of a 6.8 per cent fiscal deficit, and media discussions went all over the place with no one in government guiding the analysis along a pre-determined course, Mr Mukherjee's office changed gears and quickly arranged TV interviews. The market drew its own conclusions — the minister had panicked, it decided — and went into further downward spiral.

The messy handling of Budget 2009 showed that Mr Mukherjee was not fully prepared for the job of a 21st century finance minister. Some saw in the 1980s type industry-specific initiatives a pre-reform era mindset, but those may have been just post-election favours.

In the 1980s, Mr Mukherjee was dealing with a different Indian economy and finance ministers, while being sought after by concession seekers, were not seen as political power centres. Even as late as in 1998, Lal Krishna Advani, despite having a good Sindhi's instinct for business, chose home over finance thinking, like in the Sardar Patel era, that the home minister is the effective No. 2 in the Union Cabinet.

Globalisation, the new world economy, the end of the Cold War and the new Asian century have changed all that. All around the world, the second most important minister is the finance minister, the treasury secretary or the chancellor of the exchequer. Surely, Mr Mukherjee understood this because, as he has himself revealed in interviews, he chose finance over home when his party president asked him what portfolio he wanted. Today Mr Mukherjee has his own team in place and he is in a legacy-seeking mode, as he himself confessed in a couple of recent interviews.

He is no longer focused on becoming a prime minister or the president. He knows that he is the "Sardar Patel" of our times, even if he is not the home minister. So, what should one expect from a legacy-seeking finance minister?

Everyone expects him to improve the fiscal health of the government, reducing subsidies and raising taxes. Mr Mukherjee has already revealed his iron fist with the decision to cut the fertiliser subsidy, and with his tough talking he reduced even the "Iron Lady" of Bengal to tears!

He is expected to informally launch the rollout of the proposed goods and services tax (GST) with a 2 percentage point hike in excise duties as a first step. He is expected to focus on infrastructure and education, the cornerstones of the foundation of long-term economic development. Fiscal re-empowerment of the government and incentivising employment-generating investment in the economy will be good legacies to leave behind.

Is one reading too much into Mr Mukherjee's statements and postures? Perhaps. But he should know that he cannot afford to disappoint this week. After a long time, the finance minister of India presents a Budget without any dark shadow cast on him. No crisis to recover from, no major election around the corner to worry about. No coalition partner waiting to topple the government, no pressure on him to hold back.

What Mr Mukherjee does this week will, in many ways, define the future of this government, the medium-term course of the economy and, above all, for the finance minister himself, how he is remembered by history — an also-ran, or the man who came from behind to lead from the front?

In 1984, Euromoney rated Mr Mukherjee one of the five best finance ministers in the world for his role in improving the finances of the government that enabled Indira Gandhi to score a political point returning the last instalment of the IMF loan. In 2010, he could easily become the best finance minister, considering so many around the world are scoring self goals and leaving such bad legacies. Hopefully, that's the kind of legacy-seeking mood in which Mr Mukherjee is writing his Budget Speech this week.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE TIGER'S TALE

 

Tigers are definitely not out of the woods; nor is it an easy task to convince the public that they should live and let live. How many lesser mortals have it so good? King of all he surveys, with enviable looks and physique, a pick of mates and a taste for the wild life, he is marked out for animus. Can he help it that he has been blessed with so much when other denizens of the jungle merely populate the underbrush?


So what if he takes for granted the preeminence that others slog their lives out to achieve? After all, not every living thing who treads this earth has the same star quality, that animal magnetism. Not every creature has whole advertising campaigns hinging on his appeal , both personal and professional. Not all fauna have worldwide fan followings and reams written about their charisma and value to society. Such adulation is bound to cause jealousy, or at the very least, prompt people to want a piece of him for themselves. Is it surprising then that all manner of people are gunning for the tiger?


Moreover, in the light of all this hero worship, it is almost inevitable that a tiger would go berserk once in a
while, doing foolhardy things that put his life, limb and reputation at risk. Prominence can, after all, be a killer. The trick, of course, is to stay safe, even when flying off the handle. When hunger pangs strike, for instance, the idea is to sate them within accepted boundaries, not wander out of protected environs and indulge in dangerous manoeuvres .


That's what is expected of stars, but they do not always know what is best for them and they rebel against being 'managed' . A tiger is too rare and coveted a creature to survive without protective cover, and it ultimately needs our cooperation to weather this current crisis. Unless people let him live, he will just become the stuff of museums and documentaries chronicling his doomed life. The question we all must answer is: would our lives be better off without the tiger to add that dash of raw energy, verve and brilliance? If not, it's time to live and let live.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SINGLE CENTRAL RATE FO GOODS & SERVICES

 

While the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council's (EAC) happy growth forecasts are reassuring , they are not surprising. What is truly novel in the EAC's latest review of the economy is the suggestion to go for significant reform of indirect taxes in the forthcoming Budget.


The EAC urges the Centre to kick off a unified rate of tax for goods and services and to extend the base of service tax to cover whatever can be covered. This makes eminent sense and deserves serious consideration.

 

Such initiation of a single rate for both goods and services at the Centre would facilitate introduction of the tax at the state level.


This is feasible and politically correct as well. Bringing new services under taxation is politically tough. Expecting the states to start taxing services that the Centre has spared so far is unrealistic. On the other hand, once the Centre creates a unified, computerised tax base for indirect taxes, that would make things easier for the states.

A major departure from the current thinking on the subject that the Centre could entertain is to raise the exemption limit for service tax to Rs 1 crore, at least to begin with. The complexities of paying service tax could be quite daunting for someone with a turnover as low as Rs 10 lakh. So, for the time being, till the government gets its act together to make payment of service tax, set off of credits, etc, simple to comply with, it could keep the ceiling relatively high.


The EAC is on the dot when it calls for commencing fiscal consolidation and, while cutting the deficit, to not reduce capital expenditure. The review makes the point that the deficit will come down almost on its own, given the non-recurrence of items such as pay commission arrears and farm debt waiver dues. So, some additional effort to cut subsidies — rather than hold them steady in absolute terms, as the EAC suggests, bowing a tad too low before political realism — could yield space to increase expenditure on infrastructure or shrink the deficit further.

The political leadership will do well to toe the review's contention, couched in civil language, that it is vital to stop patronising power theft, to make the power sector commercially viable and sustain overall economic growth.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INVESTORS' ASSUMPTIONS ARE ALREADY WRONG

 

After last year's stunning rally in global stock markets, many investors thought they knew what to expect in 2010. Among their bets were that the worst of the credit crisis was over, that the global economy would continue to expand and that the dollar would remain weak as economies abroad were expected to grow faster than that of the United States.


What's more, if anything was to derail the new bull market, it was the likelihood that government efforts to jump-start the global economy would fan the flames of inflation.



Now move to the present. Less than two months into the new year, many of these assumptions are already under fire. For starters, economic turmoil overseas, spearheaded by a crippling debt crisis in Greece, is leading to new doubts about the global recovery. Even if Europe doesn't fall into a double-dip recession, some economists fear that the region won't fully recover until 2012.


As a result, investors have been selling euro-denominated investments and buying the dollar. The surprising events prove a couple of important points, market strategists say. First, they highlight the risks investors face whenever a strong consensus forms around any market call. "There's an old saying that goes, 'if everyone is forecasting something, then you know it won't come true,' " said Sam Stovall, chief market strategist at Standard & Poor's.


More often than not, Stovall said, it's the thing that investors don't see coming that ends up unsettling their portfolios. After all, at the end of 2009, how many people were concerned that the Greek debt crisis would stall the new bull? At the core of the recent global credit crisis, de Vaulx noted, was the dangerous amount of risk that individuals and corporations assumed by

borrowing to spend and invest. And, he said, "the way this crisis has been addressed around the world has been through a huge amount of fiscal stimulus." In other words, to keep the economy afloat while the private sector has been repairing its balance sheet, governments worldwide picked up the spending slack. "But the result of all those actions is that now, suddenly, the focus is on the creditworthiness of governments themselves," he added.

That means the fiscal actions around the globe didn't end the credit crisis. They merely shifted the focus to another segment of the economy: the public sector. Does this mean that the rally — and the recovery — are over? Not necessarily, market watchers say. But at the very least, it's a sign that the market may have gotten ahead of the underlying economy.


Ernest M Ankrim, senior markets advisor at Russell Investments in Tacoma, Washington, said that after stocks soared nearly 70% between March 9 and Decembr 31, as measured by the total return of the S&P 500, investors were probably betting on an economic rebound that would be as good as the downturn was bad.


But Ankrim noted that the markets might have miscalculated in one crucial area. After suffering through recent troubles in the housing, equity and job markets, he said, consumers aren't likely to go back immediately to their free-spending ways. That, in turn, is likely to slow the economic recovery both at home and abroad.


This would seem a strong argument to bet against the economies of the United States and Europe and to bet on the much more rapid growth of emerging markets. But not so fast. Just as the world's developed economies surprised investors negatively early this year, they could just as easily surprise on the upside later in 2010.

But that's what often happens in markets where investors are prepared for one scenario, but where another one unfolds. "If you don't expect something to happen and you haven't prepared for it," says Stovall, "that's when panic often sets in."

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

EQUITY HOLDS FIRM WHILE OIL, GOLD SHOW STRENGTH

 

In the absence of any major triggers, the market moved in a narrow range with lacklustre trading and low volumes. Though the Nifty closed the week on a positive note, it was up merely 0.37% to end at 4844.90. Equities continued to be firm on account of hope that the European Union will bail out Greece. Secondly, RBI hinting that it may not go for a rate hike before the next policy meeting in April also brought some cheer to the markets.

The key gainers during the week was the BSE Consumer Durable index, which rose 1.17% over one week. However, real estate stocks continued to be battered with the BSE realty index losing 5.75% over the last one week and 16.52% over the last one month. In corporate news of interest, Bharti Airtel's bid for Zain did not go very well with markets with the stock falling from Rs 315 to Rs 278 a loss of Rs 37 or about 12%. As of now, analysts do not have clarity on how the funding would be done.


Post the successful closure of NTPC FPO, it is now the turn of REC. REC has hit capital markets and it remains to be seen how the response for the issue is going to be.


Since equities were lacklustre, they showed a gain of mere 0.3% compared with the 73% earned over the past one year. Put simply, Rs 1 lakh invested in S&P CNX Nifty index in one week grew to Rs 100,374 compared with Rs 173,693 had you invested a year ago. The RBI signals not only relieved the equity markets, but also helped bond markets recover.


However, inflation worries, especially on the food front, continue to haunt the market. Food inflation rose marginally to 17.97% for the week ended February 6 on account of rising prices of potatoes and onions. The 8.24% GoI bond maturing in April 2018, closed lower at Rs 102.483 against Rs 103.19. Bond investors saw Rs 1 lakh invested in the bond a week ago, reducing to Rs 99,315. Had the investment been made a year ago, bonds would be worth only Rs 90,486 today.


Black gold — crude — inched up sharply to $79.06 per barrel from $74.52 per barrel a week ago. In the short term, a severe winter is expected to boost crude oil prices. Paris-based International Energy Agency also increased its estimates of global oil consumption to 86.5 million barrels a day, an increase of 170,000 barrels a day. The US dollar has moved from Rs 46.50 a piece a week ago, to Rs 46.31 by end of the week.


The greenback is expected to remain firm as European currencies remain under the shadow of sovereign default. The global tender is expected to remain firm against the Indian rupee. During the week, the yellow metal closed at Rs 16,615 compared with Rs 16,290 a week ago, an increase of 2%. Over one year, gold has appreciated 6.5% resulting in Rs 1 lakh invested into it a year ago, appreciating to Rs 106,506.


Going forward, all eyes are on the Rail budget (on February 24) and Union Budget (February 26), with markets likely to take future cues from there. With a stable government in place, marketmen expect major reforms and incentives for the infrastructure sector to propel growth.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NIFTY SUPPORT ZONE SEEN AT 4700-4800

 

Nifty February Futures opened the week at 4837.90 levels and showed short-covering on Tuesday and Wednesday, after making weekly low at 4777.05 levels. The February Futures made a weekly high at 4927.90 levels. However, bulls could not sustain near the resistance level of 4950. Long unwinding was seen on Friday, as Nifty February futures closed with a 40.85-point loss with a 6.55% decrease in OI and 1.05-pt premium.


Since the beginning of the week, maximum OI has been seen in 5000-4900 calls. On Friday, short build-up was seen in 5000 & 4900 Calls with 0.50 and 13.02% increase in OI, respectively, which shows crucial resistance to continue from 4900-5000 zones.


On the 'Put' side, the maximum OI has been seen in 4800-4700 Puts. On Friday, the short-covering was seen in 4800-4700 Puts. The Nifty 200-DMA also trading just above 4700 levels. A combination of 'Call/Put' data, along with 200 DMA, show an important support zone at 4700-4800 levels and a resistance zone at 4900-5000 levels.

PCR (V), after making high at 1.11 on Wednesday, has made low at 0.94 on Friday, which shows trading activities have been shifting towards the call-shorting side. India VIX is also trading at 31.9, which shows increasing 'volatility' and 'fear level' from resistance near 4950.


Puneet Kinra, Sr Tech Analyst-Equity Research, Bonanza Portfolio

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SIGNS OF SUCCESS AND FAILURE

K VIJAYARAGHAVAN

 

In a remarkable analysis, Dr Maxwell Maltz, in his book, Psychocybernetics observes how the manifest signs of success or failure, comprise each, of seven particular traits. The words denoting each of these seven traits begins with the corresponding seven alphabets in the word 'success' or 'failure' itself.


For instance, the seven alphabets in the word success each denote seven traits , as applied to a success personality — sense of direction , understanding , courage, charity , esteem, selfconfidence and self-acceptance . In the same manner , 'Failure' is marked by seven characteristics, each beginning with the seven alphabets in the word 'failure' itself: frustration, aggressiveness (misdirected), insecurity , loneliness, uncertainty , resentment and emptiness.


Dealing with each of these seven plus seven traits, Dr Maltz points out how these give indication of one's positive aspects and also his infirmities. These, thus, are like specific indications in an automobile, which reveal to the driver about the overall condition of the car — the battery , the oil pressure, availability of fuel, the engine's heat etc.


The right thinker would also in a similar manner, obtain the needed indication from his own reactions and also his physical and mental states to gauge how far he is on the right path. Just as a driver would not abandon the entire vehicle just because of certain particular adverse indications , but would take the needed remedial action, the true aspirant would adopt a 'proactive' approach for making the needed corrections, as per the natural 'corrective mechanism' inbuilt within.


For instance, observing and analysing some of his particular negative traits, he could neutralise these emotions through generation of those feelings which would be contrary to these harmful aspects within. From the yoga point of view, this is Patanjali's concept of generating the opposite feelings, whenever the person is troubled by thought patterns, which would otherwise have damaged him.


Dr Maltz's observation would thus enable every aspirant to take cue from the external indicators , which verily are the tips of the iceberg within — the personality within. These indicators would only be too obvious to the discerning eye. This, verily is the pathway to self-discovery , self-realisation , knowing oneself or atmagnanam, call what you will.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'PEOPLE ARE BOUND TO SHIFT TO DIGI MEDIA'

ARCHANA RAI & SARAH JACOB

 

The number of people who read a book on the e-reader Kindle, catch up on the latest news by clicking on a widget installed on their mobile phone or network with family and friends on social networking sites is still a small proportion of the mass consumer base. However, it is their constant demand for innovation in both content creation and dissemination that media companies, marketers and brand managers must pay heed to, says Saul J Berman, global lead partner, IBM Global Business Services.


Mr Berman, who advises companies on strategy and the changing focus of media and entertainment strategy, was in India this week to speak on 'The End of Television as We Know it' at the Confederation of Indian Industry's two-day Brand Summit 2010. In conversation with ET, he spoke on how companies will need to constantly innovate on pricing and brand development strategies, if they are to reach vast numbers of consumers who will soon consume digitised content using a variety of devices. Excerpts:

Why do you think we have reached the end of television and advertising as we know them?

Today, the consumers' eyeballs are constantly roving as they are interacting with varied media channels. In a recent survey, we found that the growth was being driven by interactive media as opposed to traditional TV advertising. We also found that around 50% of the younger age group had reduced their TV viewership. Although, this is bound to lead to some cannibalisation, media and brands may have to continue advertising through both mediums at the same time. Over time, the majority population is bound to shift to digital media. The more mature customer is likely to shift only once it becomes user friendly.


Does the pattern of adoption for new digital technology differ across cultures?

There could be variations across countries depending on factors such as the penetration of broadband services, availability of bandwidth and use of devices such as mobilephones in certain markets. But across markets, there are the cool kids, the gadgeteers who adopt new technology and there is a large mass base of consumers (mass passives) who will adopt technology only when it becomes easier to use. For instance, in surveys we have conducted we found that nearly 64% of consumers in India say they would like the advertising they see to be more contextual and in return they would be willing to share information about themselves with a marketeer. The degree might differ but across countries consumers are looking for innovation in the way they are served content.

What are the factors driving such change?

Technology is a fundamental factor driving that change. It enables new behaviour and creates new experiences. I no longer have to watch a programme at a specific time, I can choose when I watch, have more control over how I watch it. I can create a programme guide and be more efficient in how I listen to music or watch content.


How then do you see technology evolving?

In the future, the form and screen size will vary on the back of where the consumer is and his desire for different experiences. It is already moving in that direction with the use of cellphone while on the go, a netbook or e-reader while semi mobile and we could possibly end up with the walls of our homes becoming screens. But, while the consumer will keenly acquire more gadgets, these devices will also start converging.

How do brands stand to gain through the movement towards digital?

It serves as a big opportunity for brands because they can gain returns across these platforms. The data generated from these convergent devices will enable them to tweak their advertising to suit each consumer. They can earn a premium on contextual advertising if they dynamically alter what's being delivered say from a woman to her child and tweak it based on time. When they have the capabilities in place and the analytics to back it, there will surely be big shifts of marketing budgets from offline to online media.

So what is the role that you see for IBM in such a scenario ?

IBM spends as much on business research as it spends on technology research. At the end of the 90s, we did some scenario planning exercises with the music industry and now we are at a situation that all music is free. Businesses need new tools and new strategies to deal with such change. For IBM, change is good. We provide these strategies, the software.


In India, the reach of the internet is far smaller than that of say TV, do you expect to see a different pattern of digitisation of content here?

There will be different patterns as companies find different ways of monetising digitised content. Also, it will depend on technology infrastructure, for instance, if WiMax can be used to reach rural consumers. Companies can no longer just focus on the mass consumer, they will need to innovate. For instance, while selling cars or washing machines, you could sell services along with the product. Maybe when you sell a Nano, you could add a service that can monitor it electronically, tell the consumer when it needs to be serviced, add on entertainment and emergency help services. Digitisation is about making it more efficient for the consumer.


