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Monday, March 22, 2010

EDITORIAL 22.03.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month march 22, edition 000461, 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. TAKE NO PRISONERS
  2. LOSS FOR NEPAL, INDIA TOO
  3. THE CURSE OF STAMPEDES - JOGINDER SINGH
  4. BANGLA IS NOT BANGALIYANA - PRIYADARSI DUTTA
  5. RED GIRAFFES AND FIGHTERS - CLAUDE ARPI
  6. LEGITIMISING HATRED - BARRY RUBIN
  7. IS THIS SERB GENERAL A TRAITOR? - DUSAN STOJANOVIC
  8. THE STRANGE STORY OF RISING GDP - SHIVAJI SARKAR

MAIL TODAY

  1. ANTI- HIJACK POLICY NEEDS EVEN MORE TEETH
  2. TOKEN RATE INCREASE
  3. SHADOW OF BHOPAL
  4. POWER & POLITICS - PRABHU CHAWLA

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. CASE FILES
  2. STICK TO SIGNALLING
  3. IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT - JAY MAZOOMDAAR
  4. 'PYAASA HAD A VARIETY KAAGAZ KE PHOOL DIDN'T HAVE'
  5. INTER-ESTING WORDS INDEED – HARISH BHAT

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. WE ARE ALL IN IT TOGETHER
  2. IRE AND FIRE
  3. COMEBACK QUEEN - AJOY BOSE
  4. GADKARI'S TEAM BEARS ADVANI'S MARK - PANKAJ VOHRA

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. NOT TO SCALE
  2. VARSITY SOLUTION
  3. LOVE AND LAW
  4. MAPS IN OUR MINDS - MIHIR S SHARMA
  5. REPLACING THE PDS –  BHARAT RAMASWAMI
  6. 'IN FIVE YEARS, INDIA'S BANKING SECTOR WILL BE TWO-AND-A-HALF TIMES WHAT IT IS NOW' - DHIRAJ NAYYAR:
  7. WHEN KOREA INVADED KOREA - INDER MALHOTRA
  8. AMERICA'S REAL DREAM TEAM
  9. THE CENTRE THAT COULD NOT HOLD - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
  10. THE WORTH OF WATER - TIMOTHYJROEMER

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. TARGET PRACTICE
  2. CURRENCY GAMES
  3. INVESTMENT STORY IS STILL INTACT - MAHESH VYAS
  4. INDIA INC SHOPS IN NEW MARKETS - SHAILESH DOBHAL
  5. DOSE OF CREDIBILITY - VIVEKA ROYCHOWDHURY

 THE HINDU

  1. HOLLOW OFFER
  2. RETURN OF TIGER
  3. A QUARTER CENTURY OF KANSHI RAM & MAYAWATI  -VIDYA SUBRAHMANIAM
  4. ENLARGED SCOPE FOR READERS
  5. A MAN OF 'SIMPLE CONVICTIONS' - KANAK MANI DIXIT
  6. TALE OF TWO MILITARY-CRAFTED STATUTES  - P.S. SURYANARAYANA

 DNA

  1. DEATH TO HIJACKERS?
  2. HEALTH: THE MISSING FACTOR - ANURADHA BHASIN
  3. MUMBAI'S ROADS ARE COMMUTERS' NIGHTMARE -ANIL DHARKER
  4. SMILE, INDIA

 THE TRIBUNE

  1. HIJACK AND DIE!
  2. POWER PANGS IN PUNJAB
  3. EDUCATION FOR DYSLEXICS
  4. INDUSTRY FIRMLY ON GROWTH PATH - BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA
  5. THE DANCING VICE-CHANCELLOR - BY UTTAM SENGUPTA
  6. A STEP FORWARD - BY YOGINDER GUPTA
  7. DEAD AT DAWN - BY ANANYA PANDA
  8. CHATTERATI - BY DEVI CHERIAN

 MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. OLD REALITY IN NEW GARB

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. MS MAYAWATI'S MILLIONS
  2. MESSAGE TO MARKET
  3. COMMON MAN'S UNCOMMON REACTION - MAHESH VYAS
  4. A V RAJWADE: WHAT WORDS REALLY MEAN - A V RAJWADE
  5. TILL THE NEXT AUDIT REPORT - SUNIL JAIN
  6. EDUCATING KAPIL* - SANJAYA BARU

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. FOREIGN HANDS: IMMIGRANTS, THE FAVOURED ONES
  2. IT HIRES NON-ENGINEERS
  3. SOFT SIGNAL FROM THE RBI
  4. 'INDIA IS A SPRINGBOARD TO ASIA' - G GANAPATHY SUBRAMANIAM
  5. TIME TO FINANCE A NEW GLOBAL HEALTH FUND - JEFFREY D SACHS
  6. GRATITUDE IS PRECIOUS BUT RARE
  7. ONLINE IS THE REAL ESTATE OF TOMORROW: MICROSOFT - AMIT SHARMA
  8. GOLDMAN SACHS IS ONE OF THE MAJOR INVESTORS IN INDIA: MICHAEL EVANS - GEORGE SMITH ALEXANDER
  9. 'TIME TO HAVE A GAS PRICING POLICY TO STABILISE PRICES AT CONSUMER LEVEL' - RAJEEV JAYASWAL
  10. 'XEROX INDIA HUB TO FOLLOW OPEN INNOVATION MODEL' - SHELLEY SINGH
  11. WE HOPE TO DISBURSE RS 95 CR IN HOUSING LOANS: JAMSHED DABOO
  12. SUTANUKA GHOSAL
  13. INDIA'S IMPORTANT PIECE OF PUZZLE: METRO CASH & CARRY - SARAH JACOB
  14. BID FOR PUNE JUSTIFIED, SAYS SUBRATA ROY - AMINAH SHEIKH

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. INDIA'S DEMOGRAPHIC ADVANTAGE ILLUSION
  2. BUDGET FAULTLINES - BY ARJUN SENGUPTA
  3. AMERICA'S REAL DREAM TEAM WITH ITS SPARKLERS - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  4. CUTBACKS IN NEW MAYA, GOGOI SUGAR POLICIES
  5. TRY TO LOVE OTHERS - BY SADHGURU
  6. ERASER DUTY FOR BART?
  7. MAUREEN DOWD

THE STATESMAN

  1. OPEN SESAME
  2. MISSILE MISFIRE
  3. RECURRING MENACE
  4. PRIMARY DISASTER - PARTHASARATHI CHAKRABORTY

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. UNHOLY ALLIANCE
  2. RESCUE FANTASY
  3. STRAIGHT FROM THE SUN - COMMENTARAO S.L. RAO
  4. NOT A BRIGHT IDEA - GWYNNE DYER

DECCAN HERALD

  1. ON THE TIGER TRAIL
  2. MISSED CALL
  3. PAKISTAN'S INDIA PROBLEM - BYLINE M J AKBAR
  4. ISRAEL REMAINS INTRANSIGENT ON PALESTINE - BY MICHAEL JANSEN
  5. A PIGEON'S TALE - BY SAPNA SHARMA

HAARETZ

  1. UNENLIGHTENED IN ASHKELON
  2. JEWISH POLITICIANS ARE TAKING JERUSALEM'S NAME IN VAIN - BY AKIVA ELDAR
  3. KINGS OF THE ROAD - BY ZE'EV SEGAL
  4. HOLLAND IS SCARED - BY KARNI ELDAD
  5. ISRAEL WANTS TO PUSH PALESTINIANS BACK INTO CYCLE OF VIOLENCE - BY AMOS GOLDBERG

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. HEALTH CARE REFORM, AT LAST
  2. EX-OFFENDERS AND THE VOTE
  3. FESS PARKER - BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
  4. FEAR STRIKES OUT - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  5. TO REDUCE PARTISANSHIP, GET RID OF PARTISANS - BY PHIL KEISLING
  6. HOLE EARTH CATALOG - BY ALEXANDRA LANGE
  7. STIFLING THE ECONOMY, ONE ARGUMENT AT A TIME - BY ROBERT E. LIGHTHIZER

I.THE NEWS

  1. NO, NOT FORGOTTEN
  2. PRICE OF CONFLICT
  3. FUTURE DOCTORS
  4. PROVINCIAL AUTONOMY, MYTHS AND REALITY - ASIF EZDI
  5. A GOOD BEGINNING - TALAT MASOOD
  6. NATIONAL HEALTH POLICY 2010 - SANIA NISHTAR
  7. THE DIALOGUE DELUSION - KHALID IQBAL
  8. IMPROBABLE EVEN AS FICTION - ZAFAR HILALY
  9. TRUST DEFICITS - CHRIS CORK

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. MISTRUST OR BLACKMAILING
  2. FRESH CONTROVERSY OVER JUDGES APPOINTMENT
  3. HOLLOW SUPPORT FOR THE PALESTINIANS
  4. CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS - ROBERT WRIGHT
  5. THE STRATEGIC DIALOGUE - DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
  6. MATRIX OF JIHAD AGAINST TERRORISM - SHUMAILA RAJA
  7. PAK-US APPROACHING DIALOGUE - ASIF HAROON RAJA
  8. CONSPIRACY AGAINST MUSLIMS' HOLY PLACES - AFSHAIN AFZAL

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. CYBER CRIME
  2. WATER DISPUTE
  3. HOW MUCH..!
  4. IS JOINT VENTURE A TRICK-STICK? - MS KHAN
  5. QUESTION OF GOOD GOVERNANCE - GOPAL SENGUPTA

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. THE WILL OF THE POLITICALLY SAVVY PEOPLE ON DISPLAY
  2. TASMANIA'S ROCKY ROAD AHEAD
  3. TELL THE TRUTH BUT KEEP COUNTING

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. A BIZARRE PATH TO THE RIGHT DECISION
  2. LABOR FALTERS, BUT RUDD DOES RATHER WELL

THE GUARDIAN

  1. FRANCE: LEFT BACK PROBLEM FOR SARKOZY
  2. MPS' SLEAZE: BYERS FOR SALE
  3. IN PRAISE OF… PUBLIC DRINKING FOUNTAINS

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. INSTANT REACTIONS
  2. PHNOM PENH'S IRE
  3. FUNDING A GLOBAL HEALTH FUND - JEFFREY D. SACHS
  4. SEX CRIME COVER-UP EXPOSES VATICAN FAILINGS

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. THOSE AGING OVERPASSES
  2. PLEDGE TORMENTS MR. HATOYAMA
  3. A HAPHAZARD APPROACH TO MAKING FOREIGN POLICY

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. NOT SO PERCEPTIVE
  2. ANOTHER LOOK INTO THE CHINA-ASEAN TRADE PACT- ANWAR NASUTION
  3. FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN LEADERS IS NOT NECESSARILY THE KEY TO GOOD RELATIONS
  4. ROSS TAPSELL

CHINA DAILY

  1. TAKING CRACKDOWN TOO FAR
  2. SAVE TOURISM ON HAINAN
  3. DEBATE: HUKOU ABOLITION
  4. IMPROVING CHINA-RUSSIAN TIES - BY XING GUANGCHENG (CHINA DAILY)
  5. A TIRESOME AFFAIR OF US DEMANDS - BY XIONG LEI (CHINA DAILY)

DAILY MIRROR

  1. PRUNING CABINET, A REALITY TAKE
  2. WHITHER SMALLER PARTIES IN THE UPFA?
  3. PRESENT GOVERNMENT HAS NO POLICIES FOR FARMERS
  4. EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW REDUCED TO A MOCKERY
  5. NO WOMEN ON TOP… IS THAT NEWS? EXAMINING THE 2010 CORPORATE GENDER GAP REPORT

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

TAKE NO PRISONERS

A LETHAL ANTI-HIJACK POLICY IS OVERDUE


The Government's 'new' policy on hijacking of aircraft, which includes amendments to the Anti-Hijacking Act of 1982, is long overdue. It was actually announced in August 2005 and it is a wonder that it is not in operation yet. Nevertheless, this past week's iteration makes some key points. For a start, hijacking will now be punishable by death — the maximum punishment had so far been life imprisonment. In case a plane is hijacked on Indian soil — or passes over Indian soil — every effort, including deploying Indian Air force fighters, will be made to prevent it leaving the borders of India. In case a plane is likely to be used as a missile and knock down a public or military installation, as was done in the US on September 11, 2001, the IAF will be given the authority to shoot it down. These are tough laws and that final decision — destroying a plane packed with hostages if only to save a broader population target or a key installation — can never be an easy one. In the United States such a measure is permitted. Before 9/11, it required authorisation by the President. After that cataclysmic attack, the authority was passed on to very senior military officers. In India some sort of political oversight, and possibly prime ministerial concurrence, is likely to be embedded into the decision-making process. It is important the response to every stage of a hijack, from the minute it is reported to any potential action of defensive aggression, is quick and clear. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes made in December 1999, when Indian Airlines flight IC 814 was hijacked shortly after it took off from Kathmandu and was taken to Kandahar. The plane was in Indian territory for a crucial period; it had landed in Amritsar and the hijackers demanded it be refuelled. Yet, the security apparatus froze. Bureaucratic sloth, political confusion, the lack of a plane to get National Security Guard commandoes to Amritsar from their base just outside Delhi, the ill-preparedness of local officials and lack of explicit directions to them from any control room that should have been functioning in the capital: All of these profoundly embarrassed India. Once the plane had been refuelled and allowed to fly off, the game was up.


In a sense, the hijacking incidents of December 1999 and of September 2001 were wake-up calls, not only for India but Governments across the world, especially those vulnerable to jihadi attacks. They indicated a dramatic shift in aviation terror threat perceptions. Since then, there have been other attempts. In 2006, a plot to blow up at least 10 airliners flying between Britain and the United States and Canada was thwarted by the anti-terror police in London. On Christmas Day in 2009, a jihadi bomber actually made it aboard an America-bound flight with explosives hidden in his underpants. If the attack failed, it was only because the would-be killer fumbled and both crew and passengers were alert. Planes have been hijacked before. In the 1970s, Palestinian terrorists used this technique. In the 1980s, Khalistani hijackers surfaced as well. Yet, they were almost always willing to negotiate and settle for a price. Members of the new breed of jihadi suicide hijackers are different. They are willing to kill themselves in an audacious, blockbuster attack that will stun the world. They are beyond negotiation. If they do negotiate, as did happen in Kandahar in that unforgettable final week of 1999, the price to be paid by the hostage nation is often worse than death. India must not fly down that runway again.


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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

LOSS FOR NEPAL, INDIA TOO

GIRIJA PRASAD KOIRALA WAS A STATESMAN


Girija Prasad Koirala, without the shadow of a doubt, was Nepal's greatest stalwarts who did more than anyone else to put his country on the road to democracy. Hence, his death on Saturday at the age of 85 marks the end of an era for Nepali politics that saw the country make the transition from a monarchy to a constitutional monarchy and then to a republic. Koirala, as a member of the Nepali Congress and the party's long-time president, was a key figure in each of these phases that changed the landscape of Nepal's politics. Right from his trade union days, Koirala was an outspoken advocate of democratic ideals, something for which he was willing to face the ire of an unyielding monarchy. It was through the brilliance of his leadership that he was able to take along all political stakeholders in Nepal in the struggle for creating a democratic atmosphere in that country. Given his statesmanship, it is hardly surprising that Koirala served as Prime Minister of Nepal as many as five times. Indeed, his contribution to shaping present-day Nepal make him a giant among Nepali politicians. Even in the autumn of his political career, Koirala was instrumental in getting all the mainstream political parties on the same page in the struggle against former King Gyanendra's efforts to drag Nepal back to the days of absolute monarchy. But the high-point of Koirala's political career in the last decade was no doubt the 12-point peace agreement that he was able to work out with Nepal's Maoists that effectively put to an end a decade-and-a-half-long insurgency and brought the guerrillas into the political mainstream.


That Girija Prasad Koirala put his country and his people before everything else is beyond doubt. His dream was that of a strong Nepal sans the turmoil of political strife. But with the political scenario in Nepal extremely precarious, the veteran Nepali statesman passed away before he could see his dream fulfilled. Nonetheless, through his long political career, Koirala was able to give Nepal a strong political foundation. It would be a tribute to his legacy for Nepal to emerge as a vibrant democratic republic. No description of Koirala's illustrious life would be complete without mentioning his close relationship with India. To say that he was respected by all Indians would be an understatement. He was an ardent believer in strong India-Nepal ties and wanted the two countries to benefit from close co-operation in various fields. The condolences that have been pouring in from across the Indian political spectrum bear testimony to the high-esteem in which Koirala was held in this country. With his demise, Nepal has lost one of its great sons and India a true friend.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

THE CURSE OF STAMPEDES

JOGINDER SINGH


More people die due to stampedes in India than due to terrorism. In the stampede that took place at a baba's ashram in Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh, last month, 63 women and children were killed. Indeed, the frequency of such stampedes, especially those at places of worship, has crossed all limits. In August, 2008, 170 pilgrims were killed when a metal railing along a narrow mountain path leading to the Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh collapsed under the weight of tens of thousands of devotees who had come to attend a religious festival.

Some of the worst incidents of stampede are as follows:

 

  March 1988 — In Kathmandu, 70 people were killed after a stampede at the national football stadium.

 

  July 1990 — 1,426 pilgrims were crushed to death inside the Al-Muaissem tunnel near Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The accident occurred during Eid al-Adha, Islam's most important feast at the end of the annual Haj pilgrimage.

 

  May 1994 — In Saudi Arabia, a stampede at Jamarat Bridge near Mecca killed 270 people. This is where pilgrims hurl stones at piles of rocks symbolising the devil.

 

  April 1998 — 199 pilgrims were crushed to death at the Haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

 

  May 2001 — In Ghana, 126 people were killed after a stampede at Accra's main football stadium that was triggered by the police firing teargas shells at rioting fans.

 

  February 2004 — A stampede killed 251 pilgrims in Saudi Arabia again near Jamarat Bridge.

 

  January 2005 — 275 Hindu, including several women and children, were killed near a remote temple in Maharashtra.

 

  August 2005 — 1,005 people died in Iraq in a stampede off a bridge over the river Tigris in Baghdad. The stampede was caused by rumours of a suicide bomber in the crowd.

 

  January 2006 — 362 pilgrims were crushed to death, once more at the Jamarat Bridge in Saudi Arabia.

 

  February 2006 — 71 people were killed at a stadium in Manila, Philippines, as they scrambled to be part of a television game show.

 

  October 3, 2008 — Disaster at the Chamunda Devi temple in Rajasthan where a stampede left 224 dead and over 500 injured. It occurred just as the doors of the temple were being opened for worship for more than 20,000 devotees.


Whenever a tragedy of this nature occurs in our country, the Government of the day, as an afterthought, announces compensation for the next of the kin of the victims and those injured. Then the matter is forgotten till the next disaster strikes. It is worthwhile to note that such incidents of stampede occur mostly at religious places, and that too in Asia and Africa and never in developed countries.

It is not that festivals are not observed in developed countries. But in countries such as ours, religious festivals are a very important part of our lives. Hence, these festivals draw devotees in large numbers, making crowd management a nightmare.


It is because people here are extremely religious that places of worship are teeming with devotees throughout the year. And during special religious festivals, they are swamped in a sea of humanity. There cannot be any stopping or reduction of the rush at these places. The Constitution of India guarantees the right to assemble peacefully and move freely in the country. But it also confers the right for laying reasonable restrictions in the public interest.


It is not impossible to avoid deaths due to stampedes. The Government of the day knows very well as to where and when the crowds will assemble for a particular purpose. A district-wise list can be prepared of the festivals, programmes and events which are likely to attract huge crowds and where there is a possibility of a stampede. After all, if Republic Day, Independence Day and major sporting events can be conducted without any hassles in the national capital, it is surely possible to replicate this in other parts of the country.


It is true that the Government cannot deploy police personnel for every private function that attracts a large crowd. But it can definitely hold the organisers of such functions accountable to ensure that there is no loss of life or property during any programme organised by them.


In fact, they could be told to give details of the arrangements for a particular programme before they are given permission to conduct the same. In that case, if it is found that there is a space crunch, given the number of people attending the programme, the organisers could be instructed to scale down the number of people that they are likely to admit. It should also be made mandatory for the organisers to have emergency services such as ambulances and fire engines on standby during these occasions. Also, it could be made law that whenever there is a likelihood of a stampede at a public event, the function should be allowed only in an open area where the chances of people being trampled by a rampaging crowd are minimal. In this regard, standard rules could be worked out and implemented throughout the country for all public gatherings.

 

The Government can hold the organisers both legally and morally responsible for the safety of the crowds attending their programmes. It can lay down even the compensation amount payable by them to the victims in case of loss of limb or life. A godman's representative, after a stampede, washed his hands of the whole thing by saying that whatever happened was 'god's will'. It is a convenient way to shrug off accountability. But the question is how long innocent people will continue to suffer due to these avoidable stampedes. The Government must have a vision and follow it up with concrete action to solve this problem.


