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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

EDITORIAL 24.02.10

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Editorial

month february 24, edition 000438, 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. MAOIST OFFER IS A HOAX
  2. THE PEACE DIVIDEND
  3. VICTORY TO THE GODS - CLAUDE ARPI
  4. A TOUGH STAND THE ONLY CHOICE - TH CHOWDARY
  5. A DIABOLICAL PLOY - CHANDAN MITRA
  6. PLAYING WITH FIRE - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
  7. CANARD AS COMMENT - HARI OM
  8. WEAPONS OF THE 21ST CENTURY - ILYA KRAMNIK

MAIL TODAY

  1. CLEAR MAOIST REPLY NEEDED TO PC'S OFFER
  2. CAPITAL SHAME
  3. LOW KEY OUTCOME BUILT INTO PAK TALKS - BY BHARAT BHUSHAN
  4. PATIALA PEG - VIKAS KAHOL

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. END THE VIOLENCE
  2. LONGER INNINGS
  3. A TALE OF TWO NATIONS - GAUTAM ADHIKARI
  4. 'TELANGANA HAS TURNED INTO A COLONY OF ANDHRA'
  5. TIME AND TIDE - K V KRISHNAN
  6. TERRIFYING QUESTION - JUG SURAIYA
  7. A CALLER ID OPTION FOR YOUR THOUGHTS - MATA AMRITANANDAMAYI

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. PROTECTION FOR ALL PAKISTANIS
  2. RAIL BUDGET ROOK
  3. KEEP FAITH AND HAVE PATIENCE - REENA P RAJ
  4. CHINA SHOULD BIDE ITS TIME - CHRIS PATTERN
  5. TRY A NEW RECIPE - ASHOK GULATI AND KAVERY GANGULY

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. THICK RED LINES
  2. SPOTTING SPOTTERS
  3. INTELLIGENCE QUOTIENTS
  4. CAREFUL OF THE CALM - SHISHIR GUPTA
  5. TRAINING OUR SIGHTS ON THE FUTURE - SARABJITARJANSINGH
  6. EXPANDING OUR TOWNS FOR URBAN GROWTH - RANESH NAIR
  7. WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION - NITYARAMAKRISHNAN
  8. MEDALS PAINTED GOLD
  9. VIEW FROM THE LEFT - MANOJ C G

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. REC'S SORROWS
  2. PRICES IN PARLIAMENT
  3. MICRO ECONOMICS IN BUDGET 2010 - SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA
  4. FM SHOULD REDUCE TAX EXEMPTIONS - P RAGHAVAN
  5. DEBATING REALLY ISN'T IN FASHION - JAYA JUMRANI

THE HINDU

  1. IN DEEP CRISIS
  2. HAIR REVEALS OUR PAST
  3. POVERTY ESTIMATES VS FOOD ENTITLEMENTS - JEAN DRÈZE
  4. ONE HIV TEST, BUT TWO RESULTS - ELIZABETH PISANI
  5. A FRAGILE AMBIENCE OF HOPE - P. S. SURYANARAYANA
  6. NCHER BILL: MISMATCH BETWEEN PROMISES AND PROVISIONS
  7. UNEP AWARDS FOR TWO INSTITUTIONS

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. MAOIST CEASEFIRE OFFER: IS IT REAL?
  2. DEMYSTIFYING INDO-PAK TALKS
  3. UNPRINCIPLED POLITICS

DNA

  1. FRAGILE PEACE
  2. SAFETY FIRST
  3. LET US STRIVE TOWARDS BEING TRUE PATRIOTS - ABHAY VAIDYA
  4. TOWARDS DEMOCRACY? - STANLEY A WEISS

THE TRIBUNE

  1. BUDGETING BLUES
  2. TALKS A RED HERRING
  3. JUDGES' RETIREMENT
  4. GEOPOLITICS AND SRI LANKA - BY KAMLENDRA KANWAR
  5. THE PHOTO JOURNALIST - BY RAJ CHATTERJEE
  6. HOW TO REVERSE PUNJAB'S DOWNHILL JOURNEY - BY SARBJIT DHALIWAL
  7. LET'S FIGHT FUTURE WARS BY OTHER MEANS - BY MARY DEJEVSKY
  8. SUPER MARKETS MUST TELL TRUTH ABOUT MEAT - BY MARTIN HICKMAN

MUMBAI MERROR

  1. INSTITUTIONALISED SQUATTING

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. DEALING WITH DAM FAILURES
  2. THE OTHER BUDGETS
  3. EXPECT A MARKET-FRIENDLY BUDGET - A K BHATTACHARYA
  4. AN INSTITUTIONAL SUCCESS STORY - ARVIND SUBRAMANIAN:
  5. IS SPIKED PETROL A GOOD IDEA?
  6. ARBITRATION SLOWDOWN - M J ANTONY

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. POWERFUL ALTERNATIVE
  2. STATES TURN FISCALLY PRUDENT
  3. HYPOCRISY ON FOOD PRICES
  4. GLOBALISATION & INTERNAL CONNECTIVITY - SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR
  5. TIME TO SWITCH OFF POWER LOSSES - JAIDEEP MISHRA
  6. RETAIL INVESTORS TURN STREET-SMART, SKIP IPOS - VIJAY GURAV
  7. NIFTY FEB EXPIRY SEEN AT 4800- 4900
  8. MFS HARDSELL MIPS AS MARKET TURNS VOLATILE - NISHANTH VASUDEVAN
  9. CORRECTION BEGINS WITH ADMISSION - VITHAL C NADKARNI
  10. IS FERTILISER REFORM FARMER-FRIENDLY ?
  11. FERTILISER REFORMS WERE LONG OVERDUE
  12. SECTOR NEEDS MORE SUCH BENEFICIAL POLICIES
  13. GLOBALISATION & INTERNAL CONNECTIVITY - SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR
  14. TIME TO SWITCH OFF POWER LOSSES - JAIDEEP MISHRA
  15. 'ANYONE CAN BECOME A BUILDER TODAY' - SUGATA GHOSH & MAYUR SHETTY
  16. BHARTI WANTS TO LEAD IN MANY EMERGING MKTS: CEO - SHALINI SINGH
  17. REDUCING GOVT EXPENDITURE AT A STEADY PACE'S CRUCIAL - SIDDHARTHA SANYA
  18. THE CADBURY-KRAFT MARRIAGE IS MADE IN HEAVEN - KALA VIJAYRAGHAVAN

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. MAOIST CEASEFIRE OFFER: IS IT REAL?
  2. UNPRINCIPLED POLITICS - BY P.C. ALEXANDER
  3. THE NARCISSUS SOCIETY IS TORMENTING US - BY ROGER COHEN
  4. DEMYSTIFYING INDO-PAK TALKS - BY K.C. SINGH
  5. DISTANT WARS AND CONSTANT GHOSTS - BY SHANNON P. MEEHAN
  6. DIVINE DESIGN WILL GUIDE YOU - BY MUZAFFAR ALI

THE STATESMAN

  1. AT SIXES AND SEVENS
  2. DOOMED TO FAILURE
  3. OVER THE TOP
  4. TEMPLE AS THE 'SOUL' - BY AMULYA GANGULI
  5. 'LEFT HAS IGNORED THE NEED FOR SOCIAL CHANGES'
  6. DARK SIDE OF HENRY MOORE
  7. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. PEACE HUNT
  2. LEGAL DEMAND
  3. REASON OVER EMOTION - ASHOK GANGULY
  4. IN THE EYE OF THE EVIL - ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA

DECCAN HERALD

  1. SEIZE THE SPACE
  2. POTENT WEAPON
  3. CRISIS OF CREDIBILITY - BY SUDHANSHU RANJAN
  4. THE RIGHT OF MOTHER EARTH - BY LEONARDO BOFF
  5. LIVING IN HOPE - BY BHARTENDU SOOD

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. PORUSH'S LEGACY
  2. BASH ISRAEL (AND YOUR BRAIN) - BY AMNON RUBENSTEIN
  3. SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE ISRAELI - BY DAVID BREAKSTONE
  4. MIDEAST DRAMA STARRING DANNY AYALON - BY RAY HANANIA
  5. EGYPT, A CIVIC MOMENT OF SILENCE - BY NIR BOMS

HAARETZ

  1. NEEDED: ROADS WITH LEEWAY
  2. NETANYAHU FACES DOUBLE INTIFADA FROM PALESTINIANS AND SETTLERS - BY ALUF BENN
  3. WHY DOES ISRAEL CONTINUE TO DISMISS OBAMA'S MIDEAST PEACE EFFORTS? - BY GABI SHEFFER
  4. A CIVIL MARRIAGE WITH AN EXPIRATION DATE - BY NIVA LANIR
  5. THE ROAD TO STABLE DEMOCRACY - BY REUVEN RIVLIN

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. QUESTIONS FOR MR. TOYODA
  2. POWER GRAB
  3. FIVE REPUBLICAN VOTES
  4. IRAQ'S KNOWN UNKNOWNS, STILL UNKNOWN - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  5. BUST THE HEALTH CARE TRUSTS - BY ROBERT B. REICH
  6. EXTENDING OUR STAY IN IRAQ - BY THOMAS E. RICKS

I.THE NEWS

  1. DRAGGING FEET
  2. CHANGE AT THE HELM
  3. ENDLESS TERROR
  4. THE GAME-CHANGER - ZAFAR HILALY
  5. WILL YOU LISTEN, MR PRESIDENT? - SALEEM SAFI
  6. FREE FOR ALL - DR A Q KHAN
  7. ON THE WRONG SIDE - RAOOF HASAN
  8. THE CHIEF SECRETARY'S CHAUFFEUR - ANJUM NIAZ
  9. SURVIVAL - CHARLES FERNDALE

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. COD IS NOT SO SACROSANCT
  2. CLOSURE OF CHASHMA-JHELUM LINK CANAL
  3. MORE AUTONOMY FOR AJK
  4. SCUTTLING IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAMME - AIR MARSHAL AYAZ A KHAN (R)
  5. NRO: TICKTOCKING, UK & USA - RIZWAN GHANI
  6. TRIUMPH OF DEMOCRACY - MALIK M ASHRAF
  7. AGENTS AND CONSPIRATORS - AFSHAIN AFZAL
  8. INDIA'S LACKLUSTRE REFORM EFFORTS - GEETA ANAND

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. ENERGY CRISIS
  2. KING SOLOMON'S FORT?
  3. YOU'RE NOT A CHICKEN..!
  4. CLIMATE SCIENCE IS ALIVE - TAREQUL ISLAM MUNNA
  5. UNBECOMING DEFIANCE AND DEMOCRATIC ETIQUETTE - SULAV CHOWDHURY
  6. HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT  - MD ASHRAF HOSSAIN
  7. SYMPATHY AND TEA MAY NOT BE ENOUGH - DR TERRY LACEY
  8. SEARCHING NEW DYNAMICS IN LEADERSHIP OF HASINA AND KHALEDA
  9. ABDUL QUADER CHOWDHURY
  10. WHY DO MUSLIMS LAG BEHIND IN THE PRESENT WORLD? - PITER MASUD

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. MEDIA WATCH MORE IN TOUCH THAN INSIDERS
  2. WHEN IT COMES TO COAG, LESS MAY DELIVER MORE
  3. SHARPEN COUNTER-TERRORISM

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. A CALMER STRATEGY AGAINST TERRORISM
  2. IT'S TIME TO RETREAT ON STUDENT GRANTS
  3. GARRETT MUST GO IF THE BUNGLING IS TO END
  4. ISOLATE TERRORISTS IN WORD AND DEED

THE GUARDIAN

  1. EDUCATION: FAITH NO MORE
  2. PRESS STANDARDS AND LIBEL: HACKING AWAY AT THE TRUTH
  3. IN PRAISE OF … A NUCLEAR-FREE EUROPE

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. ENTERING 3RD YEAR
  2. VANCOUVER FEATS
  3. CAMPUSES AS ENGLISH-ONLY ZONES - KIM SEONG-KON
  4. HOW TO LIVE THE WAY OF 'PEOPLE POWER'

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. GSDF OFFICER OUT OF LINE
  2. NAGASAKI SHOWS DPJ FAULT LINE
  3. THREE LESSONS FROM COPENHAGEN - BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY
  4. THE IMF TO GREECE'S RESCUE? - BY SIMON JOHNSON

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. MARGINAL PROPENSITY TO SAVE
  2. VIEW POINT: THE 'BARONGSAI' SYNDROME - JULIA SURYAKUSUMA
  3. LOST BETWEEN THE FOREST AND THE TIGER WOODS - TOM PLATE
  4. A WIDESPREAD HYPOCRISY ENTAILS A SOCIAL ANOMALY - BUDIONO KUSUMOHAMIDJOJO
  5. DEFENSE ACQUISITION REFORM ESSENTIAL FOR INDUSTRY - CURIA MAHARANI AND DAVID MOORE

CHINA DAILY

  1. IRAN 'SOLUTION' A TRAP
  2. STOP VIOLENT DEMOLITIONS
  3. SHOULD CHINA REVALUE ITS CURRENCY? - BY GARY S. BECKER (CHINA DAILY)
  4. MEDIA PUNDITS DEPICT NATION'S ROLE IN AFRICA WRONG - BY BARRY SAUTMAN AND YAN HAIRONG (CHINA DAILY)
  5. WIDEN THE TABLE ON RICE DEBATE - BY LI DUN (CHINA DAILY)
  6. A HEAVY HEART IN THE YEAR OF THE TIGER - BY CHEN WEIHUA (CHINA DAILY)

DAILY MIRROR

  1. SINDU, THE MALWATTA BABY ELEPHANT THAT RAN AMOK
  2. COLOMBIANS REVISITED
  3. PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS 2010: LIVING THROUGH A KLEPTOCRACY AND NOT WANTING AN ALTERNATIVE
  4. GRABBING AND GREED - DOES IT EVER END?  

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

MAOIST OFFER IS A HOAX

RED TERRORISTS ARE PLAYING FOR TIME


It is clear as crystal that the so-called ceasefire offer by the Maoists is a calculated hoax. The peace offer is not open-ended but limited to 72 days ending May 7. Coincidentally, this is the day Parliament's Budget session ends. The Maoists will not lay down arms — in fact they probably plan to turn up with their weapons, as they did in Andhra Pradesh in 2004 — and will only negotiate if "progressive intellectuals" mediate between the Government of India and a bunch of habitual law-breakers and thugs. The 2004 precedent would be instructive. In Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists used the 'peace process' to regroup, without any intention of giving talks a chance. They made outlandish demands — including the expulsion of MNCs from Hyderabad and the shutting down of its IT business complex — and re-launched their rebellion with trademark ferocity. Fortunately, in the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy Andhra Pradesh then had a tough and remarkably clear-headed Chief Minister. He unleashed the lethal Greyhound commandos and systematically destroyed the leadership of the Maoist militia in the districts. Completely crippled, the Maoists fled the State and disappeared into neighbouring Chhattisgarh. With such a record, it would be a foolish establishment that would trust the bogus offer of peace talks. That aside, the very idea of "progressive intellectuals" playing any sort of honest broker role is shockingly naïve. In West Bengal, this term refers to writers who produce drab novels and bad poetry, film-makers who make unwatchable and excruciatingly depressing cinema and activists more concerned with the revolution in Venezuela than the well being of Vizag. These are people with zero idea of reality, ivory tower personalities whose travels into the 'real' India are limited to political tourism. The last time India trusted such intellectuals as mediators in talks with terror groups was in Assam, when busybodies thought they could negotiate with the United Liberation Front of Asom. The results of that catastrophic experience still haunt large tracts of Assam.


Rather than be bullied by the Maoists and their intellectual auxiliaries — who seem to have extraordinary leverage with the media — the UPA Government should come out with a concrete counter-proposal. Home Minister P Chidambaram has been consistent in his position that talks are only possible if the Maoists set aside their guns and abjure violence. This bottom line cannot be breached and the Maoists and their friends will have to come round to it. If they don't then, given the Andhra Pradesh template of 2004, the Maoist offer will be inevitably seen as suspect and hypocritical. Should the Government stick to its instincts, it is likely to face criticism from familiar quarters. The same Left-liberal faces who turn up on television screens, backed by treacherous sections of the political class, will accuse the UPA of heartlessness. Never mind. This is not a moment to be wasted. There is wide-spectrum agreement on the need to destroy the Maoists. It stretches from the Congress and the BJP to the CPI(M). Militarily, this is the best time to act and to take advantage of the temporary contradiction between the organised and unorganised Left. If it loses the 2011 West Bengal election, the CPI(M) may begin to rebuild bridges with the Maoists and dismantle the consensus. That is why the next 12 months are critical, and that could be why the Maoists are playing for time.


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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

THE PEACE DIVIDEND

RAJAPAKSA SHOULD FOCUS ON REFORMS


Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's emphatic victory in last month's presidential election has surely earned him a place in the annals of his country's history. Mr Rajapaksa is not only someone who can legitimately claim to have delivered his people from the scourge of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and put to an end a quarter-century-old civil war but also a Sri Lankan leader who enjoys a huge popular mandate. This places Mr Rajapaksa in a unique position wherein he commands the necessary resources to usher in a never-before-experienced period of development, peace and political stability for Sri Lanka. It cannot be stressed enough that even though the Tamil Tigers have been vanquished once and for all, the seeds of Tamil grievances remain. Unless these grievances are addressed and the Tamil minority community of Sri Lanka empowered politically, economically and socially, the country will not develop at the pace at which it is capable of. Besides, Mr Rajapaksa's recent electoral victory is a reflection of the fact that the people of Sri Lanka now want nothing more than unhindered inclusive growth and that they look up to their President to make this happen. Thus, if Mr Rajapaksa fails to deliver on this front, he would be denying himself the legacy that he truly deserves.


Sri Lankans are slated to go to polls next month to elect a new Parliament. With the Opposition coalition virtually disintegrating in the aftermath of the defeat of its combined presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka, it is likely that the ruling United People Freedom Alliance will gain a comfortable majority. This will further strengthen Mr Rajapaksa's hand. But before that happens, the Sri Lankan President should set into motion the much-needed constitutional reforms that would see significant devolution of power in the Tamil-majority areas of the country. It is true that this would require appropriate ratification by the country's Parliament. But as an executive President, Mr Rajapaksa has the authority to initiate the process. And there is little excuse for him not to do so. Mr Rajapaksa has had everything going his way. Needless to say that this has benefited the people of Sri Lanka immensely. But now it is time for him to shed the image of a war-time President and don the avatar of a statesman. For, Sri Lanka today is at a critical juncture and the path that its President charts for the nation could be the difference between the country emerging as a stable and prosperous economy and a state mired in constant internal strife. Mr Rajapaksa knows this well. Let him not squander the golden opportunity that destiny has presented him. He must finish the job that he has started.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

VICTORY TO THE GODS

CLAUDE ARPI


Just a couple of days after the 'historic' meeting between US President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama (I don't consider it as truly historic as previous American Presidents have also met the Tibetan leader), a photo appeared on the Internet. It was taken by an AFP photographer and was apparently released by the White House. One sees a smiling Dalai Lama coming out from what is said to be the kitchen door of the White House, with piles of garbage on the side. A pro-Tibetan group based in India commented, "Orphans of the Cold War!"


I don't know about the Cold War, but the Tibetans are certainly 'orphans' today. Even nations and leaders who pretend to stand for human rights, democracy or free speech are panicky about China's new might. As a result, these countries only pay lip service to human values.


Even if Mr Obama had planned for a low-key encounter, the Dalai Lama should have been given a decent exit. Sadly, the most powerful nation of the world chooses today to bow to the economic rise of the Middle Kingdom. Even before seeing this picture, my first reaction to the long-awaited meeting was: It is only good for Obama's karma.


Will it have positive results for the Tibetans? I am not sure. Several friends told me that it is better to meet the US President than not to meet him; they are probably right, however, at the same time, I don't think one can expect miracles from the Dalai Lama's Washington visit.


Most of the media covering the event emphasised on Mr Obama's courage: He dared to defy Chinese anger (or diktats?) to meet the Tibetan leader. Well, it is probably the minimum that the new Nobel Laureate could do. How could he refuse to receive the Tibetan leader when his predecessors have met him?


Before the event, Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's special envoy had set a conciliatory tone: "His Holiness will be asking the President to help find a solution in resolving the Tibet issue that would be mutually beneficial to the Tibetan and Chinese people."


On their side the Chinese Government had as usual requested Washington to cancel the meeting which would 'damage' Sino-American relations. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu declared: "China resolutely opposes the visit by the Dalai Lama to the United States, and resolutely opposes US leaders having contact with the Dalai Lama."


So, Mr Obama 'discretely' met the Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House where American Presidents usually stage hush-hush meetings.


The Obama Administration termed the encounter as a "private call" and though White House spokesman Robert Gibb declared that the President supported "the preservation of Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in China", it is not clear how the US will practically translate this on the ground for the Tibetans.


The meeting was certainly good for Mr Obama's image since his popularity is tumbling fast (mainly due to domestic policies and his position on Afghanistan). A recent survey pointed that about 52 per cent Americans believe that Mr Obama does not deserve a second term in office. In another CNN opinion poll, released on the eve of the meeting in the Map Room, nearly three-quarters of the Americans said that Tibet should be an independent country, (even if the Dalai Lama does not ask for independence anymore).


The strong feeling of Americans was an important factor in the decision by the Obama Administration to brave Beijing's ire. But what will it bring to the Tibetans? The Chinese leaders today are too arrogant to listen to anything coming out of Washington. In fact, they strongly resent any advice from the West. Moreover, the US is deep in debt. What can a country with such a huge debt towards China impose on the Rising Dragon?

The Tibetan issue is extremely complex and the present leadership in Beijing does not possess the courage or the charisma to take the plunge and offer a genuine solution acceptable to the Tibetan people. This is a pity because the Dalai Lama is the only person who could help sort out the present contradictions of China. It is, however, true that a genuine solution would bring about tremendous changes inside China and perhaps the collapse of the present system under a totalitarian Communist regime.


Another aspect of the problem appeared in an event which took place in north-eastern Tibet (outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region). Thousands of Tibetans demonstrated in Ngaba County of Amdo Province. It was not like in March 2008 to express their anger against the Chinese, but to show their joy: Their leader had met the most powerful man in the world.


The website Phayul.com reported: "The mournful atmosphere of the Tibetan New Year was replaced by jubilation with people bursting firecrackers in the streets and celebrating." Crowds from nearby villages gathered near Ngaba Kirti monastery for a purification ritual; they burned incense and erected wind-horse prayer flags. Thousands marched in the streets and shouted "ki ki so so lha gyalo" (victory to the gods) while throwing tsampa (barley flour) in the air. Apparently the Chinese security forces did not know how to react to the incense-burning. The Chinese police eventually confiscated the firecrackers from the Tibetans and extinguished the ritual fires.


The day after Mr Obama met the Dalai Lama, I happened to attend a dance performance by a group of Tibetan students who were perhaps 13 to 14 years old; they were not professional dancers, just students who, during their holidays, had learned some steps and songs. But they were really good. Their eagerness to preserve their ancient culture was quite touching. Interestingly, most of the youngsters were born in Tibet and had only come recently to India to learn about their own tradition.


I believe this is one of the greatest achievements of the Dalai Lama: More than 50 years after having fled his country, the culture of the Roof of the World is still very much alive in India. The preservation of the age-old culture will certainly one day make a difference. In the meantime, if you visit China, do a Google search for Tibet — you will get a blank screen. Let us hope that Mr Obama will do something to change this. Half of the Dalai Lama's problem would then be solved.


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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

A TOUGH STAND THE ONLY CHOICE

TH CHOWDARY


The operations against Maoists and various armed gangs of Communists initiated by the Government, irrespective of whether it is the Congress, the BJP, the TDP or the CPI(M) that is in power at the Centre or in the States, are all phoney. The Congress and the TDP hobnobbed with these Left-wing extremists when they were in the Opposition and parleyed with them after coming to power. But these mainstream political parties were never able to get the extremists to give up their arms and come to the negotiating table. This is because all these parties have been infiltrated by former Communists and Marxists of different shades. The only outcome of the Government's anti-Maoist operations will be the loss of hundreds of lives, especially those of security personnel and civilian informants. Our policemen are simply being offered to Maoists for slaughter.


Maoist agents within civil society are operating as 'progressive' and 'revolutionary' writers and artistes and champions of civil liberties and human rights. These people are there to ensure that any Government measure against their armed comrades is met with stiff resistance from within the establishment. It is a fact that no underground movement can be sustained without above-ground support. Hence, the Leftist intellectuals are as much culpable in the barbaric killing of innocent civilians as armed Maoists.


To stub out this menace once and for all we must enact preventive detention laws as in the late 1940s and early1950s when the then Communist Party — under BT Ranadev's leadership and tutored by the COMINFORM (master-minded by Joseph Stalin) — mounted armed attacks to overthrow the Nehru Government for being a 'stooge 'of Anglo-American imperialism, and termed India's independence as bogus. Rajaji and Sardar Patel realised the real nature of the de-Indianised Communists and enacted laws that disabled the above-ground Leftists from subverting our democracy. Sure enough, the Communists realised the futility of armed struggles and called them off — in September 1951 under instructions from Stalin. If the Government is unable to defeat Maoism domestically, how can we trust it to deal with Pakistan and China?

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

A DIABOLICAL PLOY

THOSE WITH SEPARATIST SYMPATHIES HAVE DELIBERATELY DISTORTED WHAT IS AN UNAMBIGUOUS DENUNCIATION OF APPEASEMENT-PEDDLERS WHO WANT INDIA TO CONCEDE PAKISTAN'S UNACCEPTABLE DEMANDS ON J&K

CHANDAN MITRA


I am aghast at the diabolical attempt by certain persons with obvious separatist sympathies to distort my article "A 'moth-eaten' India?" which appeared in The Pioneer on Sunday, February 21, 2010. A canard is being spread by a Kashmiri commentator Iftikhar Gilani, who writes for the Kashmir Times, that I have argued against the BJP's stand on Jammu & Kashmir and advocated "free Kashmir or joint sovereignty" for the State. I am truly appalled by the deliberate and motivated distortion of my beliefs by Mr Gilani and his ilk.


In my article, I had strongly denounced the views of a "small but influential section of public opinion in India", which often argues that New Delhi should think out of the box and consider options such as "joint sovereignty" and even consider "giving up" the State in view of the mounting loss of lives. Having summarised their utterly ridiculous suggestions, which are now being mischievously attributed to me, I went on to describe these people as "appeasement-peddlers". I accused them of overlooking the bloodthirsty diatribe of jihadi leaders like Abdur Rehman Makki and other "luminaries of the Rogue's Gallery of terror", namely, leaders of Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h which I described as a euphemism for Lashkar-e-Tayyeba.


The entire thrust of my article was that there cannot be any compromise with jihadi elements who have vowed to dismember Jammu & Kashmir from India. I sharply criticised the UPA Government's ambivalent stand with reference to India's capitulation before Pakistan at Sharm el-Sheikh. I concluded by warning the nation against the jihadi and Pakistani plot to wage a 1,000-year war on India to make it a moth-eaten entity.


Anybody with rudimentary knowledge of the English language could not have misunderstood my argument. Therefore, to pick out my summary of the views of separatists and their closet sympathisers in India smacks of a wily, premeditated ploy to mislead and confuse the people. It is also aimed at embarrassing the BJP for I am a member of its National Executive and speak in its support at various public forums, including television channels.

I strongly denounce this pre-planned mischief-making. There is no question of my having ever supported the separatists' argument. Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India and the country will not countenance the diabolical attempt by jihadi groups, assisted by a handful of home-grown separatists and sections of the Pakistani establishment, to tear India apart — whether by force or fanciful formulas like "joint sovereignty".

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THE PIONEER

OPED

PLAYING WITH FIRE

POLITICIANS AREN'T SERIOUS ABOUT TACKLING MAOISTS

SHIKHA MUKERJEE


Sensibilities have been so bludgeoned that even 24 dead Eastern Frontier Rifles jawans, five Maoist cadres, another three deaths in Jharkhand, the death of an activist in Lalgarh is not sufficient to get the Indian State to act. The coy flirtations with the perpetrators of 'unlawful activities' are turning into a deadly interminable serial of violence.


Cocooned in the confidence that it has numerical majority of its side, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance in association with its ally the Trinamool Congress is involved in a complicated political game of keeping partners, the so-called intelligentsia and the Maoists all running around in circles. The viciousness of it is appalling.


Yet the numbers that bolster the regimes at the Centre or in West Bengal obviously do not add up to a simple question — do these Governments have the mandate, the legitimacy that is, to deal with the greatest threat to internal security as it has been described ad nauseam? Going by their actions, it seems the Indian political class does not feel it has the legitimacy to take out the Maoists through a security operation that will display the ruthless power of the State. Not the Government-led by Mr Manmohan Singh, not the Government led by Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and certainly not Ms Mamata Banerjee, who has converted her enmity against the Communist Party of India(Marxist) into a reason to be apologetic about action against the Maoists, to the point that she denies them their credit in the killings that occurred in Shilda in West Midnapore.


Continuing a harangue against the position, albeit dubious, of the Trinamool Congress vis-à-vis the Maoists has become meaningless. Since the entire political class is prepared to condone the adoption of the position and find merit in the words, actions and avoidances of Ms Banerjee, any criticism is unacceptable.


The mystery of why any individual member of the political class is unprepared to be the one that bells the Maoist cats is thereby explained. Any political party that is in power cannot afford the risk of taking out the Maoists since the other political players will immediately convert the action into a planned carnage perpetrated against helpless villagers or tribals or women or whatever is touchingly vulnerable to the different interests that articulate opinions, control votes and deliver judgements without the responsibility of providing good, efficient, secure governance.


The sickening spectacle of dead bodies sprawled in their vulnerability, bullet riddled, hacked or slaughtered is not sufficient reason for action. As soon as Shilda happened, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram announced a fresh round of consultations (!) with the different State Governments — Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal. As soon as he announced it, Ms Banerjee raised a protest. Therefore, Mr Chidambaram called for a 72-hour truce from the Maoists to begin peace talks.


The Maoist response is the clearest message that any State can receive, that they do not give a damn. The Maoists organised and held a conclave of their top leadership in West Bengal. From that conclave they declared that the war would be escalated in the context of the promised 'Green Hunt' that the Governments at the Centre and in the States are about to launch. Post the conclave the Maoists demanded a 72-day security stand-off only after which they would come to the negotiating table.


The contempt of the Maoists for the political class that runs the machinery of Government in India is all too evident in the 72-day moratorium they demanded. And why would the Maoists not feel contemptuous of the Government that failed to pick up any one of the leaders or even round up the whole lot when they were in conclave to decide on future strategy? How did the Maoist leadership arrive at the conclave, leave the conclave and talk to the media in the bargain without the Government — Centre and the States — figuring out where they were and doing something about it.


The coyness displayed by the political class is symptomatic of its unwillingness to be decisive, to deliver what is needed where it is needed and when it is needed. It is symptomatic of its chronic failure to fight waste, leakages, corruption, exploitation and discrimination. It is symptomatic of the weak-kneed leadership that prefers to tie itself up in arguing the pros and cons rather than with getting on with the job. It therefore breeds and pampers elements like the Trinamool Congress on the one hand, the inconsequential bands that masquerade as opinion leaders and civil society voices. It is not the Maoists who are in hiding and on the run; it is the parliamentary political class of parties that is in hiding and on the run.


The reason why they are able to pull of this magic trick is because the long suffering people are trapped between the devil and the deep sea. There are too many vested interests that link local level political bigwigs to the outlaws, who strut around pretending to be heroes whereas they are just plain old bullies.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

CANARD AS COMMENT

BY FALSELY ATTRIBUTING TO CHANDAN MITRA THE SEPARATISTS' DEMAND THAT INDIA MUST SURRENDER KASHMIR VALLEY TO PAKISTAN, KASHMIR TIMES HAS CHOSEN TO PLAY A SINISTER GAME

HARI OM


A Delhi-based Kashmiri commentator on Jammu & Kashmir affairs, Iftikhar Gilani, who is a close relative of the pro-Pakistani separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani and also writes for a local English daily, The Kashmir Times, has expressed surprise over the "views" as, according to him, expressed by Chandan Mitra in his article "A 'moth-eaten' India?" published in The Pioneer on Sunday, February 21. Actually, Iftikhar Gilani has distorted everything and shamelessly put his own words in the mouth of Chandan Mitra to create confusion and mislead public opinion.


A former member of the Rajya Sabha, Chandan Mitra is a member of the BJP National Executive and editor of The Pioneer, which is perhaps the only national English language newspaper whose concept of India is what it should be. The extent of the ill-motivated 'surprise' expressed by Iftikhar Gilani can be gauged from the fact that he has described the "views of the BJP think-tank as a sharp U-turn".


It would be appropriate to quote verbatim those portions of his front-page story, "Free Kashmir or joint sovereignty is BJP think-tank's new mantra", published in the Kashmir Times on Tuesday, February 23, which have, according to him, sprung a 'surprise' on him. The relevant portions of story read: "A sharp U-turn of the Bharatiya Janata Party on Kashmir was taken by one of its top think-tank members suggesting India give up its claim on the Valley or go for the joint-sovereignty… The BJP may wriggle out (by) describing it as a personal view of Mitra and not that of the party as it did in the wake of a series of articles by former Union Minister Arun Shourie, but still such views coming from one of its think-tanks are surprising…".


It would be no exaggeration if it is said that Iftikhar Gilani has violated all the cardinal principles of journalism by putting his own words in the mouth of Chandan Mitra.


What exactly did Chandan Mitra write in his Sunday column? He, among other things, wrote: "A small but influential section of public opinion in India has been pleading for 'flexibility' in the Government's approach to the Kashmir issue. Some important opinion-makers have, in fact, gone on record to suggest that India will gain, not lose, stature if it gives up the Kashmir Valley in order to buy peace with Pakistan. At any rate, we will stop bleeding in the Valley and the world would look upon us as a mature, self-assured, emerging global power once the 'thorn' of Kashmir is removed… They argue that none other than Jawaharlal Nehru internationalised the issue by scurrying to the UN in 1948 and pledged India to conduct a plebiscite in the State."


Quoting whom he described as "appeasement-peddlers", Chandan Mitra further wrote: "After losing nearly 1,00,000 lives in 22 years of insurgency, isn't it high time that Delhi considered this 'out-of-the-box' solution? And if that is not quite practical yet, what about joint sovereignty? Why can't undivided Jammu & Kashmir have a united quasi-Parliament thereby abolishing borders and giving equal say to India, Pakistan and the 'people' of the State over its destiny? Washington, which loves such complex arrangements that facilitate a permanent foothold for itself in strategic regions, (erstwhile Yugoslavia being a case in point) has privately pushed this line for long. There may not be too many takers for such abject capitulation, but the fact that these views are increasingly aired in public appears to have put the Government on the defensive. Under pressure from Washington, New Delhi stonewalled the legitimate demand to call off the proposed Foreign Secretary-level talks despite last week's blast in Pune."


That Chandan Mitra nowhere endorsed these controversial views, barring the views on the American pressure, becomes clear from what he wrote in the following paragraph: "This section of appeasement-peddlers are, therefore, certain to overlook the menacing threat conveyed earlier this month by Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h (euphemism for Laskhar-e-Tayyeba) deputy chief Abdur Rehman Makki. Speaking at a Kashmir Day rally in Islamabad on February 5, the fire-spewing Makki not only let slip that Pune was on their radar, but also declared that jihad was also to be waged against the alleged denial of river water to Pakistan. This is a very significant addition to Pakistan's agenda, doubly important because it is a 'secular' inter-governmental matter rather than emotional or Islamist. The annexation of Kashmir on grounds of its denominational character is a declared jihadi objective. But Talibani/jihadi forces had so far refrained from dovetailing this issue with other disputed matters between India and Pakistan."


And, what is the operative part of Chandan Mitra's article? It reads: "Who knows what more will be added to the jihadi wish-list in the years to come? Hyderabad, Junagadh, Assam, Kolkata? Jinnah complained in 1947 that he had been tricked into accepting a 'moth-eaten Pakistan'. The jihadis are carrying forward the promised 1,000-year war to reduce India to a moth-eaten entity, within and without."

The meaning of what he wrote is clear: Even if you hand over Kashmir to Pakistan on a platter or even if India goes in for supra-state measures in order to empower Islamabad to exercise co-equal powers with New Delhi in the Indian State, Pakistan would continue to bleed India with a thousand cuts.


Even a naïve person would agree that what Chandan Mitra has written is nothing but a scathing attack on the Congress-led UPA Government and its foreign policy which has enabled Pakistan to score diplomatic victories and humble and harm India.


His whole refrain, which is quite visible in his entire article, is that the authorities in New Delhi are pandering to jihadis, thus emboldening them further to expand their anti-India agenda. His comments on the July 16, 2009 Sharm el-Sheikh India-Pakistan joint statement, the Pakistani designs on Indus waters, the future of the Pakistani state and possibility of the jihadis taking over the Pakistani political and military establishments and nuclear installations, India's humiliation at the London Conference and the conclave in Turkey, exclusion of India from the core group on Afghanistan, resumption of talks with a "rogue" Pakistan and so on, all indicate Chandan Mitra's grave concern over what has been happening for quite sometime now.


-- The writer is Dean of Social Sciences, University of Jammu, and former member of Indian Council of Historical Research.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

WEAPONS OF THE 21ST CENTURY

STRATEGIC BALLISTIC MISSILES CAN BE FOBBED OFF WITH LASER WEAPONS

ILYA KRAMNIK


Earlier this month, on February 12, the US Missile Defense Agency used the Airborne Laser Test Bed mounted on a Boeing B-747 jumbo jet to shoot down a liquid-propellant and a solid-propellant target missile.


The ALTB project is one of the MDA's most ambitious and long-term programmes. Washington launched its initial research in this sphere in the 1970s. At that time, an NKC-135-ALL aircraft, a modified version of the KC-135 Stratotanker, was built and used as an airborne laboratory.


United Technologies built a 10-tonne, 04-0.5-MWt CO2 laser system for the programme. The NKC-135-ALL was involved in a series of tests in the late-1970s and the early 1980s. Although the tests proved that a laser weapon was feasible, it had a range of just a few kilometres and therefore lacked any military prospects.


In 1985, a laser weapon used in ground tests heated up the stationary fuel tank of a Titan-1 intercontinental ballistic missile simulating a Soviet ICBM a thousand metres away causing it to explode.


Such tests, as well as the NKC-135-ALL programme, were conducted under the Strategic Defence Initiative programme. However it was impossible to develop a feasible missile defence system based on airborne laser weapons because most of the technical problems remained unsolved.


The Soviet Union also implemented an airborne laser weapon programme and built a Beriev A-60 aircraft, an upgraded version of the Il-76 transport aircraft. Although Moscow virtually mothballed the programme after the break-up of the USSR in late-1991, the media reported last year that it had been resumed.


The United States resumed work on airborne laser weapons in the late-1990s after the issue of implementing the National Missile Defence Programme was raised. Initially there were plans to build two prototype and five production aircraft by 2012.


However, it was later decided to scale down the programme, due to skyrocketing costs. Although a prototype aircraft was scheduled to be completed by 2012, Washington decided not to build it and retained only one YAL-1 prototype, work on which began in 2000.


What is the ALTB's potential? Although there is no exhaustive information on the February 12 tests, some conclusions can be drawn on the basis of available reports.


The Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser weapons system has three laser systems, namely, a Track Illuminator Laser for illuminating the target and adjusting the parameters of the laser weapon's optical system, a Beacon Illuminator Laser for reducing atmospheric aberration, and the six-module High-Energy Laser weapon system.

The YAL-1 can hit ballistic missiles during their boost phase and has a range of 200-250 km. The effective range is limited by the laser unit's power, the laser beam's atmospheric dissipation, atmospheric aberration affecting siting accuracy and the laser-beam gas breakdown effect which has not yet been eliminated. Moreover, an excessively powerful laser unit could overheat the fuselage and cause the plane to crash.


These factors and the system's low rate of fire currently make it possible only to intercept individual missiles at short range. It appears that such systems will be unable to neutralise an all-out nuclear strike in the next 20-30 years.

Speaking of a hypothetical Russian-US conflict, airborne laser weapons would have to be deployed in Russian air space in order to be able to intercept Russian missiles in their boost phase and during the separation of their multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles. In fact, they would have only three-five minutes to accomplish this objective.


However, even Russia's problem-ridden air-defence system would not allow a B-747 to roam free in national air space.


Airborne laser weapons present a greater threat to strategic ballistic missile submarines which either patrol Russian territorial waters or international waters. However, there is one limitation. As the submarines spend most of their time underwater, laser-carrying aircraft could not quickly reach the optimal firing position necessary for a successful missile interception.


Consequently, this project's current version threatens only countries such as Iran or North Korea which have a small territory and are therefore unable to deploy missile bases far from their borders.


In the next several decades, the potential for laser weapons may be enhanced, especially if it becomes possible to deploy them on hypersonic suborbital platforms operating in the upper atmosphere where laser dissipation is minimised.

However, it would be pointless to deploy such weapons aboard spacecraft, unless payload mass is increased drastically because it would otherwise prove impossible to orbit high-power laser units.


It is impossible to struggle against the development of laser weapons. Practical experience shows that legal documents seldom effectively limit technical progress. Consequently, we must start preparing for a new round of the arms race now.


It is common knowledge that Russia is currently developing new-generation ballistic missiles which will be able to breach missile-defence systems with laser weapons. This objective can be accomplished by reducing a missile's boost phase, enhancing the manoeuverability along this flight leg, etc. Analysts are discussing other measures that can shield missiles from laser beams.


Naturally, Russia must conduct independent research in this area to be able to manufacture airborne laser weapons and to effectively cope with similar enemy systems. Media reports about the reinstatement of the A-60 programme are particularly important in this context.


-- The writer is a military affairs columnist based in Moscow.

 

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MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

CLEAR MAOIST REPLY NEEDED TO PC'S OFFER

 

THE UNION Home Minister P. Chidambaram has done the right thing in calling on the Maoists to be upfront and categorical on the issue of talks with the government. There may have been a touch of the theatrical in the minister providing a facsimile number for his ministry to enable the Maoists to make the declaration, " We will abjure violence and we are prepared for talks." But it does put the ball firmly in the Maoists' court.

 

On Friday the Minister had declared that the government would be willing to talk, if the Maoists halted violence for 72 hours.

 

The somewhat cheeky response of the Maoist leader Kishenji on Monday night was that the Maoists would reciprocate if the government halted its joint operation against them for 72 days.

 

A subsidiary condition was that " intellectuals and human rights organisations" mediate between the Maoists and the government.

 

The government has been bold in putting forward the offer that it has, considering that its offensive against the Maoists has just gotten underway. It would not be far- fetched to say that the offensive, as well as the series of arrests of the top Maoist functionaries across the country, has led to some pressure on them to talk peace. They would be well advised to take up the offer.

 

The obvious problem is that the Maoists represent an underground operation, spread across several states of the country.

 

It is not clear whether Mr Kishenji's comments were made suo motu, or reflect the considered policy of the Maoist leadership.

 

Yet, given the gulf that separates the insurgents who seek to overthrow the state, and the state itself, sincerity and trust can only come through the unfolding of the actual process of a ceasefire and talks.

 

There can be no doubt that the secular, democratic republic of India has little place for the pernicious and violent ideology of Maoism.

 

At first sight it is difficult to see what kind of a dialogue the government can have with an outfit aiming to overthrow it.

 

But it would be a measure of the self- confidence and inherent strength of our constitutional state if it is able to engage the Maoists at multiple levels and best them not just in the exercise of violence, but also in diplomacy and politics.

 

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MAIL TODAY

CAPITAL SHAME

 

THAT the national capital has come out as the most dangerous city in India as far as pedestrians are concerned will not surprise its residents. A National Crime Records Bureau report says as many as 589 pedestrians were crushed to death on Delhi's roads in 2008. In all, pedestrian deaths accounted for nearly 30 per cent of road casualties in Delhi, a rate four times the national average of 8.7 per cent. And if you thought that being a big city has something to do with this phenomenon, let it be known that not a single such fatality occurred in Chennai and Kolkata in 2008.

 

This is a matter of shame for the national capital which should be setting standards for other cities in India to follow. And while there is no denying that the staggering number of vehicles on Delhi's roads — nearly 4.5 million in March 2008, more than the figure for Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai put together — is partly responsible, the role of infringement of traffic regulations, rash and drunken driving and the step- motherly treatment meted out to pedestrians cannot be played down either.

 

For, let's accept it: the pedestrian is a rather lowly creature on Delhi's roads.

 

Cities in developed countries may set aside pathways for safe walking but Delhi's roads— broad in comparison to our other metros— make no such provision.

 

Even the zebra crossings don't function, with drivers refusing to grant pedestrians the right of way. There are few, if any, signaled pedestrian crossovers. Footpaths which pedestrians can use are often encroached upon by vehicles and vendors.

 

There aren't enough foot overbridges and subways. In any case, the subways, being unsafe and unclean, are not used by most people, especially women.

 

What is needed is better infrastructure for pedestrians, tighter regulation of traffic and public awareness about the need for road safety.

 

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MAIL TODAY

LOW KEY OUTCOME BUILT INTO PAK TALKS

BY BHARAT BHUSHAN

 

ALTHOUGH past experience may have made India's foreign policy mandarins wary of projecting success in any impending India-Pakistan talks, their expectations of the foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan seem to be remarkably low by any standard.

 

It could well be that the Indian foreign policy establishment sees failure in-built in the meeting which is being described variously as "standalone" and "talk about talks".

 

In any case given the state of play no surprises can be expected in any dialogue between India and Pakistan. After all, the respective positions of the two sides are known, their strengths and weaknesses are known, their respective priorities are known and the objective conditions under which the dialogue is taking place are known. Even the arguments and the counter-arguments are known. On the face of it then, there is nothing new that either side can put on the table.

 

What could be the reasons behind the present apprehension? The timing of the latest initiative may not be favourable to India. The dialogue is taking place at a time when the civilian government in Pakistan has lost even the capacity of making positive statements vis-a-vis India.

 

The public speech of the otherwise suave Pakistan foreign minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Multan a few days ago was extremely revealing. He is known to be a votary of friendship with India and has been associated for over a decade and a half in a Track-II diplomatic effort to improve bilateral ties. Yet he spoke in Multan of the coming diplomatic talks as a great victory for Pakistan suggesting that India had been brought to its knees! This shows that even reasonable Pakistani politicians have had to align their rhetoric to that of the army.

 

The Pakistani armed forces, especially General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, have recovered lost ground and are now once again seen as the real champions of national interest.

 

In Afghanistan, Pakistan has skillfully made use of US confusion, wavering and dependence on them for logistics to change western perceptions of its role. Where they were beginning to be looked upon as a duplicitous and unreliable ally, they are now considered as central to the western strategy in Afghanistan. The US policy decision on reintegration and reconciliation with the Taliban in Afghanistan further places Pakistan in an extremely favourable position vis-avis India.

 

Afghanistan

 

There is no way a dialogue can take place with the Taliban without the involvement of Pakistan.

 

The Taliban leadership is based in Pakistan and they are in touch with the Inter- Services Intelligence ( ISI). Not only will Pakistan be kept appraised of the negotiations, it will make sure that its own interests are not compromised in these talks.

 

Should there be such a threat, the Taliban leaders inimical to its interests can even be eliminated.

 

Saudi Arabia has been given the role of a mediator, which given its nexus with Pakistan, will make sure that Pakistan's future interests in Afghanistan are safeguarded.

India, on the other hand, was excluded from the January 26 Istanbul talks at Pakistan's insistence. At the London conference on Afghanistan, India's concerns on not reaching out to the Taliban were disregarded.

 

Worse, Mullah Muttawakil was removed from the UN sanctions list even though his involvement in the IC814 hijacking was culpable — at the very least he let the hijackers go scot free and return to Pakistan when his government ought to have arrested and tried them.

 

The dialogue is also taking place at a time when Pakistan has raised the ante in two significant ways — it has reverted to its UN plebiscite rhetoric on Kashmir; and it has artificially raised the profile of the water issue on a par with the Kashmir issue in terms of outstanding problems between the two countries. It is in this overall context that Pakistan has regained confidence and is getting western support.

