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Friday, March 19, 2010

EDITORIAL 19.03.10

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Editorial

month march 19, edition 000459, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

      For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. DON'T LET GANGA DIE
  2. MARXIST PERVERSITY
  3. THE DECLINE OF AMERICA - VIKRAM SOOD
  4. OPIUM FOR A HURT INDIA - PRIYADARSI DUTTA
  5. SAVE THE HOUSE SPARROW - PRERNA SINGH BINDRA
  6. REFORMING EDUCATION - ANURADHA DUTT
  7. SHODDY HOMEWORK BY UPA - KALYANI SHANKAR
  8. WHALES, TUNA AND THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS - XENIA NAKA

MAIL TODAY

  1. CYNICAL PLOY TO DERAIL WOMEN'S RESERVATION
  2. RUNNING ON PROMISES
  3. US-CHINA GAME OF CHICKEN - BY SAUMITRA CHAUDHURI
  4. THE LAHORE LOG - BY NAJAM SETHI

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. CLEAN UP OR PERISH
  2. PULL IT TOGETHER
  3. SOME CREATIVE MESSINESS, PLEASE - N D BATRA
  4. 'ONE NATION ISN'T ENOUGH. WE LIVE IN MANY NATIONS'
  5. ROYAL BLUE  - JUG SURAIYA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. KNOCK-OUTS, KNOCKS
  2. LABOURING TO KEEP ALIVE
  3. A MEATY ARGUMENT - NESRINE MALIK
  4. WWW.ORLD PEACE? - RAJIV ARORA
  5. COLLATERAL DAMAGE - KUMKUM DASGUPTA

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. CAPITAL CHIC
  2. MAYAWATI'S MUCHNESS
  3. LIMITING THE RISK
  4. ALIBI FOR TENSION - K. SUBRAHMANYAM
  5. HRD AT WORK
  6. THE COSTS OF JUSTICE - BIBEK DEBROY
  7. FINGER-POINTING IN NEPAL - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
  8. DIVIDE AND DIMINISH
  9. INTERROGATING THE ASHRAM - TRIDIP SUHRUD

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. IN THE INTEREST OF HEALTH
  2. CHEERS TO DELICENSING
  3. MAYAWATI SHOULD DO IT LIKE NITISH - DHIRAJ NAYYAR
  4. FILL THE GAPS WITH APEX REGULATOR - JAYANTH R VARMA
  5. SUGAR SWEETENS A LITTLE - SANJEEB MUKHERJEE

THE HINDU

  1. IN DEFENCE OF PDS
  2. AGENDA FOR ROAD SAFETY
  3. SOME TASKS BEFORE THE INDIAN NATION - V.R. KRISHNA IYER
  4. THE NOWHERE PEOPLE - MEENA MENON
  5. WHEN COUPLES FIGHT ON FACEBOOK - DOUGLAS QUENQUA
  6. THE RAMAYANA FOR OUR TIMES – PRANAY GUPTE
  7. EASTERN EUROPE, CENTRAL ASIA WARNED OF ENERGY CRUNCH

DNA

  1. MAYAWATI'S HUBRIS
  2. LOVE ALL?
  3. AI CRISIS & GOVERNANCE - JITENDER BHARGAVA
  4. THE ART OF DEFINING BOMBAY TO GERMANS - FARRUKH DHONDY

THE TRIBUNE

  1. A WHIFF OF FRESH AIR
  2. JOBS ON SALE!
  3. MAYA'S MALA
  4. A RADIOACTIVE BILL?
  5. REFORM THE REFORMS - BY HARISH DHILLON
  6. QUOTA FOR ELITE WOMEN?
  7. NEW BILL FOR TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT - BY PRATHIBA RAJU
  8. HAIR LOSS REDUCES PROSTATE CANCER RISK IN MEN

MUMBAI MERROR

  1. RICE ON THE MENU

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. GUIDING LIGHT
  2. COMPETE AND SURVIVE
  3. ARE YOU DOING ENOUGH? - SHYAMAL MAJUMDAR
  4. JAMAL MECKLAI: BT OR NOT TO BE - JAMAL MECKLAI
  5. AN IDEAL DEFENCE ACQUISITION POLICY - K SUBRAHMANYAM

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. NOW FOR RATIONAL PORT TARIFFS
  2. MORE DISCLOSURES BY BANKS WELCOME
  3. TO BEE OR NOT TO BEE
  4. WHAT FISCAL STIMULUS WAS ALL ABOUT - MADAN SABNAVIS
  5. TOWARDS GAINING UNIQUE INSIGHTS - MUKUL SHARMA
  6. IT WILL CERTAINLY BE MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL - ASHOK K CHAUHAN
  7. THIS IS CLEARLY NOT THE WAY FORWARD - PROFESSOR YASHPAL
  8. LEVY CAN REPLACE AD HOC SUBSIDY: RS SHARMA - RAJEEV JAYASWAL
  9. NAYAK'S TRACK RECORD, REPUTATION WILL BENEFIT US: MORGAN STANLEY - SIA HEAD
  10. A BANK BRANCH HERE WILL MAKE US A COMPLETE PARTICIPANT: BRADY DOUGAN - ANDY MUKHERJEE
  11. IT'S BEEN NEVER SO GOOD: JEFF FETTIG - VIVEK SINHA

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. THE POOR LET DOWN BY CENTRE
  2. BACKWARD MARCH - BALBIR K. PUNJ
  3. DEFIANT ISRAEL AND BIBI'S TENSE TIME-OUT - MAUREEN DOWD
  4. GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS - R.K. PACHAURI
  5. DO NOT GRIEVE OVER PAST - BY SWAMI TEJOMAYANANDA
  6. THE LAW OF THE MARSHALS - AMAR SINGH

THE STATESMAN

  1. CLIMBING DOWN
  2. FRUSTRATED 'BLOT'
  3. DECENTRALISED KMC? 
  4. NUCLEAR LIABILITY - BY AJENDRA SRIVASTAVA
  5. NEWER DIMENSIONS OF HUMANISM
  6. WHERE'S THE PARTY TONIGHT ? - JAGMOHAN CHOPRA

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. NO RETREAT
  2. STRONG MESSAGE
  3. NOT THE WESTMINSTER WAY - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
  4. TOO LONG A WAIT - MALVIKA SINGH

DECCAN HERALD

  1. BRAZEN ACT
  2. ANOTHER VICTORY
  3. TRANSFORMING PAKISTAN - BY NADIA NAVIWALA
  4. HOPES ON THE STATE DRAFT HOUSING POLICY - BY KATHYAYINI CHAMARAJ
  5. HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS - BY BHARATHI PRABHU

HAARETZ

  1. MOCKING DEMOCRACY
  2. PALESTINIANS DROP THE BALL AS OBAMA SQUEEZES ISRAEL - BY YOEL MARCUS
  3. BLACK WEDNESDAY - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
  4. PERES FINDS HIS RELIGION - BY YOSSI SARID
  5. JERUSALEM CONSTRUCTION IS NOW A NATIONAL OBSESSION - BY DORON ROSENBLUM
  6. TIME FOR CREATIVITY ON JERUSALEM – BY YEHEZKEL DROR
  7. LESSONS FROM THE CUBAN MODEL - BY THOMAS M. GAROFALO
  8. THE JUSTICE IN GIVING - BY ARI HART
  9. COERCION WON'T WORK - BY AMIEL UNGAR

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. FROM SCANDAL TO EXAMPLE IN WEST VIRGINIA
  2. THREE VACANCIES AT THE FED
  3. IN THIS (OR THAT) CORNER, FROM LONG ISLAND
  4. ON THE VERGE OF REFORM
  5. ONE CLASSROOM, FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA  - BY SUSAN JACOBY
  6. THE BROKEN SOCIETY - BY DAVID BROOKS

I.THE NEWS

  1. SUMMER OF SUFFERING
  2. AMENDMENTS
  3. HERITAGE
  4. PUNJAB CAN NO LONGER LIVE IN A STATE OF DENIAL - AYAZ AMIR
  5. JEWISH LIFE UNDER MUSLIM RULE - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
  6. AN EXHAUSTED GOVERNMENT - AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
  7. STOP IT FROM HAPPENING - SALEEM RIZVI
  8. REAL DANGER: FAILURE OF GOVERNANCE - SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
  9. GUT REACTION - LUBNA JERAR NAQVI

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. IMPERATIVES OF STRATEGIC DIALOGUE WITH THE US
  2. STRENGTHENING PROVINCES TO COMBAT TERRORISM
  3. SYMPTOMS OF WHEAT CRISIS
  4. WHAT KEEPS INDIA BACKWARD? ITS GOVT - M D NALAPAT
  5. RAW'S INIMITABLE STAMP ON PAK TERROR - S M HALI
  6. HOW A MUSLIM DEALS WITH ANGER - ATIF NOOR KHAN
  7. NAIK AND SENATE OF PAKISTAN - HAJI MIR LASHARI RAISANI
  8. PENTAGON'S PRIVATE SPIES - DAVID IGNATIUS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. ADR FOR TAX CASES
  2. RAILWAY OVERPASSES
  3. I BELIEVE..!
  4. REFORMING HIGHER EDUCATION - GOPAL SENGUPTA
  5. AKH MORSHED DEPARTS AFTER FOUR MONTHS - M. SERAJUL ISLAM

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. TASMANIANS NEED A CLEAR RESULT
  2. SEX, SPIN AND DOWN TO THE WIRE IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA
  3. NOTHING TO HIDE? LET'S SEE THE BROADBAND REPORT

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. A CITY'S CONSTANT GROWING PAINS
  2. UNSEEN JUSTICE IN SHANGHAI
  3. POLICE MUST DEAL WITH RACISTS IN THE RANKS
  4. LONG WAIT FOR VOTERS AT END OF LINE

THE GUARDIAN

  1. NIGERIA: GOODLUCK CHARMS
  2. LORD ASHCROFT: THE PEER'S ENTRANCE
  3. IN PRAISE OF … TONY JUDT

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. SCHOOL MEALS ROW
  2. RETURN OF EXECUTION
  3. UNSUSTAINABLE PRIVATE-DEBT PROBLEMS - NOURIEL ROUBINI
  4. THE NEED FOR NO-PHONE ZONES

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. INDONESIA, PRESIDENT OBAMA AND TOBACCO - MURRAY CLAPHAM
  2. INDONESIA-AUSTRALIA RELATION: IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO  - DUNCAN GRAHAM
  3. IS OIL PALM PLANTATION FOREST? - YANSEN
  4. NO) RIGHT TO SECEDE FOR INDIGENOUS PEOPLE - HARISON CITRAWAN

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. BUDDING ECONOMIC RECOVERY
  2. GROWING DISARRAY IN THE LDP
  3. REVISING THE ART OF DEFENSE - BY DAVID HOWELL

CHINA DAILY

  1. REALLY FOR THE PEOPLE
  2. THE BASIC PRINCIPLE
  3. GOOD START TO SINO-UK TIES
  4. HOW TO MEET A CHALLENGE CALLED EU - BY ZHANG PEI (CHINA DAILY)
  5. FUTURE GROWTH WON'T BE EASY - BY ZHANG MONAN
  6. CHINA IS GOOD NEWS FOR LATIN AMERICA - BY ANTONIO CASTILLO (CHINA DAILY)

DAILY MIRROR

  1. LANKA'S DEBT CRISIS AND THE WORLD BANK'S ROLE
  2. "THE PEOPLE LONG FOR A RETURN TO THE GOLDEN ERA OF POLITICS" - RUWAN WIJEWARDENE  

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

DON'T LET GANGA DIE

RIVER CONSERVATION NEEDS NEW APPROACH


India being a country where faith plays an important part in the lives of its people, articles of faith are highly revered. And nothing can be greater articles of faith than our many rivers, each of which has been venerated and deified for centuries. This is best exemplified by Ganga, the holiest of holy rivers. Indeed, the river can be called a living symbol of the Hindu faith, drawing to its banks multitude of devotees for whom a dip in the river is a sacred and spiritual experience. Ganga is one of the most important threads binding together people across the country. Given its religio-cultural significance, it is, therefore, surprising that Ganga continues to be subjected to massive pollution, and all efforts to clean the river have been in vain. More than Rs 1,000 crore has been spent on measures aimed at cleaning the river under Ganga Action Plan I and Plan II. But this has hardly made a difference in overall quality of the river's water. As much has been said by the Planning Commission in its latest report to the Supreme Court, which is monitoring the progress of work under GAP. The report makes the alarming conclusion that even if 100 per cent utilisation were to be achieved in all sewage treatment plants along the river, Ganga would only be rid of one-third of the total waste generated in the river's basin. Commenting on the health of the river, the commission states that Ganga downstream of Haridwar fails practically all standards of purity, whether it is the Biological Oxygen Demand figure or the Faecal Coliform count. For this deplorable state of affairs, the commission blames faulty planning of capacities despite satisfactory utilisation of funds. As a result, there is a huge gap between the amount of sewage that is being generated all along the Ganga basin and the amount of waste that is being treated by the installed sewage treatment plants. Presently, only 31 per cent of sewage pouring into Ganga on a daily basis is treated.


At the heart of the problem lies our piecemeal approach to treating effluents flowing into not just Ganga but practically every river in this country, whether is Yamuna — which has been converted into an open drain — or Narmada. We simply have not been able to develop a holistic system to preserve our rivers. Our primary fault lies in setting up localised treatment points along the course of the rivers whereas our focus should ideally be on catchment area development. The latter seeks to treat the entire river basin as one unit which, in the case of a river like Ganga, will stretch across several States. This approach ensures that there is little chance of effluents flowing into the river upstream or downstream. Second, we need to start thinking innovatively if we are to save our sacred rivers. The Planning Commission estimates that we would need to build treatment capacity for a massive 29,000 million litre of sewage per day if we are to clean up all our rivers. This is a gargantuan task, especially considering the fact that many of our existing treatment plants suffer from erratic power supply. Switching over to something like advanced integrated pond systems, which purify river water through a collection of purifying ponds and rely on natural algae for aeration, saving 60 per cent of the electricity needed in conventional plants, should be looked at in earnest. Unless a drastic change is effected in our river conservation methods, we would be doing a great insult to the embodiment of faith that is our rivers. Are the people of India listening?


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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

MARXIST PERVERSITY

FINGER-POINTING WON'T WORK


The CPI(M)'s central leadership, we are told, is incandescent with rage and has responded with fury to the party-led Left Democratic Government's decision to appoint veteran thespian Amitabh Bachchan as Kerala's brand ambassador to promote tourism in God's Own Country at a time when the State's economy is in desperate need of a leg-up. The top apparatchiks have decreed that since the CPI(M) is a 'secular' party which determinedly pursues 'secular' policies based on 'secular' principles, the Marxists in Kerala should desist from appointing Amitabh Bachchan as the State's brand ambassador as he has been tainted by his association with the 'communal' BJP Government in Gujarat. Since truth is always sacrificed at the altar of Left hypocrisy, it would make little difference to inform our comrades, who are a living reminder that there used to be once a tribe that worshipped Stalin, Amitabh Bachchan does not represent either Mr Narendra Modi or the Government he heads, but promotes tourism in Gujarat. How does that taint him or tar him as 'communal'? Unless, of course, we are to believe the absurd suggestion propounded by the CPI(M)'s leaders that any association with Gujarat, no matter in what capacity, makes an individual untouchable, to be shamed and shunned by those who subscribe to 'secularism', a term that has come to mean deceit, trickery and short-changing the people of India. What the Marxists forget is that the people are not ignorant of where the party stands on communal politics.

For, only fools would believe that rank communalists in Kerala's Muslim-dominated constituencies voted for the CPI(M)-led LDF candidates in the 2006 Assembly election because they had suddenly embraced Marx and Lenin as their source of inspiration. The CPI(M) entered into an unholy alliance with the likes of Abdul Nasser Madani, praised Islamist radicalism in Iraq and the Taliban's jihad in Afghanistan, and competed with the mullahs in demonising Mr George W Bush and America. That policy of appeasing 'minority sentiments' has been witnessed in West Bengal too where the CPI(M) colluded with hoodlums to engineer street violence and then used it as an excuse to throw dissident Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen out of the State. All this and more, however, did not help the CPI(M) hold on to its seats in last year's Lok Sabha election. The Marxists are now trying to regain Muslim support with the promise of communal quotas. It is not the BJP or Mr Modi who are tarred, it is the CPI(M) which is guilty of communal politics. It's laughable that the tainted should point a finger at others! Big Brother's bogus moral posturing should be treated with the contempt it deserves, not least because it is such cynical abuse of the 's' word that has denuded it of its true meaning and perverted politics in our country.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

THE DECLINE OF AMERICA

VIKRAM SOOD


America's rich and ubiquitous CIA, through its National Intelligence Council, periodically collects some of the best brains in the US and after considerable debate they publish a detailed treatise predicting the future and the last one — Global Trends 2025 — came out in November 2008. The report's most important assessment is that in 15 years there will be a gradual decline in the US's pre-eminence along with the rise of new powerhouses China and India. The report says "although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor", the country's "relative strength — even in the military realm — will decline and US leverage will become more constrained".

In actual fact the decline has been far more rapid and has gone unnoticed because this was obscured by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. American predominance in the information technology sector of the global economy also covered the country's decline as a manufacturing hub. Several other moves and events in recent years point to the direction of America's decline.


At the Pittsburg global economic summit, the mantle of looking after the functioning of the economy passed on from G-8 to G-20, which includes China, India, Brazil, Turkey and other developing countries. It is not yet certain that this group can exercise any really effective control, but the move is significant in that it took place. The true significance, as Geoffrey Sachs put it, was not that the baton had passed to G-20 but that it had actually passed on from G-1 — the US which had really called al the economic shots in the past 30-odd years of the G-7 forum.

There are increasing reports that major countries who are America's economic rivals have been discussing among themselves, sometimes in secret, to explore a diminished role for the US dollar in international trade where it is losing value. Saddam Hussein in 2002 tried to move away from the dollar to the Euro but that was more political than economic; the Iranians, too, have tried to establish oil bourses in Euros for the same reason.

But this one is different. Major trading countries China, Japan, Russia, Brazil and the Persian Gulf states are considering the Euro or a basket of currencies as an alternative to the US dollar. Obviously, if this is accepted it will adversely impact on American dominance in international economic matters. Link this to BRIC and we have a new international economic paradigm.


The international order has always been about control and dominance. The old Palmerston dictum about permanent interests and not permanent allies has changed. In the new international order there are permanent interests but no permanent enemies. Diplomatically and strategically, the US has had problems. American actions in West Asia, for instance, have given room for others to walk into the space provided by the US's misadventure. The invasion of Iraq was as brainy as a World Wrestling Federation bout.


Russia and China have refused in recent months to accept the US's proposal that Iran be placed under sanctions, even though President Barack Obama tried to assuage Moscow by cancelling plans to deploy an anti-ballistic missile system in eastern Europe. The US can no longer press for sanctions on Iran while condoning similar action by Pakistan.


In fact, Iran, China and Russia seem to have worked out an energy-sharing /distribution map that largely excludes the US from it. These three countries have been the biggest gainers from America's Quixotic adventure in Iraq which has ended making Iran the strongest power in the region.

The US will lose ground in the economic sphere as well. American GDP in 2005 at US $ 12.4 trillion exceeded that of Latin America and Asia. By 2020, the combined GDP of Asia and Latin America will 40 per cent greater than that of the US and growing. By then, the US will be deeply indebted to the more solvent nations. It will be dependent on them for funds needed to pay for budgetary deficits which have been there since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, meeting the annual Pentagon budget, and so on. Nevertheless, the US will remain the world's pre-eminent economic and technology power, but it will be a military power that will be unable to undertake significant military missions abroad of the Iraq and Afghanistan variety on its own.


The stalemate in Afghanistan is really a strategic defeat for a superpower. A superpower cannot be seen to have tried to find ways of getting out of a quagmire without a resounding victory. Support for the war is grudging both at home and abroad among allies. The US is in the unhappy situation where one of its prominent allies in the region — Pakistan — has been duplicitous, while another — Saudi Arabia — stands for creeds that are the very antithesis of all that America stands for, and the third — China — is simply waiting for the US to get sufficiently unpopular before it will move into the vacuum that will unavoidably occur once American troops leave.

The US could have had three friends and allies — Russia, Iran and India — who do not want Afghanistan to become a Talibanised Wahaabi state. But the Americans chose otherwise. What the Americans were slow to understand was that whatever be the merits of the case, and in Afghanistan defeat of terrorism was one, Washington can no longer say, "I am in Afghanistan to make America safe" and it does not matter if some Afghans die in the process.


Perhaps the last setback may be symbolic but it was powerful. The US could not win the race for the Summer Olympics for 2016; worse, it got eliminated in round one.


That said, the US is still the most powerful state in the world and will remain so for the foreseeable future with the strongest military force, the largest economy and the most highly developed technological capabilities. However, those days when it was possible to take unilateral action are over; there are limitations to power — military and economic — as well as influence, as other powerful players begin to assert themselves. The US predicament in Afghanistan is the most recent example of these new disabilities.


The writer, who specialises in strategic affairs, is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

OPIUM FOR A HURT INDIA

PRIYADARSI DUTTA


Marx would not have been mistaken in his assertion that religion is the opium of the masses if only cricket had been proclaimed a religion in his days. Post-1996, the game has truly become a religion. Actor Vivek Oberoi, who recently exclaimed, "I have always said if cricket is a religion, Sachin is god," adds weight to my perception. The game's recent protestant version, T20, is perhaps the fastest growing faith among Indians.

The virtual reality of cricket helps to tide over the gravels of uncomfortable actualities. The third edition of the Indian Premium League began as Parliament debated inordinate price rise, the riot-like situation in Bareilly, Maoism, and Indian Mujahideen modules being unearthed. These are unlikely to trouble the crores of adherents of T20 cricket as much as the victory and defeat of their favourite clubs. The IPL is good for keeping much of India opiated.


When serial bombings rocked Jaipur on May 13, 2008, many were sad not so much because of the loss of lives and property but that an impending cricket match in the city had to be cancelled. Thankfully, BCCI vice-president Lalit Modi assured them within minutes that the match would go on schedule. When the English cricket team flew back home after the grisly 26/11 attacks, many were left miserable and only regained their cheer when the visitors returned to continue with the tour.


In the summer of 2009, the world was facing a global economic slowdown. But IPL players minted astronomical amounts of money from their contracts. That IPL 2 had to be held in South Africa (for security reasons) did project India in a poor light. But this was no loss for the majority of Indians who anyway watch the matches on television.


Happy days are here again for cricket lovers. IPL 3, which began on March 12, will continue till April 25. It has already overshadowed our disgraceful performance in the recently held Hockey World Cup. The much-touted Commonwealth Games are reportedly not attracting sponsors. But IPL is well-fed. Whether it is the Knights Riders or the Rajasthan Royals that win, this 'national video game' will continue to keep bleeding India amused.

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THE PIONEER

OPED

SAVE THE HOUSE SPARROW

BOISTEROUS, PERKY, PESKY HOUSE SPARROWS, ONCE A COMMON SIGHT, ARE NOW RAPIDLY DISAPPEARING, NOT ONLY IN INDIA BUT WORLDWIDE. RAPID URBANISATION HAS CONTRIBUTED TO THE DECLINE IN THE HOUSE SPARROW'S POPULATION. BUT THE TREND CAN BE REVERSED IF WE ARE MORE CARING

PRERNA SINGH BINDRA


Most of us would remember a time when sparrows were part of our everyday life — there were so many of them that their presence bordered on being irksome. They chattered incessantly; they made our homes theirs — hunting for nooks and corners where they could set up house. Determined little creatures they were too, for once they made up their mind to take up residence nothing could dissuade them.


An upside-down lamp shade in our dining room was a particular favourite, as was the crevice behind a painting. They were up before dawn and no sooner had we thrown the door open, they would rush in,indignant at being denied right of passage and in a major hurry to begin the day's work.


Their energy was tiresome to behold. As the day wore on, the busy little pair did not let up, flying to and fro carrying straw, grass and such other necessities that go into making the prefect sparrow home. Their beaks would be overloaded — one could have fed a horse and kept him happy on the amount they carried — and most of it would tumble out and mess the floor.


We would make half-hearted attempts to get rid of the nests, but we could never quite do it. Their distress calls, when they saw their home had been swept clean, would melt our hearts, as did their fierce determination. For no sooner had we removed the nest, they would be back at it again with renewed energy.


The problem was the heat. If the birds were in, the ceiling fan was out. Ceiling fans are murderous predators and can cruelly cut the flight of these diminutive birds. It happened once when a noisy creature, flying exuberantly across the room to meet another equally voluble mate, was brutally chopped in two. It was a grisly sight with blood spattered on the floor and the wall. Worse, the bewildered mate circled over the still body, chirping plaintively.


That was it. After this tragedy, a new law prevailed at our home: Fans were not to be switched on under any circumstances, whatever the provocation, no matter how high the mercury shot up. Defeated, we suffered the heat and the sparrows were given the right of way, albeit amid much grumbling.


I do not know when they disappeared, but suddenly the fans ran from spring through summer, the floor sparkled unlittered with bits of grass and other more messy, icky stuff, and the air was devoid of cheery bird calls. We missed them.


Later, much later, I was to realise that the 'common' house sparrow hadn't done the vanishing act just at our home, it was a worldwide phenomenon. Studies in the UK have shown that the house sparrow population has declined by more than 65 per cent, and the same trend has been observed in India. In fact, an ornithological survey conducted by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research has confirmed that the sparrow population in Andhra Pradesh has dropped by 80 per cent; in Gujarat and Rajasthan, it has declined by 20 per cent.


Who would have ever thought that the tribe of the boisterous, perky, pesky house sparrow, once a common sight, is now on the decline? How come we never noticed? Or cared? How could we let this bird, so much a part of our lives, vanish forever?

There are many reasons attributed to the decline: Sprawling bungalows with their nooks and crannies have given way to high rises and malls; instead of hedges, good dining spot and ideal for roosting, we now have wrought iron or barbed wire fences; there are no messy shrubs and bushes in gardens, just manicured lawns with exotic plants sprayed and covered with poisonous pesticide that does the bird or anyone else little good. Other theories indicate that electromagnetic contamination from cellphone towers can be lethal for sparrows while unleaded petrol and pesticide kill insects on which baby sparrows are raised.


Help to the once ubiquitous bird now comes from one Nasik-based Mohammed Dilawar, who has taken up the sparrow's cause rather than wait for the Government to wake up from its slumber. "The sparrow," says Dilawar, "is to urban ecosystems what the canary was to mines.That it is dying out means our cities are in trouble". He has decided to help this hardy little creature, besides studying the sparrow, increasing awareness, working with builders to provide for more bird-friendly colonies. He has been making and selling wooden nest boxes on a nonprofit basis.


As for my home, the birds are back again. With a little help of course. We have provided for a good dining table with birdseed, broken rice, etc, and water for a bird bath. There are provisions for a sauna too; a mud bath where an entire flock wallows in the dust and generally brings the house down with the din.


The best part is the fans run too. Thanks to the nest boxes, lined with some straw, the birds have changed address. That awful cranny behind the painting was pokey, they prefer their swanky new living quarters where board and lodging are free.


On Saturday, March 20, World House Sparrow Day, take the plunge and help save the sparrow from vanishing from our world.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

REFORMING EDUCATION

LETTING FOREIGN VARSITIES IN WOULD BE GOOD FOR US

ANURADHA DUTT


After the Union Cabinet recently cleared the proposed legislation, which permits foreign universities to set up campuses in India, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal observed that a revolution larger than the one in the telecom sector awaited the education sector. Actually, it has been pending since four years. In 2009, a Committee of Secretaries made some changes in the proposals, and the Cabinet cleared the Bill without demur. It is expected to face opposition from Left parties, OBC-dominated Rashtriya Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party, and the Dalit-dominated Bahujan Samaj Party for being elitist. This can be interpreted as meaning that there will be no reservations for the specific categories, which comprise vote-banks for these parties; and that there will be no scope for deploying these universities for political ends.


In principle, the Foreign Education Providers (Regulation) Bill is a logical extension of the economic liberalisation policy, adopted by India since 1991. FDI up to 100 per cent in educational institutions is already permitted. And, foreign institutes, pairing with Indian universities, offer courses, part of which have to be completed abroad. Under the new law, if cleared by Parliament, foreign universities will not only operate from Indian campuses but award legitimate degrees. While the details are still to be known, this much seems clear that they will have a private status; will not need to set aside quotas, on the basis of caste or religion; will be free to fix fees and the process of admission; will not be able to repatriate profits, a definite hurdle in their operations; and will need to deposit a sum of Rs 50 crore as corpus fund. They will probably be fully independent, though functioning under the supervision of the University Grants Commission, or an equivalent body.

However, before the clearance was given by the Cabinet, doubting Thomases had already begun to air their views on the success of a policy, which challenges the existing hide-bound educational system, and is bound to be opposed by those who would rather maintain the status quo. They felt that the main stumbling block would be India's strict regulatory framework. Or, in the event of lax regulation, rogue providers would proliferate. In all likelihood, middle-rung American and British universities would be attracted to India, as well as some from Europe and Australia, which cater to a large number of students from the sub-continent.


There are reports of Columbia University's plan to set up an international centre for research and regional collaboration in Mumbai, and Graduate Management Admission Council, which conducts GMAT opening an office in India. But factors weighing against the full-fledged entry of top-rung places are seen to be the absence of a good reason for their wanting to set up a branch here when they already attract the best students; and the huge investment involved, given the astronomical cost of land for the campus and expense on buildings/infrastructure. Moreover, to maintain world-class standards, faculty, whether foreigners or locals, would need to be placed at par with faculty in the parent universities in terms of salaries and perks. That would certainly act as a deterrent, especially if profits cannot be repatriated. To meet costs, fees would have to be substantially higher than those of Indian colleges and universities. This, in turn, would mean that students would necessarily have to belong to upper income groups, thereby reinforcing the 'elitist' charge, levied against the foreign universities by opponents. But, to prevent the creation of a privileged class of teachers and support staff on the basis of salaries and perks in foreign universities, vis-à-vis Indian ones, thereby engendering academic apartheid, policy-makers would need to ensure parity among them, as far as possible. Assuming that the former would not have give pension to its staff, many academics in centrally and State-funded institutions would prefer to stay on for the sake of post-retirement benefits.

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THE PIONEER

OPED

SHODDY HOMEWORK BY UPA

BY NOT CONSULTING EITHER ITS ALLIES OR THE OPPOSITION ON MAJOR ISSUES, THE CONGRESS-LED GOVERNMENT HAS EXHIBITED ITS POOR FLOOR-MANAGEMENT SKILLS

KALYANI SHANKAR


Is it not ironical that the Left and the Right parties are playing a big role in steering the UPA Government despite the latter having a majority? When UPA 2.0 was formed, the Opposition was not only weak but also demoralised and divided. While the Congress was in the clouds getting a second term, the people of the country heaved a sigh of relief that there was going to be a stable Government for the next five years. Despite all this, the Government is now on shaky ground. This is because it has not done enough in preparing its allies and the Opposition and adopting good floor management.


This Budget session has showed that the Left and the Right parties can help the Government to either conduct business smoothly in Parliament or hold it to ransom. It is ironical that while the Left parties claim that they cannot touch the BJP with a barge-pole, they have no hesitation in cooperating covertly with the party on floor strategy on issues such as the women's reservation Bill, price rise, etc. For instance, without the support of the Left and the BJP, the controversial women's reservation Bill would not have been passed by the Rajya Sabha on March 9. Although the Congress was pushing the Bill hard on the floor of the House, it just had just 30 per cent strength in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill was passed only because the three major national parties — the Congress, the BJP and the Left — spoke in the same voice.


However, the Government managers admit that it was a mistake to have the women's reservation Bill tabled before the financial business was completed. Though the SP and the RJD have decided to withdraw support to the Government, they haven't given any formal letter to President Pratibha Patil. Even the BSP too is not very happy with the women's reservation Bill. Thus the Government now has to mobilise support for every Bill from smaller parties and independents. With its wafer-thin majority, the Government has to increase its bargaining power tremendously.


However, the women's reservation Bill was a rare issue that witnessed united support of the Left and Right parties. In contrast, the entire Parliament session saw a belligerent Opposition take on the Government on the issues of price rise and food security. There was perfect understanding between the Right, the Left and other parties like the Samajwadi and the RJD.


The Government managers thought that the women's reservation Bill would expose the divisions in the Opposition and divert attention from the issue of spiralling prices of essential commodities. But their assumption seems to be falling flat.


The two questions arise: Can the Congress depend on such support from the Left and the Right parties on other issues in either House of Parliament? Why this sudden commonality between the Left and the Right parties? Gone are the days when the Left would not openly vote with the BJP. How could they not make a common cause when issues like food price inflation and petrol price hike, which affect aam admi directly, were being raised in Parliament?


The BJP had been clever in allowing the Left to take lead on many issues. If the BJP had been in the forefront, others would not have joined it on the plea it was a communal party. The leaders of the Opposition in both the Houses had not only adopted a common strategy but were also in touch with Left leaders quietly. This worked to embarrass the Government in a big way.

Moreover, the Government did not prepare the ground for Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill. The Left and Right vehemently opposed the Bill. As the Treasury Benches did not have the number, the Government decided to defer the Bill.


With poor floor management and the style of functioning of the Congress, things are not looking well for the party. First of all, the Congress should realise that it does not have majority in the Rajya Sabha. It has to reach out not only to the Opposition but also to its allies like the NCP and the Trinamool Congress which are grumbling that they have not been consulted on the women's reservation Bill or the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill. Moreover, the Congress managers failed to prepare the other parties on the controversial Bills. For instance, the Government is now trying to explain things not only to the Opposition but also to Congress members on the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill. This exercise should have been done before tabling the Bill especially when the Government knows that the majority is thin since the RJD and the SP have withdrawn support. In the absence of a majority, the Government cannot afford to be choosy. The Government does not want to send the Bill to the Standing Committee because SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is the chairman of the Energy Committee. Under the present circumstances he may not bail out the Government. The Left may not support the nuclear bill but the BJP could be persuaded as it is willing to consider amendments to the legislation.


It's time the UPA Government realises that running a fractured Parliament is difficult and, therefore, it should adopt a consensus approach rather than confrontational. Otherwise, the House will meet and adjourn without transacting much business. It is the responsibility of the Government to get the Bills passed and for that it has to not only do homework but also reach out to the Opposition.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

WHALES, TUNA AND THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS

JAPANESE VIEW ATTEMPTS TO STOP THEM FROM EATING WHALE MEAT AS A WESTERN INFRINGEMENT ON THEIR CULTURE, WRITES XENIA NAKA



On March 12, Mr Pete Bethune, Captain of the Ady Gil, an anti-whaling boat belonging to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, was arrested for illegally boarding a Japanese ship.


The arrest was the logical outcome of Western environmentalists' war against Japanese whalers in the Antarctic this season.


The Ady Gil collided with the Japanese whaling security ship Shonan Maru No 2 in January. Later the environmentalists threw bottles of butyric acid at the whaling ship Yushin Maru No 3. Japan claims three crewmembers were injured in the attack.


Several days later, Captain Bethune jumped aboard the Shonan Maru No 2 from a jet ski with the goal of making a citizen's arrest of the ship's captain and presenting him with a $ 3 million bill for the destruction of the Ady Gil.


He was taken into custody by the ship's crew for trespassing and assault on March 12.


Japanese research vessels manage to hunt hundreds of mostly minke whales — which are not endangered — in the Antarctic each year because of a loophole in the International Whaling Commission's 1986 ban on commercial whaling that allows the taking of whales for research. Whale meat not used for study is sold for consumption in Japan, which critics say is the real reason for the hunts.


The environmentalists, who maintain that whaling is immoral, have been using increasingly extravagant methods to fight Japanese whalers. However, it is not clear why the Japanese are fighting back so fiercely, even ramming the Ady Gil vessel. Whale meat is now very rarely sold in Japan.


For Japan, whales, dolphins and tuna fish are part of a broader problem. While no one has dared to say so, the Japanese view attempts to stop them from eating whale meat as a Western infringement on Japanese culture. They have always hunted whales, and whale meat was an integral part of the Japanese diet just a few decades ago. It could be found on school lunch menus, because whale meat is cheap and nourishing.


The law-abiding Japanese respect the international ban on whale hunting, but regard Sea Shepherd's attacks as violent extremism.


When the environmentalists say that whales must not be hunted because they are mammals, the Japanese argue back that beef and pork should also be prohibited in that case. When the environmentalists say that whales are endangered animals, the Japanese counter that they became endangered because the West had systematically hunted them for whalebone for corsets and whale oil for lighting, while discarding the tasty and nourishing meat.

The Japanese maintain that hunting for food is the law of nature, and therefore morality does not apply.


On March 13, a meeting of the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, opened in Qatar. One of the issues on its agenda is a ban on the export of Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna.

Japan has said it will fight the ban to the bitter end because bluefin tuna — a key ingredient in traditional dishes such as sushi and sashimi — is particularly prized.


Although the Japanese are not the only ones who eat tuna fish, the ban would hit them especially hard because they consume 80 per cent of the tuna caught in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Japan has been deeply offended by the decision of the United States and the European Union to support the CITES' decision.


As much as 43,000 tonne of bluefin tuna are sold in Japan annually, half of which is caught in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The Japanese eat four other tuna varieties, and bluefin tuna accounts for just 10 per cent. But for Japan, it is a matter of principle.


Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu said that if the CITES supports the ban, it could be followed by bans on other Atlantic tuna varieties as well as tuna caught in the Indian or Pacific Oceans.

"This is why we will do our best to block a trade ban," the Japanese Minister said.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

CYNICAL PLOY TO DERAIL WOMEN'S RESERVATION

 

POLITICIANS are a cynical lot, but some politicians never lose their capacity to astonish by the depth of their cynicism. The latest game being played out by the Yadav leaders— Mulayam, Lalu and Sharad— and some Muslim politicians and clerics to demand reservations for Muslims as a means of derailing the Women's Reservation Bill certainly falls in this category.

 

Lalu and Mulayam Singh have for many years used Muslims as a vote bank. Their concern for the Muslims never extended to the idea of providing them reservations in jobs in the states they ruled. But the women's quota is biting them so hard that they have suddenly discovered that the poor Muslims need reservations as recommended by the Ranganath Misra Commission report. Of course there is artifice in their advocacy of the quota. In recent years, Muslims have gravitated back to the Congress, a move that has undermined their political power in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Now, by raising the standard of Muslim quota, they hope to regain the lost glory of the Muslim- Yadav ( MY) alliance.

 

The Muslim religious and social organisations which are aligning themselves with the Yadav chieftains may claim that they are acting on behalf of their benighted community, but they are actually motivated by a desire to protect their patriarchal control over the religious and social life of the Muslim community.

 

Indeed, some Muslim women's groups have roundly criticised their approach and said that the focus should be on enhancing the participation of women in politics which will in turn aid the participation of excluded women, including Muslims, in the democratic processes.

 

There is no doubt that the socially and economically backward Muslim community deserves some kind of a leg up.

 

Whether reservations are the best way to assist them is a matter of opinion. The Justice Rajinder Sachar report has graphically outlined the backwardness of the Muslim community, but it has, unlike the Misra Commission, remained silent on reservations.

 

The status of women in this country is none too good either. Proposing quotas for the Muslim community, at a time when the issue on hand is reservations for women, is too transparently an act of sabotage. The Muslim organisations would be wise not to deal with politicians like Lalu, Mulayam and Sharad Yadav who are on the wrong side of the political history of this country.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

RUNNING ON PROMISES

 

IN October 2008, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit proudly rode a solar- powered rickshaw with the then science and technology minister Kapil Sibal in the Capital, and announced that the days of human- powered rickshaws are over. Nearly 18 months later, Delhi is yet to see a solar- powered rickshaw. This week, she made another grand announcement in the Delhi legislature— that her government plans to phase out auto- rickshaws soon because they are a " low- standard mode" of transport.

 

Just look at the Delhi government's fine record in initiating and administering the current modes of public transport. Some years back Ms Dikshit announced the phasing out of private Blueline buses and the introduction of low- floor buses to replace the dilapidated old vehicles. Earlier this year, however, she declared that she would not be able to meet the deadline.

 

The Supreme Court, in a far- reaching judgment on Delhi's autorickshaws, had capped their number at 55,000. That number has always been flouted and road transport officials put the figure at more than a lakh. Almost all of these run without a fare meter and the drivers bully the customers, charging exorbitant rates to travel even short distances. Despite all this, autorickshaws remain a popular mode of transport for the pricing and because they are nimble enough to make commuters reach their destination rather quickly.

 

When the chief minister speaks before the legislature, she should present a detailed plan to replace the autorickshaws with a more eco- friendly means of transport, and one in which commuters are neither harassed nor bullied, rather than make vague announcements which are almost invariably never followed up.

 

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MAIL TODAY

US-CHINA GAME OF CHICKEN

BY SAUMITRA CHAUDHURI

 

THERE is a storm brewing across the Pacific over China's currency. People in government leadership positions, in the media and in US Congress have begun working up steam. It started with a seemingly innocuous reference in President Obama's 11 March speech at US Exim Bank's annual conference. Arguing that economic recovery required a rebalancing of trade surplus and deficit countries he said " China moving to a more market- oriented exchange rate will make an essential contribution to that … effort". The next day, Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, in a discussion at the Economic Policy Institute, likened the potential of a trade war with China to a great stimulus for the US economy.

 

He did not repeat that formulation in his New York Times column two days later, restricting himself to opening with the righteousness of the cause: " Tensions are rising over Chinese economic policy, and rightly so: China's policy of keeping its currency, the renminbi, undervalued has become a significant drag on global economic recovery. Something must be done" and then went on to argue that " right now America has China over a barrel, not the other way around. So we have no reason to fear China," and concluded with a call to arms: China better fall in line or 25 per cent punitive duties on Chinese imports. " It's time to take a stand" declared Krugman, for the benefit of an even more freshly minted Nobel laureate, President Obama. If this trade war actually comes off, it ought to be called the Nobel Wars.

 

Attack

At about the same time Krugman was making out his casus belli , bugles sounded across the Atlantic in acclamation. A Financial Times story of 14 March ran under the headline " Skirmishes are not all- out trade war", opening with this evocative two- liner " There's a febrile atmosphere round the world trade community. The drumbeat of global trade war is getting louder". On the same day in the London Telegraph , its international business editor Evans- Pritchard wrote under the most remarkable headline " Is China's Politburo spoiling for a showdown with America?" that " China has succumbed to hubris. It has mistaken the soft diplomacy of Barack Obama for weakness, mistaken the US credit crisis for decline, and mistaken its own mercantilist bubble for ascendancy". In case this may not have sounded offensive enough, he went on to wonder " Is the Politiburo smoking weed?" This Tuesday, US senators Democrat Chuck Schumer, Republican Lindsay Graham and 12 others, announced that they will table a bill seeking punitive duties on Chinese imports. It is a near clone of the one that Mr. Schumer tabled four years ago. In all this, the White House and the US government have said little.

Treasury Secretary Geithner when specifically asked about Schumer's plans for a bill said that this was " an illustration of how strongly people feel about this" and he thought that " China will decide ultimately it's in their interest to move". China expectedly mounted a vociferous denial and disputation of these formulations and tactics. We know that Chinese authorities are convinced that in democracies, the media and public personages say things only at the government's behest. That comes from judging others by one's own standards. So Beijing viewed this episode as a coordinated assault on China.

 

Expectedly, it rose to deny the accusations and launch its own counterattack. The People's Daily wrote " Under the pressure of the election year and high unemployment, some U. S. senators proposed legislation on Tuesday to press China to appreciate its currency". And in a display of China's enlarged influence, UNCTAD released a report on 16 March, which according to The People's Daily , trashed the idea that a market- based renminbi was central to global rebalancing.

 

Premier Wen Jiabao on 14 March sought to rebut Washington's charges. He stressed " that Chinese Yuan is not undervalued" and as a self- described " staunch supporter of free trade" he accused the US of a double game: " Some countries' moves to shore up exports are understandable.

But what I cannot understand is they devalue their own currencies while on the contrary pushing for the appreciation of other currencies.

 

I think it is protectionism." A word on the imbalances: It is well- known how China ran huge trade surpluses with the US and much of the world and accumulated foreign exchange reserves estimated at $ 2.4 trillion. Much of this happened before the crisis. In the most recent years, US imports from China and its bilateral deficit have not been mounting while exports have edged up. Thus, in 2005 US imports from China was $ 243 billion and the trade deficit $ 202 billion. In 2008, at the end of the boom, imports had risen to $ 338 billion and the deficit was $ 268 billion. Both fell in 2009 to $ 296 billion and $ 227 billion respectively.

 

These deficits are large, but they are not expanding.

 

In recent years, it is Europe which has seen a sharp increase in Chinese exports, much of it through Eastern Europe. So whatever be the facts about the external value of the renminbi, it has not been making the US trade balance worse — at least after 2005. The last avatar of Senator Schumer's bill to impose punitive duties tabled in early 2006 was more persuasively germane to the effects on US external trade than it is today.

 

Sense

 

It is hard to escape the conclusion that domestic political calculations in the US have a material bearing on these developments. There is merit in the argument that publicly pressuring China will make Beijing inflexible and defeat the likelihood of it following through with some appreciation, as had been previously indicated. It is equally true that an enormous swathe of China's industry and labour are dependent on exports and the government is understandably very sensitive on the subject of the external value of the currency.

 

In the view of this columnist it worries needlessly. China would do herself and the rest of the world a lot of good by upping the dollar prices at which she sells her manufactures.

 

The present policy of maintaining cut- throat lowest- price, orders- atany- cost approach, ensures that Chinese wages remain much lower than they need be. On average for every $ 1 received by China's exporters, the US consumer pays $ 5.

 

Where does the $ 4 go? Transportation, distribution, rentals, wages & other overheads in US retail, and fat commissions and even fatter profits for supply chain owners. If China's price goes up by 25 percent to $ 1.25, other things remaining constant, the final cost should move up to only $ 5.25 — hardly a big erosion of cost advantage. And China could import 25 per cent more from her export earnings. And the charge of being a currency manipulator would evaporate.

 

Danger

 

For some reason, the powers that be in Beijing don't get it. Maybe they have good reasons. Much more likely not — it's just the habit of ossified thinking. Or is it all about riverboat gambling? After all, in 2006, after the original Schumer bill was tabled, the Chinese did loosen the renminbi and it eventually went up 18 per cent from 8.28 to 6.82 to the dollar. Maybe Americans are aiming to get another 25 per cent and the Chinese are holding out for 10 per cent? It is possible.

 

It is also possible that 2010 is not 2006 and that someone has got his homework wrong. And tears and recriminations will then follow.

 

So that leaves all the rest of us in something of a spot. American pressure will mount and so will China's counter- moves. Beijing has in its armoury, more than just its $ 889 billion of treasury bills. It has leverage on many of America's foes — from North Korea to Iran to Venezuela — and some of its allies, like Pakistan and some Arab countries. The Chinese leadership cannot have an interest in a conflict with the US at this stage, especially now. But it is caught between its self- image, the excessive nationalism of its urban youth and the domestic political calculations across the Pacific.

 

The conflict is bound to roil the markets from time to time and in a game of chicken, calculations can go wrong and events can cause an escalation that neither party wants. It would have been best to avoid this business, but now that it is started, we had all better get used to it.

 

The author is Member, Planning Commission

 

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MAIL TODAY

THE LAHORE LOG

PAKISTAN: LONG HOT SUMMER AHEAD

BY NAJAM SETHI

 

NEXT week President Asif Zardari will move the 18th amendment bill to the constitution. If passed by the end of March, which is still uncertain, it will have profound and far- reaching consequences for state and society in Pakistan.

 

The President will shed his powers to sack prime ministers and governments, to appoint the service chiefs and provincial governors and to enforce the ban on anyone becoming prime minister for any number of times. These steps will please Nawaz Sharif who enjoyed all these powers before his government was overthrown by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999. More significantly, the " concurrent" list of subjects in the domain of the federal and provincial government will be abolished and 46 new areas will be given in the care of provincial governments — an unprecedented leap in the direction of maximum provincial autonomy that should have taken place at least two decades ago as ordained by the 1973 constitution.

 

Equally, parliamentary oversight and approval in the appointment of judges in the superior courts via a sixmember judicial- executive commission and a bipartisan parliamentary commission will largely undo the negative impact of undue judicial intervention by unaccountable judges in the affairs of the executive that characterises the current scene.

 

But such developments could redound on state and society if three pressing issues are not simultaneously addressed in a satisfactory manner. The first is civilmilitary relations. When power was distributed in a troika of army chief, president and prime minister — as from 1988- 1997 — the presidency could theoretically play the role of a broker, balancer or valve of sorts. Unfortunately, in practice, the troika always ended up tilting against the prime minister — the army chief and president ganged up to sack two Benazir Bhutto governments and two Nawaz Sharif regimes. Equally, though, when the prime minister was all powerful — as in 1977 and 1999 when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Mr Sharif were respectively ruling the country — the army chief carried out a coup to resolve a political crisis. So henceforth all prime ministers and army chiefs will have to learn how to get along constitutionally without endangering national security or democracy. This requires the prime minister to govern wisely and the army chief to restrain personal ambition or institutional arrogance, no mean tasks.

 

The second is federal- provincial relations.

 

The extension of the provincial writ will lead to devolution of economic power and consolidation of regional cultures and politics. If this strengthens the federation — as in the USA and India where unity in diversity is enshrined in the mental makeup of the nationalist state and society — it will be good for both national security and democracy.