Are there Indian companies consulting with you on developing such newer strategies ?
Yes, we are talking to Indian companies in the cable business, in television. Companies will need to have a dual strategy of retail and distribution.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'WE WILL INVEST RS 2 LAKH CR THIS YEAR'

MAYUR SHETTY

 

It is mid-February and the busiest period for the country's largest financial institution. Despite private companies seeing a slowdown in business, LIC chairman TS Vijayan is confident that the corporation will easily meet its total premium target of Rs 1,76,000 crore by end-March, up from Rs 1,53,000 crore last year. In an interview with ET, Mr Vijayan speaks of the strategic initiatives taken by the corporation to capture growth opportunities.

How has the business been this year?

We have managed to get new business premium of Rs 33,000 crore which is nearly 33% higher than our new business last year. Our total premium during the current fiscal has been up 18% at Rs 1,29,000 crore. We have made investments of Rs 1,64,000 crore during the current year of which nearly Rs 51,000 crore is in equity and Rs 52,000 crore in government securities and the rest in state government bonds, infrastructure and other investments.

We expect to end the year with a total premium of Rs 1,76,000 crore up from 1,53,000 crore last year. Our total investments this year should be in the region of Rs 2,00,000 crore. We are expecting around Rs 2,500-3,000 crore premium from Jeevan Nischay and we are also expecting good collections from Wealth Plus which was launched on February 9.


LIC is seen as being excessively dependent on single premium policies. Does this not put pressure on the corporation year after year?

Single premium policies are a good option for those who are not in a position to make long-term commitments and want to take a policy out every year based on affordability. In theory, other insurance companies have a higher component of regular premium business. But if you look at the IRDA numbers and compare the share of total assets with the share of new premium, you will see that there is a mismatch somewhere. While our share of new business has been hovering around 60%, the share of assets under management has held around 89%.

This clearly shows the quality of the 40% of (non-LIC) business. So either renewals are not happening or it is possible that the long-term products are being sold as shorter-term products. I don't know. The other part of single premium policies is that, LIC can sell these products because we have the strength to bring them out with low margins and within the prescribed expense ratio.


You have hired Accentrue. Are you looking at any operational restructuring?
In the past we had only one distribution channel — agents. Over a period of time, there came bancassurance and corporate agents. We have also started direct selling in a small way and there is also the chief life agent scheme that we have started. These are all functioning in diverse silos. The mandate of Accenture is to synergise all of these. For instance, our pension and group savings schemes (P&GS) business have always been seen as outside business. We want Accenture to advise us on the creation of a common platform.


Besides distribution, they (Accenture) may also look at the reporting structure. Today, the way we are structured is along geographic lines. We are wondering whether to have a national vertical to deal with clients. Even though we have created verticals like health, distribution was looked through the georgraphical lines. Bancassurance too is headquartered in Mumbai. We have seen presentations on some of the work Accenture has done in China and we like the way they have done it.

Is there any other structural change you are looking at?

A few years back we had a single department looking at investment, research and risk management. Since then we have split these into three distinct functions under different executives. This is the way IRDA has been wanting it and we have already done it. Since we feel that risk management should get more steam we have appointed Deloitte to frame our risk management policies.


LIC has several strategic holdings. Are there any plans to carve them into separate portfolio?
From our perspective, we have strategic holdings in three companies — LIC Housing Finance and LIC Mutual Fund (where we have no intention to reduce stake) and Corporation Bank, where we hold around 26%.
All other investments are financial holding even if we have 10-12% stake. When it comes to large stakes such as L&T and Axis Bank the question that we ask ourselves is, if we exit where do we buy? Currently we do not have any plans to get out of these companies.


Does this mean that your stakes will get reduced if they dilute equity?

Why should we not subscribe to fresh issues and maintain our stake?


Because of the IRDA directive capping equity exposure at 10%..We are running several funds including life fund, Ulip fund and Group fund. We will see to it that in none of these funds the investment crosses 10%.

Any initiatives on the HR side?

We are revamping the training for officers. We have also started introducing a system of 360-degree feedback for senior executives. For us, placements rather than promotions is turning out to be very crucial and in this context we would like to use all the modern HR practices.


We are also revamping our confidential reports to make it more development oriented, with goals set in advance by the employee himself. The key performance areas for a vast majority of our officers have been defined. We have taken the help of Ahmedabad based management consultant TV Rao.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

EMERGING MARKETS WILL WIN HANDS DOWN IN LONG TERM: JP MORGAN

DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR

 

Inflation is a big worry for emerging markets, including India, feels Nick O'Donohoe , global head of research at JP Morgan. The success of the respective governments in tackling inflation is what will drive performance in these markets in the second half of 2010, he says. In the short run, global markets will be concerned about three factors — rate tightening in China, the crisis in Greece and the financial regulatory issue. He believes the second half of the year will be better than the first half.


What does the US Fed's decision to hike the discount rate mean for global markets?

This won't have a material impact on markets. It was something that was widely anticipated. It's the beginning of a return to a more normal monetary policy in the US. It is not a signal that the Fed fund rate is likely to rise anytime soon. If one were to look back over the past 2-3 weeks, we still remain confident over the overall outlook. The numbers coming in, particularly in the US, the forecast for a relatively strong growth for 2010, are still intact.

It is in Europe, where the numbers have been somewhat weaker, so that is a concern. There are concerns with Greece, tightening in China and the impact of financial banking regulations. All this has contributed to making global markets a bit jittery and more volatile. From an equity perspective, this is a correction in an uptrend rather than any sort of change in direction in global markets.


You have said top banks globally will need $221 billion more, and see annual profits slump by $110 billion if the proposed regulations to reform the industry are brought in. Do you see this impacting western banks' exposure to emerging markets?


I think, the overall impact of what's happening on banking regulation and the banking industry will be that overall returns in the industry will fall. Compensation ratios will be lower. Prices that banks will charge for their services inevitably will have to increase. And that means, ultimately, the cost of credit is likely to increase somewhat. Investment banks' return on equity (RoE) have historically been targeted at 20%.


This is no longer realistic. So, those are really the principal changes. I don't think there is going to be an enormous impact in the way that banks view opportunities in emerging markets. Consistently, if you look at the comments of all major banks around the world, you can see that they continue to reinforce their intentions to try to develop and grow emerging markets.

What is your outlook on equity markets for 2010 and where do you see opportunities?


We are overweight on India, Mexico, Taiwan, Turkey and the Philippines and underweight on China, Israel and Malaysia. For 2010, we are still positive about these markets broadly. We continue to see a relatively strong rate of growth, and we see an improvement in financial stability in credit markets. We see some stability in most of the major real estate markets around the world and we continue to see a strong growth coming out of emerging markets, particularly China and India.


We went into the year looking for increases in stock markets around the world anywhere between 15% and 25%, and spread tightening of anywhere between 50 bps and 100 bps and that view hasn't really changed. The markets have been more volatile as a result of factors like monetary tightening in China, Greece's sovereign debt problem and the whole financial regulatory issue. We think over the year, the markets will recover from that. But in the long term, the outlook is less clear. I think what has happened over the past two years has had an impact on growth, particularly in the developed world.


Last year saw money chasing growth, and emerging markets, including India, were the prime beneficiaries. Do you expect this trend to continue?


Equity assets will always chase growth. And there is no question that if you look over the next 3, 5 or 10 years, emerging markets are likely to grow at a faster pace than developed markets. If you look at the broad sort of economic environment, investors are attracted by factors like low taxes, an educated workforce, and relatively a low debt level. The emerging market consumer today is bigger than the US consumer. And yet, the overall market cap of emerging markets is still a fraction of the GDP compared to that of developed markets. So, I think, the trend towards emerging markets is a long-term one and here to stay.


Which are the sectors you are bullish or bearish on? Where do you see value in India?


For Asia, we are overweight on technology, some of the transportation sectors. We are underweight on the broad consumer area, because we think, inflation is an issue in these countries. We think, there is a whole lot of expectation built around the consumer sector. Right now, we are overweight on industrial, shipping, transportation — segments that are sensitive to global trade.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

EMERGING MARKETS WILL WIN HANDS DOWN IN LONG TERM

DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR

 

Inflation is a big worry for emerging markets, including India, feels Nick O'Donohoe, global head of research at JP Morgan. The success of the respective governments in tackling inflation is what will drive performance in these markets in the second half of 2010, he says in a chat with ET. In the short run, global markets will be concerned about three factors — rate tightening in China, the crisis in Greece and the financial regulatory issue. He believes the second half of the year will be better than the first half.


What does the US Fed's decision to hike the discount rate mean for global markets?

This won't have a material impact on markets. It was something that was widely anticipated. It's the beginning of a return to a more normal monetary policy in the US. It is not a signal that the Fed fund rate is likely to rise anytime soon. If one were to look back over the past 2-3 weeks, we still remain confident over the overall outlook.

The numbers coming in, particularly in the US, the forecast for a relatively strong growth for 2010, are still intact. It is in Europe, where the numbers have been somewhat weaker, so that is a concern. There are concerns with Greece, tightening in China and the impact of financial banking regulations. All this has contributed to making global markets a bit jittery and more volatile. From an equity perspective, this is a correction in an uptrend rather than any sort of change in direction in global markets.


You have said top banks globally will need $221 billion more, and see annual profits slump by $110 billion if the proposed regulations to reform the industry are brought in. Do you see this impacting western banks' exposure to emerging markets?

I think, the overall impact of what's happening on banking regulation and the banking industry will be that overall returns in the industry will fall. Compensation ratios will be lower. Prices that banks will charge for their services inevitably will have to increase. And that means, ultimately, the cost of credit is likely to increase somewhat. Investment banks' return on equity (RoE) have historically been targeted at 20%.


This is no longer realistic. So, those are really the principal changes. I don't think there is going to be an enormous impact in the way that banks view opportunities in emerging markets. Consistently, if you look at the comments of all major banks around the world, you can see that they continue to reinforce their intentions to try to develop and grow emerging markets.


What is your outlook on equity markets for 2010 and where do you see opportunities?

We are overweight on India, Mexico, Taiwan, Turkey and the Philippines and underweight on China, Israel and Malaysia. For 2010, we are still positive about these markets broadly. We continue to see a relatively strong rate of growth, and we see an improvement in financial stability in credit markets. We see some stability in most of the major real estate markets around the world and we continue to see a strong growth coming out of emerging markets, particularly China and India.


We went into the year looking for increases in stock markets around the world anywhere between 15% and 25%, and spread tightening of anywhere between 50 bps and 100 bps and that view hasn't really changed. The markets have been more volatile as a result of factors like monetary tightening in China, Greece's sovereign debt problem and the whole financial regulatory issue. We think over the year, the markets will recover from that. But in the long term, the outlook is less clear. I think what has happened over the past two years has had an impact on growth, particularly in the developed world.

Last year saw money chasing growth, and emerging markets, including India, were the prime beneficiaries. Do you expect this trend to continue?

Equity assets will always chase growth. And there is no question that if you look over the next 3, 5 or 10 years, emerging markets are likely to grow at a faster pace than developed markets. If you look at the broad sort of economic environment, investors are attracted by factors like low taxes, an educated workforce, and relatively a low debt level. The emerging market consumer today is bigger than the US consumer. And yet, the overall market cap of emerging markets is still a fraction of the GDP compared to that of developed markets. So, I think, the trend towards emerging markets is a long-term one and here to stay.


Which are the sectors you are bullish or bearish on? Where do you see value in India?

For Asia, we are overweight on technology, some of the transportation sectors. We are underweight on the broad consumer area, because we think, inflation is an issue in these countries. We think, there is a whole lot of expectation built around the consumer sector. Right now, we are overweight on industrial, shipping, transportation — segments that are sensitive to global trade.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'PACE OF STIMULUS WITHDRAWAL NEEDS TO BE DETERMINED VERY CAREFULLY'

ANTO ANTONY & TK ARUN

 

In 1991, when the reforms kicked off changing India forever, he was the secretary at the Department of Economic Affairs. Today, Montek Singh Ahluwalia is the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, and closely involved in the Budget-making process. The Union Budget slated later this week could consider a withdrawal of stimulus measures, Mr Ahluwalia says, adding that the pace at which this is done needs to be assessed carefully. In an exclusive interview with ET , the Plan panel chief talks about food inflation and monetary policy, and the need for out-of-the-box measures to acquire agricultural land for infrastructure. Excerpts:

Would you say that with the growth numbers moving into a higher trajectory, it is time to withdraw the stimulus?

Our finance minister has always maintained that return to fiscal consolidation has to be done at the opportune time. I am on the same page with him on this. Any decision on stimulus withdrawal has to be taken by considering both the state of prices and growth. I have consistently maintained that if, in February, our GDP growth looks as if it will be above 7% and the price situation is not quiet, there is a case for withdrawal of stimulus. Both conditions are fulfilled, so we can consider withdrawal but the pace at which this is done has to be determined very carefully. We should certainly take steps towards fiscal consolidation but instead of going for a sharp reduction in the deficit, we should go for a phased withdrawal that shows that we are on a credible trajectory of fiscal deficit reduction. I will not speculate on what the deficit should be in 2010-11.

Industry will not be happy with any rollback. But we believe that a move towards fiscal consolidation has to start. So what will you suggest?


I am sure industry is aware that around the world, governments and central banks are beginning to signal the need for a return to normalcy. In our case, the RBI has hiked the cash reserve ratio. This is a very modest and a reasonable step. As for the fiscal deficit, when industry representatives talk of not withdrawing the stimulus, they often have in the back of their minds specific focal incentives. Nobody wants to lose the specific fiscal incentive they are enjoying. However, withdrawing the stimulus means reducing the overall size of the deficit. If we want to keep some particular tax incentives, we can always do so by either raising other taxes or reducing expenditure. There are many different ways of withdrawing the stimulus. Let us see what is done in the Budget.

The central bank has started returning to a neutral monetary policy. From the Plan panel's perspective, which are the indicators that have to be looked at before further measures are taken on the monetary front?

This is a matter of judgement. We have a large number of price indices in the country and one can make whatever point one wants by referring to the relevant index. However, monetary policy cannot look only at food inflation. Monetary tightening is a broad measure affecting the entire economy. There are other steps that are more useful in controlling food inflation.


Some government schemes, such as NREGA, provided country's rural poor with more money and they are spending it on food items. Although the current food inflation is not pushing the people below poverty line there is a visible need to change the production pattern in line with changing consumption. What is the government doing on this front?

If putting money in the hands of the poor is leading to purchase of more food and, therefore, higher food prices, it is a sign of success to some extent. Urban consumers, who benefit from economic expansion in many ways, should be willing to bear some increase on this count. Of course, this must be supplemented by a well-functioning PDS, which assures essential supplies at fixed prices thus insulating the poor from the price rise. The longer term solution lies in increasing food production and that is what we are trying to do with the National Food Security Mission and the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana. I have already mentioned, research shows that with existing technology and scientific farming we can increase the yield in large parts of the country by 80-100%. To do this, we need an area-specific intervention. Different practices are relevant for different states. The best way to approach the problem is to encourage states to come out with a flexible pool of resources which they can use for state-specific schemes. We are working with the ministry of agriculture and the states on this.


The construction boom, whether in public or private infrastructure, is a big driver for growth. For instance, the road ministry is targeting construction of 20 km of highways a day. Is it a sustainable target?


My colleague, Kamal Nath, has certainly brought lots of energy into the business of road construction. He had pointed out some changes in procedures that his ministry thought were necessary to improve the pace of implementation of infrastructure and we have implemented them. There has been a marked improvement in the pace at which road contracts have been awarded in the past nine months. Last year we saw financial closure for road contracts for less than 2,000 km. This year we hope to achieve three to four times that amount. This could go up to 11,000 km in 2010-11.


The roads give better connectivity between villages and urban centres. Some think tanks project that in the next 15 years close to half of country's population will move to urban centres. But we don't see any policy in place that can put in place the needed urban infrastructure. Why is government not taking adequate steps on this front?

It is not the building of roads that leads to urbanisation. Building roads leads to prosperity in rural areas and could even moderate a mad rush to cities. But I do agree that we need to plan for now rapid urbanisation.


Acquisition of land for urban planning is a major problem that we are facing, but this is not in domain of Central government. The state government has to take measures to allow acquisition of land.


It is sometimes feared that the acquisition of agriculture land for urban planning will jeopardises food security. The fear is exaggerated. The percentage of agricultural land that we will need to accommodate the entire envisaged urban expansion is much less than 1% of country's agricultural land. Against this, the scope for increasing productivity of land is close to 80-90% in very large parts of the country. Food security depends on achieving this productivity increase.


This brings us to the important question of why government is not putting in place a format for land acquisition that the farmers will consider fair?


I agree that this is a lacuna. The problem is that the increase in land value after acquisition comes from three reasons. Undervaluation at the point of acquisition, increase in value because of conversion of land use and increase in value because of investment. The first problem should be removed entirely by fairer valuation. The second is an increase in value that can be shared in part with the farmer. In fact, if this is assured compulsory acquisition may not be necessary. The third is an increase in value reflecting a return for new investment. This need not be shared. If we can do a better job in first, two there would be far less problem. City expansion plans adopted by state governments have to take those issues into account. We are working on this in our midterm appraisal and looking at different approaches. Perhaps in 12th Plan, money provided under JNNURM can be linked to better methods used in the expansion of cities' plans.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'UNDER-DEVELOPED SUB-SAHARAN REGION OFFERS HUGE OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH'

ARUN KUMAR

 

Bharti Airtel is expected to sign a letter of intent for the $10.7-billion African assets of Kuwaiti telco Zain this week. Industry circles in India are debating on the merits and demerits of the deal. Perhaps the best man to tell whether Zain Telecom is a good buy for Bharti is Vodafone India CEO Marten Pieters , who headed Celtel International, what is currently known as Zain Africa, between 2003 and 2007. Mr Pieters spoke to ET on the complexities of the African market, while refusing to be drawn into the specifics of the Zain-Bharti deal. Excerpts:

What are the peculiarities of the African market?

The African continent is typically divided into three parts: South Africa, which is the richest area in the continent; the Mediterranean region, which is close to Europe and economically well off; and the sub-Saharan part, which is the poorest among the three. Zain Africa is primarily catering to the third region. The sub-Saharan region is spread over a huge geography with low mobile density and low per-capita income. Since the region is underdeveloped and under-penetrated, it provides huge opportunities.


How different is this from the Indian market?

India is different from sub-Saharan Africa in many ways. In the telecom space, India has 23 licence areas, but one regulator. This helps build economies of scale. Secondly, the Indian telecom market is a high density area, which means more population per tower. This means lower capital expenditure cost compared with the African countries, which are spread over a vast geographical area. This directly impacts return on investment.