 

It is not a coincidence that after the London conference, the US signed off a $ 3.5 billion arms package for Pakistan.

 

What is the worst that could happen when a dialogue takes place in this context? The pessimists would argue that such a dialogue would strengthen the position of the armed forces in Pakistan, it would comfort Pakistan that its strategy towards India is the right one; that it can continue to pressure India through deniable terrorism and keep it guessing in search of a policy to deal with Pakistan.

 

Further, they would argue that India would not gain by its moderate and statesmanlike behaviour.

 

Instead, India would have helped Pakistan get international legitimacy without getting anything in return — not even western backing on the basic issue of Pakistan curbing terrorism against India from its soil.

 

Engagement

 

One, therefore, gets a sneaking suspicion that there is a powerful section of the Indian establishment which believes that the timing of the talks and their context is wrong, that the expectations from the talks are unrealistic and the objectives not realisable.

 

It is perhaps the realisation that the cards are stacked against India and not an innate cussedness that there should be no engagement of Pakistan which makes them apprehensive about raising the expectations from the foreign secretary level talks.

 

However, those in the Indian establishment who are in favour of engaging Pakistan — most notably, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — are convinced that India must do its utmost to resolve its problems with Pakistan even if the overall context does not appear favourable.

 

They believe that there is no other option but of engaging Pakistan. A dialogue at least provides the structure where at some stage a breakthrough can be achieved in the relationship.

 

On the other hand, nothing will come out of not talking.

 

Successive Indian prime ministers, cutting across political lines, have had a desire to improve ties with Pakistan and have made bold gestures in that direction albeit with mixed results. Atal Bihari Vajpayee did it in the worst of times and Manmohan Singh is doing the same, knowing full well that this may not reduce the terrorist attacks on India directed from Pakistani soil.

 

Those who want to engage Pakistan point out that it is a deeply divided society and not everyone views India through the eyes of their establishment.

 

There is a sizeable constituency in Pakistan which is not inimical to India and by talking to Pakistan India wants to engage that constituency.

 

Restarting the dialogue is also seen as denying a crucial argument to the Pakistan army that tensions on its eastern border were preventing the adequate deployment of its forces on its western front to fight the Taliban.

 

Justification

 

The political leadership in India is also acutely aware of US sensitivities in the region and would want to do everything possible to be on the right side of Washington or at the very least not allow regional issues to impact Indo- US relations. A dialogue with Pakistan, in that sense, is helpful not only in Indo- Pak relations but in our relationship with the US as well.

 

The best that can be expected from the talks on February 25 under the circumstances would be to keep engaged without looking for victories that can be played for the benefit of the respective domestic galleries. The outcomes of the present talks do not have to be big to justify being held at this moment.

 

bharat.bhushan@mailtoday.in

 

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MAIL TODAY

PATIALA PEG

VIKAS KAHOL

 

END OF AN ERA IN PUNJABI LITERATURE

IN A strange quirk of fate, five noted writers and scholars of Punjabi literature have breathed their last within almost a month — two of them on a single day, February 14.

 

Their demise has left a void in the literary world that will be difficult to fill.

 

Ram Sarup Ankhi, a prolific Punjabi writer and a mesmerising storyteller died on February 14, aged 78. The works of Ankhi — a Brahmin who converted to Sikhism — revolve around rural life in Punjab. His novel Kothey Kharhak Singh brought to life the landscape of a fictitious but typical Malwa village. The novel stretched through three generations. The story of the novel begins in 1940- 42 and moves on to Janata Party's rule after the Emergency. Then it narrates Indira Gandhi's return to power. Kothey Kharhak Singh won Ram Sarup Ankhi the prestigious Sahitya Academy Award.

 

Ankhi's novels portray the post- green revolution Malwa and highlight the onslaught of capitalism, influx of migrant labourers in Punjab and disintegration of the rural society. The titles of his novels — Salphas ( an insecticide consumed by debt- ridden farmers to commit suicide), Jaminañ Waley ( The Landed Gentry ), Kanak da Qatalam ( Slaughter of the Wheat ) and Bhima ( a migrant labourer) — are self explanatory.

 

The second writer who died on February 14, Harinder Singh Mehboob, also made a great contribution to Punjabi literature.

 

Some of Mehboob's works — including Sehho Racheyo Khalsa and Jhannah Di Raat ( a book on poetry) — are classics in Sikh studies. Mehboob combined Gurbani and Sufism and presented a different study of Punjabi culture and Sikh history.

 

His books stirred a literary debate in the Punjabi language.

 

He also published two volumes of Elahi Nadar De Ainde — portraying the life of the first Sikh guru Nanak Dev and Guru Gobind Singh in verse form. He was writing the third volume at the time of his death.

 

Santokh Singh Dhir, who died on February 8, was known for his progressive writing. He took the literary world by storm with his story Koi Ik Sawaar about a tonga- wallah failing to compete with the automobile revolution.

 

Born in 1920, Dhir wrote 50 books including poetry, novels, short stories and travelogues.

 

He was presented the Sahitya Academy Award in 1996 for Pakhi — a collection of short stories. Dhir's admirers remember him for Guddiyan Patolai ( Dolls), Dharti Mangde Mhin Ve ( The land cries for rain ), Aaun wala Suraj ( Ascending sun ) and Jado Asin Aawagai ( When we return ). A Punjabi Marxist writer, Dhir did not have any inhibitions writing about sex.

 

He wrote Sharabi ( Drunkard ) in 1963 but revised the novel in the next edition and expunged the sexually explicit contents.

 

He renamed the novel Do Phul ( Two Flowers ).

 

Dr Joginder Singh Rahi, a distinguished Punjabi scholar, died on January 17. He published several books and research papers and specialised in the Punjabi novel. The National Book Trust of India had entrusted him the translation of some well known works written in Hindi, Urdu and English languages.

 

Formerly a professor at the Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, Rahi was also a recipient of the prestigious Saraswati Award.

 

Punjab also witnessed the passing away of Marxist critic T R Vinod on February 3. Vinod published about 30 books in Punjabi, Hindi and English languages as a novel and shortstory critic.

 

DEVELOPMENT POSES DANGER TO BIRD SPECIES

PROSPERITY in Punjab has spelt doom for several bird species. Mindless axing of mature trees along highways and irrigation canals — the remaining avian shelters — has forced bird species to migrate rapidly.

 

Officials in the forest department reveal that " development" had cost over three lakh mature trees and an unspecified number of smaller ones had been felled to widen highways and toll- roads. The destruction is equivalent to 714 hectares of forest area.

 

Wildlife experts say that the refuge of Indian species like parakeets, crows, mynahs, woodpeckers, waterfowl and the few remaining shikras ( falcon) is being destroyed.

 

This onslaught can lead to horrible consequences.

 

The birds managed to survive the Green Revolution, but, with concrete and bitumen replacing trees their future is again in jeopardy.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

END THE VIOLENCE

 

The Maoists, reportedly, want to talk to the government. The suggestion, aired through the media, has come from Kishenji, a spokesperson for the CPI (Maoist). The government needs to assess the offer very cautiously. Just as the talks offer was being discussed, members of People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) attacked a police camp in West Bengal on Monday night. While the PCAPA is a different outfit from the CPI (Maoist), the two organisations have links with each other.


Kishenji set two preconditions for the talks. One, security operations in the region must be halted for 72 days. The number 72 seems a spin on Union home minister P Chidambaram's statement that if the Maoists stopped their operations for 72 hours he would find ways to initiate a dialogue with the rebels. Two, intellectuals and human rights outfits should facilitate the talks. If these conditions have the approval of the Maoists' central leadership, it suggests an incremental shift in their stance. Earlier, Ganapathy, general secretary of the CPI (Maoist), had suggested "the war has to be withdrawn" and cadres and leaders in the government's custody released for a dialogue to take place. Ganapathy's preconditions make a dialogue impossible.


The government can afford to halt operations, if there are enough reciprocating gestures from the Maoists, but it can't accede to a demand for the withdrawal of forces at this juncture. Sceptics view the offer for talks as a ploy on the part of Maoists to buy time and regroup. The rebels may be feeling the pressure of an imminent crackdown by the security forces. As with most insurgent movements, Maoists aren't a monolithic outfit. Ideological differences persist among them and there is evidence that some may wish to join the democratic process. A few contested the recent Jharkhand assembly elections as Jharkhand Mukti Morcha candidates and some even won. There may be more among the lower rungs of the CPI (Maoist) who may want to explore options other than violence.


The government, therefore, should follow a two-track approach. It can consider truce offers from the Maoists only if the CPI (Maoist) indicates that the offer has the approval of the party's central leadership and comes attached with as few preconditions as possible. Short of that, the government should engage with and facilitate those Maoists willing to reconcile and join the democratic process, but come down hard on those following the power-through-the-barrel-of-guns approach. The latter doesn't have even a remote chance of succeeding in the Indian context. But it can ensure an extended cycle of violence, anarchy and misery if not confronted directly.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

LONGER INNINGS

 

It's a pity that the move to raise the retirement age of judges has hit a roadblock. Currently, Supreme Court judges retire at 65 while high courts judges step down at 62. The proposal to extend the career of higher court judges by at least three years has many backers. However, there isn't enough support in Parliament to push through a constitutional amendment which would be necessary to raise the age limit.


There are good reasons for wanting judges to continue in office longer. With advances in medicine and increase in longevity, most people, particularly those doing jobs that don't involve physical labour, are healthy enough to continue working well into their sixties. The more important reason is that there is an acute shortage of judges in higher courts. It is estimated that there are over 250 vacancies in the high courts alone. To make matters worse, there are over three crore cases pending in Indian courts, of which roughly 2.5 crore are in lower courts, 40 lakh in high courts and around 52,000 in the Supreme Court. The backlog has not only paralysed delivery of justice but also exacted a high economic cost by making it very time consuming to enforce contracts in India.

There is a crying need for more judges if the huge backlog is to be cleared. With a sanctioned strength of 31 judges for the Supreme Court, 725 for the high courts and around 14,000 for the lower courts, there are too few judges for India's population. But until the time more judges can be hired, it makes sense to let those already in service to continue longer. In fact, retired judges with a good track record could be drafted to help tackle the shortage of personnel and clear the backlog of cases.


Raising the retirement age of judges is only part of the solution to fix judicial delays. There are other remedies that could also be considered. Long vacations for judges, a relic from colonial times, should be curtailed. Out-of-court settlements should be encouraged as much as possible. And there should be better pay for judges to attract the best talent from among the legal profession. The Law Commission has also suggested that adjournments be resorted to only if absolutely necessary. But these measures will take time. As of now, Parliament should at least ensure that sitting judges are allowed to work a few more years.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

A TALE OF TWO NATIONS

GAUTAM ADHIKARI

 

Washington: Some of us still dream of Chindia, an approaching phase of history when China and India will not only be the biggest powers on earth, they will partner each other in running the world, which will regard them as one glorious Asian entity. Others speak of a coming age of the Brics, a Goldman Sachs branding of Brazil, India, Russia and China, as four emerging economies the world must watch.


It's time for Indians to recognise Chindia for what it is a chimera, a Greek mythological creature compounded of incongruous parts and adjust our strategic vision. India and China are unlikely to become cooperative partners, except in a limited opportunistic sense, any time in the foreseeable future. They have historically been commercial and cultural competitors in Asia; Today, they not only champion radically different systems of governance, they have too many points of friction between them in the region for anyone to imagine their melding into an economic and strategic whole in the fashion of, say, Europe, or the larger West.

As for the Brics, it is time to take the 'c' out of the acronym. China is no longer an emerging economy. It has arrived. It isn't a superpower; the United States remains the sole claimant to that title. But it is the other great power, more important in the global pecking order than Europe or Japan. Hardly any global decision can be taken or a consensus built on any issue without China's cooperation. In global political power and economic clout, Brazil, Russia and India remain also-rans.


Nobel prize-winning economist Robert Fogel believes most assumptions of China's economic ascent underestimate the extent of its rise. Writing in the current issue of Foreign Policy, he says the size of China's economy will reach $123 trillion in 2040, which is nearly three times the entire output of the globe in 2000. Its per capita income will, at $85,000, be twice that forecast for the European Union. Its per capita wealth will be below that of the US, but its share of global GDP at 40 per cent will dwarf that of the US, at 14 per cent, and the EU, at 5 per cent, 30 years from now.


Several thinkers have begun to wonder about the consequences for the world of such a spectacular rise of a new power. Kishore Mahbubani calls his book The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East. Martin Jacques has written When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World. These books suggest a trend of thinking about China as a globally triumphant power a few decades from now. There's no comparable speculation about India's rise. Oh, India will do well, they say. But the real story is of China.


Yet, India could have a story to tell. If it can sustain its high economic growth over the next three decades, it'll be the third biggest global economy in 2040. In demographic terms, it will be a younger nation than China and therefore better positioned to innovate and create products and ideas. In moral appeal, which is a key element of soft power projection, we can hope it will continue to offer a democratic, high-growth option to China's paternalistic and authoritarian model.


That is, if wishes were horses. Externally and internally, India is enmeshed in its own troubles. We have yet to develop a truly global view of the role we would like to play in a future world and our foreign and strategic policies are consequently more reactive than proactive. We live in a dangerous neighbourhood, which hems in our thinking about the world. The one important foreign breakthrough we made in recent years is the qualitative improvement in our ties with the US but the benefits of that relationship for India's global positioning mustn't be overestimated.

If the approach so far of the Barack Obama administration is any indication, India will play a relatively secondary role in US strategic calculations over the next few years. The US-China relationship will continue overwhelmingly to occupy this administration's attention and in that scenario the prominence of India seems to have become a shade less defined than it was during the time of the previous Bush administration. India would, therefore, do well to hedge its bets, at least in Asia, by developing strong ties with Japan, the other power that is jittery about the rise and rise of China, and by pushing for a positive and helpful role in East Asian affairs.

Internally, the poor quality of India's governance as well as of infrastructure building and maintenance will surely spoil our story unless a dramatic change happens in our lackadaisical style of public management. We have been unable in 60 years to make people observe simple rules and laws while the state of public health and public education, unlike China's, remains way short of the basic quality that a country with global ambition at a comparable stage of development should have.


China offers a better tale for the future. Unless, providentially, India shakes itself up.

           

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

'TELANGANA HAS TURNED INTO A COLONY OF ANDHRA'

 

Spearheading the popular movement for a separate Telangana state is an unassuming professor of political science with the Osmania University. Kodandaram , convener of the Joint Action Committee (JAC), comprising various political parties and social movements, spoke to Rajashri Dasgupta:


The JAC for Telangana seems a unique experiment.

The concept of JAC is borrowed from the student movement. The people formed JACs at various levels and put pressure on the political parties to keep aside their political agenda, unite and fight for the cause of Telangana. We allow every political group space in decision-making, implementation and functioning. I have been working in the civil rights movements and been an adviser to the Supreme Court which allowed me to gain experience and exposure to the dynamic nature of various movements and interact with activists. My stature as an academic gives me the acceptability, which normally many politicians may not have.


What's your response to allegations that students have been instigated to join the movement?

I have been working for 30 years and have carefully drawn a line between academic and political responsibilities. I have encouraged students to understand issues, given them material and addressed them when invited. As my presence in the media increased, students became associated with my activities directly or indirectly. I have never ignored my academic responsibilities.


Small states tend to depend on the Centre for resources.

There is a tendency to view movements for a separate state as a Centre-state relation bypassing other core issues like the democratic participation of people. I agree with Ambedkar who argued that in a big state the emergence of a powerful class dominates the economy and polity, denying others any participation. Historically, in the case of Andhra Pradesh, two social systems and economic structures, namely Andhra and Telangana, were integrated. Since then, people in Telangana have been marginalised and the region has turned into an internal colony.

While the division of a state is not always or the only solution, alternatives in Telangana were tried out but failed. In some cases autonomous councils, safeguards or special packages may work. People argue that if Telangana gets statehood others will demand too. Let us not suppress these demands just as we have ignored the issues of caste and gender.


There is apprehension that Maoists are hijacking the movement.

The attitude of the state is to suppress movements, not face them. For this it requires an enemy. In this case, it is the Maoists. The state is indulging in doublespeak. It claims to have wiped out the Maoists, so where is the question of Maoists taking over? The feudal relations in rural Telangana have been transformed and there is the rise of small and medium farmers without the necessary skills and inputs. In fact, they view Telangana as an alternative to Maoism that could not address their aspirations. Telangana is a wonderful political experiment within the constitutional framework and has united people.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIME AND TIDE

K V KRISHNAN

 

"Don't forget to feed the fishes," my wife reminded me over the phone. I love visiting old haunts where i have spent a good portion of my life, sentimental though it might be. With all that international travel over the last 25 years, this does indeed become a daunting task. Change is a nemesis of fond memories. I drive by spots where chockfull of remembrances await to be unleashed each time I visit Mumbai. No more does my school in Chembur look the way it did when i would dash around the playground or look out the window at that crow's nest on the palm tree. Ugly buildings have taken root upon the property and a lanky telephone pole stands where generations of birds reared their offspring. I see the tide of change everywhere. Bangalore, the sylvan hill station of yesteryears, is now smothered by nasty exhalations of automobiles and scooters. New Delhi looks a lot different today and Hyderabad seems to have been awakened too soon from its slumber.


Nearly two decades ago we lived in Bangkok during those early years after marriage. My son was then two years old and our Sunday evenings would have seemed staged. Around 5 p.m., much after the merciless sun would have spent its force, we would hail a tuk-tuk and head out to Benjasiri Park - probably the only patch of green in that part of the bustling city. We would pack puffed rice and head straight to that man-made pond spending a good hour feeding the fishes and watching the sun sinking into the smoggy skies. Sadly, changed hasn't spared Bangkok either. The BTS train now trundles above the busy Sukhumvit road casting long shadows in the evening light. I retraced our steps of just 12 years ago from my old apartment for old times' sake. Large buildings now loom where canals and shacks once sprawled. My familiar tuk-tuk squad had disappeared. The road to the park seemed strange as one couldn't recognise the familiar buildings of Soi 49. I didn't miss our puffed rice at Benjasiri Park they sell fish food these days for 10 bahts. I hurried my steps past the blur of newer food stalls and skateboard rinks, breaking into a run towards the pond and its now brackish waters. "I just fed those fishes," i called up my son excitedly. "Okay," he grunted, going back to his video game.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TERRIFYING QUESTION

JUG SURAIYA

 

 Would a Pune-style bomb blast have happened in a Chinese city? Or a 26/11? Or any of the scores of terror attacks that India has been subjected to over the years?

 

Forget the fact that the Chinese economy has grown faster than India's. Forget the fact that in terms of infrastructural development - be it power plants and highways or hospitals and schools China is way ahead. Perhaps the most fundamental difference between China the world's largest dictatorship - and India - the world's most populous democracy - is the vulnerability of each to terror.

 

China has its share of internal problems, its discontented minorities, like the Uighurs and the Falun Gong sect. But dissent, even non-violent dissent, has been ruthlessly nipped in the bud before it can erupt into extremist action. The scars of Tiananmen Square are a deterrent testimony to the consequences of dissidence in any form.

 

China's relative immunity to terror is due to the fact that it is a 'hard' state, perhaps the hardest in the world. When terrorists attack hard states as happened when Chechen extremists held a schoolful of children hostage in Beslan in 2004 the response of the state is often so swift and brutal that it out-terrorises the terrorists. In the Russian case, the final death toll included some 200 children who were sacrificed by the iron-fisted authorities as unavoidable 'collateral damage'.

 

The game plan of terror or what is sometimes called 'propaganda by deed' is to ensure media coverage in order to highlight the supposed cause the terrorists are fighting for. In hard states like China and to a lesser extent Russia the media can be, and are, kept on a tight rein. In China certainly, a terror strike would be totally blanked out by the state-controlled media, thus negating the publicity value of such an attack. If a tree falls in a forest where there is none to hear it fall, does it make a sound?

 

In a hard state like China which with impunity recently violated the privacy rights of its Google users real or imagined anti-state elements are denied freedom of movement and information before they can get themselves organised. India's anarchic democracy in which each and every one of us does exactly what we please is the diametric opposite of China's police state, where the freedom of the individual is stringently monitored and curtailed every step of the way.

 

Yes, India is a free society, and China is a muzzled and shackled polity. None of us or at least not many of us would willingly trade places with China on that count. But the in-built Achilles' heel of any democracy particularly one as determinedly indisciplined as India's is its susceptibility to subversion.

 

Is exposure to terror the price that we have to pay for the freedom of which we are so justly proud? The freedom to travel the length and breadth of the country as David Coleman Headley did without hindrance. The freedom to congregate in public, as the victims of the Pune bomb blast were doing. The freedom of our media openly to report news, even when such reportage jeopardises rescue operations as happened during the live TV coverage of the Taj Hotel siege during 26/11.

 

When the intrusive Homeland Security Act was introduced in the US after 9/11, many asked if in the name of deterring terrorism America was undermining the freedom by which it defined itself. If indeed it has done that, then the terrorists have already won. Similar questions might be raised in India. Will the recent tightening of visa and entry rules for foreign visitors be a genuine safeguard against terrorism, or will they merely deter tourists and business travellers, to India's detriment? Will re-introduction of oppressive laws like TADA curb terror or promote more human rights violations?

 

Is democracy doomed to be the unwitting bedfellow of terror? That's the truly terrifying question.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

A CALLER ID OPTION FOR YOUR THOUGHTS

MATA AMRITANANDAMAYI

 

The tide is shifting. Society is no longer about unity; it's about individual isolation. The mantra seems to be: "Everything only for me." As this selfish attitude becomes more firmly established, we find that our happiness is slowly slipping through our fingers.


Unity is the law of Nature. Without give-and-take there is no life. When the sun shines, rivers flow, birds sing, and trees bear fruit, they do so without expecting our acknowledgement or praise. Everything in Nature gives as much as possible. Our tendency to swim against the natural flow fills our minds with tension, sorrow and fear. Hence there is the rich-poor divide and so much conflict and suffering.


Earlier, there was no ownership of land. The indigenous American people and others like them in other parts of the world believed: "The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth." They didn't understand how land could be measured, divided, bought and sold. Then how has it come to be that we are now willing to kill each other over even the smallest of property disputes? How come children don't flinch when they take their parents to court over inheritance matters?


Scientists and governments are promoting cutting edge research that would enable greater exploration of the universe – we want to be able to travel to Mars and beyond. We've succeeded in reaching the Moon, and many such efforts have led to exciting discoveries in the universe. Regardless, just as we are reaching for the stars, we should also strive to bring ourselves back to Earth.


We rush about, with packed schedules and back-to-back appointments. There's so much to do and so little time. But if we lose our peace of mind and happiness as a result, what is the point? It is not enough to be on the fast track; we also have to go in the proper direction. Otherwise the whole trip is a waste of time. Because of our obsession with speed, many precious opportunities are passing us by without our being aware of it.

There are two important days in our life. The first is the day we are born. The second is the day we realise why we are born. But for many people, this second day never comes. They live mechanically from the day they are born until the day they die. We will only be able to appreciate the beauty and magnitude of life when we realise its true purpose.


Worrying has become second nature to us. Once a thought enters our mind, it quickly establishes a dictatorship. Soon, we lose our freedom to think in a discriminating manner with the result the mind becomes a slave. When a virus infects a computer, we are unable to access information in our folders or files. Such is the condition of our mind, infected with unwanted thoughts.


To enjoy freedom, to be more aware, we need to liberate the mind from needless thoughts. Most of our phones have a caller identity option. With this, we can see either the name or the number of the person calling us. We can accept the calls we want and ignore the calls we don't. Similarly, when we develop awareness, we gain the ability to accept and nourish healthy thoughts and reject bad ones. Through awareness, we can even develop the ability to witness all the various functions of our mind and, ultimately, realise our true Self.


(Amma is currently touring north India. For details visit: www.amritapuri.org .)

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

PROTECTION FOR ALL PAKISTANIS

 

The brutal execution of two Sikhs by the Tehreek-e-Taliban is a reminder of the increasingly tenuous existence of religious minorities in Pakistan. Even the Taliban regime in Afghanistan had treated Sikhs as one of the ahl-e-zima, the protected minorities. Pakistan's spiralling violence seems to be accelerating its society's movement down an increasingly intolerant path. Much of last year was marked by attacks on Pakistan's Christian minority by Islamicist mobs. Sunni militants have made the killing of Pakistani Shias almost a seasonal event.

 

To a large extent, Pakistan is reaping what its own distorted nationalism has sown. If there's one thing that separates the political trajectories of India and Pakistan, it's the fact that the latter no longer even strives to create an inclusive nationalism. The Pakistani polity, starting with discrimination of its Bengali majority to the point they seceded and the redesignation of Ahmediyyas as non-Muslim in 1974, has marginalised more and more sections of its society. Christians, Hindus, Shias and ethnic fragments of the Sunni majority have found themselves being treated as less than truly Pakistani. It's particularly telling that Mohajirs, the original proponents of the country's founding ideology, are among those most alienated from the Pakistan of today. Going by present trends a genuine 'Pakistani' will be reduced to a north Punjabi Sunni. That the Tehreek-e-Taliban draws its fighters from the ranks of Pashtuns and Seraiki Punjabis is no accident. Both Pakistan's military and democratic rulers are to blame for this trend. The military have even found it useful as it legitimised their interference in politics.

 

India cannot claim a spotless record when it comes to minority treatment, but its Constitution and laws clearly show a commitment to this goal. This is hardly the case with Pakistan where minority rights have been steadily watered down by such constitutional actions as the dilution of the 1949 Objectives Resolution, the passage of the 1984 Anti-Islamic Activities Ordinance and the on and off switch attached to the fundamental rights portion of Pakistan's constitutions. The Sikh murders was another Taliban crime. But they were also a reflection of what ails Pakistan as a whole.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

RAIL BUDGET ROOK

 

Why do we need a separate Railway Budget? Wags like us have a theory: so that for yet another day of the year, newspaper pages can be filled and television channels can get busy with an annual event that smells like a major event, tastes like a major event, looks like a major event, but is really the annual report of India's largest public sector company. Frankly, all that commuters want to know is the price of tickets, which surely doesn't need a budget speech and the accompanying trumpet blast.

 

In 1924, according to the Ackworth Committee recommendations (our point exactly), railway finances were delinked from the general budget exercise. The idea was "to assume responsibilities for earning and expanding [the Indian Railways'] own income". Things, we believe, have changed considerably since Mr Ackworth's day. For instance, the energy sector gets the government much more moolah than the network of trains, and we don't seem to need a separate Energy Budget each year, do we? Even when one talks of freight, more than half of India's goods are ferried across by roads. There's no separate Surface Transport Budget either. Yes, with 1.8 crore daily train passengers, trains remain the biggest mode of transport for Indians. So what? All Indians eat (or, at least, hope to). Do we than have a separate Food Budget?

 

The Railway Budget exists only because it gives the opportunity to a Union minister — usually a member of a party allied to the leading party in the government — to pull out a few rabbits from his or her hat. With the media trained on the minister for one day, what better platform to dole out a few goodies to one's electorate? There's now news that there will be a dedicated railways television channel with "content developed to bring out various facets of Indian Railways". Does that shock you? Well, what shocks us is that we still have a Railway Budget.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

KEEP FAITH AND HAVE PATIENCE

REENA P RAJ

 

I have grown up going to temples and gurdwaras in the national capital — be it the Shiva temple in our local vicinity or the Sai Baba temple at Lodhi Road or Bangla Sahib.

 

Thanks to our family culture, where we were taught to have faith in God, I have always felt that there was a lot of positive energy in all such sacred institutions. I get positive vibes coming from the sacred mantras chanted all over and the bhajans sung by the devotees.

 

One day, I closed my eyes and offered prayers to the almighty saying, "please show me the correct path, I want peace and happiness."

 

I did not get any reply. But the other day, my husband showed me two words written in the Sai Baba temple — Shraddha aur saburi (keep faith and have patience.) I don't know why, but I wanted to believe that this was God's reply. Since then my belief in God got strengthened, and I remain much happier.

 

God cannot be present everywhere, so he gave parents to a child. We don't have to visit a temple or gurdwara if we are taking good care of your parents at home. They have brought us in this world and if our parents are happy, we have got the blessing of the Almighty. Joint family systems are not working because everybody wants a world for himself.

 

There is violence and conflicts everywhere. If we play down our egos and live happily, then the planet will be full of bliss. Love your family, serve humanity the way we show sincerity in the temples, and work with the same sincerity at home. And see the difference in your and others' lives.

 

As they say, charity begins at home. We should take care of our family and people close to us first. This helps you build up a vision for greater efforts to scale up your mission.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

CHINA SHOULD BIDE ITS TIME

CHRIS PATTERN

 

Remember the G-2? America's financial difficulties and foreign entanglements, together with China's economic ascent, led many last year to envisage the emergence of a sort of global condominium between the two countries. The G-8 had morphed by necessity into the G-20, which, whenever it mattered, would shed its zero: the US and China would call the shots.

 

The idea was an over-simplified reflection of global realities. It left out other emerging powers like Brazil and India. It exaggerated the weakness of America, which remains the world's only superpower. It also reeked of the European Union's (EU) peevish realisation that its inability to get its act together on contentious issues was likely to place it firmly on the sidelines.

 

Despite all this, there was enough credibility in the G-2 idea to give it legs. President Barack Obama's first visit to China last November, in which he accepted the role of pliant suitor at the court of the emperor, strengthened the impression of a deal between today's great power and tomorrow's.

 

That was last year. This is now, and the idea looks less plausible. Why has the G-2 become farfetched so fast?

 

First, the weak and largely jobless economic recovery in America and Europe shines the spotlight on China's surging exports and the non-tariff barriers confronted by would-be importers to China. You would have difficulty finding many members of the US Congress who don't ascribe some of America's problems to China's alleged currency manipulation.

 

China may point to the mountain of US Treasury bonds it's bought up, thereby, helping to sustain America's budget deficit. (What China's recent sell-off of US

 

T-bills will mean is, for now, anyone's guess.) They grumble at the injustice of blaming them for the global economy's imbalances.

 

But China does have a case to answer. Critics think that pegging the currency below its real value is part of a strategy to keep growth rolling, thereby, avoiding the tricky politics of growing unemployment in a system that has no institutionalised channels for expressing popular grievances. Unless this issue is addressed soon, it will lead to protectionism in America and Europe.

 

A second issue likely to blow the G-2 apart before it's actually taken shape is the impact of China's authoritarianism on the free movement of information. China's clash with Google and US protests at cyber attacks on American targets remind the outside world, and America's media and political elites, of the difference in values between the two countries.

 

This is particularly awkward at a time when the Chinese authorities seem to be taking an even harder line on dissent. The human rights activist Liu Xiaobo has just been locked up for 11 years, drawing widespread condemnation. The veteran campaigner for the release of political detainees, John Kamm, argues that this was "a tipping point" for the Chinese authorities, and that "they will have to work themselves out of this in a less hard-line way."

 

The outcome of the climate talks in Copenhagen is the third reason for concern. China has been accused of blocking an ambitious result, mostly because of its resistance to external surveillance of its agreed targets, appealing to State sovereignty with all the self-righteousness that the world was accustomed to hearing from former US President George W. Bush. Maybe the criticism is unfair. But it certainly was unwise to allow a junior official to shout and wag his finger at Obama at one of the key Copenhagen meetings. Americans, too, Chinese officials should remember, have 'face' that they don't wish to lose.

 

Some people cite the spat over arms sales to Taiwan and the Dalai Lama's visit to Washington as a fourth dampener on all the G-2 talk. I am not so convinced. These are fairly ritualistic issues, and Chinese officials are smart enough to know that Obama had little choice but to decide on them as he did.

 

Far more worrying is an issue that is yet to play out. How will China react to any move to introduce tougher sanctions on Iran if no progress is made in efforts to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons? If China blocks action in the United Nations Security Council, relations with America will be set back to a point where any G-2 talk will seem laughable.

 

Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China's economic rise, advised his colleagues to move stealthily in dealing with the rest of the world. "Hide your brightness, bide your time," he counselled. As someone who believes that China's rise should be good for the world, I hope that Deng's wise advice will be heeded by those Chinese officials who seem to think that this is a good moment to start stamping their feet.

 

Project Syndicate

 

Chris Pattern is Chancellor of Oxford University. The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

TRY A NEW RECIPE

ASHOK GULATI AND KAVERY GANGULY

 

The Central Statistical Organisation estimate of overall GDP being likely to grow at 7.2 per cent this year has brought back the confidence of the industry and policymakers that the economy has truly turned the corner. But the growth of the farm sector is almost flat (-0.2 per cent), though this too is a pleasant surprise given that it was exposed to the worst drought since 1972. The real worry is still the very high rate of food inflation (above 17 per cent). The prime minister, in his recent address at the conference of chief ministers and state ministers of food and civil supplies, reiterated his concerns. He highlighted the need to boost agricultural productivity, especially pulses through a proposed Mission on Pulses (we already have one on oilseeds and pulses). Not sure whether the PM is aware of that and what the mission has done so far, it was encouraging to hear him emphasise the need to strengthen the role of organised retail by modernising and compressing the value chain, and also address the issue of heavy taxation of agricultural commodities. The latter being evoked by the increasing price spread between retail and farmgate.

 

Why is the PM so worried about pulses? Dal-roti is the aam admi's staple and he knows well enough that dal is surely going out of the reach of the common man, which does not augur well for his government. Given the mass poverty, this country is still very sensitive to food prices, and has seen in the past (late 1990s) how governments had to pay heavily with just onion prices being on fire. And today, pulses are really on fire. The monthly wholesale price index for pulses increased by more than 40 per cent in December 2009 over December 2008 and has been worse for tur at 69.6 per cent; urad at 63.7 per cent; and moong at 64.3 per cent. Looking at the percentage changes in 2009 over 2006, the increase is more than 100 per cent in the case of pulses in general and tur in particular, triggering a wide spread consumer dissatisfaction.

 

While much of these trends can be explained by supply side factors (eg., tur production dropped by more than 25 per cent in 2008-09 over 2007-08, and has not yet recovered fully, yields of most of the kharif pulses (tur, moong, urad) have been stagnating for more than a decade, triggering a question on what our scientists and those in international agencies such as International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics are doing about it, and what the Technology Mission on Oilseeds and Pulses has delivered since the 1990s? The success of the green revolution is largely attributed to the effective partnership among the government and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research institutes from where the high-yielding variety seeds had come. A similar course of action is deemed essential to bring about a breakthrough in production of pulses.

 

The global markets for these kharif pulses are very thin, as India is the largest producer and consumer of these.  Myanmar, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, etc. can supply a bit, but can they quench the increasing appetite of Indians for these preferred varieties? Do we need to work out long-term arrangements with them by investing in these countries, or should we ramp up investments at home to increase productivity and create an enabling policy environment?

 

These are the questions that the PM perhaps needs to pose to the proposed Mission on Pulses.

 

Chickpea, on the other hand, which is a rabi crop, has been doing fine in relative terms. It comprises roughly
45-50 per cent of our total pulses production. Over the years, its centre of gravity has shifted from the North-west (having lost to wheat) to the South. Its global market is also relatively large, and Australia, Myanmar, Turkey and many others can provide us more if we demand.

 

The scope for land expansion is quite limited in India, and there could be efforts to tie up with the major sources of pulses imports through South-South or North-South co-operations. But lately, it is yellow peas from Canada which have entered India in a big way, and which are blended with split chickpeas and in a great deal with besan (chickpea flour) without telling the consumer. As palm oil is blended to keep the prices of edible oils in check, so are yellow peas being used in pulses, as the wholesale price of imported yellow peas hovers between Rs 12 and 15 per kg.

 

But this is also the time to innovate in product development and one of such innovations will be in the form of reconstituted soya dal, which comprises 50 per cent soya flour, 25 per cent wheat flour and 25 per cent rice or any other flour depending upon regional tastes.

 

The price of such a dal will be between Rs 25 and 30 per kg, which the government can sell through its public distribution system, Kendriya Bhandars and Mother Dairy outlets. This reconstituted soya dal is more nutritious than tur, though not as tasty. But food technology can easily improve the taste with flavours, and the soya revolution in the country (we produce about 9-10 million tonnes of soya in the country, and soya has about 40 per cent protein compared to 20-25 per cent in pulses), can be used to release the brakes on pulses, and improve the protein intake in the country at a very low cost. It is not a difficult situation, but what is needed is a vision to provide proteins to the poor, and a mission to innovate. Will public policy come forward to support this?

 

Ashok Gulati and Kavery Ganguly are with the International Food Policy Research Institute, New Delhi.

The views expressed by the authors are personal.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THICK RED LINES

 

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which prides itself on inner-party fairness, and a scrupulous soliciting of views through the entire organisational chain for any major decision, appears to have drifted dangerously — the "centralism" now speaks much louder than the "democratic". The party constitution mandates that comrades be treated sympathetically, be judged by their work and whole record of service, rather than isolated incidents, in case of a mistake. But the treatment meted out to W.R. Varadarajan, a CPM veteran, would indicate otherwise. He was abruptly removed from all party posts and publicly shamed by the central committee — no real proof (of alleged sexual harassment) was given even to other comrades on the central committee, though that did not deter them from a mechanical raising of hands when the leadership called for Varadarajan's dismissal. While Varadarajan himself denied the charges, he knew he was pretty much on his own, up against a wall of po-faced communist solidarity. He resigned, and soon after, drowned himself in despair. It stands to sense that after a life seeped in the CPM's stern and hyper-extended work ethic, which regulates much of a member's daily activity and personal life (right from what percentage of his income goes to the party), this sudden fall from grace could leave Varadarajan feeling utterly alone, and bereft.

 

Of course, the Left has never been afraid of looking severely at its own navel. A few months back, the party undertook a vigorous "rectification" programme, to scour its organisation for signs of weakness. The last such exercise was conducted in 1996. At the recent discussions, it was felt that sections of the party must be purged of "unethical and dishonest acts, a self-centric mentality and craving for sensual pleasures", to make sure the party emerged stronger and more unified than before.

 

But what did the party leadership achieve? Dark mutterings among party workers, including central committee members now openly questioning their leaders' decision — pointing out that even if the disciplinary action was warranted, the complete abandonment of a former colleague betrays a fundamental soullessness in the CPM. Rectification should concentrate on the Left's failures of imagination and persuasion, which are reflected in its slipping hold on the electorate and its inability to ignite excitement. Poking its snout into the personal lives of party members is simply unnecessary — and that level of obsessive control only reveals how desperate it is to fake some measure of command.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SPOTTING SPOTTERS

 

Aircraft are easy things to be fascinated by. The big jet-engine roar, the dozens of diverse airline markings, the complex choreographed pehle-aap protocol that accompanies landing at a large airport. Unsurprisingly, therefore, there are people who want to immerse themselves in it, who cross continents to follow their interest, whose detailed discussions on the subject fill dozens of interest forums and lovingly detailed websites. Harmless hobbyists, plane-spotters, like the train-spotters that preceded them.

 

But not, of course, to the awesome and humourless forces of law enforcement in India. With typical grimness, the Delhi police descended on a five-star hotel last week to lock up Stephen Hampston and Steve Martin, two railwaymen from Britain, who were happily blowing up their savings inside, locked in a room with expensive equipment to observe and — allegedly — record details of air traffic through Indira Gandhi International Airport. Alerted by suspicious waiters to the fact that a couple of guests at the hotel were not leaving their room — except to request roof access to observe landing planes better — the police, unsurprisingly, looked into it. Fine. But it didn't stop there.

 

One would think that it would be almost trivially easy to ascertain that plane-spotting is, in fact, a real hobby; and that the two Britons have, in the past, been regular plane-spotters. The security threat that they could pose is clearly minimal. But, simply put, that would require a little give on the part of law enforcement, a little bit of humour. Instead we have threats and bluster. Threats to apply to these hobbyists antiquated provisions of the Telegraph Act, which require one to license a telegraph. Bluster that if that won't do, there's always Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which allows the arrest of those with the "potential to cause unrest or danger to peace and tranquillity". And, meanwhile, two harmless men were thrown into jail for something that they had done in many, many other jurisdictions without causing the machinery of the law to grind into motion. Humourlessness of this sort rebounds on us, making our out-of-touch systems look like little more than a bad joke.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

INTELLIGENCE QUOTIENTS

 

Athletes wrestle with this question as a matter of routine. Do the technological aids at their disposal make them better than their predecessors? To take an example, is Usain Bolt, with his habit of breaking the 100m sprint record, greater than Carl Lewis just on that basis? Or can Michael Phelps, with his eight gold medals and almost as many records at the 2008 Olympics, be rightfully acclaimed as the best swimmer ever, better than Mark Spitz, who took home seven golds at the 1972 Games? After all, swimming gear, Olympic pools and nutritional support are far more advantageous to speed today. But the question is not to force a trite comparison but to provoke an examination of the qualities embedded in a new generation's appraisal process.

 

So it is perhaps with an ongoing debate on how the Internet is affecting our intelligence. Two years ago, an article in the Atlantic Monthly pretty much set off a stormy debate on the subject. In 'Is Google making us stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains', Nicholas Carr argued that the Net is impacting our capacity for deep reading, and by extension concentration and contemplation. With more and more of our reading lives moved online, the temptation to skim, to glide from one thing to another through hyperlinks, our mental circuitry is being reset — and this, Carr implied, was not exactly a healthy change.

 

Now, in an online poll, a majority of respondents — said to be a mix of Web users and "experts" — have said that the Net will make users more intelligent and better readers and writers over the next decade. What is a better reader, of course, still depends on your point of view. Is she somebody who can read Roberto Bolaño's 2666 in tranquillity? Or is she is a quick aggregator of information? Be sure that the Net will facilitate a poll on that.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

CAREFUL OF THE CALM

SHISHIR GUPTA

 

For an extremist movement whose core objective is the armed overthrow of the Indian state, the Maoists' offer of a 72-day truce from February 25 to May 7 to New Delhi is tactically brilliant. The ceasefire move, coupled with a dialogue mediated by so-called "intellectuals", is a counter to Home Minister P. Chidambaram's offer to talk to Maoists if they abjured violence for 72 hours. However, the timing of the Maoist offer to smoke the peace pipe is significant and must be kept in mind by the internal security establishment of the country. Even if the Maoist offer is unconditional, a possible truce would come at a huge cost.

 

First, it comes at a time when the Maoist domination in the 220 districts, including 83 seriously affected ones, is being challenged by the security forces participating in the inter-state Operation Green Hunt. With due credit to the state governments, Gadchiroli in Maharashtra and the Kanker-Rajnandgaon tract of Chhattisgarh are expected to turn around the corner soon, paving the way for developmental works there.

 

Second, with Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik finally convinced that even his popularity among the electorate will not stop the Maoists, the stage is set for induction of four trained BSF battalions next week to launch operations to open the Koraput-Malkangiri-Dantewada axis. With logistics arranged and four thousand troopers on the standby, this operation could shrink the Maoist space. Even West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Jharkhand CM Shibu Soren have hinted that they would assist Central forces in clearing up the Midnapore-Purulia-Panskura-West Singhbhum tract.

 

Third, the onset of monsoon in May in the densely forested Maoist strongholds in the eastern regions of the country will ensure that no security action is possible against the rebels till September this year. In case of a ceasefire, this would allow the extremists to regroup, rearm and consolidate their positions.

 

Fourth, with Bihar scheduled to go to polls this winter followed by West Bengal, the rebels and local politicians, as in the past, could buy tactical peace and move into these states post-monsoon. With only two Central force battalions involved in Lalgarh and both Nitish Kumar and Bhattacharjee pitted against the Congress, this is a distinct possibility. Further, the BJP, which shares power in Jharkhand and Bihar, could be forced by electoral compulsions to temper its anti-Naxal rhetoric.

 

Against this backdrop, a 72-day truce would translate into a year of consolidation for the left-wing extremists. It would, consequently, be a prolonged wait for the Central forces and during this period operational commanders, including Central Task Force Commander Vijay Raman, will either retire or be on the verge of retirement.

 

Of particular concern to the government, with or without the truce, are its developmental efforts, some Rs 7300 crore worth in the pipeline, in the affected states. Under the cover of high-sounding rhetoric, the rebels in the past have targeted 71 school buildings, 73 gram panchayat bhavans, mobile towers and road building effort in the least developed and poorest of the poor areas of the country.

 

Either way, the Manmohan Singh government should impress upon states like Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal the need to step up efforts to train police personnel; particularly West Bengal, where the line between politician and law enforcer has been smudged in over 30 years of CPM rule. The prime minister and the home minister should sensitise ministers at the Centre and in the states on the nature of the Maoist movement. The point is, talk if you must but then have the political will to act against the left-wing rebels if the dialogue does not yield desired results.

The veneer of a mass proletariat movement cannot conceal the fact that Maoists have killed 1600 civilians and 800-odd security personnel in the past three years, and the only people apart from the rebels who use beheadings to assert their sway in the subcontinent these days are the Pakistani Taliban.

 

An indication of the lack of political will was evident from the tepid start to Operation Green Hunt after the Maharashtra and Jharkhand elections even though security forces were assembled and raring to go. It is only in this context that one can understand the political apprehensions of Nitish Kumar or Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

 

It is not only lack of political will but the hands-off approach by local police forces in Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal and Bihar that is hampering the security response to Maoists. Except for Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, the other state governments actually want the Central forces to fight the Maoists and thus the demand for more paramilitary forces. Due to the personal efforts of Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh and Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil there is synergy between Central troops and the local police. For instance, the paramilitary troopers and state police have optimised security to their camps in Gadchiroli by constructing fortifications adjacent to each other, and they share one meal each week to encourage camaraderie. In other states, the problem is not of resources but of inter-operability with the local police trying to please their political masters.

 

Were it to come through, the Centre should use the truce period to fine-tune its intelligence collection capabilities on Maoist groups. Operation Green Hunt has been inhibited by poor intelligence with each agency having its own set of priorities. A classic example is Maoist leader Kishenji, who has the temerity to call journalists on cell phones at random, but eludes the security agencies in times of advanced communication and signal intelligence.

 

The Manmohan Singh government in the end should see the present truce/ talks offer as a short-term tactic on the part of Maoists to attain their long-term goals. With Maoist sympathisers already softening the peripheries of many cities, the day is not very far when these rebels escalate their movement from jungle to urban warfare. Are we prepared for that?

 

shishir.gupta@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

TRAINING OUR SIGHTS ON THE FUTURE

SARABJITARJANSINGH

 

As the Railway Budget is presented, indications are that the Indian Railways (IR) will have moved 900 million tonnes (MT) — 50 MT more than what had been projected in the last budget. This is good news as it shows that the economy is growing again. It also reveals IR's capability to move the additional 50 MT by working its locomotives and wagons harder. If we look back into IR statistics we will notice that IR has been getting more out of its assets. In the '60s, a diesel locomotive covered 300 km and a wagon moved approximately 1000 net tonne km every day. Today, a locomotive covers over 410 km and a wagon moves about 3500 net tonne km each day. Track utilisation has similarly risen from 2.76 net tonne km per route kilometre to nearly 10 today.

 

Even though IR has been getting more efficient it is not moving enough to win back market share. The market share has fallen from the high of 88 per cent to less than 30 per cent today. Why has an increase in productivity not resulted in greater market share? The answer lies in the difference between efficiency and effectiveness. While IR is getting more efficient it is not getting more effective.

 

The dominance of IR in movement over land has been undermined over the years, by the change in transport needs. High-value passengers moved away because of advances in automobiles and aeroplanes. IR as a traditional bulk carrier could not hold on to high-value freight because it failed to emphasise quality and timely delivery. Therefore, improving efficiency, which is doing more of the same with less effort or lower cost, has not won back market share. IR must work on its effectiveness — which involves setting right goals and transforming the organisation by bringing in a fresh perspective to address strategic and long-term questions.

 

Issues pertaining to efficiency are internal to IR, while issues of effectiveness are centred on society at large. Infrastructure is crucial for economic growth and widely available and affordable transport services facilitate greater urban-rural linkages. This fosters grassroots entrepreneurship, strengthens local economies and improves livelihoods. The mix of rail, road and other transport has to be socially determined while keeping commercial considerations in view. India's legacy network of railway and road structure has to be brought in line with the development needs of the 21st century. The prime minister has announced a National Transport Development Policy Committee to chalk out a multimodal strategy for the next 20 years. For the first time, transport is being studied in a holistic manner. The key question pertaining to railways will be, is rebuilding and expanding the railways to 21st century standards an appropriate objective? How might it be best achieved? Answers to these questions will determine the size of new investments.