 

But if it leads to financial anarchy and corruption in the provinces or undermines the federation by stoking violent ethnicity in Sindh, sectarianism in Punjab, Islamic extremism in the NWFP or separatism in Balochistan, then civil- military relations will plunge and the powerful national security paradigm will overwhelm the democratic urge.

 

THE third is the state of political economy. Bad politics will always end up undermining the best economic prospects — as from 1988- 1999 when reckless politics under elected prime ministers led to discontinuous economic growth of less than 3 per cent yearly and blundering politics under quasi- military rule from 2006- 2008 knocked the annual growth rate from 7 per cent to 2 per cent. Unfortunately, the last two years under a democratically elected civilian government have not inspired any optimism on this score despite a favourable international environment for receipt of grants, soft loans, debt write- offs and swaps. The Zardari regime, true to form, is leaking like a sieve and stumbling from pillar to post.

 

Two finance ministers have come and gone, even as the finance ministry has been leaderless for long periods of time, including for the last month. The intervention of an ill- equipped and populist judiciary in economic and financial matters — as in stopping the privatisation of the huge loss- making Steel Mill and attempting to fix the price of sugar in a free market — has made matters worse.

 

Lack of a national consensus on how to deal with the Taliban firmly and negotiate a strategic partnership with America has also adversely impacted the economy.

 

On the one hand, it has frightened away potential foreign investors and led to capital flight from the country, and on the other alienated the American Congress that has legislated US$ 1.5 billion in annual grants to Pakistan when the American economy has slipped into its worst recession since World War II. In short, Pakistan desperately needs a visionary political and military leadership to rebuild its state and society in tandem. The military must abandon its India- centric obsession that stops Pakistan from becoming the transit hub linking trade, oil, gas and electricity between South and West- Central Asia; indeed it has to trim its sails to suit a different national security paradigm that emphasises economic autarky rather than military preparedness alone. The politicians have to propose and execute good governance and continuity. And the media and judiciary have to facilitate rather than derail such a process. If this is a tall order, the alternative of war with our neighbours, civil and sectarian strife, and economic meltdown leading to financial default, is frightening. If this turns out to be a long hot summer of cruel food crises, galloping inflation, unending power outages, rising unemployment, popular angst and continuing political bickering that leads to the ouster of another civilian president, prime minister or government, we should not expect miracles to resuscitate our nation again.

 

The writer is the editor of The Friday Times ( Lahore)

 

A FICTITIOUS DIARY OF IMRAN KHAN

JUGNU MOHSIN

 

I'VE JUST returned from London. The only thing that bugs me about the place is the law and order. There's too much of it. There are red lights every fifty yards or so. In fact, the whole place is one big red light area. I went to Heathrow to catch the flight to Lahore. I sniffed my way to the PIA departure gate. On the way, all the toilet cleaners who are desis raised slogans in my honour. How sweet. They obviously think of me as one of them. As I settled into my seat, I fished out my colouring book and crayons. That should keep me busy for the next eight hours I thought.

 

But it was not to be. I dozed off and dreamt of Princess Di. She was sitting next to me in the PIA plane. This was the time she was trying to get a divorce from Charles. " How's business?" I asked her. She said, " I'm not going to settle for a penny less than twenty million pounds from the Queen". I said does that mean Charles is out of the closet? And then suddenly King Carl Gustav of Sweden appeared in my dream and he was giving me the Nobel Prize for Literature. He said to me would you like to take to the floor now. I said not really. All I want to take is the Nobel Prize money. He muttered, " say a few words, for God's sake". So I put on the tape I'd got by chatting up the PIA airhostess, " Bismillah al rahman al rahim. And now you will hear a recorded recitation of a prayer the Prophet ( pbuh) used to recited before embarking on journey". Silly cow had given me the wrong tape. And here I was going to make her my speech writer. Never trust a woman.

 

Then Ian Botham came in my dream and called me stupid. I called him an uncivilized, uneducated yob who smokes dope. He said how dare you? I said it takes a dope to spot a dope. Nope? He said he would take me to court. Go ahead, I said. If I win, I win. If I lose, I'll say the British legal system is racist and anti- Muslim. Oh come on Imran, he said, don't waste your time. Why, I said, everyone says prosecution is the world's oldest profession. Botham started laughing. I had half a mind ( that's all I have) to throw him out of the PIA plane.

 

And then the air hostess woke me up and asked if I wanted lunch. I said sure, can I have some biryani? She said of course, and what would you like for dessert? A tart? I said, " are you mad? Here? In a PIA plane?!" Im the Dim

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

CLEAN UP OR PERISH

 

The state of India's main rivers reflects the callousness and ineptitude with which we approach the issue of managing our natural resources. Thanks to a lack of long-term river conservation or water management policies, several rivers across the country have either run dry or resemble rivulets. And those which still flow fine are wracked by pollution, and often resemble giant drains. Two of India's most important rivers - Ganga and Yamuna are also the filthiest. Decades-long efforts by the government to breathe life into them through massive clean-up programmes have come to naught. Consider this: Over Rs 1,000 crore have been pumped into the Ganga Action Plan I and II between 1985 and 2000, but India's holiest river is still sullied.


Similarly, hundreds of crores have been spent on the Yamuna Action Plan, but there's little to show for the expenditure. It's literally money sent down the drain. A rough estimate recently tallied by the Planning Commission indicates that the National River Conservation Plan projects all over India would cost up to Rs 33,000 crore, with almost Rs 7, 000 crore needed to fix the Ganga's problems alone. Meanwhile, the government is now seeking an additional Rs 833 crore from the Japan International Cooperation Agency in partnership with whom it implements the Yamuna Action Plan to fund the third phase of the project. But merely throwing more money is not going to solve the crisis.


A combination of factors has led to the extensive pollution of the Ganga and Yamuna. Industrial effluents and sewage contribute the most to their pollution as well as certain practices people follow in the name of religion, like throwing holy offerings that are often packaged in non-degradable plastics. Therefore, any successful attempt to clean up these rivers mandates that citizens partner the government or even take the lead.

It goes without saying that the government should formulate strict pollution norms for industries that are situated on river banks and enforce them, as well as boost sewage treatment capacities along the course of these rivers. On our part, we would do well to stop treating our rivers and other water resources as garbage dumps. There are examples from around the world where active public-private partnerships have brought dying rivers back to life. The Thames project in England is a good example where the public was made a stakeholder in the river's sustenance. What's stopping us?

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

PULL IT TOGETHER

 

For all of New Delhi's caviling about the disproportionate attention paid to the Pakistani establishment's point of view in Washington, it has not helped its own case over the years. A lack of coherent, long-term strategic vision and a foreign policy designed to further it have plagued its attempts to win the focus of American policymakers. Add to these a failure of articulation by our diplomats and bureaucrats and the problem worsens. Given this trend, the recent address by foreign secretary Nirupama Rao at the Woodrow Wilson Centre comes as a welcome departure from the norm. Forceful yet measured, it brought clarity to India's perception of its vexed relationship with its neighbour and with the US.


However, this is only a stray incident; it must be made into more than that. There are a number of challenges that await our foreign policy apparatus. Islamabad's continued tardiness in bringing the 26/11 perpetrators to book and cracking down on the Lashkar-e-Taiba, developing more substantive ties with our eastern neighbours and climate change all demand attention. None of these will be achievable if the ministry of external affairs as a whole does not improve on its past record when it comes to communicating and selling New Delhi's objectives; exceptions like Rao's address will not be enough. It would be uncharitable to deny that New Delhi's track record has not improved in the aftermath of 26/11. But it is time now to build on it.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

SOME CREATIVE MESSINESS, PLEASE

N D BATRA

 

Singapore is an obsessively orderly and tidy society. You begin to feel the difference as soon as you disembark at the Changi airport and smoothly glide through Immigration for a taxi that zips through the city under unobtrusive and ubiquitous security cams. If there is an accident five miles ahead of you, i have been told, you would be alerted. The city knows who is doing what; nonetheless, it gives you a genuine feeling of openness, safety and comfort, if you follow the rules. Law enforcement is another obsession here.


A Malaysian-Indian family who recently moved to Singapore told me that this is the safest place for women. In many ways, the measure of a civilised society is how safe its women, whether in hijab, sari or miniskirt, feel when they use public transportation, taxis or walk its city streets at night.


Singapore is perhaps the only country in the world that has banned chewing gums, whose discarded messy blobs are a disgusting public nuisance. Since the unintended and terrible consequences of the 1920-33 prohibition experiment, it is unthinkable that Americans would ever accept this kind of draconian law. But Singapore is different. Unsocial behaviour (chewing gums, spiting paan, etc) and unruly people that disturb social harmony and tarnish the Singapore brand are unacceptable.

If it could, the city-state would like to get rid of foreign workers from South and South East Asia, whose nasty social habits, drunkenness, littering, spitting, loud music and public urination are intolerable to Singaporeans. Many Singaporeans shun the lowly work that foreign workers do and look down upon them from their highrise air-conditioned homes. So auxiliary police officers (APO) patrol areas where foreign workers live and congregate - areas such as Little India, the Golden Mile Complex and other places - in spite of the fact that there is no evidence that foreign workers commit more crimes than local Singaporeans. The arrest rate, according to police figures for 2007, for foreign work-permit holders, was 227 per 100,000 as against 435 for Singaporeans; nonetheless, the country's largest newspaper recommended that "labour contractors and employers make it a contractual duty to brief guest workers thoroughly on the dos and don'ts of life in a tidy society".


Foreign workers in construction, manufacturing and service industries are vital to the Singapore economy, and there are 856,000 of them out of a total foreign population of 1.25 million. But the new budget being discussed now in parliament would impose a progressive levy on companies hiring foreign workers, hoping that hiring restrictions would motivate companies to automate and innovate, thus, increasing productivity. Higher productivity would require fewer unskilled foreign workers and more highly skilled Singaporean workers.

It is doubtful Singapore will ever be able to do without foreign workers, whether high-skilled professionals or low-level construction and domestic workers. For many Singaporeans, 1.25 million foreigners are too many but the trouble is that Singaporeans are not making enough babies. The fertility rate is one of the lowest in the world. Educated Singaporean women are career-oriented; and, besides, they are professionally extremely competitive with male workers. What makes child-rearing so difficult in Singapore is the paucity of infant care for which the going rate is, in Singapore dollars, $1,000 to $1,500 per month for two to 18 months toddlers. The government gives $600 to full-time working mothers. Some expectant mothers reserve a seat in an infant care facility as early as two months into the pregnancy.


The most impressive achievement of Singapore is the mutual acceptance - not merely tolerance - of each other among its various ethnic and religious groups. Commenting on inter-religious harmony, senior minister Goh Chok said, "Singaporeans are also blessed because many religious organisations reach out to (the) larger community, not just cater to their own flock." The self-congratulation was prompted by the decision of the Ramakrishna Mission to offer 60 parking spaces to Bartley Christian Church worshipper next door for their Sunday services for which the mission built a special gate on its compound. Inter-religious and inter-ethnic recriminations are almost absent. Recently when a pastor criticised Buddhism and Taoism, whose practices are followed by most ethnic Chinese constituting Singapore's overwhelming majority, his remarks were regarded as socially unacceptable.


Singapore politicians, city planners, architects, educators and think-tankers aspire to make the city a hi-tech global hub of trade and commerce that competes with Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai, a goal that is not difficult to achieve. But to become a great centre for the arts and culture, like New York or London, Singapore needs unbridled freedom of speech and expression, and some tolerance for the creative messiness that accompanies it. It is freedom of speech in all its manifestations that enables a nation to generate an abiding grand narrative or a myth that binds its people. Today Singapore is a very neat, prosperous and liveable city. It is free from civic violence but its civic life is dull. The city-state has no great heroes. It has no grand story to tell the world.


( The writer is professor, communication and diplomacy, Norwich University, US.)

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

'ONE NATION ISN'T ENOUGH. WE LIVE IN MANY NATIONS'

 

The history of Bengal Renaissance is couched in nationalist fervour. In recent times, there have been attempts to enlarge the scope of the understanding of nationalism by studying the role of artists. The Alternate Nation of Abanindranath Tagore is a study of the painter by his great grandson and art historian Debshish Banerjee . Banerjee spoke to Krishnan Unni P about the need to understand the history of Bengal paintings and the changing patterns of nationalism:


Can you explain the notion of alternative nation that goes as a main thread in your work?

Well, as you know Bengal school of painting is always considered an important step in the understanding of nationalism. But what is nationalism? For me, this question has always been very problematic. There were different methodologies in understanding Bengal school and the works of Abanindranath, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy and others. Since all attempts to study these great masters were done in a similar way, they only aimed to produce one element of the history of Bengal painting. I attempt to look at Abanindranath's works from the contemporary discourses of subaltern historiography. Ideas of nationalism have changed phenomenally in the past two decades. I have located my study in the post-colonial context where new voices of subalterns figure. The work of scholars like Dipesh Chakraborty has influenced me a lot. My work is an extension of his ideas of the subaltern subject and it tries to locate Abanindranath at a theoretical perspective of Bengal regionalism and the evolving ideas of nationalism.


Do you imply that Abanindranath's paintings situated subaltern subjects consciously?

I do believe that Abanindranath was aware of these subjects. He never portrayed them as stereotypes. But there was hardly any awareness of subaltern subjects at that point of time.


You mention that Bengal bhadralok was very rigid and consistent in their view of themes and situations.

 

Sisir Ghosh, a representative voice of the bhadralok, attacked the Krishna Lila series of paintings of Abanindranath. He published articles against him in leading Bengali journals. For Ghosh, Vaishnavism was very pure and Radha, particularly, should be portrayed in a traditional way. Abanindranath broke the rules and traditions. Krishna Lila paintings portray heterodoxy. His depiction of body was the product of several performances that were popular during those periods. Performances like Jatras and other festivals influenced him. But i don't think Abanindranath worked with any fixed notion of body in mind. It is interesting to note that in his later works body is transformed into many beliefs and discourses.


You often refer to Nandalal Bose. Do you think he carried Abanindranath's legacy?

To some extent yes. But legacy is a problematic usage. The Tagore family faced acute questions of partition. Things were divided among the descendents and there was no unity among them. Nandalal's works are like a seamless river. But he never could think about the alternate nation.

 

Will you always have the idea of the alternate nation as a solution?

A nation is a compendium of identities and differences. Regions are alive. They are not represented. Their voices are not heard. In my work, i am aware of the growing questions of the region. One nation is not enough. We live in many nations. Hence, the importance of Abanindranath and his works.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

ROYAL BLUE

JUG SURAIYA

 

The other day i turned down an invitation 'very regretfully'  which was extended to me on behalf of the queen. No, not Soniaji. The queen in this case was Elizabeth II of Britain, and the invite was to celebrate her birthday in Delhi. She wasn't going to be there in person, being too busy passing round the wafer-thin cucumber sandwiches which i'm told are the specialty of the house at Buckingham Palace where she'd be hosting a garden party for her birthday. But in her stead there was going to be her son, His Royal Highness The Price Andrew, Duke of York, KG, or Randy Andy as he is known among his intimates.

 

As i said, i'd like to have gone and conveyed my birthday wishes to the queen through her son, but a couple of points of protocol gave me pause. Protocol - which is not a genetically modified protein-rich cauliflower, though it might sound like one - is very important when meeting royalty, particularly British royalty. For example, women are meant to curtsey on being presented to a royal personage. When i first encountered the word in print i thought someone had spelt 'courtesy' wrong. Then i discovered curtsey was a different form of courtesy: it was the courtesy shown to royals and consisted of flexing one's knees and bowing. Women were meant to curtsey to the royal family. But what about men? What about me? What was i meant to do? Give the guy a high five? A jappa-jhappi in good north Indian style? Enquire how they were hanging? And what did one call him? Randy Andy seemed a bit familiar at a first meeting. Was Randolph Andrew formal enough? And why was he The Prince Andrew? To distinguish him from other Prince Andrews who might be lurking in the shrubbery? He was also, confusingly, called Duke of York. So could one also call him Duke for short, which i recall was the late John Wayne's nickname. Had the cowboy star been related to this Duke, and if so, to the queen? And what was the KG tucked away at the end of the name? An educational qualification? As in Kinder Garten? Nothing like primary education. Specially for princes.

 

What did one talk to primarily-educated princes about? What would i talk to His Royal Highness, Kinder Garten, about? Ask him when Mataji was finally going to step down so that his elder brother could get to be king while still a stripling in his seventies? (And they call India a gerontocracy. Look at Rahul. Still in his 30s and already Emperor-in-Waiting. And him not even a KG.)Such qualms aside, experience has taught me that i have an unfortunate effect on royalty. Take Bhutan. I went up there in 1974 for the coronation of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, and barely 34 years after his own coronation, King Jigme made Bhutan a democracy and his eldest son, Jigme Khesar Namgyal, also king. With the result that Bhutan is a democracy with not one but two kings, known respectively as K4 and K5. Which i guess is better than KG, but still pretty confusing to the lay public who don't know who they should first tug their forelocks to.

 

Years ago at a Calcutta get-together, Bunny and i met the middle son of a local maharaja. The maharajling proved an affable chap and we were soon chatting. Then he said: I hope the two of you are brahmins; protocol dictates that i can speak only to brahmins. Bunny and I had to confess to our non-brahminess. We didn't know what caste we were. OBCs maybe? Oh dear, said the maharajling. What'll we do then? Then he brightened. Tell you what, he said. Being royalty i can make both of you brahmins for the day, then we can carrying on talking. But i had a counter-proposal. Instead of turning us into one-day brahmins, why didn't the maharajling turn himself into a one-day OBC? And that was how India's first and only OBC maharajling was created.

 

This is why in the end i didn't go to meet Andy, KG. What if, as a result, he decided that he too was an OBC: an Other Backward Crown? His Mataji would never've forgiven me.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

KNOCK-OUTS, KNOCKS

 

One of the good things of a truly sporting nation is that there's something to celebrate about at any given time. Take Australia. If its players had faltered in a tennis tournament somewhere on the planet this month, they could jolly well celebrate winning the Hockey World Cup. If they don't manage to flick their way to the top in hockey, there's always swimming, cricket, rugby... India's recent broadening of its sporting prowess brings similar good tidings. We performed abysmally in hockey earlier this month. So what? We've just picked up six gold medals in the Commonwealth Boxing Championship with India winning the overall team title. How's that for a pre-Commonwealth Games booster?

 

These are interesting times for Indian sports. While cricket gets its 'natural' support system, sports like shooting, tennis, badminton, golf and boxing are getting more and more enthusiastic notice. This rebuts the theory that a sport must first become popular among Indians and then alone will the individuals deliver. The truth is the opposite. To provide an example: India may have started following cricket with a vengeance after the 1983 Prudential Cup victory, but a world-beating team had to be there to do the needful.

 

So as the boys in the ring collecting gold medals, sports like hockey (where we have slid down the pole) and football (where we remain barefeet in the park) should quit their traditional whining and train to be world-beaters. Our pugilists were a knock-out spectacle at this week's tournament. We hope that other sports in India take the cue and deliver similar upper-cuts.

Justice maybe a long time coming, but the heartening thing is that the law in India is constantly evolving to plug loopholes and correct imbalances. The latest is a draft bill that the home ministry is working on to broaden the terms of sexual crimes and make its provisions gender-neutral. The word rape is sought to be replaced with the term sexual assault in order that different forms of sexual abuse come under its umbrella. This is impor- tant in two specific contexts. One, the courts have decrimi- nalised homosexuality, which while being a positive step also brings rape among same sex partners under the purview of the law. The other is that there will be redressal for the boy child in cases of molestation. A study by the ministry of women and child development shows that more boys suffer sexual abuse than girls and that one out of two children have suffered some form of molestation usually between the ages of 9 to 12. In the case of boys, only proven sodomy is an offence so far and does not take into account other forms of sexual offences or harassment. Already, the law has evolved mecha- nisms to lessen the trauma of child victims, providing them the means to have hearings at home. The same goes for women victims of sexual crimes.

So far, the definition of sexual crimes, particularly rape, has been in the context of women and the girl child. This seems to have led to a quantum increase in crimes against the boy child. In Delhi alone, a government study showed that far greater number of boys were abused than girls. This suggests that the boy child has little protection and that offenders have taken advantage of the gaps in the law. So far, the law has not taken other forms of sexual abuse, including verbal, seriously enough. This has encouraged offenders to get away with all manners of abuse short of rape. The next step is to sensitise the police, the first port of call for a victim, of the changes in the law and the need to treat all forms of sexual abuse serious- ly and in a gender-neutral manner.

The judicial system today is such that the victim is dou- bly traumatised, first by the perpetrator and then by the legal system. The earlier proposal to dispose of sexual crime trials in two to three months is yet to kick in. This could go a long way towards encouraging people to come forward and report such crimes. The legislation may take time to show results.
But at least the government is taking proactive steps to draft a non-discriminatory framework on sexual assault.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

LABOURING TO KEEP ALIVE

 

When it comes to infusing our laws with the finest principles possible, India has no parallel. It's when we come to implementing these laws that we find many a slip between the proverbial  cup and the lip. Perhaps most deceptive of them all is India's labour and industrial practices. Blessed — or, if one looks at it with a different perspective, cursed — with large deposits of iron ore, mining is big business in the district of West Singhbhum in Jharkhand. With the demand for iron ore increasing to fuel national industrial development, a negative correlation to the length of people's lives and health index has become increasingly noticeable. Thousands of mineworkers, including young boys and girls, suffer from siderosis, a lung disorder that is caused by prolonged exposure to red (mining) dust. The lifespan of these workers, who have no or minimal protective gear, in this region is a shocking 40-45 years. In the meantime, in 21st century India's national capital New Delhi, a committee appointed by the Delhi High Court has found workers at Commonwealth Games-related construction sites not being paid minimum wages and, in many cases, being made to work overtime for no extra remuneration. Their living conditions are appalling and in many cases they are bereft of any sanitation facilities.

In both semi-urban and urban cases, we are dealing with serf-like conditions while on paper we are chugging along a First World trajectory. Laws are being openly flouted with the State turning a blind eye and seemingly only concerned that 'the work' is done. Some, like Jharkhand deputy chief minister, prefer to put such 'chalta hai' issues on the backburner (he has asked for a report). That the working conditions of miners is appalling in this country, more so if the  mines are illegal and that many of the workers don't work with protective gear is an old story. What should be a new story if India is to protect itself from charges of being uncaring towards its own people is the implementation of laws.

 

Whenever Indian workers are mistreated abroad, especially in the Gulf States, we spare no effort in criticising — and rightly so — foreign governments. But the conditions here are, in many cases, no better. As job opportunities shrink in rural India and a construction boom takes place all across, more labourers will enter the cities. This is a labour class that needs basic protection and policies relating to special target groups such as women and child labour. There was a time when labour unions held the nation's development to ransom. We can't now have a callous State holding  the lives and livelihood of our workers hostage in the name of progress.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

A MEATY ARGUMENT

NESRINE MALIK

 

I remember vividly the first time I saw an animal slaughtered at our home in Sudan. The hapless sheep was brought to the house and tethered in the garden days before the Eid festival. My sisters and I fed it, watered it and giggled at its silly bleats outside our bedroom windows at night.

 

I was vaguely aware that this sheep was to provide food for us, but as a five-year-old had not fully grasped the concept until I walked out on Eid morning just in time to see the butcher slit its throat.

 

Having spent my first few years in a non-Muslim country, I had grown familiar with anthropomorphised animals on TV, in children's books and bedtime stories. We bought our meat from halal butchers, but never saw it killed.

 

So, arriving back in Sudan, I was somewhat more sensitive about the slaughter process than other children in my family and neighbourhood.

 

That fateful day, our neighbour's two boys dropped by to witness the killing. Once the sheep was dead, the butcher sliced an aperture in its body and blew air between its skin and its flesh — a practice that makes skinning easier. As the carcass inflated, the two boys punched it gleefully.

 

Sorry to be graphic. I could go on. It was pretty gruesome. The poor animal certainly did not die immediately, since the religious stipulation on halal slaughter is that it must bleed to death. The logic behind this is that remaining blood in the body may become polluted and harmful to humans. By the time I eventually moved to Britain, my original cuddly approach towards animals had been eroded by years of mini-abattoirs in the back garden. If anything, the whole process had begun to take on pleasant associations as sheep were only ever slaughtered at our home in celebration of a happy event.

 

Brian Sewell, the art critic, had his own reverse epiphany, having previously consumed "half a calf's head in a Brussels brasserie, tête de veau complete with ear, eye and half muzzle, the cheek, the tongue and brain" like an "unthinking glutton", he found his unflinching carnivorousness did not translate to indifference towards the way his meat was killed. When he witnessed halal and shechita slaughter, he saw animals kicked, bludgeoned and felled so that the butcher could get at their necks.

 

Isn't there some hypocrisy in heartily consuming meat but being precious about how animals are butchered? Apart from lethal injection in a Swiss clinic somewhere, I can't imagine that any method of execution is particularly pleasant. If you're squeamish about the killing, surely vegetarianism is the only tenable position.

 

My own culture is less squeamish, more unequivocal. The shorter distance from farm gate to plate makes it so. In trying somehow to find some solace for the sheep killed in the back garden I asked my mother whether animals go to animal heaven. She said: "No, animals don't have souls, they were put on Earth to feed us." So that was that.

 

The issue of legislation on halal and schechita slaughter in Britain is a thorny one. In 2003, The Farm Animal Welfare Council advised that the practice must end as it involves "severe suffering to animals". The halal method of slaughter is exempted from a legal requirement to stun animals first. In halal terms, stunning is undesirable as there is a risk the animal may die before its throat is cut. The response from religious representatives is that once the throat is slit loss of consciousness is instantaneous and the animal does not feel any pain while bleeding to death as the brain is deprived of blood.

 

Whether one buys this or not, the dilemma is whether religious values should trump secular ethical ones when it comes to animal rights. In attempting to regulate an industry with no common standard by defaulting to the former, legislation also allows for the abuse of consumers who sometimes end up paying higher prices for meat products that are either falsely labelled as halal or were produced in factories were the definition of halal slaughter was stretched very thin.

 

Although halal and kosher methods are by no means merciful, banning them could drive already loosely regulated practices underground.

 

Regulators are probably relieved that so much attention is focused on religious groups at a time when battery farming is still rife and society is struggling to come to grips with mass consumption of animals while maintaining humane levels of farming and butchery.

 

Cracking down on halal and shechita slaughter is a disingenuous, albeit worthy cause. But perhaps that's just me. Blame it on my mother.

 

The Guardian

 

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WWW.ORLD PEACE?

RAJIV ARORA

 

Peacenik-ing seems to be all the rage once again. How else can one explain the longest-ever list of Nobel Peace Prize nominees — 237 to be precise — this year? The tally apparently includes minerals, vegetables and animals, apart from the usual individuals and organisations. Perhaps every Tom, Dick and veggie now considers himself/herself/itself to be as deserving of the gong as past recipients.

 

But nothing can beat the nomination of the internet. Quietly pushed into the nomination list by the Italian edition of Wired,  the — what else? — internet is abuzz with supporters and detractors. (Using the internet to counter the internet's nomination — oh how delightfully post-modern!) They're all arguing over whether a repository of adult content, which triples as a hub of piracy and a virtual haven for very real criminals, really deserves the 2010 Nobel Prize for Peace.

 

Meanwhile, the bigshot cheerleaders — which include peace-messiah Shirin Ebadi and fashion guru Giorgio Armani — are trying hard to convince the naysayers why the Net shouldn't lose out on the prize. A website (of course!) with the manifesto of the 'Internet for Peace' movement is up and running. An extract: "We have finally realised that the Internet is much more than a network of computers… Digital culture has laid the foundations for a new kind of society… Democracy has always flourished where there is openness, acceptance, discussion and participation." At the risk of irking the Chinese and sounding like a voiceover from the next episode of the Matrix franchise, it makes a compelling pitch.

 

This must be the first time an entity has made it to the Nobel Peace nomination. It's almost like World Peace getting the Nobel Peace Prize. I can already see cloud-computing pushing to be included in the Nobel list and the Kindle demanding a Literature Nobel, or at least a Booker.

 

In today's age of hyper-connectivity, when speculations about the next big war being waged in cyberspace are rife, the "Nobel as a precautionary measure" — or as a nudge in the right direction similar to the encouragement given to last year's laureate Barack Obama for potentially bringing peace — could be the real motive behind the internet being on the list.

 

My concern, however, is not so much about who out of the 1.7-billion Net users will get to keep the $1.4 million prize money if the momentous moment does arrive. What worries me is the assumption that if I do not subscribe to war and am your next-door pacifist, I may be automatically bundled into the same category as a 'peace-lover', a Sri Sri Ravi Shankar devotee, each time I go online.

 

The Net works on the principle that there is no one guiding it and that it forges ahead in no one particular direction. It's a replication of real life where all kinds of personalities make up  the online universe. An attempt to tag the Net as a peacemaker... now that restricts things for me. 

 

Which makes me wonder why the telephone, with its much longer stint, hasn't been nominated for the Nobel yet.

 

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 HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

COLLATERAL DAMAGE

KUMKUM DASGUPTA

'I feel safe only when I have friends around me,' 23-year-old Abhijnan Sarkar told me when I met him in Calcutta earlier this month.          

Abhijnan is a PhD student at the Department of Metallurgical and Material Engineering in Jadavpur University. To his friends, he is a promising scholar, editor of a university magazine and a good sport to argue with on political and social issues over cups of coffee and cigarettes.

To the government, however, he's a 'Maoist sympathiser'.

So what did he do to be marked 'Red', I asked him when we met over coffee at the swanky Southcity Mall in south Calcutta. "I visited Nandigram and Singur as part of a students' group during the anti-Left agitations. Maybe that gave the government ideas. Or possibly because I visited Lalgarh," he said. "I am critical of certain policies. But a Maoist? No." Then came the counter-question: "Is it a crime to have my own views on issues? Do I have to choose a side in a democracy?"

On February 12, Abhijnan and a friend boarded a Delhi-bound train to appear for a scholarship interview at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) office. At around 9.30 pm, the train stopped in Asansol. Seven men in civvies entered their coach and dragged both of them out, charging them with 'robbery'. Their hands were tied, eyes blindfolded and they were pushed inside a waiting vehicle. As the car sped out of the station's precincts, intense interrogation — "intimidation" in Abhijnan's words — started.

The men in civvies told the two that they were from the Bihar Police and wanted information on the Maoists. The next few hours were dreadful: questions were asked about their friends, their political leanings and their past. Their email ids and passwords were taken and they were threatened that their families would be picked up if they did not cooperate. "They kept telling me that I would end up as an encounter victim and our bodies disposed of in a jungle," said Abhijnan.

After a few hours, they were taken to a safe house and given bread and tea. Abhijnan was shown some photographs of students from Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and asked about them. The policemen also advised them to shun "despicable anti-State politics" and return to "mainstream life".

Twenty-two hours after being abducted, threatened and held captive with their eyes blindfolded and hands tied, two sheets of paper were shoved into their hands. Abhijnan and his friend were then suddenly pushed out of the vehicle. When they took off their blindfolds, they found themselves outside the Calcutta airport. The sheets of paper turned out to be two air tickets to Delhi that had been purchased in Calcutta.

Abhijnan is back in university among friends. But he  dreads being picked up again. He has complained to the National Human Rights Commission but is yet to get a reply. But he is not the only one living in the shadow of fear.

On October 6, 2009, two people were arrested in Calcutta for being "Maoist sympathisers" — Sadanand Sinha, 57, a printing press owner, and Swapan Dasgupta, editor of the Bengali edition of People's March, a 'Maoist mouthpiece'. Dasgupta died in Kolkata Police custody, and Sinha considers himself lucky to be alive.

On October 6, Sinha's press (which printed People's March) was ransacked and sealed by Kolkata Police's Special Branch. Later that night he was arrested for "anti-State" activities. Although the magazine had been banned for some time, the Press Registrar Appellate Board had revoked the ban on August 7, 2009. "I have been printing it from 2004 and for any magazine I print, my lookout is a valid RNI (Registrar Newsprint for India) number. I print many other Left magazines," Sinha told me.

He was produced at the Sealdah lower court on October 7, but didn't get any legal access. He was sent to police custody. Unable to get any proper hearing in the lower court, he moved the Kolkata High Court on December 24 and was given bail. On January 12, 2010, the High Court unsealed the press and relaxed his bail conditions. It's been almost six months since he was arrested, but the police are yet to  file a chargesheet against him.

"I think the government wanted to tell all press owners to be careful," Sinha said. "But even if I am cleared, I will never forget the humiliation and injustice."

Two years ago while travelling through Naxal-affected Chhattisgarh, a senior police officer, himself a product of one of Calcutta's most liberal colleges, told me that the "intelligentsia in colleges and JNU-type universities" have been helping the Maoists. "That oxygen stream must be cut off," he had said decidedly.

The home minister and the home secretary repeatedly want everyone to call a "spade a spade" — that is, discredit  Maoist violence for what it is. This is a fair demand, for the Maoists are, to put it mildly, no saints.

But then, explain that to Abhijnan and Sinha.

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I n g p n October 2009, the Centre declared the endangered Ganetic river dolphin as the national aquatic animal. This dolhin is found in the Brahmaputra, Ganga, Meghna and Karnaphuli river systems of South Asia. The dolphin is at the apex of the aquatic food chain and is an indicator of the health of the rivers it inhabits.

A Working Group has recently been constituted to prepare an action plan for the conservation of the Gangetic dolphin in the Ganga. While this is a positive development, the question conservationists in the Northeast is have one question: what about a conservation plan for the Gangetic river dolphin in the Brahmaputra river basin? The Brahmaputra river basin is one of the most important habitats for long-term conservation of the endangered species.

Apart from the existing threats that include poaching and water pollution, an emerging threat to the dolphin in the Northeast is from large dams. One hundred and sixty eight large projects planned in this ecologically sensitive region will involve a major plumbing of the Brahmaputra river basin. The Yangtze river dolphin in China, the Indus river dolphin in Pakistan and the Gangetic river dolphin in the Ganga have been affected by dams and barrages. Case specific impact assessment studies on the dolphin and its habitat are necessary before granting green clearances.

However, the Centre has failed to do this until now. The 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Project on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border was granted environmen- tal clearance without a downstream impact study. Terms of Reference for the Environment Impact Assessment studies prescribed by the MoEF to mega-hydel projects in the lower reaches of major rivers in the Brahmaputra river basin such as the Siang and Lohit ask for studies to be restricted to only 10 km downstream and do not include a study of impacts on the dolphin and its habitat.

On February 12, the MoEF granted clearance to the 1,750 MW Demwe Lower project on the Lohit river without a study of impact on the Gangetic river dolphin, despite the issue being brought to its notice by wildlife biologists from the Northeast. Is it too much to expect the environment ministry to halt this farcical environmental decision-making in the International Year of Biodiversity?

The writer is a member of Kalpavriksh The views expressed by the author are personal

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CAPITAL CHIC

 

Some years ago, David Cameron, then newly installed as chief of Britain's Conservative Party, used a visit to India for an interesting experiment. The ruling Labour Party then still retained the Blairite touch for seeming to know where the future was, and Cameron was eager to not just outdo the incumbents but also mark himself apart from his unelectable predecessors as shadow prime ministers. So, on the India trip, he kept a blog and he hopped into an auto-rickshaw, and chirped about "going green in a Delhi tuk tuk". He was, by all appearances, the man who'd bring global cool to a land that was done with Blair's Cool Britannia cheerleading. (But he did get the diction wrong, with tuk tuk invoking Southeast Asia.)

 

The verdict on Cameron's persistent experiments with remaking his party will come this summer. But with Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit suggesting this week that Delhi's streets should be liberated from these three-wheelers, it is interesting to recall how, just about a decade ago, they made over the capital's image. As the courts monitored the city's public transport system's shift to CNG, the ubiquitous autos became the flag-bearers of Delhi's cleaner air. They no longer belched noxious fumes, and by changing to a green colour code, they snaked the message through the city's roads.

 

Much has been made of the auto-rickshaws' unique road experience, and of the anachronistic licence raj that dominates who may or may not own one. But recent years have also yielded auto chic. Miniature models are a popular Delhi souvenir. And were auto-rickshaws to leave the city, one wonders what form of transport would match their utility in navigating both bylanes and boulevards.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MAYAWATI'S MUCHNESS

 

Marking 25 years of the party, the BSP rally in Lucknow boiled with money. As thousands of BSP faithful looked on, what looked like a great pink sea anemone descended on Mayawati's shoulders — a garland of thousand-rupee notes — which framed her dramatically. While opposition leaders had near-seizures at the sight, Mayawati ignored them and, later in Patna, beamed as BSP workers decorated her with another Rs 18 lakh-heavy garland, and generally rubbed in her radical indifference to the protocols of "responsible" politics.

 

Others might prefer to cast a veil on the sordid mechanics of party finance, but not Mayawati. She encourages heavy tributes from party workers and supporters, and makes a PR point about being funded by the masses. In BSP politics, symbols matter crucially, and care is taken to avoid the traditional, and much parodied, staples of the political stage — so, for example, the longstanding BSP aversion to the flowery garlands and the familiar garb of the politician. And by the excesses in carefully choreographed party functions — for instance, her birthdays — she invests BSP politics with an edginess that keeps her voters keenly interested. Come out and critique me, she seems to say to her opponents; and see if they can do so without revealing their hypocrisy and prejudice, she messages her voters. Installing one's own statues might look like megalomania, but from Mayawati's vantage point, there's no need for modesty when you are a vessel for a larger movement and the aspirations of millions. After all, a burgeoning Dalit selfhood was responsible for Ambedkar statues being installed across the country. Many of these were garlanded with shoes in an attempt to divest the man and the movement of authority and dignity. It's all symbolic warfare — the campaign against Mayawati's statues then becomes another reminder of the exclusions being sought to be perpetuated in a land dotted with memorials to a chosen few.

 

So Mayawati and her detractors have no meeting ground. BSP politics has changed the grammar of north Indian politics. At a time when the Lok Sabha results have compelled her to rally her core support base, her political opponents are still catching up.

 

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 INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LIMITING THE RISK

 

After the government's poor floor management in Parliament over the nuclear liability bill, the National Security Advisor's discussion of the proposed legislation with the opposition is welcome. The debate on the legislation appears to be finally moving from ideology to its practical aspects. Legislation that does what the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill aims to do is necessary because India has no legal mechanism to financially compensate victims of nuclear accidents; almost all nuclear powers have strong legislation in this regard. Nor will it be possible to open up India's nuclear sector for private vendors without such legislation in place. So far, the state has monopolised the sector; but as it liberalises, liability cover and an insurance market are a necessity. It is not just the US (whose nuclear suppliers cannot do business in a state without a liability law) but also France (whose suppliers can) that are insisting on the law.

 

The bill must be explained and understood in factual terms. Amidst charges of it being tailored to suit US suppliers while holding the Indian operator solely responsible, it should be understood that this presents the best way to speedily compensate victims, who will not have to move court or await the end of the investigation. Besides, the operator can work a supplier's accountability into the agreement they sign; the bill does not prevent this. An operator's liability is always paramount and absolute in nuclear states, unless the cause of the accident is natural disaster, armed conflict or terrorism. As regards the suggestion that liability be "limitless", that would preclude any private nuclear player from entering the market; there is also the argument that this could bankrupt the operator, damage the insurance market and raise electricity prices. The bill does, importantly, extend liability to the government to the extent of 300 million Special Drawing Rights (SDRs). Additionally, since the legislation will make India eligible for the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC), the government, in case of massive damage, can dip into CSC SDRs. A nuclear liability bill is needed because a liability cover is better than none. In addition to accountability, any bill should create a viable compensation mechanism and build a nuclear insurance market. In sum, it should create a structure of predictability as far as costs, pay-outs and danger go. Such predictability is important for both nuclear operators as well as residents near nuclear plants. It is essential for what will be, essentially, an infant industry and crucial for the development of an indigenous nuclear power sector.

 

As the government reaches out to the opposition to make the case for the bill, it should show that give and take on specifics is possible.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

ALIBI FOR TENSION

K. SUBRAHMANYAM

 

Ever since General Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan's army chief, cited the water issue as the reason for Pakistan having to be India-

 

centric in its defence preparedness in his February 10 press briefing, the discourse in Pakistan has become unusually charged.

 

It is obvious from his reference to Kashmir and water issues that the Pakistan army under Kayani has gone back on the back-channel negotiations and the understanding reached between Pakistan and India during the Musharraf dispensation. Kayani utilised the press briefing to signal that the Pakistan army will not permit the government to settle Kashmir on the basis of making the Line of Control irrelevant.

 

This message has obviously been absorbed by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. The former has declared that the Musharraf proposals had no popular mandate, and the latter could not find any papers on it — though the former Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri publicly informed him that the papers were available in the president's office. In the current political situation in Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari does not count for much. This was rubbed in by Kayani when he gave extensions to three lieutenant generals and promoted other major generals to three-star rank without the president's approval. The decision to extend Kayani's term as army chief will probably be taken by Kayani himself, and rubber-stamped by the president.

 

So much for civilian control over the armed forces, which the US Congress has stipulated requires certification by the secretary of state. It is a popular joke in Pakistan that a general is either sitting on the seat of power or standing just behind it.

 

Still, it puzzles observers why the general talked about the water issue. Scholars are used to discussions on future international conflicts — caused by water resources, energy security and population movements arising out of climate change. But this issue — which has been settled by an international treaty under the good offices of the World Bank, and which has stood the test of time for the last 49 years — as justification for an India-centric defence posture by the current army chief, appears to be totally concocted. This calls for very careful analysis by the Indian security establishment, all the more because Pakistan is facing, according to the US president and sections of Pakistani civil society, an existential threat posed by jehadi terrorism. Therefore the underlying reason for raising such a baseless charge has to be something else, of long-term significance.

 

The baselessness of the accusations that India was withholding the water that is due to Pakistan is exposed by the reply of Pakistan's minister for water and power, Raja Pervez Ashraf, in the National Assembly, that India was well within its rights under the Indus Water Treaty to build dams on the Jhelum and Chenab. In the case of the Indus river, India is using only a fraction of the water it is entitled to under the treaty. In spite of that, Hafiz Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Toiba chief, threatens war, and others write about nuclear confrontation. But there is not even an iota of data cited to show how India has withheld water. There have, no doubt, been reductions in the flow of water to Pakistan in the last few years. As the Indus water commissioner in Pakistan, Syed Jamaat Ali Shah, has explained, that was due to hydro-meteorological factors — a shortage of rainfall in the catchment areas.

 

The real problem appears to be mismanagement of its water resources by Pakistan. There has been disproportionate appropriation of water resources by Punjab at the cost of the other three provinces. The charge of India holding up water has been raised presumably to divert the responsibility for not distributing waters to the four provinces of Pakistan equitably.

 

The most bizarre aspect of General Kayani linking up the India-centric military posture of Pakistan to Kashmir and water issues is its irrationality. Pakistan tried to use military force offensively to wrest Kashmir from India on three occasions — in 1947, 1965 and 1999 — but could not succeed. It is not clear how keeping its forces on its eastern border with India, at the cost of not being able to fight the jehadi forces eating into the vitals of Pakistan effectively, helps Islamabad on the Kashmir issue.

 

Even more incomprehensible is the justification of its troop concentration on its borders with India in terms of water. Any amount of deployment cannot increase water supply to Pakistan by even an extra drop since no water going to Pakistan is being withheld. The dams constructed by India are for electricity generation permitted under the Indus Water Treaty and not storage reservoirs for irrigation. Besides, how will Pakistan's India-centric military posture help in getting more water? Even if they occupy the whole of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and history proves they do not have the capability to do that, it would not result in one extra millilitre of water for them.

 

Therefore there is no escaping the conclusion that the India-centric military posture, and particularly its linkage with the water issue, is not based on any strategic rationality but is an expression of visceral animosity towards India. This perhaps demonstrates Kayani's conditioning during the years he was

 

director-general of the ISI. It is also a clear warning to all those who are hoping to find an amicable settlement with Pakistan on the basis of composite dialogue. Kayani has served notice that even if all the present issues are settled, Pakistan will raise the issue of water — which cannot be settled even if all the dams India has built are blown up, because it is a spurious issue meant only to perpetuate animosity of the Pakistani population towards India. Jehadi terrorism will seem to be more justifiable for a Pakistani on the water issue than Kashmir.

 

Pakistan's media talks of third-party mediation, the World Bank's good offices, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton being interested, and US involvement. An imaginary grievance is being whipped up, on the Goebbelsian maxim that a lie repeated several times will acquire credibility. New Delhi should initiate vigorous steps to nip this poisonous campaign in its bud.

 

The writer is a senior defence analyst

express@expressindia.com

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

HRD AT WORK

It is heartening to see that the HRD minister is coming up with one good reform after another ('A degree better', IE, March 17). The country will benefit from the foreign universities bill in more than one way. First, it will help raise the bar as far as standards of Indian institutes are concerned. Second, it will help reverse the brain drain. And last, it will also help our lecturers and professors to use their potential to the utmost.

— Manasa Gopakumar

Pune

Maya's challenge

It is now clear that UP Chief Minister Mayawati threw down a challenge to the UPA government and her other political opponents that her Bahujan Samaj Party, by felicitating its leader with garlands of money, is not afraid of an income tax raid ('Mayawati won't bend, wears cash garland again', IE, March 18). It's a pity that our political parties stalled Parliament over it but forgot that the RBI has issued a directive that currency notes should not be used in making garlands. But no one seems to be paying heed to the directive, because the RBI has no power to punish the guilty. Why not bring a fresh law in to give it some teeth?

— Bidyut K. Chatterjee

Faridabad

Money from nothing

It is astonishing to see the Mayawati government's arrangements for the BSP's silver jubilee celebrations, because just a few days ago she stated that UP was in no position to give monetary compensation to the victims of Mangarh's Kripaluji Maharaj ashram stampede. If party leaders claim that money for this celebration was collected by party workers or ministers had contributed, then why could they not collect or contribute money for those poor sufferers who became preys of mismanagement?

— Neha Paul

Patiala

Legal teeth

The decision of the division bench of the Punjab and Haryana high court, asking the Haryana government for action against the khap panchayats is welcome. These illegal panchayats are creating havoc in Haryana by passing orders annulling marriages, asking couples to live like siblings, and socially ostracising them if they flout their diktats. Merely making the deputy commissioners and senior superintendents of police responsible for action against the recalcitrant khaps won't serve the purpose, as politicians will not allow them to discharge their duty honestly. If they wanted to, politicians could have invoked the law a long time ago.

— R.K. Kapoor

Chandigarh

Friends for ever

For getting the women's bill through the Rajya Sabha, both national parties, the Congress and the BJP, came together rendering small regional

parties and their tantrums redundant. This can be a starting point for collaboration where major national issues are concerned. If such collaboration is institutionalised on important and non-controversial issues, both can govern without any push and pull.

— K.G. Dave Ahmedabad

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE COSTS OF JUSTICE

BIBEK DEBROY

 

Paragraph 111 of this year's Budget speech, which talked about the National Mission for Delivery of Justice and Legal Reforms, was overshadowed by other elements. Actually, there wasn't much on this important component in the speech, beyond the statement that the government had approved the setting up of such a mission and that it would reduce court backlogs from an average of 15 years today to three years by 2012.

 

We were also told the 13th Finance Commission had approved Rs 5,000 crore for states to improve justice delivery. Let's take the finance commission (grants in aid) first, noting that though the 11th Finance Commission did fund fast track courts, it is the Planning Commission's responsibility to ensure fund flows for legal reforms. The timeframe for the 13th Finance Commission's recommendations is 2010-2015 and we have an immediate disconnect between 2015 and 2012 mentioned in the Budget speech. How is this Rs 5,000 crore broken up?

 

First, Rs 2,500 crore will be provided to 14,825 morning/evening/special courts and shift systems and they will dispose of 112.5 million cases over a five-year period. That's impressive and yes, there are successful experiments. The 13th Finance Commision notes morning courts in Andhra Pradesh and evening courts in Gujarat.

 

But will there be a general success template? Will we get special judicial or metropolitan magistrates for these courts? The finance commision suggests staffing by regular judiciary on payment of additional compensation. That's unlikely to work. So, we effectively bank on retired judicial officers. More importantly, there is no guarantee those outcome targets will be met. The only check that exists is utilisation certificates and statements of expenditure under general financial rules.

 

Let us take 1,734 fast track courts funded by the11th Finance Commission. Not all money allotted was released. Not all money released was utilised. Why? Because state governments were lackadaisical about utilisation certificates. The prime minister told us this in April 2007 in a speech to the chief ministers and chief justices of high courts. Between 2000 and 2005, fast track courts disposed off 8,00,000 cases. When the 11th Finance Commission gave the money, they were expected to dispose off 5,00,000 cases every year. Second, 13th Finance Commission has given Rs 600 crore for alternative dispute resolution (ADR) centres (one in each district) and Rs 150 crore for training on ADR to judicial officers and advocates. Third, there are Rs 100 crore for the Lok Adalat scheme. That's not a great deal of money. But we should note that the success of lok adalats hasn't been phenomenal. The 13th Finance Commission expects 0.75 million cases to be disposed of between 2010 and 2015 because of this incremental initiative. Existing lok adalats dispose of roughly a million cases per year. Fourth, Rs 200 crore have been provided for legal aid. Fifth, there are Rs 250 crore for training of judicial officers. Sixth, there are Rs 300 crore for State Judicial Academies. Seventh, there are Rs 150 crore for training public prosecutors. Eighth, there are Rs 300 crore for court managers, feeding into the proposed National Arrears Grid. Ninth, there are Rs 450 crore for heritage court buildings. Finally, there is a little bit more, conditional on states formulating litigation policies.