India is one of the fastest-growing economies, in which the service sector's contribution is the largest. More importantly, the Indian economy does more value addition. As a result, the propensity to spend in India is relatively higher. On the contrary, Africa is spread over vast areas and various countries. Since each of these licence areas are separate sovereign states, the operations in these areas is country specific, unlike India. It will be difficult to create economies of scale and capital expenditure will be on the higher side.


The key difference between India and sub-Saharan market is outsourcing. The Indian telecom industry works on the outsourcing model. This is primarily because of the availability of global vendors such as IBM and Ericsson, among others. In Africa, the outsourcing model does not work simply because of the non-availability of vendors and also the lack of economies of scale. Another key differentiator is work force. India has a much better pool of talent, which helps in better service quality at a lower cost.


As the CEO of Celtel, what was your experience in that market? What did you do to improve operations, revenue and profitability?

As I said before, one of the good things about the sub-Saharan region is the low-penetration level, which gives opportunities for growth. In addition, there is practically no landline services in large parts of the region. As a result, mobile phone is the only means of communication. I do not know the current situation. Two years ago, the company had significant topline and Ebidta (earning before interest depreciation, tax and amortisation) growth. Once the company turns cash positive, its performance improves fast. The market was equally competitive when I was there. But Celtel had built a strong and robust company.

Zain's operation in some African countries is bleeding due to stiff competition from market leader MTN. What do you think about this?


Zain Africa has operating profit in all countries of the region. In fact, overall the company has EBIDTA margin in the mid-30s. However, in a few countries, it is in loss on net basis. In telecom business, we always focus on operating profit as initial investment is huge.


Africa is a huge geography with intense market competition. So, the capital cost is much higher. However, once the company turns positive at cash level, the performance improves very fast as telecom is a business in which most of the investment takes place in the early phase.


Why is the African telecom market so attractive?


This part of the world is most under-developed. Their economies depend on natural resources and remittances. Currently, these countries are not doing any value addition. Going forward, I strongly believe that the global order will ensure the development of these areas. In the next decade, their economies will start growing at a much faster rate, which will offer tremendous opportunities for companies operating in those regions.

More importantly, most of the global market has saturated in terms of growth. Take the case of India, till last year, it was considered a good market as it was under-penetrated with high growth rate. As a result, most of the global players wanted to enter the Indian market. Now, the situation has been changed as you have more than 10 players. It is a highly-competitive market now. Compared with this, the African region has low penetration with only 3-4 operators. This provides huge growth opportunities.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A GOOD TIME TO END STIMULUS

 

The Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, headed by former Reserve Bank governor C. Rangarajan, has sent out a strong indication that the withdrawal of stimulus measures should be undertaken in the Union Budget to be presented later this week. It has upped the GDP growth forecast for 2010-11 to 8.2 per cent, over the 7.2 per cent figure projected by the Central Statistical Organisation. The underlying tenor of the review of the economy by the PM's advisory council is that unless the government returns to the path of fiscal discipline, there is danger of inflation getting out of control and interest rates hardening. This Budget is the appropriate time for the government to take strong measures to reduce the fiscal deficit by withdrawing the stimulus package on the taxation front. The situation is favourable both economically and politically for withdrawing the stimuluses. The economic recovery is robust, according to the latest figures of the index of industrial production. No doubt electricity and basic goods recorded a slower growth rate, but as the economy picks up and the headline macro figures are strong, these sectors now lagging behind in the pace of growth will automatically get a boost in 2010-11. The government has already been withdrawing on the expenditure side and moving towards reducing the fiscal deficit. Several ministries, such as rural development, chemicals and fertilisers and finance, have not spent the money that was estimated in the previous Budget. For instance, according to the Reserve Bank of India's Macroeconomic and Monetary Development Third Quarter Review 2009-10, between April to November 2009 the Central government's capital expenditure was just 45.8 per cent of the budgeted estimate, while its Plan expenditure was a little better, but still less than the budgeted estimate, at 53.4 per cent. The drop in fertiliser subsidy was largely due to the fall in prices in both domestic and international markets. But the decline in fertiliser subsidies helped to offset the 39 per cent increase in food subsidies during April-November 2009. The government's cutbacks were more on the social side of expenditure. What is disturbing is that the landmark National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme saw a significant amount of money remaining unspent because several state governments failed to initiate schemes under this programme. There is no genuine commitment by states to this programme since jobs are given only when they are asked for, and there is no push from the government's side. But having said this, it is undeniable that the economic environment is conducive to a withdrawal of the stimulus on the taxation side.

 

This means excise and other concessions provided in the stimulus package can be discontinued in the coming Budget without disrupting growth. Even exports, which were lagging behind, have now picked up, according to the commerce minister Anand Sharma. Politically too the government is still in its first nine months, and can take heard-headed decisions as the next general election is due more than four years away.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

INDIA MUST ENGAGE EU

BY ARJUN SENGUPTA

 

The European Union (EU) has become India's major international partner. though it may not have replaced the United States in importance. But in all major areas of international interactions, the EU is offering an alternative — though often complimentary — to our relations with the US. In today's multipolar world, the US does not enjoy the monopoly of influence anymore. For a long time our foreign policy establishment tried to balance the US and the Soviet Union that gave us a wide range of manoeuvrability. But since the fall of the Berlin Wall, which heralded the end of the Cold War, we lost this manoeuvrability and became almost dependent on our alliance with the US. Our traditional association with Iran, Iraq and Palestine was threatened as we practically gave up our leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement, which passed on to Cuba and Venezuela, who kept a distance from the US. We got embroiled with Pakistan but our manoeuvrability was constrained under pressure from the US.

 

Gradually, new power centres emerged: China and, most importantly, the EU. China is emerging as another superpower and it is possible for us to build a strategic relationship with China especially if we associate Russia with it.

 

But both China and Russia have dependency relations with the US in many areas preventing us much operational flexibility.

 

In the economic sphere, both for trade and investment, the EU has become India's largest partner. Since 2004, our exports to the EU have been increasing and our total trade has almost doubled. The EU is also one of the largest contributors of foreign direct investment in India. More significantly, India has also emerged as a major investor in the EU counties with Indian investment increasing from one billion euros in 2004 to 3.7 billion euros in 2008. This will grow with the continuous high growth of India and its dependence on the US will keep decreasing.

 

In the nuclear field, we recently had a breakthrough in our relationship with the US. But the opportunities provided by some of the EU countries and Russia can be significant for us to resist any pressure for entering into arrangements not always in our national interest, whether for nuclear fuel reactors technology. We should be able to use this flexibility to our maximum advantage, playing on the interest groups in the US.

 

On terrorism and counter measures, the EU countries are fully with India and will not force us to compromise on our positions in favour of Pakistan. Indeed in Afghanistan, the EU's position is much closer to ours. Similar is the situation with respect to Iran and Palestine if not quite so with Iraq, where the EU itself is divided. EU has not taken a position as a community on India's permanent membership of the Security Council, although several member countries bilaterally have expressed their complete support.

 

I am not suggesting that the EU see eye-to-eye with us on all international issues. That a mature country like India should never expect. We follow our own interests in external policies that may not coincide with positions that the EU countries take. What we seek in foreign policy is not complete congruence of our approaches but a manoeuvrability of operations in the pursuit of our national interest. The space of this manoeuvrability has expanded with the EU emerging as a major power centre and as a counterpoint to the US. Whether these are related to issues of trade and investment, nuclear fuel and technology or strategic military requirements, flexibility in our operations would allow us a greater chance of harmonising our relations with all the major power centres.

 

To pursue this we must cultivate our relations with the EU countries carefully and comprehensively, making India-EU partnership programmes major fulcrums of our foreign policy. For that we must understand how the EU works. A community of states that started as a Customs Union and Common Market evolved into a Union of 27 countries in Europe. Most of them are highly prosperous although some of the recent entrants are sometimes lagging behind in their economic performance. The European Commission, which is the government of the European Union, has a wide mandate allowing it to coordinate the positions of the individual countries.

 

Still there are areas where bilateral relations between the countries dominate the competence of the commission. We have bilateral relations with almost all the member countries and we must cultivate them fully to our advantage by coordinating our approach with that of the commission. If we carry with us countries like France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK, we can get the commission as a whole to conform to our interests, especially when it is mandated to coordinate the common policies. Besides trade and investment, the common policy would cover areas of security, technology and global institutions. India must learn to deal with them.

 

Besides the commission, the EU has a Parliament with members directly elected from different countries. Its financial and legislative powers are limited, as they cannot supersede the areas of bilateral competency. But it has enormous influence on the formulations of the policies of the member countries. All the EU countries are democratic and public discourse on major issues is the principle source of influence on their policy-making.

 

The European Parliament is not only a forum for open discussion but also a mechanism of harmonising the

national policies. The 2009 Lisbon Treaty covering now the issues of extended action in common foreign and security policy will expand significantly the influence of the European Parliament.

 

India, unlike many other countries, has a great advantage of being a parliamentary democracy. Its traditions and practices are highly respected by the members of the European Parliament. We must make full use of our position through a continuous dialogue and exchange of visits and studies between our Parliaments, developing common positions on all matters of our national and mutual interests.

 

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

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DEMAND TRUTH FROM POLS, BE READY TO ACCEPT IT

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

A small news item from Tracy, California, caught my eye last week. Local station CBS 13 reported: "Tracy residents will now have to pay every time they call 911 for a medical emergency. But there are a couple of options. Residents can pay a $48 voluntary fee for the year, which allows them to call 911 as many times as necessary. Or there's the option of not signing up for the annual fee. Instead they will be charged $300 if they make a call for help".

 

Welcome to the lean years.

 

Yes, sir, we've just had our 70 fat years in America, thanks to the Greatest Generation and the bounty of freedom and prosperity they built for us. And in these past 70 years, leadership — whether of the country, a university, a company, a state, a charity, or a township — has largely been about giving things away, building things from scratch, lowering taxes or making grants.

 

But now it feels as if we are entering a new era, "where the great task of government and of leadership is going to be about taking things away from people", said the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum.

 

Indeed, to lead now is to trim, to fire or to downsize services, programmes or personnel. We've gone from the age of government handouts to the age of citizen givebacks, from the age of companions fly free to the age of paying for each bag.

 

Let's just hope our lean years will only number seven. That will depend a lot on us and whether we rise to the economic challenges of this moment. Our parents truly were the Greatest Generation. We, alas, in too many ways, have been what the writer Kurt Andersen called "The Grasshopper Generation", eating through the prosperity that was bequeathed us like hungry locusts. Now we and our kids together need to be "The Regeneration" — the generation that renews, refreshes, re-energises and rebuilds America for the 21st century.

 

US President Barack Obama's bad luck was that he showed up just as we moved from the fat years to the lean years. His calling is to lead The Regeneration. He clearly understands that in his head, but he has yet to give full voice to it. Actually, the thing that most baffles me about Obama is how a politician who speaks so well, and is trying to do so many worthy things, can't come up with a clear, simple, repeatable narrative to explain his politics — when it is so obvious.

 

Obama won the election because he was able to "rent" a significant number of independent voters — including Republican business types who had never voted for a Democrat in their lives — because they knew in their guts that the country was on the wrong track and was desperately in need of nation-building at home and that John McCain was not the man to do it.

 

They thought that Obama, despite his liberal credentials, had the unique skills, temperament, voice and values to pull the country together for this new Apollo programme — not to take us to the moon, but into the 21st century.

 

Alas, though, instead of making nation-building in America his overarching narrative and then fitting healthcare, energy, educational reform, infrastructure, competitiveness and deficit reduction under that rubric, the president has pursued each separately.

 

This made each initiative appear to be just some stand-alone liberal obsession to pay off a Democratic constituency — not an essential ingredient of a nation-building strategy — and, therefore, they have proved to be easily obstructed, picked off or delegitimised by opponents and lobbyists.

 

So "Obamism" feels at worst like a hodgepodge, at best like a to-do list — one that got way too dominated by healthcare instead of innovation and jobs — and not the least like a big, aspirational project that can bring out America's still vast potential for greatness.

 

To be sure, taking over the presidency at the dawn of the lean years is no easy task. The President needs to persuade the country to invest in the future and pay for the past — past profligacy — all at the same time. We have to pay for more new schools and infrastructure than ever, while accepting more entitlement cuts than ever, when public trust in government is lower than ever.

 

On top of that, the Republican Party has never been more irresponsible. Having helped run the deficit to new heights during the recent Bush years, the GOP is now unwilling to take any responsibility for dealing with it if it involves raising taxes.

 

At the same time, the rise of cable TV has transformed politics in our country generally into just another spectator sport, like all-star wrestling. C-SPAN is just ESPN with only two teams. We watch it for entertainment, not solutions.

 

While it would certainly help if the President voiced a more compelling narrative, I am under no illusion that this alone would solve all his problems and ours. It comes back to us: We have to demand the truth from our politicians and be ready to accept it ourselves. We simply do not have another presidency to waste. There are no more fat years to eat through. If Obama fails, we all fail.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

REKHA GOES TO GUJARAT, YEDDYURAPPA CYCLING

MISRA'S TOUGH LUCK

 

There seems to be something really wrong with the horoscope of the senior BJP leader, Kalraj Misra. Every time he plans a move, something goes wrong.

 

It happened in 1999 when he was all set to replace Kalyan Singh as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Mr Misra's supporters had even ordered a new set of clothes for the swearing-in when a relatively unknown Ram Prakash Gupta beat him to the post.

 

After almost a decade in political wilderness, Mr Misra is now planning a comeback. As a first step, he invited BJP stalwarts ranging from L.K. Advani and Nitin Gadkari to Arun Jaitley to his son's wedding reception in Lucknow last week. But fate willed otherwise and the Pune blasts forced them to cancel their visit.

 

A visibly upset Mr Misra was left entertaining the likes of Mr Singh. Tough luck, again.

 

The smell of heritage
Beauty and ugliness exist cheek by jowl. The Union tourism minister, Kumari Selja, discovered this to her horror during a recent visit to Orissa. Ms Selja was in the Orissa capital to review the Central-sponsored tourism projects in the state. She was dismayed at the snail's pace of the schemes. Apparently to pacify her, the state tourism minister, Debi Prasad Mishra, took her to "Ekamra Bana", a beautiful herbal park close to the famous Lingaraj temple in the city. Ms Selja was also taken around the park and was seen enjoying its ambience sipping coconut water. But suddenly she covered her nose with her handkerchief, entered her car and sped away. Later it was found that she was repelled by the foul smell that emanated from the famous Bindusagar tank, an 11th century heritage structure, which was full of weeds and algae. Obviously, Ms Selja would not like to talk about Orissa tourism for a while.

 

After Big B, it's Rekha

 

If Amitabh Bachchan arrives, can Rekha be far behind? At least in the case of Gujarat, we can say this loudly enough. The Narendra Modi government had recently roped in Big B as the brand ambassador of Gujarat. Now, the grapevine is Rekha will be walking the ramp to promote Patan Patola saris. Patolas are traditional double ikat silk produced in Gujarat. Patan is the only place in India where these expensive saris are produced. However, the designing of Patola saris is a dying art and the artisans are hoping that Rekha will once more make them fashionable. Likewise, the melody queen Lata Mangeshkar will be crooning Jai Jai Garvi Gujarat when the state celebrates 50 years of its formation on May 1. Other celebrities will also appear in the video version that will be modelled on Mile Sur Mera Tumhara.

 

The smell of heritage
Beauty and ugliness exist cheek by jowl. The Union tourism minister, Kumari Selja, discovered this to her horror during a recent visit to Orissa. Ms Selja was in the Orissa capital to review the Central-sponsored tourism projects in the state. She was dismayed at the snail's pace of the schemes. Apparently to pacify her, the state tourism minister, Debi Prasad Mishra, took her to "Ekamra Bana", a beautiful herbal park close to the famous Lingaraj temple in the city. Ms Selja was also taken around the park and was seen enjoying its ambience sipping coconut water. But suddenly she covered her nose with her handkerchief, entered her car and sped away. Later it was found that she was repelled by the foul smell that emanated from the famous Bindusagar tank, an 11th century heritage structure, which was full of weeds and algae. Obviously, Ms Selja would not like to talk about Orissa tourism for a while.

 

>> Shame, shame

 

It is common practice for well-off families of India to invite ministers to opulent weddings to show their influence. And if they can get a chief minister, then they evoke the envy of all and sundry. However, the Rajasthan chief minister, Ashok Gehlot, made it amply evident recently that he was not amused by all this.
Addressing a gathering of Gandhians last week in Jaipur, Mr Gehlot said, "I get upset and feel ashamed when people come to my house with wedding cards which cost Rs 2,000 each. They also spend Rs 1,000 per plate in the feast when we have no money to help the poor". And Mr Gehlot can say this with confidence since he allowed only 11 baratis in his own wedding and also held a simple marriage function for his daughter.
He added that if he attended such weddings he would also become as shameless as those who conduct them. We can be pretty sure that nobody will be sending him wedding invites for a while.

 

>> Sangma breaks his silence

 

The former Lok Sabha speaker, P.A. Sangma, broke his months-long silence last week, much to the relief of the ruling combination in Meghalaya headed by the chief minister, D.D. Lapang.
The silence of the veteran for the last few months seems ominous to them since Meghalaya politicians switch loyalties at the drop of a hat. The state, known for hop-skip-and-jump politics, has already seen three governments since the March 2008 polls. But when Mr Sangama stopped his "maunvrat" and opened his mouth, he chose to make the comment that the Prime Minister should be from the Lok Sabha. Mr Lapang rejected this argument, but relief was writ large on his face since for once, Mr Sangma seemed to focus on the Centre rather than the state. Mr Lapang hopes to complete one year of his government in May and it looks as if Mr Sangma would allow him to do so. But one can never say for sure.

 

>> No nostalgia for Mamata

 

Many who dialled the number of the West Bengal Opposition leader, Partha Chatterjee, last week were puzzled when they did not hear the familiar caller tune, Coffee Houser shei adda ta aaj aar nei. The hugely popular Manna Dey number nostalgically laments the passing away of an era. The reference is to the famed Coffee House at College Street, which was the favourite adda of university students. It was close to Mr Chatterjee's heart too. Why then did he discard it? Apparently on a directive from the party boss, Mamata Banerjee, who could not forget for an instant that the Coffee House was the hub of Left-wing writers and intellectuals and was associated with Communist politics. So why be nostalgic about something which you are working hard to defeat?

 

>> A minister's plainspeak

 

The ORIsSA minister, Damodar Rout, is known for calling a spade a spade. The state's industry captains and media leaders had a taste of his plain talk recently.
A leading media institution organised an event at a star hotel to release one of its new publications, a book on the industrial development of Orissa. Mr Rout was invited as a chief guest. All through the function, speakers showered praises on the industrial houses of the state, terming them brand ambassadors of Orissa. The industry captains happily concurred. Finally Mr Rout got up and ridiculed the whole array of speakers by terming them a "mutual appreciation club". He reminded them that Orissa is known outside for its rich culture and heritage — the Sun Temple for instance — and not for its industralists. "We need to propagate these great brands that earn us honour and respect", he said. The media and industry stalwarts had no choice but to sit with downcast eyes.