 

Although the Chinese experience may not be totally relevant for India it does give some indication of the magnitude of policy, institutional and investment change needed for transforming a 19th century railway into a 21st century system. Since independence, IR has built 10,000 km of new routes, which pales before China's 30,000 km. China's massive expansion programme has made it the second largest railway network, pushing India into third place. More importantly, China has spent vast sums in modernising and upgrading the existing system. They have invested nearly $450 billion since 1990 in comparison to India's $40 billion. They tested the fastest bullet train in the world from Wuhan to Guangzhou, at a cost of $23.5 billion, and have nearly finished the construction of a high speed rail route from Beijing to Shanghai. The 4046 km strategically important Qinghai Tibet railway line, which connects Beijing to Lhasa, has 1110 km built mostly on permafrost — a technical marvel. The political, military, social and strategic significance of binding the far-western border regions of China with the east coast population centres and their economies cannot be overemphasised. In comparison, the Himalayan border lands of India remain isolated, and far from convenient rail (or even road) connections.

 

India has just started thinking about building a high speed rail network, and work on the dedicated freight corridors is yet to take off. One of the reasons for India's inability to build is its lack of strategy. While IR management has intimate knowledge of how to fix short-term problems, it has proved itself incapable of freshly addressing the strategic questions. An external, independent perspective would be valuable, and the minister should consider a think tank-like body to assist policy-makers within IR and outside to make long-term decisions, based on effective global practices.

 

The writer is a former general manager of Indian Railways

 

express@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

EXPANDING OUR TOWNS FOR URBAN GROWTH

RANESH NAIR

 

We have got so used to the unplanned growth of our cities that we assume that town planning was a speciality only of ancient times, to be seen in the ruins of Takshila. Our cities are bursting at the seams and we still need to accommodate another 100 million-plus over the next 15 years. Some of it may come from increasing population density in urban areas; but much of it has to come by cities and towns expanding into the surrounding countryside.

 

Acquiring agricultural land to accommodate such expansion is unavoidable in India today. When this is entrusted to public sector "development authorities", as in Delhi, these bodies have exploited their monopoly position to generate inefficiency and corruption. When the task is undertaken by private developers, they have often failed to keep their promises on urban infrastructure — and those from whom land is acquired are not only displaced, but also feel aggrieved because they find the compensation highly inadequate, especially when they see the value of their land rise after the infrastructure is in place. Moreover, finding finance to build the necessary infrastructure has proved to be a major challenge.

 

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission launched in 2005-06 has opened up an avenue for funding which allows for speedier implementation of schemes such as the Town Planning Scheme, or TPS, of Gujarat, which has achieved city expansion with minimal displacement of people and active participation of land-owners in urban planning — while also contributing towards financing of infrastructure investment.

 

The origins of the TPS can be traced to the Bombay Town Planning Act of 1915, and the system has been used in Maharashtra and Gujarat, and also, sometimes, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. But of late, it has fallen into disuse. We found good examples of the TPS in action in Surat and Ahmedabad backed by the Gujarat Town Planning and Urban Development Act (GTPUDA) of 1976, which was last amended in 1999. The system has been well tested in court.

 

Ahmedabad and Surat have completed more than 100 such schemes each. In Ahmedabad, the average area

developed each year is about three per cent of the municipality's current built-up area. The total area developed under the TPS is about 300 sq km Of this, 13 per cent has been used for roads and 10 per cent for parks, community centres, housing for the poor, etc. The Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority has built over 11,000 houses in the last five years for the urban poor using land obtained through the TPS. In Surat, these schemes have covered 137 sq km, of which close to 25 per cent is appropriated for public use. In the last five years alone, Surat constructed 617 km of roads and 10,000 houses for the poor under JNNURM projects in TPS areas. The scheme was also used successfully to plan the redevelopment of Bhuj after its devastation by the earthquake.

 

Under the Development Plan-TPS system, after the development authority of a town or city has drawn up a strategic decadal development plan for the town or city (identifying the area in which the city is to expand, and laying out the main contours of road and transport infrastructure) the expansion area is divided into a number of smaller areas, typically between one and two sq km each. The TPSes focus on the development of these small areas within a framework of participative planning.

 

In developing these smaller areas, the original plots are marked on a base map, on which major city-level roads are also marked. Planning then begins for public infrastructure: a subsidiary road network, parks, schools, hospitals, and housing for economically weaker sections, for example. More recently, area is also set aside for sale by the development authority to raise finance for infrastructure. A serious effort is made to keep the total proportion of land allocated for public use at an acceptably low level. As Bimal Patel, an urban planner, and a major intellectual force behind the TPS, puts it: "If a road is to be built through the middle of the area in a TPS, every landowner within the TPS area has to relinquish a part of their land and squeeze up. The road-side plot remains with the original owner although it is now smaller by the same proportion as is every other plot in the TPS."

 

The total cost of the TPS includes the cost of infrastructure, compensation to be paid to each land owner, and administrative and legal costs of preparing and implementing the TPS. The betterment charges levied on the land-owners are determined on the assumption that half of the appreciation in the land value of the final plot holders can be appropriated by the development authority for financing the infrastructure. In this manner, the original land owners are converted into owners of urban, better-serviced land which is smaller than their original plots — but much more valuable.

 

Land owners are kept well informed through newspaper advertisements, public meetings and easily available maps of the proposed scheme. After the draft scheme is finalised, the state government appoints a town planning officer — an urban planner who hears individual complaints from landowners in public meetings, and modifies the draft plan to accommodate their demands. Each landowner gets three hearings, two on the physical proposal and one on financial issues. After approval from the state government, the final town plan is published in the newspapers, and appeals can be made to a board constituted by the state government. This participative method works in redressing most grievances, and use of conventional land acquisition methods is minimised. For example, for building the Sardar Patel ring road around Ahmedabad, only 13 km of the 76 km long and 60 m wide road was acquired using the conventional land acquisition method.

 

The statutory provisions of the act allow urban local bodies to take possession of TP roads as soon as the draft TPS is approved. Since TPS does not change the revenue status of the land, and any title-related problems of any plot continue to attach to the new plot, another potential factor delaying infrastructure work is kept out of the way. Earlier, infrastructure investment could begin only after the betterment charges came in, and this could take several years. But now thanks to the JNNURM, TPS system is on a fast track.

 

Planning, participation and transparency have made all the difference. If Surat and Ahmedabad can use TPS to meet the demands of growing cities, should other cities of India be left far behind?

 

Isher Judge Ahluwalia is the chairperson of ICRIER and chair of the High Powered Expert Committee on Urban Infrastructure. Ranesh Nair is a consultant to the committee. Views are personal

 

postcardsofchange@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION

NITYARAMAKRISHNAN

 

Hafiz Saeed, head of the "JuD aka LeT" (a Security Council description) figures, in popular perception, as the symbol of all that ails Indian security today: jihadi violence, Pakistani malice, US doublespeak and Indian helplessness.

 

Curiously, in Pakistan too, Saeed is the man they pick up after every serious incident of terror in India. He was held under preventive detention after the December 2001 attack on Parliament, after the July 2006 Mumbai train blasts, and after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. The Lahore high court struck down each detention. Was the court left with any other option? Was any other legitimate course open to the government of Pakistan? The answers, respectively, are no and yes.

 

The orders of detention and the manner of justification offered for these by the Pakistani government virtually invited the writs of release. The preventive detention of 2008, in particular, was adopted instead of a viable terror law prosecution — which would have even precluded Saeed's release on bail.

 

Saeed was detained in December 2008 under the Maintenance of Public Order Act (MPO). (This was just after the UN Security Council had declared the JuD to be but an alias of the LeT.)  Pakistan has not formally proscribed the JuD by naming it in the first schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 (ATA).  Ordering his release, the court said this: "so far as the Resolution is concerned there is no matter before us about the vires and the government can act upon the same in letter and spirit if so advised. But relying on the same, the detention cannot be maintained as it was even not desired thereby," according to Dawn on June 3, 2009.

 

Without formally banning an organisation, the consequences of illegality cannot, naturally, be visited upon its members. Answers, however, were still available to be given to the court. Sections of the ATA extend the ban on a listed organisation to cover its operations under any other name. But the government did not assert that the JuD was merely another name under which the already-proscribed LeT was operating. Besides, to sustain the detention, which was under the MPO, it was sufficient, but necessary to show that Saeed was a threat to public safety. Instead, a blatantly untenable ground was pleaded — which was, consequently, rejected. Reportedly, the court was verbally told that the JuD had al-Qaeda links. Association with a banned organisation, when made out, is a case for a criminal prosecution and not really one for preventive detention, although the two are not mutually exclusive.

 

The court's suggestion that the government could take appropriate action on the Security Council resolution was not followed either "in letter" or "in spirit". Without either formally proscribing the JuD or declaring it to be impliedly banned as a front for the LeT or the Al-Qaeda, FIRs were lodged on September 16, 2009 in Faisalabad under provisions that relate to support for a "proscribed organisation". It should have been evident to the meanest intelligence that they were doomed to be quashed. The court was bound by the earlier view (and one of a larger bench) that the JuD had not been shown to be a "proscribed organisation". Sure enough, the court quashed the FIRs, quoting the earlier case. Those FIRs also, reportedly, recorded Saeed's open threats to organise jihadi violence against foreign nations. This was a separate offence under the ATA, but that fact was neither mentioned in the FIR nor pointed out to the court.

 

The ATA defines a "terrorist act" so broadly as to include even the threat of action "designed to create insecurity", "intimidate the public" or "to advance a sectarian, communal or ethnic cause." The action threatened may be death, grievous injury or destruction of property. The threat of sectarian violence is a cognisable offence of terrorism by virtue of Pakistan's loosely worded terror legislation. It is punishable with life, or at least, imprisonment of over ten years; bail is barred in any ATA offence that carries a punishment of ten years. In October 2009, the law was widened to include the intimidation of foreign agencies. Saeed's reported February 5, 2010 speech at Muzaffarabad would clearly be one such instance.

 

Personally, I disapprove of altering normal procedure and restricting judicial discretion, which terror laws are prone to doing; but, clearly, many governments do not share my view. So, despite the claim that India has not given it enough evidence on Saeed, it does seem that Pakistan has, on its own, enough of law and fact to effectively contain him without pleading the excuse of judicial obstruction.

 

Pakistan has claimed a right to try cross-border offenders in its territory, instead of extraditing them.

 

Extradition, despite various UN resolutions, remains a sovereign prerogative. The exercise of the option to try the offenders, however, implies the duty to unearth the necessary evidence and seriously prosecute all those who are implicated. Pakistan is trying five men for the terrorist conspiracy behind the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, including Lakhvi, said to be a deputy of Hafiz Saeed. A proper investigation should then have yielded material on Saeed.

 

Dialogue with Pakistan must factor in the quality of the Lakhvi prosecution as well as the options left out in dealing with Saeed, a man whom Pakistan has acknowledged to be a terrorist.

 

The writer practices in the Supreme Court of India

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

MEDALS PAINTED GOLD

 

Probably few of the millions slumping in front of the flat-screen this week, skipping the gym to watch their bodily betters perform hair-raising feats of athletic prowess in the Vancouver slush, are aware that in the first half of the 20th century, the modern Olympics also included arts competitions.

 

The dream of uniting sport and art, as they were once paired in the original Greek Olympiads, was in fact central to the mission of Pierre de Coubertin, the godfather of the Games. The goal was "to reunite in the bonds of legitimate wedlock a long-divorced couple — Muscle and Mind," he loftily announced to an organising committee in an early attempt to get the idea off the ground. But it was not until the 1912 Stockholm Games that medals would be given for architecture, sculpture, painting, music and literature.

 

Even then, the Swedish organisers were none too keen, arguing that judging art was a far slippier proposition than figuring out who threw the discus farthest. Still, the baron had his way. The arts Games were on, and continued until 1948. The animating idea was to award the prizes to work directly inspired by sport — a limitation that may have helped lead to their eventual demise. How many statues of muscle-bound athletes, how many paeans to the glory of manly competition, can the world really be expected to celebrate?

 

In his appositely titled book The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions, Richard Stanton relates the details of this obscure byway of cultural history in enthusiastic prose. Who knew that Walter Winans, a Russian-born aristocrat who maintained US citizenship despite living mostly abroad, was the only Olympian to win medals in both sporting and cultural competition in the same Olympiad? In the 1912 games he took home the silver in "Team Running Deer — Single Shot" (since eliminated, we believe) and the gold medal for sculpture for "An American Trotter."

 

Few immortals swim through the book's pages. Jack Butler Yeats — younger brother of the poet W.B. — won the silver medal at the Paris competition in 1924 for "Natation (Swimming)." (Although the elder Yeats's renown has far outstripped his brother's, fellow Irishman Samuel Beckett was an admirer, and even wrote a poem celebrating his work.)

 

But does anyone still play the "Olympic Symphony" by Zbigniew Turski, a prize winner in the last competition, in London in 1948? Does anyone play anything by Zbigniew Turski? Somehow typical is this forlorn confession from Stanton, relating to the Finnish poet Aale Tynni: "As of this time, a copy of her gold medal poem 'Hellaan Laakeri' has not been located." Sic transit gloria Tynni.

 

The dubiousness of judging aesthetic achievement by committee has been a common subject for complaint ever since awards began proliferating like wildflowers in the last half-century. The highly politicised nature of international competition only added to the problem, as becomes blindingly clear when you scan the list of arts winners from the infamous 1936 Games in Berlin. Man, those Germans and Austrians cleaned up! Austria took gold and bronze for architecture, Germany silver. Germany won all three medals for songs, as well as gold for lyric writing and silver for epic, gold for relief sculpture, two of three awards for town planning (shudder) and more. Who knew home-field advantage could extend so thoroughly into the aesthetic spheres?

 

It's funny to imagine who might have "podiumed" in the arts categories had the competition continued for the rest of the 20th century. Might the lyric winner for the 1998 winter Olympics have been a tribute to the infamous skating scandal of the previous games, something titled "The Ballad of Tonya and Nancy"?

 

In keeping with de Coubertin's dream of truly uniting the worlds of art and sport, I'd like to fancifully suggest that a resurrected arts competition blend disciplines, mixing the skills of Olympic sport with the aesthetics of the new century. One event could be the textathlon, which would involve high-speed texting while skiing, with random breaks for shooting, of course. Or a competition for Twitter haiku, to be composed while hurtling through the icy chutes of the luge.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

VIEW FROM THE LEFT

MANOJ C G

 

Pakistan talks

Although it is in favour of resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan, the CPI has come to the conclusion that the foreign secretary-level talks this week are likely to take place in a listless atmosphere devoid of hope and the expectations of a forward movement are clearly absent. The feeling is that New Delhi is holding the talks under pressure from the US, while Islamabad is unsure of its outcome. Although the Zardari-Gilani government is not fully in charge of the situation in Pakistan and Army chief Pervez Ashfaq Kayani cannot be trusted, there is little option for India but to engage in at least the pretence of negotiations, it says.

 

An article titled "Little hope from Indo-Pak talks" in the latest edition of CPI's weekly mouthpiece New Age says that however untrustworthy Pakistan might be, some channels of communication have to be kept open, as otherwise the onus of being unreasonable will be on India since it is the larger and more stable country. "There is another reason why India must keep its slender links with Pakistan open. It is that the Pakistan army would dearly love a deterioration in mutual ties, as after 26/11, so that it would not have to fulfil its obligation to continue to fight the terrorists in the country's north-west," it says.

Inflation

In an article titled "Price rise: Lame excuses and fake alibis" in the latest issue of CPI(M) mouthpiece People's Democracy, Politburo member Brinda Karat argues that the UPA government has "consistently refused" to accept its responsibilities in containing runaway prices. Seeking to demolish the arguments put forward by the government, she compares the consumer price index of G-20 countries to counter the government argument that high inflation rates are a global phenomenon. While figures show inflation was 14.97 per cent in India in December, Russia recorded 8.8, which was the highest among the G-20 grouping. While Argentina recorded 7.7 after Russia, the lowest inflation figure was -1.7 recorded in Japan. "Clearly, domestic factors, not international ones, are responsible for India having the highest annual inflation rates in the Consumer Price Index of the G-20 countries," the article argues.

 

"In fact it can be argued that India is responsible to an extent for the hardening of international prices in certain commodities over the last few years such as wheat and sugar. When a country like India announces its intentions to import vast quantities of a particular commodity, it obviously leads to higher prices in international markets with big players and speculators driving up commodity futures prices," it says.

 

"While the government is in a state of denial about the impact of recession on the working people, the report of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs has assessed that in 2009, 13.6 million more people were pushed into the ranks of the poor in India because of joblessness and high rates of inflation," she says.

 

"It is made out as though state governments were responsible for high prices of sugar because of the higher slabs of VAT on sugar including imported sugar. However, 23 of the 32 states have nil rate of VAT on imported sugar. On the other hand, Jharkhand under President's rule had the highest VAT rate of 12.5 per cent. Congress governments in Rajasthan and Haryana and the Congress-supported DMK government in Tamilnadu have 4 per cent VAT on imported sugar," the article says.

 

Soft Trinamool

The CPI(M) Central Committee's decision to differentiate between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress when it comes to attacking them on the Maoist issue reflected in the lead editorial in People's Democracy. The editorial — in the aftermath of the Maoist attack at the East Frontier Rifles (EFR) camp at Silda — was soft on the Centre, merely suggesting that the state governments of West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar and the Centre should act in unison to combat the Naxalites.

 

On the other hand, it said the Trinamool Congress continues to play "footsie" with the Maoists and it was clearly demonstrated by Mamata Banerjee's unwillingness to name the Maoists as being responsible for the attack.

 

"This despite the fact that the Maoist leaders themselves have publicly acknowledged in the media that they are responsible for this attack and this was their answer to the joint operations to be launched by the Centre and various state governments.

 

"That the Maoists reciprocate the Trinamool Congress's softness became clear when their spokesman informed sections of the media that the Maoists "will not attack or target the Trinamool Congress".

 

By now it is well-known that the Trinamool Congress has openly called for a halt of all operations by security forces against the Maoists so that the latter can continue to terrorise the people through their violence and browbeat them into opposing the Left Front in the forthcoming elections to the state assembly in 2011, it says.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

REC'S SORROWS


After the dismal performance of NTPC's follow-on public offer (FPO), Rural Electrification Corporation was the next chance for the government to find out how the stock markets will react to the disinvestment programme. At the final call on Tuesday, REC's FPO received an overall subscription of 3.1 times. But retail investment subscription has remained abysmal at just 12% of the portion on offer for them getting sold. The portion reserved for qualified institutional buyers was subscribed to 4.15 times. What does this indicate? The REC offering has sure done better than NTPC, but the question mark on the government's future disinvestment programme and its plans to broad-base the equity market through larger retail participation remains. The lukewarm response was despite the fact that the government modified the rules for institutional investors who were allowed to revise their bids in either direction and the floor price was pegged at a relatively steeper discount of around 8%, as compared with 5% in the case of NTPC. Though the uncertain secondary market conditions on global cues had an impact on retail investors, even an 8% discount from the market price was not substantial enough to attract retail investors which kept the demand muted.

 

It also indicates the public is taking a more realistic look at the growth story of many of the public sector companies. It was taken as given that the REC offering would fare well because it is engaged in the business of lending to power projects and has transformed itself from being a rural electrification financier to a player with a presence across the value chain in the power sector. The company has lower gross and net NPAs despite the fact that it derives a major part of its income from state electricity boards and state power utilities. But obviously the weakness of the power sector has rubbed off on it, too. Though the power sector promises long-term growth opportunity given the huge demand-supply mismatch, a flood of power papers in the last six months is now showing in investors' lack of appetite and the markets are almost flat to negative in the past one month. All eyes will be now on NMDC's FPO in March, where the government will divest a 8.33% stake from its current holding of 98.33%. The markets will look for direction and velocity for reforms in the Budget and going ahead, a conducive environment with confidence is required for the future offerings that the government is planning. It must build enough confidence with investment bankers who help to rope in premium foreign investors as was seen in the case of Reliance Power in 2008, which saw the IPO getting subscribed by a record 70 times despite no projects on stream. The government must quickly draw lessons from the mistakes of the NTPC and REC offerings so that it gets good valuations as it goes ahead with the current selloff schedule.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PRICES IN PARLIAMENT


There had been signs that an Opposition that has been sort of slothful over the previous year would finally get its act together and challenge the government on price rise during the current Parliament session. This came to pass yesterday, when both Houses were forced to adjourn over the issue. Without undermining the significance of the issue, one wishes that there was a more graceful way of stressing it than suspending work in a Budget session. It is, after all, not clear that those challenging the ruling coalition's failure to check food prices would actually support the government if it really mustered up the nerve to move towards appropriate solutions. To illustrate, let's take note of the Delhi CM reportedly ruing the vast gap separating wholesale and retail prices of vegetables in the capital. She further rued the difficulty of cracking the whip on the thousands of intermediaries between the farm and the final market. And as FE stories have tracked, high retail prices are not appropriately matched at the farm gates. But, what if India and its capital actually possessed a meaningfully modern retail system? Then, distribution middlemen wouldn't be able to simultaneously hoodwink both farmers and consumers. Then, we would have more efficient supply chains that didn't lose 35% of India's horticultural output, not to mention 15% of its cereal and grains output. This would also mean wholeheartedly welcoming FDI and agriculture futures. Are the men and women who pushed for Parliament's adjournment yesterday prepared to support such progressive measures?

 

These columns have repeatedly argued that a) the problem of rising food prices needs to be disaggregated and b) measures such as replacing ministers or bifurcating portfolios (the kind of measures that the Opposition is fond of demanding) do not really get to the heart of the problem. On the first front, consider, for example, that pulses exist in a different universe from vegetables. Here, there is a genuine supply issue, which is global in dimension. In sugar, the domestic economy is deeply distorted by government interventions ranging from fixing procurement prices to allocating distribution. Again, it's hard to see the Opposition actually stepping back from the right to such interventions. And again, the solution really lies in repairing the breach between the farmer and the consumer, even on a global scale. Last year's monsoon turned out to be more benign than what the doomsayers had suggested. Now, the rabi harvest is looking good. Even in cases where supply issues dominate, and say yields need to be upped in the long term, quick fixes will not be the best fixes. Both the government and the Opposition need to focus on structural issues.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

MICRO ECONOMICS IN BUDGET 2010

SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA


This is once again the time of the year when the Union Budget will define our collective fortunes for the next year, and probably for the near, if not an extended, future. This year's Budget is increasingly being referred to as a 'game changer'. Unfortunately, there isn't sufficient exposition of what this means.

 

We read in the papers of multiple demands of various interest groups, mostly for changes in specific tax structures and subventions from the government. These are important and will certainly yield incremental improvements, but they will not result in a dramatic shift in the way the economy functions. My conjecture—based on individual and specific changes, reforms and announcements over the past year—is that the government will seek to articulate the initiation of some fundamental changes in standard operating procedures in this Budget. If this is indeed the case, we need to step back and question what the key objectives and functions of this annual exercise are.

 

The Budget is an opportunity for articulating some basic philosophical questions for the government. The most important is its role. But its role in what? Even at the risk of belabouring the point, its role as a facilitator of some key economic objectives bears repetition.

 

What are these objectives? Even with the rapidly increasing presence of the private sector, the government's budget, and thereby the fiscal environment, still has an overweening influence on shaping the economic landscape. The classic role of fiscal policy—engendering efficiency while promoting equity —will be the defining theme of this Budget, particularly in a year when India's economy is just getting out of a sharp downturn and needs to be placed on track for high sustained growth.

 

Sustained growth, while competing in an integrated world, requires a rapid scale-up in economic efficiency. Many of the items on India's reform agenda require the co-option of state governments in their implementation. While the Union government cannot directly intervene in such areas, it can potentially use fiscal levers to incentivise changes at state levels. The tripartite agreement with state governments over debt payments of state electricity boards is an example of one of the most effective programmes of this kind. To a lesser extent, programmes such as JNNURM and APDRP seek to infuse greater commercial orientation in state entities. But these carrots require funds allocation and prioritising them with scarce Union resources is a major balancing act of the Budget.

 

But, just as in the corporate world, the government has to factor in economic risks to this approach. Among the many things that can disrupt a transition to high and stable growth, high food prices probably rates as the most immediate.

 

We now increasingly hear foreign investors and academics who follow emerging markets begin to caution that sustaining India's growth in the future will require the creation of massive employment opportunities. Among the BRICS, India is the one with the least endowments of natural resources, necessitating dependence on foreign markets. The scale of investments needed to increase India's productivity will require access to foreign capital and India needs to both improve its credit ratings to borrow cheaply and at the same time build up the absorptive capacity of its domestic hinterland to utilise capital flows without disruptive asset bubbles.

 

Inclusive growth has now become a mantra for policymakers, and rightly so. The extent of poverty and lack of access to basic infrastructure absolutely mandates the involvement of government. The surest way of increasing employability is to provide access to schools, nutrition, health and more broadly, to opportunity. But this requires the application of significant government subvention, at least initially, even with the participation of the private sector.

 

India's agriculture productivity needs to be increased rapidly, both for food self-sufficiency and to fund industrial and services sector growth. India needs to increase its economic surplus from the agricultural sector and transfer it to fund industrial growth, not through extortionary methods as in China in the early eighties, but through incentive mechanisms.

 

What are the instruments for achieving these objectives? The microeconomic expertise of the chief economic advisor will surely manifest through gradual implementation of incentive-compatible mechanisms to achieve this. The senior management at the helm of India's key economic ministries has increasingly demonstrated a willingness to experiment with new methods, instruments and processes. Despite the natural frictional inertia of our political system, there is a sense of urgency in our political, administrative, corporate and entrepre-neurial psyche. We look forward to the Budget reinforcing this.

 

The author is senior vice-president, business and economic research, Axis Bank. These are his personal views

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

FM SHOULD REDUCE TAX EXEMPTIONS

P RAGHAVAN


The deterioration of the fiscal position of states, as indicated by the reappearance of revenue deficits for the first time in 5 years in the RBI study on state budgets for 2009-10, and the doubling of states' fiscal deficit to 3.2% of the GDP over the last 3 years, has once again pushed the consolidated fiscal deficit of the Centre and states to new historical highs. Though the central budget estimates for 2009-10 put the fiscal deficit at 6.8% of GDP, real deficit would be much higher if one were to add off-budget borrowings like oil and fertiliser bonds and the burden on oil-producing companies, which would together cost around Rs 1,20,000 crore and market stabilisation bonds, where outstanding balance averaged around Rs 30,000 crore in the first 9 months of the year. This will push up total off-budget borrowings to Rs 1,50,000 crore or roughly 2.6% of GDP, taking the real consolidated deficit of the Centre and states to 12.6%, far higher than the previous peak of 9.9% registered at the start of the last decade.

 

Such high fiscal deficits have serious implications for the availability of credit so essential for bolstering growth. Figures for the fiscal until end-January 2010 show that net bank credit to the government was Rs 2,71,711 crore, which exceeded the Rs 2,68,101 crore of bank credit availed of by the entire commercial sector. This is in sharp contrast to the trends 2 years ago in the corresponding period of 2007-08, much before the recession, when net bank credit to government was about one-tenth of the credit availed of by the commercial sector.

 

Improving the flows of bank credit to meet the needs of the growing private sector in a fast-recovering economy requires a sharp cut in the central fiscal deficit and reduction of government borrowings. But this is a tough act given the UPA's penchant for providing generous allocations to social sectors and the rural economy.

 

One relief for the FM is that the government has almost fully paid out all arrears relating to the pay commission award and also the debt relief on bank loans. The return to normal spending in these cases would help in arresting growth of spending and curbing deficits. Another major gain would accrue from the decision to raise fertiliser prices and shift to nutrient-based pricing for fertilisers. Food subsidies are unlikely to move in tandem, as the need for building up stocks and greater demand would only add to costs. The only possible option is to ensure proper targeting of subsidies and stop leakages. Bold measures on this front will help bring down fiscal deficit by at least 25 basis points.

 

But a curb on big-ticket spenders is only one side of the story, as there are also going to be additional demands from other ministries. For instance, improvement in the growth prospects and tardy implementation of the PPPs would require larger government spending in areas like energy and infrastructure. Demands made by the railway minister, who requires huge funds to meet the targets set in the Vision 2020 document, is one such example. The states would also have to be motivated to take up more reforms with larger financial incentives. The Centre would also be additionally burdened with programmes related to the right to education and food security to which it has already committed.

 

So, the overall impact of the rationalisation on the spending side is likely to be marginal. And the historical experience of the last two decades also shows that efforts for improved fiscal management have largely focused on boosting revenues rather than on expenditure cuts. Even the feeble efforts made on the spending side have largely attempted to cut down on capital spending rather than revenue allocations.

 

But mobilising additional resources is a distant dream with the recovery still in an incipient stage. And the tardy approach to the introduction of the goods and services tax rules out any immediate use of the only significant option for improving the tax mobilisation efforts. In fact, there is even a downside risk as any recommendation to increase the states' share of tax revenues by the 13th Finance Commission could dent the central revenues.

 

One option that the government has already committed to is raising resources by listing profitable central government enterprises, which can be even treble the Rs 20,000 crore that is expected to be raised in the current fiscal year. This, and a successful auction of the 3G licences, would help mop up around Rs 1,00,000 crore. A rollback of the tax cuts in stages, if not in one go, can also help boost revenue prospects.

 

But the best avenue for raising revenues in the short run is to reduce tax exemptions that distort resource allocations and cause inefficiencies. Most recent estimates show that total tax exemptions or revenues forgone amounted to Rs 4,18,095 crore in 2008-09, which is about two-thirds of the total tax collection in the year. The major part of this was from excise and customs duties and a radical pruning here would be helpful as the GST, which would replace these taxes, is unlikely to provide for any exemptions and a gradual reduction would be less hurting.

 

p.raghavan@expressindia.com

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DEBATING REALLY ISN'T IN FASHION

JAYA JUMRANI


The Budget session of Parliament provides the UPA government with another chance to pass some of the long-pending, important Bills. But will it be able to achieve the same?

 

It is common knowledge that debate is at the heart of any democracy. But for our democracy, statistics from the PRS legislative research cut a sorry figure. The data indicate that several Bills were passed without any substantial amount of discussion in 2009. Lok Sabha has spent over 1,228 hours in Parliamentary debates since 2004. The proportion of time spent on debates has varied from 73% in 2004 to 80% in 2008. The productive time in Lok Sabha was 350 hours (89% of scheduled time) in 2009. Nearly 63% of this time was spent on financial issues and in non-legislative debates and approximately 96 hours were spent on Budget discussions. The government promulgated nine ordinances in 2009—the second highest figure in the last decade. The legislative business calendar is getting shorter over time.

 

Astonishingly, 27% of the Bills passed by Lok Sabha were discussed for less than five minutes. This list comprised crucial Bills like the Trade Marks Amendment Bill and the Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Amendment) Bill, 2009. On average, nine MPs participated per Bill in 2009 as a large proportion of Bills were passed without any discussion. Additionally, not even a single Private Members' Bill has been passed in the last 40 years. Till date, only 14 such Bills have been passed—6 of them in 1956 alone.

 

There's nothing new in the high-speed passage of these Bills, as is evident from historical data. But it ultimately leads to a highly undemocratic and regressive trend, which is not good practice for the well-being of legislative business and ultimately the citizens. What is required is more working days to accommodate serious legislative work, besides making the sessions more discussion-friendly. Not all Bills require debate, but Bills pertaining to national concern should definitely be discussed. The main purpose of the debate should be to elicit significant information and not to embarrass the government, to amuse the TV audiences or to make life easier for journalists.

 

jaya.jumrani@expressindia.com

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

IN DEEP CRISIS

 

India's national carrier, Air India, severely hit by financial crisis, still remains in the intensive care unit. Though the government has decided to infuse equity to an extent of Rs.800 crore, nothing seems to be going right for the National Aviation Company of India Limited, the new corporate entity created by merging Air India and Indian Airlines in 2007. For one thing, the process of merger is yet to be completed. Secondly, the losses are mounting month after month — currently Rs.400 crore a month, on average. A year after the formal merger, the losses had doubled to Rs.5,548 crore (2008-09). The airline is so badly strapped for cash that it needs Rs.1,000 crore more as working capital for just staying afloat and maintaining its services at the present level. Already, its working capital borrowings have piled up to Rs.16,000 crore, with the accumulated losses adding up to about Rs.7,000 crore. It appears that Air India is caught in a vicious circle. Wherever it turns to for assistance, it is required to come up with a road map for turning the company around. Given the airline's predicament where it cannot even pay for the fuel or clear the wage arrears of the staff, scaling up its operations — necessary for earning more revenue — is unthinkable in the absence of a lifeline.

 

At the Board of Directors' meeting last week, the proposal to hive off its strategic business units and make them independent, commercial entities was dropped from the agenda. So far, the company's efforts at raising funds have not borne fruit. It has to work out an actionable turnaround plan before the government can firm up, on the advice of the Group of Ministers concerned, further steps to resuscitate the airline. This means there has to be wide consultation involving the management, administrative staff, and trade unions to hammer out such a plan, whose components will include: rationalisation of wages and work force, discharge of debts, fleet expansion through induction of the latest aircraft, and an end to the culture of political interference in management. Air India has been calling for a level playing field in operations vis-à-vis private carriers. All these issues have been discussed intensely and at different levels in the past. But there has been no consensus on any of the issues that are critical for the viability of the airline. The government cannot be expected to keep pumping huge sums of money unless it is convinced that the airline has a comprehensive and practical plan of action for its revival. The bottom line should, of course, be the financial viability and sustainability of Air India. Time is running out, and the management must get its act together before it is too late.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

HAIR REVEALS OUR PAST

 

In less than 10 years after the human genome from a living individual was first sequenced, scientists have successfully sequenced a complete ancient human genome (only partial ancient human genomes and mitochondrial DNA have been sequenced in the past). The study was published recently in Nature . The sample studied was one of the four excellently preserved human tufts from a male paleo-Eskimo obtained from about 4,000-year-old permafrost at Qeqertasussuk, Greenland. As against the gold standard of sequencing the genome 10 times, the ancient human genome was sequenced 20 times over nearly 80 per cent of its length. Repeated sequencing helps enhance the level of accuracy, ensuring that any differences seen between ancient and modern human genomes are true. There is great interest in studying ancient humans to understand the routes of human migration from Africa. The ancient human's mitochondrial DNA sequenced in 2008 helped in identifying him as belonging to Saqqaq culture of East Siberia. Tracing the route of migration from East Siberia to Greenland through Alaska and Canada also became possible by comparing the ancient human genome with modern genome data; Saqqaqs had split from Chukchis, their closest relatives, some 5,500 years ago.

 

Sequencing the nuclear DNA and comparing the functional single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) with modern human genome data helped in identifying his appearance and roots. The study revealed that he had brown eyes, dark thick hair, and brown skin, which are typical Asian characteristics. His shovel-graded front teeth and earwax of the dry type are typical of Asians and native Americans. His metabolism and body mass index indicates that he was adapted to living in a cold climate. Sequencing the complete ancient genome became possible as hair tufts were excellently preserved in permafrost. However, the samples recovered in 1986 were stored at room temperature in the National History Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, until they were studied recently. Past studies in humans and animals have shown that unlike bones and teeth, hair shafts are able to preserve mitochondrial DNA in larger quantities and for longer periods of time even at room temperature; the shaft's melanin material probably prevents DNA damage. But the latest study has shown that it is indeed possible to extract nuclear DNA from hair shafts, especially when hair is preserved in ice. The real challenge will be to extract nuclear DNA from samples recovered from temperate and tropical regions, where the majority of ancient human remains are found.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

POVERTY ESTIMATES VS FOOD ENTITLEMENTS

STATISTICAL POVERTY LINES SHOULD NOT BECOME REAL-LIFE ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA FOR FOOD ENTITLEMENTS.

JEAN DRÈZE

 

Nothing is easier than to recognise a poor person when you see him or her. Yet the task of identifying and counting the poor seems to elude the country's best experts. Take for instance the "headcount" of rural poverty — the proportion of the rural population below the poverty line. At least four alternative figures are available: 28 per cent from the Planning Commission, 50 per cent from the N.C. Saxena Committee report, 42 per cent from the Tendulkar Committee report, and 80 per cent or so from the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS).

 

On closer examination, the gaps are not as big as they look, because they are largely due to the differences in poverty lines. The underlying methodologies are much the same. The main exception is the Saxena Committee report, where the 50 per cent figure is based on an independent argument about the required coverage of the BPL Census. Other reports produce alternative figures by simply shifting the poverty line.

 

In this connection, it is important to remember that the poverty line is, ultimately, little more than an arbitrary benchmark. It is difficult to give it a normative interpretation (in this respect, the Tendulkar Committee report is far from convincing). The notion that everyone below a certain expenditure threshold is "poor," while everyone else is "not poor," makes little sense. Poverty is a matter of degree and to the extent that any particular threshold can be specified, it is likely to depend on the context of the exercise.

 

What tends to matter is not so much the level of the benchmark as consistency in applying it in different places and years (by using suitable "cost-of-living indexes" to adjust the benchmark), for comparative purposes. It is this consistency that is being threatened by the current mushrooming of independent poverty lines. In this respect, the Tendulkar Committee report does a reasonably good job of arguing for the adoption of the current, national, official urban poverty line as an "anchor." State-wise urban and rural poverty lines are to be derived from it by applying suitable price indexes generated from the National Sample Survey data. This approach permits continuity with earlier poverty series, consistency of poverty estimation between sectors and States, and some method in the madness from now on.

 

As it happens, the Tendulkar Committee report's estimate of 42 per cent for rural poverty, based on this new poverty line, is not very different from the 50 per cent benchmark proposed in the Saxena Committee for the coverage of the BPL Census. In fact, the Tendulkar estimate, plus a very conservative margin of 10 per cent or so for targeting errors, would produce much the same figure as in the Saxena Committee report. Thus, one could argue for "50 per cent" as an absolute minimum for the coverage of the next BPL Census in rural areas.

 

However, poverty estimation is one thing, and social support is another. The main purpose of the BPL Census is to identify households eligible for social support, notably through the Public Distribution System (PDS) but also, increasingly, in other ways. In deciding the coverage of the BPL Census, allowance must be made not only for targeting errors, which can be very large, but also for other considerations, including the fact that under-nutrition rates in India tend to be much higher than poverty estimates. This gap is not so surprising, considering that the official "poverty line" is really a destitution line. The consumption basket that can be bought at the poverty line is extremely meagre. It was an important contribution of the NCEUS report to point out that even a moderately enhanced poverty line basket, costing Rs.20 per person per day, would be unaffordable for a large majority of the population. How would you like to live on Rs. 20 a day?

 

Also relevant here is the case for a universal as opposed to targeted PDS. The main argument is that the Right to Food is a fundamental right of all citizens (an aspect of the "Right to Life" under Article 21 of the Constitution), and that any targeting method inevitably entails substantial "exclusion errors." This raises the question of the BPL Census methodology.

 

The 2002 BPL Census was based on a rather convoluted scoring method, involving 13 different indicators (related for instance to land ownership, occupation and education) with a score of 0 to 4 for each indicator, so that the aggregate score ranged from 0 to 52. There were serious conceptual flaws in this scoring system, and the whole method was also applied in a haphazard manner, partly due to its confused character. The result was a very defective census that left out large numbers of poor households. According to the 61st round of the National Sample Survey, among the poorest 20 per cent of rural households in 2004-05, barely half had a BPL Card. Any future BPL Census exercise must be based on a clear recognition of this major fiasco.

 

The Saxena Committee recently proposed an alternative BPL Census methodology, involving a simplified scoring system. Instead of 13 indicators, there are just five, with an aggregate score ranging from 0 to 10. This is a major improvement. Even this simplified method, however, is likely to be hard to comprehend for many rural households. This lack of transparency opens the door to manipulation, and undermines participatory verification of the BPL list. There is no guarantee that the results will be much better than those of the 2002 BPL Census.

 

Perhaps the proposed method can be further improved. But the bottom line is that any BPL Census is likely to be a bit of a hit-or-miss affair, not only because of inherent conceptual problems but also because of widespread irregularities on the ground. This is the main argument for universal provision of basic services, including access to the PDS. Another strong argument is that targeting is divisive, and undermines the unity of public demand for a functional PDS. It is perhaps no accident that the PDS works much better in Tamil Nadu, where it is universal, than in other States.

 

A universal PDS would, of course, involve a major increase in the food subsidy. However, universalisation could be combined with cost-saving measures such as decentralised procurement, self-management of Fair Price Shops by gram panchayats, and a range of transparency safeguards. There is no obvious alternative, if we are serious about ensuring food security for all. If someone has a better idea, let's hear it.

 

Meanwhile, the government seems to be running in the opposite direction, judging from the recent recommendations of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) in charge of the proposed National Food Security Act. The EGoM suggested not only that the government's legal obligation to provide foodgrain under PDS should be restricted to 25 kg per month for BPL families, but also that the Planning Commission's measly poverty figures should be used as a "ceiling" for the BPL list. This amounts to disregarding at least three official committee reports (Tendulkar, N.C. Saxena and NCEUS), and trivialising the proposed Act.In a country where half of all children are underweight, the idea that freedom from hunger and under-nutrition can be made a legal right is rather bold and far-reaching. It has a bearing not only on the Public Distribution System but also on a range of other interventions and entitlements, relating for instance to child nutrition, social security, health care, and even property rights. Framing an effective National Food Security Act requires a great deal of creative work, public debate, and political commitment. Alas, seven months after the Finance Minister stated, in his previous budget speech, that work on the Act had "begun in right earnest," and that a draft would be in the public domain "very soon," things seem to be moving backward rather than forward. Let us see what the Honourable Minister has to say on this in his forthcoming budget speech.

 

(The author is Visiting Professor at the Department of Economics, University of Allahabad.)

 

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THE HINDU

ONE HIV TEST, BUT TWO RESULTS

ANTIRETROVIRALS HAVE VIRTUALLY ELIMINATED AIDS IN THE WEST. IT'S FOR THIS VERY REASON THEY WILL NOT DEFEAT HIV IN AFRICA.

ELIZABETH PISANI

 

It's been a bad few months for HIV prevention. We've learned that our best candidates for vaccines and virus-killing microbicides don't work. Now we're clutching at another straw: maybe we can treat our way out of the HIV epidemic.

 

At an HIV research meeting this week, boffins from the World Health Organisation revived a mathematical model that shows that if we test everyone in Africa for HIV once a year and give everyone who tests positive expensive drugs right away and for the rest of their lives, we'll wipe out new HIV infections within seven years. That's because HIV is passed on most easily when there's lots of virus in the infected person's blood and body fluids. Antiretroviral medicines cut the "viral load" (the amount of virus in the body), so they make it more difficult to pass on HIV. Ergo, more treatment means fewer new infections.

 

Sadly, it's not that simple. For one thing, HIV is most infectious in the few months after a person is first infected. Even if everyone got tested annually, we'd miss most of these new infections. Second, people's viral load spikes upwards if they get another sexually transmitted infection (STI), or if they stop taking their medicine because the clinic runs out of stock, the meds make them feel sick, or they went on a three-day bender and forgot their pills. Interrupting treatment also allows the virus to develop resistance to drugs, and that leads to more spikes in viral load. Most importantly, antiretrovirals keep you alive and well enough to be out there meeting new sex partners. That's a good thing, obviously, but it also means that people who have HIV are going to have more chances to pass it on during those times when their viral load is spiky.

 

There's more. In countries like the U.K. where treatment has been available for over a decade, AIDS has virtually disappeared. HIV, unfortunately, has not. A few years after antiretrovirals became widely available, new infections among gay men in the U.K. began to rise. We've seen the same thing in Australia, the United States and practically everywhere else we have data. One reason for that is that gay men use condoms less now than they did when HIV = AIDS = a horrible death. Now, though, HIV = a pill every day. Boring, but not the end of the world, unless you're the taxpayer picking up the tab for it or the epidemiologist worrying that drug-resistant strains of HIV will reignite AIDS.

 

On top of that, many people assume that if the person they're having sex with is infected, they'll be on meds and so not very infectious. Which may be true if they're not in that early peak of infectiousness, have taken all their pills diligently, and don't have another STI. Though since condom use is dropping across the board, other STI rates are soaring. In short, more people living with HIV, combined with more unprotected sex, is outweighing the effects of lower viral load in places where the population is well informed, HIV testing is actively promoted, and treatment has been free and universally available. But in Africa it will be different.

 

Our computer model assumes every African will get tested for HIV every year, everyone who tests positive will start taking antiretrovirals immediately and 98 out of 100 will never miss a dose. On top of that, though gay men in rich countries use condoms far less now than they did before we had antiretrovirals, we assume that heterosexuals in Africa are going to use them more once the most visible and frightening face of AIDS disappears.

 

On the strength of this model, which bears as much relation to reality as a British MP's expense claim, we are going to hail expanded HIV treatment in Africa as the new answer to prevention. A triumph of optimism over common sense. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

( Elizabeth Pisani is a consultant epidemiologist specialising in HIV prevention. She writes about HIV, science and public policy at www. wisdomofwhores. com)

 

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THE HINDU

A FRAGILE AMBIENCE OF HOPE

 TWO ISSUES — THE TRUE NATURE OF RACISM AND AUSTRALIA'S ANTI-RACIST COMMITMENT — ARE ACUTELY RELEVANT TO THE LONG-TERM SAFETY OF INDIANS IN THAT COUNTRY.

P. S. SURYANARAYANA


Australia has voiced empathy for India over its planning of security arrangements for hosting a series of international sports events from Sunday (February 28). Such an expression of support can tone up an equation that has been badly buffeted by the recent tensions over a series of attacks on Indians in Australia.

 

Surely, there is no linkage between India's security measures for the sports events and the safety of Indian students and others of Indian origin in Australia. However, Australia wants its sports personnel to feel safe in the context of the recent anti-India terrorist attacks.

 

On a different track, the safety of Indians in Australia is an issue that New Delhi has repeatedly discussed with Canberra. Unsurprisingly, both issues figured in Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith's recent talks with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna in London.

 

Alluding to those talks, Mr. Smith, in London last week, said: "So far as arrangements for the Commonwealth Games are concerned, and for the Hockey World Cup are concerned, we are satisfied that all of the necessary consultations and coordination are occurring. ... It is a very regrettable fact of the modern era that there are always risks, security risks, in major sporting events, whether they are conducted in Australia — the Sydney Olympics or the Melbourne Commonwealth Games — or whether they are conducted in India."

 

On the safety of Indians in Australia, Mr. Smith assured Mr. Krishna of updates on the probe into and the prosecutions for the various attacks. Remarkably candid, too, was the Australian government's statement on this issue in the House of Representatives in Canberra on February 9. Mr. Smith said: "Recent contemptible attacks on Indian students and others of Indian origin in Australia have cast a long shadow not only over our education links [with India] but across our broader relationship and bilateral agenda. These attacks are inexcusable. ... If any of these attacks have been racist in nature — and it seems clear some of them have — they [the perpetrators] will be punished with the full force of the law." Mr. Smith went on to reaffirm Australia's "zero tolerance for racism."

 

Two issues, seemingly semantic in scope but really substantive in nature, are acutely relevant to the long-term safety of Indians in Australia. The issues are the true nature of racism and the true quality of Australia's anti-racism commitment.

 

Emerging out of the well-chronicled attacks on Indians, including a stray "faked incident," is an unmistakable pattern of targeting against this group. When the crisis, simmering for several years, acquired ominous tones last May, the Australian authorities genuinely believed that there was no racism in play. Soon after Sravan Kumar was attacked, this journalist failed to elicit a comment from Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, despite gaining brief access to him. It was on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Security Conference or the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last May. And, it stands to reason that Mr. Rudd was at that time convinced there was no evidence of a racist motive behind the attacks on Indians.

 

Even now, Mr. Smith is extremely cautious in acknowledging the possibility of a racist motive in some cases. In his recent parliamentary statement, he went no farther than to say that "it seems clear ... some ... attacks have been racist in nature." Now, shorn of semantics, the juxtaposing of the words "seems" and "clear" is a qualitative indication of ambiguity about the extent of a racist motive. But, this does not imply ambivalence behind Mr. Smith's promise to "make a whole-of-nation, whole-of-government commitment" to address this problem.