 

A finance commission isn't the primary channel for addressing justice delivery issues. But, as the above listing indicates, on this, the 13th Finance Commission has used a shotgun, in the hope something somewhere sticks. The implicit suggestion in the Budget speech that the 13th Finance Commission will help reduce average duration of cases to three years by 2012 is unwarranted.

 

Perhaps the other element in the speech, the national mission, will ensure this. It is laudable that under the present law minister, "timely justice for all" is now on the reform agenda and this mission is described as a blueprint for judicial reforms. In specific terms, elements in this blueprint are the following:

 

(1) Set up a special purpose vehicle (SPV) under Societies Registration Act to implement the action plan; (2) create a national arrears grid; (3) formulate a national litigation policy at the Centre and in the states, to curb government litigation; (4) establish an all-India judicial service; (5) increase sanctioned strength of judges by 25 per cent; (6) appoint ad hoc judges on contractual basis; (7) create a national pool of judicial officers from retired judges; (8) speed up appointments of judges; (9) raise the retirement age of high court judges; (10) fast track specific cases; (11) get the Law Commission to examine changes required in statutory law, especially criminal law ; (12) improve case management; (13) use ADR for civil cases and plea bargaining for criminal cases; (14) use ICT, video conferencing and e-courts; (15) implement national minimum court performance standards; disposal should increase from 60 per cent of case load to 95-100 per cent in three years, not more than 5 per cent cases should be more than five years old.

 

Beyond the SPV, national arrears grid, national litigation policy and the idea of periodic reports to the PM (and public), none of these ideas are new. Nor can they be objected to. Within court structure proper (ignoring quasi-judicial forums), we now have a pendency of 29.1 million — 47,000 in the Supreme Court, 3.7 million in the high courts and 25.4 million in the lower courts. An appalling 5,30,000 cases in our high courts are more than 10 years old and we no longer seem to have age-specific data for the lower courts. Two-thirds of this pendency are criminal cases (concentrated in the lower courts.) It goes without saying that this isn't tenable. Since criminal law falls under the home ministry and reforms in criminal justice are also contingent on police reforms, is the system likely to become credible by 2012?

 

Consider also the costs of improving legal infrastructure. There are different ways of working out the required number of courts/judges, judge-case ratio and judge-population ratio. Whichever way this is worked out, we are talking about 20,000 more courts and 40,000-60,000 more judges. This requires fixed costs of at least Rs 80,000 crore and annual running costs of at least Rs 1,60,000 crore. Finance commissions don't dish out that kind of money. The Planning Commission does, but that is (since 1993) through a centrally-sponsored scheme, where 50 per cent of matching grant is provided by the states. While increasing courts/judges is not the only solution, it is an integral component.

 

Indeed, if the legal system becomes more credible, more people may resort to courts. The simple point is: reducing pendency has large costs and because of fiscal constraints, both the Centre and the states are unwilling. Therefore, we are tinkering with what seem to be low-cost solutions (lok adalats, people's courts, women's courts, family courts, ADR, mobile courts, shift systems, fast track courts, panchayats, gram nyalayas, ICT). This makes the 2012 target even less credible.

 

The writer is a Delhi-based economist

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

FINGER-POINTING IN NEPAL

YUBARAJ GHIMIRE

 

Last week, the Nepal cabinet took an unusual step, censuring UN assistant secretary general and head of the political office, B. Lynn Pascoe for his comments on Nepal's internal affairs.

 

During his visit, Pascoe not only defended the role that the United Mission to Nepal (UNMIN) has played despite its limited mandate, but also warned Nepal's political parties not to shift the blame of their failure on the UN body. In his next breath, he said the UN might fold up the UNMIN business in Nepal. There is nothing unusual in Nepal, especially the past four years, in international agencies and diplomats "advising" Nepali authorities on how they should run the country, bypassing all norms. Donor money has played a big role in manufacturing "experts" and consent overnight, which has played a substantial role in guiding the country's policy and the uncertain constitution formation process.

 

Some international agencies have already taken note. Japan and Denmark have warned Nepali actors against their euphoria about federalism. The suggestion comes at a time when the groups who claim that federalism, as demanded by the Maoists and other radical groups will break the country, are gaining support. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) wants autonomous provinces with the right to self-determination, and of course a weak centre. It has also advocated ethnicity-based provinces. But in a country with 103 ethnic groups and castes, the fragmentation of state and society on that basis may produce effects not anticipated. Japan and Denmark's reactions come as early warning.

 

China has already advised Nepali authorities that Nepal should be the master of its own fate. This is also being seen as a message that India's influence — perceived as decisive — should not continue. Following India's visibly growing role in the political change of 2006 and afterwards, China has reformulated its stance, similarly wooing Nepal's parties and institutions, including the army.

 

Given the continuing political instability, China is also clear that the army should not be demoralised as it provides some stability. After almost four years of silence, humiliation, suspension and the exit of the monarchy, former King Gyanendra is now tentatively coming out in public, with the message that he quit in the hope of peace and stability. With law and order at its lowest ebb, there are those who claim that the monarchy has not lost its relevance. The fear of balkanisation and Nepal entering a no-constitution regime after May 28 may further embolden such voices.

 

Hindu groups have accused the West, churches and "greedy politicians" of sudden shift from a Hindu state to a secular one without giving the Nepali people a chance to decide. Similarly, a section of the civil society and political parties, after four years of lying low, have demanded that Gyanendra and the governments of Nepal and India publicise Manmohan Singh's message to the palace in April 2006, which helped end the 18-day mass movement and handover of power that Gyanendra had taken on February 1, 2005. Gen Pyarjung Thapa, thenarmy chief, recently implied that India "betrayed the king". This confirms the speculation that Singh had promised to guarantee the continuity of "constitutional monarchy". The message had come five months after India mediated between the pro-democracy parties and the Maoists.

 

India is perceived in many ways, by various groups in Nepal. A section of the Maoists believe India is still working on reviving the monarchy. Others call it a big neighbour with "deceit" as an integral part of its Nepal policy. There are who support Gen Pyarjung's recent line. Yet, the way India reviews its policy in case of a failure to deliver the constitution on time will have an enormous influence on the international community. After all, they have accepted and endorsed India's lead role in Nepal so far.

 

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

DIVIDE AND DIMINISH

 

This week, I want to dust off my crystal ball and make a prediction: in the future, the biggest land animals will be smaller than they are now.

 

As a rule of thumb, larger animals need more food than smaller animals; they also need more space. Obviously, it takes more land to grow 100 rhinoceroses than it does to grow 100 rabbits. One hundred tigers require more land than 100 foxes. For land mammals, every kilogram of prey supports just 9 grams of carnivore. So to feed one tiger of 180 kilos, you need 20 tonnes of prey. To support a breeding population of tigers, you need rather more. When we break up rainforests or steppes, or build roads through pristine landscapes, we start to fray the fabric of nature.

 

Which has the following consequences: on islands, there's a relationship between the size of the island and the size of the largest animals that live there. Enormous animals don't live on tiny, or even medium-sized islands — they can't. Moreover, an island of a given size will be home to more large herbivores than large carnivores. The pattern even extends to continents.

 

As a corollary of this, smaller islands are also home to fewer species than larger islands; hence, the ecosystems tend to be simpler. There are fewer niches for organisms to occupy, and fewer organisms of other species to interact with.

But what does this have to do with the future of large animals? A lot. Although "island" tends to conjure images of small bodies of land surrounded by water, such as Bermuda, or the Falkland Islands, this is not the only kind of island out there. Lakes are islands of water surrounded by land. Caves are islands of darkness surrounded by light. Oases are islands of fertility surrounded by sand. In short, an island is any self-contained patch of habitat within some larger sea.

We humans are island makers. We routinely fragment former "oceans" — be they tracts of forest or prairie, or some other vast ecosystem — leaving remnants here and there. These remnants are, from a biological point of view, islands.

Before humans began building roads and cities, damming rivers, and hacking down forests, islands formed in one of two ways. The first is exemplified by Hawaii. Here, volcanic activity in the middle of the ocean has created islands where, before, there was nothing but water. On islands like this — call them Clean Slates — the ecosystem gets assembled from scratch by the various organisms that arrive there.

Alternatively, islands form when, say, sea levels rise so that pieces of land that were previously connected become separated. For example, as recently as 12,000 years ago, much of what is now Indonesia was part of the Asian mainland. Human-made islands tend to be of this second type — let's call them Splinters.

Islands of both kinds are famous for being home to weird and wonderful organisms found nowhere else: isolation on an island allows the evolution of new and distinct forms. But three things are worth pointing out. The first is that the evolution of new forms takes time — the island needs to remain isolated for thousands of years.

Second, the relative simplicity of island ecosystems means that they are vulnerable to disruption by competitors that have evolved in the more intense environments of the mainland. Third, many of the most spectacular episodes of island evolution — finches on the Galápagos, cichlid fishes in the Great Lakes of central Africa, bees and snails in Hawaii, and so on — occur on the Clean Slate type of island. A different process goes on when an island forms by splintering. Here, the ecosystem is pre-existing: the island is created with a set of residents already in place. But it is now too small to support them all.

What happens next is a kind of unravelling, a fraying, a disassembling such that the ecosystem becomes simpler, so as to fit the space that is now available.

When we humans burn tracts of forest, or make islands in some similar way, the immediate impacts depend on a suite of factors, including how many islands there are, how big they are, and how close they are together. Perhaps we can use such patterns to shape how we use land, to minimise the impact.

 

Or perhaps we should stop getting mired in details, and reflect: small islands are simpler, less ecologically interesting places than big islands. When we break up rainforests or steppes, or build roads through pristine landscapes, we start to fray the fabric of nature. We may not see the full impact today, tomorrow, or next year. But by fraying nature we make the planet a simpler, duller, diminished place.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

INTERROGATING THE ASHRAM

TRIDIP SUHRUD

 

Swami Nityananda's "experiments" with sexuality, god-men as flesh trade entrepreneurs, the unnatural and suspicious death of four children in the ashrams of Asaram Bapu have all cast a shadow over the very framework of institutions described as ashrams. And it is the implications on ashrams, as a principle around which religious and spiritual life is organised, that we need to examine.

 

An ashram or a community of co-religionists as Gandhi described it, is both an ancient and a modern institution. Gandhi's ashrams were one of India's greatest experiments with truth. It had all 'that the great ashrams of the antiquity lacked,' as Ramachandra Gandhi reminded us. It was also a quintessentially modern space. Its aim was Swaraj, self-rule. Gandhi's ashram was not alone in this regard. Remember the mystic yogi Sri Aurobindo. His yogic sadhana was both a political and a spiritual act. And there was the presence of Sri Ramana and his hermitage at Arunachala; where Sri Ramana made the most complex of advaita experience available to the seekers who came to him. His quest was the highest form of freedom, which is mukti. There was Tagore and his Shantiniketan, which strove for aesthetic freedom.

 

The salience of this category called the ashram in Indian's struggle for freedom needs to be recognised. The philosophical and spiritual polyphony and inventiveness that Indian national movement was is to a large extent the contribution of these ashram-like institutions. They shared two common features. One, they were all steadfastly committed to truth: spiritual, political and theological. Two, as communities these were essentially dialogic spaces. They nourished and nurtured religious dialogues across religions, spiritual practices, not losing sight of the political. They were transparent institutions. They recognised that as public institutions, they were beyond the realm of private property and personal inheritance.

 

Because of their immense spiritual richness, these ashrams were ascetic communities, verging on poverty. They fashioned a modern style of asceticism and saintliness. Sri Ramana stands out in this respect. He embodied the archetypical image of the saint, a category different from that of a sadhu and a priest. The priest as an institution is bound to religious dogma. He represents the narrowness of religious systems and its need for ritual observances. The sadhu, moved by a personal quest represents the incessant movement of the restlessness of such a quest. But a saint is a point of repose, of the possibility of stillness. The saint symbolises the extent of spiritual freedom that we as human beings are capable of. Therefore, most religions, though reverential towards its saints are always and perpetually ill at ease with their effervescent openness.

 

The person who changed these ascetic spaces forever in modern India was that mystifying guru, Rajneesh. He was, along with Mahesh Yogi, the pioneer in the marketplace for a new, transnational spirituality. Both drew upon the deep spiritual void that the West of the 1960s and its readiness to experiment with alternatives. There was the new Indian middle class too, disenchanted with the sociability of the temple and uneasy with the sparseness of older ashrams. Rajneesh with his ninety two Rolls Royces, jewel-encrusted robes and the sanitised environment of his ashram that kept both allergies and the masses out, filled a need. His ashrams in Poona and Oregon were impregnable. He created a cult and the first global market for spirituality before the advent of televised sermons. Unlike his contemporaries like Shri Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi, there was no attempt to create a welfare organisation.

 

Asaram Bapu and Swami Nityanada represent a post-Rajneesh period and at the same time, draw upon the model of the close ashram space. The figure of the guru is all-powerful. His authority and primacy are unchallenged. But there is a marked difference in the sociology of the following. The sect draws its strength from one dominant community. It is not global but has a following in the diasporas, which give it a transnational character. The organisation is suspicious of all public scrutiny, including that by police. They are dismissive of all pleas for openness and their conduct was unbecoming of spiritual seekers.

 

One suspects that one possible reason for the closed nature of these institutions arises out of its relation with land and property. Here spiritual powers and wealth are both seen as a matter of private ownership, which can be passed on and inherited by a member of the family. Trust in this sense is only a convenient legal fiction.

 

The idea of the saint is too beautiful and evocative to be eroded by the transgressions of a few figures bearing that name. But these movements collectively have eroded the idea of the ashram as an open, dialogic, experimental space devoted to the pursuit of truth.

 

The writer is an academic based in Ahmedabad.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

IN THE INTEREST OF HEALTH


As FE reported on Thursday, in a move that would enable the corporates in the business of healthcare to provide end-to-end services, the government has removed the bar on the direct entry of companies into the field of medical education. This would effectively mean that corporates like Fortis Healthcare, Max Healthcare and Apollo Hospitals can now set up medical colleges. Such companies already have a presence in everything from hospital chains to health insurance and the pharmacy business. The new Medical Council of India (MCI) notification means that they can pursue ambitious growth plans in pure medical courses as well. There is a global precedent for such a move. Global centres of medical excellence like John Hopkins and the Harvard Medical School integrate teaching hospitals, academia, research and practice with corporatisation. So, this is a welcome move. It is part of a broader government initiative to enhance Indians' access to healthcare. It comes soon after the central government okayed the decision to sanction 3,791 more postgraduate seats in medical colleges across the country. Over two years, the Centre is aiming to help add 10,000 postgraduate seats. The Centre has also okayed Rs 1,350 crore worth of assistance for upgrading state government medical colleges.

 

It's clear that the healthcare segment is headed towards an upheaval and transformation. This is a factor of growing demand, which will require adaptation and evolution on the part of both state and private agents. The need for a strong regulator is stronger than ever before. And this is where there are real lacunae at present. MCI is widely seen as a toothless regulator. There is popular consensus that it has not played any substantive role in upholding high standards in the medical profession. There are minimal instances of MCI playing a proactive role; it usually makes news only via reactive, defensive measures. There is now talk of a National Commission for Higher Education and Research, which will bring all concerned issues under one umbrella. This is a desirable objective. Without such an umbrella institution, new medical institutes will remain at the mercy of multiple agencies. Without it, imagine the uncertainties accompanying the raising of the teacher-student ratio from 1:1 to 1:2—which is how the additional postgraduate seats are being garnered. Quantity is important, but not at the expense of quality. A strong regulator is needed to reliably track staff strength, number of beds, laboratory facilities and so on, as well as expedite the setting up of new, integrated institutions.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CHEERS TO DELICENSING


The government's reported move to scrap the mandatory licensing policy for the manufacture of potable liquor and to deregulate the industry makes eminent sense given that the current regulations have promoted cartels and forced low-quality products on consumers. The government's step will ensure that the deterrents put on distillery investments by the states, which were conferred the exclusive licensing powers to regulate and tax the potable alcohol industry following a Supreme Court judgement in the late 1990s, is now curtailed. That will mean that new investors, including foreign players, can participate more freely in the industry. States' control over licensing over the years has only curtailed competition and allowed large monopolies. For instance, a planning commission report in the middle of the decade noted that four large producers alone controlled three-fourths of the market for branded spirits while just two players alone accounted for a similar share of the beer market.

 

The growing interest of the foreign majors in the Indian liquor markets has helped them to slowly increase their share of the Rs 30,000-crore industry to about 10% by gaining a larger share of the premium and super-premium range of products. The states that rely on excise duties to raise around a fifth of their tax revenues have, on the other hand, boosted the sale of cheap liquor by domestic producers where the incidence of tax is more than 60%. The result is that most of the spirits in India are produced almost entirely from molasses, which is then flavoured and sold as whisky, brandy, rum, gin and vodka. But scrapping of alcohol licensing would only be the first step to reform the industry because there is also an urgent need for reforms in the distribution networks as each state follows its own regulations, thus making the states and union territories entirely different markets for all practical purposes. In fact, while some states like Uttar Pradesh have handed over the entire wholesale trade and retail sale in many districts to one single business entity, other states like Kerala have vested the entire wholesale trade and a large part of the retail trade in public sector units. The impact of the domination of the production and distribution channels by a few entities is exacerbated by the ban on advertisement of alcohol products. This makes it entirely sellers market with only very limited choices and exorbitant prices for the consumer—many of whom, therefore, are forced to drink harmful sub-standard illicit liquor.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

MAYAWATI SHOULD DO IT LIKE NITISH

DHIRAJ NAYYAR

 

Three years ago, the voters of Uttar Pradesh gave Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party something that they hadn't given any other political formation in the decade and a half preceding May 2007—a clear mandate to govern India's largest and, at least on some parameters, poorest state.

 

And while the BSP had its roots, and initial success, as a party single-mindedly seeking greater political mobilisation and representation for dalits, the victory in the assembly elections of 2007 had the backing of a broader 'rainbow' coalition that included upper castes, dalits and muslims. Mayawati, therefore, along with a mandate to govern, had also been presented an opportunity to move beyond the narrow caste considerations that had plagued politics and government in UP since the end of the 1980s.

 

Three years on, as the BSP celebrates 25 years in existence by, among other things, presenting UP's chief minister with garlands made of hard currency, it's easy to see how Mayawati has squandered a great opportunity—not just for the state she governs, but also for herself and her party.

 

Of course, there is nothing irrational about Mayawati's often unaesthetic display of wealth and power, whether it is being draped in a garland of 1,000-rupee notes or commissioning statues of herself at multiple spots across UP. These are, in fact, tactical ploys aimed for the consumption of a particular social group—dalits. The BSP and Mayawati believe that anything that makes a prominent display of the party's empowerment and the leader's empowerment is a wider symbol of the entire dalit community's empowerment.

 

To an extent, this is true. Dalits across UP have spoken on record about how harassment has declined and dignity imparted in Mayawati's reign as CM. But the marginal benefit of erecting statues or images of leaders being garlanded in wealth in helping this perfectly justified cause of dalit empowerment is likely to be small at best. Overall, it may even be negative, given that this will put off a significant section of non-dalit voters who may have otherwise voted for BSP.

 

Mayawati is too shrewd a politician not to know this. But her insistence on falling back on crude symbolism is a tacit admission of the failure of her administration to satisfy the broad coalition that brought her to power in the first place. Now, her strategy for the next assembly election in 2010 seems to be a desperate bid to consolidate at least all the dalit votes around BSP. But that may not be good enough given the Congress's recent resurgence in UP and its growing appeal across different caste and religious groups. Which probably explains the Mayawati administration's subtle bid to permit some limited communal tension in Bareilly to send some Congress voters into the BJP's fold, thus splitting the vote against the BSP.

 

The route that Mayawati is trundling down now is very much similar to the political trajectory of those two other caste satraps of the Hindi heartland—Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Yadav. And this strategy relies little on a party's performance in government, and on getting the caste arithmetic right instead. But caste arithmetic, as Lalu and Mulayam have realised in no uncertain terms, isn't enough to hold on to power. Because even your core constituency, once it has achieved its goal of social and political empowerment, wants more. Social engineering can help win an election or two, but it is no longer a sustainable strategy for the long run, unless it is also accompanied by improved standards of living—i.e, economic empowerment. And just like Lalu failed to provide that in Bihar and Mulayam failed to provide that in UP before her, Mayawati is failing to do so now, even for dalits.

 

It is when the economy is stagnating and standards of living are not rising enough that public money spent on building statues begins to jar. The new, aspirational Indian voter, including in UP, no longer has the patience to wait and listen to empty rhetoric. Even if parties want to be populist, they need to go beyond symbolism. Congress has worked on populist spending programmes like NREG and loan waiver in its favour. Mayawati, on the other hand, is still trying to make statues and garlands work for her as a substitute, but they won't work.

 

The one politician who broke out of narrow caste politics is Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. And the difference he has made to Bihar's fortunes in the last five years is there for all to see—the hard numbers on Bihar's double-digit economic growth since he took office tell the story. Nitish Kumar's thumping victory in Bihar (in alliance with BJP) during the Lok Sabha elections of 2009 (when the countrywide trend was in favour of the opposing UPA) was the Bihar electorate's reward for his performance.

 

It is a pity then that Mayawati, with two years left in power, seems to have given up on transforming UP's economic fortunes. For the remarkably successful politician she is, Mayawati doesn't seem to have realised that there may be many votes to be won doing just that.

 

dhiraj.nayyar@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

 FILL THE GAPS WITH APEX REGULATOR

JAYANTH R VARMA

 

The announcement in the Budget speech this year about the setting up of a Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) has revived the long-standing debate about an apex regulatory body. Much of the debate on FSDC has focused on the politically important but economically trivial question of the chairmanship of the council. I care little about who heads FSDC—I care more about whether it has a permanent and independent secretariat. And I care far more about what the FSDC does.

 

The global financial crisis has highlighted weaknesses in the regulatory architecture around the world. Neither the unified regulator of the UK nor the highly fragmented regulators of the US came out with flying colours in dealing with the crisis. Everywhere, the crisis has brought to the fore the problems of regulatory overlap and underlap. In every country, there are areas where multiple regulators are fighting turf wars over one set of issues, while more pressing regulatory issues fall outside the mandate of any regulator. Regulation and supervision of systemically important financial conglomerates is an area seen as critical in the aftermath of the crisis. It is an area that has been highly problematic in India.

 

The most important failure (and bail-out) of a systemically important financial institution in India in recent times was the rescue of UTI, which did not completely fall under any regulator's jurisdiction. The most systemically important financial institution in India today is probably the LIC, whose primary regulator has struggled to assert full regulatory jurisdiction over it. Even the remaining three or four systemically critical financial conglomerates in India are not subject to adequate consolidated financial supervision. The global crisis has shown that the concept of a lead regulator as a substitute for effective consolidated supervision is a cruel joke. The court examiner's report in the Lehman bankruptcy released this month describes in detail how the 'consolidated supervision' by the US SEC of the non-broker-dealer activities of Lehman descended into a farce. Even before that we knew what happened when a thrift regulator supervised the derivative activities of AIG.

 

Consolidated supervision means a lot more than just taking a cursory look at the consolidated balance sheet of a financial conglomerate. An important lesson from the global crisis is that we must abandon the silly idea that effective supervision can be done without a good understanding of each of the key businesses of the conglomerate. High-level consolidated supervision of the top five or top ten financial conglomerates is, I think, the most important function that the FSDC should perform drawing on the resources of all the sectoral regulators as well as the staff of its own permanent secretariat.

 

Another important function is that of monitoring regulatory gaps and taking corrective action at an early stage. Unregulated or inadequately supervised segments of the financial sector are often the source of major problems. Globally, we have seen the important role played by under-regulated mortgage brokers in the sub-prime crisis.

 

In India, we have seen the same phenomenon in the case of cooperative banks, plantation companies and accounting/auditing deficiencies in the corporate sector. Cooperative banks were historically under-regulated because RBI believed that their primary regulator was the registrar of cooperative societies. The registrar, of course, did not bother about prudential regulation. Similarly, in the mid-1990s, plantation companies and other collective investment schemes were regulated neither as mutual funds nor as depository institutions. Only after thousands of investors had been defrauded was the regulatory jurisdiction clarified.

 

As far as accounting and auditing review is concerned, the regulatory vacuum has not been filled even after our experience with Satyam. Neither Sebi nor the registrar of companies undertakes the important task of reviewing published accounting statements for conformity with accounting standards. There is an urgent need for a body like FSDC that systematically identifies these regulatory gaps and develops legislative, administrative and technical solutions to these problems. By contrast, I believe that the role of 'coordination' between regulators emphasised in the current title of the high-level coordination committee is the least important role of an FSDC. Some degree of competition and even turf war between two regulators is a healthy regulatory dynamic.

 

At a crunch, I do not see anything wrong in a dispute between two regulators (or between one regulator and regulatees of another regulator) being resolved in the courts. After all, the Indian constitution gives the judiciary the power to resolve disputes even between two governments!

 

My favourite example from the US is the court battle between the SEC and the derivative exchanges (supported

by their regulator, the CFTC) that led to the introduction of index futures in that country. A truly independent regulator should be able and willing to go to court against another arm of the government in order to perform its mission.

 

The author is a professor of finance at IIM Ahmedabad

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SUGAR SWEETENS A LITTLE

SANJEEB MUKHERJEE


Sugar prices, which just a few months ago were threatening to reach Rs 50 per kg in some cities, have eased considerably. In Delhi, sugar prices in the retail markets have moved down from a high of almost Rs 47 per kg to around Rs 36 per kg. So, what brought about this downturn in sugar prices, that too at a time when the common perception was that prices would push up further through the summer, when consumption demand from bulk buyers like soft drink and confectionary makers is at its peak? Well, we can thank strong improvement in the yields in UP and Maharashtra—the largest sugar growing states and government policies like stock limit on bulk consumers.

 

The country's sugar production in the 2009-10 crop season that started in October 2009 is now estimated to top 17 million tonne, a good 2.5-3 million tonne more than the early season estimate. In some major markets, sugar prices have even dropped below the cost of production. Traders who had pre-purchased huge quantities of sugar in anticipation of a price rise are now forced to liquidate their inventories at a loss.

 

The industry—which just a few months back was talking in terms of how import deals would determine the direction of sugar mills this year—is now demanding the imposition of import duties and relaxation of stringent curbs on domestic selling. There are also reports that banks have become cautious in lending to sugar mills, affecting their working capital needs. While the consumer is happy, the millers are complaining because the mix of high sugarcane purchase price and lower retail prices is harming their margins.

 

There are two main lessons to be learnt from this year's sugar story. First, production assessments by both official and non-official agencies need to be more accurate. A realistic assessment of acreage and crop conditions by states and their proper disclosure could go a long way in minimising the scare and help in framing appropriate responses. Second, the sugar sector needs to be moved out of controls at every stage—to smoothen market distorting factors. This should start right at the farm level and extend up to the final sale point.

 

sanjeeb.mukherjee@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

IN DEFENCE OF PDS

 

The central vigilance committee led by retired Justice D. P. Wadhwa, which was established by the Supreme Court of India to monitor its orders in the PIL on the right to food, has come out with a strong indictment of the public distribution system (PDS). Based on State-level reports for Delhi, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Karnataka, the committee has identified widespread corruption at different levels of the system. To ensure the availability of basic items of food at affordable prices to the masses, containing and eradicating corruption in the PDS is an imperative. The committee has made several useful suggestions in this regard, including automation of the weighing system, doorstep delivery of food grain to fair-price shops, speeding up cases pending in courts under the Essential Commodities Act, and setting up inspection squads. It points to the lack of a system of accounting for grain allocated and a weak implementation of the monitoring and vigilance procedures. Rooting out corruption requires action by the executive and the judiciary, and also more directly through gram sabhas.

 

The recommendation of the committee for the "abolition of APL," however, is unwarranted. Indeed, many of the ills of the PDS today can be traced to the introduction of narrow targeting in 1996, and the artificial and unfair separation of BPL (below-poverty-line) and APL (above-poverty-line) households. It is now widely recognised that the current definition of BPL is really a definition of destitution and has excluded large numbers of poor, malnourished, and food-insecure households from the ambit of the PDS. Incentives for diversion of grain, as the committee notes, stem from the high demand for BPL cards and the unmet needs of the so-called APL households. Targeting, it notes, has reduced the profits of traders running fair price shops. International experience shows that narrow targeting lowers the quality of welfare programmes. Lessons have also to be learnt from Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In Tamil Nadu, all households have access to grain of the same quantity, quality, and price, and there are recognisably fewer leakages in the PDS. Prior to targeting, Kerala, with near-universal programme coverage, was renowned for having the best-run PDS. It is well known in law that the misuse of a thing is no argument against its use. In the name of reducing corruption, the public distribution system itself must not be dismantled. On the contrary, during a period of high food inflation and in a country with the largest number of malnourished people in the world, the PDS needs to be strengthened and made universal.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

AGENDA FOR ROAD SAFETY

 

The resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly urging all nations to launch a decade of action on road safety from 2011 resonates with India's vulnerable road users. The Global Status Report on Road Safety, published by the World Health Organisation in 2009, reveals that the country leads a group of 10 countries with an appalling record. This small group records over 60 per cent of the 1.3 million road accident deaths reported worldwide. In India, death and disability from accidents have been rising steadily in tandem with motorisation; and the majority of victims are pedestrians, cyclists, and two-wheeler riders. The magnitude of the problem is clear from the report of the Sundar Committee of the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways released three years ago. The failure of governments to act in the face of its findings is responsible for the loss of about 100,000 lives each year. The burden of injuries is no less staggering. Even with under-reporting, the number of people injured is five times the number of deaths. Research studies indicate that the actual figure could be 15 times more. Yet very little has been done to implement the road map for safety drawn up by the Ministry's expert committee.

 

The U.N. resolution urging decade-long efforts should spur the Indian government to end the carnage on the roads. Action in key areas can achieve quick results. These include building better roads, curbing drunk driving, enforcing compulsory use of helmets and seat belts, and strict norms for use of cell phones while driving. Such interventions produce effective outcomes and the central and state governments must accord them high priority. A sizable part of the funds allocated for road safety during the 10th Plan period, and the first three years of the 11th Plan, remained unspent. This is partly because many States have not met mandatory norms for utilisation. The funds, running into several crores of rupees a year, could have financed safety infrastructure, driver training, and modernisation. The hope is that the Road Safety Bill, which is expected to be introduced in Parliament during the current session, will address several long-pending issues. This law must not stop with creating the anticipated National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board, but compel state agencies to become accountable in the areas of infrastructure and enforcement. Meanwhile, there are simple ways of protecting people on the roads. A good start can be made in metropolitan and urban India by investing in pedestrian infrastructure, traffic calming, and public transport. It has been established that such measures lower accident risk dramatically.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

SOME TASKS BEFORE THE INDIAN NATION

A UNIVERSALLY ACCESSIBLE DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM THAT CAN DELIVER JUSTICE IN AN INEXPENSIVE MANNER AND CAN ENSURE EARLY FINALITY IS ONE OF THE ESSENTIAL PREREQUISITES TODAY FOR INDIA.

V.R. KRISHNA IYER

 

The progress or otherwise of a people will depend on their level of respect for human rights, and the willingness to share and care for the weaker sections of society that each member of the community has, be he high or humble. Today, the Indian government is democratic: it is without doubt a government by the people, of the people, for the people. But, is it really a government for the people?

 

The framers of the Indian Constitution thought that socialism is the only system that can guarantee equality among the people. But when there is a plurality of religions in rivalry, each god competes with the other and a certain divine conflict ensues. This divisive tendency is unhealthy, because according to human understanding there is only one god and one humanity. And everyone's well-being has to be ensured without some being high and some being low, some being in luxury and others in lowly circumstances.

 

In this spirit the Constitution has made the Republic a socialist and secular one. Every member of humanity is equal and god is one and above all creations. This is the quintessence of Sanatana Dharma — the perennial dharma of a civilised society. Judged by this standard, there is inequality writ large in India between region and region, man and man, man and woman, the wealthy and the poor. This syndrome has to change if moral majesty, and equal divinity and compassion for all living creatures, are to be realised.

 

Fortunately this is the Indian tradition and the culture of the Constitution to which Mahatma Gandhi was committed. Economic equality is social justice, if political power is not discriminatingly cornered by some and denied to some others. When India won its freedom and made its tryst with destiny, the responsibility devolved on the nation to ensure that every tear shall be wiped out, and that all suffering will be eliminated to the extent the human pharmacopoeia can. This was laid down in the Preamble as everyone's set of rights, critically as the right to justice, social, economic and political.

 

As a practical aspect of this materialistic principle, every person was given an equal right to vote through periodic elections. India has had elections at regular intervals. The little man or woman with a little seal making a little mark, or pressing a small button on a compact machine in a tiny enclosure in private — no amount of criticism or rhetoric can diminish the importance of this great democratic operation. The Father of the Nation, and the values of the Constitution, stand by this principle.

 

But what is the reality today? The Constitution is nearly dead. Its egalitarian values have been all but violated. The rich are rising to richer heights while the poor are going downhill to even more desperate depths. State power is in the hands of multinational corporations and there is much distortion of distributive wealth. The rich are very often able to control the electorate by bribery communalism and abuse of power by an executive that is apathetic to the tears of the many but is willing to purchase their ballots by means of money and extravagant publicity.

 

Even the courts of law where justice is dispensed are more amenable to the richer classes than to others. Being poor and under-privileged, the masses often give away their votes for cash. They have no hope in the system and can only either surrender to it or overthrow it by means of violence or extremism.

 

It would sometimes appear that there is no hope in the future save terrorism, and turning democracy into a travesty. One might wonder why god is so unequal. Poor god has indeed become a commodity to be purchased by the rich. The bishop may live the high life while the parishioner begs before the church. This was the fate of even Jesus who pleaded for change like a revolutionary.

 

In Hinduism and Islam there is the same sort of division of the haves and the have-nots. Indeed, piety and devotion make people succumb to the existing unjust order and accept the ruling system. Exploitation is concealed and becomes virtually the rule of law, since the law itself is formulated by the creamy layer of humanity. As for justice between the wealthy and "illthy," it is a right too costly for the poor: the bureaucracy is often beyond the reach for them.

 

Aiding this sinister system we have mosques and churches and temples that are effectively instruments to silence the defenders. There is a certain hallowed reverence for judges, who like priests wear robes and costumes. Persons who are able to see through this mystic methodology of the Bench and the Bar have an authority exercised in mystic diction, going to the root of unhappiness among humanity. We have to change the system of the courts, and the superstition that their verdicts are final and infallible. In reality they are as much like ordinary mortals with their own flaws, prejudices, biases, self-interest and influences. They are not superhuman. But a cult of divinity, and the commanding dress and address, make them appear as mini-divinities. This goes with their social philosophy that is pachydermic to the poor.

 

The judiciary is regulated by a complicated system which only the Bar and the Bench can decipher. They are governed by Victorian values and jurisprudence, of which the spokesmen are Denning and Macaulay through the great codes of civil and criminal procedure, prison law and the system of the police force borrowed from Britain.

 

If you want to change the system in favour of the majority which is below the lachrymal line, we have to have a few things as a priority from Macaulay to Mahatma. The Code of Civil Procedure and the Criminal Procedure Code must be repealed without any mercy or tears. Fresh codes that are dialectic and dynamic, accountable and accessible to the people must be enacted. This cannot be done by legislators who are amenable to the power of wealth but radicals who are eligible to vote in a new equalitarian methodology.

 

India needs a National Commission with its dominant element composed of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and the weaker sections, versus the rich and the mighty. Will this ever happen? Even V.I. Lenin's Soviet Union has undergone mighty change. The new world order is the despair of the masses. The challenge before India is how non-violently the transformation that is contemplated in the Preamble to the Constitution can be worked out.

 

Today the robed brethren of the judiciary or the religions are untouchable and unapproachable. Justice, justices and justicing need to be radicalised. The justice system should be such that the common man, the worker, the peasants and the social activist will be able to argue before them. Justices should uphold a socialist secular democratic order and strike down every law that strikes a different note. The language of the law should be made simple, lucid and understandable enough for the common man.

 

A universally accessible democratic system that can deliver justice in an inexpensive manner and can ensure early finality is the desideratum. The Bench and the Bar shall be the representatives of the Indian people. The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, the have-nots and the humble, belong to humanity too. The principle of injustice crucified an innocent Christ and shot the Mahatma whose principle was truth, non-violence and settlement of disputes on fair terms. That half-naked fakir representing half-starved Indian humans gave us golden principles of jurisprudence that demand a re-orientation and transformation of the foundations of the social philosophy of every human sector and every mercenary profession which today thrive on money-making and jettison morals and humanism.

 

So, even our religions must be subject to a revolutionary change in faith and radical fraternity and comradeship. This combination of materialism and spirituality must be the new message and Preamble of 21st century India. The task of the new statesman emerging from the new generation must be to implement peace and friendship among all nations, making Article 51 of the Constitution a national essential of international relationship.

 

This was indeed the first principle and the last plea of the Mahatma, who spoke with burning faith that god is truth, nay more. Truths that are scientifically established and spiritually realised constitute god. We must have the courage to write the obituary of Victorian-vintage jurisprudence and recreate and catalyse a new dynamic jurisprudence which will reverse the present law of India.

 

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THE HINDU

THE NOWHERE PEOPLE

THE PLIGHT OF THE PEOPLE CAUGHT BETWEEN THE EMBANKMENTS OF THE KOSI RIVER.

MEENA MENON

 

hen the foundation stone for the Kosi embankment was laid on January 14, 1955, near Nirmali in Saharsa district in Bihar, euphoric people shouted, Aadhi roti khayenge, Kosi bandh banayenge (we will eat only half a chapati but we will surely build the embankment), writes the prolific engineer and activist Dinesh Mishra in his book, " Trapped! Between the Devil and the Deep Waters." No one really paid any attention to the protests and the fears of the people who would live with these embankments and what would happen to their lives.

 

Fifty-five years later at least the first part of the slogan is true. Boxed between the embankments, the river floods every year, leaving behind fine white silt. A villager remarked to Mr. Mishra once that living in the Kosi region was akin to a camel's life in the desert. The fine white sand is everywhere. Like the wretchedness. It settles all over the land, over people, on their hair, their faces and bodies, giving them a whitish ghostly look. Swathes of it have destroyed agriculture and made communication impossible. Cattle herds kick up a dust storm in their perambulations as half-clothed children mind them with a stick.

 

What is not covered with sand is waterlogged, packed tightly with water hyacinth. Much has been written about the Kosi River in Bihar and the tribulations of the people living in India's most unpredictable river basin. The Kosi River has moved 160 km — its shift has been plotted since 1737 from Sauradhar to Lajunia, says Mr. Mishra. It is well known that Jawaharlal Nehru first saw the floods way back in October, 1953 and ordered that something had to be done. Over one million people in 380 villages live in between the two embankments and their lives are caught in a time warp.

 

Visitors to the villages will be greeted with dusty, clamouring hordes of men, women and children full of rancour and complaint. They can do little else. North Bihar has several rivers criss crossing it but drainage has been a perturbing issue the embankments have not solved. Embankments are meant to control the river's flooding and the same sand has been stacked up to form artificial barriers that snake along the volatile Kosi while she goes this way and that, in a bid to keep her in check.

 

Fear of "humma"

 

Steeped in the culture of water the people had words for every stage of the river. From the time the rivers start to swell with the first flush of rains till the big-time floods. The word "boh" describes how the water starts entering the fields once the monsoon has set in. That was a happy event, recalls Kameshwar Kamati, an activist of the Badh Mukti Abhiyan from Madhubani. The water made the soil fertile and did not cause much damage. But now people feared the major flood — called the "humma." "There is no boh now only humma," quips Kamati. In a region where cattle rearing is the main economy, agriculture was secondary. Yet it once boasted of 300 varieties of rice and people grew sugarcane, sweet potato, pulses and oilseeds. Since 1963 the Kosi barrage built across the border in Nepal was supposed to irrigate the land in India.

 

In 2008 the afflux bund breached for the first time at Kusaha flooding large tracts of land and killing 587 people. Over 3,700 are missing and the floods ravaged 993 villages in five districts. Before that seven breaches in the embankments have killed hundreds and now towns like Nirmali and Khagaria, which has seven rivers nearby, have concrete rings around as flood protection. About 18 districts of North Bihar with a population of 5.23 crore are affected by the floods every year. Despite floods, the Bihar government has only just started building shelters on stilts, hardly a consolation. You can see a spanking new one on the way to Manganj East in Supaul district, where memories are fresh about the floods in 2008 after the Kusaha breach. Bhim Jadhav watched his sister being swept away in the water, and young Roshan Kumar is still to recover after a relief box fell on him fracturing both his legs. For two months, water stayed in the village and most people fled to Delhi and other cities. "It was the first time we had floods. We had very good agriculture till then. Most of our cattle died in the water," says Mohammed Kalim.

 

Kusaha is only 70 km away from this village, it took two days for the water to come here unannounced. Since then 11-year-old Roshan cannot walk and his mother Geeta Devi has arranged for him to be taught at home. In Ghivha, 70-year-old Jalandhar Prasad recalls that when there was no embankment, the floods were manageable. "There is sand everywhere and agriculture is so difficult. Wheat needs more water and the borewells are drying up. Production has also declined," he adds. Akhilesh Mishra points to his water logged land." Now I can fish here instead of growing crops," he grins.

 

A broken bridge at the entrance of the village says it all and a dilapidated school with a gaping room destroyed in the floods has not been repaired. "We have got no funds so far for repairs," says Bhola Prasad Yadav, coordinator of the school. The school with 880 children has two other small rooms. The flood-affected landscape is not hard to recognise. In Birpur, only eight km from Kusaha, which bore the brunt of the floods, concrete houses have collapsed into the ground, roofs are open and the walls are titled at strange angles.

 

The plight of the people caught between the two embankments of the Kosi is miserable. The worst among them are the Musahars, an extremely backward community which lives on the edge. Landless and illiterate, most are sharecroppers. In the Hasuliya tola of Musahars, Jamila's son works in Punjab. Their homes were on the other side of the river but since three years they have moved here. This little hamlet has been displaced three to four times. There is no school for children and no anganwadi. These are the people who are not supposed to be there, remarks Mr. Mishra, whose work on the Kosi river is legendary.

 

They have job cards under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme but they are all blank. They keep changing their homes due to the vagaries of the river. People living near the embankment are faced with repeated migration as the height of the embankment is being raised as in Belwara. In Sirwar village in Saharsa district, Sarup Choudhary and family spend most of the monsoon on a machan, a raised wooden platform in his house. "We cook, eat and sleep on this small platform every year," he says. He is clear like others in this sprawling village right on the Kosi's erratic banks, that the embankments are the reason for the water flooding the area every year. The kharif crop is no longer possible and most people migrate for work. "Because of the embankments for three months we are stuck in water. Sometimes we go hungry," he adds.

 

"Often we eat only once a day," says Mukhiya. Everything is built on a height, the homes, the shops and even the only concrete building in the village — the school. The children spill around in the village as rarely do the teachers come. Health is a major issue. People have to cross the river at Rs. 5 a trip and there is only boat available in the rains. The primary health centre in Mahishi, across, is open till noon and rarely does it have any doctors. Many die here to lack of medical attention, specially in the rains when the swollen river does not permit them easy access to the outside world. The little land they have gets eaten up by the river every year or gets submerged in the monsoon.

 

Case for evaluation

 

Despite the loss of life, the flooding, dwindling agriculture and phenomenal migration, there is no evaluation of the embankments till today. Engineers extol the embankments and say that they cannot be connected with the waterlogging and it was natural for low lying areas to be flooded. The breaches are a natural calamity as the river changes course. A sort of collateral damage. Engineers and politicians have formed a coalition of the willing to support embankments. An engineer at the Kosi barrage guaranteed 100 per cent safety of the embankments — but what can one do against a natural disaster, he remarks. Undeterred by the lessons from Kosi, the Bihar government is pursuing a path of building more embankments in a bid to contain other rivers where the experiences are equally damaging. There is a strong case not only for a complete evaluation of the embankments as a flood control policy but also for a cost-benefit analysis of the entire investment in embanking rivers in Bihar.

 

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THE HINDU

WHEN COUPLES FIGHT ON FACEBOOK

DOUGLAS QUENQUA

 

What is the sound of an awkward silence on Facebook? If you have to ask, then you probably don't have friends like James Gower and Ashley Andrews, high school sweethearts from Spring, Texas, who are both 22 and engaged to be married this May.

 

Gower, a master of the passive-aggressive status update, lobbed this one in January: "How is it my birthday is only one day, but my woman's last a whole damn week?"

 

Andrews, seemingly not one to watch a ball go by, took a full swing with this comment: 'GET OVER IT!!! UGH!!!!!!"

 

Gower replied by calling his fiancee a name that can't be printed here, until the exchange became the social networking equivalent of shattered china at a dinner party.

 

Eventually, Skyler Hurt, 22, a friend and a bridesmaid, intervened: "Hey, you guys know we can still see this right...?"

 

Place for couples to cause a scene

 

It's a question being asked a lot these days as couples, who once had to leave the house to fight in public, take their arguments onto Facebook. Whether through nagging wall posts or antagonistic changes to their "relationship status," the social networking site is proving to be as good for broadcasting marital discord as it is for sharing vacation photos. At 400 million members and growing, Facebook might just replace restaurants as the go-to place for couples to cause a scene.

 

As score-settling on Facebook has grown commonplace, sites like Lamebook have begun documenting the worst spats (which also happen to be the most humorous). On Facebook itself, people can join several groups with names like "I Dislike People/Couples Who Argue Publicly on Facebook."

 

For most couples, the temptation to publicly slander each other is overpowered by the instinct to prove to their friends how happy they are, reality notwithstanding. But some find that arguing in front of others comes as naturally as slamming doors.

 

While a hot temper (or two) is often to blame, there are people, like Gower, who view Facebook as an opportunity: How better to show everyone what his future wife puts him through?

 

"My friends have a biased opinion of her, and her friends have a biased opinion of me," Gower said. Broadcasting his gripes on Facebook is "a way to get your side of the story out there to everybody. That way, they don't just hear her side."

 

Andrews shares her fiance's view. "A lot of people aren't with us if we have a fight at home," she said. This way, "All our friends can kind of comment on it."

 

For the record, both Gower and Andrews say they are happy together and anticipate marital bliss. They find their Facebook parrying hilarious, and are not bothered by any loss of privacy.

 

Privacy on Facebook is a squishy thing to begin with, as most members know. Not only are there those advertisements from companies that — surprise! — know where you went to college, but there's also the fact that Facebook accidentally sent private messages last month to the wrong people. In one case, a Wall Street Journal editor found his Facebook inbox flooded with other people's pillow talk.

 

To some couples who fight on Facebook, the battle for public opinion seems to be a driving force. Ryan Stofer, a 19-year-old college student from Hutchinson, Kan., said his arguments with an ex-girlfriend were little more than attempts to protect his reputation.

 

"She'd be talking to her friends on Facebook about how bad a boyfriend I was, and I would be like, 'No, I was decent,'" he recalled. Eventually, Stofer's friends became so fed up with the constant sniping that they started a Facebook group to protest it.

 

Leah Ackerman-Hurst, 34, a soon-to-be nursing student in Alameda, Calif., says she occasionally uses Facebook to vent to her friends about her husband, Caleb. In a recent status update, she called him "Jerky McJerk Jerk" after he insisted she get rid of their pug. She says the comments are meant as jokes (mostly), though friends often end up taking sides anyway.

 

"I'll say something joking about him, but others will take it seriously," she said. The situation came to a head a few weeks ago when two friends planning a girl's night out intentionally didn't invite her because "they thought I was disrespectful to my husband on Facebook," she said with a laugh. "My husband was like, 'They obviously don't know you.'"

 

Nothing to LOL about

 

But some marriage experts say that taking your disagreements to Facebook, even jokingly, is nothing to LOL about. Instead, the urge to make private disagreements public represents a gradual but significant degradation of our regard for marriage.

 

"From the Victorian era through the 1950s, marriage was viewed as the source of all safety from a predatory world,'' said Michael Vincent Miller, a psychologist and the author of the book Intimate Terrorism: The Crisis of Love in an Age of Disillusion. Striving for that ideal, he said, meant keeping your disagreements private, "to keep a public face of harmony."

 

But as the counterculture of the 1960s and '70s ushered in a new openness among married couples, ``that ideal of marriage began to pass away,'' he said. Soon, the idea that lovers should present a united front at all times came to seem quaint or even naive, particularly to a generation raised on Oprah and Jerry Springer.

 

Today, popular representations of marriage tend toward "two very self-protective egos at war with one another," Miller said, "each wanting vindication and to be right by showing that the other is wrong." That characterisation has just received some prime-time reinforcement in the form of The Marriage Ref, a new NBC show created by Jerry Seinfeld in which a celebrity panel hears a fight between a married couple and discusses who is right. "For the first time, audiences will be able to look at these fights, analyse them and declare a winner," reads a description of the show on NBC's web site. But rather than win support, fighting in front of your friends will more likely convince them that you shouldn't be together in the first place, marriage counselors say. That certainly seems to be the case among friends of Facebook fighters, who, like any witnesses to a public spat, are caught in the middle, unsure whether to intervene or mind their own business.

