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Thursday, February 25, 2010

EDITORIAL 25.02.10

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Editorial

month  february 25, edition 000439, 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. GOOD FOR PASSENGERS
  2. THREE IS A CROWD
  3. GRAVE BLUNDER TO TALK TO PAKISTAN - SHOBORI GANGULI
  4. QUOTED RIGHT OR MISQUOTED? - DANIEL PIPES
  5. VICTIMS OF ISLAMIC BIGOTRY - ANURADHA DUTT
  6. BLENDING EXTREMES - CP BHAMBHRI
  7. WHY MULLAH BARADAR WAS SACRIFICED - NITIN PAI
  8. LABRADOR HONOURED FOR SNIFFING BOMBS - RAPHAEL G SATTER

MAIL TODAY

  1. MAMATA'S BUDGET HAS LITTLE OF VISION
  2. SIT UNDER A CLOUD
  3. DO PEOPLE HAVE ANY RIGHTTO RAJPATH AT ALL? - BY AMRITA IBRAHIM
  4. QUANTUM LEAP - DINESH C. SHARMA

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. SMOKE SIGNALS
  2. LACKING VISION
  3. GO FORTH, BOLDLY - SHUBHADA RAO
  4. IT'S GOOD FOR DEMOCRACY
  5. A POINTLESS EXERCISE - RONOJOY SEN
  6. SNIFFING OUT THE TRUTH ABOUT WHO YOU ARE - AVATAR MEHER BABA
  7. MY FLAMINGO FAMILY - BACHI KARKARIA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. SACHIN, THE PLAYER
  2. DIDI'S JANATA EXPRESS IS ALL STEAM, NO POWER - SRINAND JHA
  3. LAY TRACKS FOR TOMORROW
  4. STRONG ACSHENT
  5. NOT ON FERTILE GROUND - KUMKUM DASGUPTA
  6. GETTING TO THE BIG 11 - SAMAR HALARNKAR

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. RAIL TO NOWHERE
  2. THE 200 CLUB
  3. OXYGEN-FIXING
  4. THE PARTY POLICE - CPJOHN
  5. ADVANTAGE OF SURPRISE - C. RAJA MOHAN
  6. DERAILING REFORM - DHIRAJ NAYYAR
  7. 'I AM MY OWN PR' - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
  8. APOLOGY-OLOGY
  9. VIEW FROM THE RIGHT - SUMAN K JHA

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. A LITTLE OFF-TRACK
  2. LEARNING THE RECALL LESSON
  3. WHY RAILWAYS NEEDS TO WATCH ITS FISC - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
  4. CITIES DESERVE BETTER DEAL ON GOVERNANCE - MICHAEL WALTON
  5. APPETITE FOR ACQUISITION - MG ARUN

THE HINDU

  1. A CATALOGUE OF GOOD INTENTIONS
  2. EVASIONS ON TORTURE
  3. WATER AS THE CARRIER OF CONCORD WITH PAKISTAN - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
  4. QUESTIONS FOR MY FATHER: A MEMOIR - PRANAY GUPTE
  5. TIME TO TALK OF A POLITICAL PROCESS  - KAI EIDE
  6. U.K. POLL SHOWS FALL IN BELIEF IN CLIMATE THREAT - JULIETTE JOWIT

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. MAMATA'S WISHLIST: WHO'LL PAY FOR IT?
  2. WAKE UP, IN THE TRUE SENSE
  3. AN ECONOMY IN RECOVERY
  4. STIMULUS PULLOUT  WILL DERAIL GROWTH
  5. A TWO-FRONT DEFENCE

DNA

  1. MAMATA EXPRESS
  2. IMMIGRANT FACTOR
  3. WHY SBI CAN'T BUY CITI - R JAGANNATHAN
  4. AMNESTY'S ILLIBERAL KNEE-JERK RESPONSE - ANTARA DEV SEN

THE TRIBUNE

  1. MAMATA'S VISION
  2. FIRE TRAGEDIES
  3. THE HUNGRY TIDE
  4. DIALOGUE WITH PAKISTAN - BY MAJ-GEN ASHOK K. MEHTA (RETD)
  5. SLIPPERS, ANYONE? - BY MANIKI DEEP
  6. HOW BUDGET CAN HELP SMALL AND MEDIUM UNITS - BY HARPAL SINGH
  7. TESTING TIME FOR OMAR ABDULLAH - BY EHSAN FAZILI
  8. AIDS: IS THE END IN SIGHT? - BY STEVE CONNOR

MUMBAI MERROR

  1. RE-READING QUEEN VICTORIA

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. VISION 2020 OR 2011?
  2. TREAD CAREFULLY MR SIBAL
  3. BUDGETING FOR SYSTEMIC EFFICIENCY - ARVIND SINGHAL
  4. IT'S NOT THE STIMULUS, STUPID! - T N NINAN
  5. TALKING ABOUT TALKING - PAARULL MALHOTRA
  6. WHERE'S THE MONEY FOR DEVELOPMENT? - SHANTANU BASU
  7. THE HEART OF THE MATTER - BARUN ROY

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. ILL-STARRED DECISION
  2. MAMATA & TRAINS NEVER CHANGE
  3. POPULIST BUDGET, FOR NOW
  4. NIFTY GOING LIGHT IN NEW SERIES - JAI SOLANKI
  5. VOLATILE MARKET FAILS TO SWAY INDIA ETFS - DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR
  6. INDIA INC STANDS TO GAIN FROM RLYS' PPP PUSH - ASHISH AGRAWAL & AMRIT MATHUR
  7. MIND IS SOMETHING DYNAMIC AND ALIVE - PARAMAHAMSA NITHYANANDA
  8. POPULIST TRAIN TO PRIVATIZATION - T K ARUN
  9. A RELOOK AT THE LINK BETWEEN GROWTH & EQUITY - MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH
  10. BUDGET FOR GROWTH & AAM AADMI: MAMATA BANERJEE
  11. 'SIMPLE BPO OPS WILL NO LONGER BE PROFITABLE' - PEERZADA ABRAR
  12. TARGET INDIA IS A LONG-TERM STRATEGIC ASSET - SARAH JACOB

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. MAMATA'S WISHLIST: WHO'LL PAY FOR IT?
  2. A TWO-FRONT DEFENCE - BY S.K. SINHA
  3. IRAQ'S KNOWN UNKNOWNS, STILL UNKNOWN - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  4. AN ECONOMY IN RECOVERY
  5. WAKE UP, IN THE TRUE SENSE - BY V. BALAKRISHNAN
  6. BETWEEN THE LINES

THE STATESMAN

  1. MEASURED RESPONSE
  2. OPTIONS FOR GURUNG 
  3. HABITS DIE HARD
  4. HELMAND OFFENSIVE - SALMAN HAIDAR

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. PROMISES TO KEEP
  2. RIGHT MOMENT
  3. A DIFFERENT CONTENTMENT - GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI
  4. THE REAL PICTURE - SUMANTA SEN
  5. ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL - IPSITA CHAKRAVARTY
  6. FORESTS OF THE NIGHT  - UDDALAK MUKHERJEE
  7. CLOSE TO THE PARADISE ON EARTH - BHASWATI CHAKRAVORTY

DECCAN HERALD

  1. BREAK THE NEXUS
  2. POTENT WEAPON
  3. A BUDGET OF 'HAVES' - BY S N CHARY
  4. THE AFGHAN SIKHS FACE NEW THREATS - BY DEEPALI GAUR
  5. PINS AND PINPRICKS - BY VINITA KRISHNAMURTHY

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. SPEED UP THE TRAINS
  2. WASHINGTON WATCH: CAN THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY BE MY ALLY? - BY DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD
  3. RATTLING THE CAGE: A TALE OF TWO ASSASSINATIONS - BY LARRY DERFNER
  4. FUNDAMENTALLY FREUND: THE WINDS OF MIDDLE EAST WAR - BY MICHAEL FREUND
  5. TERRA INCOGNITA: THE EUROPEAN LOBBY IN ISRAEL - BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
  6. THE GRINCH WHO STOLE PURIM - BY AMANDA BORSCHEL-DAN
  7. THE THREAT TO MY ALMA MATER - BY MORDECHAI SHANI

HAARETZ

  1. NOT COMBAT HERITAGE
  2. TO PRESERVE ZIONISM, NETANYAHU MUST END THE OCCUPATION -
  3. BY ARI SHAVIT
  4. DISPERSING WHITE PHOSPHOROUS CLOUDS OVER GAZA - BY GIDEON LEVY
  5. WHAT IF WE WOULDN'T SCARE OURSELVES WITH THE BOMB? - BY AVNER COHEN
  6. AN APPROPRIATE JUDICIAL INTERVENTION - BY ASHER MAOZ
  7. DON'T LET THEM VOTE - BY ARYE CARMON
  8. AMPUTATE TO SAVE PUBLIC BROADCASTING - BY UZI PELED

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. THE TORTURE LAWYERS
  2. LOAN-SHARKING INC.
  3. DUTCH RETREAT
  4. SAGO, FOUR YEARS LATER
  5. DO TOXINS CAUSE AUTISM? - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
  6. LIKE ROME BEFORE THE FALL? NOT YET - BY PIERS BRENDON

I.THE NEWS

  1. LOCKED LEGALITIES
  2. THE PUNJAB NEXUS
  3. KILLING CIVILIANS
  4. STANDING ON A BURNING PLATFORM - ROEDAD KHAN
  5. THE IMMUNITY IMBROGLIO - S KHALID HUSAIN
  6. COMING OUT OF THE NUCLEAR COLD - IKRAM SEHGAL
  7. PERMANENT TRUCE? - SALEEM RIZVI
  8. THE SLOW SPREAD OF IGNORANCE - KAMILA HYAT 
  9. GUT REACTION

 PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. TARIN'S EXIT A SETBACK TO GOVERNMENT
  2. LAYING A MECHANISM FOR JUDGES APPOINTMENT
  3. IMPROVING THE LOT OF UNIVERSITIES
  4. COURT'S SUPREMACY UPHELD - BURHANUDDIN HASAN
  5. MAN UNDER PRESSURE IN WHITE HOUSE - GP CAPT RAB NAWAZ CH (R)
  6. PERVERSE ROLE OF US THINK-TANKS - ASIF HAROON RAJA
  7. THE LATEST TANGLE - SAEED QURESHI
  8. POWER STRUGGLE OVER IRAQ - NICOLA NASSER

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. WE REMEMBER THEM
  2. DEAD RIVERS
  3. MAMATA AND HER BUDGET..!
  4. SONGS OF SORROW
  5. BDR MUTINY ANNIVERSARY
  6. MURDER OF A BRIGHT STAR
  7. BDR MUTINY ANNIVERSARY

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. ASIO ON BOARD BUT ASYLUM POLICY STILL A CHALLENGE
  2. KEEPING TRACK OF ACHIEVEMENT
  3. LEARNING AN EXPENSIVE LESSON

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. ENCROACHING ON THE HARBOUR
  2. LOCKED INTO MYKI, PUBLIC IS OWED ANSWERS
  3. A BETTER REFORM OF HEALTH INSURANCE

THE GUARDIAN

  1. TOYOTA: A GIANT CRASHES
  2. GORDON BROWN: HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE
  3. IN PRAISE OF… BATTERSEA

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. FOOD AID FOR N.K.
  2. AN EARNEST DEBATE
  3. CHANGES NEEDED IN THE FEDERAL RESERVE DIET
  4. HOWARD DAVIES
  5. CAMPUSES AS ENGLISH-ONLY ZONES
  6. KIM SEONG-KON

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. PLAYING DOWN DALAI LAMA DRAMA
  2. POLAND'S FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT - BY DAVID HOWELL

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. PROMISE FOR THE VICTIMS
  2. DRINKING FROM A DEEP WELL CALLED OBAMA
  3. NENNY SOEMAWINATA

CHINA DAILY

  1. LISTENING TO THE PUBLIC
  2. HOPES FOR HEALTH REFORM
  3. GROWTH FUELED BY URBAN INVESTMENT - BY DAN STEINBOCK (CHINA DAILY)
  4. BRAND CULTURE IN CHINA SHOULD START WITH MANAGERS - BY MIKE BASTIN (CHINA DAILY)
  5. US AND EUROPE SCRAMBLING TO ADJUST TO CHANGING WORLD ORDER - BY YU XIANG (CHINA DAILY)
  6. VILLAGES SUCCUMB TO THIRST FOR GROWTH - BY ZHAO HUANXIN (CHINA DAILY)

 DAILY MIRROR

  1. MILIBAND – THE COLONIAL COUSIN WHO NEVER LEAVES SL IN PEACE
  2. IGNORING TWO DECADES - SHREEN SAROOR
  3. KARUNA REPLIES
  4. THE PS THAT DESTROY POLITICIANS
  5. MY DEAR MAHINDA AIYA
  6. 'VISION FOR THE FUTURE' VS. THE POWER GENERATION PLAN  

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

GOOD FOR PASSENGERS

BUT LACKING IN LONG-TERM PERSPECTIVE


There is little to complain about the Railway Budget presented by Ms Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday. As far as passenger interests are concerned, they have been largely protected by way of not increasing fares and introducing further concessions for those who need the state's assistance, for instance cancer patients travelling from one city to another for medical care. It is also worth mentioning that the proposals listed by Ms Banerjee, which range from enhanced social welfare measures for employees of Indian Railways to setting up colleges, healthcare centres and dedicated railways infrastructure projects, are well-meaning and deserve full support. Of course, it could be argued that it is neither the job nor the core competence of Indian Railways to set up and manage Tagore museums, but Ms Banerjee deserves credit for at least remembering that 2011 will mark the 150th birth anniversary of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. Obsessed as it is with promoting the myth and cult of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, the Congress would not have thought of remembering Tagore, leave alone paying tribute to his memory. Ms Banerjee is a politician with passion, and the Railway Budget reflects her personality — as also her politics.


Having said that, it would be in order to suggest that perhaps the time has come for the Minister for Railways (irrespective of who he or she is) to avoid using the annual Budget presentation as an occasion — and an opportunity — to indulge in political grandstanding and rhetoric. Instead, attention should be focussed on three key aspects that seem to have been ignored by Ms Banerjee, as they were by her predecessors. The first is to do with ensuring better services which would require extensive overhauling of existing, and induction of new, rolling stock. Most of the trains that are now in service are in a pathetic condition — they have long outlived their longevity and pose a threat to passenger safety, apart from restricting the quality of services to at best average if not poor. Second, the emphasis should shift from introducing new trains (to pander to constituencies) to replacing tracks and upgrading technology. Ms Banerjee's tenure has already witnessed far too many accidents for her to believe that all is fine. Third, the physical safety of passengers needs to be ensured with better security provisions than what are now provided for on long-distance trains. It is not enough to make promises, they need to be translated into action.


Ms Banerjee's critics would allege that she has used two successive Railway Budgets to bolster the Trinamool Congress's chances of winning the 2011 Assembly election in West Bengal. The allegation is not entirely baseless. But then again, no Minister for Railways has been free from the charge of showering his or her 'home State' with largesse — sometimes deserved, most often un-deserved. In a sense, Ms Banerjee's Railway Budgets are reminiscent of those presented by Ghani Khan Chowdhury. Yet, she could rise above narrow politics if she were to succeed in raising Rs 20,000 crore through public-private partnership. That would help infuse urgently required funds for modernisation and benefit people across the country. The question, however, remains whether she has miscalculated her sums.


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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

THREE IS A CROWD

CHINA IS NOT INVITED


On the eve of the Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan, that Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi would use the opportunity to emphasise Islamabad's eagerness to see Beijing play the role of a mediator in the bilateral dialogue betrays a lack of sincerity on the part of our north-western neighbour. Mr Qureshi stressed that his administration had no problems if China were to help in the talks with India as Islamabad and Beijing enjoy a high degree of "trust and confidence". He further elaborated that his Government had given China a "blank cheque" in this regard. There is no doubt that this is nothing but a clever ploy by Pakistan to try and tailor the talks according to its own interests and divert attention from the primary issue of terrorism. In that sense, Mr Qureshi's comment reflects the overall Pakistani attitude towards the talks — Islamabad simply wants to use dialogue to get New Delhi to reconsider certain issues which are non-negotiable to the latter. What Pakistan is aiming for is essentially a repeat of Sharm el-Sheikh when it had managed to get Balochistan included in the joint statement released then. Similarly, by playing the China card, Pakistan is hoping that it will be able to get India to concede more diplomatic space. It wants the Indian side to think about the China variable when the two Foreign Secretaries meet so that New Delhi's single-point agenda of terrorism is diluted.


On its part, the Government has done well in sticking to the position that there is no scope for the inclusion of a third party in the bilateral talks. It is welcome that Defence Minister AK Antony has reiterated the Government's stand by dismissing any notions of China's involvement in the dialogue process between the two countries. It is crucial that there is no deviation from this position. The Government must firmly stick to its one-point terror agenda and make it amply clear to the Pakistanis that there can be no progress in the dialogue process unless this primary issue is addressed. We cannot be talking to Pakistan while it refuses to expedite the trial and prosecution of those who masterminded the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai. We cannot think about normalisation of bilateral ties while Islamabad continues to shelter Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and fuel militancy in the Kashmir Valley. And trying to involve China in matters which are strictly restricted to India and Pakistan is simply out of the question. Pakistan must realise that India is in no way obligated to continue the dialogue process in the backdrop of Islamabad's reluctance to crack down on anti-India forces operating from its soil. It just cannot have it both ways.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

GRAVE BLUNDER TO TALK TO PAKISTAN

SHOBORI GANGULI


By the time this appears in print, India will have committed its second worst diplomatic blunder of this decade, the first of course being the shameful India-Pakistan Agra Summit of 2001. Today, the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan will sit across the table to talk about talks. Resumed at India's behest, a fact Pakistan is justly gloating about, the meeting is intended to address New Delhi's terror concerns.


However, it is nothing short of a grave blunder to sit across the negotiating table with a country that displays no intention of revising its intransigent reluctance to address India's concerns over repeated acts of terror, the latest as recent as the February 13 Pune blast. Admittedly, Pakistan cannot be faulted with in this 'talks' initiative. True to character, it has obdurately refused to honour even a single demand placed by India on the table following the deplorable 26/11 attacks on Mumbai. Rogue to the core, it has systematically flouted every rule of diplomacy and good neighbourly conduct since 1947. It has talked Kashmir each time India has screamed terror. The 26/11 perpetrators, their predecessors and successors, continue to breathe free and spew anti-India venom from across the border. Yet, we are made to witness India's shocking decision to invite an unreformed Pakistan for talks.


India's regrettable haste in this latest dialogue initiative is indeed inexplicable. After all, 26/11 was cited as the proverbial last straw that led to suspension of talks in the first place. What then has changed in the interim for the two countries to resume dialogue? If at all, there has been yet another heinous terror attack in Pune that has claimed 16 lives, mostly innocent students, an inhuman act that the Pakistan-based Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h has openly claimed prior knowledge of. Further, Sikhs are being mercilessly beheaded by the Taliban in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. Amid all this, India seems to be mindlessly ceding its bargaining options, one by one, to Pakistan. This was strongly underlined when, under obvious US pressure, it revised its post-26/11 'no talks' stand. Given India's grave security concerns, such pressure ought to have been firmly resisted. On the contrary, New Delhi now seems to be of the startling opinion that the best way to get Islamabad to act on terror is to actually start talking again.


Arguably, this premise could be defended. After all, there is no point in alienating a neighbour to the extent that it turns completely deaf to our genuine concerns; talking could perhaps drill some sense into that country's establishment. However, there is an existent ground reality in Pakistan which India seems to have shockingly lost sight of. From the day it first made the offer of talks, several Pakistani voices, jihadi and official alike, have suddenly started talking about all "outstanding issues" as the basis for resumption of dialogue. Much as New Delhi may delude itself into thinking that today's Foreign Secretary level talks are going to be solely dedicated to terror, statements emanating from Pakistan indicate that "all issues of concern to both" is what they have in mind.

To that end, certain goalposts are being unilaterally shifted by Pakistan even as India stands a mute spectator. All of a sudden there is intense clamour in Pakistan about India's "water terrorism", with former Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani going to the extent of threatening that "the water issue could prove to be a nuclear flashpoint between the neighbours". Urging global intervention, he says India's "hegemonic" behaviour could "ignite a nuclear war". Aware that Kashmir alone cannot fetch Pakistan global sympathy any longer and also that there is growing domestic unrest over the water issue, the Pakistani establishment is now playing its age-old diversionary games, hitherto restricted to Kashmir. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has categorically said that during talks with India, more "tangible issues" like the water dispute would take precedence over Kashmir.

Even as the Pakistani establishment is visibly and audibly pushing the hard line, the jihadis are posting macabre messages India's way. If JuD chief Hafiz Saeed screams, "Ek Bombay kya hota hai (One Mumbai is not enough)", his deputy Abdur Rehman Makki asserts, "Muslims dying of thirst would drink blood of India". Makki's views are not significantly different from the official Pakistani line, Prime Minister downwards, that says India wants to destroy Pakistan by cutting off its water, that it is turning Pakistan into a desert and will starve it to death. Suddenly, water is a 'core' bilateral issue, a definition hitherto reserved for Kashmir. Shockingly, the terrorists, in sync with the establishment, have moved beyond Kashmir, vowing to unleash jihad on India in the name of water. With this declaration coming only days ahead of talks, and the Pakistani establishment doing precious little to curb such diabolism, India should have ideally demanded a clear statement of intent from Pakistan before resuming talks.


Predictably, Pakistan is once again putting on the shameless and baseless 'terror victim' act. Mr Qureshi has said, "If their concerns are about Hafiz Saeed and Mumbai attacks, let them put it on the table. If we've concerns about Balochistan, let us put it on the table." Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir says raising the Hafiz Saeed issue would be "counter-productive" and that if counter-terrorism is indeed raised Balochistan must find mention. Déjà vu, indeed: The ignominy at Sharm el-Sheikh last July when Balochistan first became part of an India-Pakistan joint statement is still fresh in public memory. Mr Qureshi has, in fact, warned that, "We should de-link negotiations from such acts (of terror). There are such acts taking place in Pakistan. We're victims of terrorism. At times, foreign nationals are involved in these acts in Pakistan. Does it mean that we should cut ties with those countries?" No prizes for guessing which "countries" he is talking about. So much for Pakistan's self-declared "constructive" approach.


With the jihadis' recalcitrance matching that of the Pakistani establishment's, there is very little by way of forward movement that India can hope for through talks. One is, therefore, amazed at the Manmohan Singh Government's sudden willingness to talk to a country that is literally holding the gun to India's head even as its Home Minister refuses to negotiate with the Maoists at home till they abjure violence. Surely, what stands to reason for internal security cannot significantly alter when it comes to national security? Last heard, there was firing by Pakistani troops at Indian soldiers in Jammu's Samba sector, only hours ahead of the talks!


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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

QUOTED RIGHT OR MISQUOTED?

DANIEL PIPES


Rashad Hussain, US President Barack Obama's special envoy to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, has run into a problem: He appears to be an Islamist. The evidence largely concerns a public statement he made six years ago, as Josh Gerstein reports in Politico:


"Mr Hussain, now a deputy associate White House counsel, was quoted back in 2004 decrying the prosecution of Mr Sami Al-Arian, a Florida professor accused of ties to Palestinian Islamic Jihad. However, the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report has noted that the article quoting Mr Hussain, published in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, was subsequently sanitised on the Web to remove the quotes and all other references to Mr Hussain. The changes appear to have taken place in 2007 or later.


According to the original story, Mr Hussain told a panel discussion at a Muslim Students Association conference in 2004 that the criminal case against Al-Arian was one of a series of 'politically motivated persecutions'. Hussain also reportedly asserted that Al-Arian was being 'used politically to squash dissent'."


Of course, this not at all the case: Mr Sami Al-Arian was an accessory to terrorism by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and he sits at this moment in confinement for his actions. At this point, Mr Hussain's views hinge on the reliability of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Its news editor, Delinda Hanley, explained that his "quotes were taken down because the quotes attributed to him actually came from Mr Al-Arian's daughter, Laila Al-Arian, who took part in the same panel discussion."


As someone who has experienced first-hand the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs' grossly inaccurate reporting, I should like to voice an opinion here. In July 2001, the magazine ascribed to me the statement that "The Palestinians are a miserable people … and they deserve to be." I had not said this and immediately responded to the article. It published my letter to the editor in its October 2001 issue. In an argument between Hussain and Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, therefore, I am inclined to believe the former.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

VICTIMS OF ISLAMIC BIGOTRY

THE BEHEADING OF SIKHS IN PAKISTAN AND THE ASSAULT ON A TEMPLE AT SONARGAON IN BANGLADESH POINT TOWARDS THE PLIGHT OF NON-MUSLIMS IN MUSLIM MAJORITY COUNTRIES. THE SITUATION IS CLEARLY INTOLERABLE AND INDIA MUST EXERCISE ITS MORAL AUTHORITY TO COME TO THE AID OF INNOCENT VICTIMS

ANURADHA DUTT


Even as political parties that nurture minority (read Muslim) vote-banks prepare to grant further privileges to the community under the guise of alleviating social and economic backwardness, and lakhs of illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants procure property and voting rights, one just needs to look across India's western and eastern flanks to ascertain how Sikh and Hindu minorities in Muslim majority nations are being persecuted. In the latest of a series of communal assaults on them, two Sikhs were beheaded by the Pakistani Taliban for their reported failure to convert to Islam. A grief-stricken Taranjit Singh, cousin of Jaspal Singh, one of the decapitated men, praised Jaspal for choosing martyrdom over the ignominy of forced conversion. The other reason cited for the decapitation is the deadline having passed for payment of ransom of Rs 3 crore to the abductors. Two other Sikhs are still in the Taliban's captivity.


In Bangladesh, on February 6, a gang of men, 30-35 in number, vandalised the Sonargaon temple, an ancient Hindu pilgrimage in Narayanganj district, and damaged six idols. The supposedly secular Indian intelligentsia and media, which suffered an apoplectic fit as a result of the Babri Masjid demolition, largely ignored the assault. Neither did Right-wing groups, posing as custodians of Hindu interests, bother to raise the issue. Yet, to dreg up the past, the Muslim backlash to the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992 was marked by the ancient Dhakeshwari shaktipeeth in Dhaka being vandalised and Hindus being butchered; and over a hundred shrines, including those of Jains and Sikhs, being damaged in Pakistan, and a Jain temple being razed. In Britain, a temple was razed by a vengeful mob, and gurudwaras and Hindu shrines attacked. Muslim expatriates from the subcontinent attacked the Indian Embassy at Teheran, and rose in protest in Arab countries though Arabs themselves observed restraint.


The assault on the Sonargaon shrine as well as the beheading simply draws attention to the plight of non-Muslims in regions, where Islamic bigotry has reared up in a ferocious avatar. Under the previous Bangladesh Government, reports of snatching of land, owned by Hindus, were common; and majority of rape cases were registered by Hindu women. Such persecution forced many Hindus to flee their homes and seek refuge here. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban's writ runs, besides Sikhs and Hindus, minority Christians too are on the run from marauders, criminals and fanatics, posing as the true flag-bearers of Islam. They are being forced to pay jizya, protection money or survival tax, in order to ensure their safety, to extortionists. In Iraq, too, according to reports, Christian families are being coerced by gun-toting men to pay jizya or leave.


The poll tax levied on non-Muslims in Muslim countries in exchange for state protection draws sanction from the Quran (Al-Tawbah 9:29). The imposition of jizya and the accompanying violence in lawless areas is a throwback to the past, when crusading Islamic conquerors subjugated 'infidel natives' either on the point of the sword via forced conversions or spared their lives in exchange for the payment of protection money:


"Summon the people to god; those who respond to your call, accept it from them, but those who refuse must pay the poll tax out of humiliation and lowliness. If they refuse this, it is the sword without leniency. Fear god with regard to what you have been entrusted." (Al Tabari, Volume XII)


Umar ibn al-Khattab during the conquest of al-Basrah (636 CE)

The conquest of Sindh by Muhammed Bin Qasim in the early 8th century AD led to imposition of jizya on Hindu and Buddhist natives. In return, they were free to follow their own religions. This set the precedent for some of the Islamic rulers who followed him into India. The empire-builders among them, the Mughals, alternated between Islamic severity and kingly graciousness in their treatment of non-Muslims. However, the Sikhs, as a militant sect, came into conflict with them. Emperors Jahangir and Aurangzeb clashed with two of the Sikh gurus Arjan Dev and Tegh Bahadur, respectively, and had them put to death. The four sons and mother of Guru Govind Singh, the last in the line, were also martyred for resisting imposition of Islam, as were thousands of others. The differentiation between Muslims and infidels often owed to political compulsions.

But such intolerance is an anachronism in today's rapidly shrinking world. There are ulterior motives behind religious bigotry. Hugh Fitzgerald, of JihadWatch, states on his internet site DhimmiWatch:


"Elsewhere, as in Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Hindus and Christians live in a state of permanent physical danger, and that danger also is one of losing their property to Muslim looters and marauders who cannot be sued or brought to justice on the say-so of a non-Muslim... There is no security for the property of non-Muslims in Muslim lands, and there are various ways in which the 'protection money' that is the jizya is paid...".


Religious bigotry is thus also a convenient pretext for extortion and grabbing minorities' property, and making them abandon their homes.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

BLENDING EXTREMES

A MIDDLE-PATH APPROACH IS NEEDED TO TACKLE MAOISTS

CP BHAMBHRI


Shivraj Patil was removed from the Cabinet of UPA 1.0 because he had failed to effectively meet the challenges to internal security posed by Left-wing extremists. Mr P Chidambaram, his successor, has tried to project a tough face in dealing with Maoists. The Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister in a special meeting of Chief Ministers on Internal Security maintained that Left-wing extremism was quite "worrisome". On February 7, Mr Chidambaram announced that there was complete consensus and a spirit of unity across the political spectrum to boldly confront the challenge posed by Maoists. On February 9, the Union Home Minister called a meeting of the Chief Ministers of West Bengal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand with a view to coordinate the Government's anti-Maoist measures, codenamed Operation Green Hunt.


However, just a week after the brave statements of the Home Minister, Maoists attacked a police camp at Sildah in West Midnapore district of West Bengal and killed more than 20 policemen. Meanwhile, Maoists in Jharkhand kidnapped a Block Development Officer and threatened to kill him if the State Government refused to release 14 of their comrades. But the Chief Ministers of Bihar and Jharkhand have publicly differed with Mr Chidambaram's approach to tackling the Left-wing extremists by saying that Maoism is not a law and order problem and has to be tackled at a social level.


But Mr Chidambaram had concluded that his predecessor had failed to tackle the Maoist challenge because he had not paid sufficient attention to the proper deployment of paramilitary forces at places where the guerrillas were active. On his part, Mr Chidambaram has tried to energise the Central Reserve Police Force as well as deploy well-armed battalions of special action forces such as the COBRA against the Left-wing extremists. He has also tried to re-equip and modernise those State police forces that are at the forefront of the battle against Maoists. It is possible that the strategies evolved by Mr Chidambaram will show positive results in the coming few months.


The analytical question is: Why are the Chief Ministers of Bihar and Jharkhand not convinced about the police-centred anti-Maoist operations? It should not be forgotten that stalwarts of the erstwhile Naxal movement like Kanu Sanyal, Santosh Rana and Asim Chatterjee rejected the policy of violence which is being pursued by today's Maoists. The CPI(ML) has completely disassociated itself from the politics of the gun and its leadership has decided to participate in the parliamentary process and launch democratic, non-armed mass struggles in favour of the poor.


Three sharply different approaches have emerged on the issue of how to tackle Maoist violence. The first approach is that the state should use force to effectively crush the Left-wing extremists and follow it up with development. This is what Mr Chidambaram has sought to promote. In line with this, the civilian administration in Maoist-dominated areas should be strengthened in order to usher in the development projects of the Government. The second approach involves co-opting former Maoist leaders who have abandoned the path of violence and getting them to denounce the present Maoist leadership and its violent ways in order to wean away the Maoist cadre from the gun.


The third approach, which has been advocated by some political leaders including Chief Ministers of Maoist-affected States, is that efforts should be made to improve the Government machinery in backward areas of the country; that the focus should be on equitable distribution of growth for all sections of the society.

Can a national political consensus on Maoism be achieved by reconciling the three different approaches? Can the above three different perspectives be harmonised? Can a middle path be found?


It would be truly unfortunate if problems concerning the exploitation and oppression of the poor and marginalised of our country are dismissed just because armed-Maoists have emerged as champions of the most deprived. No one can condone Maoist violence. But at the same time, it would be foolhardy to believe that the poor and deprived can be ignored by the Government in the process of finding an effective solution to the Maoist problem. The poor tribal areas of our country should be liberated through implementation of robust public welfare policies. This will make the gun-welding Maoists totally irrelevant, even unwanted. Mr Chidambaram's approach will not succeed without local support. If the latter perceive that the Government is genuinely promoting their welfare, they will surely turn against the Left-wing extremists.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

WHY MULLAH BARADAR WAS SACRIFICED

IS GEN ASHFAQ PARVEZ KAYANI TRYING TO SEND A SIGNAL TO MULLAH OMAR THAT THE QUETTA SHURA TALIBAN HAD BETTER OT STRAY TOO FAR FROM THE LINE LAID DOWN BY RAWALPINDI, ASKS NITIN PAI


The New York Times, which broke the story of the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, supposedly second only to Mullah Mohammed Omar in the Taliban firmament, says that it was the result of a joint US-Pakistani operation in Karachi last week. The news was kept secret in order to entrap other members of the Taliban leadership but was finally released to the public after "White House officials acknowledged that the capture of Mullah Baradar was becoming widely known in the region" — that is, after someone in Pakistan leaked it. Now why was the poor mullah 'captured'? There are four potential answers.


First, given the fact that he was arrested in Karachi — and not Quetta, Peshawar or the tribal areas-it could well have been a CIA operation that led to his capture. Since it would be impolitic to present it as such, a convenient cover story of a joint operation becomes necessary. The fact that US operatives are interrogating Baradar while he is in Pakistani custody supports this argument. If indeed it was a US operation that netted him, it would mean that the Obama Administration has escalated covert operations in Pakistani territory to another level. Both Pragmatic Euphony and I lean towards this explanation.


Second, as Arif Rafiq of the Pakistan Policy blog has argued, Baradar could have been sacrificed by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as a signal to Mullah Omar — that the Quetta Shura Taliban had better not stray too far from the line laid down by Rawalpindi. This might, for instance, require the Taliban to become more amenable to talks with the Americans and a deal with the Karzai Government. Or it might actually be the opposite, as Baradar was engaged in secret talks with the Karzai Government and US forces. In any event, this explanation suggests that the Pakistani military establishment is using very strong tactics to coerce the Taliban.


Third, it might well be that the Mullah Baradar's fate is similar to that of the several 'right-hand men' and 'No 3's' that General Pervez Musharraf used to hand over to release some pressure that the United States exerted on him. While entirely plausible, it is unclear why the 'capture' should take place in Karachi-prompting uncomfortable questions as to who else is holed out in that city.


Fourth, just for the sake of analytical completeness, is the possibility that the Pakistani military establishment has decided to jettison the Quetta Shura Taliban. No, before you entertain wishful thoughts, this is not because of any 'change of heart' but because General Kayani might have calculated that this particular group is dispensable. It is the Haqqani militia that is Pakistan's chief proxy in Afghanistan.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

LABRADOR HONOURED FOR SNIFFING BOMBS

TREO HAS SAVED LIVES BY UNCOVERING BOMBS PLANTED BY THE TALIBAN, WRITES RAPHAEL G SATTER


A perky British Labrador whose bomb-sniffing exploits helped save lives in Afghanistan was decorated for canine courage in a ceremony at London's Imperial War Museum Wednesday. Eight-year-old Treo joins a menagerie of heroic animals honoured over the years with a special award known as the Dickin medal, including 32 pigeons, three horses and a cat.


Sgt Dave Heyhoe, the black Lab's handler, said he was "very proud indeed," adding the award was not just for him and his dog but "for every dog and handler that's working out in Afghanistan or Iraq."


Treo merely flicked out his rosy tongue as he and Heyhoe posed for photographs with the silvery medal. He squirmed as the medal was fitted around his neck.


The military nominated Treo for the prize in recognition of his help uncovering a series of Taliban bombs during his time serving in Helmand Province, an insurgency hot spot, in 2008. The Labrador is the medal's 63rd recipient since its inception in 1943, according to the Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals, the charity that awards the prize.


Man's best friend has won a big share of the medals, including a collie named Rob who joined British commandos in repeated parachute operations behind enemy lines during World War II. More recently, Sadie, another bomb-sniffing dog, was awarded the Dickin medal for helping to alert coalition forces to an explosive hidden under sandbags in Kabul in 2005.


Other animals, notably carrier pigeons used in World War II, have bagged honours as well.


Countries from Australia to Hungary occasionally honour exceptionally brave animals with medals in a variety of contexts. There's no equivalent to the Dickin medal in the United States, although military animals have been honoured with medals or memorials on an unofficial, ad hoc basis.


The most famous US recipient, a World War I mutt named Sgt. Stubby, served in 17 battles, was wounded in a grenade attack and survived several gassings. Between locating wounded Allied soldiers in the trenches, he even managed to help nab a German spy. Stubby, now stuffed and on display at the Smithsonian, was awarded several medals, including a Purple Heart, and the canine was made a lifetime member of the American Legion. But the practice of giving medals to animals was eventually abandoned by the US military on the ground that the practice risks devaluing the awards given to soldiers.


Lisa Nickless, a spokeswoman for the animal charity, said no one had raised any such concerns about Treo.


"He saved human life," she said.


-- AP

 

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MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

MAMATA'S BUDGET HAS LITTLE OF VISION

 

MAMATA Banerjee has predictably failed to deviate from the script written by her predecessors in Rail Bhavan. Her second Railway Budget for the present UPA government is philosophically and ideologically little different from past Railway budgets.

 

The standard mix of populism, home- constituency sops and airy promises have once more been presented to the nation. Also provided gratuitously is the same carefree disregard of economic realities. What is missing has not changed either — the actual strategic requirements of the Railways, or a credible and implementable vision for the organisation she heads in the new, soon- to- be economic superpower called India.

 

Ms. Banerjee's vision of the Railways as some sort of gigantic social service organisation does merit some consideration. In a country like India, with vast pools of poverty and large swathes without access to even basic infrastructure, utilising the railway network to deliver everything from clean drinking water to cheap meals for the poor or basic healthcare services — for that is what her pronouncements on drinking water and janata meals and railway hospitals amount to — is a worthwhile exercise.

 

But treating the Railways as some sort of fundamental right akin to the right to work or education, would also imply that we stop treating the Railways as a commercial enterprise — albeit one that is, and shall, as the minister was at pains to emphasise, stay government- owned. In that case, the energies and the finances of the entire government, and not just the Railways, can be focused on utilising the Railways to meet the social development goals of the nation.

 

But doing so would be doing the Railways, as well as the economy, singular injustice. For a view of what can be achieved if the Railways are systematically and scientifically developed as part of a cohesive larger economic vision, we need to only look at neighbouring China whose network was far inferior to that of India's as late as 1990.

 

Ms Banerjee has vowed to add 1,000 kilometres of track. China will be adding 6,000 km per year till 2020. The average speed on the Chinese railway network is three times India's, they run the world's fastest passenger train and moved over 3.3 billion tonnes of freight, compared to India's 882 million tonnes.

 

China's railway development has powered its growth, infrastructure and quality of life. Meanwhile, people in the capital Delhi only have to look out of their windows to see how advanced rail technology from other nations is changing their lives for the better.

 

Is this the vision we have to settle for?

 

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MAIL TODAY

SIT UNDER A CLOUD

 

THE charge made by one of the witnesses, Ajaz Hussain ( name changed to protect his identity), to the Godhra trial that he was abducted and tortured by the Special Investigation Team ( SIT) and asked to uphold the version of the Gujarat Police is serious and alarming. The SIT set up to inquire into the Godhra incident and its aftermath was created on the Supreme Court's orders because of the failure of the Gujarat government to effectively prosecute the cases. The state government, whose record in dealing with its Muslim minorities is shoddy, has been charged with abetting the rioters and foiling the efforts to bring them to justice.

 

The SIT claim that Mr Hussain is an " unreliable witness" and that he has been making false allegations does not hold much water. Given the manner in which the decks are stacked against the minority community in the state, it is unlikely that someone like Mr Hussain, a bus- conductor in private life, would go out of his way to contradict not only the Gujarat police, but the SIT as well.

 

The SIT has a Herculean task of trying to uncover the trail of evidence of incidents that took place eight years ago, an action all the more difficult because it could implicate a serving chief minister and a crosssection of police officials in the terrible crimes that took place in 2002. The SIT, headed by former CBI Director R. K. Raghavan and his five member team use the Gujarat police to conduct their investigations.

 

So there is all the more need for them to bend over backward to ensure that its investigations are not tainted in any way.

 

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MAIL TODAY

DO PEOPLE HAVE ANY RIGHTTO RAJPATH AT ALL?

BY AMRITA IBRAHIM

 

THE recent eviction drive initiated by the Delhi police at India Gate and on Rajpath has become an occasion for many Delhiwallahs to voice their claims to a public space that is symbolic of modern Delhi. These claims are made either through complaint against the evictions or through the mode of nostalgia.

 

For many locals, India Gate is a picnic spot, a regular landmark on their daily commutes, a promenade while eating ice cream or buying balloons and blowing soap bubbles.

 

India Gate has been the destination of choice for many looking to escape the heat of a summer night, lying on the grass, and walking or driving around Rajpath taking in the glory of Lutyens' Delhi when it's all lit up.

 

The hawkers who provide the snacks, toys, and treats for locals and tourists have been part of India Gate for years; they make the India Gate experience what it is. The Delhi Police, with their constant gaze on public behaviour contribute to this experience as well — driving up and down Rajpath keeping an eye on an otherwise leisurely scene. The drive to evict the hawkers, which the Delhi police claim has always been the law and is merely being implemented now, threatens more than just the immediate livelihoods of the hawkers who have been plying their trade here for decades. It risks turning India Gate and Rajpath into a sterile corridor of state power and law and order, rather than a thriving shared public space.

 

Ostensibly, the move to clear the area is in keeping with the larger ' beautification' drive that Delhi is suffering in the run up to the Commonwealth Games in October. Along with the concerns about security around the Rashtrapati Bhawan area, the policing of public space is meant to ' preserve the sanctity' of the stretch from Raisina Hill down to India Gate. The Delhi Police maintain that Rajpath has always been meant to be ' hawker- free,' in order to facilitate a stately, panoramic view from Raisina Hill.

 

Unencumbered by the milling hordes of people and cars that usually surround India Gate, the Delhi police's view of Rajpath powerfully evokes the imperial arrogance that Lutyens himself was accused of when he built the Viceroy's House ( now Rashtrapati Bhawan) and India Gate. Devoid of people, particularly ordinary folks, Rajpath, or King's Way, becomes a boulevard of state rituals like Republic Day and the Beating of the Retreat. But Rajpath intersects with Janpath— the People's Way — and for the thousands who throng to India Gate, emotional attachments to the area are perhaps less reverential and more laid- back.

 

Imperial

 

New Delhi was a profoundly political statement, which symbolised the growing strength and consolidation of British rule in India after the Revolt of 1857. From its very inception, New Delhi was designed to be completely separate from the old city of Shahjahanabad, which the British had decimated after suppressing the revolt in battles fought in the ridge.

 

New Delhi was to be the hallmark of modern British control in the colony, modelled on other imperial and national projects like Capitol Hill and the Mall in Washington D. C. The Viceroy's House was built atop Raisina Hill, the highest point of the new city of Delhi. This became the centre of the new city, a point higher than the highest point of the old city — the Jama Masjid. Like many other modern cities, urban planning and architecture was the hallmark of New Delhi — broad roads and sweeping vistas were not just aesthetically pleasing, but also laid out a new urban space which could be easily seen and monitored. Sedition is less easy to plan and the element of surprise somewhat lost without the nooks and crannies that narrow winding streets of the bazaar offer.

 

The plan of New Delhi became the architectural representation of British imperial ideology in India.

 

Access

 

Despite being seen as a symbol of imperial arrogance — especially after Lutyens' letters to his wife revealed his frank abhorrence of Indian architecture, behaviour, and personalities — Lutyens included many aspects of Indian architecture and decoration that come straight from Mughal, Rajput, and Buddhist traditions, as well as Vedic rules of directionality and geometry. Either way, it is fair to say that Rajpath and India Gate are, despite ( or if you prefer, in spite) of the politics of either the British or independent Indian government, spaces of popular pastime, leisure, and also civic action.

 

Political protests and candlelight vigils go hand in hand with ice cream and summer evening strolls here. For those who see Lutyens' Delhi as the imposition of imperial power, the merging of Raj and Janpath could be seen as a subversive/ subaltern victory of sorts. For those who like to think of it as a space of architectural confluence, which even Lutyens hoped would be " a good tune sung well to our and India's dignity," let Rajpath symbolise an openness of space to all people, no matter where they come from.

 

Having said this, of course, there is something to be said for what it means to inherit a space that is invested with much history and gravitas and how we turn it into a shared, public one. No matter what our politics around India Gate might be, we still have a responsibility towards it.

 

Whether we think of the centre of New Delhi as a hangover of the British Raj or that Republic Day is merely another holiday from our crazy working week is neither here nor there.

 

If we are really invested in cultivating a free, public space where one can go and play badminton with one's kids on the lawns or stroll with a significant other while blowing bubbles then we all have to be willing to play by some of the rules that make that space something all of us can share in. The democratisation of access to space also comes with a responsibility to care for and nurture the openness of that space.

 

For one thing, this means rethinking the ban on hawkers and vendors, who are much of the reason why people come to India Gate in the first place. Shutting out certain people from the city based on their apparent lack of aesthetic appeal is something the Delhi government and police have really mastered in the run- up to the Commonwealth Games and it should worry all of us who think that Delhi is unlike other cities where parochial politics are being nurtured.

 

Responsibility

 

But this responsibility is also about what civic life demands from all of us as basic courtesies. Some of us are far too used to getting what we want without having to lift a finger for it.

 

Civic responsibility means cleaning up after yourself and in general being respectful of others around you who have as much right to enjoy lazing around India Gate as you do. If you have to park your car behind the water- fountains in order to enjoy walking along a car- free Rajpath, that's not a huge sacrifice ( this has been cited as a serious complaint by regular visitors to India Gate).

 

If you're too lazy to walk from India Gate to Mansingh Road to get yourself a choco- bar, you probably shouldn't be eating the ice cream in the first place.

