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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

EDITORIAL 08.03.10

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Editorial

month march 08, edition 000449, 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. EMPOWERING WOMEN
  2. STAY FIRM AND RESOLUTE
  3. INDIA MUST WAGE ITS OWN WAR - JOGINDER SINGH
  4. REMOVE ALL GENDER BIAS - RANJIT KUMAR PAUL
  5. OUTSOURCING JIHAD - SHASHI SHEKHAR
  6. RAISE THE BARRICADES! - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
  7. SUSTAINING DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ - GWYNNE DYER
  8. A BUDGET FOR JOBLESS INFLATIONARY 'GROWTH' - SHIVAJI SARKAR

MAIL TODAY

  1. FAILURE OF BT COTTON A LEG- UP FOR SCEPTICS
  2. CLEAN UP GOA
  3. RELUCTANT PUSH FOR WOMEN IN POLITICS? - BY RAJEEV DHAVAN
  4. POWER & POLITICS - PRABHU CHAWLA

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. GENDER SHOWING
  2. DESTINY'S DAUGHTERS - MANJUL BAJAJ
  3. 'COMMUNAL VIOLENCE BILL IS A NASTY PIECE OF LEGISLATION' - HUMRA QURAISHI
  4. WINNING FORMULA
  5. WHAT'S THE GOOD WORD? - J S RAGHAVAN

 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. A SURGE FROM NEW DELHI
  2. LENNON UNLIMITED
  3. WHEN THE FRINGE BENEFITS - ASHOK MALIK
  4. A RIGHT IDEA AT THE WRONG TIME - PANKAJ VOHRA

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. DELHI, NOT MUMBAI
  2. TURN THE PAGE
  3. CAST IN DOUBT
  4. ARMS AND THE AGENCY - BIBEK DEBROY
  5. NO SHORT CUTS TO EQUALITY - COOMI KAPOOR
  6. DREAM NO SMALL DREAMS
  7. ON SHAKY GROUND - DCWADHWA
  8. A PRIVILEGE TO SERVE - JAVED ANAND
  9. COUNTER COUP RUCHIKA TALWAR

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. AT 75, RBI NEEDS REFORM
  2. WITHOUT DOT
  3. MEAT OF THE BT BRINJAL MATTER - RENUKA BISHT
  4. DO AS PITRODA SUGGESTS FOR BSNL - RISHI RAJ
  5. STOCKING UP ON BANKS - SAIKAT NEOGI

THE HINDU

  1. OPERATION MOSHTARAK
  2. GOOGLE AND OUR DIGITAL FUTURE
  3. HUMANISING THE BORDER SECURITY FORCE - R.K. RAGHAVAN
  4. ACEH: RECASTING REBELS AS FOREST RANGERS - PETER GELLING
  5. INCREASING PRESSURE ON JOURNALISTS  - SAEED KAMALI DEHGHAN
  6. PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUES: NEED FOR MORE MEDIA CONCERN

DNA

  1. SECOND TO NONE
  2. HIDE AND SEEK
  3. CHINA'S WORLD ORDER? - RAMESH THAKUR
  4. MORE PATHETIQUE, LESS PATHETIC - ANIL DHARKER

THE TRIBUNE

  1. POLITICS OF PRICE RISE
  2. MAOISTS — ENEMY WITHIN
  3. "NEWS" PAID FOR
  4. EFFORTS FOR BETTER INDO-PAK TIES - BY KULDIP NAYAR
  5. STRIKING IT RICH - BY S. RAGHUNATH
  6. EMPOWERING WOMEN - BY INDU SWAMI
  7. REFORMING PRIMARY EDUCATION - BY N K SINGH
  8. CHATTERATI - BY DEVI CHERIAN

MUMBAI MERROR

  1. MEDICAL TOURISM, THE NEXT IT?

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. BUDGETING FOR POLITICS
  2. MR MUKHERJEE'S BAD IDEA
  3. PRIMARY MARKET AND PSU DISINVESTMENT - PRATIP KAR
  4. DEFICITS AND FINANCIAL INNOVATIONS - A V RAJWADE
  5. UNTYING THE STATES - SUNIL JAIN
  6. LOOK WEST POLICY - SANJAYA BARU

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. MOUSE TRAP
  2. TOWARDS WOMEN'S EQUALITY
  3. LED, KINDLY LIGHT
  4. UPA II'S NEW COALITION MUSCLE - CL MANOJ
  5. THE BASE RATE MUDDLE - U R BHAT
  6. TOWARDS WOMEN'S EQUALITY
  7. 'WE'RE EVALUATING TARGETS IN ASIA' - MAYUR SHETTY
  8. WE'RE MOVING TOWARDS HEALTHIER REFRESHMENT: PEPSICO INDIA - RATNA BHUSHAN
  9. WE AIM TO RETAIN & CREATE VALUE FOR CONSUMERS: GM - LIJEE PHILIP
  10. WE'RE MOVING TOWARDS HEALTHIER REFRESHMENT: PEPSICO INDIA - RATNA BHUSHAN
  11. WE AIM TO RETAIN & CREATE VALUE FOR CONSUMERS: GM - LIJEE PHILIP
  12. CUT RED TAPE, DON'T POLICE COUPONS: KAUSHIK BASU - SURABHI & DEEPSHIKHA SIKARWAR
  13. WE ARE FOCUSED ON PROFITABILITY: HDFC STANDARD LIFE - MAYUR SHETTY, ET BUREAU
  14. INTEREST RATE HIKE WON'T TRIGGER A PANIC IN MARKET: KOTAK ASSET - SANTOSH NAIR

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. A HISTORIC DAY FOR INDIAN DEMOCRACY
  2. LET HOSTILITY DECLINE - BY ARJUN SENGUPTA
  3. DREAMING THE POSSIBLE DREAM IN AMERICA
  4. MAYA SHUNS COLOURS, DMK CHANGES PARTY'S

THE STATESMAN

  1. LESS THAN SWEET
  2. UMBRELLA REGULATOR
  3. GARBAGE ON CELLULOID
  4. MARXISTS & MUNICIPALITIES  - SHYAMAL DATTA

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. A DEAL TOO FAR
  2. RAISING A STINK
  3. TOO MUCH TO REMEMBER - S.L. RAO
  4. NARROW ESCAPES - GWYNNE DYER

DECCAN HERALD

  1. CREATE HISTORY
  2. CRUSH OF POVERTY
  3. PROMISE-DELIVERY GAP - BYLINE M J AKBAR
  4. INDIA DESERVES PLACE AT UN HIGH TABLE - BY NEHA KHATOR
  5. BALD HEAD IS LIKE HEAVEN - BY A N SURYANARAYANAN

THE JERUSLAM POST

  1. CARE ON CONVERSION
  2. EDITOR'S NOTES: STYMIED IN SILWAN - BY DAVID HOROVITZ
  3. METRO VIEWS: HERE'S TO THE FUTURE - BY MARILYN HENRY
  4. THE REGION: LOOK OUT! - BY BARRY RUBIN
  5. WE NEED MORE WOMEN IN POLITICS  - BY LORAINE WARREN
  6. ONWARD, HE SAID, REGARDLESS - BY CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER

HAARETZ

  1. U.S. IS PROVING IT WANTS MIDEAST PEACE - NOW IT'S ISRAEL'S TURN
  2. WITHOUT LABOR OR HADASH - BY TAMAR HERMANN

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. ARE YOU OR HAVE YOU EVER BEEN A LAWYER?
  2. TURKEY AND THE ARMY
  3. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING COUNTED
  4. THE ESCALATING PRICE OF POLITICS
  5. AN IRISH MIRROR - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  6. BIOLOGICS BOONDOGGLE - BY ANTHONY D. SO AND SAMUEL L. KATZ
  7. SLUG ON THE TRACKS - BY CHRISTIAN WOLMAR
  8. ADJUSTING TO REALITY - BY ALICIA H. MUNNELL AND ANDREW G. BIGGS

I.THE NEWS

  1. THE VOLCANO
  2. WORKERS' POWER
  3. VIOLENCE ON WOMEN
  4. WOMEN THROUGH THE GOVERNANCE LENS - SANIA NISHTAR
  5. MARCH 8 FOR AFGHAN WOMEN - SAHAR SABA
  6. INDIA'S PRO-RICH BUDGET - PRAFUL BIDWAI
  7. THE WAY FORWARD IN FATA - AYAZ WAZIR
  8. OBAMA'S NUCLEAR REBUFF - ASIF EZDI
  9. BUSINESS AS USUAL - CHRIS CORK

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. WELCOME INITIATIVE TO UTILISE THAR COAL
  2. PENTAGON TOO WORRIED OVER BLACKWATER
  3. OIC CONCERNED OVER AL-AQSA SACRILEGE BY ISRAEL
  4. BALOCHISTAN: STORY OF FOREIGN INTRIGUES - DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
  5. INDIAN WATER STRATEGY - S ASHFAQ
  6. WHO WE REALLY ARE? - AHMED HASAN SHEIKH
  7. CORRUPTION - COL RIAZ JAFRI [R]
  8. COCAINE, KIDNAPPING AL-QAEDA CASH SQUEEZE - PHILIP SHERWELL

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. JOB CREATION
  2. TANNERY DEATHS
  3. GET RAGGED BE READY..!
  4. MUCH MORE STILL NEEDS TO BE DONE - MD. SAZEDUL ISLAM
  5. TOWARDS THE DIGITAL DREAM - TOWHEED FEROZE
  6. WHEN CREATIVITY RULES THE WORLD - BILL COSTELLO

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. THE BOATS WILL KEEP COMING
  2. PM MUST EXPLAIN, NOT PROCLAIM, HOSPITAL PLAN
  3. HYPERBOLE ERODES CREDIBILITY

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. FIXING MY UNIVERSITY
  2. GOBBLEDEGOOK IS NOT A POLICY
  3. NATION CANNOT AFFORD SUPER SLEIGHT OF HAND
  4. CELEBRATE VICTORY, BUT BATTLES AWAIT

THE GUARDIAN

  1. GORDON BROWN AND DAVID CAMERON: QUESTIONS OF LEADERSHIP
  2. WHY WORK? CALLING TIME ON THE 9 TO 5
  3. IN PRAISE OF... ENGLISH TENORS

 

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. FAILING GRADES
  2. FREQUENT CRASHES
  3. LABYRINTH FOR PAKISTAN'S FOUNDER - JASWANT SINGH

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. A 'FIRST STEP' IN SOUTH ASIA
  2. NEW DEVICE APT TO KINDLE GREATER INTEREST IN READING - BY TAKAMITSU SAWA 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

EMPOWERING WOMEN

AT LAST, THE WOMAN'S QUOTA BILL


The much-awaited and much-debated Women's Reservation Bill to reserve 33 per cent seats in Parliament and State Assemblies for women is at last coming up for a vote. It may be a symbolic gesture that the Bill will be tabled in Parliament on International Women's Day, but the significance of the proposed amendment to the Constitution cannot be over-stressed. Given the ground-level social realities of our country and the nature of electoral politics, it is not surprising that women's representation in Parliament as well as State Assemblies should continue to be abysmally low six decades after we became a republic although they represent half the country's population. There is an in-built gender bias in our political system which leads to the exclusion of women from the organisational structure of parties and their list of candidates for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. This is ironical given the fact that India has had one of the most powerful woman Prime Minister in the world — Mrs Indira Gandhi belongs to the same league as Israel's Golda Mier and Britain's Mrs Margaret Thatcher. We have also had several women Chief Ministers. It is also a fact that women have more easily broken through the proverbial glass ceiling to become successful entrepreneurs and managers in India. Yet, when it comes to political representation, they have been denied their fair — and due — share. True, the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP, have been mindful of including women in organisational affairs (the BJP now has a woman Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha) but this has not translated into increased representation for women in either Parliament or State Assemblies.


It could be argued that in the rough and tumble of elections where 'winnability' is often decided by a candidate's ability to take on goons and assorted disruptionists of the opponent's camp, it would make little or no sense to field women. It is to ensure a level playing field that an amendment to the Constitution is necessary in order to reserve constituencies for women. Our experience with reserving seats for women in panchayats and civic bodies has been most rewarding: After the inevitable initial problems, a system has evolved that empowers women politically at the grassroots level and makes them a part of the decision-making system in the districts , towns and cities of India. This has now to be replicated at the State and national levels. All political parties should come forward to support the measure as it impacts over half-a-billion Indians cutting across caste, community and region. More importantly, the Congress should resist the temptation of seeking to convert this Bill into a vote-getting measure as that would defeat the purpose of the proposed law. In any event, the idea of reserving seats in Parliament and State Assemblies was fist mooted by Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee through a Private Member's Bill in 1996. It was subsequently adopted by the United Front Government headed by Mr HD Deve Gowda. Since then, the Bill has been scrutinised by a parliamentary committee and both the BJP and the Congress, along with the CPI(M) and other regional parties barring a few, have repeatedly promised its passage in Parliament and enactment as law. Fourteen years after Mr Vajpayee made his radical intervention, the Bill is set to become an Act of Parliament. No doubt there will be problems with implementing it (selecting the constituencies to be reserved for women won't be easy) but they can be tackled as they emerge.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

STAY FIRM AND RESOLUTE

WE MUST PERSIST WITH HELPING AFGHANS


The suspension of India's medical mission in Kabul in the wake of last week's terrorist attack is exactly what the jihadis wanted. There is no doubt that the fidayeen-style attack had Indians as its target and was aimed at disrupting India's development activities in Afghanistan. There is no denying the fact that Indian assistance in rebuilding the war-torn country has done wonders for the Afghan people, a point that the Afghan Government and people have noted time and again and are very appreciative of. It is also true that the amount of goodwill that has come India's way for its development work in Afghanistan has earned it the ire of Pakistan which is extremely sensitive of New Delhi's activities in what it perceives to be its backyard. It is no secret that the Pakistani establishment has been extremely anxious about India's growing cordial relationship with Afghanistan. And given the track record of the former, it is hardly surprising that Islamabad would stoop to the lowest possible level to undermine all the good work that New Delhi has been doing. So what if the Afghan people suffer in the process? The development of Afghanistan is the last thing that the Pakistani establishment wants. The latter's strategy is to keep Afghanistan hobbled to the point that when the Americans pull out — which could be happening as early as 2012 — it is able to simply move in and fill the vacuum.


On India's part, the Government should do everything that it can to shore up Indo-Afghan ties. In fact, more should be done to expand the scope of the development projects that India is currently sponsoring in Afghanistan. Every effort should be made to ensure that Indian development activities get the maximum possible advertisement and that they are visible to the Afghan people. The aim of doing so would be to send out a strong message that no matter how many terrorist attacks we have to face, our commitment to the welfare of the Afghan people will not wane; that our resolve to bring smiles to Afghan faces will continue to remain strong. It is precisely for this reason that our medical mission in Kabul should be up and running as soon as possible. It is understandable that there needs to be a re-evaluation of security protocols. But at no point should it seem that our resolve has weakened. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has assured New Delhi that his Government would do whatever is necessary to boost security for Indians. In addition to this, New Delhi could take steps to send its own security personnel to Afghanistan to protect its citizens. But the bottomline is Pakistan and its terrorist proxies cannot be allowed to succeed in their nefarious designs.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

INDIA MUST WAGE ITS OWN WAR

JOGINDER SINGH


There is justifiable frustration, disappointment and rage over the repeated terrorist attacks sponsored by Pakistan on Indian soil. In its anti-India efforts, Pakistan is assisted by motley Indian groups which are known by various names like Indian Mujahideen, or Muslim students organisations, for instance SIMI which has been banned. Most terrorists, their masters and sympathisers are confident that if caught, inadequate, outdated Indian laws will enable them to escape punishment. Perhaps they are not mistaken. How can you have an independent witness to their crime when the Army is fighting terrorists from across the border and the Line of Control in thick forests or at on mountains?


Even assuming that there is a witness who was present, nobody is that stupid to come forward and depose in the court and risk his life. The dreaded terrorists and/or their supporters are bound to track down such witnesses. This is not only true in cases dealing with terrorists, but also those involving disruptionist and separatist forces like the Maoists or insurgents in the North-East.


So great is the love for 'human rights' of terrorists and their ilk among some Indians, that the human rights of the innocent victims of terrorism and violence unleashed by insurgents are not only forgotten but brushed aside. What we also witness at times is the outrageous attempt by some rights activists to equate victims of terror and the perpetrators of terror, as if the violated and the violator are one and the same!


In many situations, forget about an independent witness, there are no human beings around. Then, how do you prove a case in a court of law? Surely our Government and the criminal justice system do not expect the Pakistani Government or its representatives to depose in an Indian court and admit that they had trained terrorists and sent them to Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and various other cities to indulge in mass killings?


Solutions to India's problems have to be found in India. India has been pleading with Pakistan all this while to put an end to cross-border terrorism. Now the Government of India has sought Saudi Arabia's help. Are we so weak that we cannot make the cost of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism so prohibitive that anybody entering our country with a nefarious objective would not only think twice but a hundred times? This can be done — by neutralising them at the entry point.


It is true that India is a democracy and should therefore respect the rule of law. But we need to ask a simple question: What law do the terrorists observe except the 'law' of killing civilians and security forces?


The police in many States does enjoy the dubious reputation of being trigger-happy and cutting corners while collecting evidence or taking short-cuts for the disposal of cases by disposing of criminals. But it is also true that policemen, like millions of Indians, feel frustrated as they see known terrorists and/or criminals get away with their crimes on purely technical grounds, thus undoing all the labour they had put in to secure conviction within the ambit of the law. Human rights should be guaranteed only to our citizens and not non-citizens whose sole objective is to destroy the country and its unity.


Our folly is further illustrated by our unthinking diplomacy. The India-Pakistan Foreign Secretary-level talks, which were supposed to break the ice and goad Islamabad into taking action against terrorists operating from territory under Pakistan's control, have predictably ended in a deadlock. Pakistan has described the evidence provided by India on the role of Pakistanis in the 26/11 and other terrorist attacks as "literature". Criticising India on Indian soil, the Pakistani Foreign Secretary said, "Pakistan does not believe that India should lecture us and demand that Pakistan should do this or that."


The world believes that Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism and its Government has been promoting jihadi terror. Pakistan's foundation rests on hating India; this hatred is particularly directed at India's majority community of Hindus. First total ethnic cleansing was done in Pakistan by driving out non-Muslims from that country and now an effort is on to drive out the few remaining Hindus by harassing and humiliating them and Sikhs by beheading them. Pakistan-based terrorists have been openly saying that "one Mumbai is not enough". With such knowledge, what forgiveness? Our war on terrorism and terrorists cannot be half-hearted.

When it is a question of the survival of our country, we should learn lessons from countries like Israel. It is believed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorised Mossad, the country's external intelligence agency, to kill senior Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mahbouh in Dubai. No tears have been shed in Israel over the targeted killing. Such covert operations are authorised by the political executive, though no official records exist. Israel, unlike India, has an awesome reputation of tracking down and assassinating terrorists, no matter wherever they may be hiding in the world.


It is a well-known and well-established fact that given the impossible-to-meet standards of proof required for convictions in a court of law, rare is the terrorist who has been convicted under the law. The only option left is to repay terrorists in their own coin and with compounded interest.


Covert counter-terrorism operations are integral to the undeclared policy of all countries. India's record of covert operations has been colourless or nil. Instead of fighting or acting against terrorism, we have been reacting to it. We have never bothered to ensure that terrorists get the retribution they deserve. Terrorism is not going to end because of sweet talk at any level.


The Prime Minister has admitted that the Government does not know whom to talk to in Pakistan as there are many power centres and nobody knows who is in control of that country. Theoretically there is a civilian Government in Pakistan, but in practice, power and authority are not vested in this Government. Hence the dilemma of the Prime Minister. Our self-respect demands that we should stop begging Pakistan to put an end to cross-border terrorism. Instead our message, through deed and not word, should be: "Do your worst, but do not blame us for the consequences."


We should mean business in tackling terrorism and the war against terror to its logical conclusion. Our security forces and and intelligence agencies can do it, provided the Government wills it and means it. To win this war the Government will have to stand firm.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

REMOVE ALL GENDER BIAS

RANJIT KUMAR PAUL


Every month, hundreds of dowry-related cases come to light through the print and electronic media. But the cases that do come to public attention only form the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, women around the world have to put up with innumerable incidents of discrimination. More often than not, there is no justice for them.The immensity of the problem can be ascertained from the fact that violence and discrimination against the female child begins even before their birth in the form of female foeticide. This year the Government decided to observe January 24 to 30 as National Girl Child Week. But the Government's mission to save the girl is yet to attain traction on the ground. The sharply declining child sex ratio (0 to 6 years), which decreased from 945 females in 1991 to 927 females per 1,000 males in 2001, exemplifies the gravity of the situation.


There are several hurdles to empowerment of women in society, many of which manifest in the form of violent crimes. Domestic violence is the most common form of crime against women in our country. Even though we now have strict laws against domestic violence, there has only been a marginal reduction in incidents of domestic mental and physical abuse of women.

 

Apart from this, women also have to put up with certain institutionalised customs and practices that treat them as second-class citizens. The custom of purdah or burqa and child marriage are some examples of such practices that are still quite commonly prevalent in the rural areas of our country. Although the story is not all bad and women in our country have been able to make great strides in various fields, such empowerment has been restricted to few pockets only. The fast majority of women still have to fight for an eduction and have to go against the wishes of their families to pursue a career.


Empowering women politically by reserving 33 per cent of the seats in Parliament and in the State Assemblies is undoubtedly a good idea. But it is empowering women economically and socially that is vital for success of democracy. On this International Women's Day, let's pledge to do more for the fairer sex.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

OUTSOURCING JIHAD

IT IS CLEAR THAT DAVID COLEMAN HEADLEY AND HIS ASSOCIATE TAHAWWUR RANA REPRESENT A NEW BREED OF JIHADI FREELANCERS WILLING TO OFFER THEIR SERVICES TO MULTIPLE SPONSORS OF ISLAMIST TERROR, WHILE LASHKAR-E-TAYYEBA IS PLAYING THE ROLE OF A 'GLOBAL JIHAD FACILITATOR'

SHASHI SHEKHAR


Terror struck India once again on February 26, this time in Kabul with the targeting of Indian citizens and Indian interests. The Kabul attack came as India not just resumed talks with Pakistan but also looked to Saudi Arabia to exert pressure on it to act on terror. While the jury is out on the likely effectiveness of this diplomatic option, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h's Hafiz Saeed made no bones of the patronage his group receives from Saudi Arabia. Hafiz Saeed openly exhorted jihad in fresh speeches made days before the resumption of talks with Pakistan apart from giving a lengthy interview to a Pakistan-based media outlet. The ease with which Hafiz Saeed and his outfit continue to operate in Pakistan is yet another pointer to an emerging narrative of state-sponsored terror in Pakistan that goes far beyond the contours of the 'Karachi Project'.



In an upcoming book titled Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Mr Stephen Tankel, who is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, describes how the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba has evolved since 2001 and more specifically 2006. Speaking at a seminar organised by the New America Foundation recently, Mr Tankel outlined the magnitude of the threat posed by Lashkar. He reiterated that the Lashkar's primary focus continues to be India while describing an evolution of in its strategy of blending attacks to simultaneously target Indian and Western interests. But the more significant insight from Mr Tankel comes from what he describes as the Lashkar's ideal suitability for playing the role of a 'global jihadist facilitator'.

If one were to draw a Silicon Valley analogy, Mr Tankel's picture of the Lashkar is that of 'jihadi venture capitalist and incubator'. With its robust finances, he says, the Lashkar is able to sponsor attacks either by the group itself or by nodes within its network in collaboration with other groups. What makes the Lashkar unique is its ability to go beyond the financing by providing additional logistical support to facilitate attacks. One way the Lashkar is able to provide such logistical support is by offering its training facilities to other groups, exploiting the relatively less stringent scrutiny its training camps receive.


According to Mr Tankel, support from Lashkar to other groups is evident from Jalozai Refugee Camp in Peshawar where allegedly training was provided to Al Qaeda suicide bombers headed for Afghanistan. Mr Tankel also draws attention to two other attacks in Afghanistan in 2008 directed against a United States combat outpost in Wanat and the Indian Embassy in Kabul where Lashkar is said to have collaborated with other groups. Mr Tankel's narrative of Lashkar's collaboration with other groups takes a curious turn when he talks of jihadi freelancing.


As observed by this columnist in the past on the 'Karachi Project' as well as from the body of evidence made public in the Chicago conspiracy case it is clear that David Headley and his associated Tahawwur Rana represented a new breed of jihadi free agents willing to offer their services to multiple sponsors of jihadi terror. According to Mr Tankel, the freelancing started at the mid-level and lower levels around 2006 with logistical and manpower support to anti-establishment groups within Pakistan like the TTP. Mr Tankel says this support has been in the areas of movement of people and material, safe houses, surveillance, false identities amongst other things.

Mr Tankel also highlights how the Lashkar continues expand its operations in the NWFP/FATA regions of Pakistan despite the official ban. According to him, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h operates a large number of mosques and Madaris in NWFP. Specific interest to India ought to be Liasion and Recruitment offices in Lower Dir and Swat districts, as well as a base camp near Darra Adam Khel.


Mr Tankel also throws light on the trust deficit between the TTP, Al Qaeda and the Lashkar on account of its proximity to the ISI with specific instances of inter-jihadi rivalry. But he feels these fault lines were getting reconciled starting 2006 with the advent of freelancing and collaboration as has been evident from the Chicago conspiracy case which saw freelancers like David Headley collaborating simultaneously with the Lashkar and with the Ilyas Kashmiri lead 313 Brigade.


Still much remains unknown of the freelancing terror syndicate that the Lashkar-ISI complex has evolved into.


Mr Tankel sheds no light on how high up the freelancing and collaboration runs nor does he shed light on the degree to which the ISI and serving or retired Pakistani military officers are complicit. Neither does he shed light on who controls the "robust finances" of this terror syndicate and how they are managed. Lastly, we continue to remain in the dark on the command and control structure of this Lashkar-ISI Terror Syndicate beyond the jihadi demagogues and Islamist charity front outfits.


While Mr Tankel's primary focus was on the threat to the West from Lashkar's connections and collaboration, it is clear from his analysis that the direct and primary threat from Lashkar is to India. The jihadi freelancing and opportunistic collaboration described him makes it clear that India is no longer dealing with monolithic jihadi outfits with firm loyalties to either the state or to a cause. It would be myopic of India to narrowly focus its energies on a diplomatic process punctuated by periodic exchange of dossiers. What we now have in Pakistan instead, is a terror syndicate of freelancing state and non-state actors with commercial interests in the business of jihad. These interests go far beyond the AfPak theatre and will likely outlast American presence in this theatre. Its time our strategic calculus factored this chilling reality.


-- The writer, an expert on security affairs, tracks terrorism in South Asia.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

RAISE THE BARRICADES!

BUT THAT WOULDN'T HELP THE MARXISTS TO SAVE THEIR FORT

SHIKHA MUKERJEE


So what if it were true that the CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat had privately told historian Eric Hobsbawm that the party was beleaguered and besieged in West Bengal and in danger of falling out of voter favour and so losing the next Assembly election in 2011?


This proclivity to clutch at straws, jump at shadows, are all signs of acute anxiety within the CPI(M). It is also a measure of its loss of confidence. And that is why some leaders of the CPI(M) are prepared to blame Mr Karat for stating the obvious — the party has little hope of winning against the entirely confident Trinamool Congress and its self assured leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee.


The inability of the CPI(M) to work to achieve a turnaround is at the core of the blame game triggered by a tête-à-tête between the CPI(M)'s general secretary and a British historian.


To Amar Bauri's father, an exhausted parent of a child with multiple disabilities in a remote village in Bankura that cannot seem to connect with the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme intended for folks like him, it does not matter what the general secretary may have said or what a historian may have chosen to write, because the reality is not about time pass between intellectuals but about the simple facts of life — roti, kaam, education and health care.


Therefore, the talk in CPI(M) circles in West Bengal that the Eric Hobsbawm recollection of a conversation with Mr Karat will upset the applecart is nonsense. It is equally silly to think that the Trinamool Congress can use that bit of tittle-tattle to gain further advantage against the beleaguered CPI(M).

For there is no getting away from it that the CPI(M) is beleaguered. There is also no getting away from it that the Trinamool Congress is anticipating the event, namely its elevation to office in West Bengal. The determination of the Trinamool Congress to reach its goal can be measured by the docility of its leader in swallowing the biggest snub that the Congress could possibly deliver in slapping a service tax on the railways and trashing Ms Banerjee's fancy calculations about delivering railway and metro services to West Bengal.


The drift within the CPI(M)'s State leadership is the willingness to take something as inconsequential as Mr Hobsbawm's recollections of a conversation with Mr Karat into serious consideration, instead of dismissing it as irrelevant. The pity is that instead of paying attention to Mr Karat's statement of the obvious, there are CPI(M) leaders who think that raising a fuss over it is sensible politics.


After being warned again and again and again by leaders with the ability to convert experience into wisdom that complacency was the greatest danger to the CPI(M)'s long and sustained innings in power, the failure to pay heed is at the root of the problem. Instead of working on long-term objectives, the leadership has grown used to running campaigns that focus on the short term; it is easier to trash the opposition than correct the omissions.

And the omissions are legion, when the spotlights are turned on them. The magnification of faults is possible because the CPI(M) has lost its ability to communicate the achievements of its long run in power. It has no sense of its own history and therefore overreacts to every salvo fired by an opposition that has a chequered history before 1998, as the stormy petrel of the Congress.


There is so much negative propaganda about how little has been achieved by the CPI(M) in the past 30 odd years that the party has turned apologetic about its past. If the Opposition has accused the CPI(M) of falsifying the facts, the party has failed to counter by pointing out just how terrible things were in the 1970's, in the years of political turbulence and industrial decline. Mr Karat is right in describing the prevailing sentiment as besieged and beleaguered; but even he needs to recognise that these are sentiments.


If the electorate is irritated by the CPI(M) because of its constant canvassing for votes and its addiction to winning by huge margins, then the CPI(M) has to change tack. It has to stop functioning on autopilot and start working from the grassroots again. Its capacity to correct its own tactics as well as recast its strategy is under the scanner. Whereas the Opposition can only turn the spotlights on the CPI(M)'s dysfunctional parts, the party needs to micromanage itself.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

SUSTAINING DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ

THOUGH IT'S A BIT EARLY TO SAY THIS, IRAQ CAN BE SEEN AS WEST ASIA'S BELGIUM WITH AS MANY BITTER INTERNAL DIVISIONS AS THAT DEEPLY DIVIDED COUNTRY BUT ALSO ITS ENDURING COMMITMENT TO DEMOCRACY

GWYNNE DYER


There are some bombs going off, but apart from that the election in Iraq on March 7 is a model of its kind. There are more than 6,000 candidates for the 352 seats in Parliament, and the country is flooded with foreign observers who will monitor the process. Unlike last time, no major group is boycotting the election — and nobody knows who is going to win it.


Iraq has come a long way since the Sunni-Shia civil war of 2005-07, when 3,000 murdered people were being found in Baghdad each month. True, the most violent elements could just be waiting until all the Americans leave next year to start the fighting again, but it's unlikely that they would let this election unfold smoothly if they had the power to disrupt it. And the more credible the election, the greater the legitimacy of the resulting Government.

It could be literally a new Government, in the sense that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would no longer be running it. Mr Maliki's personal popularity among more 'nationalist' Shias (ie less sectarian ones) is undiminished, and his 'State of Law' alliance leads in the opinion polls, with a predicted 30 per cent of the seats in the new Parliament. But 30 per cent is not a majority.


To form a new Government, Mr Maliki's party will need the support of either the secular nationalists of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National Movement, now at 22 per cent in the polls, or of the conservative Shia religious party, the Iraqi National Alliance, which has 17 per cent. They have both said that they will not accept Mr Maliki as Prime Minister in any coalition Government they join, and they may actually mean it.


But how nice it is to make such boring, routine calculations about the outcome of an Iraqi election! It's almost as if the place had become a normal country again, and a democratic one at that. Iraqis certainly deserve such a happy ending after all the horrors they have been through. Are they are really going to get one?


Al Qaeda, which gained a foothold among the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq after the American invasion in 2003, retains the ability to commit atrocities like the suicide bombings that killed 32 people in Baquba on Wednesday, but it is now only a marginal force among the Sunnis. The question is really whether the rest of the community has accepted its minority status and decided to make the best of it.


The alienation of the Sunnis is very great. They dominated Iraqi politics for centuries, and 10 years ago most did not even realise that the Shias outnumbered them three-to-one. The US invasion drove them from power, they bore the brunt of the fight against the US occupation, and then they were dragged into a war against the Shias by Al Qaeda fanatics.


In the course of that war most mixed neighbourhoods in Baghdad were 'cleansed' of their Sunni population, and the city is now overwhelmingly Shia. A very large proportion of the two million Iraqi refugees abroad and the two million internally displaced people are Sunnis. Even in this election, the Shia-dominated 'de-Baathification' committee disqualified a number of prominent Sunni candidates from running.


Yet most Sunnis will be voting this time, rather than boycotting the election as they did in 2005. In retrospect the Sunni community sees that as a grave error, as they had almost no influence on Central Government policy between then and now. They are now willing at least to try to live within the new reality of minority status in a country where religion plays a far larger role than previously.


It's a bit early to see Iraq as a kind of West Asian Eastern Belgium, with as many bitter internal divisions as that deeply divided country but also its enduring commitment to democracy. (One parallel, however, is a given: It will probably take as incredibly long to form a coalition Government after this election as it does in Belgium.)


The wounds in Iraq are very fresh, and its democracy is still new and fragile. But after the decades of oppression, the hundreds of thousands killed since 2003, the millions more turned into refugees, and the steep fall in the status of women, it would be nice if Iraq had something positive to show for its long ordeal. We'll know by 2020.


-- The writer is an independent journalist based in London.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

A BUDGET FOR JOBLESS INFLATIONARY 'GROWTH'

NO EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY AND INCREASING PRICES WILL PUT AAM ADMI IN A FIX, WRITES SHIVAJI SARKAR


It is the year of lack of vision and imagination. It has started with the Railway Budget and spread to the General Budget. Both lack focus. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee does not know how to tackle the critical price situation that has now started bothering the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council and put lakhs of people out of job.


The Finance Minister has tried to do too many things and spread the money thinly all over. He should have cut on Government expenses. His objective of higher growth and fiscal consolidation is likely to run into severe problems as the Budget would prove inflationary and does not address the basic issues of food security, employment and agriculture.


It is slightly misleading to tell the people that fiscal deficit — borrowings — at Rs 3,81,408 crore would be 5.5 per cent of GDP against 6.9 per cent, including oil bonds, last year. The Finance Minister does not say that he has taken a higher GDP base to reach his calculation. Even in the new fiscal year his actual deficit would be much higher than the estimates. This means the non-Government sector would be constrained on getting credit and may result in further increase in taxes mid-term or next year.


The Budget speech mentions the aam admi five times. It has not taken care of providing him jobs. He is being squeezed on two counts. He is not getting employment opportunities and has to pay almost 20 per cent higher prices for food grains and essential commodities. The Budget has not taken care to limit the prices. Indirect tax proposals of Rs 46,500 crore would further increase the prices. Even if taxes on petroleum products — 7.5 per cent customs duty and Re 1 excise — are partially withdrawn its cascading effect on prices, including higher expenditure for railways and industry, would not be negated much. The aam admi has to prepare for double digit inflation.


He now would have to pay 10 per cent service tax for purchasing a flat. It means for a house costing Rs 20 lakh, one has to pay an additional Rs two lakh. It may stymie development of the sector.


The road map for creation of jobs either in rural or urban areas is not clear. The National Sample Survey Organisation states that unemployment has risen to 8.28 per cent from 7.31 per cent in 1999-2000 despite addition of 1.51 lakh jobs during the last year.


Budgetary provisions were aimed at about three crore income-tax payers. The relief of Rs 26,000 crore to them should have driven them to spend more. But the higher prices, which are now to affect manufactured goods as well, would prevent them from doing so. It needs to be pondered how the Government would achieve the targeted growth of nine to 11 per cent. December growth was six per cent. The final may be less than that.

It was expected that the Budget would initiate measures to strengthen the public distribution system, as was advised by a key adviser to the Government, economist Arjun Sengupta, and focus on agriculture. The public investment in agriculture in real terms has witnessed steady decline from the Sixth Plan to the Tenth Plan. Growth in GDP in agriculture and allied sectors has come down from 4.7 per cent in 2007-08 to a mere 1.6 per cent in 2008-09. The sector accounted for 18.9 per cent in terms of GDP in 2004-05. Now it has come down to 15.7 per cent. Still it provides employment to 52 per cent people.

Lower crop production — rice,wheat, coarse cereals, pulses, oilseeds, sugarcane and commercial crops like jute, cotton — also means job losses in the rural areas. The allocation of Rs 400 crore to six States for a 'green revolution' is a mere token. The Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which has got only Rs 1,000 crore more allocation from Rs 39,000 crore last year, for covering higher number of people, cannot mitigate the problem of the rural workers. How would the Finance Minister achieve his growth target ignoring 52 per cent of the population employed with agriculture and almost 62 per cent depended on it?

 

The writer is a senior economic affairs journalist.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

FAILURE OF BT COTTON A LEG- UP FOR SCEPTICS

 

THE admission by Monsanto that its genetically modified cotton variety has failed comes at a critical point in the ongoing debate on crop biotechnology. Pink bollworm, which had become resistant to traditional insecticides over the years, has also developed resistance to the toxin contained in Monsanto's Bt cotton. This means that the promise on which Indian cotton farmers were told to shift to Bt cotton has proved to be a hoax.

 

Now, the seed firm is telling farmers to spray insecticides as well as use its socalled second generation GM cotton with two Bt genes instead of one. This again is a falsehood because it is well known that the additional gene is supposed to produce a toxin to kill tobacco caterpillar and not pink bollworm. Moreover, what's the guarantee that this two- gene crop will not meet the same fate as the single- gene one? What's shocking is that the government has not only allowed Monsanto to monopolise the Indian seed market — today 80 per cent of cotton grown is based on its GM technology and all major Indian seed companies are its licensees — but some of its top leaders are actively engaged in protecting its interests.

 

Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has constantly cited the " success" of Bt cotton to push for genetically modified food crops including vegetables, maize and rice. Science and technology minister Prithviraj Chavan has endorsed Monsanto's Bt cotton technology — which by the company's own admission has failed — to justify support for Bt brinjal, in his infamous letter to former health minister A. Ramadoss.

 

Pawar has chosen to ignore warnings issued by the Central Institute of Cotton Research — a part of his own ministry — about Bt cotton becoming ineffective and new bugs emerging in cotton fields. As regards productivity, the institute's data shows it has fallen from 560 kilogram lint per hectare in 2007 to 512 kilogram lint per hectare in 2009.

 

Pesticide expenditure in cotton has gone up from Rs 597 crore in 2002 to Rs 791 crore in 2009. So, what have farmers gained — they continue to use insecticides and more of it, productivity has not increased and on top of it they have become dependent on just one company and local cotton varieties have been lost.

 

More than Monsanto, the government owes an answer to India's cotton farmers.

 

It also needs to tell people how it will prevent a repeat of the same story with genetically modified food crops of Monsanto.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

CLEAN UP GOA

 

THE Goa government has done the right thing in suspending inspector Ashish Shirodkar and four other police officials for their alleged nexus with some drug peddlers, though it is doubtful that they would have acted had it not been for the fact that the confession of an Israeli drug peddler was aired by a local TV channel and another videotape showing the links of another smuggler with Shirodkar was posted on Youtube.

 

Over the years, the Goa police force has developed a shoddy reputation. There have been allegations of corruption, as well as of their complicity in the activities of the various crime syndicates operating in the state. In recent years, their credibility has also been dented by their allegedly biased approach in relation to sex crimes against foreign nationals.

 

The Scarlett Keeling case brought out some questionable approaches of the police and subsequently in a number of cases involving Russian women, the police have appeared to be hand- in- glove with the suspects. Indeed, the Russian embassy in New Delhi was constrained to make a very public protest on the police's attitude.

 

Nature has blessed Goa with beautiful beaches and an ambience that has made it a world famous tourist destination. All that the Goa government has to do is to maintain a clean environment and provide effective policing and the tourists will continue to pour in from across the world.

 

But on both counts the government has been a failure despite the fact that the state is relatively small and well connected.

 

There is serious risk that its attitude will choke off the middle- class tourist traffic it gets from Europe, which will be a serious loss because it is a major source of employment and income for many people in the state.

 

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MAIL TODAY

RELUCTANT PUSH FOR WOMEN IN POLITICS?

BY RAJEEV DHAVAN

 

Only awell- crafted legislation will ensure that women get their due in the political system of this country

 

A DAM and Eve were both equal. Both were thrown out of Eden into the garden of politics and power. Expelled, Adam seized the reins of power and opportunity, marginalising women. Success stories apart, it needs constitutional change to restore parity. Witness America's Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920 and electoral changes in English electoral law in 1928 and now India's discontents on this issue.

 

India's experiments with providing reservation have been male- dominated, half- hearted and lacking political will. The first experiment of providing one- third reservation through the 72nd and 73rd amendments in Panchayats has been a success.

 

Elected women have often been harassed, humiliated and undermined, yet the panchayat reservations have mobilised women. The lack of political opposition to the panchayat reservations happened only because the option to bring in OBC reservations was conceded for reservations in panchayats.

 

Reservations in the assemblies and Parliament have suffered a different fate. This story covered the period ( 1996- 2009) through the proposed 81st ( 1996), 84th ( 1998), 85th ( 1999) and now the 108th Amendment of 2008. I know from personal conversations with many in power that front bench support was never out of conviction.

 

One politician ( now in the cabinet) said to me: " We will never permit this". Fearful of being totally constitutionally barred from 33 per cent seats in the legislatures, the men, with notable exceptions, were strongly hostile to these changes.

 

But they could not oppose openly because women still constituted 50 per cent of the electorate. Thus, for most male politicians, support for women's reservation has come from a fear of electoral backlash — and, perhaps of Durga and Kali! A core point of resistance has been the creation of reservation- within- a- reservation — not just for SC/ STs in their quota, but also for OBCs.

 

The OBCs had not been given mandatory ( but only permissible) reservations in the panchayat amendments of 1992. In the 77th Amendment ( 1995), OBCs were denied promotional and consequential seniority avenues in their service and civil service careers through reservation.

 

In the case of women's reservations, the OBCs based parties, headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad, Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and others, demanded that one- third reservation should also be compulsorily included for OBCs. Now that Nitish Kumar of Bihar has abandoned the case for reservations for OBCs, the OBC cause is lost. SCs and STs are a super- classification among the disadvantaged; further reservations for OBCs will bring in an undesirable caste factor.

 

Alternatives

 

A fundamental objection to the blanket quotas for women has been class usurpation by the well- off " creamy layer" women. Never was this more picturesquely illuminated than by Sharad Yadav when he spoke about the middle class baal katiya women ( with short hair) hogging the quota. The Left parties have been resistant to the creamy layer, even in employment matters. So, the baal katiya argument ( true and impressive as it was) disappeared from the parliamentary radar.

 

The European and other nations have discarded the quota option and opted for political parties redressing the dis- balance between men and women in their legislatures. To this extent, England and other countries have achieved considerable success through political parties adopting voluntary method quotas. An inbetween alternative suggested by the Manushi group ( 2000) and former CEC M. S. Gill ( also in 2000) was for compulsory political party nominations of one- third women.

 

Manushi added that it should be ensured that the weak constituencies are not allotted to women! This proposal had continued support from two MPs, Virendra Bhatia and Shailendra Kumar, in the Standing Committee 36th Report ( 17th December 2009) supporting a 20 per cent target for political parties. This proposal is ( to borrow Justice Krishna Iyer's phrase) " neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring". What will happen to a political party that does not meet its target? Will it be struck off the register of political parties? This proposal is interesting as a voluntary measure.

 

Problems

 

As a compulsory measure, it is hopelessly misconceived. Nothing prevents a political party from adopting a voluntary target for themselves.

 

At present the maximum representation of women in the last two parliaments has been 14 per cent.

 

The rationale for women's electoral quota may well have to be synthesised with the basis of the original Constitution of 1950, reversing the British policy of invidious quota policy along religious, caste and tribal lines. On June 16, 1949, India's Constituent Assembly opted for universal suffrage for all. This was a historic decision. But quotas for SC/ STs and Anglo- Indians in India's legislatures were permitted on grounds of three D's ( discrimination, disadvantage and disempowerment).

 

There is no dearth of people in India who would fit this bill. Why women? Some women are privileged.

 

The privileged will dominate. But imposing " creamy layer" for electoral purposes is not workable either for SC & ST quotas ( where the leadership of the best will be lost) or otherwise.

 

Broadly, the original dispensation based on three D's applies to women generally.

 

The provision for reviewing reservations for women after 15 years is consistent with the review provision of 10 years for SC/ STs. At that stage, discussion can centre on whether ( i) the quotas for women should be continued; or ( ii) increased to 50 per cent; or ( iii) reduced to 25 per cent.

 

After 15 years, in 2025, Parliament will not disturb vested interests.

 

Indian men will seek to try and control and dominate women MPs as they try in the case of panchayats.

 

But Indian women MPs and MLAs have shown their mettle.

 

There is an argument that there will be 100 per cent reservation in at least one constituency in every state. Ironically, in two member states in the Lok Sabha there will be 0 per cent reservation in the third election. In the 100 per cent case, this is a logical effect of the quota. However in the 0 per cent case, only SC/ ST women will be eligible for two elections, with general merit candidates being eligible only 10 years later. In single member states, SC/ STs' turn will come in the first years; and thereafter after 10 years. Who can nurture a constituency under these circumstances? As between SCs and STs inter se, it is not clear how the quota will be adjusted.

 

Constitution

 

Finally there is the lack of what lawyers call a " non- obstante clause". This simply means that each clause of the amendment should read " Notwithstanding anything contained in the Constitution…". This is necessary to obviate challenges on grounds of violation of the equality provisions of the Constitution ( Articles 14 and 15). No doubt Article 15( 3) declares that special provisions can be made for women and children.

 

But the electoral quota for women is super- special and precaution is necessary.