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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

BANGLA IS NOT BANGALIYANA

PRIYADARSI DUTTA


Mr Kajal Chatterjee, via his letter, "Save Bengali Culture" (March 19) has given a thumbs up to Bangladesh as a champion of Bengali language while bemoaning the cultural degradation among Bengalis of West Bengal. He imagines a scenario wherein Bangla would become extinct from West Bengal and Bangladesh would be the sole custodian of the language. He has urged upon Bengalis to preserve the "Bengali way of life" and "salvage the rich heritage that is Bengali culture". I wish to ask him a pertinent question: Is Bengali culture the same as Bengali language? And, by saving the language alone can we protect Bengali culture?


What would Bengali culture be if one were to discount say Durga Puja (which is based on the text of Durga Saptashati from Markandeya Puran with nothing Bengali about it), Dol (or Holi of north India), Saraswati Puja, Kali Puja, and Jagadhatri Puja, all of which draw immense community participation? What would Bengali culture be without the Bengali calendar and panjika (almanac) based on the Hindu system of reckoning? What would Bengali language be without the heritage of Chandidas, Vidyapati, Ramprasad Sen and Kamalakanta's poetry? Rabindranath Tagore is certainly central to our culture. But what would modern Bengali self-conscious be without Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Sarada Ma, Girish Chandra Ghosh, Subhas Chandra Bose, Sri Aurobindo? At its root, the Bengali identity is deeply Hindu.


But in the psyche of Bangladesh (a Muslim majority country), these things have no place. They are good Bengalis only by language, something that might thrill us for a day on February 21. Had it not been so, then many Chatterjees and Mukherjees, Senguptas and Sahas would not have fled East Pakistan or Bangladesh between 1974 and 1991. We don't get to hear tales of 'Bengali pride' but only of persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh from them. Are they not Bengalis, Mr Chatterjee? With the Muslim population of West Bengal growing by leaps and bounds, the State will be overrun by the forces of Islam in the not-too-distant future. Only 'secularists' like Mr Chatterjee will be happy if they urge jihad in chaste Bengali.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

RED GIRAFFES AND FIGHTERS

THE RED GIRAFFES THAT WERE PART OF THE BONJOUR INDIA FESTIVAL HAVE LEFT BUT THE PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN INDIA AND FRANCE CAN ONLY GET STRONGER AS THE TWO COUNTRIES LOOK AT ENHANCED DEFENCE COOPERATION. THE FRENCH RAFALE IS A CONTENDER FOR THE MULTI-ROLE AIRCRAFT WHICH THE IAF IS PREPARING TO ACQUIRE

CLAUDE ARPI


During the 'India Aviation 2010' air-show held in Hyderabad, a tragedy cost the lives of two pilots and a civilian, but the show went on. The exhibition — the largest for the civil aviation sector in India — offered many opportunities for foreign companies interested in investing in the country.


France, a 'partner country' of the event (with the FICCI) had a large participation. Not only were major French (and European) companies such as EADS, Airbus and Eurocopter, present, but 13 French SMEs also were involved. During the event, Mr Praful Patel, the Aviation Minister, handed over the latest state-of-the-art A320 Airbus to Air India.


Mr Jérôme Bonnafont, the French Ambassador to India, seemed delighted. He told a daily newspaper: "We believe in India's ability to become a major aeronautical player in the coming years, and we believe that aeronautics will be one of the flagships of Indian industrial development. Believing in a strong Indian air industry is believing in this country's technological future".


French President Nicolas Sarkozy's representative added: "But civil aviation does not stop at flying machines. Airports, air traffic management, safety issues are also major areas for our partnerships to explore."


Since sometime, Indo-French relations seem to be booming. The strategic partnership between the two nations has deepened in several fields at a time when New Delhi seemed to be ignored by Washington.


A couple of months ago, as India and France exchanged the Indo-French nuclear deal's ratification instruments, a herd of 'red giraffes' arrived in India.


They were French and part of Bonjour India, the Festival of France in India. The giraffes' outstanding puppet-show was the hors-d'oeuvre of the cultural extravaganza offered to the Indian public.


The Festival consisted of a series of exhibitions, concerts, literary meetings, film festivals, debates, conferences, food festivals and economic, educational and scientific exchanges. Bonjour India visited 18 cities seeking to showcase the various facets of French (and Indian in some cases) contemporary performing arts and modern creation.

Over 200 events had been scheduled during the two-month long programme, featuring 250 artists, musicians and scholars from France. The festival was taken seriously not only by the French Government, but also by a number of French companies doing (or wanting to do) business in India.


One could however ask, why this mega show?


Mr Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Affairs Minister had an answer: "France and India share a common vision of the world …we share common values, those of democracy and liberty. …Because we share these common values, both India and France believe in the liberating power of culture."

We can't, however, forget that we live today in a world lorded by business and money. It is, therefore, not only the 'liberating' aspect of culture which interests the French (and their Indian partners), but also the more down to earth, but equally important economic and strategic partnership.


One of the main ingredients of this partnership is nuclear energy.


The recently-ratified deal covered a wide range of activities including nuclear power projects, R&D, nuclear safety, should contribute, according to the French side, to "further strengthening the deep ties of friendship and long-standing cooperation between the two countries".


In February 2009, an MoU was signed between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and France's Areva. The French company was allocated a site at Jaitapur (Maharashtra) to build several nuclear EPR power plants. According to the MoU, France would set up six power plants, each with a capacity of 1,600 MW (nearly 10,000 MV in total). As this required detailed negotiations, the contract for the first two plants should only be signed by the end of 2010.


In a domain where France believes it has the best and safest technology in the world, Paris recently received a serious rebuff, losing a $ 20.4 billion project to Korea Electric Power Corporation, a South Korean consortium, in the UAE. Areva is keen to make an event of the past. A close collaboration with National Power Corporation of India should help avoiding such misadventure in India.


Many more Indo-French collaborations are in the pipeline.


Michelin, the French tyre-maker has recently signed an MoU with the Government of Tamil Nadu to set up a tyre manufacturing facility near Chennai. Michelin plans to set up a truck and earthmover tyre plant dedicated to the domestic market. It will employ a 1500 work force; production should start by the end of 2012. The project means a whopping Rs 4,500 crore investment.


Then Renault! Speaking at the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit in November 2009, Mr Carlos Ghosn, Renault's chairman announced that Renault's new Chennai factory will be opened soon.


It is expected to have an annual capacity of 400,000 cars. According to Mr Ghosn, the company was negotiating with Mahindra & Mahindra to bringing new products to India, probably in the low-price range.


Examples of close collaboration could be multiplied.


There are also the 126 Medium Multirole Aircrafts to be purchased by the IAF. It is a more difficult case. France is one of the contenders with its fighter, The Rafale. As a retired IAF Air Marshal explains: "France is willing for unrestricted transfer of technology including source codes," adding: "a deal with the French will be free of pressures that usually are associated with the US or Russia."


The problem is that the price of the Rafale is prohibitively high, though France has an advantage that none of other competitors have: Paris never tried to impose backdoor sanctions on India, even after Pokhran II.


In a few months, we should know if there is a new thinking from the Government side and is there is a winner for the 11 billion mega dollars deal. Some observers say that a visit of Mr Sarkozy might be necessary to justify the price of the plane.


And then India is ready to sign a $ 2.2-billion deal with Paris to 'refit' its fleet of aging Mirage 2000 fighters. The deal, pending for a long time due to differences over the price, should be signed soon.

The giraffes have gone, but a more tangible Indo-French partnership is bound to develop, hopefully with no string attached; this has not been the case with some other 'friends'.


A regret: French first lady Carla Bruni keeps postponing her visit to India. No doubt that her visit (of course accompanied by her husband) would help strengthening further the already booming strategic partnership.

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THE PIONEER

OPED

LEGITIMISING HATRED

TOP EGYPTIAN OFFICIAL GETS AWAY WITH ANTI-SEMITISM ON TV

BARRY RUBIN


In an era when Islamophobia has become a sin punishable by death or mere career ruination—depending on who's doing the punishing — it is remarkably hard to get people to understand how widespread is anti-semitism in the Arabic-speaking world and in the Muslim-majority world in general. One always wants to believe that there are many exceptions, which is why I find the case of Mr Zahi Hawass so discouraging.


I've often seen Mr Hawass on television shows about ancient Egypt or antiquities' smuggling. He is Secretary-General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and gave US President Barack Obama a tour of the Pyramids when he visited Cairo in June 2009. I presume that Mr Hawass was an honoured guest when Mr Obama gave his famous speech in Cairo, which included a discussion of anti-semitism.


But here he is four months earlier on official Egyptian television, which gives his remarks the air of Government endorsement. And note how what the interviewer says reinforces the idea that these are official positions. Presumably, Mr Obama's speech didn't change his mind. The irony here is palpable: One of Mr Obama's main hosts had just shown that his views are poisoned by an extreme form of systematic anti-semitism that no one can pretend was merely dislike for Israel.


If one thinks of the conflict as merely a normal one over boundaries or the need for confidence-building measures understanding this profound hatred coming from one side — and not matched at all by the Israeli world view — makes a real resolution of the issue extraordinarily The translation is by MEMRI:


Zahi Hawass: "For 18 centuries, (the Jews) were dispersed throughout the world. They went to America and took control of its economy. They have a plan. Although they are few in number, they control the entire world."

Interviewer: "With regard to Israel and Zionism we are talking about seven or eight million. How is it possible that these seven or eight million have taken control of the entire world, and have convinced the world of their cause, while we, over one billion Muslims, cannot convince the world of our cause? How would you explain this from a historical perspective?"


Zahi Hawass: "The reason is that they are always united over a single view. They always move together, even if in the wrong direction. We, on the other hand, are divided. If even two Arab countries could be in agreement, our voice would be stronger. Look at the control they have over America and the media."


Interviewer: "So in your opinion, the secret lies in unity?"


Zahi Hawass: "Yes. It was unity that gave them this power..."

 

Note that his main theme is precisely the main theme of historical anti-semitism (Jews control the world and use this power for their own benefit, thus they are the humanity of humanity and should be — what? — wiped out?). His secondary theme — Jews always working together — is that of the Russian text I analysed as typical of how anti-semitism so often passes unnoticed in the West.


Of course, regarding Israel the Arabic-speaking world has been about as united as anyone can be over as long a period as anyone could imagine on this issue. Mr Hawass is dead wrong from the standpoint of historical accuracy on both sides of the equation. Or perhaps the obvious implication is that Egypt should end its peace with Israel and join in a war to exterminate that country?


Equally, regarding alleged Jewish control of the media, given coverage of Israel, this charge must be seen as amusing as well as sinister.


As a bonus, note the third theme which is so essential in Arab nationalism: Arab unity is the key to success. Even in 2010, after about 60 years of experience regarding both the failure and disaster of this idea, it is still tremendously powerful in shaping thinking in the region.


That these notions can be taken for granted by a man who is seen as a great scholar in a country which has been at peace with Israel for over two decades is very telling. But then not long ago Egypt's candidate to be the world's cultural "czar" (head of UNESCO) said that he would burn Israeli-authored books found in any library he supervised.


To put it another way, if Mr Hawass and official Egyptian television can be openly antisemitic in this way (and, of course, this characterises their attitude toward Israel) what hope can there be for more than a handful of others in that vast Arabic-speaking area to think otherwise?


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

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THE PIONEER

OPED

IS THIS SERB GENERAL A TRAITOR?

UNLIKE OTHER YUGOSLAV COMMANDERS VLADO TRIFUNOVIC, IN CHARGE OF A MAIN YUGOSLAV ARMY UNIT IN CROATIA WHEN WAR BROKE OUT IN 1991, CHOSE DIALOGUE OVER GUNS, WRITES DUSAN STOJANOVIC


Is Mr Vlado Trifunovic a traitor, war criminal or hero? It all depends on whom you ask in the war-scarred Balkans.

The fate of the former Serb General is a reflection of the animosities that still pit the federation's former republics against each other 15 years after the end of the wars in the Balkans. Serbia this week dropped criminal charges against Mr Trifunovic, who was declared a traitor by Mr Slobodan Milosevic's nationalist regime for refusing to obey orders to fight and instead negotiated his way out of a Croat armed siege of his military barracks. Croatia has sentenced him in absentia to 15 years in prison for war crimes, including the death of two of its civilians. Slovenia has also charged him for the deaths of civilians during clashes at the start of the ex-Yugoslavia war in 1991.


But many in the former Yugoslavia believe that instead of being prosecuted, Mr Trifunovic should be honoured for a decision that backers say saved hundreds of lives.


The myriad ways Mr Trifunovic is viewed in what used to be Yugoslavia underscores the mistrust that still lingers years after Europe's worst carnage since World War Second.


Each ethnic group considers itself the victim in the Yugoslav wars, which erupted after Yugoslav strongman Josip Broz Tito died and the region disintegrated into warring factions. Those recriminations poison the atmosphere nearly two decades after the first shot was fired.


Bosnia and Croatia are pressing genocide charges against Serbia. Serbia is trying to extradite a former Bosnian Vice-President from Britain to stand trial on war crimes. And a new war could erupt over threats by Bosnia's Serb minority to secede. The disputes complicate the Balkan countries' attempts to join the EU.


Mr Trifunovic was in charge of a main Yugoslav Army unit in Croatia when war broke out there in 1991. He and his men suddenly found themselves surrounded in army barracks by independence-seeking Croatian troops.

But unlike many other ruthless Yugoslav commanders — like genocide suspect Gen Ratko Mladic, wanted for the Srebrenica massacres and the Bosnian war atrocities — Mr Trifunovic chose dialogue over guns.


This, his supporters say, likely saved the lives of more than 220 of his young army conscripts and officers and many more civilian victims who would have died had he ordered his troops to fight their way out of the northern Croatian town of Varazdin. "Varazdin would have been destroyed if I gave the orders to fight," Mr Trifunovic, 73 said in an interview on Thursday. "My soldiers and I would probably have ended up in some mass grave that would become a symbol of Serb-Croat hatred."


He spoke in a cramped Belgrade hotel room where he has been living since 1992 when he was convicted by a Serbian military court for "undermining the defence of the country." He was able to avoid serving most of his 11-year sentence while he appealed. In the aftermath of his actions, "everyone here thought I was a villain and a traitor," he said. "We had to ask our friends to do the shopping for us," because whenever his wife tried to buy groceries "they chased her out of the shop."

In formally revoking charges against Mr Trifunovic, the Belgrade prosecutor's office said this week the ex-commander acted in an "emergency situation" when he refused the orders to fight. Not all agree. "If he refused his superiors' orders to fight, he has committed treason and he must be punished," said Mr Dragan Spasic, a Belgrade law student.


But fellow student Ms Marija Jovanovic applauded the move. "Mr Trifunovic was a rare Serb General who used his head and only wanted to save lives," she said on Friday. "Bravo for him." Now, several non-governmental groups are calling for formal state rehabilitation of Mr Trifunovic, including activists in Croatia — a glimmer of reconciliation in a still bitterly divided region. Mr Miljenko Dereta, a prominent human rights activist who leads the campaign, said the prosecutor's decision to drop the charges is "great encouragement."

"This is important because it changes the way we see the past," he said.


AP writer Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade; Snejzana Vukic contributed from Zagreb.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

THE STRANGE STORY OF RISING GDP

HOW IS ECONOMIC GROWTH POSSIBLE WHEN CONSUMPTION HAS COME DOWN, ASKS SHIVAJI SARKAR


On one hand, the Chief Ministers of States have been assured of strengthening the public distribution system to keep a check on prices. On the other hand, the Centre has now slashed spending on the PDS by 25 per cent. This clearly shows that the Government is indulging in doublespeak.


The Budget estimated a higher GDP growth but it is not reflected in per capita income and consumption pattern which has come down sharply. Then how is GDP rising?


A natural corollary to the GDP growth should have been seen in increased incomes of individuals. But that has not happened. On the contrary, the per capita income measured in terms of GDP at constant prices has declined from 8.1 per cent in 2007-08 to 3.7 per cent in 2008-09 and expected to touch 5.4 per cent in 2009-10, partially owing to pay-revision of Government employees.


Contribution of private consumption to GDP has come down to 36 per cent in the current year from 78.2 per cent in 2008-09, and 51 to 58 per cent during the preceding three years. This should ring alarm bells as contribution of Government spending to GDP has been constant at 10 to 11 per cent during the past seven years.


Private consumption as per Government estimates continues to decline from 8.3 per cent in 2007-08 to 5.4 per cent in 2008-09 and a dismal 2.7 per cent in 2009-10. The expenses have gone below even the 2006-07 level of 3.8 per cent.


This simply means people are unable to spend more as commodities and minor luxuries are going beyond their means. Spiralling prices drastically brought down their expenses on food, beverages, and tobacco. Spending on clothing and footwear was almost nil at minus 0.6 per cent in 2008-09. It was a high of 24 per cent in 2005-06, 23 per cent the next year, came down to 8 per cent in 2007-08. The trend coincides with the inflationary figures and rising loss of jobs. The commuting expenses have increased to12.3 per cent from five per cent in 2005-06.


Private expenditure on furnishings, which is characterised as an improvement in lifestyle, has come down from 15.9 per cent in 2006-07, to 14.6 per cent the next year to a mere 3.7 per cent in 2008-09.


The expenditure on medical care and health services has suddenly increased in 2008-09 to 8.1 per cent from 2.5 to 5.8 per cent in the preceding years. The figure coincides with higher job losses and consequent possibility of less capacity to afford nutritional food and higher physician's fee and medicine costs. The share of expenditure on food items has been gradually declining over the years. It was 35 per cent in 2008-09 as against 39.6 per cent in 2004-05.


The Government allocated Rs 7.2 crore in 2009-10 for the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. The Ministry spent only Rs 2.83 crore suggesting it had not taken much initiative to ensure that the commodity prices remained under check. Overall, for monitoring and research in foodgrains, management and PDS the allocation was Rs 40.40 crore. The expenditure was a mere Rs 14.6 crore.


For the 2010-11, the allocation has been slashed to Rs 29.69 crore under these heads. It is surprising in view of the importance laid by the Government on strengthening PDS.

This is alarming as the Economic Affairs Department virtually contradicts the growth projection made in the Budget. It says that there are no major changes in the overall growth rate of GDP at constant 2004-05 prices, except in 2007-08, where it has been revised to 9.2 per cent from 9 per cent. It also expressed concern over the decline of share in agriculture to 15.9 per cent from 17.4 per cent and manufacturing to 9.9 per cent from 10.9 per cent. In short, it presents not only a contradictory picture but also a grim economic scenario.


The writer is a senior economic affairs journalist.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

ANTI- HIJACK POLICY NEEDS EVEN MORE TEETH

 

THE Union cabinet's decision last Friday to confer the death penalty on hijackers is a welcome move, and should give some reassurance to citizens that the Indian system has zero- tolerance for all kinds of terrorism. But it is not enough.

 

The proposal cleared by the government amends the Anti- hijacking Act of 1982 and expands a previous decision of the government to shoot down any hijacked aircraft that the hijackers intend to use as a missile to target vital installations. This policy was worked out after terrorists used two planes to bring down the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001.

 

India faced a major hijacking crisis in 1999 when Pakistan- based terrorists hijacked an Indian Airlines plane ( IC- 814) from Kathmandu in Nepal and flew to Kandahar in Afghanistan. Given where the aircraft was, India had few options and so it released five jailed terrorists in exchange for the lives of 178 passengers and 11 crew members.

 

In the simpler world before Nine Eleven, the options before the government were to either agree to the demands of the hijackers, or storm the plane and kill the hostage- takers with the help of trained snipers and commandos. That would require a well- coordinated effort on the part of airport security personnel, the NSG commandos who should be able to reach the aircraft quickly and indeed sundry aviation authorities.

 

After Nine Eleven, the whole scenario has changed. Passengers and governments have to work with the assumption that the hijackers have no intention of negotiating anything and intend to use the aircraft as a missile, killing everyone on board.

 

This makes it imperative that the government not only makes a law to punish hijackers, but also works on procedures that can aid passengers and crew in fighting off hijacks. The provision of sky- marshals is one such measure. The government must also steel the people of the country to the necessity of taking harsh decisions such as the shooting down of hijacked aircraft.

 

So a tough sentence, which presumes that a hijacker is actually captured, is only one aspect of an anti- hijack policy.

 

India remains a top target for terrorists, and the 26/ 11 incident is only proof of the amount of hatred they have shown towards this country. The citizens of India, therefore, deserve an overarching legislation and policy measures when it comes to hijacking of aircraft.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

TOKEN RATE INCREASE

 

THE unexpected increase in key policy rates by the Reserve Bank of India ( RBI) on Friday appears to have alarmed foreign stock markets more than Indian investors.

 

While Dalal Street is widely expected to not react very negatively to the RBI's move, the US stock market, which had been rising till then, reversed direction.

 

The rate increase is unlikely to impact overall interest rates in the short term. India's largest lender, State Bank of India, has already indicated that it will not increase lending rates at least till the RBI's next credit policy review scheduled for April 20.

 

With SBI's cue likely to be followed by other banks, industry, which had expressed apprehensions that higher lending rates may impact the recovery in economic growth currently underway, can breathe easy. But the contrasting reactions in India and overseas indicate the widely differing nature of the recovery in India as compared to overseas markets, as well as the growing importance of India in the post meltdown world.