The writer is a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University, currently on fieldwork in New Delhi

 

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MAIL TODAY

QUANTUM LEAP

DINESH C. SHARMA

 

SAVE YOUR KIDS FROM TOXIC LEAD

FOR Thuppil Venkatesh, retired biochemistry professor in Bangalore, the National Science Day coming Sunday, will be a special day. He is going to see his research knowledge being translated into something useful to the community. For years now, he has been working on the toxic effects of lead and ways to minimise pollution and toxicity caused by this metal in India as well as several other countries.

 

He set up the country's first National Referral Centre for Lead Poisoning at St John's Hospital. The toxic effects of lead on humans, particularly children, are now well documented.

 

Studies have shown that even low blood lead levels previously believed to be safe can have significant adverse effects such as lower IQ. Venkatesh' research has shown that a major source of lead exposure among Indian children comes from paints in houses, schools and playgrounds. Pollution is another source. Yellow paint — used in playgrounds and school buses — is particularly harmful as it contains the highest amount of lead among different paints.

 

So, Venkatesh began thinking of ways to remove lead from children's parks — where the exposure could be high. The first hurdle was the non- availability of lead- free paints. No Indian paint manufacturer makes them — though some of them are advertising products as being leadfree they are actually not so. " All that they are claiming is there is ' no- added lead' in their paints, which is not the same as being lead- free", points out Venkatesh.

 

To overcome this problem, he had to first convince the state public sector unit, Mysore Paints & Lac Company, to start manufacturing lead safe paints and supply them at a much lower price than paints from private companies.

 

Then he talked to the authorities at Jawahar Bal Bhavan in Bangalore — which is visited by some 3,000 children every day — to shift to lead- free paints manufactured by Mysore Paints.

 

And it is this park that will open to public as the country's first lead- free park on February 28.

 

Now Venkatesh has roped in the Quality Council of India to make it a national programme aimed at making schools and play equipment in public parks lead- free. Health facilities are next on the list. The government hospital in Ernakulam has taken a lead, by making its paediatric ward lead- free. The state health and education authorities have pledged to make all schools and hospitals lead- free in the years to come. Just imagine the health benefits if thousands of children's parks and hospitals across the country became lead- free.

 

However, Venkatesh feels the response from paint manufacturers has not been too encouraging.

 

As per international norms, lead content in paints should be below 600 parts per million. All that he wants paint manufacturers to do is label their products so that people know the lead content in them, and are able to make informed choices. Know- how to make a shift to lead- free paints exists and it can be done at a much lower price — as Mysore Paints has demonstrated ( it sells leadfree paint at Rs 180 a litre compared to Rs 250 onwards charged by private manufacturers for leaded paint). One only needs the will to act.

 

Omens precede big quakes

EARTHQUAKES of the sort that devastated Haiti also provide scientists a rare opportunity to study geological phenomenon.

 

Apart from the burst of seismic energy in the form of waves, earthquakes measuring 5.5 or more on the Richter scale cause changes in the earth's thermal temperature, air temperature, and relative humidity. These changes are difficult to measure, unlike seismic waves.

 

In the case of the Bhuj earthquake of 2001, Indian scientists have found evidence of all these changes occurring on the same day or with a gap of one day.

 

Dr Ramesh P Singh of the Chapman University began work on this subject while at Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. Singh says the Gujarat earthquake provided evidence of changes on numerous parameters prior to its occurrence. He has analysed data from other earthquakes as well and found that such changes including CO emissions occur within 14 days prior to an earthquake occurring.

 

Details of Singh's work will appear in scientific journal Applied Geochemistry

 

LIFESTYLE DISEASES THE PRICEOF KERALA'S PROSPERITY

THERE is trouble brewing in God's own country. Widely known as India's most developed state, Kerala is almost on par with some of the European countries and America in terms of development indictors.

 

What is not known is that this development and prosperity is bringing in some of the same ills that afflict the developed world. The state is fast emerging as the lifestyle diseases capital of India with the prevalence of hypertension, diabetes, obesity and other risk factors for heart disease reaching levels comparable to those in America, as revealed in a recent study done by Dr K R Thankappan and his colleagues at the Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies.

 

The overall prevalence of diabetes in Kerala is about 16.2 percent — 50 per cent higher than in the US,

according to the results of the study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research . High blood pressure is present in 32 per cent people, comparable to recent estimates in the US. Close to 57 percent people studied had abnormal levels of cholesterol, while 39.5 percent had low HDL cholesterol — again, comparable to the rates seen in America. The prevalence of smoking in men was double that observed in the US. Kerala epitomises rapid health transition that India is currently experiencing — from an era of communicable diseases to an era of lifestyle diseases. This transition is driven by economic growth, urbanisation and our changing food habits.

 

Kerala is at the higher end of this transition, while other parts of the country are slowly moving up. What is happening in Kerala today will happen to the rest of India in the next 20 to 30 years as we climb up the trajectory. So, better keep tabs on your waistline and think a hundred times before taking that extra dollop of butter or ghee on your parantha.

 

dineshc.sharma@mailtoday.in

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

SMOKE SIGNALS

 

The unfortunate fire accident in Bangalore's Carlton Towers has extracted a tragic toll. Investigations into what caused the fire, and whether the building had enough fire-safety preparedness, have begun. It's early days yet to hazard a guess over what really went wrong. But a large number of deaths appear to have been occasioned by panic, when people jumped out of the windows of the seven-storey building. The welter of reports about the fire, in fact, point to the sheer state of unpreparedness to deal with fire emergencies that characterise many of our urban high-rises, whether they be government buildings, offices and commercial establishments. Do they all have adequate firefighting equipment as well as mandated fire alarms and exits? And importantly, how informed are we about the measures that need to be taken when fire breaks out? And how well are our firefighting departments equipped to deal with emergencies?


In case of the Carlton Towers fire, questions have been raised about the lack of critical firefighting equipment available with the fire tenders, including masks, ladders and even water. Public announcements could have kept bystanders out of the way or even prevented some of the panic-stricken residents of the building from jumping out, but that didn't happen. In other words, the chaos inside the building was mirrored by the chaos outside, when there ought to be well-rehearsed drills in place about what to do in case of fire emergencies.

The government in Karnataka has ordered the Bangalore Bruhat Mahanagara Palike the city's municipal council to review fire safety measures of all high-rises in the city. Similarly, other cities should also review safety measures in public buildings not just against fire but earthquakes and other natural disasters without delay. It will come as no shock if these surveys find that a majority of our establishments are found wanting. Builders and owners often cut corners while building and later maintaining properties. Basic norms to ensure safety, like drills, are paid scant respect. And even when fire safety systems are in place, people are unaware about what to do in case of emergencies. Firefighting departments need to be beefed up as well. Unless we change our 'chalta hai' attitude, we can be assured that the Bangalore accident will not be the last case of unnecessary loss.

Another important aspect of shoring up safety standards is to punish offenders promptly. The infamous Uphaar cinema case dragged on for years, denying meaningful justice to the victims of fire in this Delhi cinema. Whoever is found guilty of negligence in the Carlton Towers accident must be made to pay the price.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

LACKING VISION

 

For a Railway Budget that promised to introduce an ambitious 10-year plan dubbed Vision 2020, Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee's offering was strangely lacking in foresight and long-term measures. None of the initiatives she presented can be pointed to as clearly counterproductive. However, they seem a scattershot combination of populist measures rather than a cohesive strategy.


The market's reaction says as much, with rail stocks plummeting in the aftermath of the budget. And with West Bengal assembly elections a little over a year away and a large number of the new projects given to the state it becomes difficult to avoid the conclusion that she has carried on the venerable tradition of using her position to cement her political base.


There are a few promising measures. The boosting of local train networks in metros like Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai is welcome, as is the prospect of better connectivity in the north-east and to Bangladesh. But these are only pointers to what the budget should, in fact, have been a comprehensive attempt to improve infrastructure for boosting economic activity. Setting up multi-functional hospitals and insurance facilities for licensed porters among the highlights of Banerjee's budget are well and good as ancillary measures. But corporate social responsibility cannot replace the core business of the Railways, creating economic linkages.


Banerjee's decision to maintain passenger and freight fares at the same level there have been in fact a few cuts here and there is problematic as well. While some amount of fare subsidisation is inevitable, there is an urgent need to bring them closer to a rational level. Without it, budget promises such as new trains and extending the rail network seem dubious. Lowering receipts while increasing outlays is not the ideal means to balance financial requirements. And that is the single largest problem with this budget. Initiatives and projects have been launched without due consideration of how they are to be operationalised. A special task force for clearing investment proposals within 100 days seems a significant step forward on the face of it. But it becomes less so when considerations of how to attract that investment given that Banerjee's populist measures make for a less than efficient business model crop up. Despite purporting to launch a decade of growth, the one thing this budget lacks is vision.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

GO FORTH, BOLDLY

SHUBHADA RAO

 

The Union Budget presented by the government in July 2009 was essentially focused on the 'problem-at-hand' whereby the imperative was to support growth through expansionary fiscal policy alongside an accommodative monetary policy. A gamut of stimulus measures were unleashed in addition to the measures announced earlier, viz farm debt waiver and the Sixth Pay Commission which on hindsight couldn't have been more opportune. These measures served the intent that of spurring consumption well. Amidst the challenging global and domestic economic environment, India posted a respectable growth in GDP at 6.7 per cent almost entirely on the back of robust domestic consumption. The recovery since then has gained momentum and the growth forecasts for FY10 are now being pegged at 8 per cent, essentially driven by a strong rebound in non-farm GDP.


This raises the question of an appropriate timing and magnitude of the withdrawal of stimulus measures. While monetary tightening began in January with a hike in CRR of 75 basis points, the uneven growth impulses have raised some debate about the timing and appropriateness of the withdrawal of fiscal stimulus. While this is well appreciated, persistently high food inflation and sharp fiscal imbalances prompt us to seriously think of 'now' being the time to begin fiscal unwinding.


The crisis years and the ensuing fiscal expansion have significantly raised the burden of government debt to 85 per cent of GDP. Large government borrowings have the tendency of crowding out efficient private investment while exerting pressure on interest rates, which is counterproductive as overall interest rates are pushed higher thereby slowing the growth momentum. The quality of fiscal stimulus thus becomes pertinent. Stimulus to spur consumption can be used only as a short-term tool. If employed over a longer period, it runs the risk of destabilising the economy through high inflation and unsustainable budget deficits. Contrarily, if stimulus is extended to spur investment it has the potential to unleash a virtuous spiral.


It is in this context that one argues for withdrawal of fiscal stimulus at a gradual pace. The investment spending is at a point of inflexion and unwinding of fiscal stimulus therefore needs to be carefully calibrated. This however should not provide a rationale to procrastinate on the process of withdrawal.


The forthcoming Budget, in a way, ought to be 'Budgeting for Normalcy' while simultaneously laying the framework for a sustainable 9 per cent plus growth trajectory in the medium term. A clear roadmap for reforms in the financial sector, government finances and the real economy will pave way for the 'India Investment' story to rebound.


Many reports to impart structural soundness to our government finances have been tabled in recent months. Reports recommending expenditure reforms (Kirit Parekh Report), efficient tax regime (Thirteenth Finance Commission) and Direct Taxes Code Bill, if implemented, have the capability of taking India back to fiscal consolidation sooner than envisaged. The key however is the intent-implementation ratio. Re-outlining the FRBM roadmap will be clear positives from a fiscal sustainability and rating agencies' perspective.


In so far as the impediments to growth in the real economy are concerned, agriculture and infrastructure continue to remain a drag on our economic potential. Domestic and global savings are critical for supporting infrastructure growth. Investment in infrastructure will gain in scale if it is supported by a stable and sound policy framework, cost-efficiency (by removing anomalies in stamp duties), and imparting liquidity by creating appropriate financial architecture to meet the huge funding requirement. The long-term plan of taking infra expenditure to 10 per cent of GDP needs a medium-term agenda involving all financial entities like banks, pension funds, private equity players, multilateral development institutions and the government.


With banks being the largest intermediaries for mobilising domestic savings, significant scope for enhancing the opportunities for banks to fund infrastructure needs exists. Take-out financing, widening the scope of priority sector to include lending to infrastructure sectors are some steps that can go a long way in channelising resources from concentrated pools of savings, viz banks to this sector.


Persistently high food inflation has emphatically underscored the need for greater focus on agricultural reforms. Enhancing the scope of cooperative farming to create economically viable size of agricultural land holdings, revamping the distribution systems both at input and output stages, larger application of R&D in agriculture to raise productivity and a renewed thrust on agri infrastructure are some areas where serious attention and application is needed.


Huge potential exists in unlocking the value of the PSUs. The cash balances that the PSUs hold are likely enough to address the annual requirement of infrastructure funding.


Having put the uncertainties behind us to a large extent, the government should seize this opportunity to fortify the attractiveness of India as an investment destination. Large sovereign debts are unsustainable. This was recently put to test in the Eurozone, when the financial markets turned jittery bringing back some risk aversion. The forthcoming Budget provides the government a timely opportunity to send out an emphatic signal to the world that we mean business.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

IT'S GOOD FOR DEMOCRACY

 

Budget day is an eyeball-grabbing ritual in India, played out every February. The nation comes to a virtual standstill as the finance minister unveils the zealously guarded contents of a bag carried into Parliament, "budget papers" that have already evoked feverish speculation. Before and after budget day, politicians, media, amateur economy-watchers, specialists, you name it, expend energy either penning wish-lists or doing post-mortems. Yes, there's hoopla over the budget exercise. The point is, this is necessary hoopla.


The reason this is so has little to do with India's institutional habit of marking budget days since 1947. Nor has it to do with love of pageantry. In a vibrant democracy like ours, government is answerable to people and Parliament. Budget day provides the perfect showcase for accountability on the crucial issue of how taxpayers' money is spent. Contrary to perceptions that it's an exercise in mystification, budget presentation is all about transparency. The FM makes a clear, detailed financial statement. This is passed in the House before coming into force. Moreover, all citizens listen to the budget speech. Afterwards, everybody from the homemaker next door to the TV panel expert passes a verdict. Public opinion has in the past even forced rollbacks on budget pronouncements. What can be more open and participatory than that?


The budget is equally a vision document, unveiling macroeconomic policy orientations. As reflected in competitive coalition era politics, India's political diversity impacts budget-making. We have a booming growth story but our economy is still in a process of churning. Given the political economy issues it tackles, the budget is usually a tightrope walk between the dual snares of populism and economic reductionism. Public appraisal is needed of official success or failure in this regard. Such critiquing helps democratic functioning. Without a designated occasion for its unveiling, as key a policy instrument as the budget may not get the undiluted focus it merits. With budget day marked out, public debate itself gets institutionalised not only on revenue and expenditure statements, but also on the broader direction the economy is headed.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

A POINTLESS EXERCISE

RONOJOY SEN

 

Yet another budget day approaches. The finance minister will once again present the annual budget amidst bench thumping by his party colleagues and jeers from the opposition. After he has finished, talking heads will discuss the budget to death on television, and reams of newsprint will be wasted in analysing it. If you are already switching off, you're not alone.


A survey done a few years ago revealed that 14 per cent of Indians do not follow the budget at all and another 30 per cent are barely interested in it. That means the budget evokes little interest in a large swathe of India's population. There is good reason for this. The budget, except for tinkering of taxation rates and revision of prices of some items, is usually seen as an accounting exercise that is of little interest to ordinary citizens.

It's time to prick the pomp surrounding the budget. Let's treat it as an annual financial statement by the government and nothing more. There is no reason to build up so much drama around the finance minister's presentation in Parliament and then minutely dissect it. The budget is a holdover from the days of a planned economy and the licence raj. It makes little sense in a rapidly changing and globalised world. Instead, the budget could be put on the Net and its contents widely circulated. This could be followed by a debate in Parliament.

Like many of India's parliamentary traditions, the annual budget is borrowed from the British. Traditions such as the Budget Box - the red leather briefcase where the budget speech is carried to the House of Commons - are aped in India. But the irony is that while the budget has become a fairly routine event in Britain, we still like to go bananas over the event year after year.


If the hysteria surrounding the budget were to be done away with, not too many people would complain. The only losers would be the finance minister and a few pundits who enjoy their moment in the sun once a year.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

SNIFFING OUT THE TRUTH ABOUT WHO YOU ARE

AVATAR MEHER BABA

 

For most of us, spiritual sadhana or practice is the external observance of rituals and ceremonies prescribed by religion. In the beginning such observance has is valuable to enable to self-purification and discipline. Ultimately, however, the aspirant has to transcend the phase of external conformity and get initiated in the deeper aspects of spiritual sadhana.


In its deeper aspects, spiritual sadhana consists in following the yoga of knowledge or dhyan, yoga of action or karma and yoga of devotion or bhakti. The sadhana of knowledge finds its expression through the exercise of detachment born of true understanding, the different forms of meditation and the constant use of discrimination and intuition.


Karma-yoga is acting according to the best intuitions of the heart without fear or hesitation. Fulfillment of the sadhana of karma-yoga requires that action should spring from the perception of Truth. Even more important than the sadhanas of knowledge and action is the sadhana of devotion or love.


Love is its own excuse for being. It is complete in itself and does not need to be supplemented by anything. Love is not love if it is based on any expectation. In the intensity of divine love, the lover becomes one with the divine Beloved. There is no sadhana greater than love, there is no law higher than love and there is no goal that is beyond love – for love in its divine state becomes infinite. God and love are identical and one who has divine love already has God.


As a rule sadhana involves effort and sometimes even desperate effort, as in the case of an aspirant who may strive for detachment in the face of temptations. In love, though, there is no effort because it is spontaneous. One of the paradoxes connected with spiritual sadhana is that all effort of the aspirant is intended for arriving at a state of effortlessness.


There is the story of a kasturi-mriga, or musk deer that brings out the nature of spiritual sadhana. Once while roaming about and frolicking over hills and dales, the kasturi-mriga was suddenly aware of an exquisitely beautiful scent, the like of which it had never known. The scent stirred the inner depths of its soul so profoundly that it determined to find the source. So keen was its longing that notwithstanding the severity of cold or the intensity of scorching heat, by day as well as by night, the deer carried on its desperate search for the source of the sweet scent. It knew no fear or hesitation but undaunted, went on its elusive search, until at last, happening to lose its foothold on a cliff, it had a precipitous fall resulting in a fatal injury. While breathing its last, the deer found that the scent that had ravished its heart and inspired all these efforts came from its own navel. This last moment of the deer's life was its happiest and there was on its face inexpressible peace.


All spiritual sadhanas of the aspirant are like the efforts of the kasturi-mriga. The final fructification of sadhana involves the termination of the ego-life of the aspirant. At that moment there is the realisation that he himself has, in a sense, been the object of all his search and endeavour. All that he suffered and enjoyed – all his risks and adventures, all his sacrifices and desperate strivings – were intended for achieving true Self-knowledge, in which he loses his individuality only to discover that he is identical with God, who is in everything.
Today is the 116th birth anniversary of Avatar Meher Baba.

Email:avatarmeherbababombaycentre@rediffmail.com

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

MY FLAMINGO FAMILY

BACHI KARKARIA

 

Migrant flamingos and migrated family fly into Mumbai every winter.  To our great regret, No. 1 Son and his newish wife stay for a far shorter time than that magnificent mass of birds, but, fortunately, they have more manageable tastes in food.


Their pink colouring comes from the Atlanta winter not from snacking on algae, and though Urvaksh and Anisha share the avian' addiction to crustaceans, they go for the larger crabs and shrimp. They certainly don't demand the minuscule molluscs which the flamingos scoop up  with their strange, downwardly curved beaks.


The flamingos who descend on Mumbai in their thousands probably outnumber all the residents of all the Parsi colonies here. My personal migratory record is abysmal. Our immediate - family-from-afar comprises the measly two mentioned above, but hopefully they will make the number less dismal by adding some nestlings soon.

 


We will welcome that stork with considerably greater enthusiasm than the flamingoes show towards the lone ones which wade in their midst. Water birds of many a feather flock together on this eastern shore-line. The massed flamingos are punctuated by solitary herons and egrets, waiting patiently immobile, gingerly picking their long-legged way through Sewri's low-tide  slime and calling out in a Babel of beaks.

 

Our immediate emigrant family is singularly modest. It actually comprises only No.1 Son, since d-i-l Anisha is as much Georgia Girl as Guju Girl, having being born in the USA. However, when it comes to the larger family, we can muster a respectable count of emigrant members - just like so many other Indian families, rich or poor, rural or urban, Sikh, Shaivaite, Shia, or Seventh Day Adventist.

 

Our grand-uncle was the first recorded adventurer. This modest Calcutta lad went to Hong Kong as a 'ghar jamaai', and developed a penchant for bespoke three-piece suits, two-toned spats, manicured nails and Crepe de Chine cologne. For us, as children, he was as exotic as the latter-day flamingoes. Like them, Mamaji came back every winter, bearing exquisite but totally impractical gifts, most memorably tiny, embroidered silk bras for my bosomy mother and aunt.

 

Cousin Khorshed was next. Her American boss helped her to get a job in  New York. She impulsively hitched a ride to San Francisco in his daughter's red Mustang, and stayed on in sunny California for the next 40 years turning into Mrs Dodge. Her sister went to Australia soon after, and, three decades later, mine emigrated to New Zealand. Our No.1 Son went to study in Fort Wayne, pretentiously introducing himself as being from 'India-slash-Indiana'. Getting a green card, he moved to flamingo-country Florida before switching jobs, states and marital status all in a six-month span.


Mumbai's flamingoes fly in from West Africa; we developed family ties with its eastern wing in quick and co-incidental succession. No.2 Son's Saraswat 'm-i-l', Gita, was raised in Kenya; No 1 Son got married three years later, and his 'f-i-l', Kirti, was from Tanzania. We added Uganda in 2009, courtesy my nephew, Devapriyo, who joined his Danish NGO wife there.


Like the flamingoes, Urvaksh and Anisha have coloured our routine. Like them, they chatter in exotic accents ( he Twitters as well). Both top up their flamboyance; the birds with what they feed on; the kids with the baubles they shop for. 

Both have escaped the cold of the places they call home, and they warm up our lives. The children naturally. The flamingos mystically.  If these alien birds fly thousands of kilometers each year to a city that grows increasingly more inhospitable, there must surely be some magic still left in Mumbai.

 

Even if we can't decipher the message in the roseate dawn they bring, we still await them eagerly. For, if the flamingos come, can our faraway children be far behind?

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

SACHIN, THE PLAYER

 

It would have been unnatural if someone other than him reached such a landmark. But then, it was Sachin Tendulkar who became the first cricketer in history to score a double century in the One-Day format of the game. The persons who came closest to reaching the 200 mark were Pakistan's Saeed Anwar in 1997 and Zimbabwe's Charles Coventry in 2009, both a stroke away from the magic figure and stopping at 194. So for the man who has scored the highest runs in Test and One-Day cricket, there's the added beauty of logical consistency that was taken care of in Gwalior on Wednesday.

 

Tendulkar remains the flagbearer of the increasingly dwindling phenomenon of quantity matching quality. In a world where the highest grossing movie is the one with blue people and not much of a story to tell, where books that sell the most take the curious pride in being the least 'literary', Tendulkar's records are a mere reflection of what he is as a sportsman and a master of his arts. On a day marked by the dreariness of a boring Railway Budget speech and little else, it was his masterful knock that made not only his admirers sit up and watch, but non-cricket enthusiasts realise that a special display by a special human was underway.

 

Which brings to the mind of many people what is left for Tendulkar to achieve on a personal level. This question is as pointless as wondering what Michelangelo did after creating his Pieta or what Einstein did after coming up with the theory of relativity. For people like Tendulkar, it's gloriously evident that their joys are to be found in the fun of what they do: playing. The rest, including the pile of records,are just the by-products.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

DIDI'S JANATA EXPRESS IS ALL STEAM, NO POWER

SRINAND JHA

 

Mamata Banerjee was apologetic for her thick accent while presenting the budget on Wednesday. She needn't have. Her message was very clear: will fight price rise, even if it meant ignoring concerns about railways' financial health.

 

Indian Railways is not in the red yet, or close to it. But concerns have been raised about its declining profits and rising expenses when compared to earnings.So, there will be no change in passenger fares — planning commission was pitching for a hike — and the freight rates on select, but significant items such as kerosene and food grains, will be cut to keep prices down.

 

Indian Railways is not in the red yet, or close to it. But concerns have been raised about its declining profits and rising expenses when compared to earnings.

 

She was expected to take tough measures, but ducked. "This budget has only Bengal and all others are left 'Kangal' (poor)," said senior BJP leader Ananth Kumar to reporters outside Parliament.
 
CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta also said the budget was written with West Bengal elections in mind.

 

"The budget would score nine on 10 on the populist scale," said S Murali, former member of the Railway Board.

 

Banerjee announced 54 new trains, including 10 Durantos, and promised to construct over 1,000 km of new rail lines over the next year. She doled out projects and sops for everyone, assuring impatient MPs there was something for everyone.

 

But she also warned a persistent MP: "If you don't listen, I will cut it (cancel your constituency's name from the list)."
And there was instant gratification for those who fell in line. "Jaunpur bhi jayega (it will go to Jaunpur too)," she promised a member pressing for an extra stop. It was not in the budget but she penciled it in.

 

A stop in Jaunpur may not cost much but experts have been warning of spiraling expenses. The operating ratio,  proportion of expenses to earnings, which was a healthy 75 per cent in 2007-8, was up to 94.7 per cent in 2009-10. The Railways hope to bring it down to 92.3 per cent in 2010-11.

 

Though the budget proposes to raise net surplus from Rs 951.03 crore in 2009-10 to Rs 3,173 crore in 2010-11, these figures were called "peanuts" by experts when compared to the figures of some years ago.

 

These couldn't all be attributed to bad financial management. "Economic downturn and Pay Commission impact contributed to declining trends in Railways earnings," said Murali.

 

Signs of a cash crunch abound. Only Rs 373.09 crore was provided for new projects. Many projects come with riders: they're either proposed in the public-private partnership (PPP) mode or are "subject to sanction by the Finance Ministry and Planning Commission".


And there isn't much help Banerjee can expect to get.

The Railways had sought Rs 14,00,000 crore for the Accelerated Rail Development Fund for project implementation over 10 years. But it's getting only Rs 15, 875 crore in this budget.

 

Then her investment plan. "This will depend on execution of the PPP model and requires dramatic changes in the financing model," said Abheek Barua, chief economist, HDFC Bank.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

 

LAY TRACKS FOR TOMORROW

 

It is tempting in 2010 to set out a 2020 vision for the Indian railway network. Mamata Banerjee's white paper last December was a realistic assessment of how the railways need to morph in a competitive environment; some of that sobering analysis finds place in her budget for 2010-11. Every other rupee the railways earn comes from carting coal, iron or cement and the country's infrastructure deficit should keep the railways in business provided it can handle it. The Chinese lug twice as many wagons on a rail network roughly our size to carry nearly four times our freight. Around a fifth of India's tracks are still metre gauge, rendering them unfit to carry cargo.

 

Capacity building is vital if the railways are serious about reclaiming market share lost to highways and pipelines. And capacity on this scale does not derive from incremental gains in loading wagons and turning them around faster. A shared network for goods and people slows both down; Ms Banerjee is on the right track when she goes out seeking private investment in dedicated freight corridors, rolling stock, last-mile connectivity and even in running trains. There is also merit in farming out heavily subsidised mass transit systems in cities to their local governments. The minister, however, baulks at taking the next logical leap of corporatising large chunks of the network, and is content in seeking joint ventures at the fringes. The social obligation Ms Banerjee talked about comes with a cost: salaries and pension of 1.4 million staff account for half the railways' expenditure and 85 per cent of all rail accidents between 2001 and 2006 were caused by human error.

 

With expenses eating 92 paise of every rupee the railways earn, the minister had little elbow room in building infrastructure. Track and rolling stock additions are broadly in continuity with last year's targets. The lion's share of extra money the railways expect to earn will come from cargo rates raised later in the year. Seasonal freight pricing has become a preferred tool to increase railway revenue and capacity usage while keeping up appearances on cross-subsidisation of passenger fares. Ms Banerjee has, despite a substantially higher wage bill, withstood pressure from her alliance partners urging her to raise fares. Ms Banerjee's widely expected populism was mainly confined to lower rates for hauling grain and kerosene. Her equally widely expected parochialism, on display in a string of project announcements, was not out of line with that of her predecessors.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

STRONG ACSHENT

 

Do you sense people speaking in a very different kind of English?


Yesh! I pheel it een thee ayar, I pheel it een my bones. Bhy, can eyu tell my bhy?

 

Well, some doctors have called it Budgetitis, a not uncommon temporary ailment that strikes people when they listen to too much of a strong Bengali accent.

 

But I am no Bengali, I am, een phact, non-Bengali!


Did you listen to Mamata Banerjee's Railway Budget speech yesterday?

 

Indeed I did...


There you go. Listening to her speech triggered a spot in your hippocampus...

 

Hippo? I habh not been anybheyr een in the bhicinity of a joo.


No, hippocampus is a part of the brain. Doctors predict a spike tomorrow among all people after Pranab Mukherjee's done delivering his budget speech.

 

Eeyu mean there is no ceyor phor this mala-di?


Mala-di? Oh, you mean malady. The only protection known to man against Budgetitis is to hear Montek Singh Ahluwalia speak during both budget speeches. His pucca English accent can cancel the heavy Bengali accents of Mamata and Pranab.

 

Good heabhens! Let me call Dr Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate to phix a meeting with Dr Ahluwalia right now!
Do say: Plis be shited.

 

Don't say: Still no Bengali PM, eh?

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NOT ON FERTILE GROUND

KUMKUM DASGUPTA

 

In the past few weeks, the media have been abuzz with arguments and counter-arguments on genetically-modified (GM) foods. The storm is far from over, although the Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh's announced a indefinite moratorium on the commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal. In fact, now Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has also stepped into the ring after Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar wrote to him suggesting that ad hoc decisions on GM crops would "demoralise Indian scientists" and "jeopardise R&D crucial to food security".

 

However, what surprised me most was the nature of the protests. It was almost as if it was streetfight — which was probably good because you need that kind of decibel level to make things heard in this country. Civil society was at its most aggressive — and creative — best: at one such raucous public meeting in Bangalore, Ramesh got an unusual gift, a brinjal garland.

 

The debates were reported on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and, of course, the good old mediums: television and newspapers. In India, everyone loves a good debate, and why not? After all, at least 46 per cent of India's population relies on agriculture for its livelihood — a far cry from the home ground of GM crops — the US — where less than 2 per cent depend on farming for a living.

 

However, I wonder, why don't we hear such strident civil society protests and debates when it comes to the 'old' issues of Indian agriculture? The same holds true for our ministers, especially Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Science & Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan whoa are lobbying for GM crops. Why aren't they equally aggressive about the other pending agrarian problems as they are about GM crops?

 

Travelling through Punjab two years ago, I met R.K. Singh, an official with the agriculture department in one of the blocks of Jalandhar.

 

So what are your responsibilities, I asked.

 

"My staff is supposed to provide extension services to the farmers: tell them about new seeds, pests and new farming techniques," Singh replied.

 

"So, you travel a lot in the your block?"

 

Singh smiled a bit and then added shyly: "Travel? I don't even have an official vehicle."

 

"So how do you reach out to the farmers? Mobiles?"

 

"Err... the office has no telephone connection. I wait for the farmers to come here for information," Singh said

apologetically.

 

Just two kilometres from Singh's two-room office was a vegetable collection hub of an agri-retail giant. Inside, the hub had everything that could help a farmer with information and market knowledge: it was linked to the nearest mandi, 40 kms away, for tracking the rates and internet to download information on pesticides and new seeds. The company's 'agents' met farmers regularly to tell them about new developments in the sector.

 

Later in Delhi, the CEO of the agri-retail chain told me that his company has mapped the agricultural potential of the country though satellites. "We are way ahead of the government," he said confidently.

 

A year later, I was at Tim Seifert's huge farm, near St Louis, Illinois, USA. As he explained the benefits of GM crops, we walked to his workshed. He had everything at his disposal: satellite-linked tractors, sprinklers to hi-tech threshers. Later at an agriculture fair, I was amazed what is available to an American farmer: technology solutions, information on new seeds, pest control techniques and real time talk shows to clear his questions. And, most companies were falling over each other to entice farmers.

 

There is no dearth of issues that affects the Indian farmer. Take irrigation for example, a key requirement to increase farm productivity. According to the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, in the last 15 years (1991-92 to 2006-07), there has been no addition to the total irrigated areas by canals from major and medium irrigation projects.

 

Hopefully, activists will not lose sight of such problems when they take to the streets next.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

GETTING TO THE BIG 11

SAMAR HALARNKAR

 

Don't you just love the food, the smiles and the full services on Indian domestic airlines? It's such a relief from the $5-pretzel-packet flights in the US or the surly service you often get on some European carriers.

 

Yet, till as late as 1994, India forced private airlines to call themselves 'air-taxi operators', barred from printing flight schedules or otherwise granting them airline status. When they were finally allowed to become proper airlines, the protection to Indian Airlines and Air India, continued, such as reserving prime airport space.

 

It didn't work. The share of private airlines surged from 0.4 per cent in 1991 to 68.5 per cent within the next 14 years; today, it is 82 per cent. India's great aviation revolution was finally a piecemeal affair, with business interests and barons pushing the government towards a reluctant, often messy, deregulation. 

 

Today, the government still does not fully appreciate the Indian ability to innovate, endure and prosper. As Pranab Mukherjee presents tomorrow his coalition's first budget since it returned to power, it is no longer enough to consider just how far India has come. It is time to consider how far India needs to urgently travel, for government to truly unshackle the economy and the Indian spirit.

 

The government predicts that India's GDP growth could hit 9 per cent this year, but that is an underestimation of what could be. India is capable of growing at 11 per cent. If it can do that, the government can then focus more fully on what it really needs to do: fix our atrocious urban and rural infrastructure, physical and social, and ensure no Indian goes hungry.

 

Like aviation, India fiddled endlessly with its mobile and automobile sectors before they reached inflexion point, a stage beyond which continuing restrictions, official whimsy and meddling don't matter: the country adds 10 million new mobile customers every month; in January 1.1 million automobiles were sold.

 

A large part of India's growth has come not from finely tuned deregulation but because regulatory models often collapsed, as the tangled litigation over mobile licences since the 1990s has revealed.

 

It is time now to truly give India free reign, to intentionally collapse many regulations and create a million new inflexion points. For instance, why do we still allow no foreign direct investment (FDI) in supermarkets but 100 per cent FDI in industrial explosives and hazardous chemicals? If we can reach 9 per cent despite still being hobbled by bureaucratic fancy, the possibilities are endless.

 

Along the way, the Indian State has certainly learned some lessons. To stay with the aviation sector, we may now struggle to remember that less than seven months ago, eight Indian airlines threatened a strike (hastily withdrawn) unless the government they so abhorred bailed them out. "All of us are bleeding, all of us need help," Jet Airways Chairman Naresh Goyal pleaded in August 2009, seconded by a subdued avatar of Kingfisher's otherwise flamboyant Vijay Mallya. Wisely, a country prone to succumbing to the woes of the rich and powerful did nothing of the sort.

 

This resolve to stay away from crony capitalism was evident last week when Union Textile Minister Dayanidhi Maran refused government sops and criticised the export-dependent textile industry for fishing out its 'begging bowl'. We've given you the stimulus, you come up with the ideas, Maran said. Look at the domestic market, look beyond the US and Europe to new markets.

Nothing showcases the ability to withstand hard times better and stand firm than India's star global performer, the information technology sector.

 

The National Association for Software and Service Companies predicts that the IT export growth rate will drop from 16 per cent in 2008-09 (29 per cent the year before that) to 7 per cent in 2009-10.

 

Yet, the few results we've seen indicate that things aren't as bad as we feared. How else could Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), India's largest software company, think of adding 40,000 new jobs this year?

 

In part, this is because Indian IT has begun the tough journey of innovating, adapting and expanding into emerging markets. TCS now boasts annual revenues of $1.2 billion, or roughly a fifth of total sales, up from $160 million when it opened its first operations in Uruguay and China eight years ago. It's been difficult going beyond the English-speaking world, not least because in Latin America Tata means "daddy", something that TCS' Latin American CEO had a hard time explaining to bemused new clients who had never heard of Tata. Over the next five years, TCS will grow its staff in China by 500 per cent to 5,000, and in Latin America it is adding 1,000 people every year.

 

India's IT sector revenues last year were $59 billion. It's hard to imagine that in 1991, when then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh first released India's latent entrepreneurial energies, the IT sector was a piffling $150 million.

 

In India's growth story, no sector has grown quite so spectacularly in terms of revenues and global imagination as the IT sector, almost all of it outside India.

 

No one imagines that India's government can remove its inequities overnight, that its stifling bureaucracy will be transformed any time soon. But the energies now restlessly swirling among its people can be given full expression if government simply gets out of the way.

 

Mukherjee may not take India to new inflexion points tomorrow, but it is a good day to start thinking of 11 per cent.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

RAIL TO NOWHERE

 

Notwithstanding the grand show put up by Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, perhaps it's time for Indian Railways to be deprived of its big day in Parliament. If the ability to deliver a separate budget continually causes in successive railway ministers delusions of grandeur, the belief that they run a little kingdom and must do in miniature all the things that the government believes it is responsible for, then the railway budget definitely does more harm than good. The 2010 budget for IR was, in some ways, a particularly egregious example of the railway-ministry-as-benevolent-socialist-despotism school of thought. Every single message that was sent out said the same thing: this exercise isn't about the railways, it is about patronage, and that everyone will get their little handout if they stop interrupting Mamatadi.

 

It isn't just the big points, though they are bad enough. That Banerjee chose to leave the passenger fare-freight fare equation largely untouched even given the near unanimity among experts that the cross-subsidisation of passenger travel by freight fees should end is significant. But what worries is the entire stance of the speech, the idea that IR should not be run as an organisation that moves people and things efficiently from one place to another, but as a quasi-state, with its own social sector schemes and stimulus packages. Six new bottling plants for drinking water! Is it the minister's opinion that this is a more efficient and reliable method for sourcing water than relying on a transparently awarded contract? Then there are the 10 eco-parks that have been promised. Why on earth is a cash-strapped railways building eco-parks? Or, for that matter, setting up five sports academies?

 

Is there not another ministry for this, and several quasi-governmental bodies? And what reasonable set of ideas about governance requires a railway to set up a Tagore museum and academy? Just because IR has land, is it competent to run everything imaginable on it?

 

This is not just a minister playing to her home state, beginning the countdown to an election campaign. This is about how the philosophy of governance that has been made explicit in this budget is one that will hold back the development of what was once and could be again the backbone of India's infrastructure. As the minister herself said, she needed to rush through her two-hour speech "like the Rajdhani" because there were "so many schemes". A few less schemes, and we'd all be happier.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE 200 CLUB

 

In the end, there seemed to be only one force of nature that could have stopped Sachin Tendulkar from reaching the first double century in one-day internationals: Mahendra Singh Dhoni's inability to get the delivery away for anything less than a boundary. That was apt. Tendulkar owns many records, but they have never been just a matter of numbers. So it is that he again affirmed his special place in cricket by not allowing, in those final overs, any anxiety about the record change the drift of play. His partner was straining to give him the strike, but Tendulkar's batting did not betray a temptation to get the strike by passing up an opportunity for a run.

 

This record has come late in Tendulkar's career, a career in which India remained in the game far too often and for far too many stretches just by his very presence. For that reason, for the sense that Tendulkar now plays in a team that has it to win without him, the record is timely. Now, the team may not despair of playing a match without him; but he, unencumbered by great expectations, can still rise to them.

 

Tendulkar needed circumstances. We needed these circumstances for an exceptional career like Tendulkar's to be made complete and invested with specialness. He's been around for so long that it is easy to forget that he carried a heavy burden from the very beginning. He debuted in a series in Pakistan in 1989. In the Sialkot Test, Waqar Younis, also a debutant, bloodied 16-year-old Tendulkar's nose. He refused to retire hurt. "It didn't feel nice, what with blood flowing from my nose," he would later recall. "But I couldn't leave, for the side was not doing well." It was a fidelity that extracted collateral damage. The team's fortunes so often relied on him that it became a perverse conclusion that anything that made him shine had to be measured against the team's performance. And a man given to doing well had to answer questions about not playing just for the records. On Wednesday in Gwalior, everyone was willing the game on for his record. But him. He waited out Dhoni's uncontrollable flair and let the record come to him.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

OXYGEN-FIXING

 

That a disregard for scientific methodology had fuelled Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh's veto against introduction of Bt brinjal seeds was evident from his privileging of public sentiment over the institutional process of safety trials and clearance. More evidence comes from a closer reading of his written statement while announcing his moratorium on Bt brinjal: among his concerns, he said, were consequences for "Indian systems of medicine including ayurveda, siddha, homeopathy and unani" which use brinjal as a medicinal plant. What is revealing is that this intervention was not informed by inputs from the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy at the Centre, as a senior official told this newspaper.

 

It is a different matter, perhaps, that alternative systems of medicine are currently being put to careful experimentation, and a big debate is on amongst researchers whether homeopathy, for instance, has any quantifiable benefits beyond the placebo effect. It is, however, more than incidental that experts have disputed the minister's claim that introduction of a transgenic variety of brinjal would have implications for these systems of medicine. These voices of caution broadbase the concern that the Bt brinjal moratorium is ad hoc and fuelled by extra-scientific considerations.

 

They also validate the kind of urgency shown by the prime minister in constituting a team to take a considered view on the recommendations of the Genetic Engineering Approval/ Appraisal Committee and other panels for GM crops. Other members of the team will be the ministers for environment, agriculture and science and technology. As Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar wrote to the PM, the off-the-cuff nature of the Bt brinjal decision threatened to "set the clock back" on agricultural growth by disheartening scientists and companies investing research and resources in GM technology. This is why the tenor of fresh deliberations is as important as the minutes of the prime minister's meeting.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE PARTY POLICE

CPJOHN

 

The horrifying death of W.R. Varadarajan, one of the most important leaders of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and a central committee member of the CPM from Tamil Nadu, has raised several questions about the politics and practices of the communist parties. From the facts emerging from the media, the death is likely to have been a suicide. Is this an indicator of the unbearable stress of life and work within the communist parties?

 

In the era of Stalinist obscurantism, many comrades were driven to suicide by feelings of guilt, of not being able to cope with the "revolutionary" requirements. Mohit Sen, in his autobiography A Traveller and the Road: The Journey of an Indian Communist, has narrated the story of two Vietnamese comrades attending the same party school in Beijing in the early '50s, who killed themselves. They were stricken with guilt after spending a small amount of money collected for the party, on themselves. The stress of this guilt exploded during an "introspection session" at the party school, under the tutelage of none other than Liu Shaoqi — the author of How To Be A Good Communist — who was expelled from the party during the Cultural Revolution and persecuted in prison until his death. But these Vietnamese comrades were condemned by Liu Shaoqi then, and not even granted a burial in the graveyard meant for "true" communists, since they had severed links with the party through their deaths.

 

However, W.R. Varadarajan has not been dismissed from the party after his death for the sin of committing suicide. Communist parties have always defined "party life" and "party work" as one and the same as far as dedicated party workers — and especially the top leaders — are concerned. Family, marriage, parenting, and all other worldly affairs were often discussed inside the party, and always directed by it.

 

In this case, a complaint was filed by Varadarajan's wife alleging illicit relations. The party state unit discussed the matter and decided to strip him of all the posts he had in the party. The central committee of the party seemed to simply endorse the decision of the state unit. Technically, this virtual expulsion is constitutional and within the rules, and the whole issue can justifiably be called the party's internal issue. But the question remains: who is responsible for Varadarajan's life and his death?

 

Perhaps the CPM central committee's collective wisdom in punishing Varadarajan for his transgressions cannot be questioned. But did all those present at the meeting have the moral authority to cast the first stone? The party may be excessively focused on the moral free-fall, since it had to expel its Punjab state unit secretary in the recent past. When life and work are in conflict, can anyone expect a reasonable judgment from a party forum which pretends to be omnipotent? How can such delicate personal matters be debated and resolved in political forums? But a party like the CPM still "believes" that it can judge anything and everything.

 

Even after the morally harsh judgment, the party did not display any concern for Varadarajan. It could not comprehend the trauma that he must have undergone. W.R. Varadarajan's so-called comrades seemed to have no idea of what happened to him after the disciplinary action. The virtual expulsion from the party functioned like an implicit social boycott. Varadarajan's decision to end his life was the product of the guilt and shame inflicted upon him by his own comrades. For several days, he went missing. A leader who once enjoyed great stature in the party was finally taken to the mortuary as an unidentified corpse. This is the saddest part of the whole story. Varadarajan has gone. But who is responsible for his death? "I know not, am I my comrade's keeper?" may be the best answer.

 

The writer is a former vice-president of the Students Federation of India (the CPM's student wing), and is now the secretary of the Communist Marxist Party which broke away from the CPM in 1986

 

express@expressindia.com

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

ADVANTAGE OF SURPRISE

C. RAJA MOHAN

 

As the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries sit down across the table in New Delhi's Hyderabad House today, they will not miss an irony that envelops their talks — the intense local and global media attention on their meeting is in inverse proportion to the amount of political communication between the power centres in the two capitals during the recent months.

 

The lack of a political agreement, or more correctly the collapse of the earlier understandings between Delhi and Islamabad on how to manage the bilateral relationship, means the task of the two top diplomats would be a limited one.

 

At the formal level, the mandate of Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir would be to convey their respective expectations and conditions for resuming bilateral negotiations and finding if there is common ground, at least a bit of it.

 

On the basis of what we have heard so far since the foreign secretary talks were announced, there is little to suggest that Delhi and Islamabad can find a way to resume the substantive negotiations that were suspended in the wake of the November 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai.

 

For India, one of the core premises under which it negotiated with Pakistan since January 2004 has collapsed. It was the promise of the then president of Pakistan and army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, to control the sources of anti-India violence based in Pakistan in order to facilitate a dialogue that would address all bilateral disputes, including Jammu and Kashmir.

 

Although India was not always happy with the way Musharraf kept his word, the graph of violence during 2004-07 was largely beneath the threshold of Indian tolerance with an occasional spike. As a consequence much progress was made during 2004-07 on all aspects of the bilateral relationship. India's talks with Pakistan on Kashmir through the back channel resulted in a variety of confidence-building measures as well as a significant draft framework for settling the issue.

 

Musharraf's hold on Pakistan, however, began to weaken from 2007 and he was succeeded as army chief by General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani at the end of that year. As real power flowed to the new general, it was quite evident that Kayani did not believe he was bound by Musharraf's commitments on controlling cross-border violence. If there was any doubt on this score, they were dispelled by the attack on the Indian embassy on Kabul in July 2008 and the Mumbai aggression in November 2008.