 

Already, the Rajasthan High Court has invalidated additional reservation for women. The hands of wayward judges with paternal minds should be tied down.

 

Despite its faults, this proposal should be supported and also be extended to the Upper House. At present, the future of the 108th Amendment hangs on a slender thread, depending on smaller parties for support. With a gestation period of 14 years, the proposed amendment to secure women's reservation in legislatures is a new experiment in democracy.

 

The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer

 

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MAIL TODAY

POWER & POLITICS

PRABHU CHAWLA

 

DOCTOR IN CONTROL

IF YOU think work is bogging you down, that you are left with no time to indulge in your favourite pastimes, spare a thought for the good doctor. Rarely does the Prime Minister, any prime minister for that matter, spend almost the entire day in Parliament. But Dr Manmohan Singh did it twice last week, listening to speeches from MPs on both sides of the aisles as he prepared to reply to the Motion of Thanks to the President's address in both houses of Parliament.

 

Last Friday, Manmohan skipped his usual home lunch and hung on in Parliament. When it was his turn to speak, with uncharacteristic aggression, he disarmed his foes and surprised his friends. His two interventions in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha reflected his new avatar as a politician inferior to none.

 

The acerbic and often sarcastic nature of his discourses ensured that the image of him as a prime minister without any political power was a thing of the past. The normally soft spoken Singh proved beyond doubt that after nearly six years in the hot seat, he has developed a hide thick enough to engage in ill- tempered political debates with the likes of L. K. Advani, M. M. Joshi, Sushma Swaraj or Sitaram Yechury. In fact, the Congress couldn't have found a better tactician to take them on.

 

And he did it with panache. Advani's poisonous barbs at the Prime Minister's " adventurous diplomacy" were enough provocation to make the Prime Minister's response equally lethal. He threw his weight around, played to the gallery, paused for the resounding applause and went on to deal a few killer blows. When the opposition leader quoted a long article from an American magazine to suggest that " clandestine efforts were on under US pressure to hammer out a pact on Kashmir" and demanded that Parliament be kept in the loop, Manmohan retorted: " First you tell me how many times did Jaswant Singh ( BJP foreign minister) hold secret negotiations and talks with Strobe Talbott ( former US deputy secretary of state)? And how many times did he come and explain what was going on behind the scenes to Parliament?" For the past six years, the opposition has seen Manmohan as a leader without political power, given the task of leading a team chosen by someone else.

 

He was perceived as a ruler who wasn't free to formulate policies that have a domestic political fallout. But the reiteration of his resolve to pursue long term policies vis- a- vis Pakistan, China, fiscal discipline and Maoists ignoring the political damage L. K. Advani these may cause at home in the short term proves just one thing: the party stands solidly behind him. So be it the privatisation of mines, the large scale retrenchment in the Communications Department, the decision to resume dialogue with Pakistan or even the withdrawal of petroleum subsidies, he has managed to put to rest all speculation that the party will hound him into reversing the policies.

 

As usual, he was dressed in his trademark kurta pyjama jacket and sky blue turban, but it was clear he had shed the financial wizard's robes as his speeches centred more around politics than economics. Thanks to the rare unity among the opposition benches, not seen in a long long while, Advani got massive applause, but it was Manmohan who had the last word. If his demeanour is any indication, Manmohan appears to have dropped his earlier decision to let his work do the talk. Now he chooses to brag about his work and even his trusted people and ministers are surprised over Singh's newly discovered strategy of offence being the best form of defence.

 

In his second term, the Prime Minister has been asserting his ideology and imposing his chosen individuals on the system.

 

Without tinkering or interfering with the political hierarchy, Singh drafted retired civil servants and corporate leaders and technocrats in key policy panels and bodies to lay the blueprint for future economic and political governance.

 

He has drafted over 50 retired civil servants and business leaders to advise the government on issues varying from climate change to security to infrastructure.

 

You wouldn't see their pictures in the newspaper pages, but most of them are going about their jobs in a very quiet manner. And though they are mostly non- political, most of them are better connected politically than many of the leading Congress leaders. Even if they deliver and none else does, Manmohan would stand vindicated.

 

ABSENTEEISM OF RULING PARTY MPS CAN BE DEADLY

 

MINISTER of state for parliamentary affairs V. Narayanaswamy is a much harried man in Parliament on Friday afternoons. It's at 3.30 pm on Friday that the Lok Sabha moves what are called Private Members Bills. As opposed to government bills that are moved by ministers after due deliberation in the cabinet, Private Members Bills are moved by individual members, often without even informing the party that he or she belongs to. Neither the government, nor the MPs take these bills seriously, and not one such bill has received the assent of the house in the last 40 years.

 

Most often, MPs remain absent when their turn comes to move the bill.

 

Some of the more determined ones insist on a debate if only to prove a point, at the end of which they withdraw the bill. But a member can, if he wants, insist on a vote and there have been times when large scale absenteeism of MPs has brought the government close to embarrassment because in a thinly attended house, the opposition had more MPs than the treasury benches.

 

Most of the bills are innocuous but you can never rule out an MP, with nothing but mischief in mind, moving a bill, say, calling for the " abolition of Article 370 in Kashmir" . Many MPs have moved such bills aimed at embarrassing the government.

 

Though Sonia Gandhi's recent missive to her party men to take their work more seriously centred around Question Hour which kicks off the day's proceedings, I am sure that the Congress high command is not unaware of the many times when the government came perilously close to a loss of parliamentary face due to the sheer laziness of its MPs during Private Members Bills.

 

That's why Narayanaswamy has to be hyperactive on Friday afternoons.

 

It's no easy job to ensure members' presence. With the house going into weekend recess, most MPs, particularly those from the south and the east, are in a hurry to get back to their homes and choose an early evening flight. Is it any wonder that absenteeism amongst MPs is higher than among students at university?

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

GENDER SHOWING

 

Oh, those Canadians. In the run-up to International Women's Day, someone had the great idea of making the national anthem 'O Canada' gender neutral. So the line 'True patriot love in all thy sons' command' could have substituted 'children' for 'sons', ensuring the nation's daughters would be brought within the fold. But that was not to be. Canadian PM Stephen Harper gave in to the conservatives, and decided not to strike a blow for womankind. The change would've been mostly symbolic, yes. It's not that rewording a national anthem would magically get rid of, say, inequality in the workplace. But symbols are more than window dressing. They offer a way of thinking about the world. Not excluding about half a country's population from a paean to the nation can hardly be a bad idea.


Being gender neutral, however, cuts both ways. The Germans, for example, would not only have to cease striving for 'brotherhood with heart and hand' in their national anthem, they would also have to stop singing praises of their women in the rather jolly (even if unofficial) second stanza which goes on about 'German women, German loyalty, German wine and German song'. The Andorrans should similarly give up considering their country to be 'the only remaining daughter of the Carolingian empire'. Languages are funny things. Most of them ascribe gender roles to the abstract concept of the nation. Hence the propensity to call one's country motherland or fatherland. But language also evolves along with society. We need to drop the ancient habit of thinking of inanimate things as gendered.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

DESTINY'S DAUGHTERS

MANJUL BAJAJ

 

Jaswinder Kaur Sidhu. Tina Isa. Hatin Surucu. Vandana Bhadodiya. A Sikh girl from Toronto. A Palestinian girl in the US. A German-Kurdish girl living in Berlin. A Gujarati girl from Vadodara city. Women of different backgrounds, from different countries, of different religious persuasions, yet united by the circumstances of their death. They were all executed by close kin fathers, mothers, uncles, brothers for the crime of choosing their life partners.


But that doesn't mean that young women are killed routinely only for asking for the right to love and marry whom they wish. Sometimes a young woman's life costs less than a song. Take Heshu Yones. Or Ayaman Udas. The former, a 16-year-old teenager from Acton, London, was killed after her family heard a song dedicated to her over the radio. The latter, a poet and singer from Peshawar, was killed by her brothers for performing on PTV, the national television network.


At other times, the reason for death can be as flimsy as a headscarf. Aqsa Parvez, a teenager in Toronto, was killed by her father for refusing to wear one to school. The reason can also be as facetious as an internet chat. An unnamed woman in Riyadh was killed for chatting with a man on Facebook. The ultimate irony is that the murder came to light not because of protests against the killing but because a Saudi cleric protested the corruption of society by social networking sites.


According to UN statistics, over 5,000 women die every year in honour killings. Throughout South Asia and the Middle East, young women carry the cross of upholding family honour. This happens across religions, cultures and social classes. Yes, it happens to Muslim women. But it also happens to Hindu and Sikh ones. Yes, it happens among the poor. But it also happened to Saudi Arabia's Princess Misha'al despite the fact that she was rich and royal.


The fact that these killings are sanctioned by the cultures in which they occur makes them doubly dangerous. In countries such as Iraq, Syria and Jordan, laws are sympathetic to the killers. Closer home, caste or khap panchayats, operating in large parts of rural Haryana and Uttar Pradesh routinely mete out death penalties to those defying their diktats. Such cases rarely end in convictions as no witnesses are forthcoming. Politicians too remain wary of addressing the issue as cultural sensitivities are involved.


If we widen the scope of the argument beyond honour killings to other forms of repression and control, it becomes even clearer that young women in our part of the world carry too heavy a burden in the name of family honour. Many communities in India like the Syrian Christians, Parsis and Tamil Brahmins, otherwise associated with high levels of education and attainment, enforce strict rules of endogamy. Girls are generally not free to choose who they marry. All across north India, the word sala (wife's brother) is a common expletive. Consider this: even when the sister is duly married off to a husband chosen by the family in a ceremony presided over by priests and approved by society, her brother doesn't emerge untainted. His dignity is compromised by the fact the other man sleeps with his sister.


What precisely is the link between a young woman's freedom to choose and her family's honour and why does it go so deep? Feminists attribute it to the patriarchal structure of our societies. The maintenance and perpetuation of human society as we know it depend in a very large measure on the invisible, unpaid, undervalued and unending jobs done by women - the cooking, feeding, washing, cleaning and breeding services provided by wives and mothers. A young woman is a productive and reproductive asset in the larger scheme of things and she can no more be allowed to take her own decision on who she'll marry than a domesticated cow or horse can determine who it will be milked by or whose cart it will pull.


Islamic cultures are marked by a distrust of female sexuality. In Christianity too, it is Eve who bears the stigma of succumbing to temptation. Likewise, the Hindu text, the Manusmriti, prescribes that "day and night women must be kept in dependence by the males (of) their (families), and if they attach themselves to sensual enjoyments, they must be kept under one's control. Women must particularly be guarded against evil inclinations".

Finally, it all boils down to issues of community identity and hurt male egos. When a girl marries outside, she rejects a man from her own community in favour of a man from another. In the process, she violates norms that have been built up and guarded over centuries to preserve community identity. Her choice further implies a perceived lack in the males of her own community. By crossing over, she becomes enemy property, deserving the harshest of ends for she is now seen as a traitor.


It is ironical that education and social liberalism have not ameliorated these trends but rather exacerbated them. Technology renders the world smaller each day, bringing traditional and modern lifestyles in tense, unresolved proximity. Dead daughters are simply collateral damage as two disparate worlds collide.

 

The writer is a novelist.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

'COMMUNAL VIOLENCE BILL IS A NASTY PIECE OF LEGISLATION'

HUMRA QURAISHI

 

Vrinda Grover , a Delhi-based human rights lawyer, is director of Multiple Action Research Group (MARG). She is presently counsel for survivors of the 1984 anti-Sikh carnage, 1987 Hashimpura police killings and the 2008 anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal. She speaks to Humra Quraishi about the Communal Violence Bill expected to be tabled soon in Parliament:


A new version of the communal violence Bill has been cleared by the cabinet. How different is it from the earlier version?

The most significant change is this Bill gives powers of authority to the states to declare an area communally disturbed and it's this clause which is likely to be misused by the state governments. This Bill is a nasty piece of legislation to hoodwink and dupe the minority communities under the garb they will get protection. On the contrary, it will only make them more vulnerable to the powers of the government and the states.


What are the shortcomings of the Bill?

Documented experience clearly shows that in communal carnages there is a definite role played by the various state agencies (civil and police forces and the politician). This has not been taken into consideration. The Bill treats communal violence as though it's mere rioting between two communities and does not create any accountability for the state and the various agencies. Another flaw is this Bill does not follow the Doctrine of Command and Superior Responsibility that is, it will not hold the man at the helm of affairs responsible for communal rioting and carnage. For example, in the Ehsan Jaffri murder case, his widow says they had called/contacted the police commissioner when they were besieged by mobs during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, but he didn't respond and come to their rescue. So the person held responsible for Jaffri's murder/killing should be the then police commissioner of Ahmedabad and not some small players or people who were in the mob.


Another flaw is that the Bill is only relying on old offences of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). On the aspect of sexual violence the definition of sexual violence is restricted to rape as under the IPC and it doesn't cover the sexual offences that take place during communal rioting/carnage. Nor does the Bill cover the very consequences of the aftermath of sexual violence. There is hardly any mention of victims' rights. After all, it's the obligation of the state to provide relief. But, in this Bill, it makes rioting appear as though it's just between two communities. So the state moves away from that responsibility/accountability. Psycho-socio traumas of victims need to be addressed but there is not even a mention of these in the Bill. No mention of the need for counsellors, long-term medical relief etc.


What does it say about the police?

This Bill does not challenge the absolute impunity that the police force enjoys. In fact, it reinforces the impunity by the addition of 'good faith' clause, which ensures that no prosecution of the police and public servants is permitted without the prior permission of the executive. The executive will, for very obvious reasons, shield them. If this Bill is amended and some fundamental changes are brought about which give rights to the victims and accountability falls on the state and its functionaries, only then can it uphold the rights of the targeted communities.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

WINNING FORMULA

 

India and the 27-nation European Union resolved last week to speed up talks so as to ink a free trade agreement by end-2010. The October date needs keeping, since a trade pact has been hanging fire since 2007. If the FTA means $9 billion worth of immediate business for India, the gains aren't just on one side. The world's second fastest growing major economy, India has a huge consumer market that'll attract anyone scouting for trade allies. Besides, India and EU are strategic partners owing in large measure to their shared belief in democracy and respect for human rights. Even if India-EU trade is below one-fifth of EU-China trade, the FTA will be based on political convergences that are always value add-ons to economic ties and enhance their potential.


True, there are differences to be sorted out. One major sticking point is the EU's insistence that social issues child labour, human rights, climate change be discussed. India rightly opposes this. For one thing, it meets the economic criteria listed in EU's Global Europe strategy on FTAs, including market potential. For another, there are appropriate forums for diplomatic wrangling on social issues. For the EU to link, say, climate with trade is a too-clever-by-half way of raising non-tariff barriers (NTBs). The EU's focus on issues extraneous to trade protectionism by another name could be a deal-breaker.


India demands that EU cut farm subsidies. Studies show Europe's common agricultural policy mainly benefits big agro-industrial conglomerates, which resort to dumping in developing countries. But single-point issues mustn't derail the pact. If, for instance, the EU insists on food safety standards or India guards its government procurement market, these issues can be shelved for another day. The focus must be on identifying areas of agreement. For instance, services, India's fastest growing sector, will bring huge gains on both sides.

The EU has some legitimate grievances. In India, insurance FDI is restricted and multibrand retail out of bounds. Greater liberalisation here is desirable even without external prompting. The same goes for labour reform, building a common market or easing FDI inflows. With a relatively sorry rank on the ''ease of doing business'' index, India should reduce its own versions of NTBs like convoluted customs formalities and import licensing. Finally, it helps when FTA negotiators focus on the big picture. India-EU trade, at $107 billion today, has increased by an annual 16 per cent, signalling the potential benefits of opening up. Petty bickering mustn't mar a win-win situation for both sides.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

WHAT'S THE GOOD WORD?

J S RAGHAVAN

 

Because most of the words or expressions from the lexicon are not mint-fresh, new ones can be tried or old ones rediscovered or remixed for sheer novelty. Here we go. Starting at the bottom, will it be charitable to call the unenviable proctologist, the butt of many mordant jokes, a fundamentalist or an analyst? He might quibble, used to taking a narrow view of his chosen path. If he becomes old, will his practice shrink like piles?


On the contrary, an ahhhhhh-inspiring dentist might sportingly approve this tag: the drill-master. If he is a wit with incisor sharp sallies, he will avoid cliches like the plaque. He will grin and bore it when a mini-canyon cavity comes his way. As a baby he may not have gurgled but gargled. The money invested in his swanky surgery by a rich uncle will be denture capital. His willowy locum at whose smiles your jaw drops down like a draw bridge on the castle moat, a tooth-fairy. Even the biblical Solomon might lose some of his wisdom if he were to open his mouth in his clinic.


The interventional angio specialist who forays into his patient's insides through femoral or radial arteries to tackle the narrowing blood vessels can be a stent-master. A carping hypochondriac seeing himself as fate's exclusive choice to capture all medical book symptoms is a moanopolist. If he pops in a handful of multicoloured pills with a fatalistic air, a pillosopher. While a Type 1 diabetic yakking about his daily shots of insulin will be an insulinguist, the pad (no, not Apple Steve Jobs' ipad) granting carefree month long mobility to women, a period-costume.


With liberated women venturing rightfully into every inconceivable segment of male domain, a lady plumber may be known as a pipe-wench, a shapely optometrist, you will have the (optic) nerve to stare at, at closest quarters, an eye-candy and the prim, matronly, saree-clad madam at a rich country's embassy scrutinising your visa application, Visa-lakshi. The cheerful buxom lady in the upsacale restaurant who goads you to try the cheese pizza, french fries and double sundae as dessert should be a weightress. The host who talks the walk in picturesque outdoors with channel guests, the walkie-talkie. The place a splurging wife storms into with her add-on platinum cards lured by sale supplements, a shopping maul. Her beer-bellied husband, having a long winter sleep in front of the drawing room plasma, Mr Hyberseshan. A water diviner whose pinpointed spot reveals potable springs underneath, an aqua-god. Because of blue tooth, the pseudo-monologue of a walking man, appearing to talk to himself, a mobile soliloquy. The tower clock standing tall having four faces, the Brahma clock.


The city-bred know-all lad who can't differentiate a stud bull from milch cow is in udder confusion. To a confirmed bachelor, Jane Austen's book title would read as Bride & Prejudice. The honeymooning young man who sweeps his bride off her feet will be a case of new groom sweeping well. Yet she might take his lofty claim of cooking Chinese Chop Suey and Chow Mein divinely, with a pinch of ajinomoto. Can a politician, whose large foot is often in his big mouth, facing an angry wife who disliked the bedroom colour escape saying by force of habit, ''it was mis-coated?'' If Juliet had a pet cat, would it have pined for its feline suitor Romeow?


Can you dub the two illiterate rustics who sing peppy songs in village fairs the colloquial cousins? The man who takes time to trim his gaotee, a fuzz-pot? The iffy meteorologist a whether-pundit? A psephologist, the seasonal hero, a poll-star? The cherry blossom cocktail a Hindustani and Carnatic musicians imbibe to wet their whistles after a musical soiree, a jugal brandy? And the executive who hasn't assigned a distinct ringtone to his drill-sergeant wife, but would make out from the way it bossily vibrates or angrily rings, a tele-pathi? The list is legion.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

A SURGE FROM NEW DELHI

 

An overly simple dichotomy dominates the present debate over India's policy towards Pakistan, and by extension, Afghanistan. One school argues that dialogue is essential, that it makes no sense not to talk to Pakistan. India should focus on the long-term gains of such a policy to the neglect of short-term setbacks like terrorism. The other school argues Pakistan's military is the country's puppet master. As it can understand little other than expressions of hard power, India is wasting its time with diplomatic niceties. The truth is both positions are right and need a place in India's strategy. The test of statecraft is determining, in terms of time and content, the proper blend of both.

 

The overriding problem, seemingly borne out by the recent attack on Indians in Kabul — and Pakistani references to Afghanistan as its strategic backyard — is that Islamabad believes that for the first time since 9/11 the local geopolitical winds are behind its back. It believes its principal domestic threat, the Tehreek-e-Taliban, is on the run. It believes the US will soon withdraw from Afghanistan in a manner that will leave the Taliban groups closest to Pakistan dominant in Kabul. The military's other domestic constraint, the presidency of Asif Ali Zardari, is diminishing daily in authority. In the past, such a backdrop would have meant an Indo-Pakistan dialogue of the deaf with Islamabad unwilling to curb terrorist groups and unwilling to be constructive about anything else. Much depends on whether Pakistan has learnt anything from the past decade. A decade in which India doubled its economic wealth, secured a de facto nuclear weapons State status, and became a member of the new generation of multinational groupings like the Group of 20. Pakistan has earned the sobriquet 'epicentre of global terror,' become hyphenated with Afghanistan and has been fighting terrorism spawned by its own military and ensconced within its own border. If it's learnt something, its new-found brashness could be the basis of a constructive dialogue. India needs to find policy initiatives to ensure Islamabad, and the military in particular, treads the right path.

 

Persevering with the dialogue is part of such a policy. But so is reacting more strongly to what seems to be the third Pakistani-ordered attack on Indian targets in Afghanistan. India should dramatically increase the number of paramilitary guards it keeps in Afghanistan — the sort of tit for tat Rawalpindi understands. New Delhi needs to push the US to come out with a more definitive statement about its military commitment to Afghanistan. Dialogue is between two interlocutors. It also has hard and soft components.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

LENNON UNLIMITED

 

What's it about rock widows that makes us dislike them so much? After all, when other 'creative sorts' go to the Great Gig in the Sky, their wives also make a few bits and bobs out of their husbands' works, to spread the word about their genius. Yoko Ono, John Lennon's widow, is being roundly condemned for letting her husband's image be used in a car ad. In the Citroen ad, Lennon says, among other things, "Do something of your own. Start something new, you know. Live your lives now." In our reckoning that's an inspiring line that we didn't much know about. So are Lennon fans upset that their hero's words are being used to sell cars? Would they have been happier if they were part of a Greenpeace or anti-WTO publicity campaign, considering the 'corporate connect' may have ruffled feathers, not Yoko's letting out a bit of Lennon heritage out of the box.

 

It's interesting how rock music, even at its shiniest, well-packaged best, is automatically seen as an anti-establishment entity. In the 60s, this may have made sense but the 70s saw talented rock musicians resist this dogma, with the likes of the Sex Pistols and others reacting against rock over-the-topness and political correctness with a no-nonsense 'let's get rich' approach.

 

There are rock widows who need genuine admonition. Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain's widow, comes to mind — not because she let the instrumental version of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' be played as piped music in elevators, but because she went into a legal wrangle about who gets how much money for releasing Cobain's unpublished songs, thereby keeping these songs in her locker. And it's ironic that Lennon's message about 'living your own lives' has been missed by his fans who think his words and music can only have one kind of context.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WHEN THE FRINGE BENEFITS

ASHOK MALIK

 

Looking back at the M.F. Husain imbroglio, it is worth posing a counterfactual. What if the artist had not decided to take Qatari citizenship and returned to India to face the court cases, the rabble and the drama?    

 

Would India have forced a 95-year-old artist, one of its best, to make multiple appearances in court or — in an extreme chance — face arrest? It would have invited ridicule. The so-called angry mobs that have spent years disrupting every Husain exhibition — even if these featured paintings completely unrelated to the controversial nude renditions of goddesses — would have become the subject of public hostility. They would have been as isolated as the Shiv Sena a few weekends ago.

 

Unfortunately, the Husain affair has handed a victory to the wrong sort of people for the wrong reasons. The
reference here is to the Hindutva fringe, much of which has now migrated to the Internet. The Internet Hindu has blogged and tweeted and emailed exultantly about the defeat and exile of Husain. In parallel, a new campaign has gathered momentum, centred on a new hate figure: Wendy Doniger.

 

Doniger is a well-known American academic who, in 2009, released her book The Hindus: An Alternative History. In part, the book is engaging, its treatment of ancient India is detailed — that period is Doniger's self-admitted strength — but its analysis of modern Hindu currents are perhaps a bit too rushed and dismissive. That aside, there are stylistic angularities that the author is no doubt entitled to but individual readers are free to disagree with.

 

Doniger has long fought a battle with sections of Hindus for what they feel is her gratuitous attempt to put a "psycho-sexual twist on everything Hindu". As one observer says, this contributes to "eroticisation and exoticisation of our sacred scripture". That is an unexceptionable point. It must be said though it is a contestation of some of Doniger's other work and not quite her most recent book.

 

Yet, refusing to present a cogent argument, wildcat Internet Hindu groups have instead begun an infuriating campaign against Doniger. It started some weeks ago when the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) in the United States shortlisted The Hindus: An Alternative History for an award.

 

Internet Hindu groups — based in America and key locations in India (especially Chennai and Delhi) responded by sending strange letters of protest to the NBCC. One letter said Doniger's book was replete with deeply meaningful errors and cited this as an example: "On page 536, she claims that Mumtaz Mahal (whose tomb is the famous Taj Mahal) died during the birth of her 13th child. The correct fact is that she died during the birth of her 14th child."

 

Another letter said giving the book an award would be "a signal dishonour to 800 million Hindus", would ignore "a rage [that] is building in the Hindu communities all over" and legitimise "crude, perverted 'alternative' narratives". "Is it too much to expect such a [sic] respect for the Hindus whose work, guided by dharma, accounted for about 33 per cent of the world GDP in the 18th century?" the letter concludes.

 

It doesn't end there. Inboxes are being flooded with emails calling for Doniger to be tried under the "United Nations 'Defamation of Religion' resolution". The reference, as it happens, is to a non-binding resolution that was born of efforts by some Muslim countries (led by Pakistan) to frame an international anti-blasphemy law. It was aimed at abolishing any critical appraisal of Islam and was opposed across democratic societies.

Finally, an online petition calls for Doniger's publishers — Penguin Books India and United States subsidiaries — to withdraw the book. "Doniger makes various faulty assumptions about the tradition in order to arrive at her particular spin," the petition reads, "… This kind of Western scholarship has been criticised as Orientalism and Eurocentrism. The non Judeo-Christian faith gets used to dish out voyeurism and the tradition gets eroticised." That final sentence is quoted verbatim.

 

If the Husain dénouement was tragic, the Doniger episode is turning out to be comic. If a book award judge received these letters, and knew nothing about the context of the controversy, he would probably fear for the author as the victim of a hate group attack. Far from being an unsympathetic student of Hinduism — which is obviously how Internet Hindus see her — Doniger would come out resembling Joan of Arc.

 

Why are these Internet Hindus worthy of notice at all? There are three reasons. First, a collective of the intellectually inadequate, the professionally frustrated and the plain bigoted, they represent the collapse of Hindu politico-intellectual space into a caricature of the very Talibanism it opposes.

 

Second, as Hindutva as an idea has contracted in real-world politics, it has become shrill and over-the-top in cyberspace. The Left has its universities, journals and institutional support system. It is a commentary on Internet Hindus that they only have multiple email accounts.

 

Third, there is a hard question for the BJP. How quickly can it delink itself from Internet Hindus and their offline equivalents? A party that seeks to build broad-spectrum opposition unity in Parliament on governance issues can do without such viral downloads.

 

Ashok Malik is a Delhi-based political commentator

 

n malikashok@gmail.com

 

The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

A RIGHT IDEA AT THE WRONG TIME

PANKAJ VOHRA

 

Bad political management continues to haunt the Congress, which will run into rough weather once the much-awaited Women's Reservation Bill is taken up in Parliament for voting today. Ideally speaking, the Bill that seeks to empower women by giving them 33 per cent reservation in Parliament and legislative assemblies, should have been adopted through a consensus.

 

However, since there are several political parties including allies of the Congress, that oppose the Bill, the strategy should have been to get it passed towards the end of the Budget session when the entire budgetary provisions had been cleared by the Lok Sabha. There is no doubt that March 8 is an important date as it is celebrated as International Women's Day. But in democracy as in realpolitik, there is something known as strategy. It was not necessary that the Bill be passed on March 8 itself, as the objective should be to see it go through, without putting the government at risk.

 

It appears that the Congress managers are very confident that there will be no major impediment to passing the Bill, which also has the support of the BJP and the Left. Congress allies like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and others are against its passage.

 

One way of looking at things would be to ensure that there is no difficulty in getting the Bill through since it may have the support of both Houses. Another way would be to see its political dimensions. The Bill will divide the UPA and could prove to be a tactical mistake. There were divisions in the coalition after the Budget was presented and many allies took a stand similar to that of the Opposition.

 

What is happening now is that the Congress may have walked into a trap set by the BJP and the Left parties on the Women's Bill. If passed, the BJP and Left will seek to take credit for it by claiming that the deed could not have been done without their support. The Congress will also try to take credit but will have to somehow do business with the allies to get its budgetary provisions passed.

 

During that stage, what can become a matter of concern for the Congress is that while the BJP and the Left will be on the other side, its allies may not necessarily support its position. The dependence on one-man parties or Independents is always risky. Congress leaders must remember that if any money bill gets defeated, the government can fall. Therefore, the party, which seems to be losing in terms of devising ways to manage things in Parliament, has exposed itself to great risk.

 

Under normal circumstances, the passage of the Bill at the end of the session would have been a wiser decision. It is common knowledge that the opposition of Mulayam, Lalu and others to the Women's Reservation Bill is because it will undo the gains their respective parties have made following the implementation of the Mandal Commission, which boosted the backward classes. They see a Brahminical conspiracy in the move to get the Women's Bill passed and may take to the streets if this happens.

 

For elements that are opposed to any kind of reservation, the Bill can never find support but a strange situation appears to be developing in Parliament. The whips have ensured that the numbers inside the two Houses may back the Bill but outside the numbers game could cause problems. There should not have been such a hurry to take up the Bill in the mid-Budget session. Good politics demanded that the deed would have been wisely executed if it was done at the end. Consensus would have been even better. Between us.

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DELHI, NOT MUMBAI

 

Somebody has been paying attention. Even as informed opinion around the world following the financial crisis comes to the agreement that the most important, as well as the most urgent, remedial task was to address "macro-prudential risk", the Budget revealed that India would set up a new "super-regulator", the Financial Stability and Development Council, to deal with precisely that risk. Such a body is essential because macro-prudential risk is too endemic to be left to a maze of less-than-super regulators, to a skein of regulations. Current systems fail at regulating — or even spotting — macro-prudential risk for two reasons. First, because the inter-connectedness of finance is not reflected in the silos and jurisdictional walls that grow up when there are several regulators who don't talk to each other enough — leading, for example, to problems beneath each individual regulator's notice that nevertheless are systemically destabilising. Second, because that same inter-connectedness also creates firms that get too embedded to fail without undermining the system. A many-regulator system will not be able to keep them in rein, or to fix their problems in time.

 

That's why the new council is necessary. And reports that it will be chaired by the finance minister are also welcome. Some have claimed that the proper location for any such apex regulator is within the Reserve Bank of India (with the corollary that it be chaired by the governor of the RBI.) This is unwise on several levels, and makes little sense both theoretically and practically.

 

Yes, monetary theorists have demonstrated that central bank independence is essential for a stable currency policy; but microeconomic theory and basic commonsense assures us that putting one party — the RBI, the banking regulator — in charge of mediating conflicts between regulators is a very bad idea. And on a more fundamental level, remember any super-regulator might have to advise bailouts with taxpayer money: a decision that can and should be nothing but political, subject to the scrutiny of the Cabinet, and accountable to Parliament. Hoping that this decision could be "depoliticised" and "professional" would require us to rewrite the eighteen-month political history of the financial crisis. The new committee should supercede the current informal committee, which the RBI governor "leads", and which can fail dramatically if relations between regulators break down (as they are wont to do). We need a formal structure looking at macro risk, one that ensures people talk — and headed by the FM. History, theory, and common sense show that anything else would be a mistake.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

TURN THE PAGE

 

Reports suggest that the Supreme Court is preparing to appeal the January 12 decision of the Delhi high court placing the office of the Chief Justice of India within the ambit of the Right to Information Act. In the aftermath of the Delhi HC decision — itself a three-judge affirmation of a single-judge HC order — legal experts such as former Chief Justice J.S. Verma had urged the SC to not appeal. For the apex court to sit in judgment over its own fate would make for an unseemly spectacle. Reports indicate that the SC thinks otherwise; an appeal is likely to be filed.

 

The immediate consequence of the Delhi HC judgment was on judicial assets. In 1997, a "restatement of values on judicial life", passed by a full court of the SC, stated that judges would declare their assets to the chief (information that would be held in the CJI's office). By holding that this 1997 declaration was mandatory and that the CJI's office was under the RTI Act, the Delhi HC ensures that the public have a right to know what their judges own. (Last November, SC judges made their asset details public, but insist it is voluntary.) The Delhi HC judgment also makes a larger point: on judicial accountability and the principle that no one is above the law. That a lower court could find against the world's most powerful was a healthy sign of intra-judicial independence.

 

An appeal by the SC will have implications for that larger point. On the narrow question of judicial assets, the executive seems to have finally grasped the ball. The UPA government is planning to introduce the Judges (Standards and Accountability) Bill, which, reports suggest, will give statutory teeth to the 1997 Supreme Court resolution, with or without a court judgment to back it up. Certainly, the Delhi HC judgment goes beyond just the disclosure of judges' assets. But at a time when a breeze of greater transparency is blowing through the executive and the legislature too — a breeze that's been given velocity by the courts — the higher judiciary would have to make a considerably stronger case for being kept apart.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CAST IN DOUBT

 

Politics has broken out in Iraq," said US Vice President Joe Biden, describing his expectation that clashing sects would channel their grievances into the electoral process. However, much sectarian bloodletting has already occurred during the campaign and on election day, as Iraq voted to elect a new parliament.

 

The going is hard, as the nation continues to take baby steps towards a representative government. Iraq's democratic institutions are flawed and suspect, despite the palpable energy of its politics. The campaign was marred with insurgent violence and accusations of electoral irregularities. Incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has steered the country since 2006, might have a hard time assembling a ruling coalition, even though he is expected to sprint ahead in the election. Back then, it took several tumultuous months for the parliament to settle on Maliki as prime minister. He has since fashioned himself as tough on matters of security, stability and Iraqi nationalism. But he is not quite a shoo-in for a second term, given the recent spate of violence and the formidable opposition of Ayad Allawi, also a Shiite, supported by a spectrum of Sunni parties. What's more, last year the election commission disqualified some 500 candidates because of their links with Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, a move widely seen as typical of Maliki's maneuverings to scotch his rivals and crack down on Sunni and secular leaders.

 

This election is also crucial because it will indicate a path for the US to finally pull out of Iraq. Obama has maintained that his administration intends a September 1 withdrawal, irrespective of what shape the governing coalition takes. However, if the country descends to 2004 levels of ethnic strife, that plan could founder.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

ARMS AND THE AGENCY

BIBEK DEBROY

 

The UN recommends a police/ population ratio of 1:450. This is a figure that floats around and can be traced back to a 2002 UN report on public sector management. Cross-country data on size of police forces seem dodgy. But on one such cross-country list, the size of the Indian police force is given as 1,129,200 in April 2009, which means instead of a ratio of 1:450, we have a ratio of 1:1040. The only other country which performs worse is Iran. An alternative way of expressing the ratio is number of policemen per 100,000 population. So we should have 222 policemen per 100,000 population. A cross-country list from a different source says India has 95.6 policemen per 100,000 population and the country which performs best (Montserrat) has 782 policemen per 100,000 population.

 

There are three reasons why inconsistencies exist in cross-country data. First, there is subjectivity in deciding what is counted as police and what isn't. Second, the population number in the denominator can vary. Third, there is a difference between sanctioned strength and actual strength. Some vacancies have been filled recently. With that, the size of India's police force is around 1.5 million and the all-India ratio 155 per 100,000. This still leaves the force short of the desired ratio by some 650,000. More importantly, these are all-India figures, with significant inter-state variations. For example, many Naxal-affected states have large vacancies. It goes without saying a larger force is needed. It must be modernised. There must be police reforms. And one must be more efficient in determining what a police force does.

 

Fair enough. However, the Indian state has never been good at performing the core governance function of ensuring law and order. Consequently, in both urban and rural India, there have been extra-state channels of ensuring law and order and performing police functions. In urban India, that abdication of police functions has increased with private security agencies and private security guards. No one quite knows how many private security guards are employed now. Guesstimates are around 6 million, which is more than the police and army combined. With emphasis on internal security, a standard line now is that private security forces can perform a supplementary role. We are in the process of demolishing another one of the state's monopolies, that on exercise of force. Look at Britain, not Britain today — but England then. Unlike continental Europe, police functions were originally private. Look at the US today, where private security agencies have become quasi-army. One shouldn't tar all Indian security agencies with the same brush. There are ones that employ 20 guards. Others employ 1000. There are reasons why private security has proliferated. It is cheaper to outsource than employ one's own guards, such as in banks. There is no need for provident fund, gratuity and retirement benefits. If a state hasn't included private security guards in scheduled employments under the Minimum Wages Act, one can even get away without paying minimum wages. The average salary is between Rs 4,000 and Rs 6,000 a month.

 

In the home ministry's annual report, private security agencies are mentioned in the chapter titled "Major Initiatives and Schemes". The reference is to Private Security Agencies (Regulation) Act of 2005, enacted in 2005 and in force from 2006. Subsequently, there were Central rules and the idea is simple. Let's regulate the sector through a controlling authority in state governments which will grant licences to private security agencies. Hopefully, employed guards won't be exploited either, and will be paid PF, gratuity, retirement benefits and minimum wages. It is a separate matter that many states haven't implemented the act or notified their rules. Ones that have done so are Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Sikkim, Chandigarh, West Bengal, Tripura, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Assam and Andhra Pradesh. (There is related Central legislation on private detective agencies pending before Parliament.)

 

Why doesn't traditional police perform better? There are several reasons, outlined in assorted commission and committee reports. However, a constant refrain is that law and order is a state subject. Similarly, different states have done different things with this 2005 law. There are states where foreign equity has come into private security agencies. Others where training academies have been set up. But there is a generic issue cutting across all states. That explains why India will never be the US and it also explains why integration between private and public security will always be incomplete.

 

Next time you are at an ATM, scrutinise the guard's weapon. It might be an ancient Lee-Enfield or even a musket. When duty hours are over, you might notice the guard cycling home, weapon slung over his shoulder. Doesn't exactly inspire confidence in this era of war against terror. The answer lies in the Indian Arms Act of 1959, which provides for licensing of firearms to individuals, not organisations. Nor can an individual have more than three firearms in his possession. Consequently, a private security agency can be licensed by a state government to run security business, but it cannot be licensed to own fire-arms. This 1959 legislation has colonial roots and in his autobiography Gandhiji wrote, "Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in

 

India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest." The colonial mindset spilled over into the 1959 legislation, compounded by the belief that freer licensing and registration of arms would somehow aggravate terrorism. It is doubtful terrorists ever use licensed and registered fire-arms, but that fear becomes a deterrent in effective use of private security against terrorism. A far cry from the US, where possession of a fire-arm is enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

 

Therefore, what do you do if you are a private security agency? You look for a guard who already possesses an arms licence and a gun. This usually means an ex-serviceman, but in rare cases it can also be a civilian. In terms of salaries, there is a premium on a prospective guard who already has a gun and a licence. Now you know why we have all those Lee-Enfields and muskets floating around and why the CISF (if not standard police) inspires more confidence than private guards. This isn't an issue we will resolve easily and there will be debate and controversy. But until we resolve it, private security will never take off. In terms of regulation and control, it is far better to allow organised private security agencies to own fire-arms. There is plenty of crime floating around and it is unlikely that licences to security agencies will incrementally contribute to it.

 

The writer is a Delhi-based economist

 

express@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

NO SHORT CUTS TO EQUALITY

COOMI KAPOOR

 

It is ironic that the Samajwadi Party, the Janata Dal (United) and the RSP, which were at the forefront of the campaign for quotas for OBCs, are now the ones most vehemently opposed to the Women's Reservation Bill. Does this mean that the under- privileged view the empowerment of other deprived sections as a threat, since it might eat into their share? Or is there more to their opposition to the bill than resistance to empowering their womenfolk, and self interest?

 

While women's groups believe that the reservations bill will be a magical key which will open the door for genuine female emancipation, skeptics — including myself — question whether the well-intentioned legislation is the best way available to go about bringing parity between the sexes.

 

In one aspect at least the bill is retrogressive. Instead of attempting to put women on an equal footing with men,

it will actually segregate them for ever. Reserving a third of the seats exclusively for women means that in the

future women will be confined to reserved seats, and will be pitted only against other women. Women's reservations, whether it takes the form of separate queues for tickets or seats in buses and legislatures, is an open acknowledgement of "weaker sex" status. Not an ideal way to bring about women's emancipation. A more progressive method would be to enforce the rule that all political parties reserve at least 33 per cent of their seats for women. Another downside is that the women's percentage in legislatures will be permanently capped at 33.

 

More than for all other quotas, there is a danger in women's reservations that the creamy layer usurp the bulk of the privileges. If one takes a look at women in key positions in politics today, it is clear that most of them are there because of connections. Of the five most influential women in politics today only two, Sushma Swaraj and Mayawati, have made it on their own steam. Sonia Gandhi became leader of the Congress because she married into the party's first family. Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar had a smooth and comfortable transition from the IFS to the political arena because she was Babu Jagjivan Ram's daughter. President Pratibha Patil owes her place in politics to the fact she was the daughter of an influential Congress leader from Maharashtra. Among the central ministers, apart from Ambika Soni and Lakshmi Panabaka, all the others had a powerful male figure to give them a headstart. Kumari Selja and D. Purandeshwari had important political figures as their fathers, Krishna Tirath had a father-in-law in politics and Preneet Kaur her politician husband. Much is made of Agatha Sangma's elevation as minister at the age of 28, but she owes her good fortune mainly to her father, P.A. Sangma.

 

JD (U) President Sharad Yadav's objection to reservations for women is that urban, upper class women — whom he terms par katis, those with hair cut short, will walk away with the lion's share, and the deserving self-made women from poor, rural backgrounds — such as the JD(U) MP Ashwamedh Devi, who has studied only till the eighth grade — will be left behind. The Congress, in particular, has a preponderance of women MPs from elite backgrounds. An exception is the earnest, dedicated, Meenakshi Natarajan, who came up the hard way. Self-made women are a rarity.

 

The argument is not that privileged women should not be allowed to stand for election — but should they be

given a leg up at the expense of men, who might have struggled much harder to make it?

 

For the last 13 years, political parties have been talking about the Women's Reservation Bill, but the bill has never been put to vote. This is because there is a sharp divide between the publicly stated postures of some parties and the actual views of the majority of their male members. The bill, after all, will take away the chances of many male MPs for re-election, and it will also prevent them from retaining the same constituency for more than two terms. (A very important factor for parliamentarians who have spent their lifetime nursing their constituencies.)

 

This time, however, it will be difficult for the government to retreat. The main opposition parties, the BJP and the CPM, have made it clear that they will support the bill and so have most of the Congress' allies in the UPA. The two-thirds majority that is required to amend the constitution seems within grasp. The cabinet has cleared the legislation and, more importantly, Sonia Gandhi has put her full weight behind the long-talked about measure. The significance of introducing the bill in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, the centenary of International Women's Day, cannot be lost on anyone.

 

coomi.kapoor@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

DREAM NO SMALL DREAMS

 

The thing I love most about America is that there's always somebody who doesn't get the word — somebody who doesn't understand that in a Great Recession you're supposed to hunker down, downsize and just hold on for dear life. I have a couple of friends who fit that bill, who think a recession is a dandy time to try to discover better and cheaper ways to do things. They both happen to be Indian-Americans — one a son of the Himalayas, who came to America on a scholarship and went to work for NASA to try to find a way to Mars; the other a son of New Delhi, who came here and found the Sun, Sun Microsystems. Both are serial innovators. Both are now shepherding clean-tech start-ups that have the potential to be disruptive game changers. They just didn't get the word.

 

As a result, one has produced a fuel cell that can turn natural gas or natural grass into electricity; the other has a technology that might make coal the cleanest, cheapest energy source by turning its carbon-dioxide emissions into bricks to build your next house. Though our country may be flagging, it's because of innovators like these that you should never — ever — write us off.

 

Let me introduce Vinod Khosla and K.R. Sridhar. Khosla, the co-founder of Sun, set out several years ago to fund energy start-ups. His favourite baby right now is a company called Calera, which was begun with the Stanford Professor Brent Constantz, who was studying how corals use CO2 to produce their calcium carbonate bones.

 

If you combine CO2 with seawater, or any kind of briny water, you produce CaCO3, calcium carbonate. That is not only the stuff of corals. It is also the same white, pasty goop that appears on your shower head from hard (calcium-rich) water. At its demonstration plant near Santa Cruz, Calif., Calera has developed a process that takes CO2 emissions from a coal or gas-fired power plant and sprays seawater into it and naturally converts most of the CO2 into calcium carbonate, which is then spray-dried into cement or shaped into little pellets that can be used as concrete aggregates for building walls or highways — instead of letting the CO2 emissions go into the atmosphere and produce climate change.

 

If this can scale, it would eliminate the need for expensive carbon-sequestration facilities planned to be built alongside coal-fired power plants — and it might actually make the heretofore specious notion of "clean coal" a possibility. "If this works," said Khosla, "coal-fired power would become more than 100 per cent clean. Not only would it not emit any CO2, but by producing clean water and cement as a byproduct it would also be taking all of the CO2 that goes into making those products out of the atmosphere." John Doerr, the legendary venture capitalist who financed Sun, once said of Khosla: "The best way to get Vinod to do something is to tell him it is impossible."

 

Sridhar's company, Bloom Energy, was featured last week on CBS's "60 Minutes." Several months ago, though, Sridhar took me into the parking lot behind Google's Silicon Valley headquarters and showed me the inside of one of his Bloom Boxes, the size of a small shipping container. Inside were stacks of solid oxide fuel cells, stored in cylinders, and all kinds of whiz-bang parts that I did not understand.

 

What I did understand, though, was that Google was already getting part of its clean-energy from these fuel cells — and Wal-Mart, eBay, FedEx and Coca-Cola just announced that they are doing the same. Sridhar, Bloom's co-founder and CEO, said his fuel cells, which can run on natural gas or biogas, can generate electricity at 8 to 10 cents a kilowatt hour, with today's subsidies. "We know we can bring the price down further," he said, "so Bloom power will be affordable in every energy-poor country" — Sridhar's real dream.