 

"This is my only exposure to how you two are interacting, and it's not good," said Hurt, the friend of Gower and Andrews.

She likely spoke for many Facebook bystanders when she said her attempts at peacemaking between her friends — whether online or off — were partially intended to shame them into behaving.

 

"I'm spending over $200 on apparel to be in this wedding," Hurt said in a telephone interview. "We're having fitting after fitting and showers and parties. Meanwhile, their whole relationship is falling apart on Facebook."

 

Losing the support of friends and loved ones does not bode well for a couple's long-term prospects, said Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

 

"People tend to do better in their marriage when friends and family are supportive," Wilcox said. "When that support dries up, that can be a really big problem."

 

Gower and Andrews both laughed off the suggestion that their relationship was in trouble. They said they are a stable couple very much headed to the altar this May. This, in spite of Gower's recent change in relationship status: from "Engaged" to "It's Complicated" and back again, all in a single day.

 

"That was just a joke to mess with her," he said, followed by a pause. "She just gave me a dirty look." —©2010 New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

THE RAMAYANA FOR OUR TIMES

PRANAY GUPTE

 

Some professional writers — particularly journalists — will tell you that writing is a breeze. All you need to do is get your facts straight through relentless reporting, sit in front of your computer, and the words will flow. There's a story – and it happens to be true – of the late R. W. "Johnny" Apple Jr. of The New York Times dashing out a 7,000-word cover story for The Times's Sunday magazine in three hours; Johnny was legendary for his deadline-writing abilities, his felicitous style, and for his consumption of vodka and foie gras while at work.

 

I happen to be one of those journalists who's been blessed with the gift of writing speedily on deadline. Perhaps that's because I came of age in journalism at the knees of mentors and great models such as Johnny Apple and A.M. Rosenthal, the late, great executive editor of The New York Times. That said, however hard I tried to emulate their writing style, I could never achieve the distinction of their style. (Maybe the reason was that I am a teetotaller.)

 

Notwithstanding giants such as Apple and Rosenthal, most professional writers will tell you that writing simply isn't easy. Reporting isn't easy. Getting facts right isn't easy. Getting the correct context isn't easy. And the words don't necessarily flow easily. The muse is usually not easy to summon.

 

Ram S. Varma is not a professional writer, but he seems to have no trouble at all in summoning the muse. Perhaps the muse comes to his side because Ram is something more than a professional writer. He's a writer's writer. Whether it's his columns in newspapers, or his novels, or his verse, the words seem to come to him effortlessly. I've always wondered what he has for breakfast. Ram writes exactly as he speaks — precisely, poetically, prolifically.

 

The prolificacy may be understandable in view of his background. For long years, Ram served in the elite Indian Administrative Service (IAS). He was, among other things, Chief Secretary of Haryana State. To this day, his integrity and efficiency serve as benchmarks in the IAS. His bureaucratic memos are models of analysis and synthesis. His ability to conjure up creative solutions to seemingly intractable economic and other problems made him highly sought after by various leaders in Haryana and elsewhere.

 

Truth be told, I had never heard of Ram, quite possibly because I have lived outside India much of my adult life. One summer evening in 2008, a mutual friend named Babu Lal Jain invited me to meet him in New Delhi. The man I met was tall, extremely fit, with a warm, even dazzling, smile. His eyes, while penetrating, had a sweet sheen to them.

 

That didn't impress me all that much, quite possibly because the hostess whose home I was visiting to meet Ram was hugely attractive and hyperkinetic. I also thought that she was a tad rude, paying more attention to the table setting than to the new arrival. (Alas, middle-aged, plump gentlemen like me all suited and booted — don't seem to be the fashion du jour.)

 

But when Ram began talking about his book on Ram, my interest was instantly piqued. Here was a unique way of re-telling The Ramayana, I thought. Here was Indian mythology re-examined provocatively. Here was lyrical prose, at least the way Ram articulated his story. Here was a manuscript that certainly needed to be published. Here was a book that most definitely would gain wonderful notices and great sales.

 

And so Ram, and his daughter Vandana Sehgal, an architect, artist and professor, proceeded to produce the book. (No, she wasn't the hostess I referred to earlier, although Vandana is also hugely attractive and has a formidable intellect. It seems that both her sisters share those characteristics.)

 

What else to say about Ram and this book?

 

Only one more thing: Read it. I promise you will enjoy it. (It's being published by Rupa & Company.)

 

And yes, I never did ask Ram if he consumed vodka and foie gras while he wrote. I suspect that he's too disciplined to imbibe while writing. Which is another way of saying that Ram Varma gives professionalism a whole new and appealing meaning. May more books flow from his computer (pen?). Then he'd certainly be entitled to a chhota peg of malt whiskey. Or, more likely, fresh orange juice from Haryana.

 

( Pranay Gupte's next book is "The Journey: India and The Making Of Modern Dubai .")

 

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THE HINDU

EASTERN EUROPE, CENTRAL ASIA WARNED OF ENERGY CRUNCH

 

Eastern Europe and Central Asia may face an energy crunch by 2030 due to rising consumption unless massive investments are made to unlock capacity, the World Bank has warned in a report released here on Thursday.

 

"The outlook for primary energy supplies, heat and electricity is questionable for Eastern Europe and Central Asia region, despite Russia and Central Asia's current role as major energy suppliers to both Eastern and Western Europe," the bank said.

 

According to the report, demand for primary energy in the region was expected to increase by 50 percent by 2030, while demand for electricity was expected to increase by 90 percent.

 

"Mitigation actions are required on both the supply and the demand side, and without a change in behavior, the region as a whole could face an energy crunch, moving from being a net energy exporter to a net energy importer by 2030," said Peter Thomson, Director for Sustainable Development in the World Bank's Europe and Central Asia region.

 

The report showed the current financial crisis created some breathing room and a window of opportunity for the region to take mitigating actions since energy demand had been significantly dampened.

 

"But this is only a temporary respite before energy availability again becomes a serious concern. Once growth picks back up, so, too, will energy consumption," it said. — Xinhua

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

MAYAWATI'S HUBRIS

 

UP chief minister Mayawati and Kanshi Ram, her mentor and founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), had never promised to play by the rulebook or follow etiquette of any kind. They declared their intent clearly and loudly to break all norms and overturn all conventions as a way of riding to power. Mayawati has not let down her master's show of naked and brute power. Whether it is her grandiose statues enterprise, celebration of her birthdays or flaunting her opulence, she has done it with vengeance and with no pretence of panache. The latest act of offending middle classsensibilities is that of the garland of rupee notes — it was the thousand-rupee ones at the party's 25th anniversary rally at Lucknow — that Mayawati was offered on Monday. It has triggered both criticism and outrage among her political rivals and among members of the genteel class. Mayawati and her acolytes in the party remain unfazed by the outburst and they have gone on to declare that they intend to make the garland of notes a feature of their party's future events. They refuse to be shamed by those whom they consider fellow-travellers in the business of chicanery.

 

There is also the fact that the Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP) — BSP's chief political opponents in Uttar Pradesh — do not have much of a moral leg to stand on. Congress leader Digvijay Singh's taunt that Mayawati is not any more a 'Dalit ki beti' (daughter of Dalits) and that she has become a 'daulat ki beti' (daughter of wealth) has no sting in it because it is his party that had set the ball of corruption rolling in this country.

 

Even in an anarchic world, where a sense of right and wrong has been blurred and even obliterated, cries of protest will rise from the very bottom. At the moment Dalits and the poor may appear to be silent witnesses to Mayawati's crimes of hauteur and even indulgent towards her. What Mayawati and her advisors will have to contend with is not the criticism of their political peers — which can be dismissed out of hand — but the wrath of their own people at some point.

 

Murmurs of disapproval will soon gather momentum and rise into a storm of fury that could blow Mayawati and her cohorts from their pedestals of pride and power. The oppressed people who have catapulted her and her party to power will also throw her out. Democracy has its own ways of righting wrongs.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

LOVE ALL?

 

Sportspersons are held to a higher standard on several counts — we all know that. They must not just win cleanly and with humility, they must also lose with grace. They must further conduct themselves with dignity and submit to prevailing norms of morality for as long as they live in the public eye — as golfer Tiger Woods found out to his peril.

 

Some things, as we are fond of saying in this country, are just "not cricket". For instance, Harbhajan slapping

Sreesanth or over-the-top sledging by Australian cricketers, or in what is the most infamous episode of questionable sportsmanship, the Bodyline series which pitted Douglas Jardine of England against the great Australian, Don Bradman. In all these, though, the implication is that once off the field, opposing sides rush out and drink a beer together. What happens in Vegas, as it were, stays in Vegas.

 

But sometimes we witness — disconcertingly — the other side of sporting rivalry. This week, former tennis greats Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi played a charity exhibition doubles match in Indian Wells, California, to raise money for the victims of the Haiti earthquake. But what was a fun match soon turned into a nasty display of bad manners and oneupmanship that left their fellow players — Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal — and a host of spectators and television viewers squirming with discomfort.

 

There may well be no love lost between Sampras and Agassi, who were great rivals during their playing days. Sampras is counted the superior player since he amassed a record 14 Grand Slam titles in his illustrious career. But Agassi, who has eight Grand Slam titles, managed to become only the fifth man in history to win all four Grand Slams on all four surfaces as well as an Olympic gold medal — neither of which Sampras managed to achieve. Each player became a thorn in the other's side.

 

Yet, both have now retired and the stage belongs to newer generations. But they clearly have not managed to get rid of the anger and bitterness of the past. What a contrast to the rivals of the era before them, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, who remain friends today. Sampras and Agassi revealed to us this week what it is that makes us human. It's not a pretty picture and serves as a reminder to us all, that when the hatred is visceral, no amount of public pressure can change the way you feel. Perhaps, Tiger Woods has an easier time of it, after all.

 

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DNA

AI CRISIS & GOVERNANCE

JITENDER BHARGAVA

 

The current financial state of Air India has led to widespread speculation about the airline's ability to survive. While diehard loyalists are hopeful that the government, in its capacity as 100% owner, will never allow it to go bust, independent industry analysts are not as optimistic and are in fact willing to set a timeframe up to which the national carrier can possibly survive, or be allowed to survive.

 

 The government's response to the crisis in Air India has been ill thought-out and grossly inadequate. The action initiated does not reflect the sense of urgency that is warranted. The recent appointment of four independent directors — Anand Mahindra, Amit Mitra, Air Chief Marshal Fali Major and Harsh Neotia —is clearly a case of too little and too late.

 

How is the reconstituted board going to help Air India in its most critical period? Men of equal integrity, competence and proven track record have in the past been appointed on the boards of Air India and Indian Airlines. Did the government-owned airlines function any better during those periods as compared to years when it was packed exclusively by bureaucrats? Since the airlines have witnessed a gradual and sustained decline in service standards, market share, etc, over the years without showing signs of recovery, one should not expect too much from this exercise of appointing new directors.

 

A review of the recent past shows that eminent personalities from the private sector have been directors of one of the two airlines before their merger. Ajit Kerkar, the then head of the Taj Group of Hotels, industrialist Suresh Keswani, Inder Sharma of Sita Travels and actor Jaya Bachchan, to name a few, have been on the board of Air India at one time or the other. The national carriers have also had stalwarts like Ratan Tata, Rahul Bajaj and Russi Modi as chairmen. How much difference did their presence make to the fortunes of the two airlines?

 

In all fairness to them, one can state with a certain degree of authority that most of the time the civil aviation ministry has been engaged in backseat driving. Internal resistance to much needed changes has also compounded the problem. What is needed is not new members (with no offence intended to the new appointees) but good corporate governance. The board cannot have members with little or no understanding of the airline industry's functioning and the ground realities that exist in Air India. It is one thing to take decisions that are deemed critical and imperative and another thing to ensure the implementation of such decisions.

 

How much independence will the newly-appointed members exercise for approving and rejecting proposals for the sake of the company's well-being? One is tempted to raise this question because notwithstanding the pitiable financial state that the airline has been in for the past few years, decisions with enormous financial ramifications have been taken by the board, either voluntarily or under some compulsions thrust on them.

 

Good corporate governance at the board level should also ensure that calls from ministry officials or the minister himself are not entertained during board meetings for diktats on what decisions the board must take on key agenda matters. This disdainful practice of tendering last minute advice (read: order) has been on for almost two decades. Needless to say, intervention comes in most cases where someone else's interests supersede that of the airline.

 

What will be of significance, therefore, will be to see how the new board members approach the present crisis. In the past, most members of the board have played roles which can be broadly classified into three categories. (a) Guided Air India's destiny with active participation; (b) Been indifferent and attended meetings more as a ritual; and (c) Used Air India for benefiting their respective companies.

Needless to say, most private members, based on their performance, would see themselves classified in the last two categories as they have generally failed to make an impact that is expected of them. As the new members have been appointed at a time when Air India's ability to survive is being questioned, it is only to be hoped that they will play a role, notwithstanding the infirmities in the system, which can help save the national carrier.

 

With time being the greatest factor, the four new members should play their parts fearlessly with the airline's interest being the sole guiding force. Indians, particularly Air Indians, serving or retired, will watch their performance with keen interest because Air India is not just any company but has been an institution which in the yester years had evoked a lot of national pride.

 

Here's wishing the new members from the private sector all the best and hoping that they will reverse the historical trend which is heavily loaded against them and help steer the airline out of turbulence.

 

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DNA

THE ART OF DEFINING BOMBAY TO GERMANS

FARRUKH DHONDY

 

I have been asked by the Anglophone cultural studies post graduate department of a German University to talk about Bombay.


In the past I have lectured there on critiques of and comparisons between Conrad's Heart of Darkness and VS Naipaul's A Bend in the River. Last year they asked me to do a six seminar stint over three weeks on the Mahabharat. Now the department has come up with 'Bombay'. (I think they find they can afford me). I struggled for a few days to define or to narrow down to an interesting way into the myriad possibilities within this universe of discourse. The first ideas that came to mind were the obvious — a session on geography and then history; on the controversy over the name —does it come from the Portuguese bom baya or from the island whose patron goddess was Mumba Devi? On the transfer of the islands from the Portuguese to the British as a dowry for Charles II. Then one could go into the development of the city to the present day and do a quick sociological sketch and…..


Idea abandoned. Not gripping enough. Why would the poor post-grads want to sit through that, however cinematic my presentation?

 

No. Next. Start perhaps with a personal sketch, a confession that I am really a Pune boy and how the metropolis on the sweaty coast gripped my imagination. It was where my grandparents lived in a building called Dhondy Terrace, no less. Trips to Bombay: Walks with my grandpa in the zoo in what was then Victoria Gardens, plucking flowers there and living in terror for days when my cousin told me that the police would take me away for theft; all day picnics, by buses with lettered routes, on Juhu beach which was then out in the undeveloped suburbs and the dread and loathing I felt when introduced at the age of eight by a classmate to nightmare photographs of the 'cages' of Kamathipura, the red light district and told what the masked women did for a living — a damaging introduction to the idea of sex if ever there was one (have I suffered as a consequence in later life? See my personal page on FACELIFT.com).

 

But then I thought I should save all that for a work of confessional fiction — which could include the time I was, aged 9, fingered by a pervert in the 10 anna seats in Eros cinema while being completely engrossed in a film called The Wings of the Hawk, too terrified to protest when he put his hand up my shorts.

 

The personal stories will inevitably come into it, but I think I have an idea which will make the post-grads sign up in droves:


Take three public incidents, outline them dramatically and then delve into an analysis of what it all means.

 

First incident: My Name is Khan and the Shah Rukh vs Bal Thackeray controversy— a battle of the titans. That brings in Bollywood (yes, I will show them ten films and Slumdog... when I feel lazy) and the politics of the city and includes a discussion of the Sena's stances and policies. It also includes the fact that Shah Rukh means 'Royal face' (I know because Far-rukh means 'angel face' — those sniggerers at the back, please, leave the class!)

 

Then the second week we shall tackle Terrorism and the Taj, Oberoi, the attack on the railway station and the Jewish centre at Nariman House. The history of the buildings, stories of Indian capitalism and of the Tatas and Oberois can all be incorporated.

My third incident will cover the first meeting at the Bombay branch of the Indian National Congress between Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It will lead from formative history to Bombay in contemporary literature — Salman, Suketu Mehta and the poems of Adil Jussawalla, Arun Kolatkar, Nissim Ezekiel and more. I shall also propose that Mumbai be declared a state of the Indian Union with a dispensation to appoint ambassadors at appropriate salaries to Germany and other countries.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIA

A WHIFF OF FRESH AIR

GROWING INDIA NEEDS QUALITY EDUCATION

 

The Union Cabinet has cleared the Bill allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in India. The Left's objections to foreign investment in education are in line with its antiquated ideology. It is the BJP's opposition which is surprising. It says foreign universities will poach local teaching talent with fabulous salaries. So what? There is no dearth of talent in this country. Many talented youth stay away from teaching because of relatively lower salaries. The second objection is even more ridiculous: there will be no OBC reservations. Providing quality education to children from families with modest means is the Government of India's responsibility, not of private institutions, domestic or foreign, especially if they get no government aid or concessions.

 

Parents try to buy the best possible education for their children, within India or outside, and seek institutions where quality matches the cost. However, the Bill bars foreign education providers from repatriating profits. This may deter some renowned institutions. The rupee non-convertibility already dampens foreign investment. A regulator is definitely required to check the entry of substandard operators. Many have already sneaked in. However, raising unnecessary barriers would defeat the purpose of the Bill, which is to offer world-class education to Indian youth at a cost lower than what they pay abroad. So poor is the quality of education in the country that only 15 per cent of the graduates are considered employable.

 

Foreign universities here will take pressure off local institutions, force them to improve academic standards through competition and curb the outgo of at least Rs 27,000 crore, which about 1,60,00 students spend annually on their studies abroad. They are forced to go abroad in the absence of enough top-rated institutions here. The government will have to substantially hike the education spending to raise the standards of school, college and university education and make liberal loans available to help bright students from low-income families get quality education at an affordable cost. If that seems far-fetched in the short run, allowing foreign universities in India could be a possible panacea. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

JOBS ON SALE!

PAY TO BECOME AN ANGANWADI WORKER

 

The expose that one has to pay upwards of Rs 60,000 even to get employment as an anganwadi worker in Punjab leads one to several unfortunate conclusions. One, that the employment situation is so alarming that people are willing to shell out that much for a low-paid job. Two, that corruption has crossed all limits, and three, that those paying the bribe are confident that they can make good this "investment" after getting the job. Had the allegation been made by the Opposition or the media, the government might have called it a smear campaign but the matter has been raised in the Vidhan Sabha by legislators from the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and the BJP. The SAD MLA from Sri Hargobindpur, Capt Balbir Singh Bath, said categorically on Wednesday that senior officials of the Social Security and Development of Women and Children Department had taken Rs 60,000 to Rs 70,000 per anganwadi worker.

 

Since there are over 26,656 anganwadi centres in the state, with as many workers and 25,436 helpers, one can well imagine the extent of money that may have been made by some unscrupulous officers. The Minister in charge of this, Chaudhary Swarna Ram, has promised to get an inquiry done by a department other than his own. One hopes this investigation would be completed quickly enough and the guilty would be given stiff punishment.

 

While probing the affairs of the anganwadis, it is also necessary to have a close look at their functioning. There are allegations that at some places, the workers just do not attend to the work assigned to them. The number of pregnant women, young mothers and children to whom anganwadis provide a helping hand is inflated. The quality of food supplied to pre-school children is suspect. Anganwadi workers on their part allege that despite their low pay, they have to frequently dip into their own resources while storing food, cooking it and distributing it. Surely, that is no way to provide food and vaccination to those who need it the most. The unfortunate fact is that such corruption is not confined to this department. News about similar sordid happenings elsewhere keeps trickling out but the government does not take it with the seriousness that it deserves. For instance, there were reports recently how crores of rupees earmarked for the Shagun scheme had been siphoned off by officials.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

MAYA'S MALA

AN ISSUE OR A NON-ISSUE, THAT'S THE QUESTION

 

Indian politics is a soap opera with rarely a dull moment. Where else would a mere garland kick up so much dust ? Now that the Parliament has gone into recess, the scene has been livened up by the controversy over the gigantic garland made of currency notes that was used to greet the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati at a rally in Lucknow. The garland's dramatic appearance and the stealth with which it was removed within a matter of minutes, left tongues wagging and critics of the UP Chief Minister have had a field day since then. Critics speculated about the value of the garland being in the region of several crores of rupees and pointed out that while the Chief Minister had claimed to have no money to give as compensation to the victims of a stampede at an ashram last month, her supporters clearly were not short of cash.

 

But while every politician wants to become the master but poses as the servant, Mayawati has been a different kettle of fish. Malawati, as she is now being called by critics with their tongue in-cheek, has never really shied away from flaunting her fortune, flashing diamond necklaces, buying up expensive real estate or accepting crowns and swords made of gold. Nor was it the first time that she received a garland made of currency notes. Indeed, politicians ranging from Rajnath Singh on the Right to Mulayam Singh Yadav on the Left have been equally guilty in the past of accepting golden crowns or receiving coins, silver and gold equal to their weight. It is debatable if such displays really matter. But there may well be a method in the madness. The alacrity with which the BSP has responded to the criticism, by declaring that henceforth Behanji will always be greeted by garlands of cash, and her own fatwa that rallies be held in every district to expose the conspiracy against her by the opposition, is indicative of her design.

 

Mayawati, to be fair, has been open about the resources mobilised by the party. How are other parties, who raise possibly more funds than her but are more sophisticated and discreet, necessarily better? While Mayawati's mala may not entirely be a non-issue, no political party appears serious about addressing the more important questions of election-funding and greater transparency in the accounts of political parties. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

A RADIOACTIVE BILL?

STARK FAILURE ON THE N-LIABILITY ISSUE

BY INDER MALHOTRA

 

THE fiasco of the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill, which the United Progressive Alliance government withdrew just before it was scheduled to be introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday, is not the first instance of its kind nor is going to be the last. Such dithering is becoming a second nature to the UPA-2. It is either unable or unwilling or both to anticipate problems that are easily foreseeable, and acts somewhat nervously when a crisis inevitably overtakes it. It is reactive, seldom, if ever, proactive.

 

Just look at this delicious quirk of irony. In a span of a mere week the government finds itself in a quandary as much over the Women's Reservation Bill on which the BJP and the Left Front are giving it full support as on the Nuclear Liability Bill which both the saffron party and the Leftists are determined to oppose "tooth and nail". Within hours of the famous victory in the Upper House the government and the Congress party's managers suddenly discovered that the Bill was facing huge and hazardous obstruction in the Lok Sabha. So they decided to put it "on hold for now" and announce that they would convene an all-party meeting to bring about a consensus. Pray, why wasn't this sensible step taken earlier when the Bill's inveterate opponents, headed by the Yadav trio, had begun beating war drums?

 

The ruling combination's failure to anticipate that the Nuclear Liability Bill would be in deep trouble is even more incomprehensible. This has nothing to do with the merits and demerits of the Bill that can be discussed separately. The pertinent point is that even the purblind could easily see that this Bill was radioactive and, for whatever reason, the entire Opposition, the environmentalists and even such eminent jurists as Soli Sorabjee were resolute in their determination to resist it. In any case, the government knew that even if it could somehow get the Nuclear Bill through the Lok Sabha, there was no way it could muster a majority in the Rajya Sabha without persuading at least a section of the opponents to go along with it.

 

Why did it not hold "widespread consultations" it is now keen on before putting the controversial Bill on Monday's order paper? It also speaks volumes for the ineptitude of the Congress party managers that they found only at the eleventh hour that 35 of their members were absent from the House despite a whip demanding their presence. There were also alarming reports that the maverick Mamata Banerjee was once again threatening not to go along with the government of which she is a member.

 

What makes this mess particularly awful is that, unlike in previous years when the two mainstream parties, the Congress and the BJP, were not on speaking terms, there have, of late, been back channel or informal consultations between the two. Evidently, these have not been productive enough. Or else the chasm over the Nuclear Bill would not have been so unbridgeable as it is. Moreover, amidst the euphoria over the adoption of the Women's Bill by the Rajya Sabha, the BJP would not have complained that the Congress was "misappropriating" entire credit and denying it and the Leftists their due.

 

All this only confirms that the government learnt nothing and unlearnt nothing from the discomfiture arising from its astonishingly amateurish performance over the sensitive issue of Telangana. At first, it decided, more or less in panic over Telangana leader K. Chandrashekhar Rao's fast, to form a separate state of Telangana. Then it found that the Congress party-dominated Andhra Assembly was in no mood to fall in line.

 

So, after dilly-dallying for some weeks, the Union government backtracked without admitting that it was doing so. It appointed the Srikrishna Commission to decide whether a separate state of Telangana should be formed or the composite Andhra state should be left undisturbed. No wonder Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra regions are happy while the Telangana region is furious. Hyderabad's Osmania University is once again aflame. The Central government feels that it has "bought time" until December 31, the deadline for the commission to finish its work. To what end, one might ask. Come to think of it, the joint statement issued by the Prime Minister, together with his Pakistani counterpart, at Sharm el-Sheikh was also an essay in acting in haste and regretting at leisure.

 

As for the merits and the demerits of the Nuclear Liability Bill, the division of opinion is sharp, as statements by political leaders and perfervid TV talk shows underscore. To bridge it is not going to be easy though the government and Congress spokesmen are saying belatedly that they are "flexible" and prepared to look at "constructive" suggestions. The problem is that what is constructive for some is wholly destructive in the opinion of others.

 

In my view, the defenders of the Bill, including the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, A. R. Kakodkar, have a point when they say that the proposed Indian law is no different from those followed by 28 countries that adhere to either of the two international conventions or have national laws of their own, as in the case of China, Japan, South Korea and South Africa. They are also right in claiming that the Bill confers no special favour on the United States. France, another supplier, also wants the same liability limitation law. Russia, which is already building four reactors in this country without asking for such a law, would almost certainly welcome it after it is passed. But the Bill's vehement opponents are not impressed.

 

They say that the suppliers of the plant and equipment are exempt from any liability in the case of an accident and the cap of Rs 500 crore on the operator's liability is abysmally low. When told that the corresponding limit in China is Rs 200 crore, they retort that in the US this limit is 23 times higher than in India. This is highly emotive in a country that retains a strong anti-American mindset and has been a victim of the Bhopal tragedy.

 

How the issue will pan out I do not know. But Michael Krepon, who is arguably a grand ayatollah of nonproliferation in America, said to me a long time ago: "You can sign any nuclear deal. But no American reactor would go to India without the nuclear liability limitation law that no Indian Parliament would ever accept".

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

REFORM THE REFORMS

BY HARISH DHILLON

 

I AM not an expert in pedagogical matters and do not have any worthwhile knowledge of educational theories and philosophies. I am merely a teacher of English who tries very hard each year to make his teaching more effective and more interesting than the previous year. But limited as my vision is, I can't help feeling elated by the winds of change that Mr Kapil Sibal has set in motion in the corridors of the school education system. I believe that these changes, when they come into effect, will make a radical difference.

 

But having said that, the moot question that arises is: difference to how many? Our problem lies in the large number of our children of school-going age who do not attend school at all or who drop out in the first few years of schooling.

 

Primary school education has at long last, been made compulsory in our country but one wonders who will enforce the law. It is difficult to imagine, in India, patrols of determined officials identifying truant children and bringing their parents to book. Law-enforcement agencies in India — be they from any department — have earned a notoriety of taking the easy way out. They show a singular lack of will in enforcing the law.

 

There is a law against using mobile phones while driving and yet we see so many drivers driving through police "nakas", their mobiles glued, to their ears while the cops on duty look on indifferently. They have earned an even greater notoriety for accepting small bribes to let the offenders go scot free.

 

Some years ago, a flying squad was dispatched to an examination centre just outside Patiala to check on reports that there was rampant cheating at the centre, conducted with the active participation of the invigilators. They found that the reports were more than true.

 

The action that the flying squad took was to lend the invigilators their megaphone to make the cheating more effective: the candidates had pooled in their resources and "won" the flying squad over to their side.

 

As serious as child truancy, is the problem of teacher truancy which has become such a regular feature of

government schools specially in rural and semi-urban areas, that it is no longer considered worthy of comment.

 

Teachers are absent for long stretches of time on official duty like election duty, conduct of census and rehearsals for Republic and Independence Day celebrations. In addition to this, teachers absent themselves from duty to pursue the nerve-racking, frustrating task of stalling inappropriate transfers and securing appropriate ones. Many of the more enterprising teachers sub contract their teaching jobs to semi-literate school dropouts and themselves pursue a second lucrative career.

 

Along with the wonderful educational reforms that are being introduced, a sincere and determined effort must be made to deal with the menace of this dual truancy, otherwise the effect of the reforms will remain a trickle, benefiting a very small number of children.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

QUOTA FOR ELITE WOMEN?

RESERVATION BILL HAS TO PASS MANY HURDLES

 

The Rajya Sabha has passed the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill by 186 to 1 seeking to provide 33 per cent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies. Despite stiff resistance from the Yadav brigade (Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party and Mr Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal-United), the Bill scraped through because of Congress president Sonia Gandhi's firm stand together with the unequivocal support of the BJP and the Left parties.

 

The Bill, having passed the first round, will have to cross two more rounds (i.e. passage of the Bill by two-thirds majority of members present and voting in the Lok Sabha and its ratification by at least 15 of the 28 states. Even after the Presidential assent, the Act will be enforced only after an independent commission like the Delimitation Commission, designated by Parliament, completes the task of allocating the reserved seats.

 

The Bill had failed to muster support many times during the past 14 years. It would have failed this time too had the chairman, Mr Hamid Ansari, not cracked the whip. After many adjournments, he suspended and then ordered the Marshals to evict seven MPs who were obstructing the smooth conduct of the House.

 

If the Bill is enacted, as many as 181 of the total 543 seats in the Lok Sabha will be reserved for women. Women will occupy one-third or 33 per cent of seats in the State Assemblies too. But this is not the limit. Potentially, two-third seats can be affected. For, nothing stops women from contesting from open seats. In other words, they can also try their luck from seats which have not been reserved for them.

 

Quota will cease 15 years after the commencement of the Act. Seats reserved for women will be allotted by rotation to different constituencies to the state or Union Territory. For example, if a state or UT has only one seat in the Lok Sabha, that seat will be reserved for women in the first general election of every cycle of three elections. If there are two seats, each will be reserved once in a cycle of three elections. Similar rules apply for seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes.

 

The principle of rotation of seats has been included in the Bill so that in 15 years, the lifespan of the Bill, the reservations will ensure a horizontal spread across the country and is implemented in each and every constituency.

 

We should not grudge quota for women. They have long been neglected in the decision-making process. The progressive legislation will give them an opportunity to have their say in policy formulation and governance. MPs are lawmakers and if more women are elected to Parliament, it would mean that issues concerning the fairer sex would get greater focus and thrust in the legislative business and this will help improve their quality of life.

 

Today, the women's representation in Parliament is a poor 10.8 per cent. In the current Lok Sabha, for instance, out of 543 seats, 59 MPs are women, including the Speaker, the Congress President and the Leader of Opposition. Similarly, the 245-member Rajya Sabha (with an effective strength of 233 as on March 16, 2010) has 21 women members, which is 8.8 per cent of the total strength.

 

The position is bad even in the states. In 19 major State Assemblies, only 294 members are women, implying that women constitute only 8.5 per cent of the total strength. These figures show that though women constitute 50 per cent of the country's population, they are not suitably involved in the country's decision-making process.

 

The SP, the RJD and a section of the JD (U) are demanding quota within quota only with a view to obstructing the progressive legislation. They don't realise the fact that courts will quash sub-quotas for women among the OBCs and Muslims. Remember how the Andhra Pradesh High Court has thrice declared the Andhra Pradesh government's decision providing five per cent reservation for Muslims in the state as unconstitutional?

 

Moreover, the Indian Constitution allows electoral reservation only for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. The OBCs have reservation only in education and jobs, but no quota in legislatures. Constitutional bar apart, quota cannot be given for the OBCs among women right now because no survey has been carried out to identify them for purposes of their representation to Parliament.

 

There are some apprehensions about the Bill. First, the proposed rotation of reserved one-third seats once in every general election would result in unseating two-thirds of incumbents in every election. It is feared that when male incumbents are forced out, they will tend to field their womenfolk as proxies.

 

Secondly, compulsory unseating may violate the principle of democratic representation and jeopardise the possibility of any legislator, choosing a constituency and nursing it. When legislators don't have the incentive to seek re-election from the same constituency, politics will become more predatory and unaccountable. Thirdly, the quota may empower only the "elite women".

 

The alternative proposed by the Lok Satta, an NGO in Hyderabad, is interesting. The Bill should instead make it mandatory for every political party to field women in one-third of constituencies in every state, taken as a unit, for the Lok Sabha elections. If political parties had ensured that, their number in Parliament would have seen a dramatic increase. That this has not happened illustrates the problem women face, particularly those without any family connections, to find a place in the political arena.

 

The passage of the quota Bill in the Lok Sabha will be an acid test for the Manmohan Singh government. It will have to evolve an all-party consensus on the issue. Reports of possible reduction in the quantum of quota have added a new twist to the Bill.

 

The Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Mrs Sushma Swaraj, has said on Wednesday that the BJP would go with an "open mind" to the all-party meeting the Centre is expected to convene. Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has suggested that a reduction in the 33 per cent quota for women could be considered if such a step helped achieve consensus. Women have been neglected enough and an all-party consensus on the Bill brooks no delay.

How other countries do it

Pakistan: 60 out of 342 seats in the National Assembly (17.5 per cent).
Bangladesh: 45 out of 345 seats in Parliament (13 per cent)
Nepal: 33 per cent
 Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan: 30 per cent
Argentina and Brazil: 30 per cent
Sweden: Zipper system under which every other candidate on the list is a woman.
Germany, UK and Australia: Voluntary party quota

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

NEW BILL FOR TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT

BY PRATHIBA RAJU

 

Anupama Mehta, 48, cannot forget the day her 17-year-old son left home to go to a friend's place two kilometres away. Rammed by a speeding motorbike, the boy, Vinod, lost his life for no fault of his and the biker went scot-free.

 

"I lost my son and no one can bring him back to me. The man who killed him and ran is walking free and we can't do anything. I pleaded with the authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure that no one else suffers a brutal and untimely death like my kid. Let him be the last victim," grieved Anupama, who lost her son just two weeks ago. "Vinod was to appear for the ongoing Class 12 board exams this year," she said. The family is still in shock.

 

If one goes by figures given by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, an average of 120,000 people are killed in road accidents in India annually. Three years back, India beat China as the country with the highest number of road accident deaths.

 

And now the country is mulling a new law - the National Road Safety and Traffic Management Bill.

 

Ritu Sukla, deputy director, ministry of road transport and highways, said, "The bill will recommend standards for construction and maintenance of national highways and safety standards for motor vehicles."

 

It will also identify black spots where accidents are more, address victim compensation issues and create state level road safety boards.

 

"Concrete steps would be taken for ensuring safer highways. The boards would establish centres for investigation of road crashes. The legislation also proposes to create a National Road Safety Fund by earmarking one percent of the cess collection from petrol and high speed diesel oil," Sukla added.

 

But traffic expert P.K. Sarkar, who also teaches at the School of Planning and Architecture, doesn't think the bill can curb the rising number of road accidents.

 

"The bill that will soon be tabled in Parliament will not help reduce road accidents as long as corruption prevails," Sarkar told IANS.

 

"The authorities must stop taking bribes for issuing licences and youngsters, especially, need to go through proper tests of their knowledge of traffic rules. It is alarming that around five road accidents occur in Delhi each day."

 

Many such accidents go either unreported or unregistered.

 

In recent cases reported here, those who fell prey to rash driving or drunken driving were mostly in their early 20s, pavement dwellers, pedestrians, other motorists and even cops, said Campaign Against Drunken Driving's (CADD) Prince Singhal.

 

Eight-year-old Deepak was sleeping on a pavement with his father Ali, a rickshaw puller, when a car ran over him. The boy suffered severe injuries.

As his family struggles to meet the costs of treatment, including an expensive brain surgery, they don't even know how and where to seek justice. "I almost lost my son this January when he came under the wheels of a car driven by a drunk man. It was a hit and run and we could not even identify the driver since the incident happened at night," Ali told IANS.

 

According to CADD, more often than not, victims' families belong to the lower social strata. Burdened with hefty hospital bills and delayed case judgments, most give up their fight for justice early on.

 

According to a 2009 report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), an alarming number of youths also die in Delhi's road accidents, most victims of reckless driving and callousness about safety like wearing helmets while driving two-wheelers.

 

Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Satyendra Garg told IANS: "Around 13,000 challans (penalties) have been slapped for drunken driving in 2009. It is a reality that mostly youngsters are the victims of traffic violations in Delhi."

 

As per the 2009 statistics, traffic cops caught 212,000 people around Delhi for speeding and 617,000 for jumping traffic lights.

 

Indo-Asian News Service

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

HAIR LOSS REDUCES PROSTATE CANCER RISK IN MEN

 

Men who are facing a future with less hair should stop fretting at the retreating hairline, as a recent study suggests hair loss "almost halves the risk of prostate cancer".

 

Men who start going bald at a young age are up to 45 percent less likely to fall victim to prostate cancer later in life, scientists have found, reports dailymail.co.uk.

 

Although half of all men suffer significant hair loss by the age of 50, an American team has linked the high levels of testosterone in those who go bald earlier to a lower risk of tumours.

 

The scientists studied 2,000 men aged between 40 and 47, half of whom had suffered prostate cancer. They compared the rate of tumours in those who remembered their hair thinning by the age of 30 with those who did not suffer hair loss.

 

Men who had started to develop bald spots on the top of their heads as well as receding hairlines had the least risk of cancer.

 

Hair loss is a source of concern for many young men, with surveys showing nearly half think going bald makes them feel old and less attractive, while three out of four have self-esteem problems.

 

The positive findings published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology would be controversial as previous smaller studies have suggested hair loss increases the risk of cancer.

 

Most baldness is caused when hair follicles, the tiny sacs in the scalp from which hair grows, become exposed to too much dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.

 

This is a chemical produced by the male hormone testosterone. If there is too much DHT circulating in the blood, the follicles shrink, so the hair becomes thinner and grows for less time than normal.

 

Experts believe men with high levels of testosterone are more likely to lose their hair, especially if baldness already runs in the family.

 

Those diagnosed with prostate cancer are often given drugs to reduce testosterone levels because the hormone can accelerate the growth of some tumours once they develop. But the latest research suggests being exposed to high levels of testosterone from a young age might actually help to protect against the disease.

 

"At first, the findings were surprising," said professor Jonathan Wright, an expert in prostate cancer at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. "But we found that early onset baldness was associated with a 29 percent to 45 percent reduction in their relative risk of prostate cancer."

 

Helen Rippon, head of research management at The Prostate Cancer Charity, added: "If these results are correct, they could be useful in providing us with a greater understanding of how testosterone behaves in the body and how it can affect different tissues." — IANS

 

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MUMBAI MERROR

EDITORIAL

RICE ON THE MENU

APEKSHA HAS 30 DIFFERENT RICE DISHES, AND ONE SPECIALITY DISH FOR EACH DAY OF THE WEEK

 


Continuing with the third part of having a culinary look at eateries around the Bombay Stock Exchange – there are quite a few of these with a slightly similar sounding menu but the end product, despite the similarity in terms of menu, can be quite a gastronomic experience (read as delightful) in terms of sheer difference in taste.
Apeksha Veg Restaurant is a sister concern of another landmark eatery in the Fountain area, the iconic Apurva. Bright, airy and cheerful with an equally polite and helpful staff, Apeksha is located at 27, Muddanna Shetty Marg (Tamarind Lane) and as far as proximity to famous buildings is concerned, it's just a stone's throw away from the legendary Bombay House.


Delving a bit into the origins of this restaurant, I discovered that in its earlier avatar, Apeksha was an Irani restaurant which used to serve lunch and maybe some snacks. Central Restaurant (earlier name) was in business since 1942. It was taken over and re-christened Apeksha approximately 20 years ago and there has been no looking back since. Lunch is served between 12 pm to 4 pm while snacks are served all day from morning to around 8.30 pm. The standard base applies: no beer or alcohol, and only vegetarian fare is served. The restaurant is divided into two parts, a non-air-conditioned section on the ground floor which seats 48 people, while the air-conditioned mezzanine floor seats 36 people. There are 30 different rice dishes with one speciality rice dish different on every day of the week. Lemon bhath (rice) on Monday, tomato bhath on Tuesday, alu bread bhath on Wednesday, bisibele bhath on Thursday and pongal avial bhath on Friday. A neat and clean eatery. Must-haves include (in no particular order) samosa (not Punjabi samosa), usal pav (different but excellent), puri bhaji, Puneri misal, veg pulao, tomato onion uttappam, neer dosa, shrikhand (brilliant) and mango milkshake to round off a good meal.


And if you are not exactly in a rice-y place, there's another great option just down the road – Mathura XLNC is one of those non-descript eateries located on 13, Cawasji Patel Street, near the famous Yazdani Bakery while it's a large breezy (vegetarian fare with no beer or alcohol) place to sit and is completely non-airconditioned. Other landmarks include the HSBC building in close proximity while even Akbarally's isn't exactly far off from this eatery or for that matter Croma Zip also is within walking distance. The food is simply superb and though the menu is slightly limited, what is lost in terms of quantity is amply made up in terms of quality.
   One can start with either a topi dosa, dahi wada or a batata wada, followed by either a Chinese dosa or a ragda samosa/ragda pattice. A simple short cut can be a delicious pav bhaji instead of all the above (a Jain pav bhaji is also on the offering) while there is an option of items meant for people who are fasting. Options include sabudana wada/khichdi, faraari puri bhaji, potato chips, alu toast and sweet kachori.


Those with a sweet tooth will be spoilt for choice – succulent gulab jamuns (simply amazing), rasmalai and rabdi – each better than the other.


Tasty lunch options include alu gobi, dal fry and veg handi while the alu paratha is absolutely a must. Veg biryani or jeera rice can be used to round off things in terms of rice dishes while yours truly had to pack it up as the portions of starters and roti-sabzi were more than generous.


 As dor the must-haves... you can keep going back for more until you have tried everything on the menu and then you will want to go back for seconds (and thirds and fourths...)


  Next Week – The fourth part of a guided tour of eateries near the BSE.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

GUIDING LIGHT

THE COMPULSORY EMPOWERMENT OF SHAREHOLDERS

Most shareholders in Indian companies tend to interpret their rights in terms of dividends, bonuses, rights and the gains that accrue from capital appreciation. Their notion of the right to information is, at best, hazy and mostly limited to an opaque annual report and the odd stock exchange filing on significant developments. Likewise, their role in takeover battles tends to be limited to which side has the better offer price, irrespective of the impact on corporate governance or the long-term interests of the company. In that context, the Securities and Exchange Board of India's proposal to make it mandatory for boards of target companies to guide shareholders in the event of competing offers is a significant leap forward in terms of strengthening shareholder rights. The proposal, made by a committee headed by C Achuthan, a former presiding officer of the Securities Appellate Tribunal, has been made against the rise in competitive bids, the latest being the open offers of Inox Leisure and Reliance MediaWorks (RMW) for a controlling stake in the Fame Cinemas chain of multiplexes. Indeed, this battle is a case in point of the dilemma that Fame's shareholders face. It arose after Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group-controlled RMW objected to a block sale between Fame's promoters, the Shroff family, and Gujarat Fluoro Chemicals-owned Inox Leisure. A week after the deal was struck, RMW's managing director wrote to the Shroffs complaining that they had rejected a deal with it at double the price Inox paid. RMW, which owns India's largest multiplex chain BIG Cinemas, followed this up with an offer that was double Inox's and bought shares from the open market to boost its shareholding. There the matter stands, unless Inox makes a higher offer before the open offer in April, which it is widely expected to do. All this does not leave minority shareholders any the wiser on which buyer to choose. They certainly don't know what Fame's management thinks of its new majority shareholder or whether it would prefer RMW as an owner to Inox. Given this, it is not surprising that minority shareholders are likely to sell to the highest bidder, a propensity that brings scant benefit to the acquirer other than raising acquisition costs as a result of competing spiralling offers.

 Contrast this with the practice in the West, where shareholder activism exists at quite another level and managements are legally bound to consider competing open offers objectively and offer shareholders their opinion. The recent Kraft bid for Cadbury, for example, was initially rejected by the management because the target company's shareholders objected to it. The bid was accepted only after these objections were addressed. In the US and the UK, it is standard practice for competing companies to meet large shareholders and make their case. Of course, the fact that shareholders gain access to more information need not mean that they'll make the right choice. But in India, where few small shareholders have the sophistication to make informed choices as Cadbury's shareholders did, a proposal for compulsory transparency should be applauded as genuine reform that will go a long way towards the empowerment of shareholders and greater democratisation of equity markets.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

COMPETE AND SURVIVE

OPENING UP HIGHER EDUCATION

 

The opening up of Indian higher education to foreign competition by allowing foreign universities to start campuses in India has the potential to have the same impact as the post-1991 opening up had on the overall economy. A final assessment of the move has to await the enactment of the legislation and the shape it eventually takes. The best case scenario is global best practices coming in and forcing Indian higher education to reform in the face of competition. The worst case scenario is second-class institutions coming in and that too only in areas with good revenue potential, taking away some of the good teachers from leading national institutions and eventually having little impact on the overall scene in terms of quality or quantity (seats). Some of the leading institutions in the world have indicated that they are in no hurry to come, but this is just the beginning of a long process and the attractiveness of India as a market for higher education and catchment area for good students will only grow over time.

 The conflicting perception of what the government move portends is best highlighted by the views of two IIM Ahmedabad directors, the current incumbent sounding pessimistic and the former sounding optimistic on the assumption that the government will now do what needs doing and thereby set the ground for positive results. The pessimism stems from the feeling that the best national institutions will be locked in an unequal combat. They have neither the autonomy to do what needs doing nor the resources to retain the best teachers. In short, Indian institutions need a level playing field to effectively compete with foreign institutions. They must get it. There is a lot of hope in HRD Minister Kapil Sibal allowing extensive functional autonomy, but the issue is, ministers will come and go and an institutional mechanism needs to be put in place to ensure that the politician-bureaucrat nexus does not claw back what it has had to give up at one stage.

The issue of resources can be more difficult to resolve. To get good teachers, the best institutions which already have substantial vacancies, will have to pay better. As the government's ability to keep footing a rising deficit is limited, higher fees should not lead to some of the brightest youngsters being unable to afford the best education. There are two solutions to this. One, raise fees but increase the scope of assistance and cheap educational loans so that the system becomes more or less means-blind. Two, improve the academic atmosphere, particularly for research, as that, as much as good pay, attracts the best teaching talent. This is squarely in the court of the institutions' leadership. The IIM-A director also feels that having to live with quotas in intakes places Indian institutions at a disadvantage. Yes and no. The foreign institutions will be no different from domestic private unaided ones, which also do not have to abide by quotas. Besides, it can be argued that quotas do not automatically imply a handicap. The IITs and IIMs have to live down the criticism, made more often against the IIMs, that they produce the best because they take in the best, with little value addition by them. The best teachers are those who create the best out of the second best

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

SHYAMAL MAJUMDAR: ARE YOU DOING ENOUGH?

A MCKINSEY SURVEY SHOWS VERY FEW FIRMS FOCUS ON BUILDING THE CAPABILITY THAT ADDS THE MOST VALUE TO PERFORMANCE

SHYAMAL MAJUMDAR

 

With the job market reviving, retention of talent is once again back on the priority list of companies. The question — how do you make sure that your critical talent that is walking out of the door today afternoon returns tomorrow morning — is becoming a common agenda of board meetings once again.

 The answer to that question was provided by McKinsey consultants who wrote the famous book The War for Talent. The consultants explained the core elements that make up a winning employee value proposition (EVP). An EVP, they said, is like the company's customer value proposition; it's the compelling answer to the question, "Why would a talented person choose to work here." Each company's EVP will be different depending on the type of talent they are trying to attract, but these are the core elements that managers look for — exciting work, a great company, attractive compensation and opportunities to develop. The last one is the most important as a few more perks won't make the difference between a weak and a strong EVP. If you want to substantially strengthen the EVP, be prepared to change things as fundamental as the business strategy, the organisation structure, its culture and even the calibre of its leaders in the organisation.

Surveys done by Hewitt have shown compelling evidence that better talent management pays for an organisation. For example, employee turnover in Indian firms doing a better job of attracting, developing and retaining highly talented people is 45 per cent less than that of others. The monetary implication of this is huge as a frontline employee in a top company costs 40 per cent of salary to replace and a top management one costs 150 to 200 per cent of salary to replace.

So, are companies doing enough to build organisation capabilities such as leadership development or talent management? Nearly 60 per cent of respondents in China and 20 per cent in India (versus 10 per cent overall) to a McKinsey global survey done in January said that building capabilities, such as leadership development and talent management, was a top priority for their companies. That's the good news, but the bad news is that only a third of these companies actually focused their training programmes on building the capability that adds the most value to their companies' business performance.

Executives' responses also indicated they were not very good at executing: Only about a quarter thought their companies' training programmes were "extremely" or "very effective" in preparing various employee groups to drive business performance or improve the overall performance of their companies

The survey results also indicate a potential explanation: Training programmes are misaligned with what is thought to be the capability most important to a company's business performance. Only 33 per cent of respondents said their training and skill-development programmes focused on developing their companies' most important capability.