 

As Delhi suspended the peace process after the Mumbai attack, Islamabad insisted that India could not make terror-free atmosphere a precondition for the talks. India has now invited the Pakistan foreign secretary to Delhi to see if there is a way the old understanding on the relationship between violence and talks can be reconstructed.

 

This objective was reaffirmed at the highest level in Delhi this week when President Pratibha Patil told Parliament that her government is ready for a meaningful relationship with Pakistan if Islamabad seriously addresses India's concerns on terrorism.

 

Delhi surely knows that Foreign Secretary Bashir is not in a position to give credible commitments that Pakistan will end its support to groups on the warpath against India. Let alone controlling the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Pakistan army's main instrument for violence against India, Islamabad has loosened the restrictions on its public activity in recent weeks.

 

There is worse still. The Pakistan army has good reasons to believe the regional balance of power has begun to shift definitively in its favour for the first time since September 2001.

 

The Pakistan army's GHQ in Rawalpindi assesses, rightly, that the United States and the international community are tired of their unsuccessful occupation of Afghanistan after 9/11 and eager to find a way out by negotiating a political reconciliation with the Taliban.

 

General Kayani has offered to broker such a deal with the Taliban, and in return for ending the international coalition's misery in Afghanistan, he wants to collect big from Washington.

 

Kayani's improved leverage in Washington has translated into a long list of demands; the Obama administration's eagerness to buy Kayani's love does not mean the focus in the coming months will all be on Kashmir.

 

While Islamabad's rhetoric on Kashmir is getting sharper, Kayani knows Washington cannot deliver India on Kashmir. His immediate priorities are different. One is about ensuring Pakistan's primacy in the new political arrangements being contemplated for Afghanistan.

 

The other is to compel Washington to reverse what Kayani considers the military and nuclear imbalances that have emerged between Pakistan and India during the last decade. What Kayani wants is the US transfer of advanced conventional weapons and a civilian nuclear deal similar to that India got from President George W. Bush.

 

A measure of controlled tension with India is the key to Kayani's ambitions at home, in Afghanistan and Washington. A predictable India would make it easier for Kayani by persisting with its old framework of talking to Pakistan one day and refusing to engage the next.

 

Delhi, however, must find ways to surprise the Pakistan army by being unpredictable. This would necessarily involve strategic patience and tactical flexibility.

 

On the strategic front, India's challenge is to limit the Pakistan army's recent political gains at home and abroad. On the tactical side, of which today's talks are but a step, Delhi's message must be two-fold.

 

To the weak civilian masters of Foreign Secretary Bashir, India must reaffirm commitment to do business with them. Delhi must also caution the Pakistan army, which surely has vetted Bashir's brief, to mind the gap between its boundless ambition and limited grasp and that India is prepared to deal with the Pakistan army's habit of over-reach.

 

The writer is Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress, Washington DC

 

express@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

DERAILING REFORM

DHIRAJ NAYYAR

 

This Railway Budget was probably Mamata Banerjee's last chance to show us that she was more than just a rabble rousing populist, and that she actually possessed the political will to be a transformative minister. The railways' ambitious "Vision 2020" document unveiled in December 2009 suggested that the minister may actually be willing to take Indian Railways, or IR, into the 21st century even if a decade late. The vision document was forceful in its ambition to upgrade average speeds (from around 120 kmph to 160 kmph in a decade) and to launch even faster bullet trains. Much was said about upgrading railway safety (with the goal of an accident-free IR by 2020), and about expanding network, acquiring more wagons — basically a complete overhaul of rail infrastructure.

 

The key to achieving all these goals and more, of course, was a massive Rs 14 lakh crore in investment over ten years, requiring an investment of Rs 1.4 lakh crore annually; just over 60 per cent of these funds are actually meant to be generated internally. It is important to note just how ambitious an investment goal this was at a time when Mamata had also presented a White Paper that seriously questioned the celebrated profits claimed by her predecessor.

 

If Mamata wanted to lend her Vision 2020 credibility, she should have used this Budget to move Indian Railways away from populism and non-core activities (like running hospitals and bottling water) and towards acquiring the necessary savings and financial strength. As a spin-off, it may have also helped her gain credibility as a politician who would be able to bring genuine economic change to a moribund West Bengal if she takes the office of chief minister, as is quite likely in 2011.

 

But in the end, Mamata chose to disappoint, and in effect trashed her own vision document. What is worse is that the next Budget, likely to be presented in the run-up to the Bengal election, is likely to be even more populist than this one.

 

One bit of populism that has become almost routine for all railway ministers, including Mamata this time, is to leave passenger fares untouched: there have been no increases in seven years. Now, losses on account of low passenger fares are running in the range of Rs 14,000 crore ever year — hardly a good strategy if you wish to acquire financial strength in order to invest in future infrastructure.

 

Of course, the political economy of not raising fares takes a very one-dimensional view of passenger satisfaction. It seems to assume that passengers are continually satisfied by the shoddy quality of services that they are provided — outdated rolling stock (even our new coaches are using designs of the 1980s), dirty trains, substandard stations, slow speeds — as long as prices are where they are. There is no way of knowing that this is indeed how rail users perceive the choice. Since there is no competition, it isn't possible for customers to show dissatisfaction by switching services, like many did by moving away from Air India to private airlines. So it seems we are destined to get bad quality at an apparently subsidised price — perhaps one of the last remnants of socialism in our economy.

 

Mamata has also chosen not to raise freight charges (she has in fact reduced some), the obvious way to make up for losses on passenger services. And if Indian Railways isn't making money — something that Mamata has herself claimed in her White Paper, but has done little about in her budget — then all the promises of station upgrades, higher speeds, and new rolling stock are simply hollow.

 

Still, there is another problem in IR that is perhaps even more troubling than populism on fares — the massive expansion of its non-core activities in recent years. The most telling statistic on this front, however, doesn't come from the Railways Budget but from the Planning Commission. In the period of the 10th Five-year Plan, Indian Railways' investment in PSUs was only 4 per cent of its total plan expenditure. In the 11th Plan, this spending had shot up to comprise 17 per cent of the Railways' total expenditure.

 

Compare this with the proportion of expenditure on rolling stock, which came down from 32 per cent to 26 per cent of total expenditure. Or the proportion spent on new lines (down from 11 per cent to 7 per cent). Or the proportion spent on track renewals (down from 18 per cent to 10 per cent). Vision 2020 would surely require moving in the opposite direction.

 

One indicator of the fact that Mamata intends to continue in the wrong direction is evident from her intention to set up six clean drinking water plants to provide cheap bottled water. That the railways should invest precious money to manufacture bottled water, even if in a public-private partnership, is simply ludicrous. It makes greater sense to completely outsource this to a private player — or multiple private players.

 

Also, should Indian Railways, in its apparent precarious financial state be setting up a "Cultural and Heritage Promotional Board" to construct museums and cultural centres in West Bengal, continuing a trend set by almost all railway ministers to dole out patronage to their home state?

 

Should Indian Railways invest in setting up and running 500 new hospitals as announced by the minister? Would it not be better to save the investment costs and simply offer all employees health insurance that can be used in other hospitals?

Instead of spending precious resources on what are obviously non-core activities, the railways should have considered divesting stakes in the 11 PSUs that fall under its remit to raise the resources necessary for upgrading infrastructure to Vision 2020 standards.

 

Mamata Banerjee has made it clear that the railways will not be privatised. But, at the very least, it must be allowed to function as a corporate/business entity focused on making profit out of its core competence — and investing that profit to upgrade — rather than a twisted version of the ministry of welfare, or a distant ministry of the government of West Bengal in New Delhi.

 

The writer is a senior editor at 'The Financial Express'

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'I AM MY OWN PR'

SHAILAJA BAJPAI

 

Tiger Woods' public statement was well stage-managed but poorly staged. Woods' mea culpa was plain bad television. There was a thick curtain hanging limply in the background as though weighed down by the burden of the golfer's indiscretions; there was a select group of people seated in complete silence with the same expressionless features; there was the golfer, face puffy, saying what needed to be said (I am sorry!) but without any spontaneity (for being too well-rehearsed?). Half way through his monologue, the camera angle switched from a frontal view of his face to one behind his shoulders. Suddenly, we saw the back of him (literally) and it wasn't a sympathetic angle. It shut us out; he was no longer addressing us but his chosen audience. If the purpose of Tiger's address was to win friends and influence people, he needed to look us in the eye while speaking. If the purpose was to hide his expressions, he might as well have been on radio.

 

The "Tiger Woods Show" has been criticised for being so freakishly controlled: it was scripted, was before a chosen few and no questions were entertained. That's unfair: what could he have done? Spoken extempore, live on TV, and said something the tabloids would have headlined for another month? Fielded questions on his extra-marital affairs — who, when, where, how, and how often? Yes, if he wanted to commit hara-kiri, there and then.

 

Shah Rukh Khan knows how to use television to his advantage. He invites the camera into his face, space and says, love me. Thus, even as Tiger was distancing himself from the media, SRK was being given the once over (Shah Rukh Khan Revealed, Discovery). A special one-hour programme interspersed the actor's sound bytes with serious comments from professionals (Prasoon Joshi, Anupama Chopra), and academics (Shiv Visvanathan, M.K. Raghavendra). It was intelligent, not for what it said about the superstar (that has already been said) but for what it said about pop culture reflecting a country in transition: SRK epitomised "foreign labels with Indian values"; he represented the self pride of India, he was the metrosexual (soft, feminine), he made retro cool, he made crying manly... Above all, he understood the role mass media could play in celebrating his brand. As the man said, "I am my own PR."

 

The show was a curtain raiser to Discovery's Living with a Superstar, beginning later this week. Frankly, we've been co-habiting with him for the last month (at least), ever since his IPL and Pakistani players remark created a Shiv Sainik furore in Mumbai, jeopardised the release of My Name Is Khan and saw him make more TV appearances than, perhaps, ever before on the news and entertainment shows. This Khan knows how to massage the media and spread his message. Tiger Woods could learn from him

The tussle between Sony Max and TV news channels over coverage of IPL seems to be a lose-lose situation for both. Fact is, TV news virtually broadcasts entire matches and reruns footage all day — unfair. But this can benefit the official broadcaster. If the news channels boycott the IPL, Max will not be able to exploit the event for all its worth. It will be out of the picture: For a game that is over almost before it warmed up, absence can spell disaster. The tournament will get less publicity and fewer viewers are likely to remember to switch to a particular match — exactly what Sony Max does not want. There are 60 matches to be played over more than a month. Interest will wane unless it is artificially generated. That's were TV news comes in.

 

Funnily enough, the winner might be the viewer who will not have to watch interminable replays of a six hit by a Yusuf Pathan, who will be able to choose whether to watch a match or not — a luxury TV news does not allow. So maybe the impasse should remain? shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

APOLOGY-OLOGY

 

The art of the apology, like every art, has its connoisseurs and professional critics; and almost all of them have weighed in on last week's big show: last Friday's televised mea culpa by Tiger Woods. Woods's apology for the pain his marital infidelities have caused family, friends and fans (in roughly that order of hurt) elicited the analysis of a veritable professoriate of apology experts who have been honing their skills for years on the blood-spattered sidewalk of prominent people's reputations.

 

(Their consensus on Woods: Too long. Too much stagecraft. But otherwise, not bad.)

 

Yet, for all the expertise out there, and despite the fascination and great public demand for it, the art of apology as practiced by the average American person of prominence — whether in politics, sports, religion or business — remains by most accounts pretty unsatisfying.

 

There was Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina: "I've spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina." Or Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of Goldman Sachs, who offered a stinting apology for his firm's role in the financial collapse. Some blame the lawyers, with their warnings against legally incriminating admissions. Others blame the mythology of American manhood channeled by Hollywood icons like John Wayne, whose dictum, "Never apologise and never explain — it's a sign of weakness," entered the language after he recited it in John Ford's 1949 Western, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.

 

Others point to character flaws that sometimes fuel success.

 

"A good apology has to begin with a real connection between the apologizer and the offended person or audience," said Patrick Field, co-managing director of the Consensus Building Institute, a nonprofit organization that advises government officials. "And unfortunately a lot of people who have risen to the top of their professions are narcissistic individuals, and just not capable of that."

 

Among experts in the field, the record of failed public apologies in the last few years alone has been rich enough to spawn its own shorthand. A "Mark Sanford," for example, is the sort of rambling, confessional apology that leaves you worse off than before. A "Mark McGwire" is the self-pitying apology that shows a lack of genuine contrition, and broadcasts your resentment at being caught. The dread "John Edwards" is that apology which almost does not matter because you are for the foreseeable future beyond help. A "David Letterman" is one that works, but only if you happen to be a professional comedian with a goofy persona and late-night talk show.

 

In fact, late-night television may be the listening post most Americans rely on for making sense of these things. But the underlying problem represented by America's inadequate apologisers runs pretty deep, said the Rev. Gary Dorrien, a professor of social ethics at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan. "Public trust is built on an assumption that public officials, and respected public figures, can be believed — that you can trust that they are who they say they are," he said.

 

When public figures are revealed to be other than who they claimed — and follow up with apologies that betray them as having immature personalities, unfamiliar with the rigors of honest self-assessment — the fabric of social trust suffers, he said.

 

It's not as if the whole thing suddenly tears in two because an Eliot Spitzer gets caught in a prostitution sting, resigns as governor of New York, and apologises — but never mentions or admits that he broke the law. But incrementally, the accumulation of little tears in the fabric "makes it harder and harder to talk about the ethical underpinning of any public policy issues, harder to mobilise people," Mr. Dorrien said.

 

Dr. Aaron Lazare, a psychiatrist, retired dean of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and author of a best seller, "On Apology," which is about personal apologies, not public ones, said both the public and personal apology share a basic mandate. "In both situations, you have to be specific, you have to say what you did, and you have to ask the offended person not just for forgiveness — but ask them what you need to do to make things right," he said. Every apology is a strategic act, Mr. Dorrien. "People apologize because they want to restore something that's been broken," he said.

 

In other words, it is a work of art. And while critics and experts may look at it in a certain way, everyone knows what they like.

 

A trenchant analysis of the issue appeared in The New Yorker last year. It was a cartoon: The woman stands over her shoulder-drooped husband. "I don't want your apology," she says. "I want you to be sorry."

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

VIEW FROM THE RIGHT

SUMAN K JHA

 

Gadkari-speak

The RSS mouthpiece Organiser in its latest issue has a cover story titled "New BJP chief formally takes charge: Ignites hope, stresses on simplicity, cadre building, expansion and selfless service". The story notes: "The BJP chief, Nitin Gadkari, has 'diagnosed' the cause of many ills the party is facing — political aspirations of some senior leaders who have already got a lot from the party. 'The problems in the party are not because of grassroots workers but because of those who had benefited much. They will have to think whether their political career is important or party ideology and expansion of the organisation,' said Gadkari. The BJP chief was blunt in telling party leaders at a closed-door meeting on the first day of the party's national conclave that they have to have 'a big heart' to achieve the 'targets'. Gadkari used the platform provided by the national executive to make his candid assessment of the party's present-day state of affairs. 'The average worker wonders why should he continue working for the party when he has got nothing in return. The question arises when he sees that the senior leaders, having tasted power, were only furthering their own interests,' he asserted. A large part of his speech was devoted to making an honest introspection of the ills plaguing the party. All political leaders should remember that respect can only be commanded, and not be demanded."

 

Maoist terror

The editorial in the latest issue of the RSS mouthpiece, titled "Stop this pussy-footing: At least protect the people's lives," says: The gruesome killings of 13 innocent citizens in [the] terror strike in Pune is overshadowed by the macabre murder of 25 jawans of [the] Eastern Frontier Rifles and State Armed Forces of West Bengal, at Silda and 11 villagers at Jamuri in Bihar by Maoist terrorists. From Pune to Midnapore in a span of four days, 49 valuable lives have been doused prematurely, nearly a hundred others have been seriously maimed leaving a trail of agony, hopelessness and shattered dreams to as many families as were affected in these incidents."

 

The RSS organ further adds in its editorial: "Maoist violence, like the Islamic terror strikes, have increased in geometric proportion under the confused, waxing and wavering Manmohan Singh regime. Its cost to the nation in emotional, economic and human terms will never be tabulated. The Maoists, like the Islamic savages of terror are a bunch of trained, motivated, dehumanised, trigger-happy butchers. Let's not bestow on them the veil of ideology. The Islamists wage a proxy war on the state and our civilisation, the Maoists pose a declared guerilla war against what they call the bourgeois capitalist Indian State. Both have a political goal. Intelligence agencies have confirmed that in many areas they co-ordinate and work together and that often they have a common command. They want power through undemocratic means. And in this power game the innocent citizens and unsuspecting hapless Vanvasis become the collateral victims."

 

Mumbai for all

In an opinion article titled "Poverty leads to migration", M.V. Kamath writes in the latest issue of RSS mouthpiece: "What the Shiv Sena and its upstart competitor, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena obviously do not realise is what damage they are doing to the good name of India in general and Maharashtra in particular by their obnoxious linguistic parochialism. There is no such thing as a city belonging to one particular community or group. It is not a cliché to say that Mumbai belongs to every Indian whatever his caste, creed, linguistic or ethnic affiliation. It is a fact of life that is unchallengeable. The same can be said of Kolkata with its population as mixed as that of Mumbai but no one ever has claimed that it belongs exclusively to Bengalis. That is Bengal's pride and India's glory. But given the situation as it is today, we are witnessing a steady migration of landless labour from rural to urban areas creating needless rural-urban tension."

Kamath adds: "The situation today is so bad that right now, just in Vidharbha, out of 15,432 villages, as many as 14,059 are scarcity-hit and the Maharashtra government is working out plans to relax recovery of land revenues etc. Will there be migration from Vidharbha villages to urban centres? Will the Shiv Sena and MNS throw out these villagers? These are sick bodies led by sick men thriving on foul language, and worse politics, incapable of finding solutions to grave issues of poverty and social change. We need someone to provide out-of-the-box solutions to problems on a nation-wide scale. Our political parties sadly seem bereft of any talent. And that is India's tragedy. We may not get a Mahatma, but can't we at least get a Vinobha Bhave?"

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

A LITTLE OFF-TRACK


Railway minister Mamata Banerjee presented a white paper and a bold Vision 2020 document just two months ago, which ostensibly planned to restore Indian Railways' global ranking to second position over the next decade. But in her Budget she seems to have once again slipped back to a populist stance. The new Rail Budget has left passenger fares and freight rates almost untouched—and even settled for token cuts—when the railway losses on passenger traffic now exceed Rs 14,000 crore each year. This has been followed up with the usual announcements of a host of new trains and upgradation projects, which include promises to update surveys on 114 socially desirable projects to link backward areas and initiate surveys for 55 new lines in the current year, even as more than 286 projects requiring at least an additional Rs 79,462 crore for completion are squeezed out of funds and which, by the railways' own admission, will take nine years to complete. Another reason for worry is the unabated extension of railway activities into unrelated areas like education, health and so on. For instance, the railways now plans to set up 522 hospitals and diagnostic centres with the cooperation of the health ministry.

 

On the positive side, the Budget speaks of developing new business models to invite domestic investment through the PPP mode for building new lines, world-class stations, auto hubs, ancillary industries, manufacturing units of rolling stock, multi-modal logistic parks, high-speed train corridors, port connectivity, multi-level parking and mine connectivity. But there are no specific targets or clear-cut guidelines except for the promise that a separate structure will be created in the railways for implementation of the business models. Perhaps the minister has opted for reforms by stealth with the approaching elections in her home state. However, the Budget has proposed some more immediate measures to make the railways investor-friendly, like setting up a special task force to clear investments in 100 days with simple and easy policy guidelines. Business would also gain from the proposals to introduce RFID technology for the tracking of wagons, use of the Internet for allotment of rakes, premium tatkal services for freight and parcel movement, special freight trains run by private operators and the modified wagon investment scheme. An especially welcome proposal is the setting up of the National High Speed Rail Authority for planning, standard setting and implementing six high-speed passenger rail corridors. A greater focus on these core issues, instead of populist measures, would help the Indian Railways meet the Vision 2020 targets.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LEARNING THE RECALL LESSON

 

When we last commented on auto recalls, it was to note the woes of Toyota and Honda. Coming on the heels of the travails of the American auto industry, those recalls gave us the occasion to note how carmakers on Indian shores were weathering much better. What we couldn't have anticipated was that Maruti Suzuki India would have to recall one lakh of its A-star hatchbacks because they have a potentially faulty fuel pump. The company, to recap, has been doing brilliantly. It has outgrown its parent, Suzuki, in sales. Partly, this has been because India is not only the 11th largest car market in the world but it's also a rapidly growing one—poised to become the 7th largest in five years. And partly, the Maruti brand leads in our country because here, it became synonymous with Everyman long before the Nano came along to compete for this class. As it initiates the largest-ever recall in Indian auto history, the company needs to heed the lessons that have already made big headlines for Toyota and the like. Our columnists have pointed out that it is, in fact, not uncommon for products to leave the company gates in a flawed state today. The likelihood of this eventuality increases daily, what with marketers and dealers screaming for products that have caught the public's fancy, what with increasingly outsourced manufacturing of components to suppliers with scores of supplicants. Microsoft, for example, routinely ships out software that requires constant repair. What distinguishes the survivors of subsequent PR nightmares is their ability to quickly, consistently and sincerely respond to customer concerns.

 

Here, the regulatory framework plays a special role. But India still doesn't have a vehicle regulation policy to ensure that car manufacturers are legally bound to recall and repair vehicles with either design or production flaws. Developed markets like those in the US and the EU are very different in this regard. They have stringent norms in place, which hold carmakers legally responsible for fixing the defects marring their supply. Consumers are not mandated similarly stringent protections here. Maruti deserves kudos for initiating a recall before customers had raised a hue and cry about the relevant flaws, and for being proactive rather than defensive about fixing them. Perhaps the fact that 60% of the A-stars recalled had been sold in global markets impacted this decision. Still, this is an opportunity for the company to show up its ethical mettle. If it proves to be focused on customer interests, the Everyman brand can both set a new domestic benchmark in the auto market and strengthen its global credentials.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

LEARNING THE RECALL LESSON


When we last commented on auto recalls, it was to note the woes of Toyota and Honda. Coming on the heels of the travails of the American auto industry, those recalls gave us the occasion to note how carmakers on Indian shores were weathering much better. What we couldn't have anticipated was that Maruti Suzuki India would have to recall one lakh of its A-star hatchbacks because they have a potentially faulty fuel pump. The company, to recap, has been doing brilliantly. It has outgrown its parent, Suzuki, in sales. Partly, this has been because India is not only the 11th largest car market in the world but it's also a rapidly growing one—poised to become the 7th largest in five years. And partly, the Maruti brand leads in our country because here, it became synonymous with Everyman long before the Nano came along to compete for this class. As it initiates the largest-ever recall in Indian auto history, the company needs to heed the lessons that have already made big headlines for Toyota and the like. Our columnists have pointed out that it is, in fact, not uncommon for products to leave the company gates in a flawed state today. The likelihood of this eventuality increases daily, what with marketers and dealers screaming for products that have caught the public's fancy, what with increasingly outsourced manufacturing of components to suppliers with scores of supplicants. Microsoft, for example, routinely ships out software that requires constant repair. What distinguishes the survivors of subsequent PR nightmares is their ability to quickly, consistently and sincerely respond to customer concerns.

 

Here, the regulatory framework plays a special role. But India still doesn't have a vehicle regulation policy to ensure that car manufacturers are legally bound to recall and repair vehicles with either design or production flaws. Developed markets like those in the US and the EU are very different in this regard. They have stringent norms in place, which hold carmakers legally responsible for fixing the defects marring their supply. Consumers are not mandated similarly stringent protections here. Maruti deserves kudos for initiating a recall before customers had raised a hue and cry about the relevant flaws, and for being proactive rather than defensive about fixing them. Perhaps the fact that 60% of the A-stars recalled had been sold in global markets impacted this decision. Still, this is an opportunity for the company to show up its ethical mettle. If it proves to be focused on customer interests, the Everyman brand can both set a new domestic benchmark in the auto market and strengthen its global credentials.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WHY RAILWAYS NEEDS TO WATCH ITS FISC

SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE


For an economy coming out of a turbulent year, the role of the railways has to be assessed by how much additional investment it will create in 2010-11. This is its key role as India's largest infrastructure facility. Everything else will have to play second fiddle.

 

Measured by this standard, Mamata Banerjee's Budget on Wednesday has some promises but few numbers. The net additional investment her ministry plans for the economy is just Rs 1,142 crore more than what it has spent in the current fiscal. More than that, the worry is the way her ministry has run its house in the current fiscal and promises to do next year, too.

 

As a result, the big worry on the railway score card is the spending pattern of the ministry. Budget 2010-11 shows that the railways is spending more to just run its welfare programmes than on its job of running the network. This is 21% of gross traffic receipts in 2009-10.

 

There is no doubt that the railways is one of the key sectors that were hit by the economic downturn. In the circumstances, it is impressive that the railways has crossed the freight loading target of 882 million tonne, of course marginally, to reach 890 million tonne.

 

But taking on from there, while the Prime Minister has promised the nation a growth rate of close to 8% netting out inflation in 2010-11, the railway minister has settled for a growth rate of just 7%, including inflation. To live within such a low rate of growth, Mamata Banerjee has, therefore, had to sharply cut back on the investment demand for the projects mentioned in the Budget to achieve her targets. For instance, the largest investment promised by the Budget is the plan to add 1,000 km of line to the network at a cost of Rs 4,411 crore, or a spend of Rs 4.4 crore on each km. One km of road costs more than Rs 4 crore at today's prices. Incidentally the target for 1,000 km is not a new one and has been on the railway books from the last Budget.

 

Even after cutting back, the numbers penciled in by the minister to finance the existing projects, or the new ones announced on Wednesday, are certain to be revised downwards. She has done it for this year, for instance. Of the Rs 28,960 crore committed by her in Parliament in July 2009, she has shaved off Rs 1,864.25 crore.

 

The net effect of all this is the investment push the railways can give the economy, and therefore, creating a stimulus—taking some of the load off finance minister Pranab Mukherjee—will be absent. The railways will be just about doing the same that it has done in 2009-10. No wonder the minister has front-loaded all major investment schemes onto the public-private partnership mode as she has just about nothing to offer to get them going. The list includes wagon factories, a container factory and a rail axle factory. What's more, the biggest-ever expansion programme for the railways, the Dedicated Freight Industrial Corridor, has got jumbled up with competitive plans for other areas, without any rise in the sum planned for the project whose cost now exceeds Rs 50,000 crore.

 

This is dangerous living. In addition, she plans to borrow Rs 9,120 crore from the debt market through the Indian Railway Finance Corporation, same as in the current fiscal. This means the railways is adding to its debt liability but has little plan to spend the money on investment. It is not a stimulus package when the railways says it will spend money to provide staff quarters for all its employees in ten years. For one, the sum is there in every Budget and the current one is no exception. There is no hike proposed in the outlay for 2010-11 to translate into business for the economy.

 

So what is the railways doing to keep busy? The answer is almost everything except the running of the trains. The ministry by its own admission needs 80,000 new wagons to replace very old rolling stock. But because of financial constraints, the minister has not provided any sum to finance the purchases, despite planning to buy 18,000 in the next fiscal.

 

The ministry has also jettisoned ideas like the divestment of surplus land for which it had set up a company. It will run more bottled water factories, set up auto ancillary hubs for which it has neither the expertise nor the means to run a whale of schools and hospitals that are best left to other ministries.

 

Sure, Banerjee is not alone in using the railways to curry favour with her constituency. In the last ten years, railway ministers have often used populist measures to earn brownie points while slipping on hard business plans in successive budgets. Nitish Kumar, too, adopted the same mantra and it was fine-tuned by Lalu Prasad Yadav.

 

This is necessary as the railways enjoys a mass appeal that is often much more than its role as the premier infrastructure facility for the economy.

 

So the Bengal package, of course more muted than in Budget 2009-10, was quite expected. But when the ministry's highlights include distribution of CFL bulbs and running schools and hospitals, it is time to wonder if we need a fiscal responsibility Act for the ministry, too, to ensure numbers committed to in Parliament are adhered to.

 

subhomoy.bhattacharjee@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CITIES DESERVE BETTER DEAL ON GOVERNANCE

MICHAEL WALTON

 

India's cities are the Achilles' heel of her growth dynamic. This is not because of resources nor because of slums. The fundamental problem lies in overall city governance. Unfortunately there are powerful interests supporting the existing system.

 

There has, of course, been good news on growth. Despite the current focus on inflation, the most remarkable macroeconomic fact of the past year has been the resilience of growth. In addition, recent commentary has highlighted the striking shifts in the ranking of India's largest firms and the emergence of major new corporates in the past two decades—one manifestation of widespread churning, entry and restructuring of this period. It's useful to put this into the context of two important sets of ideas on growth dynamics. The first is that innovation and creative destruction are the primary drivers of long-term growth. This occurs when economic institutions encourage change, including the birth and death of firms and activities, as opposed to the retrenchment of established groups and patterns of production.

 

The second concerns cities. In a presentation in New Delhi this January, Harvard economist Edward Glaeser argued that cities matter because of the concentration of talent, the production of ideas and the fostering of innovation. Despite the 'death of distance' that was supposed to occur with falling transport costs and the rise in communication, cities are flourishing. And the ones that are doing well as those that have been able to build upon such concentrations of ideas and talent. Boston has reinvented itself as a hub of technology, medicine and finance; Milan has gone from traditional weaving to fashion; by contrast old manufacturing centres of Detroit and Turin have stagnated.

 

How does India look through these prisms? The churning and restructuring of the past 20 years is a good indicator that the creative-destructive process is alive and well in much of the business sector. And cities have been changing: Mumbai with the decline of textile mills and the rise of finance and films, Bangalore with the rise of IT, and so on. The spatial economic analysis of Indian industry shows the continuing power of firms locating in proximity of other firms in cities.

 

Yet cities are a problem: as everyone living in India knows, there are serious issues for both productivity and livability, owing to congestion, problems over land, and big deficits in basic services, especially in slums. Business wealth has risen and people are moving to cities for work, but public good provision is failing. This could suffocate long-term growth via the direct effect of infrastructure bottlenecks and via indirect effects if cities are not conducive to melting pots of ideas, people and skills.

 

But the lack of infrastructure, problems of services and informality are proximate conditions. There are, of course, huge needs for better services for both production and living for all. (And getting rid of slums is not the right way to think about that question, but that's another story.) The real issue lies in governance, in the fact that cities do not have the political institutions and administrative structures to respond to the needs and demands of citizens and businesses, in short to become inclusive and dynamic cities. And problems in governance reflect entrenched institutional and political structures.

 

Two features of the malaise stand out. First the state, not the city, is the dominant locus of political power and management of resources. Cities suffer an effective democratic deficit at the city-wide and local levels. Second, misplaced regulation has made illegality and informality pervasive, and has made land absurdly expensive in metros. Mumbai is an extreme with its crazily low restrictions on built floor to area ratios (roughly height restrictions).

 

Land is central. Control over access to land is a wonderful source of political control and a nexus for corruption. It empowers the land-related private sector, as opposed to long-term business interests. Insecurity in slums makes it easy for politicians to offer patronage for political support, undercutting the deepening of real democracy.

 

The problem is that this looks like a functioning political equilibrium, in other words a situation in which the interests of state and current local politicians, private land interests and state administrators favour the status quo, even though this is dysfunctional.

 

The JNNURM has fine aspirations for policy change on land and participation. But it looks more like a centrally-sponsored scheme with largely ineffective conditionality than a mechanism for building effective city-level institutions.

 

It would be great to have elected mayors, deepened local participation, effective city-based long-term planning, and a variety of fora for inclusion, debate and dispute resolution of all interests, from big business to migrants. But current forces are arrayed against this happening. This will be a growing problem for growth.

 

The author is at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Centre for Policy Research

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

APPETITE FOR ACQUISITION

MG ARUN

 

On Tuesday, a day after reports said Reliance Industries sweetened its bid for the troubled Dutch petrochemicals major LyondellBasell to $14.5 bn from up to $12 bn earlier, RIL shares fell on the BSE. The reason for this, according to analysts, is concerns among investors of higher cash outgo on the part of RIL for acquisitions. While the country's largest private sector firm had cash and cash equivalents of Rs 15,960 crore as of December 31, 2009, and raised about Rs 9,240 crore by selling treasury stocks in three tranches since last September, the concern is if it will get drawn into a bidding war, and eventually over-pay for assets abroad.

 

No one is questioning the strategic merits of the Lyondell acquisition for RIL. It is also incorrect to believe the company's penchant for acquisitions will get moderated if it is unsuccessful in the Lyondell bid. According to reports, the company has already submitted an expression of interest for the oil sands assets of Canadian company Value Creation. Also, it has no major projects lined up to consume the excess cash the company will generate ($25 billion, according to a Goldman Sachs estimate) in the period up to FY2014. So, it's easier to believe that RIL's appetite for acquisitions will continue unabated.

 

Yet another area of concern is a tempering down of expectations on the part of analysts on the volumes and profitability of KG-D6 oil and gas and a lowering of net profit estimates for RIL. Investors would surely not like a company to over-pay for assets when its cash flow from its core business could be potentially affected by a downturn in business. An RBS report said it has reduced its assumptions of gas volumes from RIL's KG-D6 block over FY10-11 by 10%, and oil volume assumptions by as much as 30-50%. It says that although Singapore complex gross refining margins have strengthened in the fourth quarter of FY10 to date (to $5 a barrel, from $1.92 in the third quarter), the current uptick is unsustainable, given the low levels of global capacity utilisation. It adds that although petrochemical margins have also been stronger than analysts had anticipated, it expects them to weaken post the first quarter of FY11, as new capacity comes online. Investors, therefore, would be keen to see how far RIL would be willing to stretch in its bid for Lyondell, or, for that matter, any other potential assets in the future.

 

mg.arun@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

A CATALOGUE OF GOOD INTENTIONS

 

As expected, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee has presented her second budget without any increase in passenger fares or freight tariff. In fact, she announced a marginal reduction in service charges for sleeper and air-conditioned class tickets, as also a cut of Rs.100 per wagon in the freight of food grains and kerosene as a response to rising prices. Otherwise, the 2010-11 budget will be remembered for its intentions and policy pronouncements rather than for specific budgetary measures. For instance, she has promised to come up with a business model for the Railways, to set up a task force for clearing private investment in Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects within 100 days, and to find innovative funding methods to operationalise the ambitious 'Vision 2020' plan tabled in Parliament. Despite the slowdown in the economy, the Railways hopes to exceed its announced freight loading target of 882 million tonnes this year and touch 890 million tonnes. The target for next year has been set at an ambitious 944 million tonnes. To ward off criticism that she was focussing inordinately on her home State, West Bengal, where elections are due next year, Ms Banerjee has tried to evenly spread the proposed new projects and trains among different regions. She has promised an India-Bangladesh rail link to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore.

 

Among the positive features is the Minister's promise to add 1000 route-kilometres of railway track this year, as against an annual average of just over 180 km over the past decade. The budget allocation for metro projects has been raised by 55 per cent over last year. A record Plan outlay of Rs.41,426 crore has been proposed for the coming year, but nearly a fourth of it is to come from market borrowings. Although Ms Banerjee repeatedly spoke of the PPP mode to speed up the implementation of the infrastructure projects, she did not indicate any specific framework, and the markets were not enthused. Following the signing of an MoU with the Health Ministry, the Railways announced plans to set up 381 medical diagnostic centres. Five sports academies and a National Authority to plan high speed corridors for passenger traffic, on the lines of the Dedicated Freight corridors, are among the other noteworthy announcements. Perhaps the most significant focus has been on the critical areas of safety and security. Apart from expanding the high-tech Train Protection Warning System, the Minister committed herself to strengthening the Railway Protection Force and raising 12 companies of women in this force. Industry hopes that Ms Banerjee will come up with a detailed framework for PPP before long to realise her vision.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

EVASIONS ON TORTURE

 

On the ABC News programme 'This Week' on February 14, former United States Vice-President Dick Cheney openly advocated torture, and confirmed that while in office he authorised it in over 30 cases. In the United Kingdom, the Court of Appeal accepted a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) request on February 8 that a passage be removed from a draft judgment confirming that the British security services had been complicit in torture. The deletion overrides a precedent set in 1637 that there must be no secret communication between lawyers and courts during proceedings. The senior appeal judge, Lord Neuberger, the head of the civil judiciary in England and Wales, seems to have assumed, incorrectly, that the FCO had followed the normal practice of copying its request to all the other parties, among whom are rights NGOs and certain British and American media organisations. The FCO claimed that publication would damage the U.S.-U.K. intelligence-sharing agreement under which British bodies had obtained the relevant information and would therefore jeopardise national security. The case related to Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian citizen and U.K. resident, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, sent to Morocco and Afghanistan where he was tortured, and held at Guantánamo Bay for five years without charge or trial.

 

The other parties in the case intervened with the appeal court, and on February 10 the court ordered the FCO to publish the material involved. The American and British reactions to both reveal calculated evasions. Mr. Cheney has effectively admitted to war crimes, and the U.S. has in the past prosecuted Japanese soldiers, as well as Texan police officers, for waterboarding. In the U.K., Alan Johnson, Home Minister, and Kim Howells, who chairs the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee, have respectively attacked the media and commentators for spreading "groundless accusations," "ludicrous lies," and a "calumny and a slur" by saying the security services had colluded in torture. Since the appeal ruling, Foreign Minister David Miliband has said the legal position has not changed, as the details had already emerged in a U.S. court. A White House official, on condition of anonymity, says the intelligence-sharing agreement stands. The British government is, however, only trying to explain away the fact that it has systematically concealed torture and political embarrassment under unjustified claims of threats to national security. With such a record, western criticism of other states' rights records rings quite hollow.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

WATER AS THE CARRIER OF CONCORD WITH PAKISTAN

IF ISLAMABAD CAN WIN NEW DELHI'S TRUST BY CRACKING DOWN ON TERROR, IT COULD PAVE THE WAY FOR THE TWO SIDES TO WORK TOGETHER FOR OPTIMUM DEVELOPMENT OF THE INDUS BASIN.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

 

As India and Pakistan move towards the welcome resumption of dialogue, New Delhi needs to factor in a new reality: More than Kashmir, it is the accusation that India is stealing water that is rapidly becoming the "core issue" in the Pakistani establishment's narrative about bilateral problems.

 

The issue of water is emotive, touching people across Pakistan in a much more fundamental way than the demand for Kashmiri self-determination. Per capita water availability has fallen precipitously over the past few decades, thanks to rising population and poor water management and is expected to fall below 700 cubic metres by 2025 — the international marker for water scarcity. In most years, the Indus barely makes it beyond the Kotri barrage in Sindh, leading to the ingress of sea water, the increase in soil salinity and the destruction of agriculture in deltaic districts like Thatta and Badin.

 

Though Pakistan's water woes predate recent hydroelectric projects like Baglihar in Jammu and Kashmir, jihadi organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa have started blaming India for the growing shortage of water. Apart from inflaming public opinion against India, this propaganda helps to blunt the resentment Sindh and Balochistan have traditionally had — as the lowest riparians in the Indus river basin — against West Punjab for drawing more than its fair share of the water flowing through the provinces. The campaign also deflects criticism of Pakistan's own gross neglect of its water and sanitation sector infrastructure over the past few decades.

 

At the same time, the fact that river flows from India to Pakistan have slowly declined is borne out by data on both sides. Above Merala on the Chenab, for example, the average monthly flows for September have nearly halved between 1999 and 2009. India says this is because of reduced rainfall and snowmelt. Pakistan disputes this claim, preferring to link observable reductions in flows to hydroelectric projects on the Indian side. That is why, in the run-up to the February 25 meeting of the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Secretaries, Islamabad has gone out of its way to project water as the most important topic it intends to raise.

 

But just because water — and not terrorism — tops the Pakistani agenda today is no reason for India to refuse to discuss the subject or to treat it as important. Even as it pushes for incremental gains on terrorism, trade and CBMs, New Delhi should take a strategic view and consider two questions. First, how would a refusal to talk water play on the Pakistani political stage, where the two provinces least inclined towards jihad — Sindh and Balochistan — are also the most vulnerable to anti-India propaganda about water theft? Second, is it just possible that Islamabad could be so keen for Indian cooperation on water that it might be willing to abandon the terrorist groups it has nurtured all these years as an instrument of policy against India?

 

To pose the problem in this way is not to suggest a neat symmetry between two taps — that as Pakistan turns off the terrorism faucet, India can offer to turn on the water. If matters were that simple, the two neighbours would either have solved their problems by now or gone to war. Instead, the link between terror and water is more complex and it revolves around trust. Simply put, Pakistan needs to realise that decisive action against terrorism would create an enabling environment for India to go beyond the letter of its written commitments on water and open the door for cooperation in other fields like energy that could also relieve some of the water pressure both countries are facing.

 

Though inter-provincial disputes over water sharing were a fact of life in this region before 1947, the partition of the subcontinent introduced a further complexity. It was easy for Radcliffe to draw a line on a map and divide up the land of British India but people and water were harder to partition. The mass migration and bloodshed this triggered is well-known but the rupture to the region's hydrological system proved to be just as traumatic. The rivers which irrigated the new nation all had their origins in India. But as an upper riparian locked in a politically adversarial relationship with Pakistan, the Indian side had little or no incentive to look at the Indus basin as an integrated water system. The early years of independence saw bitter disputes as India treated the waters of the Indus's five tributaries — Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej — as its own. Geography and terrain meant the Indus itself could not be harnessed on the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir but intermittent, small-scale, diversions on the tributaries generated considerable tension with Pakistan. In 1960, the two countries sought to put an end to this tension by signing the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) with the World Bank's mediation.

 

The IWT partitioned the six rivers of the Indus watershed on a crudely longitudinal basis. India was given exclusive use of the waters of the three eastern tributaries, the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, and the right to "non-consumptive" use of the western rivers, namely the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. Under the IWT, India renounced its right to block or divert the flows of the 'western' rivers and agreed to confine itself to run-of-the-river hydroelectric projects and the drawing of irrigation water for a specified acreage of farm land. This partitioning was irrational from an ecological standpoint and led to both sides incurring considerable expense as they were forced to develop canal infrastructure drawing on "their" allocated rivers to compensate for the non-use of the other side's rivers despite that water flowing through their own territory.

 

Pakistani officials from time to time do accuse India of violating the 1960 treaty on the division of the Indus waters. The Indian side, of course, denies this, and there is, in any case, a system of international mediation built into the IWT for binding international arbitration if the two countries cannot resolve a water-related dispute. Pakistan invoked this mechanism for Baglihar in 2005, though the arbitrator ruled in favour of the project subject to certain modifications. An earlier dispute over the Salal project was resolved in the 1970s by the two Foreign Secretaries. Today, nothing prevents Pakistan from referring any or all of the projects India proposes to build on the Chenab and Jhelum for arbitration.

 

Though the treaty has a mechanism to ensure compliance with the stipulated partitioning of rivers, a major weakness from Pakistan's standpoint is that it does not compel or require India to do anything on its side for the optimum development of what is, after all, an integrated water system. Inflows to Pakistan depend not just on rainfall and snowmelt in India and China (the uppermost eastern riparian) but also on the health of tributaries, streams, nullahs and acquifers as well as groundwater, soil and forest management practices. This is a classic externality problem. Costs incurred by the upper riparian on responsible watershed management will produce disproportionate benefits for the lower riparian, hence they are not incurred.

 

The IWT anticipated the importance of cooperation with Article VII stating that both parties "recognise that they have a common interest in the optimum development of the rivers, and to that extent, they declare their intention to cooperate, by mutual agreement, to the fullest extent". So far, little has been done by either side to develop this mandate.

 

Since water does not figure as a standalone topic in the Composite Dialogue framework, Pakistan's insistence on its revival is at odds with its professed priority. When the Foreign Secretaries meet, therefore, they should not allow process to stand in the way of progress. They could, for example, discuss a framework for a standalone dialogue on water going beyond project-related disputes — for which an arbitration mechanism already exists. The focus could be on identifying short, medium and long-term steps for the optimum development of the rivers.

 

The Pakistani side would very quickly realise that such a dialogue, whose benefits, especially over the long-term, are tilted in its favour, can only deliver meaningful results if there is an atmosphere of confidence and trust. If the activities of terrorists like the LeT/JuD are allowed to continue, this is unlikely to happen. But if the action Islamabad has repeatedly promised does take place, a path might open for cooperation in other areas too.

 

Many of the disputes that seem to be driven by fears of water scarcity are actually a reflection of another kind of scarcity: electricity. Pakistan opposes the Indian Kishenganga hydel project on the Jhelum, for example, because it will interfere with its proposed Neelum-Jhelum power plant. But if the two countries could build trust in one another, there is no reason why they cannot agree on energy swaps that could do away with the need to duplicate power projects, especially those which restrict the flow of water. Today, given the way terrorism has eroded the Indian political system's capacity and willingness to do business with Pakistan, such ideas seem hopelessly utopian. But they do offer a glimpse of the kind of future that might be possible should the terrorist menace end. Rather than refusing to talk water, India should show Pakistan how the keys to ending its aquatic insecurities lie in its own hands.

 

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THE HINDU

QUESTIONS FOR MY FATHER: A MEMOIR

PRANAY GUPTE

 

Twenty-five years ago on this day, my father died in Mumbai. Had he lived, he would have turned 100 today.

 

I was not with Balkrishna Gupte when he died after a long illness that, to this day, remains mysterious to me. Some physicians said it was cancer of the oesophagus, others said it was complications from a botched surgery of the alimentary canal. Still others offered other reasons — unpronounceable medical conditions with fancy names that only doctors could decipher. In the end, no matter what those conditions or how multi-syllabic those names, my father's heart stopped beating.

 

I was thousands of miles away at my home in New York when that happened. It was an unseasonably sunny day, but as I worked on a book that had unforgiving deadlines, I felt out of sorts, as though something ominous was going to happen that morning in February 1985. I knew that my father was grievously ill because I had just returned from visiting him in India, but I hadn't been persuaded that he was close to death. Or perhaps it was that I didn't want to accept that possibility; it was a son's denial of the inevitability of a parent's departure. As if on cue that winter morning, a friend called from Mumbai to tell me that my father had passed away.

 

In that last meeting with my father, I gently stroked his face, kissed him on the forehead, squeezed his still-strong shoulders, and said that I would be back soon. His voice had left him by then, so my father just smiled gently and spoke with his eyes. He said that he loved me and that I would always be his son. He said that his love was unconditional, even if mine sometimes seemed predicated on proximity.

 

The next time I saw him, my father's eyes were closed. His body was still, it was wrapped in white linen in preparation for a traditional Hindu cremation. As a son, I expected that he would open his eyes and reach out to me with his sinewy hands as he always did, that he would bathe me with affection and offer his protection. As a world-weary adult, however, I knew that he was gone.