Attention: These technologies still have to prove that they are reliable, durable and scalable — and if you Google both, you will find studies saying they are and studies that are sceptical. All I know is this: If we put a simple price on carbon, these new technologies would have a chance to blossom and thousands more would come out of innovators' garages. America still has the best innovation culture in the world. But we need better policies to nurture it, better infrastructure to enable it and more open doors to bring others here to try it. Our politics has gotten so impossible lately, too many Americans have stopped dreaming. Not these two. They just never got the word. As Sridhar says: "We came to America for the American dream — to do good and to make good."

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

ON SHAKY GROUND

DCWADHWA

 

Ratan Tata's observation that land is the least reformed sector in India has not come a day soon. The wilderness which threatens to envelop India's future is deeply rooted in land. Efficient land management is the sine qua non of the country's development, but it is today an area of darkness. Land records, the bedrock of land administration, are in tatters. While we continue to swear by computerisation, there is no understanding of correct land records. This should have been placed on a sound footing right after Independence. The Central government, beyond bemoaning the sad state of affairs in their five year plans, and offering some financial assistance to states for some isolated schemes (computerisation included), has done nothing.

 

The landscape was transformed after Independence. Intermediaries disappeared. In some states tenants became the owners of the land. Uncultivated land of the intermediaries and their forests became government property. The government did not have any records for vast tracts of such land. Village commons were encroached upon. The old system of land records was not designed for such cataclysmic changes and in any case, the records had fallen into arrears. Revisional settlements were held in abeyance. Several factors contributed to this — the second world war, India's Independence, the aftermath of Partition, the adoption of the Constitution, the reorganisation of the states, etc. The reorganisation of states created a piquant situation. While language was a unifying factor, historic legacy was not — so in the same state, while one part was under proprietary settlement, the other was under ryotwari settlement. The feudatory states, merged into India after Independence, had their own system of land administration.

 

It was therefore imperative that the common substratum was rediscovered and redefined. What needed to be done was undoubtedly important, but how it needed to be done was equally important. It would have been useful to redefine the canvas in terms of land administration. Land related issues are a complex web, which cannot be unravelled unless every inch of the land is measured and mapped. Such a survey will be qualitatively different from traditional surveys which preceded earlier settlements. The survey operations would give us a unique opportunity to introduce the Torrens System, as a result of which the title to land, instead of being presumptive as at present, will become conclusive. Once that happens, half the litigation, both civil as well as criminal, will be over. Land titling never got off the ground though it figured prominently in common minimum programme (CMP) of the UPA coalition government. Urban areas remained virtually untouched.

 

There is a confrontation at every step, which leads to litigation — both civil and criminal. The land management system is not equipped to deal with the existing demands. Land prices began to rise, adding to the tensions. In the vacuum created, vested interests stepped in. They were quick to subvert the system. Judicial delays created space in which muscle power moved in. Until 1970s, no one had heard of land mafias. Today they rule the roost. These firmly entrenched interests resist reform of any kind in the land sector. This land mafia is holding the entire country to ransom.

 

If one doesn't know one's relationship to a particular piece of land, that relationship will always be tenuous and fragile. The vitality of a nation's economy depends on the clarity and strength of that relationship. It was Dr Manmohan Singh, then deputy chairman of the planning commission, who appointed me chairman of the one-man committee on records-of-rights in the land set up by the planning commission in 1987. I submitted my report and recommendations entitled "Guaranteeing Title to Land: A Preliminary Study" in 1989.

 

It is my considered opinion that no single measure will have the kind of impact on the socio-economic scene as the state guaranteeing title to land. No one in this country realised this dilemma of dilemmas as clearly as the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He shared my views and supported my endeavour. So keen was he on the implementation of the scheme throughout the country that he planned an all-India seminar of intellectuals. That alas was not to be, as Lok Sabha elections were announced and the seminar was deferred. The United Front government that came into power evinced no interest in the matter, and nor did the NDA government. My hopes brightened when the Congress included the project in its Shimla Sankalp in 2003. Later, when the Congress led the coalition government at the Centre, the project figured in the CMP. Yet nothing happened. The shadow which fell between promise and performance began to lengthen as the years rolled by.

 

The reasons are not hard to find. The vicious circle of the quest of power for pelf and pelf for power holds the country in its vice-like grip. A system of land administration which is in total disarray came in handy. Thus the country's vital concerns are sacrificed at the alter of expediency. The regional plan coupled with a record-of-rights in land based on the state guaranteeing title to land would render proceedings under the Land Acquisition Act procedural in character. If there is one sector which needs to be reformed, it is this sector. And if there is one sector which is being studiously ignored, it is this sector. There is hardly any awareness of ground realities. Computerisation is illusory — mere tinkering with the present system will be an exercise in futility. In the absence of an understanding of what is amiss, where and why, reforms in land administration make no dent on the problem.

 

The task is daunting but we ignore it at our peril. "A single stone," J. Krishnamurti had said "can change the course of a river". This is that stone.

 

The writer is at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

A PRIVILEGE TO SERVE

JAVED ANAND

 

On this special day — March 8 — that marks 100 years of the international women's struggle for justice and fair play, the Indian Parliament is poised to cross an important milestone by passing the Bill that provides for 30 per cent reservation for women in the Central and the state legislatures. Hopefully, for women and for the fair-minded among the unfair sex, it will be celebration time. In that moment of rejoicing, some might suggest raising a toast to the Union ministry of minority affairs (MMA) too. Why? For having recently produced a "Scheme for Leadership Development of Minority Women". Caution folks: a closer look will show that this seemingly full-of-promise baby has been crippled at birth. And the blame lies entirely with those who misconceived her.

 

As with other schemes for minorities in the last few years, the genesis of this one also lies in the report of the high-powered Sachar Committee highlighting the fact that Indian Muslims "have been left out of the development trajectory and within this group, Muslim women are doubly disadvantaged". Secular groups and activists say that like Dalit women, Muslim women too are "thrice oppressed": at the bottom of the social hierarchy, worst victims of caste or communal violence, targets of indignities by men from their own community.

 

Doubly disadvantaged or thrice oppressed, the plight of Muslim women should weigh heavily on the conscience of the custodians of a democracy whose Constitution proclaims justice, equality and non-discrimination irrespective of caste, community, gender. Initially conceived by the ministry of women and child development in 2007-2008, the scheme was transferred to the ministry of minority affairs in 2009. This writer is not aware whether the damage was done right at inception or during rebirth, "suitably recast and renamed." Either way, it is for the foster parents now to do the explaining.

 

The objective of the scheme is, you guessed it, lofty: leadership training of women from minority communities, so that they "are emboldened and empowered to assume leadership role and assert their rights", so that they "learn to stand up and fight". In the remaining three years of the 11th Plan period, beginning with the current year (2009-10), a sum of nearly Rs 50 crore has been allocated to train nearly two lakh women from minority communities.

 

Sounds terrific, doesn't it? Who will not applaud the MMA for setting aside oodles of cash with the noble intention of partnering with "highly motivated, dedicated and committed to the welfare of women" NGOs to train women from minority communities to stand up and fight? Sadly though, NGOs will first need to stand up and fight the MMA before they can train others. Here's why:

 

Included in the list of the "stringent criteria for pre-selection" of NGOs is the following: "The organisation should have been working with a budget of at least one crore rupees per annum during the last three years and must not be a loss making concern." Call it the money-attracts-money syndrome.

 

Sharifa Khanum (STEPS, Madurai, Tamil Nadu), Jameela Nishat (Shaheen, Hyderabad, AP), Khadija (Saheli, Delhi), Zakia Nizami Nambiar and her colleagues (Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, active in 13 states), Noor Jehan and Khatoon Apa (Huqooq-e-Niswan, Mumbai), Noor Jehan (KHOJ, Mumbai), Flavia Agnes (Majlis, Mumbai), Hasina Khan (Awaaz-e-Niswan, Mumbai), Uzma Nahid (Iqra International Women's Alliance, Mumbai — as a trained aalim, Uzma is a rare breed among Muslim women. The list could be endless, especially if you include the many, many non-Muslim women and men who have been working among Muslim women for years. Suffice to say that each one of them could teach MMA what the words commitment, dedication, motivation really mean. Yet not one of them, believe me, can pass the MMA's one crore test.

 

It's not just them. Even the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), I suspect, would not qualify for the MMA's generosity. Next, imagine a government scheme for funding RTI work for which Aruna Roy (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatana, Rajasthan) does not qualify, or a scheme for funding legal aid for justice to victims of mass crime for which Teesta Setalvad (Citizens for Justice and Peace, Mumbai, also my partner) does not qualify because of the one crore criteria. And this is not the only hurdle. The babucracy does not acknowledge the existence of people; it only recognises official paper (registration certificate), the older the better.

 

Which world are you living in, MMA? Tell you what: why not make a resolution on this momentous day? Get out of Shastri Bhavan, step out of your lal-batti ambassador, walk down the narrow lanes of a Muslim mohalla and meet any of the women named above. They will teach you how women are already learning to stand up and fight. And if you have the willingness and the humility to unlearn and relearn, they could also tell you what you can do to help. Just do it, MMA.

 

The writer is general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

COUNTER COUP RUCHIKA TALWAR

 

A little over a fortnight ago, 68 serving and retired Turkish military officers were taken into police custody on suspicion of plotting a coup in 2003. Ruchika Talwar explains the story behind the largest police operation against the military in Turkish history:

What was the provocation?

The coup suspicion is grounded in an article published in Taraf, a fiercely anti-military publication. While the military has admitted that a meeting was held, it nevertheless insists this was merely a routine training seminar designed to serve as the basis for a war-gaming scenario similar to those carried out in other NATO countries on how the military could react to a national emergency and the collapse of the government. The government's opponents believe this is a politically-motivated attempt to weaken an institution that has long regarded itself as the ultimate guardian of secularism in Turkey. The government, on the other hand, is run by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is considered Islamist, though moderately.

 

What are the larger implications?

The self-proclaimed guardian of Kemal Ataturk's secular legacy, the Turkish army overthrew democratic governments four times in 50 years and hanged an elected prime minister. Yet, every election brought to power, under a new name, the same party which was outlawed. The turning point came with the AKP's landslide victory in 2002. Led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, AKP scored a second triumph in the 2007 election and then went on to make constitutional changes that limited the army's role and turned the all-powerful National Security Council into an advisory body. The government's move indicates a shifting balance of power.

 

What will be the international impact?

Between 1945 and 1990, Turkish leaders consciously avoided involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts. In 1990, Turkey broke with that tradition and allied with the US-led coalition confronting Iraq following its invasion and annexation of Kuwait. Turkish troops are deployed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO camp. The consequences of political instability in Turkey will reverberate in the Middle East, Europe and the Caucasus. Western, and particularly American, policymakers need a Turkey strategy that goes well beyond getting Ankara to help in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East.

 

Will this impact Turkey's chances of EU membership?

The European Union has long debated the merits of Turkish EU membership. But now, nearly a decade after Islamists took the reins of power in Ankara, the central question is no longer whether Turkey should be integrated into Europe's economic and political structure, but whether Turkey should remain a part of the Western defence structure. While Turkey's military leadership remains committed to the state's secular, Western orientation and the defining principles of the NATO, the AKP seems to have different ideas. Ankara is said to be increasingly pursuing illiberal policies at home, for instance attacking the independent media, while aligning itself with militant, anti-Western Middle East regimes abroad.

 

Negotiations were started in 2005, and the process, should it be in Turkey's favour, is likely to take at least a decade to complete. Turkey's supporters argue it is a key regional power with a large economy and the second largest military force of NATO. These features will enhance the EU's position as a global geostrategic player. The army, therefore is cautious as it seems to be aware of the fact that the EU is watching Turkey's internal developments closely and that another military intervention at this stage will rule out the possibility of EU membership for the country.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

AT 75, RBI NEEDS REFORM


RBI's decision to hike CRR by 75 basis points in its monetary policy review on January 29 finally translated itself into more expensive loans for retail borrowers as a number of prominent private banks hiked the interest rates charged on home and auto loans at the end of last week. RBI's decision to hike CRR was ostensibly taken to curb inflationary expectations. Ironically though, the finance minister speaking on Saturday at a function to commemorate RBI's platinum jubilee, reiterated the point that inflation was a supply side problem and monetary policy had little to do with it. We have, in these columns, consistently supported the view expressed by the finance minister, which is why the squeeze imposed on borrowers by RBI's tightening seems unjustified. Interestingly, RBI has been using the occasion of its platinum jubilee year to promote the idea of financial inclusion and help spread financial literacy to the masses. But RBI's actual policies often tend to run counter to this spirit.

 

Indian consumers and investors in any case pay an extraordinarily high rate of interest on bank loans—prime lending rates even during the period of monetary loosening were in double digits—compared with elsewhere in the world. The recent tightening will only make loans more expensive, hardly in the interest of financial inclusion. But more important than temporary changes in rates is the more fundamental concern about the lack of competition in the banking system, which doesn't serve borrower interest at all well. The finance minister said in his Budget speech that RBI will be giving out more licences to private banks. However, if RBI was really serious about financial inclusion, it shouldn't even need the finance minister to make this suggestion. The problem lies in RBI's excess conservatism, which is so strongly entrenched in its mammoth bureaucracy that it is unlikely to change any time soon unless the central bank is fundamentally reformed. RBI's platinum jubilee year should ideally be spent in reinventing the institution. As we have argued on a number of occasions in these columns, RBI should be divested of its banking regulator role and of its role in managing government debt, both of which should pass to other independent agencies. Instead, RBI's focus should simply be on running monetary policy, a task in which it hasn't always distinguished itself in recent years. Of course, RBI has taken much credit for saving India from the worst of the global financial crisis. But that safety has come at a considerable cost—of financial exclusion. Still, in order to persuade RBI to give up some of its turf, the government can dangle a carrot—an offer to chair the proposed Financial Stability and Development Council may be a good idea.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WITHOUT DOT

 

Sam Pitroda laid the foundations for India's much-acclaimed telecom revolution two decades ago. Today, in a transformed environment, he is advisor to the PM on infrastructure, innovation and information technology. Under his stewardship, a committee has laid out how to reform the ailing but able giant BSNL. As our columnist points out, the four-page report is in great contrast to the voluminous tomes that government committees usually dish out. And as Pitroda himself said at the Express Idea Exchange last week, a four-page report is much harder to put together than one that is ten times as long. If the recommendations are executed diligently, this can also lay the foundations for curing other public sector giants that are rich in assets but poor in mobilising them. It looks like the government is moving in this direction, as it has scrapped BSNL's controversial Rs 35,000-crore tender to procure GSM lines. The Pitroda committee has said, "Change procurements and procedures substantially to respond to rapidly changing technology and industry needs with necessary transparency, timeliness and accountability using schedules such as e-procurement." The managed services model is similar to the one already used by private players who outsource their network organisation and minimise capital expenditure.

 

What used to be the most profitable telecom company in India is looking at losses this fiscal. A key problem has been the political intervention it has attracted. The lines tender is just one such example—with the communications and IT minister first resisting 45 million lines and then becoming all gung-ho about 93 million lines, without giving any explanation for the change of heart. So, as the Pitroda committee has suggested, the heart of the matter is to insulate BSNL from political interference. If the leadership of the company is split into an MD and a CEO, with at least the former being a prominent industry person, we can move towards greater procedural autonomy. Unless this happens, the rest of the recommended reform process is unlikely to take place. Here, we are talking about everything from a 30% disinvestment to monetising assets such as towers and underdeveloped land to encouraging a performance-driven culture (with contracts for all key management employees) and rationalising staff strength—note that the company's salary bill for the year ending March 2009 was 33% of its total operating revenue as compared to 4.3% for the private telecom operator Bharti Airtel.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

MEAT OF THE BT BRINJAL MATTER

RENUKA BISHT


Europeans like their meat, but they haven't been producing enough feed for their cattle and pigs. So, they have been importing meals from countries like the US, which has been a GM leader and today accounts for nearly half of the world's biotech area. Given the EU's agricultural politics—where nothing GM has been approved since a Monsanto maize in 1998—border agents have been blocking US shipments with even minute GM traces. This was an unsustainable situation. By approving the commercial growing of a GM potato, the European Commission has initiated movement towards level ground. This marks a historical shift, and one that can't leave India unmoved.

 

Our environment minister has overruled the GEAC's recommendation for Bt brinjal. He has asked, what's the hurry? While saying that the GEAC studies about the impact on health and environment need to be "independently verified", he has mooted a National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority. It's unclear how the new institution will uphold the independence allegedly lacking in the GEAC, but here are reasons why we must hurry.

 

Philippines is in a hurry. It was the first Asian country to approve a GM crop. It has decided to use the GEAC's biosafety dossier to fast-track approval for Bt brinjal. China is in a hurry. It already has GM papaya, tomato and bell peppers headed for the dining table. In a big decision, it has given GM varieties of maize and rice the green light as well. Maize is the world's main animal feed and rice the main human feed. The world is also in a hurry, so the use of GM technology increased by about 7% in 2009. Burkina

 

Faso and Pakistan have come on board. In India, food prices went up 18% last year while our Bt cotton triumphs have reshaped the global GM story—Monsanto now sells more GM cotton here than in the US. Still, why hurry?

 

In 2007-08, world food prices saw their sharpest rise in 30 years, sparking riots across nearly 40 countries. The financial crisis overshadowed all that. But the structural factors behind the price spike remain firmly in place—rising demand for food and biofuels, declining yield growth in cereals. Prices have already begun to rebound. Breakfast commodities—like tea and sugar, about which Sushma Swaraj so emotively addressed the Parliament—have returned to peak levels.

 

For India's Bt brinjal procrastinators, Europe's turnaround holds potent lessons. For 12 years, the leadership defied its own scientists' GM call. While it slouched, the US leapfrogged ahead as did the emerging markets that now comprise 20 of the 25 countries sowing GM seeds. But the ripple effects of Europe's resistance were significant. India is just the latest to cite it to resist policy changes. The Africans—with respectable exceptions like South Africa—did exactly the same. Africa is reversing gears now. As Paul Collier, the author of The Bottom Billion: Why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it, has argued, Africa has been in thrall to Europe and Europe has been in thrall to populism. That nearly half of Indian states declared they were against Bt brinjal explains Jairam Ramesh's moratorium. But instead of basing policy on opinion polls, he should be socialising opinion in favour of what the country needs and what its scientists have declared they can deliver.

 

In retrospect, we know that even India's first Green Revolution could have been delivered with better environmental safeguards. What's less well-remembered is that activists said it would cause everything from ulcers to impotence, not to mention destroy indigenous flavours. Activist organisations simply haven't kept pace with science. In a world whose problems are growing more complex by the day, policymakers do the citizenry great injury by aligning with such inflexibility.

 

The Amflora potato cleared for cultivation in the EU will be used mostly by industrial customers. And yes, Indians don't eat Bt cotton. We are seeing symbolic battles that will pave the substantive way for the future. Policymakers' vision will play a key role. The European Commission president is taking a lot of heat for reversing his constituency's traditional position. He has also transferred the relevant portfolio from the environment directorate to those overseeing health and consumer affairs, where GM crops have been cleared year after year. Over these years, science has really charged ahead.

 

The first generation of GM seeds was designed for rich countries. The next generation will deliver to the developing countries' farmers, who comprise 90% of those growing GM crops today. The next generation will be better "stacked", delivering to consumer demands such as soybean with omega-3 (hitherto harvested from fish). Some estimate that by reducing pesticide spraying over the past decade, GM crops have already had a substantive emissions impact. Going forward, drought-resistant products are in a three-year pipeline. Sure, governments will have to work on better safeguard mechanisms. But countries that drag their feet today will have cause to grieve tomorrow.

 

renuka.bisht@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DO AS PITRODA SUGGESTS FOR BSNL

RISHI RAJ


First the good news. The committee headed by Sam Pitroda to suggest measures to put the ailing, state-owned telecom firm BSNL back on track has submitted an excellent report within record time. That the decision to constitute the committee was taken in January and the report was submitted before the end of February is testimony to the fact that it does not take much to fix things if the will is there. Another typical Pitroda stamp on the report is that it is only a four-page document unlike the voluminous reports the government is infamous for dishing out, which then simply pass on to the archives. There can be no dispute on the 15-point agenda suggested by Pitroda to turn around the company, which until four years ago was a highly profitable one with immense growth potential.

 

Pitroda has rightly noted the latent potential still existing in the company: it is the seventh largest telecommunication company in the world providing a comprehensive range of telecom services with an equity capital of Rs 12,000 crore, net assets worth Rs 88,000 crore and a turnover of Rs 35,000 crore. It caters to 90 million subscribers, has 3 lakh employees, 7,50,000 km of optic fibre, a network of 40,000 towers, extensive urban and unparalleled rural coverage and many more unique assets and capabilities that offer potential for growth and revenue generation.

 

Now let's come to the bad news. Though this is not Pitroda's fault, the report doesn't have a timeline for its implementation. In an interaction with this newspaper, Pitroda said that his brief did not extend to timelines—that is something for the government to decide. The PM should intervene and ask the department of telecommunications to immediately start processing the recommendations by fixing timelines. Since the DoT secretary, PJ Thomas, was himself a member of the committee and it is he who has to implement the measures, there can be no excuse for delays from DoT.

 

The implementation timeline is important because the current chairman & MD of BSNL is retiring in July, and that's the time to kick in the first and most important recommendation of the report—separating the post of MD/CEO from that of CMD—meaning a non-executive chairman remains distinct from the MD, whose responsibility is the day-to-day running of the company. If the set of measures suggested by Pitroda has to be implemented, the structural changes suggested should be the first to be implemented. We are already in the month of March so the government should immediately set up a search committee to identify names of eminent personalities who could be considered for the post of chairman (naturally the person has to be outside of the BSNL) and also that of MD (in this case both internal and industry names can be considered).

 

If this opportunity is squandered and in the routine process the DoT selects an incumbent from BSNL as its next CMD in July as is the past practice, one can be sure that the recommendations will not move ahead but be summarily buried by the government through a series of other committees and sub-committees. Blunt as it may sound, no CMD or telecom minister would like to forgo the powers they enjoy.

 

Though Pitroda has not said so in as many words, the idea behind splitting the post of CMD is that a chairman

who is an eminent industry personality would not succumb to pressures from any telecom minister while taking decisions and would support and encourage the MD in running the company on sound commercial lines without any fear or favour.

 

Another the key recommendation of Pitroda is divesting 30% in BSNL in stages after fundamental changes have been made. He has said that returns from the 10% sale should go back to the government while the remaining 20% should be utilised for employee VRS, expansion and operations. Considering that BSNL has 1 lakh surplus employees and currently it is not the right time to list the company, these suggestions make sense. However, Pitroda should have recommended a wholesome strategic sale—government bringing down its stake to below 51%. Though he has recommended that the administrative ministry should not interfere in its day-to-day working and only liaise through the board,it is easier said than done where the government happens to be the major shareholder.

 

In this connection, the example of MTNL, the other state-owned firm that provides telecom services in Delhi and Mumbai, is apt. Though the company is only 56% owned by the government and is even listed on the NYSE, performance remains poor. Pitroda should also have exceeded his brief and suggested the merger of BSNL and MTNL, because their being distinct entities act as a growth barrier to both—MTNL cannot expand beyond two cities and BSNL is denied entry into the two most lucrative markets. The problems of BSNL and MTNL are similar and should have been tackled in one go rather than separately.

 

rishi.raj@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

STOCKING UP ON BANKS

SAIKAT NEOGI


For banking stocks, Budget 2010-11 was a great booster. In the last five days' trading sessions after the Budget, the 18-stocks Bankex increased 7% as compared with the 4.5% rise in the benchmark 30-share BSE Sensex.

 

The markets reacted positively to the FM's announcement that RBI is considering issuing additional banking licences to private banks and non-banking financial companies in habitations above 2,000 people, and to the proposal to provide Rs 16,500 crore for recapitalisation of public sector banks. Investors, bullish on the banking stocks, are even selling short positions in the Bank Nifty futures and are taking long positions to gain from the expected rise in the prices. Analysts say though the modalities are still not clear on the new banking licences, investors are hoping that it will increase competition and banks will come out with more innovative products. The change in income tax slabs for personal incomes will enable higher consumer spending and will have a multiplier effect. This will also push up retail lending, especially for consumer durables and autos, but the interest rate hike may be a dampener.

 

With the uptick in the credit growth in the last two weeks and companies announcing fresh capacity expansion plans—around $30 billion to be spent over FY11-14—analysts are estimating that bank credit growth would touch 19% in FY11 and around 20% in FY12, mainly led by infrastructure and corporate credit. Given that the interest rates are rising, banks with low-cost deposits will be in a better position to capture the uptick in the credit growth and banks with higher current account savings accounts like SBI, PNB and Axis Bank are likely to gain from the rise in credit offtake.

 

Moreover, the market borrowings, which are projected to be lower than what was expected, will give more room for private sector borrowings. Besides, the government's borrowing needs can be comfortably financed by the market. The demand for government securities shows that commercial banks and insurance companies will continue to remain the primary sources of demand and government bond yields are unlikely to spike up, all auguring well for bank stocks.

 

saikat.neogi@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

OPERATION MOSHTARAK

 

Since February 13, when they launched Operation Moshtarak ("Operation Together"), NATO and Afghan National Army forces have encountered fierce Taliban resistance in Marjah, a town of 80,000 people in the southwestern province of Helmand. The province has the world's largest opium output and Marjah alone yields the Taliban an estimated $2 million a month. Militarily, the surrounding network of canals interspersed with residential compounds makes defence easier, not least with improvised explosive devices. NATO has now sent in more than 15,000 troops as well as helicopters and drones to attack Marjah and the Taliban have confounded their expectations by staying and fighting. Even President Hamid Karzai has demanded that NATO must protect civilians. The toll of 'collateral deaths' has been mounting relentlessly, with the U.S.'s high-tech electronic war killing innocent children, women, and men in an unprecedented variety of ways. Marc W. Herold of the University of New Hampshire, a regular contributor to Frontline on the subject, has assiduously developed a database that seeks to account for every Afghan civilian killed by the U.S./NATO forces since the 2001 invasion. A master table he has made available to The Hindu indicates that there have been close to 10,000 civilian impact deaths resulting from U.S./NATO military actions in Afghanistan since October 7, 2001. Shockingly, the data reveal, in the words of Professor Herold, that "more Afghan civilians died under the Obama clock in 2009 than under his predecessor, George W. Bush during 2008."

 

A senior British officer estimates that it will take 30 days to clear the Taliban from the targeted areas. The occupation force commanders know that stability cannot be restored without public trust. Scepticism and cynicism are justifiably widespread among the locals, who have no illusions about the corruption and the chaotic nature of the Afghan state that is supposed to replace the Taliban in Helmand. One strategic analysis notes that in many areas the Taliban are the only source of stable civil authority and everyday security. The U.S. has hinted at the possibility of talks with the Taliban, possibly in the hope of marginalising its more extreme elements. But even that is an uncertain strategy, as many of the younger Taliban leaders are known hardliners. Secondly, it is highly doubtful if a centralised state can be created in a culture where people have for centuries thought and acted locally and tribally. Thirdly, NATO may take Marjah but holding it will be another matter. It will make the putative capture of Kandahar province, a more important Taliban stronghold than Helmand, far more difficult. As the civilian toll mounts, as the dossier of war crimes grows fatter, the entire U.S. project of creating a reshaped Afghan body politic so that it can depart in 18 months is in deep trouble.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

GOOGLE AND OUR DIGITAL FUTURE

 

Google's hopes of creating the world's largest digital library remain uncertain after a New York district court declared it needed more time to rule on this controversial project. Announced in 2004, the $200 million project began by scanning and digitising the entire libraries of four major universities, including Harvard and Oxford, and the New York Public Library. In return for permission to digitise these works and make excerpts available through its search engine, the libraries were promised a digital copy of the books and journals. The case, which has implications not only for authors and publishers but also for anti-trust practices and copyright law, has been snagged in a legal quagmire since 2005. The Author's Guild and the Association of American Publishers filed a class action suit against Google Inc. for resorting to what they regarded as a massive copyright infringement for commercial use. Google claimed that use of snippets" and "excerpts" of copyrighted works were exempted under the principle of "fair use."

 

The case assumed a wholly new dimension when authors, publishers, and libraries entered into an agreement with Google in 2008 to put in place a business model to compensate the former for use of copyrighted work through Google's digital platform. The agreement included out-of-print works and 'orphan works' (where copyright is unknown) for free previews. A revised agreement was filed in court the following year after the U.S. Justice Department held that the original agreement could be in violation of anti-trust laws. It would benefit all if the final ruling strikes an equitable and fine balance — one that protects the rights of authors and publishers, that addresses concerns about Google acquiring a monopoly over a vast digital library, and that does not hinder a possible revolution in public access to knowledge. Under the terms of the revised settlement, millions of out-of-print works will become available to researchers and readers in a searchable online database. There can be little doubt that the Google's digital project will vastly improve public access to books. Some countries claim that the settlement violates the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. France is even preparing its own rival to Google Books. Given such developments, the view that too much is at stake to be decided by a settlement before a court has gained ground. What is really needed is a comprehensive legislative framework for book digitisation.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

HUMANISING THE BORDER SECURITY FORCE

A SENIOR BSF OFFICER'S ARREST IN J&K FOR THE KILLING OF A YOUTH POSES NEW CHALLENGES. OFFICERS AND MEN NEED TO BE TOLD THAT THE GOVERNMENT AND THE FORCE WOULD TAKE CARE OF THEM ONLY AS LONG AS THEY ARE SENSITIVE TO HUMAN RIGHTS.

R.K. RAGHAVAN

 

The arrest of Border Security Force Commandant R.K. Birdi in Jammu and Kashmir for allegedly ordering the shooting of a 16-year-old Kashmiri should send shock waves across the ranks in that critical paramilitary force. K.F. Rustamji, the legendary founder of the BSF, was a dynamic and respected policeman who built the BSF brick by brick and paved the way for it to become the premier ally of the Army that it is today in defending the Indo-Pakistan border. (It was just the other day that I was reviewing for The Hindu a diary he left behind.)

 

Ironically, Rustamji was the father of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India. Two articles he wrote in 1979 in a national daily formed the substance of the first petition of this genre: it drew the Supreme Court's attention to the miserable plight of undertrials in Karnataka and Bihar and ensured the release of nearly 40,000 prisoners languishing in Indian jails. This he did in his role as a member of the first National Police Commission (NPC) set up in 1977. He was known for his ethical principles and respect for human rights. He should be turning in his grave as a single BSF officer's misconduct and total insensitivity have brought ignominy to the organisation.

 

From what has been reported on the incident of February 5, 2010, Birdi's action was utterly impulsive and thoughtless. He was a total stranger to his victim, Zahid Farook Shah, a high school student. He did not therefore have any motive for the killing. (When the case against Birdi ultimately goes to court, this factor of an absence of mens rea could weigh in the mind of the judge while awarding the sentence, once other facts establish Birdi's guilt.) That there was no motive does not by itself take the sting out of an otherwise horrific act. It will also be poor consolation to the distraught parents.

 

These are the basic facts of the episode. Birdi and his fellow-BSF men of a battalion posted in J&K were travelling in a convoy one evening to their camp in Shalimar. On their way, they were confronted by a jeering group of youth returning from a rain-abandoned cricket match in Nishat, on the outskirts of Srinagar. Birdi, who was in civilian clothes, was so provoked by their behaviour that he jumped out of his vehicle, seized a weapon from one of the patrol party accompanying him and waved it at the boys to intimidate them. When this possibly did not work, Birdi ordered one of his jawans, Constable Lakhwinder Singh, to open fire at them. One of the two rounds fired by Lakhwinder from his AK-47 rifle killed Zahid.

 

The incident naturally led to a public uproar. An internal enquiry clearly pointed to misconduct. Lakhwinder was arrested on February 10. This did not assuage public opinion, as rumours were swirling that he was forced by his Commandant to open fire. Sensing the public mood, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah took up the matter with Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram during his recent visit to the State. The State Special Investigation Team concluded, following severe questioning of Lakhwinder Singh and his colleagues, that Commandant Birdi was the principal culprit. He was also found guilty of fudging official records in an amateurish attempt to save himself. His subsequent suspension was a logical outcome. Birdi was handed over to the SIT and has since been remanded to custody.

 

The Nishat incident is significant. First, it highlights the might of public opinion against the highhandedness of security forces. The BSF is not part of the conventional police force. Also it operates in extremely tension-ridden areas close to the international border. These are at best extenuating circumstances which do not at all dilute the responsibility and accountability of its members. They are basically 'public servants', with only limited immunity from the law of the land even when they function in a disturbed area like J&K.

 

The stern action against Birdi sends out a warning to all policemen that, irrespective of their rank or the degree of hardship of their physical location, outrageous behaviour of the kind indulged in by Commandant Birdi against innocent civilians will not be condoned. One must compliment the firmness of Mr. Chidambaram and the doggedness of Mr. Abdullah in pursuing the legitimate complaint against a misbehaving Central force. Fortunately, the Centre-State divide and the crass politics that clouds many public security issues were not allowed to come in the way of delivering justice to a family that was blighted by the tragedy. Kudos are also due to the BSF leadership for being honest in its internal enquiry. This, again, is an example that should be emulated by other forces whenever a human rights violation is reported. These are times of transparency when a cover-up of a misdeed is not only not possible but is stupid and dangerous.

 

Having said this, we must ask ourselves why Birdi acted as recklessly as he did. First, I would like to have more information on his past. Has he come to adverse attention for erratic and impulsive behaviour earlier? If he had been reported against in the past, what did his supervisors do to discipline or counsel him? More important, what did his men in the battalion think of him? Without answers to these vital questions, we cannot fathom why he reacted so brutally to a most minor slight by a bunch of youngsters.

 

Let us not forget that life in the BSF — for that matter in most of the paramilitary forces — is tough. Men are

posted in inhospitable places for long spells, away from their families. The sheer loneliness and physical hardship could kill the soul. A number of imaginative measures are being taken to reduce the intensity of the pain of separation from families.

 

The fact, however, is that ultimately, for one in a stressful profession like the police, nothing compensates for a wholesome life with one's wife and children. Whether Birdi was indeed a victim of suppressed emotions, only his close associates could tell. The history of the armed forces the world over carries many tales of recklessness by serving soldiers, and Birdi's is one of them.The remedy lies somewhat in better person-management. To an outsider this may seem too naïve and fundamental. But it is hardly so. Mr. Chidambaram is a man of bright ideas and with tremendous faith in modern management practices. This combination can bring about a transformation in the way forces like the BSF are recruited and administered. That may not be a guarantee against officers like Birdi getting into senior positions in the future, where they can cause havoc. But then, there is no other way we can attempt to build sensitivity into the minds of the men in uniform who, because of the harsh environs in which they operate, have a short fuse that could blow at the slightest provocation.

 

Finally, one theory that will quickly circulate among many is that actions such as the arrest of a Battalion Commander could demoralise the men in the lower formations and make them ineffective and supine in the field. This is a legitimate fear that cannot be wished away. It is clear to everyone that Birdi's arrest was not a case of capricious administrative action fuelled by politics. It now requires adroit communication skills to convince the grassroots personnel of the BSF that they have nothing to worry as long as their conduct is civilised and in the interests of the nation.It is not the freedom to respond to enemy fire that is now being sought to be curtailed. What is being stifled is unwarranted aggression against a civilian community which, at its worst, is misguided by the enemy. As long as the essence of this message percolates down the line through imaginative communication channels, there is little to fear in terms of loss of morale in the BSF's lower echelons. I am confident this will be taken care of, because the BSF has excellent men at the top, chosen on merit and not on extraneous considerations. It is gratifying that the force retains its professional élan despite an extremely difficult and contentious charter in J&K. More than that, it has not yet been politicised.

 

(The writer is a former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation.)

 

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THE HINDU

ACEH: RECASTING REBELS AS FOREST RANGERS

A GOVERNMENT PROGRAMME, CALLED ACEH GREEN, AIMS TO INTEGRATE FORMER COMBATANTS INTO SOCIETY.

PETER GELLING

 

For decades, the vast jungle interior that blankets the northern Indonesian province of Aceh provided a haven for thousands of rebel foot soldiers fighting a war of independence. Now, still marginalised and largely unemployed despite nearly five years of peace, many former separatists have fled back into the forest, this time to chop it down.

 

"I spoke to an old rebel captain recently, and I asked him why he continued to illegally log Aceh's forests," said Mohammad Nur Djuli, head of the Aceh Reintegration Body, an organisation set up by the provincial government in 2006 to help former combatants rejoin society.

 

"He said, 'OK, you feed my 200 men and I'll throw this chain saw into the river.' What can I say to that?"

 

A government programme, called Aceh Green, hopes to provide an answer. Five years after an earthquake and tsunami laid waste to much of Aceh province, killing 1,70,000 people, the provincial government has begun to institute a strategy of economic development. It aims to incorporate sustainable development, integrate former combatants into society and create jobs that fulfil the goal of the former separatist movement: ensuring that revenue from natural resources benefits local people.

 

The Aceh Green programme, although still in its early stages, has already yielded some results. Hundreds of former rebels, who know the Ulu Masen jungle perhaps better than anyone, are being trained and recast as forest rangers by Fauna and Flora International, one of the oldest international environmental groups in Aceh. The new rangers trek through the woods, armed with compasses and climbing rope, on the lookout for illegal loggers and poachers.

 

The rangers are picked by their local communities and act as an independent group supplementing an existing

but small forest police force — their former adversaries. The former rebels are trained for 10 days by Fauna and Flora International.

 

Their graduation ceremony looks like an episode of "Survivor." Exhausted and dirty, they stand in a river surrounded by flaming torches to receive their diplomas, which come in the form of hugs. As in a baptism, they are dunked one by one in the river by their "master trainer" and given a clean uniform to begin their new lives.

 

"A lot of them cry," said Matthew Linkie, programme manager for Fauna and Flora International's Aceh branch. "It is amazing to see that among these hardened men. These guys are going from criminals to heroes. They are becoming our eyes and ears. They let us know what is going on in very remote parts of the jungle, places that are normally very difficult to monitor."

 

Aceh Green is the brainchild of Irwandi Yusuf, who is a former rebel as well as a U.S.-trained veterinarian and founder of Fauna and Flora International's Aceh branch. He presented Aceh Green to the world at the 2007 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali, where, to the applause of the world's environmentalists, he declared that he intended to turn his province into a worldwide model of sustainability.

 

Analysts have largely praised the spirit of the programme, which hints at a potentially bright future for a region known for disaster and conflict. Several months after the Bali conference, the governor declared a moratorium on all logging in the Ulu Masen forest and began the ranger programme with Fauna and Flora.

 

In February 2008, Ulu Masen became the first forest to be internationally recognised as protected under the U.N. programme called REDD, for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries. The system allows rich countries to offset their carbon output by paying poor countries to preserve their forests. The project could net Aceh an estimated $26 million in carbon credits if it can successfully protect the entire 1.9-million-acre Ulu Masen jungle.

 

"Aceh Green is the articulation of a vision that Pak Irwandi has had for a long time," said Lilianne Fan, a former aid worker who is now serving as an adviser to the governor on Aceh Green, using an Indonesian courtesy title before the governor's name.

 

Aceh, which covers the northern tip of Sumatra Island and supports a population of more than 4 million, has some of the world's richest stores of natural wealth, including natural gas, oil, coal, gold, iron, copper, tin and hardwood timber. It was the struggle to control revenue from these natural resources that prompted the long-running separatist rebellion.

 

Now, the provincial government, empowered by a 2005 peace agreement that gives it limited autonomy from Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, hopes to extract those resources in a sustainable manner and for the benefit of its residents.

 

Critics say that although Aceh Green is a good idea, the province lacks the government infrastructure and overall willpower to make it effective.

 

Some aid workers jokingly refer to the programme as "Aceh Brown," pointing out that in the remote areas where they work, the sounds of chain saws have grown louder than ever in spite of Aceh Green and the logging moratorium. In response, the government says it is not yet capable of monitoring the whole forest.

 

One of the forces behind Aceh Green is an urgent need to improve Aceh's economy. Analysts say growth is essential for maintaining peace, but the economy is faltering as the multibillion-dollar reconstruction effort after the 2004 tsunami winds down. Local environmentalists now fear that, in the rush to compensate for the unemployment that has come with the end of international aid projects, the spirit of Aceh Green will be diluted.

 

The governor "supports the investors, not the environment," said Arifsyah Nasution, coordinator for Kuala, an umbrella organisation representing 25 local environmental groups. "The governor says they are doing it in a 'green way,' but we have yet to see any results. To us it is all just jargon, a way to attract large-scale investment.''

 

At the heart of Aceh Green's difficulties is the lack of a fully functioning government in much of the region. More than 30 years of conflict and the tsunami have left provincial and local governments in tatters. Corruption, especially at the local level, remains prevalent, according to anti-corruption watchdogs like Transparency International.

 

"The Aceh Green team works alone," Nasution said about the governor's team, which works out of Banda Aceh, the provincial capital. "There is very little coordination or understanding among other sectors of government."

 

"There are a lot of conflicting regulations coming from various levels of government," he added. "It's a mess."

 

Fan said that the governor's Aceh Green team planned to spend the next two years strengthening governing skills among local and provincial leaders. They are reviewing forest policy as well as resource extraction. Several projects are in the works, Fan said, including a partnership between the Indonesian government and the German development bank KfW to develop geothermal resources.

 

For some, including the rebels-turned-rangers, Aceh Green has become a new sort of provincial doctrine.

 

Kamarullah, 32, a former rebel fighter and illegal logger, said he now considered himself an environmental activist. "Now I understand the importance of the forest. I will always protect it, its wildlife and the environment as a whole from now on, even if I am no longer a ranger." — New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

INCREASING PRESSURE ON JOURNALISTS

SAEED KAMALI DEHGHAN

 

Iran's most prominent reformist daily paper, Etemaad, was closed along with two weekly publications, Irandokht and Sina, a week ago. Since the disputed election in June, Iran has shut eight newspapers and has imprisoned more than 100 journalists and bloggers. At least 65 remain in jail — more than any country has imprisoned since 1996.

 

Vague charges

 

At the beginning of February, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) found vague anti-state charges against detained journalists such as "Propagation against the regime" or insulting authorities and disrupting public order. Despite this, detainees have been sentenced to years of prison, lashes and internal exile — as well as lifetime bans on writing and other social and political activities. The CPJ is among media organisations that have launched a campaign to press the government to release imprisoned journalists.

 

Etemaad, which was in its eighth year with a relatively high circulation of more than 100,000, was one of the most influential publications in Iran, especially among intellectuals. Behrooz Behzadi, Etemaad's Editor-in-Chief, told the Guardian: "The Press Supervisory Board shut down our paper without giving us even a specific reason. It's an absolutely arbitrary decision." Almost 1,000 employees are to lose their jobs after Etemaad's closure.

Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became President for the first time in 2005, the press crackdown has accelerated. Mehrdad Rahimi and Kohyar Goodarzi, imprisoned after the election, have been labelled "mohareb" (enemies of God) for their journalism — a heresy charge punishable by death under Iranian law. Last March, Omid Mir Sayafi, an Iranian blogger, committed suicide in the notorious Evin prison when he was sentenced to 30 months for insulting Iran's supreme leader in his blog.

 

Sense of concern

 

Masoud Jazayeri, a commander of the Revolutionary Corps, has said that Iranians who work for foreign media, including me, should be sentenced as spies. Whether this becomes law or not, the atmosphere is such that journalists such as myself — I've worked for the Guardian for almost four years — feel a renewed sense of concern about press freedoms in our home country. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE HINDU

PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUES: NEED FOR MORE MEDIA CONCERN

 

Wisdom has dawned at long last on the public health establishment of the country. Twenty-five months after stopping production on the orders of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, three prestigious vaccine manufacturing public sector undertakings (PSUs), the Central Research Institute (CRI) at Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh, the Pasteur Institute of India (PII) at Coonoor, and the BCG Vaccine Laboratory in Chennai are readying to resume vaccine production. Significantly, these three account for a very substantial share of vaccine supplies needed to implement the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP), one of the most successful government-run public health programmes in the country. CRI and PII are over 100 years old.

 

The resumption was made possible by the Ministry's revocation of its January 2008 orders "suspending" the manufacturing licenses of these units "till such time all the deficiencies are rectified." The drastic step was taken on the ground that the plants had violated some licensing conditions, which related to staff strength, size of premises, and quality control as specified under the World Health Organisation's good manufacturing practices (GMP). The suspension was ordered under Rule 85 (1) of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rule, 1945, after the undertakings were found to be not GMP-compliant.

 

The order revoking suspension, which was issued on February 12, declared that it took immediate effect. While considering the need to revoke the suspension, it said, the Ministry took into account the impact of the production stoppage on the UIP. This was in terms of the availability and the prices of these vaccines after the stoppage of production and also the public interest in maintaining the captive production capacity of these units. (Ever since the immunisation programme was launched decades ago, the share of the three PSUs in the supply of vaccines has been more than 70 per cent; private domestic manufacturers and foreign suppliers account for the rest.)

 

ADVERSE CONSEQUENCES

The revocation order itself is testimony to the government's failure to keep the immunisation programme going. The adverse consequences should have been anticipated: a sharp fall in the supply of vaccines and an abnormal rise in the prices paid to private domestic and foreign manufacturers. For instance, the government, which used to pay PSU Rs. 12 for one vial of 10 doses of vaccine, has now to pay a private manufacturer between Rs. 50 and Rs. 60 for the same quantity of vaccine.

 

When the three PSUs manufacturing vaccine units were ordered to stop productions, scientists, public health activists, and leaders of the Left parties warned that this reckless action would cause an acute shortage of vital vaccines and throw the immunisation programme out of gear. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare, headed by Amar Singh, was critical of the Ministry for its move to suspend manufacturing in the three PSUs. The Committee in its 38th report highlighted the shocking fact that within two years of stoppage of production in these units, vaccine prices had more than doubled, having major implications for the government's expenditure on the immunisation programmes.