 

With the recent murder of Nitin Garg serving as another wake-up call for the Australian authorities, there are signs that they may make a reality check. At one stage, the security agencies at the grassroots appeared eager to rule out racist motives even before concluding the investigations. The serious-minded Australian observers remain conscious, though, that the ties with India can still be held hostage by a few law-breakers, regardless of motives.

 

It is in such a fragile ambience of hope that India's High Commissioner to Australia, Sujatha Singh, sums up the puzzle in simple but telling words: "The fundamental issue is the growing number of attacks, which seem to be disproportionately affecting Indians, especially in and around Melbourne. ... The anxious parents of the more than 120,000 Indian students in Australia are asking for clear answers to certain questions: Are our children safe in Australia? Why does it seem that only, or mainly, Indians are the victims? Are the assailants being caught? Are they being punished? Is the situation becoming better or worse?"

 

Mrs. Singh has received signals that Australia, as a friendly country, is willing to work with India to resolve the issues. But, she is not alone in seeking credible answers through results on the ground.

 

Regardless of the Indian perspectives, Australia's Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, links the issue to the country's crime scene as he sees it. The "heart of the matter," he hinted on February 23, was the series of "racially-motivated bashings in unsafe streets."

 

Central to a solution is the political will to address the crime scene in Australia, with reference to new racism, if any, or the vestiges, if any, of old attitudes. Robin Jeffrey, an Australian expert, sees the current scene as "a cloud [with] a big silver lining, if the next year can be handled well." In a conversation with this correspondent, Mr. Jeffrey, who knows India well, said: "Longer term, it has focussed Australia and India on each other as never happened before. There is a real critical mass of young people who are going back and forth. So, the relationship in five years will be stronger than it has ever been. It is for both governments now to institutionalise more ways of communicating."

 

"Strategic partnership"

 

On the central issue of alleged racism, Mr. Jeffrey said: "If racism means picking on somebody because they are of a different colour and you know they are going to be relatively easier-marked than somebody else, then that is racism. ... To me, racism is nastier and more elaborate and more sophisticated than that. It is: organisations that promote hatred, it is a body of ideas that suggests racial superiority of one kind or another. It was there around Pauline Hanson's time 15 years ago [in Australia], and it crawled back under its rock." In the light of what he aptly described as "publicity ping-pong" over the current issues, he and some other experts see a danger of a revival of such racism.

 

Independent of such views of experts, it is clear that India and Australia need to go beyond a symphony of political sentiments against racism. Practical cooperation, in terms of their current ideas of a "strategic partnership," is required.

 

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THE HINDU

NCHER BILL: MISMATCH BETWEEN PROMISES AND PROVISIONS

 

Thomas Joseph, Member Secretary, Kerala State Higher Education Council, writes:

This is a response to the rejoinder of Dr. N.R. Madhava Menon (Feb. 22, 2010) to my article on National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill (Feb. 6, 2010).

 

I stand by my argument that the pious intensions to promote autonomy of higher educational institutions set forth in the preamble of the bill are undermined by various provisions of the bill. Let me cite a few provisions from the bill. It is mandatory for all universities, including state universities, to appoint Vice-Chancellors only from a panel of five names forwarded by the Commission from within the national registry of scholars prepared by it (clause 26). A university constituted by an act of Parliament or State Legislature shall commence its academic operations only after being authorised by the Commission (clause 32). For such authorisation, the university has to produce satisfactory assessment report from an accreditation agency registered with the Commission (Clause 33). Authorisation once granted can be revoked by the Commission, without reference to the Parliament/State Legislature, as the case may be (clause 36). No university shall award degrees unless it is authorised by the Commission in this regard (Clause 41). The Commission shall frame national curriculum and enforce it in the universities through regulations (Clause 54). All these new arrangements further undermine the limited administrative and academic autonomy the universities enjoy today.

 

A single window regulatory system at the Central level might be a convenient device for enforcing national policies across the country. But the bill provides no structural safety-net to insulate the system against authoritarianism and corruption, which have been the bane of apex regulatory bodies like the UGC, the AICTE and the NCTE, which are being subsumed by the NCHER. The apprehension is all the more serious as extensive regulatory, administrative and financial powers, which the UGC or other apex regulatory agencies never enjoyed, are sought to be bestowed upon the Commission. Such concentration of powers in a small body of seven experts is potentially dangerous.

 

It is not clear as to how the new system could ensure "true autonomy of universities and institutions of higher learning." Autonomy implies not only "delivery of educational services" as "a decentralised activity at the institutional level," as Dr. Madhava Menon would have us believe, but also taking policy decisions on what to teach, whom to teach and how to teach and setting up and administering institutions that are engaged in such activities. Since autonomy also implies accountability to national and local societal values and goals, the implementation of autonomy inevitably also involves setting up a two-tier regulatory mechanism, one at the national and the other at the State level. Hence the issue of federalism in education is not one of "legislative competence" alone. It is one of the defining features of autonomy, more so in a country of continental dimensions as ours. Autonomy thrives through decentralisation, through celebration of diversity.

 

In a federal set-up, State governments cannot be treated as a part of the amorphous crowd of "stakeholders." They are as much policymakers as the Central government. The appropriate forum for consulting the states on the collaborative enterprise of education is not hurriedly convened meetings of "stakeholders," but the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), which was revived from limbo after a gap of 10 years only in 2004. Constitutionality apart, a democratic, consensual process of decision making should get precedence over arguments over legislative competence, administrative convenience and pious intentions. Education is so much an integral part of the project of inclusive nation building that it cannot be merrily abandoned to the care of seven experts, even if they all happen to be Nobel Laureates.

 

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THE HINDU

UNEP AWARDS FOR TWO INSTITUTIONS

 

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on Tuesday awarded an appreciation to two institutions that managed to produce environmental-friendly products while at the same time having capability to improve livelihood for poor people.

 

In a prize awarding ceremony, the UNEP's Executive Director and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations Achim Steiner said that the companies, named Trees, Water and People (TWP) and Nuru Design changed the lives of thousands of school children, housewives and villagers across Latin America, Africa and India.

 

"This is the green economy of tomorrow in an action today," said Steiner. The appreciation called the Sasakawa Prize worth $200,000 each was awarded to Nuru Design as the company has brought rechargeable lights to villages in Rwanda, Kenya and India while TWP is an organisation that collaborates with local non- governmental organisations in distributing fuel-efficient cook stoves to communities in Honduras, Guatemala, El Savador, Nicaragua and Haiti.

 

Wangari Mathai, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, who is one of the juries, said that both institutions managed to fulfil three standards set namely replicable, taking side on grassroots people and inexpensive.

 

"Obviously, they address issues of environment and poverty as their creation managed to improve livelihood and in the same time protecting environment," said Mathai.

 

Stuart Conway, co-founder and International Director of TWP said that stove he created managed to reduce forest cuts and improve health of housewives as it is completed by chimney that emit smoke to outdoor.

 

The founder and Chief Executive Officer of Nuru Design said that the rechargeable lights managed to reduce dependence of kerosene to energise lantern, a fossil fuel that is expensive for poor people and emits smoke that is unhealthy and environmentally unfriendly. — Xinhua

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

MAOIST CEASEFIRE OFFER: IS IT REAL?

 

The Maoists have offered a 72-day truce during which time they want to hold talks with the government through mediators like intellectuals and human rights activists. There has been a mixed reaction to this offer. Within 24 hours, Union home minister P. Chidambaram has said they should fax a written statement and even provided a fax number. He added that they should abjure violence and that there should be no pre-conditions. The Naxalites have demanded that there should be a halt to all operations by security forces in West Bengal, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa. The ministry of home affairs (MHA) also said there would be no talks with the Naxalites and that they were only saying this to create confusion. The MHA reiterated that the operations would continue. The ball is now in the court of the Maoists. They will have to prove, in a manner more concrete than just words, and through the proper channels, that they are sincere about the truce offer. There are suspicions that the Maoists are feeling the heat of Operation Green Hunt, particularly after they massacred Eastern Frontier Rifles personnel at Silda in West Bengal. Their action was condemned by intellectuals and human rights organisations. Besides, does CPI (Maoist) politburo member Koteswara Rao, or Kishenji as he is referred to, have the authority to make such an offer? He is only a politburo member restricted to the eastern region. The top boss of the CPI (Maoist), Ganapathy, has been silent on this offer. The government cannot be faulted for being suspicious since this is not the first time that the Maoists have offered a truce. They had offered a truce in Andhra Pradesh, which was accepted by the then chief minister, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, but he was let down. There is also another view, that the Maoists could be trying to buy time to regroup and rearm. The 72-day truce period they have sought coincides with the summer season and ends with the beginning of the monsoon, when the forests are lush and provide ample cover.


It is trickier for the government, which will face harsh criticism if there are killings during a ceasefire. The Indian security forces did not go into the jungles without reason. In recent times the Maoists have killed more than 300 ordinary people and, in this year alone, 125 people have been slain in police/Army action and Naxalite violence. The Maoists have their side of the story which, simply put, is about protecting the tribals. In fact they have been running a parallel government along what can be called a Maoist corridor that runs from West Bengal to Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and down to Andhra Pradesh. This is also India's wealthiest mineral belt, which is being eyed by the government and by foreign and Indian mining interests. The lands in these areas are occupied by tribals and they don't want to leave unless there is something for them in the so-called development of these lands. Tribals and the landless throughout India are sought to be deprived of their lands for development in the form of SEZs, power plants etc. Even the Salva Judum movement in Chhattisgarh has degenerated into a land grab movement by the government and there are instances of tribals being driven out of their homes so that the government can go ahead with its aggressive industrialisation programme. Many in government are aware of the havoc that has been caused by aggressive industrialisation and there have been sane voices warning against the repercussions. At some point there has to be a dialogue between the government and the tribals and landless. When it occurs, the government should go beyond mouthing the mantra of inclusive growth. In this context, the talks offer from the Maoists could be considered by the government within the parameters of security demands.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

DEMYSTIFYING INDO-PAK TALKS

ON THE EVE OF THE INDO-PAK FOREIGN SECRETARY-LEVEL TALKS ON FEBRUARY 25, WHICH THE SPOKESPERSONS OF THE GOVERNMENT AND THE CONGRESS PARTY ARE AT PAINS TO INSIST ARE NOT A RESUMPTION OF THE DIALOGUE, IT MAY BE USEFUL TO DEMYSTIFY THEM.


Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao chose to use the lectern at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London, to emphasise that the Indian focus would be on terror perpetrated from the soil of Pakistan. When asked how she squares it with the Pakistani articulation that they would raise issues they consider appropriate, she chose to not respond. It has also been repeatedly pronounced that these are talks about talks, and not a resumption of the composite dialogue.


While dialogue had been held between India and Pakistan at the level of foreign secretaries since at least the time of Rajiv Gandhi, the topics for discussion were handled by separate working groups, evolved over a period as confidence-building measures. J.N. Dixit explained in his book India-Pakistan in War and Peace that the nine issues in the composite dialogue had been "on the Indo-Pakistani agenda since 1983". They were specifically catalogued when Rajiv Gandhi met a newly elected Benazir Bhutto following the death of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq in a plane crash in 1988. The working groups dealt with them, meeting alternatively in New Delhi and Islamabad, between 1988 and 1994.


The dialogue between the two countries, however was interrupted between 1994 and 1996. The period from the death of Gen. Zia in 1988 to the military coup by Gen. Musharraf in 1999 saw alternating governments led by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan. In India too there were a series of Prime Ministers. Each change led to renewed interest in testing the waters of Indo-Pak relations, but with mixed or unsatisfactory results. However, three factors coloured this period. The destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1993 and the bomb blasts targeting the financial district in Mumbai, the withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan in 1989 releasing trained jihadis for induction by Pakistan into J&K, and the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998. Therefore, when the Prime Ministers of the two countries met first on the sidelines of the Saarc Summit in July 1998 in Colombo, and then in New York in September 1998, they were under renewed international pressure, as states possessing nuclear bombs, to re-engage. They still confronted the old dilemmas. India wanted to focus on confidence-building and risk reduction steps and Pakistan kept circling back to Kashmir.
It was against this background that the concept of the composite dialogue was born to break the stalemate and accommodate the concerns of the two sides. The two PMs agreed on September 23, 1988 to bless the new format. There were those on the Indian side who had serious reservations about the induction of Kashmir into a dialogue that was focusing on CBMs (confidence-building measures). The first meeting in this format was held in the following November.


The irony today is that while the Congress and the BJP are vehemently disagreeing on the need to talk to Pakistan, both have tried and suffered the same fate in the past. Vajpayee's Lahore visit took place as the Pakistani Army had already moved their soldiers in disguise across the LoC in the Kargil sector of J&K in 1999. Musharraf's unhappy journey to Agra was followed by the terrorists' audacious attack on the Parliament of India in December 2001. Manmohan Singh had the Mumbai train bombings of July 2006 and the 26/11 monstrosity in the same city.


The common dilemma thus has been how to insulate the dialogue process from terror. The lack of success has been due to the unwillingness of the military-security combine in Pakistan to abandon their support to a network of jihadi outfits, many now targeting them. But despite our past experience we are again heading down the same path without strategically modifying our approach.


Sources in the government have been selectively briefing on why India needs to talk to Pakistan. Firstly, it is said that there is no other option. This is not so, as between composite dialogue and non-engagement there are multiple options. For instance, post-Pune blasts the foreign secretary-level talks could have been postponed and, if the desire was as the government says to focus on terror, the additional secretary-level anti-terror mechanism could have been convened. By meeting at the FS level — the level of the composite dialogue — Pakistan is being provided a face-saver. In any case countries like the US, who urge talks, have never engaged Cuba, or, for long periods, Iran.


Another argument advanced is that we need to strengthen democratic forces in Pakistan. The logic needs to be reversed. If they are not strong enough to ignore the hawkish military or counter militant Islam's narrative, they are not worth engaging. The 11-year history of Indo-Pak relations (1988-1999) testifies to this.
Both countries are walking into the dialogue, dissimulating to satisfy domestic constituencies. Whether across the table they can harmonise disparate motives seems impossible. There needs to be greater transparency, plain-speaking by our government to the people of India and a firm resolve that dispute resolution, i.e. Jammu and Kashmir, shall be excluded from the dialogue till Pakistan restores the lost Indian confidence by showing a resolve to slay en masse the terror dragons in its midst.


The author is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry

K.C. Singh

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPENION

UNPRINCIPLED POLITICS

 

Some of the recent decisions taken by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the Congress, the main political party leading the coalition, have come in for sharp criticism — that certain healthy principles that must be observed by the ruling party in a parliamentary democracy have been sacrificed in order to retain power in some states. The UPA and the Congress has also been criticised for setting bad precedents.


In this context, two decisions deserve special attention. The first is the tolerance shown by the UPA to D.D. Lapang, the chief minister of Meghalaya, who elevated three other politicians to the rank and status of chief minister. The second is the turn around on the public announcement by Union home minister P. Chidambaram on behalf of the Union Cabinet on December 9, 2009, that the process for the formation of a separate state of Telangana would be initiated on the introduction and passage of a separate resolution in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly. Let us examine the impact of these two decisions on the concept of principled politics in our democracy.


Meghalaya is one of the smallest states of India. In its 60-member Assembly, the Congress-led coalition has 37 MLAs, of whom 28 belong to the Congress. The state already has two deputy chief ministers, for which there can be little justification except that it would help prevent dissidence in the party. However, conferring the rank of chief minister on three more MLAs — with all the perks which go with this designation, like cars, security, personal staff, bungalow etc — can only be described as a shameless attempt to silence the chief minister's rivals who are clamoring for power.


As the leader of the coalition running the government, the Congress should have firmly rejected a blatantly unjustified proposal like this from Dr Lapang, but it seems that the main concern of the Congress was to retain its ministerial chairs at any cost. One of the four people with the rank of chief minister is state Congress president Friday Lyngdoh! It is unfortunate that the Congress has chosen to justify this unprincipled arrangement by stating that the executive power remains with Dr Lapang while the other three have only protocol privileges and perks that come with the office. The danger in resorting to this type of compromise is that it sets a precedent for other states in similar situations.


NOW LET me turn to the latest decision of the UPA government to constitute a committee under the chairmanship of Justice Srikrishna whose terms of reference allow reopening the whole issue of a separate Telangana state. Clause I of the terms of reference announced for the committee on February 3, 2010, defines the committee's duty as "examining the situation in the state of Andhra Pradesh with reference to the demand for a separate state of Telangana as well as the demand for maintaining the present status of a united Andhra Pradesh".


The reason given for the appointment of the Srikrishna Committee is that there is no consensus among the members of Andhra Pradesh's Legislative Assembly on the bill for a separate state of Telangana. But the Centre should have known this when it announced its decision to initiate action for the formation of a separate state of Telangana. A week after its announcement, 147 legislators and many members of Parliament from the coastal districts and Rayalaseema submitted their resignations. The UPA panicked about losing power in Andhra Pradesh and on December 23, 2009, announced that no action would be taken until all parties arrive at a consensus. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and other parties agitating for a separate state of Telangana saw this as another instance of national parties' shifting their stand on the Telangana issue.
Without going into the merits of the stand taken by the Telangana people and the people of the rest of Andhra Pradesh, let us examine the legal correctness of the stand now taken by the Congress-led UPA about the need for a consensus on the Telangana issue. Article 3 of the Constitution, which lays down the procedure for creating new states, does not state that concurrence of the majority in state Assembly is a necessary condition for it. It only states that the state Assembly may express its views on the proposed legislation for the formation of a new state within such a period as may be specified by the President.


Before taking any decision on the creation of new states the President will, of course, seek the advice of the council of ministers and, hence, the ruling party, or coalition, at the Centre will be the real decision-making body. In spite of this, the UPA does not want to take the risk of losing power in the coastal and Rayalaseema regions.

  
If the Centre thinks that it can buy time till the Srikrishna Committee submits its recommendations, then they are mistaken because their new stand will be seen by the people as an attempt to avoid its responsibilities. A decision on formation of a new state is essentially a political decision and the party in power at the Centre cannot avoid it. It can try to delay it, though that can, especially in situations like the present one in Andhra Pradesh, prove to be very costly. A sad feature of the committee's task is that mass protests and violence indulged in by supporters of both sides will deprive it of the tension-free atmosphere badly needed for its smooth working.


While protests and demonstrations are intensifying tension in Andhra Pradesh, various far-fetched suggestions have been emerging from politicians and academics about finding a via media between the demands of the Telangana people and of the other regions in the state. One such suggestion is creating a state of Telangana in a way that Hyderabad remains the capital of both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.


This solution can hardly satisfy the aspirations of those who have been agitating ever since Independence, and even before that, for a separate identity through a full-fledged state. If by any chance the suggestion of a state within a state is implemented, there will be demands for similar arrangements from other regions as well. Such solutions apart from distorting the concept of federalism will create several new problems. The decision-makers should be careful that in finding a solution for today's problems, they do not create new ones for tomorrow.


P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

FRAGILE PEACE

 

The offer by the Maoist leader Kishenji of a 72-day conditional ceasefire will not just be carefully considered by the government but also taken with a few pinches of salt. There is no doubt that the concerted effort to flush out the Maoists by the Centre and state is responsible for this apparent peace gesture by this violent movement.

 

he offer also follows the very brutal attack on police personnel at Silda in West Bengal and is in response to Union home minister P Chidambaram's offer to talk to the Maoists if they stopped their violent attacks for 24 hours. There is a sort of in-your-face arrogance in Kishenji's response — 72 days of peace if the state stops its ongoing operations against Maoists.

 

The fact is, however, that the Maoists have been rattled by the extent and the strength of the state campaign. And unlike the Salwa Judum campaign, where civilians were pitted against Maoist militia, the Union home ministry let loose the might of India's security forces on Maoists in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa.

 

There have been reports of divisions within the Maoist camp, where some leaders felt that the movement was alienating the people and the violence was becoming counter-productive. The arrest of several senior Maoist leaders, both commanders and so-called intellectuals, has also been a setback for them.

 

The government is correct to examine the Maoist offer closely, without making any hasty commitments. Within hours of the offer being made, an attack was made on a joint forces camp in Midnapore in Bengal where at least one person was killed. Clearly, the Maoists are not one in this and will find it difficult to give up their commitment to change or social revolution through violence.

 

This is not the time for human rights activists to jump in with their do-good ideas. It is no one's case that there have not been terrible atrocities against the people in the Maoist-dominated areas by the authorities or that the state has failed so many underprivileged in large parts of the country. But nor can it be denied that the Maoists themselves have also been brutal and that their continued adherence to their violent ideology makes conversation in a democracy very difficult.

 

It would be better to allow the government to call their bluff on this offer and see whether this is just one more red herring for

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

SAFETY FIRST

 

The bold and the irresponsible, is the expression that best defines India's youth today, if one goes by The Youth in India: Situation and Need Report carried out by Mumbai-based International Institute of Population Sciences. It states that even though young India is increasingly shedding its inhibitions on sex — in fact premarital sex is now a common occurrence — the reluctance to use contraceptives could lead to disastrous consequences, including HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

 

This trend of recklessness in bed also signifies that all the campaigns on safe sex and HIV have hardly yielded positive results. The young and the restless do not seem to be aware and inspired by the benefits of risk-free sex.

 

The survey involved 50,848 married and unmarried young men and women from six states — Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu — to represent a wide range of geographical locations and socio-cultural milieus. The revelations are startling: 25 per cent of the men had sex with two or more partners while 21 per cent young women reported multiple partners and they hadn't bothered to use a condom all this while. The even more dangerous indicator is that only 43 per cent of young men and 59 per cent of the young women who had indulged in sex before marriage knew that a woman could get pregnant because of unprotected first sex — a pathetic level of awareness in a country that aspires to be a global giant.

 

Post 1990s, Indians have experienced sexual awakening, thanks to liberalisation. It also led people to talk more openly about contraceptives and AIDS — issues that were considered taboo. But if the ground reality after three decades presents such a bleak picture, it doesn't augur well for India which is banking on its youth to take the country forward. It hardly meant much when the report stated that the first sexual encounter created fear of unwanted pregnancy in 62 per cent of the unmarried women respondents as compared to 55 per cent of men.

 

Where mass drives for safe sex have fallen flat, a more personalised approach may work. This would entail a door-to-door campaign involving peer groups. In every locality a group of young men and women should be trained to disseminate information and awareness among their age-groups. In schools, sex education should be taken up more earnestly since it concerns the life and the future of the country's youth. This is the time to act and any delay could lead to fatal consequences.

 

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DNA

LET US STRIVE TOWARDS BEING TRUE PATRIOTS

ABHAY VAIDYA

 

The latest terror strike in Pune, the Maoist attack in West Bengal the day after in which 24 policemen were killed and the Shiv Sena's My Name is Khan agitation the day before, are three events that, in a sense, are deeply connected with our lives as the citizens of India.

 

 Recurring in predictable forms with a familiar sense of déjà vu, these events demand close scrutiny and deep contemplation, irrespective of our interest in terrorism, developmental issues or Maharashtra politics. If you care to listen as a citizen and a patriot, you'll hear a scream, asking you to look at the cold reality staring in the face.

 

For almost the entire week on the day before the terrorists struck in Pune, Maharashtra was gripped by the MNIK controversy. Unlike Karan Johar's apology to RajThackeray on the frequent reference to Bombay instead of Mumbai in his film Wake Up Sid, Shah Rukh Khan refused to apologise to the Shiv Sena for saying that he wished there were Pakistani players in the IPL. The Sena decided to retaliate by threatening to disrupt the launch of his movieand thereby cause him a financial loss.

 

With sufficient prodding from the Centre, the Maharashtra government stood by Khan, the film was released amidst tight security in select theatres and for that entire week, TV channels debated on the latest flashpoint in Mumbai.

 

Predictably, some theatres were vandalised in Mumbai and some other cities, but the film was screened; subsequent shows were house-full and the government won this round over the Sena.
The next day, 10 screenings were scheduled in Pune amidst strong police bandobast and that very evening, terrorists struck at the German Bakery. MNIK was forgotten in a flash and the nation focused on the latest tragedy unfolding in Pune.

 

In terms of the "size" of the tragedy, the initial "9 killed, 60 injured" figure that came out of Pune paled in comparison to the 173 killed in Mumbai's 26/11; the thousands killed in Kashmir in over a decade and the hundreds in Delhi and other parts of India. However, the hard reality hits you when you look at the individual tragedies. All the more when you put yourself in place of the people whose lives were cut short in an instant or the family that suffered a tragedy and was left wondering, why us?

 

Contemporary India is faced by a triad of challenges — achieving economic growth while battling terrorism and Maoist insurgency, both of which can seriously thwart our progress and prosperity as a nation. In such a situation, to instigate the people and provoke agitations out of a taxi driver's knowledge of Marathi or threaten to vandalise theatres is contemptible.

 

What better patrolling will the police do and what investigations will it pursue if politicians like the three Thackerays focus on non-issues rather than show some constructive enterprise? Also, who pays the price during a terror blast or street violence? It is always the common man and never the well-protected politician.
With these challenges staring us in the face, the agenda before us Indians ought to be very clear— It is to help India emerge as an economic powerhouse and to help the country deal effectively with terrorism and Maoist insurgency.

 

We are nation of young people with big dreams and what is needed is an environment to help our youth realise their dreams. The 20-year-olds who were killed in the Pune blast were graduating students and young professionals with promising futures. Their death due to terrorism — like the many thousands before them — has robbed India of a part of its future. With misguided Muslim youths taking to terrorism through organisations such as the Indian Mujahideen and the SIMI, a far greater community effort will be required to draw the Muslim masses into themainstream.

 

Yet another priority is to press for real development in the most backward parts of India where opportunities for employment and growth will serve as strategies against Maoist violence.


These are the priorities for every Indian. The sooner we realise this, the better it is for us all as Indians.

 

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DNA

TOWARDS DEMOCRACY?

THE MYANMAR JUNTA'S DECISION TO HOLD ELECTIONS THIS YEAR SIGNALS A TRANSITION

STANLEY A WEISS

 

When British forces first floated up the Irrawaddy River in 1885 to depose King Thibaw of Burma, locals were startled to see a Burmese prince, in full regalia, sitting on the deck of one of the steamers. His presence reassured locals that the British planned to seat a new king, not overthrow the kingdom. As Thant Myint-U recalls in his book, The River of Lost Footsteps, it was only when a young student talked his way onto the ship and came face-to-face with the royal prince that the truth was discovered: The "prince" was an imposter, a former classmate of the student's. By then, it was too late — the telegraph line to the palace in Mandalay had been cut.


The question, 125 years later, is whether the Burmese military junta — which has ruled this country, now known as Myanmar, since 1962 — is about to pull its own version of bait-and-switch.


For the first time since 1990 — when officials arrested 2,000 people, including the opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, after the last general election — the ruling generals have announced that parliamentary elections will take place this year. Reportedly, the generals are preparing to switch their uniforms for longyis and run for office — the equivalent of Fidel Castro swapping his army greens for guayaberas and hitting the campaign trail.
Many in the West are disposed to see the election as a fraud, since the junta's Constitution reserves 25 per cent of the seats for the military and bars Aung San Suu Kyi — imprisoned for 14 of the past 20 years — from running.


Still, the question remains: Even if the election is stage-managed by the military; even if Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy chooses not to participate; and even if Senior General Than Shwe selects the next president; if the election occurs without violence or repression, will it represent a step forward?
The answer seems to be: Yes.


"I don't know if the elections will have legitimacy in the eyes of the West," said the Myanmar scholar Robert Taylor. "But they will have legitimacy in Asia, and that is all the regime is worried about."


I asked an official of the junta how the West should regard this election. "This is a first step toward democracy," he tells me. "After ruling the country for 48 years, the military needs some mechanism to safeguard the interests and safety of persons. This is also an exit strategy for older leaders, because in five years, the new generation will take over, not only the military but civilian politics. They will work to change the military role in politics."


The Burmese writer Ma Thanegi, who spent three years in prison after working as Aung San Suu Kyi's assistant, was blunt. "Yes, elections would represent a step forward — what other choice is there?" she asked. "If the West really wants to help the people, they should accept the new government as no longer the military rule, and give it a chance."


"What America should do," a prominent businessman told me, "is shift the conversation from sanctions to engagement, from scolding to giving, and find soft steps to help bring about outcomes that will be beneficial to both Myanmar and the U.S."


The Obama administration so far has sought to engage the junta, urging a dialogue between the regime, the National League for Democracy and other opposition parties, while calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's release. In November, assistant secretary of state Kurt Campbell led a US team to Yangon for the highest level talks in 14 years.
Where should the US focus its efforts? Here are three ways:


It should provide opportunities for students to attend US universities, to build ties to the next generation. It should start a programme of cultural, educational, and sporting exchanges, including a new programme to send teachers to Myanmar. It should review its current sanctions policy.


No nation in Asia — from South Korea to Taiwan to Indonesia — has made an easy transition from dictatorship to democracy. But change needs to start somewhere. As the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, recently said, "2010 will be a very critical year for Myanmar." There may yet be light at the end of the Irrawaddy. —NYT

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

BUDGETING BLUES

PRICE RISE STILL TROUBLES UPA 

 

IN her address to Parliament President Pratibha Patil has listed the UPA's economic priorities, some of which may figure in the Union Budget for 2010-11. Since aam aadmi remains the centre of its agenda, the UPA budgets tend to focus on inclusive growth. This means higher spending in rural India. But Finance Minister Pranabh Mukherjee is hard pressed for resources. He is under pressure to rein in government borrowings and fiscal deficit. To raise resources, he may roll back the excise duty and service tax relief provided to insulate domestic industry from the global financial meltdown. The President's address, however, makes no mention of the stimulus withdrawal.

 

The recovery in growth has been marked by a rise in food prices. The opposition parties have time and again squeezed maximum political mileage out of it. On Tuesday again they closed ranks in Parliament to mount a joint assault on the government. Food inflation may moderate in the near future but the country has to prepare itself for food security in the long run. Farm output has failed to keep pace with growing demand. Mr Mukherjee will have to revitalise sluggish agriculture. To contain prices, the President has announced the government's resolve to (a) bring forth legislation to ensure food security (b) increase agricultural productivity and (c) reform the public distribution system. The UPA'a problem is it is saddled with an Agriculture Minister who excels in non-performance. How can the law help if there are not enough foodgrains, pulses or oilseeds?

 

After recently tinkering with the fertiliser subsidy, which will result in a 10 per cent hike in the urea prices from April, the government has become cautious. It has dragged feet on oil price decontrol. The President too has skipped the issue. Being from the old school of the Congress, Finance Minister Pranabh Mukherjee is not as enthusiastic about economic reforms as his predecessor, Mr P. Chidambaram, or the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. The Budget, therefore, may not unfold any controversial reforms even though the comrades are no longer around with the red flag.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

TALKS A RED HERRING

BUT A DIALOGUE WITH MAOISTS STILL THE BEST BET 

 

Maoists and the government find themselves in a catch-22 situation over their respective offers to hold "talks". They are damned if they talk and damned if they don't. While the Union Home Minister had earlier offered to talk with the Maoists if they stopped violence for 72 hours, the rebels have now responded with offer for a 72-day "ceasefire" if the government stopped the operation against them. Holding talks with underground Maoists would always be tricky because besides "talks" according legitimacy to a group sworn to overthrow the government, the government can never be sure if the "talks" have the sanction of all the Maoists or only a section of them. This time too it is by no means clear if the Maoist spokesman, Kishenji was speaking for Maoists all over the country or only for the rebels active under him while offering the "ceasefire". Yet another hurdle is that while both sides profess to be in favour of talks, each side also wants a clear commitment from the other to suspend armed conflict first. But the trust deficit is such between them that each suspects the other would take advantage of the lull to launch a surprise strike, which explains their reluctance to provide any such commitment. Nor is the agenda for talks clear. While the government would , in all probability, like to discuss the modalities for Maoists to disband their organisation and get back into the mainstream, it is safe to assume that the Maoists have no such thought in their mind.

 

Sadly, mainstream political parties have allowed themselves to be completely marginalised in Maoist strongholds in the states. They have ceased to function in those areas and appear to have ruled themselves out from the dialogue between the Maoists and the government. Their alienation from the people in these areas is of serious concern and which is evident in the failure of even a cadre-based party like the CPM to gather correct and credible information, let alone intelligence, about Maoist activities on the ground.

 

While talks, whenever possible, are desirable, the government clearly cannot allow the Maoists to hijack the agenda. But despite the suspicion that Maoists find themselves in a corner and are playing out for time, the government must make an effort to engage them, if only to give peace a chance. At the same time it should be ready to crack the whip, whenever it becomes necessary.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

JUDGES' RETIREMENT

PARLIAMENT SHOULD RAISE THE AGE LIMIT

 

There is ample justification for raising the retirement age of Supreme Court and high court judges. Though Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily has reportedly denied such a move from the government for now, the ruling coalition and all other political parties would do well to evolve a consensus on the issue for paving the way for a smooth constitutional amendment by Parliament. At present, while Supreme Court judges retire at 65 years, those in high courts attain superannuation at 62. Though the age for both categories, according to a proposal, could be raised to 68 and 65, respectively, there is greater rationale in maintaining parity between the two. Indeed, legal luminary and former Rajya Sabha MP, Mr Fali S. Nariman, had sought to raise the retirement age of high court judges from 62 to 65 years to make it equal to that of the apex court judges. A parliamentary committee report (2007-08) had also recommended uniformity in the judges' retirement age.

 

There is no underlying principle of public policy fixing the retirement age of high court judges at 62. There is also no cogent explanation why judges drawn from the same pool retire at 62 and 65 years in high courts and the apex court, respectively. Mr Nariman's Constitutional (Amendment) Bill (XI of) 2004 sought to remove this "competition" for the apex court. Even otherwise, there is an imperative need for increasing the judges' retirement age. It will greatly help clear the huge backlog of arrears in the higher judiciary.

 

The National Commission to review the working of the Constitution had recommended the same on the ground that judges with long years of experience are able to dispose of more cases quickly. More important, according to many jurists, there have been several instances of learned judges who reached their highest level of efficiency and performance just when they reached their 60s and their retirement was thus a big loss to the judiciary. A high court judge serves for about 10 to 12 years, given the increased longevity of human life. Consequently, it would be a national waste of a judge's long years of experience if he/she is retired at the peak performing level — mentally and physically.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

GEOPOLITICS AND SRI LANKA

INDIAN DIPLOMACY ON TEST

BY KAMLENDRA KANWAR

 

Sri Lanka is strategically placed to exploit the geopolitical struggle unfolding in the Indian Ocean between China and India, with the United States having its own agenda for retaining its influence. While Pakistan is playing for stakes in Sri Lanka with Chinese acquiescence to queer the pitch for India, the Russians too are keeping a hawk eye on any activity in the Indian Ocean.

 

Considering that Sri Lanka sits adjacent to the shipping lanes that feed 80 per cent of China's and 65 per cent of India's oil needs, its strategic importance can hardly be ignored.

 

With the bulk of China's trade passing through the sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka thought it prudent to enter into a quid pro quo with the Chinese. While it drew upon Chinese support in terms of sophisticated arms and diplomatic backing, Colombo conceded strategic concessions, particularly a major new southern port at Hambantota, to Beijing. Ironically, it was India that Sri Lanka first approached for setting up a port at Hambantota, but when the Indians showed lack of enthusiasm, Colombo wasted no time in going to the Chinese.

 

China has developed similar port facilities in Myanmar (Burma), Bangladesh and Pakistan as part of a "string of pearls" strategy to develop its naval reach and protect crucial oil and other supplies shipped via the sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean.

 

In the run-up to the decimation of the Tamil Tigers, the Chinese were not only generous with weaponry but they also encouraged Pakistan to train Sri Lanka Air Force pilots and supply small arms. China sold Jian-7 fighters, anti-aircraft guns and JY-11 3D air surveillance radars to the Sri Lankan army, leaving the Pakistanis to meet the small arm needs of the Lankans.

 

In July last, for the first time, Sri Lanka attended the Shanghai Cooperation Council meeting as a dialogue partner, a blessing bestowed by Russia and China in recognition of its importance in the new Indian Ocean strategic game.

 

For India, it was none-too-easy to arm the Lankans to combat the Tamil Tigers due to the fallout this would have had in southern India, but it did provide defensive weapons and intelligence to the Sri Lankan government, besides economic aid, so as to maintain a degree of leverage with Colombo.

 

The Sri Lankans acknowledge that given its southern compulsions, India did give useful help in fighting the Tamil Tigers in the crucial stages. It helped the Sri Lankan navy through vital intelligence; it gave off-shore patrolling vessels and also provided a blockade against LTTE vessels.

 

The focus was on preventing Sri Lanka from falling into the Chinese lap and if that meant opening the purse-strings to counter-balance the Chinese supply of arms, Indian strategists were perfectly in tune with it.

 

There was the classic example of a $2.4 billion loan sought by the Sri Lankan government from the IMF to tackle its balance of payments problem which was refused by the IMF. Ordinarily, Sri Lanka would have turned to China, but before it could do that the Indian government indicated to Colombo that it was prepared to extend that loan if the IMF did not come round. It was indeed a case of once-bitten-twice-shy, having seen how the Chinese had grabbed the opportunity to develop the Hambantota port.

As part of its strategy to make Indo-Sri Lankan relations attractive for Colombo, the Indian government has also taken the initiative to set up a high-capacity power transmission link between India and Sri Lanka which is likely to be completed by 2013.

 

The 285-kilometre power link, including submarine cables, over a stretch of 50 km, would enable the two countries to trade their surplus power, thereby offering a cheaper option to bridge their power generation deficit and also manage their peak demands.

 

The link will also help Sri Lanka reduce its use of expensive fuels and import cheaper power from India's surplus. For India, the link would help open up a new market for its projected surplus of power.

 

India currently faces an over 12 per cent power deficit, with a peak demand of 109,000 MW annually. The government hopes it could add at least 62,000 MW of generation capacity in the next couple of years, with additional capacities being set up by private investors through captive and merchant power plants. This, along with the power from ultra mega power projects has fuelled hopes for a tradable surplus.

 

On January 11, India signed an agreement with Sri Lanka for the construction of a railway line between Omanthai and Pallai in the island's war-torn Northern Province. It is all set to open a consulate in the northern town of Jaffna so as to enhance its involvement in "reconstruction and rehabilitation," for which it has offered a $108 million aid package.

 

India is also involved in the rehabilitation of the southern coastal railway line from Colombo to Matara by providing credit worth $167.4 million. It has considerable investments in Sri Lanka, including in the retail fuel, telecommunications, hotel, cement, banking, tyre, rubber and information technology sectors.

 

India can draw satisfaction from the fact that in regard to Sri Lanka, its interests broadly converge with those of

the US. The Americans are indeed as keen to ward off the Chinese challenge for hegemony in the Indian Ocean

states as India is.

 

A report published by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on December 7 last called for Washington to counter Beijing's influence in Colombo through "a broader and more robust approach to Sri Lanka that appreciates new political and economic realities in Sri Lanka and US geostrategic interests".

 

However, India is loathe to Washington's influence increasing beyond reasonable proportions in its strategic backyard. India is no doubt counting on Washington's assistance. At the same time, however, it is wary about the US achieving too much sway in its strategic backyard.

 

With Mr Mahinda Rajapakse having won a second presidential term in Sri Lanka recently, India is pursuing its interests cautiously. New Delhi wants close ties with Colombo to counter the growing influence of rival China and to open up opportunities for Indian businesses. At the same time, it is concerned that political unrest in Sri Lanka, particularly communal tensions involving the Tamil minority, will have consequences inside India, especially in Tamil Nadu.

 

The Indian government's reiteration of the call for a "political solution" to the 26-year civil war in Sri Lanka through a power-sharing arrangement between the Sinhalese and the Tamils is unlikely to find favour with Mr Rajapakse. While keeping the sensitivities of the Indian Tamils in mind, however, India will have to tread warily by not pushing too hard.

 

There can be little doubt that Sri Lanka under President Rajapakse would continue to take advantage of its strategic position by bargaining with the Chinese and the Indians. The days of India pushing its agenda with the Sri Lankans to the exclusion of China are indeed over. Indian diplomacy will indeed be on test.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

THE PHOTO JOURNALIST

BY RAJ CHATTERJEE

 

AT a distance of more than half a century, I can still see the shop in my mind's eye as clearly as I did as a small boy in short pants.

 

It exuded elegance with its admixture of aromatic smells, perfumes, soaps and powders. Two giant globules — trademark of English chemists — one filled with a red liquid and the other with green stood on either side of the prescription counter. A signboard above the entrance carried the name, "Fitch & Co. — Dispensing Chemists." The manager lived in a flat at the rear of the shop.

 

The neat-looking building with the small garden of summer flowers, stood a few yards away from an arched gateway at the beginning of the climb to the Charleville Hotel in Mussoorie, now a training centre for probationers in the all-India services, the "Steel Frame" which, alas, today shows cracks, hence the expression "millionaire-babus".

 

The hotel was as comfortable and modern as European hotels could be in the '20s but its chief claim to fame — appearing on the notepaper — was that it was the only hotel in India where Queen Mary had stayed for a few days during her visit to India for the coronation of George V.

 

Below the hotel sprawled the Happy Valley Club, one of the few British clubs in India which was open to Indians.

 

The club had no less than 12 bajri courts, and a practising wall much used by me.

 

My parents, who summer after summer, rented a house in Happy Valley, the most salubrious part of Mussoorie, were members of the club and I was allowed to play tennis and borrow books from the club library, that had deep leather armchairs where elderly members snoozed in the afternoon.

 

Every summer, the club held a tennis tournament which attracted enthusiasts from all over the country. On one occasion, at the age of 13, I extended the local champion to three sets. In all honesty, I should add that my handicap was plus 30 and his, minus 30.

 

The tournament provided me with some extra pocket money. I always watched the finals of the various events with my Box Brownie at the ready, snapping the winners as they came off the courts mopping their brows and shouting to the "abdar" (bar-man) for a whisky and soda.

 

My mission accomplished, I used to run up to Fitch & Co. with my exposed film and the exhortation that the prints should be ready the following morning. These were promptly despatched to an illustrated magazine which paid me the princely sum of Rs 5 for each one they used. In those happy days, the money was sufficient for a visit to the cinema and a week's supply of comics.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

HOW TO REVERSE PUNJAB'S DOWNHILL JOURNEY

BY SARBJIT DHALIWAL

 

After laying the foundation stone of the new campus of Institute of Asian Studies in Kolkata recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke on the need to remain "contemporary and relevant". It was obviously a well-thought political remark made in the presence of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in a state dominated by communists having dislike for a free market economy or the new economic order.

 

Opponents, especially the right-wingers and supporters of the new economic order, often ridicule the communists for their, what they say, outdated way of thinking. There are many thinkers who say the communists have become irrelevant in the new global order. To stay "contemporary and relevant", they would have to change somewhat alike China.

 

Interestingly, the PM has made these remarks when the economy of West Bengal has been officially projected to grow at the average rate of 9.7 per cent, which is better than the country's projected over-all 9 per cent growth during the 11th Plan. The Left's opposition to the nuclear deal and the disinvestment in public sector giants was perhaps on the back of his mind when the PM made the remark.

 

However, there is a rationale behind the Prime Minister's remark to remain contemporary and relevant. What path – left or right – one should follow that is an issue, which can be debated for years.

 

In my opinion the Prime Minister's remark is relevant for Punjab, his native state. The reason: Punjab has only 13 members in the Lok Sabha. With a high number of MPs in Parliament, big states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, A.P, Maharashtra, MP, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu have a strong political clout at the national level compared to Punjab that plays an insignificant role in the formation of the Union government.

 

Undoubtedly, Punjab's relevance in the national politics could not be as crucial as of the big states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, AP, MP etc except in an unusual situation. Punjab's little bit relevance in national politics is that it is dominated by the Sikh minority.

 

Besides, thanks to its sturdy farmers, Punjab has maintained its importance and relevance at the national level by making record contributions to the national food basket. However, as the agriculture sector is growing at a rapid pace in states like Bihar, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, M.P, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Jharkhand and Karnataka, it will become difficult for Punjab to maintain its existing food clout for long.

 

The Central Government has already framed national krishi vikas policy and accelerated the irrigation programme to improve the productivity of food grains in other states. Time is not far when some other states will catch up with Punjab in the farm sector.

 

Obviously, Punjab will have to make drastic changes in its agricultural policy to maintain its relevance in the national food politics. It will have to fix its agricultural priorities. What and how much should be produced will have to be made part of the policy.

 

The biggest challenge for Punjab is to boost its sluggish economic growth especially in the manufacturing sector. Believe it or not, Punjab is the slowest growing, state. Its projected over-all economic growth rate during the 11th plan is 5.9 per cent. It is at the bottom of all the states.

 

Gujarat and Karnataka will be growing at the pace of 11.2 per cent; Haryana at 11; Goa at 12.1; Uttaranchal at 9.9; West Bengal at 9.7 ; Kerala and Andhra Pradesh at 9.5; Maharashtra 9.1;Tamil Nadu at 8.5; Orissa at 8.8 and Jammu and Kashmir at 6.4 per cent. All the remaining states will be growing at a pace of 6 per cent or above. However, Punjab and Manipur would grow at an equal pace of 5.9 per cent, the slowest in the country.

 

Even in the agriculture sector, Punjab's growth has been pegged at 2.4 per cent and it is at the 20th place out of 28 states. Agriculture in states like Bihar, Gujarat and Jharkhand will grow above 5 per cent. Haryana and Gujarat's industrial growth will be in the range of 14 per cent and in states like Orissa, West Bengal, Uttaranchal, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh it will be above 11 per cent but Punjab will be far behind. In years to come, the slowest-growing Punjab will really have no relevance in contemporary India as well as the world. Even during the 10th Plan, Punjab grew at the rate of 5.13 per cent against the average national growth of 7.8 per cent.

 

Politicians, academicians and professionals of all hues should get together to formulate short-and long-term strategies to accelerate the tempo of growth in the state to make it counted among the frontline states. After having ugly personal and political fights, frontline politicians must have realised by now that owing to their personal agenda Punjab has suffered a lot. The sooner they realise that Punjab should suffer no more because of their personal fights, the better for all of us.

 

The best course is to make a productive and judicious use of the subsidy given to the farm sector. Free power should only be for the needy farmers. Any farmer offering to pay full energy charges should be given 24-hour power supply. There will be many farmers opting for these.Give subsidies to promote those crops that should be part of the policy. Some part of the subsidy should be used to give interest-free loans to promote dairy farming on a big sacle. Part of the subsidy should be given to develop the textile industry and agro-based units for the processing of foodgrains. The setting up of export chains for vegetables, fruits etc is required. Crops playing havoc with Punjab's environment should not be allowed. Sugarcane can prove a highly remunerative crop for farmers.

 

Concessions and incentives for the Industry in hill states have impeded the growth of even small and medium industries in Punjab. It would be impossible for the Union Government to withdraw these incentives given by the previous Vajpayee government. The best course is to press the Centre to give similar concessions to the border states.

 

Punjab, being a border state, has big disadvantages. All parties will have to lobby together to press the Union Government for concessions. All focus should be to take Punjab's industrial growth to the level of Gujarat. Punjab cannot do without industry. The exclusion of Punjab from any national growth programme such as the Industrial corridor should be resisted with full might at the political level. Another focus should be to make the Wagah check post an important export-import destination. That will change Punjab's destiny for the better.

 

A special task force should be set up to implement the central schemes, especially the flagship programmes such as NERGA, the Urban Renewal Mission, and the Rural Health mission.

 

Extensive reforms in the administrative set up are required. The administration needs to be completely overhauled. Start with reforms in the Revenue Department. The latest title of ownership of every inch of land should be clear and available on the official website. There should be a permanent identification of each acre of government and private land. If that is achieved, there would be huge fall in the number of court cases, murders, violent fights etc.

 

Health care and education need special attention. The entire population should be given a health care insurance cover and education should be made free for all up to the degree level (professional courses included).