 

>> Wheels of development!

 

In Indore, BJP president Nitin Gadkari has not only dragged party leaders out of five-star hotels and into humble tents, he also made them — except for the party's octogenarians — bicycle to the venue of the party national council. Also visible, and smelling, was his rural touch — with the grounds smeared with cow-dung.
The Karnataka Chief Minister, Mr B.S. Yeddyurappa, thought he knew what he was in for. He probably didn't expect this surprise: After riding some 200 metres on the bicycle, he suddenly realised that it had no brakes! Alarmed, the chief minister, 67, managed to bring the bicycle to a stop by putting his feet to the ground. As he turned around to see his ministerial colleagues Suresh Kumar and Arvind Limbavali and state BJP chief Eshwarappa, Mr Kumar calmed him down. "It only means that the wheels of development that you have ushered in will not stop!"

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

OUT OF NETWORK

BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

 

Our healthcare has been memorably compared, by Jonathan Rauch of the National Journal, to the airline system. That made me wonder: What if the news industry were like our unreformed healthcare system...?

 

First, enjoy this column! Americans have the greatest news care system in the world, and we in journalism are proud of the cutting-edge punditry that we provide.

 

Columnists in other countries simply scribble illegibly in notebooks, but here in the United States we administer CAT scans to interviewees, just to rule out the chance that our subject is dead. Expensive, yes — but Americans must never settle for second-best.

 

But wait! Before you read this column, please fill out this 18-page questionnaire. And good news — if you already filled it out previously, then you only have to fill out seven additional pages. I pride myself on my efficiency.

 

No, no, you're mixing up the forms. Those are the ones for Maureen Dowd's column; you'll find David Brooks' forms on the right and Paul Krugman's on the left. You must file separate paperwork to read each columnist.

 

Good, good. All righty then: Now the co-pay, please.

 

Oh, it doesn't matter that you already submitted your co-pay for another columnist. We all work independently and, as you may have noticed, sometimes at cross-purposes.

 

By the way, columns like this one about healthcare reform are out-of-network. Your insurance plan fully covers columns about many important topics, like nephrology and Gregorian chant. But politics, healthcare, international affairs and anything that I might actually write about are all out-of-network.

 

So I'll be billing you soon. I'll tell you how much after you've read the column. Don't worry: The invoice will clearly lay out cost codes, footnoted in cuneiform.

 

Typically, out-of-network benefits will provide substantial reimbursement for nouns, especially subjects. Unfortunately, you're on your own with predicates. In particular, insurers stipulate that adjectives and adverbs are cosmetic and at your own expense.

 

A side note: Those with pre-existing conditions that may lead to excessive consumption of news may be excluded from coverage. An example of a pre-existing condition is literacy.

 

Upon submitting an initial claim to your insurance company, you will find it summarily rejected. If you wish to appeal the rejection, call the insurance company's 800 number. No one will ever actually answer, but you'll have the satisfaction of dialling a number and being placed on indefinite hold.

 

Then you'll hear a human voice say, "This is Jennifer, may I hel_ " And the line will go dead, enabling you to start over.

 

Such telephone systems are an effective way to reduce the costs both of hiring and of appeals. The aim is to lower premiums for you, the consumer — and it's all about you.

 

By the way, if this were December, the rest of the column fee might be fully covered by your news insurance. But it's early in the year, and I'm afraid you haven't met your annual deductible yet.

 

Of course, none of this applies if you are over 65, poor or a veteran. In those cases, you get single-payer news coverage financed by the government, through Newsicare, Newsicaid or the VA.

 

For those of you with flex-spending plans, you may seek reimbursement from your pre-tax "news care spending account". Another miracle of simplicity!

 

In addition to bills from me, you'll also receive bills from your newspaper, the forest products company that makes the newsprint, and the copy editor for this column. Don't forget to pay the copy editor.

 

I'm trying to be polite because, if you don't like this column, you may sue me. Malpractice suits are a part of the landscape, resulting in defensive journalism (that's why we administer those CAT scans). For your convenience, I just add the cost of malpractice insurance and defensive journalism right onto your bill.

 

Thanks for reading this. And I do hope you'll resist those silly calls for news insurance reform. We mustn't tinker with the finest news care system in the world.

 

Next!

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

LAW OF KARMA: A MORAL COMPASS

BY RAJASHREE BIRLA

 

Every time you see a child tapping for alms at your window, or children suffering from leukemia or any other ailment, or young lives snuffed out in their prime, or elderly people incapacitated in their sunset years, somewhere deep within you, there is a sense of sadness. Regardless of the fact that you may not even know them. It's just the emotions stirred at that point in time.

 

And mulling over this, brings a story to the fore from the Buddhist lore. Once upon a time, a lady who had lost her child, went to the Buddha weeping inconsolably. She pleaded with him to bring the child back to life.

 

The Buddha advised, "As for pain, sorrow and death, go to a 100 houses and get a piece of cloth from just one family that has not traversed the path. Come back. If you find such a family, I will breathe life into your son".

 

She thought this was a no-brainer. But as she went from house to house, for days on end she couldn't find a single family bereft of pressure, tension, pain and bereavement. Dismayed, she went back to the Buddha. He explained that we are all transients and life is ephemeral, reiterating the need for detachment which the Gita says as well. Detachment in every form, can lead to the end of the transmigration of the soul and merging with the maker.

 

In this context, the law of karma underpins the transmigration of the soul. "Karma" is "action". The Gita says that whatever we are in this life and whatever birth we take in the next life when the soul leaves this body and migrates elsewhere, is the outcome of our actions, good and bad.

 

Three forms of human actions determine the path of our karma. First, actions that are uplifting, where you think beyond yourself, that is "karma" which elevates. Second, actions that are not good, actions accomplished with an ulterior motive, even thought processes where you degrade someone or spread negative vibes, that is "vikarma". And the third is "akarma", that is actions dictated by a sense of duty, unfettered by any kind of attachment and devoid of any egotism. Akarma is the liberator.

 

Swami Chinmayananda has succinctly summed up the law of karma. "Every moment of our life, we are not only living the fruits of our past actions, but also creating those of tomorrow". Every action is recorded in the book of God. He rewards or admonishes us based on this. Swami Chinmayananda says, "The law of karma is based upon the final conclusion that this life is not an end in itself. It is just one of the little incidents in our eternal existence". A sage advice that stems from this, is traverse the path of good.

 

The law of karma is a great moral compass that sets a fine direction to our life's trajectory.

 

— Rajashree Birla is the chairperson of the Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives
and Rural Development

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

BANK BOUNTY

THE GOVERNMENT IS ON TEST


There is an unmistakable irony in Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee seeking World Bank bounty as Chief Minister and the protest by the SFI, then also under Mr Bhattacharjee, when the bank president, Robert McNamara, came calling 40 years ago. It is also ironical that West Bengal's decision to seek a Rs 1,000-crore loan for rural development from what the party once called a "neo-imperialist" body comes within a week of the horrendous Maoist outrage. One must give it to the Chief Minister that he has reinforced his pragmatic credentials and at a juncture when the government has its back to the wall. To the extent that he is reported to have brushed aside with a flippant wave of hand reservations over the World Bank's terms of engagement, expressed both within his party and the Left Front. Unwittingly or otherwise, by seeking World Bank assistance for rural development in the backward districts, he has got to the root of the Left radical insurgency, conspicuously the failure of rural governance. But if work doesn't get started before next fiscal, the government will have scarcely a year before the assembly elections to make an impact. During which span, it will have to train the panchayat functionaries and initiate work on the earmarked projects, notably drinking water supply, health programmes and income-generating schemes. No easy task. Considering the extent of rural disaffection ~ both at the level of the subaltern and the middle class ~ the loan package has been sought and achieved awfully late in the day. It may be mildly comforting though that alone among the other states, West Bengal's application to the World Bank has come through.  


Hopefully, the bank's monitoring mechanism will guard against contrived under-utilisation and shoddy performance. It doesn't seem to be convinced with the state's rather nebulous proposal to train the functionaries in 1000 gram panchayats, that over time have degenerated to political hubs ~ CPM and Trinamul ~ and cesspools of corruption. Hence the strict condition that the pump-priming will have to be utilised on what the bank calls "quantifiable facilities to villagers", a critical term of reference that will be monitored. The World Bank must be acutely aware that the 130-million-pound package for the rural sector, advanced by Britain's Department For International Development (DFID), has achieved little or nothing in the hands of the panchayat administration. The facilities expected to be provided are fundamentals of civilised governance; that the loan is supposed to address the basics confirms that the Maoist is essentially fighting for his rights. It is a heady thought to replenish the kitty with World Bank funds. In terms of utilisation, Mr Bhattacharjee's government will be on test.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

STRANGE SIGNALS

MUST SUCH DIFFERENCES BE AIRED  


IT might not have actually been an "either-or" situation, but in talking about them in virtually the same breath the defence minister has allowed an impression to spread that while the finance ministry rejected proposals for more air-to-air refuellers it put previous objections aside and cleared the acquisition of a dozen helicopters for VVIP use. And he caused eyebrows to be raised even higher when he tried to explain that the helicopters got the nod because the SPG felt they were necessary to ensure the security of the President, Prime Minister etc. For to aam aadmi the signal was that while cost considerations and allied complexities could deny the IAF a force-multiplier (critical in the light of a continuing depletion of frontline combat aircraft), the purse strings were liberally loosened when it came to keep the netas safe on their jaunts. And that the finance minister's highly publicised austerity drive did not come into play in such situations, with collateral damage being sustained via strained diplomatic relations with some European nations after the tanker deal was scuttled. What must also exercise the military community is the finance ministry going beyond money issues and questioning the IAF's recommendation for the state-of-the art A330 tanker of Airbus Industrie (a consortium of several European producers) over more of the obsolescent IL-78s, which like all equipment of erstwhile Soviet origin, have difficulties with post-purchase product support. Can a nitpicking accountant veto professional-user opinion?  
Yet no less troubling is AK Antony offering (by way of alibi?) all the sordid details about how the refueller proposal had been tendered by his ministry three times, only to be told by the finance ministry that it would oppose the move when it went before the Cabinet Committee on Security. Or his pointing out that "finance" had earlier said it did not approve the helicopter purchase but it came to toe the SPG line. Antony may have been trying to endear himself to the defence community, he has also hinted at an increase in the defence outlay in the coming budget, but surely discussions between one ministry and another merit confidentiality ~ at least at the minister's level. Or has, like so much else associated with good governance, the concept of collective responsibility been corroded by contemporary political practice?

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

CAMPUS CROWNS

THE LIMITS OF STUDENT POWER


AT a time when any positive signal is cause for celebration in the Left camp, the results of the students' union election at Presidency should bring smiles to a party trying every means to protect its bases. The CPI-M-controlled Students Federation of India had traditionally wielded the strongest influence in Kolkata's premier college and, to that extent, history repeated itself this year. The question is to what extent this can be seen as a "reversal'' of a trend just as there are doubts about whether the results in other institutions can be considered an integral part of a presumed climate of change. The number of contested seats at Presidency was barely 71 of which 39 went to SFI. Other colleges which have seen Trinamul demonstrating its presence have accounted for smaller numbers, suggesting that the impact extends at best to the boundary walls of these institutions. There is a more sizable society of young voters who may think beyond the little islands of student power and may be mildly amused by all the jubilation in the victorious camp and the desperate attempts to sustain the morale of those vanquished.


There have, of course, been attempts by political parties to strike roots in educational institutions, which explains unions being controlled by cadres who may have forgotten the last time they attended classes. More pertinently, there is a large community of students who may want to remain outside the purview of politically engineered power games on the campus. This would apply more conspicuously to Presidency College which is about to witness a change of status and takes pride in its hallowed traditions. If students had formed unions in its best years, it was a merely a footnote to the standards of excellence it relentlessly pursued. It may not be a coincidence that the overwhelming emphasis on unions at the behest of the authorities ~ complete with security arrangements, banners and wall writings ~ comes with cruel evidence of a fall in teaching standards and the way students have performed. Political and social consciousness cannot be reduced to a street fight if Presidency is to live up to the new expectations of a unitary university.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

EARTH AND THE WORLD~II

NEED FOR A JUDICIOUS COMBINATION OF ENERGY SOURCES

DN BOSE


While the solar energy on the earth's surface in a day is enough to meet the energy needs of the world for a year, its low intensity and diurnal nature means than an area of 1 km2 is required for every 20-60MW. India, which ought to have led the way in this sphere, is way behind countries such as Germany with an installed capacity of 5.337GWp, against India's 2.5MWp. One reason is the absence of a strong lobby for renewable energy.


Solar thermal roof-top space and water heaters are practical propositions in cold climates. In India, solar cookers have been promoted for saving wood and fuel, the cost factor ~ Rs 5,000 per unit ~ has been a deterrant. 


The volume of solar energy produced in India is merely 0.4 per cent compared to other energy resources.  Government-funded solar energy accounted for only 6.4MW of power as of 2005. In July 2009, India unveiled a plan to produce 20GW of solar power by 2020. Under the plan, solar-powered equipment and applications would be mandatory in all government buildings, including hospitals and hotels. In November 2009, it was reported that India was ready to launch its Solar Mission under the National Action Plan on Climate Change, with plans to generate 1,000MW of power by 2013. Some large projects have been proposed and a vast area of the Thar desert has been set aside for solar power projects, sufficient to generate 700-2,100GW.


Lack of electricity

Lack of electricity is one of the main hurdles in the development of rural India. The country's grid system is woefully under-developed. In 2004 there were about 80,000 villages with no electricity. Of these,  18,000 could not be provided with power through the extension of the conventional grid. A target of 5,000  such villages was fixed for the Tenth Plan (2002-2007). Till 2004, more than 2,700 villages and hamlets had been electrified. 
Development of cheap solar technology is considered a potential alternative that allows an electricity infrastructure comprising a network of local-grid clusters.  This will do away with the need to instal expensive and long-distance centralised power delivery systems and yet bring cheap electricity to the masses. Grid losses in India, ranging from 15-30 per cent, are among the highest in the world. The amount of land required for utility-scale solar power plants could pose a strain on India's available land resource.
Surprisingly, Kenya leads the world in the number of solar power systems. In remote locations in  India a rural lighting programme has been providing solar powered lighting to replace kerosene lamps. The solar powered lamps are sold at about the cost of a few months'  requirement of kerosene. These are areas where the social costs and benefits offer an excellent case for going solar though the lack of profitability could impede such endeavours. 


Wind energy in principle is available round-the-lock but sufficient windspeeds are not available for 24 hours. The worldwide installed capacity of wind power reached 120GW by the end of 2008. USA (25GW), Germany (24GW), Spain (17GW) and China (12GW) are ahead of India, occupying the fifth position. It is increasing at the rate of 60GW/year. The short gestation periods for installing wind turbines and the increasing reliability and performance of wind energy machines has made wind power a favoured choice in India. The "Wind Map of India", compiled more than two decades ago shows that there are only a few regions in India where the wind speed is high enough to be exploited throughout the year. These are Gujarat, coastal Tamil Nadu, and the regions near the Western Ghats. In a word, wind energy is site specific, as the poor performance of the two wind generators at  Sagar Island has shown. In spite of these drawbacks, India has a substantial installed capacity. As of March 2009, the installed capacity of wind power was 10.25GW, mainly spread across Tamil Nadu (4.3GW), Maharashtra (1.94GW), Gujarat (1.565GW), Karnataka (1.34GW), Rajasthan (738.5MW), Madhya Pradesh (213MW), Andhra Pradesh (122MW), Kerala (26.5MW), West Bengal (1.1MW) and other states (3.2MW). It is estimated that 6 GW of additional wind power capacity will be installed by 2012. Wind power accounts for 6 per cent of the total installed power capacity, and it generates 1.6 per cent of the country's power.


Nuclear power

Clearly, there is no unique solution for meeting the energy requirements of any country. It depends on geography, oil and mineral resources, population distribution, cost-effective technology and the economic  factor. For India, nuclear power seems a necessary evil in the short term till it supplies 10-15 per cent of the required energy. This is partly due to the heavy investment in nuclear technology over the last 60 years. Site selection remains a major problem as safety of the population and the environment are the major concerns, followed by the need for coolant water, waste disposal and of course the economics vis-a-vis coal and oil. This is the reason why nuclear plants were located in the west and south of the country, away from the coal belt, and not because of any discrimination by the Centre. The advantages of nuclear power for India are high energy density which can produce Gigawatts (1000MW) in a relatively small area. The word 'nuclear' need not conjure up the picture of the 'bomb', it involves the conversion of heat into electricity on the basis of thermo-dynamics. Thus it is subject to corrosion, boiler leakage, outages and all the drawbacks of a thermal power plant.   Globally there appears to be no panacea. A  judicious combination of coal, oil  and other available technologies, with an emphasis on renewable energy sources  are required to combat the problems of climate change and also meet the energy needs of developing countries.


(Concluded)

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

AT A MILESTONE

 

Mahindra and Mahindra has produced more than a hundred thousand tractors since April; that places it in a position to become the world's largest producer. In a country better known for Lalgarh and Telangana, the news will be welcomed with some joy. Although India has the second largest population in the world, it finds it difficult to be even in the top ten in most things. Things are not so bad as they used to be: India is not one of the world's ten poorest countries. But it does not make it to the top ten by gross domestic product either; only the stratagem of purchasing power parity takes it past little industrial countries like Germany and France and makes it number three. Mahindra and Mahindra will also be the largest producer in terms of the number of tractors; in terms of the money it gets for them, it will probably be some way from the top. But India's competitive advantage is in being a low-cost producer; if Indian manufacturers exploit it and build on it, they are only doing what is good for them and for the country.

 

India is where Mahindra and Mahindra learnt to be a low-cost producer; and it continues to be Mahindra and Mahindra's largest market. But it is not India alone that made it the world's largest producer, for here it faces considerable competition. It was its strategy of spreading out across the world that led it to the top. And a decision to extend its reach also meant a determination to face competition from the world's best producers. Every market is not like India's; while buyers appreciate value for money everywhere, they do not always prefer the cheapest. Indian farms are exceptional in their small size; farms are considerably bigger elsewhere, especially in the markets where most tractors are sold. And size and power are preferred on large farms. Nor is agriculture the only market for tractors; they are useful wherever heavy objects are to be moved.