 

Overseas markets have been nervously waiting for signals that the huge volumes of cash pumped into the economy by central banks around the world are being withdrawn.

 

Wall Street is worried that India's cue may be followed by other central banks.

 

While that may be unlikely, back home, further tightening appears inevitable, since inflation is showing little signs of easing off.

 

However, simply tightening money supply is unlikely to impact on prices, since inflation has been largely driven by supply shortages in food articles. However, with global commodity and oil prices showing signs of a surge, inflation may well spiral out of control.

 

While the RBI's monetary measures have to balance inflation and growth, the government needs to act in tandem to ensure that supply- side bottlenecks are removed and growth momentum sustained.

 

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MAIL TODAY

SHADOW OF BHOPAL

INDIA IS PAYING PRICE FOR SIGNING 123 AGREEMENT

 

WHAT A way to go! For a country that suffered the Oleum Gas escape ( 1986), the Bhopal gas tragedy, was flooded with ' Chernobyl' butter and suffers escapes and mishaps from factories every day, the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010 ( Nuclear Bill) disappoints. In the Bhopal Constitutional case ( 1989), the Union government claimed to be parens patriae to its people. The Bill shows the Union government as an irresponsible parent protecting the liability of multinational investors and using the taxpayers' money to make the difference. Who is the Bill for? It should be to provide comprehensive relief for victims and to effect immediate relief, rehabilitation and compensation.

 

Whom will it help? Those who should be visibly and invisibly responsible and liable for nuclear mishaps.

 

This is certainly the wrong way to pick up the pieces of possible nuclear disaster. In 1991, India's Public Liability Insurance Act 1991 was supposed to reflect post Bhopal concerns. Despite amendments providing for minimal insurance and interim relief, it proved to be a damp squib. Insurance does not reflect claims. The Act is barely used — a disastrous recipe to deal with the aftermath of disaster.

 

The Nuclear Bill has a lot of " ifs" and " buts". In the first place, the

 

Board under the Atomic Act 1962 is required to notify a ' nuclear incident' in 15 days (!). If the Board feels the risk or injury is not grave, not notify it. Then what happens? A bureaucratic signal is necessary to accept that a disaster has occurred.

 

Anomalies

But what happens, if a nuclear incident is not declared by the Board, which classifies it as not grave or serious. Is that the end of story? Second, the operator ( on whom the liability falls) is someone who is designated by the Central government and, presumably following factories legislation, would be an individual.

 

Enter designated Manager for the facility, exit Union Carbide or Warren Anderson! Third the liability clause is interesting. The upper limit of Rs. 500 crores per incident is illusory. The Union government may increase it or decrease it to Rs. 100 crores. Fourth, under the Nuclear Bill, damage is essentially awarded for damage outside the installation.

 

This is important. In the Oleum Gas Case ( 1986), the Supreme Court made it clear that any ' escape' from an inherently hazardous activity would give rise to an absolute liability as soon as escape is shown. This was affirmed in the Bichhri ( Indian Enviro) case ( 1995).

 

This is not reflected in the Bill. Nor really taken into account.

 

In fact the Bill actually reverses the principle by saying that the operator can hide behind the fact that his employees did something willfully wrong.

Such an approach used to exist before 1911! Why should the Central government be liable for any liability over the limit? Or for

 

damage due to natural disaster, insurrection, terrorism and the like? Why should the ' operator' not take out insurance for all damage as well? Fifth, the present insurance requirement is only to a certain sum for external damage under ' normal circumstances'. Let it be more comprehensive. This will make the premium higher.

But inviting the worst of possible hazards is an expensive business which cannot be dealt with by a blind eye to justice. Sixth, according to Minister Jairam Ramesh, Indian nuclear power generation is to reach 6000 MW by 2011.

 

Russia wants to build 12 nuclear reactors in India.

 

There will be 60,000 MW by 2032 as against 4,120 MW now ( an increase of 1456 per cent).

 

Seventh, the normal adjudicatory system is through a Claims Commissioner.

 

This is an ambitious plan locked up in procedure. The remedy is reposed in a Claims Commissioner who could be a person with 10 years practice or a Joint Secretary with 5 years special knowledge of nuclear liability. I assume such a person exists and is right for the job! Eighth, the limitation period is 3 years from discovery of knowledge of harm. Or a maximum of ten years — presumably, even if cases of latent damage are discovered years later.

 

Ninth, there is little scope for relief to alleviate and rectify the damage immediately.

 

Relief and rehabilitation are given the go by. The relief is just money. In the words of the song: " Money, money, money. It's a poor

 

man's world". Tenth, a Claims Commission headed by a person qualified to be High Court judge or an Additional Secretary ( both over 55 years) is to hear difficult cases and those where damage is greater than Rs 500 crores even though that is a mandatory cap. When the Central government feels the Commission has too little work it will be dissolved.

 

Recourse to civil courts is ousted. This ensemble of authorities which is to determine issues of such grave portents will not necessarily have the ability or experience to do so. There are no provisions for legal aid. None to help those affected.

 

Price

 

We have forgotten Bhopal! Eleventh, there is the usual hateful provision that the Act shall come into effect on such dates the Central government decides — with possibly different dates for different parts of the Act. Acts should come into effect at once. This political largesse to the government is arbitrary.

 

An argument has been made that India's cap on liability is Rs. 500 crores as opposed to China ( 205 crores) and Canada ( 335 crores); and is similar to France ( 575 crores). But the Nuclear Bill leaves it to the government to reduce the amount to Rs. 100 crores in each case. Why? To say that America's private operators have pooled together a fund of $ 10 billion is a fact. This is just the corpus. Why should the

 

Indian taxpayer bear the burden of the excess? This bill purports to be comprehensive, but is comprehensively problematic.

 

It is said India breached history when it signed the ill- fated 123 agreement and ventured out from ' nuclear isolation'. But the price of that is being exacted in this Bill.

 

Parliament

 

The operator in India is liable, the foreign investor goes scot- free. India is not party to the related Vienna Convention 1963, the Paris Convention of 1960, the 1997 Vienna Protocol or the Supplementary Convention for Compensation of 1997. To cite the China example ignores that there is no upper limit in the Vienna Convention and the Paris Convention's limit is €700 million ( Euros).

 

The problem is that Parliament is not permitted to discuss matters in two ways. Firstly, the Opposition brings Parliament to a halt. This was done in the case of the Women's Reservation Bill. But this usual tactic of the BJP in opposition is not the case with the Nuclear Bill. Second, the Government is often too much in a hurry to rush Bills through Parliament ( sometimes under devious or foreign pressure) without discussion in Parliament or with political parties or people.

 

Foreign governments want to protect their investors. This is precisely the Bhopal situation. Union Carbide was sought to be protected. Warren Anderson was de facto absolved.

 

Multinational investors in hazardous activity ( even less so in the field of nuclear liability) do not deserve protection from consequent liability.

 

Today, the Bill is precariously poised because the opposition is keen to bring the government down. As with the Women's Bill, the government wants to be cautious. Tactic is an alternative to discourse. Let us wait and see.

 

The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer

 

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MAIL TODAY

POWER & POLITICS

PRABHU CHAWLA

 

THE BEST FOOT FORWARD

SOMETIME in May, when UPA II completes a year in office, Manmohan Singh will do something he has done only once in his five and a half years as prime minister. I am reliably told that he will address what is only his second " formal" press conference in the capital. The first happened in May 2005 when the UPA completed a year in office and Manmohan released the first " Report to the People", which was a detailed compendium of the programmes initiated in the government's first year. Though similar reports have been compiled annually since, there have been no formal launches. But two months from now, the prime minister is expected to release the sixth volume for which a news conference is being scheduled.

 

In any functioning democracy, there are frequent interactions between the rulers and the media. The British Prime Minister routinely interacts with the press.

 

Apart from regularly addressing press conferences, the US President keeps an annual date with the White House Correspondents Association where the interaction is more banter than business.

 

Compared, what's happening in India is the closest thing to censorship. Manmohan has been in office since May 2004 and has formally met the press just once. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was perhaps the most popular PM we have had in the last quarter century. He knew a lot many journalists personally but was averse to addressing them as a crowd. It wasn't always like this. Jawaharlal Nehru routinely held conferences and was on first name basis with several senior journalists, many of whom had unrestricted access to Teen Murti Bhavan, the official residence of the first prime minister.

 

Indira Gandhi was blessed with boundless charm and even more cunning and used both in equal measure in her frequent dealings with journalists.

 

In her early years, she met up with journalists almost every month, but as her popularity began to wane in the early 1970s, she began to avoid the media. Morarji bhai was in office for only two and a half years, but began two New Year's days with a press conference.

 

After her triumphant return to power in 1980, Indira began to befriend the media again, holding a news conference every quarter at Vigyan Bhavan.

 

Considering that there was no love lost between the host and the guests, these interactions witnessed much handwringing, incisive questions and sharp- tongued responses.

 

Indira Gandhi Yet, Indira always welcomed everyone with a smile. A permanent curiosity of her press conferences was that the privilege of asking the first question always belonged to a gentleman from a little known Urdu eveninger published from Chennai. Many of us couldn't figure out the reason for the special chemistry between the two— one who was then considered the world's most powerful woman and the other a hack from an obscure newspaper— until a veteran journalist told us that the Urdu paper had been founded by a Congressman who was a close associate of Motilal Nehru. Rajiv's interactions with the media weren't as frequent as Indira's and that may have had something to do with the fact that he had his own group of friends in the media. Yet, until Bofors began to weigh him down, he did meet the media at least twice a year.

 

After Rajiv, the tradition has taken a toss.

Vishwanath Pratap Singh was so busy balancing allies from the Right and the Left that he found little time. Chandrashekhar's interactions happened on a daily basis, but were limited to four or five close " journalist" friends and were held invariably at his kutir on South Avenue where he chose to live even after becoming prime minister. P. V. Narasimha Rao was perhaps the last one who tried to keep the prime ministerial tradition. His fiveyear term saw as many news conferences, which is not bad going considering that after December 6, 1992, he was no media darling.

 

Hopefully, in about two months, we will see Manmohan treading the same path as his mentor. I am told the prime minister truly believes that he has earned enough credits to flaunt the Progress Report at a press conference before live cameras and hundreds of unruly newshounds. Let's hope it is only the first and that many many more press conferences will follow.

 

BACHCHAN HIT BY YECHURY'S POLITICAL CORRECTNESS

A MAN is known by the company he keeps. By that logic, Sitaram Yechury, who relishes the company of Amar Singh who, in turn, is " like family" to Amitabh Bachchan, should be good pals with the Bollywood superstar. But perish the thought. The former Jawaharlal Nehru University ( JNU) activist, who was among CPM's first campus recruits in the politburo admits he is a fan of Bachchan but does not want him to be the brand ambassador for the Marxist- ruled state of Kerala. Why? Because Bollywood's Badshah is also the brand ambassador for Narendra Modi's Gujarat. Queer logic, right? Read on. Evidently, after Bachchan professed his love for Kerala and Keralites, the state tourism minister wrote to him requesting him to be the department's brand ambassador. Enough to make Yechury see red. He reckons that any association with a man who sees Modi as an icon would cost the CPM- led alliance dearly in terms of minority votes in the assembly elections next year.

 

Bachchan is an icon in Kerala as he is anywhere else in the country or abroad and the votes of the literate people of the state are not likely to be swayed either way by star endorsements. Last year, the CPM expelled one of its MPs, Abdullah Kutty, after he praised Modi's industrial policies. Kutty joined the Congress and won the last Lok Sabha election from a predominantly Muslim constituency thumping a former Marxist partymate.

 

When L. K. Advani's book My Country My Life was released in Kerala last year, the chief guest was Kerala's top film star Mammootty, aka Mohammed Kutty.

 

Yechury's assessment of minority votes is an insult to the community's collective intelligence. And it's laughable when you consider that the only popular election that Yechury himself contested was more than three decades ago while a student at JNU. It is such absurd calculations that make even many CPM leaders say the party's future is behind it.

 

GADKARI LOSES FIGHT AT START OF INNINGS

 

THERE is something rotten in the BJP and it has taken barely three months for Nitin Gadkari to show that he is not the man for the clean- up job. This is the only conclusion I can draw from his exercise last week to recast the BJP's team of office- bearers.

 

The party's youngest ever president evidently thinks that the road to Raisina Hill starts at Nagpur. Of the 200 named to help him revive a demoralised and demolished party, over 75 are from the RSS stable. Thirty per cent are either Brahmins like him or from Maharashtra. Add a dash of Bollywood retirees and you have a prescription for self- destruction.

 

As its president, Gadkari was supposed to lead the BJP from the front but he has chosen to be led by the same set of losers. He was expected to present to his kartas and karyakartas a basket of ideas and an ideology that would revive its right- wing national agenda. While the Congress confidently looks forward to a future under Rahul Gandhi and his brand ambassadors, Gadkari fell back on poor cousin Varun and the likes of Smriti Irani. Gadkari's team reflects the extent of the rot.

 

Two successive electoral reverses don't seem to have taught any lessons and he has chosen to depend on the same set of televangelists who have never fought elections or have a record of only losing and are themselves responsible for the party's defeat. It's an oligarchy that's in place consisting of about 20 leaders who are more bothered about securing their own future than the party's. If the party is in power, they make sure they are ministers; out of power, they become office- bearers.

 

Gadkari was supposed to be the talent scout who would discover the Vajpayees, Advanis, Modis, Shekhawats, Mahajans and Uma Bharatis of the future. A second- rung leader himself, Gadkari would have justified his elevation had he done so.

 

Instead, he has fallen back on those a rung below him.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

CASE FILES

 

David Coleman Headley's guilty plea before a US court confirms the case India has been making against the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). It should not only tighten the noose on Tahawwur Hussain Rana, Headley's co-defendant and co-conspirator for 26/11, but also help New Delhi mount diplomatic pressure on Islamabad to move against the LeT as well as bring to book all the perpetrators of 26/11 on its territory.


Headley's evidence reiterates the fact that the LeT is an international terror outfit and not just a motley group of anti-India extremists who would cease their activities if the Kashmir issue were resolved. Headley, who was arrested last October by the FBI for his involvement in 26/11 as well as a conspiracy to attack Denmark, is now bound by the plea bargain to cooperate with investigations in the US and abroad.


He cannot be extradited because he is an offender in two countries and the first one to get hold of him gets right of way to prosecute him. What's crucial, however, is the nature and extent of access Indian investigators will get to Headley.


Washington has assured New Delhi that Indian investigators would be allowed to question him in the US during our own judicial proceedings, both pre-trial and during trial. The home minister has already directed the National Investigation Agency and other agencies concerned to swiftly put together necessary documents to initiate Headley's trial, against whom Indian authorities have already filed an FIR. New Delhi should keep its foot on the pedal and ensure that the momentum is not lost.


Headley could provide crucial information about 26/11 and other terror plots, and uncover the various actors involved in planning terror attacks against India. He has indicated that members of the Pakistani military establishment were involved in the 26/11 plot, and has also confessed to attending training camps in Pakistan.


That should make it difficult for Islamabad to persist with its line that there are no terror camps on its soil and only non-state actors beyond its control are acting against India.


India has always maintained that the LeT poses a grave threat to global security, like the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But so far the US has not taken the LeT threat seriously enough, choosing instead to focus its energies on routing the al-Qaeda and Taliban. Now, it is time to change focus. Acting against the LeT is not only in its own interest, it's also a test of Washington's repeated assertion that India is a valued partner in its fight against global terrorism.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

STICK TO SIGNALLING

 

The RBI has bitten the bullet on interest rates. The repo its lending rate and reverse repo price at which banks park surplus funds with RBI are up 25 basis points. The squeeze is minimal, so there's no need for carping. Changes in soft policy were anticipated, the ball set rolling with a partial withdrawal of fiscal stimuli in the Budget. Besides, since end-2008, rates had been left untouched.


A few countries like Australia and Malaysia beat us to tightening monetary policy and the World Bank thinks China too should join in to trim the risks of an asset bubble. India's headline inflation has crept up to a discomfiting 9.89 per cent. RBI would have had to signal at some stage that it was on top of the situation. Food inflation's the main culprit here, but a spillover is visible in higher manufactured goods prices. Factor in increased fuel prices, and inflation would need watching.


India Inc says the economy, on the rebound, has the capacity to absorb the small rate hikes. Factory output data has been consistently impressive. Jobs are back. Plus the government is thinking fiscal consolidation and much-needed reform, paying far greater attention now to reducing public debt and its subsidy bill. As a result, global perceptions of India's sovereign credit rating have improved.


Nonetheless, targeting growth must remain top priority, more so since we aren't decoupled from a slowly recovering global economy still susceptible to shocks. Policy must continue to be accommodative, so that the expected 8-9 per cent near-term growth is achieved.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT

JAY MAZOOMDAAR

 

The tiger has become the latest expression of political correctness. Look around: schoolchildren on roads, national icons on screens and big brands in campaign mode. The government has pumped in additional funds. Conservation NGOs are mushrooming in all corners of India. Green blogging is catching on like wildfire.


Under the spotlight, tigers are still dying frequent, unnatural deaths. To understand why, let us focus on India's most pampered tiger reserve. The crown jewel of dry, deciduous tiger forests, Rajasthan's Ranthambore generates huge tourism revenue and attracts billions in government and non-government funding. This was the reserve the prime minister visited to assess the conservation crisis in 2005 after the infamous extinction of tigers in Sariska. Within a few months, two top forest officials were shifted out of Ranthambore when poachers arrested by Rajasthan police admitted to killing over 20 tigers there. Then, a beleaguered state forest department channelled its energy to Ranthambore to stage a face-saver.


Unlike many other tiger reserves, Ranthambore never fell off the radar. And still, tigers have been dying here with alarming regularity. The latest is the case of two young males, poisoned to death. The Rajasthan forest department was not short of explanations. First, officials told the media that there were too many tigers and when the surplus tigers moved out, their future became uncertain. Then they rued that such tragedies could have been avoided had the Centre not suspended shifting tigers to Sariska after the first three animals were moved. (For the record, the tiger relocation drive was put on hold after three siblings were arbitrarily picked up for rebuilding a population and the Centre ordered DNA tests to ascertain the breeding compatibility of Ranthambore tigers before selecting right individuals for Sariska.)


The Ranthambore tiger reserve spans 1,300 sq km and has about 40 tigers. This is hardly anywhere near the saturation mark. Corbett tiger reserve has four times as many tigers in as much area. So how do forest officials claim saturation tiger density in Ranthambore? Well, when they say Ranthambore, they refer to the 300 sq km national park that is only a small part of the 1,300 sq km tiger reserve.


Most of Ranthambore's tigers are inside this prey-rich, well-protected 300 sq km national park area. The remaining 1,000 sq km of the reserve Sawai Man Singh sanctuary, Kela Devi sanctuary and reserve forests has little natural prey and no protection. One would have expected the forest department to take control of the entire reserve, stop grazing, reclaim encroachments and resettle villages but the authorities have washed their hands of more than 75 per cent of the tiger reserve.


So when we hear them say tigers are going out of Ranthambore, the big cats are in fact moving from one part of the reserve to another. The latest killings were reported from Taldakhet, a village of just five large families in Keladevi sanctuary, hardly a kilometre from the national park boundary, well inside the tiger reserve. Yet the media was told the deaths occurred because the tigers were pushed out of a saturated Ranthambore.


About 300 sq km of the national park area may not accommodate more than 30-40 tigers but the remaining 1,000 sq km of the reserve has the potential of absorbing thrice as many. Active management demands the forest department to secure the sanctuary areas of the reserve and then focus on reclaiming the corridors Kuno in Madhya Pradesh to Ramgarh Bisdhari sanctuary near Bundi for natural dispersal of big cats. Instead, the authorities conceded three-fourths of the reserve as a death zone and now seek to save "surplus" tigers by airlifting them to Sariska.


Of seven tigers forest authorities claim to have now moved out of Ranthambore, five are in Sawai Man Singh sanctuary, one in Kela Devi sanctuary and only one has actually moved out towards Kota. Two sub-adult tigers moved out of the reserve last year, not because of overpopulation but because the cubs were left directionless after their mother was poached. Despite receiving Rs 93 lakh from the Centre during 2008-09 to set up a special tiger protection force, Ranthambore remains vulnerable to poisoning or commercial poaching. The latest victims were poisoned close to a village deep inside the reserve.


This brings Ranthambore's ongoing village relocation drive under the scanner. With Rs 104 crore released by the Centre, state authorities have so far listed about 1,200 families in half a dozen villages and started with the biggest village, Hindwar. It is not clear why removal of big villages on black-top roads became their priority when small, strategically placed villages like Taldakhet or Mordungri (where a tigress was poisoned in 2008) pose a far greater danger to wildlife.