People will have to play a crucial role to save Punjab's pride. Elect only honest, bright and committed politicians to rule the state. Ensure that no corrupt, criminal and self-serving politician gets into the pious Punjab Assembly to decide on the destiny of the people. The self-servers deserve their place in the dustbin of history.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

LET'S FIGHT FUTURE WARS BY OTHER MEANS

BY MARY DEJEVSKY

 

State-sponsored killing or kidnapping is, of course, nothing new. What is new is the sophistication of the methods, and specifically the use of hi-tech intelligence which permits targeting. The "wet jobs" of the past, which saw secret agents hunt down and dispatch "enemies", were called that for a reason: they could be messy and leave unwelcome tracks. Increasingly, there are cleaner, neater – or, in the modern jargon, "smarter" – ways of doing things. The decision to use such methods or not is essentially political and moral.

 

It is 30 years ago now, but I am just about old enough to remember the public outcry unleashed by the development of the neutron bomb. The unique selling point, as it were, of this weapon was that it was designed to kill people, while leaving buildings and other defences intact. And while all weapons destroy – which is, after all, what they are for – the visceral objection to this one weapon derived from the precedence it seemed to give to saving property over living human beings. Deep down, people seemed to feel that there were rules to waging war and that a weapon such as this broke them.

 

Something similar applies these days to the use of unmanned drones and high-altitude bombing. The unease reflects not only the fact that the slightest error can cause many civilian casualties, but because the killing is depersonalised. That a country so equipped can inflict such damage without putting its own people at any risk seems somehow to break the rules.

 

In fact, warfare has long been hedged about with rules, written and unwritten. And each successive conflict produces a new set intended to prevent what were judged to be the most heinous excesses of the last. It is not just generals drafting their tactics and requirements for future wars who can be accused of fighting the last one, but politicians and lawyers as well.

 

The Nuremberg trials set the standard for today. Since then, war crimes have been defined and redefined to fit new circumstances. The only constant is that it is the victors who not only write the history, but determine what constitutes a war crime, fill out the charge sheet and appoint the judges. The late Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, is by no means the only defendant to question the justice of it.

 

I wonder now, though, whether the rules that the Western world – for it is the Western world – has generally accepted for the best part of a century may not be running out of steam. I wonder, too, whether a time might not come when it is accepted that conflicts are pursued by quite other means, so that war as we have known it, with the colossal loss of life and destruction it brings, is consigned to a more brutal past.

 

But who will dare to suggest that the price of abandoning the old rules – and finding some new ones – might be worth it? Today's industrialised nations, our own country included, are used to being on the winning side when they resort to military force. We have (by far) the technical advantage; our troops are mostly professional, not conscripted, and the territory we fight on is not our own. With the last generation of civilians to experience real war on the home front dying out, few know the extent of the horror it entails.n

 

 By arrangement with The Independent

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

SUPER MARKETS MUST TELL TRUTH ABOUT MEAT

BY MARTIN HICKMAN

 

Super markets have agreed to own up to the large amounts of foreign meat in pies, pasties and sandwiches labelled as made in Britain, The Independent has learnt.

 

As part of a Government plan to end misleading food labelling, the biggest grocery chains will show clearly the origin of foreign pork, bacon and ham in processed products, some of which have been made to look British.

 

The change, to be announced by the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn today, comes amid complaints that shoppers wishing to support domestic farmers and higher animal welfare are being misled about the origin and provenance of meat.

 

Under an EU labelling loophole, retailers can mark products with foreign meat "Produced in the UK" if they have undergone a significant change in Britain. In the case of a pie, encasing foreign meat in pastry would justify the description Produced in the UK and the product could even carry a Union flag.

 

The policy allows super markets to undercut British farms by buying budget pork from the Continent, where welfare standards are lower and production is consequently cheaper.

 

Imports of foreign pig meat have rocketed since the UK set new rules on overcrowding and the treatment of pregnant sows in 1999, leading to a 40 per cent collapse in the British pig herd.

In 2007, more than half of bacon sold in the UK came from the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Italy, while 43 per cent of other pork products came from Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

 

Civil servants, the pig industry, caterers and retailers have held talks in the Pig Meat Supply Chain Taskforce since Mr Benn signalled his determination to end misleading meat labelling in an interview with The Independent last January. Today, at an NFU conference in Birmingham, he will announce that Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and the Co-op have signed up to a code of practice setting out exactly how foreign meat should be labelled. McDonald's, Wetherspoons and Whitbread have also signed up to the voluntary agreement.

 

They have committed to clearly display the country of origin on retail packs. If using the formula "Produced in the UK" they will have to add "using pork from country x".

 

Retailers will be banned from slapping national terms and symbols on products unless the pork is British and product specific terms such as Wiltshire Cure will mean that the pork used to make the product comes from within the UK.

 

Where the term "local" is used it will be clearly defined. Restaurants and pubs will follow the code by placing country of origin on menus.

 

Confusion over what counts as "outdoor bred" and "outdoor reared" pork will be cleared up with an announcement from Defra shortly. Shoppers can be misled into thinking pigs so labelled spend a lot of their life outdoors when it may only be a matter of weeks.

 

In his interview last year, Mr Benn complained: "If you buy something that has on the package 'Wiltshire cured bacon', I think most people would assume the bacon came from Wiltshire, but under the current European rules that is not necessarily the case. You may turn it over and discover that actually it came from Denmark."

 

Yesterday he said supermarkets would have to "provide clear information", adding: "The example I gave will be no more under the code because they will have to say from which European country was the ham cured in Wiltshire. It will be a big change."

 

 By arrangement with The Independent

 

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MUMBAI MERROR

EDITORIAL

INSTITUTIONALISED SQUATTING

IN A CITY WHERE EVERY INCH OF LAND IS AUDITED TO SHOW ASTRONOMICAL REAL ESTATE COSTS, INSTITUTIONS CONTINUE TO MAKE MONEY ON LEASED PROPERTY THAT IS A VIRTUAL GIFT TO THEM

 

An open secret that frequently slips through the interstices of the city's news is to do with squatting on municipal land by big institutions and companies. For more than a decade now, the BMC has tried to regularise leases given to clubs, private parties, public trusts and industrial houses in pre-Independence times at absurdly low prices. Often the groups have made loads of money by selling off bits and pieces of this leased land – a blatantly illegal move – for commercial gains.


Some may raise objections to the use of the word squatting for something that actually has an element of paperwork behind it, no matter how thin, faded (and frequently lost). In response, one can say that when a city prizes and audits every inch of land in super-built up terms to create a spectral haze about real estate costs running into astronomical figures, isn't it absurd that rich institutions and industries continue to make money on leased lands that are virtual gifts to them in terms of s h e e r p r i c e ? Besides, o f t e n m e m b e r s from these very spaces cry hoarse about how slumdwellers are squatting illegally on the city's prime property. How often has the city's privileged discussed – over elegant pots of tea in gated clubs, overlooking some cool colonial sports being played in lavish spreads of maidans – the issue of encroachment by poor migrants?

However, to reduce the whole debate to the question of revenues for the BMC is equally tricky. It would be like going from the frying pan, straight into the blaze – with a legitimate fear that the BMC will now become the legal custodian for selling land to quick-gain, real-estate guns.


It would be more productive – though controversial – to look at the process of landuse, rather than land-value as the basis of our official response. The fact is that the question of ownership in a city such as Mumbai – with a hunger for speculation that is insatiable – needs a corrective. That corrective can be in finding newer ways to look at the history of ownership. There is nothing wrong if the land given on lease defies market logic, as long as it is based on some agreed upon principles of new use. The city's activists have been crying hoarse that we need open land and more green spaces. If we accept that it is a valid need, then it could be better to make existing institutional bodies the trustees of the land as long as it is not used for commercial gains and aids creating more green cover and preserves open spaces. For this, such institutions have to open up to scrutiny and the media glare as well.


Mumbai was not built on revenue generation in the manner of a feudal landlord – as the BMC is positing itself to be. Rather it was made on grounds of productive use of land that generates wealth and employment. Many groups, entrepreneurs, and communities were given land on lease in colonial Bombay, at prices that even then were relatively low in terms of sheer value. The understanding was that the activities on the land would aid the city's economy as a whole.

 

Today, more than wealth, the city needs a better quality of civic life, and in some ways, this history of institutional squatting can be made more accountable. This will also make us see many poor neighbourhoods in Mumbai in a new light. They will not come across as encroachers, and instead as individuals and groups that are contributing to the city's economy in different ways – either by recycling garbage, producing cheap goods or subsidising the city's exorbitant costs through inexpensive labour services.

 More efforts will be made to get these neighbourhoods to improve their environments than erase them.
Is the city willing to make such a radical move that cuts both ways?

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

DEALING WITH DAM FAILURES

A CENTRAL LAW MAY BE BETTER FOR ALL

The Central government's proposal to bring a Bill to Parliament in the ongoing Budget session to enact a dam safety Act seems to be a positive initiative, even though water is a state subject and so the effectiveness of this statue will depend on how well the states implement it. The Bill seeks to establish an institutional system for regular monitoring of the safety of large dams. The states will, of course, have to set up their own systems to carry out repairs and maintenance of large dams and ensure their safe, sound and risk-free operation. A national law may have been found necessary given that only a few states like Kerala and Bihar have their own dam safety statutes. According to the National Register of Large Dams (2009), there are 4,710 dams in service and another 390 are under construction. India has the potential to build more dams, given the vast untapped hydro-power and irrigation potential. It is important to note that a majority of existing dams are more than half-a-century old and have, thus, outlived their design life of 50 to 60 years. The project authorities responsible for their upkeep are usually unable to do so effectively for want of financial and other resources. Sporadic dam failures and other accidents, involving loss of life and property, draw attention to the need for better maintenance of dams and related environs. Some major dam failures, as these are called, include the collapse of Machhu-II dam in 1979, Nanak Sagar in 1967, Tigra in 1970 and Chikkahole in 1972. A recent disaster was the breach of Kosi embankment near the Indo-Nepal border in August 2008.

 While irrigation dams are a state subject and the Centre should resist the temptation to get into areas where states must deliver better, dam protection should not be neglected for want of resources at the state level or due to inter-state or Centre-state issues. At least two states, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, have formally authorised Parliament to pass a law in this regard. If the Centre comes forward with a law, other states may pass resolutions to adopt the Central law. In fact, since most large dams are built and owned jointly by more than one riparian state, a single state law would be restrictive in scope. The current logjam between Kerala and Tamil Nadu over the retiring of the Mullaperiyar dam (one of the world's oldest dams, aged over 110 years) and building another one to replace it is a typical case in point. The Supreme Court has now stepped in and set up a committee to examine the dam safety issue. Since the safety of millions of people is at stake, a strong Central law with provisions for mandatory enforcement by the states would make sense.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE OTHER BUDGETS

SORRY STATE OF STATE FINANCES

 

With all the media song and drama around the Union Budget and the hype and hope vested in it, there is a woeful lack of public discussion about state government finances. In India's federal system, the state of state finances is equally important for the stability and sustainability of the growth process. One reason why there is less media attention on state finance could be that state governments have long ceased to impose fresh taxes, depending increasingly on handouts from the Centre for their expenditure obligations. More recently, however, another reason is that most states have been running a revenue surplus, cutting their coat according to their cloth. This does not mean that they have adequate fiscal resources, but that many states, in fact, spend far less than they should, especially in critical areas like education, health care and rural development. Given the general neglect of state finances, it is gratifying that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) continues to publish a professionally competent and exhaustive study of state finances. The latest report on state finance for fiscal 2009-10 draws attention to the recent deterioration in the otherwise healthy state of state finances. According to the report, published this week, while the consolidated revenue balance of the states showed a surplus in the past three years, in fiscal 2009-10, states had budgeted for a deficit, reflecting, as RBI says, a deterioration in the revenue account of state governments. While the debt-GDP ratio of state governments declined to 26.2 per cent in 2008-09 from the peak level of 32.8 per cent in 2003-04, gross fiscal deficit as a percentage of GDP was estimated to be higher at 3.2 per cent in 2009-10 as compared with 2.6 per cent in 2008-09 and 1.5 per cent in 2007-08. The implementation of the recommendations of the Sixth Central Pay Commission and of states' own pay commissions would further impact state deficits.

 RBI is right to be concerned about the decline in the states' own tax revenues, even though this concept of "own tax" is a dubious one since, under the Constitution, a share of the direct and indirect taxes collected by the Centre legitimately belongs to the states, with a Constitutional body, the Finance Commission, determining the share from time to time. The central bank is right to suggest that state governments need to augment their revenues through improved tax collections, as well as take measures to check under-valuation of property to improve collections under stamp duty and registration fees, and phase out exemptions under sales tax. On the non-tax front, the RBI report says, the states' "own non-tax" revenue, at around 10 per cent of the total revenue receipts, is low by international standards. The states have been advised to increase their reliance on non-tax revenues by levying appropriate user charges such as time-bound revision of water supply tariffs, introduction of user charges in health, education and veterinary services, and cost recovery from social and economic services. All this, and much more in this competent study, is sound advice. What is needed is political will at the state level. For his part, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee can play a leadership role by setting an example in fiscal responsibility that state finance ministers can follow.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

EXPECT A MARKET-FRIENDLY BUDGET

A K BHATTACHARYA

Finance ministers do not often get to choose the day when they can present the Union Budget. Convention demands that they present the government's annual financial statement (that is what the Budget is all about!) on the last day of February. If the last day of February happens to be a Sunday, then the day of the Budget presentation is advanced by a day. And if Saturday is a public holiday, the Budget is presented a day before. That is precisely why Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is presenting his Budget for 2010-11 on Friday, February 26.

Indeed, finance ministers had the freedom to choose their day of Budget presentation only on 16 occasions since India's first finance minister, RK Shanmukham Chetty, presented his first full Budget on February 28, 1948. They could do so mostly because of elections requiring some more time before the newly-formed government could present the Budget. Thus, the convention of presenting Budgets on the last day of February got bypassed in those years.

An interesting fact is that most finance ministers, when given the freedom to choose the day of Budget presentation, have opted for a working day when the stock markets are open for trading. The reason is obvious. Finance ministers are keen to assess the impact of their Budgets on the stock markets. No finance minister will perhaps confess it publicly. But most of them judge the success or failure of their Budget initiatives largely from the manner in which the stock markets behave after they have announced their fiscal and expenditure proposals.

VP Singh was an exception. He chose to present his first Budget, after the elections in December 1984, on a Saturday (March 16, 1985). Madhu Dandavate, too, had the option of choosing the day of presenting the Budget. He debated this issue for some time and finally settled for a Monday (March 19, 1990). On five other occasions, when the finance minister could choose the big day, the Budgets were presented on a Monday, followed by four Budgets on a Wednesday, three on a Thursday and two on a Friday. It is clear that finance ministers, given a choice, would like the stock markets to remain open for as many days as possible after they present the Budget.

It is in this context one realises that Pranab Mukherjee is facing a unique situation. Never before in the last six decades has the presentation of a Budget been followed by three successive days when the stock markets have remained closed. So, after the stock markets' reaction to Mr Mukherjee's Budget on February 26, there will be a complete lull for three days as far as the markets' reaction to his Budget is concerned.

Now, this may be an opportunity, since the three-day lull will allow the finance minister to make amends by necessary policy clarifications in case the stock markets react adversely to his initial announcements on Friday. That, however, is a defensive approach to the issue and presupposes that Mr Mukherjee's Budget may contain some nasty surprises for the markets.

That also is the irony. This is one Budget where the success of the finance minister's fiscal policy strategy is hugely dependent on the markets. A revision in the base year for calculating gross domestic product (GDP) and higher growth at 7.5 per cent for the current year may help him present a lower fiscal deficit at 6.2 per cent of GDP, almost the same as in 2008-09. But in order to reduce the deficit further to 5.5 per cent of GDP in the coming year, he will have to bank heavily on proceeds from disinvestment of government equity in public sector undertakings. Without a market that is positively impressed with the finance minister's Budget, the government will face major problems in offloading its shares in PSUs and bring down its deficit.

It is almost like a catch-22 situation. The markets are now increasingly under the influence of foreign institutional investors as their stake in India is on the rise. The markets' view, therefore, will strongly endorse a significant reduction in the government's fiscal deficit, even going beyond what the finance minister promised Parliament last year. But to achieve a target of fiscal deficit lower than 5.5 per cent, the finance minister has to rely on either increased revenues from disinvestment or savings in public expenditure.

One sure way of impressing the markets would be to offer some fiscal concessions aimed at them. For instance, the finance minister could even consider reducing the burden of short-term capital gains tax on individuals and companies. A friendly stock market response, therefore, is a critical ingredient for the success of Mr Mukherjee's Budget. If he does not reduce the fiscal deficit, the markets can turn negative. And if he does not do enough to impress the markets, his deficit targets will be in danger. Either way, therefore, expect a Budget that pleases the markets!

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

AN INSTITUTIONAL SUCCESS STORY

A POLARISED AND PARALYSED AMERICA COULD TURN TO INDIA FOR INSPIRATION ON TAX REFORM

ARVIND SUBRAMANIAN:

 

Bemoaning the state of the Indian public sector and its inability to deliver essential services is a hardy perennial of intellectual discussions. Academic reputations can be built, and tenure at universities such as Harvard obtained, it seems, by documenting the entrails of the Delhi car licensing system. All this is fair enough because the caricature — of bumbling bureaucrats, venal politicians, and bizarre, byzantine processes for decision-making — often approximates the reality. But India and the Indian public process can surprise, even wow, the careful observers. One such surprise — an unambiguous success of Indian institutions — must be the future introduction of the goods and services tax (GST), a major piece of tax reform that would be the envy of mature democracies such as the United States.

The coming Budget, to be presented later this week, may insufficiently address India's key fiscal challenge: reducing the vulnerability in its public finances. And vulnerable they are as a recent working paper by Petia Topalova and Dan Nyberg of the IMF highlights. Amongst the BRIC — the supposed club of aspiring big powers, comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China — India's ratio of government debt to GDP (exceeding 80 per cent) is the highest. The Chinese state is not only stronger than the Indian in implementation capacity but also in fiscal firepower with debt of less than 20 per cent of GDP.

Amongst a wider group of emerging market countries too, India's fiscal performance has been relatively weak in recent years: during the global boom years, 2003-2008, India's public indebtedness improved much less than the average emerging market country, and that despite the fact that it posted much higher rates of economic growth. In the years leading up to the crisis, when the economy was growing at 9 per cent and revenues were buoyant, India squandered a golden opportunity to set its fiscal house in permanent order. A modest Budget for the coming year risks repeating this mistake.

But the grounds for fiscal optimism lie elsewhere. They lie in the future implementation of the broad-based GST, which could generate additional annual revenues of about 1.5 per cent of GDP, create an Indian common market, and solve some structural tax problems. If implemented, and complemented with spending restraint, a path for medium-term fiscal adjustment could be within reach. This path is far from certain. Any number of shocks could cause departures from it: stymied privatisation, higher world prices of oil, which would increase consumer subsidies, and more fiscal populism, generally. But the GST offers hope.

The question is: How is India managing to pull off such a major tax reform under such inhospitable conditions. Its tax administration is not exactly of the quality in advanced economies (Europe or the United States) and would seem unequal to the challenge of implementing a new and complicated tax such as the GST. Moreover, in a federal structure such as India's, with overlapping Constitutional responsibilities between the Centre and the states, and varying interests and capacities across states, the GST is mind-bogglingly difficult to design, let alone implement. Above all, generating a modicum of consensus across political parties at the Centre and the states around an issue that affects so many voters and citizens would seem impossible, especially in such a messy, raucous and fractured democracy such as India's. And yet, a successful GST is attainable.

The key to the GST effort goes back to a remarkable combination of shrewdness and statesmanship on the part of Yashwant Sinha, the finance minister in the BJP-led government in 2001. Recognising that successful implementation of VAT would be impossible without buy-in from the states, he created an "empowered committee", comprising the finance ministers of all the states. The masterstroke was to appoint West Bengal Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta of the CPM — a party then strongly opposed to the policies of the BJP — to chair this committee. This was management not by delegation but by delegation to the political adversary.

But it worked. One important reason was that the states, rather than the Centre, were driving the process which created a sense of participation and ownership that would have been hard to achieve otherwise. Not just West Bengal but other states, including Tamil Nadu which has always been assertive about states' rights, developed a stake in the process and contributed constructively.

Yashwant Sinha's successful experiment was followed by his successor P Chidambaram, who then retained the empowered committee, calling upon it to design and help implement the next stage of tax reform, namely the implementation of the GST. This committee has been the GST's midwife. It is almost as if India now has a permanent process — indeed a new and functioning institution because the empowered committee is registered under the Societies Act and even has quasi-legal status — for addressing tax matters that will involve the Centre and the states.

This process may yet come up short. It may also be difficult to extend it to other policy areas. But in one important respect, the GST experience may have wider implications. The house that India's founding fathers built was a federal structure with a strong Centre. But the de-monopolisation of political power at the Centre and the growth of regional parties have de facto made India more politically decentralised. The GST experiment suggests that the move away from a strong-Centre federalism need not entail a threatening centripetalism but could instead lead to a cooperative federalism that is perhaps India's future.

Many factors explain the Indian economic transformation. But it is hard to believe that India's economic possibility frontiers have not been determined by India's institutions. What the GST story indicates is that for all of India's flaws and deficiencies — captured in the constant why-can't-we-be-more-like-China lament — there remains the ability, fragile and episodic though it may be, to build good institutions, especially if old ones become dysfunctional. The spirit of institution-building that formed the core of the Gandhi-Nehru-Patel enterprise remains etched in India's collective DNA. Polarised and paralysed America — which will badly need tax reform to get its fiscal house in order — could turn to India for inspiration.

The author is Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics and Center for Global Development, and Senior Research Professor, Johns Hopkins University

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

IS SPIKED PETROL A GOOD IDEA?

Any policy on blending ethanol with petrol has to keep in mind the costs involved in ethanol production - excessive use of scarce water to grow sugarcane and the effluents discharged in the process.

Apart from reducing feedstock for the chemicals industry, there are environment costs of the bio-fuel policy that are quite significant

The government has reiterated its intent to blend gasoline with an ethanol content of 5 per cent. In the past decade, the government made several efforts to implement an ethanol programme but it has never been successful. In fact, its recent announcement is a pull-back from its intent to increase the blend to 10 per cent with effect from October 2008. It is time that policy makers realised that a bio-ethanol programme can never be successful in India for varied and obvious reasons. The search for clean energy should be directed towards areas where success can be attained.

India is a growing economy with an ever-increasing need for energy and food. The primary objective of an energy policy is to ensure energy security — the economic and environmental aspects are secondary in nature. Thus, sustainability of an energy source is a crucial element. Unfortunately, at present, the only source of ethanol in India is molasses, a by-product obtained during the manufacture of sugar. Sugar production is extremely volatile in India, hence the availability of molasses and thus ethanol is inconsistent. Under these circumstances, India can never have a sustainable ethanol programme.

A consistent availability of sugarcane for the production of sugar as well as ethanol would require a revamp of the government's policies pertaining to sugarcane pricing and the sugar industry. Moreover, India is the largest consumer of sugar in the world. Thus, to ensure adequate availability of sugar, the government would need to tread cautiously in encouraging production of ethanol directly from sugarcane juice.

The "National Policy on Bio-fuels", which was announced by the government recently, lays down the criterion for bio-fuel development in India. With regard to ethanol, the Policy categorically states: "The sugar and distillery industry will be further encouraged to augment production of ethanol to meet the blending requirements prescribed from time to time, while ensuring that this does not in any way create supply constraints in production of sugar or availability of ethanol for industrial use." Thus, the Policy rightfully acknowledges that it would not be desirable to appropriate sugarcane for manufacture of ethanol. Also, it would not be desirable to appropriate ethanol for fuel blend and starve an existing industrial sector, which already plays a key role in the manufacture of environment-friendly chemicals, adds value to ethanol and generates employment.

A cardinal mistake is to believe we can emulate Brazil's success in the sphere of bio-ethanol. It is important to understand the unique strengths that Brazil has — vast tracts of arable and fertile land that were once vacant and are now being used for production of bio-fuels. In Brazil, 60 per cent of sugarcane juice is directly converted into ethanol without compromising the availability of sugar. Also, large land holdings and contract farming allow mechanised cultivation and better agricultural practices. In India, the yields are much lower and fragmented land holdings discourage mechanisation. More important, sugarcane is a water-intensive crop, and since water is a scarce resource in India, it would be highly imprudent to put it to such use. Interestingly, Brazil reduced the ethanol blend from 25 per cent to 20 per cent in 2009, and demand for ethanol fell sharply from 2 billion to 1 billion litres per month due to lack of availability of adequate ethanol.

Also, the advocates of ethanol tend to conceal the fact that manufacture of ethanol causes lots of pollution, by way of discharge of large volumes of effluent (1 litre of ethanol discharges 12 litres of effluent). It also contains a very high concentration of organic materials that are extremely harmful to the distillery's hinterland. Management of distillery effluent is a major area of concern for the environment ministry. Therefore, the ethanol programme needs to take a consolidated view of its purported benefits, and its end result would not be as favourable to the environment.

The cornerstones of a successful bio-fuel programme are: Sustained availability, right price, generation of rural employment, usage of waste lands and waste bio-mass, and avoidance of cannibalisation of feedstock for existing users.

As a bio-fuel, ethanol fails miserably to meet any of these criteria and, thus, this initiative deserves to be consigned back to the drawing boards for a rethink before its implementation.

It is an acknowledged fact that transportation fuels are a major contributor to pollution. Methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), an oxygenator blended in gasoline in order to improve combustion, is known to be carcinogenic and non-biodegradable. All across the world, MTBE is being replaced with ethanol, which is absolutely safe on both these counts. Moreover, greater use of ethanol, a renewable resource, in gasoline can also reduce dependence upon petroleum, and this will promote energy security. Therefore, the government has already mandated blending of minimum 5 per cent ethanol in gasoline and has announced the goal of 10 per cent blending, going forward.

The level of 5 per cent blending, incidentally, meets the amount of oxygenation required in gasoline blends to neutralise carbon monoxide emissions, hence it should not be compromised at all.

Moreover, blending of ethanol in gasoline also makes eminent economic sense for the government and oil marketing companies (OMCs). At the current price of ethanol and the ex-pump price of gasoline, every litre of ethanol blended in gasoline results in a saving of about Rs 11 for the OMCs. Thus, the ethanol blending programme can also mitigate the burden of "under-recoveries" suffered by the petroleum sector.

The principal raw material for production of ethanol in India is molasses, a by-product derived during sugar production. Several agricultural products and waste can also be used for distillation of ethanol, depending upon their availability. A growing ethanol industry will boost the demand for agricultural waste and agricultural products suitable for distillation and molasses, which will boost farmers' income significantly.

The country has an alcohol production capacity of 3.65 billion litres per annum, of which fuel ethanol capacity is 1.69 billion. In a year of normal sugar production, molasses' availability is sufficient for production of 2.4 billion litres of alcohol, leaving the balance capacity for utilisation of other raw materials. In a year of low production of sugar, like the current year, available molasses would yield 1.70 billion litres of alcohol. The production of alcohol from other inputs is currently estimated at about 300 million litres and is rising. Aggregate alcohol production during the current year is thus estimated at 2 billion litres.

No one should disagree that the first claim on domestic available alcohol should be for fuel ethanol, given the priority that the gasoline blending programme calls for. At 5 per cent level of blending in the states to which the current mandate extends, the demand for ethanol is 690 million litres. The next priority would be for potable use, the demand for which is an estimated 900 million litres, there being no substitute. The balance is available for users like the chemical industry.

The ethanol blending and potable sectors have no alternative to alcohol, unlike the chemical industry, which can and does often use petroleum-based chemicals as alternatives to alcohol, e.g. by-products arising from petroleum refining. As a matter of fact, the chemical industry does optimise its input costs, as any industry would do, by switching from alcohol to petroleum derivatives and vice versa, depending upon relative costs, and does not necessarily purchase alcohol in consistent quantities.

The alcohol industry treats all the three — petroleum companies, potable alcohol industry and chemical industry — as valuable customers. The national priority, however, lies in pursuing the gasoline blending programme in right earnest as vital issues of health and environment are involved. As a matter of fact, there is justification in extending the blending mandate to all parts of the country. In most years, the country produces enough alcohol for the chemical sector too. Nevertheless, this sector has access to import of alcohol, which is freely allowed. The subdued petroleum prices since mid-2008 have seen this sector shift to petrochemicals from alcohol. This sector has also imported significant quantities of alcohol in the years of low international prices for the commodity, particularly from Brazil.

We are absolutely certain that the government will not fail in its duty to the nation by dithering on its mandate of 5 per cent ethanol blending in gasoline on the false premise of lack of availability as, we believe, it considers that its responsibility on health and environment fronts are of paramount importance.

*Indian Sugar Mills Association

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

ARBITRATION SLOWDOWN

INSTRUMENTS OF ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE-RESOLUTION MECHANISM ARE IN A RUT WHILE A NEW BILL IS IN COLD STORAGE

M J ANTONY

 

Though alternative dispute-resolution mechanisms are promoted by the government and commercial organisations, the record of arbitration cases has not been inspiring. They are supposed to be informal, fast-track alternatives to the cumbersome and expensive road to civil courts. However, they have fallen into ruts of their own, and have become as expensive and tedious as any other civil litigation. In the Dolphin Drilling Ltd vs ONGC case, the Supreme Court last week lamented that "it is unfortunate that arbitration in this country has proved to be a highly expensive and time-consuming means for resolution of disputes".

A survey of judgments delivered by the Supreme Court last year showed that most arbitration cases were seven years old when they landed in the court. There were at least 45 major judgments. Moreover, the Supreme Court's decisions were not the end of the disputes for the parties; rather they have only been the start. This is because legal objections raised by the parties, either genuinely aggrieved or trying to delay payment, have to be addressed. The decision of the trial court is inevitably appealed against in the high court and then in the Supreme Court. The apex court sorts out the legal issues and then sends back the matter to the high court or the original court or the arbitrator. This is the beginning of arbitration, after years of legal wrangling.

Observing these realities, the Supreme Court stated some time ago in the Guru Nanak Foundation vs Rattan Singh case that "the way in which the proceedings are conducted, and without exception challenged in the courts, has made lawyers laugh and philosophers weep. Experience shows that the proceedings have become highly technical accompanied by unending prolixity, at every stage providing a legal trap to the unwary. An informal forum chosen by the parties for expeditious disposal of their disputes has, by the decisions of the courts, been clothed with legalese of unforeseeable complexity."

Some cases decided recently by the Supreme Court exemplify this comment. It was a long trek for the parties in the appeals in the SBP & Co vs Patel Engineering Ltd case. The contract for the Koyna hydroelectric project was signed in 1992 and the disputes started in 1996. The Supreme Court cleared the legal clutter only last year and allowed the arbitrator to proceed with his work afresh.

The Shin-Etsu Chemicals Co vs Vindhya Telelinks Ltd case made several trips from the district court in Madhya Pradesh to the high court and the Supreme Court in the past seven years, and the arbitration is still not over. The Supreme Court itself noted this delay in its judgment when it said that "we are conscious of the fact that the matter has been pending before this court for more than two years and relegation to an alternative remedy will further delay the consideration of the issue. But it is inevitable in the circumstances."

Arbitration in the Vijay Constructions vs State of Kerala case of 2002, is still halfway. The Supreme Court has just set aside the order of the high court, holding that there indeed was an arbitration agreement between the parties. After this finding, the Supreme Court has reverted the matter to the high court to decide other remaining objections raised by the state government which has to pay the awarded amount to the contractors. The actual arbitration will start only after this exercise and probably after some more trips to the Supreme Court.

The legal muddle invariably sets in from the start. If the parties are rich and resourceful, they raise questions of interpretation of the terms of the agreement and the provisions of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996. That is the first journey to the court. The next common stratagem is to doubt whether there was an arbitration clause in the contract at all. Though the voluminous agreements are drafted by resourceful law firms, they do leave gaps. In any case, there are equally ingenious lawyers who can invent a lacuna.

Once the court finds that there is indeed an arbitration clause, the wrangle starts over who the arbitrator should be. The party who has to pay will then raise objections to the conduct of the arbitrator, like bias and mala fide.

The arbitrators themselves are not very keen to complete their job as the assignment comes with several seven-star perks, a la Liberhan and Eradi commissions. These are only some of the hurdles in implementing the law.

There was a proposal to amend the 1996 law to make it more effective, but the proposed Bill has been in cold storage for many years now. It is said that international corporations are willing to choose India as a venue for arbitration, but lack of clarity in law and procedure coupled with poor infrastructure deters them. Unless these hurdles are removed, arbitration cases will continue to troop to the Supreme Court — and it has not yet disposed of appeals under the old Arbitration Act 1940.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

POWERFUL ALTERNATIVE

 

More power to the people obviously means different things. The brouhaha over what to do with the shell of the defunct Indraprastha power station has certainly brought that schism to the fore. How can the carcass of a polluting behemoth be put to public use? The options, tellingly, veer from the sublime to the ridiculous, depending on who is deciding, of course.


The question is moot whether Delhi needs yet another parking lot — a Commonwealth Games' -fuelled suggestion, naturally — or yet another depot for the now-spiffy state-run buses. Neither has the potential to be any better architectural or aesthetic masterpieces than the current building with its rusting smokestacks. And the argument by the proponents of the first option, that the land would be handed back for forestry after the games, curiously finds little credibility.


Presumably, Delhi's denizens are a tad cynical when it comes to government claims on giving up land for greenery . The demand of the eco-lobby to convert it into an urban forest sounds trendy, but what flora or fauna would survive in that patch of land, with a noxious river on one side and an unending stream of noisy traffic on the other?


One section, however, wants to convert it into a museum on the city of Delhi. This has potential — after all, major cities abroad have them and they showcase not only historical aspects but also current goings-on . Indeed, every Indian city should contemplate having one, if only for the forced introspection that its planning would entail.

The bright thing to do in Delhi, however, would be to not demolish the extant structure, but use it as a metaphor for what the city was and wants to be. The shiver of apprehension that is bound to run through everyone as they enter the ugly structure and get a bird's-eye view of the choked Yamuna river, would convince about what not to do to a city. All they need to do is make a park and a parking lot within the complex to co-opt the other factions too!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

STATES TURN FISCALLY PRUDENT

 

Predictably, the 2009-10 edition of the RBI's annual Study on State Finances shows a worsening of the consolidated fiscal position of state governments. The gross fiscal deficit-to-GDP ratio is budgeted to increase to 3.2% from 2.6% in 2008-09 (revised estimates, or RE). More worryingly, their revenue account has turned from a surplus of 0.2% in 2008-09 (RE) to a deficit of 0.5% of GDP in 2009-10 (BE). Less predictably, states seem to have managed their finances better than the Centre.


Not only is the slippage in 2008-09 compared to the previous year, less — 80%, against the Centre's 130% — the debt-GDP ratio of state governments has also come down. From a peak of 32.8 % in 2004, their debt-to-GDP ratio was down to 26.2% in 2008-09 (RE), well below the 30.8% target set by the Twelfth Finance Commission for March 2010. In contrast, the ratio of the Centre's outstanding liabilities-to-GDP is projected to increase from 75.1% in 2007-08 to 76.6% (BE) in 2009-10 .


Against the Twelfth panel target of interest payment-to-revenue receipts ratio of 15% for 2009-10 , the combined ratio for all states declined to 14.4% in 2008-09 (RE). In contrast, the comparable ratio for the Centre is expected to go up from 34% (RE) 2008-09 to 36.7% in 2009-10 (BE). Needless to say, disaggregated level numbers show what we have known all along: there is wide disparity in fiscal discipline.


One could argue the relatively better performance of the states vis-a-vis the Centre is because the bulk of the fiscal stimulus came from the Centre's coffers. But that is not entirely correct. To the extent that the quantum of funds transferred to states is a function of the taxes collected by the Centre, states also lose revenue when the
Centre foregoes taxes. However, the present improvement may not last. As states succumb to public pressure to follow the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission, much of the good work done by them may become a thing of the past.


It is to guard against this danger that the study recommends that states supplement their efforts by setting up, among other things, a fiscal stabilisation fund and incorporating a counter-cyclical fiscal policy framework.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

HYPOCRISY ON FOOD PRICES

 

The political debate on food prices has attained a high level of hypocrisy. The Opposition blames the government for its failure to control food prices. Fair enough. But it does not have any constructive suggestion to offer in this regard either. That is below par, but sort of tolerable — the governing side has greater responsibility when it comes to finding solutions. But when the government does come up with some steps that offer a long-term solution, the Opposition's response is, once again, pure and vehement opposition.


This amounts to hypocrisy, which voters will see through and helps no one. There are two parts to managing high food prices: the immediate and the longer term. The government messed up on timely release of additional grain from its stocks, and talked up global sugar prices by issuing tenders instead of buying up sugar abroad on the quiet.


And the ruling and opposition parties collectively abhor the unpleasant truth that there is no substitute to organised retail when it comes to overhauling the supply chain that today gives the farmer only a tiny fraction of the high price at the consumer end. Cooperatives like Amul and Safal are efficient supply-chain managers for niche segments. Either they must be replicated across the board for all farm produce or private organised retail must be allowed to function freely. More realistically , both organisational forms must be allowed to flourish.

But the real problem is not short-term management of existing levels of food output, but of stepping up food output altogether. Consumption patterns are changing, with the poor consuming more, thanks to employment guarantee schemes, and everyone is shifting towards superior foods — milk, eggs, meat, fruit and vegetables — pushing up the indirect pressure on basic foodgrain production.


The state spends at least 3% of GDP, or Rs 1,85,000 crore, as farm subsidy, even as investment stagnates. Reconfiguring expenditure from inefficient subsidy to yieldboosting investment will entail higher fertiliser and seed prices, paid-for irrigation and higher farm gate prices. Political hackles rise at every single element of this mix. The point is to ignore them, resolutely.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GLOBALISATION & INTERNAL CONNECTIVITY

SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR

 

People ask if India can grow fast if Bharat does not. Well, nothing exemplifies Bharat more than Bihar, and it has grown at 11% during 2004-09 , the same period when India registered a record 8.5% growth. India's fast growth owed much to high technology and exports, exemplified by computer software and automobiles. But Bihar has neither high technology nor exports. India and Bihar seem to have little in common, yet both their growth spurts have a common cause: connectivity.


India's success stems from globalisation , which the Left calls an imperial recipe for subjugation. But when Indian companies are taking over global companies galore — the latest being Bharti Airtel's takeover of Zain in Africa and Warid in Bangladesh — the notion that India is being subjugated is nonsense.


Globalisation creates on a global scale opportunities that were earlier available only within nations. Once, people knew little of the world beyond the 20 miles that could be traversed by bullock cart, and the opportunities for innovation or entrepreneurship in this limited space were few. Then modern roads and vehicles appeared, providing connectivity first to the whole district, then to the whole state, and ultimately to the whole nation. This increased economic opportunities a thousand-fold .


Meanwhile, plummeting shipping transport, communication and financial costs in the last 150 years made it possible to do across the world what was earlier possible only within national boundaries. An Indian company can raise money in Hong Kong to build a plant in Spain that exports goods to Latin America. Connectivity had become global.


For decades, inefficient Indian Railways and ports made connectivity costly. One World Bank report on Mumbai port said the cheapest way to unload cargo was to first pay official dock labour to go home and then hire a private crew for unloading!


The situation was transformed with the export of computer software and business services over the airwaves. Suddenly, telecom provided cheap, instant connectivity across the globe. It did not depend on dysfunctional railways and ports or corruption-laden export documentation. This kickstarted India's economic upsurge, and with reforms, even the ports and railways improved immensely. Financial connectivity provided global finance to Indian companies , not only to set up new plants but also to acquire MNCs abroad. That is how Tata and Birla acquired Corus and Novellis.


Globalisation is unstoppable because it is based not on western domination but on continually-falling transport, communication and financial costs. China is the best example of using globalisation for economic success. Far from becoming a western puppet, it now challenges western supremacy.


At first sight, Bihar looks completely different . Its 11% growth has been driven mainly by construction (average growth 47%) and unorganised industry. Organised industry has grown little in the last five years. Bihar exports nothing of consequence , and has nothing hi-tech .


Yet, connectivity is the heart of Bihar's success too. Under Lalu Yadav, few new roads were built and existing ones disappeared for want of maintenance. Lalu defended this, asking, "Whose car will travel on roads, and whose buffalo will be killed by the car?" This lack of connectivity stymied economic development at a time when reformed central policies had made strident growth possible.


Very wide rivers handicap Bihar. Many of these are dry most of the year, yet require long bridges for connectivity. Under a dynamic IAS chief, Pratyaya Amrit , the Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam, once a sick unit, revived and built 336 bridges (including 80 major ones) in three years, and is now building mega-bridges across the Kosi and Gandak. Its turnover is up from Rs 42 crore in 2004-05 to Rs 768 crore in 2008-09 . Amrit subsequently moved to the road construction department, whose road building improved from 384 km in 2004-05 to 2,417 km in 2008-09 .


This was buttressed by telecom connectivity , driven by the private sector. Bharti Airtel claims that Bihar now has the highest growth of talk-time in the country. The big missing element in connectivity is electricity. Without connection to the electric grid, economic opportunities plummet . After meeting obligations to supply Nepal, the railways and defence, Bihar has barely 500 mw, a ridiculously-low level for a major state. This needs to rise by thousands of megawatts per year. Many proposals are in the pipeline, but are held up by lack of coal linkage. T&D losses — mostly power theft — are a massive 49%.


Keynesians attribute Bihar's fast growth to rising public development spending, from Rs 2,000 crore to Rs 16,000 crore. Yet, such Keynesian tactics in Japan in the 1990s and Europe in the 1970s produced little growth.
Much depends on what you spend money on. Hiring two lakh teachers and medical staff or providing school kids with cycles and uniforms may be desirable, but will not accelerate growth in the short run.


Additional infrastructure spending in Japan produced no growth. But connectivity there had already reached saturation point. The opposite is true in Bihar, where connectivity was pathetic, and any small improvement generated a spurt in economic activity.


The big non-Keynesian success in Bihar has been the restoration of law and order in place of Lalu's jungle raj. With absent physical security, people will not travel, build houses, buy vehicles or engage in commerce . Earlier, goons and ransom notes proliferated, and nobody dared engage in economic activity. But the Nitish administration has jailed tens of thousands of goons under the Arms Act.


With peace returning, pent-up demand has exploded, creating a boom in construction , vehicle ownership and unorganised industry. Bihar has proved that physical security is also vital for connectivity and economic growth.


The lesson for other poor states is clear. Globalisation is not the only kind of connectivity .


You first need internal connectivity , between towns and between villages. That must be buttressed by physical security , which is lacking in many poor states. Once you get security, roads and telecom, the economy will take off. And if good policies make a state attractive for investment, investors will in due course arrive from other states and other countries. Globalisation starts with internal connectivity.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TIME TO SWITCH OFF POWER LOSSES

JAIDEEP MISHRA

 

Any change, even for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts, mused the wordsmith , contemplating transition, and the vicissitudes of time. That was then, in more simpler times, when, for instance, power market design, demand-side management and smart grids were quite unheard of.


Fast-forward to the here and now, and it is notable that the latest report of the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) to the prime minister is sanguine about pickup in growth, and underlines the need for fiscal consolidation. It, however, adds that when it comes to power distribution, large unaccounted-for losses continue pan-India . The lack of readily-available data on utility losses is glaring indeed.


The Economic Survey last year went to the extent of expunging details of distribution losses of power utilities, preferring to drop an entire table of figures on rates of return, commercial losses and other attendant annual projections. The EAC is concerned about unacceptably-large revenue leakages in distributing power — and rightly so.

But without up-to-date data and comprehensive figures about happenings and goings-on in the vexed power sector, the policy process would surely be left plodding along in the dark. The latest survey clearly needs to have wideranging data on distribution.


The point is that without proper accounts and figures on power distribution and supply, the policy intention of having the 'unaccounted power loss sharply reduced' , as called for by the EAC, would be defeated. The fact of the matter is that there's a huge and widening gap when it comes to electricity generation and supply. Which is why, instead of politically mandated tariffs and giveaways, we need reasonably priced power to rev up delivery and plug the infrastructure deficit with stepped-up sectoral resource allocation.


Estimates suggest that the current power deficit adds up to a gap of at least 67 billion units (read 10% energy shortage), and during peak hours of demand, the shortage is put at over 16,000 mw or a peaking power shortfall of 15%. Worse, while the ambitious target is to add almost 80,000 mw of generation capacity by 2012 — up from 1,40,000 mw utility capacity in 2007-08 — the actual addition on the ground has been just about 3,450 mw in 2008-09 . Further, the annual revenue loss in distribution is of the order of Rs 20,000 crore, and counting. Yet, we seem thoroughly lax when it comes to keeping tab and routinely accounting for the questionable, openended leakages in power.


The way ahead is to mandate quarterly publication of accounts of state electricity boards (SEBs). We need political mobilisation to shore up real reforms and transparency in power. Yet, we seem more focused on ritualising reforms and opening up. The power ministry does not fail to highlight that 16 SEBs/electricity departments have been unbundled and corporatised, 28 states have constituted independent regulatory commissions (SERCs) and that 23 SERCs have issued open access regulations etc. Yet, aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C ) losses amount to almost 35%, which means quite needless additional risks and costs when investing in power.


Meanwhile, the reported move of the RBI to administratively reduce the risk weightage for funding power projects from 100% to 20% should boost lending in the industry. Also , the ongoing effort to significantly increase domestic power equipment capacity makes sense given the large investment backlog.


The EAC notes that Bhel, our main equipment producer, has increased its annual tooling capacity to 10 gw, which is expected to go up by another 40% shortly. Power equipment capacity would add up to 20 gw, what with Larsen & Toubro tying up with Mitsubishi , Bharat Forge joining hands with Alstom and JSW Energy forming a JV with Toshiba.


While it is fine to initiate supply-side measures in power, we cannot afford to neglect — or virtually ignore data — on the demand side. To begin with, the survey needs to urgently incorporate data and tables on power utility losses. Next, back to back, we need universal metering: the latest-generation digital meters can be tamper-proof , accurate and inexpensive . Also, we need regular disclosure of utility performance results.


The subventions in power do need to be properly accounted for. Besides, we need to better leverage IT to closely follow operations and supply. Given the advent of smart meters , energy audit software and related IT enablers , it is perfectly reasonable to measure AT&C losses at a geographically granular level with pinpoint accuracy, for prompt followthrough measures.


Concurrently, the Thirteenth Finance Commission needs to incentivise power sector reforms and provide due weightage for credible utility bottomlines. Sound finances of SEBs would mean a paradigm shift for the better in state finances, and provide steppedup allocation, say, for the social sector. Further, the Budget needs to proffer tax and investment incentives for power utilities, to aid regular disclosure, going forward. More power for the people.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

RETAIL INVESTORS TURN STREET-SMART, SKIP IPOS

VIJAY GURAV

 

MUMBAI: After cold shouldering some of the recent initial public offerings (IPOs), retail investors seem to have changed their minds on some of those companies post-listing, particularly the small and medium-sized ones. The stocks have attracted good interest from retail investors in the secondary market, which is also reflected in a rise in their holding in the past quarter.


According to brokers, retail participants would have adopted a wait-n-watch approach during the subscription period and subsequently entered the secondary market to take advantage of the sluggish movement in the shares, post-listing. Some, however, suspect operators could have played a role in pulling retail crowd to the stocks, particularly in cases where fundamentals are not so sound.

 

"Some retail investors could have sensed good investment opportunities in the companies after a sharp fall in the share prices," said Ambareesh Baliga, vice-president of leading retail broking house Karvy Stock Broking. He, however, does not rule out the possibility of operators turning active in the counters and generating a lot of speculative movement with an intention to attract small investors.


Angel Broking CMD Dinesh Thakkar feels the retail buying in select companies could have been driven by sentiment. Another possibility is that some IPOs may not have evoked good retail response due to unfavourable market conditions. But, the investors could have taken a positive view on it with the improvement in sentiment after listing.


Globus Spirits is one such example where the retail portion of the issue was subscribed 0.96 times even though the IPO received the overall subscription of 1.1 times the issue size. However, post-listing, retail holding, has improved substantially from 12.9% as on September 30, 2009 to 16% as on December 31, 2009.

After debuting at Rs 91 against the offer price of Rs 100, on September 29, the stock declined sharply to a low of Rs 74 on October 17, 2009. Since then it has been languishing below Rs 100 and closed 2.3% down at Rs 96.5 on Tuesday.