 

The critics cautioned the government against depending solely on the private sector for sustaining a programme, which is a continuous process requiring non-stop supply of vaccines. In less than five months, their fears came true. According to newspaper reports, at least 15 States and most Union Territories started complaining of shortage of stocks and sent an SOS for further supplies. The government could do nothing but look towards the private manufacturers, who were in no position to deliver. Several States and Union Territories, including Delhi, were agitated over the shortage of vaccines such as tetanus toxoid (TT) vaccines, which are generally administered to pregnant women. Other vaccines in short supply were the diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus (DPT) vaccine and Bacillus Calmette-Gherin (BCG), used in tuberculosis treatment.

 

There is another shocking feature of the mess. The three vaccine institutes had stocks of vaccines but their hands were tied. They were asked not only to stop production but also to stop despatch of supplies from the stocks they held.

 

The order suspending production activity in the three units made it clear that it would be in force "till such time as all the deficiencies are rectified." The government, which runs these units, failed to take any major step to make them GMP-compliant in the two years after production was suspended. It is truly shocking that scientists and technicians involved in a vital field were kept idle for two full years.

 

Committees

 

All that happened was that three committees visited the units to study the situation. The first was the "Experts Committee" headed by Drug Controller General of India. It studied how best the units could be developed into testing centres. The "Oversight Committee" that followed dealt with issues relating to infrastructure development. Fortunately, a former Union Health Secretary, Javid Chowdhury, who has had long experience in the field of public health, headed the third committee. Applying eminent common sense, it clinched the issue by recommending the revocation of the suspension orders served on the three PSUs in the public interest and on the strength of the compliance status furnished by the institutes. That the three PSUs with commendable records have been put back on their feet is a matter for celebration.

 

It is, however, unfortunate that media coverage of the goings-on in a crucial sector of public health, which concerns millions of ordinary Indian citizens, has been sporadic, mostly superficial, and on the whole poor. Barring a few English dailies and magazines, the news media failed to cover the government's vaccine fiasco, and the issues at stake, seriously. On this issue, The Pioneer and The Times of India among English dailies and Frontline and Down to Earth among English magazines stood out through their sensitive coverage. Frontline had an authoritative and educative cover story on the vaccine worries.

 

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

SECOND TO NONE

 

The first International Women's Day was celebrated in 1911 and it cannot be denied that in the last century, women have made giant strides ahead. They have not just got the vote and a political voice but have been heads of states across the globe. Not only that, they have made their mark in business, in sports, in entertainment and in the corporate work place.

 

A quick check shows that women are in far more positions of power today than anyone would have dreamed of in 1911. That said, there are now questions being raised about whether there is any need to celebrate this day at all. Several young women feel that the day is an insult — it diminishes them in the sense that if men and women are indeed equal, why do women need a special "day" marked out for them?

 

A nuanced response is required. The fact is, no matter how far ahead women have come, it is not yet far enough. Even in the most just societies, women are still a few steps behind the men. And when it comes to discrimination, women still bear the brunt of it and therefore as you scan the earth's most totalitarian and restrictive regimes, it is still the women who remain the worst off.


International Women's Day, therefore, is not just a celebration of what women have achieved but a reminder of how far they still have to go. It is a difficult journey and no steps would have been possible without the help and encouragement of many, many men. The earlier militant feminists who posited that a woman needed a man like a fish needed a bicycle — not at all in other words — have been replaced by those who know that gender inequality is a human problem and belittling men is hardly going to make women more equal.

 

In India, we have had the advantage of forward-thinking leaders at the start of our journey as a nation, who wrote gender equality into our foundations. Therefore, we have had to fight social prejudice and custom rather than the laws of the land to facilitate the rise and growth of women. We still may not have achieved as much as we could have, but we have improved in sectors like education, life expectancy and employment opportunities. Our biggest challenge today is possibly the continuing occurrence of female foeticide. This International Women's Day, we need to salute the past and be firm in our convictions for the future.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

HIDE AND SEEK

 

Prime minister Manmohan Singh has disclosed in his Lok Sabha speech on Friday that the government has approached 20 foreign governments with regard to secret accounts of Indian nationals. This seemed to be more than a tepid announcement. It appears that there is official concern about the issue and more than that there is a glimmer of hope that something could be done about it.This was something that would not have been envisaged before the 2008 global financial meltdown and a red-in-face American government looked closely at potential lawbreakers in the system. There was the suspicion that greedy Wall Street money managers had short-changed the home economy. Initially, Swiss government seemed to wilt under American pressure and it had agreed to make the necessary legal changes. The Swiss banks soon reasserted their traditional position and said that they would consider every request on its own merit.

 

In the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls last May, the BJP, especially the then prime ministerial hopeful, LK Advani, had sought to make it into a poll issue. Advani and his aides argued quite passionately that if the money stashed away in foreign bank accounts was retrieved India's financial woes would end. But it had failed to fire the imagination of the electorate. It appears that governments have been pursuing the issue and the chances of succeeding seem to have brightened.

 

The black money figure is not based on hard data but on conjecture and statistical extrapolation. That is a fair enough method in the absence of reliable information. But it would not be of much help to base arguments on the assumed figure. What is important is to track down the money, whatever the amount and nail the evaders. It may have seemed that in a liberalised economic regime there would not be much temptation to evade taxes and maintain secret accounts. The American experience shows that it need not be so.

 

In a time of relatively unrestricted financial flow it is possible for individuals and companies to seek destinations where the tax burden is less and legitimate. The problem however arises when these systems are used by terrorists to fund their arms purchases or by defence contractors to skim billions of dollars through commissions — the second group being as dangerous as the first. It would seem that the Indian hunt for black money is more for tracking terrorists more than the greedy.

 

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DNA

CHINA'S WORLD ORDER?

RAMESH THAKUR

 

The China-US relationship will be the pivot of the post-unipolar world order. China is the world's largest auto market, the biggest exporter of merchandise and will account for the largest growth in world trade for some time. The US remains the finance and consumption capital of the world but the new production capital is China. It is dependent no longer on US markets, managerial know-how and technology, nor on US power as a counterweight to a Soviet threat. A dominant player in setting energy, mineral and other commodity prices, China is the world's major net (but not per capita) emitter of greenhouse gases and determinant of climate change.

 

Driven by strategic narcissism, the $3 trillion wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have helped to bankrupt America and enfeeble its capacity to produce enough goods and services to pay its bills. The US economy is saddled with debts, deficits and distortions. As Larry Summers asks, how long can the world's biggest borrower be its biggest power?

 

The Chinese save stubbornly, the Americans spend recklessly. Since the global financial crisis, which proved China's remarkable resilience, there has been a flood of declinist commentary about the US by Chinese analysts. US president Barack Obama's China visit in November was of a supplicant paying tribute to his chief creditor. His refusal to meet the Dalai Lama before the trip reinforced the symbolism. Their White House meeting on February 18 drew fresh denunciations from Beijing.

 

Yet, while the US needs China to finance a mounting debt projected to hit $9 trillion over the next decade, a collapse of the US economy would mean drastic cutbacks to sales of made-in China products in the world's biggest consumer market and also erode the value of China's $2.4 trillion currency reserves.

 

For the first time in 200 years world must engage with a united and powerful China that is more aggressive on several issues, including climate change, Internet freedom and the border dispute with India. But China too must come to terms with its new status: the Middle Kingdom has no historical, philosophical or literary tradition of diplomatic intercourse as a great power in a system of great powers. This will become especially relevant as China's footprint becomes increasingly global.

 

Treating China as an enemy could turn it into one. But should the US underwrite the rise of a one-party state as its only plausible geopolitical rival? The Clinton and Bush China policies rested on the assumption that exposure to free trade and the information age would release and strengthen the forces of political change.

 

What if these assumptions are false?

 

Washington approved arms sales to Taiwan worth $6bn, calculating that with more than 1300 Chinese missiles pointed at it, bolstering Taiwan's military preparedness may be a prudent hedge against having to defend it from attack. It simultaneously raises the risks of failure and the costs of success should Beijing choose to go to war. Beijing retaliated immediately, suspending bilateral military exchanges and imposing sanctions on companies selling arms to Taiwan.

 

Yet calculations of relative US decline are more likely to nudge Beijing towards exerting leverage over US international policy than outright confrontation. It will want to recalibrate the multilateral order on its terms, setting aside questions of human rights and political values to focus instead on solving common problems. China's rise has been welcomed by many as a counterweight to US political arrogance. China could also be the world's engine of growth. But if not careful, it could encounter a grating wall of resistance as countries, multinationals and NGOs begin to push back against heavy-handed assertiveness.

 

Is China prepared to shed Deng Xiaoping's anachronistic adage to keep a low profile and not take the lead? Will it use growing wealth and power for narrow mercantilism or the common good? Google's threat of exit may be a harbinger of a changing international mood.

 

China basks in the growing acknowledgment of its rising status, is happy to take the benefits flowing from it but is less keen to stop being a free rider, exercise global leadership and accept the burdens of being a great power. That mindset helps to explain currency manipulation to protect exports at the expense of other countries, unwillingness to commit to internationally verifiable cuts in emissions and courting of pariah authoritarian regimes to gain access to raw materials and resources.

 

Unwilling to bind itself to agreed global norms, China could find itself in somewhat lonesome company with arms-length relationships of convenience rather than true friends and allies — of which America still has plenty, including Australia, Canada, the European Union, Israel and Japan.

 

(The writer is director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada)

 

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DNA

MORE PATHETIQUE, LESS PATHETIC

ANIL DHARKER

 

At the end of the third movement of Tchaikovsky's sixth symphony, a portion of the Jamshed Bhabha audience burst into loud applause. Then noticing the bewildered look on conductor Johannes Wildner's face, they stopped in sudden embarrassed silence. You couldn't really blame the audience: the third movement of the Pathetique marked Allegro Molto Vivace, does move swiftly from point to point in the orchestra like a gathering storm to end in a thunderous climax. Unless you are familiar with the work or keeping count, how could you know possibly that there was another movement to follow, one which is completely uncharacteristic of a symphony's finale, dark, brooding and elegiac, a movement aptly marked Adagio Lamentoso?

 

It may be a small sign but it was there for all to see: in this eighth Celebrity Concert season of the Symphony Orchestra of India by the National Centre for the Performing Arts, in four concerts featuring a dozen works, this was the only time the audience clapped between movements. For NCPA/SOI Chairman Khushroo Suntook this must have been as satisfying as the near sell-out concerts: the process of educating the audience obviously has reached a successful conclusion.

 

It's difficult to believe that the Symphony Orchestra of India was founded only recently, so assured has its playing become. Yet the SOI is only three and a half years old, early infancy in the life of any orchestra, but the more you hear it the more you know that the SOI has gone way beyond a toddler's infirm steps. Its woodwind and brass sections have always been its strengths, but the cellos and the double-basses now have a distinct mellow sound. The violins and violas — that massed string section which generally defines the sound of an orchestra — are beginning to come on well too, their development now only limited by the quality of the instruments they use. In spite of that limitation, Johannes Wildner, the well-known Austrian conductor feels that the SOI is already developing a distinctive sound, a style somewhere between Russian and European traditions.

 

You could hear that most distinctively in the most popular concert of the series, conducted by Evgeny Bushkov. Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade can be guaranteed to bring applause: when marshalled with the vigour and energy that Bushkov brought to it, it brought the audience to its feet for a deserved standing ovation. Similarly assured was the rendition of Dvorak's Symphony No 8, conducted with flair by the SOI's Conductor in Residence, Zane Dalal. The sound was vivid, dramatic and full of Slavic flair.Yet a conductor, however flamboyant he may be, can only do so much. In the final analysis, it is the musicians who have to follow the conductor's baton and bring out the sound and the feelings that he wants to evoke. In short, it's they who have to produce the music. That the SOI is now doing this so consistently is something a Mumbaikar should be proud of.

 

But are we? Yes, the auditorium was nearly full for every concert. Yes, the audience, most of it anyway, is now aware of the etiquette of listening to orchestral music. But, it's an uphill struggle to keep the SOI going. Since most of the orchestra's members are still from abroad, their travel and stayadd up to quite a tidy sum. This will reduce as local musicians reach the level of professionalism which the NCPA has insisted upon. But that will take a while. Is our government, which wastes so much money on cultural activities of dubious quality, helping towards SOI's upkeep? No. Do our corporates which sponsor vapid events completely lacking in substance, help towards the upkeep of the SOI? No. Until one of these Nos' becomes a Yes, Suntook and his team are in for a tough time. The city owes them a debt of gratitude. Not a mountain of debt.

 

(The writer is a commentator on social affairs. Email:a_dharker@dnaindia.net)

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

POLITICS OF PRICE RISE

CENTRE AND STATES TO BLAME

 

Speaking in Parliament on Friday, the Prime Minister gave three reasons for the price rise: global recession, a hike in world commodity prices and drought. Recession has brought down the oil prices from $148 a barrel in July 2008 to $80 now. Global commodity prices have started inching up as countries are recovering from the downturn. The drought effect on prices, however, was limited. The rains were deficient but still farmers in Punjab and Haryana almost managed to produce the targeted quantity of paddy. In fact, paddy worth Rs 4,300 crore is rotting in Punjab as the FCI has not lifted the PAU-201 variety. Dr Manmohan Singh has candidly admitted that the government has not been able to find a pragmatic way of controlling the sugar prices.

 

There are mostly domestic reasons for the price rise – the dominant one being mishandling by the Union Agriculture Minister, whose thoughtless remarks have created an unnecessary fear-psychosis of food shortages, much to the advantage of hoarders. He has not only talked up the prices, but also failed to ensure the timely release of sufficient quantities of  foodgrains in the open market even when there are enough stocks. Of course, the partial rollback of the tax relief to the recession-hit industry and the hike in the petrol and diesel prices, which has united the opposition parties and provoked them to boycott the Finance Minister's Budget speech, has contributed to the price rise.

 

States too have not taken any significant steps to either check hoarders and speculators or remove glitches in making subsidised food available to the poor. Most states have not lifted subsidised food items, including pulses and foodgrains, made available by the Centre. The laggard states include some of those ruled by the BJP and other opposition parties, which are taking maximum political advantage of the emotive issue of price rise. If they had been honestly concerned about the plight of aam aadmi, they would have cooperated with the government in controlling prices.

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MAOISTS — ENEMY WITHIN

THERE IS NO SCOPE FOR COMPLACENCY

 

While the Maoists have always had a long-term road map, governments and civil society have traditionally taken a limited view of the threat. Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai , therefore, startled his audience at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi last week when he referred to the Maoist ambition of overthrowing the state by the year 2050. It is actually refreshing to find this UPA government pulling no punches and calling the Maoists a serious threat to the state. Like the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister earlier, Mr Pillai too admitted that it would take the government seven to eight years to regain control over the areas lost to the Maoists. He also paid compliments to the enemy within when he acknowledged that the Maoists were acting like a well-trained army. The post-mortem and the analyses they do after every attack, he said, were as good as what would be done by the armed forces of any country. The Home Secretary has also confirmed what has been known for some time, that the Maoists seem to be receiving training from former Army men or people who have been with the Army. The joint operations against the Maoists, he asserted, had failed to hit even 5 per cent of the hardcore militants. "The real armed cadres are yet to come out," he added ominously.

 

Mr Pillai's candour underscores the urgency for the state to fight the Maoists politically. The rebels gained strength due to the poor administration, corruption and inefficiencies in public offices and because of the injustices meted out daily to the poor and the marginalised in our society.

 

Essentially, a war on poverty and a war against corruption and injustice can be reasonably expected to take away steam from the Maoists, who, as the Union Home Minister keeps reminding us, are our own people. While their violent methods, kangaroo courts and summary justice need to be resisted, their motivation and circumstances also need to be understood. Then only can they be isolated and talks initiated with the more level-headed among them. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

"NEWS" PAID FOR

PRESS COUNCIL SHOULD BE GIVEN TEETH

 

It is heartening that the Centre is seriously considering enhancing the powers of the Press Council of India which, under the provisions of the Act which constituted it, is a toothless body with powers only to "warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, the news agency, the editor or the journalist". Successive governments have lent a deaf ear to the Press Council's demand for enhancement of powers with the result that journalistic ethics and norms are being violated with impunity and the "black sheep" among newspapers and journalists are growing in number. So ineffective is the current position of the Press Council that many newspapers do not even publish the findings of the council in specific cases, especially when they concern that particular newspaper. Consequently, accountability is at a loose end.

 

It is just as well that the pernicious practice of "paid news" has generated a debate within and outside the journalistic community. It first emerged through a complaint made to the Press Council that in the last Andhra elections owners and editors of dailies in the state accepted money from political parties and individual candidates for coverage during the elections. This was followed by revelations that in the Maharashtra elections, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan spent just Rs11,000 on paid advertising but he received coverage worth much more in two leading Marathi dailies through paid ads masquerading as newspaper reports. With Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni acknowledging in reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on Friday that there was "strong circumstantial evidence of the malpractices," the stage is set for action to stem the rot.

 

It is to be hoped that Ms Soni will act on her statement that her ministry proposes to enhance the powers of the Press Council in view of growing complaints about "paid news". The council sub-committee on the issue is expected to submit its report by this month-end after which the government must act swiftly and decisively. The Editors Guild of India has already condemned the abhorrent practice. Adequate powers need to be vested in the Press Council to punish those who are subverting Press freedom and ethics and thereby democracy by such an abhorrent practice as "paid news". The council on its part must exercise those powers with due diligence.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

EFFORTS FOR BETTER INDO-PAK TIES

CIVIL SOCIETY ON BOTH SIDES CAN HELP

BY KULDIP NAYAR

 

It is unfortunate that Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor hijacked a successful trip by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Riyadh. Mr Tharoor's remark that Riyadh could be an interlocutor for talks between New Delhi and Islamabad from the soil of Saudi Arabia itself was indeed embarrassing.

 

It can be conceded that Mr Tharoor is indiscreet and does not yet know the ropes of diplomacy or politics. But I suspect that his observation was not off his own bat. Somewhere, somehow he got the impression that the Prime Minister would go along with him. True, an interlocutor is not a mediator. But he participates in talks.

 

Mr Tharoor's remark may well have been a trial balloon. Apparently, it did not work due to a strong reaction against it in the country. India's enunciated policy after the Shimla Conference in 1972 has been to talk to Pakistan without involving a third party. Was there a rethinking? Whatever the import of Mr Tharoor's observation, it gives oxygen to the dead dialogue between the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan.

 

Islamabad's reaction to Mr Tharoor's remark was on the expected lines: it is ready for talks without conditions.

This throws light on the talks held recently in Delhi. It means that Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir

found himself constricted in talks. No doubt, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao made it clear to Mr Salman Bashir that the talks would be confined to terrorism. But Mr Bashir touched all points, including Kashmir and water, although not at great length. Yet the whole dialogue was cursory as if the two sides had to go over an exercise.

 

The talks must have been a formality because a few hours later both Foreign Secretaries were found sitting separately, engaged in an animated discussion, at the Pakistan House in Delhi for dinner. There was no recrimination, no rhetoric, no raising of voice. They talked about confidence-building measures and conciliation. Both Foreign Secretaries were a picture of understanding.

 

This is how the two sides behave when they are relaxed and normal and when they have no agenda to sell, no

government message to convey, no gaze of publicity, no anxiety to say what will go down well back home. In fact, the Indians and the Pakistanis are the best of friends when they are not talking at each other.

 

However, the talks which were resumed even after one and a half years show that both countries are prisoners of mistrust and hostility. The reason why the two remain distant is their inability to overcome prejudice and bias that they have nourished against each other for decades. True, India refused to have the "composite talks" which were broken in the wake of the terrorists' attack at Mumbai. But was the use of that particular phrase necessary? It only underscores the point that they cannot get out of the corner in which they have painted themselves.

 

However, both looked like having an understanding that they would conclude the meeting at the stage of talks, without in any way breaking or suspending them. The two Foreign Secretaries did not know what political masters contemplated for the future. Still, had the Foreign Secretaries fixed the date for the next meeting at Islamabad, the people on both sides would have taken a positive view of the talks.

 

How far Mr Bashir could go was known to him because before arriving in Delhi, he had met President Asif Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the army high-ups. Mr Bashir was surprised by India's allegation of involvement by the two Pakistan serving majors in the 26/11 carnage as was Ms Nirupama Rao by the charge that New Delhi was involved in Balochistan.

 

The arrest of Hafiz Sayeed, the Laskhar-e-Toiba chief, is New Delhi's criterion to judge Pakistan's "sincerity" in fighting terrorists who are reportedly operating in India. His latest ultimatum of war to India irritates New Delhi. It concedes that the law courts in Pakistan are independent but wonders why he is free to indulge in war cries against a neighbouring country.

 

What may have made Mr Bashir, otherwise suave and soft-spoken, lose his cool at the Press conference was the strong message that National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon gave him. Mr Menon reportedly minced no words in accusing Pakistan of sending terrorists to India as part of Islamabad's state policy. He repeated many a time that he was the Prime Minister's adviser.

 

Since the meeting with Mr Menon was before the Press conference, Mr Bashir did not maintain the equanimity

which he showed during the talks with Ms Nirupama Rao. Mr Bashir used words like "Don't lecture us" which were probably meant for Mr Menon. Yet Mr Bashir's observation that India's dossier against Sayeed was a "literature" was indiscreet. Mr Bashir was quiet when he met the National Security Adviser. Was Mr Menon conveying the mind of New Delhi? I have my doubts because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is considered a dove. He reiterated at Riyadh that he was willing to go an extra mile to make up with Pakistan.

 

Since the Manmohan Singh government is increasingly on the defensive because of the abnormal price rise and inflation, I do not think that it is in no position to take any bold initiative on Pakistan. The Opposition, led by the BJP, has created an atmosphere where it is difficult for New Delhi to break the status quo, either on Pakistan or Kashmir. This should not surprise either Islamabad, which is prepared for a long haul, or Washington which is more focused on Kabul and Islamabad than New Delhi.

 

The silver lining is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's reiteration that there was no option to talks and that the two countries must come to an agreement to live like good neighbours. During the last 62 years since Independence both countries have trodden the same path again and again, knowing well that it reaches nowhere. Maybe, both have no fresh ideas to pursue. Maybe, both have come round to accept their inability to solve the problems which confront them. For example, were they to pick up courage, do they have a solution on Kashmir?

 

Perhaps, civil society on both sides can help. Some persons who have been working for an improvement in the relations between India and Pakistan for years can meet to pick each other's brain to see if they have some new ideas on which they agree. The proposals made by them may change the situation which remains frozen in helplessness.

 

The governments on both sides would find it difficult to reject the suggestions if they have the unanimous

backing. If these persons fail to arrive at a consensus they would put a question mark against their like-mindedness. They would probably prove to both New Delhi and Islamabad that there was no go from a wider people-to-people contact to remove the mistrust which has got ingrained because of acts of omission and commission of the two governments. Ultimately, the pressure of the public on both sides will make the governments relent. Are the persons committed to rapprochement between India and Pakistan ready to go through fire and water to prove their credentials?

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

STRIKING IT RICH

BY S. RAGHUNATH

 

Last evening I was sitting glued to the TV intently watching the dapper Prannoy Roy deftly shepherding his flock of experts through the intricacies of the Union Budget when the telephone rang. It was my "Accountant" and "Tax Consultant" calling.

 

By Accountant, I mean he occasionally totes up my IOUs and calculates the petty amounts I owe to sundry creditors and as my Tax Consultants, he occasionally goes down to the municipal corporation offices, sits down with a daily-rated case worker in the revenue section and haggles endlessly over a disputed dog licence fee demanding the matter be referred to tripartite adjudication.

 

"You're on the verge of coming into a colossal fortune," he cried excitedly, "the Finance Minister, in his speech to Parliament, is announcing a series of reliefs and concessions to the salaried middle class and he has raised the slab for standard rate of deduction for income tax from Rs 18,000 to Rs 18,000.05. I've been doing some quick calculations and I find that you're entitled to an almost immediate refund of 25 paise. Congratulations!"

 

I stifled a bored yawn. Coming into a whopping fortune of 25 paise made me feel rather "deja vu", but then we multimillionaire plutocrats have to wear the mask. It was going to be business as usual for me.

 

I talked to my teenage son. "I know that you've set your heart on buying that 1905-model Rolls Royce-Bentley vintage car and now that the income tax people will be sending me a refund cheque for 25 paise, you can contact your dealer friend in London and close the deal, but mind you, don't go bidding above Rs 50 crore. I know you spoiled sons of multibillionaires!"

 

I then talked to my wife. "I vaguely remember you telling me that you were rather keen to buy Elizabeth Taylor's diamond-studded tiara and her entire gold jewellery collection. Now that the Finance Minister has presented a soft, pro-people budget and I stand to gain a stupendous 25 paise, I'll be delighted to buy them for you as a birthday gift. You can wire Liz Taylor's agent in Geneva and find out if she's still interested to sell her jewellery collection, but keep an eye on the bottom line. I know something happens to you women when you want to buy jewellery!"

 

I sent a hotline e-mail to my Dalal Street broker. "Buy controlling 51 per cent interest in Reliance Industries, Larsen and Toubro and Infosys. I shall pay for my stock purchases in cash!"

 

The telephone rang again and it was my Accountant and Tax Consultant. "A news flash has just come in on the ticker," he said, "and the Finance Minister has announced more reliefs and concessions and I find that you're, in fact, entitled to a refund of 30 paise!"

 

Oh, in that case I think I'll buy up the Sultan of Brunei's luxury yacht, after all.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

EMPOWERING WOMEN

CELEBRATE THE PAST, PLAN FOR FUTURE

BY INDU SWAMI

 

The International Women's Day (IWD) is a major day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women. It is celebrated on March 8 every year by women's groups around the world. Organisations, governments and women's groups choose different themes each year that reflect global and local gender issues.

 

Some years have seen global IWD themes honoured around the world, while in other years groups have preferred to 'localise' their own themes to make them more specific and relevant. The first IWD was in 1911, so just next year i.e. 2011 will see the IWD global centenary.

 

In India the International Women's Day is all about celebrating a woman and paying tribute to the multi-roles she plays in life. This important day provides an opportunity to celebrate the progress made to advance women's rights and to assess the challenges that remain.

 

IWD encourages us to consider steps to bring about equality for women and girls in all their diversity and to

celebrate the collective power of women past, present and future.

 

One can see a lot of celebrations going on this day. It is observed as an occasion for men to express their sympathy, love and honour to women around them or in their lives… mom, sis, wife, girlfriend, colleagues, etc. by presenting flowers and small gifts. This portrays the power of women in the modern era and how vital their role is in society.

 

But what does the International Women's Day mean for millions of girls in India, who cannot attend or finish

school because they have to graze cattle, labour in the house or the fields, or are sexually harassed and

humiliated by their teachers/principals?

 

According to the last census held in 2001, the percentage of female literacy in the country is 54.16 per cent. If

we analyse the state-wise percentage of female literacy, the minimum percentage is in Bihar (33.57) followed by Jharkhand (39.38) and Jammu and Kashmir (41.82).

 

The conventional view of illiteracy is that it is closely linked to poverty. While that is certainly true, there are numerous other factors responsible for the low levels of literacy, especially among females, and it is only by understanding the impact of these other factors that significant – and meaningful – increases in illiteracy can be achieved.

 

The significance of the International Women's Day lies in our reaffirmation to improve the condition of women, especially those at the margins of our society and empower them to take their rightful place in the society. Despite existing policies women are still socially disadvantaged section of our society. Even within the family they suffer the discrimination.

 

There is a growing trend of crime against women. Domestic violence is the most prevalent form of discrimination against women. About 45 per cent of Indian women are slapped, kicked or beaten by their husbands. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the entire scenario is rather scary: one crime against women in every 3 minutes, one rape in every 29 minutes, one dowry death in every 77 minutes, one case of cruelty by husband and relatives in every 9 minutes and one suicide in every 240 minutes.

Finally, the knight in shining armour for the Indian woman has arrived in the form of the Protection of Women

from Domestic Violence Act 2005. The highlighting point of this Act is that it not only provides protection to women who are legally married but also those who are in live-in relationship, women who are sisters, widows or mothers.

 

The new law also addresses sexual abuse of children, or forcing girls to marry against their wishes as well. This certainly proves that the new Act has been formed keeping the current relationship culture in India and irregularities in the previous domestic violence laws, in mind.

 

The new law provides an all-encompassing definition of domestic violence, including not only physical violence by the husband or sexual violence like forced intercourse, but also verbal or emotional violence such as insulting the wife or preventing her from taking up a job, and even economic violence such as not allowing the wife to use her salary.

 

The Government of Jammu and Kashmir has decided to strengthen the legal provisions for the protection of

women. The government has proposed the Jammu and Kashmir Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2010. The main feature of the proposed Act is the appointment of protection officers in each district of the state.

These functionaries, as far as possible, will be women. They will assist the sufferers in getting justice from making a report to a magistrate on the receipt of a complaint to arranging legal aid, medical assistance and shelter homes. From the available details it seems that there is an effective scheme to ensure that women are not deprived of their assets by their tormentors.

 

Female infanticide is also not uncommon in Indian society where girl child was poisoned to death soon after her birth, and the practice is still prevalent in certain parts of the country. With the advancement of modern technology its practice, however, has taken a different shape. Now it is possible to detect the sex of the baby when it is still in the womb of the mother. This has made it possible to abort the female foetus, if it is unwanted.

 

Publicity campaigns by some ultrasound clinics in Punjab saying "Spend Rs 500 now and save Rs 5 lakh later" demonstrate this theory. Although the Central Government enacted the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994, and it came into force on 1 January, 1996, it has largely remained on paper. Despite this Act being around for over five years, foeticide has continued rampantly in many states.

 

The 2001 census figures pertaining to the sex ratio of the 0-6 year population bear adequate testimony. While the problem of population explosion is constantly posing a threat to the country's prospect of development, the declining sex ratio has become another upcoming threat. The implications of adverse sex ratio would be multi- dimensional, affecting all facets of life. By far the most serious tragedies that occur like dowry deaths, suicide, and impoverishment of widows arise out of women's failure to use legal safeguards and redress provisions with reference to marriage, divorce, dowry and property. Their general inability to use the law is further aggravated in situations in which they have to fight the husband or father. In the role allocation within Indian culture, these are the persons upon whom women normally depend to handle court matters.

 

So make a difference, think globally and act locally! If this is skillfully done, the women's movement could be lifted from its current status as a feminist issue to the status of a much larger issue of human rights. Make everyday a women's day. Do your bit to ensure that the future for women and girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

REFORMING PRIMARY EDUCATION

BY N K SINGH

 

Reforming the ramshackle education sector, especially the primary and secondary segments, was the talking point of the UPA Part-1 and now Part-2 also. Despite the tall claims made by Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal about a complete makeover of the education sector, it appears to be a perfect case of widening gap between rhetoric and reality on the ground.

 

Along with a dismal utilisation of less than half (45%) of the total education funds given by the Centre , many states failed miserably to utilise these funds. Bihar remained at the lowest rung with 58%of the funds remaining unutilised. It was followed by Jharkhand (46%), Madhya Pradesh (43%) against the 95% , 93% and 74% utilisation of funds by Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, respectively.

 

Ever since the UPA flagship primary school programme, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan(SSA), was launched in 2001,

the central government's expenditure on primary education has increased significantly, but under-utilisation of funds remained a big issue . A look at the dismal condition of primary education makes it imperative that funds provided under SSA be properly utilised.

 

—Half of India's 5-6-year-olds are not enrolled in any school

 

—Over 40% of rural children studying in class V in India are at least three grade levels behind.

 

—Children's attendance in schools varies considerably across the states .... In Bihar, the attendance in the schools is less than 60% (lowest among all states) while in southern states it is over 90%

 

—According to the 7th All India Educational Survey, only 53 per cent habitations had primary school facilities.

 

As per the data, the Centre's allocation for education in the financial years (FY) 2009-10 – Rs 44,528 crore has increased four-fold from 2001-02. Surprisingly, the HRD Ministry failed to utilise 45% of funds provided in different sectors in 2009-10.

 

The allocation for SSA in 2009-10 was Rs 13,100 crore or 30% of total education budget. During FY 2008-09, 30 per cent of the funds remained unspent. Besides, yawning disparities existed in various state governments' ability to spend funds For example, Bihar could not utilise 58% and Jharkhand – 46 % and MP 43%.

 

As per the demand of the HRD Minister, the implementation of the ambitious Right to Education aimed at free education to the children between 5 and 14 years would require a whopping Rs 1.71 lakh crore for the next five years.

 

The Ministry of Human Resource Development has sought Rs 40,000 crore in the coming Budget. Given the fiscal constraints, it is highly unlikely that Sibal would get that kind of fund and most of the burden could be passed on to the next Five Year Plan

 

Primary education being the focal point for the upcoming budget, secondary education is likely to take a back seat. Hence, the government's Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) with Rs 1,354 crore corpus in 2009-10 could be lacking right budgetary impetus this year.

 

A large concern is that the batch of children coming out of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan may find it difficult to enroll in secondary schools. Lack of infrastructure in terms of non-existent schools building and paucity of teachers also make the task difficult.

 

Huge budgetary support is required to bridge the present gap in quality and quantity. For the total budget allocation for higher & technical education for 2007-08 was Rs 6,397.36 crore and for 2008-09 it was Rs 11,340 crore – an increase of 77.26% over the previous year.

 

For 2009-10, the allocation is Rs 15,429 crore and the increase is 36.06 per cent over last year. The major plan of expanding polytechnic education and university education through Central world class universities could get a jolt.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

CHATTERATI
UPA GOVT IN A FIX OVER COALITION PARTNERS

BY DEVI CHERIAN

 

Even though it is just one year now of the Manmohan Singh government, the Congress finds itself in a bit of a fix. In the 2009 elections the Congress came back with a large majority and confidently formed the government in the Centre. But unfortunately due to the coalition era, the Congress depends on the Trinamool Congress, the NCP and the DMK mainly.

 

How well NCP chief Sharad Pawar has performed as Agriculture Minister everyone now knows. He did not work hard enough to bring prices down, his predictions of more price rise actually got prices up in the market. The economic logic of simple supply side shortages not being able to account for the astronomical rise in prices of basic commodities is seemingly beyond him.

 

Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee is still totally based in Bengal alone. She is preparing for the 2011 assembly elections rather than attending Cabinet meetings and looking after the Indian Railways. The number of accidents ever since she has taken over and the need for taking steps for the prevention of accidents does not seem to matter to her. It is really low on her agenda right now.

 

Down South the DMK's A. Raja and M.K. Alagiri, are of course the limits. The loss Mr Raja caused to the aam admi by allocating 2G spectrum at throw-away prices is unbelievable. Mr Alagiri, like Mamata, spends more time in Tamil Nadu than Delhi. The most unfortunate fact is that the Prime Minister, critically dependent on his allies, can do precious little to make this errand flock of ministers fall in line. Maybe, the voter should learn from this about voting for the parties with a pan-India agenda in the parliamentary elections.

 

Bill on women's reservation

 

The long-delayed women's reservation Bill now looks poised to finally pass through Parliament, having crossed the hurdle of being cleared by the Cabinet. The Bill has been in a limbo in various versions for a decade or more.

 

The Congress party has always insisted that it is serious and passionate about seeing the Bill through. But coalition politics prevented it from moving forward. This time it seems that it is set to pass.

 

There was of course an attempt during the Cabinet meeting by some Congressmen to try and suggest that it should go to the Rajya Sabha first, but fortunately they were over-ruled.

 

Both Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi are quiet clear that this is a Bill whose time has come. Indeed, it has the potential of completely changing the nature of Indian political life. And women, cutting across all party lines, see this as a huge victory in a battle that sometimes seemed never to end.

 

Once passed, the Act would seriously affect all parties and the very nature of governance. Whilst the Laloos and the Mulayams will predictably storm out of Parliament during the final debate, the real reason is that this Act could severely constrain parties like theirs with obvious male and caste dominance.

 

They could see serious poll reversals since their vote banks could get eroded.

 

Women in parties, other than the inheritors and a few favoured ones, have had to struggle to get tickets to fight. With this sea change, the big parties will have to scramble to get new talent and make them accept the challenge of polls. This will be a whole new ball game for the parties with established war horses minding most states that they have hopes of winning.

 

How all this will play out and who will emerge with an advantage is the new big googly of Indian politics. Only

one thing is certain. Either way, women win and, hopefully with that, the polity too gains.

 

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MUMBAI MERROR

EDITORIAL

MEDICAL TOURISM, THE NEXT IT?

IT'S TIME FOR INDIA TO EXPLOIT ITS ABILITY TO PROVIDE QUALITY HEALTHCARE AT LOW COST

 

Outsourcing of business from developed countries to developing countries where the same activity of manufacturing or services could be carried out cost effectively is a significant reality of today's global business. This is the driving force behind India's dramatic growth in IT and IT Enabled Services (ITES) industry. Many southeast Asian nations like Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong became economic tigers in the eighties thanks to their manufacturing prowess.


This trend in global business has extended to individuals also in the developed countries, especially the US. This is in the area of healthcare leading to what is called 'medical tourism'.


Dr David Himmelstein, the lead author of a study on personal bankruptcies and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard comments, "Unless you are Bill Gates, you are just one serious illness away from bankr u p t c y. Most of the medically bankrupt were average Americans who happened to get sick."


 Unfortunately, one out of the three Americans do not have medical insurance cover. No wonder healthcare has emerged as an important issue of public concern in the US.


One man's meat is another man's poison. One country's problem is another's opportunity. Countries like Singapore, Thailand and India offer quality medical care at a substantially lower cost than the US and other developed nations. This has led to the growth of medical tourism, which is expected to become a 40-billiondollar business by 2010.

 

The term medical tourism is in fact a misnomer. Foreign patients come here for advanced medical treatment and surgery and are not in a position to go on a vacation after treatment. Dr Prathap Reddy who built up the Apollo group of hospitals suggests that 'medical value tourism' will be a better description.


Can India hope to exploit medical tourism like what it did in IT, and at the same time improve health services in our country?

 

Not everyone is sold on the idea of the benefits of medical tourism. Those who oppose the idea point out that as it is India has very few doctors compared to our huge population. If medical tourism is promoted, the few doctors available will be attracted towards the high-paying foreign patients, reducing further their services to the Indians.


 Medical care in India has always faced an existential dilemma. Even students from villages after studying medicine in cities do not want to go back to their roots. No wonder that in many primary health centres, doctors are not available most of the time. Another problem is the poor infrastructure of our public hospitals even in cities.


Medical tourism can help in improving our healthcare if these ideas are implemented:



• Government can consciously promote the private sector to set up hospitals with worldclass standards to attract those who can pay for advanced medical services. Groups like Apollo and Wockhardt have already set up such hospitals which have got the prestigious Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation. This is a guarantee of the excellent quality of their medical services and earns the trust of foreign patients. Like IT services, these hospitals can earn valuable foreign exchange for the country. Their performance may also inspire other hospitals in the private sector.


• One incentive government can offer, apart from tax exemption etc, is to offer the government hospitals, which generally lack well-maintained infrastructure for management, to the private sector as an experiment in Private Public Partnership. This will help to improve their quality.


• A formula for cross subsidisation of medical care for the poor from such opportunity may be worked out so that the poor are not thrown to the wolves. Programmes like Sanjeevani in Karnataka indicate the possibilities.
   Outsourcing in business was exploited by the Indian industry for development in IT. Can the policy makers in health sector and our medical fraternity exploit the opportunity thrown up by medical tourism? Can medical tourism become the next IT? All that is required is an imaginative approach to the health
policy.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

BUDGETING FOR POLITICS

Coalition politics in India has for long mocked the Cabinet form of government, weakening the authority of the prime minister and his Council of Ministers. This is not a new phenomenon. All coalitions have been afflicted by this internal division of power and responsibility between party political leaders and the political leadership in government. The communists developed a theory around this by arguing that the party is above government and made the late Jyoti Basu, former chief minister of West Bengal, report to his party boss, the late Pramode Dasgupta, regularly. This practice set a precedent for Mr Bal Thackeray to use a proxy, Mr Manohar Joshi, to run his party-led coalition government in Maharashtra. Mr Lalu Prasad went a step further by getting his wife to sit in the chief minister's chair in Patna, while he ran the show. Given this history of subordination of the Cabinet form of government to party political power necessities, it was only a matter of time before political leaders in New Delhi started imitating these regional leaders. Prime Ministers Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral were hostage not just to their own party bosses, but also to those of their coalition allies. Even Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had this problem with his party. Thus, he could not get the finance minister he wanted in 1998 and he could not get his party to back him on his decision to seek the resignation of Chief Minister Narendra Modi after the post-Godhra massacres in Gujarat. By now, the country has come to accept the division of power and responsibility between the party and/or parties in power and the government in office.

Even so, it is jarring to see leaders of coalition parties reject in public the very same Budget proposals that their ministerial representatives in government had approved in Cabinet meetings. If the DMK or the Trinamool Congress did not like finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's Budget proposals, their ministers in the UPA government could have said so in the Cabinet meeting that approved the Budget. They could have quit in protest. They didn't. It is even more galling to see the coalition's main party, the Congress party, resort to this very same game of hunting with the hounds and running with the hares. If Mr Mukherjee's budgetary proposals had the imprimatur of the Union Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and if the PM has said there will be no rollback of the hike in petrol prices, why then does the Congress party have to wait for the last word on the matter from party president Sonia Gandhi?


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

MR MUKHERJEE'S BAD IDEA

DO NOT DILUTE CENTRAL BANK'S STATUS AND AUTHORITY

 

Now that we have said so many good things about Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's Budget, it is time to say some nasty things too. We don't like the idea of the finance minister chairing a Financial Stability and Development Council. Mr Mukherjee's Budget speech said the Council would "monitor macro prudential supervision of the economy, including the functioning of large financial conglomerates, and address inter-regulatory coordination issues". He seems to have taken a cue from the Raghuram Rajan Committee report on financial sector reforms that recommended a similar structure. On the face of it, it seems like a sensible idea, given the deep anxieties about financial stability that the global crisis has left in its wake. However, to make this work without diluting the status and authority of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) could prove difficult in practice.

What could the problems be? For one, if the apex body emerges as a "super-regulator" that polices the functions of the existing set of financial regulators, it could end adding another tier of hierarchy in the regulatory process. The perception that the buck does not quite stop with them might just dilute the accountability of the existing regulators. It will almost certainly cut down the speed of regulatory response to impending problems. That is hardly desirable in a domain like the financial system where rapid change is the only constant. Second, it might be worth one's while to think through what financial stability really means. While it has become fashionable these days to talk of "macro-prudential" regulation and systemic risk, financial stability is ultimately about micro-entities within the financial system — banks, NBFCs, mutual funds and so on. The best judge of whether these entities are playing ball or whether their adventurism threatens the equilibrium of the financial system is a call best made by those that regulate them on a day-to-day basis. It is also somewhat unfair to regulatory agencies like RBI to assume (as the creation of this uber-regulator implicitly would) that in focusing on micro-entities, they somehow lose sight of the bigger picture.

The track record of RBI, for instance, shows that its assessment of systemic vulnerability and stress has usually been extremely prescient. This does not mean that regulation is perfect. It is important to have better gauges of systemic risk and respond with instruments that focus on macro-stability (dynamic provisioning norms for banks comes to mind) rather than on short-term balance-sheet health. The point, however, is that the existing regulators, particularly RBI, are perfectly capable of delivering this. Third, it is important to recognise that there are deeply-embedded advantages within our regulatory structure that allow for a more comprehensive regulatory agenda. RBI is a full-service central bank entrusted with the regulation of banks, NBFCs and bond and money markets as well as the conduct of monetary policy. Thus the problem of coordinating the policies aimed at the macro objective of financial stability with that of micro-level regulation, typical of economies where the regulator and the monetary policy authority are distinct entities, should not arise in the Indian case. There is, however, certainly a need for different regulators to talk to each other more frequently. They perhaps need a formal forum that enables this. But to set up yet another agency, that too with a full-time secretariat, would be overkill. The prime minister and the finance minister must carefully take note of the fact that so far none of the former central bank governors have enthusiastically welcomed this proposal, while finance ministry mandarins seem to think it is a good idea. That, in itself says a lot!


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

PRATIP KAR: PRIMARY MARKET AND PSU DISINVESTMENT

THE RECENT FAILURE OF PSU PUBLIC ISSUES LIES IN THE PRESENT CHARACTER AND STRUCTURE OF THE PRIMARY MARKET

PRATIP KAR

Some time ago, the pink papers carried headlines lamenting that the follow on public offer (FPO) of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), for the divestment of 5 per cent of NTPC's shares, by the president acting through the ministry of power, had met with a lukewarm response from retail and foreign institutional investors (FIIs).

Though NTPC has around 800,000 shareholders1, it was still difficult to manage 637,500 retail applications. The FPO was just fully subscribed, thanks to domestic financial institutions, like LIC, SBI, other Indian banks and FIIs. All this happened despite the reported assurances and expert advice of some of India's leading investment bankers and optimistic brokers, who were responsible for advising the government and managing the deal. The not-so-joyous ending of the first disinvestment by the government, after a long lull (nearly four years) and that too of a listed central public sector enterprise (CPSE), also a Navratna, had the government worried. And rightly so. After all, the government had to complete its disinvestment programme before the financial year ended in March. The response to the issue of the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC), another CPSE, which followed NTPC issue, was also lacklustre. The retail investors displayed little interest. The issue gained some respectability, thanks to salvaging operations by public sector banks and insurance companies.

The sages of the securities market mulled and shook their heads and began to advise governments to change the auction procedure. Readers may not be aware that according to Wikipedia, there are currently 11 classes of auction, of different Occidental and Oriental hues, ranging from English, Yankee, French, Dutch to Japanese and Chinese. Some said: Why choose the French style only, when so many choices are available? Some of the more radical thinkers offered appointment of a committee for a quick-fix solution. Others said off with QIBs and XYZ and all that, let's go back to old-style book building.

At this stage, I cannot help but narrate to the readers a story by a brilliant Bengali satirist, Rajshekhar Bosu (Parashuram). The title of the story is "Chikitsha Sankat" (medical crisis)2. It went on like this. Nanda Babu, a Bengali bachelor, was carrying some bundles under his arms and jumped from a slow-moving tram on Beadon Street in Kolkata. His foot was caught in the folds of his dhoti and he fell on the road. His close friends immediately showed great concern over his ill health and advised him to consult doctors from different branches of medicine — from allopathic to homoeopathic, to Ayurvedic to Unani and even psychiatry. Each of the doctors made different diagnosis and gave different prescriptions. The last one — a psychiatrist — happened to be a spinster. She advised that all Nanda Babu needed was someone to take care of him. The real cause of Nanda Babu's fall was forgotten but Nanda Babu changed his bachelor status.