Common sense says it is easier to relocate small villages where public opinion tends to be less divided and chances of half the village staying back (as is happening in Hindwar) are far less. But small villages also mean fewer families and a smaller relocation budget a factor that could have influenced some enterprising minds.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

'PYAASA HAD A VARIETY KAAGAZ KE PHOOL DIDN'T HAVE'

THERE ARE ONLY TWO MASTERS FOR AN INDIAN CINEMATOGRAPHER SATYAJIT RAY'S CAMERAMAN SUBRATA MITRA AND V K MURTHY , WHO FILMED FOR GURU DUTT. MURTHY, 87, SPOKE TO FAIZAL KHAN AFTER RECEIVING THE DADASAHEB PHALKE AWARD FOR 2008:


What is your favourite film?

I liked Pyaasa. My work for Kaagaz ke Phool was much better than Pyaasa, but i didn't like it as a movie. Pyaasa had a variety Kaagaz ke Phool didn't have. It had a good story, beautiful music...Kaagaz ke Phool was the first cinemascope film in India. Guru Dutt asked me to take some test scenes with the new camera lenses. I shot some scenes with Geeta Dutt and Waheeda Rehman. He liked it. Indian theatres didn't have the facilities for showing cinemascope films then. So we bought half-a-dozen anamorphic lenses from the US and gave them to the cinemas. The film didn't do well. The distributors were afraid of showing the film in cinemascope. It was 1959. After the failure, Raj Kapoor told Guru Dutt: "Don't worry, you have produced the picture 15 years too early."

How was it working with Guru Dutt?

My first break as a cameraman was in Guru Dutt's Jaal in 1952. The film was a turning point in my career. We had an excellent time. We understood each other. We ate together and even fought several times. He was an ordinary man from a middle class family. Sometimes during the shooting, i would say a scene was not shot well and he would reply, "Don't be silly. It was beautiful". He was a master of self-criticism. If he didn't like a scene, he would re-shoot even after the rushes, which is unheard of even today.


How did you do the famous lighting improvisation for Kaagaz ke Phool?

One day we were sitting inside Mehboob Studios in Mumbai and i saw sunlight coming in as a beam through a ventilator. It was beautiful. I told Guru Dutt about it. "You create something like that in the movie," he said. I got arc lamps and huge 10KV lights from V Shantaram's Rajkamal Studios. But it flopped because the light didn't come out as a straight beam. Later i saw a make-up man carrying a mirror in his hand. The sunlight, which fell on the mirror, threw a beam-like light. I told Guru Dutt, "I got the idea, just get me two big mirrors". We had a mirror with the make-up team and he bought one from a nearby shop.

We put one mirror outside the studio and one on the catwalk inside. The light was reflected from the mirror outside to the mirror inside to create the sunbeam, which was made more visible by lighting incense sticks and creating smoke. It was an invention. I was 36 years old then. Firdin Irani, the senior-most cameraman then, asked me what i was doing. Later, he saw the rushes of the film before i did. He embraced me and said i had done very well.


How difficult was it to work as a cameraman then?

The most hardworking person on the set then was the cameraman. That remains even today. There is of course new technology today but, at the same time, nothing much has changed for a cinematographer.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

INTER-ESTING WORDS INDEED

HARISH BHAT

 

Recent tweeting by the irrepressible Shashi Tharoor has brought to limelight an interesting but not commonly encountered word, 'interlocutor'. Various interpretations of this rather complex word caused a flutter in diplomatic and political circles, though the literary Tharoor has tried to unsuccessfully clarify matters by immediately tweeting us a sequel "Interlocutor is a person you speak to, nothing more."


I decided to seek help from two of my friends, both pragmatic users of the English language. "I have never heard of this word, it may be of medieval origin with strong links with the inquisition", a banker colleague responded, and went on to say, "Or alternately i guess he may have simply meant intermediary". Another friend lowered his voice and said "Are you sure he did not mean something naughty? You know, like what do you think an interlocutor really does behind closed doors?"


The problem is that words that begin with 'inter' have always troubled us greatly. We don't like being interrupted or interrogated, and we certainly detest people who interfere with our lives. Most of us hate the commercial interludes that cut into our favourite television programmes, and if cops intercept us on the way back from a late-night party then there is surely hell to pay. Rivers that have the misfortune to run inter-state are sooner or later a cause of friction, and inter-community marriages are still a source of tension in many families. Intercontinental ballistic missiles added a nasty touch to the Cold War, and interminable discussions are the bane of all our lives.


I recall my first college crush, an ardent spectacled girl pursuing her graduate studies in English literature. On our third date, she cooed, "Darling, i would love to occupy all the interstices of your heart." That scared the wits out of me, and i decided to end the relationship immediately, since every man has to safeguard his interstices wherever and whatever they are.


Similarly, when my wife tells me that she would like to discuss an interim budget for Diwali shopping, i rapidly run for cover. Because i have no way of even guessing where the interim expenditure will finally end up, and frankly neither does she know. My evasive action does not help matters, because she inevitably interprets my silence as interim approval. The result is usually intergalactic levels of interest that i have to pay on my credit cards.

At even higher levels of difficulty are words like inter-alia and interregnum. Perhaps eminent members of the legal profession understand and use these powerful words with effortless ease, the real issue is that only they do. The rest of us are left wondering what they mean, and then paying their bills, which are of course not open to any interrogation at all.


Some interesting words we don't like because they are inevitably so sad. For instance, consider the wistful expression each time someone talks about the intervening years, and pats either his thinning hair or his thickening waist. As if all that has intervened has been lost.


And finally there are words like interview, which we understand well, but dread all the time. Life pretends to be a voyage, but look closely and you will see that it is really a series of interviews. We are interviewed repeatedly for nursery school, college, jobs, marriages, and eventually by the media for any scandals or tweets we create.


When my boss calls me in for an interview, i know in all my interstices and in the seat of my fraying pants that writing of some interim or final sort is on the wall. That is a moment when i would like to interchange places with Tharoor, who may be repeatedly troubled by wrong interpretation of his tweets, but who as minister of state for foreign affairs is mostly safe in distant international lands.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE ARE ALL IN IT TOGETHER

 

It is both ignorant and childish to try and assess the trial of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operative, David Gilani Headley, in terms of what India has gained and the United States has conceded. The Headley case is best seen as a step forward, and a significant one at that, in the development of a long-term counter-terrorism relationship between the world's largest and the world's oldest democracies. Even during the administration of George W. Bush, the security agencies of the two countries cooperated haphazardly and with great reluctance. Sharing intelligence, coordinating cross-border police efforts and accepting bilateral legal jurisdictions are among the most sensitive facets of diplomatic relationships. It does not help that both India and the US share a prickliness about sovereignty, a loss of face and have independent judiciaries.

 

There can be little doubt Washington did go out of its way to address New Delhi's demands regarding Headley, even if it declined to ship him to India. First, it is the rarest of rare cases for a country to extradite its own citizen to a second country for trial. India's treatment of its own citizens is no exception. Second, persuading the US to accede to India's demand that it have interrogatory access to Headley is a remarkable concession. Most governments allow such access only to their closest strategic allies — and that too occasionally. Third, the Headley case has helped consolidate a growing US sentiment that Lashkar has evolved into a global rather than India-centric terrorist threat.

 

The real legacy of Headley's trial was that it tested a burgeoning counter-terrorism relationship — and that was not found to be wanting. Both because of the sensitive nature of the data gathered and the mildly paranoid nature of the agencies that hold the information, intelligence-sharing is one of the most difficult bridges to cross in international relations. Yet, such cooperation is essential given how rapidly Islamicist terror groups have expanded their networks across borders.

 

Terrorism cannot be defeated if its victims decide to fight it separately. Lashkar's use of a US citizen as an advance scout is an example of how terrorism is a globalised network. There will be hiccups in India's counter-terrorism relationship with many countries. The focus should be on the broad trend of the relationship and the political will of both sides to iron out the differences that are bound to crop up. India and the US have suffered enough from terrorists to know the stakes involved.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

IRE AND FIRE

 

There is no getting away from the scriptures in Indian politics. For every occasion, there is an allusion from our ancient texts to explain the situation. Just when we thought that the Women's Reservation Bill was debated bitterly on political lines, comes a new explanation from Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily. It wasn't politics but Sita's ordeal by fire that firmed up the government's resolve to push the controversial Bill, he said recently.

 

Now we have the highest respect for our scriptures. But surely Sita who was made to go through the test of fire to prove her innocence after having been subjected to the harrowing ordeal of being kidnapped by Ravana is not exactly the epitome of women's empowerment. Yes, she came out of it unscathed but clearly could not bear the humiliation of this disempowerment and asked the earth to open up and take her away. So has the erudite Mr Moily dialled the wrong number here?

 

While paying lip service to stree shakti, it's quite routine for women to be walloped around, often fatally. Perhaps our society has a novel way of showing respect for women. While in other civilised societies, women's empowerment amounts to equal opportunities, here this amounts to equal opportunities discrimination. We have seen how deferentially lewd remarks are passed in public places where women are present. Not to mention the graceful manner in which women are molested in public places. The empowerment bit is when women take this in the stride, much like Sita, and soldier on. If only Mr Moily had thought of Kali who'd send shiver down the spines of men, we could have taken him a bit more seriously. But then with the Bill running into rough weather, the allusion to Sita is more appropriate.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

COMEBACK QUEEN

AJOY BOSE

 

On the face of it, the uproar in the mainstream media and political parties over currency note garlands around Mayawati's neck conjures up a picture of a beleaguered leader. Yet, in keeping with the many paradoxes that have marked her career over the past three decades, far from being pushed into a corner by the rising storm of criticism, the firebrand Dalit leader is actually stronger today in her bastion Uttar Pradesh than ever before. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that if assembly elections due two years later were to be held in the state today, the chief minister could romp home for a second term in office.

 

This is quite a turnaround from the dismal future that was being painted for Mayawati by political pundits less than a year ago when she did far worse than expected in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Political obituaries or, at least, beginning of the end prophesies being made glibly some months ago do not appear all that valid anymore. Having fallen on her face through her over-reaching prime ministerial ambitions, she has swiftly picked herself up in characteristic style even more determined to succeed.

 

Despite the blip in the Lok Sabha polls where she managed to win only 20 seats in UP, although with a still credible 27 per cent of the vote, her strike record in by-elections for both assemblies and legislative council seats since she came to power in 2007 is far more formidable. Of the 15 assembly by-elections held since the 2007 assembly polls, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has won as many as 12. Significantly, all these seats have been snatched away from the opposition including some in her main political rival Mulayam Singh Yadav's traditional stronghold central UP.

 

The BSP's success rate in legislative council elections since 2007 is even more remarkable. It has won 34 out of the 36 legislative council seats that are elected by local bodies. This shows that there is considerable support for Mayawati and her party in local power centres as well as at the assembly level.

 

There are those who dismiss the BSP's strong showing in assembly and legislative council by-elections on the plea that these always tend to favour ruling parties. However, recent setbacks in by-elections for ruling parties like the CPI(M) in West Bengal and Janata Dal (United) in Bihar are only two of the many examples disproving any such pet theory. Mayawati's political opponents who seek to minimise her extraordinary electoral success at the local level, attributing this to sheer money and muscle power exercised, are therefore only fooling themselves.

 

Significantly, relentless media campaigns against Mayawati first on statues of herself and other Dalit leaders and now on the currency note garlands appear to have worked in her favour, polarising her support base of Dalits and poorest backward castes to cling even more fiercely to Behenji's apron strings. Even in the past Kanshi Ram, along with his protégé, had used confrontation with the establishment as a means to mobilise their core constituency. Mayawati had considerably diluted the use of provocative gestures and symbols as a political weapon in recent years particularly after winning power in UP in 2007. Clearly, she has had a rethink on her conciliatory political style that had made her more acceptable to the establishment but may well have had made her suspect in the eyes of Dalits and poor backwards for selling out to upper caste lobbies particularly the Brahmins who dominate the intelligentsia.

 

This, however, does not mean that Mayawati has entirely abandoned her social engineering enterprise that had served her so well in the 2007 assembly polls when her Dalit base had combined with Brahmins to oust Mulayam Singh Yadav from power. Although there is a definite cooling off between the Dalit leader and Brahmins, indications are that another upper caste, Thakurs, is considering a tactical alliance with the BSP for the next assembly polls. Always on the lookout for greener pastures, the Thakurs have quickly seized the vacuum left by the Brahmins in Mayawati's social engineering pool, now that Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party (SP) looks far less attractive after the departure of his Thakur friend, philosopher and guide Amar Singh.

 

The fact of the matter is that much of Mayawati's current political dominance in UP stems not so much from any intrinsic strength but more from the palpable disarray among her political opponents. The SP and the BJP, two of her main challengers in the state over the past two decades, are both pale shadows of their former selves. While the SP's votebank has been considerably depleted by the departure of Muslims and Thakurs, the once mighty BJP has become increasingly irrelevant with the collapse of the Ayodhya issue and the perennial squabbles among its state leaders.

 

The Congress should have taken advantage of this lack of substantive opposition to Mayawati and resurrected itself in UP after two decades of marginalisation. Yet, despite a surprisingly good performance in the 2009 parliamentary polls and Rahul Gandhi's focus on the state, the news from the ground is not very encouraging. The Congress has not only failed to win most of the assembly and legislative council by- elections, it has not even come second in most seats slipping to third or fourth position in a majority of them.

"The soil in Uttar Pradesh is ripe for the Congress. Sadly, we are yet to grow the roots to dig deep into it," confided a party leader.

 

Ajoy Bose is the author of Behenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati

 

The views expressed by the author are personal 

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

 

GADKARI'S TEAM BEARS ADVANI'S MARK

PANKAJ VOHRA

 

The most obvious aspect of the new team announced by BJP president Nitin Gadkari is that it has the unmistakable stamp of L.K. Advani. The only change that had been promised by the RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat last year has been in the ritual of replacing Rajnath Singh with his blue-eyed boy Gadkari at the very top of the saffron party. Otherwise, it is Advani's team to be spearheaded in the organisation by Ananth Kumar and Ravi Shankar Prasad and in Parliament by Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.

 

Gadkari, who had appeared to have won round one in Indore during the meeting of the National Council, seems to have surrendered to Advani who rightly said that he may have quit the position of the leader of Opposition but had not retired from active politics. Both Gadkari and his mentor Bhagwat, a veterinary doctor by profession, have demonstrated that their interests were confined only to Maharashtra. It is, therefore, not surprising that nearly 30 activists from that state alone have been accommodated in the National Executive and among office-bearers.

 

Both had been very keen to get Sanjay Joshi to replace Ram Lal as the representative of the Sangh in the BJP. But this has not happened. No prizes for guessing why. The majority of office-bearers have never contested polls of any nature and political circles have been left wondering how the Rajya Sabha types or those who know little about the 'art and science' of contesting elections will provide the BJP organisational strength when it comes to going in for assembly or Lok Sabha polls.

 

The only political point that Gadkari has managed to score over the Advani camp is his act of nominating an ailing Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the Parliamentary Board.

 

There has been widespread criticism over why the former prime minister, no longer in the pink of health, was named to the party's highest body. Gadkari has apparently done this to convey to Advani that he was not the numero uno, either symbolically or theoretically. As long as he lives, Vajpayee will remain the top BJP leader and Advani, despite playing a more successful political innings, will have to be the perpetual number two man.

 

Gadkari's team lacks the potential to beat even the 'B' team of the Congress. It has tired and retired faces as compared to the youthful appeal of the Congress. If one takes away Shahnawaz Hussain and Varun Gandhi, there is hardly anyone who can appeal to the youth. Ananth Kumar has the ability to be a future leader but he has many miles to go before that happens. Gadkari, who had sung a popular movie song at Indore in a filmi style, seems to be also obsessed with introducing glamour at the cost of budding activists. How can one explain the exclusion of someone like Amit Thaker, the president of the Yuva Morcha? This over-emphasis on glamour could prove to be a costly affair when it comes to the polls.

 

Murli Manohar Joshi, who was being tipped to take over an important position due to his seeming proximity to Bhagwat, has been further marginalised. In his capacity as a past president he will be in the Parliamentary Board, which incidentally has six Brahmins as members. None of Joshi's close supporters have found a berth in the new set-up and the show seems to be over for him as far as the RSS and BJP go unless destiny wills otherwise.The announcement of the team when the Congress was at its most vulnerable stage is not going to make things better for the Sangh parivar. But hats off to Advani. He has humbled the RSS and shown Bhagwat and Gadkari their place. Between us.

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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

NOT TO SCALE

 

If there is one thing that is certain in Indian politics today, it is that Mamata Banerjee is from Kolkata. The Trinamool Congress's leader is also one of the most solidly grounded of our politicians. Down to earth, even. It can be safely assumed, therefore, that she is aware that Kolkata is not in the Bay of Bengal. (Not yet, at any rate.) Yet look at the hysterical reaction to an advertisement issued by Eastern Railways to announce the inauguration of a new train by Banerjee. Enough have claimed — including the brand-new BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman — that the advertisement's superimposition of the train's route on the outline of India's borders in such a way that, if one wished to be depressingly literal about it, Kolkata was in the Bay of Bengal, is a massive governance failure. How can the Railways be run, the question is apparently being asked, by someone who thinks that Kolkata is in the Bay of Bengal? Or that Delhi is in Pakistan?

 

Exactly how immature and unhinged can our public discourse get? At a time when the Railways are pretty much being run as a parallel state anyway, do we want them to set up a cartography division? Or a separate public information bureau? Eastern Railways, in response to the absurd intemperance of the response, announced that it would fire the ad agency, and that of course they wouldn't have signed off on such an egregious mistake. Except that, aesthetics aside, it wasn't a mistake at all, was it? It was an artistic choice, to create the outline of the route, and superimpose it on a not-to-scale outline of India. Next are we going to complain that Delhi's metro map is not to scale? That it minimises, perhaps, the distance to Gurgaon while it maximises the distance to Noida and that this is a subtle insult to BSP-ruled Uttar Pradesh by Congress-ruled Delhi and Haryana?

 

We need to be more mature as a society about maps. We have all picked up a magazine or even an encyclopaedia with a map across which some underemployed unfortunate has stamped with an elderly, smudged rubber stamp that the "The external boundaries of India as depicted in map(s) are neither correct nor authentic." (All of foreign policy lies in the distinction between correct and authentic.) Every child in this country can recognise India's silhouette instantly. It has iconic status all its own; do we need Customs to protect it for us? And when it is used as an artistic backdrop, do we need to go into paroxysms of shock if everything is not to scale? Let's grow up.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

VARSITY SOLUTION

 

In the end, the Presidency University Bill passed in the West Bengal assembly without the opposition in attendance. Nevertheless, that perhaps matters little since this was a battle Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was waging more against his own party than against Mamata Banerjee or the state Congress. In fact, on making a university of Presidency College, Bhattacharjee and Banerjee have, technically, been on the same side. And it may yet end up being Bhattacharjee's only significant success.

 

Much as this is the iconic and faded institution's real freedom from fetters — which the partial autonomy granted earlier couldn't provide — it is also a triumph of will for the chief minister, who has now not only seen to the matter before an assembly election next year that could put him out of office but also beaten Banerjee to it. In the process, while Presidency will hope to regain lost stature and modernise, at least a symbolic blow has been struck against the top-down, bottom-up politicisation of Bengal's education that has been the Left Front's handiwork in the name of "democratisation" and fighting "elitism". This very politicisation destroyed Presidency's academic merit by staffing it with a mediocre and transferable faculty, ruining its library and laboratories, interfering in its administration and compromising its results which have been steadily deteriorating; it has also been obstructing the university status. Above all, continued affiliation to the University of Calcutta — an antiquated curiosity with over 200 colleges, outdated syllabi, term-end examinations, and inordinately delayed results — had put Presidency on death row.

 

A major battle has been won. But the next one has already begun. It's to be seen in the CPM-affiliated teachers' demand for recruitment of government teachers to the new unitary university. Besides, chances remain for political appointees to be still nominated to Presidency's proposed decision-making bodies. Presidency, on paper, gains the latitude to connect itself with the Union HRD ministry's ambitions for higher education and catch up. That is a big step. Now it must raise the bar for itself. As it tries to make up for its lost decades, Presidency must remember that excellence is independent of status.

 

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 INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LOVE AND LAW

 

In July last year, the Delhi high court made a dramatic decision, reversing a century and a half of a homosexual-hating law, when it read down Section 377, limiting a broad set of "unnatural offences" to only forcible sexual intercourse and paedophilia. Section 377 was a blunt instrument of repression — meant to stamp out "carnal intercourse against the order of nature". Instead of a precise and pointed law to take on child sexual abuse, for instance, Indian authorities relied on this section, in which rape, bestiality and consensual sex between adults were judged equally. As it stands, the law leaves women and children vulnerable and legally underserved, while allowing queer citizens to be harassed and forced to live in secrecy. It was used to systematically persecute sexual minorities, and push important public health issues like HIV prevention under the carpet.

 

The high court's reading down of Section 377 was a much-needed blow, and an effort to unpack these contentious categories. The government itself was riven over the issue, speaking in different voices. The home ministry argued that excising the section would open "the floodgates of delinquent behaviour", but the health ministry took a public health stand, pointing to the danger of criminalising homosexuality.