Leadership skill, for example, was considered by a majority of respondents to be the capability that contributes the most to performance. Yet, only 35 per cent of respondents said that they focused on it. And only 36 per cent of executives considered their companies were better than competitors when it came to leadership development.

In addition, companies do not focus on day-to-day activities that could maintain or improve the capability that contributes the most to their business performance.

Companies also struggle to measure the impact of training on business performance: 50 per cent of respondents said their companies kept track of direct feedback, and at best 30 per cent used any other kind of metric. In addition, a third of respondents didn't know the return on their companies' training investment. Because companies don't know the impact of training, they appear to set their agendas using different measures, including prioritising by employee role, which may not actually result in the most impact on the bottom line.

Executives at companies where training is reported to be least effective, for example, are more likely to invest in training for the leadership team and least likely to spend on the front line — despite this group's more immediate impact on operations. In addition, although resistance to change is often viewed as a barrier to building new capabilities, almost as many respondents to this survey identified a lack of resources and an unclear vision as barriers.

Indian companies, thus, would do well to listen to the following McKinsey suggestions:

  • They need to be more deliberate in understanding which capabilities truly impact business performance and align their training programmes accordingly. Those that focus on leadership skill development are more likely to consider their training programmes to be effective in improving business performance.
  • When senior leaders set the agenda for building capabilities, those agendas are more often aligned with the capability most important to performance.
  • Most companies focus on the capability which, executives say, is most important to business performance because it's a part of the companies' culture, not for any competitive reason. While culture is a strong driver of effective capability- building, companies that focus on certain capabilities for competitive reasons rather than cultural ones gain a stronger competitive advantage.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

JAMAL MECKLAI: BT OR NOT TO BE

GENETICALLY-ENGINEERED CROPS ARE PART OF INDIA'S AND THE WORLD'S FUTURE, EUROPEAN PURISTS NOTWITHSTANDING

JAMAL MECKLAI

 

About 10 years ago, India's cotton textile industry was flat on its back. China is killing us. The government doesn't understand. Our borrowing costs are too high. We can't hire and fire. Export procedures are time-consuming and expensive. Our ports are in a mess. And so on.

Fast forward to 2010 and it's an amazing new world. Despite the global financial crisis — or, to quote my old friend Rakesh Mohan, the North Atlantic crisis — Indian textile companies showed top line growth ranging from 5 to 35 per cent in March 2009. Business profit growth was difficult to estimate because many of these companies got caught with poorly-designed derivative hedges in 2007-08, the chickens of which are still coming home to roost today. But March 2010 is certain to be a killer. And there is considerable amount of consolidation going on in the industry and a large amount of new capacity coming up.

Clearly, cotton textiles are anything but dead.

I first began to get an inkling of this, to me surprising, development around October or November of last year, when I found increasing demand for our consulting services from this sector. I was certainly delighted and I thought that, perhaps, WalMart and other big US buyers were finally diversifying their supply chain away from China, which would make eminent business sense, particularly as the US-China relationship remained extremely difficult.

Talking to the CEO of one of the big textile companies around that time, I asked whether the sector's new-found energy had to do with the diversifying-away-from-China story. He said, "Well, that may be part of it, but the reality is that costs in China have been rising quite rapidly as well." Which, of course, pointed out that there was an additional, more fundamental cause for the new reality. It also suggested, incidentally, that the rupee's exchange rate was not a critical determinant at this time.

A few months later, I learned that another — and perhaps key — reason for the dramatic change in the complexion of the industry was the fact that as a result of the widespread application of Bt cotton about five years ago, India has (once again) become a cotton-surplus country, in fact, one of only three in the world. And having ready access to raw material is obviously critical to sustaining profitability, particularly in the more commoditised segment of the industry, like towelling. Not surprisingly, two of the top three towel manufacturers in the world are Indian companies, and both of them are adding capacity.

So, there you have it. New-age genetic research and technology brings new life to an old economy industry, one that is amongst the largest employers in the country. Isn't that a wonderful tale?

That made me think about the recent brouhaha over Bt brinjal — hi Jairam. It is, of course, not surprising that there are concerns and protests — nervousness is usually the handmaiden of change. Indeed, when Bt cotton was first introduced (in Gujarat?), there were huge concerns as well. Fortunately, the smiling wheel of technological progress pooh-poohed the nervous naysayers and look where we are today: more Mercedes per capita in Ludhiana than in any other city in India.

But, what of the concerns against genetically-modified foods? Are they safe? Couldn't they lead to unfathomable damage, genetic defects etcetera over longer time horizons? I mean, are we chasing short-term results with possibly horrible long-term consequences?

The truth, of course, is that I don't know. But it is also true that nobody really knows what impact any change will have over, say, 20 years. And as I have evolved from a knee-jerk protestor back in my student days in the US, I have come to recognise that (a) technology is not good or bad, it just is; (b) a new invention or development will never disappear till it has had its time — however brief or long — in the sun; and (c) circumstance, God, the market (in the broadest sense of the word) will continuously modulate technology till it genuinely addresses the needs of people.

Clearly, the protests against Bt brinjal will sustain for a while longer — we eat brinjal, after all. But, to me, it is clear that genetically-engineered crops are part of India's and the world's future, European purists notwithstanding. And if this can get our foodgrain productivity to increase anywhere near as much as it has in cotton, look out! Agricultural growth will spurt, double-digit GDP growth will become the norm, and India's century will be here sooner than we think.

So, bring on the Bt — maybe I, too, will learn to enjoy bharta or stuffed or thinly-sliced and lightly-sauteed baingan.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

AN IDEAL DEFENCE ACQUISITION POLICY

EQUIPMENT SHOULD BE CHOSEN ON THE BASIS OF TECHNOLOGY-TRANSFER AND CO-PRODUCTION CONSIDERATIONS

K SUBRAHMANYAM

Money allocated in the Defence Budget for capital acquisition is surrendered in thousands of crores of rupees every year. There are complaints from the strategic community about procedural delays, time taken in successive user trials and bureaucratic hurdles originating in what may be dubbed the "Bofors syndrome" in weapons acquisition and defence modernisation. A matter of this importance should have been considered by the National Security Council (NSC) and appropriate directives should have been obtained. Unfortunately, successive prime ministers and national security advisers have never thought of getting such issues tackled by the NSC and have been satisfied with its functioning as a sanctioning Cabinet committee for specific proposals.

 It is relevant to recall there were no delays in weapon acquisition and modernisation during the Cold War period when India had only one source for weapon acquisition. The MIG series of aircraft, the SA series of missiles,130 mm gun, F-class and Kilo-class submarines, the Petyas and other Soviet naval vessels, the T-55, T-72 and T-90 tanks, and the Mirage 2000 aircraft were all obtained without being subject to qualitative requirements (QRs), scrutiny and competitive user trials. The only consideration that weighed with the users and the decision-makers was whether they could compare favourably with equipment possessed by potential adversaries. Those were strategic decisions taken without worrying about QRs and lowest tenders, amply justified by subsequent events.

Once the selection of equipment started on a competitive basis, scandals started. Jaguar, DKW submarine and Bofors involved corruption since there were competitive bidders. So long as competitive bidding and user trials are involved, there will be vulnerability to bribery and corruption at various levels. It is a matter of recorded history that prince consorts, prime ministers, defence ministers, sons and sons-in-law of prime ministers and senior service officers have been involved in arms sales corruption all over the world. The latest case is of British Aerospace Systems being fined $400 million in the US. Devising ways and means to expediting our arms acquisition with minimum vulnerability to corruption is a matter of national security strategy of highest priority and has to be handled by the NSC. It should issue directives to the Ministry of Defence on the broad framework of a strategy to acquire modern defence equipment and, more importantly, up-to-date defence technology and associated strategic partnerships with leading military powers which will enhance the credibility of the country's defence posture.

Acquisition of defence weapons and equipment is not like buying a consumer durable, like a TV, a refrigerator or a washing machine. In such one-time purchases, a consumer looks for the lowest price and the maximum number of functions in the equipment. One tries to optimise these two factors in arriving at a decision. In purchasing defence equipment, the most important consideration is whether it will match or be superior to the analogous weapon or equipment it will face in combat. The QR is relevant when one is planning development of the equipment. When a country is compelled to resort to purchase of equipment, it has to select from among the available ones. Since India wants to acquire defence technology also, a crucial consideration will be transfer of technology. In today's world, there are only two major sources of defence technology — the US and Russia. Though Europe tries to be an independent source of technology, with restricted availability of markets for the Europeans, company mergers and acquisitions, and the US incurring a major share of world military R&D expenditure, Europe's role as a defence equipment developer and manufacturer is shrinking.

India is today a favoured destination for US companies for setting up R&D centres and offshoring manufacture of components and sub-systems to effect cost-reductions. The main advantage India has in coping with China's challenge is that all major powers of the world, including Russia, are prepared to supply India with high-tech weapons and equipment while they have reservations in supplying the same to China. Secondly, India is in a position to make large purchases of equipment, enter into licensed production and co-production arrangements and offer joint R&D collaboration. India is and will be one of the largest arms markets in the world.That gives India an advantage over Pakistan since the latter has to depend on Chinese imports or US equipment obtained on credit or in aid.

There have been three cases of countries getting wholesale transfer of military technology from another country. Soviet Union did so after the Versailles Treaty from Weimar Germany under the Treaty of Rapallo; China got wholesale transfer of defence technology from the Soviets in the 50s during the Sino-Soviet alliance; and, the present transfer of technology from Russia to China. This is supplemented by a large number of former employees of the Soviet defence industry joining the Chinese industry.

India has a long-established defence relationship with Russia. But Russian excellence in defence is today very much less than what it used to be during the Cold War, though it continues to be a leading designer and producer of combat aircraft, naval vessels, including the nuclear submarine, armour and missiles. The US is and will continue to be a leader in all defence equipment production, especially those involving very sophisticated electronic and sensor technologies. The US is now enthusiastic about selling equipment to India. The reservations about the US as a supplier of equipment are wholly misconceived.A country which maintains adequate war reserves cannot be hampered in short-term defence operations which are the most probable ones.

Russian and US equipment will more than match anything that Pakistan or China can hope to procure. All major powers have two lines of production in combat aircraft. So should India, if it is to have an air force which will be an effective non-nuclear deterrent. The NSC should call for a choice of equipment to be purchased on the basis of technology transfer and co-production considerations from the two major sources — the US and Russia — and give a general authorisation to the Ministry of Defence to negotiate acquisition deals and forget the QRs and competitive user trials. That will expedite the acquisition and modernisation process, and will be the most effective way of ensuring India's security.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NOW FOR RATIONAL PORT TARIFFS

 

It is significant that capacity in our 12 major ports is projected to almost double to 1 billion tonnes (BT) by 2012. About 200 minor ports would bring up another 0.58 BT. As India picks up economic speed, it needs to add port capacity to ease infrastructure bottlenecks, improve logistics and, in general, cut down on the transaction costs of doing business.


However, in tandem with buoyant capacity expansion , what's warranted is prompt rationalisation of port tariffs. The extant regime of cost-plus returns on capital employed (ROCE) clearly needs to be reviewed and revised in favour of a competitive, forward-looking tariff regime.


The sectoral regulator, Tariff Authority for Major Ports (TAMP), is anyway mandated to rationalise the tariff structure and streamline the tariff setting system. Also, overall, its brief is to call for competitive pricing of port tariffs , and 'to push performance of Indian ports to internationally competitive levels'.


Now, the cost-plus tariff regime in place for nearly a decade, which allows a pre-tax rate of over 15% ROCE, might have incentivised investment and capacity-addition . But to continue with the cost-plus regime could offer a perverse incentive for padding costs to artificially boost returns.


For working out the return on investment, capital employed includes net fixed assets (gross block minus depreciation minus works in progress) plus working capital. The formula for returns has several components: a riskfree rate based on government bond yields, an additional market risk premium, estimated, at present in the Indian context, at 7.15%, and an equity 'Beta' part linked to volatility of asset prices, currently put at 0.84%.


The statutes do require TAMP to assess 'reasonableness' of fresh investments and capital employed. But instead of asking the regulator to pore over cost schedules and tariffs of port operators and service providers, it would make policy sense to call for competitive tariffs not necessarily directly linked to costs. Rather, the focus in a maturing sector like ports ought to be on service quality, ship turnaround time and overall efficiency levels.

 

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MORE DISCLOSURES BY BANKS WELCOME

 

The Reserve Bank's decision to ask banks to disclose a host of details in the 'notes to accounts' that accompany and qualify their balance sheets for the year ending March 2010 is a welcome move. Given the growing sophistication in banking operations and the intricacies of accounting rules, even without the added complications of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), the more information that is made available publicly, the better it will be for all concerned.


As the ongoing exercise of recasting accounts at fraud-hit Satyam shows, the scope for fiddling accounts is enormous. It is true that unlike corporate balance sheets that allow for much more laxity, the format of bank balance sheets prescribed under the Banking Regulation Act is much more rigorous.


The RBI also has a fairly detailed system of inspection that scrutinises balance sheet 'heads' . Even so, window-dressing of accounts is not unknown to banks, though its scale and severity may be far less than with companies.

Disclosures on the concentration of deposits, advances and non-performing assets will throw much more light on the bank's financial health. One of the lessons of the financial crisis is the risk posed by excessive dependence on wholesale rather than retail deposits.


Details about the total deposits of the 20 largest depositors and the share of their deposits in total deposits, for instance, will provide an accurate assessment of the degree of dependence on wholesale deposits and hence of the vulnerability of banks should these deposits be withdrawn suddenly.

 

Similarly , details regarding off-balance sheet special purpose vehicles and sector-wise details of non-performing assets will provide more information on otherwise opaque activities , as also indicate whether a bank is over-exposed to any sector.


Thus, there can be little doubt that when it comes to financial information, especially of banks, more is always better than less. But having said that, the utility of even the most detailed information is entirely a function of how much of it is used. And there, the ball is in the court of financial analysts and other experts.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TO BEE OR NOT TO BEE

 

At a time when the UP police is investigating the sting operation on Chief Minister Mayawati's party rally earlier this week, half way across the world, people are taking a more charitable view of bees. Hotels, albeit not yet christened Bee&Bees , have been set up in parts of the UK to boost the beleaguered insect's numbers in the hinterland .

These eco-friendly hostelries have been made out of recycled and sustainable material and even have sources of pollen thoughtfully provided within easy flying distance . Nor are the guests expected to be unwelcome additions to the community — they have been widely pilloried in the past for being noisy, short-tempered and inclined to sting — as the target customer would be the non-interfering solitary bee, not the honeybee.


The return of the prodigal bee to the countryside is expected to reinvigorate the rural British economy by injecting much needed pollination and thereby boosting productivity. Even New York has revised its opinion on the humble honeybug and the health board has voted this week to overturn a ban on beekeeping within city limits.

This would take bees out of the category of some 100 creatures, such as ferrets and venomous snakes, thought to be too dangerous to keep in towns. Bees are now being regarded as conscientious creatures fulfilling an important ecological function.


Had she not been bugged by the way they suddenly swarmed down on her meeting — and if she had been properly briefed — Ms Mayawati too would surely be(e) impressed by their orderly systems. The bees' world is predicated on anticipating and fulfilling every whim and fancy of their queen bee. Never mind if they spend their whole lives filling up her coffers with hard-earned nectar with nary a word of thanks; if she is happy, they are happy.


Such selfless devotion has earned bees an international fan following, and many people are rightfully concerned about their dwindling numbers. Rather than order a crackdown on these paragons, she should consider making them the state's mascot.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WHAT FISCAL STIMULUS WAS ALL ABOUT

MADAN SABNAVIS

 

Fiscal stimulus in the Keynesian framework consists of extreme affirmative government action through the Budget to boost economic activity.

 

 

Traditionally, this concept would refer to increasing fiscal deficits wherein the government spends, through high borrowings or printing of currency, to provide purchasing power to the people so that demand is sustained.


Therefore, the pre-requisite of a fiscal stimulus is a high fiscal deficit. Such deficits are brought about by either higher expenditure or lower tax rates. The objective here is to analyse the routes chosen by the government and the extent of their success.


Table 1 shows that the stimulus was exhibited sharply in 2008-09 through the big increase in fiscal deficit by 166%. Subsequently, the increase in 2009-10 was moderate at 23% and has been largely withdrawn in 2010-11 . The interesting observation is that the stimulus does not appear to be really driven that much by expenditure, as total expenditure , as indicated by the size of the Budget had actually increased sharply before the financial crisis in 2007-08 , when the deficit was at 2.7% of GDP. The maintenance of this increase in 2008-09 was actually more due to higher inflation as inflation-adjusted total expenditure increased at a slower rate in 2008-09

Even in case we look at nominal expenditure , the increase in 2008-09 was on revenue account — the typical Keynesian variety of NREGA, where income was provided for the poor to spend money and got reflected in Plan expenditure. But the government did not spend on projects as seen in the decline in capital expenditure in 2008-09 , which was subsequently brought back to the 2007-08 level in 2009-10 .


The view evidently was the short run where the thrust was on reviving consumption by addressing issues of poverty. Further, the government spent more on the three critical components of non-development expenditure, i.e., subsidies, interest and defence, in 2008-09 . Subsidies were just about maintained in 2009-10 at 2008-09 level. The conclusion is that while there was nominal increase in expenditure in 2008-09 and 2009-10 , the stimulus was sharper in 2008-09 . A gradual withdrawal was evident in 2009-10 that has been hastened in 2010-11 .

 

How effective were these expenditures ? It must be realised that the country's GDP growth had slid to 6.7% in 2008-09 from two successive years of over 9%. This was so as both, growth in private consumption expenditure and capital formation, had slowed down to 6.8% and 4.0% respectively in 2008-09 from 9.6% and 16.9% in 2007-08 . Further , in 2009-10 , growth in consumption and capital formation was tardy at 4.1% and 5.2%.


Therefore , the higher spending invoked by the government, which gets reflected in the social services and government administration component of GDP, displayed a high growth rate of 13.9% in 2008-09 and 8.2% in 2009-10 . This was a classic Keynesian stimulus of higher government expenditure compensating for the loss of demand generated by the private sector.


The question now is really whether lower government expenditure will be substituted by the private sector to kickstart the economy in 2010-11 . Government expenditure of the non-projects variety cannot lead to sustained growth and can, at best, compensate for any shortfall in private sector activity. This is a major conclusion here.

How has the private sector been affected by the Budget? The government simultaneously has taken a major hit in its tax collection in 2008-09 and 2009-10 by reduction in excise and Customs duty rates that it seeks to reverse in 2010-11 through its duty rate reversals. Table 2 provides information on growth rates on the revenue side as well as effective rates. The effective duty rates have been calculated as follows: Customs collections to total imports and excise collections to GDP from manufacturing.


Table 2 reveals that indirect tax collections actually declined in the two crisis years and the effective tax rates have come down quite drastically by 3.7% in the case of Customs and 5.6% for excise duties. This was the stimulus provided on the production side to industry in particular that will be reversed in the coming year.

What are the takeaways from this analysis? The first is that the expenditure stimulus was more in 2008-09 than in 2009-10 . The second is that it was directed not at creating capital but more at providing relief at the lower level of income. The third was that it helped to compensate tardy growth in private consumption and capital formation.

Fourth, following from this thought, it may be explained that even though the fiscal deficit was high, the borrowing programme was non-obtrusive as it did not put pressure on the system as growth in credit was also tardy and there was enough room for this borrowing. Fifth, the lowering of tax rates provided an impetus for sure, as the government took a hit on tax collections. Therefore, it was Keynes at both the ends.


However, the point for debate is whether the present reversal of liberalism in this area will be compensated by the private sector growth. This will surely be the subject of debate in the coming year.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TOWARDS GAINING UNIQUE INSIGHTS

MUKUL SHARMA

 

When it comes to a meeting between science and religion, two words usually sum it up: they don't . We're not just talking about extremists on either side like totally unbelieving scientists who froth at the mention of a first cause or the unwaveringly faithful who insist on divine creation.


It includes middle-roaders who say science and religion are two sides of the same coin since they both spring from human minds, while tacitly maintaining an eternal edge always separates the sides. And it includes those scientists who see some sort of deep mysterious beauty in the cosmos but remain atheists and religious mystics who shun dogma but retain a personal faith.

Therefore it's refreshing to come across someone who can say: "I've never encountered nor do I expect or conceive of a place where there would be a conflict (between science and faith), partly because I know my science well enough to know not to trust it 100%, and I know my religion well enough to know not to trust my understanding of it 100%."


That's Guy J Consolmagno. Consolmagno obtained his MA degree in planetary science from MIT and his PhD from the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. After postdoctoral research and teaching at Harvard College Observatory he entered the Society of Jesus and took his vows.


In addition to over 40 refereed scientific papers, he has also co-authored several books on astronomy for the popular market. Today he is a research astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican Observatory who believes that religion needs science to steer it away from superstition to keep it close to reality and to protect it from creationism which is a kind of paganism.

 

Fortunately a rising number of people are beginning to believe, too, that science and religion should work alongside one another rather than as competing ideologies. Perhaps neither empiricism nor theology will ever provide a complete understanding of the universe, but at the very least they should be complementary approaches to gain unique insights.


Or as Consolmagno puts it: "( This view) allows me to have more than one perspective on the big mystery of life, and that's cool because the more perspectives you have the better. But I don't expect them to agree. I don't want them to completely agree, because then I lose the benefit of having more than one point of view."

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IT WILL CERTAINLY BE MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL

ASHOK K CHAUHAN

 

Ashok K Chauhan, Founder President Amity Group

It is a wonderful, very positive idea as India is on the path of growth and development with a lot of international linkages and the presence of a large number of education providers from overseas . So, Indian students and foreign universities, and all other stakeholders , would benefit mutually.


Overseas universities/institutions would benefit from the cultural richness and heritage that is available in India while our students/universities would benefit from the curriculum , course content, teaching methodologies and awareness of research which is not available to that extent in our country.


There are virtues, traits and qualities available only in India and not in the western countries , e.g., flexibility, improvisation, intuition, instinct which are very necessary to make any career anywhere in the world. As to whether big and renowned universities will not come and only the smaller ones will, that is a fear which is not based on ground realities.


Each foreign university, whether it is Harvard , Cambridge, Oxford, etc, will come to India a little more prepared. They will come because of the intelligence of our students and because a large number of youth in our country cannot be neglected. In India, there is a value for a foreign university and even if it is a B+ foreign university giving a degree, it will carry a lot of value. So, one can affirm that all big universities would also come to India, but with a little more preparation.


Universities want to attract the best brains, and apart from excellence in education, our students possess a lot of virtues and traits perhaps not available so easily abroad. And foreign universities would surely like to attract our brilliant students. At the same time, those institutions which are not delivering top quality education will be badly affected as overseas players will provide students a wider choice.


In India , around 70-80 % universities are providing below-average quality of education — be it government or private universities. So, those not providing good quality will ultimately suffer. In short, we believe this move will provide a great value addition to our higher education.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THIS IS CLEARLY NOT THE WAY FORWARD

PROFESSOR YASHPAL

 

Professor Yashpal, Former Chairman UGC

Interaction between universities around the globe is always a good idea. But if the thinking is that with such a measure, we are going to get the best people and institutions to come and settle in India, then that'd be wrong. The very best, the big universities around the world run on various sources of resources, be it grants, state support, money from industry or endowments. Setting up shop in India isn't really going to be profitable for them.

So, we might get some of the smaller universities , not the great ones. Now, one is not decrying them or the idea itself, but some of those smaller ones already have a presence in India. It can hardly be the case that they'll be able to come and teach us how to teach. There are around 15-20 of them in India where the teaching is of a standard as good as anywhere else in the world. In their graduate programmes, the teaching, the students — in disciplines as diverse as management, biology to linguistics et al —the quality is as good as anywhere else.

The basic issue is that universities need to be grown. Even in the US, the famous universities started becoming great only in the last 100 years or so — when they started getting good people and teachers from Europe. They didn't bring in institutions, but people who helped build their universities. Here, we might have a few universities, or components of universities coming over. That won't do any harm per se. But what we really need is good people — from among the best in the world, including the many Indians in institutions across the globe.

A great university needs the integration and interaction of many subjects. That's what makes them great. The "whole" aspect of it. That, a full university, won't come over. Maybe components will. Now, we are building many central universities, quite a number of technology and management institutes.


We need to grow these, put the infrastructure and people in place, and they will become great. But we have stopped producing teachers of teachers. We need to increase postgraduate education even in technology institutes, and more freedom to prepare teachers. So, while not being against entry of foreign universities, this is clearly not the way forward.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

LEVY CAN REPLACE AD HOC SUBSIDY: RS SHARMA

RAJEEV JAYASWAL

 

India meets 82% of its energy requirements through imports. Though the country made great strides towards energy security by discovering over a billion tonne plus reserves, it still has to go a long way to meet the needs of the world's second fastest growing economy. This puts tremendous pressure on state-run energy explorer Oil & Natural Gas Corp, which is in charge of exploring resources within the country and abroad. ONGC chairman & managing director RS Sharma takes stock of the achievements of the company and the problems faced by it in an free-wheeling interview with ET. Excerpts:


How do you defend the Rs 28,000-crore subsidy outgo, which is against shareholders' interest?

You will appreciate that subsidy mechanism is not a unique phenomenon in India. A large number of developing countries opt for subsidizing the consumer. In India's case, making energy available at an affordable cost is a priority for the government. To support this endeavour, ONGC was made to contribute Rs 28,225 crore last fiscal.


As far as the rationale of sharing subsidy, I would like to mention that the entire oil production for ONGC is coming from the nominated fields for which ONGC does not share any kind of profit petroleum as stipulated in the production sharing contracts (PSCs) under NELP.


As such we consider subsidy as the government's take from the nominated blocks. However, we resent the ad hoc manner in which subsidy is calculated and imposed. All along we lobbied hard with the government for evolving a pre-defined mechanism for subsidy sharing.


Do you have a way to protect the inter-ests of both the government (the largest shareholder) and minority shareholders?
We have suggested that the subsidy should be taken in the form of a special levy on a calibrated scale. The expert group constituted by the government for recommending a viable system for fuel pricing (chaired by Kirit Parikh) has accepted our recommendations in this regard. As per this calibrated formulation, the special levy be imposed once crude oil price crosses $60/bbl.


There have been no major oil finds in the recent past. What is your strategy to enhance oil & gas production?
You are right to the extent that major oil finds are elusive. But that is the global phenomenon. However, in recent years we have accreted substantial quantity of hydrocarbon reserves in the country. As a result, we have been able to maintain positive reserve replacement ratio consistently for the last five years. In the last six years, we have established more than 1 billion tonne of in-place hydrocarbon reserves in our domestic fields, out of which Ultimate Reserves are 330 MT.


ONGC's Vision 2020 focuses on strengthening the core activities i.e., exploration and production of oil & gas. ONGC is focusing on three strategic goals. To double the volume of hydrocarbon reserves from 6 billion tonne to 12 billion tonne by 2020, to enhance global recovery factor from 28% to 40%, and to access 20 MMT per annum equity oil from abroad.


Time-bound plans have systematically been rolled out and are at various stages of implementation. Improving reserve replacement ratio remains the first priority. Production enhancement, arresting the decline in matured fields and expeditious development of discovered fields are the other priorities.


ONGC Videsh has acquired major assets such as Imperial Energy and Satpaev block. But some criticised ONGC for paying high for these assets....

Any acquisition has to be seen in terms of its lifecycle objectives and achievements. From this perspective, we strongly believe that OVL pays a fair price at the time of acquiring assets. Let it be clearly understood that OVL goes through a very professional due diligence process for evaluating opportunities and arriving at the offer prices.

What is OVL strategy to ensure acquisition of global oil & gas assets; especially in the light of aggressive Chinese firms?

Each company follows its own strategy given its circumstances and conditions — both external and internal. Therefore it would not be appropriate to compare them with others. OVL has a long-term mission of securing equity oil and gas for the country. At the moment, OVL is all set to exceed strategic goal of 20 MMT per year of oil and gas by 2020.


ONGC is also working towards generating new (other than conventional) hydrocarbon assets such as gas hydrates. What is the progress in this direction?

NGC is actively pursuing energy from new sources like – coal bed methane (CBM), underground coal gassification (UCG), shale gas, gas hydrates, etc. Our CBM Pilot project in Jharia pilot commercial production since Jan'2010.


ONGC is also taking up a pilot project in the Damodar basin for shale gas exploration. As far as gas hydrate is concerned we are looking for technology breakthrough for its exploitation.

 

As far as alternate energy sources are concerned, ONGC has already commissioned a 50 mw wind power project at Bhuj, Gujarat and is now planning to set up a 10 mw Photo Voltaic Solar farm. Besides, ONGC Energy Centre has launched research projects in several new alternative sources of energy including thermo-chemical generation of hydrogen, bioconversion of coal/oil to methane gas, solid state lighting, solar thermal energy etc. It has also joined hands with Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) for exploration and exploitation of uranium in India and abroad.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NAYAK'S TRACK RECORD, REPUTATION WILL BENEFIT US: MORGAN STANLEY ASIA HEAD

 

Morgan Stanley stunned the Indian financial markets announcing that PJ Nayak, former CEO at Axis Bank, will be its India CEO from April. It is positioning to take on the revival of the initial public offering (IPO) market and a possible resurgence in overseas acquisitions. Morgan now has the strategy to benefit from emerging markets after cutting down speculative trading substantially under former CEO John Mack. Its rival JPMorgan Chase in India is thriving under Kalpana Morparia, a former ICICI Bank executive. So, all eyes will be on Mr Nayak who walks into his new job at the age of 63 like a fresh graduate into his first job. Nayak and Owen Thomas, MD and CEO, Asia, reveal how they aim to wrest the peak in an interview with ET. Excerpts:


How did you come on board?

 

PJ: I have been always interested in the wider financial services sector. Morgan Stanley is a phenomenal global brand, which has done extremely well in India. It's only over the past two-and-a-half years that it has been operating as a standalone entity in India. So, one could say it's like a start-up and I would like to be associated with it.


Is it like walking into UTI Bank several years ago?


PJ: There is a reasonable overlap between what Axis does and what Morgan Stanley does in terms of individual businesses. Both run an institutional equity book, bond book, private banking business etc. So there are areas of overlap, but clearly there are new areas centred around investment banking which are very powerfully put together in Morgan Stanley and there is a lot of interest to deepen that business. Clearly, that was a big draw for me.

What is Morgan Stanley signalling to the market?

OT: India is a global priority for Morgan Stanley, not just in Asia. Clearly, given the global focus of India, it made sense to bring on board a seasoned banker like Mr Nayak. We felt his proven track record to build a business — at Axis Bank between 2000-2009 — and his reputation in the Indian business community, would be beneficial.

Did the fact that he is very well regarded in the system and given the current regulatory environment challenges facing foreign financial companies in India, a reason why you chose Mr Nayak?


OT: It is definitely a significant benefit. His relationships in government, in the business community, his track record is a definite asset for Morgan Stanley, as we build our India business.


Does this signal that investment banking is becoming quite localised?


OT: The business is becoming more local but the global connectivity is a significant aspect. But yes, we are building our various businesses in India and that does involve becoming more local but we will not do that at the expense of the global connectivity.

 


What are the challenges for you?

PJ: It is the ability to create a sustainable business. No business is really created for the short term. Even at Axis Bank, we essentially took a very long-term perspective in the way we sought about our business, in the way we ensured continuity of people who worked in various business lines and in the way we set our targets for the medium term — while the rest of the market may talk about slightly different time-horizon consideration. This is also the sense I got as to what Morgan Stanley wants to do in India, create a long-term sustainable business.


You come from a completely different philosophy and mindset. How do you see yourself in a company which essentially adopts the concept of year-end bonuses?


PJ: Bonuses are a way of incentivising people. Private sectors and commercial banks also use bonuses to incentivise people through bonuses. I think the nature of the business is different here, not so much the incentivising structure.


From UTI to Axis Bank to Morgan Stanley. What are the changes you see over the past 10 years?


PJ: The financial sector has transformed over the past 10 years. It's unrecognisable in terms of maturity, the ease with which financial products are introduced in the market, the very role of commercial banks which have moved on to third party products, fee based business rather than being dependent only on its own products. All of this is what investment banks used to do earlier very successfully.


So commercial banks essentially have imported the ways of these banks into their balance sheets as well. Its a much more open economy and as a consequence, the practices, products and future of companies require us to have a global perspective. Indian companies are formidable internationally. We need to have an international perspective on banking —whether its commercial or investment banking.


One can see a sudden shift in the way banks hire in India in terms of Kalpana Morparia at JP Morgan, Kaku Nakate at BoA Merrill Lynch and now you.


PJ: It's less to do with individuals and more to do with the competitiveness of individual companies which keeps shifting almost in a kaleidoscopic fashion where you see market structures changing over time. I think every organisation cannot rest on its historical laurels, it has to be competitive and adapt to the environment. The intention in Morgan Stanley will be to be sensitive to this and to be sure we are continually competitive.

 

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NAYAK'S TRACK RECORD, REPUTATION WILL BENEFIT US: MORGAN STANLEY ASIA HEAD

 

Morgan Stanley stunned the Indian financial markets announcing that PJ Nayak, former CEO at Axis Bank, will be its India CEO from April. It is positioning to take on the revival of the initial public offering (IPO) market and a possible resurgence in overseas acquisitions. Morgan now has the strategy to benefit from emerging markets after cutting down speculative trading substantially under former CEO John Mack. Its rival JPMorgan Chase in India is thriving under Kalpana Morparia, a former ICICI Bank executive. So, all eyes will be on Mr Nayak who walks into his new job at the age of 63 like a fresh graduate into his first job. Nayak and Owen Thomas, MD and CEO, Asia, reveal how they aim to wrest the peak in an interview with ET. Excerpts:


How did you come on board?

PJ: I have been always interested in the wider financial services sector. Morgan Stanley is a phenomenal global brand, which has done extremely well in India. It's only over the past two-and-a-half years that it has been operating as a standalone entity in India. So, one could say it's like a start-up and I would like to be associated with it.


Is it like walking into UTI Bank several years ago?

PJ: There is a reasonable overlap between what Axis does and what Morgan Stanley does in terms of individual businesses. Both run an institutional equity book, bond book, private banking business etc. So there are areas of overlap, but clearly there are new areas centred around investment banking which are very powerfully put together in Morgan Stanley and there is a lot of interest to deepen that business. Clearly, that was a big draw for me.

What is Morgan Stanley signalling to the market?

OT: India is a global priority for Morgan Stanley, not just in Asia. Clearly, given the global focus of India, it made sense to bring on board a seasoned banker like Mr Nayak. We felt his proven track record to build a business — at Axis Bank between 2000-2009 — and his reputation in the Indian business community, would be beneficial.

Did the fact that he is very well regarded in the system and given the current regulatory environment challenges facing foreign financial companies in India, a reason why you chose Mr Nayak?


OT: It is definitely a significant benefit. His relationships in government, in the business community, his track record is a definite asset for Morgan Stanley, as we build our India business.


Does this signal that investment banking is becoming quite localised?


OT: The business is becoming more local but the global connectivity is a significant aspect. But yes, we are building our various businesses in India and that does involve becoming more local but we will not do that at the expense of the global connectivity.


What are the challenges for you?


PJ: It is the ability to create a sustainable business. No business is really created for the short term. Even at Axis Bank, we essentially took a very long-term perspective in the way we sought about our business, in the way we ensured continuity of people who worked in various business lines and in the way we set our targets for the medium term — while the rest of the market may talk about slightly different time-horizon consideration. This is also the sense I got as to what Morgan Stanley wants to do in India, create a long-term sustainable business.


You come from a completely different philosophy and mindset. How do you see yourself in a company which essentially adopts the concept of year-end bonuses?


PJ: Bonuses are a way of incentivising people. Private sectors and commercial banks also use bonuses to incentivise people through bonuses. I think the nature of the business is different here, not so much the incentivising structure.


From UTI to Axis Bank to Morgan Stanley. What are the changes you see over the past 10 years?


PJ: The financial sector has transformed over the past 10 years. It's unrecognisable in terms of maturity, the ease with which financial products are introduced in the market, the very role of commercial banks which have moved on to third party products, fee based business rather than being dependent only on its own products. All of this is what investment banks used to do earlier very successfully.


So commercial banks essentially have imported the ways of these banks into their balance sheets as well. Its a much more open economy and as a consequence, the practices, products and future of companies require us to have a global perspective. Indian companies are formidable internationally. We need to have an international perspective on banking —whether its commercial or investment banking.


One can see a sudden shift in the way banks hire in India in terms of Kalpana Morparia at JP Morgan, Kaku Nakate at BoA Merrill Lynch and now you.


PJ: It's less to do with individuals and more to do with the competitiveness of individual companies which keeps shifting almost in a kaleidoscopic fashion where you see market structures changing over time. I think every organisation cannot rest on its historical laurels, it has to be competitive and adapt to the environment. The intention in Morgan Stanley will be to be sensitive to this and to be sure we are continually competitive.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A BANK BRANCH HERE WILL MAKE US A COMPLETE PARTICIPANT: BRADY DOUGAN

ANDY MUKHERJEE

 

Brady Dougan, chief executive of Credit Suisse Group, is reaping the rewards of caution. While the private banking division at archrival UBS has seen clients pulling out billions of dollars, Credit Suisse, which emerged from the financial crisis with a very comfortable capital cushion, has seen substantial inflows of new funds. In India, Credit Suisse is already the No. 1 institutional brokerage by turnover, and is now awaiting a banking licence, which, as Mr Dougan told ET NOW's Andy Mukherjee in an exclusive interview, will make it a "more complete participant in the markets". Edited excerpts:


What's the outlook for your two key businesses — i-banking and private banking?


The private banking business has been very solid over the past couple of years, even through difficult market conditions. We think that it's a business where we will continue to see good performance going forward. On the investment banking side, we are really focussed on the clients. We are focussed on market shares and on how we can actually provide value to our clients and, therefore, gain more market share. We have actually seen our market share grow through Q4 and into Q1 as well. So, we hope to see a very robust performance from our investment banking business.


Going forward, is the business strategy going to be tweaked?


In general, the markets are looking better. We believe our current strategy is right for our business, regardless of the market circumstances... We will be opportunistic in terms of looking at the potential to grow both organically and may be inorganically, but I do think we will put a pretty high bar on potential inorganic acquisitions — tactical acquisitions — that we might make.


Did you personally see the financial crisis of 2008 coming?


Some things we did see ahead of time. The whole subprime area was one of them. As early as 2006, we were cutting back on origination of subprime mortgages and reducing our exposures to subprime mortgages, not so much because we believed a crisis was coming but just because we thought that the underwriting standards had deteriorated. So, we did actually cut back quite a bit in 2006, which is a year-and-a-half before the crisis unfolded, and it helped us, but I would say most of what really helped us through the crisis was the overall strategy that we laid out as a firm.


What sense do you make of the new regulatory proposals for the financial industry? Do you think that these have gone a bit too far?


There are a lot of good proposals out there. One of the questions is how all these things fit together because there has been an increasing coordination among different countries and jurisdictions, but there is still a question as to how well these all fit together. So, the most important thing is that we end up with regulations and measures that are well-coordinated across the globe.


What are your views on some of the specifics? Do you think deposit-taking institutions should be in proprietary trading?

We exited most of our proprietary trading businesses year-and-a-half ago, so it actually does not have that much of an impact on us. The most important thing is that it is hard to have very hard-and-fast rules about these things and the most important thing is that regulators ought to be given the ability to actually judge when institutions are taking too much risk or when things are not in the best interest of the system.


What are your plans for expanding the India business?

India is a very important market for us. We are big believers in the long-term opportunities that we are going to see here. We actually have a very strong franchise around the world in some of the higher-growth markets, including places like Brazil, China, and so India is a natural addition to that. We have grown consistently and also pretty aggressively over the past couple of years here. We have been clearly very active on the equity side. We have also been very active as well with companies here. We have made an application for opening a bank branch here and are hopeful that at some point we would be able to actually receive approval for that. We think if we could add the bank-branch capabilities here then we could be an even more complete participant in the markets here.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IT'S BEEN NEVER SO GOOD: JEFF FETTIG

VIVEK SINHA

 

The world's two largest appliance makers, Whirlpool and Electrolux, have struggled through Indian market over the last decade when Korean brands LG and Samsung pumped up competition. While its Swedish competitor sold off operations in India to Videocon, Whirlpool restructured a loss-making business and, in the nine months ended December 2009, saw a 20% jump in its net profits. The US firm is now eyeing two to three times in the next five years, its global CEO Jeff Fettig told ET in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:


Durables demand is considered an indicator of consumer behaviour. Looking at recent months, do you see a sustainable improvement in global consumer sentiment?


The trends have not changed. In the two-speed world, you have the fast growing emerging markets like India, China and Brazil where our businesses have never been better. In the developed markets, which were the hardest hit, Europe was still down in Q4 but it looks like it is stabilising now. In the US, we saw growth last quarter for the first time in four years and we expect it to continue.

 

But your 2010 demand outlook is very conservative, barring Latin America...

Risk is what you don't know. Not so much for India and Brazil, but the consumer psyche is fragile right now and so we have not yet seen any compelling evidence that we are at a point where we can predict growth. Given what we have gone through, it's been hard to forecast and so, while giving guidance, we were somewhat conservative. Having said that, we forecast for the industry and not necessarily for our business. Our Asia business is going to grow much faster that what we said.


The two top global appliances brands have struggled with their Asia plan. It took a while for you to recover in India and the company has gone through flip-flops in China...


Whirlpool invested only in India and China. I would say India has been a success. In China we have a big business but a lot of it shows up as sales in the US and Europe. China domestic sale is relatively small right now, but we are growing very fast... I feel better about our Asia business than I have ever felt before.


But your Asia sales constitutes less than 5% of global revenues. Isn't it a concern for your global investors?
When we were losing money in Asia there were issues but now that we are making money they (investors) are happier. They have started to see growth for the last 2-3 years and we have made the big infrastructure investment and are able to self invest for further growth.


A 7-year-old brand (Vizio) has become the largest seller of LCD TV in the US. Does it reflect a new American consumer who chooses value over brand?


I don't think so. Televisions are not new but the technology is new and nobody sells with a clear technology advantage. The industry taught consumers to expect lower prices. There are lots of good products but every consumer has been taught to wait for prices to fall so they have turned a great innovation into a commodity business. In a commodity business brands are less and less important.


But the mass end of the appliances business is also all about moving boxes?

I would disagree. One of the best example of innovation is what we have done in India with the 180 litre refrigerator in the last five years. The functionality is largely the same, but the product is radically different and we change it every six months with different configuration, design innovation, space innovation... As a result, we grow our market share, our sales and profitability. Had we taken a commodity mindset, we would have been out of business. Take microwave ovens, we are not the biggest global producer but we are probably the most profitable producer. In India, we chose not to chase volumes as then we can't create value and if we can't create value we can't invest and then we cannot innovate.


How do you see consolidation taking shape in India?

You study any market around the world and the pattern is the same. China had local companies and when market opened up in 1995 every major company entered the country and capacity tripled in a very short period of time and ever since there has been a lot of consolidation. I think India is attracting competitors now and that will go on probably for a couple of years. And then, step by step, it would start consolidating. There are differences but, in terms of growth characteristics, India feels a lot like China ten years ago and that is pretty exciting given the way that market has grown.


Whirlpool has seen through bad times and now appears much stronger in India. What's your next goal?

Our business has never been so good in India. Between 1994 and 2005, the economy grew but the durables market did not really take off because the demand from middle class did not grow as per our predictions. But the demand is robust and we are seeing volumes pick up now. I think this business (Whirlpool India) can grow two to three times in the next five years. A lot depends on the market, but if we go by our strategy, we can achieve that and it would make India the fourth biggest market for us globally. That would be fantastic as it would set the tone for much bigger growth thereafter.


You had set a target to double proportion of exports out of India from 10% of revenues. It is still less than 10%...

Yes, exports are not very big yet and one reason has been that we needed capacity for domestic growth. But the business is much more prepared today. India is a nice innovation pilot for manufacturing with flexible operations and I guess we would continue to grow our exports from here.


Is there a possibility of introducing more brands such as Kitchenaid?

Certainly. Kitchenaid is our premium global brand and, overtime, we have taken it outside the US. Although we would not launch it in India this year, it would be introduced in the next few years.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE POOR LET DOWN BY CENTRE

 

The scathing criticism of the functioning of the public distribution system by the Supreme Court-appointed vigilance committee headed by Justice D.P. Wadhwa (Retd) should spur the Central government to not only apologise to the people below the poverty line for criminal neglect of their food security but it is imperative for the government to also fix responsibility on those who have been scuttling the PDS in states mentioned by the Wadhwa Committee. This sharp indictment ranges from the system having collapsed to corruption and collusion between fair price shop owners, rationing officials, transporters and politicians. This criticism cannot be ignored, or taken lightly, as it comes from a former judge. In fact, every tax-payer should be concerned because it is their money that the government is using to subsidies the PDS. It is a well known fact, documented in various government reports, that 50 per cent of the food meant for the PDS does not go into the system. Yet neither the Centre nor the state governments, which run the PDS, have tackled this issue with sincerity and commitment. The result is that crores of rupees are pocketed by corrupt officials of the Food Corporation of India in cahoots with the people involved in this distribution chain. According to the Economic Survey of 2009-10, the government's food subsidy bill is Rs 46,906.68 crores for 2009-10. If 50 per cent, or even half of that, does not go to the PDS, one can imagine the extent of corruption. This is shocking more so because this is a criminal assault on the basic needs of the poor and the poorest of the poor. To begin with, what is given in the PDS is a pittance of 10 kg to 35 kg of food grains per family per month. This is now being reduced to 25 kg per family per month. If a person needs a minimum 500 grammes per day, then the family would need two-and-a-half kg per day, or 75 kg per month. Where is 25 kg? And even this meagre amount does not go to the poor. Kerosene is sold in the black market at Rs 25 to Rs 30 per litre against Rs 10 per litre in the fair price shop. The poor have to buy the rest of their needs in the open market where prices have skyrocketed. The government has failed on two counts: not being able to supply the poor their basic food needs and not being able to control food prices. In this scenario it is necessary for the Prime Minister's Office, which has taken several contentious issues under its wings, to take the PDS under its watchful eye. Whatever the PMO has undertaken has delivered results, and therefore, until a better system is found for the distribution of essential commodities to the poor who number 6.52 crores according to official estimates (it could be much more), the PMO should monitor the current system. According to the Economic Survey, the pious twin objectives of the government's food security system, or subsidy programme, is to provide minimum nutritional support to the poor through subsidised food grains and ensure price stability in different states. If this is so, then the programme has failed in fulfilling its obligations towards distributive justice.There is so much corruption that any system one tries, would be waylaid by corruption.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

BACKWARD MARCH

BALBIR K. PUNJ

 

One after the other, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance-2 (UPA) has taken steps backward on the two issues crucial to its government — the Women's Reservation Bill and the civil nuclear liability limitation bill. And on many others that it promised it is said to have a rethink. This could mean only two things: the government's claimed honeymoon with the people is turning bitter and, secondly, it has failed in its floor management.


The Congress Party's defence is ingenious. It says that the UPA's top priority is to get the finance bill passed before April 30, 2010 while other matters can wait. If the government wants to avoid getting into controversies just to save its skin, any failure with the finance bill would amount to a no-confidence motion and that too means the ruling party managers are not sure of their core strength in the House.


With the impending tall promises of economic reforms laid out in the Budget, what confidence would the market have in a ruling party that these promises would be implemented? Where is the surety that these reforms would even be introduced in the House? Who would invest in a country whose Central government is not sure of its own core support, like the Trinamul Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)?
Apparently, the Trinamul Congress and the DMK are unhappy with the Budget proposal to impose customs and excise duties on oil and petroleum products. The government may have its own reasons but the increase in import and excise duties would only increase prices at the consumer end. What would happen to the much-advertised steps to curb inflation?


The stepping back on the Women's Reservation Bill plays out the internal contradictions of the UPA-2 for public view. The Trinamul Congress under the mercurial Ms Mamata Banerjee as a constituent of the UPA is increasingly becoming a thorn rather than an ally. Ms Banerjee has had her way in the Railway Budget that disturbed the economics of prudence the Congress wants to promote to present an acceptable face to global investors.


The Railway Budget did not pay any attention to finances but catered only to West Bengal. The proposed projects would raise operational costs beyond 90 per cent of revenues earned.


Here is a government whose Railway Budget speaks in a language different and contrary to what the Union Budget does. Ms Banerjee has not kept her opposition to the Women's Reservation Bill confined within the Cabinet. By abstaining from the vote in the Rajya Sabha she has made herself very clear — that she is prepared to ditch the government if it does not give in to her demand for a quota for Muslim women.
In fact, her West Bengal-centered politics entirely plays on the Muslim sentiment. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that she is in competition with her sworn enemy, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), on grabbing the Muslim constituency. She is also in conflict with the UPA's home minister, who is directing a strategy for elimination of the Naxal menace. Instead of joint police action, Ms Banerjee wants a dialogue with the Maoists.