In the primary market, we have a situation similar to that of Nanda Babu. We are looking for solutions to the recent failure of the public issues in the correct pricing of the issue (as if anyone knows how to correctly price an issue in any market), in the auction procedure and in the issue process. But the root cause of the malaise lies deeper. It lies in the present character and structure of the primary market itself, and we are perhaps looking at wrong places. Perhaps we need to break away from our dominant logic and think differently.

So far, we have sold public issues by direct selling. We have advertised, as if public issues are shampoos and detergents. Retail investors have flowed; sometimes burning their fingers. The flow ebbed and it came back again; the issues were oversubscribed and the media, especially the electronic media, hyped it; prices went up on listing; the retail investors made money and exited. This cycle has been going on like Shankara stotra: "Punarapi jananam punarapi maranam, Punarapi janani jathare sayanam." (Be born again, be dead again, and find a place in mother's womb again.) Essentially, our model in the primary market has been centred on the retail investor. It may have worked till now, but it may not work any longer. So, why don't we think of moving away from the dominant logic and change the model? Any attempts in the past to change the model used to meet with stiff resistance from those who thought of introducing socialism in the capital market, and believed that all Indians had some kind of a Constitutional right to invest in primary issues, sans the risk. But the same people also cried when the retail investors burnt their fingers.

But for the above to happen, we need strong institutional investors — mutual funds, pension funds, FIIs et al. This is absent. Our mutual funds are weak. Easy access to corporate money has made them less innovative. They are unable and unwilling to take up the challenge thrown up by regulatory changes and exploit opportunities, develop agent network and reach out to the investors across India. We have limited active pension funds. So, the market looks to the benevolence of FIIs like the Indian farmer looks to the sky. This will not work and a solution has to be explored to build up a strong foundation for institutional investors. In any case, aren't the institutional investors bailing out issues?

The primary market is what aids capital formation. The secondary market gives it currency and helps measure wealth. We cannot have a thriving securities market only on the basis of a secondary market, keeping our gaze fixated on the Nifty, the Sensex and the number of paper billionaires these numbers produce every day. We need to examine why in spite of the savings rate in India being as high as 32 per cent, in which the household sector's contribution is around 23 per cent; and why despite the "phenomenal" growth of our securities market, not more than 5 per cent of these savings are in securities market, except for one year in the decade of 1990s3.

Our tax structure creates distortions across savings instruments and biases an investor towards certain instruments. Risk aversion among Indian investors is generally high, compounded with tax incentives, which create perceptions and biases.

The best regulations are those that are co-created with the players, the issuers, the intermediaries and the investors. Our stock markets have moved from one milestone to another in a facile manner, because we believed in co-creation. Piecemeal strategies will no longer take us far. We need to to go back to the drawing board for a while, bring everyone on the same page and take a hard look at our primary market. It will be a long haul, it will need patience, but we will get there.

Did Romain Rolland not say, "The rains will come. Patience! Things will be greener"?

1 Shareholding pattern as of 31.12.2009

2 Taken from Selected Stories of Parashuram, Penguin Classics, translated by Sukanta Chaudhuri and Palas Baran Pal3 RBI Report on Currency and Finance 1991-92 to 2007-084 Romain Rolland — Prophets of The New India (1930)

The author is a former executive director of Sebi and is currently associated with the Global Corporate Governance Forum of the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank.

Views expressed are personal.pratipkar21@gmail.com

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

A V RAJWADE: DEFICITS AND FINANCIAL INNOVATIONS

SUCH STRATEGIES COST MUCH MORE THAN PLAIN VANILLA SOVEREIGN BOND YIELDS

A V RAJWADE

It hardly needs to be stated that the safety and sanctity of sovereign debt are the underpinnings of the entire debt market in a country. One of the "benefits" of a liberal capital account for developing countries was supposed to be that bond traders employed by investment banks, by shorting the bonds in global markets, would "discipline" spendthrift and irresponsible governments: To quote ex-IMF economist Renu Kohli, "The pressure of a liberalised capital account is imposing policy discipline." (Mint, March 4). As is coming out in the Greek government's debt crisis, however, what the major investment banks seem to have done is help Greece, and a few other countries, for several years, to reduce the reported outstanding debt and/or fiscal deficit, through the use of derivatives or "financial engineering" as it is called. (More recently, however, they are shorting the debt by using credit default swaps. No wonder, the French and German authorities and the chairman of the Federal Reserve are all considering whether net long "naked" positions in credit default swaps, particularly on sovereign debt, need to be constrained.)

The financial instruments used to reduce the reported debt and/or fiscal deficit were of two types:

 ·  Cross-currency swaps at off-market rates, leading to a reduction in the amount of the outstanding debt — of course, at the cost of increasing the future debt-servicing cost. In effect, the difference between today's exchange rate and the off-market rate at which the currency swap has been done, becomes an immediate cash inflow. 

·  Securitisation of future cash flows, like subsidies to be received from the EU, highway and airport tolls and fees, etc. By securitising the future flows through a special purpose vehicle (SPV), in effect, the originator is receiving upfront the present value of the future receipts sold to the SPV. These receipts are treated as "sales", i.e. current income, and not borrowings. Using this mechanism, current revenue was being inflated at the cost of future receipts.

The cost of such strategies is much more than plain vanilla sovereign bond yields. Fat fees are also earned by the structuring banks and the lawyers who do the documentation. The bank that has come in for considerable media comment about the currency swaps is Goldman Sachs: It has reportedly earned a few hundred million dollars in fees on the swaps. (Goldman sold the swaps to a Greek bank, a couple of years later.) Goldman itself has claimed on its website that "these transactions were consistent with the Eurostat principles governing their use and application at the time". Eurostat is the statistical office of the EU. Its task is to provide the EU with statistics at European level that enable comparisons between countries and regions.

While the transactions were surely within the letter of the relevant rules and regulations — the lawyers and financial engineers would have ensured this — the case also raises several other issues:

·  Did Eurostat clearly understand the implication of the transactions, viz. window-dressing of the current number at the cost of future fiscal deficits, by using off-market rates, or did these get buried in the complexity of documentation? 
 

·  There are serious questions about whether regulators would allow such practices in corporate accounts. I recall that, some years ago, the licence of one of the subsidiaries of UBS to operate in Japan was cancelled by the authorities, as it helped corporate clients to hide current losses, postponing them through the use of derivatives. 
 

·  I also recall that Sumitomo (in the case involving huge losses on commodity derivatives) and some insurance companies (that had guaranteed the performance of certain commodity derivatives contracted by Enron subsidiaries) had challenged their liabilities, claiming that the transactions were really loans disguised as derivatives. If memory serves me right, both these matters got settled outside the court and the banks structuring the derivatives lost a lot of money.

In substance, the Greek government transactions were not very different. The US Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission are now "looking into a number of questions relating to Goldman Sachs and other companies and their derivatives arrangements with Greece" (Ben Bernanke, quoted in Financial Times, February 26). Incidentally, the US authorities are also investigating some hedge funds' trades in the euro.

Last week, the Greek government announced measures aggregating $6.5 billion to cut spending — a cut in the entitlements of all public sector workers, including ministries, local governments, state organisations and Parliament; a reduction in government spending on public works projects; a 200 million euro cut in spending on education and an increase in value-added fuel and the so-called "sin" taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. A luxury tax has also been introduced. The public sector workers are up in arms against the spending cuts, and the impact of tax increases remains a question mark, Greece being notorious for its "underground" economy. Financial market reaction has, however, been positive, with euro strengthening in dollar terms mid-week. Are Greece and the euro out of the woods? Keep your fingers crossed!

avrajwade@gmail.com

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

UNTYING THE STATES

FINANCE COMMISSION TRANSFERS ARE JUST ONE PART OF THE STORY

SUNIL JAIN

 

Given how the Thirteenth Finance Commission (TFC) has increased the share of states in central taxes from 30.5 per cent to 32 per cent and the various other goodies (Rs 28,360 crore relief on interest paid to the Centre over five years, for one), the reaction of West Bengal Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta did seem a bit churlish — Dasgupta said the states had asked the TFC to raise the transfers to 50 per cent.

A closer examination, however, suggests there is a lot to what Dasgupta said, indeed the TFC report says as much in many places. Apart from the taxes the Central government collects, it also levies cesses which are unlike taxes in two respects — one, the money collected is earmarked for certain expenditure only (the education cess is one example) and, more important from the point of view of the Centre, the cesses don't have to be shared with the states. In 2010-11, these cesses are budgeted to be Rs 60,923 crore, or 8 per cent of the total taxes collected. There are then the payments from what the TFC calls the "fiscal commons" — the amounts got from, for instance, telecom revenues and the government's royalty on the oil and gas that public/private companies produce add up to around Rs 60,000 crore in 2010-11. Add these two items to the divisible pool of resources, as should be done if the true spirit of federalism is to be maintained, and it turns out the states get just 24 per cent of the revenues, not 32 per cent that the TFC had recommended.

The principal reasons for wanting an increased share of the revenues, of course, has to do with the fact that the states spend a far greater sum of money than the Centre does on what are called "development" areas — in 2008-09, the states spent Rs 512,000 crore versus a much lower Rs 303,000 crore by the Centre.

Apart from the money the states get from the Centre by way of their share in the tax collections (Rs 186,000 crore in 2009-10, according to RBI), they also get grants from the Centre for various programmes like the JNNURM, the NREGS and so on (this added up to Rs 169,000 crore in 2009-10). This is the problem area.

While the money is supposedly a grant, it isn't quite that. For one, the "grant" has to be spent on schemes specified by the Centre — schemes which, as LK Advani pointed out the other day, have mostly been named after just three individuals! So, for instance, it may well be the case that a state may not think an NREGA-kind of scheme is top priority for it — but since the money is available, as a "grant", and the Centre is advertising the scheme all over the place as a pro-poor one, most states tend to go in for it. Which state would want to be branded as one not doing enough for the poor?!

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

LOOK WEST POLICY

IMPORTANT TO BUILD A COMMUNITY IN THIS NEIGHBOURHOOD TOO

SANJAYA BARU

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has so far received only three visiting heads of state at the Delhi airport — President George Bush, President Vladimir Putin and King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia. That simple fact should have placed Dr Singh's much-delayed visit to Riyadh last week in perspective.

Saudi Arabia is not just about Islam, oil and dollars. It is India's civilisational neighbour, a long-time trading partner, now a strategic partner and, as a member of the G-20, an important pole in the emerging multi-polar global order.

In July 2005, Dr Singh chaired a meeting of the Prime Minister's Trade and Economic Relations Committee (TERC) which resolved to launch what was then dubbed India's "Look West Policy". The starting point of that policy was the launch of negotiations for an India-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) free trade agreement and a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with individual member countries of the GCC, that is, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Dr Singh told the TERC: "The Gulf region, like South-East and South Asia, is part of our natural economic hinterland. We must pursue closer economic relations with all our neighbours in our wider Asian neighbourhood. India has successfully pursued a "Look East" policy to come closer to the countries of South-East Asia. We must, similarly, come closer to our western neighbours in the Gulf."

In the months that followed, the Indian Navy, under the leadership of Admiral Suresh Mehta, launched its own "Look West Policy" of increased maritime engagement of the Gulf states, inspired by the vision of that famous maritime historian KM Panikkar, whose classic treatise India and the Indian Ocean (1945) underlined the strategic importance for India of the region from the Gulf of Aden to the Malacca Straits. The British Empire, wrote Panikkar, guarded the "jewel in its crown" from three outposts — Singapore, Mauritius and Yemen (Aden and Socotra). Today, free India has a special relationship with all the three countries.

In launching the "Look West Policy", as a counterpoise to the earlier "Look East Policy" initiated by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 1992, Dr Singh has revived an ancient relationship with the entire region, including Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain. The new relationship is built not just on the post-War and Cold War past, but is based on a new forward-looking equation with the region.

At the Manama Dialogue, organised annually in Bahrain by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), London, India has become an important participant both in the strategic and security policy discussions and in the increasingly important economic dialogue.

If India's "Look East Policy" was aimed at reintegrating India with the dynamic, rapidly-rising economies of East and South-East Asia, her "Look West Policy" is aimed at strengthening relations with a region that is vital to India's energy security, and is also a source of employment for over 3.5 million Indians and a source of sizeable foreign exchange remittances. In Saudi Arabia alone, there are over 2 million Indians, the largest expat community in the state, and it accounts for over 20 per cent of India's oil imports.

If East and South-East Asian economies have emerged as India's biggest trade partners, overtaking Europe and the United States, the GCC countries aren't far behind, with Saudi Arabia being India's fourth-biggest trade partner. Apart from the economic dimension to both these outreach efforts, there is a strategic dimension. India's engagement with East and South-East Asia is part of her effort to handle the rise of China, and India's engagement of Saudi Arabia is part of her effort to deal with the rise of militant Islam. India's own rise is circumscribed to an extent by both these phenomenon.

So, it is not surprising that an Indian prime minister would want to talk about the epicentre of jihadi terrorism, Pakistan-Afghanistan, that threatens Saudi Arabia's stability as much as India's. The Saudis fund a substantial part of Pakistan's defence budget and it is not for nothing that the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto famously dubbed Pakistan's nuclear weapons as the "Islamic Bomb"!

Both China and Saudi Arabia have become important actors in the "new great game" in Central Asia and the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, along with the United States, Russia, Iran and Turkey. Saudi Arabia has become an even more important interlocutor for India with its membership of G-20.

India need not take sides in the struggle for influence within the Islamic world between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey (with beleaguered Iraq nursing its wounds), but there is no question that India's strategic interests lie more with the Arab world, and certainly till Iran's and Israel's moderates return to power.

As the only G-20 members from their respective regions of South, South-East and West Asia, India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia form a new arc of stability with shared concerns about the global economy and the threat of jehadi terrorism. The shifts in power balances and economic fortunes within these two regions to our east and west will have important economic and strategic implications for India.

It is, therefore, understandable that Prime Minister Singh has been invited to inaugurate the first ever IISS Geo-economic Strategy Summit and the Bahrain Global Forum, with a focus on "rebalancing global geo-economic strategies for security, growth and development" by the Kingdom of Bahrain, scheduled for May 2010.

The rise of China and India is shifting the tectonic plates of Asia. Focused obsessively on the "near west" (Pakistan) and the "far west" (US), India neglects the "other west" (West Asia). India must become more active in the community-building efforts in West Asia. Riyadh and Bahrain are good places to begin from.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MOUSE TRAP

 

Rats in human habitations are a phenomenon older than recorded history. Moreover, even if they remain undetected in normal circumstances, they are usually identifiable by their predilection for abandoning sinking ships. As such, therefore, the ships of state would naturally not be free from such infestations either.


It should be no surprise then to learn that there's a mouse in the august upper House at Westminster; more mice than men, as a matter of fact. So much so that the honourable members may like to consider renaming the houses of Parliament, the Palace of Vermin-ster, or at least the Mouse of Lords. Worse still, reports say rodents are well on the way to over-running other arenas too, such as London's venerable theatre district, no doubt attracted by the potential for drama there.


Hamlet's immortal words, "How now? A rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!" sound more like a wistful plea as venues for major productions have all reported infestations , though there is no word yet on the theatre that stages London's longest running play, The Mousetrap.


The well-known nursery rhyme attests to the fact that mice have traditionally been no respecters of authority: Pussy cat, pussy cat where have you been? I've been to London to see the Queen/Pussy cat pussy cat, what did you do there? I frightened a little mouse under her chair!


Though the first printed version of the ditty appeared in 1805, it is said that the monarch in question was Elizabeth I, some 200 years earlier. Now, with another Elizabeth on the throne — who perhaps casts a wary eye at what lies beneath each time she arrives to ceremonially open Parliament — the House of Lords, inexplicably, has eschewed the time-tested pussy cat option. Health and safety norms and Peta activists were not considerations when it came to dealing with vermin in Tudor England, but modern Britain is clearly different. Today, even a Pied Piper would find himself accused of murinicide. Rats!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TOWARDS WOMEN'S EQUALITY

 

We welcome the government's decision to move the 108th Constitution Amendment Bill to reserve one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha and elected state legislatures for women.


Any form of affirmative action must have two essential characteristics for it to be effective: one, it must not kill the incentive to excel among the beneficiaries, and two, it must not reinforce perceptions of inferiority. When competition among the beneficiaries of reservation is intense, the incentive to excel is retained.


However, outright reservations fail the second test and are, therefore, an imperfect tool of empowerment. Yet, an imperfect design is better than no form of affirmative action at all. It is significant that the BJP and the Left are extending their support to the government on the Bill, and not trying to scuttle a move that could yield significant political mileage to the ruling formation.


Another significant development is Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's decision to throw his weight — and that means virtually the entirety of the Janata Dal (United)'s political heft — behind the Bill, leaving JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav to nurse, in private, his fear of elite women cornering the bulk of the reserved seats.


If the parties that still bitterly oppose the Bill, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, do not disrupt the House physically, the Bill is likely to sail through, with the requisite two-thirds majority. That would be a significant step forward in Indian women's march towards equality. But equality remains a far cry. For that, we need thorough-going social and cultural change.


Across much of Asia, pronounced preference for son, aided by advances in technology, is creating a skewed sex ratio, with boys outnumbering girls by far. When these cohorts grow up, and men face a shortage of women to partner with, girl children might acquire a premium they currently lack. Then again, they might not. The point is to mobilise society to dismantle the oppressive hierarchy of social power and realise the promise of equality for all held out by the Constitution.


Emancipation of women, in other words, is linked to emancipation of other traditionally-oppressed sections of society. Merely seeking to empower women, while retaining other power inequalities intact, would be just a futile form of identity politics.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

LED, KINDLY LIGHT

 

A proposal of the Oil & Natural Gas Corporation Energy Trust to set up a solid-state light emitting diode (LED) project deserves all encouragement.


LEDs can slash the quantum of power used for lighting to a tenth of the current consumption — an LED produces 10 times as much light per watt of electricity as a conventional incandescent lamp, and is at least twice as energy efficient as a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL). And LEDs last for ages.


But the high cost of LEDs is a major deterrent for their adoption — they cost 8-10 times as much as CFLs. However, large-scale adoption of LEDs would encourage manufacturers to set up massive capacity, and use economies of scale to drive down prices of these lighting products.


Adoption of highly energy efficient and durable lighting devices would require government intervention that is not limited to lower tax rates. Demonstration projects across 23 states for providing LEDs in villages or such projects for street lighting across 32 states/UTs by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency are baby-steps to popularise LEDs.

What is really required to precipitate cost-reducing scale in capacity creation is a massive programme by the Centre and the states to replace all existing luminaires in all government buildings across the country, and all street lighting in the 100 biggest towns, say, with appropriate LED arrays. The orders thrown up by such a programme would encourage leading LED manufacturers of the world to invest in the country directly or in participation with local pioneers like the ONGC Trust. Only a sharp fall in prices would make LEDs affordable for household use.


A concerted effort to replace existing lamps with LEDs and to populate all new rural homes getting connected to the grid for the first time with this super-efficient form of lighting would be taken as serious proof of India's commitment to containing climate change. It could open up financing options as well, on this count. There is a strong case to move fast on LEDs.

 

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

UPA II'S NEW COALITION MUSCLE

CL MANOJ

 

The functional health of any ruling coalition depends more on the level of political will and confidence of its leading party than on the numerical strength of its constituents. The pre-nuclear deal, Leftbacked UPA-1 had, at the level of pure numbers, a much more stable strength in the Lok Sabha, well above the halfway mark, compared to UPA-II , which barely has a simple majority against a 'united Opposition' .


Yet, the reflexes of the Congress high command and the PM vis-a-vis the demands of coalition management, compared to those in the previous government, show the two have decided to lead from the front rather than let their allies bully them daily.


The last fortnight saw an interesting inhouse role-reversal . The Union Cabinet decisively cleared the nutrient-based subsidy regime by overlooking written protests from chemical and fertiliser minister M K Azhagiri and DMK boss M Karunandhi. It was a 'coalition cultural shock' to DMK, which had halted UPA-1 's disinvestment drive by blatantly dishonouring its share of collective responsibility in the Cabinet nod for divestment of shares in Neyveli Lignite Corporation. We also witnessed FM's budget hike fuel prices, riding through the coalition blockade. In response to the rollback demands from Karunandhi and Mamata Banerjee, Sonia Gandhi rallied the Congress behind the PM and the FM in the face of a 'united Opposition' threatening 'cut-motions' .


By biting these bullets, the coalition leader advertised it is game for mind-games . Sharad Pawar who, knows a thing or two more about Congress psyche than Karunandhi or Mamata, was quick to declare that all allies were party to the price-hike decision. Remember , the same Pawar spent the best part of UPA-1 , trying to prop up an anti-Congress bargaining clique from within' to checkmate the coalition leader. After the Matoshree' misadventure, the seasoned Pawar seems to have become realistic of his/allies' limitations in the prevailing political climate.


Compared to the aforesaid two tricky administrative decisions, the Congress resolve to try and push the women's reservation Bill through in the budget session is a breeze. For, it contains a socially/politically correct plot which has the support of the Congress, the BJP and the Left. Regardless of whether the Bill will ultimately ride on the numbers in Parliament or be sabotaged by the 'bodyline ' tactics of the cow-belt desperados, the coalition leader has aired two messages: so-called 'total Opposition unity' is hollow and the GoP cares two hoots to the sentiments of 'the unilateral outside supporters' such as the SP, the RJD and the BSP.

So, what makes the Congress' coalition attitude different this time? Attributing it merely to the party winning 200 plus seats or managing a coalition without a Left prop would be too simplistic. The party is still short of majority by over 70 seats and has ideologically inconsistent and characteristically opportunistic allies like DMK and Trinamool as live-in partners. It seems the Congress has learnt two crucial things, one from the 2004-09 maiden coalition experience in Delhi and the other from the verdict of 2009, on running a coalition.

In 2004, the Congress was tasting power at Centre after eight years of electoral drought . Secondly, the GoP was under pressure to prove to itself and others that it indeed could run a coalition despite its anti-coalition political DNA. That desperation to hold on to power and carry on with allies made the nascent coalition leader bend and prostrate before the allies each time they threw a tantrum . The Congress leadership allowed itself to believe it was on a daily-wage existence from allies till Manmohan Singh forced the high command to take Prakash Karat by his horns. In the process, it also learnt the importance of running a coalition by putting maximum premium on self-interest without surrendering to allies, even it meant taking SP for a pre-poll ride to nowhere.


Importantly, the Congress understands that, unlike the 2004 'anti-BJP /NDA verdict' , the 2009 poll verdict shows that voters gave a clear 'pro-Congress' mandate with fewer allies to manage. The BJP-Communist-Mandalites tango on the floor of Parliament these days shows more of their desperation /fear of a resurgent Congress threatening their political bases than any determination or preparedness to force an election through an abrupt toppling act.


The AICC also knows UPA-11 allies like Trinamool and DMK need the Congress badly to fight next year's West Bengal and Tamil Nadu assembly polls. Though politics is a game of unending twists and turns, the political mood and equations at the moment are for the Congress to deliver administratively, consolidate politically and work organisationally for a leap forward.


Apart from the bold push on 'pro-reform ' economic agenda, the Congress of UPA-11 needs big ideas like the NREGA and RTI of UPA-1 to usher in new paradigm shifts in the rural/social sectors. That is why the Congress leadership and PMO need to revive the National Advisory Council to bolster political confidence with forward-looking ideas.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE BASE RATE MUDDLE

U R BHAT

 

Outside the din and bustle of the Union Budget that has been dominating media headlines, a quiet but farreaching change is being brought about by the banking regulator with the imminent introduction of the concept of base rate. This methodology for pricing bank loans is presented as a superior alternative to the extant benchmark prime lending rate (BPLR) that has been in existence over the last few years.


The ostensible problems with BPLR are lack of transparency resulting in as much as two thirds of bank lending being at less than BPLR, its inability to function as an effective mechanism to transmit changes in monetary policy and its observed downward stickiness. An objective analysis of the draft circular introducing the base rate concept leads one to the conclusion that the base rate regime envisaged therein is hardly an improvement over the BPLR regime. Also, the prohibition from lending below the base rate virtually bids adieu to the principles of free market that have been guiding policy-making since the onset of economic reforms in India two decades ago.


In essence, the proposed base-rate regime presents the average costing method as a superior alternative to the marginal costing method in pricing bank credit and the draft circular goes as far as prohibiting banks from lending below the base rate except for lending under the differential rate of interest (DRI) scheme, which accounts for less than 1% of bank lending. During times of excess liquidity in the system, as is presently the case, banks with comfortable capital adequacy would opt for the commercially-sensible alternative of first scouting for suitable assets and then financing them by raising appropriate liabilities that yield an adequate risk adjusted profit to the bank.


Quite often, this would involve lending at below the new base rate but in the proposed dispensation, this activity is prohibited. It is difficult to imagine how this prohibition would serve society better in as much as it deprives the banking system of potential profits by denying credit to a needy borrower who would invest in productive assets and generate employment, albeit by borrowing at a sub-base interest rate.


It is common knowledge that the influx of deposits into a bank may not necessarily be synchronous with the demand for credit. Hence banks may need to lend short term to low risk borrowers at below base rate with the specific intention of deploying these funds at higher rates later when the demand for credit turns robust. This offers banks the flexibility to manage their balance sheets by earning returns in excess of the returns from money market instruments which would be the only alternative if the proposed prohibition from sub-base rate lending is enforced. Moreover , strategically a bank may decide to deploy a part of its deposits in very lowrisk low-return assets to build valuable banking relationships that may be worthwhile on account of fees that can be earned or other collateral high value business that can be generated.


The proposed embargo on sub-base rate lending would prevent the execution of this value enhancing strategy. The one-to-one correspondence between average interest/overhead costs and minimum lending rates that is sought to be achieved by the base-rate regime completely ignores the concept of relationship banking where the value generated by a banking relationship is actively monitored to ensure that it meets minimum profitability benchmarks . The fact is that in most banks, the net interest income is less than the bank's total expenses and it is only the other income comprising of commissions , fees, etc, earned by rendering non-lending services to clients that makes the banking system profitable.


The proposed base rate regime sits rather uncomfortably with the continuing prescriptions relating to priority and export credit targets, especially when the banking system is finding it difficult to reach the sub-targets like agriculture lending even at interest rates far lower than the computed base rates. What is surprising is that the spirit of 'inclusive growth' — that is at the centre of government policy-making — is possibly unintentionally given the go by with the elimination of sub-base rate lending under the new regime, while the BPLR regime allowed cross subsidy to favoured sectors like agriculture. Moreover , given that the extant regulatory prescriptions for computing BPLR in banks incorporate all the elements in the standard base rate calculation, it is difficult to comprehend how the proposed method would be substantially more transparent or respond to changes in monetary policy any better than in the past or would be less downwardly sticky.


It is well recognised that the downward stickiness of lending rates is a result of the inability of banks to quickly reduce the fixed nature of their deposit costs in response to a fall in market interest rates. In fact, the problem of downward stickiness of lending rates is made even more acute in the base rate regime by its prohibition from lending below the base rate. It is important to recognize that the marginal cost of funds is more relevant for banks for pricing current loans rather than the average cost which is computed on the basis of the cost of all outstanding liabilities and the prohibition from lending below the computed base rate imparts an unacceptably high level of rigidity to the system.


Of course, banking is just not another business that can be left completely to the forces of free markets. The global events of the last two years have clearly demonstrated that being a part of the global payments system, banks are indeed special and carry an implied assurance of a taxpayer-funded bailout when driven to the wall. The appropriate response , therefore, should clearly be to work towards more effective regulation to manage myriad risks without unduly jeopardizing the flexibility of credit markets that facilitate economic growth. In a competitive credit market, service providers with varying cost structures can grow by serving different market segments at appropriate pricing levels through product differentiation. The Reserve Bank of India has an impeccable track record in facilitating this and therefore, some serious rethinking on the proposed base rate regime is certainly in order.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TOWARDS WOMEN'S EQUALITY

 

We welcome the government's decision to move the 108th Constitution Amendment Bill to reserve one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha and elected state legislatures for women.


Any form of affirmative action must have two essential characteristics for it to be effective: one, it must not kill the incentive to excel among the beneficiaries, and two, it must not reinforce perceptions of inferiority. When competition among the beneficiaries of reservation is intense, the incentive to excel is retained.


However, outright reservations fail the second test and are, therefore, an imperfect tool of empowerment. Yet, an imperfect design is better than no form of affirmative action at all. It is significant that the BJP and the Left are extending their support to the government on the Bill, and not trying to scuttle a move that could yield significant political mileage to the ruling formation.


Another significant development is Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's decision to throw his weight — and that means virtually the entirety of the Janata Dal (United)'s political heft — behind the Bill, leaving JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav to nurse, in private, his fear of elite women cornering the bulk of the reserved seats.


If the parties that still bitterly oppose the Bill, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, do not disrupt the House physically, the Bill is likely to sail through, with the requisite two-thirds majority. That would be a significant step forward in Indian women's march towards equality. But equality remains a far cry. For that, we need thorough-going social and cultural change.


Across much of Asia, pronounced preference for son, aided by advances in technology, is creating a skewed sex ratio, with boys outnumbering girls by far. When these cohorts grow up, and men face a shortage of women to partner with, girl children might acquire a premium they currently lack. Then again, they might not. The point is to mobilise society to dismantle the oppressive hierarchy of social power and realise the promise of equality for all held out by the Constitution.


Emancipation of women, in other words, is linked to emancipation of other traditionally-oppressed sections of society. Merely seeking to empower women, while retaining other power inequalities intact, would be just a futile form of identity politics.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'WE'RE EVALUATING TARGETS IN ASIA'

MAYUR SHETTY

 

Shuzo Sumi, president and CEO of Japanese insurance giant Tokio Marine Holdings, is a fitness freak. His day begins with a 14-storey climb up to his office. At work, he carries the same obsession with fitness to balance sheets. Credited with increasing the share of the group's global business from 21% to 50%, Mr Sumi is extremely choosy about the company he acquires and looks only at financially-healthy companies. Tokio Marine recently entered into a joint venture with Edelweiss Capital to set up a life insurance company with an agreement to hike stake from 26% to 49% no sooner regulations permit. The group has strong ambitions to grow its global business including India.


Tokio Marine has significantly increased its international presence since Mr Sumi took charge in 2007 after it acquired Philadelphia Consolidated Inc in the US and Kiln Group (a Lloyds Syndicate) in 2008. These two acquisitions, coupled with a shrinking of the Japanese market in the year that followed, raised Tokio Marine's share of global business to 50% against its stated objective of increasing global business to 27% by 2011. "The acquisitions were timely and worked very well for Tokio Marine." So, has the group reset its growth plans?

The group plans to grow through a combination of acquisition and organic growth. "We have no particular targets but we are always evaluating opportunities in Asia, in emerging markets and in mature markets of America and Europe." After the crisis, everybody said it is a good time for Tokio Marine to acquire American companies as their market prices were very low and the yen was strong.


"But we concentrate on the company's strength and its stance of business. I always say that the company (we acquire) should have a very strong business model, they have potential for growth of their management , is very financial healthy and customer-oriented . I do not want to acquire a company because it is on sale." So why did Tokio Marine choose not to acquire AIG's Asian business, despite its global ambitions ? The business was acquired by Prudential for $35 billion.


Mr Sumi feels that Prudential Plc has overpaid. He says that AIA (AIG's Asian arm) was the biggest opportunity for inorganic growth that had come up recently but it was 'impossible' for Tokio Marine. When AIG collapsed, there were reports that Tokio Marine was best placed to take over Alico group in Japan. "But we realised that AIG empire has a very complicated structure and nobody can see the inside of the structure. We also could not understand where their investment ratio came from, who controls the IT system that supports Alico. It's very complicated.


While Mr Sumi has aggressive growth ambitions, he is conservative on most other things. Like the Tokio Marine name. Some years ago, there was an attempt to rebrand the international business as Millea Holdings. Sumi calls that move a mistake. After taking over, he chose to reverse the decision. The reason: Tokio Marine was a strong brand.


What about bancassurance? His views on bancassurance are also conservative. It is good for the banks that make a lot of commission without bearing risks, he feels. The insurance companies continue to hold all the risk on their books. But his assessment is that the insurance industry has reached the limit in terms of usage of this channel, although he sees a role for bancassurance in some segments. For instance, in Japan, 100% of Tokio Marine's variable annuity business — a regular income scheme sold in the form of a high-value single premium policy — is through banks. Would he say, 2010 would be a disastrous year for the insurance industry, particularly due to the recall of cars by Japanese manufacturers and the earthquake in Chile?

The recalls have not made a big impact on Tokio Marine. The earthquake too has had a mild impact on the Japanese shores and there is no exposure in Chile. On the contrary, popularity of investment-led products like variable annuities marks a global shift from savings to investment, but he is not able to pin-point the reason. It could be low interest rates or it could be general bullishness about equity. On the non-life side, rates have reached the peak in the hardening cycle and now will start moving down globally, he reckons.

 

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE'RE MOVING TOWARDS HEALTHIER REFRESHMENT: PEPSICO INDIA

RATNA BHUSHAN

 

As the New York-based beverages giant PepsiCo looks to markets like India to keep the growth momentum ticking, the Indian arm is trying to pull out all stops to keep its recent track record intact – high double-digit growth. PepsiCo India executive director (marketing) for beverages Punita Lal spoke to Ratna Bhushan about challenges like higher pricing and keeping consumers engaged, as the season kicks in. Excerpts:

PepsiCo took up pricing after a long gap in the beginning of this year. Won't the growth momentum be impacted? What are you doing to ensure consumers keep coming?


Beverages had a great year but since we have taken up pricing now, we need to ensure we keep consumer demand robust. We are attempting this in several ways. Enhancing value is one. Our one-litre pack for carbonated drinks which we rolled out a month back — priced at Rs 32 each —is a good value proposition.

We are positioning it as a small celebration for the family, and we've called it the home pack. Our slim can at Rs 15 again offers great value. Then there are glass bottles and 600-ml PET packs. So value, affordability, penetration – we are addressing all these. We are also looking at new channels to reach the consumer.

The one big learning is that you just can't do a monologue ... consumer engagement is key. A clear shift is happening in brand communication, and consumers should not just be recipients of marketing messages but partner us in creating content. As for pricing, in the Indian context, the penetration of our category is still so low that we would want to do everything we could to hold prices. We have taken up prices reluctantly this year; we did not last year when most other FMCG companies did. The way inflation costs are these days, I don't see a roll back of prices soon.


The company's US headquarters announced last month that it would list detailed calorie content on beverage container front packs. Are you looking at similar plans for India?


We are in the process of evaluating the benefits front-pack labeling would give consumers in India. While we are totally committed to offer the consumer transparency, we also need to understand how much he/ she understands and relates to such information. It's a dialogue we are having currently. We are trying to factor in the consumer's relative awareness to nutritional information into the labeling initiative.


The company often talks about portfolio transformation to 'good for you' and 'better for you' products. How relevant is that for India?


We are certainly addressing healthier needs of consumers. As you know, we are working on a bottom-of-pyramid product which is in progress, though I don't think the timeline for launch is formalised yet. Then we have the Tropicana 100% juices, Gatorade with specific functional benefits, Nimbooz (nimbu pani) which is known to be a hydration product. So we are certainly driving the change to, as you say, 'healthier' refreshment.

Also, we will be looking at more sugar-free products and we hope regulatory approvals for alternate sweeteners come soon. But at the same time, while the consumer is showing more trends of being health and wellness conscious and there certainly is a lot of talk, she is not walking the talk that much. Even when we do have no-sugar variants or low-sugar variants, it's not as if that becomes the first choice of all consumers.

I don't think that change has happened as yet, and between intention and behaviour, there exists a gap. There is also a taste challenge that one needs to deal with when non-natural sweeteners are used. And consumers clearly do not want to compromise on taste.


Any plans to include social messaging in the advertising?


Our water-balance initiative is one which we are communicating on Aquafina packs (water balance, as in we are saving and replenishing more water than what we are using). We already focus a lot on performance with purpose.

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE AIM TO RETAIN & CREATE VALUE FOR CONSUMERS: GM

LIJEE PHILIP

 

MUMBAI: General Motors is betting big on markets like India as the beleaguered US carmaker looks to regain the top slot in the global auto market. bold">Tim Lee, president of General Motors' international operations (Asia, Latin America, Africa and Middle East), believes that the creating value for customers in terms of price, reliability and durability and reestablishing the Chevrolet brand will be the key for the revival of the carmaker known for its big cars and SUVs. Mr Lee is on his first visit to the country where GM is in an overdrive after the recent launches of Chevrolet beat and Cruze. ET caught up with him for an exclusive interview . Excerpts:

What brings you to India?

I have come to listen and understand...before I act. We have no major announcements to make, so this is more an opportunity to go and see our operations in Halol, Talegaon and Bangalore...I have come here to focus on developing local talent, business strategy and product matrix.


Where does India fit in as General Motors looks to get back into profitability?

In India, there is a huge opportunity to grow the Chevrolet brand. Create an ownership experience that begins at the moment of sale and lasts right through the life of the product. Our objective is to retain our customers and create value for them in terms of price, reliability and durability. We want the customer to come back and buy a Chevrolet brand again.


Does that mean you have no plans to bring brands like Corvette, Malibu or the Camarro into the country?
These products attract huge import duty. At some point we will have a boutique offering for these cars and we will bring them as completely built units. But these will never be volume products in India. The volume products will continue to be from the A, B and C segment.

 

So Daewoo buy was an important move as far as India is concerned?

Exactly. Our A and B segment architectural team continues to be Korea based and hence future small car technology will continue to be sourced from Korea.

 

Are you using the partnership with Chinese firm SAIC as a growth driver for the Indian market?

We have a wide product range in passenger cars space but are under-represented in commercial vehicle space, which is currently 40% of the market. We will look at the entire portfolio and we see an opportunity to localize products and this will be one of the engines of growth. The decisions on branding SAIC and Wuling products have yet to be decided.


Have you set a timeframe for an India-built car? What's your target here?

It depends on how soon our Indian engineering centres can imbibe the architecture and capability from various global engineering centres. We are looking at 2012-2013. We will sell one lakh units this year and three lakh units with commercial vehicles in another five years.


You have been a lifer at General Motors. What's it been like to be on top for so long and then bankruptcy and all?

I have been with General Motors for 40 years. In the US, that may be seen by the media as a bad thing, but I wear that history very proudly. I am very proud of my experience at GM. And I look forward to creating the future for the second century of our company's history that will be made in places like India.

I lived and worked through the bankruptcy process shoulder-to shoulder with Fritz Henderson (former president and CEO of GM, who recently returned to the company as a consultant after being forced to step down in December) and it was an humiliating period in the history of our company. As we emerge from bankruptcy and with the leadership of Mr Whitacre, there is a strong plan going forward with a strong product offer around the world and the best days of General Motors are yet ahead of us. The new GM wants to focus on customer and reestablish the Chevrolet brand.

 

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE'RE MOVING TOWARDS HEALTHIER REFRESHMENT: PEPSICO INDIA

RATNA BHUSHAN

 

As the New York-based beverages giant PepsiCo looks to markets like India to keep the growth momentum ticking, the Indian arm is trying to pull out all stops to keep its recent track record intact – high double-digit growth. PepsiCo India executive director (marketing) for beverages Punita Lal spoke to Ratna Bhushan about challenges like higher pricing and keeping consumers engaged, as the season kicks in. Excerpts:


PepsiCo took up pricing after a long gap in the beginning of this year. Won't the growth momentum be impacted? What are you doing to ensure consumers keep coming?


Beverages had a great year but since we have taken up pricing now, we need to ensure we keep consumer demand robust. We are attempting this in several ways. Enhancing value is one. Our one-litre pack for carbonated drinks which we rolled out a month back — priced at Rs 32 each —is a good value proposition.

We are positioning it as a small celebration for the family, and we've called it the home pack. Our slim can at Rs 15 again offers great value. Then there are glass bottles and 600-ml PET packs. So value, affordability, penetration – we are addressing all these. We are also looking at new channels to reach the consumer.

The one big learning is that you just can't do a monologue ... consumer engagement is key. A clear shift is happening in brand communication, and consumers should not just be recipients of marketing messages but partner us in creating content. As for pricing, in the Indian context, the penetration of our category is still so low that we would want to do everything we could to hold prices. We have taken up prices reluctantly this year; we did not last year when most other FMCG companies did. The way inflation costs are these days, I don't see a roll back of prices soon.


The company's US headquarters announced last month that it would list detailed calorie content on beverage container front packs. Are you looking at similar plans for India?


We are in the process of evaluating the benefits front-pack labeling would give consumers in India. While we are totally committed to offer the consumer transparency, we also need to understand how much he/ she understands and relates to such information. It's a dialogue we are having currently. We are trying to factor in the consumer's relative awareness to nutritional information into the labeling initiative.


The company often talks about portfolio transformation to 'good for you' and 'better for you' products. How relevant is that for India?


We are certainly addressing healthier needs of consumers. As you know, we are working on a bottom-of-pyramid product which is in progress, though I don't think the timeline for launch is formalised yet. Then we have the Tropicana 100% juices, Gatorade with specific functional benefits, Nimbooz (nimbu pani) which is known to be a hydration product. So we are certainly driving the change to, as you say, 'healthier' refreshment.

Also, we will be looking at more sugar-free products and we hope regulatory approvals for alternate sweeteners come soon. But at the same time, while the consumer is showing more trends of being health and wellness conscious and there certainly is a lot of talk, she is not walking the talk that much. Even when we do have no-sugar variants or low-sugar variants, it's not as if that becomes the first choice of all consumers.

I don't think that change has happened as yet, and between intention and behaviour, there exists a gap. There is also a taste challenge that one needs to deal with when non-natural sweeteners are used. And consumers clearly do not want to compromise on taste.


Any plans to include social messaging in the advertising?


Our water-balance initiative is one which we are communicating on Aquafina packs (water balance, as in we are saving and replenishing more water than what we are using). We already focus a lot on performance with purpose.

 

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE AIM TO RETAIN & CREATE VALUE FOR CONSUMERS: GM

LIJEE PHILIP

 

MUMBAI: General Motors is betting big on markets like India as the beleaguered US carmaker looks to regain the top slot in the global auto market.

 

bold">Tim Lee, president of General Motors' international operations (Asia, Latin America, Africa and Middle East), believes that the creating value for customers in terms of price, reliability and durability and reestablishing the Chevrolet brand will be the key for the revival of the carmaker known for its big cars and SUVs. Mr Lee is on his first visit to the country where GM is in an overdrive after the recent launches of Chevrolet beat and Cruze. ET caught up with him for an exclusive interview . Excerpts:


What brings you to India?

I have come to listen and understand...before I act. We have no major announcements to make, so this is more an opportunity to go and see our operations in Halol, Talegaon and Bangalore...I have come here to focus on developing local talent, business strategy and product matrix.


Where does India fit in as General Motors looks to get back into profitability?

In India, there is a huge opportunity to grow the Chevrolet brand. Create an ownership experience that begins at the moment of sale and lasts right through the life of the product. Our objective is to retain our customers and create value for them in terms of price, reliability and durability. We want the customer to come back and buy a Chevrolet brand again.


Does that mean you have no plans to bring brands like Corvette, Malibu or the Camarro into the country?
These products attract huge import duty. At some point we will have a boutique offering for these cars and we will bring them as completely built units. But these will never be volume products in India. The volume products will continue to be from the A, B and C segment.


So Daewoo buy was an important move as far as India is concerned?

Exactly. Our A and B segment architectural team continues to be Korea based and hence future small car technology will continue to be sourced from Korea.


Are you using the partnership with Chinese firm SAIC as a growth driver for the Indian market?

We have a wide product range in passenger cars space but are under-represented in commercial vehicle space, which is currently 40% of the market. We will look at the entire portfolio and we see an opportunity to localize products and this will be one of the engines of growth. The decisions on branding SAIC and Wuling products have yet to be decided.


Have you set a timeframe for an India-built car? What's your target here?

It depends on how soon our Indian engineering centres can imbibe the architecture and capability from various global engineering centres. We are looking at 2012-2013. We will sell one lakh units this year and three lakh units with commercial vehicles in another five years.


You have been a lifer at General Motors. What's it been like to be on top for so long and then bankruptcy and all?

I have been with General Motors for 40 years. In the US, that may be seen by the media as a bad thing, but I wear that history very proudly. I am very proud of my experience at GM. And I look forward to creating the future for the second century of our company's history that will be made in places like India.


I lived and worked through the bankruptcy process shoulder-to shoulder with Fritz Henderson (former president and CEO of GM, who recently returned to the company as a consultant after being forced to step down in December) and it was an humiliating period in the history of our company. As we emerge from bankruptcy and with the leadership of Mr Whitacre, there is a strong plan going forward with a strong product offer around the world and the best days of General Motors are yet ahead of us. The new GM wants to focus on customer and reestablish the Chevrolet brand.

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CUT RED TAPE, DON'T POLICE COUPONS: KAUSHIK BASU

SURABHI & DEEPSHIKHA SIKARWAR

 

The poor growth numbers for the third fiscal quarter have put serious doubts about the bullish GDP growth projections for the coming years. Chief Economic Advisor to the finance ministry Kaushik Basu says the ambitious growth targets are achievable if bureaucratic delays in decision making are tackled. The academic-turned-policymaker talks on a variety of subjects such as inflation, subsidies and capital flows in an exclusive interaction with ET. Excerpts:


Is the government's projection of 7.2% growth realistic? You have said India will attain double-digit growth in four years. Considering that we are struggling at 7%, will we manage to meet this target?

The third quarter performance is no surprise because the agriculture downturn was expected to be deepest in that quarter. In the fourth quarter, there are two factors which will help. First, we don't expect agriculture to perform the way it did in the third quarter. Second, the fourth quarter was the worst quarter in the previous year. So it's really on a lower base that growth is picking up and it could cross 8.5%. Hence, the expectation of growth in the vicinity of 7.2% this year is realistic enough.