 

This time round, the shift is perceptible. To secure the Delhi high court victory, the home ministry is now quietly moving on amending the Indian Penal Code, diluting Section 377 to decriminalise homosexuality. It has asked the law ministry to craft a rough amendment bill, which will then be circulated among state governments for comments and intervention. Meaning that even while individuals and NGOs challenge the 377 ruling in the Supreme Court (the case is still pending), a parliamentary amendment could protect gay rights if it makes it past the House. It will change the government's default setting to one that defends sexual freedom

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

MAPS IN OUR MINDS

MIHIR S SHARMA

 

Consider three images. The first: of the Karnataka assembly, in chaos on Thursday as the state's chief minister responds to allegations that the state is near bankrupt — and that Rs 5,000 crore of mining revenue is being diverted. B.S. Yeddyurappa denies it; but everyone present knows that he's in a bind. He's admitted that illegal mining is endemic in his state, but he cannot take down the Reddys of Bellary and their 40 MLAs. And, as this newspaper has demonstrated in a series of special investigative reports, it seems nobody else in Karnataka can, either.

 

The second: a map passed from hand to hand at various public meetings in Delhi last year, a map of districts in India's hinterland. Marked on the left: deposits of coal, iron ore, bauxite. On the right: the areas where the anti-Naxal Operation Green Hunt was supposed to take place. You saw the overlap, understood the claim: that the Naxal threat and state response were inseparable from the extraction of natural resources.

 

The third: a full page advertisement in Variety, the insider Hollywood magazine, a few weeks before the Oscars. Avatar fever is at its height; and the ad begs James Cameron to speak up for the "real-life Na'vi", a tribe in Orissa that consider the bauxite-rich Niyamgiri Hills sacred, some of whom are, in a sadly familiar pattern, gathering allies to ensure that the company that wants to dig them up can't touch them.

 

Are these not the three fears that most define our politics today? The fear that the power of money is growing in our politics, with licences and contracts that dwarf money-malas affecting our policy and politics in ways we can't quite understand. The fear that our approach to the grave threat the Naxals present is too soft, or possibly too hard. And the fear that the state will let private companies take our property — or its converse, that job creation will stall as every large plant is held up by land acquisition agitations.

 

And each of these fears finds its purest expression in one sector: mining.

 

Mining has always been about the land, and about exploiting it. Its industrial aesthetic hasn't fooled economists, who don't even classify it as close to manufacturing, but as a "primary" activity, like agriculture. And, unlike endlessly renewable agriculture, it cannot pretend to be anything but exploitative. You are always taking stuff out of the earth, and it doesn't grow back, either. But, even so, why does it serve as an attractor for every political and social neurosis we've developed? And can it be fixed?

 

The biggest reason why mining has become so much about politics, and vice versa, is that mining is still too much about government, and the wrong sort of government. India's mining regulations were drafted in the '50s. So archaic are these that they don't even provide for auctioning mining rights. And, as was considered possible in the '50s, they call for checking in on licensed mines in a hundred different ways — but each is subject to political and administrative discretion. As the Reddy saga shows, "discretion" becomes "looking the other way" when the leaseholder is powerful enough; and that becomes a reason to amass power, to capture the state capital, as the Reddys have.

 

So mining needs governance reform. As in so many other problem areas, the UPA got a very sensible committee to sit and write a very sensible report. The Hoda Committee submitted its recommendations in 2008, and a new "national mineral policy" was drafted that prioritised increased transparency, reinvented regulation, and the market mechanism. But, as always, these intentions have no legal force yet. A new mining bill is promised for this session; but it doesn't seem that it will go far enough. Here's the central problem: through the '90s, the licensing process was supposedly "liberalised", but in a warped manner, in which practically unsupervised authorities in states handed out leases at non-market rates. Such a system is gilt-edged invitation to Reddy-style crony capitalism, to Koda-esque profiteering. And now the mining states will fight change tooth and nail. As Mines Minister Handique told this newspaper, even the first step — ensuring that leases are sold through auction, not allotted discretionarily — is not a done deal, because the states need to be brought on board.

 

Even beyond that, there's a failure of imagination. Why, for example, do we not question the system that claims that all natural resources belong to the state, and that mining companies can but take out a medium-term lease, for a few decades, while paying the state "royalty"? Or that they must — in a classic piece of inexplicable, internally contradictory nonsense — extract minerals while simultaneously "conserving mineral wealth"? Why should government control how much each mine is producing? None of this appears likely to change even in new legislation.

 

Yet this idiotic, contradictory set of instructions means that only those succeed who effectively ignore them. The pernicious state property-leaseholding-royalty system, for example, means that nobody is ever certain who has the right to mine where, which in turn means the Reddys can mine everywhere. It means the powerful can ensure that they are allotted a lease, and mine areas leased to others, as well; that their rivals have a low government-mandated output; that they themselves pay but a sliver in royalty as the price soars. Power does inevitably, if you will pardon the pun, undermine the system.

 

In the process, those with a claim to the resources, those who have lived in the area for generations, receive only handouts from big companies trying for PR, or mining strongmen playing politics. They cannot expect property rights over the land, because it belongs to the state. They cannot expect a solid flow of revenue, because that's set from the distant state capital. Dissent will only grow.

 

Reform is hard. In this case, it is also counter-intuitive. The Centre must ignore a crucial stakeholder: the governments of mining states. They are compromised by the royalty revenue, and by the power of mining barons. To address our three neuroses, we need a more transparent, market-driven system of auctions, ownership, and taxation; clear, continual, environmental regulation; and compensation for locals at market rates. And if the states will not let us have it, the Centre will have to cut them out of the loop.

 

mihir.sharma@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

REPLACING THE PDS

BHARAT RAMASWAMI

 

The debates about the Right to Food Bill are essentially about the scope of the PDS and not its form. In the NGO perspective, the PDS should be universal and entitlements should not be less than the monthly current quota of 35 kg per household. The "finance ministry" view is to limit government liabilities. Here, a food subsidy programme would be targeted to below poverty line (BPL) households and entitlements restricted to 25 kg of grain per month (at Rs 3 per kg).

 

Both sides are, however, agreed that the existing form of the PDS serves as the template for the future as well. The consensus about the existing model of state procurement and distribution is seemingly impervious to repeated tales of corruption, pilferage and inefficiencies of state agencies. The most recent instance is the report of a vigilance panel appointed on directions by the Supreme Court, quoted as saying that the system is subject to "rampant corruption, black marketing and diversion of funds."

 

Recent research has quantified the magnitude of this problem. It is estimated that in the year 2004-05, 43 per cent of government expenditure on food subsidy was lost to illegal diversions. Another 28 per cent was lost because of excess costs (relative to the private sector) of the state agencies. Households (whether poor or not) through PDS purchases received the equivalent in monetary value of only 29 per cent of public expenditure.

 

The share of poor households is a measly 10 per cent. Is this the programme that is supposed to serve as the bedrock of a future rights-driven entitlement scheme?

 

The NGO perspective is empirically grounded on one point. The targeted PDS does exclude many of the poor. A big reason is that many of the poor do not possess BPL cards and are therefore not eligible for subsidies. The critics are right that the targeting criteria ought to be relaxed and should cover the poor adequately even at the cost of including some of the non-poor. What they miss, however, is that the resources for such an expansion can be found from cutting the enormous waste in the PDS programme.

 

Efficient delivery of food subsidies should therefore be high on the policy agenda. Efforts over many decades to reform the PDS have not borne fruit. Much hope is now placed on computerisation of the PDS supply chain and in monitoring and inspection efforts. The alternative is to move towards a system of food coupons or restricted cash transfers — the case for which was eloquently argued in the 2010 Economic Survey. Cash transfer programmes have huge efficiency advantages over in-kind transfers such as the PDS. They, however, require investments in payments systems that may not be immediately available in rural areas.

 

So what will work? Experimentation is clearly needed, and should be the basis of pragmatic food subsidy policies. For instance, there is ongoing investment in payment systems (bank accounts, smart cards) for a variety of social programmes including health insurance, old age pensions and financial inclusion. It would therefore be unwise and myopic for the Right to Food Bill to close off the option of restricted cash transfers. It is imperative that the Right to Food Bill does not commit the government, now and in future, to a specific form of food subsidy.

 

The food subsidy system is a joint responsibility of the Central and state governments where the former bears the costs and the latter has the primary responsibility for implementation. It is well known that PDS performance differs across states which suggests that local factors matter and should therefore be taken into account in food subsidy policy.

Indeed, while there is enormous scope for improving efficiency by reforms such as geographic targeting, self-targeting and food stamps, their design and effectiveness are specific to local preferences, knowledge, infrastructure and circumstances. For instance, a state could subsidise coarse cereals, use food coupons in urban areas, allow universal access in backward districts, and temporarily increase the subsidy rate in regions that are adversely affected by floods, drought and other natural disasters. In a decentralised framework, the Central government would primarily be a funding agency and its role in operations would be limited to the storage of emergency reserves.

 

Such a move towards a federal relationship in food subsidies is essential if the food subsidy system is to be flexible and contingent on local circumstances and needs. It need not result in the Central government abandoning its responsibilities, as some critics fear, provided the state governments negotiate with the Central government to ensure the scale of financing is commensurate with the needs of a secure safety net. Indeed, this ought to be the major agenda of the Right to Food Bill.

 

The writer is a professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi

 

express@expressindia.com

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'IN FIVE YEARS, INDIA'S BANKING SECTOR WILL BE TWO-AND-A-HALF TIMES WHAT IT IS NOW'

DHIRAJ NAYYAR:

 

 DO YOU THINK THAT DOUBLE-DIGIT GROWTH CAN HAPPEN WITHOUT THE GOVERNMENT DOING ANYTHING ON STRUCTURAL REFORM?

 

The growth will happen and investments will happen out of the basic drive of domestic consumption. Since consumption is going up, there is requirement for capacity. So, whether it is manufacturing capacity or infrastructure capacity, investments will happen. The question is, can we accelerate the pace of these investments with further reforms and by simplifying procedures? I think we can. That is where we have to hope that some of the procedures get more simplified and investment starts moving off the ground much faster.

 

SHEKHAR GUPTA: Do you agree that corporates are still scared? That they want to de-leverage instead of borrowing more to grow?

I don't at all agree that they are scared. I think they are very bullish and buoyant and want to invest. The second point, do they want to de-leverage? Yes, that is not because of any scare. That is because they want to get their balance sheets in a more robust position to invest. I think it is a prudent thing to do because today if the capital markets are working to our advantage and if foreign flows are working to our advantage and the cash accruals are very robust, it's important that we prepare the balance sheets for the next round.

 

DHIRAJ NAYYAR: How has banking evolved over the last 18 months since the scare of October 2008, especially at ICICI?

Indian banking has always been very healthy. So, while there could have been some scares in the minds of people, they were more perception than actual scares and not really anything to do with the underlying factors of the banking system. Today, the world over, whatever the banking system is deliberating on — definitions of capital, liquidity reserves—we have had it all in the Indian banking context. The world is today saying that tier-1 capital should be only equity and nothing else, we also had equity. The world is today saying that they should have some liquidity reserves, we always had liquidity reserves. Therefore, I think banking has continued to remain strong. In a way, this is one reason why our economy continued to grow. I believe that the banking sector is like the heart of any economy.

 

As far as ICICI bank is concerned, we had a larger share of this perception issue towards the end of 2008. The reason being we were the most globalised bank among the Indian banks. And the whole worry was the fear of the unknown, like what could go wrong with the global economy. However, we have come a long way from there and, of course, those perception issues have gone. What it did mean for us was having to do a lot of communication, to answer peoples' questions and clear their doubts. However, I would say all that is behind us. In fact, today if you see the number of new accounts that we have opened in our banks and the number of new deposits that we have collected, it is all much higher than what it was in July-August 2008.

 

P. VAIDYANATHAN IYER: The government has talked about consolidation, but we have not seen consolidation in the banking sector.

The Indian economy requires much larger banking per se. If the economy has to grow at 10 per cent, the banking sector has to grow at least 20 per cent. If you track the history in the last 5-7 years, the banking sector has grown at three times the GDP growth rate. In terms of consolidation, large banks are required for the growing economy. However, just consolidation does not really derive synergies of a merger or a consolidation. When you consolidate, if it just adds a balance sheet, that does not change anything for the Indian banking sector. If you then use those synergies in terms of branch structure and utilisation of work force and change the whole dynamics of working, then I think it shows up. I don't know how much of the current consolidation we are going through really works in bringing up the synergies but that is what total consolidation means.

 

M.K. VENU: I get the impression from the Finance Minister that he wants to link the new licences with the ability of banks to go to rural areas with the banking correspondence model. Will the idea work?

Of course it will, as I see financial inclusion for a bank in India as not simply compulsion. It is an economic imperative. Because it enables you to participate in the next growth economy. Secondly, we should also see how to keep reducing our cost of delivery, so we keep making it more and more viable. Now what is financial inclusion? There are five things in my view: one is giving people a place to save their money; second is allowing them to carry out transactions in a convenient manner. The third is remittance, because a lot of these people need to send money to other places within the country. And the fourth is enabling them to make some investments and the fifth thing is lending. We have already rolled out certain accounts but we have aggressive plans for the next three years.

 

SHEKHAR GUPTA: Tell us something about gender equality in banking and some of your experiences in this institution.

On gender equality in banking, I must give credit to ICICI because as an institution, it has always believed in gender equality. It has always promoted women and said that only merit prevails. We have a joke in ICICI that we do not recognise gender. When we deal with a person in ICICI, we do not see if the person is a man or a woman. The person is hired, promoted, faces challenges, is fired etc based only on his/her merit and performance and that is what has enabled many women to join ICICI. The second part is, women have worked equally, whatever the job demanded — be it working late or travelling a lot. That has enabled merit to come up and that has resulted in a fair share of women being there.

 

My experience has been the same. I have worked in an organisation where merit has prevailed. I was never scared to take up challenges and during these 25 years, ICICI really grew and diversified tremendously. I took up every challenge and it helped develop my expertise.

 

M.K. VENU: How does a woman look at 'risk', as opposed to a man?

I do not think there is a difference between a man and a woman there. I think it is the individual outlook towards 'risk' that matters. And it is not that women cannot take risks; rather, risks are important for growth. What is important is one should understand what the consequences of that risk would be.

 

COOMI KAPOOR: There is a stereotype that women are not good with numbers. You started out with an Arts background?

My Arts background was an economics background. I did my Honours in Economics, then I did cost-accounting as well and then I did my MBA in finance. Why I started out with economics is because I didn't know that I wanted to go into banking. I was from Jaipur and the career that enamoured me was the administrative services, so I wanted to be an IAS officer. But the more time I spent in Mumbai and the more I got into finance, I just moved to banking.

 

DHIRAJ NAYYAR: How much credit would you give the RBI for the safety of the

Indian financial system?

 

I give a lot of credit to RBI in the past for ensuring stability and in the last one year for how the policies have been managed. I am a firm believer that the health of the Indian financial system is really a result of two factors: one is clearly our regulatory policies, the second is the lending policy of the banks. I think the last year has been challenging because the regulators have been facing multiple challenges, on the one hand to make sure that growth comes back and on the other to manage the challenges of inflation, etc. In that sense, a very balanced approach has been taken towards the monetary policy.

AMBREEN KHAN: I would like you to comment on what can be called 'Brand Chanda Kochhar'.

 

It's very humbling to hear this word, Brand Chanda Kochhar. That means two things to me. If that means that I can inspire a lot of young women in the country, that's a privilege and I hope that I continue to do it in a nice manner. Additionally, it also means that now there is a much larger responsibility to handle that brand.

 

M.K. VENU: What is the current women population in ICICI?

 

It's 33 per cent, one-third of our employee base.

 

GUNJAN PRADHAN SINHA: You are at the pinnacle of your career. Where do you see yourself in five years?

As far as I can see, I think I will be active for much longer than five years, maybe 10-12 years. As far as the bank is concerned, we are concentrating for the first five years, since the economy is at such a tipping point of growth. We have done the consolidation for the last one year, so there is some exciting growth awaiting us.

 

DHIRAJ NAYYAR: In the next 10 years, do you see the balance of power in banking and finance shifting away from the US?

Absolutely. The next five years will mean a further shifting of the balance of power from the Western banks. Look at China as an example. The Chinese banks were nowhere in the top 10 a decade ago, but today, three out of five are Chinese banks, and it is the sheer growth of the country that enabled them to get there. Similarly, Indian banks simply have to benefit from the growth of the country. The banking sector, five years from now, will be at least two-and-a-half times what it is currently. And the Western banks will not grow at that rate, so you will see the balance of equations changing substantially in just five years.

 

M.K. VENU: Can Indian banks fund large overseas acquisitions like Sunil Mittal's acquisition of Zain?

 

Indian banks will fund such projects, but asset-liability issues will persist with Indian banks for some time, till the markets deepen substantially. Indian banks have a lot of reliance on short-term deposits and the projects are much longer, but as the bond markets develop more and so on, we will see a deepening of the market. But the ability to participate—at least the rate of 20-25 per cent growth rate—is there, because we are sitting on capital. You look at our example, we have a capital adequacy of 19.4 per cent, I cannot see any bank in the world that would have any larger capital adequacy. So it means that we have so much of capital to grow and to lend. And again I think that if today ICICI Bank is at the 55th position in the world, there is no reason that it cannot be among the top 20 in the next five years.

 

SUNITI AHUJA: Unlike in the past, you are now asking the customers to come to the bank. Why? And when do you see the interest rates on credit cards coming down in India?

 

As far as the branch transaction is concerned and customers coming to the bank, I think it's about the stage of evolution the bank is at, at a given point in time. Three years ago, we had just about 700 branches. It was important to get the customers to carry out as many transactions outside the branch so that the branches did not become crowded and unmanageable. From there we have reached an evolution where by end of April, we will have 2,000 branches. Last year, we had set up 475 branches, this year we are setting up around 550 branches. This means we are at a stage where we can invite people to come into the branch.

 

Regarding credit card interest rates, I think the only way by which it can change is when the actual performance on the credit card book for the industry as a whole follows the underlying credit risk. A customer has to realise that making a default at one place actually impacts his /her credit record going forward. It is only then that the actual behaviour of the customer will follow their ability to pay and not their willingness to pay. That is the time when the industry will be ready to afford lower interest rates. Currently, it is going more by willingness to pay rather than ability to pay.

 

DHIRAJ NAYYAR: What is the potential of mobile banking in India since mobile connectivity is much higher than branch connectivity?

 

There is huge potential in mobile banking. However, as a country, we have not exploited that side yet. It can really make banking available to a lot more people at a lower cost. In this case, the banks and mobile companies have to work together.

 

AMBREEN KHAN: Did you ever face any discrimination during your career?

 

Never. But it was a lot of hard work too. That's not to say that I had to work harder than a man in order to prove my worth, though it's a fact that women have to work harder than a man in order to manage a family as well as a career.

 

Transcribed by Malabika Sarkar

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

WHEN KOREA INVADED KOREA

INDER MALHOTRA

 

Sixty years on, I vividly remember the headline in one of the only three English language newspapers published in Delhi then. In the largest newspaper type I had seen, it said on June 26, 1950: "KOREA INVADES KOREA". There was not much information in this country at that time about what was still called the Far East. So, it took us some time to make out that it was the Communist North Korea that had crossed the 38th Parallel and swept across South Korea, nominally a democracy but actually ruled by a reactionary dictator, Syngman Rhee.

 

The United States was outraged. The raging Cold War was turning into a "hot war". Instantly, it went to the UN Security Council and got a resolution passed declaring North Korea the aggressor, and asking it to withdraw. The resolution's passage was smooth because the Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council in protest against China's exclusion from the UN, and wasn't around to veto it! Sir B. N. Rau, India's permanent representative at the UN, did not have the time to consult his government and decided to vote for the resolution. The prime minister later directed Rau "not to commit India any further" without seeking the government's instructions. Consequently, India abstained from voting when the second resolution asking member states to furnish to South Korea such assistance as it needed to repel the armed attack was adopted. American troops already in the region or on way there immediately rushed to the aid of their ally.

 

After two meetings of his cabinet, Nehru announced India's acceptance of the second resolution, too. But he was deeply disturbed over the situation and determined to stick to his policy of non-alignment, to offer no military assistance to South Korea, and to do all he could to bring about a cease-fire on the Korean peninsula. Otherwise, he feared, there could be a wider war. Repeatedly and earnestly, he tried to prevent the conflict from spreading and to bring the warring sides nearer to each other, but repeatedly he was thwarted by an almost equal measure of obduracy on both sides. At one stage, he sent a personal message to Stalin and Dean Acheson, President Truman's secretary of state. The Soviet leader "temporised" while replying; Acheson turned Nehru down flatly, bruising Indian sentiment. Yet, an interesting paradox was that whenever Nehru gave up both sides privately appealed to him to persevere in his efforts at mediation. The main reason for this was that China was completely isolated because of the consistent American rejection of Nehru's plea for admitting China into the UN. The only channel of communication with Beijing was the Indian ambassador there, K. M. Panikkar, who regrettably did not cover himself with glory.