With the Yadav duo withdrawing their "unconditional" support to the UPA, the stage is set for the Trinamul Congress to demand its pound of flesh. No wonder Ms Banerjee is prepared to take the plunge and leave the UPA like a leaky ship that is about to sink. Hence, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the UPA chief and Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, are left with only one alternative — give in to Ms Banerjee if push comes to shove.
This is the reason why the Women's Reservation Bill is held up. Despite the support from the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left, the delay in the bill reveals that the government is on shaky ground and that too within 10 months of its so-called popular mandate. That uncertainty has already started to dent its claims on economic reforms. The crucial determinant of this programme is the move on the oil front from the administered prices to market prices. The recent increase in administered price of oil products was advertised as the first step in this process. Though muted, the resistance to it by the Trinamul Congress and the DMK could push the government to the wall and it could be reduced to a wafer-thin majority.


The DMK, as an ally in UPA-2, does not want to face the electorate with the unpopular oil price hike and sky-rocketing food inflation. The party is already in the throes of a contentious political succession with three members of the Karunanidhi family jostling for the seat that the current chief is all set to vacate.
The bitter rival of the DMK, Ms J. Jayalalithaa's All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, has found the dent that she was looking for and she is playing on it. Also, it is said that Dr Singh is exasperated by the Tamil Nadu-centric minister for chemicals and fertilisers who often remains absent from Cabinet meetings.
Caught between a Tamil Nadu-centric DMK and Bengal-centric Trinamul Congress, the UPA-2 makes a laughing stock of itself. According to various news reports the Centre has moved no further on its reform proposal to give food subsidies directly to the target audience — those who live below the poverty line. The reason is not only the complexities of identifying these families but also the complex interplay of several vested interests that have a grip on the food subsidy and are diverting food grains meant for the poor to the open market.

 

For the economic reforms to break through these walls of misdirected subsidies, as well as a string of militant outfits from Naxals to Northeast insurgents all living on extorted funds, a government with a strong will and solid support within the country is needed. Those who expected UPA-2 to provide that strength are finding that they had bet on the wrong horse with this government taking as many steps backward as forward.

 

Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at punjbk@gmail.com [1]

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DEFIANT ISRAEL AND BIBI'S TENSE TIME-OUT

MAUREEN DOWD

 

So, the U.S. President, Mr Barack Obama, can lose his temper without a teleprompter. And we have the supremely aggravating Bibi Netanyahu to thank for that.


On St. Patrick's Day, of all days, we wouldn't want to think that Us President did not know how to pick his donnybrooks.


The American government did unfortunately apologise to Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, who got mad when a state department spokesman correctly observed that the Libyan leader doesn't always make sense. But in the case of a defiant Israel, the White House has not yet retreated into its usual compromising crouch.
Mr Obama is so unpopular in Israel that he has nothing to lose by smacking our ally for its egregious treatment of the vice-president. Mr Joe Biden, the great champion of Israel, was humiliated when Israel used the occasion of his visit to defy America and announce a plan for 1,600 more homes in the disputed East Jerusalem area.
Israeli conservatives figured the American Eagle was toothless given that Obama had already backed down once on settlements. But the President has a lot to gain with Arabs disillusioned by the failure of the pre-emptive Nobel Prize winner to make good on his vaunted Cairo promise to resolve the Palestinian issue.
Besides, there is no love lost between the Israeli Prime Minister and Obama's aides, Mr Rahm Emanuel and Mr David Axelrod — ever since Bibi obnoxiously labelled them "self-hating Jews" last summer.
The President and his inner circle are appalled at Israel's self-absorption and its failure to notice that America is not only protecting Israel from Iran, fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also dealing with a miasma of horrible problems at home. And Israel insults the Obama administration over a domestic zoning issue that has nothing to do with its security?


"That's not how you treat your best friend", said one Obama official.


During the campaign, Obama told the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg that "being a friend to Israel is partly to hold up a mirror and tell the truth", to save them from themselves when they mindlessly let settlement gluttony scuttle any chance of peace.


After it was reported two weeks ago that Israel planned 600 other homes in East Jerusalem, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, warned me that Israel's ultra-conservative religious groups were "killing every option that comes out that has peace in its objective".


For the fundamentalist rabbis who run Israel's working-class, ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Shas Party, the new houses represent earmarks. But it's one thing to put earmarks in the budget and another to foment a crisis between Israel and its benefactor over them.


"It's not entirely clear to me that the Shas Party knows who Joe Biden is or cares", Jeffrey Goldberg told me.
"They have very narrow theological interests that don't conform to the theological interests of American Jews", he continued. "The high-tech entrepreneurs of Tel Aviv relate to the Shas Party about as well as the Jews of the Upper West Side relate to the Tea Party. The Shas Party is not overly attuned to the American-Israel relationship or the peace process".


Mr Goldberg also points out that "what most Right-wing Israelis don't understand is that even American Jews — especially the nearly 80 per cent who voted for Obama — disaggregate what is in the best interest of Israel from what is in the best interest of the settlers".


Mr Obama knows that Jews no longer speak with one voice. That gives him enough room to keep the heat on Netanyahu. But the President's smackdown also obscures the fact that the administration has no real strategy for peace and no impressive team below Hillary and Biden pushing for peace.


Arab leaders groused to me that Obama has gotten so weighed down by problems at home that he has lost the thread of his promises abroad.


In his Atlantic blog, Mr Goldberg suggests that Obama's ulterior motive is to drive out the ultra-conservatives and force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Mr Netanyahu to take Tzipi Livni's Kadima Party into his government, thus creating a "stable, centrist coalition" that could work for peace.
Mr Netanyahu is taking his time-out in an Israel where many citizens and columnists are embarrassed by his behaviour. Yet post-Biden, the government is acting petulant and is inviting construction on more new homes in northeast Jerusalem. Perhaps Bibi will have the good sense to realise the Biden insult was a bit more than "regrettable", as he tepidly put it. He may remember that the two most important things to Israel should be a security doctrine that prevents a neighbouring adversary from getting a nuclear weapon and cherishing the relationship with America — rather than zoning and earmarks.


The Iranian mullahs must be laughing at the Americans and Israelis arguing about who insulted whom, while they are busy screwing their nuclear bombs together.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS

R.K. PACHAURI

 

The kingdom of Bhutan has been espousing the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) as opposed to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is followed by every other nation and society across the globe. Given the negative externalities that a number of economic activities are now known to impose on the society, the need for devising a new measure of economic progress and a more comprehensive definition of the human condition becomes imperative. The concept of GNH is certainly not easy to translate into practical application, because happiness itself is a very subjective measure, which the state cannot possibly come to grips with. But it is necessary for a new set of values to be accepted, on the basis of which the measurement of economic progress would shift from mere production and consumption of goods and services to a set of variables that are more aligned to happiness and satisfaction of human society.


In case of Bhutan, state policy has been very conscious of the need to preserve the country's natural resources and more importantly preserving the culture of Bhutanese society.


Culture and tradition are intangible assets that are difficult to measure, but clearly have a major role to play in creating a sense of pride and social cohesion that a society exhibits. This is not to say that culture and tradition are always positive factors in creating human happiness, because at different stages during human history and in different places, culture and tradition have sometimes proved harmful in respect of factors such as gender inequality; discrimination on the basis of caste, creed or religion; and even practices like sati, which cannot be defended on any rational or ethical grounds. But the world today is afflicted with the spread of monoculture. Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer prize-winning columnist and author, has rightly pointed out the downside of too many "Americans" on this planet. If everyone across the globe was to consume goods and services at the same level and on the same pattern as citizens of the US, we would probably strip the earth of its key natural resources, much as locusts devour an entire crop waiting to be harvested. GNH cannot rest on a culture of unbridled consumption, because that would be totally unsustainable.


Bringing about a shift to a more sustainable measure of economic well being, quite apart from the question of metrics, is really an issue related to attitudes and values. The appeal that the concept of GNH provides would be relevant only if this becomes the guiding principle defining the attitudes of society at large. If this were to happen, then possibly every human being would ask a question on how his or her actions would affect the level of happiness in that society. At the practical level, this could take the form of ensuring that no dumping of waste takes place in a public place or in observing traffic rules while driving on the road. In other words, GNH if imbibed by everyone in a society would create possibly a new ethos that respects the need to avoid actions which impact negatively on the welfare of others. Such a direction or approach would certainly not be smooth and devoid of tension. In case of Bhutan, for instance, the state has thus far maintained very successful and strict control over the number and quality of tourists allowed in that country. However, now that Bhutan has democracy and elected governments at all levels the question is whether the desire to make quick and easy money may lead to a dilution of existing tourism policy.


The contrast with Bhutan tourism policy is seen starkly in the laissez faire approach followed in most of our hill stations in this country. The result is that a hill station like Shimla that had a certain level of elegance and social order has now been converted essentially into a large sprawling slum. Much the same has happened to other hill stations like Mussoorie, Nainital and to a certain extent even Ooty. The desire to make a quick buck leads to violation of existing regulations, where they have been instituted, and certainly prevents effective regulations being put in place where they do not exist. The result is that civic services do not match up to the large pressure put on them by both permanent as well as floating populations in these locations, and as a result, therefore, quality of life suffers to the detriment of all. With the rate at which urbanisation is taking place in India, the involvement of local citizenry in the governance of towns and cities becomes an important pre-requisite, and decision-making, therefore, needs to become inclusive in every respect. Pride in one's own habitat and the desire to preserve all that is good and pristine would only come from active involvement in decision-making by citizens and stakeholders in a particular location. All of this means that maintenance of environmental quality requires firstly a shift in values that would emphasise happiness in a larger social sense as opposed to consumption of more and more goods and services, irrespective of their harmful social impacts and a certain level of involvement on the part of the local community in environmental decision-making. Perhaps, the example of Bhutan, a country with a very small population, would be relevant even for a country like India with a large and expanding population. After all Indian society has traditionally practised some form of GNH, which we should not relinquish at this stage of our development. If anything, the time is ripe for us to draw this concept into the mainstream of economic policy as a substitute for gradual replacement of the measures of the GDP.

 

* Dr R.K. Pachauri is the director-general of The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI), chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and director ofthe Yale Climate and Energy Institute

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DO NOT GRIEVE OVER PAST

BY SWAMI TEJOMAYANANDA

 

Life is a series of experiences and at every moment we are required to make a choice. Most of us are not always certain which is the right action to take and therefore a conflict exists.


Shakespeare in his famous play, Hamlet said, "To be or not to be", which we may paraphrase as "To do or not to do". Sometimes we decide on an action, but when the time comes to carry it out, we begin to doubt.
This inner conflict of how to make the right choice in every situation is common to all. And in order to resolve it, we need to be able to think clearly. For those who have clarity of thought life is simple and uncomplicated. Thus the most important thing is to learn the art of right thinking. Knowing how to think is more important than knowing what to think.


We should also have a vision of life in its totality. And in the light of that vision, all problems can be resolved easily. Whatever challenges we meet in our life, be it illness, emotional trauma, or financial hardship, our response would vary according to our level of inner maturity and our vision of life.


Take ill health, for instance. One who has inner maturity tends to be more accepting and will consider the illness as a temporary situation and suffer much less. While a person who has a narrower view of life will be more fearful and suffer greatly at even the hint of a disease. Once we know the art of clear and logical thinking, it becomes easier to deal with various situations that we encounter in life.


The Bhagvad Gita is a manual for living that offers a complete philosophy of life with each verse guiding us to a new understanding of ourselves. In this column, I will attempt to give a summary of the teachings of the Bhagvad Gita as it applies to our day-to-day lives.


In the first chapter of the Gita the author, Veda Vyasa, sets the stage for the teachings that are to follow. He introduces us to a grief-stricken Arjuna, who is faced with a dilemma in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. His charioteer is none other than Lord Krishna himself, Arjuna's friend, philosopher and guide. The valiant Arjuna has approached the battlefield and a war with his cousins, the Kauravas, is looming.


Suddenly, on seeing his teachers, grandfather, and elders on the other side of the battlefield strong emotions overwhelm him and he becomes unsure of his duty. Filled with attachment for them he becomes deluded, his eyes fill with tears; he throws down his weapons and declares that he will not fight.


Arjuna's condition of mental torture is only the symptom of a deeper disease. He holds himself responsible for the imminent death of his relatives and in his confusion believes that he will be the sole cause for the devastation that may lie ahead. At the very core of his grief is the conviction that "I am the doer". He comes to the conclusion that the war is wrong and unjust, and that he should not fight. Yet there remains some doubt in his mind and this causes confusion.


It is then that Lord Krishna begins his teaching of the Bhagvad Gita: "You are grieving over those that should not be grieved for; yet, you speak words like a man of wisdom. The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead". (II:11)


Lord Krishna attempts to remove the very source of Arjuna's delusion by pointing out that those who are truly wise do not ever grieve. This does not mean that we should not grieve if someone near or dear to us dies. No one says that we should be cold or indifferent. All cultures and religions allow for a period of mourning of 10 to 12 days. During this period it is expected that a person will come to terms with the situation and accept the loss. If the loss is deep, it may take several months for one to recover, but if the grieving continues after many years it becomes a problem.


Actually grief over any matter is born of ignorance. Do not grieve over the past, nor fear the future. Certain events just happen in life and it is up to us to accept them. Life, at every moment, demands decisions and actions from us. If we grieve over the past and worry about the future we are not able to deal effectively with what is presently before us. Therefore, the only true choice given to us is how to deal with the present moment.

 

— Swami Tejomayananda, head of ChinmayaMission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. He has written commentaries on many important spiritual texts and also composed Sanskrit works of his own. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission and Swamiji, visit www.chinmaya-mission.com [1].

© Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE LAW OF THE MARSHALS

THERE IS NO OTHER WAY TO BRING ORDER

AMAR SINGH

 

Never before in the history of our Parliament has a bill been put to vote amid so much pandemonium as was the case with the Women's Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha. Seven MPs had to be overpowered and physically lifted out of the House by marshals. There was no other way to bring order. The Chair was forced to take recourse to firm disciplinary methods on account of the wild methods of protest adopted by these MPs opposing the bill.

 

On many occasions, pandemonium has been caused in both Houses of Parliament and several state Assemblies. Unruly members enter the well of the House shouting slogans, and even slap and kick fellow legislators, hurl chairs and microphones, insult the Chair and cause forced adjournments. This results in loss of precious time of the House. Any parliamentarian is first of all a citizen. If legislators breach the privileges accorded to them, they would have to be disciplined like any normal citizen by the law of the land. The members who were suspended and physically removed by marshals in the Upper House on March 9 later apologised to the Chair. Why did they apologise if they did no wrong?


The unruly behaviour of colleagues from my erstwhile party can never be justified. I am fortunate that I am no more in my old party. Otherwise I would probably have been asked by my leader to do in Rajya Sabha what Kamal Akhtar did. Look at a leader like Ajit Singh. He has just four MPs in Lok Sabha and one in Rajya Sabha. But he showed better conduct than members of my old party, although he holds the same view on the Women's Reservation Bill as Mulayam Singh. In Parliament, protest does not mean violence. Unfortunately my old party does not believe in grace, dignity and good conduct.


On this issue, some may point a finger at my conduct during the Liberhan Commission discussion. Whatever I did was an attempt to save the dignity of House; otherwise, the country's highest institution of democracy would have got divided on communal lines on that day. Still, I feel I committed a mistake in the heat of the moment and lost no time in apologising to the Chair, to the House, and to the member concerned. I am deeply concerned about the falling standards of our members. We must remember that the House of Elders has esteemed representatives drawn from diverse domains. Such disruptive behaviour from them is totally uncalled for. It is demeaning to India's vibrant democracy. Members involved in the kind of commotion we saw deserve forceful eviction.

 

— Amar Singh (Until recently a prominent leader of the Samajwadi Party)

Use of force would send wrong signals

Sharad Yadav

 

Marshals should never be used in the House to forcibly remove members of Parliament who are sent there to present the viewpoint of the people. India is a large and diverse country and there are many shades of opinion, especially on important questions. These may be connected with regions or different social compositions. It is particularly reprehensible that physical force should have been employed by marshals to eject Rajya Sabha MPs when a very important exercise like a Constitution Amendment was in progress. It is perfectly in order for MPs to protest vociferously against government measures. The use of marshals to throw out those opposing an amendment to the Constitution means that any government can remove dissenting members by force and effect a change in the most sacred document of democracy in our country.


This is a very serious situation indeed, one that had not been visualised by our political system and the framers of our Constitution. To use force against MPs on that terrible day were as many as 100 marshals. Mostly they were from the CISF, and not the watch and ward staff of Parliament.


A government that deploys such force against MPs when Constitution amendment is under discussion and vote can go to the extent of scrapping the Constitution itself in the absence of an Opposition.
The Indian Constitution has laid down detailed procedures to be followed for an amendment to the document. The idea is to hear all voices. This is why the incident of March 9, when seven Opposition members were thrown out by force for opposing the Women's Reservation Bill, has sent out all the wrong signals. There have been more than 100 amendments to the Indian Constitution but never has such a disgraceful episode occurred in the history of our Parliament. This government broke a tradition when it brought in CISF jawans to remove dissenting MPs before the vote. Subsequently, major political parties realised the gravity of the situation. They have already made known their opposition to similar tactics being used when the same Constitution Amendment Bill comes before the Lok Sabha.


A united stand by the Opposition parties, as well as parties that are allies of the government, has made the government see our point of view. This is why it has finally agreed to opt for wider consultations on the issue of the Women's Reservation Bill before moving ahead with the key legislation. Earlier, we had even approached Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and requested him not to use force in Rajya Sabha, but the government did not listen to us.

 

Sharad Yadav, JD(U) president

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

CLIMBING DOWN

FACE-SAVING FORMULA FOR THE HILLS 

 

IN its draft proposals for an interim set-up for Darjeeling, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha may have deliberately sought much more than it can possibly get after the next round of tripartite talks. The positive signal is it is virtually reconciled to the futility of sticking to the statehood demand that even Jaswant Singh, erstwhile BJP leader elected to the Lok Sabha with the morcha's support, could not wholeheartedly endorse. Bimal Gurung now seeks a face-saving formula to sustain the illusion that statehood is still on the cards. Actually he seeks to convince those who have rallied around the morcha that the proposal can be pushed through because it is as good as a separate state. The irony is that this is what the morcha was being offered all these months when anything less than statehood was thrown out along with dire threats of bringing the hills to a halt. After drawing a blank for more than a year, there is perhaps no option but to soften its tone and suggest that a replacement for the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (simply a change of nomenclature to distinguish it from Ghisingh's outfit) will have to function till at least the end of next year. What Gurung may not be able to admit is that an autonomous authority with extended powers and a more generous allotment of funds is the best possible bargain for the morcha. 


What should also disturb Gurung is the re-emergence of the GNLF. Ghisingh has been quiet since his ouster but may not lose an opportunity to swing into action if the morcha were to lose control by failing to deliver on its promises. Gurung thus has a vital stake in formalising an arrangement that would meet popular aspirations at least halfway, although he is prudent enough to add that the "draft'' may have to be watered down after the next round of talks. There are some contentious clauses like the right to exclude application of laws framed by the state government and control of around 100 departments, including the police, compared to the 32 departments controlled by the erstwhile Hill Council. If the morcha succeeds in getting a substantial portion of what it proposes, that would be enough to legitimise its powers. It would then be a matter of responsible administration. Gurung would have learnt from the GNLF's fate that sound administration demands more than leading an agitation does.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

FRUSTRATED 'BLOT'

POLICE UPGRADE NOT PERCOLATING 

 

NO less explosive than the blast that took such a vicious toll at the German Bakery in Pune was P Chidambaram declaring in Parliament that it was "a blot on our record". The condemnation was warranted. Unlike most other terror strikes which are "blind",  this time specific, actionable intelligence was available, conveyed right down the line if the Pune cops are being honest, but nobody cared to follow up and ensure that the warnings were duly heeded. All post-26/11 promises of better information-sharing and coordinated responses were proved empty rhetoric. The harsh reality being that even in cities with a terrorist track-record the police effort remains wanting. No excuses are to be found in claims that alerts were sounded, warnings issued. And hinting that the restaurant's management did not do enough is buck-passing at its shameful worst. The responsibility for protecting life and property rests squarely with the police. The latter, however, do suffer severe constraints in terms of manpower, equipment, training and political priority. After the Mumbai massacre the central government has done quite a bit to energise the intelligence-gathering machinery and up-gun its paramilitary; sadly there are few signs of that upgrade trickling down to state and local police units which will ever be in the first line of fire. North Block appears to lack what it takes to carry the states along with it ~ "conferences" of chief ministers and home ministers in state governments have proved futile. The record can only risk further blotting. 


Further signs of the Centre's frustrations can be discerned in the proposed communal violence law that will empower the Centre ~ under certain conditions ~ to direct its forces which the states had summoned to establish a "unified command": not merely execute orders from the state authorities. Whether that will lead to better policing of riot situations, or stop the states from seeking central forces rather than commit their own to "hard" tasks only time will tell. The states are unlikely to accept any erosion of their "control" (only on paper) over law and order. The move is positive, but no panacea. While the home ministry contends that the calculated non-use of Central forces during the Gujarat genocide is the prime mover, North Block needs reminding of how under its very nose even the Army was led a dance through the Capital after the "big tree" was felled in 1984.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

DECENTRALISED KMC? 

A PLAY-SAFE ELECTION-YEAR BUDGET 

 

THE Kolkata Municipal Corporation, whose political rulers may be facing uncertainty in an election year, has presented a remarkably uninspiring budget for 2010-11. The singular striking feature, and one that ought to have been in place long ago, is the Mayor's proposal to decentralise expenditure and entrust the handling of local issues to the boroughs. Logistically, a municipal problem in say the added area of Behala can be more promptly addressed by the local borough than by the red-brick headquarters in SN Banerjee Road. This will entail a sharper focus on operations and effective devolution of funds. Yet the details remain rather hazy and are unlikely to be clarified two months before the municipal elections. If and when it materialises, it shall mark a major change in the KMC's style of functioning though it is quite another issue whether the traditional sloth will be curbed. What raises misgivings is that not many in the corporation may be familiar with the rules of engagement in a decentralised set-up. There is, for instance, a dichotomy in that the boroughs will be granted financial freedom without any share of the KMC's liability. What matters most of all to the tax-payer is a qualitative improvement in civic services, most importantly the drainage system that dates back to 19th century Calcutta. 


In terms of nitty-gritty, there is no indication of how revenue is to be generated substantially by an organisation that is saddled with a Rs 267-crore deficit budget. That there would be no fresh taxes in an election year was fairly predictable. The electoral underpinning alone explains why at least two additional sources of revenue ~ on the cards for the past few years ~ continue to remain untapped.  Much as Mr Bikash Bhattacharjee is concerned over the wastage of water ~ roadside taps are nobody's baby ~ he has calculatedly avoided mentioning the date on which the proposed water tax will be imposed. There is no commitment either on the introduction of the unit area assessment system, that had been announced with considerable fanfare. Allocations have been increased in several segments, but the decrepit primary schools have received the thinnest slice of the cake. The budget is largely bereft of plans, but has focused on the work the KMC believes it has accomplished. To that extent, it reads like a campaign document. Unfortunately, that doesn't count for much, even at the mildest estimation.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

NUCLEAR LIABILITY

MISCONCEIVED CRITICISM OF THE BILL

BY AJENDRA SRIVASTAVA

 

THE government has decided not to go ahead with the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2009 in Parliament during the budget session. The proposed legislation has already been severely criticized. The text of the Bill was finalized by the Union Cabinet on 20 November 2009 and the criticism centres around several issues.


First, the Bill limits the financial liability of an operator of a nuclear installation in the event of a mishap. Second, it provides for a two-tier liability system which means that the financial liability is proposed to be shared by the Central Government and the nuclear operator. After the operator has paid up the amount fixed for him, the balance of the compensation will be paid by the Centre. Finally, the Bill has also been criticized for channeling liability to a single entity, that is the operator of a nuclear installation. The supplier of the nuclear materials is immune from financial liability.


Now is the time to discuss the pros and cons of the Bill as it awaits introduction in Parliament. The primary concern is that of safety. Misgivings have been expressed by  distinguished people that the Bill is deeply flawed as it is meant to benefit nuclear giants at the expense of exposing the country to the risks of a nuclear accident.

International law

 

LET us examine the issue from the perspective of international law. The argument advanced is that the Bill in its present form ensures the safety of the country against nuclear risks. It is naive and indeed wrong to suggest that the Bill is an attempt to pledge the interests of the country in the hands of nuclear exporting companies. Given the official stand of the Government to enhance the existing nuclear energy capacity, a law on nuclear safety is a must.


A survey of the international conventions on the subject of liability for nuclear damage would suggest that the contentious features of the Bill are in conformity with the standards of the international regime on the subject. The Bill has been criticised as it puts a cap on the liability of an operator. This provision is a normal feature of civil liability conventions. An upper limit on the financial liability of the operator is justified on the ground that in the absence of such a limit on liability, the operator will not find an insurer to cover risks. In fact, the idea of capping the financial liability of an operator is an innovation. The civil liability conventions on nuclear damage incorporate such an idea, which may now be taken as a rule of the civil liability regime on nuclear damage.
Mention may be made of the international conventions enunciating a civil liability regime on nuclear damage. The 1960 convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Damage (the Paris Convention) as supplemented by the 1963 Brussels Supplementary Convention and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage were initially adopted to address the issue of liability. It was on 21 September 1988, after the Chernobyl accident that the 1960 Paris Convention, as supplemented by the Brussels Supplementary Convention, and the 1963 Vienna Convention were linked through a joint protocol relating to the application of the Vienna Convention and the Paris Convention. Further, in 1997, the protocol to amend the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage and the 1997 Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage were adopted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to update the legal regime on the subject.


A comparison of the Bill and these conventions reveals that the basic principles of the former have been borrowed from the latter. Single entity approach, a ceiling on the financial liability and a system of subsidiary state liability are prominent features of these conventions. So the proposed national law on the subject is in no sense special as has been claimed by the critics of the Bill.


Putting a ceiling on the financial liability of the potential defendant or operator is not even peculiar to the nuclear liability conventions. In fact, many international conventions that are in force in such spheres as oil pollution, carriage of dangerous goods and substances, trans-boundary movement of hazardous wastes and trans-boundary environmental damage all provide such a scheme of limited liability.

 

Two-tier system

 

THIS is not a negative feature; rather it is a positive one. Further, the requirement of subsidiary state liability, which means that the state concerned is required to provide additional funds to the extent that the yield of insurance is inadequate to satisfy the claims for compensation, is meant to strengthen the legal mechanism. This is by no means a violation of the established principle of civil liability regime. So there is nothing strange if the Bill also provides for a system of two-tier liability.


The Bill has also been assailed on the ground that it makes only the operator responsible. The supplier of nuclear reactors or the builders, which are foreign companies, are immune from civil liability. But the single entity approach is preferred by the international conventions on the subject to avoid multiplicity of legal actions. The fact that the defendant is clearly identifiable makes a liability regime more efficient and result oriented. When several persons are designated as potential defendants, the incentive to take safeguards decreases, whereas in the case of a single identifiable defendant the incentive is increased to the maximum.
The international conventions establish a distinct legal regime designed to tackle ultra-hazardous activities or situations. They have their own set of rules which cover all conceivable situations of harm. So it is rudimentary to criticize the Bill comparing it with ordinary liability regimes. The criticisms  are misconceived.

 

(The writer is Associate Professor of Law,

Banaras Hindu University)

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

NEWER DIMENSIONS OF HUMANISM

 

Amlan Dutta was an uncompromising individualist, committed to a humanist mission and a tradition of guarding the ramparts of liberal democracy at a crucial time, says Sobhanlal Mukherjee
I had developed an acquaintance with Amlan Dutta in 1944 when, as an MA student, he stayed at the YMCA hostel in  Rajabazar with a co-boarder who was a Presidency College classmate. I was also lucky when I heard his first lecture as an economics honours student at Ashutosh College, Kolkata, in February 1947, explaining the Keynes-Ohlin debate on International Trade.


As a member of the first batch in MA Political Science, and editor of the Calcutta University magazine, I had him, now a lecturer in economics, as a member of its advisory board and was privileged to enter his inner circle. A keen debater in his student days, we found him a soft-spoken, loving teacher, very fastidious in choosing words, laconic but circumspect, logical, a bit formal but not discourteous. Sometimes he was plunged into silence for minutes, typical of an introspective intellectual.


The roaring '50s was a disturbed period. World War II had just ended. The dropping of the atom bomb on Japan had brought about an obnoxious result, not only on the people and the government but also on free-thinkers and sensitive young people like us, forcing us into a rethink on peacekeeping in the post-atomic age when sophisticated, mechanised warfare began to threaten international and national security. We were shocked that even Stalinist Soviet Union, committed to Marxism-Leninism, did not oppose the American strategy of dropping the bomb. The failure of the Yalta talks exposed Stalin's empire-building designs in East European satellite states.


During this period, Dutta published his epoch-making book, For Democracy. It championed liberal "bourgeois" values of a genuine demcoracy like non-conformism, the right to disagree, right to protest, which are also values of a participatory democracy. He received congratulatory letters from Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, two famous humanists who were then busy with their pacifist "no war" campaigns. The publication of a sensational book, The God that failed, strengthened Dutta's views. Stephen Spender, Louis McNiece and WH Auden were reported to have been some of the outspoken intellectual giants of the day who became disillusioned with Stalinism as much as the Frankfurt school of neo-Marxist humanists. Dutta aligned with them as a free-thinker. He was an uncompromising individualist, committed to the humanist mission and tradition of guarding the ramparts of liberal democracy at a crucial time.


I had the good fortune to partner Dutta as members of Calcutta chapter of Brains Trust, All India Radio. The sparkling, thought-provoking talks in English and Bengali which Dutta delivered, often extempore, "For the universities", were outstanding specimens of brilliant wit, words and wisdom, ranging from politics to statistics, from aesthetics to economics. Sitting with such a prodigy, versatile, yet so humble, was a unique, rewarding experience for me. Facing him across the table for group discussions extempore, was a bounty. Those were the great days in the history of Air Calcutta, when gifted people like Niranjan Majumdar of The Statesman and Bryson Gerard of the British Council reviewed books and films regularly.


MN Roy, once the right-hand man of Lenin and later a celebrated prophet of New Humanism, Radical Democracy and Decolonisation, agreed to address us students of MA Political Science class on 21 February 1950, the day after the demise of Sarat Chandra Bose, Netaji's elder brother. The gathering was small, as it was a day of mourning, and Calcutta University was closed as a mark of respect to Bose. Yet we had to organise the meeting. Roy gave us some profound shocks. He told us that the decolonised colonies like India would not be able to fully reap the benefits of independence as their basic infrastructural democratic frame was highly fragile. How true and prophetic he was!


Roy joined the Congress at its Faizpur session in 1936, presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru. He wished to unify the socialist forces within the Congress. But soon he left the Congress, charging it with misleading the progressive elements by allowing "the Gandhian pro-Hindu obscurantist overlordship" to lead it. He tried to regroup the "Royists" under the umbrella of "Radical Humanism". A free-thinking robust intellectual like Amlan Dutta could not be expected to blindly toe a particular party line or an interest group. But he shared the humanistic ideas of MN Roy. So unawares, he built a synthesis of his liberal, humanist ideas, re-interpreting Roy's "New Humanism" with its newer dimensions.


Marx never denied religion as a positive civilising force. In his first thesis on Feuerbach, he observed that human nature and concrete human needs acted as middle terms in the historical process of human and social evolution. By such examples of higher algebra, he meant that in algebraic series, middle terms helped the summation of series up to infinity. Religion, he maintained, was like a middle term, helping to trace the course of the infinite process of socio-human evolution – thereby civilisation itself in its totality. Equidistribution of surplus produce, to each according to his need, was found extremely difficult. Primitive man needed standards of values, like equality and social justice, as John Rawls would also argue. Humanism itself is an important religious and cultural value. As market economy evolved from simple to complex positions, the course of religion too became more and more complex.


Like the greedy bourgeoisie, robbing the proletariat of their surplus value dues, "priests" tried to rationalise their misconduct, befooling primitive people with magic and witchcraft to generate some "false consciousness" in the name of "God" and "religion". This was how young Marx, albeit a young Hegelian, explained his humanistic theory of alienation in his famous Paris manuscripts, identifying alienation of the working class from genuine consciousness of the human species under a capitalist system. Religion, thus, acts as a humanising catalyst for social change for the better. From Lord Bhikhu Parekh's Gandhian researches, Dutta knew all about Gandhiji's fasting as a means for self-realisation through self-purification. His presence, beside fasting, Mamata Banerjee on the Nandigram issue would thus explain itself. He himself fasted on occasion when he needed "light".
It appears that MN Roy misconstrued all religions values as "bourgeois illusions". Going deeper into Tagore's concept of "Religion of Man" and writings of Western sociologists like Durkheim and Max Weber, Dutta worked out a splendid synthesis akin to the Vedantic concept of Religion. The synthesis is similar to a grand "Trinity", integrating satyam (truth), shivam (Godliness) and sundaram (beauty). Dutta naturally condemned ritualistic and showy congregational practices in the name of religion, dogmas and superstitions. He could rather support Ramakrishna's humanistic advice to Vivekananda that servi]uce to jeeva (man) was service to Siva (God).


A believer in the Royist concept of "Man the Infinite", Dutta had no difficulty in supporting Democracy from Below instead of Democracy from Above, Globalisation from Below, instead of Globalisation from Above.
Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister known as the "Iron Lady", once cynically asserted, "There is no such thing as society!" Famous sociologists like Anthony Giddens and Richard Falk opposed such rank negative, anti-society views. If Dutta participated in this debate, he would have strongly condemned such nihilistic mis-statements.


Years ago, a devastating fire destroyed valuable photo-records of past Kolkata, stocked by Bourne and Shepherd, leading photographers. But what Dutta lamented most was the loss of a picture hung over the Dark Room, captioned "Nothing is ugly". It conjured up the happy smile of a poor African mother, with a load overhead, going hand in hand with a smiling, stark naked boy. Dutta took it as a glaring symbol of humanist aesthetics, glorifying simple, contented eternal motherhood, even in penury, reminding him of a similar famous painting of Nandalal Bose. "Beauty" and the "Beast" co-exist as relative categories in humanist aesthetics.
In Tangra, east Kolkata, some years ago, during heavy monsoon rains, part of a crowded, dirty hovel collapsed. Within the debris lay a dead Hindu woman, but her surviving suckling cried. A Chinese woman, who was a nextdoor neighbour, reported in joyous amazement that a Muslim woman living nearby breastfed the crying baby and comforted it along with her own baby. A visibly moved Dutta commented that what power-hungry politicians failed to achieve at the Brigade Parade Ground, poor, illiterate women did. He added that this was real secularism, real humanism, real globalism. Globalist humanism, he said, badly needed cosmopolitan democracy, compassionate humanism, and secular, multi-cultural citizenship.

 

The author is a retired Professor of Political Science, Rabindra Bharati University.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

WHERE'S THE PARTY TONIGHT ?

JAGMOHAN CHOPRA


Michaele and Tareq Salahi's gatecrashing into Barack Obama's White House party for our very own Manmohan Singh may have hit the headlines in USA, but it's something that's been practiced in India for years. Be it wedding receptions, official dinners or even college functions, India has had its share of gatecrashers and attempts, if any, to curb the menace have proved to be exercises in futility.


Some people have become so adept at attending parties they have not been invited to that they have earned the reputation of being called professional gatecrashers. A friend who has been gatecrashing into parties for years confided in me recently and told me what is required to become a professional gatecrasher – confidence, attire, gift of the gab and company of someone with similar qualities and intention. In case you want to gatecrash a party, here's what you're supposed to do: select a party that is big, really big, where the host doesn't know who the guests are and vice-versa, wear your best suit, enter the venue with aplomb, wave at people without meeting their eye, just as politicians do, head for a pre-decided corner where your other gatecrashing friends are, give a hug to one or two showing how happy you are meeting them and head for the bar or dinner as the casemay be.
Only the other day I happened to visit a hotel and found a host fighting with the hotel manager over the number of guests he was being made to sign for. While the host said he had invited only 500 guests, of which 100 did not turn up, the hotel manager insisted he had to serve an extra hundred, thereby saving the host the embarrassment of seeing his guests go hungry. Needless to say, gatecrashers had spoilt the host's party. The hotel manager later told me that such incidents were a daily occurrence in the hotel over which he had no control. I am told that the gatecrashing disease, so far limited to weddings and receptions, has spread its tentacles to official dinners as well.


Considering ourselves to be high-flying managers, we once decided to face the problem head-on by devising a system in which every guest attending a dinner hosted by our boss was asked to bring the invitation card along and present it at the entrance to the dining area. To us, it appeared to be a fool-proof method of keeping gatecrashers at bay. The next hour proved how wrong we were. As bad luck would have it, a close friend of the boss forgot to bring the card and was denied entry into the dining area. Needless to say, he felt insulted and walked out in a huff. As soon as the boss came to know of it, he banged the officers who had devised the system.


Better let the gatecrashers in than earn the wrath of your boss. We later solved the problem by giving a handful of cards to someone and made him stand near the entrance with instructions to use the cards whenever  an emergency arose. Gatecrashing was common in college too with students always discussing which party to crash into. Sick of eating the same monotonous food day after day in the students mess, it was common for students to gatecrash into annual functions of hostels other than their own or even weddings outside the campus with some of them posing as gharatis (gharwale or hosts) and some as baratis (guests). Once a group of students gatecrashed into a wedding reception and found one of their gatecrashing buddies there. "You never told us you were coming to this party" said one.

 

"I didn't have to – it's my sister's wedding, damn you !"

 

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******************************************************************************************THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

NO RETREAT

 

Investment, it is said, is an act of faith. When the Tata group decided earlier this month to set up the first five-star hotel in Assam — and in the whole of the Northeast — it clearly signalled a new hope for the state and the region. This change of perception was evident at the meeting between the chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, and representatives of several leading industrial groups in Guwahati on March 9. It is easy to understand why business groups are now prepared to explore opportunities in the state. Assam's main insurgent group, the United Liberation Front of Asom, is in disarray after the arrest of several of its senior leaders. Although Paresh Barua, the chief of its armed wing, is still at large, the outfit's popular support and striking ability never seemed as low as now. More important, most of the senior leaders, including Arabinda Rajkhowa, the Ulfa chairman, favour peace talks. The group's militant cadre may still have the capacity to trigger sporadic violence. But all signs indicate that the Ulfa is a much weakened, if not a spent, force. All this makes it the right moment for the government, the business community and the political class to push the long-suspended development agenda in Assam. Assam's prosperity can usher in a new economic regime for all the six other states in the region

 

However, bad losers everywhere try to raise a stink. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Ulfa has threatened to launch an armed protest against the Tata group's project. Opposition to industrial projects is rising in several parts of India. The Tatas had to pull out their small-car project from West Bengal in the face of violent opposition to it. In Orissa, two ambitious ventures — the iron ore project of the South Korean group, Posco, and the bauxite mining project of the Vedanta Resources — face strong opposition on land acquisition. The Ulfa's reasons for opposing the project in Guwahati are absurd. It argues that the state's decision to allocate land for the project is "against the national interests of Assam". The real reason seems to be the outfit's anxiety to use the issue to claim that it is alive and kicking. If it is losing the real war, the Ulfa hopes to win a publicity battle. Mr Gogoi can react to the threat in only one way — by ignoring it and making sure that the project goes ahead. At stake is not merely the success of one business venture but a new dawn for Assam.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

STRONG MESSAGE

 

Israel seems to have underestimated the wrath of Barack Obama, mistaking the goodwill of his administration for unbridled licence to do as it wills. Scaling down his original demand for a total freeze on Israeli constructions in occupied Palestinian territory, Mr Obama recently conceded Israel the right to build 3,000 housing units. But that was clearly not enough for Israel. Days ago, in the wake of Joe Biden's visit, Israel announced plans to build another 1,600 houses in the Ramat Shlomo area of East Jerusalem. The idea was nothing less than a resounding slap in the face of the United States of America. The belligerence with which it was criticized by both Mr Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, shows the extent to which it has irked the present US administration's self-image of being a long-standing ally of Israel. Although the latter's ultra-nationalist prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, did clarify that the announcement was made by some over-eager politician of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, he did not deliver much more than a token apology. Mr Netanyahu only asked to be forgiven for the bad timing — which implies that he does not have any problem with construction plans if they are not made public during high-profile state visits. So the apology is really not for the slap in the face, but for choosing the wrong day to deliver it.

 

Last year alone, Israel took away the residency rights of 4,577 Palestinians in Jerusalem. The figure happens to be the highest between 1967, the end of the Six-Day War, and 2007. So clearly, something has been going terribly wrong in the US approach to the crisis in the Middle East. By expressing their disapproval in no uncertain terms, both Mr Obama and Ms Clinton have seized upon an opportunity to put Israel in its place. But the US reaction to Israel does not indicate any substantial change of heart; it only reflects a mature and progressive attitude towards the impasse in the Middle East. It has so far been a rule with US presidents to align themselves clearly on Israel's side before each of the so-called 'peace talks'. The Camp David summit in 2000 was an excellent example of how Bill Clinton's pro-Israel tilt made the discussions a foregone conclusion. Now that, once again, there are talks about holding talks, one hopes that if and when they happen, Mr Obama would stick to the principle of fairness he has subtly tried to embody.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

NOT THE WESTMINSTER WAY

ONE DANGER IS THAT WOMEN'S ISSUES WILL BECOME GHETTO CONCERNS

SWAPAN DASGUPTA

 

"We Englishman are very proud of our Constitution, Sir. It was bestowed upon us by providence. No other country is so favoured as This Country."

 

"And other countries," said the foreign gentleman, "They do how?"

"They do, Sir," returned Mr Podsnap gravely shaking his head, "they do —I am sorry to be obliged to say it — as they do."

 

— Charles Dickens: Our Mutual Friend

 

Last week, the Rajya Sabha cleared the first hurdle in the path of a Constitution amendment bill to reserve one-third of directly-elected seats in legislatures for women. It was, as its supporters rightly boasted, a profoundly 'revolutionary' measure that, if it manages to negotiate the remaining hurdles, will allow India to look Rwanda and Angola in the eye and cock a snook at the patriarchal Anglosphere. What is more, as joyous pro-reservationists have pointed out, the bill was passed after a four-hour 'debate' — a curious name for the grand proclamations that party leaders recorded for the history books.

 

We are, it is said, "like this only" and grateful for small mercies such as four hours of speeches on a proposal that will change the persona of representative politics and further curtail the principle of free choice — the existing 'reserved' seats deny absolute free choice in nearly one-fifth of Lok Sabha constituencies. Considering that the government gave less than a week's notice to the Rajya Sabha, was willing to rush through the bill without even the pretence of deliberations and, if Mamata Banerjee is to be believed, didn't even bother consulting all the coalition partners, it was less of a debate and more akin to the proceedings of a kangaroo court. The insidious three-line whip and the threat of disqualification ensured that the outcome was settled even before the bill was circulated in Parliament.

 

The choppy passage of the Constitution amendment through the Rajya Sabha personified India's cavalier approach to political decision-making. That the proposal was conceived by the ramshackle United Front government in 1996, subsequently endorsed by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government and included in the manifestos of the main parties doesn't distract from this harsh indictment. The undeniable fact is that there was insufficient public debate on the bill and its far-reaching implications. Grand assertions from the high table — something Jawaharlal Nehru bequeathed to the country — don't make for either informed judgment or a national consensus. No wonder back-bench members of parliament feel resentful and short-changed. And it is entirely possible that the cumulative impact of different grievances may derail the bill in the Lok Sabha.

 

At the risk of echoing Mr Podsnap's pompous assertion of English superiority, it is worth comparing last week's events with the path of the legislation that outlawed fox hunting in Britain. To the uninitiated, fox hunting was as central to English country life as, say, football and the pub are to urban Britain. The proposal to outlaw it hit at the very heart of country life in England. Yet, since hunting was also inextricably associated with privilege, the Labour Party manifesto of 1997 promised "a free vote in Parliament on whether hunting with hounds should be banned by legislation". For New Labour, which had wisely turned its back on 'class struggle' issues, the crusade against fox hunting was a politically inexpensive way of kicking Tory butts and placating its own loyal army of the mean minded.

 

The seven years it took for manifesto commitment to be translated into the Hunting Act saw feverish courtship of the 'free vote' by both sides. There were countless hours of parliamentary, public and media debates, petitions, lobbying of MPs and the matter even reached the courts. The Countryside Alliance even organized a huge demonstration in London in 2004, a rare occasion when Labradors comprised a significant proportion of the marchers. Despite some dogged resistance by the House of Lords, the pro-ban lobby finally prevailed. Yet no side could really say that the legislation was passed without a full and exhaustive application of mind by MPs. A comparison between fox hunting and women's reservation in Parliament may seem fatuous and, indeed, offensive. However, it's not the subject of disputes or the passion generated by them, but the political process that bears measuring against the yardstick of democratic ideals.

 

First, the inclusion of a proposal in a manifesto doesn't imply its automatic acceptance or rejection by voters. Women's reservation was a tucked-away feature of the manifestos. It wasn't even an incidental theme of the general election campaign and I don't recall any leader of consequence speaking about the measure in their campaign rallies. The proposal didn't shape voting preferences even nominally. It is also worth noting that even the decision to bring the bill to the Rajya Sabha wasn't accompanied by the usual 'busloads of arguments'.

 

Secondly, in matters concerning a way of life and the very character of the political system, as opposed to a money bill or a confidence motion, a free vote is desirable. A private member's bill to this effect proposed by the Congress MP, Manish Tiwari, has been introduced in the Lok Sabha. Since majority opinion is the aggregate of local sentiment, there is a compelling need to factor in diversity. A sense of the 'common good' can come about after messy consultation and fractious debate. A parliamentary fatwa may enhance women's representation; it won't serve the cause of women's empowerment. Indeed, there is a real danger that women's issues may become ghetto concerns, unworthy of consideration by the whole society.

 

Finally, a legislation of this magnitude must be accompanied by robust debate that filters down to the grassroots. The last occasion there was even a flutter of sorts on women's reservation was in 1996. Until the kerfuffle of last week, there was silence for 14 years. And even last week's discussions, laced with dollops of correctness, were confined to NGOs, women activists and the editorial classes.

 

Yet, there are other voices too. Some of them may be crass, unenlightened and rarefied, but they too need to be heard. The very process of engagement and consultation will strengthen democracy immeasurably. It will make any radical step more palatable and less divisive. The introduction of a common civil code for all Indians, for example, has been held up for six decades because of minority misgivings. Indeed, any meaningful debate on this issue has been peremptorily foreclosed not because it will necessarily fail to reflect the national feeling but because the debate itself will reveal fissures in society. The Indian political class, it would seem, is most comfortable with a contrived consensus achieved through diktat; a genuine battle of ideas is invariably shunned. The immortal words of a Gilbert and Sullivan song seems to have struck a chord in India's parliamentary democracy: "I always voted at my party's call, /And I never thought of thinking for myself at all."

 

Two decades ago, India moved hesitantly away from the inefficiencies of the command economy. Tragically, it remains wedded to a command democracy whereby the leader directs and followers passively acquiesce. In a counterfeit system, 'political will' has come to denote the ability of a leader to impose his/her will on a deeply sceptical party and country. The instrument of this imposition is, predictably, the gagging order of the three-line whip and the threat of disqualification under the 10th Schedule. It's not, as Mr Podsnap would undoubtedly have reminded us, the Westminster way. But then, it's not meant to be. Our new ideal is Rwanda.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

TOO LONG A WAIT

BONA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH

 

The newspapers are busy speculating about everything and have been unable to give readers a clear picture of what is happening between the ruling government and the Congress Party in the realm of decision-making. A few examples stand out. Clearly, the prime minister and some of his advisors and colleagues have a different position from the party on moving towards a hasty 'yes' for the introduction of genetically modified foods and therefore, unambiguous support for Monsanto, as opposed to the party stance of deliberate caution. Then there is the nuclear liabilities bill, which the party is not satisfied with, and which the government wants to push through.

 

The Indo-Pak 'talks' too need to be deftly calibrated. The sense is that the government is in some kind of a rush to clear certain 'agendas' before time runs out and India is poised for another general election. And time does fly. Reading all that is in the public domain and listening to experts and those in government both as advisors and practitioners, the impression is that priorities and goals, methods and ideologies within the government have serious and problematic divergences with the larger party. The women's bill passed the test of the Rajya Sabha. The Congress president backed the bill with unequivocal support. Yet, it has been severely critiqued by Congressmen in high government office as well as by party officers. They claim it should not have been 'rushed' through!

 

Over a decade of debate and they call it 'a rush'. That in itself only goes to show how vulnerable the men in 'power' feel about the possibility of a majority of women, who may, over the years, enter the sanctum of decision-making, empowered by the people. I have heard perfectly literate and otherwise 'intelligent' men say that it would be a breach of fundamental rights to force women to fight elections from 'reserved' constituencies. In reverse, we have had enough of a majority of men in Parliament, which they have abused and reduced to a shameful farce.

 

Forward march

Why can the collective stand on priority issues not be decided by the government and the party in the 'core team' meetings, instead of representatives of both airing their differences in public. I would imagine this is so because decisions must have political assent and not be led by technocrats and bureaucrats, and the political positions in this case rest with the party. That is the real truth. The rise of the power of the babu and the abdication of responsibility by the many politically and intellectually uninitiated incumbents as 'ministers' to their bureaucrats have diluted governance to a point where it has resulted in India becoming a confused and soft State. The party has had to intervene on all major issues to salvage possible drifts into unknown and unwanted waters.Increasingly, the party is gaining importance as the vehicle that leads the way forward. In this context, if what I assume is correct, Rahul Gandhi will take on the mantle of Congress president from Sonia Gandhi in due course, continue to rejuvenate the party and set up the ideology of the government. Prime ministers will follow that 'diktat' and govern the nation with cabinet colleagues. Following his agenda and actions, this seems to be the trajectory Rahul has embarked on. It is the base on which a new political culture will grow and mature, and hopefully replace the corroded fundamentals of the present and passing generation of politicians.