The Globus Spirits counter has currently been attracting decent delivery-based volumes between 30% and 50% of the total traded quantity, reflecting a fair amount of genuine interest in the counter.


Some brokers feel there has not been any significant change in retail perception towards the market. "A general sense of disinterest still prevails among retail investors towards both primary and secondary markets" said Kotak Securities executive director D Kannan.


Apart from Globus Spirits, Raj Oil Mills and Edserv Softsystems are two other examples of low retail subscription at 65% and 98% respectively. Retail holding in the two companies, however, increased by 1.3 and 2.7 percentage points in the October-December 2009 quarter.


The two stocks are currently quoting at Rs 63 and Rs 259 respectively against their IPO prices of Rs 120 and Rs 60. They attracted healthy delivery-based volumes of 32% to 68% and 26% to 40% respectively in the past few days.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NIFTY FEB EXPIRY SEEN AT 4800- 4900

 

Domestic indices have been plagued by weak sentiment although there has been a rebound on every decline. Overall, Nifty is likely to trade in a range of 4800-4950 and we expect expiry to be in the range of 4800-4900. Options concentration is at the 4800-strike put, with the highest open interest of above 58 lakh shares. This is followed by 4900 strike and 5000 strikes call with more than 71 lakh and 67 shares each in open interest, suggesting strong resistance around these levels.


Market rebound invited addition of short positions among puts and short closures in calls. Tuesday's trading session saw maximum addition at 4800 strike put and on the call side we saw short unwinding at higher strike call, indicating possible bounce. The implied volatility (IV) of ATM March call options closed at 27.77% while the average IV of ATM put options ended at 28.5%, indicating higher option premium due to high option volatility. VIX and IV are also hinting at higher volatility in coming trading sessions.


Technically, Nifty has got support at 4800 levels and crucial resistance at 4950. The overall market cost-of-carry for March series is low-to-positive, with rollover of 35% in Nifty which is slightly lower than the previous expiry.

March series continued to trade at a discount indicating short positions. The put-call ratio of open interest increased marginally finally closing at 0.98 levels, indicating support at lower strikes. March series remained at a discount, indicating addition of short positions. Overall, Nifty is likely to remain range-bound for the current expiry and we recommend buying strangle (non-directional strategy) for March series, as we expect volatility and average true range of the market to rise from current level.


Buy one Nifty March 5000 CE @ 100 and also buy one March 4700 PE @ 95 at cumulative premium of 195. With the rise in volatility and ATR, we will see cumulative premium rising. The targeted cumulative premium for the above strategy is 260 and stop-loss is 165.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MFS HARDSELL MIPS AS MARKET TURNS VOLATILE

NISHANTH VASUDEVAN

 

MUMBAI: An optimistic outlook for short-term bonds and the recent volatility in equities have given mutual funds and distributors a chance to push monthly income plans (MIPs) to investors in the past couple of months. But a section of the distributors believes MIPs have been 'mis-sold' as a mere makeshift product for investors wanting to protect their capital and partly benefit from movements in equities in uncertain times. MIPs invest at least 70-75% of their corpus in debt and the rest in equities.


The 'mis-selling' has come in the form of linking the utility of the product with the volatile market conditions. Mutual funds have officially positioned the product as one where investors, particularly the risk-averse, can derive higher returns than fixed deposits at lower risks over a period of time because of the equity exposure. "We believe the way MIPs have been sold to investors recently was not the best interests, with the backdrop being a heated equity market and a tentative debt market," said Akhilesh Singh, head-wealth management, Emkay Global Financial Services.


MIPs invest in debt paper, mostly corporate, or money market instruments with a maturity of approximately 24-42 months. Fund managers of these schemes shuffle the money based on the interest rate outlook. Following the higher-than-expected hike in cash reserve ratio (CRR) by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) last month, they shifted the focus to paper with around two-year maturity on expectations the absorption of money over the next couple of months could drive up rates in the short term.


Distributors have been able to impress upon investors that MIPs, with higher exposure to short-term paper and a small bets in the equity market, churn better returns than pure equity or debt funds in a volatile period. The commission that mutual funds offer to sell MIPs has been the key to distributors hardselling the product. Mutual funds pay distributors around 1-1.1% of the money collected in MIPs as commission, which is almost as high as the fee for equity scheme sales at 1.25%.


Mutual funds are not complaining, as the ban on entry load in equity schemes in August last year has impacted money flows into their funds. "Historically, MIPs have been a 'mis-sold' product. It would be mis-selling if it is sold with a 3-6-month horizon, as investments in MIPs should be done with at least a one-year perspective," said Sunil Jhaveri, chairman, MSJ Capital, a New Delhi-based distributor. According to Mr Jhaveri, MIPs of Reliance Mutual Fund, ICICI Prudential and DWS Twin Advantage are better managed. In the past one year, the average return from the MIP category has been 15.5%, according to Value Research, a mutual fund tracker.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CORRECTION BEGINS WITH ADMISSION

VITHAL C NADKARNI

 

Tiger Woods has now 'rediscovered' his childhood religion. The championgolfer , who faced censure for his alleged extra-marital liaisons, said he hoped to relearn the lesson of selfrestraint taught by Buddhism. His statement had been analysed "like a State of Union address even though the only union Tiger Woods addressed was his own" , a sympathetic columnist said, "( for) this was no voluntary conversion to an old religion. Rather , this was a forced one to the new Oprahite religion of emotional openness and making public one's miseries and failings."

Newspersons who asked the Dalai Lama to comment discovered that the Tibetan spiritual leader was blissfully unaware of Tiger Woods' travails, having somehow been uninformed of the golfer's triumphs as well. When the matter was explained to him, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist extolled the importance of 'self-discipline with awareness of consequences' .


The embattled golf champion himself said as much in his carefully scripted statement of apology: in recent years he had 'drifted away' from the Buddhist values of his upbringing which taught that "a craving for things outside ourselves causes unhappy and pointless search for security" .


But would that satisfy the scolds berating Woods for letting his impulses get the better of him? As his former coach, Butch Harmon , said, "( They) want Woods to stand there in front of everybody , take his medicine, be humble , be embarrassed, be humiliated , and answer the questions."


His self-lacerating public apology could also be part of the famous 12-step plan for recovering from addictions, compulsions and other behavioural problems. The process starts with the admission that one is powerless against the demons of addiction and compulsion . One then moves on to admit "a greater power that can give strength" .


One way of achieving this, as encoded by the next step, is by establishing cosmic connections: make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him, says the original Alcoholics Anonymous programme . In its summation, the Bhagavad Gita calls it the supreme secret of transcendence (psychologists might call it 'transference' ) which promises to empower the seeker to withstand most severe soul-crushing pressures . But what if one has no faith in redemption? Then beg, borrow or steal some!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IS FERTILISER REFORM FARMER-FRIENDLY ?

SECTOR NEEDS MORE SUCH BENEFICIAL POLICIES


The government's move to shift to a nutrient-based subsidy scheme for non-urea fertilisers is the first step towards comprehensive reforms in the sector. Urea, a nitrogenous fertiliser that constitutes more than half of the total fertiliser consumption , gradually needs to be brought within the ambit of the scheme and its import decanalised. The country's farm output is stagnating as the soil is losing nutrients.


At present, we import seven million tonnes of urea, which is a fourth of our annual requirement . Also, we are import-dependent on phosphatic and potassic (P&K ) fertilisers to the extent of almost 100% in the form of raw material or finished fertiliser products.


Thus, fiscal management of subsidy has emerged as a key issue in the face of abnormally-high international prices of raw materials and finished fertilisers. Such high prices are no longer affordable and India, as the second-largest consumer of fertilisers, should be a price-setter . The reforms process should address these issues. Small interventions such as addressing the need for micronutrients along with sulphur, fertiliser use efficiency and improvement in the response ratio of fertilisers will have to be part of the reforms.

These can contribute substantially towards raising the overall agricultural productivity. The government has formulated an innovative policy on customised, coated and fortified fertilisers, but these fertilisers are not within
the ambit of the subsidy scheme, severely limiting their consumption.


Today, subsidy is available only on a few generic fertiliser products such as urea, di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) or muriate of potash (MoP). We also need to harmonise R&D as part of reforms as the fertiliser sector has failed to attract investment for over a decade. The nutritional requirement of soil is also increasing. So, there is need for a healthy and dynamic domestic fertiliser industry to attain a reasonable level of self-sufficiency in fertilisers. Subsidy on fertilisers will continue and farmers should be entitled to quality fertilisers at reasonable prices.


FERTILISER REFORMS WERE LONG OVERDUE

Efficient and effective use of fertiliser is a key component of improved farm productivity. The prescribed ratio of nitrogen , phosphorus and potassium is 4:2:1 but, over years, we have seen this change to 6:2:1 or even higher, primarily driven by policies favouring nitrogen prices. The nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) regime, recently approved by the Cabinet, is supposed to be the first step towards fertiliser policy reforms.


The fixed subsidy on the nutrients is expected to ensure that the fertiliser use remains within the prescribed limit. The increase in urea prices will also help reduce its overuse and, thus, improve effective nutrition of the soil. The NBS policy would bring the muchdesired gains to fertiliser companies but perhaps not to the farmers who need it.


The changed policy poses the risk of a rise in fertiliser prices. This is because fertiliser companies will now decide the retail prices. If fertiliser prices are left to market forces, it is likely that the prices would be higher than the present prices. In such a case, the cost of cultivation will increase for small farmers. No doubt, this reform will attract investment in the sector and allow companies to offer innovative products.


It will also reduce dependence on imports, lead to timely availability of fertilisers, and also reduce the government's fertiliser subsidy bill. But the flip side is higher prices could impact small farmers. Even with this reform, fertiliser companies will get the subsidy directly. It would have been far better if these subsidies were given directly to the farmer, as promised in the last two Budgets. Such a move would have increased the real income of the farmer and improved his purchasing power to buy fertilisers. So, the main concerns remain.


Will this policy help farmers by rejuvenating the soil and raising farm productivity? Or will higher prices act as a deterrent to the fertiliser application, thereby having a negative impact on farm productivity? What will farmers actually get: better fertilisers or higher-priced fertilisers?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

FERTILISER REFORMS WERE LONG OVERDUE

 

Efficient and effective use of fertiliser is a key component of improved farm productivity. The prescribed ratio of nitrogen , phosphorus and potassium is 4:2:1 but, over years, we have seen this change to 6:2:1 or even higher, primarily driven by policies favouring nitrogen prices. The nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) regime, recently approved by the Cabinet, is supposed to be the first step towards fertiliser policy reforms.


The fixed subsidy on the nutrients is expected to ensure that the fertiliser use remains within the prescribed limit. The increase in urea prices will also help reduce its overuse and, thus, improve effective nutrition of the soil. The NBS policy would bring the muchdesired gains to fertiliser companies but perhaps not to the farmers who need it.


The changed policy poses the risk of a rise in fertiliser prices. This is because fertiliser companies will now decide the retail prices. If fertiliser prices are left to market forces, it is likely that the prices would be higher than the present prices. In such a case, the cost of cultivation will increase for small farmers. No doubt, this reform will attract investment in the sector and allow companies to offer innovative products.


It will also reduce dependence on imports, lead to timely availability of fertilisers, and also reduce the government's fertiliser subsidy bill. But the flip side is higher prices could impact small farmers. Even with this reform, fertiliser companies will get the subsidy directly. It would have been far better if these subsidies were given directly to the farmer, as promised in the last two Budgets. Such a move would have increased the real income of the farmer and improved his purchasing power to buy fertilisers. So, the main concerns remain.


Will this policy help farmers by rejuvenating the soil and raising farm productivity? Or will higher prices act as a deterrent to the fertiliser application, thereby having a negative impact on farm productivity? What will farmers actually get: better fertilisers or higher-priced fertilisers?

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SECTOR NEEDS MORE SUCH BENEFICIAL POLICIES

 

The government's move to shift to a nutrient-based subsidy scheme for non-urea fertilisers is the first step towards comprehensive reforms in the sector. Urea, a nitrogenous fertiliser that constitutes more than half of the total fertiliser consumption , gradually needs to be brought within the ambit of the scheme and its import decanalised. The country's farm output is stagnating as the soil is losing nutrients.


At present, we import seven million tonnes of urea, which is a fourth of our annual requirement . Also, we are import-dependent on phosphatic and potassic (P&K ) fertilisers to the extent of almost 100% in the form of raw material or finished fertiliser products.


Thus, fiscal management of subsidy has emerged as a key issue in the face of abnormally-high international prices of raw materials and finished fertilisers. Such high prices are no longer affordable and India, as the second-largest consumer of fertilisers, should be a price-setter . The reforms process should address these issues. Small interventions such as addressing the need for micronutrients along with sulphur, fertiliser use efficiency and improvement in the response ratio of fertilisers will have to be part of the reforms.


These can contribute substantially towards raising the overall agricultural productivity. The government has formulated an innovative policy on customised, coated and fortified fertilisers, but these fertilisers are not within the ambit of the subsidy scheme, severely limiting their consumption.


Today, subsidy is available only on a few generic fertiliser products such as urea, di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) or muriate of potash (MoP). We also need to harmonise R&D as part of reforms as the fertiliser sector has failed to attract investment for over a decade. The nutritional requirement of soil is also increasing. So, there is need for a healthy and dynamic domestic fertiliser industry to attain a reasonable level of self-sufficiency in fertilisers. Subsidy on fertilisers will continue and farmers should be entitled to quality fertilisers at reasonable prices.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GLOBALISATION & INTERNAL CONNECTIVITY

SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR

 

People ask if India can grow fast if Bharat does not. Well, nothing exemplifies Bharat more than Bihar, and it has grown at 11% during 2004-09 , the same period when India registered a record 8.5% growth. India's fast growth owed much to high technology and exports, exemplified by computer software and automobiles. But Bihar has neither high technology nor exports. India and Bihar seem to have little in common, yet both their growth spurts have a common cause: connectivity.


India's success stems from globalisation , which the Left calls an imperial recipe for subjugation. But when Indian companies are taking over global companies galore — the latest being Bharti Airtel's takeover of Zain in Africa and Warid in Bangladesh — the notion that India is being subjugated is nonsense.


Globalisation creates on a global scale opportunities that were earlier available only within nations. Once, people knew little of the world beyond the 20 miles that could be traversed by bullock cart, and the opportunities for innovation or entrepreneurship in this limited space were few. Then modern roads and vehicles appeared, providing connectivity first to the whole district, then to the whole state, and ultimately to the whole nation. This increased economic opportunities a thousand-fold .


Meanwhile, plummeting shipping transport, communication and financial costs in the last 150 years made it possible to do across the world what was earlier possible only within national boundaries. An Indian company can raise money in Hong Kong to build a plant in Spain that exports goods to Latin America. Connectivity had become global.


For decades, inefficient Indian Railways and ports made connectivity costly. One World Bank report on Mumbai port said the cheapest way to unload cargo was to first pay official dock labour to go home and then hire a private crew for unloading!


The situation was transformed with the export of computer software and business services over the airwaves. Suddenly, telecom provided cheap, instant connectivity across the globe. It did not depend on dysfunctional railways and ports or corruption-laden export documentation. This kickstarted India's economic upsurge, and with reforms, even the ports and railways improved immensely. Financial connectivity provided global finance to Indian companies , not only to set up new plants but also to acquire MNCs abroad. That is how Tata and Birla acquired Corus and Novellis.


Globalisation is unstoppable because it is based not on western domination but on continually-falling transport, communication and financial costs. China is the best example of using globalisation for economic success. Far from becoming a western puppet, it now challenges western supremacy.


At first sight, Bihar looks completely different . Its 11% growth has been driven mainly by construction (average growth 47%) and unorganised industry. Organised industry has grown little in the last five years. Bihar exports nothing of consequence , and has nothing hi-tech .


Yet, connectivity is the heart of Bihar's success too. Under Lalu Yadav, few new roads were built and existing ones disappeared for want of maintenance. Lalu defended this, asking, "Whose car will travel on roads, and whose buffalo will be killed by the car?" This lack of connectivity stymied economic development at a time when reformed central policies had made strident growth possible.


Very wide rivers handicap Bihar. Many of these are dry most of the year, yet require long bridges for connectivity. Under a dynamic IAS chief, Pratyaya Amrit , the Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam, once a sick unit, revived and built 336 bridges (including 80 major ones) in three years, and is now building mega-bridges across the Kosi and Gandak. Its turnover is up from Rs 42 crore in 2004-05 to Rs 768 crore in 2008-09 . Amrit subsequently moved to the road construction department, whose road building improved from 384 km in 2004-05 to 2,417 km in 2008-09 .


This was buttressed by telecom connectivity , driven by the private sector. Bharti Airtel claims that Bihar now has the highest growth of talk-time in the country. The big missing element in connectivity is electricity. Without connection to the electric grid, economic opportunities plummet . After meeting obligations to supply Nepal, the railways and defence, Bihar has barely 500 mw, a ridiculously-low level for a major state. This needs to rise by thousands of megawatts per year. Many proposals are in the pipeline, but are held up by lack of coal linkage. T&D losses — mostly power theft — are a massive 49%.


Keynesians attribute Bihar's fast growth to rising public development spending, from Rs 2,000 crore to Rs 16,000 crore. Yet, such Keynesian tactics in Japan in the 1990s and Europe in the 1970s produced little growth.
Much depends on what you spend money on. Hiring two lakh teachers and medical staff or providing school kids with cycles and uniforms may be desirable, but will not accelerate growth in the short run.


Additional infrastructure spending in Japan produced no growth. But connectivity there had already reached saturation point. The opposite is true in Bihar, where connectivity was pathetic, and any small improvement generated a spurt in economic activity.


The big non-Keynesian success in Bihar has been the restoration of law and order in place of Lalu's jungle raj.

 

With absent physical security, people will not travel, build houses, buy vehicles or engage in commerce .

 

Earlier, goons and ransom notes proliferated, and nobody dared engage in economic activity. But the Nitish administration has jailed tens of thousands of goons under the Arms Act.


With peace returning, pent-up demand has exploded, creating a boom in construction , vehicle ownership and unorganised industry. Bihar has proved that physical security is also vital for connectivity and economic growth.
The lesson for other poor states is clear. Globalisation is not the only kind of connectivity .


You first need internal connectivity , between towns and between villages. That must be buttressed by physical security , which is lacking in many poor states. Once you get security, roads and telecom, the economy will take off. And if good policies make a state attractive for investment, investors will in due course arrive from other states and other countries. Globalisation starts with internal connectivity.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TIME TO SWITCH OFF POWER LOSSES

JAIDEEP MISHRA

 

Any change, even for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts, mused the wordsmith , contemplating transition, and the vicissitudes of time. That was then, in more simpler times, when, for instance, power market design, demand-side management and smart grids were quite unheard of.


Fast-forward to the here and now, and it is notable that the latest report of the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) to the prime minister is sanguine about pickup in growth, and underlines the need for fiscal consolidation. It, however, adds that when it comes to power distribution, large unaccounted-for losses continue pan-India . The lack of readily-available data on utility losses is glaring indeed.


The Economic Survey last year went to the extent of expunging details of distribution losses of power utilities, preferring to drop an entire table of figures on rates of return, commercial losses and other attendant annual projections. The EAC is concerned about unacceptably-large revenue leakages in distributing power — and rightly so.

But without up-to-date data and comprehensive figures about happenings and goings-on in the vexed power sector, the policy process would surely be left plodding along in the dark. The latest survey clearly needs to have wideranging data on distribution.


The point is that without proper accounts and figures on power distribution and supply, the policy intention of having the 'unaccounted power loss sharply reduced' , as called for by the EAC, would be defeated. The fact of the matter is that there's a huge and widening gap when it comes to electricity generation and supply. Which is why, instead of politically mandated tariffs and giveaways, we need reasonably priced power to rev up delivery and plug the infrastructure deficit with stepped-up sectoral resource allocation.


Estimates suggest that the current power deficit adds up to a gap of at least 67 billion units (read 10% energy shortage), and during peak hours of demand, the shortage is put at over 16,000 mw or a peaking power shortfall of 15%. Worse, while the ambitious target is to add almost 80,000 mw of generation capacity by 2012 — up from 1,40,000 mw utility capacity in 2007-08 — the actual addition on the ground has been just about 3,450 mw in 2008-09 . Further, the annual revenue loss in distribution is of the order of Rs 20,000 crore, and counting. Yet, we seem thoroughly lax when it comes to keeping tab and routinely accounting for the questionable, openended leakages in power.


The way ahead is to mandate quarterly publication of accounts of state electricity boards (SEBs). We need political mobilisation to shore up real reforms and transparency in power. Yet, we seem more focused on ritualising reforms and opening up. The power ministry does not fail to highlight that 16 SEBs/electricity departments have been unbundled and corporatised, 28 states have constituted independent regulatory commissions (SERCs) and that 23 SERCs have issued open access regulations etc. Yet, aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C ) losses amount to almost 35%, which means quite needless additional risks and costs when investing in power.


Meanwhile, the reported move of the RBI to administratively reduce the risk weightage for funding power projects from 100% to 20% should boost lending in the industry. Also , the ongoing effort to significantly increase domestic power equipment capacity makes sense given the large investment backlog.


The EAC notes that Bhel, our main equipment producer, has increased its annual tooling capacity to 10 gw, which is expected to go up by another 40% shortly. Power equipment capacity would add up to 20 gw, what with Larsen & Toubro tying up with Mitsubishi , Bharat Forge joining hands with Alstom and JSW Energy forming a JV with Toshiba.


While it is fine to initiate supply-side measures in power, we cannot afford to neglect — or virtually ignore data — on the demand side. To begin with, the survey needs to urgently incorporate data and tables on power utility losses. Next, back to back, we need universal metering: the latest-generation digital meters can be tamper-proof , accurate and inexpensive . Also, we need regular disclosure of utility performance results.


The subventions in power do need to be properly accounted for. Besides, we need to better leverage IT to closely follow operations and supply. Given the advent of smart meters , energy audit software and related IT enablers , it is perfectly reasonable to measure AT&C losses at a geographically granular level with pinpoint accuracy, for prompt followthrough measures.


Concurrently, the Thirteenth Finance Commission needs to incentivise power sector reforms and provide due weightage for credible utility bottomlines. Sound finances of SEBs would mean a paradigm shift for the better in state finances, and provide steppedup allocation, say, for the social sector. Further, the Budget needs to proffer tax and investment incentives for power utilities, to aid regular disclosure, going forward. More power for the people.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'ANYONE CAN BECOME A BUILDER TODAY'

SUGATA GHOSH & MAYUR SHETTY

 

He is arguably the most famous tenant in the financial capital. The institution he built has lent millions to buy homes, but he chooses to stay in a rented apartment in South Mumbai. On December 31, 2009, Deepak Shantilal Parekh hung up his boots as CEO of HDFC — the country's biggest mortgage lender — a job he took over in 1993. Since then, Mr Parekh has emerged as a leading figure in Corporate India, advising New Delhi on countless policy matters, playing the mediator in high-profile family disputes and heading several committees on issues as diverse as reviving an ailing state-owned telco to making India slum-free in two years.


On a Saturday afternoon, in a near-deserted HDFC corporate office in Churchgate, we caught up with the man. "So, what do you want to talk about'," asked Mr Parekh, dressed in a casual short-sleeved shirt, flashing his trademark smile. Without mincing words, he took on questions on a range of issues — the builder lobby, the imperfections in the property market, the proposal for a holding company and even on Narendra Modi. There was nothing 'off the record'. Excerpts:


There's a perception that Deepakbhai can't retire. In fact, your very presence as chairman on the HDFC board could be daunting for other board members.


I may have been the CEO of HDFC till December 31. But, believe me, for the past few years, I have been spending less and less time at HDFC and it's my colleagues who have been running it. I did attend board meetings, strategy meetings and credit committee meetings, but it is the visitors who were occupying 90% of the day. The same thing is continuing from January. Besides foreign visitors and institutional investors, every developer who wants to go in for an IPO wants to see me for advice on his issue — the timing, the structure, which board members to take, which investment managers to hire.


But I don't talk to them about lending. I have given instructions to my office — if it's for money or loans for a project, I am not interested. But if they want to talk about things like this... for instance, Lodhas want to meet me, Nitesh Shetty is going to come; similarly, DB... all of them were meeting me. Basically, it is this advisory help which continues. The other thing you must understand is that, if your office is the same, your room is the same, and your secretaries are the same, then there is very little change. Drastic change can only happen if you get the hell out of office.


There's some buzz that you may play a key role in a private equity fund...


PE funds have approached me to be the chairman of their Indian committee or be a member of international committees. I have not accepted. Private equities normally have advisory boards. The role of an advisory board is to guide and mentor the team. They also need deals and someone who has access to deals or knows what deals are happening...some have approached me.


Talking about builders, HDFC has mastered the art of lending to developers and salvaging the money with very little NPAs. You have a huge influence over them...


We have worked with the developer community for 30 years, when housing finance was new. And with our help, support, finance and advice, all developers have achieved phenomenally large size — whether they are in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai or wherever. They look back on our support and cooperation that have helped them to grow. We have had issues with them. We have had issues over over-leveraging, quality, carpet and super built-up area.


Recently in Dubai, the builders association gathered 800 people. Home minister Kumari Selja (Union minister for housing and urban poverty alleviation) was there as well. And we both delivered keynotes. I was as critical as ever. You have to call a spade a spade. But we need that community as well. They are the ones who provide supply in housing. HDFC is looked upon like a father figure. Our approval process has been faster, we have been able to gauge developers, their sincerity or their promptness in paying. We have not had a major bad experience.

In the past 10 years, builders have emerged as a formidable lobby with proximity to the powers that be...They go about changing rules, so much so that a police station in Maharashtra had to be relocated to house a project. Does it worry you?


That is why I have been a proponent of a real estate regulator for the past three years. The builders do not want it because they see it as one more hurdle, one more layer of bureaucracy. The point is, we need to ensure that there is some distinction. Today, anything goes — you don't need to be a civil engineer to be a builder. I can become a builder tomorrow. If I have access to land, not even ownership, I can put up a board and people will come and start booking.


I don't need to know anything about construction, but because of the shortage, people will just come and book a flat. Basically, the entry-level in construction is zero. Anyone and everyone can become a builder. And then they do all this...breaking the FSI rules....But, believe me builders around the world have a reputation of being close to the powers that be. They need to be, because they are dealing in land in urban areas which are expensive and politicians have vested interest.


Property prices are once again high. We hear that developers have more staying power and are controlling supply...


This is happening only in a few cities like Mumbai and Central Delhi. First of all, non-housing prices have not gone up, they have only come down. IT, commercial, SEZ, industrial park, retail malls... all these prices have come down. In Pune, prices have not gone up. In Hyderabad prices have come down even in residential segment. If the residential sector experiences what happend in the non-residential sector, price will come down in residential properties. What happened in non-residential sector is oversupply, overbuilt offices, built offices with no takers. How long will the builders keep them to themselves?


We have allowed banks to restructure builder loans.. nowhere it has happened. Do you think it was wrong?

I don't think so. When you say restructure a loan, each project has to be looked at separately. In India, we have situations where notices are issued after approvals and while construction is on...you get a notice saying 'stop construction in this is part of the forest land'. What would the builder do? It stopped all construction for eight months.

In Mulund-Ghatkopar this is what has happened. So all those projects came to a grinding halt until the developers got it cleared from the Supreme Court. Now all these projects have been extended. Restructuring is wrong where the project is completed and each and every flat has been sold and the bank is still carrying the loan. Construction finance is a very different kind of lending. It is not a corporate loan, it is a project loan; and, unless you monitor project-wise, it is very difficult to see what is happening since money is fungible.

So we keep project accounts — if it we lend to Hiranandani, it is either Hiranandani Thane or Hiranandani- Powai. Also in our case, the top 10 developers constitute a large part of our book - the Rahejas, the Hiranandani, the Godrej, Tata Housing, Shapoorji Pallonji, DLF. These are very large developers, so I feel completely safe and sleep in peace.


Bond yields are hardening, and RBI is against ALM mismatches on bank loans. Will HDFC have problems in raising money?

We don't see it at all. There are so many sources of funding. There are insurance companies, which are otherwise aggressively competing with us in insurance, coming to us and saying "please float a bond". Mutual funds are coming to us and asking us to float one-year, two-year and three-year papers. LIC is a big lender to us. Central Provident Fund has been allowed to invest in triple A debt. EPFO is giving us money. There is the Army Group Insurance Scheme.


Banks are not the only source. Our total deposit base is Rs 22,000 crore but our balance sheet size is Rs 1 lakh crore. With a brand name like HDFC all we need to do is give a quarter or half-a-percent more, and we can fund all disbursements through deposits. In the past corporates used to take deposits and now there are very few triple-A corporate deposits. So we don't see money drying up. Even in October -December 2008, 95% of our funding came from retail deposits because wholesale money was not there. NHB is another source.


NHB periodically gives HDFC time to bring down its capital market exposure to prescribed levels. How will this get resolved?

Our capital market exposure is high because of our investment in HDFC Bank. If the bank is excluded, we are way within the exposure limit even after taking into account our investments in life and non-life insurance, GRUH Housing and in other associates. It is really the bank that is pushing up the exposure. But, when we acquired Centurion Bank, RBI had said 'we want you to retain your holding in the bank to the existing level'. So on one hand RBI does not want us to dilute our holding in the bank, while its wholly-owned subsidiary NHB says that we are exceeding the exposure limit. It will get resolved if RBI says that "keep the bank exposure out".

Will you relook at the holding company structure for the HDFC group?

The holding company proposal is in cold storage and it is for the RBI to at least start talking about it. I am sure they would look at it. I feel that they will have to do something. Our concern with the earlier proposal is that – if the holding company has no business streams, how will it give cash to all the subsidiaries. They want both the associates and the holding company to be listed. So if the holding company is also listed, what returns can we give?
We can say that under the holding company the bank is there. But if someone wants to invest in the bank, they can do it directly. And if at some stage the insurance company wants money, where will the holding company raise funds? It will have to sell stake. So 10 years on the holding company will become defunct.


And, a merger with the bank?

There's nothing on the horizon.Our views on this have been made public earlier.


You had talked about listing the subsidiaries. What about the life insurance arm?

I would love to do it now. But the 49% foreign investment cap is still pending. As soon as that happens, we can do it...may be in early 2011. We will talk with Standard Life. The difficulty will be if the capital market regulator says 25% has to be listed. If 10% is allowed, we will see how much Standard Life will take. If Standard Life is happy with a 40% stake than we can list the 10%.


But suppose Sebi says that 25% is the minimum listing requirement, then we will have to come down. But the 25% is only a discussion... the government companies themselves have 10% and 5%. They can't have a separate rule for the government and private sector.

There have been rumours that IDFC is keen to enter banking, and may bid for Development Credit Bank. (Mr Parekh is the non-executive chairman of IDFC)


No they are not keen on a banking licence. We have a single point agenda of infrastructure. We feel that the best year of IDFC is coming... this year, next year. We see a huge spurt in disbursements as there are many viable projects coming up in power and roads and transportation. With the RBI recognising systematically important infrastructure finance companies as a separate category, IDFC will get a fillip. Infra companies can now lend more and they may also have ECB possibilities.


But IDFC still has long way to go...

That's because there have not been major infrastructure projects. Infrastructure projects take such a long time. There are four definitions of infrastructure. RBI's definition does not include education, it does not include hotels, hospitals, or airlines. It includes airports but not airlines, ports but not shipping. Income Tax has a different definition, banks have a different one, and the government has a another one. In some definitions pipelines are not infrastructure.


The regulatory environment is changing. Basel norms are talking about different capital requirement

Regulators will come out with new models after what happened. There is a buzz in some countries that larger banks have a greater responsibility and greater need to make more provisions. Basel is talking about tangible common equity (TCE). TCE makes more sense because in net worth you also have preference shares, and interest yielding tier-II debt. TCE is only pure equity. Preference capital is nothing but a loan though it is part of net worth. TCE is really equity and earnings from equity and not any interest bearing debt which could be considered as net worth.


RBI has asked banks to compute the Base Rate below which they can't lend. What do you think will happen given that banks are your biggest rivals?

I think banks will have to work out some system as they are in the business of lending. If they put their base rate very high it may not work. Banks will have to be reasonable in fixing the base rate. You can't micromanage. Now what happens in commercial paper... If they can, corporates will borrow through CPs and keep rolling them over. I feel that so long as a bank is healthy, strong, follows prudential norms and gives reasonable return to shareholders, micromanagement is not necessary.

RBI as well as the government want lenders to waive loan prepayment charges..

On every loan that HDFC has prepaid we have paid massive prepayment charges — to World Bank, to ADB, to LIC to State Bank. So if a borrowing institution has pre-payment penalties we have to pass it to our constituents. You can't give a 15-year loan to someone only to have the borrower turn around in 15 months and say that he wants to prepay because the neighbouring bank is giving quarter per cent lower. It's not incremental housing, it is only adding to paperwork.


It is not increasing the GDP.... And then he does not want to make pre-payment charges. You have done documentation, you have examined legal documents, you have put it in a storage place that is far away and safe. The closing charges for a real estate abroad are 25 times higher than that in India. You go and try and close a loan and see what happens in Europe or the US or even in Singapore.


You called teaser rates on home loans a gimmick, and then HDFC started offering teaser rates...

We were losing business. I still feel that teaser rates are a gimmick; it is a marketing tool. But my marketing people said that if we do not have attractive rates in the first two years no one would come to us. So we had to fall in line immediately. So everyone is doing it now and financial innovation takes 24 hours. ....There are two things in this.

If the teaser rates are much lower than the normal rates, borrowers may not have the cash to pay when the normal rates kick in. Secondly, even when we give these rates the quantum of loan is calculated as if the rates are higher ...we don't want the family to be short of money two years from now. So our eligibility is much lower because we take into account the higher rates. But if suppose in two years time rates become 12-13%, how are they going to pay? Then 8.5% will become 13%


Something unrelated, but perhaps important...You were the first businessman to speak on Godhra, and then in the last few years we have seen big corporates cosying up to Narendra Modi...One is tempted to think that where there's efficiency, business is willing to downplay human rights issues.


Everyone feels what happened was unfortunate and tragic. But you can't ignore the fact that probably the Gujarat government today or for the last seven years has been the cleanest among state governments. Whatever you say the credit has to go to the ruling government and the bureaucrats.. but it comes from the top. I know developers and builders who are building IT parks in Gujarat and the CM has given them land at a good price because the state wanted more construction.

 

The state wants to build a road from Ahmedabad to Gandhinagar because it wants to build an IT industry which has so far bypassed Gujarat. And when he gives the allotment of land, the CM tells you "some of the time my officers may delay your approvals, but me and my chief secretary are available. If your project gets stuck you can call me. But do not pay anyone anything. If , I hear that you have bribed anyone of my officers I will blacklist you". I have heard this from three different sources. You have to give credit where it is due. Think how fast he gave land for Nano. He wooed Mr Tata and now there is massive construction going on.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BHARTI WANTS TO LEAD IN MANY EMERGING MKTS: CEO

SHALINI SINGH

 

Bharti Airtel has been in the global spotlight ever since its attempt to acquire Johannesburg-based MTN Telecom last year. This year, after gobbling up Warid Telecom in Bangladesh, the company is wooing Zain, another African firm. But that's not all. Bharti has as many as a dozen acquisition targets on its shopping list, handpicked from the telecom growth hotspots across the globe. Manoj Kohli, joint MD & CEO and head of Bharti Airtel's recently formed International Business Group (IBG), speaks to Shalini Singh about its future corporate strategy.


What are the key priorities for Airtel this year in terms of business growth and expansion?

One of the priorities id strong international focus. We are keen on implementing our unique low-cost business model in emerging high-growth markets beyond India and South Asia with a preference for management control and leadership potential. The IBG will lead this international foray. We also want to build on our operations in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.


Another priority is the launch of high-quality 3G services in India. We will be able to launch 3G services within six months of allocation of spectrum. We want to maintain our domestic growth momentum and revenue market share in the mobile segment and additionally grow at a fast clip in the DTH and enterprise segments.


How do you plan to make a difference in 2010?

Despite the high domestic competitive intensity, our focus will be on satisfying the customer and building on our leadership position. Global experience reveals that market leaders emerge stronger from such competitive battles and we believe more and more customers will choose Airtel going forward. We keep evaluating international expansion opportunities like Zain and hope we can further expand Airtel's global footprint.


What are your professional priorities for the year?

Building an international business capability to ensure a leadership status in many emerging markets by 2015. Predict two things that will change the industry in 2010.


With two more mobile operators expected to launch services in the first quarter, the competitive intensity will only increase. But we see things stabilising towards the second half of 2010 and early signs of consolidation in 2011.

What are the three biggest regulatory challenges facing the industry?

Auction of 3G & BWA spectrum, allocation of 2G spectrum to help meet the government's target of one billion subscribers by 2014 and efficient utilisation of Universal Service Obligation Fund. While Rs 25,000 crore in the fund is unspent, the levy remains unchanged at 5% of AGR. This needs to be reduced.

Outline four new things that you did in 2009 that helped your business?


We sharpened our focus on customer, brand, network, cost and execution. This enabled us to win the first round of competition in a phase of peak competitive intensity generated by over 12 operators.We continue to retain our revenue share despite addition of several new players. Airtel Sri Lanka ranks among the fastestgrowing launches in the world with a base of over one million customers within six months of launch from a presence in 16 administrative districts.

We expanded our distribution reach in the DTH business by riding on the strong Airtel Mobile distribution network. Enterprise Services undertook expansion of its global wholesale services portfolio, launching operations of its Far East Connect, Middle East Connect and South Asia Terrestrial networks to serve Airtel customers across the Asia Pacific and Middle East.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

REDUCING GOVT EXPENDITURE AT A STEADY PACE'S CRUCIAL

SIDDHARTHA SANYA

 

The Edelweiss ET NOW Lead Indicator Index has come in at a reading of 115 for the fourth quarter of the current financial year, pointing to a 42-point jump in FY10, one of the highest ever seen in nearly seven years. Is the economy on a roll once again? In an interview with ET NOW, Edelweiss senior economist Siddhartha Sanyal elaborates on the outlook for the Indian economy.


The Edelweiss ET NOW Lead Indicator Index for the fourth quarter of the current financial year has come in at a reading of 115. A massive 42-point jump in the current fiscal, the biggest seen in over seven years. What does this tell us? Are we in good times?


There is a big jump and this jump is the biggest we have in the limited history of the Edelweiss ET NOW Lead Indicator Index. The good thing is that it is not driven by one particular factor. It is being driven by a host of factors and a pretty different move at various points in time. At the beginning of the year, it was the reduction in interest rates and the support from the government. Then incrementally, it moved into things like a significant uptick in commercial vehicle production or a significant uptick in cement despatches. There's even been a huge mobilisation of funds in the domestic primary market.


At the moment, we are seeing some of the other soft indicators to be very strong as well. You get to see that if you see the job creation index from various agencies, that is turning out to be pretty strong at the moment. The business confidence index is looking pretty strong, property price rentals, etc are all looking very strong. The uptick we are seeing at the moment is on the back of a good number of factors. So at the moment, we don't expect it to lose momentum.


A 42-point increase, now given the strength that we are seeing in economic growth, can we expect some pullback of fiscal stimulus measures, when the finance minister announces the Budget on Friday?


When all of these stimulus measures were announced, it was an abnormal situation. Now, we are coming back to normalcy. So, incrementally, some of the measures will ultimately be rolled back, it's known to the market. But at the same time, I don't think that any kind of pullback can be done in a hurry.


The stimulus rollback would have to be gradual and selective. So, maybe, in the case of some sectors like, say, the small car sector, or the FMCG segment, or the cement segment, you get to see some kind of a rollback, and even then, if the reduction in excise duty was from 14% or 12% to 8% on its way up, it can go up, I presume, by around 2% at this point in time.


What else do you expect would be coming out in the Budget that could give the Lead Indicator Index a bit of a support than actually a bit of a blow?


I would say, at the moment, the biggest thing is to see whether the government makes an exit at a very hurried pace or not, though that seems quite unlikely. So, if the government expenditure, which had been a big support over the past one year, reduces at a steady pace, which is something that is being anticipated by industry and the market, that should be good enough to hold up the Lead Indicator Index. And I guess that would also be good for the overall economy.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE CADBURY-KRAFT MARRIAGE IS MADE IN HEAVEN

KALA VIJAYRAGHAVAN

 

Sanjay Khosla was in India for a two day visit with his top team to meet the Indian leadership and visit the marketplace. Having lived and worked around the world, Sanjay calls himself a global citizen. He was with Fonterra Co-operative Group, a multinational dairy company based in New Zealand before coming to Kraft Foods. At Fonterra, Sanjay served as Managing Director of the company's consumer and foodservice business. During that time, he helped turn around the consumer business.


Before joining Fonterra in 2004, Sanjay spent 27 years with Unilever in India, London and Europe. He most recently served as Senior Vice President, Global Beverages and Chairman of Unilever's $4 billion beverages category. The business saw accelerated growth worldwide as a result of the "Paint the World Yellow with Lipton" business programme. Excerpts from an interview with ET:


You have been in the market place checking out Cadbury's India story. How do you see one-time competitors, Kraft-Cadbury combine operating in the same place?


I have just been out there this morning with Anand and his team and the energy is just phenomenal in this country. The buzz is so infectious and the excitement around Cadbury in the marketplace is so evident. India is home for me and I am glad to be here. And this Cadbury-Kraft marriage is made in heaven as far as the distribution is concerned.


I have seen Cadbury brands on one aisle and Kraft on the other in the bazaar and with cheese and biscuits on one side and chocolates and confectionery on the other and we have a winning portfolio. I have personally grown up on Cadbury roast almond which back then was so very aspirational and so it is now a dream come true.

Our strategy has been clearly focus on few things and doing them well. It is what we call the strategy of 5-10-10, focus on 5 categories, 10 markets and 10 brands. And one of the 10 markets now is India which is of strategic importance going forward. In fact, the Cadbury acquisition was aimed primarily at getting a footprint in markets like India.


Is there a separate growth strategy for emerging markets? Will the India plan be different since it has negligible presence here unlike other markets such as China.


While we have grown our business organically in emerging markets, we also did two acquisitions. Danone Biscuits has been a very successful integration and we have grown 12 % in emerging markets with a profit growth of 24.2% in last three years..So through organic and inorganic growth, we have turnaround the business. Like I said a clear focus has helped, we are not looking at planting a flag in every operating market. Going ahead, in India snacks, biscuits and chocolates will be the focus areas.The Cadbury acquisition gives a footprint in the distribution and it is impressive to see the growth of Cadbury in the country.


So there is a lot that has to learn from developing markets such as India where we have just a bit of presence. I am delighted that the acquisition came through , it is nice to come back to Bombay where I have lived several years. We have just appointed the leadership team. Anand Kripalu has now been given a cluster of countries for the Kraft Cadbury combine. We have appointed key leaders last night.

At this point of time, Anand will be heading the combined business inthe country and over a period of time India will be used as a source of talent. We will also get people from Kraft into India. As we see now, Cadbury India is a very great working structure with a great leadership team in place.


Are there any similarities in the organisational cultures of Kraft and Cadbury?

As I travel around all Cadbury offices around the world, it seems like a very happy place. And that is so similar to Kraft's culture in developing markets. Our cultures are so similar and values are identical. After the acquisition of Danone business, a lot of diversity has come into Kraft. Kraft has been a very happy place too and so both cultures matches beautifully. Going ahead, we will try and get the best of both worlds. We have done a lot of work in the area of consumer understanding in snacks world-wide (includes biscuits and chocolates) and that is something Cadbury has done as well. So that is a powerful combination, best of both learnings .


Cadbury's distribution system will be Kraft's launch pad too in emerging markets?


We are building on the strengths of both sides, in certain areas Cadbury is stronger than Kraft and in certain markets Kraft is stronger in modern trade. So we will go market by market. I will use the same principles I used in Danone integration: get the leadership team in place and .pull the organisation together in developing markets. For India it has to be straightforward because it is mainly Cadbury and in other markets, we follow the successful principles of Danone integration.


You seem unwilling to disturb Cadbury's India's existing functional structure...

I am glad to see that Anand has also used a lens of 10 power brands in India which makes the strategy sharper. Kraft has also gone sharp on brands and is very successful in other emerging .markets during the last three years. The balance is about being glocal. Historically it was what's good for US is good for the world and of course it never works. What we are doing now is empowering local leaders and listening to local consumers. In China for instance, consumers found Oreo too big and too sweet. So we changed the sizes, made it less sweet and introduced other forms of innovations like wafer.


We leveraged chocolate technology in Europe, made changes and kept the essence of Oreo. The Glocal model helped Oreo which is a $ bn brand, historically strong in US but weak outside to grow 25% in developing markets.in the last two years. Therefore we are empowering local leaders like Anand to take global concepts and adapt it locally. We are also increasingly use countries such as India and Brazil as sources of innovation. It will be the best of Cadbury and Kraft going forward.


So what is your leadership style?

Over the last three years, the best part of my strategy has been mainly people. Of my top 50 leaders, two-thirds are new to the job. Many came from within Kraft, some from Danone biscuits and many from outside and now many more from Cadbury. What is hugely exciting is through these leaders will bring a whole lot of competitive advantage to the table. The Cadbury team in India just seems to work very well together. There is a feeling of winning and opportunities. So to win we need a clear focus of strategy, identify it clearly. Find out what had to be done globally and what has to be done locally. Hire phenomenal leaders.


At country levels and let them be. Stay out of the way and give them ambitious targets but ensure that you provide them the resources, scale and expertise of a global company to achieve that. Our turnaround in emerging markets has been due to total empowerment of the right leaders.. By unleashing talent, you can transform business. Kraft earlier had a very centralised system, all decisions were taken in Chicago and the team there asked for a lot of details.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MAOIST CEASEFIRE OFFER: IS IT REAL?

 

The Maoists have offered a 72-day truce during which time they want to hold talks with the government through mediators like intellectuals and human rights activists. There has been a mixed reaction to this offer. Within 24 hours, the Union home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, has said they should fax a written statement and even provided a fax number. He added that they should abjure violence and that there should be no pre-conditions. The Naxalites have demanded that there should be a halt to all operations by security forces in West Bengal, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa. The ministry of home affairs (MHA) also said there would be no talks with the Naxalites and that they were only saying this to create confusion. The MHA reiterated that the operations would continue. The ball is now in the court of the Maoists. They will have to prove, in a manner more concrete than just words, and through the proper channels, that they are sincere about the truce offer. There are suspicions that the Maoists are feeling the heat of Operation Green Hunt, particularly after they massacred Eastern Frontier Rifles personnel at Silda in West Bengal. Their action was condemned by intellectuals and human rights organisations. Besides, does CPI (Maoist) politburo member Koteswara Rao, or Kishenji as he is referred to, have the authority to make such an offer? He is only a politburo member restricted to the eastern region. The top boss of the CPI (Maoist), Ganapathy, has been silent on this offer. The government cannot be faulted for being suspicious since this is not the first time that the Maoists have offered a truce. They had offered a truce in Andhra Pradesh, which was accepted by the then chief minister, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, but he was let down. There is also another view, that the Maoists could be trying to buy time to regroup and rearm. The 72-day truce period they have sought coincides with the summer season and ends with the beginning of the monsoon, when the forests are lush and provide ample cover. It is trickier for the government, which will face harsh criticism if there are killings during a ceasefire. The Indian security forces did not go into the jungles without reason. In recent times the Maoists have killed more than 300 ordinary people and, in this year alone, 125 people have been slain in police/Army action and Naxalite violence. The Maoists have their side of the story which, simply put, is about protecting the tribals. In fact they have been running a parallel government along what can be called a Maoist corridor that runs from West Bengal to Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and down to AP. This is also India's wealthiest mineral belt, which is being eyed by the government and by foreign and Indian mining interests. The lands in these areas are occupied by tribals and they don't want to leave unless there is something for them in the so-called development of these lands. Tribals throughout India are sought to be deprived of their lands for development in the form of SEZs, power plants etc. Even the Salva Judum movement in Chhattisgarh degenerated into a land grab movement by the government and there are instances of tribals being driven out of their homes so that the government can go ahead with its industrialisation programme.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

UNPRINCIPLED POLITICS

BY P.C. ALEXANDER

 

Some of the recent decisions taken by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the Congress, the main political party leading the coalition, have come in for sharp criticism — that certain healthy principles that must be observed by the ruling party in a parliamentary democracy have been sacrificed in order to retain power in some states. The UPA and the Congress has also been criticised for setting bad precedents.