 

At a time when Nehru was hoping to persuade Russia and China to "localise" the Korean War, the US hectoring that the issues of Formosa (now called Taiwan) and Indo-China must be linked to the war, strained Nehru's patience immensely. In a letter to Rajaji (C. Rajagopalachari) he wrote: "For all their great achievements, (the Americans) are apt to be more hysterical as a people than almost any others except perhaps the Bengalis". On another occasion, he lamented that the world seemed to be in a mood to "commit suicide". Some other difficulties, unrelated to Korea, rendered peacemaking even more difficult. The Tibet issue erupted in October 1950 and caused acrimony and bitterness between this country and China. More or less simultaneously, the Americans took grave umbrage at Nehru's perfectly valid refusal to sign the Japanese Peace Treaty, as negotiated by John Foster Dulles who was soon to become Eisenhower's powerful secretary of state.

 

After the US gained an upper hand in the war, it brushed aside Zhou Enlai's warning, conveyed through the Indian ambassador, that China would intervene if the American troops crossed the 38th Parallel, which the Chinese did. India's plea that carrying the war to the North should be avoided was treated in the same manner. Some time earlier, Truman was reported to have told a senator: "Nehru has sold us down the Hudson". Ironically, Truman also had to sack the highly respected General MacArthur for his bellicosity and defiance of the president's authority.

 

Eventually, the Korean War stalemated along the 38 Parallel but there was no movement towards peace even though some kind of armistice talks had begun at Panmunjon. For there was complete disagreement on the fate of large number of Communist prisoners who did not want to go back home. China insisted that all of them should be repatriated compulsorily. The US was adamant that repatriation should be voluntary. At the UN, Krishna Menon crafted a resolution suggesting that a Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC) should handle the nettlesome question. Reluctantly, the US accepted it. But the Soviet Union and China rejected it, Russia's Andrei Vyshinsky condemning it in bitter terms.

 

Whether by coincidence or design, China and Russia indicated an interest in ending the Korean War soon after Stalin's death. There was no way to resolve the repatriation imbroglio except the one India had suggested and they had rejected. A five-member NNRC, headed by India in the person of the outstanding General K. S. Thimayya, was appointed and given 120 days to ascertain the prisoners' wishes. Even before the NNRC could start its work, Syngman Rhee queered the pitch by releasing the North Korean POWs in his custody. Other difficulties followed. At the end of the timeframe, the screening of prisoners was far from complete. However, 22,064 Communist prisoners were eventually able to find refuge wherever they could. On the other hand, 359 UN prisoners, of whom 22 were Americans, decided to stay on in China.

 

As late as 1976 a score of North Koreans were still languishing in Delhi in the hope of migrating to Europe or America. The then foreign secretary, Jagat Mehta, decided to offer them residence in India along with some financial help to start a new life. One of them who set up a poultry farm in Okhla is today a billionaire with worldwide business interests.

 

The writer is a Delhi-based commentator

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

AMERICA'S REAL DREAM TEAM

 

Went to a big Washington diner last week. You know the kind: Large hall; black ties; long dresses. But this was no ordinary dinner. There were 40 guests of honour. So here's my news quiz: I'll give you the names of most of the honourees, and you tell me what dinner I was at. Ready? Linda Zhou, Alice Wei Zhao, Lori Ying, Angela Yu-Yun Yeung, Lynnelle Lin Ye, Kevin Young Xu, Benjamin Chang Sun, Jane Yoonhae Suh, Katheryn Cheng Shi, Sunanda Sharma, Sarine Gayaneh Shahmirian, Arjun Ranganath Puranik, Raman Venkat Nelakant, Akhil Mathew, Paul Masih Das, David Chienyun Liu, Elisa Bisi Lin, Yifan Li, Lanair Amaad Lett, Ruoyi Jiang, Otana Agape Jakpor, Peter Danming Hu, Yale Wang Fan, Yuval Yaacov Calev, Levent Alpoge, John Vincenzo Capodilupo and Namrata Anand.

 

No, sorry, it was not a dinner of the China-India Friendship League. Give up?

 

OK. All these kids are American high school students. They were the majority of the 40 finalists in the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search, which, through a national contest, identifies and honours the top math and science high school students in America, based on their solutions to scientific problems. The awards dinner was Tuesday, and, as you can see from the above list, most finalists hailed from immigrant families, largely from Asia.

 

Indeed, if you need any more convincing about the virtues of immigration, just come to the Intel science finals. I am a pro-immigration fanatic. I think keeping a constant flow of legal immigrants into our country — whether they wear blue collars or lab coats — is the key to keeping us ahead of China. Because when you mix all of these energetic, high-aspiring people with a democratic system and free markets, magic happens. If we hope to keep that magic, we need immigration reform that guarantees we will always attract and retain, in an orderly fashion, the world's first-round aspirational and intellectual draft choices.

 

This isn't complicated. In today's wired world, the most important economic competition is no longer between countries or companies. The most important economic competition is actually between you and your own imagination. Because what your kids imagine, they can now act on farther, faster, cheaper than ever before — as individuals. Today, just about everything is becoming a commodity, except imagination, except the ability to spark new ideas.

 

If I just have the spark of an idea now, I can get a designer in Taiwan to design it. I can get a factory in China to produce a prototype. I can get a factory in Vietnam to mass manufacture it. I can use Amazon.com to handle fulfillment. I can find someone to do my logo and manage by backroom. And I can do all this at incredibly low prices. The one thing that is not a commodity and never will be is that spark of an idea. And this Intel dinner was all about our best sparklers.

 

Before the dinner started, each contestant stood by a storyboard explaining their specific project. Namrata Anand, a 17-year-old from the Harker School in California, patiently explained to me her research, which used spectral analysis and other data to expose information about the chemical enrichment history of "Andromeda Galaxy." I did not understand a word she said, but I sure caught the gleam in her eye.

 

My favourite chat, though, was with Amanda Alonzo, a 30-year-old biology teacher at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, California. She had taught two of the finalists. When I asked her the secret, she said it was the resources provided by her school, extremely "supportive parents" and a grant from Intel that let her spend part of each day inspiring and preparing students to enter this contest. Then she told me this: Local San Jose realtors are running ads in newspapers in China and India telling potential immigrants to "buy a home" in her Lynbrook school district because it produced "two Intel science winners."

 

Gotta say, it was the most inspiring evening I've had in DC in 20 years. It left me thinking, "If we can get a few things right — immigration, education standards, bandwidth, fiscal policy — maybe we'll be OK" It left me feeling maybe Alice Wei Zhao of North High School in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, chosen by her fellow finalists to be their spokeswoman, was right when she told the audience: "Don't sweat about the problems our generation will have to deal with. Believe me, our future is in good hands." As long as we don't shut our doors.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE CENTRE THAT COULD NOT HOLD

YUBARAJ GHIMIRE

 

One incident that G.P. Koirala's friends and family often relate is how he broke a tricycle his parents had bought for him as a child. He was enraged when his mother told him to share it with his brothers, all older than him. "Either me alone, or nobody", he yelled.

 

Koirala rose to become many things in life, through struggle and determination, and partly through right family credentials and contacts. But that particular trait always stuck in his personality, and the incident was often narrated and repeated by his political critics.

 

Perhaps with the exception of his older brother B .P. Koirala, a veteran socialist known and respected all over the world, he confronted everyone inside the Nepali Congress or outside, and always emerged a winner. But ironically, he co-signed the policy of National Reconciliation that B.P. had announced after returning to Nepal on December 31, 1976 at the end of an eight-year political exile in India. The message that came in the aftermath of Sikkim's merger with India was clear — that Nepal's democratic forces and the monarchy must join hands as "nationalism and democracy" can only supplement each other, but one cannot survive without the other.

 

Koirala was the youngest of the six children of K.P. and Dibya Koirala. He was born in Birpur (Saharsa), Bihar, in 1914 and then moved to Varanasi where his entire family had to settle down and struggle to exist. Their political activities against the Rana dynasty that exercised executive powers in Nepal made their stay in Nepal unsafe. This is where the Koiralas grew up, studied and where they were drawn towards Indian politics focused on independence.

 

B.P., who was arrested during the Quit India Movement and jailed for three years, mobilised Nepali youth under the banner of the Nepali Congress and secured the support of Indian political leaders for the "overthrow" of the Rana regime that ruled for 104 years (1846-1950). A tripartite understanding mediated by Jawahar Lal Nehru was reached in Delhi, which would see Nepal's transition to parliamentary democracy. As a result, the monarchy (of the Shah kings) was restored on the understanding that it will be acting as a figurative head of state.

 

Parallel to that development, the Koiralas tried to establish the family as a "democratic dynasty" in the mould of Gandhi-Nehrus in India, and B.P.'s personality and G.P.'s tireless devotion helped. The election to parliament in 1958 — the first after the Delhi agreement — saw the Nepali Congress catapulted to power with a two-thirds majority, and B.P. became PM.

 

But then began the tussle between an ambitious king and PM — equally ambitious and popular — leading to the dissolution of parliament and takeover by the king in December 1960 for 30 years. B.P. and G.P., along with senior Congress leaders were jailed. While G.P, still a junior politician, was released early, others spent eight years in prison. G.P. negotiated with King Mahendra for his brother's release, but the king showed no interest in a return to democracy, both moved to Delhi.

 

It was here that G.P, who was not only a constant companion, but had acquired trust and maturity over the years, began influencing B.P. and persuaded him to call for armed revolution in Nepal. B.P., by conviction a believer in non-violence, relented and complied. G.P. in a controversial interview last year to a TV channel in Nepal, said he got his followers to hijack a Nepal Airlines plane and rob Rs 30 million to buy arms, and also got involved in manufacturing fake Indian currency in the early 1970s during his days in exile — all for the sake of revolution.

 

B.P.'s death in 1982 furthered his rising ambitions. G.P. was at the forefront of the successful movement for democracy in 1990 along with Ganeshman Singh and K.P. Bhattarai, both leaders of stature and B.P.'s friends. G.P. became PM in May 1991 when the Nepali Congress emerged victorious in the first election. Since then, he dominated politics and power for two decades, until his death.

 

G.P has been criticised as power-hungry, corrupt and nepotistic. King Gyanendra's takeover in February 2005 and the polarisation of democratic forces against it brought him to centrestage. Not just Nepal, the international community recognised him as the sole leader of the democratic struggle.

 

With India's support and mediation, he succeeded in getting Maoists to surrender arms and join the democratic process. Koirala took over as interim PM in April 2006, and bowed out of office after his party failed to secure majority.

 

The handover of power to Maoist chief Prachanda and abolition of the 240-year monarchy without any bloodshed was a triumph of democracy, but for Koirala it became a permanent exit. His lust for power had not died yet, for himself, or for his daughter Sujata.

 

He died with his last political mission of peace incomplete, constitution-writing still uncertain and unfinished. He left the Koirala dynasty without a patriarch, and with little chance of exercising the same clout in Nepal's politics.

 

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE WORTH OF WATER

TIMOTHYJROEMER

 

Today, in commemoration of World Water Day, people all over the world are joining together to raise awareness about the importance of one of the most basic and fundamental components of human life: water. Water is a precious resource, and a reliable supply of clean water is one of the key elements for a safe, secure and prosperous future for the people of our countries. Yet many are deprived access to this natural gift of life every day.

 

Throughout my travels in India, whether seeing the breathtaking beauty of the holy Ganges, or visiting a village water tank in Uttar Pradesh — without which families would be unable to irrigate their fields or adequately feed their families — I am constantly reminded of how lack of access to such a basic resource, one that so many of us take for granted, can have devastating effects. In Delhi, I have heard heartbreaking stories of young children suffering from life threatening diarrhoeal diseases because they only have access to contaminated water supplies. In Bihar, I learned about girls who were not able to take advantage of educational opportunities and a better future because their schools do not have adequate sanitation facilities.

 

It is estimated that throughout the world, 1.5 million children die each year from preventable diarrhoeal diseases, most often related to conditions of poor hygiene, sanitation, and compromised water supply. Malnutrition can lead to further deaths; children cannot be adequately nourished if they suffer from chronic diarrhoea. More than 2.5 billion people, including almost 1 billion children, live in areas without basic sanitation. Every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of poor sanitation and sadly, girls often have to drop out of school because of the lack of adequate facilities. In addition, without proper long-term water management, sufficient clean water will not be available to meet the agricultural needs of millions of people.

 

There is no doubt that basic sanitation and access to clean and reliable water are among the most important issues affecting human health and economic development across the world. I often recall what President Barack Obama said in his inaugural address: "Let clean water flow." He was referring to the strong commitment the United States of America has to working with countries around the globe, including India, to ensure that people everywhere have access to clean and safe water.

 

The United States is working in partnership with the government of India on a number of projects designed to improve access to clean water and sanitation, develop water resources for agriculture, and reduce child mortality and morbidity related to unsafe drinking water. One United States Agency for International Development (USAID) project works in conjunction with India's Ministry of Urban Development and selected states and cities to improve delivery of urban services, with an emphasis on ensuring access to water and sanitation for the urban poor. Through this project, we have helped provide 1,35,000 Indians with increased access to a clean water supply, and nearly 4,00,000 with improved sanitation facilities.

 

Through our agriculture programme, we are working on developing public-private partnerships that introduce more efficient water use technologies and improve water resources management in the agricultural sector. To reduce the tragic incidence of child mortality related to contaminated water, we are working with both the commercial and public sectors on a diarrhoea reduction project that promotes affordable and simple products to disinfect water at the point-of-use.

 

To celebrate World Water Day, I am particularly excited to launch today a new American initiative, "Saathi Bachpan Ke" (Alliance for Healthy Childhood), in a low-income community in Delhi. As a father of four children, this initiative has particular relevance for me because it is specifically designed to improve the health of the youngest and most vulnerable children by reducing water-related diarrhoeal diseases. This alliance represents an exciting partnership of private, public, and non-governmental organisations working together to promote simple techniques that families everywhere can use to protect their children's health. This initiative will help parents and children understand the importance of washing hands with soap; help in treating diarrhoea; and the adoption of simple drinking water purification methods to insure a safe and clean drinking supply.

 

As Benjamin Franklin once noted with the wisdom, eloquence and brevity that made him one of our greatest statesmen, "When the well's dry, we know the worth of water." I hope that we can all benefit from the knowledge of water's worth and value as we strive to ensure a safe and clean supply for our generation and those to come. I look forward to the great news of the people of our two countries working together in partnership to ensure that no child dies from a preventable water-related disease, that no girl fears going to school for lack of access to a separate toilet, that no family goes hungry because they can't grow the food they need to survive, and that those who are most in need have access to water, that most precious element of life.

 

The writer is US ambassador to India

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

TARGET PRACTICE


Inflation, not growth, is clearly the top-of-the-mind issue for RBI if the 25 basis point hike in both the repo and reverse repo rates on Friday is an indicator. RBI has chosen to hike rates even though food inflation, the major contributor to overall inflation, is showing signs of abating. In our view, RBI is tightening too early, given that there is no overwhelming evidence of excess demand yet. The larger problem, beyond this particular hike, is that RBI tends to deploy an ad hoc approach when fighting inflation with no clear targets for either growth or the inflation rate. Ideally, now that the crisis is over, RBI needs to move to a more transparent inflation-targeting regime—the political executive must set the target and the central bank must have the independence to meet the target. In this context, it is important to note the evolving global debate on the subject—inflation is a concern for most economies now in the aftermath of generous fiscal and monetary stimuli. The West, particularly Europe, has led what was considered the global best practices in central bank independence and inflation targeting (usually at a very low rate of inflation, not more than 2%). And while the consensus on the need for central bank independence remains intact, the consensus on what should be the appropriate rate of inflation to target is up for debate.

 

The IMF, led by its chief economist Olivier Blanchard, has suggested more lenient targets, perhaps in the range of 4%. This would give policymakers more flexibility in a downturn. First, it leaves open the possibility of running a negative real interest rate regime—there were genuine fears of a liquidity trap in this downturn, when even a zero rate of nominal interest can translate into a positive real rate of interest in the presence of deflation or zero inflation. That sort of scenario makes monetary policy completely impotent. Second, a higher rate of inflation helps reduce real wages without a cut in nominal wages, which assists adjustment in a downturn. And third, since inflation involves a transfer of wealth from creditors to debtors, it can help governments, leveraged firms and individuals come out of a crisis faster. In India, given the various supply-side constraints in the economy, it would not be prudent to have an inflation target of 1% or 2%—it will have to be higher. Yet, inflation should not be used by the government as an instrument to reduce its debt burden—the collateral damage of high inflation makes this unviable. There is a need to debate what the exact target should be which allows both flexibility and reduces uncertainty. At any rate, explicit inflation targeting will be a better system of setting monetary policy than the one we have now.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CURRENCY GAMES


In his confirmation hearings in January 2009, the US Treasury secretary Timothy F Geithner boldly declared that China was manipulating its currency exchange policies—keeping the yuan unnaturally weak to make the country's exports more competitive. Geithner backed down soon after, taking the position that negotiations would be more beneficial all around than muscle-flexing. But it didn't take a genius to know that, in time, muscle-flexing would resume at both ends. Indeed, it has. The US Treasury's twice-yearly report on the currency policies of other countries is due in April, and there is growing speculation that it may finally and formally label China as a currency manipulator. Five senators have introduced legislation that would make it easier for the US to take corrective action against countries labelled as currency manipulators and 130 House members have sent a letter to the Treasury that asks it to issue a finding of manipulation. On the Chinese side, PM Wen Jiabao, himself, has pitched in to rattle back the sabre—insisting that his currency wasn't undervalued. It is. By The Economist's calculations, the yuan is 49% below its fair-value benchmark with the dollar. But as domestic politics drive US and Chinese leaders to flex muscles in their respective backyards, we want to emphasise the broader ramifications of the issue.

 

China's policy of depressing its exchange rate undermines the competitiveness of other developing countries that compete more closely with China than the US or the EU, whose comparative advantage has a very different source—in technology, rather than in hard manufacturing. Paul Krugman says that—as most of the world's large economies are stuck in a liquidity trap and unable to generate a recovery by cutting interest rates because the relevant ones are already near zero—China is not only engineering an unwarranted trade surplus for itself but also affecting an anti-stimulus pressure on large economies. But more important than what an undervalued yuan means to the rest of the world is what the undervalued yuan means for China. It is increasingly clear that a fixed, undervalued exchange rate is making it harder for authorities in China to control inflation and asset bubbles. That may yet be the most compelling reason for China to rethink the value of the yuan, certainly a lot more compelling than the aggressive rhetoric coming out of the US. Of course, the world will be better off if China reduces its trade surpluses and boosts domestic consumption, thereby correcting one of the most serious imbalances in the global economy.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

INVESTMENT STORY IS STILL INTACT

MAHESH VYAS


The official IIP has been on a roll in recent months. The year-on-year growth rates were close to 17% in December 2009 and January 2010. Acceleration in growth rates began in June and in six months it has reached levels that are exceptional. The Y-o-Y growth rate in IIP has never stabilised around a level as high as 17%. So, is the current growth rate also unsustainable?

 

There is no logical reason why growth cannot accelerate to 17% or more and continue to grow at such levels for a long time. India's per capita consumption levels are low enough to expect ample headroom for growth, and corporate India is investing enthusiastically to build new capacities that will create the supply and the demand to fuel such an accelerated growth. Yet, doubts linger about the sustainability of the 17% growth reflected in the IIP. These arise because of the CSO's inability to assure us of a well-measured IIP. Problems of old weights and a creaky implementation continue to spook the IIP. Data problems continue, but these seem to be less problematic compared to the situation a couple of years ago. It is imperative that the CSO release the new IIP at the earliest to remove all doubts about the reliability of this important measure.

 

Is this spike in growth a base effect? December 2008 and January 2009 bore the brunt of the global liquidity crisis. IIP growth was negligible in these months. However, the seasonally adjusted series (produced by Ajay Shah and his colleagues) also show impressive growth rates. So, this is not merely a low base effect at work. The growth is real. The main source of the acceleration in the IIP is the extraordinary growth in the index for capital goods. Y-o-Y this grew by 39% in December and then a whopping 56% in January.

 

The capital goods sector is full of products whose output is often lumpy. The wild gyrations in their output often cause extraordinary growth rates. This is influencing the growth rates around now. For example, the biggest source of growth in the capital goods index is the production of broad gauge covered wagons, whose production grew by over a 1000% in November and then by 345% and 529%, respectively, in the following two months. Production has increased from less than 100 wagons last year to 500-600 this year.

 

Equally significant is the 200% growth in the production of commercial vehicles in December and January. This growth matches the data published by Siam. And, more significant is similar growth (around 200%) in shipbuilding because of its greater weight in the IIP. Production has increased from around Rs 300 crore a month last December-January to around Rs 1,000 crore this year. These are large increases that have had a big impact on the overall growth of the IIP. But, these are possible and need not elicit cynicism.