 

Gone? My father? That tall, sturdy man who'd been the bulwark of my life, always a calming spirit? He who had coaxed my mother to overcome her opposition to her son leaving home to study in the United States because he felt that I needed to understand the world? He who was always open-minded about faith, always strong in his secularism and never compromising about his values — honesty, loyalty, kindness, generosity and, yes, humility and humour? That man gone?

 

Gone? My father? Not even the body in repose in the living room of my parents' Mumbai apartment persuaded me that my father was dead. But then I looked at my mother, and then I knew. It had always been the three of us — and a beloved uncle who lived with us until his death in 1982 — but from here on, it would be just the two of us. On December 31 of that year, 1985, my mother died. This time the doctors said that she died of heart failure. They were wrong again. I know that she died of a broken heart.

 

The world has honoured my mother since her death: there's a major square in Mumbai named after her — Prof. Dr. Charusheela Gupte Chowk ("square" in the local language of Marathi). Articles have been written about her vast accomplishments as an author and an academician and a social activist for downtrodden women and dispossessed children. Her students still write to me about how much she influenced their lives and careers. And those colleagues that are still living send me, from time to time, warm remembrances of their association. Whenever we meet in India, we exchange anecdotes and reminisce about an era that ended so long ago.

 

About my father, very little has been said in the public arena. He wasn't a public figure, of course, nor did he lead his life publicly. He led a quiet life as a banker and lawyer. He attended weddings and christenings and religious ceremonies and lectures on history and spiritualism, often taking me along when I was growing up; if I were to draw a map of all the fascinating people and places he took me to see, I'd need the help of a cartographer.

 

I would also ask such a cartographer to chart the landscape of my father's emotional life. It would be a formidable task, of course, and most certainly not within the competence of conventional cartographers. My father did not leave behind books or learned essays or plays or poetry. He left diaries, to be sure, but the notations were mostly in shorthand that only he knew. During his illness, he wrote me a note saying how proud he was of what I'd done in my life.

 

My life? But what about his own life? What animated it? Why did he prefer the anonymity of being a largely unseen consort of a highly ambitious spouse, my mother? What gave shape to those inner strengths that energised and comforted her and me and so many others who came into the ambit of my father's life? What explained his integrity, even when he could have taken short cuts just as easily in a corrupt society led by corrupt men? What about his unflinching tolerance of all faiths and beliefs, his refusal to denigrate those who might disagree with him? What about his many unheralded kindnesses to needy people who scarcely bothered to remember? What about his acuity, his keen perceptions about the frequently uncharitable ways of the world? How had his parents influenced him, an only son like his own? What formed his steadfast conviction that good would always triumph over evil, even if only in the long run?

 

So many questions, so few answers. I wish now that I had been with my father in those final days, holding his hands, asking him about the architecture of his life. Would he have set aside his innate modesty and told me what I wanted to know? Would he have been his own cartographer, mapping out his life for his journalist son? With his voice gone, would his eyes have communicated his story in its entirety? Or would he have asked me why I had waited until the winter to pose my questions? There would not have been any reproach in his question, but there would be sadness.

 

He could have told me so much. But I never asked. And now — and now it is 25 years later, my father is gone, and I have more questions about his love and his life. I can pose those questions, perhaps more sharply now than ever before because I am in the autumn of my own full life. Who will answer them? I know that I will have to wait until it's the three of us together again — and my beloved uncle. But I wish that there were some way I could say to my father before that reunion how very sorry I am that I never asked while I was much younger and he wasn't quite 100 years old.

 

(Pranay Gupte is a veteran journalist and author or editor of 11 books. His most recent book, Mother India: A Political Biography of Indira Gandhi , was published in October 2009 by Viking Penguin. His next book, on India and the Middle East, will be released this year.)

 

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THE HINDU


TIME TO TALK OF A POLITICAL PROCESS

THE PROCESS MUST BE SHAPED AND LED BY AFGHAN AUTHORITIES AND CANNOT BE IMPOSED.

KAI EIDE

 

The largest military offensive since 2002 is now underway in the Helmand province in Afghanistan. At the same time, a consensus is emerging that ultimately, the conflict in this country cannot be solved by military means. I have consistently advocated preparing the ground for a political process, which could lead to a political settlement. Military operations must, therefore, be conducted in a way that does not close the space for such a process.

 

At the recent London Conference, more than 70 countries and organisations agreed to create a trust fund that would help integrate Taliban and other insurgents who accept to stop fighting. The details of how this fund will work, who will be targeted and how incentives will be provided remain to be worked out.

 

It is my view that this reintegration trust fund is not in itself a "game changer" as some tend to believe. It could, however, be an important tool if combined with a reconciliation process aimed at those who take part in the insurgency for ideological rather than economic reasons and if at some point that process involves the political structures of the insurgency. I have long maintained that if you want relevant and sustainable results, you will have to involve relevant people with authority in an appropriate way.

 

There are no doubt fighters who are on the side of the insurgency because of a lack of licit economic opportunities. However, I believe we tend to exaggerate their numbers. We should not underestimate the number of those who fight for reasons of ideology, resentment and a sense of humiliation — in addition to criminal elements. Often, such motivation stems from a conviction that the government is corrupt and unable to provide law and order combined with a sense of foreign invasion — not only in military terms but in terms of disrespect for Afghanistan's culture, values and religion. Offering financial incentives only could be perceived as an attempt to buy loyalties or convictions and generate further resentment. A reintegration fund without a political process could easily harden the insurgency rather than weakening it. While it may not be difficult to buy a young man out of unemployment — even if this could also be unsustainable, it is difficult to buy him out of his convictions, sense of humiliation or alienation from power.

 

The Afghan government and the international community have repeatedly stated their basic conditions for a political process. At the centre of these conditions stands acceptance of and respect for the Afghan Constitution. The insurgency cannot be allowed — by political means — to bring the country back to the dark years of the 1990s. Those who choose to reconcile must respect the achievements made since 2002 and accept the aspirations of the majority of Afghans for a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, where each and every Afghan can enjoy the rights given to them.

 

A political process must be shaped and led by Afghan authorities and cannot be imposed by international civilians or military with scant knowledge of this complex society. However, the international community must support — in financial and political terms — and facilitate where the Afghan authorities desire. This process — when it is launched — will not come about suddenly. Nor will it yield a dramatic breakthrough overnight. It will require careful orchestration among key actors.

 

Loud and public invitations to the insurgency to join a reconciliation process will most likely be met with rejections. More cautious diplomatic initiatives may produce results. As in many other peace processes, confidence-building measures could be undertaken to test the prospects for a wider process. The delisting of individuals from the U.N. sanctions list could be one such measure. Five individuals have already been delisted as a result of a request by the Afghan government in January. More should be considered. Another confidence-building measure should be the release of detainees from facilities such as the U.S. detention centre at Bagram.

 

However, such steps would have to be followed by measures undertaken by the insurgency. A commitment from the Taliban not to attack health facilities or schools and to facilitate humanitarian assistance could be initial contributions. In his declaration following the London Conference, the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, stated that he was committed to provide education to all Afghans. The Taliban should demonstrate that this is serious by stopping attacks on schools. In the past, the Taliban has also facilitated access to areas under its control for humanitarian assistance, such as vaccination programmes — at least on a temporary basis. Further steps to improve access for humanitarian action should be taken. Such confidence-building measures would serve to test if a process towards a political settlement is possible.

 

President Hamid Karzai has announced his intention to organise a peace jirga later this spring. The aim would be two-fold: first, to forge an inclusive nationwide consensus around a political process. A reconciliation policy cannot be allowed to create new fragmentation inside Afghan society along ethnic lines. Second, the jirga process will mobilise religious and community leaders for reconciliation. This effort must also involve Afghanistan's civil society — including women's groups — to ensure that the rights of all are respected and that the reconciliation of some does not happen at the expense of others. The peace jirga must be more than an event. It must be the beginning of a process, an internal and inclusive dialogue, which allows Afghan leaders to approach the process of reconciliation knowing that the Afghan society as such stands behind it.

 

Furthermore, the involvement of neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan, will be critical. A strong and genuine involvement by Pakistan will be key to any peace and reconciliation process.

 

The military campaign will continue over the next weeks and months. However, it must not lead us further in the direction of a militarisation of our overall strategy in Afghanistan. There is — particularly at this moment — an urgent need to inject more political oxygen in the non-military areas of our partnership. (Courtesy: U.N. Information Centre, New Delhi)

 

(Kai Eide is the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Afghanistan)

 

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THE HINDU

U.K. POLL SHOWS FALL IN BELIEF IN CLIMATE THREAT

JULIETTE JOWIT

 

British public conviction about the threat of climate change has declined sharply after months of questions over the science and growing disillusionment with government action, a leading poll has found.

 

The proportion of British adults who believe climate change is "definitely" a reality has dropped from 44 per cent to 31 per cent in the last year, according to the latest survey by Ipsos Mori.

 

Overall, about nine in 10 people questioned still appear to accept that some degree of global warming is happening.

 

But the steep drop in those who have no doubts could mean it will be harder to persuade the public to support action to curb the problem, particularly with higher prices for energy and other goods.

 

The poll also found a significant drop in those who said climate change was caused by human activities. A year ago this number was one in three, but this year just one in five people believe global warming to be caused by people, according to Edward Langley, Ipsos Mori's head of environment research.

 

"It's going to be a hard sell to make people make changes to their behaviour unless there's something else in it for them — [such as] energy efficiency measures saving money on fuel bills," said Mr. Langley. "It's a hard sell to tell people not to fly off for weekends away if you're not wholly convinced by the links. Even people who are [convinced] still do it." The latest poll, taken at the end of January, follows two months of allegations which claimed climate scientists might have manipulated and withheld data, and the inclusion of a flawed statement on Himalayan glaciers in the influential 2007 report on the science and impact of climate change by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

 

However, whether or not these events are behind the public uncertainty is in doubt. Russ Lidstone, chief executive of the advertising agency Euro RSCG, which commissioned the Ipsos Mori survey, said the research among consumers found "great cynicism now as a result of questions in popular culture and regarding the credibility of IPCC data".

 

But a recent poll for the BBC suggested these events had had less influence on U.K. public opinion than had the cold British winter.

 

U.K. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband, who recently called on the public to ignore the "siren voices" of climate sceptics, said the poll illustrated the scale of the task of building public support for action. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

MAMATA'S WISHLIST: WHO'LL PAY FOR IT?

 

 Railway minister Mamata Banerjee's budget proposals on Wednesday appear long on ambition, great on intent but short on specifics about the actual implementation of announced projects. The ambitious long-awaited freight corridor project, she said, would depend on land acquisition, going on to promise that one member of each displaced family would be given a job. This formula was rejected long back as people asked to give up land and homes are no longer willing to accept exploitative conditions such as getting a low-level government job in return. In the same vein, many other proposed projects are dependent on land being available, and Ms Banerjee has already pledged that there will be no forcible acquisition by the railways. Or take the other exciting promise — that 1,000 km in new tracks will be laid in just a year. If this actually happens Ms Banerjee will easily overtake roads and highways minister Kamal Nath in terms of performance; but the reality is that in the past 50 years the railways have managed just 180 km of new tracks in a year. How this quantum jump will be achieved in 2010-11 has not been explained. Ms Banerjee might get a better idea were she to spend more time at Rail Bhavan, to do which she will have to balance her political ambitions in West Bengal with her duty to the travelling public of the entire country. It is true, as she says, that the railways have some very good officers, but in the end the leadership and vision must come from the minister.


Having said that, it is undeniable that if much of the new projects come to fruition, they will change the face of the magnificent rail network that already exists, which needs proper maintenance and care. Long-distance passengers, in particular, need cleanliness, hygienic food and — above all — security when travelling. She has provided for clean (and cheaper) drinking water, and plans six new bottling plants for this. On security, the provision for female personnel to protect women on trains is welcome, but the railway minister correctly pointed out that the primary responsibility of ensuring passenger safety lay with the state governments. Ms Banerjee managed to walk the tightrope on balancing the need for economic viability and social desirability while extending the rail network to hitherto virgin areas, specially in the Northeast. To no one's surprise, she managed a heavy tilt in new trains and projects for West Bengal a year before it holds landmark state Assembly elections. Given the weightage in favour of the incumbent railway minister's home state, which has come to be the norm, it might be time to consider whether a new, transparent and equitable mechanism needs to be put in place to determine where new trains or railway lines are needed.


There is renewed focus on public-private partnership, an idea first floated by Lalu Prasad Yadav, and the plan for a special task force with a 100-day decision deadline is forward movement. The travelling public will be happy there is no increase in passenger fares or freight charges (which in fact has been lowered marginally for kerosene, fertiliser and foodgrain traffic), but there are fears this might happen later quietly by the back door. At a time when protests are snowballing on the price front, the government understandably was in no mood to annoy larger sections of the population. But it must also be remembered that any budget is fundamentally a profit and loss statement, and while Ms Banerjee has claimed that despite the rising deficit she had saved almost Rs 2,000 crores by implementing austerity measures, there was no indication in her budget address when, or if ever, the Indian Railways can be run as a profitable operation.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

WAKE UP, IN THE TRUE SENSE

 

Waking up from sleep and getting up from bed seem to most of us to be truly mundane tasks. But are they so?
Indian tradition insists that we should get up in the Brahma muhoortham i.e., an auspicious time 48 minutes before the sunrise, and do our morning routines. It is believed that if we sleep during this time, it will affect our health adversely and will land us in penury in the long run.


There is surely something in these beliefs since traditional Indian lore emerges from close observation and true interpretation of phenomena. Most of the customs and practices it prescribes have much practical value and also a direct impact on our material life.


Therefore, you have to get up in the early morning, turning to the right. But then you should not immediately jump out of bed and walk out.


Once you are awake, sit on the bed placing the palms face up and chant mantras on Goddesses Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Gouri.


There is a science behind this too. While we are sleeping, the blood circulation is at a low pace. But when we stand erect all of a sudden, the heart has to exert more energy to pump more blood. This can even cause cardiac arrest in weak people.


This is why our forefathers were particular on leaving the bed in stages. By the time we gradually stand erect, the level of blood circulation becomes normal.


Ancient rishis of India have also advocated the observance of touching Mother Earth with our hands before we stand on our feet. Through this act we are apologising to the earth for treading on her. This practice too cannot be discarded as superstition. Apart from the ecological aspect of it, there is also a question of energy levels.


The energy within the body of a person while s/he is asleep is called static or potential energy. But as s/he gets up, it becomes dynamic or kinetic energy.


Static energy is impure. As we touch the earth with our fingers, it is believed that the impure energy leaves the body and pure energy gets filled in.


It we place our feet first on the earth, the energy flows down and the body becomes weak. On the other hand, if we place our palms first on the earth, positive energy gets absorbed and negative or impure energy leaves the body at the same time.



As we touch the earth, we should chant:


"Samudra Vasane Devi


Parvathasthana Mandale


Vishnu Patnim Namasthubhyam

Padasparsam Kshamaswame"

This shloka assumes Mother Earth as the one clad in seas. She is the wife of Lord Vishnu who maintains and sustains all living beings on earth.


We should start our day by remaining humble before an entity that gives us space to live in. If we start off like this, we will retain our mental balance throughout the day.


— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the author of Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals.

 

He has also written books on the Vedas and Upanishads. The author can be reached
at
drvenganoor@yahoo.co.in This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript

enabled to view it V. Balakrishnan

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

AN ECONOMY IN RECOVERY

STIMULUS PULLOUT  WILL DERAIL GROWTH


While we are seeing signs of recovery, the need to continue with the fiscal stimulus measures and easy monetary policy cannot be denied. Any abrupt withdrawal of stimulus at this stage indeed would derail the growth process and adversely impact the industrial sector.


It is a matter of concern that growth in private consumption expenditure came down to 6.8 per cent in 2008-09 and further to 4.1 per cent in 2009-10 — much lower than 8-9 per cent seen in previous years. Similarly there has been sharp slowdown in growth in gross capital formation in 2008-09 and 2009-10 compared to those in previous years. All these are also reflected in data on low credit off-take from banks. In other words the economic growth is largely due to stimulus measures including increase in government expenditure.
There is no dispute that fiscal deficit has to be contained but the question is one of timing. The government can pursue its Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) targets after the economic recovery has taken firmer root. Such a recovery will itself help to raise revenues and thereby meet FRBM targets. Also faster growth can help ease supply side constraints and will be the best antidote to contain rising inflation.
It is in this context that the Budget should basically adopt a strategy for growth with employment generation. Focus should be on measures that will bring back growth to agriculture on a sustained basis, infrastructure development, emphasis on social sector especially on education and health, skill development and human capital formation. While keeping the stimulus package the government can increase its income by raising non-tax revenues through disinvestment, utilising assets like government land and through the 3G auction. Outcome should receive priority over outlays by better targeting of subsidies.


While it may be difficult to roll out goods and service tax (GST) from April 2010 as originally envisaged, it is important that all efforts are made to implement it at the earliest. GST when implemented can be a game changer. GST will reduce distortions in production structure leading to more efficient utilisation of resources and hence higher GDP. GST will also help widening the tax base and will enable government to garner greater revenue. By dovetailing exit from stimulus with GST implementation and through measures suggested above we will be able to achieve fiscal consolidation without hurting the growth impulses being seen in the economy.

— Harsh Pati

Singhania is Ficci

president and a director of JK Organisation


***
Cutdown won't affect economy

What is the extent of stimulus India has given? By most accommodative estimates it is 6.1 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). This takes into account the entire slippage from FRBM target (Centre's FY09 fiscal deficit at 6.2 per cent as against the FRBM target of 2.5 per cent), along with off-balance sheet items (oil and fertiliser bonds at 1.8 per cent of GDP) and increase in state governments' deficit (from 2.1 per cent to 2.7 per cent). However, the real countercyclical fiscal stimulus measures that were implemented between December-February FY09 in the form of tax cuts and infrastructure spending came on top of an already announced expanded NREGA scheme, the farm loan waiver package and Sixth Pay Commission implementation. Compared to other G-20 countries, India's fiscal stimulus at 0.5 per cent of GDP places it near the bottom of the table as per an IMF estimate vs the US (5.9 per cent) , China (4.8 per cent) and Japan (2.2 per cent). These countries not only continued with their stimulus through 2009 but will also do so in 2010, regardless of the opinion of the rating agencies and bond market.

India, however, scored in the composition of stimulus measures with emphasis on spending rather than a tax cut besides a timely frontloading that averted further slowdown. Whilst these stimulus measures were widely expected to continue in FY10, latest available figures for April-December 2009 indicate substantial cutback across all spending categories (viz., plan, non-plan, revenue, capital). Compared to an increase in budgetary provisions running into mid-30s actual spending increase under these heads has averaged around 20-25 per cent in this period. Spending growth lagged budgetary provisions for big budget ministries, like chemicals and fertilisers, rural development, road transport, urban development and the finance ministry itself. A reported Rs one lakh crore is lying unused with several ministries.


On the revenue side the government has embarked on far-reaching reforms in the form of implementation of the Direct Tax Code, GST and renegotiation of tax treaties with 77 countries. Whilst each of these reforms have a timeline beyond one year the current Budget is expected to lay the ground in preparation of these. Hence the widely expected withdrawal of tax concessions, either partially or fully, of excise duties and Cenvat, although extended as part of the stimulus measure, need not be viewed solely as stimulus withdrawal measures.


— Dipankar Mitra is an economist with the Noble  Group

The Age Debate

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPENION

A TWO-FRONT DEFENCE

 

Statements by the Indian Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor, regarding India's two-front strategy created an uproar in the Pakistan media and in that country's strategic community. His earlier statement — about the possibility of a conventional war between nuclear weapons powers — also drew much flak.

 

The Pakistani media seems to be treating these statements as a virtual declaration of war against Pakistan. Interestingly, a liberal Pakistani journalist has found nothing wrong in them. Ayaz Amir, writing in the News, stated, "What did the Indian Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor, say that has us so upset? His reported remarks that India was modifying its military doctrine to include the possibility of a two-front war — that is against China and Pakistan — what is wrong with this? If an Indian Army Chief were not to envisage a two-front war and mull over the means of waging it, he would deserve to be sacked". Amir's voice is a lone one in Pakistan.


In 1950, the Chinese Army moved into Tibet. Despite the then cordial relations between India and China, Sardar Patel, in his letter dated November 17, 1950, to Jawaharlal Nehru, warned him of the danger that lurked in the north. Four weeks later, Sardar Patel died. Nehru chose to ignore his warning. He told General Cariappa, the then Army Chief, to focus on Pakistan and that he would deal with China. The Army worked on a one-front strategy which led to India suffering a humiliating defeat in 1962.


With a growing Sino-Pak nexus and the continuing hostility of these two countries towards India, a two-front strategy is imperative for the defence of India. During the 1965 Indo-Pak war, China gave us an open ultimatum. In 1971, we worked on a two-front strategy. The war in Bangladesh was deferred till climatic conditions ruled out a major Chinese offensive. Our defences in the Himalayas were kept in situ. The Indo-Soviet treaty of friendship kept China at bay. Thus the desperate pleadings of the beleaguered Pakistan Army in Bangladesh for Chinese intervention went unheeded. Given the above history and Pakistan's ongoing proxy war, as also increasing Chinese belligerence, it would be an act of madness for India not to have a two-front strategy. In fact, after 26/11, we also need to focus on our coasts, which have now become a third front.
The other statement of Gen. Kapoor, that "a limited war under a nuclear overhang is still very much a possibility in the Indian subcontinent", has also been disputed. The Kargil war underscored this. The rationale behind India and Pakistan having large armies for conventional war substantiates this possibility. However, the Pakistan Army Chief's assertion of ruling out a limited war under a nuclear overhang fits in with Pakistan successfully pursuing its policy of nuclear blackmail. This has been providing a shield for Pakistan's cross-border terrorism and terror attacks. Even in the wake of the two-front controversy, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has flexed Pakistan's nuclear muscle, pointing out that they have missiles with longer ranges than what India possesses.


Gen. Kapoor's statement on two-front strategy is perfectly legitimate but is being deliberately misrepresented in Pakistan to promote a war psychosis. The Pakistan government's official spokesperson had asked the world to take due note of India's intentions. Its foreign minister, S.M. Qureshi, had called the statement "absurd" and "irresponsible". General Tariq Majid, Chairman of Pakistan's Joint Chiefs of Staff, called it outlandish, saying, "Leave alone China, Gen. Deepak Kapoor knows very well that the Indian Armed Forces cannot and what the Pakistan Armed Forces can pull it off militarily". Gen. Kayani had talked of the Pakistan Army suitably dealing with "Indian military adventurism". A defence analyst in Pakistan saw in Gen. Kapoor's statement a shift in civil-military relations in India with the weight moving in favour of the military. Another enquired if Delhi was preventing a fourth battle of Panipat or instigating one.

While reactions in Pakistan have been hysterical, it is significant that there has been no reaction or comment from China. Every country needs a strategy to defend its frontiers in worst-case scenarios. If it had been stated that India was planning to force a two-front strategy on Pakistan, such a virulent reaction from Pakistan would be understandable. The war hysteria in Pakistan is being generated perhaps to find an excuse for not moving troops from Pakistan's eastern front to pursue the war on terror with greater vigour on the Durand Line, or to get more aid from the US to improve its military strength against India. The second possibility seems to have worked. Pakistan's long-standing demand for drones has now been conceded.


Gen. Kapoor has also been criticised for talking out of turn. But he discussed the two-front strategy in a closed-door military seminar which was leaked to the press. This has done no harm. After a retired Naval Chief's public statement that India cannot match China in the Indian Ocean and a serving Air Chief's concern about the Indian Air Force being one-third the size of the Chinese Air Force, it is good for the nation to know that the Army is capable of defending India with its two-front strategy.


India has never invaded any country nor coveted any foreign territory. Ashoka the Great propagated world peace, the likes of which was never attempted by any other ruler in the history of mankind. He did this from a position of military strength. After Independence, India tried to do so from a position of military weakness. This led to the debacle of 1962. The impregnability of the Himalayas, the invincibility of our Army and the infallibility of our foreign policy were shattered. Today, as never before, we need to promote peace from a position of strength.


The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.

S.K. Sinha

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

MAMATA EXPRESS

 

Mamata Banerjee's rail budget for 2010-11, presented in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, contains the usual populist pyrotechnics. Fares and freight were not raised. In fact, there was even a token reduction in tariffs for kerosene and grains. It was her way of telling the West Bengal gallery that even as railway minister she can contribute to lowering prices. The redeeming feature of her budget was this: despite the litany of giveaways, she did not get carried away by populism. Though she has done little to innovate railway finances, she has at least called for a new business model.

 

Banerjee has shown that the railways, with 17,000 trains carrying 1.8 million people every day, needs to do much more to keep pace with India's changing and growing social and economic needs. Connectivity is at the heart of a society and its economy. She has sought private sector participation and promised investor-friendly processes. She was, however, careful enough to declare that the railways will not be privatised, which is an assurance to the 14-lakh railway workforce.

 

Call it the Manmohan Singh-effect on Banerjee, where reforms will happen without much fanfare. The details are, of course, to be worked out and it might take more time to bring in the changes, but what is clear is that there is some new thinking in Rail Bhavan and the minister's speech gives indication of that.

 

There is much that is rotten with the railways: dirty platforms, dirty toilets on trains, bad catering, schedules that are skewed. But it remains a crucial lifeline. And privatisation may not always be a panacea. There are compelling economic reasons for the government to manage railways because private players will not run two-thirds of the trains that keep people on the move and the economy humming.

 

An innovative idea tucked away in the 47-page speech is that private players will be allowed to run freight trains. This is in line with allowing private ownership of freight hubs. If this is carried out in a phased manner and successfully, it could help in facing future challenges.

 

There are arguments for splitting the railways into smaller and different operating units which would make sense to private players. But this is an idea whose time has not yet come. It would be unfair then to criticise Banerjee or her predecessor Lalu Prasad Yadav for what they did not do with the railways.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

IMMIGRANT FACTOR

 

Anew BBC documentary has reiterated a fact that the world chooses to forget time and again at its own peril. It shows why life in Britain would grind to a halt if its vast immigrant population leaves the country. Titled The Day The Immigrants Left, the film puts 12 jobless Brits into jobs that the immigrants had taken and monitored their performance. Is it needless to point out that all of them fared poorly? The idea behind the documentary was to show that the hue and cry in the UK that immigrants had "stolen jobs" from British nationals was utterly baseless. During the course of filming, the producers of The Day… realised that their unemployed candidates were both lazy and arrogant. The documentary ended with the argument that Britain would crash if its immigrants left.

 

It's not just Britain, even the US, the Gulf countries and Europe would collapse had its immigrants chosen to relinquish their jobs. It's easy to understand why. An immigrant leaves his home country for a new place in search of livelihood. He is driven by the burning desire to prosper and live the good life that most in his home town can only dream of.

 

For locals life is relatively easier. They have their homes, their familiar environment and everything that they need to survive. Unlike the immigrants they don't have to start from scratch. This works to their disadvantage sometimes, as they lack the push that adversity gives.

 

Closer to home in India, the same phenomenon is at work. It will enrage the Shiv Sena and the MNS but Mumbai has largely been built by immigrants. The city owes its cosmopolitan atmosphere to all those who came to work here from different parts of the country, fell in love with the city and made it their home. Those who sponsor violence in the name of the Marathi manoos might well consider how Mumbai would lose its lustre, charm and investments if it had chosen to close the doors on migrants.

 

It's true that Mumbai has gone beyond the critical stage of bursting at the seams, but its political and civic establishments were also found napping all these years. The current scenario didn't happen overnight and it will take years to change things. But driving people away can hardly be the solution. The Thackerays probably know that. The violence on the streets is but a ruse to hide their own failures and insecurities.

 

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DNA

WHY SBI CAN'T BUY CITI

R JAGANNATHAN

 

Why didn't you buy Citibank when its shares were quoting at $1 during the global meltdown? This is the question former finance minister and current Union home minister P Chidambaram is reported to have popped to State Bank of India chairman OP Bhatt when Citi hit a slippery slope in 2008-09. We don't know what answer Bhatt gave Chidambaram then. It must have been something polite and non-committal. He would, however, not have been rude enough to tell the home minister it made no sense.

 

Chidambaram is no stranger to business and he, of all people, should know that the real price of a share is not the rate quoted on the stock exchange, but the price plus the underlying losses of the business. With huge exposures to sub-prime mortgages and red ink all over its balance-sheet, Citi was no crown jewel at that time. In just the fourth quarter of 2008 — roughly around the time when the bank's shares were trading at $1 — its publicly disclosed losses topped $2 a share.

 

State Bank would have been lucky to get out of such a deal alive. Citi's potential losses at that point of time would have run into several billion dollars and the US taxpayer paid through his nose for it. It is doubtful if Uncle Sam would have been happy funding an India-owned Citibank when it was facing flak from Main Street for bailing out Wall Street's fatcats. Forget State Bank, even the government of India itself — with a trillion dollar economy — would not have had the gumption to bankroll Citi. Only Chinese banks, with the backing of their government, could have attempted to buy it.

 

To be sure, Chidambaram himself supplied a part of the answer when he pointed out that Indian banks did not have the size or scale to take such big risks. "We are tying the Indian banking industry hand and foot. We are not letting them consolidate or grow and, as a result, we are missing huge opportunities", he said at a function to confer an award for corporate leadership on Bhatt in New Delhi the other day.

 

He is only half right, though. Indian banking does need global scale and size, but that's not enough. It does not yet have a global mindset or an adequate understanding of the skills required to make global takeovers work. Even if State Bank had the size, what value could it have brought to Citi as its new owner? Does it know the US consumer? Does it have great insights into the global financial market? Does it know how to run a diverse organisation manned by multiple nationalities? Is it even the most aggressive player in the Indian market? How is its relative success in a well-protected Indian market even relevant to rescuing Citi?

 

It is worth recalling recent Indian experiences in overseas takeovers. The Tatas took a decade to digest a small tea firm like Tetley. They are now struggling with two huge recent takeovers — Corus and Jaguar-Land Rover. These will take at least five more years to tame. If the Tatas had been asked by Chidambaram why they did not buy General Motors — also available for under $1 a share — they would have given him the right answer: awesome liabilities and limited competence to rescue the former No 1 carmaker.

 

Other Indian companies are similarly grappling for answers with their own mega acquisitions during the boom years: Dr Reddy's with Betapharm, Suzlon with RePower, Birlas with Novelis. It will take a decade or more for most Indian businessmen to digest their big-ticket acquisitions abroad. A decade is needed not only to make the takeovers viable, but also because there are many lessons to be learnt by management. Even Infosys, one of India's big globalisers, knows that it does not have the experience to buy and run an Accenture or EDS. This is why it is opting for smaller acquisitions and more organic growth.

 

Back home, where there are no cultural issues, ICICI Bank took half a decade to digest one small bank — Bank of Madura — preparatory to its own conversion from financial institution to bank. Bhatt of State Bank is having a tough time getting his own subsidiaries to merge with the mother bank — thanks to union and state government pressures.

 

Chidambaram's impatience with the pace of consolidation in the Indian banking industry is understandable, but he has his own government to blame for it all. During the five-and-odd years it has been in power, and even when he was finance minister, the UPA
government did nothing to liberalise the financial sector. Not insurance, not banking, not nothing. In fact, the financial meltdown abroad has given it more reason for doing nothing, and India's overcautious regulation now looks like a good thing. When you get praise for doing nothing, you can be sure Chidambaram's call will go unheeded. India's banks will not be bidding for Citibank anytime soon.

 

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DNA

AMNESTY'S ILLIBERAL KNEE-JERK RESPONSE

ANTARA DEV SEN

 

Recently, Amnesty International suspended Gita Sahgal, a senior officer in London who had gone public with her criticism of the organisation. Associating too closely with people like Moazzem Begg – the former Guantanamo Bay detainee known for his sympathy for the Taliban and other Islamist groups – damages the credibility of Amnesty, she had said to a newspaper. Horrified, Amnesty swiftly suspended her.

 

Not the wisest move for an organisation defending human and civil rights, like the right to freedom of speech. Angry folk, including prominent intellectuals and activists, hit out at Amnesty, siding with Sahgal. "Amnesty International has done its reputation incalculable damage by allying itself with Moazzam Begg and his group Cageprisoners, and holding them up as human rights advocates," said Salman Rushdie. "It looks very much as if Amnesty's leadership is suffering from a kind of moral bankruptcy, and has lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong… It is people like Gita Sahgal who are the true voices of the human rights movement; Amnesty and Begg have revealed, by their statements and actions, that they deserve our contempt."

 

Begg, you may recall, is the young British-Pakistani ex-Gitmo captive who shot to stardom after he wrote about his experience in Guantanamo following his release, thanks to untiring campaigning by Amnesty and other organisations. As the hero of the play Guantanamo: Honour-bound to defend freedom, and a busy public speaker supported by Amnesty, Begg quickly became a star. But that doesn't make him totally innocent. That he was released from Gitmo without being charged proves very little. Besides, Begg himself has written about his admiration for jehadi groups and the Taliban.Gita Sahgal objects to Amnesty treating Begg – whom she calls "Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban" – as apartner in its fight for human rights and against terror. Apparently Sahgal has been protesting within the organisation for some time, in vain. Things may have come to a head last month, when Begg was part of Amnesty's delegation that met British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, demanding that Guantanamo be shut down. So should Amnesty steer clear of Begg because he may have Taliban links? Should it not fight for his right not to be illegally detained and inhumanly tortured? Oh come on, some would say, a terrorist has no rights! Hang these bleeding hearts trying to defend the rights of terrorists! What about the rights of their victims? Why should Amnesty, a charity running largely on public money, care about nasty people?

 

Well, passion has value, but the logic of human rights is not as rudimentary. As far as I could make out, Sahgal is notobjecting to Amnesty's taking up the issue of Begg's human rights. She just wants distance between the matter of fighting for his rights and Amnesty's fighting for human rights and other issues shoulder to shoulder with him. That continuing close partnership implies a solidarity beyond the limited focus of Begg's detention. It lends legitimacy to this Taliban sympathiser and his organisation Cageprisoners, which champions people linked to Al Qaeda. And their views don't exactly match Amnesty's human rights agenda or ideology.

 

Here's an example. Say you support the right of Nalini, accomplice of Rajiv Gandhi's killer, not to be tortured in prison. Fine. But if you then become inseparable from Nalini in your public life, people may start to wonder about your ethics and ideology. Sahgal's warning was similar.It was a gutsy stand, given the dread of political correctness that cripples our thought and makes us bend over backwards till we almost topple over. Now, Amnesty has a wonderful opportunity to publicly debate issues of race, religion and disparate views. Suspending Sahgal was an illiberal knee-jerk response unbecoming of this cherished human rights organisation. Hopefully, it will rectify it by debating the matter and once again supporting free speech and the right to dissent.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MAMATA'S VISION

RUNNING ON TRACK IS HER PROBLEM

 

For the seventh consecutive year the rail fares have been spared from a hike. Despite pressure from the Finance Minister, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee kept the passenger fares unchanged in her second budget presented on Wednesday. That she has her eyes on the West Bengal assembly elections is obvious. The Railways incurred a loss of Rs 13,958 crore from passenger operations in 2008-09. Though the freight charges too have not been touched, these may be hiked quietly later as was done last year. The tariff reduction for foodgrains, kerosene and fertlisers is aimed partly at saving the government from heat over price rise.

 

Despite her socialist leanings, Mamata has talked of a new business model to improve earnings and invited business houses for partnerships, promising faster clearance for private investment. However, she has ruled out privatisation of the Railways. Though the launch of new trains has become an annual feature, the minister has tried to boost tourism through a special train called "Bharat Teerth". If Didi has not gone at full throttle announcing new projects for West Bengal, it is because Finance Minister Pranabh Mukherjee had put his foot down on funding 24 new projects, 10 of which were meant for her home state. The projects were cleared by the Cabinet but the Railway Minister was plainly told to arrange finance for these on her own. The Finance Minister had agreed only partly to her demand for a Rs 22,000-crore special safety fund.

 

Instead of raising funds to build railway infrastructure to meet the demands of a fast-growing economy or provide more amenities and safety to the travelling public, railway ministers — Mamata Banerjee as well as her predecessor Lalu Prasad — turn populist and use the rail network to further their political interests. She spends more time in West Bengal doing political work than ensuring that railway projects are completed in time. The Indian Railways is the second largest network in the world and daily transports 14 million people. It could be run better if Mamta Express runs on track. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

FIRE TRAGEDIES

THERE IS SCOPE TO HANDLE BETTER

 

That Indian cities are ill-equipped to handle fire accidents has been proven time and again. The recent fire tragedy in a Bangalore high-rise building is yet another grim reminder of how precious lives are lost in fire accidents in the absence of adequate rescue operations as well as lack of preparedness. Though in this particular incident the fire personnel reached the site well in time, they were initially unable to help the people trapped on the top floor. There have been reports about the rescue ladder falling short and even security net failing.

 

There is little doubt that both cities and buildings in India lack the requisite wherewithal to fight fire. Earlier, the tragedy in a Mumbai suburb in which firemen were asphyxiated underlined the ill-preparedness of those who are meant to save lives. While deficiencies in the fire-fighting equipment invariably exacerbate tragedies, often there is blatant disregard for rules and regulations too. Be it hospitals, oil depots or cinema halls, no place in India has proper fire safety norms in place. The central government rules recommend that there should be two fire stations for every one lakh population. Sadly, these rules are rarely followed and a city like Bangalore, which should have over 150 fire stations, has barely one tenth of the required number. The same state of affairs exists at other places.

 

With cities growing at a fast rate, fire safety has to be made a priority not only in high-rise structures but also in other areas, especially in congested parts of old cities which are virtually a tinderbox. While safety drills should be a norm, awareness drives must emphasise on right methods of evacuation. The panic that spread in Bangalore, leading some persons to jump to death, also points at the lack of awareness among the people. Both buildings and fire-fighting departments have to be geared up to ensure that fires are contained without loss of life at least. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

THE HUNGRY TIDE

NEED TO CHECK STARVATION DEATHS IN ORISSA

 

Reports of as many as 50 starvation deaths in Orissa's Bolangir district are cause for serious concern. The state government's response to these deaths is as callous as in the past. It fails to inspire hope. Revenue Minister Suryanarayan Patra has casually said that people died of "other causes" and not because of starvation. The latest report reminds one of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's earlier claim that the starvation deaths in the state were due to the tribals' intake of contaminated and poisonous food like mango kernel, meat of dead animal and due to meningitis. In fact, successive state governments have given a raw deal to the problems of the Koraput-Bolangir- Kalahandi (KBK) belt. The latest deaths confirm that various anti-poverty and developmental schemes under which crores of rupees have been pumped in over the years have not helped the poor villagers to fight chronic hunger and malnourishment.

 

Unfortunately, this belt, once considered Orissa's "food bowl", has turned into a "hunger bowl". The state government is yet to learn lessons from the starvation deaths in Kalahandi in 1986. Way back in 1998, the Poverty Profile Report of Actionaid had revealed that for a morsel of food people of this belt had sold away or mortgaged their PDS cards. The situation is far worse today. While the poor lack the money to buy food even at PDS rates, distribution is done according to the 1997 BPL survey and not the 2002 survey. Apart from destitution and exploitation by middlemen and moneylenders, corruption, political interference and official apathy have made a mess of the developmental programmes. Monitoring is virtually non-existent. Top bureaucrats hardly visit this region to take stock of the programmes.

 

The onus of preventing starvation deaths lies squarely on the state government. It will have to take adequate measures to galvanise the administrative machinery at various levels to ensure that the benefits of the anti-poverty and nutrition schemes reach genuine beneficiaries at the grassroots level. The prevention of starvation deaths in the KBK belt requires an integrated development of the region and not temporary palliatives like providing food for work or free food to the poor and marginalised sections. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

DIALOGUE WITH PAKISTAN

NOT TALKING IS NO OPTION FOR INDIA

BY MAJ-GEN ASHOK K. MEHTA (RETD)

 

India will start talking to Pakistan 14 months after the Mumbai terrorist attack. The dilemma is that the dialogue process has not led to any outcome. Instead, the tempo of cross-border terrorism after an unprecedented hiatus is beginning to pick up through a refined strategy of bleeding India by a thousand cuts. Pakistan is both unwilling and unable to rein in terrorist groups targeting India. Even if Kashmir and other disputes are resolved, terror attacks and other insidious means to belittle India will continue.

 

Recalibration of India-Pakistan relations devoid of hostility can result only from engagement whereby the power balance in Pakistan is restructured in favour of the civilian government. This is a realistic view which advocates lowering of expectations on the terrorism front and shaping options and responses of threat mitigation and inflicting punishment. The challenge is preventing a mass casualty, a high-profile Mumbai-like attack.

 

Last month US Defence Secretary Robert Gates virtually predicted the Pune attack, warning that the Lashkar-e- Toiba (LeT) would launch a Mumbai-type attack to provoke an India-Pakistan conflict. While lauding India's tolerance and patience, US leaders have always feared that an Indian military response would seriously undermine their war in Afghanistan.

 

The Director, US National Intelligence, Adm Dennis Blair, CIA Director Leon E Panetta, the Chairman, Joint JCOS, Adm Mike Mullen, National Security Adviser Gen James Jones, et al, (the list is endless) have testified before Congress, unanimous in their assessment that the LeT was not a direct threat just to India and the region but also to the US and its allies. Islamabad has been and will continue to nurse militant groups, its vital assets, both in the west and the east of the country, in the pursuit of strategic depth in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

 

US military commanders have failed to nudge Gen Ashfaque Pervez Kayani into launching military operations against these groups. For years, Delhi has been frustrated, pressing Islamabad to book LeT mentor Hafiz Saeed for masterminding attacks in India. Pakistanis are quick to remind us that if President Gen Pervez Musharraf could not act against Saeed, how could a weak civilian government do so? General Kayani will certainly not antagonise the LeT, a force multiplier against India's conventional military superiority, by foolishly opening another front. The military establishment will not act against the LeT and other like-minded groups.

 

General Musharraf had made two unequivocal commitments in 2002 after the twin terrorist attacks which threatened to escalate into a nuclear exchange: Pakistan would not allow the use of its territory for attacks against India. He gave an undertaking to Deputy Undersecretary of State Richard Armitage that cross-border terrorism will end permanently, visibly, irreversibly and to the satisfaction of India. Despite these commitments, repeated twice more by General Musharraf and President Zardari, Mumbai (and Pune) happened. The charade of regurgitating the pledges for ending terrorism has ended.

 

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said earlier this month before the Pune attack that "Pakistan cannot give a guarantee that another attack will not occur in India". Moreover, "When we cannot stop attacks in our own country, how can we do in India", he added. Delhi has done great disservice to the fight against terrorism by equating Pakistan as a victim of terrorism when all acts of violence and terror are sourced from within Pakistan while 90 per cent of violence in India is cross-border terrorism.

 

Pakistan Home Ministry sources have stated that in 85 suicide attacks this year, more than 2000 persons have been killed. Referring to the carnage, it was Dawn columnist Kamran Shafi who reminded the Pakistanis that "our own pets have started biting us".

 

In the refined strategy for terrorism, the bark is louder than the bite. The US has prevailed over Pakistan's military establishment in restraining the eastern jehadis for 14 months from mounting a mass casualty attack. Calibrated use of sub-optimal terrorist devices, outsourced to LeT- affiliated indigenous militant groups like the Indian Mujahideen and its offshoots, allows minimum tell-tale signs of maximum deniability.

 

A strange paradox exists in the dialogue-terrorism nexus. Pakistan has been seeking resumption of the composite dialogue process for months which India has stubbornly resisted. Just when Delhi had reluctantly relaxed its opposition to talks, terrorists under the control of the Pakistan military establishment triggered a sub-optimal IED to try to disrupt the dialogue process. This suggests that terrorist groups either enjoy strategic autonomy, which is unlikely, or that the military establishment is not on board with the civilian government over the peace process.

 

Given the large inventory of negatives surrounding the dialogue, what on earth is aimed to be achieved by the exercise of talking? All the conventional reasoning has been exhausted. It is no secret that the Indian initiative described as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's vision to strengthen the civilian government in Pakistan has come about with US prodding despite reservations among Dr Singh's Cabinet members. His detractors have not forgotten the delinking of terror from dialogue at Sharm-el-Sheikh and the mention of Balochistan in the text of the joint statement.

 

The tacit delinking of terror from dialogue by India has a richer history. In 2005, President Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reaffirmed their resolve not to let terrorism interfere with the composite dialogue, calling the process irreversible. All this after the NDA government had assiduously sought to hold Pakistan to its pledges on ending cross-border terrorism. Frequent interruptions in the dialogue were caused not just by terrorists but also interlocutors themselves over the primacy of terrorism over Kashmir and vice versa. While India insisted that cross-border terrorism had to end first, for creating the right ambience for dialogue, Pakistan contended that progress on the other subjects of the composite dialogue was contingent upon progress on Kashmir. Hence no outcome.

 

This time around Delhi has nuanced the nature of talks, saying it is not a resumption of the composite dialogue (which is contingent upon the conviction of the Mumbai attackers) but a dialogue over terrorism-related issues. Whatever the Indian Foreign Office may say, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Quraishi's jubilation was evident. "They threatened to attack us after 26/11. Now India has come to us for talks. We never kneeled and bowed to their pressure."

 

The Indian lobby says this is an opportunity to tell Pakistan clearly that our response to another Mumbai will be, in the words of Home Minister P. Chidambaram, "swift and decisive", whatever that means.

 

The US Council for Foreign Relations in its latest report paradoxically argues that the "risk of terrorism increases if relations between India and Pakistan improve". It adds that India will react militarily if it is clear that the attack was sourced and supported by Pakistan. Evidently, not talking to Pakistan is not an option. On the other hand, if you're talking you can step back and stop talking, goes the argument. That obviously is the buffer between the next attack and a "swift and decisive response".

 

For better or for worse, keeping the lines of communications open is the preferred option.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

SLIPPERS, ANYONE?

BY MANIKI DEEP

 

My son had gone to the U.K. after high school for university education. I was clearing up his room and sorting out what to keep and what to give away to younger cousins, for charity, etc. Soon most of the stuff was distributed and what remained was a pair of V-shaped bathroom slippers.

 

I had no one to give them to so I decided to give them to any beggar I saw.

 

One day, on a mission to give away the rubber slippers, I drove off to the Sector 17 city centre, heading for the pavements and the open plaza. There were lots of people sitting around selling wares or begging. All, I noticed, wore slippers or shoes. I approached some of them and asked if they needed slippers; they declined. I crossed to the other end and saw a beggar sitting under a tree. I went up to him. "Do you want these slippers?"