 

An event that made Mahindra and Mahindra popular in the United States of America was the Hurricane Katrina; its tractors proved their worth in clearing rubble. Mahindra and Mahindra is present today in most major markets except Europe. It is a surprising exception, but perhaps it does not matter so much, because the European market is not growing. There is also considerable regional specialization; tractors are different, for example, for grape farms in France and olive farms in Italy. The resulting small niche markets may not be worth fighting for. But everywhere the number of first-time buyers is shrinking; most purchases are repeat buys, where quality and technology matter. To continue expanding, Mahindra and Mahindra will have to keep offering bigger and better tractors; it will have to keep the loyalty of its old buyers, and attract new ones. It has laid a good foundation; now it must innovate further.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

A LITTLE TOO LATE

 

It is a well-known fact that the Left Front government in West Bengal wakes up only after the proverbial horse has bolted. Having deprived a generation of school-goers of the chance to learn English, the government decided to act in right earnest only as late as 1999 when the study of English was reintroduced from Class VI. Further sense dawned in 2004, as children started learning their ABCs from Class I — though a large section of their teachers had been students themselves during that era of Left rule when English was considered to be anathema. The irony is now deepened by the sudden epiphany that English, like any foreign language, cannot be taught usefully unless reading and writing skills are supplemented by the ability to speak fluently in the language. In an increasingly Anglophone world, one's employment and professional success are inextricably tied to proficiency in English. That, in fact, is the primary impulse behind bringing English back to the classrooms — the idea is purely utilitarian, and therefore perceived to be so by both the learners and their teachers.

 

There are systemic flaws behind the policy to teach English from the primary level. So much is made of the ability to hold forth in English that children become terrified early on. They do not develop any love for the language but are only riddled with a debilitating anxiety to ape certain functional modes of speech. So the idea of having Spoken English classes alongside grammar and composition is laudable. However, having such classes just once every week makes a travesty of the idea. Indeed, it is a demonstration of sheer mindlessness. A living language is more than the sum of grammar, syntax and spellings: it cannot be taught with textbooks. Children must be encouraged to speak in English from Class I and not wait till Class VII before they start speaking a language they have been learning for six years.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THAT HEALTHY FEELING

PUBLIC HEALTH DEPENDS AS MUCH ON PREVENTION AS ON TREATMENT

S.L. RAO

 

Monica Das Gupta is a senior social scientist at the World Bank. Her field research in Punjab, when she was at the National Council of Applied Economic Research, established that sex differentials in child mortality in rural Punjab persisted despite relative wealth, socio-economic development including rapid universalization of female education, fertility decline, and mortality decline. Amartya Sen's writings drew attention to female foeticide and infanticide in Asia that led to "missing" female millions in the population totals of Asian countries. He calculated that excessive female mortality accounted for a six to 11 per cent deficiency in the total number of women. This gender bias should be reflected in household health expenditures on females.

 

The NCAER used its large (at that time 500,000 households) sample that studied purchase and ownership of household consumer goods to find out. It found evidence of discrimination against females, a reluctance among the rural poor to use free government health centres except for illnesses requiring hospitalization, a lack of doctors and medicines in the centres and bribing by the poor. The rural health provision was ineffective and, while ostensibly free, also expensive. But was poor medical delivery the only reason for the worse health outcomes in India as against many Southeast Asian countries? Das Gupta's work showed that Southeast Asian countries, unlike India, emphasized preventive aspects of healthcare like safe drinking water, sanitation and so on.

 

Two recent well-researched papers by her and five others for the World Bank give insights into the gaps in the total healthcare in India, examine how Tamil Nadu achieved superior health outcomes, and suggest policy and systemic changes to achieve the Tamil Nadu results in other states. The essence of her findings is that Indian Central government policies since the 1950s, though well-intentioned, have inadvertently weakened the capacity to deliver population-wide preventive health services. India in the 1950s amalgamated medical and public health services. Keeping these services separate gives better results as is illustrated by the paper on healthcare in Tamil Nadu.

 

Successive decisions at the Centre have diminished the health ministry's capacity for stewardship of the nation's public health. At the state level, they have introduced policies and fiscal incentives which have inadvertently de-prioritized public health systems and the public health workforce's capacity, at both managerial and grassroots levels. There are many possible ways of organizing effective public health systems. Das Gupta's suggestions require the least modification of existing structures and systems.

 

She finds that Central government health policies have marginalized public health services. There has been undue emphasis on single-focus programmes. These erode public health systems.

 

Single-focus programmes started with malaria eradication. Such programmes (however well-intentioned) have

encouraged state governments to put public health services primarily to such use. The other major mistake was to amalgamate all male grassroots health workers (Das Gupta says they are most suitable for such work) as multi-purpose workers.

 

The Union health ministry has to build its capacity to support public health systems across the country. A simple step would be to establish a focal point for public health in the health ministry. The ministry staff would require some training in managing health systems. This focal point must be supported by institutions with the autonomy to function effectively. They could be the Indian Council of Medical Research or the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, but with more power to give incentives to the staff and to hold it accountable.

 

This focal point could help the ministry to encourage state governments build up their public health systems. A basic requirement is a public health act. A blueprint exists. The ministry must encourage innovations in public health approaches, create a platform to encourage, discuss, reward and replicate innovations, and engage in continuous advocacy for public awareness.

 

Inter-sectoral coordination mechanisms at both federal and local levels must work as well in normal times as they seem to do in responding to public health emergencies. They must therefore regularly assess potential health threats and plan actions for averting them. The health sector could, for example, help ensure that urban development projects ensure adequate arrangements for drainage, sanitation, and solid waste management. The health agencies at all levels could also facilitate and monitor services provided by other agencies that are essential for good health, such as drinking water and sanitation.

 

State governments could re-establish separate services for public health distinct from medical care, each with its own budgets and workforce. They must each be oriented to population-wide public health and clinical services respectively. Each service must have its own career opportunities and incentives. Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka have done this to great effect.

 

This change would cost little. In Tamil Nadu, training to revitalize the public health managerial cadre is required for only one per cent of government doctors. New public health training schools being opened by the Public Health Foundation of India could draw on the good models available (including Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka) for training public health managers. The training is to enable managers respond to routine health hazards as well as freak events like a tsunami. They will need periodic updating with new technical information.

 

The government must revitalize the grassroots male health worker cadre. Its duties must focus on ensuring environmental health and other population-wide health services. States where this cadre is dying could establish a new cadre of well-trained and well-managed health inspectors, with a standardized training curriculum. Detailed job descriptions, manuals, and supervisory guidelines, scope for progress, rewards to those who obtain additional educational qualifications in public health will help to build an effective cadre.

 

The use of public funds for health needs re-evaluation. Tamil Nadu, by better administration and management of resources, makes better use of grassroots male health workers and thus enhances public health outcomes.

 

Much is possible, especially given the scope for innovation offered by the large Central outlays for rural and for urban health. The National Rural Health Mission and the National Urban Health Mission can significantly increase the utilization of health facilities. Thus, in urban areas, much can be achieved to improve urban health outcomes, by focusing on environmental and public health, and not only on expanding the network of public clinics.

 

The Central government could link its fiscal support to states' health budgets to phased progress in enactment of state public health acts, the establishment of separate public health directorates, the revitalization of grassroots public health workers, and health department engagement in assuring municipal public health. The proposed strong focal point for public health at the Centre would help support the states in setting up robust public health systems. Tamil Nadu has separated medical and public health services. There are enormous synergies from an integrated approach to addressing public health threats, not distracted either by the requirements of managing hospitals or by the fragmentation of public health services into single-issue programmes.

 

Tamil Nadu has a separate directorate of public health staffed by professional public health managers with firsthand experience of working in both rural and urban areas, with its own budget, and with legislative underpinning. This system has a full workforce including non-medical specialists and labourers. Tamil Nadu's health department, with a specialized cadre and a clear, focused mandate, is much better placed to protect public health than a more generalized cadre distracted by other (clinical) activities.

 

To earn the demographic dividend that India eagerly anticipates, we must implement Das Gupta's recommendations for improving healthcare.

 

The author is former director-general, National Council for Applied Economic Research

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

UNEQUAL DREAM

GWYNNE DYER

 

"We astounded the world in 1990 and in 1994, and we shall do so again," wrote the former South African president, F.W. de Klerk, on the 20th anniversary of the day in February, 1990, when he had announced the end of the apartheid system. But in 1990 and in 1994, the astonishment was about the fact that disaster had been avoided, and even now it is not astonishment at the country's success.

 

South Africa has the second-highest murder rate in the world, the education system is one of the worst on the globe, and AIDS accounts for 43 per cent of all deaths. It may be true that South Africa is doing better than was expected, but that only shows how low expectations were when Nelson Mandela was freed from prison 20 years ago this month.

 

In the end, South Africans' shared interest in a peaceful and prosperous future triumphed over racism and tribalism — and a fairly peaceful and prosperous future is what they got. There have been two lawful and orderly changes of president since Mandela took office — and with only 6 per cent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa accounts for more than a third of its gross domestic product.

 

However, it is not exactly an economic miracle. As the only industrialized country in Africa, it has always towered over the rest of the continent economically, but its growth rate in the past 15 years has been only a modest improvement on the near-stagnation of the later apartheid years. A new black middle-class has emerged, but the gulf between the comfortable minority of all colours and the poor black majority has only widened.

 

South Africa does not control its borders effectively, and the result is that at least 10 per cent of its population comprises undocumented foreigners. They are often better educated and more enterprising than the locals, and the resentment of poor South Africans exploded into vicious anti-immigrant violence in May 2008.

 

Divided world

 

There will almost certainly be further violence unless most of the illegal immigrants are sent home, but the African National Congress says that it owes the other countries of southern Africa a debt of gratitude for having given its members shelter during the years of the anti-apartheid struggle. Those countries now depend heavily on remittances from their citizens who are in South Africa illegally, and the ANC cannot bring itself to expel them.

 

That is a high-sounding moral motive, but the presence of the illegal immigrants also serves to divert the anger and envy of poor, black South Africans from the homegrown middle class that has been the real beneficiary of economic growth. Almost 40 per cent of black South Africans are unemployed, and they are on the way to becoming a permanent under-class.

 

These are the people for whom the State boasts that it has built three million new homes since the end of the apartheid, but almost all of them are cramped two-room houses. Many of these houses now have electricity, water and sanitation services — but a huge proportion of the people in them don't have jobs.

 

Education for black South Africans was always poor, and during the final 15 years of constant anti-apartheid protests, there was a "lost generation" that scarcely went to school at all. The end of apartheid should have changed all that, but it didn't. The money was spent on providing houses and services to keep people quiet, not on building a school system that would give them a future. According to the World Economic Forum, South Africa's education system ranks 119th out of 133 countries. Only a quarter of South African children finish high school, and a mere 5 per cent go to university. The thing about South Africa that is truly astonishing these days is that the poor put up with it.

 

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******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

A TOUGH CHOICE

"THE GOVERN-MENT MUST LOWER SUBSIDIES."

 

 

Barely 10 days before Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee presents his second budget for the financial year 2010-11, the prime minister's economic advisory council (PMEAC), headed by former RBI Governor C Rangarajan, has strongly recommended that the government should go for a major fiscal correction.


 The PMEAC wants the budget deficit — the net difference between government's income and expenditure — be drastically brought down. The council is certainly right in stressing the need for a fiscal consolidation because in the last two financial years of 2008-09 and 2009-10, the budget deficit has shot up to 6 and 6.8 per cent of the GDP, respectively. Such alarmingly high deficits are unsustainable and point to the fact that the government has failed to exercise discipline on its finances. As a prescription to fiscal correction the council has suggested partial roll back of reduction in excise duties and service taxes offered by the government mid last year as a part of the stimulus package. It is also right in its view that unless the deficits are brought under control, monetary tightening will not happen and swelling money supply will fuel inflation further.


While the council has done its job in urging the need for fiscal consolidation, in reality the government will find it very difficult to implement it. It is likely that the government may raise excise duty and service tax in the budget to improve its revenue earnings. But many economists and of course, the industry bodies are opposing the partial roll back of stimulus as they fear that the process of recovery from the dreaded slowdown will be reversed. It is felt that the duty concessions should continue for at least one more year to stimulate domestic demand and also boost exports. If the economy can achieve a robust growth of eight per cent in gross domestic products (GDP), the shortfall in revenue earnings can largely be recovered.


To achieve fiscal consolidation, the government must also cut down non-plan expenditure (estimated at Rs 6,20,000 crore for the current financial), and significantly lower subsidies on fertiliser, food and oil products. The government took a small step last week by introducing the nutrient-based subsidy system for fertiliser and by deregulating prices of non-urea fertilisers. But at the same time it declined to act on Parikh Committee's recommendations on deregulating oil prices. Political compulsions, pressures from allies and deep-rooted corruption in the system surely will restrain the government from to taking uncompromising policy decisions.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

WOODS' WORD

"THERE WAS A TINGE OF HONE-STY BEHIND HIS WORDS."

 

Close to three months after his infamous disappearance from public view, Tiger Woods returned on Saturday to own up for the mistakes that shattered his personal life and cast a cloud of uncertainty over his sporting future. In a 14-minute televised drama, the greatest golfer of our times confessed to his philandering ways, apologising to his wife, friends and family members while vowing to return a better person. For a world accustomed to seeing the man always in control of himself, it was hard to digest this fall from grace. In the dozen or so years of his presence in the top echelons of golf, Woods took his sport to a different level. He was the man to beat at the majors; he set the standards on the courses; he broke open the door for many who suffered because of the colour of their skins. But the forlorn figure on the television screens bore no resemblance to the man whose stirring deeds set golf courses ablaze worldwide.


It might be easy to brush aside Woods' statement as a stage-managed show by the American to save what is left of his family life and career, but the tinge of honesty behind the words was hard to miss. The sporting world's first billion-dollar man might have felt he deserved to enjoy the fruits of his labour but the merciless ways of the world that he experienced ever since his affairs started tumbling out seem to have taught him that he doesn't "get to play by different rules". As he seeks redemption, Woods will know that more than the 45-day therapy that he underwent, the cure for his sex addiction remains in his mind — the mind that powered the man to 14 major championship wins.


While Woods sets about repairing his family life, it is this iron will that offers hope for his sport as it struggles to cope with his absence. In the eight months that Woods spent away from sport while recuperating from a knee surgery in 2008-09, television ratings dropped by a staggering 50 per cent. A similar scenario is unfolding now, for no other player can generate the kind of interest that Woods can. No wonder, then, the fans aren't the only ones hoping for the 34-year-old's early return. But Eldrick 'Tiger' Woods has a different set of priorities now as he fights to regain the fairways of life.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

PM'S HIGH-WIRE POLITICS

PAKISTAN'S ARMY CHIEF HAS REITERATED THAT INDIA REMAINS THE PRE-EMINENT THREAT TO PAKISTAN.

BYLINE: M J AKBAR

 

It is perfectly understandable. Denied any flexibility in manoeuvring members of his Cabinet, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is doing the best he can by reinventing his personal Cabinet, a collection of personally chosen eminent personae given assignments from the PM's priority list.


Singh can do nothing to Cabinet colleagues because the current law of coalition politics says that once you are seated in a particular chair, only an election defeat can drag you out of it. Competence, performance or even interest in your job has nothing to do with your continuance. DMK supremo's son Alagiri has around zero interest in his Cabinet job, and does not care who knows this. His real ambition is to succeed his father as chief minister of Tamil Nadu, a legacy currently assigned to his brother Stalin. A Cabinet member is meant to be part of a team, and implement a collective decision even if he is personally opposed to it. His politicisation of an important pre-Budget decision, to lift a key fertiliser subsidy, would have been sufficient for dismissal in any normal Cabinet system of governance. The prime minister could do nothing about it since the DMK functions as an autonomous ally.

Gradually, through a creep-and-collect process, the prime minister has used his rights of appointment to his personal office to create a parallel mini-administration that can address those aspects of the national agenda that he is most interested in. This is not quite the Kitchen Cabinet of the Indira Gandhi days, when a core group of personal favourites functioned as a super Cabinet, arguing the merits and demerits of a particular policy before it was presented to an obedient full Cabinet. The prime minister's men do not intervene, or interfere, in ministries outside their domain, as the Kitchen Cabinet would. But if the prime minister has made any project his own, then the relevant ministry has to understand that there is a higher authority and it is called the PMO.


The two most high-profile members of Singh's office in his first five years, National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, have both lost their positions because of the prime minister's increasingly evident desire for some solution to the Kashmir problem. Shyam Saran was an indirect casualty, but a casualty nevertheless. No one resigns from the PMO unless it has been made apparent that the terms of relationship have changed. Media has been fed the perception that Saran was upset because he was denied the status of a minister of state. Ministers have become so devalued in the last decade, that this is the least of a prime minister's problems. He can get any status for whoever he likes. The substantive disagreement lay in the fact that Shyam Saran was not made NSA, because the prime minister decided that Shivshankar Menon was, intellectually and temperamentally, closer to his line of thinking on Pakistan.


Taking risks


Singh knows he is taking huge risks. He has deliberately underplayed hard evidence from Indian intelligence that Pak-based, anti-Indian terrorist organisations continue to get active support from the Pak military, and that they are not non-state actors. Pakistan's army chief, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has reiterated, in his latest doctrine, that India remains the pre-eminent threat to Pakistan, implicitly justifying the military's support for the second arm of his country's response to India, the terrorist network. Elements of Pakistan's political class have not helped Delhi by immature grandstanding, describing India's return to the talking table as a victory for Islamabad. This obviously grates on Indians. The biggest risk is here: Singh has moved far ahead of Indian public opinion in his peace gambit. This is in direct contrast to the Indo-US nuclear deal, when middle class opinion was cheering on the deal at each stage of negotiations. The middle class that wanted a closer relationship with America is not equally eager to buy the American prescription for peace on the subcontinent, of which these talks are the opening move.


It is not certain that Pakistan will buy it either, because the tail at the end of the dog is that Pakistan might have to dilute its deep friendship with China, which does not fit into the US-Pak strategic paradigm. America would be much happier with a US-Pak-India relationship built on a shared perception of regional threats. Senator John Kerry has described the resumption of the Indo-Pak dialogue as "critical to the United States", and suggested that the Indian initiative is an extension of the new India-US relationship. More specifically, the US believes that India-Pak cooperation is essential to victory against the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, Senator Kerry might have to convince General Kayani first.


Perhaps Singh is depending on the US to tweak an ear or twist an arm in Islamabad at the appropriate moment as he tries to woo Pakistan by diluting the status of Kashmir's relationship with India. This is high-wire politics. We shall watch with some hope and greater apprehension.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

AL QAEDA'S QUEST FOR THE BOMB

ZAWAHIRI ONCE SAID IT WAS POSSIBLE TO BUY A SUITCASE NUKE FROM A FORMER SOVIET SCIENTIST FOR $30 MILLION.

BY H D S GREENWAY,NYT:

 

Recently the directors of CIA, FBI, and National Intelligence told US Senator Dianne Feinstein that an attempted terrorist attack on the United States in the next few years was 'a certainty'. If Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have anything to do with it, the attack is not likely to be an amateurish effort similar to that of the pathetic underpants bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day.

Nor will it be limited to blowing up buses and trains in London or Madrid. That may be good enough for European targets, but for the United States al-Qaeda seems determined to better 9/11 and do something really spectacular.