 

Within the capital goods segment, the production data for textile machinery and insulated cables are clearly inaccurate. The first seems to be a methodological issue and the second is a data reliability issue. But, both carry small weights and so they do not impact overall growth numbers. CMIE has consistently maintained that the investments momentum that began in late 2004 has continued save for a very brief interruption immediately following the global liquidity crisis in 2008. Currently, the pace of implementation of new investments is possibly running at its highest. The acceleration seen in the Capital Goods Index, prima facie, is thus a confirmation of CMIE's claim, which is based on its own Capex database.

 

The Capex database shows that projects worth Rs 4 lakh crore will be commissioned during 2009-10. This is 36% higher than the Rs 2.9 lakh crore worth of investments that got commissioned in 2008-09 and 126% higher than the average of Rs 1.8 lakh crore worth of projects that were commissioned annually during 2005-06 through 2007-08.

 

The global liquidity crisis of September 2008 did not dampen the growth in creation of new plants and machinery. Further, we expect the growth to continue in 2010-11. According to the Capex database, Rs 6.5 lakh crore worth of investment projects are expected to be commissioned during the year. A majority of these projects will be coming up in the infrastructure segment. Investments worth Rs 1.4 lakh crore will be commissioned in the electricity sector. An estimated 21,355 mw of additional power generating capacity is expected to be set up in 2010-11. This is twice the 10,530 mw expected to be commissioned in 2009-10, which itself is twice as high as the average of 5,000 mw added per year during 2005-09.

 

The construction, roadways and metals sectors will also see significant capacity additions during the year. Eleven million tonne of steel producing capacity and 40 million tonne of cement producing capacity is expected to be commissioned. While the commissioning of fresh capacities continues relentlessly, there is also a continuous flow of new investment proposals from the industry. During January and February 2010, new investment proposals worth Rs 2.7 lakh crore were announced. This compares well with the Rs 9.2 lakh crore worth of new proposals made during April-December 2009. This continued increase in new capacity creation is the best indication of the confidence that enterprises have on India's future. They are betting their monies on a market they expect will grow exponentially. Unlike China, India's investment boom is not driven by a fiscal stimulus. We do not have to fear an exit policy.

 

The author heads Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

INDIA INC SHOPS IN NEW MARKETS

SHAILESH DOBHAL


If you closely observe some of the foreign acquisitions that Indian companies have sewed this year, the emerging markets focus comes out loud and clear. Interestingly, it also cuts across sectors. In the consumer goods space, Godrej Consumer Products bought Nigerian personal care company Tura. Fortis' acquisition of Singapore-based hospital chain Parkway and telco Bharti Airtel's Warid buyout in Bangladesh and play for African operations of Kuwait-based Zain gives a hint of Indian companies' services sector appetite. Pharma company Strides Arcolab is taking over the Brazilian facility of the South African company Aspen. And in commodities, Brazilian acquisitions by Shree Renuka Sugars (Equipav SA) and government-run National Mineral Development Corporation (Ferrous Resources) complete the picture.

 

Deal statistics, in numbers and value, hitherto skewed in favour of developed markets which even till last year accounted for over two-thirds of all Indian outbound M&A activity—will start reflecting this shift towards developing markets soon. Out of the 28-odd outbound deals by Indian companies in the first two months of 2010, almost a fourth involve an emerging markets company. To be sure, Indian companies will continue to look at developed markets for technology or intellectual property-related competence building deals, but given these markets' anaemic growth forecasts for the next couple of years, it would be difficult for anyone to make money, even at the current 'low' valuations being quoted for some targets in countries like the US, the UK or the Euro zone.

 

There is a combination of factors that is pushing Indian companies towards markets in Africa, South America, South Asia and South East Asia. For one, as growth returns with a bang after almost a year or so of the slowdown, India Inc finds itself relatively cash-rich and debt-free as compared to its recession-hit global peers. With valuations rising from the troughs that had dipped because of recession, many not-so-strong emerging market companies see value in finding a suitor, and equally some ambitious Indian companies are looking to consolidate quickly. Fortunately, the return of the feel-good factor has so far not clouded Indian companies' objectivity in deal-making and they seem to be sticking to 'value buying', though a strong consumption-led domestic growth in markets like Africa, South Asia, South East Asia and Brazil even makes a case for some premium on valuation. But more importantly, Indian companies are also looking for deep synergies in these emerging markets acquisitions. And it is here, in leveraging synergies between the target and acquirer, that makes or mars any M&A that India Inc's emerging markets focus plays to its strength. The relatively uncluttered consumer markets of Africa, South Asia and South East Asia, compared to Europe or the US, are a beacon for any marketer. However, what makes the case stronger for Indian companies is that the contours of these markets favour business models they have perfected for decades.

 

Much like India, Africa remains a low-cost, high-volume, geographically fragmented and relatively unbranded market, in anything from soaps and medicines to mobile airtime. This is just the market where Bharti Airtel's 'minutes factory' business model for airtime may find traction and thrive. For commodity players like Shree Renuka and NMDC, resource-rich emerging markets will increasingly play a critical role in keeping their operations cost-competitive, even while serving Indian consumers. The risks inherent in valuations et al in emerging markets commodity M&As, especially for mineral acquisitions, seem worth taking as other countries, mainly China, remain aggressive acquirers here, driven by their policy of treating natural resources as strategic buys. Moreover, labour laws in much of Africa, and even in South East Asia, remain benign compared to developed markets. Doing business in developing markets is more pliable for Indian companies, many of whom are finding the developed world's stringent labour laws a huge put-off.

 

It is said that policy creates markets, and nothing can be truer in the context of India Inc's 'Look East' policy, which seems to be gathering pace of late. The ground has been laid with a bevy of free trade and comprehensive economic agreements between India and South East Asian nations. With the lowering of tariff and non-tariff barriers on the movement of goods and professionals in the region, it was about time that services businesses, much like Fortis, start building a pan-Asian business. Even though Parkway is Singapore-based, over two-thirds of its 3,600 hospital beds are outside the island state in places like Malaysia, the UAE, Brunei, China and India. It is in these, outside Singapore, markets that Fortis will perhaps look for aggressive growth. India Inc's emerging markets M&A story is getting stronger by the day.

 

shailesh.dobhal@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DOSE OF CREDIBILITY

VIVEKA ROYCHOWDHURY


Last week, WHO suspended the distribution and purchase of the Shan5 vaccine, as complaints of a white sediment in vials came in from agencies like Médecins Sans Frontières and Unicef. The vaccine lots were manufactured by the Hyderabad-based Shantha Biotechnics, now part of the Sanofi-Aventis group. Though WHO is not anticipating a vaccine safety issue as of now, distributing agencies were advised to quarantine the rest of the batches pending further investigation.

 

Touted as India's first indigenously developed liquid pentavalent vaccine, Shan5 protects infants from five major childhood diseases—diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis-B and infections from hemophilus influenzae type-B. It is used for the vaccination of infants aged more than six weeks and given in three doses. Shantha Biotech has confirmed that the vaccine lots passed all quality controls and met all specifications required by the WHO and Unicef at the time of shipping.

 

The vaccine supply chain is fraught with challenges. If the sediment did not exist when it left factory premises and is not 'foreign matter', then it is part of the contents that condensed during the passage. And when the destination countries include developing countries where cold chain facilities are a luxury, there are bound to be weak links in the vaccine supply chain.

 

There is no doubt that the manufacture of biological therapeutics, like vaccines, is very complex compared to chemical-based medicines, and requires extreme consistency in operations, with a very small margin for variation in parameters like temperature and relative humidity. So, from an image point of view, this setback is likely to raise doubts on the manufacturing capabilities of Indian vaccine players, even those who are now part of the global vaccine majors, if the weak link is not identified (and fixed) as soon as possible.

 

Both the parent company as well as the Indian subsidiary need to take swift damage control measures, zero in on the problem, own up if necessary and fix it as soon as possible.

 

viveka.r@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

HOLLOW OFFER

 

Against the backdrop of Washington's efforts to tighten international sanctions on Iran, President Barack Obama's latest reiteration of his offer of comprehensive diplomatic contacts and dialogue with the Islamic Republic smacks of disingenuousness and insincerity. During the U.S. presidential campaign in 2009, candidate Obama won applause around the world for boldly declaring his readiness to meet with Iranian leaders and find a negotiated end to the nuclear question and other issues bedevilling bilateral relations. But ever since he got to the White House, the Democratic president has been unable to shake off the legacy of 30 years of American hostility towards Tehran. President Obama's first false step was to ignore President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and send a message directly to the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Whatever his motivations, Mr. Obama's approach was seen by Iran as a crude attempt to play factions, a belief validated later when Washington openly took sides in the stand-off between Mr. Ahmadinejad and the supporters of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who lost the presidential contest last year in an election widely believed to have been rigged. Encouraged by the apparent street power of the opposition Green Movement, the Obama administration committed a further blunder in believing that a regime change from within was imminent. Labouring under this illusion, it has allowed promising diplomatic proposals aimed at building confidence in the nuclear arena to wither on the vine.

 

Compounding Washington's gross misreading of the situation within Iran is the virtual veto on Iranian policy the Obama administration appears to have given to Israel. Tel Aviv's mindless rhetoric about the need for military strikes against nuclear sites in Iran has been used by American officials to steamroller the international community into supporting tougher sanctions against Tehran. There is, as yet, no formal proposal before the U.N. Security Council but the U.S., Britain, and France are keen to introduce a ban on gasoline sales to Iran, given that country's lack of refining capacity and its dependence on imported petrol. Among the key UNSC members, Brazil, Turkey, and China have come out against the plan. Beijing's opposition is notable because of its significant energy ties with Iran and the fact that it has a veto. India is not a member of the Security Council but needs nevertheless to join the international debate by joining issue with those who believe sanctions and coercion will help resolve the nuclear issue. Even if the American fears about Iran's intentions are true —and there is no evidence to suggest those are justified — there is ample room for diplomacy. Instead of offering peace while threatening sanctions, President Obama should learn to unclench his fist.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

RETURN OF TIGER

 

For Tiger Woods, the path to perdition was a short drive from the parking lot of his home in Florida to a fire hydrant on a neighbour's property. But the road to redemption, on which he has embarked bravely by announcing his return to competitive golf at the Augusta Masters, is likely to be long and bumpy. He will need all his legendary fighting skills to begin the arduous process of rebuilding his life and career. The sports media have always been kind to him, even in awe of him, until his serial philandering came to light a few months ago. But that phase of his career may well be over. At the Masters, however clever and imaginative his PR team (headed now by the former presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer), he is likely to be confronted for the first time by a largely adversarial media. His long silence and half-hearted apology, followed much later by a press conference at which he seemed to want to do all the right things but failed to do them, did not do much to restore his image among the media, corporate sponsors, or even his fans. In the event, reassembling brand Woods would appear less important than regaining public trust — something the champion lost with his akratic behaviour.

 

On the other hand, it would be churlish to begrudge Woods his return stage. The return of a great sportsman who has given so much joy to millions of people and whose best may still lie ahead is decidedly an event to celebrate. If there are those who believe that Woods has hijacked the year's first Major at the game's most hallowed venue for self-serving ends, they need to be reminded that everybody — not least a prodigiously gifted champion who has redefined the sport — deserves a second chance. This has nothing to do with television ratings, although it is true that Woods's return could lift the value of sponsors' TV spots by more than 40 per cent and viewership by more than 50 per cent. It is an elemental part of what sport is about — it's the capacity to offer the chance for transformation. If Diego Maradona, Shane Warne, and Kobe Bryant managed to vault over career-threatening humps, then there is no reason to believe that Woods cannot. "I fully expected Tiger to play the Masters and that will be good for Augusta,'' says Jack Nicklaus. Before Tiger was old enough to enrol in a school, his father Earl Woods told him that breaking Nicklaus's record of 18 major titles was going to be his life mission. Now he has a second chance to accomplish what has always seemed Mission Possible.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

A QUARTER CENTURY OF KANSHI RAM & MAYAWATI

MAYAWATI HAS WON REPEATEDLY ON THE STRENGTH OF THE TRANSFERABLE DALIT VOTE. THE COMMUNITY DESERVES MORE THAN CURRENCY GARLANDS ON THE BSP'S SILVER BIRTH ANNIVERSARY.

VIDYA SUBRAHMANIAM

 

The image of Mayawati swaddled in a giant currency garland at the silver jubilee celebrations of the Bahujan Samaj Party brought conflicting emotions.

 

Who could grudge the BSP this supremely deserved highpoint? There are not many parallels to the story of the BSP. A party of the socially deprived making the rough journey to the seat of power in the country's most populous State is remarkable in itself. When that party wins a majority of seats under the leadership of a self-made woman of Dalit background, then the feat becomes immeasurable.

 

Which is why the currency garland is disconcerting. It was a needless appendage to a momentous milestone. The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister has much to celebrate and celebrate she must. But when she reduces the grandness of the occasion to a worship of currency notes, she detracts from her own implausible achievement.

 

True, her critics are the carping kind. They will ceaselessly disparage her even as they overlook the overabundance of her competitors' wealth. Perhaps there is also some merit in the view that the showmanship was a necessary signal to her core constituency, to tell Dalits that wealth is not the preserve of the 'upper' castes. But 15 years have passed since Ms Mayawati first became Chief Minister. And it is three years since her party independently captured power. Surely, symbolism that once motivated and uplifted Dalits cannot indefinitely do so, and symbolism in perpetuity might even become an affront to their dignity and self respect.

 

My mind travelled to the early years of the BSP — and from there back to the present. It was the summer of 1988 and a horde of journalists, me included, had descended on Allahabad in U.P. to cover the by-election that set the stage for Vishwanath Pratap Singh to take on Rajiv Gandhi.

 

We obsessively followed 'VP' on the campaign trail, and tracked down Sunil Shastri, the elusive Congress candidate. But there was a mysterious third candidate about whom we knew nothing. Then a strange thing happened. Almost overnight, the city was doused in the colour blue : little blue elephants covered every inch of the walls while bi-cycle riders carrying blue flags clogged the roads. The sight was truly something to behold. Kanshi Ram was the third angle of the triangular contest. But the BSP, formed four years earlier, was ideologically hostile to the 'upper' caste media, and it took me many attempts to breach the barrier to the leader and his army of fiercely committed soldiers.

 

The effort opened my eyes to a whole new world. Over long stretches of conversation, we discussed institutionalised prejudices, the daily slights, and the media's refusal to even consider the Dalit point of view. I learnt why the BSP hated the word 'harijan' : Are we orphans (they used a coarser word) that we need to become children of God? The words stung like arrows, and though aware of the purity of heart behind Gandhi's coinage, I pledged never to use the offending phrase.

 

Kanshi Ram lost the election but performed impressively, polling close to 70,000 votes in an election where he was up against a future Prime Minister.

 

Some three years later, the BSP founder introduced me to his understudy, a wisp of a girl with daring in her eyes. By then Ms. Mayawati was already a veteran of many Lok Sabha elections. Her vote trajectory was a harbinger of things to come – as much for Ms. Mayawati herself as for her party. Kairana, 1984: Third with 44,445 votes. Bijnor, 1985 : Third with 61,504 votes. Hardwar, 1987: Second with 1,25,399 votes. Bijnor, 1989: First with 1,83, 189 votes.

 

Ms Mayawati was as aggressive as her mentor was calm and reflective. Kanshi Ram was not a towering intellectual like Baba Saheb Ambedkar but he gave the BSP its philosophical underpinning. And what was the philosophy? One of his staunchest disciples, Ambeth Rajan, was fond of demonstrating it with the flick of his pencil. The standing pencil, with the Brahmins and other upper castes at the top, the OBCs in the middle and Dalits at the bottom, symbolised inequality at its worst. But the same pencil, laid flat on the table represented samta muluk (equal) society. But Mr. Rajan knew, as did Kanshi Ram, that what was possible in theory was not possible in practice. Thus was born the "opportunism" of the BSP. "Yes, we are opportunists. We will seize every opportunity that comes our way," Kanshi Ram would say defiantly. It was a different matter that for the elitist media this deliberate "admission" became just one more stick to beat the BSP with.

 

Ms Mayawati was neither Ambedkar nor Kanshi Ram; she had no time for lofty intellectual pursuits. She was blessed with enormous native intelligence and she was cast in the street-fighter's mould. The two qualities made for a lethal combination. Inside the Lok Sabha as outside, she came to be known for her acid tongue. The more she lashed out at the manuwadis, the greater the motivational levels of the BSP cadre. Ms Mayawati's rabble-rousing skills made her an instant draw among Dalit voters, who thrilled to the guts and pluck of Kanshi Ram's heir. For Dalit voters, treated for years as a captive constituency by the Congress, the new, assertive BSP represented freedom, respect and a completely new way of thinking.

 

The confidence could be seen in the BSP's career graph. In just one decade, from 1989 to 1999, the party's strength in the Lok Sabha (out of 85 seats) went up from only two seats for a vote share of 9.93 per cent to 14 seats for a vote share of 22.8 per cent. In the 425-member U.P. Vidhan Sabha, the party's seat share rose from 13 for a vote share of 9.41 per cent in 1989 to 98 for a vote share of 23 per cent in 2002.

 

The decade also saw the BSP seize power through its stated policy of "opportunism." In 1993, the BSP teamed up with the Mulayam Singh-led Samajwadi Party to stunning effect. Together, the SP and the BSP overthrew the Bharatiya Janata Party, then at the peak of its Hindutva glory. But soon, the applause died down. In June 1995, the Dalit-ki-beti became Chief Minister with the support of the BJP. The ideologically mismatched alliance shocked critics and friends alike. The BJP was the BSP's mirror opposite in terms of how it viewed the 'upper' castes. Accusations of "opportunism" were again thrown at Kanshi Ram and his favourite pupil.

 

Yet in office, the BSP proved to be the BJP's nemesis. Between 1995 and 2003, the BSP aligned thrice with the BJP, and each time it grew at its partner's expense. Between 1996 and 2004, the BJP's Lok Sabha tally from U.P. plunged from 52 (of 83) seats for a vote share of 33 per cent to 10 (of 80) seats for a vote share of 22 per cent. Between 1996 and 2002, the party's seat share in the Assembly declined from 174 (of 425) seats for 32.5 per cent to 88 (of 403) seats for 21 per cent.

 

But the BSP was not content with this. Ms Mayawati had long ago convinced herself that her party had little to derive from pre-poll alliances. But post-poll alliances were fraught with tensions as could be seen from the repeated rupture of the BSP-BJP partnerships. The germ of a winning idea began here. The BJP-BSP alliance represented the fusion of 'upper', OBC and Dalit castes. Rather than depend on an external ally, what if the BSP made this its own internal alliance? The implementation of the idea saw the birth of the 'Brahmin jodo abhiyan' as well as the reaching out to other castes.

 

The new scheme of things saw Mayawati, the aggressor, turn into Mayawati, the community builder. The transformation was beyond belief. In building a caste coalition on its own terms, the BSP had come tantalisingly close to its founder's 'samta muluk' vision. But the danger was that this could be strategy more than vision. Indeed, today, nearly three years after that fantastic peak, the BSP no longer looks that good.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the BSP lost votes from almost all sections in U.P, including marginally from her own community of Dalit-Jatavs. An educated, socially-conscious community, the Dalit-Jatavs no doubt noticed that Ms Mayawati had allocated only as many seats to Dalits as there are reserved constituencies in the State. The BSP chief owed her success to them; they transferred their vote almost wholly to whoever she named. In return, they did not get even one seat more than their constitutionally sanctioned share.

 

The BSP is still the forerunner in U.P. Ms Mayawati's biggest advantage is her transferable vote bank. However, for this vote bank not to feel used and slighted, she must do more than wear currency garlands.

 

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THE HINDU

ENLARGED SCOPE FOR READERS TO WRITE

 

The response of readers to the Open Page becoming a full page from March 14, 2010 is simultaneously understandable and overwhelming. Many readers have long been asking for this change. In fact, I recently learnt that the column was given one full page when it was launched in the late 1970s and that arrangement continued for several years. I am happy that it has been restored to its past status and I join readers in thanking the Editor-in-Chief for making this possible. "It shows that The Hindu's concern for the readers and the fact that it sees them as dynamic stakeholders, not just consumers," said A. Clement (Chennai). A large number of readers have expressed similar sentiments. Sunil P. Shenoy (Mangalore) observes: "The opening up of this important section demonstrates the commitment of the newspaper to enable the common man to share his views." A few readers have also come out with suggestions on how the extra space could be put to optimum use. I know these will be given due consideration by Chief News Editor P.K. Subramanian and a small team who are in charge of this valuable page.

 

A proud history

 

For a 131-year-old newspaper, history and tradition have a special significance alongside change and innovation - and the Open Page has a proud history behind it. The one-page feature, meant for the readers and by the readers, was born during the run-up to The Hindu's centenary celebrations in September 1978. The 1960s and 1970s saw several innovative changes not only in terms of the paper's editorial content but also in respect of its unprecedented reach to readers in far-off places not reached before. Many features were introduced to attract and educate readers with quality journalism. Well-trained reporters and correspondents were tasked with specialisation in fields such as education, science, sports, commerce and so on. The Open Page came as a centenary gift to The Hindu's readers, who had traditionally made excellent use of their `Letters to the Editor' column, with verve, ease, reflection, and certainly no fear or inhibition.