 

I asked. He looked at them, mulled over, then replied, "No". I was embarrassed. I saw another beggar in a nearby corridor and offered him slippers. He looked disdainfully. "Give me some clothes or a bedsheet."

 

I quickly walked away. I cast a furtive look near and far. Not another in sight.

 

I drove off Sector 17 and approached the crossroads. Many people clustered around the car, begging, cleaning the windscreen, selling cheap goods. "Anyone of you want a pair of slippers?" They looked, shook their heads and walked away. I drove to another market place. Same response. Another market place. No beggars.

 

By now I was tired, bored and almost ashamed of what I had to offer. Then, I saw a one-legged bare-foot beggar reclining on a small wall. I ran up to him and almost pleaded, "Will you take a slipper for your foot?" He glanced at them, tried one on, it was slightly larger than his foot, and said, "No, I don't want it". By now I was quite crushed.

 

I returned home with my bag of charity. I had spent a lot of time, energy, petrol and good spirits and was back where I began. I didn't want to just throw them in the dustbin as they were otherwise good. Next day, I left them near the outer steps of a gurdwara, hoping just somebody would take them.

 

Times have changed. The standard of beggars has been raised. They are also selective about what they want. I had given some of my suits to my maid, which she did not wear for quite some time. When I asked her why she had not worn the clothes I gave her, she replied, "I have sold them for pressure cooker in exchange". I quickly withdrew to the privacy of my bedroom to think things over.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

HOW BUDGET CAN HELP SMALL AND MEDIUM UNITS

BY HARPAL SINGH

 

Employing 59.7 million people, accounting for 45 per cent of the manufacturing output and 40 per cent of the country's exports, the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) play a critical role in the nation's economy. With their geographical spread, the MSMEs facilitate inclusive growth.

 

The global slump has impacted MSMEs significantly. Woes of the MSMEs, however, stretch much beyond the issues associated with the financial crisis. A majority of them have to deal with issues pertaining to restrictive credit availability and technological obsolescence, seriously undermining their competitiveness in the domestic and global markets.

 

In order to sustain the current rate of the economy, the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council has identified ICT (information and communication technology) implementation and ICT absorption in MSMEs as a key step towards making the sector competitive.

 

Currently India has an estimated pool of 17.85 million SMEs and 3.1 million have at least one computer. This figure represents 17 per cent of the total Indian SMEs, which use modern technology in their business.

 

With the rapid globalisation of India, there are going to be more opportunities available to the Indian MSME sector wherein large Indian or global companies can outsource their product and service requirements to this sector. However, these companies will require transparent and global standards in products and services where MSMEs can gain a lot from the deployment of ICT.

 

With a strong appreciation of the rupee, the MSME sector engaged in exports has been badly hit. The MSME export sector can survive and compete through higher efficiency and productivity, which can be enabled through the deployment of ICT.

 

In its recommendations for the Union Budget 2010-11, the CII has suggested measures for setting the stage for the next generation of SMEs. The CII recommends creating a conducive environment for MSMEs within the respective geographies and across regions with the active involvement and support of the industry.

 

An ideal eco-system is one that facilitates SMEs easy and innovative financing options, access to appropriate and affordable technologies, steady supply of trained manpower, branding, marketing and distribution support systems, standard quality assessment tools and efficiency metrics, stable regulatory norms and socio-political stability.

 

The CII recommends the following tax-related measures to improve IT consumption in the MSMEs:

 

Accord 100 per cent depreciation, once in a block of three financial years, for an annual investment in IT equipment and software up to a limit of Rs 25 lakh to the MSMEs

 

As R & D requirements of MSMEs are quite different from that of large units and MSMEs typically do not have adequate resources for R & D, create a central R&D fund specifically for the SMEs. The government could create this fund by contributing a particular amount and subsequently funds can be generated through contributions from the private sector.

 

To encourage the private sector to invest in this fund, provide at least 150 per cent weighted deduction for contributions made by corporates to the R&D Fund for SMEs

 

The other CII suggestions include:

 

Establish an SME stock exchange to help SMEs raise equity capital

 

Provide greater labour laws flexibility

 

Simplify the process of land acquisition and change/conversion in its use

 

 Streamline the cost and availability of credit

 

 Revise the definition of SMEs in keeping with international practices (which, besides investment, also take into account the number of employees, annual turnover and sometimes even the location of a firm)

 

 Provide tax benefits to companies which source from SMEs

 

The writer is the Chairman of the CII, Northern Region

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

TESTING TIME FOR OMAR ABDULLAH

BY EHSAN FAZILI

 

When Omar Abdullah's government completed one year in office on January 5 this year, the administration had a seemingly complacent view on its performance through the past year which had been marred by trouble over the death of two women in Shopian.

 

Painting "an encouraging picture" of 2009, particularly on the security and law and order front, it was revealed that the graph of terror violence was "rapidly coming down year after year" with militancy-related violence coming down by 35 per cent in 2008 and 25 per cent in 2009.

 

This was soon rattled with the gunshots in Lal Chowk where two militants got holed up in a hotel on January 6, leading to a 22-hour-long fire-fight with the security forces culminating in the death of two militants.

 

The incident at Lal Chowk, opening the New Year's account on militancy front, also gave rise to a new series of "innocent killings" of teenagers at the hands of the police and security forces. It began with the death of Inayat Khan of Dalgate on January 9, a day after he received a bullet injury fired by the CRPF in the troubled Lal Chowk that was still recovering from the trauma of the encounter.

 

Over three weeks later, another teenaged boy, Wamiq Farooq, fell to a teargas shell lobbed by the police, far away from the group of agitating youth in the Rajouri Kadal area of down town on January 31. The teenager's body lay unidentified at the Police Control Room till the next afternoon as his family from the Rainawari locality had already launched a search for him.

 

Only five days later, yet another teenager, Zahid Farooq fell to the bullets allegedly fired by the BSF personnel at Nishat on the city outskirts on February 5.

 

All the three incidents of teenagers' killings in Srinagar and, series of militant activities engaging the police and security forces across the Kashmir valley, have raised questions over the government's handling of the situation.

 

Even as the CBI, which finally investigated the rape and murder of two women in Shopian last year, has exonerated the police and security forces, the public mood is against accepting the theory.

 

The same theory of suspicion is carried in view of the killing of three teenaged boys during the last one month, which has been highlighted both by the separatist organisations and the mainstream parties, mainly the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

 

The separatist APHC chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, laments the "criminal silence" of the government on the "targeted killing of innocent youth". This would end only when the special powers to the security forces are revoked and troops fully withdrawn from the state, he opines.

 

These demands are in the five-point formula conveyed to the Central government by the APHC as a pre-requisite for entering into a fresh dialogue to resolve the Kashmir issue. The opposition PDP believes that the killings were a result of the government's failure in handling the situation as the unrest in Kashmir continued to be because of "political instability", which needs to be addressed with a resolution of the Kashmir issue.

 

Within hours of the latest incident the Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, ordered an inquiry into the killing of 16-year-old Zahid Farooq at Nishat on the outskirts of Srinagar on February 5. That did not fully convince the common man in the valley as the killing had taken place in an area without clashes, which have been prompting the police or security forces to retaliate.

 

In the case of Wamiq Farooq on January 31, the observers opine that the teargas shell that killed him should otherwise have been used to save human lives. Suspension of the ASI involved in the lobbing of teargas shell in a "callous and irresponsible manner" has also not helped the government image.

 

The teargas shell lobbed to chase away trouble-makers and prevent any use of firearm, have killed eight persons in Kashmir since 2008. While the ruling National Conference blames "vested interests" behind the stone-pelting, prompting the police to act, the opposition PDP blames the "continued suppression" of youth for their indulging in stone-pelting.

 

The question, however, remains whether the coalition government has been able to handle the situation effectively. In the wake of the recent killings, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has not been able to placate public anger with his presence and personally monitoring the situation.

 

The seat of the government being in Jammu, the winter capital of the state, he deputed his senior party and ministerial colleague, Ali Mohammad Sagar, and the Director General of Police, Kuldeep Khoda, to monitor the situation. This has been contrary to his earlier posture when he came before the media within two days after the bodies of two Shopian women were recovered last year.

 

Resentment over the mysterious death of two women against the government continued for several months raising, questions over its performance and failure to reign in the troops. The government, however, survived the resultant outburst throughout the summer months last year.

 

The Amarnath land agitation set into motion a new trend of public involvement in the militancy-hit Kashmir, which had its impact during last year's agitation over the Shopian case.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

AIDS: IS THE END IN SIGHT?

BY STEVE CONNOR

 

Testing everyone at risk of HIV and treating them with anti-retroviral drugs could eradicate the global epidemic within 40 years, according to the scientist at the centre of a radical new approach to fighting Aids.

 

An aggressive programme of prescribing anti-retroviral treatment (ART) to every person infected with HIV could stop all new infections in five years and eventually wipe out the epidemic, said Brian Williams of the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis.

 

Dr Williams is part of a growing body of experts who believe that anti-HIV drugs are probably the best hope of preventing and even eliminating the spread of Aids, rather than waiting for the development of an effective vaccine or relying solely on people changing their sexual lifestyle.

 

The idea will be tested in the coming year, with the start of the first properly controlled clinical trial involving thousands of people living in a part of South Africa with a high incidence of HIV and Aids. Dr Williams said this will be followed by similar trials in the US, where HIV is rampant among some inner-city communities.

 

"Our immediate best hope is to use ART not only to save lives but also to reduce transmission of HIV. I believe if we used ART drugs we could effectively stop transmission of HIV within five years," Dr Williams said. "It may be possible to stop HIV transmission and halve Aids-related TB within 10 years and eliminate both infections within 40 years," he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego, California.

 

Anti-retroviral drugs dramatically lower the concentration of HIV within a person's bloodstream, and, in addition to protecting patients against Aids, they significantly lower an individual's infectiousness – their ability to transmit the virus to another person.

 

Dr Williams and his supporters believe that if enough infected people are treated, it would lower the rate of infection to such an extent that the epidemic would die out within the lifetime of those undergoing the treatment. Aids could effectively be wiped out by the middle of this century, he said.

 

"The problem is that we are using the drugs to save lives, but we are not using them to stop transmission," Dr Williams said. Blocking transmission can only be done with an extensive testing regime followed by rapid treatment with anti-retroviral drugs to everyone found to be HIV positive, he said.

 

"The concentration of the virus drops 10,000 times [with ART] ... This probably translates into a 25-fold reduction in infectiousness. But if you did this it would be enough essentially to stop transmission," he said.

 

A study published in 2008 showed that it is theoretically possible to cut new HIV cases by 95 per cent, from a

prevalence of 20 per 1,000 to 1 per 1,000, within 10 years of implementing a programme of universal testing and prescription of ART drugs.

 

"Each person with HIV infects, on average, one person every one or two years. Since people with HIV, and without treatment, live for an average of 10 years after infection, each person with HIV infects about five to 10 people," Dr Williams said. "Treating people with ART within about one year of becoming infected would reduce transmission by about 10 times. Each person with HIV would infect, on average, less than one other person and the epidemic would die out."

 

ART drugs have to be taken on a daily basis for life, and the cost for South Africa alone would be about $4bn (£2.6bn) per year. However, Dr Williams said that the cost of having to treat a growing number of Aids patients, as well as the economic cost of young adults dying off, would be higher than giving out free ART drugs to everyone who needs them.

 

"The key issue of cost is that if you don't do anything it costs you a lot of money. In South Africa we spend a lot of money on people who are hospitalised with infections related to HIV," Dr Williams said. "More importantly, we are killing young adults in the prime of their life just when they should be contributing to society. The cost to society of that is enormous.

 

— By arrangement with The Independent

 

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MUMBAI MERROR

EDITORIAL

RE-READING QUEEN VICTORIA

SHE'S PERCEIVED TO BE STAID AND CONVENTIONAL; HOWEVER, LYTTON STRACHEY IN HIS 1921 BIOGRAPHY TALKS OF THE QUEEN WHO WAS DRAWN TO PEOPLE WITH BACKGROUNDS VERY DIFFERENT FROM HERSELF

 


When I was an undergraduate, one of the prescribed books for the Eng Lit Hons course was Lytton Strachey's biography of Queen Victoria (1921). I still have my copy, complete with lightly pencilled notes in the margins. Re-reading it recently, because of the new book Victoria and Abdul by Shrabani Basu, the journalist-historian, I must admit Queen Victoria was wasted on us. We were told that in relation to older concepts of biography, it was irreverent. But I find the Queen emerges as an enchanting and complex person in it. It's a brilliantly written book.


We think of her as staid, humourless, conventional. She was fiercely against women's emancipation, and adamant about not allowing anyone in her presence to smoke. "Kings might protest," Strachey writes, "bishops and ambassadors invited to Windsor, might be reduced, in the privacy of their bedrooms, to lie full-length upon the floor and smoke up the chimney – the interdict continued."


But she was also interested in people as unlike her as possible, a point which Strachey makes several times. He writes, "There was something deep within her which responded immediately and vehemently to natures that afforded a romantic contrast with her own." Referring to Disraeli's keen understanding of the Queen, Strachey comments, "He realised everything – the interacting complexities of circumstance and character… the superabundant emotionalism… the solid, the laborious    respectability, shot through so  incongruously by temperamental cravings for the  coloured and the    strange…"


Strachey does mention Abdul Karim, the 24-year-old taken from Agra to wait at the royal table. He doesn't go into detail but remarks, "The thought of India fascinated her; she set to, and learnt a little Hindustani; she engaged some Indian servants, who became her inseparable attendants, and one of whom, Munshi Abdul Karim, eventually almost succeeded to the position which had once been John Brown's."


The relationship with John Brown, her Scottish manservant has been well recorded.    She loved Scotland and the Scots. Above all her servants, she loved John Brown, "a body servant from whom she was never parted." Brown had been Prince Albert's personal servant, and for Victoria he was a kind of link to the now dead husband. "She liked his strength, his solidity, the sense he gave her of physical security; she even liked his rugged manners and his rough, unaccommodating speech. She allowed him to take liberties with her which would have been unthinkable from anyone else… Eventually, the 'simple mountaineer' became almost a state personage." The Queen made absolutely no secret of her "affectionate friendship" with Brown. All this annoyed members of the family and of the administration profoundly, but Victoria didn't care.


Victoria had no class or colour prejudices. She asked every single servant in the palace about their families in detail. It's something of a mystery that she never invited Mary Seacole, the Creole nurse who served in the Crimea, and whose reputation rivalled that of Florence Nightingale's, to the Palace, but historians are certain it had nothing to do with colour. She did, however, bestow a commendation on her.


One of my favourite sections of the Strachey book concerns the visit of Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie to visit her. She disliked Napoleon III, but was thoroughly charmed by him when they arrived. She also became very attached to Eugenie, "whose looks and graces she admired without a touch of jealousy… Victoria had no misgivings. To her it mattered nothing that her face turned red in the heat and that her purple porkpie hat was last year's fashion, while Eugenie, cool and modish, floated in an infinitude of flounces by her side… More than once, when the two were together in public, it was the woman to whom, as it seemed, nature and art had given so little, who, by the sheer force of an inherent grandeur, completely threw her adorned and beautiful companion into the shade."

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

VISION 2020 OR 2011?

MS BANERJEE'S POLITICS, POPULISM AND PPP PLANS

In China the railway system becomes bigger every year, in India railway ministers' speeches become longer by the year! But pardon Ms Mamata Banerjee, the minister for railways, for having an eye on next year's elections in West Bengal. If she defeats the Left Front, she could contribute more to India's economic development than she hopes to with her plans for the Indian Railways. If Ms Banerjee is judged harshly for the poor performance of the railways this current fiscal, and for all the predictable populism of her budgetary proposals, it is because she has raised expectations by publishing her Vision 2020 for the Indian Railways. The sharp variance between the revised estimates of expenditure and the Budget estimates of seven months ago suggests that Ms Banerjee has been thinking too much about the long term and not enough about the here and now. Neither freight nor passenger rates have been touched. The latter, in particular, have been crying out for action as, going by the railways organisation's own status report, loss on account of passenger traffic touched a massive Rs 14,000 crore in 2008-09. The bill for the pay commission's award was not an unknown at that time. The operating ratio (the extent to which earnings are taken up by expenses) has fallen by over two percentage points to an abysmal 94.7 per cent. If this is the ability of the railways setup to gauge what is less than a year ahead, there is little reason to believe that the over two percentage points improvement projected in the Budget for the coming year (2010-11) has a decent chance of being achieved.

 In the action taken part of the Budget speech, she has taken credit for introducing most of the new trains which had been announced in the previous Budget. And the latest one has added its share of promised new trains. It is well known that the railways are stretched to capacity; in fact, the organisation has been lauded for achieving increasingly higher levels of capacity utilisation. New lines, locomotives or coaches cannot be added in a jiffy. Under the circumstances, the ability to move goods traffic faster is bound to be impaired. The railways' proposals for public-private-partnership (PPP) must, of course, be commended. But the railways' share of new investment in PPP projects has to come from somewhere. If the land or the rooftop rights of the railways are an asset, as indeed they are, then the duty of the railways is to get the maximum buck out of them, not make them available for hospitals and educational institutions. The speech promises 552 hospitals and diagnostic centres, and then carries an unending list. It also lists 114 socially desirable new lines whose surveys will be updated. This is not to be confused with proposed new surveys for new lines (hopefully not socially undesirable), which are also listed. Ms Banerjee has promised a separate structure for business models so that operations and management are not disturbed. This is easier said than done in a habit-bound organisation like the railways. Ms Banerjee need not be doubted in her desire to give the railways a great new future. But what everyone would like to know is if she can deliver. This will also influence the thinking of the voter in Bengal!

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

TREAD CAREFULLY MR SIBAL

STAKEHOLDER CONSENSUS NECESSARY FOR EDUCATION REFORM

It is not easy undoing a dozen years of damage inflicted by two successive Union ministers for human resources development. Pity Mr Kapil Sibal. He has the dual task of reversing the bad decisions of both Mr Murali Manohar Joshi and Mr Arjun Singh and doing some good of his own. So, it is not surprising that Mr Sibal has been working at a scorching pace trying to overhaul India's archaic educational system. Whether it is reviewing the board examination system, overhauling the higher education system, building links across borders, setting up model colleges in educationally backward areas, or setting up central universities in states where they do not exist, he is trying everything. Recent announcements relate to the Draft National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill that calls for abolishing the University Grants Commission, All India Council of Technical Education and National Council of Teacher Education and establishing a seven-member NCHER that will oversee these functions. Reports are also being received for the development of a core science and math school curriculum across the country. Elementary and higher education, and skill development programmes need an open and decentralised environment supported by a non-constraining regulatory regime. And the country requires an educational system that promotes common benchmarks while encouraging decentralisation. But Mr Sibal would be well advised to consult all stakeholders and not be in too much of a hurry.

 Ideas like a core national curriculum, a single central authority that has the sole responsibility over appointments of Vice Chancellors across all universities fly in the face of the principle of decentralisation and autonomy. They have the potential of centralising control in the hands of a few joint secretaries in the ministry, or worse, a corrupt educational administrator. What are the safeguards built in to prevent the abuse of power? What will ensure that decentralisation is encouraged not merely from Centre to state, but state to local governments as well? What will ensure that our educational establishments can function with autonomy not only from the political forces at the state level, but also from those at the Central level? These are important questions if educational reforms are to be sustained.

A sustainable educational reform package needs to be built around consensus, decentralisation and minimum common benchmarks. Post-1991 India has had enough experiences where non-consensus-based approaches led to desirable changes, only to be withdrawn later. The educational establishment, with its lobbies and pressure groups, is politically sensitive and highly susceptible to rearguard action by entrenched forces. This is the core reason why significant reforms have so far eluded the educational sector in India. Mr Sibal would do well to focus more on advocacy and build a consensus around his ideas. Consensus would be only possible if he is able to promise that the principles of decentralisation and autonomy are not sacrificed in our desire to improve quality.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

BUDGETING FOR SYSTEMIC EFFICIENCY

ARVIND SINGHAL

 

The last few weeks leading to the presentation of Union Budget have been, as always, full of second-guessing of the mind of the finance minister, and advice and suggestions from just about everyone who has access to the financial media even if she has limited or no influence on the Budget-making process. The suspense would be over tomorrow in any case, and hence there is no point in offering even more unsolicited advice to the finance minister today.

 However, in recent decades, Budget speeches have also given an increasing insight into the economic ideology of the ruling party (or the coalition) and hence the first part of the Budget speech tomorrow may be more important than the actual proposals for direct and indirect taxations.

Since the first Budget presentation in 1947, the Indian economy has battled its way through different political and economic ideologies. At this juncture, it is only a matter of academic debate as to where India could have been today had it adopted a different approach to its economic and social development. What is more important is that if it were to ever join the ranks of a fully-developed country and have human development indicators comparable to other developed nations, it has to start working on improving the overall systemic efficiency of the nation itself.

It may, therefore, be a good idea if political parties, the bureaucracy, economists, industrialists, industry chambers and the public at large start applying more thought and making more efforts to identify the biggest systemic costs and drags on the Indian economy and then come up with appropriate ideological and policy corrections to give a more systemic stimulus to growth rather than just a slew of short-term fiscal stimuli.

Land probably tops the list of the most glaring areas of high systemic cost for the nation. Political and bureaucratic leaderships just have no understanding of how to make the optimum use of this increasingly scarce resource — needed directly by the billion-plus population and then by different sectors of the economy, including agriculture, industry and services. An antediluvian policy relating to land holding and consolidation, land use, permissible constructed area (FAR / FSI) and inappropriate norms relating to facilities and utilities such as access and parking of vehicles have led to India having among the highest costs in the world for all categories of individual and institutional users of land.

With a very young population, and a nation that is recording over 25 million births per year and a net increase of almost 17 million every year, India should not be seeing significant wage inflation. Yet, in the absence of appropriate and acceptable quality vocational and higher education, raging wage inflation takes a huge toll on the cost efficiency of the economy.

India needs exceptionally innovative solutions to its myriad challenges. Ideas and capital from any part of the world should be welcome. Yet, neither there is an efficient policy to encourage small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurs, especially in the services sector which does not have too many physical assets to offer as collateral, nor any proactive interest in attracting global investment into the country.

And the cost inflicted on the nation on account of the woeful state of physical infrastructure is well known to everyone.

Beyond the systemic costs, there are several systemic drags. The most critical one is that of the misguided populism relating to pricing of basic goods and services, such as railway fares and freight rates, petroleum, water, power and education. In the near term, this may translate into vote banks but in the long term, it hampers resource generation for creating more capacity.

Misdirected subsidies, whether they are (ostensibly) for supporting the farm sector or for exports or otherwise, end up using up scarce financial resources that could be better deployed.

And finally, a misdirected taxation framework, which ends up not only keeping the tax payee's base very low but also drastically reducing the effective tax rates due to a plethora of exemptions, further deprives the nation of the much-needed financial resources.

Unless the political leadership starts looking at the bigger picture and working on making India more resource-efficient — and a fundamentally lower-cost economy — it is unlikely that it can sustain high economic growth rates in the decades to come.

arvind.singhal@technopak.com

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

IT'S NOT THE STIMULUS, STUPID!

THE MORE IMPORTANT QUESTION IS WHETHER THE GOVERNMENT CAN CARRY OUT BIG-TICKET REFORMS

T N NINAN

It is extraordinary how much of the pre-Budget speculation has focused on whether (and if so, by how much) the "fiscal stimulus" will be rolled back in the Budget for next year. Even as this debate shows little understanding of what a stimulus is, it ignores more important issues that should be the focus of debate.

To get the "stimulus" business out of the way: A fiscal stimulus is the additional deficit incurred in a year. The actual stimulus planned for this year, therefore, was Rs 73,000 crore (the difference between the fiscal deficit budgeted for this year and the actual deficit incurred last year). Bear in mind that the stimulus, correctly defined, was very much bigger in 2008-09 (about Rs 1,93,000 crore). So, a reduction in the size of the stimulus has already happened this year — despite which, let it be noted, the economy has gained momentum. If you include the much larger fresh debt that the government took in 2008-09 to finance subsidised oil and fertiliser, the debt that was not reflected in the deficit numbers, the net fiscal stimulus this year is already negative.

For next year, the finance minister is expected to reduce the deficit, as he promised when presenting his Budget last July. In other words, irrespective of whether he rolls back any of the tax cuts or not, he will be budgeting once again for a negative stimulus. And that's how it should be, given that the economy is expected to grow by 8 per cent or more next year.

As for the incessant discussion about whether the excise and service tax rates will be rolled back up partially, such a roll-back is of course important for the industries concerned, but the macro-economic impact of any such step will be limited. At Budget time last July, the finance secretary had said that the cost of continuing with the tax cuts for another year was Rs 30,000 crore. A roll-back next year will recoup this money, or perhaps a little more. In a Budget that is already Rs 10.2 lakh crore for the current year, with a deficit of Rs 4 lakh crore, this is small beer.

The more important question, when discussing the wisdom of a stimulus, is one's reading of the macro-economic situation. The question which this newspaper asked last July, and which bears repeating today, is whether a deficit of 6.8 per cent was necessary this year. The government's macro-economic assumptions were manifestly pessimistic. It assumed nominal (i.e., real plus inflation) GDP growth of no more than 8.5 per cent during the year. In an interview at the time, the finance secretary said he expected inflation during the year to be between 2 per cent and 4 per cent. Taking the mid-point figure, the government did not expect real GDP growth to be more than 5.5 per cent. The official position now is that it is likely to be 7.5 per cent.

This is not just a matter of hindsight. It is worth recalling that, in the interim Budget presented in February 2009, Pranab Mukherjee had postulated a deficit of 5.5 per cent of GDP. It was in the final Budget, presented in July, that the figure shot up to 6.8 per cent, with the promise that the number would be back down to 5.5 per cent in 2010-11. It is arguable that some of the inflation that the economy has witnessed during the year, while admittedly sparked by poor harvests of various kinds, is also an indirect result of the additional deficit. Wholesale price inflation was at 8.6 per cent last month, more than twice as high as the finance secretary's outer forecast last July.

If the macro-economic assumptions have proved wrong, what about the main action points that the finance minister mentioned in his Budget last July? These were the introduction of the integrated Goods and Services Tax (GST) in 2010, legislation on a direct tax code in the winter of 2009, changing the basis for dishing out the fertiliser subsidy, price reform for petroleum goods, and the sale of 3G spectrum to telecom companies (which was to raise Rs 35,000 crore during the year). One should leave out disinvestment, since no numbers were put in the Budget.

On the GST, the finance minister was seen as being optimistic even as he made the promise that the GST would be introduced by April 2010. It was a difficult enterprise from the start, and we know now that the schedule is off by a year.

More credible was the minister's promise that he would release a draft direct tax code within 45 days, and, after public debate, introduce a Bill on the code in the winter session of Parliament. The code was released on schedule in August, but it threw up so many contentious issues that it is yet to be presented to Parliament.

The fertiliser subsidy regime has been changed, just in time last week, and we should see the benefit in a reduced subsidy bill next year. But although the Kirit Parikh report on the pricing of petroleum goods is in, even a partial acceptance of its recommendations is unlikely till well into the new financial year — and this is understandable, given the general inflation situation.

Finally, there is the sorry spectacle of the non-auction of 3G spectrum. Despite the finance minister's manful efforts, the auction has not yet happened — and if it does not materialise in the next six weeks, there will be a Rs 35,000 crore hole in this year's Budget numbers.

In summary, there is no GST as yet, the direct tax code is in limbo, petroleum pricing remains unchanged, and the 3G auction is yet to happen. Of the major promises, only fertiliser pricing has been fixed, and that just in time. This is not the picture of a government that is focused on delivering what it promises. Nor can it be said that its macro-economic reading last July was correct. One might add that the defence ministry returned unspent in 2008-09 money that had been provided for buying attack helicopters and 155 mm howitzers (apart from other hardware). Neither has been bought in 2009-10 either, so the money will be returned again.

Whether the tax roll-back starts this week is not, therefore, the main issue. The more important question is whether the finance minister and the government will do better in Year II of the UPA's second term.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

TALKING ABOUT TALKING

SOMETIMES LISTENING HAS ITS USE, AND THAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF THE LATEST ROUND OF INDIA-PAKISTAN DIALOGUE

PAARULL MALHOTRA

India and Pakistan are talking once again today at the official level. The preparation on the Indian side leaves no doubt that the focus will be on terrorism. The foreign ministry is consulting with the home ministry, defence ministry and security agencies. Pakistan will be placed in the dock.

We can reasonably expect foreign secretary Nirupama Rao to press for the complete unravelling of the 26/11 conspiracy, including an investigation into the roles of David Headley and Tahawar Rana, and their links with serving and/or retired Pakistani army officers. We can also expect India to demand voice samples of the handlers of Kasab and company. We can expect Pakistan to be questioned on why Hafiz Saeed and his fellow jihadis can publicly preach anti-India jihad not just in Muzaffarabad but also in Lahore and Rawalpindi.

We can expect Delhi to confront Islamabad about its unwillingness to enforce an anti-terrorism law that allows for organisations to be banned if there's even a suspicion that they are a front for a terrorist group. More important, though, is the discussion India will try and have on Afghanistan.

The next few months will be critical to shaping Afghanistan's future. That New Delhi is uneasy is obvious from Ms Rao's recent remarks in London that "the issue of reintegration should be tackled with prudence, the benefit of hindsight, foresight and caution. We believe that any integration process in Afghanistan should be Afghan-led... ."

The unease is because Saudi Arabia and Pakistan will lead the way in engaging the Taliban to orchestrate their return to power in Kabul. India has noted the death last week of Afghan Talib leader Jalaluddin Haqqani's son in a drone strike in North Waziristan. The sudden capture of Mullah Omar's deputy Mullah Baradar this month has not escaped attention either.

One assessment is that the Pakistani army — especially intelligence agency ISI — which has used the Afghan Talib as strategic assets, is possibly sending them a message that they are not indispensable and, therefore, will need to fall in line. A message is possibly also being sent to Washington to treat the Pakistani army as its ally in exchange for giving it a role in negotiating an end to the Afghan war.

How does Pakistan see Afghanistan play out? Which Taliban are going to be approached for reconciliation and reintegration? And on what terms? Will Pakistan use its role in Afghanistan to press the US to mediate on Kashmir? On these assessments will depend how India copes with the return of the Taliban and the threat consequently to our national security — stemming from both the jihadi hotbed Afghanistan can turn into and Pakistan's agenda on Kashmir.

India, therefore, sees some utility in talking to Pakistan directly — as opposed to settling for third party reports from Washington, Kabul and Riyadh. It is also worth noting that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani isn't only thinking that he's winning the great game, but that he may well be in a far stronger position at home than, say, a year ago. India's South Block believes that the Army is back to exerting a decisive say in foreign affairs.

General Kayani has been offered a two-year extension by President Zardari's government as has the DG, ISI. Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi's shrill and uncharacteristic rhetoric — within days of India going public with its offer for talks — is another indicator. Days ahead of the Delhi dialogue, Pakistan cited the Indo-US nuclear deal to reject multilateral discussions on freezing production of nuclear material.

The civilian government's rhetoric over water and the addition of a "secular" issue like water to the jihadi agenda is another sign. The Jamaat-ud-Dawah's Abdul Rehman Makki warned that jihadis were ready to fill the Ravi river with "blood" to avenge India's alleged denial of river water to Pakistan — before helpfully dropping a hint that Pune would be attacked.

So, when Pakistan foreign secretary Salman Bashir talks to Nirupama Rao today, the brief will be General Kayani's.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

WHERE'S THE MONEY FOR DEVELOPMENT?

ONCE ADJUSTED FOR INFLATION, THE AMOUNTS SPENT BY GOVERNMENTS ON DEVELOPMENT ARE TOO TINY TO MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE

SHANTANU BASU

Decades ago, the redoubtable US Senator Adlai Stevenson aptly remarked: "Bad administration, to be sure, can destroy good policy; but good administration can never save bad policy." In India, many are tempted to tamely accept that it is because of both bad policy and bad administration that India ranks 84th (effectively 86th) in Transparency International's Global Integrity Index 2009, and 134th in UNDP's Human Development Index 2007. India ranks number one only when it comes to remittances from its citizens living abroad. Why do such dubious rankings plague this noble land?

The Public Finance Statistics from 1990-91 to 2007-08 portray an alarming picture of the quality of governance and accountability in India, and perhaps help explain the poor rankings.

Of about Rs 623,000 crore spent for non-development purposes by the Centre and states, a major portion was used for administering various organs of state, pensions and food subsidies in 2007-08. In stark contrast, development expenditure of about Rs 685,000 crore was only about 10 per cent more than non-development expenditure. Once you reduce this to 1990-91 prices, the real value of the government's developmental expenditure in 2007-08 is only Rs 320,000 crore.

Of the Rs 685,000 crore spent on development, social and community services accounted for about Rs 288,000 crore. Reduced to 1990-91 prices, the real annual expenditure falls to about Rs 134,000 crore or Rs1,116 per head or Rs 3 per day! If this were reduced by a fourth, a figure which is very conservative given the levels of corruption, the per capita development expenditure outlay collapses to even more ludicrous levels. More so when you juxtapose this with the fact that arhar lentils retail at nearly Rs 100 a kilogram or sugar at Rs 50 a kilogram. And as has been pointed out, the cost of government is almost the same as that of governance (development).

Adding to the diminution is the inability of government departments to use allocated funds. In 2007-08, total surrenders by the Central government departments added to around Rs 108,000 crore. While this may not add up to a very large amount in percentage terms, the impact of this is quite substantial. Such surrenders include money for modernisation of police forces; maintenance of sugar buffer stocks; Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan; scholarships; education and court infrastructure; immunisation programmes; and international cooperation, notably Indian Technical And Economic Cooperation (ITEC). Funds are surrendered because of several reasons, such as grandiose populist plans not too facile to be implemented; release of funds even on the last midnight of the financial year; lack of capabilities in contracting and identifying vendors and oft-disputed and whimsical qualitative requirements; delays inherent in the centralised procurement of stores; poor coordination between administrative departments and their expenditure-sanctioning authorities, inter- and intra-ministerial wrangling over directions, targets and implementation methods and year-ending real-time monitoring by expending departments — all controllable phenomena.

For all such failures, the government borrows money and this consumes 43 per cent of its annual Budget, maybe about Rs 7,000 crore in 2007-08 on surrendered Central funds alone, without any return for itself or by way of service to citizens. The future benevolence of governance must, therefore, necessarily overshadow government's antediluvian processes if, as Will Durant said, "government is not to perish by excess of its basic principles".

Even if one were to assume that with better monitoring, surrender of funds would be reduced by 75 per cent to about Rs 80,000 crore, this alone would yield 22 million jobs at Rs 100 per day for 365 days a year — under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), which promises jobs for just 100 days a year, the bang for the buck would be a lot greater. India could get millions of NREGS jobs plus perhaps four-five AIIMS-like hospitals per annum; or an AIIMS in Nepal, Bhutan or the Maldives in furtherance of our national interests in the neighbourhood every year.

Indeed, the definition of the poverty line would change dramatically if such rampant surrenders of funds were sternly penalised by the government's principal Budget, finance and administrative officers acting in tandem.

Every Rs 100 crore saved from non-development expenditure translates into over 27,000 year-round jobs. This is when the Census 2001 shows that about 45 million rural people are seeking or available for work. And to provide for this, an additional Rs 70,000 crore is required every year, part of which is already available in the NREGS budget. Aggregating similar surrenders and interest payouts by states, part of the two crore urban unemployed people may be covered under a similar scheme.

As if this were not enough, non-development expenditure consumed 60 per cent of the total revenues. The Controller General of Accounts (CGA) in the Appropriation Accounts for 2007-08 informs us that the government's tax revenues have risen four-fold in the last decade — this, too, appears inaccurate as it is based on a simple linear calculation without accounting for inflation. In the same breath, the CGA also informs us that revenues have trailed expenditure by providing only 82 per cent of the feedstock for the Central government, the rest being presumably left to currency printing presses to make good in paper. This has left the government with an illusory cash balance of Rs 230,000 crore, neutralised nearly seven times over by an accumulated deficit of Rs 15,87,156 crore in 2007-08 — the price for government over governance.

Suggestions for direct cash transfers to citizens and communities in the form of self-help loans/grants for specific purposes are pertinent in this context — more bang for the buck without pilferage or overheads leading to empowerment of citizens. Every rupee surrendered or wasted enhances alienation of the rulers from those ruled and strikes at the core of our nationhood and national pride. The NREGS bridges the rural-urban poverty-centric tensions and makes our cities liveable. Equally, the ITEC enhances our "sphere of influence". The NREGS and the ITEC are only two examples that money is not in short supply as is the public perception. Government budgets and accounts can sharpen focus manifold on all major policy issues and increase accountability in government for governance. Government is the benefactor; therefore, as Thomas Jefferson aptly remarked, "The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of Government."

The aggregated annual average inflation rate from 01/04/90 to 31/03/2009 has been used in computing figures of 2007-08 at 1990-91 prices.

Views expressed are personal

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THE HEART OF THE MATTER

INDIA SHOULD REMEMBER THAT THE HEART OF BANGLADESH LIES IN ITS CULTURE AND TAGORE IS ITS REIGNING SPIRIT

BARUN ROY

Bangladesh is perhaps the only nation on earth where nationalism revolves around culture, and not politics or religion. This was brought home to us once again as Bangladeshis rose as one to pay homage to their language martyrs on February 21, an event they have observed every year for 58 years.

What happened on February 21, 1952 was something unique. The crowd that had milled that day in the Dhaka University and Medical College area and the five young men — Salauddin, Jabbar, Barkat, Ahmed, and Salam — who fell to police bullets that evening were there to defend their mother tongue against Pakistan's plan to force Urdu on its former eastern wing. It was a fight for one's pride and identity, and as the news of the killing — and of more deaths next day — spread, people rallied to mount an unprecedented cultural crusade.

What happened as a result is well known. Pakistan was forced to withdraw its plan, Ekushey February became a mythic symbol of Bengali unity, and the fight for freedom that thus gained momentum led inevitably to the independence of Bangladesh in December 1971. In 1999, UNESCO made "February 21" the International Mother Language Day, acknowledging the value of identity in shaping a nation's culture.

I don't know of any other nation that responds to its cultural events with so much outpouring of zeal. It's like a continuous rediscovery of one's soul. Over the years, the Martyrs' Day hasn't lost any of its sheen, and every year, Ekushey book fairs all over the country keep getting bigger and bigger. This year in Dhaka, 366 organisations put up over 500 stalls, with about 100 of them spilling out on the streets outside the Bangla Academy, where people had an even closer access to books.

And every year, Bangladeshis greet Pahela Boisakh, the Bengali New Year's Day, that falls in mid-April, as another pre-eminent occasion to renew their cultural pride. It's not just a day when people come out on the streets in their best clothes, colourful parades are held with festoons, paper masks and banners, and Dhaka assumes the look of an enormous village fiesta. It's also the day when people gather in Dhaka's Ramna Park to be steeped in the music of Tagore and Najrul. To Bangladeshis, it's a tradition as important as observing religious rituals.

The story of this tradition goes back almost 50 years and reveals yet another force behind Bangladesh's liberal cultural mindset — it's deep, almost obsessive, love of Rabindranath Tagore.

It all began in 1961, the centenary of Tagore's birth, when a group of prominent intellectuals decided to seize the occasion to launch a movement to promote and nurture Bengal's musical heritage. Tagore was to them the epitome of a liberated mind and his birth centenary was, therefore, an appropriate occasion to stand up against the narrow, fundamentalist ideologies that the Central government of Pakistan was trying to force upon Bengalis.

With Begum Sufia Kamal, a noted poet and writer, as president, they formed a group called "Chhayanat", which quickly became, and remains, one of the most abiding cultural influences on generations of Bangladeshis. Its soirees under the great banyan tree at Ramna Park, with Tagore's music filling up the skies, added a totally new flavour to Pahela Boisakh and took it to a higher level of significance. When the authorities in Islamabad committed their second major cultural blunder, issuing a fatwa in 1965 banning the singing and broadcasting of Tagore's poems and songs, "Chhayanat" led the people on another cultural crusade that further galvanised their desire to be free.

After 1972, "Chhayanat" became a national icon. Even a bomb attack in 2001 by extremist and fundamentalist elements couldn't keep people away from its soirees under the great banyan tree. It's because of "Chhayanat", one can't but agree that Tagore has remained a liberating force that stirs the soul of Bangladesh and has saved it from descending into narrow orthodoxy.

For India, as it gropes for effective ways to deal with its eastern neighbour, herein lies a lesson as well as an opportunity. Forget politics and the pros and cons of economics. New Delhi would do well to remember that the heart of Bangladesh lies in its culture and Tagore is its reigning spirit. A little over a year from now, in May 2011, Bangladesh would be celebrating another momentous occasion in its cultural history — the 150th anniversary of Tagore's birth. India would be celebrating it too, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has, very wisely and appropriately, expressed a desire to make it a joint affair. If that could be done through well-coordinated plans and programmes, we'd surely be warming our way into the heart of Bangladesh in a manner that talks alone on political and economic cooperation will never allow us to do.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

ILL-STARRED DECISION

 

Maruti Suzuki's decision to recall about one lakh units of its A-Star hatchbacks while not exactly a first for the company — it recalled almost 76,000 Omnis in 2001 — stands out on two counts. One for its scale and two, because product recalls are still a relatively new phenomenon here. Part of the reason is that till recently, India was very much a sellers' market.


Moreover, with customers far less aware of their rights, companies too were not particularly sensitive on correcting manufacturing defects. In that sense, Maruti's recall marks a maturing of the market. It may not be fair to draw a parallel with Toyota, whose chief executive has just admitted the company may have lost its sense of priorities in its tearing race to become the largest auto manufacturer in the world.


Nonetheless, the incident does put a question mark over the scorching pace set by Maruti — the company sold 95,649 vehicles in January, its highest ever in the domestic market — and whether in the course of such exceptional growth, some standards were compromised . The decision, after reports of a faulty component in the A-Star's fuel tank, also puts a question mark over the vendor model increasingly favoured by Maruti and also by other automobile majors in the world.


Having said that, Maruti must be commended for its bold decision. In deciding whether the defect is serious enough to warrant a costly recall of cars or lying low and modifying the faulty part and attending to complaints as and when they arise, the company, presumably, weighed the risks attendant on both courses of action. Its final decision could not have been easy.


After all, recalling cars on this scale is bound to damage its reputation . Sure enough, the share price fell 3.2% on Tuesday following the announcement but recovered on Wednesday to close 2.4% above the previous closing price, reflecting the wealth of goodwill for the company. Maruti now needs to show it deserves that goodwill.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MAMATA & TRAINS NEVER CHANGE

 

Railway minister Mamata Banerjee's speech was, in a way, a metaphor for the 'lifeline of India' : India's trains. Nor is that surprising, for like the Indian Railways, Banerjee has not changed much. Slow-moving , largely unadorned and scratchy in parts, subject to many unexpected stops, derailments and thus invariably delayed, the Railways and Banerjee are nevertheless curiously endearing.


They are, after all, comforting evidence that at least some things never change in this fast globalising world. A tad neater perhaps, with a smidgen more of savoire faire in delivery, yet they remain reassuringly desi in essence; not too much of post-reform gobbledegook , no fancy gloss calculated to pull in the punters , and most of all, no sudden makeovers to stun the unsuspecting.


In her 110 minute peroration, Banerjee slowly built up speed, but once well on the way she jumped the tracks often, pulled the chain to stop wherever she wanted in the course of her speech, detoured off the main line to wander into stations in the hinterland with names she could barely pronounce, got sidetracked by fellow travellers who objected to her cavalier mode of progress, ignored signals to speed up or slow down, and generally chugged on regardless. Much like the trains in which multitudes of passengers travel.


The fact that there were knowing smiles all round as Mamata Express ploughed through reams of statistics and tooted loudly whenever anyone attempted to flag her down, shows just how popular the lady and her railways remain. There's something to be said for consistency ; we may like to think about reform and becoming paragons of modernity, but at the end of the day we want that familiar clackety-clack interspersed with segments of thundering speed that end in screeching halts, sending sparks flying everywhere. It simply won't do for the Indian Railways and Banerjee to become smooth, sile.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

POPULIST BUDGET, FOR NOW

 

Mamata Banerjee has presented a budget the final call on which will depend on what concrete form her proposals for private participation in expanding the rail network take. If one does not let hope soar over experience , the budget would clearly have to be classified as populist, with a sharp eye on West Bengal. Indian Railways' finances suffer in the process, devoid of a surplus for the network's rehabilitation and expansion.


The operating ratio, better understood as operating margin in commercial accounting, is expected to improve marginally to 92.3% in 2010-11 from the current year's 94.7%. That depends on gross traffic receipts rising 7.3% — with passenger earnings growing 8.6% and freight by a conservative 6.4% during the year — and limiting the expenditure increase to 4.4%.


Volatile crude could upset that last calculation, unless the Railways do something dramatic like slashing the amount of fuel spent on haulage by refusing to move coal whose ash content has not been brought down below 20%. Mamata could have shown the courage to reduce the distortion between freight and passenger fares. The practice of freight and upper class passengers subsiding lower class passengers and metro services must be phased out within a defined time period.


One can take consolation that Mamata did not raise freight rates citing the need to shore-up the network's revenue. But keeping the freight rates unchanged alone won't fetch the Railways a larger market share in goods movement. Road transport continues to be favoured, despite being more expensive, due to the end-to-end solutions it provides customers. The budget does begin some innovations in this regard.


On a positive note, the minister should be commended for seeking to partner the private sector for new lines, railway stations, manufacturing units of rolling stock, multi–modal logistic parks, high speed train corridors, port connectivity and multi-level parking, despite her quarrels with corporate India. But she should not lose time to shed more light on the business model she hopes to pursue. Meanwhile, her decision to hold steady freight and fare should be seen as an opportunity for the finance minister to impose service tax on the transporter.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NIFTY GOING LIGHT IN NEW SERIES

JAI SOLANKI

 

The market opened positive but saw flat movement for the rest of the trading session on Wednesday. Key indices eventually ended in the negative territory. Nifty February Futures closed at 4866, with a premium of 7 points and Nifty March Futures closed at 4860 with a premium of 1.40 points.


Markets have been trading in the range of 4700-4920 for the past two weeks. There have been fewer roll-over of positions than what is usually witnessed one day prior to the expiry of futures contracts. Even though the market has been witnessing squaring off of short positions in March series, that has not led to a build-up of new positions in the series. This indicates that market is undecided about its direction ahead of the Union Budget.


There was an increase in open interest to the tune of 70 lakh shares (63%), and the current outstanding position is 1.80 crores shares for March series of the futures contracts. The put-call ratio is at 0.98 and the Nifty IV is at around 22. In the options segment, fresh positions were added in the Nifty options in the 4800 and 4700 puts to the tune of 15.15 % and 11.11% respectively. However, 4900 & 4800 calls saw an addition of 9.83% and 8.69% respectively, on Wednesday.