 

To breach the 10% growth mark, we will need special efforts, but it is all well within the realm of the possible now. The savings rate is at 32.5%. We have to ensure that it does not drop further. As the stimulus is gradually rolled back and the demographic dividend sets in, my expectation is that our savings will go up to over 36%, which is an extremely robust figure.


Among the other policies that can give India a large boost is targeting our subsidy and welfare interventions better. Here, I want to distinguish my position from the one that we often see, which says that we must not spend such large amounts of money on the poor. I believe we must spend that kind of money on the poor; it is just that we have to do it in a way that a large part of it does not get frittered away on the way to the target population.

If we clean up the system, we can deliver double the benefits to the poor at half the costs. The money that'll be saved can be used to cut back on our deficit even further and to spend on productive activities, such as building human capital and infrastructure, and meeting medical needs. I think government is serious about such a policy focus but, as with any change, there will be political opposition.


The other change which the finance minister was forthright in talking about concerns governance. Our bureaucratic decisionmaking is slower than in most fast-growing nations. When someone wants to set up a new business enterprise, it takes longer to get the paperwork done in India than in many other countries, actually we take 10 times as much time as does Singapore.


Similarly if a firm is going bankrupt and wants to close down, it takes longer to do so in India than in virtually any other country. The knowledge that it will take the business longer to close down will of course be a deterrent for new businesses thinking of setting up shop. If we can tidy up these governance issues even a little bit, we can easily break into the above-10% growth zone. This is now entirely possible within three or four years.

High food prices seem to be affecting the overall inflation. Is it time to raise interest rates?

The current inflation is still largely a sector-specific inflation. It is not obvious that we are in a situation where we need economy-wide policy interventions, with credit being made more expensive. That is an option on the table in case the inflation becomes more widespread. The Reserve Bank of India is monitoring the situation. If the inflation goes across to other sectors, I am sure it will act. Fortunately, the food inflation has been coming down fairly steadily since the week ending 28th of November, 2009.


You have suggested freeing up food prices and use of food coupons to subsidise the poor. Will those open-ended coupons not be misused?

The fact that you have to protect the poor does not mean that the price of food, diesel, fertiliser and other items should be kept artificially low. An artificial low price amounts to subsidising the entire population. To subsidise everybody to help the poor is the kind of inefficiency that we have to guard against. It is best to let the market determine prices.


If we want to protect the poor, and that should certainly be our priority, then we must deliver the subsidy directly to the poor. Take fertilizer. Instead of holding prices down for all farmers, large and small, and ending up subsidising the producers and international suppliers of inputs, the aim should be to leave this to the market and directly subsidise small farmers so that they can buy it cheap.


This is where coupons come in. In an ideal system, the goods are allowed to float up to the market price and the needy-be they farmers or consumers of food-are given coupons by the government to buy the fertilizer or food at a low price.


To your question about misuse of coupons, my personal view is this. Take food. The reason we give coupons rather than cash is that we want to encourage the poor to spend it on food and not some other product. But my view is that, once you have given them the incentive to buy food, it is best not to make the mistake that governments tend to make, which is of going further and trying to force the hand of the poor. If some people sell off the coupons, don't try to set up an elaborate bureaucratic machinery to stop this.


Even if the coupon gets sold, someone somewhere will use that to buy food and the poor household that sold it off at least got money in exchange. So my position would be to make it legal for recipients of coupons to sell them off should they want to. This is a simple recognition of what is feasible for government and what is not.

The low oil subsidy is based on the assumption of full deregulation. What happens to the deficit if pricing is not freed?


Nothing is going to go awry in our fiscal calculations if petroleum deregulation doesn't take place. It's not a part of our assumption; we are aware that there is a political process involved. I, personally, hope that we will go the route of the Kirit Parikh committee recommendation. Barring a couple of products, like kerosene, which we know are disproportionately purchased by the poor, it is best to free the prices. The saved money can then be given directly to the poor through our anti-poverty initiatives.


As recovery sets in there is a concern that emerging economies such as India could see large capital flows. Greater capital flow opens up greater options for us. If this happens, we have to try to utilise this rather than shut our door and lock it out.


This is not to deny that this has implications—not all good—for some sectors of the economy, and this will need to be managed. We've seen this happening in 2007. The Rupee can begin to appreciate, adversely affecting some of our exports. Right now, we are not seeing the level of capital flows that is cause for any concern. If that happens, we will have to realistically think of the whole gamut of policies tried in the world. Brazil has come up with a tax.

However, once a destination is attractive, a 1% or 2% tax burden seems to do little. Chile has used another kind of tax system. We can review all these. My own instinct is not to use these tax-based deterrents. We need other kinds of policy interventions so as to allow the capital flows to come in but at the same time to deter sudden spikes in the value of the Rupee. I know I am not giving you a cogent plan, but this is a topic of great interest to me. So come back to me after a month or two and I will give you a more considered opinion.


There have been concerns that large industrial houses will corner the new bank licences...

The concern is welcome but we must not let the concern stall the policy announced by the Finance Minister in his Budget speech. We want the private sector to come in, since we want banking to develop and spread to all corners of the nation, though we have to avoid cronyism in deciding who comes in. But the vigilance must not be over-zealous to the point where the policy itself gets shelved.

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE ARE FOCUSED ON PROFITABILITY: HDFC STANDARD LIFE

MAYUR SHETTY, ET BUREAU

 

Amitabh Chaudhry, former CEO of Infosys Technologies' BPO business, has recently taken charge as head of HDFC Standard Life. In an interview with ET, he dwells on what has become his most immediate agenda.

Have you been given any specific targets by the board?

Shareholders are asking at what stage and how quickly will we become profitable. As a brand, HDFC Standard Life stands out because of the things that we do. So I think the board is asking why the brand promise is not being reflected in the market share that we have. Why is it not being reflected in our coming to profitability faster? Now the board is expecting me to make some of the things happen faster than in the normal pace.

In the insurance business, growth and profitability appear to be conflicting objectives...


Our growth has turned positive on a year-on-year basis. This was partly because we filled some gaps in our product portfolio. Our overall premium income has grown 25-30% while new business is up 10-15%. There is more than one way to achieve profitability. One is to increase revenue through the existing capacity. Second is to cut costs, the third is to launch products that do not require so much capital. We are doing all of these.

How much capital would you require?


Our capital requirement has come down. We have a capital base of Rs 1,870 crore of which only Rs 50 crore has been infused this year. We expect to add another Rs 120 crore by the end of this year. Next year, we are talking about similar numbers — Rs 200- 250 crore, depending on the business we write. We expect to become profitable in 2011-12 by Indian GAAP.


But Indian GAAP might not be relevant because there is a proposal to introduce IFRS. Of course once we become profitable, capital requirements will also go down. But while we start making profits, we will still have Rs 1,100 crore of accumulated losses.


Coming from the BPO industry, what is your perception of the life business?


Sometimes when you believe things are different, they turn out to be really the same. There is strong competition in both industries, coupled with having global brand leaders in the market. People are expecting companies to grow exponentially on the maturity curve in delivering what they promised.


The real differentiation will continue to come from a unique customer experience, being a long-term player and following our value system and being innovative. In insurance, you can be innovative for only three months as products can be copied. But if you are innovative in the margin, that becomes part of your brand promise.


Have you undertaken any cost-cutting measures?

It's too early as I have been only four weeks into the job. But I have maintained consistently that we should drive more efficiency from the system or reduce unnecessary costs. For instance, we had already gone and done a lot of work where branches are located and do we need that size?.


Now, we need to take it to the next stage and ask whether this is the right capacity? Do we need a front and back-end that are different. Do we need to establish branches in tier-III and tier-IV towns? In some places, we do have excess people and we have to see where they can be redeployed in some areas where we intend to invest in.


Do you think HDFC Standard Life is ready for an IPO?


Yes, in the sense that we have a revenue stream, we have persistency, we have in force business which has some embedded value. Whatever we have shared with investment banks, the impression is that yes, HDFC is the right name to take to the market. But obviously we need to take it at the right time at the right valuation. There is the issue of 26% foreign holding which may be raised to 49%.


If Standard Life wants to hike, there is the question of who will dilute how much. But the IPO guidelines are not yet in place. There are a lot of balls in the air but we expect them to fall in the next six months, and when that happens, we will be ready.


A large part of your business is brought in by HDFC Bank. Is this not a concentration risk?


Today, bancassurance accounts for almost 50% of the business which is on the higher side. We would like the bancassurance channel to contribute not more than 30%. Of the rest, agency should be 30-40% and others should be 30-40%. But we want to reduce the share of bancassurance by increasing the share of other channels and not by reducing the premium from this segment.

 

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INTEREST RATE HIKE WON'T TRIGGER A PANIC IN MARKET: KOTAK ASSET

SANTOSH NAIR

 

Despite lower-than-estimated government borrowings for FY11, interest rates are likely to firm up near term on a combination of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) trying to tackle inflation, says Alroy Lobo, chief strategist and global head of equities, Kotak Asset Management. In an interview with ET, Mr Lobo says from September onwards, investor focus will shift to issues like direct tax code and the move to international financial reporting standards (IFRS), restricting the market to a narrow range. Excerpts:


What is your near-term view on the market and which are the factors you see influencing the trend?


The Budget has put the onus of managing inflation on the monetary policy. While we think the monetary policy will still be calibrated, we won't be surprised if the Reserve Bank of India hikes key rates by 100-150 basis points over the next 12 months.


Even though the government's borrowing target has been lower than market expectations, we expect the 10-year (benchmark) yield to remain firm. That's because much of the borrowing is likely to be front-ended — the government will try to meet most of its target during the early part of the fiscal rather than spreading it through the year. So too will be the case with its divestment programme and auction of 3G licences.


As a result, we could see inflation trending up to 10-11% during the first half of the fiscal, and then tapering off gradually, with the average for the year being around 7%. We are in for a period of high-growth and high inflation. The market will have to brace for some monetary tightening measures, as RBI tackles inflation.


From the second half of the fiscal, investors' attention would shift to issues in the proposed direct tax code (DTC), and the implementation of IFRS. As companies shift to IFRS, there could be a material impact on earnings. From a global perspective, the focus would be on the central bank's exit policy relating to fiscal and monetary stimulus packages.


Do you expect the Indian market to correct further in the short term?

We are not expecting a significant correction. The Sensex appears to have a strong support in the 15,500-16,000 range. Only if there is some drastic event, we could see that support getting breached. A rise in interest rates is unlikely to trigger panic, because it has been factored in to a large extent. But if the market suddenly rallies 15%, we could be cautious.


For FY11, consensus estimate of the growth in Sensex earnings is 20-22%. But much of that growth would be concentrated in commodity companies, which stand to gain from rising commodity prices. From an FY11 perspective, the market is fairly valued.


What is the broad strategy for your fund's equity investment?


We don't have much of a cash position in our (equity) schemes at the moment. Our strategy is to cut exposure to large caps and steadily build up exposure to second-line names. On a FY11 basis, most companies are fairly valued. But from September onwards, the focus will shift to FY12 numbers, where we see potential for positive surprises. During the first half of FY11, we would be looking to play the consumption story, and from the second half, we would be betting on companies that stand to gain from infrastructure spending.

Within the consumption space, where would you be looking for opportunities?


We are positive on select companies in media, retail, aviation, automobiles and domestic pharma. For instance, demand in the auto sector is still strong, and companies will be able to pass on the higher excise rates to consumers. We are not so upbeat on fast-moving consumer goods, as we feel most companies in this sector are fairly valued.


Which are the sectors you are bearish on?


We are negative on telecom stocks. In addition to the ongoing tariff war, telecom companies will also have to shell out huge sums for 3G licences. The bidding is likely to be aggressive, as spectrum availability is an issue. So, a combination of tariff war and capital expenditure will affect the returns ratios of telecom firms. We are cautious on the real estate sector.


Rising interest rates will have an impact on demand for property. Developers are able to hold on to their prices, as many of them have been able to raise capital over the past one year. But high prices are deterring buyers and affecting sales volumes. Unless the companies drop prices, they are unlikely to see a surge in sales.

 

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A HISTORIC DAY FOR INDIAN DEMOCRACY

 

India is set to make history on Monday when a long-overdue bill that aims to forever alter gender equations in our country will be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on the 100th anniversary of the International Women's Day. And while a political consensus on the historic measure is still elusive, a large number of MPs across the political divide have agreed to sign on the dotted line, barring a handful who are either afraid or grossly ill-informed. The political class might well squabble over who should take credit for the Women's Reservation Bill, which was — surprisingly — first drafted by the United Front government of the mid-1990s, otherwise not considered a woman-friendly outfit! Since then, both the BJP (but not its Shiv Sena ally) and the Congress have tabled it several times. But as has been well documented, without the requisite backing from the largely male-dominated political class, neither party could push it through. It is, therefore, a matter of considerable national pride that both the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, have now declared with some certainty that the bill will pass muster — 14 years since it was first aired, and not a day too late! Undoubtedly, as we aim to make honest women of roughly half our population, that's 600 million Indian women, the timing couldn't be more perfect. But as with all things Indian, this bill too comes with a statutory warning. Just as it is all too easy to fall into the trap of being seen to do the right thing by naming a woman as the country's first female President or the Lok Sabha's first woman Speaker, or as the CEO of a bank or a major corporation, reserving 33.33 per cent of seats in Parliament and the state Assemblies for women is no sop, no token gesture, and must not become a tool by the power-hungry alpha male to push his agenda in Parliament. In the 14 tortuous years that it has taken for the bill to come this far, there's little doubt that it's taken women at the very bottom rung of the social ladder to demonstrate what can be achieved when they are "given" the power to change things. The 33.33 per cent reservation for women at the panchayat level — now raised to 50 per cent — has changed the political, social and economic landscape of rural India. Little question that when reservations for women were first instituted at the panchayat level, politicians used female relatives as proxies to keep rivals at bay and extend their circle of power. Study shows that these same women used the foot in the door to improve the lives of those around them in terms of improving female education, healthcare, roads, connectivity, even bringing in new concepts like rainwater harvesting and better management of agri-products. Clearly, the bill now before Parliament may be no magic wand to cure all our ills — female foeticide, female illiteracy, the skewed sex ratio, malnutrition, assault and battery, sexual slavery — but it will give the right-thinking woman the ability to back her gender-friendly voice with power-packed, enforceable legislation. The question of how many legislative seats should be covered under the existing matrix, that mandates reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and where that will leave the upper castes, who in many cases also rank among the impoverished, is still open to debate. Either way, the problems that face women will not change with one Bill.

 

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


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

LET HOSTILITY DECLINE

BY ARJUN SENGUPTA

 

After the Prime Minister's Sharm el-sheikh speech, it took quite some time for India to begin foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan because of some misunderstanding of the issues. They should be discussed openly with the options that we have.

 

First, what is it that we want from Pakistan and what do we expect from Pakistan? Surely we want better relations with expanding trade and investment. But more immediately we want Pakistan to stop cross-border terrorism, close all the training camps and not push militants into India with military cover, aiding terrorist activities. But can we expect that realistically in the near future? Undoubtedly, there is a large population there which harbours anti-Indian sentiments as a legacy of Partition. The jihadis' numbers, however, are limited. They can be neutralised if most Pakistanis come to realise the merits of good relations with India.

 

The Pakistan Army has developed a vested interest in hostilities with India. Some of them may also be jihadis

but a highly disciplined Army of Pakistan should be able to contain them. Even the Inter-Services Intelligence acts as agent of the Army despite the impression that media often gives of their independence. The Pakistan military enjoys influence and wealth by appearing to be indispensable for Pakistan's defence from India. It can be balanced, first by reducing the perception of that military threat through back-channel and people-to-people relationships to make them realise that India has not much to gain from hostilities with Pakistan, whereas Pakistan can gain substantially through trade, investment, normal travel and social contacts. Secondly, relaxing military presence on their border would help them also to relax and shift a major portion of their Army from our boarder to combating the Taliban on the Afghan border. If that happens, the Americans are prepared with all the bounties for the Pakistani Army through aid and military purchases. As their dependence on hostility with India to protect their vested interests declines, they would be increasingly inclined to good relations with India.

 

The political class of Pakistan is now itself threatened with militancy of the jihadis and when it does do not see any apparent advantage it would also try to stop it, by isolating the fundamentalists and persuading most others that their interest in improving relations with India is out of their own volition and not under the pressure of either India or the United States.

 

We have to move cautiously on this because we cannot expect a dramatic change in their posture overnight until their perception of benefits from improved relations with India expands. If we provide ample evidence of the involvement of Pakistan elements in the cross-border terrorism supplemented by evidence from other countries, they may arrest some terrorists and try them there, rarely handing them over to India. They may gradually close down the terror camps in Pakistan as hostilities on both sides decline.

 

What are the options left with us if this process takes a long time? I fully agree with the Prime Minister that we have very few options other than talks with them. There is a section in India which still believes that we have a military option something similar to the Israeli search-and-destroy operations, eliminating the training camps in Pakistan. But even if we have the capacity such operations must be swift and be over in a day or two because the international community will not allow two nuclear powers to engage in active hostilities much longer. Even if the nuclear threat is withdrawn, Pakistan has enough capability of inflicting heavy damage on India through its missiles and long-range aircraft when they retaliate against the Indian attack. Very soon the two countries would be engaged in open warfare and even if India wins it war that will be at a huge and unacceptable cost.

 

What does India lose through those talks? We do not have to give up anything which we consider to be in our national interest just because Pakistan raises them. There is a peculiar feeling in India that if any new issues are brought to the table in our talks with Pakistan it will be to our disadvantage. That will depend very much upon the strength of our case. For example, if Pakistan wants to bring Balochistan issue we should have very little problem unless our possible involvement in Balochistan can be shown by Pakistan even nearly equal to their involvement in Kashmir. On the contrary the misdeeds of Pakistan in Balochistan would get exposed to the detriment of their international support. The same goes with most other issues, including water-sharing which has already been internationally agreed. If the situation on the ground changes, we should be able to enter into any dialogue with them. In fact, for the Pakistan leadership it is important to give the impression to their people that talks would allow them to bring all the issues they consider important for them and India agrees to discuss them openly. It will then be easier for them to give into the well-documented Indian case for their stopping cross-border terrorism.

 

What about the Kashmir issue? I do not think anybody in Pakistan believes India to give up Kashmir, but we must also realise that there is a large Kashmiri population which finds it difficult to accept the prolonged presence of the Indian Army with their alleged human rights violations. As the development work in Kashmir is expanding, more and more Kashmiris are developing a stake in peace and free flow of capital and trade from India. But so long as Pakistan pushes militants into India, it will be difficult for the Indian Army to reduce its presence in Kashmir. So any talk to encourage peace along the Line of Control and win over the support of the Kashmiri people will be helpful both for India and Pakistan.

 

Once Pakistan realises the importance of good relations with India, and that normalcy with India is in their interest and if the Pakistan military is induced by the Americans with abundant bounty if they help protect the American interest in Afghanistan, the future of the subcontinent may improve sufficiently to allow these countries to live peacefully and strive for prosperity together. The talks between our countries may be prolonged and often uncomfortable as we have to make our cases very carefully and meticulously, still we should try to explore that as vigorously as possible.

 

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

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DREAMING THE POSSIBLE DREAM IN AMERICA

 

The thing I love most about America is that there's always somebody who doesn't get the word — somebody who doesn't understand that in a Great Recession you're supposed to hunker down, downsize and just hold on for dear life. I have a couple of friends who fit that bill, who think a recession is a dandy time to try to discover better and cheaper ways to do things. They both happen to be Indian-Americans — one a son of the Himalayas, who came to America on a scholarship and went to work for Nasa to try to find a way to Mars; the other a son of New Delhi, who came here and found the Sun, Sun Microsystems. Both are serial innovators. Both are now shepherding clean-tech start-ups that have the potential to be disruptive game changers. They don't know from hunkering down. They just didn't get the word.

 

As a result, one has produced a fuel cell that can turn natural gas or natural grass into electricity; the other has a technology that might make coal the cleanest, cheapest energy source by turning its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions into bricks to build your next house. Though our country may be flagging, it's because of innovators like these that you should never — ever — write us off.

 

Let me introduce Vinod Khosla and K.R. Sridhar. Khosla, the co-founder of Sun, set out several years ago to fund energy start-ups. His favourite baby right now is a company called Calera, which was begun with the Stanford Professor Brent Constantz, who was studying how corals use CO2 to produce their calcium carbonate (CaCO3) bones.

 

If you combine CO2 with seawater, or any kind of briny water, you produce CaCO3. That is not only the stuff of corals. It is also the same white, pasty goop that appears on your shower head from hard (calcium-rich) water. At its demonstration plant near Santa Cruz, California, Calera has developed a process that takes CO2 emissions from a coal- or gas-fired power plant and sprays seawater into it and naturally converts most of the CO2 into calcium carbonate, which is then spray-dried into cement or shaped into little pellets that can be used as concrete aggregates for building walls or highways — instead of letting the CO2 emissions go into the atmosphere and produce climate change.

 

If this can scale, it would eliminate the need for expensive carbon-sequestration facilities planned to be built alongside coal-fired power plants — and it might actually make the heretofore specious notion of "clean coal" a possibility.

 

In announcing in December an alliance to build more Calera plants, Ian Copeland, president of Bechtel

Renewables and New Technology — a tough-minded engineering company — said: "The fundamental chemistry and physics of the Calera process are based on sound scientific principles and its core technology and equipment can be integrated with base power plants very effectively".

 

A source says the huge Peabody coal company will announce an investment in Calera next week. "If this works", said Khosla, "coal-fired power would become more than 100 per cent clean. Not only would it not emit any CO2, but by producing clean water and cement as a byproduct it would also be taking all of the CO2 that goes into making those products out of the atmosphere".

 

John Doerr, the legendary venture capitalist who financed Sun, once said of Khosla: "The best way to get Vinod to do something is to tell him it is impossible".

 

Sridhar's company, Bloom Energy, was featured last week on CBS's 60 Minutes. Several months ago, though, Sridhar took me into the parking lot behind Google's Silicon Valley headquarters and showed me the inside of one of his Bloom Boxes, the size of a small shipping container. Inside were stacks of solid oxide fuel cells, stored in cylinders, and all kinds of whiz-bang parts that I did not understand.

 

What I did understand, though, was that Google was already getting part of its clean-energy from these fuel cells — and Wal-Mart, eBay, FedEx and Coca-Cola just announced that they are doing the same. Sridhar, Bloom's co-founder and CEO, said his fuel cells, which can run on natural gas or biogas, can generate electricity at eight to 10 cents a kilowatt hour, with today's subsidies. "We know we can bring the price down further", he said, "so Bloom power will be affordable in every energy-poor country" — Sridhar's real dream.

 

Attention: These technologies still have to prove that they are reliable, durable and scalable — and if you Google both, you will find studies saying they are and studies that are sceptical. All I know is this: If we put a simple price on carbon, these new technologies would have a chance to blossom and thousands more would come out of innovators' garages. America still has the best innovation culture in the world. But we need better policies to nurture it, better infrastructure to enable it and more open doors to bring others here to try it.

 

Our politics has gotten so impossible lately, too many Americans have stopped dreaming. Not these two. They just never got the word. As Sridhar says: "We came to America for the American dream — to do good and to make good".

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MAYA SHUNS COLOURS, DMK CHANGES PARTY'S

 

Maya the colour haterHoli is all about colours and the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Mayawati, as we all know, hates colours. In fact, she is averse to celebrations of any kind and hates Holi in particular.

 

During this Holi, she used a tactic made sure that the festival remained colourless and "dry" for at least those in

the party and the bureaucracy. Without any prior warning, she called over senior officials and party leaders for a

meeting at her official residence on the day of Holi.

 

The meeting, which began at 9.45 in the morning continued till after 4 pm, and discussed everything under the sun.

 

Officials and leaders sat before the chief minister in a sore mood, disappointed at not being able to celebrate the much-awaited festival with their family and friends. Wonder if the Bahujan Samaj Party's official colour (blue) has something to do with her mood that refuses to change with the seasons.

 

Thank God for that

 

Godmen are not exactly the flavour of the season, certainly not after a couple of them were in the line of fire this week for financial and sexual shenanigans.

 

But God is finding his way even into hearts of DMK, the ruling political party in Tamil Nadu that evolved from a rationalist movement.

 

Perceived for long as anti-God, the party seems to be changing tack ever since its leader, M. Karunanidhi, shared the dais with Satya Sai Baba in Chennai a couple of years ago.

 

Partymen are well aware that the party chief's son and heir apparent, M.K. Stalin, has been regularly visiting the religious leader in Puttaparthi along with a leading industrialist.

 

During the "prince's" birthday celebrations this week, a couple of MLAs were seen in such religiously symbolic acts as pulling a temple car. The party is still divided on the issue of God but seems to have distanced itself from the atheistic philosophy of its early days.

 

Scramble to be sarpanch

 

There was a scramble among politicians to become sarpanchs in the recently held panchayat polls in Rajasthan.

 

This has nothing to do with a passion to serve villages, and everything to do with the Rs 9,000 crores that has been allotted by the Centre to the state for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).

 

A social audit conducted by the rights group led by the social activist Aruna Roy in Bhilwara unearthed irregularities and corruption in NREGS implementation. Naturally, her plan to conduct social audit in other districts was strongly opposed by both the Congress and the BJP. And out of the 9,000 new sarpanchs only 28 joined her transparency movement.

 

In fact, leaders, including ex-MLAs, spent cash heavily in the panchayat polls to become sarpanchs since they are expecting heavy returns. We can say that even if democracy is not decentralised, corruption is.

 

Slogans of convenience

 

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) president, Chandramohan Patowary, is no longer fond of the "one man one post" slogan, which he used to dethrone his predecessor, Brindawan Goswami.

 

Mr Patowary first snatched the post of Opposition leader in the Assam Legislative Assembly and thereafter also wrested the presidentship of the party from Mr Goswami. To prove that he was worthy of both the posts, he brought back the founder president, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, to the party fold. Mr Goswami had expelled Mr Mahanta from the AGP.

 

Though Mr Patowary's unification drive has strengthened the party, the return of Mr Mahanta has also caused renewed trouble for him.

 

Party leaders have now trained their guns on him echoing his favourite slogan and have asked him to vacate one of the posts in favour of Mr Mahanta.

 

But Mr Patowary seems to have been struck by a sort of amnesia and does not seem to remember how he valiantly fought for the slogan just a little while ago.

 

Media shield against Maoists

 

A week after Maoists massacred 25 Eastern Frontier Rifles personnel inside the police camp at Sildah in West Midnapore, the West Bengal chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, constituted an inquiry committee headed by the home secretary, Ardhendu Sen.

 

Mr Sen has, however, not yet visited the blood-drenched camp even once although the probe panel was set up more than 10 days ago. When the media asked him when would he visit Sildah, Mr Sen shot back: "Will you come with me?"

 

The astute Mr Sen is aware that the Maoists do not target a government official in presence of journalists.

 

Only days after the Sildah massacre, the chief of the Eastern Frontier Rifles addressed a news conference with his head and face fully covered. He was obviously scared that if his identity was revealed, he would be become an easy target for the guerrillas.

 

A killjoy Chief Minister

 

Young bureaucrat couples working under the Orissa government appear to be destined to live as forced bachelors, thanks to the chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, himself a bachelor.

 

Take for example the Kandhamal district collector, Krishan Kumar. The young IAS officer was given the posting in 2007, when the district was engulfed by communal violence. His wife, Debyani Chakravarti, was then made district collector of Sonepur. Since then, the young IAS couple has seen been waiting for suitable postings to stay together. All their hopes have now frittered away as Ms Chakravarti has now been transferred as district collector of Keonjhar, far away from Kandhamal. Similarly, IPS officer Sanjeev Panda, the deputy inspector general of police in southern region, has to travel at least 1,000 km to meet his wife, Ms Santosh Bala, SP of Sundergarh district. A loner perhaps wants others to have a taste of loneliness.

 

A lot's in a name

 

For Dalit leaders in Bihar such as the LJP chief, Ram Vilas Paswan, the support of Muslims has long been a crucial ingredient in electoral successes.

 

But Mr Paswan, who recently organised a rally exclusively for Muslims in Patna, left many in the crowd disappointed.

 

The former Union minister was found embarrassingly fumbling for a prominent Muslim leader's name that came in handy in his diatribe against the Nitish Kumar government. It was all the more shocking because this leader, Jamshed Ashraf, was sacked from Mr Kumar's Cabinet just two weeks back over the alleged Rs 500-crore excise scam. Ms Paswan, who charged Mr Kumar with victimising the minister for his religion, resumed his briefly interrupted speech only after his party leaders supplied him the name. Naturally, most people in the audience were not impressed by his righteous passion.

 

The much-feared Mr Revanna of Hassan

 

Back in Hassan, he is the much-feared son of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda. Legend has it that whenever a woman disobeys her husband in Hassan, he threatens to take her to H.D. Revanna to "straighten her out". It is apocryphal, but adds to his reputation nevertheless. You must ask, has he earned it. Last week, after having revealed that Mr Revanna had, as power minister in a JD(S)-BJP coalition government in 2007, awarded lucrative coal supply contracts to his partyman from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa thundered, "This is just a sample. Digest this first. Then I will reveal more about the misdeeds committed by you and your family". The much-feared Mr Revanna was almost in tears as he protested weakly, "But I have already apologised for what my officers made me do. Why is it all being raked up again? boooo hoooooo!" Hey, hey, Mr Revanna, what's this? What will happen to the husbands of Hassan if you cry like this in public. You have a reputation to keep up, man!

 

 

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


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MAYA SHUNS COLOURS, DMK CHANGES PARTY'S

 

Maya the colour haterHoli is all about colours and the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Mayawati, as we all know, hates colours. In fact, she is averse to celebrations of any kind and hates Holi in particular.

 

During this Holi, she used a tactic made sure that the festival remained colourless and "dry" for at least those in the party and the bureaucracy. Without any prior warning, she called over senior officials and party leaders for a meeting at her official residence on the day of Holi.

 

The meeting, which began at 9.45 in the morning continued till after 4 pm, and discussed everything under the sun.

 

Officials and leaders sat before the chief minister in a sore mood, disappointed at not being able to celebrate the much-awaited festival with their family and friends. Wonder if the Bahujan Samaj Party's official colour (blue) has something to do with her mood that refuses to change with the seasons.

 

Thank God for that

 

Godmen are not exactly the flavour of the season, certainly not after a couple of them were in the line of fire this week for financial and sexual shenanigans.

 

But God is finding his way even into hearts of DMK, the ruling political party in Tamil Nadu that evolved from a rationalist movement.

 

Perceived for long as anti-God, the party seems to be changing tack ever since its leader, M. Karunanidhi, shared the dais with Satya Sai Baba in Chennai a couple of years ago.

 

Partymen are well aware that the party chief's son and heir apparent, M.K. Stalin, has been regularly visiting the religious leader in Puttaparthi along with a leading industrialist.

 

During the "prince's" birthday celebrations this week, a couple of MLAs were seen in such religiously symbolic

acts as pulling a temple car. The party is still divided on the issue of God but seems to have distanced itself from the atheistic philosophy of its early days.

 

Scramble to be sarpanch

 

There was a scramble among politicians to become sarpanchs in the recently held panchayat polls in Rajasthan.

 

This has nothing to do with a passion to serve villages, and everything to do with the Rs 9,000 crores that has been allotted by the Centre to the state for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).

 

A social audit conducted by the rights group led by the social activist Aruna Roy in Bhilwara unearthed irregularities and corruption in NREGS implementation. Naturally, her plan to conduct social audit in other districts was strongly opposed by both the Congress and the BJP. And out of the 9,000 new sarpanchs only 28 joined her transparency movement.

 

In fact, leaders, including ex-MLAs, spent cash heavily in the panchayat polls to become sarpanchs since they are expecting heavy returns. We can say that even if democracy is not decentralised, corruption is.

 

Slogans of convenience

 

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) president, Chandramohan Patowary, is no longer fond of the "one man one post" slogan, which he used to dethrone his predecessor, Brindawan Goswami.

 

Mr Patowary first snatched the post of Opposition leader in the Assam Legislative Assembly and thereafter also wrested the presidentship of the party from Mr Goswami. To prove that he was worthy of both the posts, he brought back the founder president, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, to the party fold. Mr Goswami had expelled Mr Mahanta from the AGP.

 

Though Mr Patowary's unification drive has strengthened the party, the return of Mr Mahanta has also caused renewed trouble for him.

 

Party leaders have now trained their guns on him echoing his favourite slogan and have asked him to vacate one of the posts in favour of Mr Mahanta.

 

But Mr Patowary seems to have been struck by a sort of amnesia and does not seem to remember how he valiantly fought for the slogan just a little while ago.

 

Media shield against Maoists

 

A week after Maoists massacred 25 Eastern Frontier Rifles personnel inside the police camp at Sildah in West Midnapore, the West Bengal chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, constituted an inquiry committee headed by the home secretary, Ardhendu Sen.

 

Mr Sen has, however, not yet visited the blood-drenched camp even once although the probe panel was set up more than 10 days ago. When the media asked him when would he visit Sildah, Mr Sen shot back: "Will you come with me?"

 

The astute Mr Sen is aware that the Maoists do not target a government official in presence of journalists.

 

Only days after the Sildah massacre, the chief of the Eastern Frontier Rifles addressed a news conference with his head and face fully covered. He was obviously scared that if his identity was revealed, he would be become an easy target for the guerrillas.

 

A killjoy Chief Minister

 

Young bureaucrat couples working under the Orissa government appear to be destined to live as forced bachelors, thanks to the chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, himself a bachelor.

 

Take for example the Kandhamal district collector, Krishan Kumar. The young IAS officer was given the posting in 2007, when the district was engulfed by communal violence. His wife, Debyani Chakravarti, was then made district collector of Sonepur. Since then, the young IAS couple has seen been waiting for suitable postings to stay together. All their hopes have now frittered away as Ms Chakravarti has now been transferred as district collector of Keonjhar, far away from Kandhamal. Similarly, IPS officer Sanjeev Panda, the deputy inspector general of police in southern region, has to travel at least 1,000 km to meet his wife, Ms Santosh Bala, SP of Sundergarh district. A loner perhaps wants others to have a taste of loneliness.

A lot's in a name

 

For Dalit leaders in Bihar such as the LJP chief, Ram Vilas Paswan, the support of Muslims has long been a crucial ingredient in electoral successes.

 

But Mr Paswan, who recently organised a rally exclusively for Muslims in Patna, left many in the crowd disappointed.

 

The former Union minister was found embarrassingly fumbling for a prominent Muslim leader's name that came in handy in his diatribe against the Nitish Kumar government. It was all the more shocking because this leader, Jamshed Ashraf, was sacked from Mr Kumar's Cabinet just two weeks back over the alleged Rs 500-crore excise scam. Ms Paswan, who charged Mr Kumar with victimising the minister for his religion, resumed his briefly interrupted speech only after his party leaders supplied him the name. Naturally, most people in the audience were not impressed by his righteous passion.

 

The much-feared Mr Revanna of Hassan Back in Hassan, he is the much-feared son of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda. Legend has it that whenever a woman disobeys her husband in Hassan, he threatens to take her to H.D. Revanna to "straighten her out". It is apocryphal, but adds to his reputation nevertheless. You must ask, has he earned it. Last week, after having revealed that Mr Revanna had, as power minister in a JD(S)-BJP coalition government in 2007, awarded lucrative coal supply contracts to his partyman from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa thundered, "This is just a sample. Digest this first. Then I will reveal more about the misdeeds committed by you and your family". The much-feared Mr Revanna was almost in tears as he protested weakly, "But I have already apologised for what my officers made me do. Why is it all being raked up again? boooo hoooooo!" Hey, hey, Mr Revanna, what's this? What will happen to the husbands of Hassan if you cry like this in public. You have a reputation to keep up, man!

 

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

THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

LESS THAN SWEET

PM OWNS UP TO A FAILURE 

 

There is a definite ring of assertion in the Prime Minister's statement in the Rajya Sabha on Friday to the effect that "if there is a failure of economic policy, it is with regard to sugar".  Which statement comes from an economist of international repute. However oblique, it is a fairly severe indictment of his food minister, another worthy from Maharashtra whom he continues to suffer. The chief regret must be that Dr Manmohan Singh has made the assertion after considerable feet-dragging, on occasion even complimenting the thoroughly incompetent and manipulative Sharad Pawar for having convened a conference on food inflation, a non-event considering the enormity of the crisis. He has verily owned up to the failure of his government when he says that "we have not been able to find a practical and pragmatic way to deal with the cyclical behaviour of sugarcane production". Dr Singh has eventually advanced the home-truth with that admission of an essentially human failure ~ "I do admit the weakness." It would be logical, therefore, to conclude that the food ministry, headed by a heavyweight of the sugar lobby, has failed to carry out fundamental tasks. This lapse, as inexcusable as it is unexplained, has exacerbated such problems as insufficient rainfall, extensive drought and the failure to conserve rain water. To blame the ballooning sugar price only on the vagaries of Nature would be a convoluted exercise in self-deception. And that, Mr Pawar, is the subtext of the Prime Minister's presentation. Not that the food minister is unaware of the co-relation between the sugar price and the cycle; but if it was anticipated, the trend was missed by the dead hand of  the food ministry. 


The Prime Minister appears to have drawn a fine distinction between food prices and stocks. The irony must be cruel. He has matched the assurance that there "should be no panic on the food situation front" with the statement of fact that food prices have risen despite the stocks. This is the dichotomy that remains unexplained by the PM and his chosen Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia. As is the disconnect between export and import. Food inflation hovers around 17 per cent and the price of sugar has crossed Rs 40 a kg. For hoi-polloi, what the Prime Minister calls a failure has been more disastrous than the recession. Almost literally, has the government stumbled on a bread-and-butter issue.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

UMBRELLA REGULATOR

WEST BENGAL OBSESSED WITH VC SELECTION 

 

West Bengal is among the very few states ~ in league with Kerala and Tamil Nadu ~ that have opposed the move to replace the University Grants Commission with an umbrella regulator called the National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER). And the reason, as articulated by the vice-chancellors in the state, is nothing if not political. They distinctly have an issue with the method of selecting VCs, as often as not a political appointment and a phenomenon that isn't uniquely of Bengal. The new system envisages a centralised mechanism. The incumbent will be picked from a National Registry, so-called, of potential VCs, with the shortlist being drawn up by a collegium of experts. The chief merit of the scheme is that the selection procedure will be uniform across the country. The argument that the Centre will have greater weightage in the collegium will not wash precisely because the national commission will consist of representatives of all states. The fact that reservations have also been expressed by the state government suggests that it will not readily countenance any dilution in the role of the party office. For more than three decades, the education cell at Alimuddin Street has had a critical say in the selection of VCs in state universities. Which explains why the VCs are against rocking the boat just yet. As much was implicit at last week's meeting of the vice-chancellors with a task force of the union HRD ministry. 


Indeed, the trend of the discussions illustrates that West Bengal is opposed to the replacement of the UGC, NCTE and the AICTE with the NCHER. It has scarcely been recognised that this umbrella regulator for higher education will supplant a bevy of entities with overlapping functions. The functioning of the UGC, NCTE and the AICTE has not invariably been transparent, as with college inspections by the last. Matters academic ought now to be on the table with all universities being brought within the ambit of the RTI Act. The new arrangement must above all translate to a dramatic qualitative improvement. For, the Bill has accorded the NCHER with a vast canvas, covering the creation of new universities, ensuring academic standards and the pattern of funding. West Bengal must look beyond its immediate interest ~ the selection of VCs. 

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

GARBAGE ON CELLULOID

KMC SCRAPS ITS DOCUMENTARY 

 

THE two-minute documentary on garbage clearance would have been greeted with a snigger and it is just as well that the venture has been abandoned. Did the Kolkata Municipal Corporation intend to make amends for five years of sloth by highlighting the need for conservancy on celluloid? The propaganda stunt on the eve of the elections would have been ludicrous were it not for the serious implications for civic services. It would have disillusioned the citizens further still. The exercise itself was disingenuous in the extreme; the onus of keeping the city clean was passed fair and square on the citizen who was advanced a refresher course on garbage disposal. The tax-payer is entitled to pose the very simple query: What are municipal services meant to ensure? And the KMC wasn't merely presumptuous but also ignorant with the punchline of the script: "Either obey the law or pay the fine." The fact that there is no such provision for a fine appears to have dawned as an afterthought on the City Dads. This appears to be the immediate provocation for scrapping the documentary. A possibly negative impact before the municipal election appears to have deterred the authorities. The subtext of the film was clearly to duck and dive the KMC's responsibility by deflecting the core issue with unsolicited homilies for citizens.  


The city is overwhelmingly dirty and unhealthy chiefly because the KMC has traditionally never functioned as it ought to. Which explains why conservancy has been outsourced to private service-providers by residents of many areas. Chronic inefficiency has over time restricted the role of the KMC as indeed many municipalities. Only partly can the mess be attributed to the callous negligence of the citizens. The frill of a film, whose premise is at fault, cannot compensate for work not done. Perhaps realising the folly, the Mayor has now promised "a new approach before making and airing the film". The very conception of a documentary is at fault. Let work be done. Or the tax-payer will see through the game once again. Even in the short-film category, the documentary would have been as insufferably putrid as the ubiquitous garbage.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

MARXISTS & MUNICIPALITIES

THE PARTY GEARS UP FOR THE NEXT ROUND

SHYAMAL DATTA


THE 'state sponsored' rally of the Left Front at the Brigade Parade ground on 7 February sounded the bugle for an "onward march to retention of power" for the eighth consecutive term. It also marked the conclusion of the CPI-M's Central Committee meeting  in Kolkata. The committee had earlier deliberated on the Rectification Report prepared by the state unit. The report took cognizance of the growing bourgeoisie vices within the rank and file. For instance, the revolutionary fervour of the party has been dented over time, and ideological impurities have crept in at all levels.  


However, the Central Committee drew a measure of satisfaction from the assessment of the state unit that the telltale signs of a turnaround were visible since the 2009 Lok Sabha election. This was manifest in the emotional and respectful send-off that the  patriarch received from cross sections of  the people on his last journey. In the death of Jyoti Basu, the party has found a beacon of hope to revive its electoral fortune.   The rally unfurled the broad contours of the Left Front's electoral strategy. The focus will be on the forthcoming elections to the 83 civic bodies, including the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. A victory in an overwhelming number of the municipalities will not only help retrieve the ground that the Front  lost in the panchayat and Parliament elections to the opposition; it will also restore in ample measure, the morale of the party workers and leaders. The command over the civic bodies will lay a firm foundation for the tempo of the campaign to rise and gather momentum for the Assembly election. It will also demonstrate that the influence of the party in the urban areas had remained formidable and there was nothing much to worry about. It bears recall that in the last three elections to the 82 municipalities in the state, the number of municipalities captured by the Left Front varied between 42 (in 2000) and 53 (in 1995 and 2005) . 


Party Congress deferred

THE seriousness that the Marxists attach to the forthcoming municipal and assembly elections is reflected in the reported decision of the central leadership to postpone the 20th party Congress by a year ~ from early 2011 to early 2012, an unusual step. The leadership wants the focus to be riveted wholly on the forthcoming electoral battle. The CPI-M must go all out to deliver on the Rectification Committee recommendations and shore up its image, bringing the party  closer to the  people. Frank admission of mistakes and regrets will be in order to initiate remedial measures and overcome the shortcomings and weaknesses. The rectification campaign is supposed to be carried forward as a continuing process to keep the house in order, election or no election, so that the party can measure up to the expectations of the people.  


An important element of the electoral strategy will be to try and exploit the "inner contradictions" in the Opposition camp, making a distinction between the Congress and the Trinamul Congress. The acrimony over the impromptu meeting of Subrata Mukherjee with Mamata Banerjee on the adjustment of seats in the KMC election behind the back of the Congress, was a clear indication of the underlying strains that exist between the two allies. The fact that Mamata was upstaged in the Siliguri municipal election by the Congress last year has not been forgotten. The effort will be to try and frustrate all initiatives towards Opposition unity. The Front is concerned over the fact that the anti-Left vote-bank had  not only remained substantial but had also shown a measure of accretion in the last elections. Therefore, a division in the Opposition votes will be a key to the retention of power in the state. The party can be expected to engender a steady campaign, highlighting the alleged highhandedness of the Trinamul Congress and its anti-Centre and divisive politics.  


The party will appreciate the expressions of concern and support rendered by the Congress during Jyoti Basu's illness and the graciousness shown in extending a state funeral. This grace was conspicuous by its absence on the part of the Trinamul Congress The Left Front government is also happy for the support it is receiving from the Centre in dealing with the Maoists. 


The straws in the wind suggest that in the event of a fractured  verdict, the Congress can depend on the  support of the CPI-M from outside, and form the government on its own,  if it falls short of  the required numbers. After all, the UPA government was formed in 2004 at the Centre with the Left extending outside support.
For any political party, the image makeover exercise is not an easy task. It becomes more difficult when the party has to carry the burden of the past, marked by arrogance, autocratic behaviour, and governmental failures. For the CPI-M, these infirmities clogged the channel of information, and the party developed a  denial syndrome which was  responsible, to a large extent, for the so- called non-Communist vices to persist. The CPI-M leadership also refused to see the structural drawbacks that festered on account of its failure to maintain a clear-cut distinction between the party and the government and between the government  and the state. By holding the rally at the Brigade Parade ground in violation of the orders of Calcutta High Court, the Left Front government did not realise that it had weakened the state. Describing the elite of Kolkata, "disempowered" by the party, and the rural rich, "dispossessed" by the land reforms,  as  black forces bent on destabilising the state, the CPI-M only transgressed the base line of acceptable human conduct. 


Political aberrations

IN every political process, aberrations like the abusive use of state authority for political aggrandizement and corruption are present in varying degrees. And the capacity to curb these tendencies gets weakened when the system lacks transparency and accountability. In closed political systems, the flow of information lacking in integrity and falling short of objectivity, is a recurrent feature. It gives rise to policy mistakes. What makes the situation critical are its penchant for secrecy and use of unquestioned decision-making power without any respect to views, opinion, and interests, different from theirs'. 