Inclusive dialogue, not insular governance within the party, will take the agenda for India forward. The country has to include the hitherto neglected and give them the respect they deserve. Human resource is this nation's most treasured asset. It cannot be disregarded. The strange neo-colonization that is trying to enter through the cracks in a weak edifice needs to be distilled.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

BRAZEN ACT

''BRAZENNESS HAS BECOME MAYAWATI'S HALLMARK.''

 

 

The ostentatious display of money at a rally in Lucknow that marked the silver jubilee of the founding of the Bahujan Samaj Party has become controversial and received unflattering national attention. The issue was raised in parliament, the government has promised to look into the issue and the income tax department has launched an investigation. The worth of the garland of 1000-rupee notes that was used to felicitate the party supremo Mayawati on Monday was variously estimated to be between Rs 21 lakh and Rs 22 crore. The uproar from other parties has not fazed either the BSP or Ms Mayawati, as another garland of Rs 18 lakh followed on Wednesday and it was declared that in future all felicitations will be in terms of currency. But if the party feels there is nothing wrong in greeting its leader in public with a load of money, why was the man who made the disclosure about the multi-crore homage sacked? Perhaps there was no need for him to spill the beans, when even the bees had been misled by the announcement that the garland was made of flowers. The party in any case decided to brazen it out when what was thought to be flowers from Mysore was revealed as paper printed there.

That brazenness has become the hallmark of Mayawati's policies in politics and in government. The erection of hundreds of statues of herself, the party's founder Kanshi Ram and its symbol elephant at public expense has long been a scandal. The supreme court has intervened in the matter but there are many ways of getting around the court. There have been serious corruption charges against Mayawati but she has hardly been damaged by them. There have been public disclosures about her huge property holdings, collection of jewellery and scores of bank accounts. Claims that all these are gifts from supporters and tokens of love from admirers do not jell.

The garlands of money and all the past revelations about accumulation of wealth raise disquieting legal, moral and political questions. Money greases the politics of all parties and there is hardly a politician whose finger is not in the public till. People have even accepted corruption as a factor of public life. But even such cynicism is offended by Mayawati's conduct. She and her party speak for the most deprived sections of people in the country. But the garlands of money on her shoulders tell a different story.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

ANOTHER VICTORY

''ARMED SERVICES SHOULD DROP ITS RIGID ATTITUDE.''

 

After crossing a hurdle for statutory representation in legislatures, women in the country won another victory when the Delhi high court directed the government last week to grant permanent commission to interested women officers of the armed forces serving under the short services commission. If the first victory was political and won by legislative means, the second was career-related, secured through the judicial process. Both are important for the overall advancement of women and give them opportunities to fight bias and discrimination against them. Though women have proved themselves to be equal to men in all areas of life, their equal status is not accepted in practice in many fields. Armed forces are one field where women have not got their due. Stereotypes about women persist strongly and they are considered good for only certain kinds of jobs. The high court judgment has broken another gender barrier in the armed forces establishment.


The court has ruled that permanent commission is a constitutional right of women officers and asked why they cannot be granted it when they perform the tasks assigned to them as efficiently as men. At present women are only entitled to short service commissions of less than 14 years and however capable they are, they are not eligible for permanent commission. When the court upheld the petition filed by a number of retired and serving officers, it corrected a serious wrong, though the utility of the ruling is limited by the fact that it is applicable to only those who were recruited prior to 1996. The government decided to stop offering permanent commission to both men and women short service officers in that year, though the decision was since relaxed for men. Even with the ruling women have won only a battle, and are yet to win the war for better roles and status in the armed forces.

Though there is a severe shortage of officers in the forces, top officers are against recruitment of more women and proper utilisation of their service and experience. The reasons cited by them are without merit and do not stand scrutiny. The leadership of the forces should drop the regressive and rigid attitudes about women and welcome them in all roles in the organisation. The fear that it will weaken the organisation is misplaced.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

TRANSFORMING PAKISTAN

BY NADIA NAVIWALA


More women are finishing college and getting jobs, and they have traded traditional baggy salwars for trousers and capris.

 

What do we do about Pakistan? Because I am a Pakistani-American who recently spent several months there, people in the US are constantly trying to get me to answer that question. One of the most important things I can offer them is a reality check.

 

I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, but my family moved to Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, in the early 1990s. Those were Karachi's worst years and constitute my earliest memories of terrorism.


Political and ethnic violence wracked the city, becoming, as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan today, an excuse for every type of crime — shootings in mosques, kidnappings, violent break-ins and streetside executions if you belonged to the wrong ethnic group. By 1996, my family gave up on Pakistan and came back to the US. By 1999, Pervez Musharraf gave up on Pakistan and overthrew the government.


Worse than the violence, for a Pakistani-American child, was that Pakistan was boring. As far as I am concerned, Pizza Hut was the only good thing that happened to Pakistan in those years. Prior to that, there was no American fast food in Karachi, let alone malls or highways. You couldn't even find a decent candy bar.


And as I got older, I grew increasingly irked by the conservatism. Pakistan, I felt, was easily the most closed country in the world — traditional dress was mandatory, girls were either stuck at home or harassed in the streets, and I almost never saw a foreigner.


I never imagined that I would see Pakistan the way I saw it this summer, after a mere 14 years. Karachi today looks like any major, cosmopolitan city — movie theatres, restaurants, and cafes full of boys and girls smoking, in jeans, mingling together.


More women are finishing college and getting jobs, and they have traded traditional baggy salwars for trousers and capris. The city has been aggressively transformed by a mayor so impressively capable that he seems misplaced in a culture of corrupt politicians and broken bureaucracies.


If I sound like a wide-eyed Pakistani-American, it's because I am. Pakistan today is more open and progressive than Pakistani communities in the US. My parents' generation in America has worked hard to preserve the Pakistan they left behind in the 1980s.


Pakistani-Americans whisper and shake their heads about the wild parties they hear go on in Pakistan today. It's true: alcohol, although illegal, is everywhere. And when I celebrated Christmas in Karachi this December, it was a Pakistani-American girl I met there who commented disapprovingly.


Welcome change

This is the change we need in Pakistan, but no US policy or aid programme could have brought it about. The desire that many Pakistanis have for a more open and liberal society, and the local leaders and businesses that are making it possible, are our best bet for stability and security in the region.

More importantly, progress in Pakistan — strengthening economic growth, governance and liberal values — takes years to realise but only a few American airstrikes or Taliban bombings to destroy. American mistakes in the region have been aggravating public sentiments for years and fuelled fundamentalism in the mainstream. In the 1990s, none of my aunts wore burkas. Now, they all do. And Taliban bombings in the cities are leading to a flight of people with means, usually the most progressive and educated, and capital.


How do we harness and support positive trends in Pakistan? If Washington can put good people to work on that question, who will also factor in the limits of American understanding and ground capabilities in Pakistan, they will come to a better question: How can we protect the progress that Pakistanis have already made?


Instead of fixing 'Af-Pak,' the best thing America can do for the region is stop it from getting more fouled up than it already is.


So my answer to the question 'what do we Americans do?' is to first understand what we have done already: US war policies are inadvertently undermining the social and economic progress that Pakistanis have made over the years.

Finally, we need realistic objectives, which will end up looking more like damage control than the magic bullet against the Taliban that everyone is looking for.


Pakistan is a different story from Afghanistan — it is far more developed and modern. Afghans may not have the ability to lead themselves out of this mess, but Pakistanis do. After all, Pakistanis are the ones who suffer the most when their cities are bombed and their soldiers killed.


If the United States continues to distort the situation through aggressive policy demands, then we are only reinforcing anti-Americanism and the breakdown of Pakistani institutions. What's worse, if US attention remains fixated on narrow measures of military success, Pakistan will become collateral damage of the Afghan war.

(The writer is a former national security aide in the US Senate)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

HOPES ON THE STATE DRAFT HOUSING POLICY

WHEN EMPLOYERS FAIL TO PROVIDE HOUSING TO THEIR WORKERS, THE BURDEN FALLS ON THE GOVERNMENT.

BY KATHYAYINI CHAMARAJ



 

 

You see them everywhere — the homeless — on pavements, huddled under plastic sheets; at construction sites, inside dark tin sheds that lack windows and doors; or in slums on 'unauthorised' land, which gets flooded at the slightest rain.


Though housing is recognised as a fundamental right, slum-dwellers live in constant fear and are the first to be evicted under infrastructure or beautification projects. Karnataka has come out with a Draft Housing Policy, which hopefully will ensure all of them a roof over their head.


One expects the policy to set out a means to overcome the housing shortage within a time-frame. Ninety-eight per cent of the housing shortage in the country pertains to the economically weaker sections (EWS) as per the 10th Plan. But the Draft Policy, despite a lot of rhetoric, is talking of reserving merely 10 per cent of the residential zone in all Master Plans and 10 to 15 per cent of land in every new public/private housing project for EWS/LIG housing. Unless 98 per cent of housing in all public housing projects is earmarked for the EWS/LIG over a period, the backlog will only keep mounting. In addition, 20-25 per cent in all private housing layouts could also be earmarked for them.

 

Do-able target


The policy states that since 2003-04, the government has constructed around 11.80 lakh houses. If so, meeting the present shortage of 6.62 lakh units should be a very do-able target in the next few years. Yet the policy abdicates the government's responsibility to provide housing by claiming that the shortage is huge and finances tight, that the private sector needs to be involved and that the government is to be a 'facilitator' only.  Critics say that this means that only those who can 'afford' to pay will get houses, which could exclude all the genuinely poor.


Often land is acquired under the Land Acquisition Act (LAA) for 'public purpose' under the principle of 'eminent domain' for setting up industries or SEZs, often for 'private' purpose. But when it comes to acquiring land and creating land banks for providing housing to slum-dwellers, the refrain is always that there is 'no land' or that acquiring such land is 'tortuous'. Actually, Section 3(v) and 3(vi) of the LAA expressly state that 'public purpose' includes acquiring land for housing the homeless and rehabilitating slums. Why not invoke the principle of 'eminent domain' for this obviously 'public purpose'? Actually, the alleged scarcity of urban land itself is a myth as the recent A T Ramaswamy Commission report has disclosed. Why not use this re-acquired land to make Bangalore slum-free — as the government often proclaims it wants to?


Slums are often a result of the failure of companies, which employ casual workers, to provide housing under various laws, such as the Inter-State Migrant Workmen's Act and the Building and Other Construction Workers' Act.


When employers fail to provide housing to their workers, this burden falls on the government, which has to use tax-payers' money for this purpose and thus subsidise employers in this regard.

Migrant workers, who stay for short durations, need affordable rental housing and not ownership housing. Land needs to be earmarked and a pool of social rental housing created in every ward and a subsidy provided to the poor for renting it.  Some countries fix a rent-geared-to-income for social housing, ie, the rent is fixed at 30 per cent of the total household income. Only such a measure can prevent squatter settlements. Night shelters also need to be provided in each ward.


Currently 225 to 265 sq ft is the available area for housing for the poor, but this does not appear to be based on any minimum requirement norms.  Some countries prescribe an absolute minimum area for a single-family house at about 650 sq ft, a norm non-existent here. A house less than this standard minimum would lead automatically to unhealthy living.


The Draft Housing Policy appears to turn a blind eye to the gross human rights violations happening through forced evictions from slums as it makes no reference to it and makes no commitment to abjure it in future. Its sanitised language fails to reflect or provide comfort to the constant turmoil that the homeless undergo each passing day.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

WE WERE AMUSED TO LEARN WE WEREN'T THE ONLY ONES TO SHIFT BACK TO OLD HOUSE.

BY BHARATHI PRABHU

 

My house is comfortable and ordinary. I have lived here all my married life. When we added a room 14 years ago, our little girl refused to stay alone there and the space seemed more than adequate. Then our son was born and slowly we started experiencing shortage of space.


I began to think hundred times before buying anything. I became a 'say-no-to-everything' mom. I often cajoled, threatened and convinced kids not to buy… but my husband? He bought clothes and toys for the children and books and gadgets (that included, horror of horrors, a telescope!) for himself. Instead of enjoying the nice things, I would hit the roof. Slowly my protests began to sound nagging and unreasonable even to my ears!

It was in these circumstances that my husband thought of renting a bigger house. That house simply wasn't my kind. Still we moved in. But from day one, we missed everything from our old home. "The bathroom taps are too complicated, the doors too many, the garage inaccessible," I moaned. "There is no one to play here. The college is too far", groaned the children. "Oh, no, these are teething problems and soon you will settle down," countered their father. But with every passing day, the children and I found our uneasiness increasing.


Family and friends did their best to cheer us. "This house is beautiful, you will love it soon," they said. Some of them narrated their own experiences in relocating, "I have moved 8 times in 12 years of marriage. What is your problem? a friend asked. "Give it 6 months and you will adjust nicely", said others. I was aghast; I just couldn't imagine staying on for another week. We had not yet rented our house and the sight of it, empty, depressed us and the sight of three perpetually unhappy souls eventually convinced my husband that it was better to move back to our much smaller house.


That decision was cheered like Sachin's double century. We got our house painted, added more storage space, donated our bulky furniture and got rid of a lot of junk.


Before shifting from the big house, we even managed four lovely parties there. Then we called the packers once again. We were amused to learn that we weren't the only ones to shift back to old house from a new one. "One family moved back within a week", they said.


After two months of staying in a spacious house, we came back to our old 'new' house. Our house is slowly becoming cluttered again but then we would rather be here than there...

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

MOCKING DEMOCRACY

 

The Knesset yesterday put Israeli democracy to shame when it passed the "Nakba Law" at first reading with a majority of 15 against eight.


If the law is passed at second and third readings it will be able to deprive bodies of state support and fine them if they mark Independence Day as a day of mourning, or if they hold memorial events for the Palestinians' "catastrophe" in 1948.


The proposal adopted at the end of the Knesset's winter session was "moderate" compared to the original one initiated by MK Alex Miller of Yisrael Beiteinu. It stipulates fining public institutions that hold activity "denying Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state," and activity supporting armed struggle or terror against the state, inciting to racism or degrading the state's flag or symbol.

 

The bill is not aimed at punishing individuals and threatening them with imprisonment, as the original version was.

But the amended version, despite its euphemistic wording, cannot hide the cabinet's intention - excluding Arab citizens and infringing disproportionately on their freedom of expression and their right to tell their own historic narrative.

Avigdor Lieberman's party, which ran a blatant election campaign against Israeli Arabs, has scored a victory on its way to implementing its racist slogan of "no loyalty - no citizenship."


The idea that it is possible to blur the Arab community's past consciousness with laws and threats of fines is stupid. The "Nakba" wasn't forgotten in the 62 years since Israel's establishment, and the term is much more familiar and prevalent among Israelis today than in previous generations.


The Palestinian refugees' flight, the destruction of hundreds of Arab villages and the erection of Jewish towns and settlements in their stead are part of Israeli history. It cannot be made to disappear, as the majority's narrative cannot be foisted onto a fifth of Israel's citizens.


The threat of depriving institutions that mark the "Nakba" of state financing is reminiscent of Culture Minister Limor Livnat's complaints against the co-director of the movie "Ajami," Scandar Copti, who said he does not represent Israel.


Like the "Nakba Law" initiators, Livnat too believes that an artist who receives state support is bound to "loyalty" and must represent the state in competitions abroad.


This is the Netanyahu-Lieberman cabinet's spirit - we'll support only those who think like us.


Integrating Arab citizens into Israeli society is first and foremost a national interest, and its implementation requires that the Jewish majority display tolerance and openness toward the minority.


Clearly the conflict makes this difficult and the Jewish-Arab rift will not disappear soon. But proposals like the "Nakba Law," beyond violating basic democratic values, will only push the Arab community to greater extremism and separatism.


The Knesset should be ashamed of passing the law at first reading. The Kadima and Labor factions should be denounced for not opposing it. But it's not too late to block the harmful law in the next readings, before it stains Israel's body of law.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

PALESTINIANS DROP THE BALL AS OBAMA SQUEEZES ISRAEL

BY YOEL MARCUS

 

From the start, we were afraid that life with U.S. President Barack Obama would not be a picnic. The signals from Washington were quite clear from the start of the president's term; with all the problems he has to solve at home, he can't be expected to pamper Israel as his predecessors did. Moreover, we have a tendency to be suspicious of a president whose senior advisers are Jewish.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads a government that includes extremist elements, understood from the start that this was not the right time to irritate the new administration. Obama's overture for a Mideast peace agreement - as part of which he made a speech in Cairo, of all places, while skipping over Israel - was another sign that he does not consider us the most important factor, as we have become accustomed to thinking.

Netanyahu, who is no fool, understood that Obama's move required a positive response. And that was in fact forthcoming, in his Bar-Ilan speech of June 14, 2009, during which Netanyahu made the most far-reaching proposal ever uttered by any Israeli prime minister ever: "Two states for two peoples." There is no need for a translation in order to understand that what he proposed to the other side is a Palestinian state, which means an end to the occupation and the drawing up of permanent borders at the painful price of withdrawal and the eviction of thousands of settlers.

 

Instead of taking the prime minister at his word, nobody picked up the gauntlet. The Palestinian leadership considered the proposal a trap and piled up one condition after another, effectively refusing to renew negotiations. As a reporter who covered the Camp David summit hosted by U.S. President Jimmy Carter, I wonder if we would ever have achieved a peace agreement had Egypt demanded the freezing of the settlements in Sinai and other preconditions for the final negotiations.


What is the purpose of a peace conference or direct negotiations, if not to solve the entire array of problems that are not amenable to intermittent solutions? There will be those who say Egypt could permit itself to attend a summit in the wake of the surprise of the Yom Kippur War. But the Palestinians can also come to peace talks with heads held high in the wake of their prolonged armed struggle against Israel, which caused former prime minister Ariel Sharon to awake from the dream of Greater Israel.


And instead of holding Netanyahu to his public commitment, the Obama administration cooperated with what former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger described as the Palestinians' talent for missing opportunities. American mediators have wasted months listening to far-fetched Palestinian excuses for refusing direct negotiations with Israel.


It isn't clear why the idea of proximity talks came up when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his friends in leadership positions used to come and go freely for talks with Israel's prime minister and foreign minister in Jerusalem. Not to mention the fact that the proximity talks with Syria have long since made a bad name for this type of negotiation.


What the U.S. administration has proposed is not proximity but distance - keeping the two sides apart and establishing a forum for each side to make far-fetched demands. So what if there's a settlement freeze for 10 months? What difference does that make when Israel declares it is ready for the establishment of a Palestinian state?

Netanyahu won't receive a medal for never telling a lie. But I believe him when he says that he didn't know ahead of time that Interior Minister Eli Yishai would announce a plan to build 1,600 apartments in Jerusalem precisely during the visit of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Obama was right to be angry, and when the president of the United States is angry, the entire world is angry. Netanyahu added insult to injury when he asserted the right to build in Jerusalem and was strongly reprimanded in a phone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The more we tried to justify ourselves, the more we got into trouble. What did Netanyahu expect when he phoned Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel? That they would condemn Obama?


Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador in Washington, was overcome by panic when he made his headline-grabbing declaration that this is the most serious crisis we have had with the United States in 35 years. But what can you do when Obama himself toned down his reaction and Oren denied that he even said what he was quoted as saying?


Clinton criticized us in Washington too, but she took a step forward when she said the United States is committed to Israel's security. Obama also took a step forward when he announced that there is no crisis with Israel. The crisis may have been checked, but the coals are glowing. It's a shame that during those public appearances the two did not also reprimand the Palestinian leadership that is piling on conditions for renewing negotiations with Israel.


This is the first time that an Israeli government is proposing the establishment of a Palestinian state, and they are preoccupied with nonsense such as freezing construction for 10 months. America won't let Israel build beyond the Green Line once negotiations begin anyway. Israel must prove that it is committed to peace. It is unfortunate that the Obama administration is not making this demand of the Palestinians as well.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

BLACK WEDNESDAY

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

 

This Wednesday will be remembered as one of the worst days in the history of Israel's economy. On that day, the Knesset approved the state's draft budget (in its first reading) for the coming two years.


This is a revolutionary law - in the worst sense. That is because, starting from today, there is no longer any need to decrease government expenditure. From today it is necessary merely to expand, increase, waste and throw away as much money as possible on anything that moves. Because "the fat man is already thin enough," as Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said about the public sector, without blushing.


From the point of view of Steinitz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, all that has to be done is sit at the table, loosen belts and start gobbling everything down. The budget for 2011 will increase by 2.6 percent (instead of 1.7 percent), and that will make it possible for the government to distribute another NIS 2.5 billion to the coalition partners. In 2012, the budgetary expansion will stand at 2.8 percent (another NIS 2.7 billion) and then the rate will increase to 3.1 percent, and so on and so forth - until their stomachs burst.

 

The sad part of the story is that all the politicians and the financial professionals have fallen into the expansion trap. Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer is supporting it. Prof. Eugene Kandel, head of the National Economic Council, voted for it. The Adva Institute , which advocates for social equality, is enthusiastically in favor. Minister Avishay Braverman is celebrating. Eli Yishai is delighted. Even Udi Nissan, the Finance Ministry's budget director, is in favor of expansion. So who is left to protect the economy from the plunderers? No one.


This is precisely what happened to Greece when it lost its bearings at the beginning of the century. There, too, there was no one to shout: "Are you crazy? Get off your high horse." There, too, the budget division fell asleep at the wheel. The result was that the Greek budget deficit rose to a level of between 4 percent and 7 percent of the GDP, and to a record 12 percent in 2010. The public debt escalated to 120 percent of the GDP - until the crisis arrived. Because that is what getting fat is all about - it is easy to put on a kilo but very difficult to shed it.

 

On the other hand, Ireland, despite having a deficit of 12 percent of the GDP, is not suffering from a similar crisis. That's because Ireland conducted a responsible policy for the entire past decade. It had a negligible deficit and a restrained budget. That is why the world markets are prepared to give it credit, that is why it is able to raise capital with ease, and that is the why today it is reaping the fruits of budgetary responsibility in the past.

Israel, too, is enjoying the fruits of the responsible budgetary policy that has been conducted since the economic plan of 1985, and more seriously since 2004. But it must be remembered that in the past seven years, all the good people mentioned above wanted to increase government expenditure. The politicians wanted it, and so did the Bank of Israel, the National Economic Council and the Adva Institute; Braverman wanted it and so did Yishai. However, two people stood in front of them, year after year, plugging the dike: the finance minister and the budget director. These used to be Roni Bar-On and Ram Belinkov. They guarded the coffers and saved us from looters.


This is the main reason for the fact that today we are getting through the world crisis with relative ease. That is the reason all the international economic institutions are applauding. That is the reason the accountant general can now raise cheap money in Europe. And that is the reason why the economy is flourishing and unemployment is low.

But the moment the two guards at the gate left their post on Wednesday and crossed over to the side of the good supporters of expansion, there was no one left to watch the coffers. No one will be the bad treasurer. No one will guard the public's money.


Udi Nissan agrees with the claim that there are large pockets of inefficiency in the government that need to be dealt with. If so, then why should the "fat man" get an additional budget? Because it is difficult cut back and make things more efficient. This involves a struggle with the parties, labor committees and capital owners. And that is really not pleasant.


It is a fact that Nissan and Steinitz cannot coerce the Israel Defense Forces into raising the retirement age of people serving in the standing army or introducing a genuine efficiency program. It is a fact that they cannot make cuts in the excessive levels of management in the Education Ministry. It is a fact that they do not make the ministry get rid of some districts and dismiss inspectors. It is a fact that they have not succeeded in preventing the approval of grandiose plans for laying railway lines that lead to nowhere. It is a fact that they do not touch the Israel Electric Corporation, the Ports Authority or the Airports Authority. It is a fact that they are not able to unite local authorities. It is a fact that there is a gigantic excess of manpower in government offices. It is a fact that there are no reforms and no revolutions.


Many billions of shekels are available that have to be collected and used for other matters - but that is difficult. It's much easier to add.


This is precisely how they acted in Greece - they supplemented instead of becoming more efficient. That is why they are paying the price today - a loss of credibility, rise in interest rates, decrease in wages, pension cuts, high unemployment and violent demonstrations.


And that is exactly what we can expect in the future, on the heels of Black Wednesday.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

 

PERES FINDS HIS RELIGION

BY YOSSI SARID

DEAR CARLA,

With the approach of Passover, the rabbis once again gathered in Bnei Brak, the city of Rabbi Akiva, and this time the president of Israel was their guest. The visit has ended, but the echoes of its shofar blasts can still be heard.

There were no praises that the president failed to sing about his hosts; it was not merely the Torah he praised but also the way of life and the values of his hosts. Shimon Peres' trumpeting for the holy community blasted us, to say nothing of a stab in the back.


"The people who sit here really study Torah for its own sake," the president said, surpassing himself. "And I am very proud that the state and the army have agreed to release them to devote their lives to this study."

These words have greater validity when they come from the authorized heir of David Ben-Gurion. When the first prime minister decided to exempt the yeshiva students from military service, he took into account 400 of them. Since then they have been fruitful and multiplied into hundreds of thousands. This is not merely a source of regret for generations to come, it is already a source of regret for this generation.


Would Ben-Gurion have made the same decision had he known that it would begin in sorrow and end up as a terrible mistake? It is possible he would have backtracked and found a different solution.


Peres is not backtracking; on the contrary, he is proud, he gives strength and gains strength in faith. The rabbis and their pupils were beside themselves with excitement. Behold, Zionism had approached their dwelling place, bowed its head, and shown everything they have to offer to the empty-headed secular people - "Here people really study the Torah for its own sake" and so forth.


If that is what the president has to say to them, may it be so! Has Peres forgotten before whom he is standing, whom he is thanking and to whom he is pouring out his heart?


These are the people who bury a child from Ofakim in the area of the cemetery reserved for the excommunicated. These are the people who place more importance on graves than on human beings in the construction of an Ashkelon hospital. These are the people who humiliate black people and "others." These are the people who turn away Mizrahi students from the schools they control. These are the people who make life so difficult for those who try to convert. These are the people who persecute homosexuals. These are the people who separate women from men in every place, even on buses named desire.


That is the Torah for its own sake that they teach and study in the holy community of Bnei Brak - study which is not accompanied a livelihood.


And all of a sudden, they themselves hear such total praise - if only more people were like them: homophobic, xenophobic, chauvinistic, nationalistic and anti-Zionist all together.


It was only a few years ago that Peres was incensed by them. When he used to wander, Samson-like, between the Labor Party's club at Tzura and the party's office at Eshtaol on Shabbat, he would preach against the ultra-Orthodox for delaying the coming of the messiah - it was only because of them that there was no peace for us and the entire people of Israel.

However, recently they at last supported his candidacy for the presidency, the wrinkles were ironed out, and redemption came to Zion. For Peres, nothing is personal.


That is what happens when a person has the privilege of being crowned a man of vision, the Hazon Ish: He finds in the Ponevezh yeshiva yet another place to proclaim his vision.

 

Peres himself is starting to believe that any crumb that falls from his mouth turns into holy bread, that anyone who is thirsty will come to drink from his water which runeth deep and also sprays up high like a fountain.

Come down to us, visionary; come to us here below, Shimon, and take us into account too.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

JERUSALEM CONSTRUCTION IS NOW A NATIONAL OBSESSION

BY DORON ROSENBLUM

 

It is doubtful that anyone in the present administration in the White House, or anywhere in the world, has the patience or desire to get to the bottom of the motives behind the Netanyahu government. But those who nonetheless want to understand what makes the prime minister tick should look at the photographs of the happy and ostensibly non-political event that fell into the lap of the extended Netanyahu family this week: the victory f Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu's son Avner in the National Bible Quiz.


It was a pleasant sight, which looked as though it had emerged from an old photo: a proud and splendid-looking family, replete with two elderly patriarchal grandfathers surrounding it from both sides and casting an authoritative shadow. The family radiated expertise in and commitment to ancient texts, to the Hebrew Bible and to history, along with a sense of mission and a profound awareness of "Jewish destiny."


It's enough to look at the family to understand where the prime minister came from and how much he differs in his motives, his background and the purpose of his deeds not only from his predecessors, but from most of today's world leaders.

 

Perhaps the root of the present crisis with the United States, and the elusive but permanent sense of misunderstanding that accompanies Benjamin Netanyahu on the international scene, lies on this profound plane, rather than in his problematic day-to-day political behavior. This is a kind of deception that creates constant disappointment, during his previous term as in his present one. At first glance, at least, Netanyahu is considered a modern politician from a normal country. A tortuous statesman but pragmatic in essence, with whom in the final analysis one can close political deals on all issues, including Jerusalem.


But this is one big optical illusion. In effect, in terms of his basic opinions and worldview, Netanyahu is one of the most anachronistic and archaic prime ministers that Israel has ever had. "Older" even than most of his predecessors who were older in years than him. Some of them allowed themselves to be flexible and to lead a change in direction in accordance with the circumstances, being father figures themselves; Netanyahu, by contrast, was and remains, for good and for ill, shriveled up in the role of the perpetual good son. His primary interest is to satisfy the values from his father's home, even if it causes the entire world to rise up against him.

It is therefore no wonder that when the Americans and other international diplomats speak to him about apples, he talks to them about pears (at least when it comes to Jerusalem and the settlements). They are talking in the name of realpolitik, demography and geography, and he is replying in the name of principle. Although several of his predecessors did the same, it was not with such tortuous deceptiveness.


It's true that Netanyahu is indeed bound by coalition constraints, but we should not forget that that is also part of the very same deception; after all, Netanyahu forced these constraints - including the unfortunate cabinet appointments - on himself in advance, and in contravention of any logic of realpolitik. It was as though he was being careful not to "fail," God forbid, by getting involved in a genuinely pragmatic move. (If he really meant what he said in his speech about the principle of two states, why did he refuse to utter the words a year ago, in the coalition negotiations with Kadima?)


In effect, Netanyahu functions more like the prime minister of Jerusalem than like that of the country as a whole. Or rather, the prime minister of "Jerusalem," enclosed in quotation marks: not the actual city, with its geo-demographic problems and the practical solutions required as part of an overall agreement, but the so-called heavenly Jerusalem. Netanyahu is prime minister of the Jerusalem of principles, metaphors, oaths and declarations; the Jerusalem of the Bible, of the love of Zion and of our forefathers; the Jerusalem of the Western Wall tunnels and the bible quiz and the "rock of our existence"; a religious, mythical and declarative Jerusalem, where arrangements, compromises and solutions are inconceivable.


All this is almost the diametric opposite of the principles of practical Zionism - which, for all its proclaimed exaltation of Jerusalem, gave rise to the Hebrew revival and the Israeli ethos, in every part of the country where practical Zionism could be instituted wisely and with international diplomatic support.


It is good to elevate Jerusalem to the forefront of all our joy, as the Jewish saying has it. But when expanding and Judaizing it become a blind obsession, which clashes (as we are now seeing) with the clear and immediate interests of the entire State of Israel, we must ask what kind of leader we need at present. Do we need a good Jerusalemite who is considered an international enfant terrible, or do we need an Israeli prime minister?

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

TIME FOR CREATIVITY ON JERUSALEM

BY YEHEZKEL DROR

 

Periodically most nations face an "either/or" future-shaping choice. This is at present the situation of Israel regarding Jerusalem, as it must decide between readiness to creatively divide sovereignty and refusal of any compromise.

Jerusalem is at the core of Judaism and Zionism, more so than in either Christianity or Islam. Israel's historical right to the city also predates the rights of others. Israel is able and willing to assure full access and protection to the sites in the city that are sacred to all three religions. Therefore, it is very likely that any Cosmic Court of Justice would deposit Jerusalem in the hands of Israel under conditions that would not impair its overall suzerainty over the city. But a Cosmic Security Council would say that it is not enough to be in the right: It is also necessary to be wise and to take into account critical outcomes in the future.


The fundamental security problems of Israel are not posed by the Palestinians or Syrians, and Iran by itself can be contained. But Israel continues to face existential long-term challenges in its relations with the Islamic world. The overall strength of Islamic actors will increase significantly in the foreseeable future, even though they are likely to be fragmented politically and ideologically. And religion will fulfill a central role in most of them. Therefore, there is no real chance for peaceful relations, or even a stable modus vivendi, between Israel and the vast majority of Islamic actors if the latter are not partners in ruling the holy basin. And continued exclusive Israeli sovereignty over the places in Jerusalem that are holy to Islam will surely provoke hostilities that may escalate and endanger Israel's security.

 

Important Israeli groups, including some settlers on the West Bank, both Orthodox and secular, are of the opinion that maintaining full Israeli rule over greater Jerusalem is a commandment to be fulfilled at all costs. I have had opportunities to discuss this issue with some such groups. I put to them a hypothetical question, as is often found in Talmudic discourse: "Let us assume that Israel is in a situation where refusing to make concessions on full sovereignty over Jerusalem would result in attacks with weapons of mass killing on Israeli population centers, whereas a compromise on Jerusalem would assure stable peace - what would you do?"

My interlocutors have usually had great difficulty in responding, preferring instead to bring the debate to an end, similar to what happened to Rabbi Yirmiya, who in Talmudic times used to raise troublesome questions, and was expelled from the academy. But, whereas in a dispute among the sages, it was possible to leave questions open; in statecraft this is not feasible without paying a steep cost.


In my assessment, there exists no scenario that can stabilize the Middle East conflict and lead to peaceful coexistence between Israel and most of the Arab and Muslim world without Israel yielding exclusive sovereignty over Jerusalem. Negotiations on secondary issues are but a delusional distraction, and are likely to worsen Israel's situation.


On the other hand, negotiations leading first of all to a creative agreement on Jerusalem - one that grants suitable standing to Islamic actors (not necessarily the Palestinians) - will make it possible to reach agreement on all other issues with full quid pro quo for Israel's concessions, including recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, defanging the "right of return," forging peace agreements with most Arab countries, establishing an Israeli embassy in Riyadh with all its psychological significance, and more.


Therefore there is urgent need for a radically novel Israeli initiative, one that would shift the political process out of the present "swamp" into a different space, with readiness in principle for a creative compromise on Jerusalem being at its center. Here lies the key to Israel's political-security future. Continuing procrastination, dithering and trying to have the cake while eating it, with ill-considered declarations and acts of "neither/nor," will carry high costs - and will, unavoidably, push Israel back to the necessity of saying "yes" at a later date under much worse conditions.


Many will claim that I am detached from Israeli political realities. True, ideological disagreements, together with coalition constraints, impose difficulties on making tragic choices, in which there is no alternative to sacrificing important values for the sake of even more important ones. But, in my assessment, the main difficulty and its resolution are in the mind of the prime minister. If he makes up his mind that a constructive compromise over Jerusalem has to be put on the table, he will probably succeed in assembling a supportive coalition in the present Knesset or win an early election. And there is a high probability that a public referendum will approve a compromise over Jerusalem if it is a component of a comprehensive peace settlement that clearly meets the requirements for a secure and thriving Israel.


There are some political dangers for the premier in throwing such a surprise at history, but when has a head of state been able to significantly influence the future for the better, without accepting risks?


Often national leaders are carried along by historic processes that they cannot change. But there are times when nations reach a crossroads in their history, giving their presidents or prime ministers the opportunity to shape their future in a significant way. This is the situation confronting Israel's prime minister today. His choice will determine whether he will be judged as suffering from the Hamlet syndrome, or lauded for making a quantum leap into a better future for Israel and the Middle East as a whole.


Yehezkel Dror, a professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was a member of the Winograd Committee that investigated the Second Lebanon War.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

LESSONS FROM THE CUBAN MODEL

BY THOMAS M. GAROFALO

 

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently suggested a not-so-novel approach to the problem of Iran's nuclear ambitions. He wants to apply what he calls the Cuban model, in which "the United States alone can do everything in order to stop this program."


Lieberman went on to suggest, "If the United States adopts the legislation and the entire Cuban model toward Iran, without awaiting understandings and consensus within the [UN] Security Council framework, this would be enough to strangle and bring down the Iranian regime."


To anyone who follows the case of Cuba, a few contradictions immediately pop up. For starters, Lieberman seems to think the United States embargo has "already proven its efficacy." One hopes that Israel has a higher standard of success than the United States has had with Cuba. The efficacy Lieberman lauds is an absurd standoff that has impeded important progress for the U.S. in its dealings with allies in Latin America and beyond.

But for Israel's foreign minister, achieving success is easy: The U.S. embargo should simply "shun foreign firms that continue to do business with Iran." This sort of extraterritorial component was added to America's Cuban embargo in 1996 with the passage of the Helms-Burton Act. But, perhaps unbeknownst to Lieberman, it has been dutifully waived every six months since, at the behest of our allies.


And speaking of allies, Lieberman may also be surprised to know that one of the first countries that would suffer the consequences of such a "shunning" is Israel, which is a leading investor in Cuban agriculture. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Israeli capital has driven a reinvigoration of Cuba's citrus sector, to such an extent that a joint venture now produces one-third of the island's total citrus output. If Israel can make the Middle Eastern desert bloom, imagine what it's been able to achieve in the fertile soil of this Caribbean island.


Fortunately, few policy-makers - even among Cuban embargo supporters - are interested in repeating the 50-year embargo experiment with that nation in the Middle East. In fact, irony of ironies, the example of Israel is instructive on this point: When president George W. Bush was doing his best to isolate Syria, Israel was conducting talks with it, in the hope of reaching a peace agreement.


Last month President Obama named career diplomat Robert Ford as the first U.S. ambassador to Damascus since 2005, bringing an abject policy failure to an end. At least it didn't take the U.S. 50 years to learn its lesson.


To be sure, its new engagement with Syria has not achieved America's goals: The previous U.S. ambassador there, Margaret Scobey, was withdrawn after former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in an operation presumed to have been set in motion in Damascus. Today, blame for that act has still not been officially assigned. And the current Israeli government made clear, by naming Lieberman foreign minister, that talks with Syria about peace, or anything else, are off the table.


Still, the current consensus in the United States is that there are concrete advantages to having an ambassador in Damascus. Ambassador Ford is now engaged in high-level contacts with the Syrian government that will give Washington fresh insight into what's really happening in the country. And the fact that U.S. policy is no longer all stick and no carrot can only help America to become better informed about all the issues at play in the region, from Turkey to Afghanistan and beyond. This may even help Israel.

Lieberman doesn't see this; he thinks diplomacy is for weaklings. And if he thinks the United States can simply use sanctions to bring down the Iranian regime, just wait until he sees the kind of diplomacy that such sanctions will require in the 21st century.


Cuba is a relatively easy case: a small, poor island located a short distance from the United States. But the Castro brothers are still firmly in charge and they only benefit the harder the United States squeezes them. They use the embargo as a trump card, an explanation for all the shortages their people face. And times have changed: The world economy is more integrated and includes more significant trade powers than when the embargo was initiated. Cuba has friends, such as Brazil and China, with money to invest, and they tend to be important partners for America, too. So, Cuba's doing pretty well, in spite of the embargo.


Iran cultivates relationships with these same rising world trade powers, and has a lot more to offer those partners than Cuba does. Iran is a populous, resource-rich country. Complicating matters for the United States further, Iran is nestled in a complex, far-off region. And, like it or not, America needs it: Iran is as essential to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan as China was to our withdrawal from Vietnam.

In fact, if the United States hopes to influence Iran's direction, it should consider the path taken in engaging China: Long-term, consistent and strategic engagement there have yielded a productive, interdependent - and yes, complicated and often confrontational - relationship. If the United States hasn't been able to smother little Cuba, what makes anyone think the blunt instrument of sanctions will even be possible, much less effective, with Iran? Sanctions or genuine engagement: Either way, diplomacy is required. Why not employ it in a way that can yield a good outcome for both sides, rather than one that will lead to misery for Iranians and yet another, extremely costly struggle for the United States?


Lieberman's invocation of Cuba is instructive, though not in the way he probably hoped: It points out the futility of putting U.S. policy on the sanctions-first, ask-questions-later basis. Good thing no one takes him seriously. Right?

Thomas M. Garofalo is a consultant to the New America Foundation's U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE JUSTICE IN GIVING

BY ARI HART

 

It's tax season, the time when Americans take a deep breath, step back and account for all their finances from the past year. Many of us struggle with the forms and the headaches, but the process can have spiritual power. Our finances, after all, are a mirror of our priorities and values, and the effects of our labors on the world.

How we make and spend our money is also central to Judaism year-round. Judaism's concern with money is manifest most nobly through the eternal practice of tzedakah: using money to pursue tzedek - justice - by providing financial support to individuals and institutions in their struggles against hunger, poverty and injustice.

Tzedakah has been practiced in many ways throughout our history. A few thousand years ago, it was expressed agriculturally. The Torah and Mishna detail different tithes that went to the poor, the itinerant and those who served the community as educators and priests. As most Jews turned from farming to other methods of supporting themselves, the rabbis devised mechanisms to encourage Jews to continue giving tzedakah in consistent, meaningful ways. One of these mechanisms was called "ma'aser kesafim" (ma'aser means "a tenth," kesafim "money"), which applies the tithing principle to money, such that one donates 10 percent of his or her income to the poor. This proportion of one's earnings is considered by Jewish law to be a good median level of giving. The Talmud (Ketubot 50a) generally considers 20 percent the ceiling, and less than 10 percent is miserly.

 

But are the Jewish people meeting these financial goals today? A recent study in the United States by sociologist Steven M. Cohen found that Jews with incomes between $50,000 and $150,000 give, on average, 1.5 percent of their pre-tax incomes to charity. Those are paltry numbers.


One way modern-day Jews can raise the bar is to get serious about the ancient practice of ma'aser kesafim, or ma'aser, for short. If even 10 percent of Jews began giving 10 percent of their money, millions of dollars would be infused into the coffers of struggling charities and individuals around the world. Earmarking 10 percent for the poor can be a spiritual discipline as well, bringing a powerful sense of meaning and purpose to one's finances. And everyone can do it - Jewish law obligates even the poor to give charity.


Giving 10 percent of one's income to help bring about social change is a strong statement, whether you're a millionaire or making minimum wage. As with all Jewish practices, there is discussion and disagreement over many of the details, but here are answers to some basic questions, based on the rabbinic sources:


How do I calculate ma'aser kesafim?


Ma'aser is generally understood as being equivalent to taking 10 percent of all after-tax income or profit received from income, business deals, inheritances, gifts, or things you find or acquire through other means. One is not required to include stocks, bonds or other assets that rose in value over a given time period if they were not sold. Once they are sold, one calculates on the basis of the profit, after taxes.


How often should I calculate it?


Ma'aser can be allocated annually, monthly or even weekly. Generally, whatever is the easiest way to keep track. One suggestion, from Rabbi Jill Jacobs, of the organization Jewish Funds for Justice, is to set up a bank account that automatically moves one tenth of every direct deposit paycheck into a separate ma'aser account.

Who should receive my ma'aser money?


It is generally agreed that money designated as ma'aser should go toward supporting the poor. Jews have long discussed whether ma'aser can go to other causes, such as support for family members, cultural endeavors, political organizations, or purchase of ritual objects.


Can I count the taxes I give as ma'aser? Some of those go toward supporting the poor.


Generally, no, even in cases where Jewish law considers taxes as charity. The reasoning is that since you never really saw the money in the first place, you never experienced it as profit.


Are there any expenses I should deduct from income before I calculate ma'aser?


Just as with taxes, there are expenses the rabbis suggest you deduct from your income before calculating ma'aser and putting aside 10 percent. As noted, ma'aser is usually calculated after taxes. Other deductions before subtracting the 10 percent are expenses that go toward enabling you to work and/or to help your business function, such as: employee salaries, basic marketing costs, child-care costs if otherwise you wouldn't be able to work, transportation costs to and from work, office expenses, including clothes for work, etc. If unsure, a good rule of thumb is to take ma'aser from money you experienced as purely profit.


Though the practice of ma'aser kesafim has strong Jewish roots, it is not widely known or practiced outside of Orthodox circles. This is unfortunate, but you have the power to change it. By taking on this practice, and then sharing it with your family, friends and communal organizations, you can strengthen the capacity of the Jewish people to pursue tzedek. We have a lot of work to do in this world until we fulfill the biblical call to reduce poverty to efes - zero. Good intentions won't get us there alone. Together, let's strive toward that more perfect world, using the might of our hearts, our minds and our money.


Ari Hart is a co-founder of Uri L'Tzedek - Orthodox Social Justice (www.utzedek.org), and a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

COERCION WON'T WORK

BY AMIEL UNGAR

 

As the Atlantic magazine has been quite supportive of the Obama administration, its reporters enjoy easy access to the White House. One can therefore take Jeffrey Goldberg's analysis (in a blog entry this week), following discussions with senior administration officials, as confirmation of suspicions that their ultimate goal is to destabilize the Netanyahu government. Although Goldberg's sources do not consider Benjamin Netanyahu to be very bright, they think even he will understand that he must jettison his coalition partners, whom Goldberg tellingly refers to as "gangsters, messianists and medievalists," and embrace Kadima.


A J Street supporter - albeit one who sticks up for Israel against the likes of Juan Cole or even the Atlantic's own Andrew Sullivan - Goldberg applauds this policy of coercing Netanyahu into a coalition dominated by Kadima and Labor, as he favors collapsing Israel back to the 1967 borders for her own good.


Even those on the Israeli left who share Goldberg's approach to a final settlement should be wary of embracing the tactics he condones. Regime change via outside pressure is only one step removed from regime change via an assassin's bullet. Outside intervention can be condoned in dictatorships that abolish free elections and suppress free expression. If the left buys into the Obama gambit, however, it will permanently forfeit its right to preach to us in the name of democracy.

 

I doubt that raising an argument of principle can convince the best and brightest at the White House, but it might just be possible to disabuse them of the notion that 2010 will be a reprise of 1992 and 1999, when the U.S. administration helped engineer the fall of earlier Likud governments. It is only natural that the U.S. government will ransack its collective bureaucratic memory for what worked before. But it would do well to note that conditions today are quite different.


If Netanyahu were to take in Tzipi Livni under Obama's terms, he would be committing political suicide. He would effectively be in the position of Alexander Dubcek, whom the Soviets allowed to reign as Czechoslovakia's Communist Party head a few months more, after invading the country in 1968, as a leader in name only, until the final axe fell. Most of Likud would desert Netanyahu, who, unlike Ariel Sharon, does not have a substitute vehicle in the wings. If the Likud jettisoned Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas, it would fragment its political bloc and consign itself to the oppositional wilderness for a generation or more. The only way Livni can come in now as a coalition partner is by offering to support the prime minister against Obama's brutal pressure.

Goldberg disparages "Netanyahu's surpassingly fragile coalition." Actually this coalition is far stronger than the first Netanyahu government (1996-1999). Then Shas, led by Aryeh Deri, and the Third Way of Avigdor Kahalani tried to pull the government leftward. Deri had friends like arch-dove Haim Ramon, and sought to keep all options open. Eli Yishai's Shas tacks more closely to the hawkish positions of the party rank-and-file, and the same holds true for Yisrael Beiteinu, whose supporters are equally averse to territorial concessions. The creation of Kadima in 2005 effectively purged the Likud of would-be defectors to the left, and there is no one comparable to defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai or foreign minister David Levy, whose antipathy to Netanyahu at the time helped break up his coalition from within. Even Silvan Shalom, who sided with Sharon against Netanyahu in the Likud on the disengagement from Gaza, has lately been attacking Netanyahu from the right.

The weak link in the current coalition is Labor. However, if that party bolted the coalition, it would only push the government to the right, as Netanyahu would take in National Union (as Yitzhak Shamir took in Tehiya in 1990, when his unity government collapsed), and enjoy an easily workable coalition of 65. Labor's senior leaders, with the possible exception of Isaac Herzog, who would remain a contender for the Labor Party chair, would forfeit their portfolios and effectively terminate their political careers by abandoning Netanyahu. Obama is neither Bush, Sr., nor Clinton in terms of his ability to influence the Israeli public. In his clash with Shamir in 1991, George H.W. Bush wore the laurels of Operation Desert Storm and was the first consul of the "New World Order" and the "end of history." Clinton, deservedly or not, was regarded as a true friend of Israel. As The Washington Post correctly reminded Obama this week, however, he enjoys a single-digit favorability rating. Israelis mistrust him, regarding him as at best naive and at worst a disciple of Jeremiah Wright. Obama has hardly enhanced his status by reneging on the Bush understandings and coming down on Netanyahu on the matter of a neighborhood that is not some terra incognita in Samaria, but sits astride one of Jerusalem's busiest arteries.

Finally, Bush and Clinton succeeded in bringing down the Israeli government because many Israelis wanted to give peace a chance and were convinced that an American administration would compensate Israel for its risks. The right's clear-cut victory in last year's election, and the shrinkage of the Israeli left, reflects the disillusionment of the public here with the territory-for-peace approach. Obama has equally demonstrated that unilateral Israeli concessions only encourage his administration to press for further concessions.

Dr. Amiel Ungar is a columnist for the Makor Rishon daily and Nekuda.