Nifty has been trading below all the major averages except the crucial 200 DMA, which is a negative sign. In our opinion, the market is going light in new series, indicating that a break out is imminent from the range indicated above in either direction, depending upon the announcements that the government is likely to make in the Budget.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

VOLATILE MARKET FAILS TO SWAY INDIA ETFS

DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR

 

MUMBAI: India exchange-traded funds (ETFs) continue to rule steady, witnessing minimum redemptions in an otherwise volatile equity market. While key indices have fallen by around 7% over the past one month, strategists say assets under management of India ETFs listed out of the US or even Europe have seen a marginal outgo, and in some instances, have also recorded inflows.


An ETF is a fund with an underlying base of securities listed on the stock exchanges. They are similar to mutual fund schemes, except that ETFs, as the name suggests, are listed on the exchanges and can be bought and sold like shares.

 

Currently, exclusive India-focused ETFs include the WisdomTree India Earnings Fund (EPI), PowerShares India Portfolio (PIN) and the recently launched iShares S&P India Index Fund (INDY). iPath MSCI India ETN (INP) is an exchange-traded note (ETN) which was first introduced in 2006. INP was the first ETP to offer exposure to Indian markets and now has a total market capitalisation of more than $1 billion.


WisdomTree India Earnings' (EPI) current net assets are $680 million, and the ETF has clocked a net inflow of $39 million so far in 2010. PowerShares India's (PIN) current net assets are at $367million and it has seen a net inflow of $54 million (year-till-date). iPath MSCI India's current net assets are around $1,018 million and it has witnessed an outgo of more than $64 million year to date.


Among the Europe-listed ETFs, Lyxor MSCI India, KSM India and DBX-trackers, to name a few, have all seen net inflows. Lyxor MSCI India's AUM stands at $1,279 million, and DBX-trackers net assets are $280.08 million.

Incidentally, portfolio investors have been net sellers to the tune of Rs 490 crore so far in 2010. Last year, FIIs had net bought shares worth $17.48 billion, almost equal to the record flows witnessed in 2007. California-based ETF expert Tom Lydon is of the view that India could see sustained interest from US investors because of a better corporate governance record vis-à-vis China or Russia.


"India is seen as a safe but no less fast-growing alternative for people seeking emerging market exposure. Providers are lining up to issue funds focused on India because it's an exciting and dynamic economy. India has a young, smart, entrepreneurial population that will help keep growth in the market going," he told ET.

Emerging market ETFs and India ETFs witnessed significant interest in 2009, as investors began to question assumptions about the risk profiles of advanced and developing economies in the wake of the recent global recession. Interest in emerging markets in 2010 continues, given that the Euro zone is facing a potential meltdown and problems, ranging from potential deflation to swelling government debt, continue to mount in the US.

Goldman Sachs and T Rowe Price have also entered the ETF arena this year. Interestingly, another recent filing by Emerging Global Advisors shows a shift towards a more targeted exposure to India from the existing India ETFs which offer diversified exposure to all sectors of the economy.


Emerging Global Advisors is to launch an India Infrastructure Fund and an India Mid Cap Fund. "There is no major flight of capital from emerging markets, despite the current volatility," said the head-strategy at a leading foreign brokerage.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIA INC STANDS TO GAIN FROM RLYS' PPP PUSH

ASHISH AGRAWAL & AMRIT MATHUR

 

Railway minister Mamata Banerjee's proposal to quadruple wagon purchases and add record new rail lines should be raining orders for Titagarh Wagons,Texmaco, SAIL and Tata Steel from April. But investors seem to be sceptical about the plans translating into business in absence of light on funding them. The Rail Budget for 2010-11 proposes to buy 80,000 wagons during the fiscal year, up from an average of about 20,000 wagons a year added between '04-09. Her dream is to add 1,000 kilometres of new tracks in FY11 and 25,000 kilometres by '20.


These are the kinds of targets that need to be set if a country competing with China aims to achieve similar growth with enormous investments in infrastructure such as railways. But the problem is the past performance, which is quite uninspiring. Probably, that's why Texmaco shares dipped 4.7% to Rs 142.25 on Wednesday, while Titagarh Wagons slipped 6.7% to Rs 378.3, as the measures announced were below the Street's expectations.

The rail network has increased to 64,015 kilometres now, from 53, 596 kilometres in 1950, a 19% increase in 60 years! That translates into 180 kilometres a year in 58 years and it is about 219 kilometres a year in the past five years. Even Ms Banerjee seems to be realising that these may be a tall order. Hence, the olive branch to private companies in an unprecedented manner, though with an assertion that the Railways won't be privatised and no forced land acquisition even if it is for her pet projects.


Texmaco had sold 4,071 wagons during FY09, while Titagarh Wagons had supplied 3,685 units in the previous financial year. And with realisations from each wagon at Rs 18.5–19.5 lakh, it should help provide the growth momentum for these companies, going forward. Texmaco's net sales were Rs 663.7 crore in the first nine months, a rise of 16.7% Y-o-Y, while Titagarh Wagons' net sales had declined 31.7% during this period. Also, the plans to set up five wagon factories on a PPP basis should help these key private sector suppliers. Texmaco trades at nearly 21.9 times on a trailing basis and is expensive, while Titagarh Wagons trades at 14.3 times and we are neutral. Kalindee Rail, trades at more than 60 times and is very expensive.


These companies also stand to gain from another proposal to set up five wagon-manufacturing units through joint ventures and the public-private partnership. With a risk-sharing model, the proposal would provide a boost to the revenues of these companies, apart from speeding up the wagon acquisition process for railways.


The proposal for 800 km of gauge conversion and 700 km of doubling rail lines over the next year should help players such as Kalindee Rail Nirman (Engineers) which reported net sales of Rs 99.5 crore in the first three quarters of FY10, a fall of 54.8% Y-o-Y. Depending on the pace of implementation of the latest project announcement, Kalindee should be able to expand its topline. Yet, the stock fell 5% to Rs 183.5 on Wednesday.


The announcement to provide clearance to private investment in 100 days and to speed up the projects would certainly aid the role of the private sector, as witnessed in other infrastructure sectors. Among the areas where railways eye a private sector role are development of tracks, project management, logistics for efficient movement of container traffic and development of land bank.


However, the real impact of this Budget comes to India Inc through the stated thrust on greater private participation. The other important proposal is to set up auto ancillary hub on a PPP model, which can provide significant efficiency gains to railways, through better maintenance and turnaround of wagons etc. Companies such as Bharat Forge, Amtek Auto and other auto ancillary companies can reap benefits from the proposal, although these companies will have to improvise and innovate to meet the needs of the Railways.

Texmaco trades at nearly 21.9 times on a trailing basis and is expensive, while Titagarh Wagon trades at 14.3 times and we are neutral. Kalindee Rail, trades at more than 60 times and is very expensive.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MIND IS SOMETHING DYNAMIC AND ALIVE

PARAMAHAMSA NITHYANANDA

 

Mind, according to vedic psychology, is a process.Mindisnota machine but a process. It is constantly happening. The word manas, which is the Sanskrit word for mind, means a constant happening, something that is not passive and dead but something that is dynamic and alive.


We all believe unconsciously that mind is matter , a thing or a machine. That is why constantly we connect all the past happenings of the mind as a chain, and start believing our mind is a solid thing. The low mood that you experienced years ago, months ago, weeks ago or days ago are all unconnected and independent incidents . Fifteen years ago, you would have felt the low mood and felt depressed because your toys were lost.

Few years ago you would have felt depressed or disturbed because your son was not listening to you. The reasons were different , situations were different, and the cause was totally different . However, when you connect all these low moods and decide , 'My life is full of depression ,' you have created hell for yourself! It is only what you believe to be your past that you will reproduce in the future.


When we believe the mind is a thing, we create problems that do not exist. You need to understand this one truth: you are a process, and that by your very nature, your thoughts are unconnected, independent and 'unclutched' .


What you think as your identity is not required for you to run your life. You may say, 'No, if I am unclutched, unconnected , how will I plan for my future ? I have deadlines , project plans , etc. How will I work? How will I run my day-today life?' These are big questions that haunt you.


You have an automatic intelligence to run, to maintain , to live and to expand your life. For example when you are driving, do you plan every step? Do you plan how much you need to press the accelerator, when you need to press the brake, when you need to turn right, turn left? No. In the initial level when you are getting trained, you may plan but once you learn driving, you just sit. Many times you don't even remember what happened while driving . Only when you park your car in front of your office, suddenly you realise that you have been driving all this time and even reached your destination!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

POPULIST TRAIN TO PRIVATIZATION

T K ARUN

 

It is easy to criticise Ms Mamata Banerjee's second budget as the present UPA government's railway minister, for its populism. She has resolutely refused to raise fares or freight tariffs, launched ever new projects touching hundreds of remote corners of the land and ended up with an operating ratio in excess of 92%, meaning that ordinary working expenses claim practically all her revenues, leaving little with which to fund new projects in this capital-intensive sector. And, of course, she has played the Bengal card. However, to dismiss the budget as populist would be to ignore a fundamental change she is heralding in the functioning of the Railways.

For one, the ambition. Lalu Yadav demonstrated that it was possible to become ambitious with the Railways. Riding the boom in the economy, he oversaw the Railways exhaust all the slack in the system , to squeeze out every possible extra penny that could be extracted sweating the existing assets of the organisation to the full. Mamata Banerjee is now following through on the Lalu performance, by announcing ambitious targets in capacity addition. New track to the tune of 1,000 km this coming fiscal, and 25,000 km by 2020, in contrast to the average route length added per year of 180 km since Independence and 280 km in the last, relatively more dynamic, five years.


She is talking of new high speed trains, naturally on dedicated corridors. She is now aiming to build new dedicated freight corridors in addition to the one already underway . She wants to connect industrial hubs with ports, metros with smaller towns, improve the quality of goods movement vastly, to a point where parcels would be collected from the point of dispatch by the Railways and delivered at the right address according to a guaranteed schedule.


At the same time, she wants to extend the Railways' reach to remote corners of India. The Railways are India's lifeline, she kept repeating, and even rail links that would not be commercially viable in a normal gestation period for private investment, need to be built, to create development.


The second crucial departure is in the area of private investment. Ms Banerjee proposes to greatly expand the size and role of the Railways, bringing in private investment . High-speed trains and port connectivity are commercially viable projects that should attract private investment, private management, commercial tariffs and commercial profits. There is every reason to bring in private investment in these areas.

And finally, political management. Mamata Banerjee swears she is neither corporatising nor privatising the Railways. She has the support of the Railways's 1.4 million workforce and its unions for her public-private-partnership (PPP) schemes . What she proposes to do is to make available the resources — land, access and the possibility of extending an established business — locked up in the Railways to the private sector to convert into profitmaking assets.


This is feasible and eminently desirable. While the organisational forms through which this ambition would be realised have not yet been worked out, it is realistic to expect that these would, indeed , be materialised.

Let us appreciate that the Railways have, in the past, spun off the Konkan Railway Corporation and the Container Corporation of India into separate entities, with a reasonable degree of success. The Container Corporation was lucky to be managed in its formative years by a set of people who gave it a lean, efficient work culture.

Today, the new competitive environment, rather than luck, would ensure that new corporate initiatives arising from the Railways would be run professionally and efficiently . The trick is to ensure that their organisational structure would insulate them from all that which makes public enterprises function sub-optimally . With private capital and entrepreneurship being used as building blocks of these new proposed public-private-partnership ventures, there is little reason to be cynical about the efficacy of what the minister has proposed.

In her own populist way, Ms Banerjee is reconfiguring public expenditure in the area of the Railways to what public expenditure should do: fund activity that is essential but would not be forthcoming from the private sector, that is, produce public goods, provide merit subsidy, while leaving commercially viable activity to private investment . Because the Railways have assets that the private sector can usefully tap, we need PPP structures to make these assets accessible by the private sector. And that is precisely what Ms Banerjee proposes.

Middle-class professionals entertain cynical contempt for populist politicians. They seriously underestimated Lalu Yadav , when he came to the railway ministry . Now, if they dismiss Ms Banerjee with equal ease, they are likely to have to open their mouths as wide as they did when they gaped as Mr Yadav quietly strode into Harvard case studies.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A RELOOK AT THE LINK BETWEEN GROWTH & EQUITY

MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH

 

Economists since Adam Smith have acknowledged the need for economic incentives for economic development and the consequent inequality in economic rewards as the necessary price for economic incentives. Others like Lerner spoke of functional and dysfunctional equalities, distinguishing between those that promote economic development and those that do not.


Nonetheless, in the intellectual mindset, there is general abhorrence for growing income inequalities and any reduction in inequality is universally taken as advancing equity. Is that necessarily so? A recent paper by Suresh Tendulkar looks at the converse relationship: are rising income inequalities unambiguously inequitable?

Standard measures of inequality such as Gini coefficients, the paper argues, can be misleading predictors of the adverse social consequences of growing economic inequalities. Society's tolerance of inequalities in the presence of income mobility during the rapid economic growth may actually turn out to be greater than what can be predicted on the basis of greater measured inequalities.


In Tendulkar's view, this might explain the 'shocking' response of a Chinese vice-minister at a 1987 World Bank conference when, in response to a question from Manmohan Singh, then deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, on the possible adverse consequences on income distribution of market reform, the minister retorted he hoped it would!


The paper provides an economic rationale for rising economic inequalities during periods of rapid growth in terms of the income mobility consequences of economic growth argument of Kuznets, the equity argument of Tibor Scitovsky and the social tolerance of inequalities during economic development generated by a micro-level signaling effect suggested by Hirschman (the tunnel effect).


In Kuznets' view, economic growth in the early phase tends to accentuate relative income inequalities due to rapid structural changes involving accelerated growth of certain high-productivity dynamic (usually urban industrial) sectors relative to other slow-growing low-productivity (usually rural agricultural) sectors.


However, the sheer rapidity of structural shifts in the rapid growth process would generate new economic opportunities so fast that they would overwhelm social and economic barriers to income mobility and inequalities would become less marked over time.


Tibor Scitovsky, one of the early economists to look at income inequalities, suggested three criteria for social acceptability of economic inequalities. One, those inequalities correlated with merit or people's contribution to society that can be broadly identified with Lerner's functional inequalities. Two, those that arise despite an environment of equality of opportunity that allows everyone to aspire to move up the income ladder. And three, those that go with improvement in the well-being of those at the bottom of the ladder.


Scitovsky took the first two criteria as given and focused on the third, linking an improvement in equity to increased availability and affordability of necessities of life in a society that would improve the well-being of those at the bottom of the income ladder.


Hirschman argued that in a rapidly-growing economy, an improvement in the economic well-being of others may signal a benign external environment and generate hope for the rest. This hope or 'expectational calculus' produces gratification that overcomes envy and raises society's tolerance for inequalities.


Tendulkar concludes that equity would be advanced in the normal course of market operations without government intervention for reducing inequalities if technological changes reduce the relative price of one or more necessities of life or by enhancing the supply and consumption of necessities like food. This is what happened in China during the transition from collective farming to individual household responsibility system that generated economic incentives that were instrumental in enhancing the supply and consumption of necessities like food.


So, contrary to widespread belief, certain types of market outcomes can be equity-enhancing as opposed to the usual intellectual presumption that all market outcomes are necessarily inequitable. Now, if only the rampaging Maoists in central India were enlightened enough to read Tendulkar's paper, growth might get a chance!

(Suresh Tendulkar: Inequality and Equity during Rapid Growth Process, India's Economy: Performance and Challenges: Essays in Honour of Montek Singh Ahluwalia)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BUDGET FOR GROWTH & AAM AADMI: MAMATA BANERJEE

 

Mamata Banerjee's railway budget was on expected lines. Populist and please-all, directed more towards the coming Bengal elections than to the rail economy. But the belligerent Trinamool Cabinet minister is quick to defend her position and the decision behind the new plans. Railways, to her, is the lifeline of the economy and it has to be more than just an economic proposition. Suchetna Ray and Nirbhay Kumar caught up her soon after the budget to understand the nuts and bolts of the gravy train even as Ms Banerjee was busy drawing cartoons as a stress-bursting exercise. Excerpts:


The Opposition has slammed your budget as being a Bengal budget — what about your UPA partners? Are they happy with what you have proposed for the railways?


I am happy the Opposition had something to say. It would otherwise be too dull. As far as UPA allies, I got my biggest recognition from the prime minister who applauded me for presenting such a budget, directed at both growth and the common man. I received 500 requests and I went through each one of them to ensure there is something for every part of the country.


Fare hikes have been kept away as a populist move. Why so? And how do you proposed to meet the expenses?


We had saved Rs 2,000 crore through austerity measures and that is what we have given to our rail passengers. We will fund the projects through our resources and through private partnerships. We have done our small bit towards taming inflation through the marginal reduction in freight for foodgrain and kerosene.

You have spoken about public private partnership. How do you propose to get this going? In which areas?

We would like private industry to partner us in almost all our core activities from building coaches, and wagons to laying lines. We intent to make the projects ready with all the clearances in place and then invite private participation. The idea would be to set up a task force to look and monitor these projects so that industry is not hassled unnecessarily.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'SIMPLE BPO OPS WILL NO LONGER BE PROFITABLE'

PEERZADA ABRAR

 

Indian IT companies have over-leveraged their traditional advantages of offering cost-arbitrage and skilled labour. Local IT companies need to get a global makeover to bid for the government and civilian outsourcing contracts in other countries, senior associate dean at Harvard Business School Professor David B Yoffie said in an interview with ET . Excerpts:


How do Indian IT companies fare in the global scene?

Some of the big US and European companies have come to India and have capitalised on the traditional advantage that India offers — namely high-quality talent available at low-cost. IBM has 75,000 people here, Accenture has 100,000 employees, while HP has 50,000 people here. The traditional advantages that India offered have already been tapped.


What kind of strategies do Indian IT firms need to have?


All Indian IT companies need to be more creative and create newer services and go beyond their labour arbitrage strategy, which has served them well for 15 years. Many IT companies are beginning to realise that offering simple BPO or outsourcing jobs is not going to be profitable as in the past.


What kind of impact will this make on outsourcing to India?

I don't think there is an imminent threat and will not destroy the IT industry in India. But the long-term challenge will be to develop newer services and find other areas in the value chain to operate. For example, cloud computing is a challenging area Indian IT firms can tap.


When companies such as IBM, HP, Google and Microsoft start hosting all their IT activities for a larger number of companies, then the traditional role of outsourcing will begin to change dramatically.


What are the challenges?

Making a transition to a new model is hard and this includes a lot of investment. Cloud computing will put a lot of pressure on existing businesses. However, the traditional model of outsourcing is not going to change overnight because IT firms such as Wipro, TCS and Infosys have deep ties with their existing customers.

What are the newer businesses that can be tapped by Indian companies through outsourcing?

Indian IT firms need to get a global makeover so that they can compete in markets that have a larger role in the IT economy. For example, the healthcare segment needs to be more IT intensive and efficient.


And, if Indian and global companies are not doing it, they are limiting their long-term goals. Most of the healthcare in the US is private and is run by health maintenance organisations. This offers a lucrative

opportunity.

Do you think Indian IT companies can tap business contracts offered by the US government?

It depends on the US government. They have to take a call on what they want to outsource to Indian companies. IT also depends on how sensitive the information is.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TARGET INDIA IS A LONG-TERM STRATEGIC ASSET

SARAH JACOB

 

Target Corporation, the second-largest discount retailer in the US after Wal-Mart, sees its Indian operations as a vital cog in the profound shifts taking place in its global expansion. Though the $64-billion company maintains an India retail entry is still far off, it is upbeat on its Bangalore captive centre that employs 2,100 people.

Target India was set up in 2005 to complement the company's Minneapolis headquarters with critical problem-solving capabilities in retail analytics, marketing and technology. Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president & CEO of Target Corporation, tells ET the Indian offshoot's forthcoming plans and its significance to the overall strategy given that it is spearheading many business intelligence systems initiatives as well as its pharmacy push. Excerpts:


As the company grows, where will India figure in Target's retail architecture in the coming years?

We operate three retail formats that stretches between a store size of 1, 35, 000 sq ft and 1,75, 000 sq ft. This could ultimately grow from 1,740 stores today to around 2,500-3,000 stores as we believe there is ample opportunity and the returns would be higher for us to intensify the number of stores within the US. However, we may need to open smaller stores where large land parcels are unavailable in dense urban areas to cater to consumers who fit our demographics.


Ultimately, we will grow into an international retail company but the first step would be to expand north to Canada or south to Mexico and Latin America. We're not thinking beyond yet as this represents a decade of our growth and thinking. Entering India with the formats that exist today will be fairly premature at this point.


So where does Target India fall in the company's global scheme of things?

Target India is a long-term strategic asset for the company and is an extension of our corporate headquarters. It allows us to holistically look at enterprise-level opportunities and how best we could engage in it. We have expanded our facilities in India to three offices across 0.5 million sq ft in Bangalore and there's no part of the organisation that isn't already represented at Target India.


Any expansion of functions will be timed on the success of our retail business, focus on initiatives and how that would match up with the skill sets of our team in India. The time difference advantage between the countries combined with the talent pool in India has been responsible for Target India being at the centre of creative marketing, analytics & reporting for improved productivity and key technology implementations.


Which are the strategic initiatives being driven by the Target India team?

Target India has been driving business intelligence systems initiatives that range from store organisation to merchandising. It has also been at the lead in an enterprise-wide initiative called TGT 100, which is our financial SAP systems implementation. The platform, which will go live in a few months, will support all our basic accounting and finance functions. In the US, Home Depot and Wal-Mart are also rolling out the same platform. It has also been our goal to be competitive against the best-in-class operators across various retail categories.

Take, for instance, the pharmacy, OTC products and beauty segment, which is among the company's fastest-growing and profitable businesses. We intend to increase our market share in this segment from 4% by moving from a third-party to a Target owned and operated pharmacy system, spearheaded by the India team.

Target India is said to be rolling out a game-changing platform in online retailing, designed to strengthen the company's multi-channel strategy. When will it take off?


Project Everest is an intensive effort to transform our retail website to deliver better consumer experience and interactivity, drawing the consumer to pay more visits and stay longer to finally translate into higher conversion rates.

Target.com operated on Amazon's platform since 2001 and we intend to bring this in-house. Although it contributes less than 3% of the total retail sales, it is growing at a fast clip and will help us leapfrog competitors. It is scheduled to be re-launched in the third quarter of 2010.

 

As Target Corporation has a strong apparel and homeware bent, does India figure as a large sourcing hub?
Around 40% of our total sales and a higher percentage of our profits are contributed by the apparel and homeware segments. Our sourcing priorities mandate markets that have high quality fabrics, trims, design and details. India is an important part of our global sourcing network as we have offices in New Delhi and Bangalore.

At this point, we are unlikely do expand sourcing offices in India because this is sufficiently meeting our needs. There has also been a shift in the sourcing mix away from discretionary categories over the recent past. But we don't expect that to stay the same as we are focused on a long-term game.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MAMATA'S WISHLIST: WHO'LL PAY FOR IT?

 

The Railway minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee's Budget proposals on Wednesday appear long on ambition, great on intent but short on specifics about the actual implementation of announced projects. The ambitious long-awaited freight corridor project, she said, would depend on land acquisition, going on to promise that one member of each displaced family would be given a job. This formula was rejected long back as people asked to give up land and homes are no longer willing to accept exploitative conditions such as getting a low-level government job in return. In the same vein, many other proposed projects are dependent on land being available, and Ms Banerjee has already pledged that there will be no forcible acquisition by the railways. Or take the other exciting promise — that 1,000 km in new tracks will be laid in just a year. If this actually happens Ms Banerjee will easily overtake roads and highways minister Mr Kamal Nath in terms of performance; but the reality is that in the past 50 years the railways have managed just 180 km of new tracks in a year. How this quantum jump will be achieved in 2010-11 has not been explained. Ms Banerjee might get a better idea were she to spend more time at Rail Bhavan, to do which she will have to balance her political ambitions in West Bengal with her duty to the travelling public of the entire country. It is true, as she says, that the railways have some very good officers, but in the end the leadership and vision must come from the minister. Having said that, it is undeniable that if much of the new projects come to fruition, they will change the face of the magnificent rail network that already exists, which needs proper maintenance and care. Long-distance passengers, in particular, need cleanliness, hygienic food and — above all — security when travelling. She has provided for clean (and cheaper) drinking water, and plans six new bottling plants for this. On security, the provision for female personnel to protect women on trains is welcome, but the railway minister correctly pointed out that the primary responsibility of ensuring passenger safety lay with the state governments. Ms Banerjee managed to walk the tightrope on balancing the need for economic viability and social desirability while extending the rail network to hitherto virgin areas, specially in the Northeast. To no one's surprise, she managed a heavy tilt in new trains and projects for West Bengal a year before it holds landmark state Assembly elections. Given the weightage in favour of the incumbent railway minister's home state, which has come to be the norm, it might be time to consider whether a new, transparent and equitable mechanism needs to be put in place to determine where new trains or railway lines are needed. There is renewed focus on public-private partnership, an idea first floated by Mr Lalu Prasad, and the plan for a special task force with a 100-day decision deadline is forward movement. The travelling public will be happy there is no increase in passenger fares or freight charges, but there are fears this might happen later quietly by the back door.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A TWO-FRONT DEFENCE

BY S.K. SINHA

 

Statements by the Indian Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor, regarding India's two-front strategy created an uproar in the Pakistan media and in that country's strategic community. His earlier statement — about the possibility of a conventional war between nuclear weapons powers — also drew much flak. The Pakistani media seems to be treating these statements as a virtual declaration of war against Pakistan. Interestingly, a liberal Pakistani journalist has found nothing wrong in them. Ayaz Amir, writing in the News, stated, "What did the Indian Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor, say that has us so upset? His reported remarks that India was modifying its military doctrine to include the possibility of a two-front war — that is against China and Pakistan — what is wrong with this? If an Indian Army Chief were not to envisage a two-front war and mull over the means of waging it, he would deserve to be sacked". Amir's voice is a lone one in Pakistan.

 

In 1950, the Chinese Army moved into Tibet. Despite the then cordial relations between India and China, Sardar Patel, in his letter dated November 17, 1950, to Jawaharlal Nehru, warned him of the danger that lurked in the north. Four weeks later, Sardar Patel died. Nehru chose to ignore his warning. He told General Cariappa, the then Army Chief, to focus on Pakistan and that he would deal with China. The Army worked on a one-front strategy which led to India suffering a humiliating defeat in 1962.

 

With a growing Sino-Pak nexus and the continuing hostility of these two countries towards India, a two-front strategy is imperative for the defence of India. During the 1965 Indo-Pak war, China gave us an open ultimatum. In 1971, we worked on a two-front strategy. The war in Bangladesh was deferred till climatic conditions ruled out a major Chinese offensive. Our defences in the Himalayas were kept in situ. The Indo-Soviet treaty of friendship kept China at bay. Thus the desperate pleadings of the beleaguered Pakistan Army in Bangladesh for Chinese intervention went unheeded. Given the above history and Pakistan's ongoing proxy war, as also increasing Chinese belligerence, it would be an act of madness for India not to have a two-front strategy. In fact, after 26/11, we also need to focus on our coasts, which have now become a third front.

 

The other statement of Gen. Kapoor, that "a limited war under a nuclear overhang is still very much a possibility in the Indian subcontinent", has also been disputed. The Kargil war underscored this. The rationale behind India and Pakistan having large armies for conventional war substantiates this possibility. However, the Pakistan Army Chief's assertion of ruling out a limited war under a nuclear overhang fits in with Pakistan successfully pursuing its policy of nuclear blackmail. This has been providing a shield for Pakistan's cross-border terrorism and terror attacks. Even in the wake of the two-front controversy, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has flexed Pakistan's nuclear muscle, pointing out that they have missiles with longer ranges than what India possesses.

 

Gen. Kapoor's statement on two-front strategy is perfectly legitimate but is being deliberately misrepresented in Pakistan to promote a war psychosis. The Pakistan government's official spokesperson had asked the world to take due note of India's intentions. Its foreign minister, S.M. Qureshi, had called the statement "absurd" and "irresponsible". General Tariq Majid, Chairman of Pakistan's Joint Chiefs of Staff, called it outlandish, saying, "Leave alone China, Gen. Deepak Kapoor knows very well that the Indian Armed Forces cannot and what the Pakistan Armed Forces can pull it off militarily". Gen. Kayani had talked of the Pakistan Army suitably dealing with "Indian military adventurism". A defence analyst in Pakistan saw in Gen. Kapoor's statement a shift in civil-military relations in India with the weight moving in favour of the military. Another enquired if Delhi was preventing a fourth battle of Panipat or instigating one.

 

While reactions in Pakistan have been hysterical, it is significant that there has been no reaction or comment from China. Every country needs a strategy to defend its frontiers in worst-case scenarios. If it had been stated that India was planning to force a two-front strategy on Pakistan, such a virulent reaction from Pakistan would be understandable. The war hysteria in Pakistan is being generated perhaps to find an excuse for not moving troops from Pakistan's eastern front to pursue the war on terror with greater vigour on the Durand Line, or to get more aid from the US to improve its military strength against India. The second possibility seems to have worked. Pakistan's long-standing demand for drones has now been conceded.

 

Gen. Kapoor has also been criticised for talking out of turn. But he discussed the two-front strategy in a closed-door military seminar which was leaked to the press. This has done no harm. After a retired Naval Chief's public statement that India cannot match China in the Indian Ocean and a serving Air Chief's concern about the Indian Air Force being one-third the size of the Chinese Air Force, it is good for the nation to know that the Army is capable of defending India with its two-front strategy.

 

India has never invaded any country nor coveted any foreign territory. Ashoka the Great propagated world peace, the likes of which was never attempted by any other ruler in the history of mankind. He did this from a position of military strength. After Independence, India tried to do so from a position of military weakness. This led to the debacle of 1962. The impregnability of the Himalayas, the invincibility of our Army and the infallibility of our foreign policy were shattered. Today, as never before, we need to promote peace from a position of strength.

 

- The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

IRAQ'S KNOWN UNKNOWNS, STILL UNKNOWN

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

From the very beginning of the United States' intervention in Iraq and the effort to build some kind of democracy there, a simple but gnawing question has lurked in the background: Was Iraq the way Iraq was (a dictatorship) because Saddam was the way Saddam was, or was Saddam the way Saddam was because Iraq was the way Iraq was — a collection of warring sects incapable of self-rule and only governable with an iron fist?

 

Alas, some seven years after the US toppled Saddam's government, a few weeks before Iraq's second democratic national election, and in advance of the pullout of American forces, this question still has not been answered.

 

Will Iraq's new politics triumph over its cultural divides, or will its cultural/sectarian divides sink its fledgling democracy? We still don't know.

 

In many ways, Iraq is a test case for the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's dictum that "the central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself".

 

Ironically, though, it was the neo-conservative Bush team that argued that culture didn't matter in Iraq, and that the prospect of democracy and self-rule would automatically bring Iraqis together to bury the past. While many liberals and realists contended that Iraq was an irredeemable tribal hornet's nest and we should not be sticking our hand in there; it was a place where the past would always bury the future.

 

But stick we did, and in so doing we gave Iraqis a chance to do something no other Arab people have ever had a chance to do: freely write their own social contract on how they would like to rule themselves and live together.

 

With elections set for March 7, with America slated to shrink to 50,000 troops by September — and down to zero by the end of 2011 — Iraqis will have to decide how they want to exploit this opportunity.

 

I met last week with Gen. Ray Odierno, the overall US commander in Iraq, who along with vice-president Joe Biden has done more to coach, coax, cajole and occasionally shove Iraqis away from the abyss than anyone else. I found the general hopeful but worried. He was hopeful because he has seen Iraqis go to the brink so many times and then pull back, but worried because sectarian violence is steadily creeping back ahead of the elections and certain Shia politicians, like the former Bush darling Ahmed Chalabi — whom Gen. Odierno indicated is clearly "influenced by Iran" and up to no good — have been trying to exclude some key Sunni politicians from the election.

 

It is critical, said Odierno, that "Iraqis feel that the elections are credible and legitimate" and that the democratic process is working. "I don't want the campaigning to lead to a sectarian divide again", he added. "I worry that some elements will feel politically isolated and will not have the ability to influence and participate".

 

How might this play out?

 

The ideal but least likely scenario is that we see the emergence of an Iraqi Shia Nelson Mandela. The Shias, long suppressed by Iraq's Baathist-led Sunni minority, are now Iraq's ruling majority. Could Iraq produce a Shia politician, who, like Mandela, would be a national healer — someone who would use his power to lead a real reconciliation instead of just a Shia dominion? So far, no sign of it.

 

Even without a Mandela, Iraq could still hold together, and thrive, if its rival Sunni, Shia and Kurdish communities both recognise the new balance of power — that the Shias are now the dominant community in Iraq and, ultimately, will have the biggest say — and the new limits of power.

 

No community can assert its will by force and, therefore, sectarian disputes have to be resolved politically.

 

The two scenarios you don't want to see are: 1) Iraq's tribal culture triumphing over politics and the country becoming a big Somalia with oil; or 2) as America fades away, Iraq's Shia government aligning itself more with Iran, and Iran becoming the kingmaker in Iraq the way Syria has made itself in Lebanon.

 

Why should we care when we're leaving? Quite simply, so much of the turmoil in the region was stoked over the years by Saddam's Iraq and Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran, both financed by billions in oil revenues. If, over time, a decent democratising regime could emerge in Iraq and a similar one in Iran — so that oil wealth was funding reasonably decent regimes rather than retrograde ones — the whole West Asia would be different.

 

The odds, though, remain very long. In the end, it will come back to that nagging question of politics versus culture. Personally, I'm a believer in the argument Lawrence Harrison makes in his book The Central Liberal Truth — culture matters, a lot more than we think, but cultures can change, a lot more than we expect. But such change takes time, leadership and often pain.

 

Which is why, I suspect, Iraqis will surprise us — for good and for ill — a lot more before they finally answer the question: Who are we and how do we want to live together?

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

AN ECONOMY IN RECOVERY

 

STIMULUS PULLOUT WILL DERAIL GROWTH

HARSH PATI SINGHANIA

While we are seeing signs of recovery, the need to continue with the fiscal stimulus measures and easy monetary policy cannot be denied. Any abrupt withdrawal of stimulus at this stage indeed would derail the growth process and adversely impact the industrial sector.

 

It is a matter of concern that growth in private consumption expenditure came down to 6.8 per cent in 2008-09 and further to 4.1 per cent in 2009-10 — much lower than 8-9 per cent seen in previous years. Similarly there has been sharp slowdown in growth in gross capital formation in 2008-09 and 2009-10 compared to those in previous years. All these are also reflected in data on low credit off-take from banks. In other words the economic growth is largely due to stimulus measures including increase in government expenditure.

 

There is no dispute that fiscal deficit has to be contained but the question is one of timing. The government can pursue its Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) targets after the economic recovery has taken firmer root. Such a recovery will itself help to raise revenues and thereby meet FRBM targets. Also faster growth can help ease supply side constraints and will be the best antidote to contain rising inflation.

 

It is in this context that the Budget should basically adopt a strategy for growth with employment generation. Focus should be to bring back growth to agriculture on a sustained basis, infrastructure development, emphasis on social sector especially on education and health, skill development and human capital formation. While keeping the stimulus package the government can increase its income by raising revenues through disinvestment, utilising assets like government land and through the 3G auction. Outcome should receive priority over outlays by better targeting of subsidies.

 

While it may be difficult to roll out goods and service tax (GST) from April 2010 as originally envisaged, it is important that all efforts are made to implement it at the earliest. GST when implemented can be a game changer. GST will reduce distortions in production structure leading to more efficient utilisation of resources and hence higher GDP. GST will also help widening the tax base and will enable government to garner greater revenue. By dovetailing exit from stimulus with GST implementation and through measures suggested above we will be able to achieve fiscal consolidation without hurting the growth impulses being seen in the economy.

 

— Harsh Pati Singhania is Ficci president and a director of JK Organisation

 

CUTDOWN WON'T AFFECT ECONOMY

DIPANKAR MITRA

What is the extent of stimulus India has given? By most accommodative estimates it is 6.1 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). This takes into account the entire slippage from FRBM target (Centre's FY09 fiscal deficit at 6.2 per cent as against the FRBM target of 2.5 per cent), along with off-balance sheet items (oil and fertiliser bonds at 1.8 per cent of GDP) and increase in state governments' deficit (from 2.1 per cent to 2.7 per cent). However, the real countercyclical fiscal stimulus measures that were implemented between December-February FY09 in the form of tax cuts and infrastructure spending came on top of an already announced expanded NREGA scheme, the farm loan waiver package and Sixth Pay Commission implementation. Compared to other G-20 countries, India's fiscal stimulus at 0.5 per cent of GDP places it near the bottom of the table as per an IMF estimate vs the US (5.9 per cent) , China (4.8 per cent) and Japan (2.2 per cent). These countries not only continued with their stimulus through 2009 but will also do so in 2010, regardless of the opinion of the rating agencies and bond market.

 

India, however, scored in the composition of stimulus measures with emphasis on spending rather than a tax cut besides a timely frontloading that averted further slowdown. Whilst these stimulus measures were widely expected to continue in FY10, latest available figures for April-December 2009 indicate substantial cutback across all spending categories (viz., plan, non-plan, revenue, capital). Compared to an increase in budgetary provisions running into mid-30s actual spending increase under these heads has averaged around 20-25 per cent in this period. Spending growth lagged budgetary provisions for big budget ministries, like chemicals and fertilisers, rural development, road transport and the finance ministry itself. A reported Rs one lakh crore is lying unused with several ministries.

 

On the revenue side the government has embarked on far-reaching reforms in the form of implementation of the Direct Tax Code, GST and renegotiation of tax treaties with 77 countries. Whilst each of these reforms have a timeline beyond one year the current Budget is expected to lay the ground in preparation of these. Hence the widely expected withdrawal of tax concessions, of excise duties and Cenvat, although extended as part of the stimulus measure, need not be viewed solely as stimulus withdrawal measures.

 

Dipankar Mitra is an economist with the Noble Group

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WAKE UP, IN THE TRUE SENSE

BY V. BALAKRISHNAN

 

Waking up from sleep and getting up from bed seem to most of us to be truly mundane tasks. But are they so?

 

Indian tradition insists that we should get up in the Brahma muhoortham i.e., an auspicious time 48 minutes before the sunrise, and do our morning routines. It is believed that if we sleep during this time, it will affect our health adversely and will land us in penury in the long run.

 

There is surely something in these beliefs since traditional Indian lore emerges from close observation and true interpretation of phenomena. Most of the customs and practices it prescribes have much practical value and also a direct impact on our material life.

 

Therefore, you have to get up in the early morning, turning to the right. But then you should not immediately jump out of bed and walk out.

 

Once you are awake, sit on the bed placing the palms face up and chant mantras on Goddesses Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Gouri.

 

There is a science behind this too. While we are sleeping, the blood circulation is at a low pace. But when we stand erect all of a sudden, the heart has to exert more energy to pump more blood. This can even cause cardiac arrest in weak people.

 

This is why our forefathers were particular on leaving the bed in stages. By the time we gradually stand erect, the level of blood circulation becomes normal.

 

Ancient rishis of India have also advocated the observance of touching Mother Earth with our hands before we stand on our feet. Through this act we are apologising to the earth for treading on her. This practice too cannot be discarded as superstition. Apart from the ecological aspect of it, there is also a question of energy levels.

 

The energy within the body of a person while s/he is asleep is called static or potential energy. But as s/he gets up, it becomes dynamic or kinetic energy.

 

Static energy is impure. As we touch the earth with our fingers, it is believed that the impure energy leaves the body and pure energy gets filled in.

 

It we place our feet first on the earth, the energy flows down and the body becomes weak. On the other hand, if we place our palms first on the earth, positive energy gets absorbed and negative or impure energy leaves the body at the same time.

 

As we touch the earth, we should chant:"Samudra Vasane Devi
Parvathasthana MandaleVishnu Patnim NamasthubhyamPadasparsam Kshamaswame"This shloka assumes Mother Earth as the one clad in seas. She is the wife of Lord Vishnu who maintains and sustains all living beings on earth. We should start our day by remaining humble before an entity that gives us space to live in. If we start off like this, we will retain our mental balance throughout the day.

 

— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the authorof Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals.

He has also written books on the Vedasand Upanishads. The author can be reached
at drvenganoor@yahoo.co.in [1]

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

BETWEEN THE LINES

 

Headlines from the US, most of which you will never get to read:

 

* Iraq War rebranded "Operation New Dawn": Afghanistan war rebranded "Operation Old Girlfriend Who Just Won't Go Away".

 

* US now owes Japan more than China; Adjust your subservience accordingly.

 

* Two-thirds of New Yorkers hear their neighbours having sex: Most put ear to wall, but use of high-tech equipment gaining in popularity.

 

* George W. Bush lawyers showed "poor judgment" writing torture memos: Obama lawyers show "poor judgment" letting Bush lawyers off.

 

* Pentagon says worst arms programmes already cut: Rest of $663.8 billion defence budget vital to maintaining $663.8 billion defence budget.

 

* One-third of Americans have some hearing loss: If you want more done about this, speak up.

 

* US President Barack Obama meets with the Dalai Lama: In conciliatory gesture, they eat Chinese takeout.

 

* Study says overweight live longer: Did somebody say McDonald's?

 

* Oscar winners told not to thank mom this year: And thank no more than three agents.

 

* Study says vacationers most happy before vacation: When they still have money.

 

* Elton John says Jesus was gay: Also Peter Pan, Captain Hook.

 

* Study says babies exposed to two languages in womb more open to being bilingual: According to Desi Arnaz, Jr.

 

From ironictimes.com

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

MEASURED RESPONSE

NO QUICKFIX NAXAL REMEDY

 

RIGHTLY has the home ministry refused to allow itself to be pressured by the high-decibel (empty vessels make the loudest sound, schoolmasters of yore insisted) exhortations on television to roll out the red carpet to the so-called offer for talks from a Maoist leader whose control over the violent rebels is not as established as his capacity to attract the attention of a section of the media. The statement of the home minister is uncomplicated yet authoritative: abjure violence, no pre-conditions. What prompted the media-savvy Kishenji (or was it one of his sidekicks?) to make the initial offer is a matter of speculation ~ loss of public sympathy after Silda, division within the ranks, fears that the security forces were poised to gain the initiative even if there is no "Green Hunt", and conversely, only a ploy to regroup in advance of fresh forays? All these, indeed much more, have to be factored-in to the strategy/tactics that the central and state governments must jointly formulate to exploit what just might be an opportunity. True only a negotiated settlement, backed by an effective socio-economic development package will restore normality ~ terms like "peace" and "cease-fire" have no place in this debate ~ but it is still unclear if the "military" operations have progressed enough to force a Maoist re-think. Some of the cheeky comments of the electronic media's idol suggest otherwise.      


Old-fashioned as this may sound, and certainly unpleasant to Maoist apologists who find it fashionable to masquerade as human rights activists, as well as to those seeking political mileage, this is no simple dispute in the Robin Hood mould. The Indian state is being defied by groups who reject the Constitution and the rule of law. Their violence cannot be condoned, and it is criminal to equate it with police action, even if the latter is often not what the operation manual prescribes. It is a complex situation, hard decisions are required.
The home ministry need not be rigid, but it must not even appear to be soft. There must be no compromising the basics of effective governance. The flip side being that once the talks get underway the government proves accommodating, and then goes into overdrive to implement what it may have offered. In both the Northeast and Jammu & Kashmir the indifference that followed talks led to stagnation on the ground, distrust and suspicion at the other level. The nation could do without such repetition. Just as it could with farcical asides such as the minister's offer of a fax number being met with a rebel's announcement of his mobile phone number!

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

OPTIONS FOR GURUNG 

POLITICAL PANEL OFFERS NEW HOPE


JASWANT Singh, BJP candidate in Darjeeling in the last parliamentary election, may not get the rousing ovation that he did when he began his campaign on his party's tacit assurance that it would put the Gorkhaland issue on its agenda if returned to power. The situation changed after the results with the MP himself being expelled. That has not prevented the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha from reposing its faith in political parties rather than in bureaucrats with whom it has held fruitless talks. To that extent, the Morcha has reason to be delighted that the Centre has decided to set up a "political committee'' to decide on issues relating to the Gorkha agitation. The satisfaction is circumscribed by the truth that most, if not all, parties have put their foot down on the statehood demand. The new committee can at best provide Bimal Gurung with an opportunity to interact with decision makers and then seek the best bargain. The mood in the hills has, on account of the Morcha's sustained agitations, been volatile for more than a year. Gurung is now obliged to show results.
But it should be clear that the committee, however sympathetic it might be, may not be in a position to reverse a near consensus that is evident on the question of statehood. If Gurung is part of the committee, he may have to settle for the next best option which is an expanded Hill Council, extended powers and more money from the Centre. Even here there is the tricky demand for adding new areas from the plains to which there is strong resistance. In any case, the deliberations of the political committee may be a prolonged affair during which the Morcha would have to hold back its militant posturing.


In order to dislodge Subash Ghisingh, his former colleagues and now adversaries in the Morcha had deliberately raised the temperature. They may now realise that it would be disastrous to prolong the stalemate and keep the hills economically and administratively handicapped for an indefinite period. The centrally appointed committee could be the Morcha's best hope for legitimising its supremacy in the manner that Ghisingh had done for two decades. It can spurn this opportunity at its own cost.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

HABITS DIE HARD

DEFECTION REFLECTS REALPOLITIK IN NAGALAND 


DUMP one party, join another and get Rs 10 crore. However incredible this may sound, it reflects the state of politics in Nagaland, if the state Congress unit chief is to be believed. He has charged chief minister Neiphiu Rio with luring two of his party legislators by offering each of them that amount to join the Nagaland People's Front. A furious NPF president shot back, arguing that his was a small party and it was preposterous to assume it could afford such a huge amount. He dared the opposition to substantiate its charges. The Congress said it would do so at an appropriate time. Given the comfortable majority ~ 32 legislators of its own ~ it is hard to see why the NPF was in so dire a need to strengthen its position. In fact, the NPF won 26 seats in the 2008 assembly elections.