Clearly, there is an inadequate commitment to pluralistic politics. The political muscle is geared to perpetuate a monopoly on political power. What gets relegated is the simultaneous need to strengthen the economic muscle for the state to achieve growth, development and employment opportunities. The mind of today's youth being exposed, on a 24X7 basis, to the fantasies of the world of slumdog millionaires, is influenced more by economic than  political enfranchisement. 


Dividing the society into elite and non-elite segments provides no solution. The party that is able to mobilise the  people on the plank of humanity and its well-being is generally not much bothered to score a few brownies on the eve of election like opting for a certain percentage of reservation for a particular community. What pays greater dividends is  less of mass politics, characterised by bandhs, rallies, protests and violence, and more of work culture and good governance. The style of governance, which failed to deliver, must be rectified simultaneously with the rectification of the party. The party that is able to show better appreciation of the challenges, adhering more to power of example than to example of power, is better prepared for a response, both proactive and progressive. More than the memories of a party legend, dreams for a better future are a better guide and more life affirming.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

A DEAL TOO FAR

 

Mamata Banerjee is one of the stars of our political system — a dramatic, expressive opportunist. Representatives of the people must be like the people — nay, they should be exaggerated versions of the people in their emotionalism, impulsiveness and capacity for obduracy. Judged according to this criterion, Ms Banerjee has attained a standard of excellence that the Thackeray clan would not reach in their lifetimes. And this too at the unripe young age of 55, when a typical Congressman would be an infant waiting in the wings to become a deputy minister of state. By the standards of her class, she is a genius. Seeing what she is, it must be questioned whether even she had to go as far as she did last week. To recall briefly, Pranab Mukherjee, the Union finance minister, extended the service tax to railway freight in his budget of February 26. Ms Banerjee is the current minister of railways; she may be there today and may be out tomorrow. But she regards the railways as her fiefdom. So she took the imposition hard, and protested against it while replying to a Parliament question. Then her ministry shot off a letter to the finance ministry. Then she did some personal politicking.

 

Curiously, the same drama was enacted last year, and the finance ministry withdrew the tax. Its reasoning, that the withdrawal was anti-inflationary, was weak to the point of mindlessness. For one thing, every tax imposition is inflationary, but only in so far as its victim raises his prices to recoup the tax. This applies as much to direct as to indirect taxes; a Shah Rukh Khan would assuredly pass on to his producers any tax imposed on his income, and his services. For another, all tax revenue also works against inflation in so far as it reduces the spending capacity of its victims; this is as true of tax on railway freight as on anything else. When the tax revenue is spent, it correspondingly adds to expenditure and hence has an inflationary impact. It is the balance between government expenditure and revenue that is relevant to inflation, not any particular tax or its removal.

Equally faulty is the railway minister's reason for seeking a waiver of the service tax, that it would hurt the railways in their competition against road transport. Road transport was taxed in the budget of 1997, but the government caved in after truck operators blocked roads. Then Mr Mukherjee restored the tax in 2005, and this time it stuck. The tax on road transport is discriminatory; it favours rail transport. The proposed service tax on railway tax redresses this. Taxes should not be so designed as to favour one competitor over another. If the tax on railway freight is to be removed, the finance minister should also remove the tax on road transport.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

RAISING A STINK

 

To the long-suffering citizens of West Bengal, the spectacle of the Union health minister being chased around by a cloud of bleaching powder at the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital looks like some sort of perverse poetic justice. Thanks to the fabled inefficiency of the Left Front government, brazenly abetted by its health minister, Surjya Kanta Mishra (who was also caught in the powdery storm), public healthcare system in the state lies in a shambles. It is telling that the Central health minister had come visiting to look into the delay behind the Rs 150-crore upgradation of the medical college into an institution of excellence modelled on the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. Of course, the authorities in charge of the medical college came up with a quickfix to cover up their long negligence of the institution; having carried on in their jobs for years without any sense of accountability, they appear to have been programmed to respond in this manner. Hence, the over-generous sprinkling of bleaching powder.

 

Over-zealousness typically leads to the exposure of shamefully fundamental flaws. The pungent odour of chlorine has raised other kinds of stink — a shocking lack of decorum among members of the main opposition party of the state who had come to register their protest with the Union health ministry. They did so by raising loud slogans in a silence zone and causing great distress to the patients. This only showed the vacuity of their own outrage. The demonstrators showed no respect to the very people they pledged to lobby for in the first place. The sordidness of the situation has been emphasized by two added revelations — the shocking news of funds allocated to public healthcare lying unused due to bureaucratic muddle or sheer uninterest of the employees, even as people lay dying in government hospitals; and a young girl in rural Bengal getting polio in spite of being vaccinated against the disease. Health officials in the state need to wake up as soon as possible. This is the 21st century, and the rot has gone too deep. Bleaching powder is simply no good.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

 

TOO MUCH TO REMEMBER

TECHNOLOGY DOES NOT END HARASSMENT

COMMENTARAO - S.L. RAO

 

A recent article in the Guardian about the complexities of modern life made me look back to pre-1991 'command-and-control' India with some nostalgia. It seemed somehow simpler. Technology has made life very complicated for the individual.

 

In pre-liberalization times, to get anything done in business, the important thing was to know government procedures and officials. This was also the case with almost any other aspect of life. Decisions on what to produce, what capacity plant to order, its location, technology, where to buy it from, how much foreign exchange could be paid, employment, salaries paid to executives, and almost every other decision required government approval. Most of these requirements have now vanished, although global surveys still say that India is among the most difficult places to start and do business in, with long delays before commencement, a myriad of approvals required from many different agencies, and stringent laws that make it unwise to enter into labour intensive production. However, business makes its own decisions and success or failure are not determined by the government to the same extent.

 

For the individual, daily life was a litany of waiting in queues for minor officials to deign to spare time, any scarce product or service required bribes to be paid at the lowest and the high levels. Getting an electricity connection, a telephone connection, gas cylinders, railway or air tickets, getting a ration card — all demanded considerable time in making and following up applications and then months (sometimes years) of waiting. Getting a scooter or even a car was time consuming and demanded long waiting before delivery. One had to be prepared to be obsequious as applicant, to pay extra for the service and then to wait. There was little choice for the consumer in products or services. For example, the best razor blades made in India (imported meant smuggled) was a piece of steel with little cutting edges, leaving a raw skin after shaving.

 

Many of these inconveniences and discomforts have now gone. The individual and the enterprise have greater freedom to choose. There are alternative service providers. Computerization has moved most transactions beyond corruption since the data cannot be tampered with. For example, rail bookings now are a matter of seat availability for a journey and if there is a seat the ticket is available. Apart from there being alternatives to Indian Airlines, computerization got rid of 'waiting lists', an euphemism for under-the-table payments to get pushed up the list and get a ticket for a plane that, on boarding, always had many empty seats. The ticket issuer cannot lie about the seats being unavailable. Information technology has enabled corruption to move out of many events in daily lives, as has the greater choice owing to competition.

 

But in place of complex procedures, corrupt officials and little choice, we now have the burden of living with information technology. I have a bank account in one of the most successful private banks in India. I am intimidated by an ATM. The one time I tried to use it, I could not remember my PIN, which the bank warns you not to note down where it is easily accessible. I made such a mess of it that I have always gone back since to the friendly human being behind the cash counter. Unfortunately, the numbers of these have fallen and it is difficult to find a human being to cash your cheque for you. But IT has certainly made for more efficient banking.

 

Successful banks have 'internet banking' and 'phone banking'. To access my account and find the balance in it, the recorded voice that comes on when I telephone the bank tells me I need to have a customer identification number, a phone banking identification and a PIN, apart, of course, from my bank account number. After repeatedly failing to get them correct, the machine kindly transfers me to a human being who transfers me to three more before a kind lady comes to my rescue and patiently explains what I need to do and that in future she would be my "relationship manager". It was from her I found that the customer identification and PIN were the same but it was just that their recorded messages used both terms interchangeably, assuming the customer knew they were interchangeable. On top of my technological incompetence was the poor design of these systems. I am not one of those who spends much time opening different websites. Apart from the time it takes, each requires passwords and other identification devices. Everybody discourages use of passwords repetitively on different websites. I find that even an abstemious user like me has 14 different passwords to access email accounts, bank accounts when I want to find the bank balance and do not wish to brave the traffic to make personal visits to the bank, some newspapers that I read online, websites related to my areas of interest, some social networks, and my own website.

 

Each of these requires a password. They must not have obvious connections to me, like my birth date, names of my wife or children, my place of residence, or, in their view worst of all, numbers in sequence, like 1234. I am warned not to create "weak" passwords, so that I have to incorporate letters, numbers and symbols like '&' or '@' in every password. I have to remember them all, a herculean task for a good memory, let alone a failing one. Obviously, I have to write all these down. When I need to find them I have to remember the place where I had safely stored the passwords, and usually that takes searches in many places and pages.

 

When it comes to bank computers that are the "interlocutors" (not mediators), by the time I have found the password and entered the long sequence of numbers, letters and symbols, the computer becomes impatient and has either signed off or put me on to some callow call centre person who disconnects me after a while and I have to start all over again.

 

Added to all this we will now have a super-number to memorize — the UID or the unique identity number. This will have so many digits that it must need be written out and be easily accessible. Perhaps we should tattoo it to our arms so that it is always accessible and not easily lost.

 

Certainly, for the large number of very poor, illiterate people without permanent housing, this may be the best alternative. Information technology and the internet have brought a great amount of information to our fingertips. It has also made things very complicated and cumbersome. Sadly, there is no relief in sight.

 

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

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

NARROW ESCAPES

FIFTH COLUMN - GWYNNE DYER

 

"Enough. No more. The army's morale is broken," said General Ilker Basbug, the chief of staff of the Turkish army; but the humiliations continue. Another 50 officers were arrested recently for suspected involvement in a 2003 plot to overthrow the government, including the current chief of the navy, a retired air force chief, and a former deputy chief of the army.

 

The plot, code-named "Sledge-hammer", was revealed when the newspaper, Taraf, began publishing information gleaned from stolen army documents that came to its hands early this year. This comes on top of the Ergenekon scandal of 2008, in which hundreds, including four-star generals, were arrested for belonging to a secret organization that was also planning a coup.

 

In fact, however, the threat of a coup has been declining for years. The information is only coming out now, but

the coups were planned for 2003. In at least one case, the army high command intervened directly to block it. And today's army chief of staff has accepted the arrest of dozens of generals and admirals without protest.

 

Turkey has been a democracy for half a century, but it was a rigidly secular democracy (in a 99 per cent Muslim country) that allowed no reference to religion in its politics. If a politician hinted that he had Islamic leanings, he faced prosecution in the courts. If he became prime minister, he faced a military coup; and there have been four such coups since 1960.

 

The reason lay in Turkey's history. The Ottoman Empire was an Islamic state, but in the end, the Muslims became nationalists and rebelled against Turkish rule. Turkey itself was nearly divided up into European colonies at the end of World War I.

 

Fear not

 

It narrowly escaped that fate under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The conclusion he drew from this history was this — to survive, Turkey must become a strong, modern State, which, at the time, meant it must become a fully European society. Islam was a potential weapon for those who wanted to resist that change, and so it must be rigorously excluded from politics.

 

By the start of this century, Ataturk's goals had been largely achieved. Turkey was a powerful country with a higher average income than several of its Balkan neighbours, and more people than all of them put together. It was also a democracy in most respects, even a candidate to join the European Union. But the total ban on religion in politics survived, and so did the (unwritten) right of the army to enforce that ban.

 

The Justice and Development (AK) Party has its roots in political Islam, and since it won power in the 2003 election, the country has been divided into two camps. It's not just the army: despite its 99 per cent Muslim population, Turkey is a typical European country in that many of its citizens are not very religious. Some are not believers at all, though it is still unwise to say so publicly.

 

Devout Turks, on the other hand, do not see why they cannot organize politically to resist anti-religious discrimination. The AK Party swears that it has no wish to shove religion down the throats of secular Turks. But people suspect it is biding time until it has tamed the army, the historic guardian of the secular State: then it will be full steam ahead to the Islamic State.

That seems unlikely to the collective leadership of the armed forces. Groups of generals may plot coups, but the high command blocks them. It is to be noted that both the plots that have become public were hatched in 2003, when the AK Party had just won power, and suspicion about its motifs was at a fever pitch among secular Turks. The violence allegedly carried out by Ergenekon, like that envisaged by the Sledge-hammer plot, was meant to force the high command to accept a military takeover. But there was no coup. And there will not be one now.

 

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******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

CREATE HISTORY

''MALNUTRITION IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM AM-ONG WOMEN.''

 

Today is International Women's Day. This is an occasion for us to celebrate the many achievements of women in their struggle for personal fulfilment, gender equality and justice. It is also an opportunity for us to reflect on the many challenges that are yet to be overcome. Girls are outperforming boys in schools.
Women have stormed male bastions at work. They are making their mark in corporate boardrooms and in defending the country's borders. They are excelling on the sports field and in outer space. But their achievements must be attributed to individual effort and personal grit, not to social support. It is unfortunate that society in general and Indian society in particular remains hostile to women. From the womb to the tomb women are discriminated against and subjected to horrific levels of violence and prejudice. The high rate of female foeticide in India, which has resulted in a deeply skewed 0:6 gender ratio, is one example of the depth of hostility that women in this country encounter. The girl child is poorly fed and denied basic healthcare. She is often pulled out of school as parents and families wrongly believe that education of girls is a waste of resources. Malnutrition and illiteracy are far more serious among women than men in this country. We claim to respect women, yet have no qualms about denying them survival and security.


This year's Women's Day could prove to be a turning point in the struggle of Indian women for gender justice. The Women's Reservation Bill, which aims at ensuring 33 per cent representation for women in parliament, is to be tabled in parliament today. The Bill's passage has been repeatedly stalled for over a decade by parties and politicians who see their control being undermined by improving women's representation.


Reservation of seats for women in parliament is not just about increasing the number of women sitting there. It is about bringing about a change in the legislative agenda. A critical mass of women in parliament is expected to see more progressive legislation on issues of importance to gender equality in this country. In a country, where patriarchal attitudes and medieval mindsets stand in the way of gender equality, tough legislation on issues like gender violence will go a long way in making the world safer for and less hostile to women. Will India's parliamentarians muster the political will today to ensure the Bill's passage?

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

CRUSH OF POVERTY

''ALL STAMPE-DES ARE AVOIDABLE, IF CAREFUL.''

 

The death of at least 65 people in a stampede at a 'bhandara' in Pratapgarh district in Uttar Pradesh is a result of poor crowd management. But worse, it is an indictment of governments for their failure to ensure that the people of the country get at least a simple meal a day. All the talk for decades about removal of poverty and the claims about various anti-poverty and social security schemes are exposed as hollow when tens of thousands of people flock to a place, trudging miles, to accept the offer of a simple meal, Rs 10, a laddoo and a handkerchief. There are serious academic debates in the country on where the poverty line is to be drawn. The statistical exercises do not reveal the terrible face of poverty and deprivation that was seen in Pratapgarh. UP is poor, Pratapgarh is among the poorer districts there. The ashram of godman Kripalu Maharaj, who arranged the giving of food and humble gifts to the people on the anniversary of the death of his wife, is perhaps the only decent house in the area. His sense of charity and benevolence can be appreciated, but it was also the responsibility of the ashram to ensure that the poor people who came as guests were safe and were taken care of.

The district administration also made a serious lapse by not anticipating the problems created by the assembly of about 25,000 people in a place in place which can hold no more than 5,000. The 'bhandara' is held every year and the crowds have been increasing progressively. The district authorities should have taken adequate steps to control the crowds. No policeman was present at the venue and the ill-trained guards at the ashram who tried to regulate the movement of the people when the stampede started only made things worse. As is normally the case with such incidents, most victims were women and children. Stampedes have become regular features of religious congregations and other assemblies of people. A saree distribution function on BJP leader Lalji Tandon's birthday in 2004 in Lucknow saw the deaths of 24 women. Hundreds of people have lost their lives in recent stampedes in temples at Jodhpur and Satara.


State governments, district administrations and organisers of public functions should take crowd management seriously. Inquiries don't lead anywhere and few people have been punished for their lapses in such incidents. All stampedes are avoidable if proper precautions are taken.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

PROMISE-DELIVERY GAP

''TRAINING CAMPS ARE ONCE AGAIN BEING SET UP ON THE PAKISTANI-CONTROLLED SIDE OF KASHMIR.''

BYLINE M J AKBAR

 

It was such a relief to learn, from no less an authority than Home Secretary G K Pillai, that Maoists aim to overthrow the Indian state by 2050. That gives us four decades during which the plus-40 bourgeois can die in their beds; those blessed with first jobs in 2010 can retire in comfort, and hope for a ringside view of the revolution; and those below 20 can worry — unless, of course, they have joined the revolution.

Frankly, if by 2050 we have not managed to eliminate poverty, there won't be much of an Indian state left to overthrow.

The government has a shorter timeframe: it believes it can eliminate Naxalites from the 34 districts where they are still impregnable, within seven to eight years. Pillai is a fine officer and an excellent home secretary, but the solution to the Maoist threat does not lie in his domain. Whether the Naxalites fortresses increase from 34 to 100, or dwindle to zero, will depend on whether the government can make impoverished India part of the narrative of rising India. This will not happen if government functions on the static principle of 'business as usual'.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called Maoists an existentialist threat. So far, his government is treating it as a law and order matter. It is a hunger and oppression problem: life subsists at near-starvation levels in the catchment areas of Maoism; and public protest is suppressed brutally by the police, who treat the tribal poor as a contemptible species. This brutality is hidden behind a thin veneer of lies, which we — the whole establishment, whether politicians, civil servants, businesspersons or media — condone through our silence.

There seems to be a curious, and incomprehensible, edge of helplessness in the prime minister's statements, as if he is unable to escape the trap of 'business as usual'. He told parliament, for instance, that the government had been a failure on sugar prices. To begin with, it is his government that he is talking about. Second, he is publicly and directly accusing a senior colleague, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, of mismanagement. So what happens? Nothing. Mea culpa is meaningless if those who are culpable are not held accountable. But of course, to apply this dictum to only Pawar would be subjective. Singh admitted in parliament that minorities (code word for Muslims) were under-represented in government jobs. Admission is fine, but this government has been in power for six years: what has it done to resolve the problem? The prime minister did try, which is why the Ranganath Mishra commission was constituted; but he has not found the will to implement its recommendations. The Marxists in Bengal have done so, incidentally. Our democracy's parameters have shifted from promise to delivery.


The gap between promise and delivery could also affect the principal thrust of the prime minister's second term, progress in relations with Pakistan. Certainly, Singh means well, but good intentions are, alas, not good enough. BBC News — not an Indian propaganda vehicle — has just sent out a story from Islamabad which says: "Since 2009 militant activity has been on the increase in the Kashmir region… Initially, militant groups in Kashmir appeared to be operating on their own — but there is evidence to suggest that they are once again under the protection of Pakistan's intelligence establishment.


Training camps are once again being set up on the Pakistani-controlled side of Kashmir.


Recruitment is also up in Pakistan's Punjab province, which has provided most of the 'shaheeds' or 'martyrs' for the militants. In fact, so emboldened have the militants become, that one militant alliance, the United Jihad Council (UJC), held a public meeting for militants in Muzaffarabad in mid-January 2010. The meeting was chaired by, among others, former ISI chief Lt Gen Hamid Gul. It called for a reinvigorated jihad (holy war) until Kashmir was free of 'Indian occupation'."


The resurgence of militancy coincides with Singh's efforts to revive the peace process, which began through second-track channels and led to the joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Cairo. Islamabad, in other words, read Delhi's goodwill as weakness. It also believes that India will buckle under pressure from two prongs: escalation of terrorism, and American pressure on India to settle on Kashmir. Pakistan's foreign secretary Salman Bashir nodded discreetly towards the international community during his press conference in Delhi, even as he thanked Singh personally and profusely for reopening talks.


Delhi has to get real if it hopes to fend off impending crises. India will survive the Maoist insurgency by ending poverty, and in no other way. This is only possible through good governance, which is impossible without accountability. And peace with Pakistan is a welcome hope, which we applaud; but it is risky to shake hands with anyone holding a gun.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

INDIA DESERVES PLACE AT UN HIGH TABLE

PRAISING INDIA'S ROLE IN PEACEKEEPING OPERAT-IONS BAN KI-MOON DESCRIBES THE COUNTRY AS UN'S ENDURING PARTNER.

BY NEHA KHATOR

 

The world's tallest building is in Dubai. The largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. The biggest refinery is being constructed in India. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi, the biggest movie industry is Bollywood. The Mall of America in Minnesota in the US, once the largest shopping mall in the world, now doesn't even make it to the list of the top ten.

 

Casual though, but the list illustrates what Fareed Zakaria describes as "not the decline of the West" but the "phenomenal rise of the rest". The 21st century, he says, marks the end of the American hegemony.


The post-financial crisis world has seen new power centres emerge elsewhere that are fast changing the global political equation, heralding an era of multipolarism. The first signs appeared when the smaller G8 was unanimously decided to be replaced by the larger G20. And as the international financial system reshapes in tune with time, it is unreasonable that the UN maintains its status quo.


The UN, as much of the world believes today, is an anachronism. Back in 2005, then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan tabled a reform package calling for an expansion of the Security Council among other changes. Annan urged the permanent members (P5) to expand the UN to meet "today's realities". But the P5 managed to push back the agenda.

 

Change
When the UN was formed in 1945, it comprised the victorious states of World War II, designed "to reflect the dominance of the western world and to boost the power of the United States and its European allies." However, the dealings at last year's Copenhagen Summit explain how drastically the political and economic dimensions have changed. China, with its new found political confidence pumped up by its economic might, is growing more assertive and restless to show its force on the global front. Taking the cue from China, new powers are surpassing older ones, driving the need for a serious reorganisation of the UNSC.


And, if a country's economic value is any barometer of its political standing, then India fits the bill for inclusion in the next UN order.


It is now a cliche to say India is the second fastest growing economy. And during and after the recession, its stability and reliability has only strengthened. As estimated by IMF, India will continue to grow at more than 6 per cent in 2010 and at 8 per cent in the next fiscal, despite no improvements in the global downturn.


These estimates come at a time when India's industrial growth has registered decade-high figures in contrast to developed countries like Spain and Germany, which are still reeling under recession. There is more to read between the lines when US President Barak Obama referred to China and India in one breadth, "China is not waiting. India is not waiting. And we can't afford to wait."


India has been pushing for a permanent seat in the UNSC since 1994, but has failed each time. Her performance in the financial crisis should convince the P5 that she deserves a place at the high table. Keeping the economics aside, the rest of the resume too is favourable.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has many times described India as "UN's enduring partner", praising its contribution to the peacekeeping operations and termed the country as "a leading voice in the developing world, a long-established democracy and a growing economic power." Lately, countries like France, Britain and Russia have also unequivocally supported India's bid for a permanent seat.


With the world's second largest military and a defence budget to match its size, investors are realising India's huge potential for arms supplies. India's nuclear energy market is also opening up in a big way. Home to world's one-sixth humanity, the country at present has 40 per cent of the world's young population. And by 2020, officials estimate the average age of an Indian will be 29 years compared to 37 in China. This will give India's economy a huge 'demographic dividend'.


Being allocated a seat in the UNSC is a matter of great significance because it catapults a country in the international arena. It deserves a place in the UN not because the US would now implicitly want the rise of India, as a counter force to China, with which it is increasingly at odds with, but because it has the capabilities to contribute in finding 21st century solutions.


Daniel Drezner once wrote in the 'Foreign Affairs': "If China and India are not made to feel welcome inside existing international institutions, they might create new ones — leaving the US on the outside looking in." Daniel might have gone a bit too far, but it emphasises the growing sentiments of unrest for equitable representation.

Unlike other times, this time it is imperative for the UN to keep up with the changes to save it from slipping into irrelevance. For the UN, it is a race for survival.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

BALD HEAD IS LIKE HEAVEN

BALDIES TODAY ARE PROUD OF GUJRAL, SESHAN, ADVANI AND ANUPAM KHER.

BY A N SURYANARAYANAN

 

My daughter invariably teases me: "Appa, are you going for a head-cut", meaning being bald I can't have a hair-cut! I retort saying Meher Jessia, Britney and many actresses choose to shave their heads for their 'roles'! Recently my four-year-old granddaughter ran her hand over my pate, asking if God had made me. On hearing yes, she ran her hand on her own head and asked if God had made her too? I said yes again. She then asked: "Don't you think, God is doing a better job these days?" Once, a PYT after seeing my Lazboy modelling snap, said: "Uncle, you look distinguished" and I thought she was making fun!


I learn 'Baldies International' formed in 1971 by 15 bald men aged 50-85, at a bald lawyer's home, grew with 150 lawyer-bureaucrat-executive-entrepreneur-doctor-engineer-professional members who met on first and last Thursdays in a five-star hotel! Aged 30, with a full head of curly hair, I hadn't read this then! When a Sardarji intruded into this close-group, he was asked to prove his baldness. 'Pagree' could not be taken off in public; so, in men's room, he proved himself and was immediately enrolled with bear-hugs and a toast! Each member is nicknamed/named himself: 'moonshine', 'ever-shine', 'sunshine' 'flash-shine', etc. I wish to collect all the shiny names, to choose one for myself! Baldies say wives are responsible for their baldness; still, wives attend, even if none enrolled. My wife having died 27 years ago, when I was a TDH-Colonel, with head-full of hair, I can't blame her!


Tracing lineage from Gandhi-Nehru-Patel-Rajaji-Churchill, baldies today are proud of Gujral-Seshan-Advani-Anupam Kher. I believe percentage of hair-loss equals age in years; I am 68! What if a man lives to be over 100? But baldness does save money from hair oils, shampoos and barbers!


Not knowing that some day I would be bald too, as an emcee, I used to crack baldie jokes, eg: "When a man is bald in front, he is a great thinker; if at the top (sun-moon-shape), he is sexy; and if he is both, he thinks he is sexy!" Or, ask conundrum quizzes: "Why is a bald head like heaven?" "Because there is no parting or dy(e)ing there!" "How does a baldie get ready faster than others?" "Because, he has less hair to comb and same face to wash"!

I will let you into my secret: one reason for my big moustache post-retirement is to draw attention away from my shiny pate but earn praises for the mush; that is how I get modelling assignments!

 

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THE JERUSLAM POST

EDITORIAL

CARE ON CONVERSION

 

Israel Beiteinu must ensure it doesn't single out converts as second-class citizens.

MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, plans this week – and perhaps as soon as Monday – to present to the Knesset two important bills dealing with the thorny question of "Who is a Jew?"


If the bills are approved, Israel Beiteinu will have fulfilled a campaign promise to its constituency, predominantly immigrants from the former Soviet Union. But in the process, Avigdor Lieberman's party might end up creating a new problem.


Whether intended or not, one piece of Israel Beiteinu's proposed legislation paves the way for intolerable discrimination against converts of all streams – Reform, Conservative or Orthodox – by denying them eligibility for automatic Israeli citizenship.


THE FIRST of the two bills, which we wholeheartedly support, would enable Israeli citizens who are not Jewish according to Orthodox criteria to marry here. It provides for civil union between two non-Jews. Known in rabbinic jargon as a "Noahide Union" after the biblical Noah, this proposal has the backing of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Sephardi haredi Jewry's most respected halachic authority and thus of Shas, but is opposed by the haredi Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism party.


The bill would be a partial solution for over 300,000 olim from the FSU who are not Jewish. Presently these citizens, who serve in the IDF, pay taxes, are patriotic and have tied their fate to the Jewish people of Israel for better or for worse, are forced to leave the country to get married. Only religious marriages performed by the official heads of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druse communities are recognized.


In the future, Israel Beiteinu hopes to pass a more controversial bill that would allow a Jew to marry a non-Jew.

 

THE SECOND, more problematic, bill would introduce reforms in the way conversions are performed.


There are many positive aspects to the conversion bill. It would empower city rabbis – in addition to the special conversion courts – to perform conversions. This would enlarge the pool of rabbis eligible to perform conversions, including those rabbis with a more lenient approach.


It is hoped that the number of conversions of non-Jewish FSU immigrants – presently steady at around 2,000 a year – would increase if there were more rabbis involved who see conversion as an important tool for enhancing social cohesion. Chief Rabbi of Efrat Shlomo Riskin is a perfect example of a more open-minded Orthodox spiritual leader who could potentially increase the number of conversions by providing encouragement and support to prospective converts.


The legislation would also make it much more difficult for a rabbinic court to annul a conversion performed by another conversion court. As a result, thousands of converts will no longer have to fear that at some undetermined time in the future their conversion will be retroactively abrogated.

However, the ambiguous wording of one of the clauses in the bill opens the way for discrimination against converts to Judaism. At present, all converts to Judaism, whether Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, are eligible for automatic Israeli citizenship like any other Jew born to a Jewish mother. An amendment to the Citizenship Law introduced in Israel Beiteinu's new legislation states that anyone who "entered" Israel as a non-Jew (and did not have a father, grandparents or spouse who was Jewish and therefore was not eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return) and converted to Judaism at some later date, whether in Israel or abroad, would not be eligible for automatic citizenship. In theory this could be referring to any non-Jew who visited Israel at any time in his or her life, even for a day.


Israel Beiteinu's Rotem rejects this interpretation and says that the amendment is aimed at preventing foreign workers from Third World countries from gaining citizenship by faking conversion. He insists that sincere converts of all streams of Judaism would be granted Israeli citizenship. But the law does not say that, nor does the official explanation accompanying the law.

 

Perhaps understandably, therefore, some in the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism are concerned that Rotem, an Orthodox Jew, is working in cahoots with the Orthodox establishment in an attempt to block Reform and Conservative converts from receiving automatic Israeli citizenship, even though the bill does not say that either.

Discrimination against converts is unacceptable. The Torah repeatedly exhorts the Jewish people to avoid hurting the convert in any way. So we urge Israel Beiteinu to change the wording of its generally positive new legislation to ensure it does not single out converts as second-class citizens – or, worse, prevent them from becoming citizens at all.

 

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THE JERUSLAM POST

EDITORIAL

EDITOR'S NOTES: STYMIED IN SILWAN

BY DAVID HOROVITZ

 

Did Barkat really think that the benefits of his redevelopment plan would be enough to ensure it got the go-ahead?    

Yes, Nir Barkat's radical redevelopment plan for a neighborhood immediately below the Old City walls would have benefited everyone – Israel, tourists, the environment and most especially the local Palestinian residents. But did the mayor really think that would be enough to ensure it got the go-ahead?


There's still plenty of green open space as you head down from the Abu Tor neighborhood toward the jumble of buildings in the Silwan neighborhood below the Old City.


After days of heavy rain, the glorious sound of rushing current just below the surface accompanies you along the descent, with the surplus rainwater forming intermittent pools on the lush grass.


But as you move lower, the parkland – where King Solomon is said to have been moved to write the Song of Songs, with its dynamic allegories of spring – abruptly disappears.


Nestling beneath the Old City, this storied place may have been the ancient site of Solomonic inspiration. Silwan may have been largely unspoiled as recently as a few decades ago. But today, it is a typical, sprawling, overcrowded "Arab east Jerusalem" neighborhood.


Big signs in Hebrew, English and Arabic throughout the area proclaim a major city-planned transportation overhaul. Smaller signs, in Arabic and occasionally English, urge "No to the Judaization of Jerusalem."


Give or take a handful of Jewish residences, marked by fencing, security and flags, the hundreds of buildings are all home to Palestinians. Most of them illegally built, they vary wildly – from sturdy, lavish Jerusalem stone constructions with entry buzzers and parking bays, to rudimentary, seemingly unfinished dwellings crammed uncomfortably close together.


In a city where inspectors swoop down in some neighborhoods on unauthorized tiny balconies and minor living-room expansions, this part of the capital has expanded left, right and up without such attention. Plainly, it has not benefited from any formal developmental master plan. Plainly, it is in desperate need of such a framework.


And so it was that fresh, enthusiastic, get-the-job-done Mayor Nir Barkat alighted upon Silwan as the locale to first make his mark – the venue for a project intended to bring new regulation to building in east Jerusalem, for the declared benefit of both the city and its residents.


Impressively, and on the face of it improbably, the mayor assembled a diverse support group for his intervention.

He gained backing from some on the political Right because his central idea of legalizing buildings of up to four stories would also enable the ongoing habitation of one of Silwan's few Jewish residences, the seven-story Beit Yehonatan, which was supposed to have been sealed up by court order well over a year ago.


At the same time, many on the political Left bolstered him for the parallel reason: The four-story rule would constitute retroactive legalization for the vast majority of Silwan's illegal constructions, obviating the need for what are always contested, tense house demolitions.

The mayor evidently also impressed potential critics with his earnest assertion that this was not some kind of a trick – that he was not seeking to oust long-time (Arab) residents and/or bring in new (Jewish) residents under the cover of redevelopment.


The "package deal" approach – avoid trouble by partially legalizing Beit Yehonatan, and avoid more trouble by legalizing most of the Arab building – was evidently paying dividends.


So everything is moving smoothly forward toward the zoning and regulation of Silwan? Not quite.


IF BARKAT'S four-story idea would have left most of Silwan intact, the same could not be said for the "Gan Hamelech" section of the neighborhood – the "King's Garden."


Here, according to City Hall, not a single one of the nearly 100 homes – all of them Palestinian – has any legal standing. Here, no construction whatsoever was ever approved. Here, ironically until Israel captured the area in the 1967 war, the parkland was almost completely unspoiled. And here, the mayor's plans were radically more interventionist.

City Hall told The Jerusalem Post three weeks ago about Barkat's proposals for Gan Hamelech – the starting point and centerpiece of his wider Silwan revamp. The aim was to elevate the King's Garden into "east Jerusalem's Abu Ghosh" – a flourishing Arab neighborhood playing host to a vibrant flow of Israeli and foreign tourism.

This week, with timing made particularly unfortunate by the protests that erupted in Jerusalem and Hebron recently over the new government list of National Heritage Sites, the mayor formally unveiled the plan, prior to its intended submission later this month to relevant planning authorities. The unveiling, however, did not proceed quite as envisaged.


Word is that Barkat had been working on this "pilot project" for most of the period he's been in City Hall – bidding, as ever, to win a wide coalition of support. He aimed to knock down every one of Gan Hamelech's illegal structures and rebuild from scratch – a development of modern buildings, with commercial premises on the ground floor and new homes for the old residents on up to three floors above. He planned to add recreation areas and health clinics for the residents, and hotels for the incoming tourists. And, through more effective planning and zoning, he intended to revive at least some of that lost Solomonic parkland and restore the area's ancient beauty.


According to City Hall, local residents overwhelmingly supported the idea. Indeed, it was said, some were concerned that typical Israeli bureaucracy might mean that it would not go ahead.


If so, that's not what many locals had been telling reporters, including our own.


"When they told us they wanted to build a park here, we said fine, we're not against a park," Fahkri Abu Diab told the Post's Abe Selig last month. "But they should build it around our houses, not on top of them – and the city did not agree to that."


"I wouldn't trade my home for the White House," echoed another resident.


Whether or not the locals were privately more supportive than they dared be publicly, however, official Israel had plainly not been supportive at all.


That municipal legal adviser Yossi Havilio – a perennial thorn-in-the-mayoral-side – was opposed to the project, was unsurprising. Havilio insists that Barkat implement the court order to seal Beit Yehonatan before he will so much as consider the legal implications of wider changes in Silwan.


Of slightly more surprise to City Hall was that State Attorney Moshe Lador weighed in on Havilio's side – a partnership that prompted threats from Barkat to implement not only the Beit Yehonatan order, but numerous other demolition orders in the Silwan area if his plans for redevelopment remained stymied by the legal establishment. Well aware of the possibly violent fallout from such action, Barkat was said to have already told staff to begin coordinating such demolitions with police.


But what might have been most surprising, and should certainly have been most troubling for the mayor, was that the national government – initially, in the form of Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman – was not backing his "east Jerusalem's Abu Ghosh" vision either.


When Barkat went to see Neeman to set out the King's Garden plan months ago, City Hall sources say, the minister pledged his support and referred him to the relevant Justice Ministry departments for the necessary assistance. But after that first meeting, absolutely no such assistance was forthcoming. And Neeman's office subsequently declined Barkat's requests for another meeting to discuss the issue further.


THE CONSENSUS-building mayor was doubtless approaching the Gan Hamelech-Silwan building-run-riot conundrum with the very best of intentions. He may truly have believed he had the local Arab residents on his side. He certainly thought his redevelopment design would improve their lives. He insisted he had no secret agenda to bring more Jews into the area. He may have felt that although Israel extended sovereignty to east Jerusalem after the 1967 war, it hadn't exercised that sovereignty for anyone's benefit in this particular area, and that if he could concretize sovereign authority and responsibility, while also bringing order and harmony to Silwan, he could do the same everywhere else in the east of the city.


But officials in City Hall also recognized that Gan Hamelech was, as one of them put it, "the second most incendiary place after the Temple Mount." And so there must have been an acute awareness of the capacity of those for whom consensus is anathema to exploit any hint of imposed change.


The precedents were everywhere. The construction of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance, on a site adjacent to a Muslim cemetery in downtown Jerusalem, has been relentlessly, and sometimes hysterically opposed – complete with appeals for United Nations intervention – as an ostensible grave abuse of Islamic sensibilities. This, even though it turns out that the Supreme Muslim Council of British Mandate Palestine made plans to build a commercial center directly atop the site and secured rulings from prominent Muslim clerics approving the construction.


Even more relevantly, first-term prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's approval of an unassuming second exit to the tunnels alongside the Temple Mount in September 1996 prompted Palestinian-Israeli clashes that left 17 Israeli soldiers and 70 Palestinians dead.


And then there was that cabinet decision last month to extend "heritage" status to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem. The decision had no practical consequence whatsoever, yet it was seized upon as a pretext to foster Palestinian violence.


If that was the response to a government declaration with no significance on the ground, it should not have been hard to imagine the potentially catastrophic exploitation of Israel carrying out close to 100 imposed demolitions in a neighborhood above which the silver-gray dome of Al-Aksa rises like a moon.


IN SUCH a context, a mayor brave, or foolhardy, enough to venture into the Silwan battlefield would certainly need to have the prime minister at his side, shoulder-to-shoulder, insisting that the cause was worth the struggle, however bitter. But Barkat didn't have the prime minister. He didn't even have the justice minister. Or the state prosecutor. Or his own city legal adviser.


And so, shortly before he held his press conference on Tuesday to unveil the Gan Hamelech project, Barkat's phone rang, and the prime minister made explicit what ought to have been obvious all along: Forget it, Mr. Mayor. It's not going to happen.


Publicly, Barkat subsequently acknowledged only that he had been asked to shelve rather than scrap the plan – until the affected local Palestinians give it their formal approval. The mayor would be advised not to hold his breath.

The Palestinian Authority has already been weighing in, complaining that Israel was gearing up to make more Palestinians homeless while expanding construction for settlers. The UN's Special Coordinator's Office has been warning that "demolishing Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem demolishes confidence among Palestinians and, frankly, internationally." Suddenly, those scheduled meetings of the local planning authorities aren't looking quite so imminent.

 

Whatever was said out loud by the prime minister to the mayor, the subtext was clear: We in this government would like nothing more than to redevelop Silwan in a way that benefits the locals, draws happy tourists and confirms that Israel runs things in that part of town. But whatever the local residents are telling you privately, they'll never publicly endorse a redevelopment program involving mass demolitions overseen by Israel. The Palestinian leadership won't let them.


Barkat is reputed to have told City Hall colleagues early in the Gan Hamelech planning stages that "my success as mayor will be judged according to this project." For his sake, one would hope not.

 

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THE JERUSLAM POST

EDITORIAL

METRO VIEWS: HERE'S TO THE FUTURE

BY MARILYN HENRY


The Millenials – Americans between 18 and 29 – are a strange breed to my generation. It is scary to imagine the future entrusted to them.

 

I am a child of the '60s. My generation's mantra was "never trust anyone over 30." But as I move ever closer to 60, the tables are turned. I find it hard to trust anyone under 30. These youth, as a group, have become incomprehensible to me.


They are the so-called Millennials, Americans between the ages of 18 and 29. Some 50 million strong, this is the first generation to come into adulthood during the dismal new millennium. Millennials are a strange breed to many of my Baby Boomer generation. They are dramatically more socially connected than my generation was, but often seem far less socially aware. It is frightening to imagine the future entrusted to them, and yet it is their workforce and their political choices that will determine the economic and social fabric of the society of my retirement.

My fear, however, may be misplaced, according to a survey released last month by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. True, members of the Millennial generation have a bewildering interest in tattoos and body-piercing. But the Pew survey also found that they are more respectful of their elders than my "never trust" generation. What a relief.


The Millennials will determine, by their activity or passivity, how America interacts with the rest of the world. Those plotting strategy for future relations between Israel and Diaspora Jews take note: The Millennial generation leans left. "They are, without question, the most liberal generation since those New Dealers, and they could transform our politics for decades," columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote in The Washington Post.


THERE IS nothing Jewish about the Pew survey; Jews are only 2 percent of the US population, and minorities are such a small sample of the survey that it is impossible to draw smart conclusions about their sentiments. However, outside of the haredi community, American Jews are much like other Americans. If you want to know where the Jewish community is headed, consider the milieu in which it lives. The Millennial generation is forging an identity that is confident, self-expressive, optimistic and tolerant, Pew said. As a group, Millennials are better educated, less likely to be affiliated with any religious denomination and more accepting of homosexuality than older generations. Racial attitudes also are more liberal; significant majorities expressed support for interracial marriage within their families.


The survey of the Millennials' values and behavior found they are less supportive of an "assertive national security policy" and more supportive of a progressive domestic social agenda than older generations, according to Pew, which is based in Washington.


And, to my pleasant surprise, these youth seem to appreciate their parents' generation. "The Millennial generation say older people have better moral values, a better work ethic," Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, said in a radio interview. "The only thing they criticize the older generation for is a lack of tolerance."



What Pew reveals about young Americans shouldn't surprise those who have been struggling to engage young American Jews in communal life or with Israel. Diaspora Jews, of course, are not monolithic. They may love Israel or never give it a thought, and those who love it do not express their love in a singular manner. The panorama of American Jewish organizations across all political and denominational spectrums indicates that there are many ways to demonstrate devotion. (The problem is that one man's devotion is another's demonizing. Thus the shrei gevalt reaction to the notion that there is more than one path to righteousness or, on the PAC front, that J Street could be pro-Israel.)


I HAVE a stake in promoting and ensuring the success and well-being of the Millennials. My generation depends on them to create a prosperous society that will sustain and appreciate us in our retirement, instead of begrudging us our needs. In that sense, my generation is not so different from Jewish institutions; they will also depend on the coming generations to sustain them.


The Pew study's detailed portrait of the Millennial generation poses quite a challenge for the traditional Jewish communal institutions that lack progressive or humanitarian credentials. No one would suggest that Jewish or Israeli entities subvert or reject their core beliefs to pander to the Millennials. Who could expect, for instance, observant communities to embrace intermarriage solely to court 20somethings who don't object to it? But Jewish organizations must find the means to establish ties that do not compromise their fundamental beliefs, and that do not antagonize or stigmatize the youth they will need – sooner than we think.

 

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THE JERUSLAM POST

EDITORIAL

THE REGION: LOOK OUT!

BY BARRY RUBIN

 

Watching the Obama administration handle Syria and Iran is like watching a horror movie where a monster is creeping up behind someone.


The stories of the US engagement with Syria and the sanctions issue regarding Iran's nuclear program are fascinating. Each day there's some new development showing how the Obama administration is acting like a deer standing in the middle of a busy highway admiring the pretty headlights of the automobiles.


It's like watching the monster sneak up behind someone. Even though you know he won't turn around, you can't help but watch in fascinated horror and yell: "Look out!" But he pays no attention.


Briefly, the Syrian government keeps punching the US in the face as Washington ignores it.


On March 1, a new record was set. The place: State Department daily press conference; the star, spokesman Philip J. Crowley. A reporter asks how the administration views the fact that the moment a US delegation left after urging Syrian President Bashar Assad to move away from Iran and stop supporting Hizbullah, Syria's dictator invited Iran's dictator along with Hizbullah's leader to visit.


In other words, the exact opposite of what the US requested. Is the government annoyed? Does it want to express some anger or issue a threat?


Let's listen. Crowley: "Well, I would point it in a slightly different direction... We want to see Syria play a more constructive role in the region. We also want – to the extent that it has the ability to talk to Iran directly – we want to make sure that Syria's communicating to Iran its concerns about its role in the region and the direction, the nature of its nuclear ambitions..."


In other words, I'm going to ignore the fact that the first thing that Assad did after Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William  Burns's visit was a love fest with Iran and Hizbullah. But even more amazing, what Crowley said is that the US government thinks Syria, Iran's partner and ally, may be upset that Iran is being aggressive and expansionist. And it actually expects the Syrians to urge Iran not to build nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, as the administration congratulates itself on explaining to Syria that it should reduce support for Hizbullah, IDF military intelligence releases an assessment that Syria is giving Hizbullah more and better arms than ever before.


MEANWHILE, ON the Iran front, it is now March and still – six months after the first administration deadline and three months after the second deadline – no major sanctions on Iran. Remarkably, even former Democratic presidential candidate and head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry has taken a stronger stance than the administration.


He supports the congressional call for tough sanctions to block Iran's energy industry which easily passed both houses. "I believe that the most biting and important sanctions would be those on the energy side." But the Obama administration wants far more limited sanctions focused on a small group in the regime elite.

Yet sanctions are getting further away rather than closer. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted at this by pulling back from her early prediction of sanctions by April, now saying it might be "some time in the next several months." At the same time, we have endless evidence that the claim the Russians (and Chinese and others) are coming to support sanctions is nonsense. Just before meeting with Clinton to discuss the issue, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva explained, "Peace in the world does not mean isolating someone." (Quick, invite him to explain this to the anti-Israel forces in Europe and elsewhere.)