This is the view of Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA official and director of Intelligence and Counterintelligence at the department of energy. In a paper, written for Harvard's Belfer Centre, Mowatt-Larssen details al-Qaeda's patient, decade-long effort to steal or construct an improvised nuclear device — the ultimate horror.

 

Why not 'dirty bombs'

The quest explains why al-Qaeda has not sought "the production of tactical, more readily available weapons such as 'dirty bombs,' chemical agents, crude toxins and poisons" that might do damage and take lives, but cannot compare to "the benefits of producing the image of a mushroom cloud rising over a US city."

Like 9/11, such an attack would alter "the course of history," Mowatt-Larssen writes.
This could explain why Osama bin Laden's deputy, Zawahiri, called off an attack on the New York subway system, holding out for 'something better'. A relatively easy attack using tactical weapons would not achieve the goals that al-Qaeda leaders have set for themselves, Mowatt-Larssen argues. al-Qaeda may be holding out for a truly strategic blow.

Mowatt-Larssen details the efforts al-Qaeda has gone to get a nuclear weapon beginning in late 1993 and early 1994. According to an al-Qaeda defector, an attempt was made to buy nuclear material in South Africa in order to build an 'improvised nuclear device' for $1.5 million.


In 1996 Zawahiri himself was detained in Russia, but released by the security services. The speculation was that he was trying to buy a bomb. Zawahiri once said that for $30 million it should be possible to buy a suitcase nuke from a disaffected former Soviet scientist. In 1998 he took personal control of al-Qaeda's nuclear and biological weapons programmes.


That same year Osama bin Laden issued a 'fatwa' saying that it was a good Muslim's duty to "kill Americans and their allies, civilians and military ..."


It was followed by the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. That December, Osama bin Laden told a 'Time Magazine' reporter that acquiring weapons of mass destruction "for the defence of Muslims is a religious duty."

In 1999 a secret al-Qaeda biological weapons programme was set up in a Kandahar laboratory. Anthrax seems to have been the weapon of choice.


In the summer of 2001 a man matching the description of the 9/11 bomber Mohammed Atta tried to buy a crop-duster airplane in Florida, US. Zacarias Moussaoui, now serving a life sentence, was caught with crop-duster manuals.

The list goes on. The Pakistani nuclear proliferator, A Q Khan, reportedly turned down an al-Qaeda request for help building a bomb. Ramzi Yousef, the World Trade Centre bomber, planned to have cyanide gas "engulf the victims trapped in the North Trade Tower" in his failed attempt to bring down the building in 1993. But the explosion incinerated the gas.


Despite its interest in chemical and biological weapons, al-Qaeda seems focused on the nuclear option. Its stated goal is to kill four million Americans. America's NATO allies with troops in Afghanistan might also be vulnerable.

While the world focuses on Iran as the greatest potential source of nuclear proliferation, the clearest danger may be forming somewhere in Pakistan under the direction of Zawahri and Osama bin Laden. And unlike Iran, al-Qaeda would have no reason to develop a bomb other than to use it.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

GIFT OF LIFE

THE POSITIVE THING IS THAT MUCH OF THE ADOPTION SEEMS TO BE OF BABY GIRLS.

BY BHARATHI PRABHU

 

Many couples are going in for adoption now. Sometimes even when they can or do have biological babies.

There are some striking similarities in many of the instances of adoption. The babies begin to look like the parent. If not facial features, there are the likes and dislikes. My friend with sweet tooth relishes the fact that her daughter loves sweets too. Another athletic friend is thrilled by how quickly his second daughter has learnt to play tennis. His older, biological daughter shies away from sports.


Much of the adoption also seems to be of baby girls. One parent who has adopted a boy confessed that the moment they held the little fellow at the agency, they felt that he was theirs although they too had originally wanted a girl.


The other amazing and common thing is how well the babies thrive. Many are tiny and some almost sickly at the time of adoption but blossom within weeks responding to the love showered on them. A neighbour's baby weighed a mere 3 kg when it was welcomed home at three months. She didn't hold her head up or respond well either. I was slightly concerned. But the young mother was unperturbed and went about the task of bringing up the baby with great enthusiasm. Within months, the child put on weight and now at two, is a delightful chatter box.

Most of the parents have concerns about how best to tell the child that he is adopted. A friend tells me that at age six they gently told their daughter that she didn't come from her mother's stomach. Although initially angry and confused, soon the child said she felt 'Special'. Another friend recounted how it was when the 'news' was broken to the child by a playmate. Tears and questions had followed. Tackling these skillfully, the parents had taken the girl to the orphanage from where she had been brought home. "She hasn't asked us anything more since then", confessed the father. "She is very intelligent and sensitive and knows she means the world to us. In fact, if she had been mine genetically, she couldn't have been this clever", laughs the proud papa.
Adoption, like child birth is a wonderful and difficult process. Parenting adopted children poses unique challenges. It requires a great degree of emotional maturity to handle these challenges. Three cheers to all adoptive parents out there. The world is a better place because of you.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

OUR LINK TO THIS LAND

CAN THE TWITTER GENERATION BE TEMPTED TO EXIT CYBERSPACE, PUT ON WALKING SHOES AND HEAD OUT TO AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIG?

 

 

Can the Twitter generation be tempted to exit cyberspace, put on walking shoes and head out to an archaeological dig at the site of an ancient Israelite city or visit a museum that documents the ingathering of our people after nearly two millennia of exile?


Can these young virtual explorers be expected to disconnect from the borderless universalism of the Web and reconnect to the cultural particularism and territoriality of their own history and nation?


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his government seem to be convinced that teaching the leaders of tomorrow to appreciate their connection to the Land of Israel is not only an educational obligation, but also an existential necessity. We agree.


Symbolically, Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting took place at Tel Hai, the site of a battle 88 years ago during which Joseph Trumpeldor, the Russian Jewish military veteran and indefatigable Zionist, purportedly (new historians shed doubt on this) proclaimed, "Never mind, it is good to die for our country," before dying of wounds sustained while attempting unsuccessfully to beat back a contingent of Beduin marauders who had come to destroy the fledgling Jewish presence in the northern Galilee.


The centerpiece of Sunday's meeting was approving a six-year, NIS 600 million plan (one-third of which is to be funded by private philanthropy) called "Strengthening National Heritage Infrastructure."


The money will be used to refurbish existing historical sites like Tel Hai and to put into digital form a vast body of written, recorded or filmed documentation of national culture to make it more accessible.


Netanyahu had explained the rationale behind the program – which seems at first glance to be difficult to justify from a strictly fiscal perspective – in a speech earlier this month at the Herzliya Conference.


"The guarantee for our continued existence here," Netanyahu told the conference, "depends not just on advanced weapons systems or the strength of the armed forces, the economy or our ingenuity... It depends on our ability to explain the justness of our cause, to make our ties to this land undeniable, first for ourselves and afterward for others.


"We must remember that if this feeling of direction and purpose is lost, if the wellsprings of spiritual strength become cloudy, our future will be cloudy as well."


IN THIS post-modernist, post-Zionist era, Israel's enemies are frighteningly aware of our Achilles heel. Unsurprisingly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad consistently ignores the Jewish people's deep ties to the land of Israel.


"The illegitimate Zionist regime is an outcome of the Holocaust," he said last year in Teheran on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. "... A political and power-seeking network... ruled that the survivors of this particular group of victims must receive compensation and part of this compensation was to establish the Zionist regime in the land of Palestine."


But even Israel's true friends avoid affirming, or forget to affirm, the Jewish people's deep ties to the land of Israel.

US President Barack Obama, in his speech in Cairo in June titled "A New Beginning," respectfully detailed the illustrious history of Islam, expressed his firm commitment to Israel,  detailed the history of Jewish persecution in exile culminating in the Holocaust, but failed to mention a central motif in Jewish history: Throughout those long centuries of exile, dispersed among the nations, the Jewish people yearned to return to its land.


Zionism is incomprehensible without acknowledging this. Pre-Holocaust Trumpeldor is just one example.



Another real friend of Israel, Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, insisted during a visit to Israel earlier this month that "Israel is a part of Europe." He too mentioned the Holocaust ("after a visit to Auschwitz I said to myself, it is impossible not to be Israeli") but nothing about the Jewish people's historical ties to the land.

Perhaps it is the west's justifiable feeling of guilt for allowing the Holocaust to take place that pushes it, often, to tie Israel's right to exist solely to this tragedy.


But another problem, which the government plan aims to remedy, is our own unfamiliarity – and not just among the Twitter generation – with the rich cultural, religious and historical heritage tying us to this land.

And if we are not aware and convinced of our right to return to our homeland, how can we expect this from our friends, no matter how well-meaning?

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE REGION: OUT OF DATE AND OUT OF TOUCH

BY BARRY RUBIN


Many in the Muslim world, including the Palestinians, and in the West still have a distorted knowledge of Israeli positions toward peace-making.

 

Whenever I deal with Palestinians, Arabs, or those describing themselves as supporters of these groups, whether in the Middle East or in the West, what makes the greatest impression is their total lack of knowledge about Israeli positions toward peace-making.


Among Palestinians, and more broadly with most of the public in the Muslim world and many of those in the elite classes in Europe, there exists a mythical Israel, reminiscent of the fabricated anti-Semitic stereotypes of the past and which has little to do with reality. They believe Israel isn't interested in peace, doesn't offer the Palestinians anything, opposes any real Palestinian state, intends to keep the West Bank (until Israel's withdrawal from all of the Gaza Strip in 2005, they would have added that territory as well), and is led by intransigent hardliners. Such a concept was comprehensible - if not fully accurate - and describes the situation in parts of the 1980s but has nothing to do with the two decades.


In 2010, they have no idea what Israel actually offered during the 1990s peace process, or at the Camp David summit in 2000, or what former president Bill Clinton offered with Israel's agreement in December 2000, or what former prime minister Ehud Olmert proffered in 2008, or what is in the current Israeli government's peace offer. All proposed the creation of an independent Palestinian state, the first three in close to 100 percent and the last three as equivalent to 100 percent (with some small, equal land swaps) in size to the pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza Strip.


Lacking any knowledge of these offers, or at least knowing only very distorted versions, they can maintain that Israel has offered "nothing" and that therefore the continuation of the conflict is not due to Palestinian intransigence but Israel's alleged opposition to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. This reminds me of how Mahmoud Abbas, today the leader of the Palestinian Authority, responded to some reasonably accurate descriptions in the Palestinian media of what Israel offered in 2000 at Camp David. It is better, he said at the time, not to talk about these things at all, presumably lest some Palestinians might think that it was a reasonable deal.

INDEED, THERE are a surprising number of people who have not absorbed the changes made since 1994, when the Palestinian Authority began to take control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. After all, it has governed these territories for more than 15 years and certainly has responsibility for what has happened there. And even while Israel has real ability to restrict travel, control access for trade, and is able to send in troops at times - along with the continued existence of settlements - these powers are only exercised in response to high levels of terrorist attacks from these places.


Equally, many don't seem to realize that Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 - that's almost five years ago - and that if Hamas didn't persist in attacking Israel or openly planning for future attempts to destroy it, Israel would leave that area alone entirely.


Anyone who actually lives in Israel knows - whether they like it or not - that Israel is ready to make big concessions and take reasonable risks to achieve peace. They know, whether or not they agree, that the overwhelming majority is ready to accept an independent Palestinian state as long as it is willing to end the conflict and live side by side in peace.


Outside Israel, far fewer people understand this reality. And that includes journalists, academics, and politicians. If they address the issue at all, they presume that Israel is asking the Palestinians to make some huge or unreasonable concession. Often, as noted above, their understanding of Israeli views is more than 20 years out of date.


But the Palestinians especially and Westerners generally know even less about Israel's own demands, which is not surprising since they are never explained in the Arabic-language media and virtually never mentioned in the Western media. These include security guarantees, non-militarization of a Palestinian state, an end to the conflict, and the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Palestine.


The above observations can produce a simple definition of the difference between moderates and radicals. The radicals, both among the Palestinians and their Western sympathizers, know - even if they pretend otherwise - that they want all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea along with Israel's elimination.



This is true whether they seek it through a two-stage process, the dispatch of a million or two Palestinians to Israel in a peace agreement, a one-state solution, or a temporary binational state. Consequently they are indifferent to what Israel actually offers except to distort it for propaganda purposes.


A moderate is someone who actually thinks the Palestinians today want a two-state solution and is genuinely fooled by the ploys outlined above. Consequently, the moderates - few as they are among Palestinians, more numerous in the West - can have the facts explained to them. But the radicals know precisely what they are doing and don't care about any chance for compromise.


The writer is Director at the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA) (http://www.gloria-center.org) and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal (MERIA). He blogs at The Rubin Report http://rubinreports.blogspot.com.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT

BY YORAM DORI


DEMONSTRATORS PROTEST outside the hall at Oxford University where Deputy FM Danny Ayalon was due to speak earlier this month.

 

Approximately a year and a half ago, I accompanied President Shimon Peres on his state visit to London. Whereas he was accorded honor and praise in most of his appearances in the British capital, when he appeared before students at the University of Oxford, he was accosted with open animosity (which he successfully dealt with). Already at the entrance to the hall, there was a protest group of Arab students bearing anti-Israel placards, calling us war criminals. The animosity continued in the auditorium when a noisy Arab minority tried to stop Peres's speech, shouting, "Stop the Occupation" and "Free Palestine." Although almost all the audience supported the president, they did not express any real involvement in what was going on.

That event, which remained without any appropriate reaction, was the opening shot. Over the past weeks, we have been witnessing an increasing anti-Israel campaign on various campuses. The Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren was confronted with ceaseless disturbances on the part of Palestinian students and their supporters during his lecture at the University of California, Irvine earlier this month and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon had to face numerous critical hecklings at Oxford. The events reminded me of the forgotten.

ALREADY AT the beginning of the seventies, an organized anti-Israel campaign was conducted on some campuses in Europe and North America. Various Muslim and Arab bodies, under the auspices of Palestinian organizations, flooded the university paths with anti-Israel publications, held demonstrations and meetings in which Arab speakers attacked Israel's policies (and at the same time Jews) and accused us of racism, fanning violence and inciting war. Later, too, in the eighties, the phenomenon returned to the world's campus halls.

The events in the past were similar to those of today - similar but different. Jewish and Israeli students opposed the Arab students by fighting back strongly. The anti-Israel campaign was confronted by an even more effective counter campaign. Thousands - yes thousands - of young Jewish people enlisted in the battle to defend the State of Israel and in the effort to enable its emissaries and representatives to present their points of view on campuses.

Every Arab demonstration was faced by a counter demonstration. Every flyer was answered by a sticker. Every slander was rebutted. And facing every Palestinian protestor there stood a determined Jewish quorum.

TODAY, REGRETTABLY, the situation is different. It seems to me that the Jewish organizations have changed their priorities. From activism in the field, organizations have gone to passivity in the drawing room, from demonstrations to internal discussions, from undertakings for the issue, they have gone to activities bringing honor and photo opportunities with leaders.


Once the World Zionist Organization had a Youth and Pioneering Department, which organized youth movements in the Diaspora and encouraged young people to come on aliya and to undertake activities for Israel. At present, in the name of efficiency, there is no department and no undertaking. The motivation has remained, but without organization, there is no activity.


The situation among the Jewish students is even more serious. In the past, WUJS - The World Union of Jewish Students activists fought like lions for Israel on campuses. Now - nothing. There was also once a Students Division in the WZO. At present, there may be such a department but one does not see any activities on the campuses.

Organized Jewish activities have undergone a transformation over the last few years. Everyone praises Taglit-Birthright which has enabled 220,000 young Jewish people so far to visit Israel (according to publications).

During Ambassador Oren's lecture I looked for young Birthright alumni who would demonstrate support for Israel. I did not find them. I would have been satisfied with two (to remind you, out of 220, 000). But these, too, were not found. If among the dozens of thousands of young American Jewish people, who are being supported by millions of dollars, we cannot find even a few who will stand up for Israel and who will hush the Arab rioters, I find it difficult to understand what connection to the state was created by the organized tour to Israel.

Yes, I know that it is not pleasant to demonstrate. To face dozens of shouting Palestinians can even be frightening. But this was the traditional task of the Jewish organizations. In the past, the World Jewish Congress was able to bring out to the streets hundreds of thousands on behalf of Russian Jewry. Where has this gone?


It is the moral and Jewish duty of the large Jewish organizations in the world to enlist in this struggle. The defense of Israel's good name and that of IDF soldiers, must receive priority on their agenda. It is a struggle for the existence of the state and the existence of the people and no one may indulge in ignoring it.

The young Jewish generation has the will and the enthusiasm. The logistics and the resources must come from the organizations and the federations and, preferably, without any delay because one basic thing must be remembered: Without the State of Israel, there will be no Jewish nation.


The writer serves as an adviser to President Shimon Peres. He also served as the spokesman of the WZO and for the chairman of JAFI as well as other Jewish organizations.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

BY HADAR SUSSKIND AND LARA FRIEDMAN

 

We don't need to push people who are supportive of Israel away by calling them 'anti-Israel' every time they express concern for Palestinians.

Talkbacks (1)

 

When you've spent years working to bring peace to Israel and to build support for that idea, watching someone else kick it around like a political football is just too much to swallow without speaking up. Two weeks ago, 54 members of Congress sent a letter to President Barack Obama expressing concern for Israel's security, for the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, and for the urgency of reaching a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


The letter was authored by Congressmen Jim McDermott and circulated by both Congressman McDermott and Congressman Keith Ellison. It was supported by more than 15 advocacy groups including both J Street and Americans for Peace Now. Not a single major Jewish communal organization opposed the letter during the six weeks it was open for signatures. There is a good reason no groups opposed the letter, because there is nothing in it that would justify such opposition.


Yet now, the Republican Jewish Coalition (not a Jewish communal organization but rather a partisan organization that targets the Jewish community), for its own narrow political reasons, is attacking members of Congress who signed the letter, grossly mischaracterizing its content and the focus of its message.

Apoplectic letters to the editor and quasi-journalistic screeds opened with the lie that the House letter demanded that Israel "open its border" with Gaza, despite the fact that anybody with a PDF reader could verify that the letter made no such demand, and indeed recognized that Israeli security measures were imposed "out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups."


THE LETTER'S signers were accused of taking an inherently anti-Israel stance, despite the fact that a broad segment of Israeli society itself believes, as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz articulated in a January editorial, in the return to regulated and monitored functioning of the border crossings. "The economic embargo, which has brought severe distress to the inhabitants of Gaza, has not brought down Hamas, nor has it freed kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit," said the article.


With their marching orders in hand, RJC members are now trying to create an echo chamber to make it appear as if there is broad opposition to this letter in the Jewish community, and they are using both Israel's security and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza for their own partisan foil. Their cynical effort to silence those voices that are brave enough to speak up and to score points, without regard to the truth or the real life consequences of their actions, cannot go unchallenged.