  Before the 2009 parliamentary elections, four Congress MLAs defected to the NPF and they were given party tickets to contest by-elections held with the Lok Sabha poll. All of them were elected. Recently, two BJP legislators joined the NPF, thus taking its tally to 32. It would appear that the whole exercise was cleverly planned to outmanoeuvre possible dissent within the party. In 2007, the Congress had tried to form a government with the help of NPF legislators who defected. But the Centre was not happy with the partisan manner in which the speaker acted to help Rio defeat a no-confidence move against him by declaring dissident votes invalid, and Presidents's rule had to be imposed for a brief period before the 2008 assembly polls.
Every MLA in the North-east aspires to not only be a cabinet minister but also has an eye on a plum portfolio. It is possible the defectors were promised cabinet berths, but given the mandatory downsizing of the ministry not many can be accommodated. And favouring defectors results in simmering anger and frustration among party loyalists. To be fair, Rio must ensure that engineering defections does not become a self-defeating exercise.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

HELMAND OFFENSIVE

MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS AS BATTLE CONTINUES

SALMAN HAIDAR


THE current offensive against the Taliban in the lower Helmand valley is the first big test of the new US policy in Afghanistan. The reinforced troops from the USA, in coordination with British and Afghan troops, have undertaken a big drive to turn the Taliban out of one of their premier strongholds, the settlement of Marjah. This is in a region of productive agriculture along the course of the Helmand river, crisscrossed with canals, tall standing crops and many village habitations. It is a setting that suits the rebels, who can readily find cover and melt into the local population. They are deeply entrenched and have become virtual masters of the place, for the writ of the official administration does not count for much. One result is that poppy cultivation thrives, adding to the local revenues that the insurgents can access, which in turn feeds the cycle of revolt and defiance. Overwhelming force has now been deployed in the area, and strong military formations are in the field against the elusive Taliban.


Though the operation is not over yet, there are quite a few battlefield reports to give an idea of what has been happening. These reports come mainly from reporters "embedded" with the troops, embedding being a practice that was prominent in Iraq and is now to be seen in Afghanistan. Though there are limitations to what the embedded media can report, a fairly comprehensive overview of the Helmand battles has emerged. It appears that progress by the attacking forces has been uneven, with US and Afghan troops having encountered much resistance while the British troops, in a less difficult area, have advanced more rapidly.


Military objectives

BUT nowhere has it been smooth sailing, for the Taliban have not just melted away; they have fought back and succeeded in holding up the advance in some places. The superior firepower, air command, and all the technological advantages of the attackers suggest that they may be delayed somewhat but cannot be prevented from attaining their military objectives.


A big concern of the forces engaged in the assault is to avoid civilian casualties. Civilian losses in previous campaigns have provoked an incensed public reaction, to the extent that President Karzai has felt compelled more than once to criticize the international forces responsible for damaging incidents. Despite all the care in Helmand, there have been some fatal, misdirected attacks on civilians. There is controversy about the worst such incident, as to whether it was a weapon that went astray or a strike called on a wrong target. As Taliban and local population are often mixed together, it can be virtually impossible to discriminate between them. But despite such incidents, the reports from the front suggest that locally the civil population is not hostile to the attackers. One has to be careful in assessing such reports, given the circumstances. Even so, there is quite a lot of evidence to suggest that the Taliban are not popular in the area and the local people would be glad to see them pushed out. One can recall that when the US troops and their allies first went in to Afghanistan and chased the ruling Taliban away, they were hailed with genuine enthusiasm.


Even while the battle continues, USA and its allies are looking at what comes next. They realize that the traditional way of assessing success, which is a body count to show the magnitude of the losses on the other side, is meaningless in the present context. The proper measure must be the ability to assure the safety and security of the civil population against the pressures of the insurgents. While the USA and its allies intend to remain long enough to consolidate and stabilize the situation, over the long term the task can only be fulfilled by an Afghan administration that is properly equipped and motivated. The foreigners have already set their sights on preparations for departure, and an indicative date for beginning to thin out was given by President Obama even as he announced the decision for a substantial increase in troop strength. Thus the real test is not that of prevailing in the present struggle centred on Marjah but to set up an effective local government after the military phase is concluded. Plans have been made and a number of administrative arrangements are to be put into effect, including proper policing and security. At the core of such arrangements must be the Kabul government under President Karzai. Not much is being said about the President's role in the present context, but until very recently he was under criticism by the US media, and even by official spokespersons. Now he looks to be the linchpin of a long term strategy, for which he will require the full external support that he has not been receiving lately.


Alternative thoughts

IN this complex situation has come the arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradur, described as the top military commander of the Taliban. On the face of it, this looks like a great coup against the Taliban which will weaken them substantially, but there are already many alternative thoughts being aired about the circumstances of the capture and its significance. The Mullah was regarded as the most accessible of the senior Taliban and could have had an important role in any dialogue aimed at a political solution, so his removal could have the effect of closing a useful window. His arrest owed much to Pakistan's intelligence agencies, and that country has re-emerged as a key to the future arrangements in Afghanistan. How far this development serves the announced purpose of the Kabul authorities to seek dialogue with amenable sections of the Taliban is not clear.
It is very difficult in these circumstances to see where matters are heading. Little is tangible beyond progress in the ground operations around Marjah, which can be expected to weaken the military capacity of the Taliban: yet even in the Marjah area, the real test is yet to be faced. The larger picture in Afghanistan remains unclear, for it is far from certain that the Kabul government will have the capacity to deal with the task of assuring proper civil administration in areas freed from Taliban presence. With dialogue now on the cards, it can be assumed that some sort of compromise with the Taliban has been envisaged in Kabul. What form this will take, what will be demanded by the Taliban and what will be obtained, is presently hidden. And the larger regional picture is also blurred, for the "Afpak" policy seems to be in disarray and no other has yet come to replace it. Thus there are many unanswered questions looming ahead as battle continues in Helmand.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

PROMISES TO KEEP

 

Extravagant promises in a year in which there are no elections are very surprising, but the railway budget of the railway minister, Mamata Banerjee, tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, was full of them. From creating employment through welfare schemes for railway employees to building schools, colleges, management institutions and housing for all railway employees in the next 10 years, the railway budget looked and sounded like a gigantic social welfare programme. There were two announcements of immediate consequence: there would be no increase in freight tariffs and passenger fares, and freight rates for foodgrain and fuel products (like kerosene and diesel) were actually cut. The cut in freight rates is an inflation fighting measure, given that consumer price inflation has been largely driven by food, and by fuel to a lesser extent. Employment — or increasing the size of the railway workforce — would be achieved by creating one job for every family whose land was acquired by the Indian Railways and by manning the thousands of currently unmanned railway crossings across the country over the next five years. Ms Banerjee also announced that 117 of the 120 new trains she promised in her last budget would be flagged off in the next 35 days, that is, roughly four trains a day. In addition, she announced a slew of initiatives as part of the Indian Railways Vision 2020, details about many of which, she said, would be forthcoming later.

 

From the viewpoint of financial prudence, however, the viability of these freight tariff reductions is not clear; a reduction in rates that boosts overall volumes and market share is economically justified, but the current policy of reducing rates year after year even as market share declines is unsustainable. The share of the railways in freight and passenger traffic has been declining steadily over the years; today, railways account for about 39 per cent of all freight traffic — losing out to road, mostly — and about 13 per cent of passengers. Not surprisingly, the minister did speak of a new business and revenue model — as with some of her initiatives, she did not provide much detail about this either.

 

From a capital expenditure perspective, the plan outlay is about Rs 41,430 crore, an amount that the minister may find difficult to raise, even with the help of the Indian Railways Finance Corporation. Instead of building schools and hospitals on it and running them, it may be more sensible to let the private sector build and manage them, while giving railway employees a concessional benefit. Similarly, with long-distance passenger fares, the railways could take a leaf out of the airlines' book and have graded booking rates: the earlier one books passage, the lower the price. Perhaps the new models should include effective resource use and efficient service delivery. The minister would do well to remember what the legendary actress, Mae West, said: "An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises."

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

RIGHT MOMENT

 

A peace process is rarely a smooth affair, but right intentions can take care of the rough edges. It may be too early to hope for an end to the United Liberation Front of Asom's 30-year-old insurgency. But a real opportunity for peace in Assam seems to be emerging with the government and the rebel group moving closer to peace talks. The Assam government's decision to allow two top Ulfa leaders, Pradip Gogoi and Mithinga Daimary, to be released on bail is a welcome move that could help set the stage for fresh peace talks. The move comes close on the heels of the government's other decision to shift the outfit's political advisor, Bhimkanta Buragohain, from Tezpur jail to Guwahati central jail. The idea, apparently, was to facilitate meetings among the Ulfa's senior leaders. It may be some time before the Ulfa leaders sort out differences among themselves about resuming the talks.

 

The chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, has rightly argued that the government cannot "wait forever". But the important thing is not to lose the initiative and the opportunity. The biggest hurdle to the peace process is the continued opposition to it by Paresh Barua, the chief of the Ulfa's armed wing, who remains elusive. His defiance increasingly looks like an act of desperation. The Ulfa faces serious challenges to its organizational network after several of its leaders were arrested in Bangladesh and its shelters in that country exposed. Its support among the people has also dropped as never before. It may still spark some violence, but that is now no measure of its power or popular appeal. If this is the worst time for the Ulfa to make war, this is also the best opportunity for it to make peace.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

A DIFFERENT CONTENTMENT

FOR AMLAN DATTA, DEFEAT AND VICTORY BELONGED ELSEWHERE

GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI

 

And Lamb, the frolic and the gentle, Has vanished from his lonely hearth.

 

— William Wordsworth

 

To be sure, Amlan Datta was not always the gentle-natured Charles Lamb that Wordsworth has portrayed. His words could frolic, his voice was gentle. But his mind? It was sharper than the sharp blades his clean-shaven face did not use. The uneven stubble, the unironed shirt, the unpolished footwear were the outward marks of an inner unconcern with what most people are so bothered about, the way one appears to others. Amlanbabu was bothered about what one says and does to others.

 

"I am alright for my age," he answered my question on the phone a week before crossing over, "but how are you?" That was the quintessential Amlan Datta. Not allowing the light of attention, his own or that of others, to linger on himself for a moment longer than the context required. He moved on, always, to the other person, the other subject and, literally, the 'Other'.

 

Within touching distance of death, I am told he braved a ride to the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Golpark, Calcutta, to caution his audience about the real danger of war, of ecological collapse, of sectarianism. The gathering at that auditorium must have been more than receptive. But that had not always been the case with Amlanbabu's audiences.

 

As a caring teacher with a classroom of diverse, even divided, students, and a public intellectual with a disparate 'target', Amlanbabu faced a hard dilemma.

 

He put it to me in a letter in March, 2007 thus: "Your heart inclines you to love; but there are times when your conscience does not let you stay pretty and polite, uttering simply pleasing words. At such times, the heart must stand and wait. This is the law of pure reason. Love yet converts a defeat into victory when it resolves that it must continue to love all, even those who have withdrawn their earlier positive feelings. That is the law of pure love. It takes much strength to abide by it."

 

In following this principle and procedure, Amlanbabu was being true to the Indian he admired most after the Mahatma, his friend and saha-chintak, Jayaprakash Narayan. And in doing so he was, again with JP, trying to ensure that his "defeat" was also simultaneously a "victory".

 

Whether he convinced his listeners with his reasoning or not, Amlanbabu always convinced them with the calm earnestness and lucidity of his expression. I cannot judge anyone's fluency in Bangla but his English, I could see, was arrestingly different.

 

I am not sure if Amlanbabu would have liked to be described as a "public intellectual". But, for the sake of convenience, let me call him that in this article.

 

Amlanbabu enjoyed high public esteem. But, for a public intellectual, can the esteem of friends be enough? Can such a person's knowledge that he is a highly respected public figure be a substitute for the knowledge that his intellectual exertions are not quite succeeding?

 

Public intellectuals can be as diverse as the 'public' but two categories of them may be identified. One is the category of those who seek to influence policy through a direct transfusion of ideas to the 'powers that be'. The other category is of those who would prefer to influence public opinion and by the force of that public persuasion seek to change or modify public policy.

 

Amlanbabu knew how to do the first with consummate skill and, very often, did so especially when he served on committees. But he was, essentially, a public intellectual of the second type, comfortable when speaking from public spaces rather than through committees and commissions and through the medium of reports.

 

This mode of speaking to the authorities from, so to say, the maidan, has its highs and its lows. The lows come not just because authority does not listen but because the public too is a changeling and does not always lend its full support to the intellectual who speaks on its behalf, for the 'public' is not an undifferentiated mass.

 

At some level, without a sense of having succeeded intellectually in persuading either a large section of opinion or a select body of policy-formulators, a sense of 'defeat' in that individual would be impossible to escape.

 

I am not sure if Amlanbabu's sense of moral victory was sufficient recompense for the intellectual isolation he must have felt. He had some amazingly close and caring friends and, on his 85th birthday, a large gathering came to witness the beautiful film made on him. But his was, like Lamb's, a lonely hearth.

 

A friend of his described him recently to me as "a very private and a very proud person".

 

Another person to whom that description could be applied died a few days before Amlanbabu.

 

K.N. Raj from the Left in Thiruvanananthapuram did with ideas what Amlanbabu from neither the Left nor the Right but from his own light perch in Calcutta did.

 

Both commanded respect from their students and friends, and from those in high office. Yet, could either of them have been called, if indeed anyone can be, successful in the world of ideas? What is the meaning of success and unsuccess, or "victory" and "defeat", as Amlanbabu put it, in the universe of the intellect? Are these to be measured in the kilogram scales of an ironsmith, such as awards received, public lectures given, multiple editions of masterpieces published and adulatory reviews and, to be more contemporaneous, review-articles? Or are they to be measured in the smaller milligram scales used by the goldsmith, such as the respect of the discerning and the receptivity of authority?

 

I referred to two categories of public intellectuals. It is possible for those in the second category to ripen into something other than a ripe intellectual. And that "something other" is to become, almost in spite of themselves, social philosophers. Datta and Raj would have protested at suggestions that they were social philosophers. But then they would, I think, have conceded that the human mind, being the common parent of intellection and reflection, cannot but serve both processes.

 

And by that criterion, I think one should be able to see that the public intellectuals' "victory" or "defeat" depends on what they were striving to do within the world of ideas.

 

Social philosophers must dispense bitter draughts, if they are to be true to their bent. But this medicament is not the "dissent" one sees edging compulsively towards microphones.

 

'Dissent' is a headgear that attitudinizers wear. When that object becomes a horn for attack or a helmet for self-fulfilment, it loses its credibility. Neither Raj nor Datta sought to extend the medulla oblongata with such accoutrement. They thought because they felt, they felt because they thought. Intellection, for them, was not a cold procedure performed in the operation theatres of sterile ratiocinating but a warm exercise conducted by one human concerned about another.

 

Amlan Datta and K.N. Raj were intellectual-philosphers in another major and, to my mind, much more abiding sense. They knew that dissenting from the ruling establishment may be important but dissenting from ruling passions, from what may be the majority view, or the fashionable view of the public of the day, is no less important.

 

If there was one thing Datta and Raj, as practical men, knew, it was this, that correction is needed not just where power vests, but also where it proceeds from.

 

In December, 1998, Raj gave a lecture in Thiruvananthapuram called "Has Communism a Future?" It was addressed not to a State apparat or to any politburo as much as to the thinking public. It dealt with human psychology, human actions and reactions and their social consequences. Amlanbabu, likewise, always veered from the empirical towards the ethical, with social mores and generational choices being his central preoccupation.

 

And that is where, one as an independent thinker and another as an intellectual from the Left, entered that margent of human reflection where intellectual victory and defeat seem to belong elsewhere. And where loneliness can be a form of contentment.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THE REAL PICTURE

FIFTH COLUMN -SUMANTA SEN

 

Since the time the Union home minister decided to deal sternly with the Maoists, it has been his aim to make the counter offensive a broad-based one, with active cooperation from the concerned states. In eastern India, the states are West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa, but so far not much progress has been noticed in this direction. This is because administrative action cannot be expected to succeed to the desired extent if political perception does not give it top priority. In at least two of the states, Bihar and Jharkhand, the rulers have some real problems in seeing the Maoists as the principal enemy, as they are viewed by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in Calcutta and by P. Chidambaram in New Delhi.

 

Bihar, for instance. Both the components of today's Communist Party of India (Maoist), the People's War Group and the Maoist Coordination Committee were active in undivided Bihar, as was the overground Indian People's Front. They worked among the poor backward castes and the harijan peasants of central Bihar, Jehanabad, Aurangabad, Gaya, and in the tribal-dominated plateau region of what was then south Bihar and is now Jharkhand. In central Bihar were also present the armed private armies of upper caste landlords, mostly Rajputs, who created terror among the hapless backwards, frequently turning the areas into killing fields. This brought them into clashes with the People's War Group, and the state being Bihar, where everything is judged from the caste angle, the latter came to be known as champions of the backward castes. This was in the Eighties.

 

Since then things have changed. The various private armies are not much heard of these days as the upper castes no longer hold the whip hand in Patna. But in popular perception, in the vast countrysides, the Maoists still continue to be associated with the lower castes. Even the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, which contests elections, has this perception to help it at poll times. So how can the chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, who also has the backward classes as his main prop for winning elections, be as enthusiastic as Bhattacharjee in waging a war against the Maoists?

 

Glaring lack

 

Another aspect of the situation has to be kept in mind. Historically, the Naxalites, and now the Maoists, have viewed the Marxists as their number one enemy, the 'revisionists' who stand in the way of an armed revolution by creating illusions about parliamentary democracy. In this respect, Nitish Kumar is not as important for them as Bhattacharjee is, and they feel that they need not be so hard on the former. This being the reality, Patna's response cannot be the same as Calcutta's.

 

Similar is the situation in Ranchi. Shibu Soren cannot be expected to alienate his tribal supporters by going with a gun among them in search of Maoists. Even if reports of Maoists helping out Soren at election time are not wholly correct, the strategy of bringing together the tribals of Jharkhand, West Bengal and Orissa fits in quite nicely with Soren's plans of a greater Jharkhand. That plan may remain a pipe dream, but Soren cannot be too displeased if elements from his state use the jungle corridor to create problems for his counterpart in West Bengal, as neither has any love lost for the other.

 

Also, Jharkhand has for long been a haven for the Maoists, and now that they are concentrating more on the neighbouring state, Soren must be heaving sighs of relief. Little wonder then that Ranchi has done precious little to put checks on the Maoists.

 

The region thus lacks a political consensus on the way to tackle the Maoists effectively. And as long as such an agreement is not there, the menace will continue, and the Shilda carnage may well turn out to be the first in a series.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL

 

Even as the State, NGOs and corporate bigwigs join the race to save the tiger, many other species are dying out

 

The tiger has suddenly become a celebrity. In advertisements, in newspapers and on company logos, this majestic, mysterious animal has captured the imagination of millions. In keeping with this high-visibility campaign, the government is set to double its budgetary allocation for Project Tiger, from Rs 72 crore in 2008-2009 to Rs 184 crore in 2009-2010. Non-governmental efforts towards tiger conservation have also intensified.

 

However, according to the Red List compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the tiger is only one of 54 endangered animal species in India. There are also at least 18 Critically Endangered species that are, presumably, under greater threat. About 100 animals threatened with extinction are listed under Schedules I and II of the Wildlife Protection Act of India and are supposed to be under government protection. In practice, the schedules seem to have assumed the character of an attractive hypothesis. Wildlife conservation in India has been, at best, patchy and sporadic, largely fuelled by public awareness or a furore about the animal concerned. There is, for one, a severe disjunct between the Red List and conservation efforts.

 

Started in 1963, the IUCN Red List is the most comprehensive inventory of threatened species of flora and fauna till date, and is recognized as a reference point when discussing the status of any species. Classifications are made according to the gravity of the threat: Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered, Threatened, and so on. One Critically Endangered animal fortunate enough to have caught public attention is the gharial.

 

In the 1970s, it became evident that gharials were in imminent danger of extinction and a massive conservation drive was initiated by the government, along with the United Nations Development Programme. Numbers swelled, prompting a self-congratulatory mood among conservation agencies. The Centre even stopped funding the captive rearing projects. What brought the reptile under the public eye was a tragic spate of deaths from December 2007 to February 2008, when nearly 100 gharials died in the Chambal region. With less than 200 mature gharials left, the World Wildlife Fund as well as the international Gharial Conservation Alliance started focusing on its conservation.

 

Species in the Endangered list have also been victims of mercurial conservation drives. The tiger has had the lion's share of public attention while the Asiatic lion, which once ranged over large swathes of the country, is now confined to Gujarat. A proposal to introduce lions from Gujarat in Madhya Pradesh was greeted with opposition from the former and has left the ministry of environment and forests still dithering over the decision. Then there is the dubious success story of the Great Indian Rhinoceros, which graduated to Vulnerable from Endangered. According to reports, however, an unprecedented 23 rhinos were killed in Kaziranga in 2007.

 

The famously persecuted blackbuck, on the other hand, seems to have prospered after it was hunted by the likes of Salman Khan and Tiger Pataudi. The animal, which became an object of national concern, is only classified as Near Threatened in the Red List. Meanwhile, a host of smaller species have faded unnoticed; the Critically Endangered pygmy hog and the Malabar large-spotted civet, for instance, or the Endangered Salim Ali's fruit bat. Smaller and less picturesque than other species, they do not even have the advantage of attracting tourism. The disappearance of such species, however, signals a critical loss in biodiversity which could destabilize the entire eco-system, a WWF report suggests.

 

Admittedly, 'save Salim Ali's fruit bat' or 'save the pygmy hog' does not have the same imaginative appeal as 'save the tiger', and in a shamelessly sensationalist ethos of conservation, these animals stand little chance. The IUCN lists species in order of the danger of extinction; the culture of Indian conservation seems to be based on whim and fickle public interest. It is time the infatuations matured into a well-planned, consistent programme for the protection of all species.

 

IPSITA CHAKRAVARTY

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

FORESTS OF THE NIGHT

 

A noisy railway station was not the right place to interview Anil Krishna Mistry. A former poacher, and now the principal field officer of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, Mistry is more at ease in the silence of the Sunderbans. Stealth and quiet were his weapons in the days he roamed the eerie, moon-lit forest. The money he made by selling deer meat illegally was paltry. There was fear too — on some nights, he thought he saw the devil roam in his luminous, striped coat. But there was also pride in conquering that fear.

 

Yet one night, as Mistry watched life ebb away from a pregnant doe, he was gripped by a strange fear. He knew that the day was not far when the forest would be emptied of the tiger, deer, boar and birds. He gave up poaching, and coaxed others in Bali Island to take up the gun to save animals. In 2001, the WPSI appointed him a field officer. Mistry is a skilled raconteur. And his knowledge of the accomplishments of and the challenges facing India's conservation programme is as impressive. In the Sunderbans, the forest department, along with NGOs, is promoting programmes to support afforestation, alternative livelihoods and eco tourism. Poaching has decreased, except in the southern divisions.

 

But a lot remains unachieved by Mistry's own admission. The State's provision of manpower towards conservation is minimal: 2,585 square kilometres of the tiger reserve are manned by a staff of 200 men. The existence of multiple agencies — State-owned and privately run — makes it difficult to coordinate the various conservation activities. There is also a lack of political will to perceive the protection of ecology and environment as a fundamental duty. Conversely, the institutional nexus with agents of the lucrative trade in animal skins and timber has resulted in a kind of political interference that is best avoided. The obsession with the preservation of 'primary species' such as the tiger in the conservation dialogue is also problematic. Deer and boar — vital to the tiger's preybase — must also be protected to reduce the fatal exchanges between man and animal. A new piece of legislation is in place, a law that has been criticized for apparently putting the onus of protecting forests on unlettered tribal people. But India's forest- dwellers had coexisted with animals till the civilized marauders appeared. What must be ensured is that the State does not use the law to renege on its regulatory role to conserve what little is left.

 

A shrill whistle from a passing train stops the conversation. Mistry was willing to say more, but it was time to return. A lot a remains to be done for the islands and its forests that he calls his own.

 

UDDALAK MUKHERJEE

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

CLOSE TO THE PARADISE ON EARTH

 

The tiger may yet be saved. That is, just the 1411 of them, if the number is right. It is an old average dependent on what seems pure faith. The number of tiger deaths actually recorded since that trusting average was made comes close to a hundred, but it is nice to stick to 1411. It is an odd enough number to sound credible. And maybe it is better not to do too many sums, in case the tiger turns into a mythical beast and we are left wondering where all our donations to the "save the tiger" campaigns are going. Highly conscious and deeply concerned we may be, but we have not been told precisely how the tigers are being counted. Immediately after the embarrassment at Sariska, where the tiger had indubitably become a myth of the past, a lot of tiger wisdom was broadcast for the public. One bit said that pugmark measuring does not yield accurate results, "scientific techniques" such as the camera trap are needed. Maybe a radio collar in the rare case. But that story has remained incomplete. Should we, the gawping public, just rest assured that since everyone is fighting everyone else regarding the correct count — states, all-India government bodies, wildlife NGOs, forest officials — something must be going on. Everyone is holding on to the tiger. Or its shadow. Everyone has something, material or metaphysical, to gain.

 

We too are being given a chance to be part of the action. Various companies, mobile service providers, tastefully inclined restaurants, are dispensing awareness and collecting support and funds. For the tiger, of course. Stars of the cultural firmament are attractively pledging support to the tiger on television, asking us, the non-starry public, whether we are doing so too. We can SMS, blog, twitter — presumably rave in general on cyberspace — so that our roar becomes louder than the tiger's. We can also, always, donate. What happens then? Apart from generating a lot of gains for a lot of invisible people, how will our virtual roar help? Had the programmes for conservation been properly executed since they were first thought up, surely the poor tiger would not have needed our roar? We can pledge away from the bottom of our hearts, but that will not make the various people concerned more committed to their jobs, or more efficient, more thoughtful or more honest.

 

The tiger is India's crown, its pride. It is sensational, it is picturesque, but conscious citizens must not play favourites. What about the tree? We can help there too. Do away with waste of paper and timber — leave the timber for governments and thieves — and just use mobile phones for everything. That is truly a marvellous idea; in these days of frankness, one must not mind if it is a little bare-faced. And why limit oneself to trees? If you're out to save, go ahead and save the planet. Throw old mobile phones away in designated boxes and for every phone thus correctly aimed, the company will plant a tree. All that ruthless mining and deforestation will thus be compensated for and the good citizen will be able to enjoy cutting-edge technologies while feeling deeply virtuous in the bargain. The paradise on earth is within our reach.

 

BHASWATI CHAKRAVORTY

 

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******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

BREAK THE NEXUS

"BUILDING PROMOTERS ARE PLAYING WITH FIRE."

 

It has taken a fire at a Bangalore skyscraper and nine lost lives to see the bitter truth again: that promoters of high-rise buildings, commercial or residential, operate with impunity by flouting building laws.
 It is a matter of investigation to find out if Carlton Tower's multiple owners threw caution to the wind and deliberately did not install fire safety measures. Tuesday's tragedy illustrates a problem that is an urban endemic: dangerous, illegal buildings often exist in plain sight, under the noses of over-worked or corrupt civic officials whose job it is discover and punish violators. Clearly, BBMP officials and building promoters are playing with fire.


What is also an open secret is that promoters, by means mostly foul, construct high-rises at lightning speed before they are up for grabs on the realty market. It is anybody's guess that Bangalore, which has seen a spurt in construction over the past ten years, has scores of high-rises that have not complied with building and related safety codes and regulations. Building experts and fire brigade officials believe that a significant proportion of high-rise buildings come up in crowded and thickly populated areas where there is little space for fire tenders to enter or manoeuvre the turns. A number of existing buildings lack maintenance of features such as fire escapes. A nexus between corrupt BBMP building assessors and surveyors and promoters is at the root of a system that has ceaselessly spawned illegal structures across an ever-expanding city. It is that link the Yeddyurappa government must smash if it has to convey to the inhabitants of Bangalore, where civic elections are scheduled to be held March end, that it will not compromise on safety and security of its citizens.


There are some in positions of authority who are part of that nexus, and they must be weeded out. The government may have to pay a political cost, but there is no cost higher than the loss of innocent human lives. Above all, the government must immediately begin an exercise to identify high-rise structures that have come up illegally, punish the promoters and owners who have built their profits on reckless construction and identify and prosecute bribe-taking civic officials who looked the other way when builders and realtors with questionable reputation constructed the questionable high-rises. Bangalore is a growing, happening city. It cannot be allowed to become an urban nightmare.

 

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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

A BUDGET OF 'HAVES'

IT IS WOEFULLY INAPPROPRIATE TO HAVE A BUDGET THAT IS CENTRED ONLY AROUND THE INDUSTRY, THE LARGE FARMERS AND THE 'MIDDLE CLASS'.

BY S N CHARY



It is time now for the Union budget exercise once again. It is one of the major planning activities of the government and probably one of the major publicised governmental events with much media focus. Union budget presents the intended financial allocations for various major activities of the government during the ensuing year.


 To that extent it should be an important draft which signals major changes in the government's relative emphasis on different sectors and activities that the government could influence. Union government's intentions for the short-term future could be gauged through this financial budget.
India's budget is presented and perceived as a show that affects the national 'economy'. Generally, what is implied is the economy in terms of the industry and agriculture, exports and imports, growth in GDP, the modifications – if any -- to the existing tax system, expected tax revenues, government expenditures and shortfalls or deficits.


It is the industry captains and the middle class -- usually the upper layer of the middle -- who view the exercise, and if and when the opinions are considered, it is precisely these groups who matter.


Limited exercise

Union budget is a limited exercise in many ways. It is limited in its time-span, in its viewer base and, therefore, in its aim. It mainly aims to satisfy the eagerness of the industry honchos, the upper crust of the middle class and the agricultural barons, for concerns such as to enhance the industry profits, increase the urban – usually metropolitan -- jobs, and enhance the subsidies respectively.


A 'wish list' is generally presented by people who belong to the upper income strata. The discussions, before and after this spectacle, veer around issues like whether the pharma sector gets a boost, or the real estate sector gets a reprieve, or whether the fertilisers get less or more subsidy.


The lower income people are either ignorant of the budget exercise, or have no time left after a hard day of making two ends barely meet. Barring a fleeting reference to a scheme like NREGA, no one is really concerned. Union budget is an upper class exercise and event – an annual hullaballoo that is an exhibition of 'democracy at work'.


It is no wonder that the real issues before the nation are given a Nelson's eye. It should not be surprising that in the comity of nations around the world, India ranks 134th in UNDP's Human Development Index (HDI). HDI is comparative measure of literacy levels, education, standards of living and life expectancy.


Thus, it is a means – a standard means – of measuring the well-being, especially child welfare. The latter is true, because the welfare of the child can only be properly taken care of if there is good availability of education – primary, secondary and higher, good sanitation and effective community health programmes and, of course, the elimination of hunger.  In HDI rankings, India is worse off than Morocco, Bhutan and Laos and only two to four ranks better than Republic of the Congo, Cambodia and Myanmar.


In the Education Index, India ranks 142nd amongst 177 nations, with Cameroon and Tanzania for company. If just the adult literacy rate is considered, we rank 147th, immediately after Rwanda and Malawi, with Sudan and Eritrea for close company. Our GDP per capita is,US $ 2783 with a rank of 128 which is bad enough.  
Has India improved over the years in terms of HDI performance? In the year 2000 India was at 124th rank, in 2008 it was at 132nd rank and now it is at 134th rank. We need not compare with China as the latter has had significantly better HDI rankings.


The Indian people have heard enough rhetoric about the concerns of the 'Aam Aadmi'. It is time now, after sixty years of being a people's republic, that India's Union budget represents these concerns. It is woefully inadequate and inappropriate to have a budget that is centred only around the economy of the 'haves' – of the industry, of the large farmers, of the so-called 'middle class'.


Economy matters

This economy does matter. But, what is even more urgent is to bring in the concerns of the 'have-nots' who seem to have been forgotten in the middle-class euphoria about the 'economic growth' at 8 per cent or 9 per cent or whatever.


The very basic individual and community health issues of the large mass of people who are poor, the scope for basic education of the marginalised and the eradication of the pangs of hunger from over 300 million stomachs so that they can think outside of their daily survival, the freeing of the hapless hundreds of million children should form a basic platform for any national level budgeting exercise.


 The union budget should be designed, formulated and evaluated on these criteria in addition to the criteria for general growth in GDP. HDI or any other similar index can be the point around which to budget in addition to the CAGR. It is about time that we start budgeting for human development.

(The writer is a former professor, IIM-Bangalore)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE AFGHAN SIKHS FACE NEW THREATS

THE SIKHS CALL INDIA THEIR ANCESTRAL HOMELAND AS THEIR ANCESTORS SETTLED IN AFGHANISTAN.

BY DEEPALI GAUR

 

The recent beheading of Sikhs in Pakistan, purpotedly by the Taliban is a reminder of the tenuous lives that the depleting community of Sikhs on either side of the Pakistan-Afghan border face today. Two Sikh men were believed to have been beheaded by the Taliban in the FATA region of Pakistan and their heads sent to a gurudwara in Peshawar even as unconfirmed reports suggest that others were being held hostage.
Last year, Pak Taliban militants had taken over shops and homes of local Sikh families in the Orakzai Agency against demands of a ransom. This attack is believed to be connected to repeated threats to the Sikh community to convert if they wanted to stay on.


The Sikhs have a long history of living in this region. They call India their ancestral homeland as their ancestors settled in Afghanistan over different phases of its history and in the early nineteenth century when Afghans lost Peshawar to the Sikhs.
Besides, over the last few centuries descendants of Sikh traders on the route passing through Afghanistan – starting in Sindh and Punjab through Kandahar, Jalalabad and Kabul - eventually settled here. These trade routes then went across the Hindu Kush to Samarkand, Merv and onwards into Europe.
 A later flood of migration occurred during the partition of India when many Sikh families living in Pakistan, near the Afghan border, found a safer and faster refuge into Afghanistan rather than moving across the country to come into India.


Critical component

That is when another generation of this minority from Afghanistan made the country their home. These groups of Sikhs are referred to as the Afghan Sikhs and looked upon as a small albeit critical component of the ethnically diverse fabric of Afghanistan.


Like most Afghans, against the background of the ceaseless three decade long conflict, this minority group also left at different times in history just as they had gone to Afghanistan at different times in history.


 Some left as the Soviet war and its incessant bombing destroyed the lives of many. Even as ethnic Afghans joined the war these groups came to India or other countries where relatives had already settled. Again like most Afghans they too had hoped for this displacement to be temporary.


 But the short return to their homes was as traumatic, their homes occupied by warlords, their businesses destroyed. The relative prosperity of this group, once, can be gauged from the fact that despite being barely two percent of the population in Jalalabad, they controlled a large part of the economy. Over time they even enjoyed a reasonable level of religious freedom.


Strong community

The Afghan Hindus and Sikhs were an over 50,000 strong community before 1992 in areas like Ghazni, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Khost, Kabul and Laghman. Today there are about 1,500 Sikhs mostly living in Kabul. The ones who remained are either those who had no relatives abroad or lacked resources to migrate.
Post-2001, many had sought refuge in India after clashes with some hostile local communities over cultural practices and rituals. The attempt to cremate a body in 2007 in Kabul had led to tensions between the Sikhs and sections of the local community as it was seen as blasphemous ritual.


Amidst the Afghan diaspora spread across the globe the Afghan Hindus and Sikhs are remembered fondly by many Afghans themselves displaced by conflict. In India it is this group of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs that constitute nearly 90 per cent of the Afghan diaspora unlike their more ethnically mixed composition elsewhere.
However, many who moved to India have subsequently also returned, mostly without their women. They run small businesses to support themselves and their families. These are men – fathers and brothers – who conduct trade between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India where their daughters (or sisters) have been married to local Sikh families in India. With their homes lost to the violence it is the local gurudwaras in Kabul that provide them shelter.

And yet for this community their identity as Afghan Sikhs remains an emotive one. A meeting with an Afghan Sikh in Germany quite poignantly reflects upon their sense of exclusion and statelessness - "In the entire world we don't even have an inch of space that we can claim as ours…we have been abandoned by both India and Afghanistan," he said.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

PINS AND PINPRICKS

INTERNET BANKING THREW IN A COUPLE OF TINS FOR A GOOD MEASURE.

BY VINITA KRISHNAMURTHY

 

Two decades ago, my only bank account number was easy to remember. Then, software stepped in and the friendly bank teller offered the use their ATM services. I seized the chance of being able to withdraw money without waiting in a queue, and armed with ATM-cum-debit card and a simple Personal Identification Number (PIN), felt liberated.


Another officer said that they had a special credit card scheme for women which offered a lifetime exemption of an annual fee. Not to lose the opportunity, I immediately signed up for one. After all, memorising two PINs wasn't going to be difficult.


Subsequently the trouble started. Every company I joined wanted employees to have a corporate account in a certain bank. I suddenly found myself saddled with four accounts, their ATM cards and corresponding PINs, two credit cards and their PINs. Worse, internet banking threw in a couple of TINs for a good measure.
Wellwishers told me not to have identical PIN/TINs. Mnemonics, they said, could help one remember all those miserable numbers.  


The internet also invaded my life. With one personal e-mail account accessed through a crazily clever password, I was smug in the knowledge of having a safe and quick mode of communication.


However, at office a suitably sober passwords had to be assigned for the mail account as well as documents that higher authorities deemed important. At one point, I had to remember up to ten passwords. Mnemonics, the system administrator advised, would enable correct associations.


Years later, having decided to tie the knot, I shifted ny house, my bank account and even the place I was working. In keeping with the new life, I changed my e-mail password to 'scavenger', a topic that had caught my interest at that time. When our son arrived, the happy father offered to mail my friends the news.


Later, he conveyed his inability to sign in even after several attempts. He also denied having left the 'Capslock' on, so I checked if s-c-a-v-e-n-g-e-r had been spelled right. Then he sheepishly mumbled that he had been keying in h-y-e-n-a all the while. Mnemonics, needless to say, doesn't always help.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

SPEED UP THE TRAINS

 

Netanyahu's overhaul of the country's mass transit system will pull Israel's rail links out of the late 19th century and bring them into the 21st.

 

'This is first and foremost an achievement for the State of Israel. For the first time in 62 years of independence, the government has taken steps to connect the Negev and Galilee to the heartland,"  Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu summed up, after the cabinet approved by a 19-4 majority the "Israel Routes" plan  – the country's most comprehensive transportation reform.


Israel's peripheral regions are in danger of losing their youngest and brightest to the bright lights of Tel Aviv and its sprawling metropolitan area. Greater Tel Aviv isn't only trendy; it's also where more and better jobs are to be found, along with cultural and leisure-time attractions, shopping, and so on.


Fewer jobs and opportunities elsewhere push the upwardly mobile set out of the more outlying areas, while the Coastal Plain magnet simultaneously draws them.


Such seemingly inexorable socioeconomic dynamics are plainly bad for Israel. Entire expanses of the state would be emptied, while the Gedera-Hadera stretch becomes ever more densely packed. At the most basic level, jamming so much of the population inside exceedingly narrow perimeters renders Israel's center a nightmarishly soft underbelly and a strategic security hazard.


The answer lies in mundane solutions like belatedly pulling Israel's rail links out of the late 19th century and bringing them into the 21st. Improvement in public conveyances will shrink distances and demolish psychological barriers to residence away from the country's economic and cultural hubs. These hubs must be made physically more accessible in less time for the maximum numbers of Israelis.


Netanyahu is the first premier to recognize this and to propose a major overhaul of the country's transportation infrastructure and mass transit system.


The program's boldest feature is expanding the railroad network over the coming 10 years. The construction bill would have amounted to NIS51 billion. But the Treasury wouldn't hear of it. A gargantuan battle ensued, which left in place only about half the initially earmarked outlay – NIS27.5b.


Yet the tug-of-war continued into yesterday's prolonged and heated cabinet deliberations. The Treasury insisted on lopping off a further NIS7b., whereas Silvan Shalom, the minister in charge of Galilee and Negev development,  wanted to reinstate what was slashed, lest Kiryat Shmona and Eilat be left out.


The Treasury has already stymied enough of the plan to diminish its potential impact. Its rational was that spending enormous sums risks raising the national debt and triggering runaway inflation.


But the Treasury has serially opposed almost all past large-scale development projects, everything from the Ayalon Highway to desalination plants.

The man pushing the reform, Uri Yogev, chairman of the National Economic Council, had already years ago, as head of the Treasury's budget division, irked his bosses by granting Israel Railways larger-than-ever allocations. As a result, train travel by Israelis went up a whopping 200% in a decade. Thus Yogev actually showed the way.


But there's colossal room for improvement. Any European backwater offers rail connections whose feeder-lines reach the most remote hamlets. In Israel reaching train stations is in itself a feat. None of Tel Aviv's three terminals are in the city proper. For Sharon residents, reaching stations in Herzliya and Kfar Saba is often worse than driving to Tel Aviv. Hence train passengers never fully free themselves from traffic jams.


When divided over a decade and considered in terms of Israel's Gross National Product, the expense isn't exorbitant. But chiefly, as Netanyahu stressed yesterday, "the reform would be a growth generator, unaffected by international financial fluctuations and would, in itself, add 2% annually to Israel's GNP."


Israel Manufacturers Association President Shraga Brosh was eminently justified in arguing that "conservative Treasury functionaries impede an extraordinary vision because of their shortsightedness and lack of imagination."

As Brosh maintained – alluding to agora-wise but shekel-foolish Treasury parsimoniousness which time and again foiled the construction of adequate desalination facilities – it's "always possible to establish inquiry commissions to pass judgment on what went wrong. A better approach would be to gear up to challenges ahead of time."


We fully agree.


The prevalent motto in many commercial firms is that "the bookkeeper must never be allowed to run the company." This seems no less true for the national enterprise.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

WASHINGTON WATCH: CAN THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY BE MY ALLY?

BY DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD

 

The latest US arms sales to the Gulf states can be part of a de facto alliance of the US, the Gulf states and Israel to deter Iran's ambitions.

Talkbacks (1)

 

The Pentagon's favorite cash cow, the oil-rich Gulf Arabs, are on an arms buying spree, and that's good news and bad news for Israel, according to defense analysts in both countries.


The intended purpose is to bolster the defenses of friendly Arab countries against an aggressive Iran; at the same time the US is beefing up its own missile defense systems in the region.


The Arab shopping lists include F-15 and F-16 warplanes, Patriot missile batteries, Aegis cruisers, advanced anti-ship and anti-tank missiles, smart bombs and bunker-busters and missile boats.


And that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg; beneath the surface lie billions more in contracts for maintenance, training, spare parts, upgrades, facilities (buy a squadron of fighters and we'll sell you an airbase and everything that goes with it from runways and control towers to barracks and even air-conditioned mosques; the Pentagon once even sold sand to Saudi Arabia).


That's good for the US economy, although American taxpayers are footing the bill for Egypt and Jordan (as we do for Israel) and the American consumer will help pay for the rest though the gas pump. The Pentagon also profits on the deals. All major weapons sales go through the Defense Department, which not only collects a commission but also gets discounts on its own purchases thanks to economies of scale.


IN 2008, US foreign military sales were worth $37.8 billion, double the rest of the world combined, according to a Congressional study.


But don't get the impression all these customers are doing us a favor buying American, like the Saudi prince who told an American defense secretary, "You're just salesmen and we pay cash." Just the opposite. We're doing them a mitzva.


They are buying a place under the US defense umbrella. American systems are not only the best but they also provide reassurance for the buyers of a level of commitment, something particularly critical in the face of Iranian intimidation.


The goal of this latest round is to deter the Iranians, unnamed administration officials told The New York Times, and to "reassure the Arab states so they don't feel they have to go nuclear themselves." Those officials also say the arms sales are meant to "calm the Israelis."


The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was in Israel in the past week as part of the administration's effort to convince Israel that Washington takes the Iranian threat very seriously and Jerusalem does not need to take unilateral military action.


Throughout this buildup, which began under the previous administration, Israel has been kept informed of the sales and assured the US remains committed to maintaining its qualitative military edge - QME - but many analysts see that edge eroding as the Arabs turn to the United States for the same top-quality weapons, training and maintenance Israel buys.


Upgrades to Arab air defenses will limit Israeli freedom of action. Israeli attacks on the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981 and the Syrian nuclear site in 2007 had to be flown over countries that today bristle with some of the best anti-aircraft systems America has to offer - Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.


Israeli planners welcome a strong American presence in the Gulf as a convincing deterrent to Iranian ambitions. They also recognize that the Gulf states have legitimate needs and selling them American arms (since they won't buy Israeli, as the Pentagon does) can serve Israel's political, diplomatic and security interests.


BUT THERE are also risks. These countries are ruled by repressive autocrats who are kept in power in part with American assistance. The historian Bernard Lewis has pointed out that the closer a regime is to the United States the more people in the Arab street hate America and blame us for their plight.


F-16s and F-15s, missile boats and smart bombs can't protect these dictators from the real threats to their regimes, which come from their military or Islamic extremists. On the other hand, there is a lot we sell - from machine guns to tanks - which corrupt and repressive regimes use to tighten their grip on power.


There is also the risk many of these weapons - particularly anti-tank and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles - can get "lost" or end up in the hands of terrorists.

 

President Ronald Reagan once chided prime minister Menachem Begin that Israel and its friends shouldn't object to so many US arms sales to the Arabs because they were needed to defend against possible Communist threats. Begin responded, "With all due respect, Mr. President, they often use your arms against us and not the Communists." He may have had in mind the Johnson administration's 1966 sale of M-48 Patton tanks to Jordan, which King Hussein promised would not be used against Israel. Nonetheless, 170 of the tanks went to war against Israel in 1967 and more than 100 were destroyed or wound up in the Israeli inventory.

In the 1982 Lebanon war, I personally saw crates of American-built assault rifles that had been sold to Saudi Arabia and captured by the IDF from PLO forces.


With decisive American leadership and oversight, these latest arms sales can be part of a de facto alliance of the US, the Gulf states and Israel to deter Iranian ambitions to dominate the region and spread its revolution. It's not a new idea. Alexander Haig, the former secretary of state who died last week, proposed such an alliance against Soviet encroachment in the region 30 years ago. The threat may have changed, but the idea remains valid.

bloomfieldcolumn@gmail.com

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

RATTLING THE CAGE: A TALE OF TWO ASSASSINATIONS

BY LARRY DERFNER


Why was Netanyahu right to order the hit on Khaled Mashaal in 1997 but wrong to order (as we all presume he did) the recent one on Mabhouh?

Talkbacks (3)

 

There are times when it's a good idea to assassinate a Hamas leader, even in a foreign country, and times when it's a bad idea. The killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai last month (which everyone presumes to have been the Mossad's work) was a bad idea. By contrast, the Mossad's attempt in September 1997 to kill Khaled Mashaal in Amman was a good idea that went bad in the execution, so to speak, as I wrote in a column titled "Hit 'em back" two weeks afterward.


What's the difference? Why was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu right to order the hit on Mashaal but wrong to order (as we all presume he did) the one on Mabhouh?