 

In this context, two decisions deserve special attention. The first is the tolerance shown by the UPA to Mr D.D. Lapang, the Chief Minister of Meghalaya, who elevated three other politicians to the rank and status of chief minister. The second is the turn around on the public announcement by the Union home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, on behalf of the Union Cabinet on December 9, 2009, that the process for the formation of a separate state of Telangana would be initiated on the introduction and passage of a separate resolution in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly. Let us examine the impact of these two decisions on the concept of principled politics in our democracy.

 

Meghalaya is one of the smallest states of India. In its 60-member Assembly, the Congress-led coalition has 37 MLAs, of whom 28 belong to the Congress. The state already has two deputy chief ministers, for which there can be little justification except that it would help prevent dissidence in the party. However, conferring the rank of chief minister on three more MLAs — with all the perks which go with this designation, like cars, security, personal staff, bungalow etc — can only be described as a shameless attempt to silence the chief minister's rivals who are clamoring for power.

 

As the leader of the coalition running the government, the Congress should have firmly rejected a blatantly unjustified proposal like this from Dr Lapang, but it seems that the main concern of the Congress was to retain its ministerial chairs at any cost. One of the four people with the rank of chief minister is the state Congress president, Mr Friday Lyngdoh! It is unfortunate that the Congress has chosen to justify this unprincipled arrangement by stating that the executive power remains with Mr Lapang while the other three have only protocol privileges and perks that come with the office. The danger in resorting to this type of compromise is that it sets a precedent for other states in similar situations.

 

NOW LET me turn to the latest decision of the UPA government to constitute a committee under the chairmanship of Justice Srikrishna whose terms of reference allow reopening the whole issue of a separate Telangana state. Clause I of the terms of reference announced for the committee on February 3, 2010, defines the committee's duty as "examining the situation in the state of Andhra Pradesh with reference to the demand for a separate state of Telangana as well as the demand for maintaining the present status of a united Andhra Pradesh".  

 

The reason given for the appointment of the Srikrishna Committee is that there is no consensus among the members of Andhra Pradesh's Legislative Assembly on the bill for a separate state of Telangana. But the Centre should have known this when it announced its decision to initiate action for the formation of a separate state of Telangana. A week after its announcement, 147 legislators and many members of Parliament from the coastal districts and Rayalaseema submitted their resignations. The UPA panicked about losing power in Andhra Pradesh and on December 23, 2009, announced that no action would be taken until all parties arrive at a consensus. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and other parties agitating for a separate state of Telangana saw this as another instance of national parties' shifting their stand on the Telangana issue. 

 

Without going into the merits of the stand taken by the Telangana people and the people of the rest of Andhra Pradesh, let us examine the legal correctness of the stand now taken by the Congress-led UPA about the need for a consensus on the Telangana issue. Article 3 of the Constitution, which lays down the procedure for creating new states, does not state that concurrence of the majority in state Assembly is a necessary condition for it. It only states that the state Assembly may express its views on the proposed legislation for the formation of a new state within such a period as may be specified by the President.

 

Before taking any decision on the creation of new states the President will, of course, seek the advice of the council of ministers and, hence, the ruling party, or coalition, at the Centre will be the real decision-making body. In spite of this, the UPA does not want to take the risk of losing power in the coastal and Rayalaseema regions.  

 

If the Centre thinks that it can buy time till the Srikrishna Committee submits its recommendations, then they are mistaken because their new stand will be seen by the people as an attempt to avoid its responsibilities. A decision on formation of a new state is essentially a political decision and the party in power at the Centre cannot avoid it. It can try to delay it, though that can, especially in situations like the present one in Andhra Pradesh, prove to be very costly. A sad feature of the committee's task is that mass protests and violence indulged in by supporters of both sides will deprive it of the tension-free atmosphere badly needed for its smooth working.

 

While protests and demonstrations are intensifying tension in Andhra Pradesh, various far-fetched suggestions have been emerging from politicians and academics about finding a via media between the demands of the Telangana people and of the other regions in the state. One such suggestion is creating a state of Telangana in a way that Hyderabad remains the capital of both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

 

This solution can hardly satisfy the aspirations of those who have been agitating ever since Independence, and even before that, for a separate identity through a full-fledged state. If by any chance the suggestion of a state within a state is implemented, there will be demands for similar arrangements from other regions as well. Such solutions apart from distorting the concept of federalism will create several new problems. The decision-makers should be careful that in finding a solution for today's problems, they do not create new ones for tomorrow.

 

- P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE NARCISSUS SOCIETY IS TORMENTING US

BY ROGER COHEN

 

Where Oedipus once tormented us, it is now Narcissus. Pathologies linked to authority and domination have ceded to the limitless angst of self-contemplation. The old question — "What am I allowed to do?" — has given way to the equally scary "What am I capable of doing?" Alain Ehrenberg, a French author and psychologist, speaks of the "privatisation of human existence".

 

Community — a stable job, shared national experience, extended family, labour unions — has vanished or eroded. In its place have come a frenzied individualism, solipsistic screen-gazing, the disembodied pleasures of social networking and the à-la-carte life as defined by 600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs. Feelings of anxiety and inadequacy grow in the lonely chamber of self-absorption and projection.

 

These trends are common to all globalised modern democracies, ranging from those that prize individualism, like the United States, to those, like France, where social solidarity is a paramount value. Ehrenberg's new book, La Société du Malaise (The Malaise Society) is full of insights into the impact of narcissistic neurosis.

 

Sometimes, it seems, we are as lonely as those little planes over the Atlantic in on-board video navigation maps.

 

I was thinking of this during a recent spell as a grand juror. Thrown together for two weeks at Brooklyn Supreme Court with 22 other jurors, I was struck by how rare it is now in American life to be gathered, physically, with an array of other folk of different ages, backgrounds, skin colours, beliefs, faiths, tastes, education levels and political convictions and be obliged to work out your differences in order to get the job done.

 

It was not always easy, of course; not easy to deal with the fidgety paramedic chewing chips through murder testimony, the scattershot flirtations of the former rhythm-and-blues musician, the off-point ruminations of the old guy who knew he was always right, the intermittent tedium and incoherence.

 

I can still hear the juror next to me. "I work at 311" — the number New Yorkers dial with complaints or questions about the city. "Drives me nuts, been doing it five years. People treat you like idiots. Most of the time it's water seeping into basements, sewage systems blocked. At least my job hasn't been outsourced to Bangalore. People ask me, 'You in New York?' They ask me, 'Are you a human being or a robot?' Sometimes I say, "I ... AM ... A ... ROBOT'. But we've got supervisers listening to calls. One thing that drives me crazy is all the people who speak slowly, as if I'm an idiot. I tell them, 'You can speak faster, you know!' Jury duty's actually a relief!"

 

In a way, it was — a relief from being alone on a phone or in front of a screen. We got to know each other's tics and, having dealt with killing and rape and assault and insurance fraud, we all embraced at the end. Oh unthinkable act, we'd done something selfless for the commonweal, learned to listen to each other, accepted differences and argued our way to decisions.

 

America could use more of that kind of experience. As it is, everyone's shrieking their lonesome anger, burrowing deeper into stress, gazing at their own images — and generating paralysis.

 

Which brings me to healthcare: Crunch time has come on a question central to the nation's future, where an acknowledgment is needed that, when it comes to health, we're all in this together. Pooling the risk among everybody is the most efficient way to forge a healthier society. That's what other developed societies do. And they don't have 30 million plus uninsured.

 

Now, as I understand it, the Tea Party movement is angry about waste, bail-outs for the rich and spiralling debt. They detest big government. But if waste and debt are really what's bothering them, how about the waste in the more than 1,800 daily healthcare related personal bankruptcies, the 25 to 30 per cent of some corporate insurers' costs going on administration, the sky-rocketing health premiums that are undermining US corporations, the endless paperwork of private reimbursement procedures, and the needless deaths?

 

Americans don't want a European nanny state — fine! But, as a lawyer friend, Manuel Wally, put it to me, "When it comes to health it makes sense to involve government, which is accountable to the people, rather than corporations, which are accountable to shareholders".

 

All the fear-mongering talk of "nationalising" 17 per cent of the economy is nonsense. Government, through Medicare and Medicaid, is already administering almost half of American healthcare and doing so with less waste than the private sector. Per capita Medicare costs for common benefits grew 4.9 per cent between 1998 and 2008, against 7.1 per cent for private insurers. Why not offer Medicare as a choice — a choice — to everyone? Aren't Republicans about choice?

 

The public option, not dead, would amount to recognition of shared interest in each other's health and of the need to use America's energies and resources better.

 

It would involve 300 million people linking arms.

 

Or we can turn away from each other and, like Narcissus, perish in the contemplation of our own reflections.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DEMYSTIFYING INDO-PAK TALKS

BY K.C. SINGH

 

On the eve of the Indo-Pak foreign secretary-level talks on February 25, which the spokespersons of the government and the Congress party are at pains to insist are not a resumption of the dialogue, it may be useful to demystify them.

 

Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao chose to use the lectern at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London, to emphasise that the Indian focus would be on terror perpetrated from the soil of Pakistan. When asked how she squares it with the Pakistani articulation that they would raise issues they consider appropriate, she chose to not respond. It has also been repeatedly pronounced that these are talks about talks, and not a resumption of the composite dialogue.

 

While dialogue had been held between India and Pakistan at the level of foreign secretaries since at least the time of Rajiv Gandhi, the topics for discussion were handled by separate working groups, evolved over a period as confidence-building measures. J.N. Dixit explained in his book India-Pakistan in War and Peace that the nine issues in the composite dialogue had been "on the Indo-Pakistani agenda since 1983". They were specifically catalogued when Rajiv Gandhi met a newly elected Benazir Bhutto following the death of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq in a plane crash in 1988. The working groups dealt with them, meeting alternatively in New Delhi and Islamabad, between 1988 and 1994.

 

The dialogue between the two countries, however was interrupted between 1994 and 1996. The period from the death of Gen. Zia in 1988 to the military coup by Gen. Musharraf in 1999 saw alternating governments led by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan. In India too there were a series of Prime Ministers. Each change led to renewed interest in testing the waters of Indo-Pak relations, but with mixed or unsatisfactory results. However, three factors coloured this period. The destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1993 and the bomb blasts targeting the financial district in Mumbai, the withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan in 1989 releasing trained jihadis for induction by Pakistan into J&K, and the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998. Therefore, when the Prime Ministers of the two countries met first on the sidelines of the Saarc Summit in July 1998 in Colombo, and then in New York in September 1998, they were under renewed international pressure, as states possessing nuclear bombs, to re-engage. They still confronted the old dilemmas. India wanted to focus on confidence-building and risk reduction steps and Pakistan kept circling back to Kashmir.

 

It was against this background that the concept of the composite dialogue was born to break the stalemate and accommodate the concerns of the two sides. The two PMs agreed on September 23, 1988 to bless the new format. There were those on the Indian side who had serious reservations about the induction of Kashmir into a dialogue that was focusing on CBMs (confidence-building measures). The first meeting in this format was held in the following November.

 

The irony today is that while the Congress and the BJP are vehemently disagreeing on the need to talk to Pakistan, both have tried and suffered the same fate in the past. Vajpayee's Lahore visit took place as the Pakistani Army had already moved their soldiers in disguise across the LoC in the Kargil sector of J&K in 1999. Musharraf's unhappy journey to Agra was followed by the terrorists' audacious attack on the Parliament of India in December 2001. Manmohan Singh had the Mumbai train bombings of July 2006 and the 26/11 monstrosity in the same city.

 

The common dilemma thus has been how to insulate the dialogue process from terror. The lack of success has been due to the unwillingness of the military-security combine in Pakistan to abandon their support to a network of jihadi outfits, many now targeting them. But despite our past experience we are again heading down the same path without strategically modifying our approach.

 

Sources in the government have been selectively briefing on why India needs to talk to Pakistan. Firstly, it is said that there is no other option. This is not so, as between composite dialogue and non-engagement there are multiple options. For instance, post-Pune blasts the foreign secretary-level talks could have been postponed and, if the desire was as the government says to focus on terror, the additional secretary-level anti-terror mechanism could have been convened. By meeting at the FS level — the level of the composite dialogue — Pakistan is being provided a face-saver. In any case countries like the US, who urge talks, have never engaged Cuba, or, for long periods, Iran.

 

Another argument advanced is that we need to strengthen democratic forces in Pakistan. The logic needs to be reversed. If they are not strong enough to ignore the hawkish military or counter militant Islam's narrative, they are not worth engaging. The 11-year history of Indo-Pak relations (1988-1999) testifies to this.

 

Both countries are walking into the dialogue, dissimulating to satisfy domestic constituencies. Whether across the table they can harmonise disparate motives seems impossible.

 

There needs to be greater transparency, plain-speaking by our government to the people of India and a firm resolve that dispute resolution, i.e. Jammu and Kashmir, shall be excluded from the dialogue till Pakistan restores the lost Indian confidence by showing a resolve to slay en masse the terror dragons in its midst.

 

 The author is a former secretary in the externalaffairs ministry

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DISTANT WARS AND CONSTANT GHOSTS

BY SHANNON P. MEEHAN

 

Since the two recent North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-led military strikes that accidentally killed dozens of Afghan civilians, I have been thinking a great deal about the psychic toll that killing takes on soldiers.

 

In 2007, I was an Army lieutenant leading a group on a house-clearing mission in Baquba, Iraq, when I called in an artillery strike on a house. The strike destroyed the house and killed everyone inside. I thought we had struck enemy fighters, but I was wrong. A father, mother and their children had been huddled inside.

 

The feelings of disbelief that initially filled me quickly transformed into feelings of rage and self-loathing. The following weeks, months and years would prove that my life was forever changed.

 

In fact, it's been nearly three years, and I still cannot remove from my mind the image of that family gathered together in the final moments of their lives. I can't shake it. It simply lingers.

 

I know that many soldiers struggle long after they leave the battlefield to cope with civilian deaths. It does not matter whether they were responsible for those deaths, whether it was a mistake of the command, of the weaponry, or even the fault of the enemy, who in parts of both Iraq and Afghanistan have been known to intentionally place or involve civilians, even children, in their operations. Just seeing the lifeless body of a little boy or girl is all it takes.

 

For many soldiers, what follows a killing is a struggle of the mind. We become aware that what we've seen has changed us. We can't unlearn it, and we continue to think of those innocent children. It is not possible to forget.

 

Killing enemy combatants comes with its own emotional costs. On the surface, we feel as soldiers that killing the enemy should not affect us — it is our job, after all. But it is still killing, and on a subconscious level, it changes you. You've killed. You've taken life. What I found, though, is that you feel the shock and weight of it only when you kill an enemy for the first time, when you move from zero to one. Once you've crossed that line, there is little difference in killing 10 or 20 or 30 more after that.

 

War erodes one's regard for human life. Soldiers cause or witness so many deaths and disappearances that it becomes routine. It becomes an accepted part of existence. After a while, you can begin to lose regard for your own life as well. So many around you have already died, why should it matter if you go next? This is why so many soldiers self-destruct when they return from a deployment.

 

I know something about this. The deaths that I caused also killed any regard I had for my own life. I felt that I did not deserve something that I had taken from them. I fell into a downward spiral, doubting if I even deserved to be alive. The value, or regard, I once had for my own life dissipated.

 

Five weeks ago, my first child, a son, was born. Not surprisingly, my thoughts often race back to the children I killed. With the birth of my son, I received the same gift I destroyed.

 

The fact that soldiers are trained and expected to kill as part of their job is something that few people wish to talk about. Many men and women coming back from war don't risk telling the stories that have so profoundly changed their lives.

 

In recent months I've been trying to honour the lives I took by writing and speaking in public about my experience, to show that those deaths are not tucked neatly away in a foreign land. They may seem distant, but they are not. Soldiers bring the ghosts home with them, and it's everyone else's job to hear about them, no matter how painful it may be.

 

- Shannon P. Meehan is the author of Beyond Duty

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DIVINE DESIGN WILL GUIDE YOU

BY MUZAFFAR ALI

 

How to reinvent human expression forever throws up new challenges. It is a spiritual quest as much as it is a material exercise. This happens all the time in music, where the same voice and the same instruments are capable of scaling great heights, and can send you plummeting down to baser feelings. It happens with words. It happens with images — frozen or moving. It happens all the time, in every form.

 

In this phenomenon the positivity of the answer lies in your being in quest, in following your heart, as against being used. This is most easily perceived, not by self-centered intellectuals and conceited artists but by simple pure souls.

 

To be directed by Divine design it is important to be weightless, without baggage. This liberation comes from a special calling. Your creativity has to be hidden and at the same time revealed. You become privy to secrets and in the process like a spinning darvesh with one hand extended to the sky to receive and the other pointing down to disseminate what you are receiving thus transmitting His grace.

 

Your creativity becomes creating with the people and for the people, and not with the idea of selling but with the passion of enriching the experience of Divine design. You may not be a direct instrument of creation but can fall in the "for" category. And one should be content with this.

 

A friend of mine once said that if you can get to hear good poetry, why write poetry. Since then I have been a creative and receptive reader and listener. I consider poetry as the mother art. It is a stage of life when someone else is speaking through you. You can never say when that moment will happen. You may start as a poet in love penning love sonnets, or become a revolutionary with stirring words building the romance of the plight of the dispossessed, or finally express your disillusionment with life. But you never know when He is going to speak through you or you to Him.

 

When you will become part of the Divine design, is again a matter of that celestial programme. Prophets and saints have reached that point of epiphany at different stages in their respective lives.

 

For some it has been a direct revelation and some through their Pir. The Pir in Tasawwuf (Sufiism) plays a very vital role. The epiphany can be so powerful that it can blow your brains if not directed... like a wild horse where the rider has left hold of the reins... The power which begins to reflect through him can be dazzling that it can leave you overwhelmed, as it happened with Moses. The Husn-e-Jaana, the beauty of the Beloved, has to be mellowed and softened, spanned over a lifetime, which can only be done by the Pir. The intervention of the Pir or the Guru is the most important way to convert that raging fire of love into a gentle all embracing glow reflecting his generous and loving presence.
This illumination can happen at anytime in your life, at any age. Amir Khusrau was eight when, by Divine grace he met his Pir, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia. He sat outside his khanaqah, and said to himself "I look for my Pir who will beckon me with his divine power". And in that state he composed a quatrain and passed it to the presence of the saint.
"Oh mighty King, you empower the humblest of birds perched upon your palace to become a powerful hawk. Such a meek person waits outside, will he be beckoned or should he go away?"
To which came the reply. "If you are the one who knows the Truth, come in, share a moment of Divine secrets. If you know not what I say then the path that brought you here will take you away". The saint knew that this was the moment which was designed by destiny, which would change the way of seeing the world. How the eyes of love, watered by the tears of submission, will give new meaning to verse and song.
As I sit at the threshold of the 8th Jahan-e-Khusrau, to happen in the precincts of the tombs of the master Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia and his disciple Amir Khusrau we pray for that moment of Divine design that will accept the supplication of the artistes who will perform with abandon and surrender during these three days.
We talk of the same reflection, abandon and surrender as Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi addressing his mentor Shams Tabrez,
Manam aan niyaazmande ki betu niyaaz daaramGham e chun to naazninee bahazaar naaz daaram
(I am that supplicant who makes supplication to thee;The anguish inspired by a charmer like thee hath for me a thousand charms.)

 

Tui aaftab chashmam ba jamaal tust raushanAgar az tu baazgeeram bake chashme baaz daaram
(Thou art the sun of mine eyes — they are radiant with thy beauty;If I draw them away from thee, to whom shall I look again?)

 

Or in the words of Khusrau to his master Hazrat Nizamuddin, who donned a tilted cap...Kaj kulah kama kusha tang qabaye keestilabagaran wa dilbara ushwa numaye keesti(O one with a tilted cap, a fitted garb parted open,O beloved seducer, reflection of whose endearing ways are you.)


It is the same resonance that emerges from a spiritual quest; the dawning of the same beauty that reinvents human expression; the glow of that Divine design which will forever grace the world.

 

— Muzaffar Ali is a painter and filmmakerwho finds inspiration in Sufi poetryand music

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

AT SIXES AND SEVENS

COVER-UP ON EFR WILL MAKE IT WORSE

 

IT is now abundantly clear that the state administration is in total disaray after the massacre at Silda. That the right hand is unaware of what the left is doing is painfully evident in the action being initiated against the IG (Special) of the Eastern Frontier Rifles. The unflattering, but most logical, conclusion to be drawn is that the department under the chief minister's charge is at sixes and sevens. It is obliged to respond not in terms of action required but in terms of damage control after a virtual revolt in the ranks and in the families of victims after the announcement of disciplinary action. It does no credit to the chief minister to acknowledge lapses on the intelligence front as something of a ritual. He cannot escape responsibility for lives lost nor distract attention with irrelevant political charges. Neither can the home secretary put this down to the media quoting someone "out of context'' as he claimed when confronted with the DGP virtually laying the blame at his door for the intelligence failure. Each one is part of what is turning out to be a major scandal of governance.
Shocking as the killing of 24 EFR jawans is, from which the forces will take a long time to recover, it is disgraceful that the security network, not to mention the chief minister, persists in talking in different voices. At the root of the problem is the neglect not just of security requirements but of the inherent strengths of the EFR. Everything from the location of the EFR camp to the security arrangements confirms the stepmotherly approach that the IG (Special), EFR, complained about uncharacteristically and bitterly to the media before he was seen to have violated service rules. It would seem that the IPS officer had acted after being driven to the wall. Any observer of IAS and IPS officers in Marxist Bengal will realise just how emasculated a lot they are; the IG must surely have been in the throes of despair to have acted as he did. It is most unfortunate that he should have chosen an extreme measure to ventilate his horrow but perhaps it was the only way he could reveal as much of the truth as possible after the massacre of 24 and the injuries to many others had left the force demoralised and the public disgusted with conflicting reports. Confessions by the chief minister don't reveal the full story. It will be worse if the "investigation'' becomes the means of another cover-up.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

DOOMED TO FAILURE

THE DISASTER OF DEEMED UNIVERSITIES

 

THE message is irrevocable and reaffirms a deeply depressing scenario. The concept of a deemed university, a uniquely Indian absurdity, is doomed to failure. The latest report of the union HRD ministry has confirmed the dubious entity. As many as 54 of the 61 deemed universities, sanctioned by the Arjun Singh dispensation between 2004-09, are not fit for the DU tag. This mirrors the extent to which spurious entities had been institutionalised almost as matter of policy. Mr Kapil Sibal, who has floated a trial balloon too many, has clearly succeeded to a depleted inheritance; equally does he have to contend with the contrived chaos that has masqueraded as learning for the past five years. Overwhelmingly have the DUs, in part an offshoot of the commercialisation of learning, been below par and were yet awarded the tag of recognition. Among the ones that have made the grade are those that have always been flagship public institutions in their own right, pre-eminently the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, and the Birla Institute of Science and Technology in Pilani (Rajasthan) and Mesra (Jharkhand). They richly deserved the full-fledged university tag long before the spurious institutions were allowed to mushroom across the country.


In its affidavit to the Supreme Court, the ministry has mentioned 44 DUs that may never meet the prescribed standards. At any rate, not within the three-year time-frame that has been prescribed for them to shore up. In the ministry's admission, many of them do not deserve this lifeline. An educational institution must flourish as it ought to; it can't be a case for life-support. The singular casualty has been quality as the number of DUs increased from 69 to 130 under Arjun Singh's dispensation. It is the same ministry, now functioning under a different incumbent, that has opened a can of worms ~ a caricature of the government's handling of education. The damage may well be beyond redemption. The price to pay perhaps if an overbearing minister's whims and fancies determine all and everything. A similar affliction plagues food and agriculture and civil aviation.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

OVER THE TOP

WILL SANITY FOLLOW BABY'S DEATH?

 

HAS Jammu and Kashmir collectively taken leave of its senses? That is the unavoidable question that defies an answer after an ailing 11-day-old infant being rushed to hospital fell victim to mob fury. There can be no writing off the baby's death as "collateral damage", for even if that was not the specific intention of the frenzied mob, it drives home the point that "protest" in the state has crossed the limits of civilised conduct. And those who have been instigating what they project as anti-government action must ask themselves ~ or the people should ask them ~ if they have no culpability for the killing of an innocent babe. It is true that the police overdid things by registering a case of attempted murder against the allegedly stone-throwing lad killed by a direct hit from a tear-gas shell (which this newspaper has condemned), but a crack-down on stone-throwers per se is legitimate. It is worth probing how stones are so abundantly available at places where the protests are made; it must also be remembered that the majority of the miscreants are young fellows, the sinister design being to project a David versus Goliath image of the inevitable confrontation with the "law".


That dubious interests are being served is suggested by Mehbooba Mufti ~ ever too shrill to function responsibly after PDP found only limited favour with the electorate ~ coming up with a "bullet-for-stone" description of the police action. She may have had no direct link with the mob that (allegedly protesting the rounding-up of suspected stone-pelters) attacked the vehicle carrying the infant's family, but comments like hers ~ and from the Hurriyat hardliners ~ poison an emotive, supercharged atmosphere. Omar Abdullah's government might have been the target, who paid the price? It can be nobody's case that the security forces are not guilty of high-handedness, or worse, but far from blemish-free are those who keep fomenting the violence that has virtually deleted "normality" from the J&K dictionary. Who suffers most? Who will answer the question that an 11-day-old child never got around to asking?

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

TEMPLE AS THE 'SOUL'

BJP CONTINUES TO LIVE IN THE PAST

BY AMULYA GANGULI

 

Considering that Nitin Gadkari has described the proposed Ram temple in Ayodhya as the BJP's "soul" ~ hamari atma ~ it may be worth noting that the party was without this spiritual essence for the better part of its history. It was only in 1989 when it decided to support the VHP's agitation for "liberating" the Ramjanmabhoomi that the BJP started talking about building a temple. Before that, the only reference in the party's documents in this context was to the mosque and not to the putative birthplace of Ram.
The temple, therefore, has been the BJP's soul for only about two decades. Like the disputations in Christian theology about exactly when a foetus acquires this mystical entity, it can be argued that the party was devoid of this divine spark for the first four decades of its life. The BJP, of course, was formed only in 1980. Prior to that, it was known as the Jan Sangh, which merged in the Janata Party in 1977, only to re-emerge three years later as an outfit with a new name. The Jan Sangh, therefore, can be said to have lived its life without a soul. However, having discovered this supernatural attribute now, the BJP may find that it can become an albatross round its neck.
It may be recalled that Atal Behari Vajpayee, who, incidentally, had described the Sangh parivar as his "soul" in an article in the RSS journal, Organiser, in 1995, had to beat a hasty retreat after saying that the temple was an "expression of national sentiment" in the year 2000. In view of the resultant furore, Vajpayee wrote in his "musings" from a holiday resort in Kerala that although the temple movement was an expression of national sentiment, it became a constricted affair after the demolition of the Babri masjid. He also added that the "wrongs of the medieval past cannot be righted by similar wrongs in modern times".

 

Not new

 

Just as Vajpayee discovered that trying to pass off the sentiments of communal-minded Hindus as the nation's wouldn't deceive anyone, the BJP may find that linking its fate with the temple can be politically disadvantageous. Although Gadkari has tried to soften the blow by promising the Muslims that the BJP will help them build a mosque elsewhere if they give up their claims to the disputed site, the offer is not new. In its 1991 election manifesto, for instance, the BJP had spoken of "relocating the superimposed Babri structure with due respect". A year earlier, it had noted the VHP's suggestion to "relocate the masjid structure elsewhere". True to its more belligerent character, the VHP did not threaten to carry out the transfer with "respect".
While all this rehashing of old ideas can help the BJP to confuse its friends and foes, the party seems unaware of the fact that as long as it does not try to disengage itself from the temple agenda, it will not be able to move forward despite all the pledges it may make about pursuing inclusive politics. As is clear from the emphasis which its state governments now place on development, as in Gujarat, there is a realization within the party that the temple card has lost its usefulness even if the RSS, Gadkari's friend, philosopher and guide, believes otherwise.
If the states under the BJP and its allies like the Janata Dal (United) persist with development-oriented policies and avoid mentioning the temple, the party can be electorally successful at the provincial level. But it will be unable to become a force to reckon with at the centre if it keeps harking back to the heady days of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. For a start, it will be regarded as a convincing proof of the BJP's failure to discard the baggage it is carrying from that period ~ the issues of Article 370, uniform civil code, cow slaughter, conversions, Muslims as unpatriotic, Bangladeshi immigrants, the rewriting of history, the banishment of artists and academics who offend Hindu sentiments, et al.

 

Nagpur bosses

 

Since these items involve the minorities, the BJP will not only find it difficult to shed its anti-Muslim and anti-Christian image ~ especially if Varun Gandhi is given a responsible position ~ the party will also be seen as anti-modern because of its obsession with the past. Yet, even if the party wants to put the temple issue on the back burner, as Vajpayee promised to do in 1996 when he failed to secure a majority in Parliament, the RSS will not let it do so. And since there is no one in the BJP who can stand up to the Nagpur bosses, the party's regression will continue.


The BJP's main problem is that there is now no one in the party with the stature of Vajpayee and an appeal beyond the party like him. Vajpayee was also skilful enough to keep the RSS at bay by accepting some of its diktats and ignoring others. For instance, he kept Jaswant Singh out of the finance ministry in 1998 in accordance with the RSS's wishes, but showed that he hadn't lost touch with civilized norms when he said that the answer to James Laine's book on Shivaji was not to attack the library where he worked but to write another book.


Evidently, Gadkari cannot measure up to such standards. His hold on the party is also via the RSS, and not due to any merit of his own. Everyone in the BJP from LK Advani downwards is waiting for him to slip up before pouncing on him. Neither sleeping in tents nor eating in a Dalit home a la Rahul Gandhi will help him to secure his position unless he shows signs of having the imagination and the intellect to take the BJP out of the blind lane where it is stuck at present.

 

(The writer is a former Assistant Editor, The Statesman.)

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

'LEFT HAS IGNORED THE NEED FOR SOCIAL CHANGES'

23 FEBRUARY 2010

 

If in his early years Jolly Kaul caused eyebrows to be raised within his family when he spurned a prospective career with the Indian Civil Service to plunge into the Communist Party and its revolutionary activities in the early '40s, he caused a greater number of eyebrows to be raised when he quit the party in 1963.
Now, as he approaches his 90th year, Jolly Mohan Kaul has found the time to write his memoirs. This work will hopefully answer some of the questions that people have asked of this octogenarian. JMK, the journalist (in his post-party life) had chosen to remain silent. Jolly Kaul, the octogenarian Gandhian of today, has chosen to speak.


Between the forties and the sixties of the last millennium, JMK was an eminent leader of the undivided Communist Party and his sudden resignation made many wonder why he cut short what promised to be a very successful career in politics. The post-party careers in the fields of journalism and communications were all very successful. He speaks to Tapan Bandopadhyay on the evolving political situation since his time and on the developments that have taken place within the communist and socialist movements in the country.
Clearly, the former revolutionary continues to be a keen observer of the socio-political scene and continues to be seriously engaged in a search for a better world that started when he had just emerged from college. He is still attempting to find answers to the many issues that drove him towards communism and the even more difficult questions that arose in his mind in the late fifties that finally led him to break his ties with the Communist Party.


By any standard, Jolly Kaul is a "Bengali"'. He has lived, worked and "retired"' in this state. More imporantly, he "proselitised" in Bengali, having trained himself to be a first class public speaker in the language. An equal command over Hindi and Urdu must have made life easier as he addressed the populace at the grassroots of urban and rural Bengal. JMK, however, comes from a family of Kashmiri Pundits who "have played an important part in the political and cultural life of India" as he says.  It "was only natural that this early environment moulded my character and personality. Even within the family there were many influences – my eldest brother went abroad for his medical studies and helped infuse a lot of Western culture".
Indeed, as his first name suggests, a Western culture already prevailed in the family and "though it would appear to be against tradition, all my brothers were named in Western style, with English names — unusual at that time. At the same time, traditional culture was imbibed from relatives and other brothers. One of my brothers was a very strong advocate of the Hindu Sanatan Dharma". However, the most important influence was his school and college. JMK was in St Xavier's from Standard I through to his graduation. "The Jesuit fathers had a strong influence on me in the formative years and, in the later stages of my life, my late wife, Manikuntala Sen." Excerpts from an interview:


Though you have quit active politics for nearly half a century, looking back, how strong an influence does Left politics continue to have in your life and thoughts today?
While I have not been very actively involved in politics since I left the party after 1963, I have been a journalist for quite some time and being mainly involved in political and economic writings, I remained a keen observer of the political scene. My book, In Search Of A Better World, is partly political, partly cultural.


What contribution did the Communist and the trade union movements of your time with the undivided CPI make to the Indian polity, society and culture?


The trade union movement of our time had a transforming effect on the working classes and if the organised working class today has been able to raise itself well above the poverty level, it is largely due to the hard work put in by the dedicated trade union and party organisers of those days. In the social and political fields also, Communists of those years made significant contributions. Having married one of the most important women leaders, I had the opportunity to learn, at first hand, how the Communist women activists fought against social evils and for the rights of women.


The battle for the Hindu Code Bill, I think, played a most significant role in the empowerment of women of our country. In fact, what saddens me most is that the Left movement does not give the same importance to bringing about needed social changes now.


How has dependence on the Soviet and/or the Chinese line affected the Communist movement in India and the subcontinent?


Much of what I have written in the book is a direct answer to this query. When I was with the undivided CPI, the entire world Communist movement was totally subservient to the CPSU. The joke then was that "when it was raining in Moscow, Harry Pollit would open his umbrella"'. This dependence made the CPI commit one of its greatest mistakes, opposing the Quit India Movement in 1942. In my book, I have said, "The way the Congress (2nd Congress of the Communist Party of India held in 1948) showed a number of things. First, it seems to have been something of a coup. Even though they said that the General Secretary (PC Joshi) had been following a reformist line, the sudden coup on the eve of the Congress, without giving an inkling to party members, was typical of the way Stalin conducted the affairs of the party in the Soviet Union.  I am also convinced today that this coup would not have been possible had the signal not come from abroad, most likely through the Communist Party of Great Britain which till that time was our only link with the International Communist Movement." Later it was the influence of the Chinese Communist Party that seems to have been dominant. Even today, the present model of development being followed in the country and which the Communist governments, particularly in West Bengal, seem to be following is very much influenced by the Chinese model.


Why this autobiography now?


I have been thinking of writing my memoirs for some time and actually started writing it in 2000, at the turn of the millennium though I was in two minds on whether I should publish my memoirs at all. So the progress was slow and there were periods when I stopped writing. I say in the book, "When friends got to know that I have started work on the project, they asked why I was making such a slow progress. I said, haltingly, that perhaps the last chapter of my life story had yet to unfold. I also thought that I was still searching for answers to the many questions that have arisen in my mind. Had it not been for these periods of doubts and uncertainties, it would not have taken me as many as full eight years to finish the work."


In fact, it was only after I felt that, to some extent, I had found the answers to my questions that I decided to finish the book and the last chapter is, indeed, an attempt to answer three questions : (1) The reason for the quick and unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union, (2) The failure of the Communist movement to expand not only in India but even in such countries as France and Italy, where, at one time, it had become a very major political force and (3) What kind of "alternative" are we searching for? A world where there will be equality, a classless society and where each would get according to his need and contribute according to his ability. To read out from the book, "as it turned out, it was indeed fortunate that I waited so long, for the last eight years have been eventful and the experience that I have gained particularly during the time I spent at the Gandhi Labour Foundation… has been extremely rewarding. My stint of nearly six years there has, to some extent, helped me to find the answers...."


Many oldtimers of the CPI regret your decision to quit the party and active politics. Almost five decades later, do you feel any remorse that you did not remain and help inner-party struggle?


I am more convinced than ever before that I took the right decision when I resigned from the party. In my resignation letters, one of which I addressed to the Secretary, Provincial Committee in January 1963, I had said that "ever since a situation developed in which a neighbouring Communist country began to behave in a manner which weakens the democratic and progressive forces in the country and bring grist to mill of the reactionaries, I have been considering that whether the Communist Party... has much of a role". I ended saying, "I remain as interested as ever in the cause of the democracy, socialism and peace for which I had been working for so long but I do not feel confident that by remaining in the Party I shall be able to further that cause." In that decision, I had the wholehearted support of my wife.


This is the centenary of her birth. Are you doing anything to commemorate her contribution?
How could I not do something? A few sentences from my memoirs will indicate why I feel the centenary is so important. "Some years ago, when I completed the 85th year of my life, some friends decided to hold a function to celebrate the event. They wanted a brief biographical sketch from me and I sent them a page-long note. I had written that whatever I achieved after marriage, I owed to Manikuntala. My friend rang up to check up whether I meant it and I said that I meant every word. Evidently, he still thought it was a piece of rhetoric because he omitted it when sending out the sketch, along with the invitation card, asking people to join the function. Over the next few pages I intend showing the kind of person she was. The more I look back on this period of my life – 1953 to 1987 – the more I realise how much I owe to her."


Yes, an Organising Committee has been formed and we will have a publication that will contain her book in Bengali and in its English translation apart from important speeches that she made in the Assembly during the 10 years that she had been a member. It will also carry reminiscences of those who had worked with her at one stage or other. The centenary functions will be held some time between November-December 2010.

In Search Of A Better World will be released in Kolkata on 25 February and in Delhi on 17 March

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

DARK SIDE OF HENRY MOORE

 

In his thirties, the establishment's favourite sculptor was exploring erotically charged emotions and a rebellious streak, says Andy McSmithThe Henry Moore we think we know is a conservative who produced reassuring sculptures that blend with the landscape, such as his bronze, Knife Edge – Two Piece, suitably located opposite the House of Lords. He is the establishment's favourite sculptor. He won acclaim with a series of graphic drawings of Londoners taking shelter from the Luftwaffe in the Underground, which were hung in the National Gallery during the war and became symbols of the spirit of resistance to the Blitz. His death in 1986 was marked by a service of thanksgiving in Westminster Abbey.


But a new exhibition of his work in Britain – the first for many years – is designed to draw out what the programme notes call "a dark and erotically charged dimension" to Moore. It suggests that the artist as a young man was a more brooding, rebellious figure than the gentleman he became as success made him respectable and rich.


The whole room is taken up with a subject which seems to have obsessed Moore in his early thirties: depictions of babies suckling. In Western culture, the standard mother-and-baby image is the Madonna and child, in which everyone's attention, including the viewer's, is focused on the child. In Moore's sculptures not one of the mothers is looking at her baby. The child suckles, but the woman's attention is elsewhere, as if she is thinking about what her next task will be. Some of the women are so solidly built that they look as if they could be employed doing heavy lifting. In one sculpture, the mother has disappeared and all that remains is a child clamped to a disembodied breast.


Moore's inspiration came from another relationship, which intrigued those of his contemporaries who had studied the work of Sigmund Freud. He told his friend Edouard Roditi that while he was making the first of these mother-and-child studies, in 1924, he realised that he was "unconsciously" giving its back the "long-forgotten shape" of a back that he had known well as a boy.


He explained: "I was a Yorkshire miner's son, the youngest of seven, and my mother was no longer so very young. She suffered from bad rheumatism in the back and would say to me in winter, when I came home from school: 'Henry, boy, come and rub my back.' Then I would massage her back with liniment."


Moore was born in Castleford on 30 July 1898. His father was a committed socialist. The son won a scholarship to Castleford Secondary School, where his talent was fostered by his art teacher. In 1917, he gave up a teaching post to go and fight, and at Cambrai underwent an experience whose significance has been underrated. Three-quarters of the men in his unit were killed in a gas attack. Moore was sent home to recover from gas poisoning, returning to the front just before the armistice.


"This experience tends to be marginalised because, like everybody else, he was writing home cheery letters about 'meeting Jerry'. He wasn't a man given to describing his inner thoughts, because he belonged to a class, culture and generation that didn't talk about emotion", said the show's curator. "The affirmative, reassuring images that he created later, the abstract forms that relate to the landscape have, to some extent, compromised his critical reputation. There is a darker, edgier and sexier side to Henry Moore. I thought at one point that this might be a fantasy of mine, but actually it was much commented upon in the 1930s".


In the late 1930s, Moore was drawn into active politics, in support of the republicans in the Spanish Civil War.

He planned a trip to Spain in 1938, but was blocked by the Foreign Office. At that time, Moore produced a series of stringed figures and disturbing drawings in which sculptures are displayed in what could be grim prison cells. In 1939, he produced a threatening-looking sculpture based on a soldier's helmet.
"What it was like to be a figure on the left in the late 1930s is hard to imagine", said the curator. "There was a real inner conflict in Moore who was a pacifist because of his experience in the First World War and an anti-fascist. There was a political tension in which he was actively engaged, which I think the physical tensions of these figures relates to".


In the event, the anti-fascist in Moore prevailed over the pacifist. If he had been young enough to fight, he might have enlisted again. Instead, those shelter drawings have endured as his contribution to winning the war.

The Independent

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

100 YEARS AGO TODAY

ALLEGED EMBEZZLEMENT AT FORT WILLIAM


Postal Clerk Arrested

On the night of Sunday last, the Howrah C.I.D. Police raided the house of Bidhubhusan Santra in village Bholsar, in the jurisdiction of Bagnan Thana, and arrested Bidhubhusan in connected with the embezzlement of Rs 800 in Currency notes from a registered parcel directed to England from the Fort William Post Office.
Some time ago the fraud was discovered and information was given to the Calcutta Police who took up the enquiry. A warrant of arrest was issued against Bidhubhusan, head clerk of the Fort William Post Office, but before it could be executed, the accused absconded, and he had kept himself in hiding until, on information received he was arrested at his village residence on Sunday night. He will shortly be placed before the Chief Presidency Magistrate on a charge of criminal breach of trust.


RAIDS IN THE ULUBERIA DISTRICT

Bengali Boys Arrested

The officers of the Howrah C.I.D., on the 16th instant, arrested twelve Bengali boys in the Uluberia sub-division of the Howrah district. It is stated that the arrests are in connection with the Netra and Haludbari dacoities. It is further alleged that the accused, who are at present in the custody of the C.I.D., will be tried along with those who already stand charged before the District Magistrate of Howrah under Section 400, I.P.C. The names ofthe accused have not yet transpired.


Lalit Kumar Chatterjee, the Krishnagar pleader, his clerk, Nibaran Chandra Mozumdar, and Suresh Chunder Mazumdar, of 121, Cornwallis Street, have been removed to the Alipore Jail, whihc Jotindra Nath Mukerjee, stenographer to the Hon Mr Wheeler, has been removed to the Presidency Jail.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

PEACE HUNT

 

In a democracy, the government and its critics can — and should — have much to talk about among themselves. It should be a particularly welcome development if armed dissenters decide to talk instead. Most governments in the world have talked to groups which once seemed irrevocably sworn to violent means. There should thus be no problem for the Centre to respond positively to the Maoists' offer of talks. The post-Independence political history of India has many examples of armed rebellions ending through negotiations. It has happened not just with insurgent groups in the Northeast but also with political extremists in other parts of the country. Many factions of Naxalites, the precursors of today's Maoists, gave up arms and joined parliamentary democracy. Even in cases where talks failed to end the rebellions, as with some groups in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast, doors to negotiations have remained open. As for the Maoists, an offer of talks had come from the Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, even before the rebels mooted the idea. Ending the Maoist violence is crucial to both India's internal security and economic development. The biggest beneficiary of a peace process could be the poorest, especially the tribal, people whose cause the Maoists claim to be fighting for.

 

However, the trouble with the Maoists' offer is that it comes with a rider. They want the government to suspend all operations against them for 72 days. It is not clear why the rebels want this time-frame for a cessation of the government's offensive. In similar situations, whether with the Maoists in Andhra Pradesh or the Naga rebels, ceasefire agreements had been more definitive and transparent. Past experience also shows that rebel groups have used ceasefires in order to rebuild their organizations and rearm themselves. Even so, the government should accept the challenge and match the Maoists' strategy of talks. After all, even a bad peace is better than a good war. But there can be absolutely no question of letting the guard down. Since the Maoists' ultimate goal is to overthrow the 'bourgeois' State by means of force, no government can afford to call off the fight against them. Clearly, it is a battle of attrition and the Centre must send out the message that the State is strong and dynamic enough to engage in it. The search for peace must not look like a compromise with violence and anarchy.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

LEGAL DEMAND

 

Sometimes the chief function of a law in India is to affix responsibility. The notification that education is a fundamental right for all children between the ages of six and 14 years makes failure on the part of the government to provide education legally culpable. The decision is a welcome one: it does show the Union government's concern about the country's children. Although there are still many questions about the age limit — what happens before six and why should children not get compulsory education till they complete Class X — it is a step in the right direction. The notification will not allow state governments to remain oblivious to the facts that numerous children from underprivileged communities do not go to school or are early dropouts, become child labourers at home or outside, are married off, or are drawn into criminal activity. If parents can legally demand education for their children, it is certainly an added pressure on governments. The law can act as a spur.

 

But the fact that such a law was needed at all points to a huge failure. The number of schools and trained teachers, methods of teaching or even the availability of blackboards and textbooks — to mention a few basic needs — have not kept up with growing demands. Schemes such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have helped somewhat, but their utilization has been wildly various in different states. With such schemes preceding it, the law has not arrived out of the blue, but the groundwork to make the fundamental right to education a reality is still deeply flawed. It is not merely a question of sufficiency of schools, but also of the quality of the content and method of education. Even when there are teachers, they are not adequately trained to teach children from different segments of the population with sympathy and patience. Neither are there enough options in the syllabi to suit different regions, especially in the rural areas. Conditions in the classroom are harsh and alienating for children from backward communities. Basic amenities, such as toilets and drinking water, are not always provided. Midday meals alone cannot — and should not — lure children to school. So in making governments responsible for school education, the law is demanding far more than appears at first sight. The notification is welcome, as is the spur to action. How soon these will work, is another question.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

REASON OVER EMOTION

CLIMATE CHANGE, FOOD SECURITY AND THE NEED FOR RATIONAL DEBATE

ASHOK GANGULY

 

Two critical and contemporary issues, principally in the domain of science, are grabbing headlines in the popular media — the Himalayan glaciers and the Bt brinjal in India.

 

In the raging controversies over receding Himalayan glaciers and Bt Brinjal, lies the kernel of a deep malaise of how science is treated in India. India is, quite rightly, known for its growing army of scientists and engineers who have made the country an important destination for research and development investments by global companies. It is, however, worth remembering that China is quietly racing ahead in advancing R&D as well as with its growing citation record of research publications — which, ultimately, is the true measure of the quality of scientific research in any country.

 

Regrettably, the scandal of the receding Himalayan glaciers and the public spectacle of the Bt brinjal controversy are issues which have been hijacked out of the domain of the scientists, who should be rightfully and legitimately providing expert advice, by individuals and activists far removed from the sphere of genuine scientific research and enquiry.

 

This state of affairs is indeed regrettable because both these topics have a huge bearing on the future of the world's climate and India's food security. Climate change is an established phenomenon supported by data and scientific research. Any disagreements concern the reasons for global warming, not the fact itself. There is a sizeable group of fairly respected and vocal sceptics who question the very phenomenon of global warming.

 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up by the United Nations with a view to achieve a consensual coherence in what is universally acknowledged as a hugely complex phenomenon — that of climate change. The IPCC's work was recognized by being awarded the Nobel Prize in 2008. Just prior to the recent Copenhagen climate summit, a great deal of confusion was generated by the news of some leaked mail among climate scientists which cast a shadow of doubt on some conclusions in the IPCC report on climate change. This gave a handle to the army of climate change sceptics, and the confusion was compounded by the chaotic assembly of NGOs and various other activists in Copenhagen during the summit. The latest revelation regarding the fallacy of the data related to receding Himalayan glaciers has now raised a climatic turmoil in the global media. For the first time, there is a real challenge to the credibility of the IPCC and its claim as the custodian of all that is relevant as the scientific basis for climate change. This is an extremely unfortunate development and has thrown the critical issue of global warming into confusion and disarray.