No American - Jewish, Muslim or Christian, Democrat or Republican - who recognizes the security benefit to Israel in ending rather than enabling Hamas' monopoly over basic goods in Gaza, who sees that furthering a humanitarian crisis does not equate to fighting terrorism, and who cares for the future of children in the Middle East, Israeli and Palestinian, should let anyone use fear and smear tactics for their own partisan benefit.



There are real threats to Israel. There really are people out there who don't support Israel as a Jewish democratic homeland.

We don't need to invent opposition to Israel and we certainly don't need to push people who are supportive of Israel away from us by calling them "anti-Israel" every time someone expresses either concern for Palestinians or opposition to a particular Israeli government position. Sadly, not everyone seems to understand that.

Hadar Susskind is the Director of Policy and Strategy at J Street. Lara Friedman is the Director of Policy and Government Relations at Americans for Peace Now.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

A DUTY TO PROTEST

 

Some 1,000 people took part in last Friday's demonstration against the separation fence in the village of Bil'in west of Ramallah, marking the fifth anniversary of weekly protests at the site.


Just as on previous Fridays, the police tried to prevent demonstrators from reaching Bil'in, either by detaining them on their way out of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem - a practice that is nothing less than scandalous - or by following them along the route, and then trying to block them from entering the village.


The conduct of the police has been deplorable, as has the recent spate of arrests by the army in Bil'in, during which many of the leaders of the popular committee behind the protests have been detained. Some of them are still in prison - and they don't belong there.


The protest in Bil'in, and in neighboring Na'alin, is an example of civic, usually nonviolent activity undertaken by Palestinians, Israelis and internationals alike, who are protesting a barrier that has severed villagers from most of their lands. Some of the lands have even been expropriated for the use of a nearby settlement.

Bil'in has become a symbol of a civic struggle devoid of terrorism. Such persistent, ongoing protest action is remarkable. It has even prompted the Supreme Court to rule that the route of the fence should be moved, and that some 170 acres of land be returned to the villagers. Astonishingly, this ruling has yet to be implemented by the state, which is thus displaying brazen contempt of court.


The fact that there are still civilians prepared to invest time and energy in nonviolent protest and popular action carried out by two peoples should be lauded, not suppressed.


Actually, last Friday's rally was relatively peaceful: The presence of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and numerous journalists made the Israel Defense Forces and Border Police behave less violently than usual.


Only when the protesters began causing damage to the barrier itself did the security forces react, but even then they used riot-control measures rather than firearms. This is how it ought to be, every Friday.


The protests in Bil'in are legitimate. They must be allowed. Protesters must be permitted unobstructed access to the site, and so should security forces, as long as they act with restraint. Shooting at demonstrators - as has happened in Bil'in all too often - is an act perpetrated by only the most nefarious regimes.

Protesting in Bil'in is not just a right. It is a duty.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

PREEMPTING A 'WHITE INTIFADA'

BY SHAUL MISHAL AND DORON MAZZA

 

 

The status quo between Israel and the Palestinians serves Israel's strategic interests and allows it to focus on confronting the Iranian threat. The relatively calm security situation and the ongoing haggling over the terms of negotiation with the Palestinian Authority also create a perception of quiet and stability vis-a-vis potential talks with Syria.


But this quiet could be destroyed overnight, as pressures are brought to bear on the PA and Hamas. The seeds of trouble lie in the changing view in the two Palestinian entities, Gaza and the West Bank, concerning Israel's power to control the diplomatic agenda and prevent an agreement that may be acceptable to them in the foreseeable future.


We may presume that the Palestinians' activities are influenced by developments in the international arena during recent years, which led to the weakening of the superpowers and the heightened value attributed to human rights. This trend was manifested in the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and, during the past decade, in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan. These movements were aimed at bringing governments to the bargaining table, and their success was assured mainly by employing the media "weapon."


It is not inconceivable that, along the same lines, a method that could be called a "white intifada" will become the Palestinian strategy. It would encompass altering the structure of talks with Israel from bilateral to multilateral negotiations that would break the Israeli and American monopoly on setting the diplomatic agenda.

The so-called white intifada would involve augmented efforts to create a Palestinian polity and would include the building of an institutional infrastructure for a future state. There would be a widely broadcast declaration of Palestinian statehood, followed by demands on Israel - first and foremost, for withdrawal from the West Bank.

Failure to address the demands would be liable to lead to a campaign of economic sanctions against Israel, particularly from Europe, and other steps toward boycotts and ostracism. Israel will then have two difficult alternatives: surrendering to pressure - that is, relinquishing the ability to have the upper hand in the peace process - or standing up to the pressure, which would likely expose it to increased international isolation.
Furthermore, it is possible the Palestinian public would join a protest campaign centering around the issue of settlements. Such a step could lead to a violent conflict, and thereby accelerate international intervention.

For Israel, a preemptive strategy is thus clearly preferable to the ostrich policy, and must be based on two elements. First, expanding the diplomatic scope for dealing with the Palestinian issue through the renewal of talks, and by offering the PA equal negotiating status. And second, widening the circle of those involved in the diplomatic process so as to neutralize in advance the Palestinians' ability to take unilateral steps to bolster international support. Without Israeli-initiated steps of this kind, the chances of a white intifada will grow, and in such a scenario, Israel will have a diminished ability to shape the geopolitical reality between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.


Prof. Shaul Mishal teaches political science at Tel Aviv University. Doron Mazza is a research student in the Department for Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

CAN ISRAEL'S RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY FINALLY ACCEPT ITS HOMOSEXUAL MEMBERS?

BY ZE'EV SEGAL

Any consideration of the actions of the Takana forum must begin with the fact that without Takana or an organization like it, indecent acts committed by spiritual leaders and rabbis would be unlikely to come to the attention of the legal authorities. That is why the public needs such an organization.


But such an organization is capable of operating alongside the law enforcement authorities rather than replacing them. Thus when it receives a complaint that arouses substantial suspicions of criminal wrongdoing, it has an obligation not to keep the matter from the appropriate authorities. In revealing suspicions of indecent acts on the part of Rabbi Mordechai Elon, Takana fulfilled that obligation, thereby refuting its critics, who view the group and others like it as a state within a state.


As has been reported, Takana informed then-attorney general Menachem Mazuz in late 2006 of allegations against Elon that aroused suspicions of sexual offenses on Elon's part. For reasons that have not been adequately explained, Mazuz determined at the time that "there was no way to deal with the specific complaints at the criminal level." With respect to Takana, the relevant question is whether it reported the allegations against Elon as soon as it had substantive information to convey, or only some time later.

 

The secrecy that has surrounded the case until now, despite both the forum's broad composition and the transfer of the information to the police, is exceptional, since suspicions of sexual offenses on the part of public figures are usually reported immediately. The nondisclosure in this case was an act of kindness to Elon, but engenders a sense that a double standard was applied, on the assumption that publication would not have been delayed if the suspect had been a secular public figure. This feeling is reinforced by journalist Avishay Ben Haim, who on Saturday night told Channel 1 television that the editor of his newspaper had decided not to publish the story despite knowing of it, both because the available facts did not seem especially grave and because the editor did not wish to hurt the religious community, which had suffered greatly during the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

In withholding information, Takana sinned primarily against its own religious public, by ignoring the religious commandment not to put a stumbling-block in front of the blind, meaning those young people who were captivated by Rabbi Elon's charm. The information that Takana has now disclosed regarding suspicions of what it termed "extremely grave acts" comes too late, but better late than never.


But beyond the facts of the case, the matter highlights the lack of explicit reference in the laws on sexual offenses to acts allegedly committed by rabbis against people over whom they have influence. Questions also arise regarding what obligation organizations such as Takana have to report suspected criminal activity when they receive complaints relating to sexual exploitation.

The Penal Code ascribes particular severity to indecent acts against a minor, including acts exploiting "relations of dependence, authority [or] education." This can be interpreted as relating to a case involving "relations of dependence" between a rabbi and his student, or between a rabbi and an individual who comes to seek advice and guidance. In this context, bills have been submitted by MKs Otniel Schneller (Kadima) and Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) explicitly seeking to apply these legislative provisions to cases involving advice and guidance from religious figures, which is appropriate.

The conduct of Takana's members, who for a time covered up what was plainly in front of them with regard to Rabbi Elon, raises suspicions that they failed to comply with their legal duty to report an incident involving an offense against a minor. The Penal Code specifies that this duty applies to anyone who has a reasonable basis to think that someone with whom he is associated has committed an offense against a minor. There is an even greater duty in certain instances, such as when an "education worker" has reason to believe that an offense has been committed against a minor by someone "responsible" for that minor.


The Elon case will not result in a criminal indictment if in the end, the allegations do not amount to a criminal offense as defined in the Penal Code or the Sexual Harassment Law. But at the same time, even if no indictment is filed, the allegations provide an opening for those injured as a result of the rabbi's alleged conduct to file a damages suit against members of Takana, for not alerting the public.


This case requires thorough examination from various standpoints in which there is a public interest, so that the necessary lessons can be learned from it. The verdict with regard to the rabbi is of great importance for the religious and the secular public alike.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE PRICE OF FOLLY

BY YEHUDA BEN MEIR

The Israeli government's policy toward the Jewish American organization J Street is mistaken, foolish, harmful and irresponsible. The idiocy of Israel boycotting a Jewish lobby group that enjoys not inconsiderable support both within American Jewry and in the U.S. administration and Congress - just because its positions don't accord with those of the government here - is unprecedented and reveals a state of total confusion.


Apparently this is yet another deplorable result of the disproportionate influence that the far right, here and in the United States, has over Benjamin Netanyahu. It is hard to believe that the prime minister, who is well aware of American and international realities, does not realize that this is an unmatched act of folly.


It's no secret that among U.S. Jews, as among Israeli Jews, there is a wide range of views and attitudes on all current political issues. And it's no secret that among the young generation of American Jews, new winds are blowing. Indeed, perhaps there is even a chilly draft when it comes to questions of their values and morality, and of how these affect their relationship with Israel.

 

Frankly, I find some of J Street's positions unacceptable, and some of the so-called new winds also infuriate me, as they certainly do many other Israelis. But the response should not be boycotting and casting aspersions on these people, rather to conduct an ongoing dialogue with them and to make persistent attempts to explain the government's policies and to convince the group of their correctness. It would be an act of outrageous irresponsibility to alienate these Jews instead of doing everything possible to bring them closer, even while engaging them in sharp debate and arguing in favor of Israel's just positions.


J Street defines itself as a pro-Israel organization, emphasizes that Israel is the state of the Jewish nation and fully supports the American commitment to its security and well-being. This is not Neturei Karta or the extreme left-wing Matzpen, but the elite of American Jewry.


Is it conceivable that the Israeli ambassador in Washington turned down their invitation to address its members? I believe that even if the Islamic lobby in the United States were to invite the ambassador, he should accept and proudly represent Israel's policies before its members. And this is doubly true for a Jewish lobby, and it is the way that all Israeli governments, left and right, have behaved in the past.


One offense leads to another, and one act of folly leads to an even greater one. What began as a senseless step by the ambassador was ratcheted up a notch in Jerusalem last week, when government officials set insulting conditions for a meeting with congressmen who came to Israel as part of a J Street delegation. These people are supporters of Israel, and they did not hide the fact that they were deeply offended. This is hardly the way to advance Israel's cause.


We are in the midst of an unparalleled diplomatic struggle. Our enemies and those who wish us ill are conducting a persistent worldwide campaign aimed at delegitimizing the State of Israel, particularly in Europe and on U.S. college campuses. This is a matter of vital importance: A sober, responsible government would do everything possible to embrace each and every group belonging to that large community - not estrange them.

 

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

OPEN THE DOOR

 

Victims of employment discrimination are increasingly finding the courthouse door closed, as conservative judges twist the law to throw out civil rights suits on technicalities. The Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a discrimination case that African-American applicants to the Chicago Fire Department won on the merits only to have the suit thrown out on the ground that they had complained too late.

 

Chicago administered a test for firefighters in a way that discriminated against blacks. Instead of designating anyone scoring above 65 — the passing grade — as "qualified," it adopted a second benchmark of 89 and decided to hire only from this "well qualified" category.

 

The department was not able to show that doing so produced firefighters who performed appreciably better. But the higher benchmark meant that white applicants were five times more likely than African-Americans to move on to the next stage of the hiring process.

 

A group of African-American applicants designated as "qualified" filed a complaint with the Equal

Employment Opportunity Commission and then sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Federal District Court ruled that the city's hiring practices had discriminated against them.

 

On appeal, the Chicago-based United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed, ruling that the applicants had not filed with the E.E.O.C. within the 300-day time limit set by federal law.

 

The first black applicant filed less than 300 days after Chicago hired firefighters under the new rules, but more than 300 days after the department announced that it would be dividing test-takers into the qualified and well-qualified categories. The appeals court insisted that the limit began when the city announced how it was sorting the applicants, not when it did the hiring.

 

The language of Title VII clearly says that an unlawful employment practice occurs every time an employer

uses a process that has a racially discriminatory impact — not when the process is first announced. Every time the city used its flawed procedures it violated Title VII, resetting the time limit.

 

Common sense would also suggest that applicants should not be expected to complain of illegality until decisions to hire or not hire are actually made.

 

The facts are similar to those in the Lilly Ledbetter case, in which the Supreme Court, in a widely criticized ruling, threw out a female supervisor's pay-discrimination claim, on the ground that she didn't complain in time. Congress rightly passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to make clear that the statute of limitations resets each time an employee is paid at a discriminatory rate. It was among the first bills President Obama signed into law after taking office.

 

The Supreme Court should get it right this time around, and rule that the would-be firefighters complained in time. If it does not, Congress should pass another law ensuring that victims of employment discrimination get their day in court.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

ABOVE THE PAST

 

From time to time, New Yorkers are reminded of the age of this city and the way the past penetrates the present. You see it in the grid of streets, the fabric of buildings — especially the oldest buildings that, for a moment, seem to loom out of some distant year and then recede into the light of the day you're rushing through.

 

We cannot return to some former year, but we can at least get an interactive glimpse of one. Thanks to the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications — and its innovative NYCityMap — it is now possible to revisit 1924 from above.

 

Just follow these simple instructions: At the NYCityMap Web site, click on the camera at the top of the page and move the slider beneath it back to 1924. The interactive city of 2010 fades away to reveal an aerial view of the five boroughs assembled from photographs that have been digitally stitched together.

 

The effect is not as simple as it sounds. The old city doesn't merely replace the new one. It seems to resurface from within it. Gone are Manhattan's perimeter highways — the F.D.R. and the West Side Highway. On the east, the blocks run right up to the water's edge, and on the west, they terminate in a hardworking dockside, with ships at berth where Battery Park City now stands.

 

But the real fun begins as you zoom in, descending to a helicopter's height above the streets. Begin in the now — zooming in to the block-level view on Madison Square Garden — and then slide back to 1924. Out of the rubble of its own destruction rises the old Penn Station, only 14 years old, just coming into its stride.

 

Alas, we cannot zoom any closer than that rooftop view, or we might be able to look down onto the sidewalks themselves and catch a glimpse of those former New Yorkers, all caught up in the vividness, the newness of their vanished present.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

CLIMATE CHANGE

 

Yvo de Boer's resignation on Thursday after nearly four tumultuous years as chief steward of the United Nations' climate change negotiations has deepened a sense of pessimism about whether the world can ever get its act together on global warming. Mr. de Boer was plainly exhausted by endless bickering among nations and frustrated by the failure of December's talks in Copenhagen to deliver the prize he had worked so hard for: a legally binding treaty committing nations to mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases.

 

His resignation comes at a fragile moment in the campaign to combat climate change. The Senate is stalemated over a climate change bill. The disclosure of apparently trivial errors in the U.N.'s 2007 climate report has given Senate critics fresh ammunition. And without Mr. de Boer, the slim chances of forging a binding agreement at the next round of talks in December in Cancún, Mexico, seem slimmer still.

 

Yet his departure is hardly the death knell for international negotiations. It is not proof that such talks are of no value or that the U.N. negotiating framework in place since 1992 should be abandoned. Even Copenhagen, messy as it was, brought rich and poor nations closer together than they had been. And more than 90 countries representing 83 percent of the world's greenhouse gases promised, at least notionally, to reduce their emissions.

 

But his resignation does remind us that the U.N. process is tiring, cumbersome and slow. It reinforces the notion that some parallel negotiating track will be necessary if the world is to have any hope of achieving the reductions scientists believe are necessary to avert the worst consequences of climate change.

 

The Copenhagen pledges, even if all of them are met, will merely stabilize global emissions by 2020. What really matters is what happens after 2020, whether the world can achieve reductions of at least 50 percent by midcentury. That won't happen without big cuts by big emitters like the United States, the European Union, China, India and Brazil.

 

Even before Copenhagen, global leaders were exploring parallel tracks. Former President George W. Bush brought together some of the big emitters, and President Obama has expanded on this idea with the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, a group of 17 countries that plans to meet regularly. The Group of 20 has put climate change high on its agenda, and bilateral efforts — technology exchanges between China and the United States, for instance — are under discussion.

 

The underlying thought is that the ultimate goal is a safe planet, and that absent a top-down global treaty, that goal is probably best achieved by aggressive, bottom-up national strategies to reduce emissions. Not that these are a sure thing; the United States, embarrassingly, has no national strategy. Until it gets one, it can hardly lecture anyone else. Nor will the world stand a ghost of a chance of bringing emissions under control.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

FAILING GRADE

 

At least one in five adult workers in New York City lacks a high school diploma. New York State has the highest failure rate for adults who want to get an equivalent credential by taking the General Educational Development Test, or G.E.D. For the sake of these workers — and New York's economy — the city and state need to work together to rebuild the failing system that is supposed to prepare people for the G.E.D.

 

In her State of the City speech last week, Speaker Christine Quinn said the City Council is committed to fixing the system and outlined several new ideas. To fully rebuild the G.E.D. system, the State Legislature will also need to put a lot more money into the program.

 

New York would do well to emulate Iowa's highly successful preparation program. In 2008, 99 percent of test takers there passed the arduous exam.

 

The secret is this: People in Iowa are given adequate preparation. First they are required to take a diagnostic test. Depending on how they do, they are offered literacy courses or other instruction and given official practice tests before they take the exam.

 

New Yorkers generally find it difficult to find adequate information about the test and where it is given. Many turn up on test day knowing almost nothing about the G.E.D., including the fact that the test lasts about seven hours.

 

In her speech, Ms. Quinn discussed some ways to address these problems. She said the city and its private-sector partners will soon launch a central Web site that will familiarize people with the exam, direct them to literacy training and ensure that each test taker reserves one seat only. (Right now, too many people are being turned away from the exam because of multiple bookings.)