But it's outright amusing to see the efforts to spin the Russian and Chinese position. In this regard, the prize for this week should be won by an AP dispatch whose headline read: "Russia moves closer to Iran sanctions over nukes." And what is the basis for this claim that there has just been "the strongest sign to date that the Kremlin was prepared to drop traditional opposition to such penalties if Teheran remain obstinate?" This statement from President Dmitry Medvedev: "We believe that [engagement with Iran is] not over yet, that we can still reach an agreement. But if we don't succeed, Russia is ready – along with our partners... to consider the question of adopting sanctions."


Get it? When Russia decides that talking with Iran won't work, at that point – how long from now would that be? – it will "consider" sanctions. Actually, he said the same thing last August, a statement trumpeted in September by The New York Times as proving Obama's policy was working.


There is more clarity with the Chinese, though the pretense is also made that they might do something. But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang put it this way: "We believe there is still room for diplomatic efforts and the parties concerned should intensify those efforts." At most, the optimists suggest, in the words of this Reuters dispatch: "China will resist any proposed sanctions that threaten flows of oil and Chinese investments, but most believe it will accept a more narrowly cast resolution that has more symbolic than practical impact." Yes, that's the kind of thing that already existed four years ago. Some progress.


Is it too much to ask policy-makers to pay attention to what's going on occasionally?


So let's leave it to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to sum up how things seem to Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizbullah and many others. The Americans, he said, "not only have failed to gain any power, but also are forced to leave the region. They are leaving their reputation, image and power behind in order to escape... The [American] government has no influence [to stop] the expansion of Iran-Syria ties, Syria-Turkey ties and Iran-Turkey ties – God willing, Iraq too will join the circle."

 

I think this suggests that the radicals think that the US is weak, in retreat, and that the future belongs to them. In other words, US President Barack Obama's policy isn't moderating the radicals, it's making them more aggressive and confident.


The writer is Director at the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA) (http://www.gloria-center.org) and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal (MERIA). He blogs at The Rubin Report (http://rubinreports.blogspot.com)

 

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THE JERUSLAM POST

EDITORIAL

WE NEED MORE WOMEN IN POLITICS

BY LORAINE WARREN



For Israeli and British initiatives encouraging women's representation in office to be effective, the roadblocks they face must be examined.

Talkbacks (1)

 

Increasing the representation of women in politics has always been a difficult issue. In the 21st century, despite having successfully secured some of the most senior positions in society, women are invariably underrepresented in the vast majority of parliamentary institutions. Coincidentally, Israel's and the UK's figures are almost identical – just over 19 percent of members of the Knesset in Israel and members of Parliament in the UK are female, a figure even lower than countries in the developing world such as Rwanda, Mozambique and Chile.

These figures won't necessarily come as a surprise. Women face an uphill struggle in balancing their responsibilities at home and at work. With so many demands on candidates' time when running for selection at both local and national levels, there are inevitably fewer women than men attempting to reach the higher ranks of government. Nonetheless, this path to power is contemplated by many capable, intelligent women and governments and interest groups are keen to identify ways of assisting their progression.


IN RECENT weeks, a controversial proposal to improve the number of women elected to the UK Parliament was submitted during a diversity conference commissioned by the prime minister. The proposal suggested obligatory quotas for the number of women put forward for selection as a parliamentary candidate by each political party. The UK government wants all of the parties to either improve the representation of women at the 2010 general election or to face mandatory quotas for the next one.


This suggestion has understandably provoked great debate. Quotas are certainly one way of increasing representation but will they work in the long term? In 20 years, if the quota system were removed, would the representation of women in positions of political influence really continue to increase?


For those who desire an increased presence for women in politics, the overriding objective is for women to be treated as equals and receive the same opportunities as men, and the key must be to identify ways in which women can reach the most senior positions on their own merit and under the same rules as their male colleagues.

With such similar representational figures in Israel's government, it is interesting to note the many initiatives being implemented in Israel to expand female political representation, from all sectors, at both municipal and national levels. Prior to the last Knesset elections, WIZO introduced a program directed at women who were active within their political parties and who were interested in becoming candidates on their party's lists. The program included campaign strategies, the legal and administrative aspects of competing, the assessment of strengths and weaknesses, developing connections with other candidates, presentation skills and gender issues. As a result, three of the program's participants are now serving as members of the Knesset.


This program is just one of many initiatives been implemented by a variety of organizations in Israel intended to advance women in decision- and power-making positions, in the national, social and economic arenas in Israeli society. They recognize that investing in women at an earlier stage in their careers will help facilitate their success in the future.


With one of the key issues at stake being the shortfall in the number of women entering the political race, particularly in light of the additional pressures they face, it is programs such as these that could work far more successfully in the long term than any quota system. Family responsibilities, combined with the competitive nature of politics at the highest level and the male-dominated environment, mean that some women lack the enthusiasm or confidence to stand for election.


The real challenge is to invest the necessary resources, time and expertise in encouraging women to feel politically empowered. By creating a movement of politically minded and motivated young women keen to enter the political field, the likelihood of securing long term change is far greatly increased.


These initiatives would reap even greater rewards if they were combined with parliamentary family-friendly environments. We have seen attempts in the UK, with the removal of late-night sittings and the soon-to-be introduced "short-term, short-notice" child minding service. However far greater strides are necessary if we are to send a positive message to would-be female parliamentarians wishing to try to balance politics with family life.

SADLY, THERE is inequality in all aspects of society and many groups suffer as a result. To counter this disparity in the UK, we are currently watching the progression of the equalities bill which is seeking to outlaw any form of discrimination against disadvantaged groups in the office or the market place. There is no doubt that this issue must be addressed, but the implementation of quotas for women in politics does not go far enough – it is a quick-fix solution that will scarcely paper over the cracks.

 

The root of the problem lies in identifying why women are underrepresented and then examining exactly what stands in their way. These roadblocks then need to be permanently removed and replaced with an effective network of support, reasonable incentives and appropriate encouragement. Only in this way will we secure a balanced group of political representatives able to better reflect the concerns of voters.


The writer is chairwoman of WIZO UK.

 

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THE JERUSLAM POST

EDITORIAL

ONWARD, HE SAID, REGARDLESS

BY CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER


Barack Obama, the man who ran as a post-partisan, is determined to remake a sixth of the US economy despite the absence of support for Obamacare.

Talkbacks (2)

 

So the yearlong production, set to close after Massachusetts's devastatingly negative January 19 review, saw the curtain raised one last time. Obamacare lives.


After 34 speeches, three sharp electoral rebukes (Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts) and a seven-hour seminar, the president announced Wednesday his determination to make one last push to pass his health care reform.

The final act was carefully choreographed. The rollout began a week earlier with a couple of shows of bipartisanship: a February 25 Blair House "summit" with Republicans, followed five days later with a few concessions tossed the Republicans' way.


Show is the operative noun. Among the few Republican suggestions President Barack Obama pretended to incorporate was tort reform. What did he suggest to address the plague of defensive medicine that a Massachusetts Medical Society study showed leads to about 25 percent of doctor referrals, tests and procedures being done for no medical reason? A few ridiculously insignificant demonstration projects amounting to one-half of one-hundredth of 1 percent of the cost of Obama's health care bill.


As for the Blair House seminar, its theatrical quality was obvious even before it began. The Democrats had already decided to go for a purely partisan bill. Obama signaled precisely that intent at the end of the summit show – then dramatically spelled it out just six days later in his 35th health care speech: He is going for the party-line vote.

 

Unfortunately for Democrats, that seven-hour televised exercise had the unintended consequence of showing the Republicans to be not only highly informed on the subject, but also, as even Obama was forced to admit, possessed of principled objections – contradicting the ubiquitous Democratic/media line that Republican opposition was nothing but nihilistic partisanship.


Republicans did so well, in fact, that in his summation, Obama was reduced to suggesting that his health care reform was indeed popular because when you ask people about individual items (for example, eliminating exclusions for preexisting conditions or capping individual out-of-pocket payments), they are in favor.


Yet mystifyingly they oppose the whole package. How can that be?


ALLOW ME to demystify. Imagine a bill granting every American a free federally delivered ice cream every Sunday morning. Provision 2: steak on Monday, also home delivered. Provision 3: A dozen red roses every Tuesday.

You get the idea. Would each individual provision be popular in the polls?

 

Of course.

However (life is a vale of howevers) suppose these provisions were bundled into a bill that also spelled out how the goodies are to be paid for and managed – say, half a trillion dollars in new taxes, half a trillion in Medicare cuts (cuts not to keep Medicare solvent but to pay for the ice cream, steak and flowers), 118 new boards and commissions to administer the bounty-giving and government regulation dictating, for example, how your steak was to be cooked. How do you think this would poll?


Perhaps something like 3-1 against, which is what the latest CNN poll shows is the citizenry's feeling about the current Democratic health care bills.


Late last year, Democrats were marveling at how close they were to historic health care reform, noting how much agreement had been achieved among so many factions. The only remaining detail was how to pay for it.

Well, yes. That has generally been the problem with democratic governance: cost. The disagreeable absence of a free lunch.


Which is what drove even strong Obama supporter Warren Buffett to go public with his judgment that the current Senate bill, while better than nothing, is a failure because the country desperately needs to bend the cost curve down and the bill doesn't do it. Buffett's advice would be to start over and get it right.

 

Obama has chosen differently, however. The time for debate is over, declared the nation's seminar leader in chief. The man who vowed to undo Washington's wicked ways has directed the Congress to ram Obamacare through, by one vote if necessary, under the parliamentary device of "budget reconciliation." The man who ran as a post-partisan is determined to remake a sixth of the US economy despite the absence of support from a single Republican in either house, the first time anything of this size and scope has been enacted by pure party-line vote.


Surprised? You can only be disillusioned if you were once illusioned.


Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

U.S. IS PROVING IT WANTS MIDEAST PEACE - NOW IT'S ISRAEL'S TURN

 

The visit to Israel this week by U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, along with American Middle East envoy George Mitchell's meetings here, testify to the United States' readiness to not miss the opportunity to advance the peace process. The latest American diplomatic effort comes on the heels of the Arab League granting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas qualified "permission" to conduct indirect talks with Israel - which also represents an important gesture on the part of those countries that have signed on to the Arab peace initiative.

On the other hand, a recent Israeli Foreign Ministry report indicates that the U.S. administration has no intention of expending too great an effort to achieve a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that the Obama administration's positions are closer to those held by the Palestinians than to Israel's stance.


Israel and the Palestinians must decide which of the two perspectives they will embrace: either the view that hope is still not abandoned, or the one that dampens expectations entirely. If Israel intends to do nothing more than evade responsibility for the failure of the peace process and placate the U.S. administration until the expiration of the settlement construction freeze, it would be better not to launch the indirect talks at all. Every past diplomatic step that turned out to be nothing more than another exercise in evasion only served to push the peace process several substantial steps backward, leaving in its wake great despair and frustration that gave rise to more violence.


Israel is not entitled to simply shrug its shoulders at the revival of the peace process - not only because its standing in the world has sunk and its relations with the United States have declined to mere diplomatic correctness. All the signs in the territories point to the danger of a descent into violence and even a third intifada. The revival of the peace process is an essential step in halting this deterioration in the short run, and ending the conflict in the long term. In the four months during which the indirect talks are set to be conducted, the Israeli government must invest every effort in convincing its own citizens, first of all, that it indeed intends to refrain from its sleights of hand and to take the negotiations seriously.


Subsequently, the state must freeze construction in the settlements unequivocally and without delay. That will allow the process to advance to the stage of direct talks. There is no other channel of negotiations. The ridiculous recent public service announcements encouraging Israelis to explain the "other" Israel to the world, cannot be a substitute for a serious policy articulating hope for a breakthrough.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

WITHOUT LABOR OR HADASH

BY TAMAR HERMANN

 

Someone suffering from a serious illness has two options: ignore it and live life until the sickness gets the better of him, or seek expert treatment. Meretz, which suffered a major blow in the 2009 elections, chose the second option. It appointed a committee to study the roots of its disease and to propose ways of breathing new life into the party. The party's sincere desire to uncover problems and find solutions was reflected in the fact that I was appointed head of the committee - despite the fact that I am not and never have been a member of Meretz, nor have I shared in the decision-making process by giving expert advice.


The media reports on the results of this study were far from what the document actually said (which could only have come from a poor reading of the last two pages, in which, ironically, I listed the proposals that we determined should not be implemented). Thus people should be told, briefly, what the report did in fact say. They should have this information because at least the first part of the report is relevant, not only to understand where Meretz and the Zionist left stand, but in order to read the overall Israeli political map.


The first portion of the study examined the factors that have led to Meretz's continuing decline. These factors were identified on the party level (its ideology and organizational aspects), the national level (particularly demographic changes and the withering of the party system), and the global democratic level (primarily the decline in the public's faith in political institutions and the decline in major ideologies, particularly social-democratic ideology).


The assumption is that Meretz has a small pool of voters of a very specific type - a pool with little chance of expanding, since its social-democratic socioeconomic agenda is not widely attractive, especially when accompanied by a clear call to leave the territories in the framework of a peace agreement, and when that is considered a supreme national priority. In light of that assumption and the above-mentioned factors, the committee recommended (contrary to what most of the party leadership preferred, by the way) adopting a "niche party" strategy.


We recommended that Meretz recognize the limits of its electoral power in order to at least preserve its current status, or perhaps even expand it slightly. We advised Meretz not to agree to its professional campaign directors' recommendations to send ambiguous messages (suitable, perhaps, for parties that are potentially major vote-getters), and to make its voice heard clearly with regard to an end to the occupation, respect for human rights, ecological issues, and matters of religion and state. Essentially, therefore, our main recommendation was identical to Ari Shavit's cynical and amazingly well-formulated call to the Zionist left to "be realistic again."


Neither Meretz nor the committee, beyond any shadow of a doubt, considered joining forces with Labor, Kadima or Hadash, as the folly of such a move is clear to any thinking person. However, to complete the picture, in its closing pages the report also examined proposals of this type, raised by some of the people we interviewed.

The committee determined that the probability of any such ties should be very low, the bottom line being they would do more harm than good. Only a clear voice and a focus on the relevant demographic while improving the party's organizational work, will, in our opinion, allow Meretz to hold onto its voters and represent them properly. The preservation of this political voice is important not only for those who consider themselves members of the Zionist left, but also for those for whom the fate and democratic character of Israel are important.

The writer is a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, and teaches political science at the Open University.

 

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

ARE YOU OR HAVE YOU EVER BEEN A LAWYER?

 

In the McCarthy era, demagogues on the right smeared loyal Americans as disloyal and charged that the government was being undermined from within.

 

In this era, demagogues on the right are smearing loyal Americans as disloyal and charging that the government is being undermined from within.

 

These voices — often heard on Fox News — are going after Justice Department lawyers who represented Guantánamo detainees when they were in private practice. It is not nearly enough to say that these lawyers did nothing wrong. In fact, they upheld the highest standards of their profession and advanced the cause of democratic justice. The Justice Department is right to stand up to this ugly bullying.

 

Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, has been pressing Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. since

November to reveal the names of lawyers on his staff who have done legal work for Guantánamo detainees. The Justice Department said last month that there were nine political appointees who had represented the detainees in challenges to their confinement. The department said that they were following all of the relevant conflict-of-interest rules. It later confirmed their names when Fox News figured out who they were.

 

It did not take long for the lawyers to become a conservative target, branded the "Gitmo 9" by a group called Keep America Safe, run by Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and William Kristol, a conservative activist (who wrote a Times Op-Ed column in 2008). The group released a video that asks, in sinister tones, "Whose values do they share?"

 

On Fox News, Ms. Cheney lashed out at lawyers who "voluntarily represented terrorists." She said it was important to look at who these terrorists are, including Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who had served as Osama bin Laden's driver. Let's do that.

 

Mr. Hamdan was the subject of a legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Ms. Cheney conveniently omitted that the court ruled in favor of his claim that the military commissions system being used to try detainees like him was illegal. Republican senators then sponsored legislation to fix the tribunals. They did not do the job well, but the issue might never have arisen without the lawyers who argued on behalf of Mr. Hamdan, some of whom wore military uniforms.

 

In order to attack the government lawyers, Ms. Cheney and other critics have to twist the role of lawyers in the justice system. In representing Guantánamo detainees, they were in no way advocating for terrorism. They were ensuring that deeply disliked individuals were able to make their case in court, even ones charged with heinous acts — and that the Constitution was defended.

 

It is not the first time that the right has tried to distract Americans from the real issues surrounding detention policy by attacking lawyers. Charles Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs under George W. Bush, urged corporations not to do business with leading law firms that were defending Guantánamo detainees. He resigned soon after that.

 

If lawyers who take on controversial causes are demonized with impunity, it will be difficult for unpopular people to get legal representation — and constitutional rights that protect all Americans will be weakened. That is a high price to pay for scoring cheap political points.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

TURKEY AND THE ARMY

 

The recent arrest or detention of dozens of Turkish military officers for alleged coup plotting could signal a significant shift in power from the tarnished army to civilian leadership. These cases could help strengthen Turkish democracy — provided the government and the judiciary scrupulously apply the rule of law.

 

For most of modern Turkey's history, the army has been dominant, and far too willing to use any means to keep Turkey a secular, Western-oriented state. That included overthrowing four democratically elected governments since 1960. As recently as 2007, the military tried to block the selection of Abdullah Gul of the Islamic-influenced Justice and Development Party (A.K.P.) as president largely on the ground that his wife wore an Islamic headscarf.

 

The military's hold on political life has weakened steadily under A.K.P. rule and pressure from the European Union, which has insisted that as part of Ankara's bid for membership, the military must become more accountable to civilian leaders.

 

The recent detentions and arrests came after a small independent newspaper, Taraf, published what it said were military documents from a 2003 meeting describing preparations for a coup. The military acknowledged the meeting but said it was focused only on protecting the country from external, not domestic, threats. Since the arrests, the military's top leaders have shown welcome restraint.

 

Meanwhile, relations with the United States hit a new rut on Thursday when the House Foreign Affairs Committee denounced the World War I mass killings of Armenians as genocide. We think the resolution was unnecessary, just as Ankara's denial of that tragedy is self-destructive. Instead of threatening Washington with retaliation for the vote, Ankara should focus on getting a normalization deal with Armenia back on track.

 

The United States and other Western countries need to keep nudging Turkey forward while keeping the hope of E.U. membership alive and credible.

 

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan needs to curb his own autocratic tendencies and push for replacing the

military-imposed constitution with one that enshrines rights for Kurds and other minorities, religious and press freedoms, a commitment to secular rule and a law-based judiciary. And Turkey's military leaders need to continue exercising restraint.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING COUNTED

 

In mid-March, the Census Bureau will mail census forms to the nation's 134 million households. With 10 questions, the form is one of the shortest in the history of the decennial count, dating back to 1790. But will people fill it out and mail it back? They should.

 

As civic duties go, filling out the 2010 census will certainly be less demanding than, say, filing a tax return or

serving on a jury. Yet, the census has detractors — including several vocal conservative pundits and some Republican lawmakers who depict it as an unwarranted government intrusion. That is a distortion of its history, intent and use.

 

When the founding fathers established the census in the Constitution, their revolutionary aim was to ensure that the people have a fair voice in their government, by counting everyone and using the results to determine the number of representatives from each state.

 

The census is also used to allocate federal aid to the states and to draw electoral districts. An accurate count makes sure that federal dollars are distributed fairly and that electoral boundaries reflect the population. If the census is skewed, so are those government functions.

 

Another baseless criticism of the census is that it is unconstitutional to ask anything beyond the number of people living in a residence. Numerous federal and Supreme Court cases have upheld the constitutionality of collecting additional information in the census, provided it is relevant and necessary to good government.

 

To that end, questions about age, gender, race, Hispanic ethnicity and homeownership are used to help execute and monitor laws and programs that are targeted to specific groups. That is not to downplay legitimate debate fueled by questions that go beyond who is living where. Counting people by race and ethnicity, for example, is useful for enforcing civil rights laws, like the Voting Rights Act. But it also provokes argument about identity and equality in a diverse society.

 

The most important thing to know is that, fundamentally, the census is about building and rebuilding a representative democracy where divisive issues can be constructively debated. When your census form arrives, fill it out and send it back. Your country will thank you.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE ESCALATING PRICE OF POLITICS

 

A hugely cynical Republican Party memo on the care and feeding of big donors disdains them as "ego-driven" check writers who can be bought by access to power and vanity tchotchkes. The memo, obtained by Politico.com, is exceptional for its candor about the crassness of the multibillion-dollar politicking industry.

 

That industry is on the verge of a great leap forward in this year's Congressional elections, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling that freed corporate executives and union bosses to spend whatever they want on their own commercials touting candidates who toe their lines or, more likely, attacking those who don't.

 

Congress must quickly pass the remedial Schumer-Van Hollen bill to rein in at least some of the damage. It would ban expenditures by government contractors and foreign-controlled companies and require public disclosure of the money and business interests behind corporate and union ads. Congress must also revive public financing as a feasible alternative to big-money federal elections. President Obama reversed his promise and rejected public financing in 2008, arguing that the public subsidy lagged far behind modern campaign budgets. But he also vowed to repair and update the system once he made it to the White House. We're waiting.

 

On Capitol Hill, where quid pro quo is the name of the game, the public option is just as needed. Senator Richard Durbin has introduced a measure to extend a federal four-to-one match to qualifying Congressional candidates who pledge to only accept donations of $100 or less and abide by spending limits and transparency rules.

 

Now, 80 percent of donations in Congressional campaigns come from 1 percent of the population, according to the nonprofit group Americans for Campaign Reform.

 

Senator Scott Brown, the Republican newly arrived from Massachusetts, promised to study Mr. Durbin's bill. "There's a way that we can work to get big money and corporations out of politics and, obviously, adhere to the Constitution as well," said Senator Brown. This was an extraordinary observation from a politician whose campaign was buoyed by $14 million in last-minute donations, mostly from out of state. We hope he meant it.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

AN IRISH MIRROR

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

Everyone has a theory about the financial crisis. These theories range from the absurd to the plausible — from claims that liberal Democrats somehow forced banks to lend to the undeserving poor (even though Republicans controlled Congress) to the belief that exotic financial instruments fostered confusion and fraud. But what do we really know?

 

Well, in a way the sheer scale of the crisis — the way it affected much, though not all, of the world — is helpful, for research if nothing else. We can look at countries that avoided the worst, like Canada, and ask what they did right — such as limiting leverage, protecting consumers and, above all, avoiding getting caught up in an ideology that denies any need for regulation. We can also look at countries whose financial institutions and policies seemed very different from those in the United States, yet which cracked up just as badly, and try to discern common causes.

 

So let's talk about Ireland.

 

As a new research paper by the Irish economists Gregory Connor, Thomas Flavin and Brian O'Kelly points out, "Almost all the apparent causal factors of the U.S. crisis are missing in the Irish case," and vice versa. Yet the shape of Ireland's crisis was very similar: a huge real estate bubble — prices rose more in Dublin than in Los Angeles or Miami — followed by a severe banking bust that was contained only via an expensive bailout.

 

Ireland had none of the American right's favorite villains: there was no Community Reinvestment Act, no Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. More surprising, perhaps, was the unimportance of exotic finance: Ireland's bust wasn't a tale of collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps; it was an old-fashioned, plain-vanilla case of excess, in which banks made big loans to questionable borrowers, and taxpayers ended up holding the bag.

 

So what did we have in common? The authors of the new study suggest four " 'deep' causal factors."

 

First, there was irrational exuberance: in both countries buyers and lenders convinced themselves that real estate prices, although sky-high by historical standards, would continue to rise.

 

Second, there was a huge inflow of cheap money. In America's case, much of the cheap money came from China; in Ireland's case, it came mainly from the rest of the euro zone, where Germany became a gigantic capital exporter.

 

Third, key players had an incentive to take big risks, because it was heads they win, tails someone else loses. In Ireland this moral hazard was largely personal: "Rogue-bank heads retired with their large fortunes intact." There was a lot of this in the United States, too: as Harvard's Lucian Bebchuk and others have pointed out, top executives at failed U.S. financial companies received billions in "performance related" pay before their firms went belly-up.

 

But the most striking similarity between Ireland and America was "regulatory imprudence": the people charged with keeping banks safe didn't do their jobs. In Ireland, regulators looked the other way in part because the country was trying to attract foreign business, in part because of cronyism: bankers and property developers had close ties to the ruling party.

 

There was a lot of that here too, but the bigger issue was ideology. Actually, the authors of the Irish paper get this wrong, stressing the way U.S. politicians celebrated the ideal of homeownership; yes, they made speeches along those lines, but this didn't have much effect on lenders' incentives.

 

What really mattered was free-market fundamentalism. This is what led Ronald Reagan to declare that deregulation would solve the problems of thrift institutions — the actual result was huge losses, followed by a gigantic taxpayer bailout — and Alan Greenspan to insist that the proliferation of derivatives had actually strengthened the financial system. It was largely thanks to this ideology that regulators ignored the mounting risks.

 

So what can we learn from the way Ireland had a U.S.-type financial crisis with very different institutions? Mainly, that we have to focus as much on the regulators as on the regulations. By all means, let's limit both leverage and the use of securitization — which were part of what Canada did right. But such measures won't matter unless they're enforced by people who see it as their duty to say no to powerful bankers.

 

That's why we need an independent agency protecting financial consumers — again, something Canada did right — rather than leaving the job to agencies that have other priorities. And beyond that, we need a sea change in attitudes, a recognition that letting bankers do what they want is a recipe for disaster. If that doesn't happen, we will have failed to learn from recent history — and we'll be doomed to repeat it.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

BIOLOGICS BOONDOGGLE

BY ANTHONY D. SO AND SAMUEL L. KATZ

 

EVERYONE knows that an easy way to save money on medicines is to buy generics rather than brand-name drugs. Makers of generics estimate that over the past decade they have saved the American health care system about $734 billion. Yet, we continue to spend more on drugs — in part because of the increasing use of so-called biologic medicines, which cost, on average, 22 times as much as ordinary drugs. In 2008, 28 percent of sales from the pharmaceutical industry's top 100 products came from biologics; by 2014, that share is expected to rise to 50 percent.

 

Biologic drugs can be more expensive to manufacture; they are grown inside living cells rather than put together chemically, as conventional drugs are. But this does not fully account for their high prices. Another important factor is that they very rarely face competition from generic copies.

 

Congress has an opportunity to change this by including in health care reform incentives for generic drug makers to compete in the biologics marketplace. But unfortunately, both the House and the Senate versions of health care reform contain provisions that would discourage the development and significantly delay the approval of generic biologics.

 

The proposals before Congress would protect biologic medicines for 12 years after their approval by the Food and Drug Administration — that would be seven more years of market exclusivity than conventional drugs have. This extra protection for biologics would add billions of dollars to future health care costs.

 

Biologics, which include not only medicines like the breast cancer drug Herceptin and the arthritis drug Humira but also vaccines like the one that prevents HPV and cervical cancer, account for one in four new products approved by the F.D.A. For all their promise, biologics impose a heavy financial burden. A breast cancer patient's annual cost for Herceptin is $37,000. People with rheumatoid arthritis or Crohn's disease spend $50,000 a year on Humira. And those who take Cerezyme to treat Gaucher disease, a rare inherited enzyme deficiency, spend a staggering $200,000 a year.

 

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission found that the top six biologics — including Avastin, a chemotherapy drug, and Remicade, a treatment for plaque psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis — already consume 43 percent of the drug budget for Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits and outpatient services. And the rate of increase in spending for biologics under Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, significantly outstrips that of other drugs.

 

The health care reform bills passed in both the House and the Senate would delay generic competition for biologics for at least 12 years. Even after 12 years, the legislation would allow a drugmaker to extend market protection for its biologic by making minor modifications — a small tweak that would change its dosing, for example. In addition to blocking competition, this would reduce the industry's incentive to create drugs. After all, given the option to extend protection on old therapies, why would any firm invest in new ones?

 

Some lawmakers in Congress say biologics need longer monopoly protection because they cost more to develop than conventional drugs do. But according to studies cited by the pharmaceutical industry's own trade association, the average research-and-development costs of producing a biologic — $1.2 billion — are about the same as those of making a conventional drug — $1.318 billion.

 

At the same time, generic biologics face higher-than-normal barriers to entering the market: It costs more to develop manufacturing capacity for such products, and the F.D.A. approval process is more complicated and therefore more expensive. These barriers would suggest that biologic drugs should need fewer, not more, years of market exclusivity than conventional drugs have. In fact, when the Federal Trade Commission recently sized up the entry costs for generic biologics, it declined to recommend that biologics be granted any years of exclusivity protection.

 

Of course, one reason why the pharmaceutical industry would like 12 years of protection for biologics is that it would set the stage for lengthening the period of monopoly protection for conventional drugs as well. GlaxoSmithKline has already called for 14 years of exclusivity for conventional drugs.

 

Congress should allow biologics no more than five years of protection. That would provide drug makers plenty of incentive for innovation, and still protect consumers from the high prices that extended monopolies allow. Striking the right balance will ensure that Americans can afford the most effective medicines available.

 

Anthony D. So is the director of the Program on Global Health and Technology Access at Duke, where Samuel L. Katz is a professor and chairman emeritus of pediatrics.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

SLUG ON THE TRACKS

BY CHRISTIAN WOLMAR

 

President Obama has repeatedly insisted that there is no reason why Europe or China, rather than the United States, should have the world's fastest trains, and since coming to office he has committed the country to developing a high-speed rail network of its own.

 

Yet the $8 billion set aside for high-speed rail in his 2009 stimulus package, split among 31 states, includes only two genuine high-speed rail projects — in Florida and California. And even that money will do little more than kick-start the schemes. The rest of the package will go to upgrading various sections of the Amtrak network.

 

High-speed rail lines are expensive and can take years, even decades, to complete, particularly in a country as large as the United States. As a consequence, the president needs a quick success to show America what a genuine high-speed railway can offer. Fortunately, he has a great test case right on his doorstep: the Acela services along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, which the stimulus package essentially ignored.

 

A high-speed rail service is not just a matter of a few sleek carriages running a couple of regional trips per day on lines already crowded with freight trains. High-speed rail services need dedicated lines. And they operate best between cities a few hundred miles apart — longer trips take too much time, making aviation attractive, while shorter trips are easier by car. That's why the world's first high-speed rail line was built between Tokyo and Osaka; likewise, across Europe city pairs, like Madrid-Barcelona and Paris-Lyon, have been linked by high-frequency services.

 

And that's what makes the Acela lines from Washington to Boston the best opportunity to create a real high-speed, high-frequency service to compete with air travel along the Northeastern Seaboard.

 

But isn't Acela already a high-speed service? Not at all. By European standards, it would be a regional express: It runs just once an hour, the track is too curvy for the trains to reach their potential speed of 150 miles per hour (except on one 35-mile section of the line), and because Acela is often held up by freight trains and road crossings, it averages barely half that speed for the entire journey.

 

The 450-mile trip from Boston to Washington takes almost seven hours and averages just 71 miles per hour, hardly faster than by car and uncompetitive with air, while the 225-mile journey from New York to Washington takes two hours and 45 minutes, longer than Penn Central's Metroliner often took in the 1960s. Contrast that with the nearly 500 miles covered by Paris-Marseille trains in just three hours, an average of over 160 miles per hour.

 

While Amtrak claims that Acela has carved out a good share of the market — 49 percent of the rail-air passengers traveling between New York and Boston — there is the potential to do far better with improved speeds and frequency. More than 70 percent of travelers between London and Paris go by rail, while on routes like Paris-Lyon air travel has been virtually eliminated.

 

How can Acela be improved without building an entirely new system? Money is needed to improve the overhead electric wires, straighten out curves and upgrade the track. And more trains are needed to increase trip frequency, reduce overcrowding and offer flexibility.

 

It's not just a matter of money, though. The government must do away with a host of state and federal regulations that reduce train speed and are far too restrictive.

America needs to be lured back to the railways that once dominated its transportation system. If we can show what can be done in one corridor, we can inspire the development of better train service in other parts of the country.

 

Who knows? Perhaps someday, like the Trains à Grande Vitesse in France or the Shinkansen in Japan, an Acela train speeding past the Statue of Liberty could be the defining image of a second great American railway age.

 

Christian Wolmar is the author of "Blood, Iron and Gold: How the Railroads Transformed the World."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

ADJUSTING TO REALITY

BY ALICIA H. MUNNELL AND ANDREW G. BIGGS

 

THE danger of having the government regularly disperse hundreds of billions of dollars is that we can grow careless about how we spend a mere $14 billion. A case in point is a plan to pay out checks to everyone receiving Social Security, Supplemental Security Income and disabled veteran benefits. The reason? To compensate them for not receiving a cost-of-living adjustment this year.

 

Though the Senate recently rejected an amendment that would give each recipient $250, President Obama has signaled support for the idea, and an identical bill in the House is gaining support.

 

This is a mistake. With the deficit expected to reach 10.6 percent of gross domestic product in 2010, it's important that we spend every dollar wisely.

 

Such one-time payments are a bad idea on two fronts. First, they suggest that Social Security recipients are being treated unfairly with respect to the program's cost-of-living adjustments. They are not. Second, the payments would give money to those who are relatively unaffected by the financial crisis.

 

The Social Security adjustment is intended to maintain the purchasing power of benefits once recipients retire. Social Security cost-of-living adjustments are calculated every October by comparing the third-quarter Consumer Price Index for Urban Workers with the previous year's numbers; if an adjustment is needed, it's made the following January.

 

But in 2008, this time lag led to an unnecessary adjustment: rising energy prices in the fall of 2008 called for a 5.8 percent increase in benefits to be paid starting in January 2009; however, before the adjustment went into effect, prices plummeted by nearly 5 percent. As a result, Social Security recipients got a benefit increase to compensate for a price increase that no longer existed.

 

Social Security never reduces benefits when prices decline. This is perfectly equitable and does not disadvantage Social Security recipients in any way. In fact, they come out a little bit ahead because the real value of their benefits has increased, at least for a while — a fact that many recipients and lawmakers don't seem to understand, hence the political push to dispense one-time payments.

 

True, Medicare premiums could rise in the meantime, but that affects only the richest beneficiaries; for everyone else, Medicare premiums are not allowed to increase in a year without a cost-of-living adjustment. Moreover, some have argued that the Consumer Price Index for urban workers, which is based on the spending habits of working-age Americans, doesn't capture the larger role of health care expenses for retirees.

 

But price declines were so large this time that even if the adjustments had been calculated using an experimental index focused on spending by the elderly, there would still have been no adjustment. Why? While elderly people spend more on health care, they also spend a lot on gasoline and heating oil, where prices dropped precipitously.

 

If the payments can't be justified on equity grounds, how about the stimulus argument? After all, in a recession it always helps to have consumers with more pocket money. But retirees did all right over the last few years. Social Security checks went out on schedule. Those with financial assets suffered, but the market has recovered substantially. The real burden has landed on those who have lost their jobs, so money to the unemployed would pack more punch than money to those with a steady income.

 

Even if we had a spare $14 billion, there's no case for giving it to Social Security recipients on either equity or stimulus grounds. But we don't — we face large and growing deficits for the foreseeable future. The economy may still require additional stimulus to help reduce the atrocious level of unemployment. But we need to spend that money intelligently — and every $14 billion counts.

 

Alicia H. Munnell is a former member of the Council of Economic Advisers and the director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Andrew G. Biggs is a former deputy commissioner of Social Security and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

 

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******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE VOLCANO

 

The replacement of Musharraf's military regime with a democratic government seemed a positive development, particularly for Balochistan which had suffered unprecedented repression during the dictator's rule. In fact, it was his excesses and the arrogance with which he battered the province that radicalised common Baloch people the most. The assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti and the torture of countless illegally detained students and the thousands of 'disappearances' of political activists aggravated the situation. Mindful of repeatedly having been excluded from the development process in the past, the local population saw the launch of mega projects such the Gwadar port and the Coastal High with suspicion that swelled their sense of deprivation. The authorities thought that they could make the Balochistan issue disappear by removing from the scene political activists demanding autonomy for Balochistan. They were wrong. According to the latest report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Balochistan can only be likened to 'an active volcano that may erupt anytime with dire consequences'. The report notes with concern that violations of human rights in the province are 'widespread' and 'harrowing' and incidents of 'enforced disappearances' are continuing. A fact-finding mission of the commission claims to be in possession of ample evidence to support the allegations of victims' families that the perpetrators of enforced disappearances are intelligence agencies and security forces. People from all over the province have also complained of humiliation they suffer at check posts. The HRCP says what has been reported appears to be only 'the tip of the iceberg' as a large number of families do not have access to any forum to protest. The report says that 'the so-called transition to democracy has not yet started in the province as the government is being run the way it was being run since the 1999 military coup' and that 'it is the military that still calls the shots'.


The reality is that Balochistan has been a victim of repeated betrayals. It has been fed on hollow hopes and false promises. It has been engaged in dialogue only to be stabbed in the back with use of force. We have seen committee after committee being formed to resolve the problem peacefully but use of force has been what is finally relied on by the establishment. The country's political leadership has publicly apologised to the Baloch people several times for the atrocities successive regimes have committed but the state policy towards this most resourceful but most backward province remains the same. The much trumpeted Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package is awaiting implementation and is already seen as too little too late. So how do we come out of this morass? Demilitarisation, as has been recommended by the HRCP, should be the first step towards a peaceful solution. The release of all political prisoners and an end to illegal detentions can also help restore some public trust. However, nothing will work if the state continues to deny the Baloch people their due share in the resources that Balochistan possesses.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

WORKERS' POWER

 

By signing the Services Tribunal (Amendment) Bill of 2010, President Asif Ali Zardari has undone one of the more controversial pieces of legislation put in place during the Musharraf era. Under this workers were prevented from taking their disputes to labour courts. The move is welcome. Over the years workers have, as a result both of legislation and mechanisms used at workplaces, lost many rights. Unions for instance have been barred at more and more places. The fact that they do not exist makes it easier for employers to exploit those who work for them. By changing the provisions of the law, the PPP has delivered on one of the promises made before it was elected.


The president has also spoken of a commitment to doing much more for labourers by setting up housing colonies and enhancing the minimum wage. He emphasised however the fact that the PPP favours both industrialists and workers. We must hope that the president and his team deliver on his latest pledges. The reality is that many laws intended to protect labourers exist only on paper. These include those on safety provisions at work and the allowances paid to employees. The first step then should be to ensure that the labour inspectors perform their duties diligently and that the legislation that exists on paper is converted into reality. This would serve to protect not only the workers, but also enhance productivity and efficiency. A workforce that is fairly treated and has good ties with the management is far more likely to put its full effort into tasks assigned to it. The government must attempt then to ensure that it is no longer subjected to draconian measures aimed to suppress rights, as happened under Musharraf, but can instead play a more useful role in improving the quality of industry and production.

 

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I. THE NEWS

VIOLENCE ON WOMEN

 

As the world marks International Women's Day today, women in Pakistan have little to celebrate as they continue to endure violence, including murder in the name of honour. On March 5, this newspaper reported a conference in Lahore being told that the government had failed to check violence against women, which registered a 13 per cent increase in 2009 compared to what it had been in 2008. According to the statistics made public at the conference, as many as 928 cases of rape and 604 cases of the so-called honour killing were reported from across the country last year. The social and economic exploitation that women in general suffer also adds to their plight, as do lack of education, fewer employment opportunities, social taboos and misperceived notions of modesty.


The government is yet to mean what it says about protecting women against violence. Its failure so far betrays lack of seriousness to tackle the problem. A society where such violence is abhorred and the perpetrator is taken to task will remain elusive until the government does away with a culture of impunity as well as discriminatory laws. There is a pressing need for change in the way women are treated in society. That change must first take place within the family. Educational institutions and the media could also play a vital role in changing public mindset to a point where violence against women would readily invite obloquy and legal action.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

WOMEN THROUGH THE GOVERNANCE LENS

SANIA NISHTAR


Although effective governance—or the lack thereof—has an impact on every aspect of our societal, social and economic lives, nowhere is its imprint more vivid than in determining the status of women in a society. This comment uses the International Women's Day, which is being globally observed today as a peg to briefly outline the linkages. This year's theme of the International Women's day, "Equal rights, equal opportunities: progress for all", is particularly relevant to governance, since upholding women's political, economic and social rights and striving towards achieving equity and equality of opportunities in a national political context cannot be ensured without effective governance.


Before we examine the relationship, let us be reminded that the status of women in Pakistan is fraught with an ironic and highly polarised paradox, implicit within which are many inequities and inequalities. These are evident in many areas. On the one hand, women are well-represented in parliament, but on the other, exceptions notwithstanding, this largely represents an extension of elite and feudal capture. The professional institutions of higher learning have 50 per cent or higher enrollment of women, but at the same time, there is a literacy gap of 45 per cent between men and women and educational opportunities for rural women remain elusive. Similarly, we see a growing number of women in the traditional, male-dominated professions such as engineering, law, medicine, business, the police and the military. But alongside this trend, the nationally representative labour market statistics speak of gender discrepancies, under-remuneration, systemic impediments to mainstreaming women into the country's workforce and restricted employment options outside of the informal sectors for socially marginalised and disadvantaged women. Furthermore, it can be argued — and correctly so with reference to a segment belonging to the higher social stratum — that women appear freer than ever to express themselves in the choice of appearance, speech, clothing, arts and entertainment and that they are becoming increasingly progressive, empowered and globalised. However, many others in their close geographic midst are relegated to the strictest confines of purdah, isolation and disempowerment. Moreover, many Pakistani women of today enjoy a better status than most of the Middle Eastern women. But at the same time, these trends, which are true for a minority, haven't changed some of the deep-seated social behaviours and fundamental prejudices against women, which translate both into discrimination as well as some of the severest forms of violence.

Some may argue that violence against women is globally pervasive. Indeed, it may come as no surprise that 70-90 per cent of women in Pakistan encounter domestic violence and that there are an estimated eight cases of rape every 24 hours. However, what is unfortunately unique to Pakistan is the prevalence of some horrific crimes.

We generally tend to attribute all these abhorrent practices to our tribal and feudal traditions and norms and to the systemic subordination of women vis-à-vis men. That may well be the case to some extent. However, what is not fully appreciated is the role that many other systemic factors play in perpetuating these traditions. Poverty, illiteracy, and social exclusion have a chicken and egg relationship with organised vested interests, of which feudalism is a part, and which promote state capture. A democratic dispensation should be able to break through the strongholds of vested interests, but unfortunately, it sometimes helps to strengthen them.

If the state was governed effectively over the years and Pakistan had sped on the road to development with its economic and social benefits accruing to its population, as has been the case with many Asian countries; if the state had delivered education universally to its population and if an honest government had weakened the organised vested interests that form the bedrock of undesirable tribal and feudal traditions, perhaps heinous crimes such as honour killings and burying alive, would not be condoned as social customs and tribal traditions today. In the absence of these fundamental attributes, which determine the status of women in a society, the impact of legal reforms to improve the status of women introduced by successive governments has been, at best, marginal. Similarly, standalone gender empowerment programmes, measures to enhance the access of women to financial services, and others for skill enhancement have had limited impact whilst the adverse fundamentals remain unchanged. This is the first, and perhaps the most illustrative of the pathways through which failure of governance can be shown to impact the lives of women. Here, it must be appreciated that the term governance is the subject of many interpretations, but in the current sense it is being scoped to the policy making and implementation realms and use of public resources and regulatory power.


The status of women and issues implicit within it, also underscore the importance of another governance impediment — one that relates to ensuring compliance with stated policy norms and standards and enforcement of the laws. In theory, Pakistan ensures respect for women's rights and fundamental freedoms, as is evidenced by the ratification of many global conventions and declarations. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence. Pakistan's constitution has many provisions, which stipulate that "All citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law" and that "There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone" - Article 25(1) and 25 (2) respectively. Also, Article 35 specifically states that "steps shall be taken to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of national life".


Several laws are additionally in place, including the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act 2006. The experts are of the opinion that although all the discriminatory provisions embodied within earlier statutes were not addressed through this statute, it is nevertheless a step in the right direction. Recently, the Women at Workplace Act 2009 has been enacted which aims to "protect women from harassment and (is intended to) make them feel more secure". In addition, laws are in place to ensure women's right to inheritance — an important element in the socio economic and political empowerment of women.


However, there are two issues with the implementation of these laws. One set of issues is generic to the implementation of laws in Pakistan. Secondly, the fact that regardless of what the statutes may stipulate, these are conditional on social norms and traditions, which the vast majority of women in the society have to bear with. These issues are further compounded by the biases against women in the criminal justice system — but more important than that, poor performance of the justice system and the relative intransigence with which it dispenses justice to women.


In sum, the status of women is deeply linked with many elements of the society — legal, political, religious, economic, and cultural. Governance can play a key role in shaping most if not all of the societal characteristics through ensuring respect for women's political, economic and social rights.


So, whilst the enlightened women's groups draw attention to horrific crimes and discriminatory practices against women — honour killings, live burials, disfigurement by acid, stove deaths, and other undesirable practices, such as childhood marriages, watta satta, vini, marriage to the Quran — to mark the International Women's Day, we should be reminded that quantum leaps in addressing these challenges can only be made with slow and steady structural solutions.


The writer is the founding- president of the NGO think-tank, Heartfile. sania@heartfile.org

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

MARCH 8 FOR AFGHAN WOMEN

SAHAR SABA


Dr Anahita Ratebzad was leading women on March 8, back in 1965, when International Women's Day was celebrated for the first time in Kabul under the auspices of the Democratic Organisation of Afghan Women (DOAW). The arrival of feminists on the Afghan stage coincided with the emergence of left factions like Parchamis, Khalqis and Sholais. Campaigning against child marriage, bride price and women's illiteracy, the DOAW was launched by Parcham sympathisers.


In 1977, Meena Kishwar Kemal, a Sholai, founded Jamiat-e-Inqelabi-e-Zanan-e-Afghanistan (Revolutionary Organisation of the Women of Afghanistan), or RAWA.


Given Afghanistan's present image, it is hard to imagine that, had the reform programme of King Amanullah (1892-1960) been implemented, the country would have been one of the first to grant women the right to vote. Inspired by Kemal Ataturk, King Amanullah, who ruled from 1919 to 1929, encouraged women to receive education, abandon the veil and organise themselves. His sister Kobra founded Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Niswan (Women Protection Organisation), while Queen Soraya started a women's magazine Irshad-e-Niswan (Women's Voice).