 

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

FROM SCANDAL TO EXAMPLE IN WEST VIRGINIA

 

In 2004, the chief executive of a large coal company spent an appalling $3 million to help elect a judge in West Virginia — a campaign that spotlighted the need to reform the way states elect judges. In 2010, the State Legislature there has approved a pilot program of voluntary public financing for two State Supreme Court elections in 2012.

 

Under this promising initiative, candidates who raise a reasonable threshold of small contributions will qualify to receive $200,000 for a contested primary and up to $350,000 for a contested general election. The bill provides additional money when there is a high amount of spending by nonparticipating candidates or by independent forces. Much will depend on the Legislature's provision of full financing for the new system and whether big-money interests show respect for the public by tempering their spending in judicial contests, leaving candidates to speak for themselves.

 

The measure aims to restore public trust in the integrity of the judiciary. It was badly eroded by Massey Energy's involvement in the election of Chief Justice Brent Benjamin, who then voted twice to throw out a major damage award against the company. Justice Benjamin's stubborn refusal to recuse himself was the subject of a 5-to-4 United States Supreme Court ruling, which in 2009 sensibly required his recusal. The court noted the "serious, objective risk of actual bias" created by such an outsize campaign expenditure.

 

West Virginia, which will join North Carolina, New Mexico and Wisconsin in adopting public financing of judicial races, is setting a good example at a time when judicial neutrality and the appearance of neutrality is under severe threat across the country from escalating special-interest spending on judicial campaigns.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THREE VACANCIES AT THE FED

 

With three of seven seats to fill on the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors, President Obama has an opportunity to put the economy in the hands of experts untainted by the failures that led to the financial crisis. In the process, he can help restore public confidence in the Fed as steward of the economy.

 

Early word indicates he is on the right track. Possible nominees are still being vetted. But Mr. Obama appears to be seeking board members with broad economic and legal expertise, including a keen sense of how policies affect what the Fed would call "the household sector." This is a welcome shift from decades in which the Fed has focused increasingly on financial markets as a proxy for the economy — mistaking asset bubbles for growth and debt-driven gains for prosperity.

 

The Times has reported that the top choice for vice chairwoman of the board is Janet L. Yellen, an economist who is president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and an expert in the causes and implications of unemployment. For the other vacant seats, Peter A. Diamond, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an authority on taxes and retirement, is under consideration, as is Sarah Bloom Raskin, a lawyer who is the Maryland commissioner of financial regulation. Other candidates include economists, lawyers and executives with expertise in labor and housing issues.

 

Those kinds of perspectives would help ensure that the Fed weighs the impact that its decisions have, not only on markets, but on jobs, consumer protection, long-term wealth accumulation and other neglected fundamentals of economic well-being. They also could mean a shift away from pro-market, anti-regulatory theories, notably the belief that markets are always efficient and institutional investors reliably sophisticated.

 

Though discredited by the crisis, those beliefs are embedded in American economic thought and need to be replaced at the highest levels of economic decision-making. Wall Streeters would scream at that, because they have benefited from the discredited status quo and would like to see it restored. Mr. Obama must be prepared to let them scream.

 

The new members will join the Fed board at a critical juncture. The economy is showing signs of recovery but is vulnerable to renewed recession or prolonged stagnation. If the Fed moves too soon to end the lax policies and low interest rates that are propping up the economy, it risks derailing the recovery — and worsening already high unemployment. If it moves too late, it risks inflation. Achieving the right balance in the economy will require achieving the right balance on the board.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

IN THIS (OR THAT) CORNER, FROM LONG ISLAND

 

On election night 2005, a beaming Steve Levy stood in a raucous catering hall, soaking in the joy of stunning victories for his Democratic Party. Voters across Long Island had finally tired of Republican misrule and were tossing out its candidates left and right.

 

Now Mr. Levy, the Suffolk County executive, is planning to run for governor of New York as a Republican, presumably because he thinks he can win more easily that way. Many Democrats feel betrayed. Many Republicans are giddy. We are neither.

 

The state needs all the help it can get, and anyone who thinks he can fix it — and is not under indictment — should at least try. Mr. Levy would tell you that New York needs him because he is a pugilistic budget-balancer beholden only to voters. Lots of New Yorkers would agree. But with Mr. Levy, pugnacity isn't all you get.

 

Mr. Levy has a reputation as an anti-immigrant absolutist. He disputes that label bitterly, saying he is a law-and-order absolutist who opposes only illegal immigration, and his critics are sympathetic to lawbreakers.

 

Expect to hear more on those lines as Mr. Levy introduces himself to the state. Some of us already know him well and

know that immigration is a complex issue that demands a range of solutions and cool, constructive discussion. Mr. Levy is the last person to offer that.

 

It isn't just that he sometimes repeats xenophobic lies, as when he told a library meeting a few years ago that a flood of illegal immigrants' babies was swamping the Southampton Hospital maternity ward. It isn't just that he has allied himself with groups at the far-right edge of the debate. It is that his strategy of trying to make life untenable for Long Islanders he presumes to be illegal is divisive and ineffective. His reaction to tragedies like the killing of the Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero has been heartless and dismissive.

 

Long Island is, like many parts of the country, struggling with the effects of a dysfunctional immigration system. Law and order means more than just harassing and arresting the undocumented. It means smart, attentive policing and unifying a community. This a job that Mr. Levy will be trying to convince voters he can do for all of New York. We're not convinced.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

ON THE VERGE OF REFORM

 

The best chance in decades of fixing this country's broken health care system has now come down to whether the House's Democratic majority will approve the already strong Senate version of the bill — with a promise of some changes.

 

On Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a package of amendments that would, on balance, make the Senate bill better. House Democrats should do what is best for all Americans and approve it.

 

They can then challenge the Republicans — who are refusing as a bloc to support reform — to explain in this fall's campaign why they are so devoted to a status quo that denies affordable health care to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and means that millions more Americans could be just one layoff away from losing their coverage.

 

Even without amendments, the Senate bill is well worth passing. It would cover some 31 million of the uninsured by 2019, force the insurance companies to stop refusing coverage or charging high rates based on pre-existing conditions, reduce deficits over the next two decades, and make a start at controlling the costs of both insurance and medical care.

 

The amendments would first be voted on in the House and, if the package passes, in the Senate under reconciliation rules that require only a majority. They would make a strong bill stronger.

 

According to the official scoring by the Congressional Budget Office, it would cover slightly more of the uninsured. And it would cut deficits more sharply — by $138 billion over the first 10 years compared with $118 billion under the Senate bill, and by even greater amounts in the second decade. It would accomplish both of those with some additional, but still reasonable fees, taxes and Medicare savings.

 

Struggling to comply with the very stringent rules governing reconciliation bills, the Democrats made some reasonable trade-offs between enhancing benefits and finding additional savings and revenues.

 

Their package would increase the Senate bill's subsidies to help low- and middle-income people pay for insurance in the initial years, scaling them back in more distant years. It would do a bit more to help close a gap in Medicare coverage for prescription drugs (the so-called doughnut hole), a welcome benefit for chronically ill beneficiaries who run up big drug costs. It would also remove some of the noxious special deals inserted in the Senate bill to win the support of fence-sitting senators.

 

It is disappointing that the reconciliation package would postpone for several years the strongest cost-cutting feature in the Senate bill: an excise tax on insurers who issue high-cost policies. But the retreat is not disabling. The main cost-cutting feature — an annual index that would subject more and more plans to the tax and encourage workers and employers to find cheaper coverage — has actually been strengthened.

 

To make up for the loss of revenue from the excise tax and help cover the enhanced benefits, the reconciliation package would extend the Medicare payroll tax for high-income Americans to include investment income, putting the burden on people who can clearly afford it. And it would squeeze even more savings out of the private Medicare Advantage plans that receive heavy and clearly unfair subsidies to participate in Medicare.

 

All told, these and other modest changes to the Senate bill look reasonable. Liberals in Congress need to recognize that this is about the most generous package of benefits that can possibly be passed in the midst of recession. And fiscal hawks need to recognize that this bill would reduce deficits more than any in recent years.

Like most historic legislation, the process leading up to these last votes has been agonizingly long, relentlessly frustrating, and far too easy for opponents to misrepresent and demagogue. But a willingness to compromise and good sense should prevail. The country needs comprehensive health care reform.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

ONE CLASSROOM, FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA

BY SUSAN JACOBY

 

AMERICAN public education, a perennial whipping boy for both the political right and left, is once again making news in ways that show how difficult it will be to cure what ails the nation's schools.

 

Only last week, President Obama declared that every high school graduate must be fully prepared for college or a job (who knew?) and called for significant changes in the No Child Left Behind law. In Kansas City, Mo., officials voted to close nearly half the public schools there to save money. And the Texas Board of Education approved a new social studies curriculum playing down the separation of church and state and even eliminating Thomas Jefferson — the author of that malignant phrase, "wall of separation" — from a list of revolutionary writers.

 

Each of these seemingly unrelated developments is part of a crazy quilt created by one of America's most cherished and unexamined traditions: local and state control of public education. Schooling had been naturally decentralized in the Colonial era — with Puritan New England having a huge head start on the other colonies by the late 1600s — and, in deference to the de facto system of community control already in place, the Constitution made no mention of education. No one in either party today has the courage to say it, but what made sense for a sparsely settled continent at the dawn of the Republic is ill suited to the needs of a 21st-century nation competing in a global economy.

 

Our lack of a national curriculum, national teacher training standards and federal financial support to attract smart young people to the teaching profession all contribute mightily to the mediocre-to-poor performance of American students, year in and year out, on international education assessments. So does a financing system that relies heavily on local property taxes and fails to guarantee students in, say, Kansas City the same level of schooling as students in more affluent communities.

 

President Obama's proposed revisions to his predecessor's No Child Left Behind law appear, on the surface, to offer an example not of local control but of more federal intervention. Yet many experts agree that the main reason President George W. Bush's original law has failed to raise student achievement significantly is that states have dumbed down their exams. Diana Senechal, a former New York City teacher, demonstrated this in an inventive fashion when she showed that anyone could pass New York's middle-school promotion examinations by simply ignoring the questions and answering, "A, B, C, D, A, B, C, D" in order.

 

The new proposals being offered by the Obama administration will not significantly change a setup that combines the worst of both worlds: broad federally mandated goals and state manipulation of testing and curriculum. Nationwide testing is useless unless it is based on a curriculum consensus reached by genuine experts in the subjects being taught — yes, the dreaded "elites." That is how public education is administered in nearly all industrialized nations throughout Europe and Asia, whose students regularly outperform Americans in reading comprehension, science and math.

 

By contrast, the Texas board's social studies revision forms a blueprint for bad educational decision-making. Chosen in partisan elections, the board members — most lacking any expertise in the academic subjects upon which they are passing judgment — had already watered down the teaching of evolution in science classes when they turned their attention to American and world history. Thus was Jefferson cut from a list of those whose writings inspired 18th- and 19th-century revolutions, and replaced by Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. This is certainly the first time I've ever heard the "Summa Theologica" described as a spur to any revolution.

No Frenchman could conceive of a situation in which school officials in Marseille decide they don't like France's secular government and are going to use textbooks that ignore the Napoleonic code (and perhaps attribute the principles of French law to Aquinas). But publishers will have to comply with Texas requirements in order to sell history books to that state's huge school system. Indeed, they will likely start producing one edition for conservative states and another for the saner precincts of American schooling.

 

That is exactly why local control of schools is often an enemy of high-quality public education. The real question is whether anything, in the current polarized political climate, can be done about educational disparities that are inseparable from our fragmented system of public schooling. I can imagine at least three baby steps that would pave the way for success.

 

First, even though a national curriculum cannot be imposed, serious public intellectuals of varying political views need to step up and develop voluntary guides, in every academic subject, for use by educators who do not disdain expert opinion. The historians Diane Ravitch and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who disagreed politically on many issues, advocated for just such a set of national history standards in the late 1990s. These guidelines met with approval from just about everyone but the extreme fringes of the left and right.

 

Second, the federal government must invest more in training and identifying excellent teaching candidates. France, faced with a teacher shortage in the early 1990s, revamped its training system so that aspiring teachers would receive a partial salary in the last year of their studies. Prestigious institutes for teacher training were also set up to replace less rigorous programs, with admission based on competitive national examinations. Which makes more sense — investing resources upfront in attracting the brightest young people to teaching, or penalizing teachers who fail further down the road, as No Child Left Behind attempts to do?

 

Finally, the idea that educational innovation is best encouraged by promoting competition between schools and pouring public money into quasi-private charter schools should be re-examined by both the left and the right. One of the worst provisions in the Obama administration's $4.3 billion "Race to the Top" program strongly encourages states to remove restrictions on the number of privately managed charter schools. Here again, we have the worst of both worlds: a federal carrot that can lead only to a further balkanizing of a public education system already hampered by a legacy of extreme decentralization.

 

Daniel Webster, eulogizing Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who both died on July 4, 1826, spoke of "an unconquerable spirit of free inquiry ... and a diffusion of knowledge throughout the community" as two of the fundamental requirements of American democracy. He predicted, "If they fall, we fall with them; if they stand, it will be because we have upholden them." These great principles cannot be upheld if the quality of our public schooling continues to depend more on where a student lives than on a national commitment to excellence.

 

Susan Jacoby is the author of "The Age of American Unreason."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE BROKEN SOCIETY

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

The United States is becoming a broken society. The public has contempt for the political class. Public debt is piling up at an astonishing and unrelenting pace. Middle-class wages have lagged. Unemployment will remain high. It will take years to fully recover from the financial crisis.

 

This confluence of crises has produced a surge in vehement libertarianism. People are disgusted with Washington. The Tea Party movement rallies against big government, big business and the ruling class in general. Even beyond their ranks, there is a corrosive cynicism about public action.

 

But there is another way to respond to these problems that is more communitarian and less libertarian. This alternative has been explored most fully by the British writer Phillip Blond.

 

He grew up in working-class Liverpool. "I lived in the city when it was being eviscerated," he told The New Statesman. "It was a beautiful city, one of the few in Britain to have a genuinely indigenous culture. And that whole way of life was destroyed." Industry died. Political power was centralized in London.

 

Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.

 

Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.

 

The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage.

 

The free-market revolution didn't create the pluralistic decentralized economy. It created a centralized financial monoculture, which requires a gigantic government to audit its activities. The effort to liberate individuals from repressive social constraints didn't produce a flowering of freedom; it weakened families, increased out-of-wedlock births and turned neighbors into strangers. In Britain, you get a country with rising crime, and, as a result, four million security cameras.

 

In a much-discussed essay in Prospect magazine in February 2009, Blond wrote, "Look at the society we have become: We are a bi-polar nation, a bureaucratic, centralised state that presides dysfunctionally over an increasingly fragmented, disempowered and isolated citizenry." In a separate essay, he added, "The welfare state and the market state are now two defunct and mutually supporting failures."

 

The task today, he argued in a recent speech, is to revive the sector that the two revolutions have mutually decimated: "The project of radical transformative conservatism is nothing less than the restoration and creation of human association, and the elevation of society and the people who form it to their proper central and sovereign station."

 

Economically, Blond lays out three big areas of reform: remoralize the market, relocalize the economy and recapitalize the poor. This would mean passing zoning legislation to give small shopkeepers a shot against the retail giants, reducing barriers to entry for new businesses, revitalizing local banks, encouraging employee share ownership, setting up local capital funds so community associations could invest in local enterprises, rewarding savings, cutting regulations that socialize risk and privatize profit, and reducing the subsidies that flow from big government and big business.

 

To create a civil state, Blond would reduce the power of senior government officials and widen the discretion of front-line civil servants, the people actually working in neighborhoods. He would decentralize power, giving more budget authority to the smallest units of government. He would funnel more services through charities. He would increase investments in infrastructure, so that more places could be vibrant economic hubs. He would rebuild the "village college" so that universities would be more intertwined with the towns around them.

Essentially, Blond would take a political culture that has been oriented around individual choice and replace it with one oriented around relationships and associations. His ideas have made a big splash in Britain over the past year. His think tank, ResPublica, is influential with the Conservative Party. His book, "Red Tory," is coming out soon. He's on a small U.S. speaking tour, appearing at Georgetown's Tocqueville Forum Friday and at Villanova on Monday.

 

Britain is always going to be more hospitable to communitarian politics than the more libertarian U.S. But people are social creatures here, too. American society has been atomized by the twin revolutions here, too. This country, too, needs a fresh political wind. America, too, is suffering a devastating crisis of authority. The only way to restore trust is from the local community on up.

 

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******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

SUMMER OF SUFFERING

 

We are told that due to a massive 4,500 MW shortage of power, loadshedding of up to ten hours a day can be expected countrywide. Karachi seems likely to be the worst-affected city, although all the urban centres seem set to suffer. Smaller towns – and rural areas – can of course expect far harder times. Many experienced power cuts of up to 16 or 20 hours a day last year. To add to the confusion, there is the discrepancy over quite how acute the shortfall is. WAPDA and PEPCO vary in the figures they give out, with WAPDA maintaining it is producing more power through hydel generation than PEPCO is stating. As in so many other aspects of life, the manufacturing of figures seems to have become a part of our power crisis as well. The constant suspicion is that the situation is exaggerated in order to ease the way for the rental power projects favoured by some powerful individuals who run the affairs of state.


But such matters apart, as spring begins to give way to the harsher realities of summer, consumers can prepare for another prolonged period of agony. Already, in a bid to spare themselves this, citizens are rushing to purchase UPS devices and rechargeable fans, which have appeared at shops everywhere in anticipation of the rising demand. Their purchase will add to the costs imposed by utility bills that do not decrease, even when the actual supply of power dwindles by the day. But quite beyond the suffering of ordinary people, there is the commercial issue. Each year millions of rupees are lost due to the power crisis. Everywhere, businesses have shut down and workshops been wound up. Those running smaller concerns, without the capacity to purchase giant generators, suffer most. Unemployment has risen and suffering has increased. This is the price we all pay for the government's failure to manage the power crisis. The latest indications are that things could be worse this year than ever before, and that does not augur well at all as we move into the scorching months of summer.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

AMENDMENTS

 

The Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms, led by Raza Rabbani, has recommended more than 50 amendments to the Constitution. Most of them aim at returning the document to the form it took in 1973, when it was first drafted. The two issues the committee has focused on are the granting of greater provincial autonomy and the cutting back of presidential powers in favour of the prime minister. If the changes go through parliament, the president would lose the power to dissolve the National Assembly while the appointment of the CEC and the armed forces' chiefs would be handed over to the prime minister. The committee is also reported to have recommended minor changes in the procedure for the appointment of senior judges.


The details of the proposals are to be presented before parliament as the 18th Amendment Bill. We must hope they can be converted, after due debate, into a part of our law. It has been obvious for a very long period of time that the 17th Amendment needs to go. But quite beyond this, we also need greater harmony between the various aspects of our legal code. In order to have any kind of uniformity it is vital that the parliamentary system be restored in a meaningful fashion, with the prime minister at the head of decision-making. The reforms envisaged by the committee appear to aim at this. We can then be optimistic about a change in the way our system works. The proposals to hand over more powers to the provinces, including GST collection, also seem to be based on positive lines. The full impact and implications will be clear only once the details of the reforms are put before parliament. The issues that remain pending, such as the question of a new name for NWFP, are also likely to be the subject of debate in the House. There is hope then that we may land up in the near future with a more cohesive, meaningful legal code. This would serve our nation well, and possibly take us towards a future more in keeping with the democratic traditions that we all hope can take firmer root in our country.

 

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I. THE NEWS

HERITAGE

 

Our country is dotted with historical buildings of all kinds which stand in cities along highways and in other places. Lahore itself, as the city of the Mughals, has a huge collection of historical structures dating back to the Mughal era and indeed further back in time. Lately, a number of photographs of the Lahore Fort and the poor maintenance of its walls and gardens have appeared in the media. This is nothing short of a tragedy. The buildings that stand in our midst are a heritage we need to preserve for our children, grandchildren and the generations that come after. This is also a duty we owe our nation. Once destroyed it will be impossible to regain what has been lost.


This also holds true of historical sites in other places. The remains of Harrapa, Moenjodaro, the Buddhist sculptures in Swat and other pre-Islamic remnants of our history need to be preserved. In too many places they have already been victims of neglect or deliberate destruction. We need to build pride in all aspects of our past. The effort to create attitudes that can help ensure this happens needs to begin now. Organizations responsible for the upkeep of buildings must play their role. So too must the government and individuals. It is also true that our historical heritage can prove an important source of revenue by bringing in tourists from around the world. Neighbouring countries such as India have succeeded in using their history for this purpose. We must do the same and prevent our buildings from rotting away or falling into ruins.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

PUNJAB CAN NO LONGER LIVE IN A STATE OF DENIAL

AYAZ AMIR


If FATA represents the cutting edge of terrorism in the name of Islam, Punjab, unfortunately, is the hinterland of this phenomenon. Or, to borrow a phrase from the repertoire of military folly, Punjab is the strategic depth of bigotry and extremism masquerading in the colours of Islam.


Religious extremism took root in the soil of Pakistan thanks to the so-called Islamisation policies of Gen Ziaul Haq and his role in pushing the first Afghan 'jihad'. The dragon's teeth of our sorrows were scattered by Zia. We are reaping the harvest.


Next in the line of military saviours, Pervez Musharraf -- may Pakistan for all its faults never have such a saviour again -- could have reversed the trend of the Zia years. But he had only a limited understanding of things. President Asif Zardari is not the first of our accidental leaders. Musharraf was another product of accident and circumstances. Had he not been plucked out of Mangla and made army chief Pakistan would have been spared the misfortunes it had to endure under his star.


He signed on with the Americans in 2001 but despite the two assassination attempts on him, he was never serious about cleansing the Frontier havens where the fleeing Taliban from Afghanistan had taken refuge. Far from eradicating the Taliban, his vacillation and lack of true commitment allowed the problem represented by the Taliban to grow. The Taliban phenomenon in Swat and the Lal Masjid affair -- small problems through neglect assuming a bigger shape -- were testimonies to his limited vision and short-sighted policies.


The extremism Pakistan is now battling is thus a gift whose line of descent can be traced from Zia to Musharraf. The army's predicament can be imagined. The ghost it is trying to lay to rest was conceived and tested in its own laboratories. This is the Pakistani way of doing things. First create a problem and then invoke the power of heaven to eliminate it.


As an aside I can't help adding that one of the key figures instrumental in getting US Congress to fund the Afghan resistance was Congressman Charlie Wilson of Texas. Wilson was fond of a hard drink and fond of good-looking women, tempting qualities that suggested a swashbuckling knight errant. (Most men have Wilson's inclinations. But it is not given to everyone to fulfil them.) The irony is piquant: someone like him emerging as one of the central protagonists in an enterprise hailed by its partisans as a great victory of Islam.

Wilson had all the fun while it lasted. On his frequent visits to Pakistan during that period he was never without one or two striking companions. The Pakistani generals he interacted with were content to make a lot of money, some of which shows in the prospering business enterprises of their lucky offspring. More than in most other places, it helps in Pakistan to have the right kind of father.


But to return to the complex relationship between the Frontier and Punjab in that clash of arms, fought for the greater glory of Islam, the former was the staging post or the launching pad of that 'jihad' while Punjab was what might be called, in military terminology, the concentration area. The nerve centre of that 'jihad' was ISI Hqs in Aabpara, Islamabad. CIA supplies were landed at Chaklala Airbase and then brought for storage to Ojhri Camp next to Faizabad in Rawalpindi. From there they were transported to the frontlines of the Frontier.

Meanwhile Zia's missionary zeal, backed by Saudi money, was beginning to transform the Punjabi landscape. Madressahs or religious schools began cropping up everywhere, including Islamabad. Backed by state patronage, mullah power, hitherto not much of a factor in Pakistani politics, began to show its muscles.


There was a ban on politics in any case. Apart from PTV, there was no other TV channel and even PTV was being conquered by the mullahs. Newspapers lay under a heavy blanket of censorship. The only thing to do under Zia was to either watch Indian movies at home or perform the various rituals of religious hypocrisy in public. The begums of the good and great, never behind their men folk in bowing to the prevailing wings, entered heavily into the business of arranging religious ceremonies (milads) under one pretext or another. Pakistan became a very pious and hypocritical society. Even army promotions began to be affected by one's reputation for religious observance or otherwise.


All the extremist outfits with whose names we are now familiar emerged at that time: the jaish this and that, the lashkar so and so. Most of them were Punjab-based and members from all these organisations acquired battle experience in Afghanistan. My friend Colonel Imam of Afghan 'jihad' fame -- and who, like most good people, is from Chakwal -- takes enormous pride in saying that the most fearless fighters of all were from Punjab. And he should know for he was in the thick of it.

When with the departure of the Soviet army and the victory of the Saudi and Charlie Wilson-funded 'mujahideen', the Afghan war wound down, the fighters who had gained battle experience in Afghanistan were shifted to an entirely different front: Kashmir, where in a protracted struggle they managed to tie down half a million Indian troops.


Their godfathers in the security establishment felt elated. Forgetting the role of hard-drinking Charlie Wilson and the Saudis, they wrote a self-glorifying narrative in which it was claimed that not only had the power of faith defeated the Soviets. It had also hastened the end and break-up of the Soviet empire. If a superpower could be thus defeated, zeal and the spirit of 'jihad' could work similar miracles in Kashmir.


This was the mood then pervading the top ranks of the army and the intelligence agencies. So it is scarcely to be wondered at that when after the fall of Kabul to the 'mujahideen', a Pakistani delegation was on its way to the Afghan capital, no sooner had the aircraft carrying it entered Afghan airspace when those on board, including some Americans, were startled by a loud cry: "Allah-o-Akbar". This from the then ISI chief, the heavily-bearded Lt-Gen Javed Nasir.

Our rendezvous with our present extremist-flowing troubles did not come about from out of the blue. We had ploughed the land and watered it for a long time.


When the Americans attacked Afghanistan post-Sept 11, the theatre of 'jihad' shifted again: back to Afghanistan. The Bush administration of course screwed things up for itself by going on to attack Iraq before finishing the job in Afghanistan, a piece of folly sure to haunt the US for a long time to come. But Afghanistan was bad enough by itself. It reignited the fires of holy war and, given the iron dictates of geography, it was inevitable that Pakistan sooner or later would have its hands burned by another conflict raging in Afghanistan.

Once a change of course in our strategic course was forced upon us by the US -- Musharraf succumbing to American pressure without extracting the kind of bargain that would have better served Pakistan's interests -- logic and necessity demanded a clean break with the playing-with-fire policies of the past. In other words, a clean and definitive break with Zia-minded 'jihad'. But Musharraf played a double game. Even while dancing wildly to America's tune he was never serious, or he lacked the will and capacity, to seriously rethink the past.

But now that under a new sun and a new sky we are finally embarked upon a new course -- which marks a true break with the past -- we have to realise the extent and magnitude of the problem. The terrorism we are now fighting is not a provincial subject. It is not confined to any one province. It is a composite whole, organically tied together, growing not from any isolated virus but from a sickness of the mind and soul which had the whole of Pakistan, or at least its strategic quartermasters, in its grip.


If Pakistan is to become something, realising its dreams and potential, if it has to enter the real world and leave the world of dreams and fantasies behind, then there is no course open to it except to tackle this sickness, no matter what it takes and what sacrifices it entails, without ifs and buts, and without any misconceived appeals to the Taliban.


Email: winlust@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

JEWISH LIFE UNDER MUSLIM RULE

DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL


No one should speak of Muslim life under Jewish rule, especially in the land that was promised to the Jews and then denied; for such speech (or writing in this case) is simply not allowed in the 'civilised' world where I happen to be living now.


The 'civilised' world is only interested in Muslim 'terrorists' whose lives can be taken out any time, for example, by a drone flying over Pakistan--a sovereign country that cannot protect its sovereignty. No one in our 'civilised' world is interested in knowing that a drone has no way of distinguishing between a little baby sleeping peacefully by her mother's side and a real terrorist sitting thousands of miles away in an office from where the drones are controlled. No, such matters require hearts that can feel pain and anguish. Pain and anguish over human suffering is not allowed across the length and breadth of this vast continent, which the writer of the Heart of Darkness could have easily used as his locale.


Thus any speech or writing about Muslim life under Jewish rule will never find its way into the 'free' media of this land; it would immediately be labelled anti-Semitic, pushed under the rug, swallowed. But, mercifully, one can still talk about Jewish life under Muslim rule, even though that opens a window onto a past that no one wants to remember. And those who should remember that time, mostly Muslims, are unable to, simply because of their long sleep of four centuries--the siesta during which the entire world around them has been transformed.

So, it is no surprise that this window onto an enchanting past is being opened by Amnon Cohen, a Jew, who spent years in deciphering documents of the Ottoman Court at Jerusalem and published several articles on the subject in various journals. It is, however, his two volume work, A World Within: Jewish Life as Reflected in Muslim Court Documents from the Sijill of Jerusalem that is our key to the window we wish to open to a bygone past in this column. Even the story of finding this sixteenth-century document is fascinating.


Cohen's research interests led him to the office of the waqf administration and the Higher Muslim Council in East Jerusalem, where he was granted access to the archives of the Ottoman times: 420 leather-bound volumes hardly touched by foreign or local scholars. These documents were kept in the court building for centuries but during the World War II they were moved to the newly established offices of the administration of the waqf on East Jerusalem's main street named after the man whom every Muslim now wants to return to rescue their brethren from their degrading situation: Salah al-Din.


The documents Cohen discovered are actually drafts of the court cases describing the daily proceedings. Each volume contains approximately 450 pages. Each page includes several cases. These daily proceedings of a Muslim court at Jerusalem during the Ottoman times contain a variety of cases, but an interesting part of this archive is those cases which involve Jewish litigants. These are part of the daily court records, without any distinguishing mark. That is, they were treated as normal court cases even though they pertained to a religious minority living under Islamic laws.


These documents provide a wealth of information about the daily life of Jews of Jerusalem. They slaughtered their own meat, followed their own religious laws in all matters. As money changers, they were the fiscal pillars of the local economy, and they lived under complete freedom. There was a very active guild system encompassing butchers, money changers, millers, grain merchants, jewellers, and other trades.


Cohen provides some insights into the Jewish life. Noteworthy among these are the reasons due to which the Jews went to the Shariah court, rather than their own courts, as these court cases do not only involve conflicts between Jews and Muslims or Jews and Christians; they are also replete with cases involving Jews only. So, why would Jews go to a Shariah court?


"They turned to the Shairah authorities," Cohen concludes, "to seek redress with respect to internal differences, and even in matters within their immediate family (intimate relations between husband and wife, nafaqa maintenance payments to divorcees, support of infants, etc.). Other matters of purely religious nature were also introduced into the Muslim court; Jewish prayer shawls and phylacteries, Jewish traditional and communal institutions, Jewish holidays and even Jewish dreams…"


Some examples would suffice: Volume 58, for the Gregorian year 1578-1579, contains a document (no. 122c), dated 7 Rabi al-Awwal, 986, which states: "The Jew Yaqub b. Yusif declared in the court that from now on he would not contradict his father and will involve himself deeply in the study of reading and writing. The father undertook to marry him to a Jewish woman from Safed since he formally declared himself unattached to a certain other Jewish woman."


On the 17th of Shawwal, 986, the same Yaqub b. Yusif was again in the court. On that day he declared in the court that he was divorcing his wife Sara bint Ibrahim from Safed, who was identified by two Jewish witnesses. Both parties, i.e. Yaqub and his father on the one hand, and Sara and her mother on the other hand, absolved one another from any obligation or debt whatsoever.


Less than a month later, the same Yaqub b. Yusif appeared in the court on 9 Dhu'l-Qa`da, "alleging that another Jew, Shmuil b. Khalifa, had promised him his minor daughter, Mazaltuf, in marriage for 25 gold coins as bride-money. Shmuil denied it and referred the court to an earlier deposition by the same plaintiff in which Yaqub specifically referred to his daughter as totally unrelated to him."


Fascinating accounts. Another time, another era. Yet, so much to learn from. Only if Muslims would wake up and start learning from their own history.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

Email: quantumnotes@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

AN EXHAUSTED GOVERNMENT

AHMAD RAFAY ALAM


It's amazing that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had no idea how offensive his remarks at the Jaamia Naeemia in Lahore last week were. Being summoned to meet the Chief of the Army Staff certainly made him look like an errant schoolboy called to the principal's office.


Normally, I can't bring myself to comment on what we euphemistically refer to as our "politics" (Latin for poly, meaning many; and ticks, meaning ticks). There are enough experts on the subject to fill a thousand newspapers, but the chief minister's exhortation to the Taliban to leave Punjab alone – on the specious grounds that both his government and they share a common stance on, of all things, the Kerry-Lugar Bill! – has left one in the uneasy position of having to agree with the reaction to these remarks by Governor Salmaan Taseer. It's not often that this happens, and so, if the omens portended it, I offer my "expertise."


The interesting thing about the PML-N is the consistency it has with respect to its connection with the Jaamia Naeemia. This was the seminary at which Nawaz Sharif spoke just days after returning from his exile in Mayfair, SW1, London. This is in contrast to the stance on the other issues the PML-N held then and now. For example, in the 1990s, the PML-N was the party that stormed the Supreme Court and jailed an editor for his comments. Now it is a party for the freedom of the judiciary and the Fourth Estate.


Governor Taseer's reaction has been very harsh and, which is interesting, very sophisticated. He has pointed out a chain of events that put the PML-N into a rather tight corner. He refers to senior PML-N ministers canvassing for candidates with dubious backgrounds and links to extremist organisations. He refers to recent statistics that reveal that crime in Punjab has skyrocketed in just the past year. These and other references paint a chilling picture of official sympathy for religious extremism. But read in another light, they paint a picture of a government buckling under the pressure of its responsibility and failing to meet the standards it has set for itself.

The statistics on the increase in crime in Punjab are most damning. The first responsibility of the state, as we were told by Mohammad Ali Jinnah in his speech to the Constituent Assembly on 11 August, 1947, is to protect the lives and property of its citizens. A forty-per-cent increase in the incidence of crime in the past two years clearly spells out that this duty is not being done. This is damning news not just for the government of Punjab but all the provincial governments and the federal government as well.

Recently, several incidents have come into public which point to thana culture and a complete breakdown of the criminal justice system. The torture of highway robbers at the hands of the Punjab Police in Chiniot, broadcast all over Pakistan on the electronic media, firstly revealed just how unashamedly common a practice police torture has become – standard operating procedure, in fact – and, secondly, created a wave of sympathy for a bunch of criminals who had been caught red-handed.


Despite the airing, the matter got in the media and, despite the universal criticism of the police brutality, thana culture is so endemic and so entwined with the political establishment that rare was the opinion that offered anything by way of reform. This thana culture is given the air it needs to breathe by politicians who manipulate it for their ends. What we need is not just an end to the thana culture; we need an end to the politicians who approve of police encounters. But you know what they say about the election process: monkey in, monkey out.

Then, there's the ongoing saga of the DSP of Rang Mahal police station in Lahore. Vicious allegations fly in both directions, but it seems that the crux of the matter is that the DSP refused to release two men arrested on charges of criminal activity. The DSP claims to have fended off unwarranted interference in an investigation by senior police officials. Senior police officials, on the other hand, have alleged the DSP is "insane" and that his scandal-ridden career is a blot on the reputation of the Punjab Police (and that's quite a tall order).

But what is unarguable is that, on the one hand, if the DSP is correct, unwarranted and mala-fide interference in police investigations by senior police officers is also a common practice and, on the other, if the DSP is wrong, then the Punjab Police has turned a blind eye and let a crazed thug rise through the ranks to a position of seniority.

I, for one, don't know which is worse. What I do know is that this incident does nothing for the image of the police as an institution meant to protect the lives and property of the citizens of Pakistan. When was the last time someone voluntarily went to the police for help?


The PML-N government in Punjab has been in office for two years, give or take one Governor's Raj. Other than bully a bureaucracy into a state of exhausted and terrified submission, and the Sasta Ata Scheme, it's difficult to see what the government has done during its tenure so far. Sure, the city of Lahore has the Shalimar Overpass. Sure, another segment of the city's infamous Ring Road has been completed. But are these achievements by which a provincial government should be measured?

(Readers are reminded, however, that Lahore still doesn't have a sewage treatment plant, Lahore's air is the most polluted in history, and Lahore's water table is plummeting unsustainably.)


Over and above the parochial nature of the chief minister's comments, over and above the strange logic they employed, the comments also force an evaluation of the performance of the Shahbaz Sharif government so far.

Just a few months ago, the province nearly touched the State Bank's limit on overdraft and, if it hadn't been converted into a loan, Punjab would be bankrupt. Income levels are dropping and poverty levels increasing. Water is running scarce and crop productivity has been said to have been affected. Cities are becoming increasingly choked and polluted, leading to decreases in productivity and increases in health-related issues.

To make matters worse, the spectre of terrorism looms large and, until something is done about law enforcement in this country and the capacity of the police and security agencies, will continue unchecked. Meanwhile, just in Lahore, the GOR-I has been walled up (which has earned it the nickname of "Bureaucratistan") and the Civil Service Club located inside given several hundred million rupees. One government minister assaulted a female MPA in the Assembly, another PML-N MPA was caught buying jewellery on a credit card she stole, and the last chief secretary was forced to quit when his car ran over a retired military officer. The Lahore Transport Company, the flagship initiative to bring public transport to the city, has, to-date, done nothing of substance.


In the middle of its tenure, the Punjab government must realise that, if nothing else, it is suffering from exhaustion itself. Running an exhausted government does no one any favour. It must understand that it has to change tack and strategy.

For my two bit's worth, I'll suggest that (i) not every decision has to be taken at the highest level; and (ii) the government should have a fulltime information minister.


The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email: ralam@nexlinx.net.pk

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

STOP IT FROM HAPPENING

SALEEM RIZVI


Yet another spree of terrorist mayhem, including two deadly suicide attacks in Lahore Cantonment, and multiple low-intensity blasts in civilian centres, takes dozens of innocent lives over a short span of time. Within hours, more lives are lost in a suicide attack in Mingora. Violence is not new to Pakistan. What is new, however, is the intensity, frequency, purpose and tactics with which violence is now being perpetrated. Pakistan has had more than its share of communal, sectarian, insurgency-related and terrorism-centred violence in its short history.


As the entire nation mourns the loss of innocent lives, only those who had to bear the unbearable burden of burying their loved ones know the true depth of their loss and its devastating impact on their personal and communal lives. For them, the victims are not numbers, adding up to new statistics; rather, they are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, and so much more to so many others. They were humans like us who shared hopes, aspirations, feelings and desires to live, love, and to be loved.


Amid all this, the Pakistani populace wonders when it may see the dawn of a new era of security and prosperity. They rightfully demand to know what exactly the government is planning to do to safeguard their lives.


It is true that we are living in extraordinary times with extraordinary challenges at hand. This is precisely why the government needs to rise to the occasion and come up with creative, effective and expeditious means to combat terrorism, insurgency and other forms of violence. Law enforcement agencies must be urgently equipped with modern equipment, technologies, and facilities. Pakistan is far behind in this area. The lack of DNA testing labs and permanent mortuaries, where forensic examinations may be conducted, is just one example of how ill-equipped Pakistani law enforcement agencies are. While the lack of will to strengthen the institutional capacity is alarming, the misuse of scarce resources further exacerbates the problem.

Pakistan is currently hit by both terrorism and insurgency. Although the distinction between insurgency and terrorism may be blurred and both may overlap, a key difference lies in their objectives and operations. Instead of aspiring to access and share power through democratic means, the insurgency uses force and violence with the intent of achieving control of territory, power-sharing, or political concessions. Terrorism, on the other hand, intends to change the perception of the government by attacking its core legitimacy and effectiveness, without necessarily attempting to challenge government forces directly. Terrorism is not an end in itself. Terrorism can be a means to achieve the objective of an insurgency.


In order to fight violence, whether its origin is counter-insurgency, terrorism or some other cause, the utility of good intelligence through information gathering, physical surveillance and other methods of monitoring are the most effective weapons in the struggle to dismantle terrorist networks and prevent attacks, as long as they are conducted within the permissible legal boundaries. Executors of violence cherish the unpredictability of their tactics and the impact of their actions. Up to the recent carnage, the terrorists were having a field day in Pakistan, whereas the government appears to be ineffective in preventing them from carrying out their deadly attacks. It has become accustomed to reacting, instead of acting. Nothing is more devastating than being at the receiving end of terrorism.


Successful prevention of violence depends on stopping it from happening. Failure to accomplish that goal emboldens the perpetrators and devastates the victims. Even when intelligence gathering and law enforcement agencies do not succeed in preventing each and every attack, their constant vigilance and intelligence work can help to dismantle terrorist networks and to bring them to justice. So far, the successive Pakistani governments have failed on both counts. The fundamental reasons have been their failure to make the prevention of violence their topmost priority. Only with an undivided sense of urgency and commitment can a wide ranging strategy be put into action.

In addition to setting up effective law enforcement agencies, fully equipped with all modern resources, it is crucial to have a fully trained and independent judiciary to handle violence related cases. The dispersion of justice and maintenance of the rule of law is equally demanding. History shows that all previous governments' attempts to script and execute anti-terrorism laws failed partly because they were ill conceived and poorly enforced, and partly due to misuse of resources.


Starting from Ayub Khan's government and going through successive governments up to today, it is hard to miss how the already weak anti-terrorism state apparatus was further destabilised by politicising it. When the central objective of any system revolves around protecting personalities and their circle of influence, at the expense of institutional stability and people's interest, the nation will stand vulnerable to its enemies. In such an environment, multi-faceted acts of violence against the state and its citizens are inevitable.


By drafting sensible anti-terrorism laws and enforcing them through a well-trained judiciary and law enforcement agencies, can one have some hope. To fight insurgency and terrorism, two distinct approaches are required. In addition to the deployment of conventional military means, this issue ought to be handled by strengthening the criminal justice system in Pakistan. Needless to say, such criminal justice operations must fit into our larger constitutional framework. Abuse of power breeds violence instead of eradicating it.


Violence may not be fully eradicated, but with a mix of all-inclusive policies and actions it can certainly be controlled. Any other government expression contrary to such basic fact is just a lame excuse to avoid facing reality. How else should one interpret government officials' gibberish such as "terrorism is unpredictable," as if to say nothing can be done to prevent it? The government must put all its resources together to fight terrorism because a government which fails to protect its citizenry loses its legitimacy to govern.


The writer is an attorney based in New York. Email: saleemsrizvi@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

REAL DANGER: FAILURE OF GOVERNANCE

SHAFQAT MAHMOOD


In a situation where a majority of the people barely manage to survive, anger is understandable. The fact that it is being increasingly directed against symbols of the state signifies a journey on the road to anarchy.


The attack on a police station in Mian Channu, where a man died in police custody, has an explanation, however unjustified. The people were enraged because of a suspicion that the deceased was tortured and killed. But it did not stop here. The national highway passing through the town was blocked and a passing cross-country train was attacked, with a fireman left injured.


Similar stories litter the newspaper pages every day. Buses are burnt, government offices attacked, symbols and signs of authority demolished or destroyed. It is as if the anger seething within the society is now boiling over and the state has no answer.


The problem is not just poverty, although poverty has a lot to do with it. There appears to be a total lack of faith in state institutions. It seems as if the people have decided that whatever problems they have, not only has the state no solution, it is actually the principle cause.


The state is losing control and there is no sign that any serious attention is being paid to this by the political leadership. Everyone seems to be in a fire-fighting mode. A terrorist strike here, a problem there, and the entire attention is focused on that. Not much comes out of it, but at least the minimum is done to paper over the situation. Until the next time.


The deep malaise within the state structure is neither understood nor addressed. At its operational end in the districts, the Tehsils and the villages, the effectiveness of the government officials has diminished to the point of non-existence.


The land revenue administration on which the entire structure of the colonial state stood is becoming irrelevant. The revenue collected from the land is insignificant and no longer of interest to the state. Land record is maintained, though imperfectly and still in the custody of the patwari, but its utility is only for corruption.


The senior hierarchy of the land revenue administration was effective because magisterial and police powers were combined in one office, giving it the teeth to maintain order. This was destroyed through the well meaning but deeply flawed devolution plan of the Musharraf regime.


Service delivery was poor even in the previous system because not enough attention and resources had been diverted to improving state institutions entrusted with it. This institutional weakness, combined with poor priority in terms of fund allocation towards education, health, sanitation, water supply, etc., had weakened the system considerably.


The devolution plan added to its woes by adding unnecessary bureaucratic structures and centralising the flow of funds. This unleashed massive corruption in which both the elected tiers and the bureaucracy indulged shamelessly. The police went haywire because it was made independent and free of any magisterial or elected control.

The strength of any system is its operational end at the lowest level. This has declined considerably and is visible in the huge amount of public dissatisfaction expressed in burn-and-destroy binges. But the apex structures have also declined and no longer able to deliver.


For one, there is a capacity problem. Serious deterioration is visible in the capability of manpower working for the government. Except at the lowest tiers, where wages are competitive with the market, the best talent is no longer attracted to the government.


A general decline in educational standards has also had an impact because the material that does end up working for the state has poor comprehension and little inherent ability. It is also susceptible to corruption because the pay is so poor. This combination of incompetence and corruption has a lethal impact on the ability of the state to deliver.


Besides the capacity problem, little attention has been paid to structure even at the apex level. Over time, for example, the Punjab government at the provincial level has mushroomed into thirty eight departments and countless attached offices. This is besides a large number of agencies and autonomous bodies with new ones coming up every day.


The result is much overlap, redundant functions, lack of role clarity, poor job description, and no measurable performance indicators. The situation will not change unless a massive restructuring exercise is undertaken. This is not easy and takes a long time, but without improving the structure of an organisation, no meaningful improvement or change can come about.


The problem described here is not confined to one province or one government. It is endemic. The crisis of governance that everyone refers to is embedded in these unwieldy and non-performing structures of the state. To many this is a boring subject, but it is here that the future of the nation will be decided.


Unless a sustained effort is made to take a hard look at government as a whole and something done to bring about a change, we are doomed. This requires the leadership's serious attention and a commitment to change. Doing nothing is not an option, because every day the situation is getting worse.


It is almost amusing to hear important functionaries of the state ordering inquiries after inquiries, or giving this or that agency a week, ten days or a fortnight to deliver. It looks good on paper and makes for a reasonable headline. In practice, it is all meaningless because the institutional capacity to deliver on these bombastic orders is just not there.


Granted that if the entire attention of the leadership and the administration is focused on one matter, something gets done. In Punjab, the chief minister has been able to push through delayed development projects, like the Ring Road or overpasses.


Politically also, it is to the credit of the federation and the provinces that the National Finance Commission award has been finalised with consensus. A passage of the 18th Amendment, if it does come about, would be a big success for the political class.


But the real work of changing lives and making this an effective state that can maintain order and deliver services, requires a total focus on improving structures of governance. It is not something that gives quick political dividends. In fact, in the short run, it creates some disruption. But it is the only recipe for rebuilding this nation.


It has taken sixty years of neglect for us to reach this sorry pass and it may take another sixty to put things right. But we have to begin this journey of changing and improving structures of the state. The quality of the people working for it also has to be improved. Anyone up to the challenge?


Email: shafqatmd@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

GUT REACTION

33 PER CENT COUNTS

LUBNA JERAR NAQVI


After 14 years of living in cold storage, finally on March 9, the Indian upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha, made history by passing the Women's Reservation Bill by a two-third majority, a day after it was moved in the House.


During two whole days, the sessions of parliament were disrupted nine times, suspension of seven members took place and things took such a bad turn that the marshals had to be called out to maintain peace and provide security to the speaker of the Rajya Sabha.

 

If this wasn't bad enough, the allies of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), threatened to break their alliance and move a no-confidence movement. At one time, things looked very bleak for the government, however, the Congress leader Sonia Gandhi stood her ground and managed to get this bill over the first hurdle. Interesting enough, the opposition stood alongside the Congress on this bill, although they had their reservations about the government not holding a debate before putting the bill up for vote.


India's Women's Reservation Bill will allow a 33 per cent reservation for women in India's Lok Sabha and state assemblies. According to experts, this bill will benefit women belonging to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes, poor women and Muslim women.


Most countries in the world have seats allotted for women. In many Asian countries women representation is 18.5 per cent, which according to international standards, is extremely low. India and Sri Lanka have the lowest number of women in their parliaments. The Indian women have only eleven per cent representation in parliament, while in Pakistan's National Assembly the allotted quota for women is 17.5 per cent but on ground the total number of women on women and general seats is 22 per cent.

Now the question arises why there was such a ruckus regarding this bill. The Indian Lok Sabha has a total of 543 seats, the number of women in this house is only 59, whereas in the upper house, Rajya Sabha, the total number of seats is 248 with only 21 female members. This means that the Indian parliament is basically male dominated. Out of the 543 seats of the Lok Sabha, 122 are for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, leaving the total number of general seats to be 421. If women get 33 per cent of these, this will leave them with 364 seats. With this bill the number of female seats in Lok Sabha will be 181, leaving the men with 282 seats, women can also contest for the general seats which will mean lesser seats for the men.


Throughout history women have held important posts at various levels in India. They fought in battles and ruled states, such as in Bhopal. One also led the post-partition India as prime minister. However, some critics hold the view that Indira Gandhi wasn't chosen to run the country because of being an extremely intelligent and strong woman, which she was no doubt, but because she was the only child of Nehru, the great Congress leader and the first prime minister of India. When this bill becomes law it may metamorphose the male-dominated Indian parliament and give the women of India a voice to reckon with.

The writer works for Geo TV. Email: lubnajnaqvi@yahoo.com

 

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