 

In addition, Ms. Quinn has proposed that people who sign up for the exam be required to take the official practice test, so G.E.D. providers could better assess their abilities and recommend remediation if needed.

 

Ms. Quinn also has proposed that people without diplomas who apply for services under the federally financed job training and placement program, known here as Workforce1, be directed to G.E.D. services. The Council should not stop there. It should make sure that many more of the people who are now required to undergo job training in exchange for welfare benefits get into solid G.E.D. programs.

 

That's the best way to advance New Yorkers' skills and their chances of finding good jobs.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE BANKRUPTCY BOYS

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

O.K., the beast is starving. Now what? That's the question confronting Republicans. But they're refusing to answer, or even to engage in any serious discussion about what to do.

 

For readers who don't know what I'm talking about: ever since Reagan, the G.O.P. has been run by people who want a much smaller government. In the famous words of the activist Grover Norquist, conservatives want to get the government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

 

But there has always been a political problem with this agenda. Voters may say that they oppose big government, but the programs that actually dominate federal spending — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — are very popular. So how can the public be persuaded to accept large spending cuts?

 

The conservative answer, which evolved in the late 1970s, would be dubbed "starving the beast" during the Reagan years. The idea — propounded by many members of the conservative intelligentsia, from Alan Greenspan to Irving Kristol — was basically that sympathetic politicians should engage in a game of bait and switch. Rather than proposing unpopular spending cuts, Republicans would push through popular tax cuts, with the deliberate intention of worsening the government's fiscal position. Spending cuts could then be sold as a necessity rather than a choice, the only way to eliminate an unsustainable budget deficit.

 

And the deficit came. True, more than half of this year's budget deficit is the result of the Great Recession, which has both depressed revenues and required a temporary surge in spending to contain the damage. But even when the crisis is over, the budget will remain deeply in the red, largely as a result of Bush-era tax cuts (and Bush-era unfunded wars). And the combination of an aging population and rising medical costs will, unless something is done, lead to explosive debt growth after 2020.

 

So the beast is starving, as planned. It should be time, then, for conservatives to explain which parts of the beast they want to cut. And President Obama has, in effect, invited them to do just that, by calling for a bipartisan deficit commission.

 

Many progressives were deeply worried by this proposal, fearing that it would turn into a kind of Trojan horse — in particular, that the commission would end up reviving the long-standing Republican goal of gutting Social Security. But they needn't have worried: Senate Republicans overwhelmingly voted against legislation that would have created a commission with some actual power, and it is unlikely that anything meaningful will come from the much weaker commission Mr. Obama established by executive order.

 

Why are Republicans reluctant to sit down and talk? Because they would then be forced to put up or shut up. Since they're adamantly opposed to reducing the deficit with tax increases, they would have to explain what spending they want to cut. And guess what? After three decades of preparing the ground for this moment, they're still not willing to do that.

 

In fact, conservatives have backed away from spending cuts they themselves proposed in the past. In the 1990s, for example, Republicans in Congress tried to force through sharp cuts in Medicare. But now they have made opposition to any effort to spend Medicare funds more wisely the core of their campaign against health care reform (death panels!). And presidential hopefuls say things like this, from Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota: "I don't think anybody's gonna go back now and say, Let's abolish, or reduce, Medicare and Medicaid."

 

What about Social Security? Five years ago the Bush administration proposed limiting future payments to upper- and middle-income workers, in effect means-testing retirement benefits. But in December, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page denounced any such means-testing, because "middle- and upper-middle-class (i.e., G.O.P.) voters would get less than they were promised in return for a lifetime of payroll taxes." (Hmm. Since when do conservatives openly admit that the G.O.P. is the party of the affluent?)

 

At this point, then, Republicans insist that the deficit must be eliminated, but they're not willing either to raise taxes or to support cuts in any major government programs. And they're not willing to participate in serious bipartisan discussions, either, because that might force them to explain their plan — and there isn't any plan, except to regain power.

 

But there is a kind of logic to the current Republican position: in effect, the party is doubling down on starve-the-beast. Depriving the government of revenue, it turns out, wasn't enough to push politicians into dismantling the welfare state. So now the de facto strategy is to oppose any responsible action until we are in the midst of a fiscal catastrophe. You read it here first.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE TAX MAZE


Recent times have seen efforts to improve the efficiency of tax-collection systems and the government has proposed the creation of an Inland Revenue Service (IRS) in Pakistan via the World Bank-funded $83 million tax-administration reforms project. This would administer domestic taxes such as personal income tax, sales tax and federal excises, but it has run afoul of the World Bank that is saying that the proposal was not a part of the original programme of reforms it had agreed with the government. The WB has now distanced itself from the planned IRS project in order to avoid any possible penalties that might be imposed by an inspection panel due to visit at the end of the month. A confusing situation got no clearer as the WB has asked the government to withdraw its request for an extension of the programme until December 2011 (it should have closed in December 2009) and has suspended disbursement of any further monies attached to the project. The Federal Board of Revenue chairman tells us that the project is fraught with problems of disbursements which is hampering its implementation, and the government has had the rug pulled from under it by the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) which has declined to acknowledge the (yet to be formally instituted) IRS as a legitimate service group of federal government employees.


According to the FPSC chairman Justice (r) Rana Bhagwandas there is no such animal as the Inland Revenue Service and he could not comment on whether the FPSC had been consulted on the matter before its proposed formation because the matter was sub-judice. Section 7 of the FPSC Ordinance holds the key as it says in essence that the creation of any service group should be made only on the advice of the FPSC; and FPSC officials are on record as saying that they have not yet been consulted about the conversion of the customs and excise group and income tax into the IRS and no consultation means no IRS. This time it seems that the mess is not entirely of our making and the Federal Board of Revenue and GoP say that they have kept the WB fully informed and it was at the WB's insistence that the IRS proposal was created in the first place. The integration of tax administration and the creation of a new occupational group was one of the structural benchmarks adopted in the $11.3 billion standby arrangement with the International Monetary Fund. Consequently, the establishment division on the approval of the prime minister ordered the creation of the IRS in September 2009 – and things have gone downhill ever since. Whether this expensive set of confusions could have been avoided we may never know – but we may be certain that the holes in the tax net have got no smaller as a result.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

ENDANGERED

 

The attacks on journalists in various parts of the country continue unabated. Most recently one has been shot dead in Quetta, another in Khairpur. The motives are mysterious. In Quetta a sectarian dimension is possible. In Khairpur we can assume enmity of some kind. Such incidents have taken place before. The life of professional media persons is becoming increasingly unsafe. Professional bodies of journalists have recently suggested insurance policies for journalists as a bid to ensure some security. This is a good move, but insufficient. Authorities as well as the publishers need to do more to ensure safety and to react with greater alacrity to assaults on those performing professional duties. The perpetrators must be punished under the relevant laws. According to international reports Pakistan is becoming one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the field. We have had cases of cameramen and reporters injured in blasts or killed while covering conflict in the northern parts of the country. Others have been targeted because their reports have displeased powerful individuals.

The question is precisely what measures can be taken. The situation is relatively new one for Pakistan. Dangers of the kind we see now have not existed before. It is also a fact that working media people have faced harassment and intimidation from persons in official places. This sets an alarming precedent and encourages others to resort to similar audacious acts of violence. Journalists have a special role in society. Indeed they have revolutionised the lives of people everywhere by bringing news to the doorstep and to the living room on a daily, indeed, on an hourly basis. Today, people are far better informed than has ever been the case before. This has been even more true since the advent of the TV channels. The government needs to take a lead in the matter and ensure that all possible is done to make sure that media professionals are able to perform their vital social duties freely and safely. This task cannot be delayed any longer.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

NO MERCY

 

The kidnapping of four officials of the international humanitarian NGO, Mercy Corps, on their way from Quetta to Zhob is another reminder of how unsafe Pakistan is becoming for international groups carrying out work for impoverished people in remote areas. The kidnapping comes soon after several other similar incidents in Balochistan. Already a number of international groups, including the UN agencies, have pulled out or reduced work in the country's least developed province. This of course works against the interests of people who urgently need all the assistance they can receive.


It is unfortunate that so far authorities have failed to make Balochistan a safer place for those still willing to work there. All those who were kidnapped were Pakistani nationals. Foreigners have of course already been pulled out from projects in the area. The administration of Balochistan has issued assurances that the abducted officials will quickly be recovered but there is of course no guarantees of this whatsoever. Others who have faced similar violence at the hands of nationalist groups in Balochistan have remained missing for months. We can only hope that this time things will be different. Otherwise the limited humanitarian work currently being carried out in Balochistan and other parts of the country will cease, adding to the hardships of people who benefit from the intervention international experts are able to offer.

 

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I. THE NEWS

THE PATH TO FREEDOM

CHARLES FERNDALE


Kamila Hyat, in a typically lucid, well-reasoned article, published in The News on February 11, laments the present ubiquity of intolerance in Pakistan and asks what might be done about it.


The rise of extremist, religious intolerance over the last thirty years has not been restricted to Pakistan, nor even to the Muslim communities of the world. It has infested Christian communities (mainly in America) and Jewish communities (mainly in America) as well as others, like Shiv Sena, the Hindu fascists of India. We can say then that not all extremism is caused by poverty. Battles for scarce resources, coupled to human nature, are, however, probably key elements in all forms of intolerance, as they have always been the root causes of all human conflicts.

I first came to what I call the extended Middle East in 1972 and detected no religious intolerance of any kind. It was, perhaps, present, but was so rare as to be easily missed. It took me years to even notice that there were people called mullahs. At the time they were mentioned only in passing and with amusement. In those days, I spent most of my time shuttling between the Emirates and Pakistan; most of my business being in the Emirates and most of my friends, tribal and wildlife interests being in Pakistan. Almost every night, Arab friends from the Emirates, my Pakistani friends and I used to meet in the house of my Pakistani friends for gupshup in Abu Dhabi. The same people also gathered in Karachi where my Pakistani friends and I each had a house. We discussed everything under the sun, engaged in expansive fantasies, ignited exciting differences of opinion, and enjoyed much good humour. I had just come down from almost ten years at Oxford—which then, as now, was a glorious centre of free, generous, good humoured, well informed debate—and I felt no sudden change of culture; the topics were different, but the spirit was the same. I loved Pakistan, as I had loved Oxford. Then, in 1979, the Irani revolution came along and strange things started to happen. My Arab friends started to behave oddly towards me. They would not come to my house in the Emirates nor to the one in Karachi. They would leave the house of my Pakistani friends in Abu Dhabi as soon as I arrived, and would call in advance to check that I was absent before arriving there themselves. They were cold towards me. My Pakistani friends were sophisticated people, so I was able to ask them the cause of this odd behaviour—so untypical of Muslims (whose commitment to courtesy and hospitality is unparalleled, except perhaps by the Japanese). They explained gently that since the Ayatollah had come to power and had advertised to the Muslim world the superior sanctity of Shia Islam by vigorous opposition to America, all Muslim Arabs were ashamed to be left behind in the sanctity stakes and so, though not an American, I had suddenly become a ferengi, to be avoided; I was now thought to be, possibly, contaminated by alien philosophies, might have dirty ways and might harbour hostilities to Islam. News to me!


Traditionally,the region now called Pakistan, throughout most of its history, has been a much more culturally, religiously and ethnically diverse and tolerant place than the Arabian peninsular. But in 1979 the Americans had just had Bhutto judicially murdered and had foisted upon Pakistan one of the most accursed leaders its people have ever had to endure: notably, General Zia Ul-Haq. Under his religious tyranny, the exquisite diversity, complex spiritualities, and innumerable cultural traditions of Pakistan came under increasingly savage attack. Enlightened education, even civil society, was threatened. And, yet more damaging (but seldom mentioned), was the fact that Pakistan became a playground for incredibly destructive business enterprises (many financed by Gulf Arab money, US aid, IMF and World Bank money, and also by the proceeds of corruption and other crimes). Pakistan's habitat was decimated. Corruption flourished. The poor got poorer; the rich got richer. The gap in wealth widened painfully. The majority of Pakistanis felt neglected. The population of Pakistan tripled. Once again, the attacks on the lives, welfare, cultures and traditions of Pakistanis were launched indifferently by locals financed and supported (in most cases), or just tolerated (in others), by successive American administrations and their proxies (the CIA, the IMF and World Bank, playing key, and singularly destructive roles).

In addition, the British and American policy of funding Islamic extremism, begun in 1928 as a weapon against Soviet communism and as an instrument of war in their geopolitical struggles, then found its ugliest manifestations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as the mujahideen, financed by America and Saudi Arabia equally, forced the Russian invaders out of Afghanistan and then proceeded to destroy their own country in bloody conflicts over the spoils. They were stopped by the Taliban. The Taliban were then overthrown by America and its allies in 2001. The Taliban itself then fractured into disparate groups, with no central command (so became harder to discipline) and many turned to crime in order to survive and feed their families and friends. The ex-mujahideen were put straight back into power by the Americans. The Americans then set about making some of their least admirable characters (neocons, Zionists and others) fabulously rich at the expense of relatively poor US tax payers and of course at the more serious and tragic cost of the lives, welfare and cultures of Afghanis and Pakistanis, who had no desire for, nor any interest in, the foreigners' military presence there. So what we see today is quite simply the outcome of Western foreign policies in this region over decades.


The lesson we should draw from this history, is that if any real progress in Pakistan and Afghanistan is to be made, back towards the tolerance that used to characterise the people of this part of Islamic Asia, then the area must free itself of Western dominance, which means, at the very least, that all the foreign military forces must go (though this is not all that must be done!). The people of this region sense that strongly. But the last thirty years of the their rage-generating history, coupled with 1378 years of ill-understood Islamic history (misused by political Islamists), has led them to believe that the only way to free themselves from Western political dominance is to reject all aspects of Western liberal thought, and to retreat into every form of extremist conduct supposedly despised by many Western opinion makers. So the militant front-fighters — those Islamists who reject Western influence violently — egregiously hate democracy (which they see, correctly, as a phony device for putting US chosen 'leaders' in power, without appearing to violate America's professed, but never practiced, admiration for people's power); they reject all liberal education (especially for females); they decapitate heretics; despise, persecute and sometimes kill deviants; burn books, videos and music tapes; eschew clean shaven chins on male adults; are against cosmetics; beat people who use the toilet incorrectly; indulge in laughable superstitions, bully at will and celebrate cruelty; wear western dress usually only when wrapped in suicide bombs and seeking access to foreign victims; and generally discourage all forms of rationality and learning. Their behaviour has become almost indistinguishable from that of the (supposedly) Christian religious bigots who tormented the people of Europe for hundreds of years and retarded its cultural and scientific progress by about 2000 years. By this means, a people, whose fundamental instincts on one central issue are correct (yes, they must free themselves of Western political dominance), damage themselves doubly: they unwittingly do their enemies' dirty work (against themselves) at the cost of their own lives and simultaneously deprive themselves of exactly that which they need in order to really free themselves of Western dominance (notably, the power of reason). What irony! The militants are fighting their way through all that has comprised real intellectual progress in human history, back to the Dark Ages of Europe, thus working against themselves on behalf of those few, though powerful, malign Westerners who wish to oppress them. The militants too are oppressing Muslims while the effects of their violence on their supposed enemies in the West amount to little more than inconveniences. Their actions make the invasion of their countries by Western powers seem virtuous. Even some well educated, but equally deluded, Muslim intellectuals fall into this self-destructive trap. And, of course, none of them allows rational discussion of the origins of these self-destructive delusions.


Muslims who rightly wish to be free of Western dominance will never accomplish that admirable goal by denying themselves all that is good and true from what emerged from the brave struggles of Europe's intellectual heroes to free their cultures from 2000 years religious bigotry. Those people are Muslims' spiritual friends not enemies.

The writer has degrees from the Royal College of Art, Oxford University, and the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London. Email: charles ferndale@yahoo.co.uk

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

KABUL'S WOMEN

SAHAR SABA


In 2001, US First Lady Laura Bush said "the fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.'' In practice, because of the subsequent US military strategy to bring warlords into power to replace the Taliban has proved to be a negation of this. Women's rights are regularly traded for political deals. Afghanistan's most famous woman and youngest MP, Malalai Joya, remains suspended from parliament because of the government's effort to please the Northern Alliance. Gulbadin Hikmatyar, notorious since the 1970s for his anti-women barbarities, has been accommodated. Now talks with the Taliban are underway.


On the streets of Kabul burqa-clad women outnumber those without burqa. So much for images flashed in the global media in 2001 of Afghan women happily removing their veils. Those without burqa are subjected to sexual harassment at workplaces and in the streets and are more vulnerable to groping by men on public buses. This is an outcome of Talibanisation, which views a woman without purdah as having questionable character. Hence, many girls who want to study or work prefer burqa to escape sexual harassment. It is the same Kabul where two decades ago girls went to university in skirts with burqa-clad students, without ever inviting trouble.


Though the Karzai administration keeps boasting about millions of girls being registered at schools and colleges, far more women are unable to read and write than men. Eighty percent of woman suffer domestic violence, 60 percent are coerced into forced marriages while half of them are married before reaching the age of 16. Self-immolation has of late become common practice among desperate Afghan women seeking an escape from the harsh Afghan life. True, the situation is not comparable with the Taliban-era nightmare, but women in Kabul have not regained even a fraction of liberties they used to have before the Taliban and their jihadi predecessors after the fall of the secular government.


The situation remains grim not merely because of the anti-women character of the present regime. An important factor is its failure to carry out the promised reconstruction of the country destroyed by three decades of civil war. Western governments justifiably blame misappropriation of funds by Karzai's super-corrupt cabinet for the failed reconstruction. This, however, is merely half the truth. The other half was disclosed by a coalition of NGOs called Acbar.


In a revealing report in 2008, Acbar said that $10 billion out of $25 billion the global community pledged to rebuild Afghanistan in 2001 had not even been delivered. Again, 40 per cent of what was delivered, went back to donor countries as corporate profit and the fat salaries drawn by their staff working mostly in Kabul. Two years on, the situation remains the same.


It becomes particularly hard for women when basic infrastructure necessary for urban life is missing. There is scarcity of water. During winter, there is running water for three hours a week in the city's middle-class neighbourhoods. In summer, as water consumption soars, water supply becomes still worse. Even for women in Kabul, who live a relatively easy life, household chores are a needless drudgery. Washing dishes or doing laundry in ice cold water is torture. Kabul is a dusty city, which means more laundry, as well as dusting of homes.

Water from hand pumps is often hard, and therefore good only for toilets, not for dishwashing or laundry. Toilets consist of small rooms, a couple of feet above ground level, built in a home's corner of the courtyard. The entire family— particularly women, since men can go outside the home for the purpose—defecate in the deep hole dug there. Once a week, a sweeper comes to remove the filth.

Except for some of its posh areas, Kabul is lacking in sanitation facilities. Countrywide, hardly eight per cent have access to sanitation. Infant mortality during childbirth is the high