 

In the midst of this raging controversy, some important issues are being lost sight of. The politics of global warming is one such issue. Although not stated explicitly, global warming is seen as a lever to try and put a brake on the growth of emerging economies by the developed world while it struggles to emerge from its own economic problems. Studies have shown that the bulk of global warming is correlated to population growth, as measured from data of the last 50 years and the economic activities, primarily of the developed world, during the same period. If world population continues to grow and emerging economies grow at the rate as is being forecast, climate change is expected to accelerate inexorably. In search of a solution, emerging economies cannot be expected to slow down their growth, but to urgently invest in and advance the use of existing, new and green technologies which can help decelerate climate change.

 

Unfortunately, the IPCC controversies have become a major setback to a sensible dialogue regarding measures to manage climate change. If the UN and the IPCC hope to reclaim their leadership role in creating an international consensus on how to deal with climate change, nothing less than root and branch overhaul of the IPCC can restore its credibility and authority amongst decision-makers and the general public.

 

As far as Bt Brinjal is concerned, it is symbolic of an uninformed, unscientific debate which has turned into a sad spectacle in the public domain. Bioengineered crops have been widely and commercially cultivated in the United States of America and South America for over 10 years without any reported ill effects. Europeans are far less forthcoming and have settled for proper labelling so that people can choose. In the ongoing debate on Bt Brinjal, scientific views have been overshadowed by emotion-charged rhetoric between those for and those against plant genetics.

 

The fact remains that a second Green Revolution and India's food security will not be achieved without the help of bioengineered seeds and crops. That evidence of human and environmental safety issues must be a prerequisite in clearing bioengineered seeds for widespread use goes without saying. But safety issues have to be decided by expert scientists working in their laboratories and in agricultural experimental farms rather than by participants in town-hall debates, which seem, inevitably, to be ending up in chaos.

 

Both these current events are particularly disturbing for Indian science. Those who are the real scientific experts seem to have been pushed into the background while activists, with their false halos, have taken the centre stage as the defenders of the truth.

 

Climate change and bioengineering are far too important for India to be left to become playthings in the hands of amateurs, and sooner the leadership and accountability are restored to acknowledged scientific experts, the better will it be for the truth to emerge as sustainable facts.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

IN THE EYE OF THE EVIL

ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA

 

With the court martial ordered against the four army generals involved in the Sukna land scam, speculations about whether the rule of law applies to the armed forces should be put to rest, albeit temporarily. But a niggling irritation continues. It takes two to fight a war; it also takes two to hatch a conspiracy or to commit a crime.

 

Assuming that the generals were involved in a scam, what about their civil partners? Who will probe into their role in the game? Will the income tax, customs, central excise, service tax, state sales tax and other concerned departments investigate the circumstances leading to the tripping of senior generals in a sensitive area bordering foreign countries?

 

Apparently, the Siliguri realtor, who hatched the plan to set up a school, had to send his daughters to boarding schools. So he wanted to build a good school near Sukna. But now he has decided to look for land elsewhere. He does not realize that admission to schools is a problem across India, not faced by his daughters alone. The incident shows that the education system in India is more influenced by money power than by quality teaching.

 

A section of India's trading class prefers to use money to get any job done. One suspects that in future, only a few officials are likely to control themselves when faced with an offer of money. The rot in the civil bureaucracy is rising alarmingly. The Sukna incident shows that the upper echelons of the military bureaucracy too are being slowly poisoned by the lure of money.

 

Billions in India will always be desperate for education and quality healthcare. With an insatiable demand curve and restricted supply line comes the usual paucity of funds and a lamentable lack of governance in the delivery end. Thus corrupt entrepreneurs come into play with devastating effect — and Sukna is a case in point.

 

Chain reaction

 

How far this minuscule yet deadly class of entrepreneurs can go will be clear if one looks at one of the numerous government schemes to promote trade and tourism. The export promotion capital goods is one such scheme, which was systematically violated by corrupt stakeholders. Under the EPCG scheme, the state allows import of capital goods at concessional/ nil rate of customs duty subject to an export obligation. Under it, import of motor cars, sports utility/ all-purpose vehicles are allowed only to hotels, travel agents and tour transport operators. The idea is simple. The government gives duty exemption to the importer of the vehicle, so that he can use the vehicle for the purposes specified above and fetch foreign currency for the state exchequer. Unfortunately, this purpose was repeatedly defeated, as instead of earning foreign exchange for the state coffer, hundreds of traders brazenly flouted the law of the land by defaulting on customs duty to the tune of hundreds of millions of rupees on imported vehicles after acquiring them for private use. These unscrupulous traders show no regret or remorse even after being caught in high-profile cases by the customs department.

 

Recently, there was news of several high-ranking IAS officers being caught in scams worth crores by the income tax department in Madhya Pradesh. Look at the paradox. Senior army generals are court-martialled before they succeed in making money, but when it comes to senior IAS officers none within the state government takes any action. It is left to a Central agency to catch the officers.

 

With corrupt traders and babus making money in whatever manner they can, it would be ridiculous to expect senior generals to lead a Spartan life. Do punish the generals, but first punish the traders who are giving money, and then the babus who are taking it, and breaking India.

 

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EDITORIAL

SEIZE THE SPACE

"IT'S TIME TO HOLD GENUINE TALKS WITH THE MAOISTS."

 

Space for negotiations has opened up with the Maoists announcing a 72-day ceasefire beginning March 25. This is an opportunity, which the government must grasp without any delay. Home Minister P Chidambaram has promised to respond positively to the Maoists if they get back to him with an unambiguous statement unconditionally abjuring violence. The Maoists' ceasefire offer is conditional on the government calling off 'Operation Green Hunt.' It does seem that the government is unsure of the genuineness of the ceasefire offer. Reports suggest that the Maoists are split on the truce issue. Sceptics are pointing out that the Maoists' ceasefire offer is a ruse to get the government to halt military operations, to allow them time and space to regroup. The Maoists too are wary that the government will use the ceasefire to consolidate control over areas where the writ of the rebels runs. The Maoists' experience of talks with the government has not been positive. The Andhra Pradesh government engaged in talks with the Maoists and when several of their leaders emerged above ground to participate in the peace process, the government called off the talks and quickly arrested them. It would be a pity if the two sides allow their suspicions to cloud their decisions on what is an opportunity.
There is a trust deficit on the part of both sides but this can be overcome by putting in place confidence building measures. A group that includes eminent citizens trusted by both sides can be set up to monitor the ceasefire and to ensure that they are living up to their obligations. A truce is no guarantee that all violence will end overnight. There will be sections on both sides that are opposed to ceasefire and talks. They will seek to undermine the truce by engaging in violence. Consequently, both the government and the Maoists must be patient and not respond to these provocative acts by walking away from the ceasefire.


If the government responds to the Maoist offer and a ceasefire from both sides comes into effect, it will provide the tribals living in the conflict zones some respite. Both sides claim to represent the interests of the tribals. If they are indeed committed to their welfare, safety and security, they must cease the violence. The silencing of guns, will allow the Maoists and the government to air their grievances, articulate their positions and suggestions and hear each other.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

POTENT WEAPON

"IMPORTANCE OF AERO-NAVAL POWER HAS GONE UP."

 

The recently inducted MiG-29K fighter aircraft into the Indian Navy (IN) is a potent weapon that will further strengthen its fleet's air arm which has a backbone of technologically obsolescent Sea Harrier and Kiran fighter aircraft.


Apart from these, the other IN aircraft are the Ilyushin-38 (Sea Dragon), and Dornier which are transport aircraft, besides the Chetak a helicopter. Today naval planners comprehend the importance of aero-naval power especially after the 1991 Gulf War and the 2001 air assault on Afghanistan.It is to be noted that the US military launched its bombing sorties over Afghanistan from carrier borne aircraft.


The selection of a fighter aircraft for an aircraft carrier is a complex decision based on the threat perceptions which in turn determine the flight range or combat radius and weapon load; besides, other mundane aspects like how 'parkable' and 'operable' the aircraft are from the flight deck of a floating platform. Also carrier-borne aircraft need to have a stronger undercarriage to engage with arrestor cables and absorb the shock of landing on flight decks which are relatively shorter than conventional landing grounds. These fourth generation MiG-29K fighter aircraft are meant for deployment on the Russian aircraft carrier the Admiral Gorskhov which has yet to be commissioned into the IN. Undoubtedly, the delayed arrival of the aircraft carrier is a disadvantage for the naval pilots to practice their landings and take offs from the flight deck which is critical to naval aviation. However, they could train to exploit the flight envelope of the MiG-29K till such time that the Admiral Gorskhov joins the IN fleet.


The MiG-29K will enable Admiral Gorskhov to establish air superiority in open oceans even within the range of enemy fighters, particularly protect the IN's nuclear-powered ballistic missile armed submarine patrolling the Arabian Sea and the waters of the Indian Ocean. Otherwise the role of the IN's fleet arm is to primarily protect the carrier battle group from hostile threats at sea both from sub surface and surface combatants. For instance, the ship-borne MiG-29 K fighter aircraft will serve to counter the hostile long range maritime patrol aircraft/anti-submarine warfare aircraft, and could respond rapidly, unlike land-based Indian Air Force aircraft that will take a much longer time to engage any such aerial threats.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

CRISIS OF CREDIBILITY

THE SUPREME COURT'S COLLEGIUM, INVENTED BY A CONTROVERSIAL JUDICIAL RULING, HAS ALWAYS BEEN UNDER ATTACK FOR ITS OPACITY.

BY SUDHANSHU RANJAN


The emotional outburst of Justice A P Shah on the eve his retirement as chief justice of Delhi high court that he could not pretend that he was not hurt at being denied elevation to the apex court should force the members of the supreme court collegium to do some self-introspection about its functioning. He has demanded that if a senior judge is bypassed, then the reasons should be conveyed to him.


The collegium, invented by a controversial judicial ruling, has always been under attack for its opacity. Incidentally, this very judgment says that seniority should be honoured unless the junior has 'outstanding merit'. The demand for transparency in its functioning is quite old but the supreme court has not been able to reconcile itself to this idea.


Embarrassed and upset

Embarrassed and upset by a spate of CIC orders that the judiciary divulge details on sensitive issues like appointment of judges, Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan wrote to the prime minister seeking his intervention in exempting matters relating to administration of justice from the purview of the RTI Act.


The letter emphasised that the process of appointment to the higher judiciary was based on a 1993 judgment of the supreme court, and that the meeting of the collegium seldom put in black and white its views on persons rejected for the post of judge.


The argument of the CJI that members of the collegium do not record their opinion in writing, and so, no information or reason could be provided for one's selection, rejection or elevation as judge, is not tenable. In fact, it has been laid down in the Second Judges' case (1993), to which the CJI has referred, that consultations among members of the collegium would be in writing. If it is not recorded, it only means that the direction of the court is not being followed and reflects on the casual manner in which appointments to such sensitive posts are made.


There must be proper reasons for selection or rejection. It is an open secret that some judges/chief justices are not elevated to the apex court because a particular member of the collegium is opposed to him/her.

 

Eminent jurist Fali S Nariman gave expression to this popular perception when he slammed the collegium system, while sharing dais with the CJI at a function in New Delhi, for not elevating Justice Shah to the supreme court.


Justice A K Patnaik could make it to the supreme court only when a particular member of the collegium opposed to him retired. Patnaik's name was recommended thrice earlier but it was vetoed. It is well-known that Justice H S Kapadia vetoed the elevation of Justice Shah while Justice Arijit pasayat blocked Justice Patnaik's.

 What is inscrutable is that if other four members of the collegium found a judge fit to be elevated and only one member was opposed then why did the four cave in before one? The only reason may be that it is the bargaining among members to accommodate their candidates in which the merit is the first casualty. Further, in an unusual move, the supreme court filed an appeal before itself directly against an order of the CIC which directed to make file notings regarding appointment of three judges to the supreme court in 2008 bypassing three senior chief justices public.

The petitioner sought to know why their seniority had been ignored. Perhaps, the supreme court is wary of the fact that earlier the Delhi high court decided against it in the assets declaration case, and so, not taking any chance, it moved itself. It also appears preposterous that the supreme court is examining the applicability of a law vis-à-vis itself. 


Public interest

In Judges' Case, it was the judges themselves who insisted on the disclosure of the correspondence between the Union law minister and the CJI regarding the appointment and transfer of judges on the ground that the government was performing a constitutional function and it was a matter of public interest why a particular judge was dropped or allowed to continue.


 The court again rejected the government's claim of privilege on the correspondence: "Where a society has chosen to accept democracy as its creedal faith, it is elementary that the citizens ought to know what their government is doing. The citizens have a right to decide by whom and by what rules they shall be governed and they are entitled to call on their behalf to account for their conduct."


The same is true of transfers of judges. Nobody knows on what grounds judges are transferred. There are no set rules for it and the affected judges have fumed that they were victims of bias.  B L Hansaria, a former supreme court judge, commented: "The position, therefore, is that a high court judge who has (been) transferred has no remedy available to him, even if he were to think that the transfer order was actuated by bias. His position is thus worse than (that of) a grade IV government employee who can challenge his transfer order on the ground of bias."

 

All said and done, openness is in the interest of the judiciary itself.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE RIGHT OF MOTHER EARTH

OUR FUTURE IS IN JEOPARDY. THE INTERLINKING OF CRISES COULD CREATE A TRAGEDY.

BY LEONARDO BOFF


There is no political formulation of the interests of humanity or mother earth that protects their nature and cultures. For centuries we have lived under the jurisdiction of nation states and their assorted forms of sovereignty and autonomy.


But as all problems become increasingly global, this political model is proving incapable of offering the solutions needed by humanity and the planet as a whole.


The United Nations would be the right organisation to perform this function, but it is completely demoralised and the only part of it with real power is the Security Council, which is controlled by the veto-wielding, five major powers, led by the US.


There is no world social contract that sets global political practices, nor is there a collective reference to build consensus and settle conflicts. This is one of the reasons for the failure of international meetings on global affairs, like the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference or the World Trade Round in Doha.


Unique moment

This is a unique moment in history. Our common future is in jeopardy. The interlinking of crises, especially ecological, could create a humanitarian and environmental tragedy of staggering proportions that would demand urgent action on a global scale. The necessary precondition for such action is a common set of references, values, principles, and inspirations that provide an ethical and political foundation for the world community.
Today what must be saved is not the status quo but life itself and the system of the earth. This is the new central reality by which the major political paths to the future must be oriented. Aware of this urgency, the President of the UN General Assembly for 2008/2009 and ex-foreign minister of Sandinista Nicaragua, Miguel D'Escoto, after consulting a wide range of heads of state and other figures, resolved to create a draft of a 'Universal Declaration of the Common Good of the Earth and Humanity' that would complement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.
This document, which will be officially introduced at the International Climate Conference next April in Cochabamba, Bolivia, will present the most reliable data regarding modern cosmology.


Consider that the earth and humanity are part of a vast evolving universe and share the same destiny and constitute in all their complexity a single entity. The earth lives and behaves as a single self-regulating system made up of physical, chemical, biological, and human components that give rise to the production and reproduction of life, and for this reason it is our great mother and our common home. It is comprised of the sum of the ecosystems through which it generated a magnificent array of forms of complementary and interdependent life, sacred and unified,such that the human being, men and women, are the same as the earth, which speaks, thinks, senses, loves, cares for, and venerates.

 

Since the environmental crisis must be addressed at the global level, it is essential to clearly define the common good of the earth and humanity. This common good is universal and free to all.



It must include everyone, all people and peoples, and at the same time must be offered for free because it represents what is essential, vital, and irreplaceable for humanity and for earth itself.

The first common good is the earth itself, which is the condition for all other goods. It belongs to the universe, to itself, and to the totality of ecosystems that comprise it. Human beings are not its owners but guests because it is the generator of life itself and thus deserves to be treated with dignity and to be cared for and protected.
The biosphere is a common patrimony that humanity must protect. This is true for all natural resources: the air, water, fauna,flora,  microorganisms, and also the maintenance of the climate. For this reason climate change must be faced globally and recognised as a shared responsibility.


The common patrimony includes those public goods that maintain life, like food, seeds, electricity, the accumulated knowledge of people, research and science, culture,art, music, religion, health and security.
The second common good is humanity, with its intrinsic values of dignity, conscience, intelligence, sensibility, compassion, love and opening to all. Humanity appears as a project that is infinite and therefore unending.


Fecund concept

The fecund concept of the common good prohibits, for example, the patenting of genetic resources that are fundamental to food and agriculture; patented technical discoveries should always be managed with an eye towards their social application.


Central to the common good of humanity and mother earth is the conviction that a beneficent energy extends throughout the entire universe, sustains all living creatures, and can be invoked, welcomed, and venerated.(IPS)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

LIVING IN HOPE

IT'S BETTER TO KEEP THE MASSES HOPEFUL RATHER THAN FILL THEM WITH DESPAIR.

BY BHARTENDU SOOD

 

In the last two years ever since the prices of essential commodities, especially of food grains, started their upward march, not a week passes without our prime minister or the finance minister telling the beleaguered common man that "prices will come down in a month." But, we only see them spiral upward. Then why should our worthy PM or FM keep on making this statement at regular intervals? Do they want to fool people?


 I presume it is not their intention. Are they wrong in their assessment? I don't think they are so naïve either. Then why should they do it? The simple answer lies in their being equipped with the worldly wisdom that it is always better to keep the masses hopeful rather than fill them with despair. Afterall hope is the elixir of life!


Emily Dickinson wrote in a poem that "Hope is the thing with feathers/ That perches in the soul/ And sings the tune without the words/ And never stops/at all..." Napoleon had once remarked that even if you had lost everything but not the hope, you could change defeat into a victory.


I read a small story about a Brahmin who was falsely implicated by his foes and was awarded capital punishment. He was not the one to lose hope even in worst situations. On the appointed day when capital punishment was to be executed he was asked about his last wish.


He looked towards the king and said, "I wish I could teach his excellency's horse to fly before leaving this world."It did the trick. The king, keen to see his horse acquiring an unheard of skill, gave the Brahmin a year's reprieve.
Relieved when he reached his home and narrated the story to his wife, the wife had mixed feelings, "My dear, I am very happy that you got the reprieve but worried how you'd accomplish what seems to be impossible."  Amused, the Brahmin replied "You are right my sweet heart, but anything which generates hope for the future should be done. One year is a long period. Many things can happen. King can change. He can die and even, who knows the horse may start flying."


All I know from my experience of last six decades is that prices would never fall, but still if statements like the PM's generates hope in the people there is nothing wrong. Afterall good leaders are those who keep people hopeful!

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

PORUSH'S LEGACY

 

He embodied a pragmatic approach to coexistence with secular Zionist leadership.

 

 

On Purim almost 80 years ago, when he was just 16, Menahem Porush was expelled from the Etz Haim Yeshiva in Jerusalem for entertaining his fellow students with a comical impersonation of Chief Rabbi of Palestine Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook. The yeshiva may have lost an entertainer but the haredi public gained an important political leader.


Porush, who passed away this week at the age of 93, embodied a pragmatic approach to coexistence with the secular Zionist leadership in Israel.


Porush was the scion of a zealots. His family had lived for generations in Jerusalem and was vehemently opposed to Zionism. However, in July 1945, when the more extreme elements within the haredi community of Jerusalem purged Agudath Yisrael from their ranks, in protest against its willingness to cooperate with the Zionists, Porush, who had worked as a foreign correspondent for the haredi weekly Kol Yisrael, chose pragmatism over ideological purism.


He joined the thousands of more moderate haredim who had come to Palestine from Poland with the Fourth Aliya in building Agudah into a viable political party. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Porush understood the importance of working together with the materializing Jewish state to rehabilitate devastated haredi Jewry.


Agudah was hardly pro-Zionist. However, historians have refuted claims that in 1947 high-ranking members of the party threatened to testify before the UN against the creation of a Jewish state unless David Ben-Gurion granted their religious demands. (Porush himself, ironically, attempted to support this claim in his six-volume family biography, xxSharsheret Hadorot, to prove to more uncompromising detractors that Agudah stood steadfastly by haredi interests.)


THOSE WHO knew him well tell of Porush's strong connection to the Land of Israel. One relatively recent memorable photo shows him on a stage in Sderot – in his late 80s, confined to a wheelchair – protesting against the Gaza disengagement.


But he always maintained close ties with the Left. Former Meretz chairman Yossi Sarid eulogized Porush on a haredi Internet site, stating, "If I must have a political adversary, I hope it is someone with Porush's attributes." President Shimon Peres also had close ties with him and mourned him as a man of vision and hope.


For all his openness, Porush knew well how to advance the interests of his constituency. During more than three decades as an MK, including two periods during which he served as deputy labor and social affairs minister, Porush fought bitterly for the exemption of yeshiva students and religious women from IDF service. He demonstrated against the opening of a public swimming pool in Jerusalem. He torpedoed plans to build Teddy Stadium on a hill in northern Jerusalem that today is the site of a haredi neighborhood.


But Porush did not just tow the party line. Together with his son, MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism), he challenged the haredi political establishment. The two Porushs, with the backing of Shas, successfully ran their own mayoral candidate for Betar Illit in 2007, against Degel Hatorah and the Ger Hassidic movement, which controls Agudah. When Ger, through its paper Hamodia, helped foil Meir's run for mayor of Jerusalem in 2008, the Porushes set up their own daily, Hamevaser.


MENAHEM PORUSH'S maverick political leadership style is an important legacy.



In today's Israel, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a common cultural denominator that can unite the disparate parts of our society. At a time when one in four Israeli babies is born to a haredi family, it is unclear whether these children will grow up to feel strong ties with the State of Israel and its values.


At this critical moment, the haredi community desperately needs creative, independent leadership that takes heed of the common interests of all Israelis.


The rising number of haredi young men who are choosing to perform national service is a step in the right direction, as is the growing number of haredi men and women who are joining the labor force.


The haredi political leadership, in the spirit of Menahem Porush, should be encouraging these trends. Through interaction and the sharing of responsibility, we need to create and strengthen common cultural bonds to help meet the many challenges that face us.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

BASH ISRAEL (AND YOUR BRAIN)

BY AMNON RUBENSTEIN

 

Prestigious university presses have waived all academic criteria.

 

The latest product in the flourishing bash-Israel literature is Iranophobia. The book debunks Israeli and Western anxieties about the Iranian dangers. The author, Prof. Haggai Ram of Ben-Gurion University, argues that Israeli anti-Iran phobias are largely projections of perceived domestic threats to the prevailing Israeli ethnocratic order. In plain language, he holds that Israel has to demonize Iran so as to identify the Islamic Republic with its suppressed minorities in Israel: the Mizrahi and the haredi communities. Iran, on this theory, is the hated "role model" with which these suppressed minorities can be associated: "the production of Iran as a radical external other in Israeli imagination is to be understood in relation to the emergence of ("Iran-like") ethnic and religious internal others that violated the Jewish state's self-image as 'the West.'"


And these internal others are, of course the haredi and the Mizrahi communities.


As is common in bash-Israel literature, the author adduces no real evidence for these allegations. He relies heavily - surprise, surprise! - on Yossi Sarid and other spokesmen of the Zionist Left who attack the settlers in the occupied territories by comparing them to the Khomeini phenomenon. He also relies on attacks against Shas as supporting his claim that Israel invented Iranophobia in order to respond to its "contamination" by the "haredi-Mizrahi values of Shas."


The launching of this book was accompanied by a longish interview with the author on a CBS coast-to-coast newscast, in which he pooh-poohed the Iranian danger and stated that the real danger in the Middle East stems from the "neighborhood bully." And guess who that bully is.


But the most significant aspect of this book is the fact that it is published by Stanford University Press.


INDEED, IN recent years, prestigious university presses have waived all academic criteria in order to publish any book - no matter what its academic merits are - which bashes Israel. A good example is Princeton University Press which published Jacqueline Rose's book The Question of Zion, (which is invoked in Ram's Iranophobia as supporting the claim that Zionism and Khomeinism are birds of a feather).


Rose, a psychoanalyst who teaches English at Queen Mary, University of London, is famous for her anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli campaigns. She wrote lovingly about the "unbearable intimacy shared in their final moments by the suicide bomber and his or her victims" and claimed that suicide bombing "might be the closest Israelis and Palestinians can get."


Her book is full of allegations against Zionism, comparing it to mental illness. Her evidence is typical: its founders were mentally sick. She describes Herzl as "manic," but he is not alone: she quotes Weizmann's doctor, who described his patient as suffering from neurasthenia, overfatigue, overexcitement and weakness of the respiratory organs (I suppress a cough while writing this).


But all these jabberings pale besides her proof that Zionism and Nazism are similar. She says that not only Herzl but also Hitler attended the 1895 performance of Wagner's Tannhauser in Paris (about which Herzl writes in his diaries). Prof. Rose tells a story, according to which both personalities "were present on the same evening that inspired Herzl to write Der Judenstaat, and Hitler Mein Kampf."

The learned academic, as well as the Princeton editors, did not realize that on the date of that performance Hitler was six years old and to assume that his parents traveled from their poor Austrian village with the infant Adolf to hear a French version of a German opera is a bit too much even by the sub-zero standards of bash-Israel propaganda.


She, as well as the distinguished editors from Princeton, overlooked another fact. Tannhauser is neither Germanic nor chauvinistic; it is a beautiful opera about universal love, and was played at the opening of the Second Zionist Congress.


Somebody must have divulged these two "inaccuracies" in this story about the infant Adolf at the opera in Paris and that part was omitted from the third edition of the book.


Here, too, the significant part is not the concoction of imaginary facts and accusations by the author but the fact that Princeton published it. Indeed, when it comes to Israel-bashing, anything goes.

 

But after all is said and done, the gods are just; anybody who reads these and similar books must come to the conclusion that bashing Israel does something bad to the author's intellectual powers - if not to his "respiratory organs." They bash Israel with a bashed brain.


The writer is a professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a former minister of education and Knesset member, as well as the recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize in Law. www.amnonrubinstein.org.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE ISRAELI

BY DAVID BREAKSTONE



No one promised me a rose garden here, but I found one, thorns and all.

 

Some of my best friends are Israeli. Some aren't. A number of them used to be, but for one reason or another they've moved away. It seems that every time I begin getting really close to someone, they up and leave. Right now they can be found in places as far afield as Atlanta and Maputo. That's not a typo; it's the capital of Mozambique. They give me all sorts of reasons for their scattering abroad. Shattered dreams. Parents. Children. Jobs.

But by now I'm beginning to wonder if it's not me. Not "me" in the sense that I've done something to drive them away, but "me" as in maybe I'm not seeing something they do.


Recently one of those best friends was back for a visit and suggested just that. If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, he told me, it will instantly jump out, but if you were to put that same frog into a pot of cold water and slowly begin heating it, the dull-witted creature will just swim around and around until it cooks to death. He wasn't reminiscing about seventh-grade biology labs; he was trying to explain to me why, after 36 years here, I was incognizant of just how much hot water this Jewish state of ours is in, and just how much hotter things are going to get. What you see from there you don't see from here.


And from there, what he sees happening here, he finds insufferable. Here's his short list: rampant xenophobia, corrupt politicians, exploitation of foreign workers, indefensible treatment of Palestinians, a growing trade in human flesh, ranting and raving in God's name, and deeply held prejudices against our Arab minority.


I cringe, wishing I could attribute his perception of things to biased reporting in the foreign media. I can't. The source of his observations, he assures me, is none other than the Israeli press, which he continues to follow avidly on the Internet. Instead, I assure him that I also find all of these things deeply disturbing.


"So why do you let them get away with it?" he demands of me. His question gets to the crux of the matter, and I hurl it back at him.


"Who, exactly, is letting them get away with it?" I demand in return.


"You are," he insists. "By living here, you're condoning it all."


"Is it possible that it's you who are condoning it by not living here?"


The conversation continues and I explain that I didn't move to Israel because I expected to chance upon an exemplary society, but rather because I was excited by the prospect of creating one. "I honestly feel privileged to have the opportunity to be involved in doing just that," I tell him. He begins to roll his eyes but I'm not easily intimidated. "The kind of country you and I want to live in," I argue, "is a project, not a present. Don't confuse our current state of affairs with the state we want to craft."


"I could accept that argument if things were moving in the right direction," he responds, "but they're not. What started as a dream is turning into a nightmare. Give me one good reason to come back."

"I'll give you a thousand," I shoot back. "An infinite number of little things that add up." It may be that what you see from there you don't see from here, but the opposite is certainly true: what you see from here, you don't see from there. And I launch into a litany of such visions, little dreams in the making.


MY LAST bank statement arrived together with a list of social action initiatives that the bank was sponsoring, encouraging me to utilize its services as part of its campaign to engage the business world in the community in order to rehabilitate marginalized youth.


Young colleagues of mine have recently established a communal settlement celebrating religious diversity. Others have been involved in pioneering a new model of cooperative living and social engagement in a conscious effort to build a more ethical and just society. And close friends have just moved to an old kibbutz with the explicit objective of revitalizing it together with others intent on creating a center of spirituality and learning in harmonious coexistence with both the environment and their Arab neighbors.


My daughter and son-in-law - she with a traditional upbringing and he from a secular home - are studying Kabbala together in one of hundreds of venues that have sprung up over the last decade encouraging serious study of Jewish sources in a non-coercive environment, encouraging "the new blossoming of the Jewish spirit" that many of our Zionist forebears had hoped for.


My wife and I regularly return from the theater and the cinema still hungry for distraction, but deeply inspired by original works of the highest caliber that leave us with a sense of having sat for hours before a merciless mirror.

My work with the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency brings me into contact with prominent figures from the corporate world who are fully engaged in hands-on philanthropy and volunteerism in projects ranging from the effective integration of new immigrants to the building of bridges between Arabs and Jews to preventive intervention with youngsters at risk.


The list of grassroots initiatives in this country is literally never-ending. Every day new efforts are launched by concerned individuals to alleviate suffering, assuage the pangs of hunger and lighten the burdens of poverty. And this is still a society young enough and nimble enough that every individual can make a difference. A dose of determination and a measure of gumption go a long way.


NO ONE promised me a rose garden when I moved here, I tell my friend, but they should have, as that's exactly what I found, thorns and all. Over the years, I've gotten my share of scars and scratches, even a tiny barb under the skin that I can't draw out that every once in a while acts up. There are seasons when the flowers are dazzling; others when the prickles predominate. But I am well aware that in the hands of a good gardener the blossoms can be cajoled into lasting a little longer.


As we part, I remind my best friend that this country is desperately in need of those who are critical of it. I tell him - and through him all those who are contemplating coming or coming back, all those who are teetering on the verge of leaving, and all those who are here and need a word of encouragement or a reminder of why they came in the first place - that things aren't going to change for the better if those who want Israel to be something other than what it is leave the country to those who don't.

"Keep dreaming," my friend tells me with a slap on the back and a tinge of cynicism in his voice as he takes leave of me.


"I intend to," I assure him.

The writer represents worldwide Masorti/Conservative Judaism on the executives of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization, where he also serves as head of the Department for Zionist Activities. davidbr@wzo.org.il

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

MIDEAST DRAMA STARRING DANNY AYALON

BY RAY HANANIA

 

The deputy foreign minister's mischievous behavior isn't unique in this region.

Talkbacks (1)

 

When Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon intentionally disrespected Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol last month in the "sofa affair," many believed he was just an immature politician.


In reality, though, Ayalon's snub of the ambassador represents more than just one man's failings. His actions symbolize the fundamental shortcomings common to rejectionists and shared by the Arabs, too.


Ayalon didn't accidentally disrespect the Turkish ambassador. He did it with flair and intended mischief. Ayalon had Celikkol sit on a couch in his office that was "lower" than his own chair. Not that anyone would care except that Ayalon intentionally pointed out the slight to the Israeli media to drive home the mbarrassment.

Celikkol was "summoned" to Ayalon's office to be "reprimanded" because Turkish state TV was airing a program that made the IDF look bad. Well, if they were mad about that, you can imagine why they were enraged with the war crimes allegations against the IDF in the UN's Goldstone Report.


And in an apparent response to the Ayalon "slight" of Celikkol, a billboard went up near Istanbul on Sunday depicting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan standing upright before Israeli President Shimon Peres, an advocate of peace, who was portrayed "bowing" to the Turks. Is that the best the Turks can come up with?


THE CONTROVERSY hadn't even cooled when Ayalon did it again last week. This time, Ayalon reportedly refused to meet with an influential delegation visiting Israel organized by J Street and refused to let them meet with senior Israeli officials, a charge the Foreign Ministry denied earlier this week. J Street is the celebrity Jewish American lobbying group that seeks to replace the rigidly right-wing policies of AIPAC with more moderate views to convince American Jews to support peace based on two states. The delegation included five members of the US Congress, normally a place where childish behavior is rewarded.


But for Ayalon, it wasn't enough to not shake their hands or make them sit on a "time-out couch." According to J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami, Ayalon ordered a "boycott" of the delegation.

 

When the congressional delegation protested in anger, Ayalon reportedly apologized (although this was also denied by the Foreign Ministry) - through a surrogate - to them too.


AYALON'S CONDUCT is not peculiar to Israelis, though. There is more than enough childish behavior among the Arab and Palestinian rejectionists. Arabs don't need a TV show to set them off. There are more "serious" things like when an Arab journalist tried to interview an Israeli official and was reprimanded by the Arab Journalists Syndicate, which acts more like a mafia than a professional fraternity of the Fourth Estate.


But the worst offense for the rejectionists is to embrace the two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.


Arab rejectionists insist that the solution is a failure. Their answer: one state, a goal they share with Ayalon whose right-wing party endorses one state but without Palestine, while the Arab rejectionists endorse the same without Israel.

So why not have a debate about it? Because that is normalization, too. Haram[forbidden] of the highest fatwa order.

This attitude to "normalization" (contact with the enemy) and "public debates" isn't just a problem with Arabs in the Middle East. It is a bigger problem with the Arabs who live in the West and in the US.


Recently, a group sought to bring together two Palestinians to debate the issue of "One State or Two?" at the University of Chicago.


The proponent of the two-state solution is Hussein Ibish, a fellow at the moderate American Task Force on Palestine in Washington as well as one of the most articulate English language spokespeople for Palestinian rights.

The sponsoring organization at the university reached out to nearly every leading Palestinian activist to present the case for "one state," and all refused, including, according to Ibish and event sponsors, the canonized saint of the "one state" plan, author Ali Abunimah.


Based at the University of Chicago, Abunimah is one of four founders of the online "Electronic Intifada," where Palestinian moderation is regularly browbeaten and defamed. Abunimah is also the author of the convoluted manifesto and the rejectionist's bible titled One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Basically, the "one-state" theory goes like this: If Palestinians will just refuse to compromise and to create two states, Israelis and Jews will simply give up so Palestinians can replace the Jewish homeland with an Islamic homeland.


Just like that.


Wow. If we only knew that, how many suicide bombers could we have spared in the past? A stupid notion, it has gained huge support among Arabs, maybe because it is just that, a stupid notion.


But "one state" advocates have an ulterior agenda. They know their idea is impossible to achieve and it allows them to exploit Palestinian anger and frustration, turning suffering into hatred and hatred into violence.


Rejectionists have no desire to compromise. They want to keep the conflict going until they can win, they think.


In the end, although Israeli rejectionists are similar to Palestinian rejectionists, there is one glaring difference. Palestinians never apologize for anything or admit they are wrong.


Apologizing means compromise. Apologizing recognizes a mistake. Palestinian rejectionists live in a pretend world where their mistakes don't exist and their failures are not debatable. War crimes committed on their behalf are never addressed, only the war crimes of others.


Danny Ayalon may be a poor diplomat but at least he knows when to apologize and recognize when he is wrong.

When Israelis and Arabs can apologize and recognize when they are wrong together, and stop denying everything as they often do, maybe, just maybe, we might see the day when genuine peace is achieved.


That's something I would bow to myself.

Named Best Ethnic Columnist in America by New America Media, the writer is a Palestinian-American columnist and peace activist. He can be reached at www.YallaPeace.com

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

EGYPT, A CIVIC MOMENT OF SILENCE

BY NIR BOMS


Cairo has had an unusual response to efforts to mend Muslim-Copt relations.

 

In Cairo, crowds filled the streets for the third time two weeks ago to mark Egypt's unprecedented three consecutive victories in the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament. Soccer is big in Egypt and proud Egyptians know how to party.


But not all Egyptians celebrated in the streets. One activist here told me that he doesn't like soccer. He has nothing against the game itself, but he believes it distracts people from many other important issues. A convenient opium for the masses, he noted. But others stayed at home because their wounds are still too fresh.

On January 6, the eve of the Coptic Orthodox Christmas, three gunmen opened fire on worshipers emerging from mass in the city of Nag Hamadi. The attack, which left six Christians and one Muslim dead, was the deadliest attack since 2000, when 21 Copts were killed in sectarian clashes. The massacre was triggered by the alleged rape of a Muslim girl by a young Copt a month earlier. But there is more to that story than simple sectarian strife.


President Hosni Mubarak was quick to respond, urging Egyptians not "to give anyone a pretext to spread conflict." He later criticized Al Azhar University for their lack of "enlightened religious preaching" that may have helped ignite the wave of violence and promised to punish those responsible. However, he seemed to have conveniently forgotten that he was the only one responsible for appointing these "non-enlightened" clerics.


Civic society leaders, shocked by the exhibition of brutal extremism, also felt compelled to try and mend fences. During the week following the attack, representatives of reputable religious institutions, cultural icons, NGOs and others, traveled to Nag Hamadi to offer condolences and speak out against sectarian violence.


Mostafa al-Naggar, a blogger and human rights activist, took the initiative to facilitate such a trip. In a private thread on Facebook, he brought together about 20 Egyptian activists, including some of the most well-known figures in the growing Egyptian blogosphere.


BUT THIS civil gesture took an unexpected turn when they were joined by some uninvited guests. When the group arrived at the train station in Nag Hamadi, they were met by the police. The group of 20, including well-known activists such as Wael Abbass, Esraa Abdel and Ahmed Badawy, was arrested and interrogated for the next 34 hours.


Mohamed Atef, a fellow blogger who lives in the same area as the arrested activists, called the head of security in Qena to find out where his friends were. "If you don't shut up, I will have you go with them!" was the response he was given. That promise was kept. Two hours later, Mohamed Atef was arrested at Sohag train station.

Coincidentally (or not), the bloggers' arrest occurred just hours after Michael Posner, US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, expressed his country's deep concern about sectarian violence and called upon the Egyptian government to prosecute those who perpetrated it, at a conference in Cairo.

But Egypt, it seems, does not need to prosecute much. Abdel Rahim El-Ghoul, one of the longest serving MDP members of parliament from Nag Hamadi, said on TV that there is no need for a trial for the Copt who allegedly "triggered" the Hamadi incident as he is already presumed guilty. Ghoul failed to mention, however, that one of the prime suspects in the attack on the Coptic worshipers, Hamam El-Kamouny, is a confidant who was working for him in his last election campaign.


Coptic sources say that Kamouny used violence and intimidation to enlist Coptic voters, who represent about 30% of the voting bloc in the district. The Hamadi attack is perceived by many as another attempt to intimidate the Coptic community and keep it "in line" after segments of the community called for a boycott of Ghoul in the coming election later this year.


During the 2005 elections, Ghoul got angry with the local Hamadi bishop who came out against him. He is reported to have threatened the bishop and the Coptic community with dire results if they didn't support him. Bishop Kyrolus, who has had well-publicized feuds with Ghoul over his political positions, said that he was the main target of the attack. This year, facing another round of parliamentary elections, many Copts feel that the Nag Hamadi attack was politically motivated and not the work of a lone fanatic.


But such heretic thoughts should be better left unsaid - which is why it makes perfect sense to prevent some bloggers from saying them.


In a few days, the news cycle will have moved on and we'll soon forget about the bloggers and the Coptic community, whose rights they sought to protect. But some in Egypt have yet to lose hope and believe there is room for a different kind of politics. These are the voices of tomorrow - the voices being silenced by the politicians of today.


The writer is the Vice President of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East and co-founder of CyberDissidents.org.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

NEEDED: ROADS WITH LEEWAY

 

This week brought two painful reminders of the deplorable state of Israel's roads. One came as a tractor-trailer overturned on the coastal highway, and another on Route 25 in the Arava as a truck driver lost control, veered into the oncoming lane and fatally crushed five members of a single family.


Sunday's accident on the coastal road caused a two-kilometer traffic jam, leaving thousands of frustrated motorists stranded for hours. The damage such accidents cause the economy (and the drivers' nerves) is self-evident.

Sunday's incident happened because the road is outdated - on the long segment between Netanya and Haifa, the stretch where the 6:30 A.M. crash occurred, there is no lighting between intersections. Had the highway been three lanes wide , the collision would not have led to such a massive jam, as one lane could have been left open with respectable margins.

 

Monday's accident in the south did not need to result in death. It happened on one of the country's most dangerous highways, a narrow and treacherous stretch on which 53 people were killed between 2003 and 2008. The section in which the accident occurred is undivided, so any error can send a vehicle careening from its lane into a devastating head-on collision.


Israel has many other such roads where maintenance levels are similar to those of an undeveloped country. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, is not worried by such trifles - he shoots for the big game.

On the day of the accident in the south, the prime minister convened a press conference to present his "vision": covering the country with railroad tracks. The program is projected to cost NIS 27.5 billion, but would likely end up costing twice that much.


A few delusional projects have been omitted from the original plan (tracks to Eilat and Kiryat Shmona, for example), but a number of superfluous and wasteful lines are still slated to be built.


Instead of throwing money at projects aimed at posturing and public relations, Netanyahu should announce an entirely different vision, and direct those billions toward making Israel's roads safer, in line with Western countries. Drivers will always make mistakes - it is human nature. We must not, however, let every human error lead to avoidable fatalities.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

NETANYAHU FACES DOUBLE INTIFADA FROM PALESTINIANS AND SETTLERS

BY ALUF BENN

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is busy day and night, preparing Israel for a fateful confrontation with Iran. But his real problem may occur elsewhere. The territories are heating up, with the Palestinians escalating their protests against the settlements and the separation fence. The settlers, meanwhile, can smell Netanyahu's weakness and are undermining the authority of the state.


Two events in recent days indicate the threat of an outburst: the protest in Bil'in, which Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad participated in, where some of the 1,000 demonstrators tore apart a short portion of the fence; and the invasion of dozens of right-wing activists into the ancient synagogue of Na'aran, saying "we will return to Jericho and Nablus." In both incidents, the violence was limited and no one was injured. But the struggle over the West Bank has transitioned to a new stage.


Fayyad, the former darling of official Israel, is proving to be Netanyahu's most problematic rival. The one-time economist and technocrat has gradually become a politician - enjoying exposure, kissing children, stepping up to the head of the "White Intifada," as dubbed by researchers Shaul Mishal and Doron Matza in their article in Haaretz this week. On Monday, the Palestinian government adopted a plan of action for "non-violent opposition" to the settlements and the fence.


Fayyad's White Intifada is different from its predecessors. It has a clear political goal: Declaring a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders by the summer of 2011. By then, Fayyad will have completed the building of national institutions and will work on gaining international recognition through a diplomatic pincer movement on Netanyahu. He is receiving enthusiastic approval from the U.S. administration as a successful manager. Some 2,600 Palestinian policemen have already graduated from the training course run by U.S. General Keith Dayton in Jordan and are back in the territories, expecting to serve an independent state, not as subordinate agents of an Israeli occupation. The foreign ministers of France and Spain, in a joint article published yesterday in Le Monde, called to expedite the establishment of a Palestinian state and complete its recognition by October 2011.

The protests against the fence and the settlements, as seen through the lens of the international media, have a strong impact and present Israel with a dilemma. Its initial response was "to strike at the enemy in his home base": a wave of arrests of those who organized protests at Bil'in and Na'alin, and IDF raids in Ramallah to arrest members of the International Solidarity Movement. Israeli security officials explained to their foreign counterparts how these parties "present Israel with an existential threat." But these actions failed. The Palestinians were not deterred and continued to demonstrate, knowing Israel would not dare harm Fayyad and his people.


Netanyahu's next step will be a major public relations campaign against "incitement in the Palestinian Authority." But Fayyad is prepared for this: He holds a report from the U.S. administration giving him high marks on ridding Palestinian school books of anti-Israeli propaganda.


The prime minister's position is also worsening vis-a-vis the settlers, as the temporary settlement freeze approaches its planned end in September. Will he go back to building at full speed, as promised, and risk creating a rift with U.S. President Barack Obama? Or will he continue with the freeze and risk a settler intifada? Washington is concerned Israel could lose its control over the extremists in the settlements, and of a possible internal rift in the Israel Defense Forces, whose religious soldiers and officers may refuse to obey orders to evacuate or raze settlements.


Governments of the "world" are losing their limited patience with Netanyahu and his government, as the criticism in Europe for the "murder" of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh - even from the likes of a friend of Israel like Nicolas Sarkozy - has shown. The diplomatic process remains stuck, and the "economic peace" is exhausted. The Red Cross reported last week that the lives of Palestinians have not improved, and that "it is nearly impossible to have a normal life in the West Bank."


Netanyahu is in dire straits. His box of tricks is running out. The Palestinians and settlers are exploiting his weakness. The world does not believe him and questions his control on the ground. Unless he surprises everyone with a daring initiative that will restore control to his agenda, the prime minister will be facing a double intifada from Fayyad and the settler hilltop youth.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

WHY DOES ISRAEL CONTINUE TO DISMISS OBAMA'S MIDEAST PEACE EFFORTS?

BY GABI SHEFFER

 

Most Israelis, including the heads of the defense establishment and politicians led by the prime minister and the foreign minister, categorically state that U.S. President Barack Obama will never solve the Israeli-Arab conflict. This lack of confidence in and sympathy for Obama have accompanied him, unjustifiably, since the day he began campaigning for the presidency - and has only intensified following his election. The disrespect toward him and his administration is unwarranted; there is no doubt that it is connected to Obama's ethnic background.


In view of the economic crisis that hit the United States and, in its wake, the rest of the world, the accepted wisdom is that the ability of the United States and its president to influence what happens beyond their borders has been diminished. However, that is not where things actually stand. As no other existing power holds such extensive strength and influence, Obama's ability to act in the world in general and the Middle East in particular has not been eliminated. Russia, China and the European Union have not surpassed the United States in terms of their capability.


It must be remembered that American presidents, particularly Democrats such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, achieved remarkable accomplishments - brokering peace with Egypt and Jordan - even when they did not enjoy the support of the American public or when they were in political "trouble." In other words, even if Obama encounters further difficulties during his term, he can still work toward a solution to the conflict in the Middle East.


It is also incorrect to claim that Obama has stopped taking an interest in conflicts in which Israel is involved. American interest continues, proof of which can be seen in the endless visits by various U.S. representatives - the vice president, the secretary of state (who also does not have much support here in Israel), the head of the joint chiefs of staff, and senators and congressmen.


It is true that Iran has been a main focus of their discussions, but every one of these officials is also involved in, and discusses, the issues relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Special envoy George Mitchell remains fairly active and, as he proved in Ireland, he has a lot of staying power. At the Americans' initiative, his cooperation with Tony Blair has been stepped up - and this too could lead to steps that do not necessarily correspond with the positions of the Israeli government.


It is also true that the Iranian issue has led to massive involvement on the part of the U.S. administration; and as a result, as was justifiably said in a recent Haaretz editorial ("A friendly warning," February 16), Israel must refrain from any military action there. But there is no possibility of severing this involvement from other issues linked to the entire region - such as open shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf, the security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates, the situation in Lebanon, and Syrian-Turkish-Iranian ties. With respect to all these issues there is, and will be, deep significance for Israel and its relations with the Palestinians and the Syrians.


Above all, the relations between the Obama administration and the Arab states and the Palestinians are not cooling. The appointment of a new U.S. ambassador to Syria as well as the Obama administration's close ties with the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, with the Egyptian president and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, should arouse the attention of the Israeli authorities who wish to freeze talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Like administrations in the past, Obama will still play a role in numerous political and economic affairs that relate to Israel. Instead of eulogizing Obama, ignoring the conflict and investing everything in the Iranian issue, Israel must immediately resume the task of solving the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict.


The writer is a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.