The difference is that in 1997, Hamas was focused on one activity - killing as many Israelis as possible. They did so partly for the sake of killing Israelis, of course, but more for the strategic purpose of destroying the Oslo peace process and overthrowing Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. About 100 of Hamas's killings, according to Israeli officials, had been ordered by Mashaal himself.


"So our choice is harsh but simple: We can either kill them back, or let them kill us with impunity. We can play eye for an eye, or let Hamas play uncontested," I wrote in October 1997.


That was then. Today, things are completely different. Today, Hamas is not trying to kill as many Israelis as possible, it's trying to maintain a cease-fire on the Gazan-Israeli border while attempting to rebuild. In the West Bank, it's on the run from the PA police and the IDF.


And when it comes to killing, Hamas has been getting much, much the worst of it from Israel for many years.

SO WHY did the Mossad presumably, reportedly, allegedly assassinate Mabhouh? The only killings Israeli officials have tied him to are the two he himself took "credit" for: the 1989 kidnappings and shootings of soldiers Ilan Sa'adon and Avi Sasportas.


I don't believe the Mossad would mount an operation like the one in Dubai to avenge the killings of two soldiers 21 years ago.


The only plausible motive was to stop Mabhouh from doing the other thing Israeli officials blame him for: smuggling weapons from Iran into Gaza.


But I'm sorry, smuggling weapons is not the same as killing people. In 1997 we could say, as we did with the would-be Mashaal assassination, that we are trying to make peace with the Palestinians, we're not trying to kill them, so any Palestinian who goes on killing Israelis leaves us no choice: killing him is the only way we can protect ourselves.


Yet what are we saying with the Mabhouh assassination? One thing - that the Palestinians have no right to weapons of war. This goes for Gaza especially, because of Hamas and the groups there even worse than Hamas, but no Palestinian entity anywhere has the right to arm itself. Not even if it becomes a recognized state, not even if it's run by the likes of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, not even if it signs a peace treaty with Israel.

This is our policy: We have the right to unlimited military power - what we call self-defense - while the Palestinians have the right to none.

 

This is wrong. Secondly, the Palestinians will never accept it. Israel presumably, allegedly, etc. took an incredible risk in Dubai, is paying a heavy diplomatic price for it, and, above all, has provoked Hamas and its allies to try to even the score. Why? To defend the principle that we alone are the armed sovereign power between the river and the sea.


BY COMPARISON, the principle that the Mossad was defending in Amman 13 years ago was this: When Israel and its enemies are trying to make peace, but some of its enemies are still making war, Israel has no choice but to hit 'em back.


That was right, that was fair, that was something we could reasonably expect Palestinians to absorb, and, above all, it was a principle worth taking major risks to defend.


In 1997, in the middle of the Oslo accord, with Hamas determined to kill its way to power, the assassination of its masterminds, such as Mashaal, was Israel's last option for security.


Today, with Hamas holding its fire in Gaza, with a peace government in Ramallah, there are all sorts of things we can do to protect ourselves before calling for the Mossad.


We can lift the blockade of Gaza and thereby lift the desperation of the Gazan people. We can join the rest of the world in accepting the Palestinians' right to a sovereign state based on the pre-Six Day War borders, not the subservience-with-a-flag that Netanyahu's offering them. We can talk turkey with Abbas and Fayyad. We can grow the hell up.


As the Bible says, there's a time to kill and a time to heal. On that basis, we should have put our hit squads on inactive duty a good few years ago. Enough with the James Bond routine; it's old. Everyone around here is winking and chuckling; Meanwhile, time is passing us by.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

FUNDAMENTALLY FREUND: THE WINDS OF MIDDLE EAST WAR

BY MICHAEL FREUND

 

Israel needs to draw more attention to the saber-rattling of our neighbors, and highlight their more violent recent rhetoric.

Talkbacks (3)

 

Something is stirring in the Middle East. The winds of war are blowing, picking up speed with each passing day, and the threat to Israel is growing steadily more alarming.


All around us, trouble - major trouble - appears to be brewing, and it is time we open our eyes and confront the dangers that may lie ahead.


From Beirut and Damascus in the north to Teheran in the east, and back to Gaza in the south, the "arc of hate" surrounding the Jewish state is speaking openly and brazenly of conflict and destruction.


Israel's foes have launched increasingly fiery verbal volleys in recent weeks, in what appears to be a coordinated campaign to heighten tensions in the region.


With pressure mounting on Iran over its nuclear program, and the threat of stricter sanctions in the air, Israel needs to be on guard and alert.


Consider the following.


On February 3, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem brashly told reporters: "Don't test the determination of Syria, you Israelis. You know that war this time would move to your cities." Even among Israel's detractors in the Western media, Muallem's remarks caused a stir, with ABC News noting that, "The threatening language implied Syria would be willing and able to target Israeli population centers with long-range missiles in a conflict. It was the first time such a threat had been made."


That very same day, Muallem's boss, Syrian President Bashar Assad, also turned up the heat, saying that Israel is "pushing the region toward war".


On February 16, Hizbullah thug-in-chief Hassan Nasrallah made similar threats, taking Muallem and Assad's rhetoric one step further by warning that Israel's infrastructure and cities would be targeted in the event of war.


"If you hit Dahiyeh, we will hit Tel Aviv. If you strike Martyr Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, we'll strike your Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv," he said, adding that, "If you hit our ports, we will hit your ports. If you attack our refineries, we'll attack your refineries. If you bomb our factories, we'll bomb your factories." Two days later, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke with Nasrallah by telephone and reportedly encouraged him to make sure that Hizbullah is ready for a confrontation with Israel.

The tyrant of Teheran told Nasrallah that, "this readiness must be at a level that they [the Zionists] will be finished off and the region will be rid of them forever." And earlier this week, in an address broadcast live Tuesday on Iranian state television, Ahmadinejad again vowed to destroy Israel, saying that, "If these criminals make the mistake again, the regional countries need to eradicate them once and for all."

IT IS easy, and somewhat tempting, to dismiss all this as more of the same hate-filled harangues which our neighbors frequently like to hurl our way.


But a report the other day in the Saudi newspaper Okaz would seem to belie such wishful thinking.


According to the paper, Ahmadinejad will soon visit Damascus to meet with Assad, Nasrallah and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal.


In light of the brazen threats being made against Israel by the participants, such a convocation starts to look more like a council of war, rather than just another routine gathering of terror chieftains.


Indeed, on January 31, US National Security Adviser James Jones warned that Iran might very well choose to lash out at Israel in the coming months.


Speaking to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Jones said, "When regimes are feeling pressure, as Iran is internally and will externally in the near future, it often lashes out through its surrogates, including, in Iran's case, Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. As pressure on the regime in Teheran builds over its nuclear program," he said, "there is a heightened risk of further attacks against Israel." This turn of events should give us all pause.


After all, back in 2006, Iran provoked the outbreak of war in Lebanon to send a message to Israel and the US and divert attention from its nuclear progress. They might very well now be planning Act 2, viewing this as their trump card in order to prevent an attack on their nuclear installations.


It is therefore essential that the Jewish state take steps to confront such a dire possibility.


This means moving aggressively to impede weapons shipments to terrorists in places such as Gaza, shutting down their supply routes and maintaining the closure of the area.


In the public sphere, Israel needs to draw more attention to the saber-rattling of our neighbors, and highlight their progressively more violent rhetoric. For if the threat of war continues to mount, and diplomacy fails to defuse it, then the government may end up with no choice but to consider preemptive measures.

The Second Lebanon War showed us the perils inherent in indecisiveness and delay, and we dare not allow our foes once again to dictate the rules or timing of future conflicts.



It is therefore essential that international pressure be brought to bear on Damascus and Teheran to cease and desist from driving the region toward greater instability.


Our enemies may leave us with no choice but to fight, and we should hope and pray this will not be the case. The last thing anyone wants or needs is another conflict in this part of the world.


Either way, we had better awaken from our slumber now, and prepare ourselves for the challenges that may lie ahead.

The way the winds are currently blowing, the storm might very well be just around the corner.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

TERRA INCOGNITA: THE EUROPEAN LOBBY IN ISRAEL

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN


The EU, realizing it cannot get Israel to change its laws through diplomatic means, has resorted to creating an internal lobby - through lavish funding of NGOs - to get Israel to bend.

Talkbacks (19)

 

Ever since the publication of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's The Israel Lobby there has been much talk of the "lobby." In England mainstream and respectable Channel 4 aired an entire program entitled Inside Britain's Israel Lobby which claimed the "lobby" "owns" the Conservative Party. Amidst all the talk of an Israel lobby in the West, people have ignored the growth of a lobby located in the Holy Land itself, the European lobby in Israel.


The European Parliament adopted the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) in 1994. This was part of the European Union's broader belief that "democracy and human rights are universal values that should be vigorously promoted around the world." The initiative was supposed to promote democratization through the promotion of "fair and free" elections and mainstreaming "democratic values" through "accountability, transparency and equality."


In 2007, a subtle change in the name of the EIDHR was made. The word "initiative" was changed to "instrument." This seemingly banal change may be a result of semantic arguments among EU staffers but it puts in words the increasingly meddlesome way the EU has chosen to work within Israel.


The EU may have realized during the second intifada that its concerns were not being listened to. Perhaps they heeded the increasingly alarmist statements of Israelis themselves, such as former Haaretz editor David Landau who in 2007 told US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice that the US needed to "rape" Israel into a settlement with the Palestinians. Regardless of the exact cause, in 2002 the European Union began lavishly funding non-governmental organizations in Israel. It claimed that it was doing this because of "the vital contribution made by NGOs to the promotion and protection of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law."


Between 2002 and 2008, a total of $14 million was granted to various Israeli NGOs through the EIDHR. My investigation of the NGOs that received funding revealed that the lion's share of the money benefited two groups: Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. $5.5 million was directed specifically to causes for Palestinians such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel's project "Building a Better Future: Empowering the Palestinian Residents of East Jerusalem to access their planning and house [sic] rights" which received $135,000. A further $7m. went specifically to programs that benefit only Israeli Arabs such as the al-Awna fund's "Master Plan for the Unrecognized Beduin Villages: Securing minority rights for housing and social services" which received $263,000. Even when the EIDHR funded programs for women it did so only for programs for Beduin or Israeli Arab women, except for a token $100,000 it gave to an organization called Isha le Isha (Woman to Woman) which helps fight women trafficking.

 

There was not one cent directed specifically towards any of the numerous and diverse Jewish communities in Israel: Ethiopians, Russians, Yemenites, Persians or Jews from the Caucasus. The only mention of Jewish citizens as potential recipients was in a grant to the Mossawa Center, the advocacy center for Arab citizens in Israel. It received $402,000 for a project that "aims to combat racism and transform inter-communal relations between target groups who include the Jewish majority, Arab minority and ethnic groups including the Russian, Ethiopian, Mizrahi and Reform Jewish communities."


Around $73,000 was directed towards former IDF soldiers. It wasn't to help them with trauma or reward them for a "shared citizenship." It was to get them to "break the silence" about what they witnessed while in the army, to provide testimony that might lead to a process whereby European courts might put the soldiers or their officers on trial for war crimes. Of course that is not what Breaking the Silence stated for the public. They described their project as "personal encounters with former Israeli combat soldiers."


THE EIDHR's "instrument" to affect Israeli policy is merely the tip of the iceberg. In its November 2009 report "Trojan Horse: The impact of European government funding for Israeli NGOs" NGO Monitor illustrated that individual European embassies in Israel and other EU projects give lavishly to Israeli NGOs, sometimes even making up the majority of their budgets. In fact "foreign-funded local NGOs are responsible for a significant portion of the petitions brought before the Israeli High Court of Justice," says the report.


The EU, realizing it could not get Israel to change its laws through diplomatic means, has resorted to creating an internal lobby within Israel to get Israel to bend to the will of Europe.


Israel's human rights organizations would counter that it is not important where their money comes from, their cause is just. It is also true that some Israeli human rights organizations view everything through the lens of the conflict, meaning they apply only for projects involving Palestinians or "Palestinian citizens of Israel" and don't have an interest in the rights of the Jewish population of the country.


Shatil, which claims to help Ethiopian Jews, applied for $1m. for Beduin and $1m. "to educate and raise awareness among the Arab residents of Israel's five Jewish/Arab mixed cities" and nothing for the Ethiopians.


The question is whether the EU funding of these organizations constitutes the creation of a shadow lobby. The EIDHR doesn't directly sue Israel on behalf of the freedom of movement of Palestinians. Instead it funds local NGOs that do. Furthermore the EIDHR sends $8.4m. in funding directly to NGOs in the Palestinian territories on top of the money it gives to Israeli NGOs whose projects only benefit Palestinians.


In every other country in the world, the EIDHR directs its funding towards large-scale projects supporting "democracy" and "civil society." In Egypt it gave $10m. (2003-2008), none of which went specifically towards projects for the minority Coptic Christians.

It is time for those, especially in Europe, who speak about a "Jewish/Israel" lobby to recognize that for eight years Europe has directed a concerted effort towards establishing a European lobby in Israel that discriminates against its Jewish population and supports some radical NGOs.


The writer is a PhD researcher at the Hebrew University.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE GRINCH WHO STOLE PURIM

BY AMANDA BORSCHEL-DAN


Why working parents should be exempt from the holiday.

I'm going to kill myself," my husband said dramatically on a bad cellphone connection as I stepped off the bus this morning. "I forgot the twins were supposed to wear a 'partial' costume this morning. And this is after yesterday when I forgot they were supposed to dress up for their dance lesson!"


For our four-year-old twins, these were grave matters indeed. Especially for the girl, who passionately worships all things pink, princess or fairy. (Note: I was out of the country last week and am thus exempt from blame - this time.)

"Look on the bright side," I told him. "You did remember pajama day last week and gave me the note about bringing chocolate spread tomorrow and we know they're supposed to dress up on Friday... And what is a 'partial' costume?!"


"I hate Purim," he replied through gritted teeth.


Sighing, I agreed.


Since we moved to Israel and had kids, Purim - a holiday that once was merely filed under "yet-another-reason-to-close-the-JCC" - has turned into a tortuous month-long festival. The pinnacle: schools close for two days, driving working parents and retired grandparents to despair. And in the weeks leading up to the holiday, we are barraged with daily demands, encompassing the bizarre to the downright annoying.


TAKE THIS morning: All the babies in my one-year-old's day care were expected to arrive in costume.


One of our parenting survival strategies is, if the kid doesn't know there's a holiday, we don't go out of our way to make him celebrate it. (Works well with birthday parties too.)


When the twins were babies I had the brilliant idea of switching their clothes: the girl as a boy and vice versa. My best effort yet. But playing along with the baby's eager caretakers, we dressed her as usual (carefully making sure she wasn't wearing her brothers' hand-me-downs) and stuck a crown on her head. Presto! A princess.

Also, my six-year-old's entire school had a pajama day. In the morning he changed from his winter-ready "footie" pajamas to separates (so he could put shoes on and walk). Last night his dance instructor called and told me he too is meant to wear a costume for his class this afternoon. Inspired, and killing two birds with one costume, I decided he'd go as a sleepwalker.


Every day since the Hebrew month Adar began, the kids have gleefully come home with painted faces and makeshift crowns. The crowns last all of 10 minutes and their glee dissipates at bathtime when the heavy-duty face washing begins - followed by inevitable ingestion of soap and tears. One day I made the mistake of bathing them when their faces were covered with glitter. Suffice to say, they ended up more sparkling than clean.

We've had to bring matching pants and shirts to be destroyed and made into clowns' clothes, give money for mishloah manot at one school, make packages for secret swaps at another and received dozens of e-mails and entreaties from teachers asking for help in decorating the classroom/manning stations for a carnival/performing in the parents' Purim play.


My big boy said his teacher had announced to the class she was still short of volunteers and asked me to participate in the carnival. I had to tell him, "Sometimes Imma has to work - especially since we'll have fun together next week when there isn't any school," mumbling, "or legislation giving workers a day off." (Where is the pedagogical consideration for the overburdened-by-guilt working mother?)


I didn't mention though that during my half-hour lunch break I'll be dashing to the local toyshop and fighting the crowds to buy his costume.


All in all it is enough to drive a person to drink.

Bah humbug and l'haim.


The writer is the editor of The Jerusalem Post Magazine


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE THREAT TO MY ALMA MATER

BY MORDECHAI SHANI

 

The Hadassah Medical Organization is in the midst of an earthquake that might destroy its standing as one of Israel's top medical centers.

 

Forty-six years ago, I completed my MD studies at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem. It was an excellent period, learning from top teachers, five of whom were later awarded the Israel Prize for their contributions to medicine. I went on to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, where I studied with the late Prof. Chaim Sheba and later became the director of the medical center for 33 years. Yet, I always maintained deep sentiments about my alma mater.


I had close relationships with all of its four directors-general and served with Prof. Shmuel Penchas (its director for 18 years) as a member of the Netanyahu State Judicial Commission on Reforming the Health System, which spent two years investigating health services in Israel and proposing major changes.


Having twice been the Health Ministry's director-general, I have met with national presidents of the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America (HWZOA), and also with two committees that were appointed to analyze the future direction and development of the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem. The main question was always about how to keep the leadership of the Hadassah Medical Organization, HMO.

Now my alma mater is in the midst of an earthquake that might destroy its standing as one of Israel's top medical centers.


The American board members of the HWZOA, who are the majority, have decided not to renew the contract of HMO director of the past 10 years, Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef.


This is the third consecutive termination or lack of renewal of a director's contract over the past 13 years. No director of this excellent medical organization over the last 30 years has left willingly, but has been forced to resign.

However, while the forced resignation of the two previous directors went smoothly, this time all the hospital unions are rebelling. Seventy percent of HMO's physicians, including department heads and other senior staff, signed a petition in protest, demanding that Mor-Yosef be allowed to continue as their leader.


PRACTICALLY SPEAKING, to an outsider like myself (who has known the Israeli health system very well over the past 40 years) there is no reason not to renew the contract of its current director. Prof. Mor-Yosef is one of the top five current leaders of health care in Israel. He is an excellent hospital director and the director of the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research.


It is not easy to be a director of any medical organization and especially of HMO, when its owner, HWZOA, is cutting funds, and to try and maintain the high quality of this excellent institution. Essentially there are no Israeli medical centers of such quality that can maintain its running expenses without donations.


Therefore, the decision to significantly cut, for the first time in more than 70 years, this financial support is a severe blow to this hospital and a cause of friction between the director and its owners, who don't have any understanding of the nature of the situation of public services in Israel, and the importance to the various schools of Hadassah to Israel.


I do foresee severe damage to Hadassah Medical Organization, reminding me of Barbara Tuchman's book The March of Folly.


No human being is irreplaceable. Yet - knowing as well as I do all the leaders in our health-care system - none of them will agree to replace Prof. Mor-Yosef. In its current financial situation and the attitude of its American owners, it would be suicide for any leader.

Yes, there is one external candidate, and, to my knowledge, two internal ones who would like to add the title of director of Hadassah Medical Center to their CV. I would not appoint a single one of them as my assistant.

ONE MUST also recall the severe antagonism of the top physicians in Hadassah and they will protest strongly at the appointment of mediocre people. They might even severely damage the standing of Hadassah in the US and elsewhere.


One Israeli board member has resigned and another contemplated her resignation. What Israeli will agree in the future to be a board member when there is only a dictate and no dialogue between the Israelis and the Americans?


In Haaretz of February 4, there was a quote that the Hadassah board functions for the welfare of the patients. I am doubtful who among Hadassah's leaders really understand the medical needs of Israeli citizens. Several years ago Prof. Paul Marx, the director of the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, had a two-hour discussion with me and my Israeli colleagues, yet he could not understand the mentality of health care in Israel.


I have no vested interest in the Hadassah Medical Organization, and no one has asked me to talk with the Israeli chairman of the board (as I did) or to write this letter. I am doing it for the welfare of Israeli citizens to whom I have given 46 years of my life in public service.


Please do not destroy my alma mater, a beacon of medical care in Israel.


The writer is an Israel Prize laureate for his life's work as a long-time director of Sheba Medical Center, twice director-general of the Health Ministry and world-renowed expert in health systems and administration.


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE THREAT TO MY ALMA MATER

BY MORDECHAI SHANI


The Hadassah Medical Organization is in the midst of an earthquake that might destroy its standing as one of Israel's top medical centers.

 

Forty-six years ago, I completed my MD studies at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem. It was an excellent period, learning from top teachers, five of whom were later awarded the Israel Prize for their contributions to medicine. I went on to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, where I studied with the late Prof. Chaim Sheba and later became the director of the medical center for 33 years. Yet, I always maintained deep sentiments about my alma mater.


I had close relationships with all of its four directors-general and served with Prof. Shmuel Penchas (its director for 18 years) as a member of the Netanyahu State Judicial Commission on Reforming the Health System, which spent two years investigating health services in Israel and proposing major changes.


Having twice been the Health Ministry's director-general, I have met with national presidents of the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America (HWZOA), and also with two committees that were appointed to analyze the future direction and development of the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem. The main question was always about how to keep the leadership of the Hadassah Medical Organization, HMO.

Now my alma mater is in the midst of an earthquake that might destroy its standing as one of Israel's top medical centers.


The American board members of the HWZOA, who are the majority, have decided not to renew the contract of HMO director of the past 10 years, Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef.


This is the third consecutive termination or lack of renewal of a director's contract over the past 13 years. No director of this excellent medical organization over the last 30 years has left willingly, but has been forced to resign.

However, while the forced resignation of the two previous directors went smoothly, this time all the hospital unions are rebelling. Seventy percent of HMO's physicians, including department heads and other senior staff, signed a petition in protest, demanding that Mor-Yosef be allowed to continue as their leader.


PRACTICALLY SPEAKING, to an outsider like myself (who has known the Israeli health system very well over the past 40 years) there is no reason not to renew the contract of its current director. Prof. Mor-Yosef is one of the top five current leaders of health care in Israel. He is an excellent hospital director and the director of the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research.


It is not easy to be a director of any medical organization and especially of HMO, when its owner, HWZOA, is cutting funds, and to try and maintain the high quality of this excellent institution. Essentially there are no Israeli medical centers of such quality that can maintain its running expenses without donations.

Therefore, the decision to significantly cut, for the first time in more than 70 years, this financial support is a severe blow to this hospital and a cause of friction between the director and its owners, who don't have any understanding of the nature of the situation of public services in Israel, and the importance to the various schools of Hadassah to Israel.


I do foresee severe damage to Hadassah Medical Organization, reminding me of Barbara Tuchman's book The March of Folly.


No human being is irreplaceable. Yet - knowing as well as I do all the leaders in our health-care system - none of them will agree to replace Prof. Mor-Yosef. In its current financial situation and the attitude of its American owners, it would be suicide for any leader.


Yes, there is one external candidate, and, to my knowledge, two internal ones who would like to add the title of director of Hadassah Medical Center to their CV. I would not appoint a single one of them as my assistant.

ONE MUST also recall the severe antagonism of the top physicians in Hadassah and they will protest strongly at the appointment of mediocre people. They might even severely damage the standing of Hadassah in the US and elsewhere.


One Israeli board member has resigned and another contemplated her resignation. What Israeli will agree in the future to be a board member when there is only a dictate and no dialogue between the Israelis and the Americans?


In Haaretz of February 4, there was a quote that the Hadassah board functions for the welfare of the patients. I am doubtful who among Hadassah's leaders really understand the medical needs of Israeli citizens. Several years ago Prof. Paul Marx, the director of the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, had a two-hour discussion with me and my Israeli colleagues, yet he could not understand the mentality of health care in Israel.


I have no vested interest in the Hadassah Medical Organization, and no one has asked me to talk with the Israeli chairman of the board (as I did) or to write this letter. I am doing it for the welfare of Israeli citizens to whom I have given 46 years of my life in public service.


Please do not destroy my alma mater, a beacon of medical care in Israel.


The writer is an Israel Prize laureate for his life's work as a long-time director of Sheba Medical Center, twice director-general of the Health Ministry and world-renowed expert in health systems and administration.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

NOT COMBAT HERITAGE

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to try to tighten Israelis' link to the Jewish people's historical homeland and the history of Zionism. This week he asked the cabinet to approve a plan for restoring and preserving historical and archaeological sites. At the last minute, he says, at the urging of his Shas coalition partners, Netanyahu added Rachel's Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs to the list of "heritage sites" that will be restored and preserved with government funds. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned the decision might "lead to a religious war" and Palestinian youths demonstrated near Rachel's Tomb and in the center of Hebron.


The unnecessary confrontation over the sites threatens to turn a welcome initiative - one that deepens the link to Jewish heritage and the country's history - into a focus of contention with the Palestinians and the entire Arab world. The prime minister no doubt remembers the bloody price of his hasty decision to open the Western Wall tunnel in 1996, yet he has chosen once again to strike a match next to a powder keg. And once again he is doing it while an international effort is underway to renew dialogue and prevent flare-ups between Israel and the Palestinians. Once again he is portraying the Palestinian Authority as an empty vessel and adding to Hamas' stature.

The cabinet's decision to extensively alter important sites in the West Bank clearly violates the commitment to refrain from changing the status quo in the territories, whose fate is subject to negotiations. If there is an urgent need for maintenance work at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, it would have been suitable to discuss this first with the PA's leaders and to coordinate plans with the Islamic institution that handles the site where both Jews and Muslims worship, rather than arrogantly asserting ownership.

 

Anyone who declares holy places in Hebron and Bethlehem to be Israeli heritage sites should not be surprised when right-wing activists seize a synagogue in Jericho. This is what happens under a government that has made acting belligerently toward its neighbors a strategy and provoking the world a policy. Netanyahu must not turn Jewish heritage sites into a new chapter in Israel's long combat heritage. He should announce that joint restoration work at Rachel's Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs will be one of the first subjects of peace talks with the Palestinians.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

TO PRESERVE ZIONISM, NETANYAHU MUST END THE OCCUPATION

BY ARI SHAVIT

Finally there is a vision. Speaking to Haaretz earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defined for the first time his vision of the future: Israel as a global technology leader, grounded in its values and moving toward peace from a position of power. You can like the vision or hate it, accept it or reject it, but now it is clear what Netanyahu is proposing against Peace Now of the left, and how he is dividing those in the center. His overall goal is now apparent.


Two elements in this vision are not new. Netanyahu has always believed that Israel must be an economic power, based on high technology and the free market; he has also always believed that Israel can achieve peace, but only from a position of political, military and economic power. The third part of the vision, however, is new. Unlike in the past, Netanyahu is now positing a national goal related to identity: the need to anchor Israel to national values that will remain valid and appealing through the 21st century.


The prime minister tried to define this third goal during the Herzliya Conference, but it was received with ridicule and contempt. His attempt to address issues that are not political or strategic and to confront questions of identity was perceived as bizarre. But Netanyahu is not giving up. He sees an urgent need to find a balance between economic and technological globalization and the deepening of the Judeo-Israeli identity. For him, the issue of values remains central, serving as the basis for national strength and security. Netanyahu understands that without renewing the Zionist narrative there will be no Zionist future.

 

At the celebratory cabinet meeting in Tel Hai this week, his government adopted a program for restoring and reinforcing national heritage. Once again, the decision was derided and ridiculed. Secular France invests greatly in commemorating its cultural and national heritage, while democratic United States glorifies its past and speaks incessantly about its uniqueness and greatness, and yet this is forbidden for Israel.


It is forbidden to preserve David Ben-Gurion's home in Sde Boker, or the Herzl House in Hulda, or Kinneret Farm, or the Ben Shemen Youth Village. It is forbidden to preserve the water tower at Negba, or the homes of the first settlers at Kfar Giladi. It is forbidden to preserve the treasures of Hebrew song, Hebrew dance and Hebrew theater. It is forbidden to preserve the manuscripts, photographs and films documenting the beginning of the Zionist enterprise. It is forbidden because any attempt by Israel to preserve the assets of its past is an anachronism, unenlightened and tainted by flawed nationalism. It is forbidden because any attempt on the part of the Jewish people to tell its story deserves to be condemned and silenced.


The absolute misunderstanding of the Herzliya speech and the mad assault on the effort to preserve national heritage sites suggests that Netanyahu touched a sensitive nerve. The original plan prepared by the cabinet secretary, Zvi Hauser, did not include the Tomb of the Patriarchs or Rachel's Tomb. This proves unequivocally that the values the government sought to renew are not the values of the settlers in Yitzhar or Itamar; these are the values of the settlers of Ruhama and Revivim, the founders of Gedera and Rosh Pina, and those who established Tel Aviv. These are the values of Bezalel, Habima, the National Library and Neve Tzedek.


The unbridled assault on the plan, therefore, is not an attack on the right and the occupation. It is an attack on the values that have shaped and defined us. An attack on Israel's core identity.


Something bad has happened to us over the last generation. The struggle against the war in Algeria did not lead the French left to turn against the French Republic. The struggle against the wars in Vietnam and Iraq did not lead the American peace movement to abandon belief in the United States. But in Israel, the drawn out and justified struggle against the occupation has led to us turning our back on Zionism.


Netanyahu is doing something important in trying to revive Zionism, but without confronting the occupation his effort will fail. If Israel is to be a global technological leader, grounded in its values and moving toward peace from a position of power, it must gradually leave the territories. The prime minister deserves a good word this week, but he must know that only if he removes Israel from Yitzhar and Itamar will he have the strength to restore it to what was promised at Ruhama, Kinneret, Hulda and Rosh Pina.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

DISPERSING WHITE PHOSPHOROUS CLOUDS OVER GAZA

BY GIDEON LEVY

If you have a moment or are bored or depressed, if you suspected there might be some truth in the criticism of Israel, or if you just feel like laughing out loud, just enter the Information and Diaspora Ministry's Web site.

There you'll find an innovation of global proportions - propaganda intended to mislead propagandists and public relations to deceive PR experts, rather than the target audience. Nicolae Ceausescu couldn't have phrased it better, and the Cairo radio station that broadcast threats in pidgin Hebrew before the Six-Day War never sounded as ludicrous. The Information Ministry presents: an insult to intelligence, contempt of reason - not only to the intelligence of "people overseas," to whom this cheap propaganda is geared, but to us, self-declared Israeli "ambassadors."


If this is the official message from Israel then we're really in trouble. If these are our arguments, then all our critics are right. Information and propaganda ministries exist, but in the third world. Welcome, Israel. Sex, lies and videotape? There's not much sex on this site, but plenty of all the rest - mixed with trivia, tastelessness and embarrassing parochialism.

How shall we begin our "information" quest? Perhaps with the list of achievements - 15 million bags of Bamba produced a month - 1,000 bags a minute of that peanut-butter-flavored children's snack. We're also a rising Krembo power - 50 million a season of that chocolate-coated marshmallow treat. The heart swells with pride. There's nothing like it in the world. A land of milk, Krembo and Bamba.


So why don't you visit us for the Krembo? Maybe you'll end up liking us for the Bamba. The actress Ayelet Zurer is doing well in Hollywood, and another Israeli is the world's cotton-growing champion. And an epilator that "makes women happy all over the world" was invented in Israel.


Let's move past "the typical Israeli warmth," "our tremendous national achievements" and our date produce (182 kilos a tree) - all intended to open our critics' and haters' minds. In propaganda as in propaganda, Goldstone is not mentioned, the occupation has disappeared. The Golan is "a land of water streams," the Palestinians are "refugees who invaded from Arab countries," the Galilee is Tuscany and the Dead Sea is a world wonder, all ours. The television broadcasts accompanying this delusional trip tell us the world thinks we ride camels (because we haven't heard of cars), eat barbecued meat (because we have no electric power) and shoot each other (because that's the way we are).


Well, there's not a bit of truth to it. How easy it is to refute the camel and barbecue lies, because who still believes this is what Israel is like? Ask any tea grower in Sri Lanka or banana farmer in Cameroon and they'll tell you that Israel is seen as a global weapons provider, a political and economic power, an occupying and oppressing state. We can only wish they thought of us as camel riders and barbecuers. We'd be so much better off. But these lies are easy to disprove, so let's go with them - otherwise we might get entangled in allegations of war crimes and human-rights violations. Confuting those is a much harder feat, almost impossible.


Actually, not quite. The Israeli propaganda ministry has "tips" for such problems as well. Its doomsday weapon: "Body language is no less important than content." Maintain eye contact, relaxed hands, smile only when you mean it, and try to keep a gentle expression. Then the white phosphorous clouds over Gaza will disperse.


Now seriously, despite this propaganda nonsense, Israeli PR is a resounding success story. The world accepts all our quirks and whims. The great Russia was forced to retreat from Georgia, but not Israel from the territories. Gilad Shalit has gained a global reputation as though there are no other prisoners of war in the world, and even the hysteria over Iran is made in Israel.


So what do we need all the Bamba and camel stories for? Let's keep doing our thing - occupying, bombing, shelling, building settlements, usurping and exploiting. At worst, we could always whip out Ayelet Zurer, Krembo and the Israeli-made epilator, for we indeed are the chosen people.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

WHAT IF WE WOULDN'T SCARE OURSELVES WITH THE BOMB?

BY AVNER COHEN

What if our leaders and pundits had reacted to the Iranian nuclear program in a completely different way than they actually have? What if they had not viewed an Iranian bomb as an "existential threat" and instead treated it as something that, even if it became a reality, would be a major global political problem, but not a military threat - because Iran (like every other nuclear state) would never be able to use a nuclear bomb as an operational military weapon?


What if Israel had treated Iran's nuclear project as an exhibitionist, even childish, attempt by a nation mired in a deep identity crisis to exploit the prestige and mystique of nuclear power to create a national ethos of technological progress at home, as well as a diplomatic miracle cure that would enable it to challenge the West and move to the center of the international stage?


Such a reaction would not (and should not) have minimized the gravity of the challenge Iran poses to the worldwide nuclear order, but it would have left the battle in the hands of the true guardians of this nuclear order (of which Israel is not one). Moreover, this view would not oblige Israel to attack Iran.

And what would have happened if we had refused to see ourselves as existentially threatened by Iran's push toward the nuclear threshold, viewing ourselves, as the world has already viewed us for decades, as a responsible nuclear weapons state that does not threaten other states but is also not vulnerable to nuclear threats?

What would have happened if we had refused to become hysterical and apocalyptic, and had instead remained calm at the existential level, just as the Iranians are calm with regard to us? After all, the Iranians are convinced that we have nuclear weapons - and a lot of them. Yet despite this, while they see us as a military threat to their nuclear program, they do not see us as an existential threat to the Iranian nation. Adopting such a strategic view would not oblige Israel to attack Iran, because Tehran could not pose an existential threat to Israel.


Ultimately, we need to internalize the insight that even Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad voiced this week, when he said that all the talk about an Iranian bomb is irrational and meaningless. This is not simply because any Iranian attempt to destroy Israel via a nuclear bomb would kill countless Palestinians, but because it would surely lead to the destruction of Iran itself by Israel and the United States. Therefore, the idiotic claim that Iran could bring about Israel's destruction does not hold water. While it is true that Ahmadinejad would love Israel to implode of its own accord, a self-confident and strong nation should not take such statements too seriously. And it certainly should not view them as an existential threat.


Unlike other weapons, the sway of nuclear weapons depends less on the physical characteristics of these weapons and much more on how these weapons are perceived. Nuclear weapons are almost entirely political weapons, built on perceptions and anxieties. This is even clearer today than earlier in the nuclear age. It is now agreed that except in dire emergencies, it is inconceivable that any country would use a nuclear weapon.


The taboo that has emerged as the reality of the nuclear era - and to which Israel has made its own contribution by its responsible behavior during the 1973 Yom Kippur War - is not nearly a normative one; it is based on political and military realism.


It is a great pity that through our own conduct, and especially the irresponsibly alarmist voices emerging from among us, we have inflated a political problem into an existential threat. And it is an equally great pity that we have granted legitimacy to nuclear bombs being viewed as weapons, instead of helping to delegitimize this useless weapon.


The writer, author of the book "Israel and the Bomb," is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

AN APPROPRIATE JUDICIAL INTERVENTION

BY ASHER MAOZ

The Knesset gave the Supreme Court the power to overturn legislation, but failed to complete the process by defining its own powers in cases when laws are abrogated." This was Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin's stance, reacting to the court's decision to overturn a provision in the criminal code that had permitted remand-extension hearings for security suspects in absentia. The court ruled that this provision violated the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom.


Rivlin's statement represents progress over a previous pronouncement of his, to the effect that when the Supreme Court annuls a law it is denying the sovereign its democratic authority, undermining the separation of powers and leaving the citizen "lacking any legal support." Nonetheless, his words leave doubt as to whether he has grasped the correct interplay between constitution, legislature and judiciary.


Democracy is indeed majority rule, but it is not the dictatorship of the majority. The people exercise their rule via their elected representatives, but do not give them unbridled powers. The people do not give up their sovereignty to their representatives, or even delegate it to them. Along with the powers the people award the legislature, they retain ways to control it and ensure that it does not abuse those powers. This control is exercised through a constitution - in Israel, through the Basic Laws, which are designed to restrain the Knesset and limit its legislative powers.

 

When the court overturns a law that contradicts a Basic Law, it is doing the will of the sovereign. When this happens, the Knesset may decide to enact the law again, in a way that does not clash with the Basic Laws. This is what it did for years after the court annulled laws aiming to violate the right of a minority to run in elections. It is surprising that precisely when laws that infringe on human rights are nullified, a cry goes up and proposals to restore the annulled law are voiced.


Several years ago the Supreme Court criticized the Economic Arrangements Law, through which the government passes a series of laws linked to the budget "by the back door," and even suspends other laws. The court stated that this law infringed on the separation of powers, the Knesset's status and democracy. Rivlin then joined in the criticism, declaring that "the Economic Arrangements Law is tantamount to a law that cancels out the Knesset, because the treasury uses it to erase or freeze budget laws that were enacted after intensive work by the Knesset."


It would be appropriate for the Knesset itself to combat the Economic Arrangements Law, but its hands are tied because, first, the government has a majority in the Knesset. Mainly, however, if the MKs defeat the Economic Arrangements Law, they will also defeat the budget law itself, and that would lead to a dissolution of the Knesset and an end of their terms. Would the court be exceeding its authority if it annulled this "Knesset-canceling law"?

The court has also been criticized for interfering, in the most recent case, in security matters. We do not live in a vacuum. If our courts refrain from examining laws that infringe on human rights because security is involved, ways will be found to have them scrutinized by bodies that are not known for their friendliness to Israel. The fact that the Supreme Court agreed to hear petitions against the location of the security fence and even to order changes in it led to the easing of a harsh judgment on the matter by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

It's the Knesset's function to legislate, the government's to execute and the courts' to adjudicate. This is what the Supreme Court did when it scrutinized the provision in the criminal code and nullified it.


The writer is a professor of constitutional law at Tel Aviv University

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

DON'T LET THEM VOTE

BY ARYE CARMON

 

This week Haaretz published an op-ed piece in Hebrew by Prof. Yehezkel Dror in which he comes out in favor of granting the right to vote to Israeli citizens living abroad ("The right of our citizens abroad," 21.2).


His reasoning is surprising, to put it lightly. Dror states that the decision to prevent them from voting is contrary to the democratic principle of equal rights, "for all citizens, and what is standard in growing numbers of democratic states."


However, this is not a democratic principle in any way. The definition of citizenship, with all the restrictions and rights contained therein, is not universal. Each country defines the unique characteristics of citizenship itself within its borders.

 

As Michael Walzer writes in his book, "Spheres of Justice," membership in a country, i.e. citizenship, is similar to membership in a club which comes with restrictions on eligibility.


The United States, for example, allows American citizens to vote in elections even if they are not in the country on election day. The same country established tough immigration laws that impose many restrictions on those seeking to obtain American citizenship.


The State of Israel instituted the Law of Return, which is a pillar of the definition of Israeli citizenship, and set down a unique right: Every Jew is entitled to receive citizenship there.


The state discriminates, legally, between Jews and non-Jews. A democratic state can impose restrictions on the civil right to vote and to be elected (and indeed, these two usually go together), for example, a minimum age for exercising this civil right/obligation. Alternately, it can waive restrictions of any kind.


Inherently, the next explanation cited by Dror in his piece is also puzzling: the definition of Israel as the "state of the Jewish people." If Dror seeks to "strengthen the Jewish character of Israel" by granting the right to participate in elections to those in the state's registry of residents, but who are not partners in fulfilling the civil obligations, why would he not want to grant this right to every Jew wherever he may be? Why shouldn't all the Jews of the world take part in elections in Israel?


According to the logic of his explanations, this granting of the right to vote in elections for the representative bodies of the Israeli democracy to world Jewry would also be a democratic way to strengthen the Jewish character of the state.


And if Dror wants to "use expatriots as a living bridge between the State of Israel and the Jews of the Diaspora," why does he need to build bridges? Give the right to vote to all Jews of the world and be done with it.


The absurdity in this explanation of Dror's is apparent, as the particular basis of the perception of citizenship in Israel stems from the Zionist ethos, the reason for Israel's existence, which presents Israel as the national home of the Jewish people and makes immigration there one of its top priorities.


The relative proportion of American citizens who are not residents but are eligible to vote is low, and therefore their impact on the election results is negligible. The same is true of other countries as well.

But in Israel, granting the right to vote to expats is equal to between six and 10 seats in the Knesset. Therefore it is patently immoral, in addition to being anti-Zionist to let them vote. Nevertheless, it is certainly fitting to consider extending the right to vote in elections to Israelis who are temporarily abroad, such as students attending institutions there and discharged soldiers traveling around the world.


The writer is president of the Israel Democracy Institute.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

AMPUTATE TO SAVE PUBLIC BROADCASTING

BY UZI PELED

 

Since the late 1960s, the Israel Broadcasting Authority has operated according to a law created when Israeli television was first established.


About 30 years ago, the Knesset decided to enact additional communications laws enabling a variety of satellite, cable and commercial stations to be used.


The accepted formula for financing all these types of stations is as correct and appropriate today as it was then: Satellite and cable stations are funded by subscription fees, commercial channels 2 and 10 by advertising, and public Channel 1 mainly by a tax collected from television owners and also from commercial sponsors.

 

In the United States, considered the most important communications power in the world, there are, surprisingly enough, no national public television stations in the style of the BBC or Israeli television. News is left largely to the broadcast networks, entertainment and sports are mainly in the hands of cable and satellite stations, while the PBS channel heralded as "public" is funded by contributions and commercial sponsorship, not government. Washington has almost no influence, directly or indirectly, on the content of shows. All the American broadcasting bodies, and there are a few thousand of them, operate only according to general regulatory rules.


Channel 1 was a standout in Israel and flourished as long as it was a monopoly. Almost as soon as multi-channel television began operating in Israel, Channel 1 was pushed into the background until it became almost invisible.

The main blame for this situation is attributed to a series of factors, most importantly: the lack of a modern broadcasting strategy in a competitive age; heavy-handed and unnecessary government interference; weak management in the shadow of 14 different unions; an out-of-date structure of radio and television broadcasts unsuited to a creative organization, instead of total separation and operating independence and the chronic waste of budgets which maintain hundreds of unnecessary employees, instead of paying for the production of original programs.

If public broadcasting is still important to us, the broadcasting authority must be shut down permanently, all its employees must be fired, and Channel 1 closed for one year.


During this time, a new, countrywide broadcast law must be enacted that would define the new public television broadcasts as news and the like on the one hand, and drama and Israeli documentary on the other, and cut public television off completely from its dependence on government influence.


A public committee should be established as an umbrella for all the various broadcasting factors, commercial and public, radio and television. This committee would oversee - from a distance - the fulfillment of professional regulations and orders. It would have no influence on the choice of directors, who would keep their positions as long as they did not violate the spirit of the law, or general and professional regulations.

Directors' terms of office would be predetermined for set periods of time. Members of the public committee would serve without pay, and under them ad-hoc consulting committees, of which one would be assigned to choose public broadcast directors. The majority of committee members would be representatives of academic communications departments, journalism and management. Government officials would not serve on them. Commercial radio and television directors would be chosen, as they are today, by their boards of directors.

 

If public broadcasting is important to the state of Israel and its citizens, we must act at once to change it and turn it into something relevant. Only extreme measures will revive it. If we don't hurry, the day is near when public broadcasting will shut down completely.


The writer was deputy director of Channel 1 and director of Telad-Channel 2.

 

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE TORTURE LAWYERS

 

Is this really the state of ethics in the American legal profession? Government lawyers who abused their offices to give the president license to get away with torture did nothing that merits a review by the bar?

 

A five-year inquiry by the Justice Department's ethics watchdogs recommended a disciplinary review for the two lawyers who produced the infamous torture memos for former President George W. Bush, but they were overruled by a more senior Justice Department official.

 

The original investigation found that the lawyers, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, had committed "professional misconduct" in a series of memos starting in August 2002. First, they defined torture so narrowly as to make it almost impossible to accuse a jailer of torturing a prisoner, and they finally concluded that President Bush was free to ignore any law on the conduct of war.

 

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility said appropriate bar associations should be asked to look at the actions of Mr. Yoo, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, and Mr. Bybee, who was rewarded for his political loyalty with a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. It was a credible accounting, especially since some former officials, like Attorney General John Ashcroft, refused to cooperate and e-mails from Mr. Yoo were mysteriously missing.

 

But the more senior official, David Margolis, decided that Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee only had shown "poor judgment" and should not be disciplined. Mr. Margolis did not dispute that Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee mangled legal reasoning and produced work that ultimately was repudiated by the Bush administration itself. He criticized the professional responsibility office's investigation on procedural grounds and excused Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee by noting that everyone was frightened after Sept. 11, 2001, and that they were in a hurry.

 

Americans were indeed frightened after Sept. 11, and the Bush administration was in a great rush to torture prisoners. Responsible lawyers would have responded with extra vigilance, especially if, like Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee, they worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. When that office renders an opinion, it has the force of law within the executive branch. Poor judgment is an absurdly dismissive way to describe giving the green light to policies that have badly soiled America's reputation and made it less safe.

 

As the dealings outlined in the original report underscore, the lawyers did not offer what most people think of as "legal advice." Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee were not acting as fair-minded analysts of the law but as facilitators of a scheme to evade it. The White House decision to brutalize detainees already had been made. Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee provided legal cover.

 

We were glad that the leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, Representative John Conyers Jr. and Senator Patrick Leahy, committed to holding hearings after the release of the Justice Department documents.

 

The attorney general, Eric Holder Jr., should expand the investigation into "rogue" interrogators he initiated last

year to include officials responsible for facilitating torture. While he is at it, Mr. Holder should assign someone to look into the disappearance of Mr. Yoo's e-mails.

 

The American Bar Association should decide whether its rules are adequate for deterring and punishing ethical failures by government lawyers.

 

The quest for real accountability must continue. The alternative is to leave torture open as a policy option for future administrations.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

LOAN-SHARKING INC.