 

A Hundred Years of The Hindu: The Epic Story of Indian Journalism by Rangaswami Parthasarathy (Kasturi & Sons Ltd., Madras, 1978) relates this story in Chapter 53 (pages 780-781) titled `A Decade of Progress and Travail':

 

Towards the end of 1977, The Hindu introduced three more new features which have proved to be very popular. The first of these is called "Outlook" in which the reader is presented with the verbatim report of a 3-hour discussion by a distinguished panel of experts on any specified subject, chosen by the Editor. The panel is selected from all parts of the country and the participants include men and women who have achieved distinction in their fields of work. Their number may be the five, six or seven, and they are given complete freedom to express their views, The Hindu merely tape-recording the debate and presenting them to the reader in full and without editing. Many important and topical subjects like the problem of the handicapped, population control and position of women have been considered by these panels and their discussions are published in a four- [newspaper] page report on a Wednesday once every month.

 

The second, which is a one-page feature, is called "Special Report," which carries short articles from Special Correspondents, industrialists and others on management and labour and other topics of interest to the general reader. The feature is published once every month.

 

The third, also a one-page feature is called "Open Page" and it is the reader's page. It affords readers an opportunity to think aloud on burning problems of the day and suggest solutions. It is also a monthly feature.

 

Interestingly and fittingly, A Hundred Years of The Hindu was dedicated to "the thousands of devoted workers who by their selfless service and unflinching loyalty over a long and eventful century made it possible for The Hindu to grow and serve the people, and to the millions of its generations of readers in India and abroad to whom this newspaper is a way of life."

 

Panel discussion

 

Some long-time readers may recall that the first Outlook feature, "Development - where do we go from here and how?" published on September 28, 1977. It was the transcript of a panel discussion, recorded at the newspaper's head office in Chennai ten days earlier, in which three well-known economists, Professors C.T. Kurien (a retired Director and Chairman of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai who now lives in Bangalore), C. Rangarajan (now Chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council), and Prabhat Patnaik (of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, who is currently Vice-Chairman of the Planning Board of Kerala) participated. The others on the panel, which was designed to blend scholarly insights with hands-on practical experience in industry, were J.T. Panikar, an engineer-planner and futurologist, and M.K. Raju, a professional manager. The full, unedited transcript of the discussion, which was held in the Editor's office and lasted three hours, was published in four full pages of the newspaper. It is clear from the response that tens of thousands of the newspaper's devoted readers read it from start to finish.

 

It is interesting that the feature came with a five-paragraph introductory note from the Editor, which, among other things, pointed out: "The reader will note that the discussion ranges over a very wide field, touches upon a variety of issues and theoretical and practical considerations, and brings out differences in standpoints, emphases, diagnoses and prescriptions. The spirit of polemic is present, also a basic concern with real-life issues."

 

The first `Open Page'

 

The first Open Page was published on October 19, 1977. A four-line highlight alongside the page branding at the top read: "How do people react to events, ideas, developments? The Hindu seeks, in this monthly feature, to provoke public discussion on key topics of current interest, to promote purposeful thinking. This page is open to you."

 

The inaugural page carried three articles spread across eight columns. The top story, "Is Cellular Production the Answer?", was a follow-up to the International Conference on Production Engineering, which was held for the first time in a developing country, in New Delhi. The article highlighted the metalworking processes that would suit the country. The blurb read: "The `small is beautiful' concept seems to be catching on. Mass production may well be replaced by production by the masses. In the `cellular' form of organisation now gaining ground may perhaps lie the answer to the current hot question as to how small industries ought to be promoted." Of the two other articles featured on the page, one related to the quality of village life. Interestingly, this article has in it references to the "Outlook" discussion published on September 18, 1977. The blurb declared: "Any attempt of rural development will fail to enlist the support of the local people unless it seeks to improve the quality of their life. And, for this, it is essential that goods and services are taken to their doorsteps." The third story, "How Safe are Our Work and Study Spots?", cautioned the people against the menace of pollution.

 

Popular

Of these three special sections, only Open Page has survived to this day, either as half page or full page. There were, however, occasional breaks to accommodate either of the other two features (Outlook and Special Report) or to cover election-related stories for three weeks in December 1984 and seven weeks in April-May 2009. While Outlook was stopped in December 1983, Special Report ended in April 1993.

 

The first full-page Open Page published last week (March 14, 2010) has attracted wide reader attention. Of the four articles it carries, two are related to women's problems and their empowerment. A poignantly narrated story of an elderly couple, who terribly missed their son and daughter, both employed in the United States, won the hearts of many a reader, as is evidenced by the number of letters it generated.

 

A specially gratifying feature is that my predecessor, K. Narayanan (The Hindu's first Readers' Editor and before that the newspaper's highly esteemed, long-time News Editor) has welcomed the change.

 

The expanded Open Page meets the aspirations of the readers who are eager to write, provided they avail of the space with all seriousness, keeping in mind the rules of the game. With a circulation of 1.46 million copies, the newspaper offers its readers a handsome opportunity to seek to inform, engage with, and influence public opinion - on issues that matter.

 

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

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THE HINDU

A MAN OF 'SIMPLE CONVICTIONS'

KANAK MANI DIXIT

 

His strong and continuous presence at the helm of political affairs for three decades after 1990 can be said to have helped Nepal ease itself into the modern democratic era.

 

Girija Prasad Koirala will be remembered as a democrat who strode through Nepal's modern democratic era of two decades, a man with weaknesses at the party level, whose commitment to pluralism remained unwavering. Though an autocrat within his Nepali Congress, where he wielded total control from 1990 till recent months, his democratic convictions when it came to the larger polity made Koirala stand resolute against royal adventurism. And political pragmatism made him reach out to the Maoist rebels in the jungle.

 

At 86, Koirala was the very last national-level politician of South Asia whose activism spanned the period from the Quit India Movement of the 1940s till present. All his contemporaries elsewhere in South-Asia have passed on before this. In this sense, Girija Prasad Koirala's death marks the passing of a South-Asian era.

 

He was groomed in political culture by his brother Bisweshwor Prasad Koirala (BP), who walked the world stage as a socialist of the Nehru-Nasser period. It was from BP that 'GP' received his pluralism mantra, which made him uncompromising in matters like civilian control of the military, separation of powers, and supremacy of the judiciary. These were the 'simple convictions' {+*} which helped Koirala steer the polity after the fall of the 30-year royal Panchayat regime, at a time when some believed the country would disintegrate in the absence of absolute monarchy.

 

Within the Nepali Congress, Koirala emerged as the sole power centre soon after 1990, ruthlessly sidelining the other two of the triumvirate which inherited the mantle from BP, Ganesh Man Singh and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. He was able to maintain a strong base by building a direct relationship with party workers all over through continuous travel, and retaining the power to raise and disburse party funds.

 

Long innings

 

Koirala ruled the longest as five-time prime minister in the democratic era after 1990, and by that token also made more mistakes than others, besides earning the animosity of the mainstream left which opposed him in Parliament and on the streets. Koirala can take some of the credit for the advances made during the dozen years of democracy till 2002, including the advance of community forestry, press freedom, the FM radio revolution and the brief interlude with local government. He was a true believer in open society. And yet, he was party to the ills that dog us to this day, from energy shortage, static economy and the impunity that has spread like wildfire. Clearly, Koirala was unable to come to grips with the newer challenges beyond pluralism, posed by identity assertion and economic globalisation, among others.

 

Though often vilified as a power-monger, posterity will regard Girija Prasad Koirala better than his contemporaries. His strong and continuous presence at the helm of political affairs for three decades after 1990 can be said to have helped Nepal ease itself into the modern democratic era. He was prime minister when the royal palace massacre occurred in 1 June 2001, and his personality probably helped stave off total anarchy that the then-underground Maoists were set to take advantage of. As is widely acknowledged, the country would not have a peace process and the Maoists come above ground, nor would it have gone republican, without Koirala's acquiescence.

 

Koirala led an austere life, living in a makeshift rooftop apartment of his nephew most of the time that he was out of power. The corruption charges levelled against him during his prime ministership would have mostly to do with the income he had to generate for the Nepali Congress, in a polity where there is no sanctioned party-finance mechanism. But the father's one definite weakness was for daughter Sujata, and he was not beneath promoting graft on her behalf. Koirala always kept assistants, but never allowed anyone to get close enough to think he was a confidante. Over time, a family coterie came to surround the ageing leader, and able associates drifted away from the inner circle.

 

Second coming

 

Girija Prasad Koirala's 'second coming' was after 2002, when the new (and last) king of Nepal made a not-so-naked grab for power. While the other democratic leaders, nearly to the last man, fell like ninepins against the royal coup, Koirala held firm even as many regarded him as a laughing stock. He resisted Gyanendra resolutely, and insisted on the reinstatement of the dissolved parliament as the only release that would be acceptable. Few others were with him, but Koirala's doggedness won the day. Gyanendra had used the excuse of the Maoist insurgency to take full charge, but starting in 2003 Koirala initiated contact with the underground rebels and in the fall of 2005 led the seven parliamentary parties to signing the 12-point agreement, which was to spark the massive People's Movement of April 2006.

 

After the People's Movement, it fell to Koirala to lead the country back to peace and democracy. During the time when Koirala was both head of state and government till the elections of April 2008, it was under Koirala's watch that we saw the entrenchment of impunity and the further-weakening of an already feeble state. And yet there is no denying that the successful effort to bring the Maoists above ground had ended the 'people's war', which had taken more than 16,000 lives over a decade. For long having projected himself as an anti-communist, Koirala found it possible to make common cause with the mainstream-left CPN (UML) party to negotiate with the CPN (Maoist) for the sake of peace.

 

Without doubt, as a man who saw leadership of the country synonymous with his own stewardship, Koirala would have died disconsolate. In his last days, weakened by emphysema caused by a lifetime of chain-smoking, Koirala would doubtless have liked to have seen the country on the path to political stability, marked by a successful conclusion of the peace process and promulgation of a new constitution. The former should have meant the disbandment of the Maoist cantonment and the 'attachment' and rehabilitation of the more than 19,000 ex-rebel combatants. The deadline for the constitution writing is 28 May 2010, but Koirala would have died knowing that this deadline was impossible to meet, given the distance between the Maoists and the rest on key draft provisions.

 

It cannot be left unsaid that the aging politician compromised his own legacy towards the very end by brazenly pushing daughter Sujata to lead the Nepali Congress in the government of Madhav Kumar Nepal — an act which in one stroke weakened the latter's cabinet by filling it with juniors. Such was his commanding presence that not one leader in the Nepali Congress dared challenge this show of unalloyed nepotism. Koirala forced Prime Minister Nepal to elevate the daughter to Deputy Prime Minister, and seems to have had an eye on the prime ministerial chair as the ultimate prize. This favouring of a neophyte politician with rip-roaring ambition had the impact of drastically reducing Koirala's stature within his own party over the past year, and a loss of face nationally and internationally.

 

Koirala was born in Bihar, where his family was in exile for challenging the Rana regime. He began his political career six decades ago as a labour union activist at the Biratnagar Jute Mills, and he epitomised the 'secular' values of liberal democracy which many others merely mouth, whether it was in matters of faith, gender, human rights, press freedom or civilian-military relations. While regarded highly in India as a man of the 'Independence generation', his strength within Nepal lay in relentless party work and the understanding of powerplay.

 

The man in daura

 

Girija Prasad Koirala died with the knowledge that a political stable, peaceful and prosperous Nepal was very much a work in progress. And that is the sadness of his passing, of promises unfulfilled and him knowing it. A reliable and towering democrat has been removed from the field at a time when the peace process is incomplete and the constitution unwritten. Will the jolt of his death force the Maoists and the parties arrayed against them to work to finish the peace process and constitution drafting by 28 May? That seems unlikely.

 

The departure of Koirala weakens the social-democratic middle ground of Nepali politics. Spring is the 'season of discontent' when Nepal sees political upheaval, and the UCPN (Maoist) could decide to use Koirala's departure as the opportunity to escalate the radical agenda that they have been voicing in public and private. If they do go in the direction of urban revolt as suggested often and loudly, it is bound to embolden the germinating right wing of Nepali politics. Amidst such a scenario, it is required of democratically inclined politicians of all parties — including the Maoists — to work with the broader civil society to keep the middle ground from encroachment from either side.

 

Dressed immaculately in white daura-suruwal and Western jacket, smoking incessantly from a cigarette holder, white handkerchief in hand, his middle finger extended in oratory fashion, drinking milk-tea from a glass tumbler — that is the lasting image that Girija Prasad Koirala leaves behind. And the hope that the 'simple convictions' he carried will ultimately weaken the forces of political anarchy, and make way for peace, political stability and economic progress.

 

( * The reference is to the one work available by Girija Prasad Koirala, "Simple Convictions: My Struggle for Peace and Democracy " (2007) Mandala, Kathmandu.)

 

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THE HINDU

TALE OF TWO MILITARY-CRAFTED STATUTES

WHILE THE FOCUS OF THE CONTINUING PROTEST IN THAILAND IS HOW TO CHANGE A MILITARY-DRAFTED CONSTITUTION, MYANMAR'S JUNTA IS BUSY IN ROLLING OUT POLL RULES.

P.S. SURYANARAYANA

 

Will Myanmar's National League for Democracy (NLD) think the unthinkable and participate in the flawed polls being promised by the military rulers? More precisely, will the opposition NLD do so by distancing itself from its long-incarcerated leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is still under house arrest?

 

Elsewhere in East Asia, will Thailand's civilian Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, distance himself from the military bloc, which holds the balance of power? These seemingly unrelated questions point to a somewhat shared reality: the military's shadow in both Thailand and Myanmar over their respective politics.

 

Obviously, the military's stranglehold on civilian politics is not as acute in present-day Thailand as it has been in Myanmar for a long time. But the current Thai crisis flows from the perceived role of the military leaders in propping up a civilian government under a Constitution they drafted in 2007.

 

By Sunday (March 21), as the Thai protesters kept up a relentless but peaceful campaign, Mr. Abhisit offered dialogue: statute changes being one of the issues. He is also not insisting that he should first be allowed to complete his current term, due to end late in 2011. While the focus of protest in Thailand is how to change a military-crafted Constitution, Myanmar's junta is still busy in rolling our rules under its blueprint.

 

For long under the heels of unelected military rulers, Myanmar is virtually a byword for opaque national politics behind a bamboo curtain in this space age. Equally, Ms Suu Kyi, the indomitable campaigner for a peaceful power-shift from military dictatorship to representative governance, is a democracy icon. It is this aspect that won her the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), Myanmar's current junta, has recently promulgated decrees for polls under "a roadmap of democracy." The SPDC is widely seen to have responded to long years of international sanctions and peer-pressure from within the ASEAN bloc. Yet, the Myanmar junta has had no intention of going the whole hog towards a system of truly representative politics. And, the poll decrees reflect the fear of the military generals that Ms Suu Kyi can turn the tide against them in a level-playing political field.

 

Unsurprisingly, the SPDC has decreed that no individual can stand for election if he or she has been convicted and sentenced by a court of law. Not only that. No such person can be a leader or even a member of a political party, if it is to participate in the polls at a date yet to be specified. And above all, no group of persons, including an existing political party such as the NLD, can register itself with a "convict" as a leader or even a member. Moreover, a formal registration under these new "rules and regulations" is required if a party is to nominate candidates for the promised polls. So, it is no secret that the SPDC's singular purpose is to keep both Ms. Suu Kyi and the NLD or just her away from the new "road towards democracy." Her current term of house arrest is an executive-modified version of a much harsher court sentence. She was found "guilty" of having violated the conditions of her previous term of house arrest.

 

On two counts, Ms. Suu Kyi's current ordeal fits the taboos under Myanmar's latest poll laws and vice versa. She has lived under detention, including some time in prison, for over 14 years in the two decades since her NLD triumphed in the last polls in 1990. And, every schoolboy knows that she was not allowed by Myanmar's military establishment to form a government on the basis of the 1990-poll results. Of greater relevance today, though, is that her current detention is the first such action against her on the basis of a trial in a court and a related "guilty" verdict. All her previous terms of detentions were not the result of any trial or "conviction" in a court. They were simply based on the executive order of the junta. Secondly in this sub-text, the NLD and its lawyers have so far failed in their efforts to get her current "conviction" overturned by the apex court. This aspect, too, can be seen to fit Myanmar's latest poll-related taboos and vice versa.

 

Existential dilemma

 

Such an ambience gives Ms. Suu Kyi no elbow room for political activity and forces the NLD to face an existential dilemma. The inevitable question is whether the NLD, which cannot get the poll decrees altered, sign its own death warrant by not abandoning Ms. Suu Ky. Illustrative of the dilemma are the answers that two NLD leaders in Yangon have given this correspondent in recent phone-in calls.

 

Octogenarian Tin Oo, only recently released from house arrest, said: "The NLD's Central Executive Committee (CEC) will hold a very decisive meeting [on this issue] on March 29. We will very seriously discuss the pros and cons of whether to enrol [the NLD] or not [for the junta-promised polls this year]. There is speculation [that the NLD may opt to enrol without Ms. Suu Kyi in its fold]. We will reserve our [March 29] resolution for her [consideration]. The resolution is to be based on a harmonious decision [by the CEC]. She has [of course] told us she will comply with the CEC's resolution [when passed]. But [the NLD knows that] Aung San Suu Kyi is not an ordinary lady. She is the prestigious leader of our democratic cause and struggle. She is universal [in her political appeal]."

 

Spelling out a further nuance of this existential dilemma, the NLD spokesman, Nyan Win, said "Ms. Suu Kyi does not like the Constitution." He was referring to the statute which the junta declared ratified in a referendum that was held when Myanmar was reeling under the impact of Cyclone Nargis. "And, she does not like the [promised] election" under this Constitution and the new poll rules, said Nyan Win, her political associate. Yet, "she will respect the party's [prospective] decision" on whether the NLD should now agree to participate in the flawed polls the junta might hold.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

DEATH TO HIJACKERS?

 

The government's decision to make hijacking punishable with death is a tough measure that is overdue. Perhaps it should have been taken even in the 1980s after the first hijacking of an Indian plane to Lahore by Sikh extremists. The other major hijacking was that of the Indian Airlines plane that was taken to Kandahar in 1999 which resulted in the release of Azhar Masood, the arrested Harkatul Mujahideen terrorist, who then went on to create the deadlier Jaish-e-Mohammed.

 

India has not faced too many cases of hijacking, but this does not obviate the need to have a punishment regime in place. Hijacking is a clear act of terror since it is about holding the state to ransom
by endangering the lives of innocent civilians. It may or may not deter potential hijackers, but the proposed measure will at least send a simple message to would-be terrorists that the state is serious about defending itself and in handing out retribution.

 

Apart from the principled objections of anti-capital punishment advocates, there could be legitimate criticism on the usefulness of the death penalty when hijackings could be handled more effectively by preventive procedures. There are no doubt, several ways to improve the security regime at airports, but the terrorist has an edge in this game of poker. Systems may fail only once in a thousand times but that is enough of a window of opportunity for terror to be unleashed. It is, therefore, necessary to make clear the consequences to potential terrorists.

 

It is possible to argue that a terrorist, by definition, is one who has a wager on death and hence the death penalty is hardly something that will deter him. But this is more than a battle of wits between the terrorist and society. It is the state's duty to protect the lives of civilians and punish those who threaten their safety.

 

Capital punishment is one way of doing that. Whatever the dreams of utopians about converting terrorists into angels, societies will always have to arm themselves with laws against acts of terrorism. What should be more worrying, though, is how we handle the death penalty. Afzal Guru, who was convicted in the Parliament attack case, is still around despite being sentenced to death. So what use will the death penalty be if the state does not have the guts to carry out its threats?

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

HEALTH: THE MISSING FACTOR

ANURADHA BHASIN

 

Post-budget discussions this year were almost entirely highjacked by speculation on the inflationary effects of the petrol price hike. In fact, the hullabaoo over the petroleum hike almost completely diluted the strong social thrust of the budget — in line with its stated third goal of inclusive development.

 

There had been some speculation, prior to the budget, that the social sector would be the scapegoat in the government's efforts to curb the fiscal deficit, but fortunately, as Pranab Mukherjee and the budget assured us, inclusive growth continues to be 'an act of faith' for this government.

 

To begin with, the share of social spending was increased to 37% of total spending for this fiscal, a significant jump over the previous year. Added to this is the 25% allocation for rural infrastructure, which could have its own beneficial cascading effects on rural livelihoods and development, depending on the ultimate beneficiaries. Apart from these is the budget's strong thrust on helping farmers and the farm economy, which should also hopefully have a salutary effect on the livelihoods of the rural aam aadmi.

 

As expected, funding for the government's flagship programme, NREGA, was boosted to Rs40,100 crore, and its participants made eligible to enroll in the government's BPL (below poverty line) health insurance scheme. Other rural initiatives include an increase in banking facilities for rural inhabitants, a push towards providing services to 'unbanked' areas and increased allocations for the construction of rural housing and rural infrastructure.

 

The budget put aside Rs1,000 crore for a National Security Fund for these workers, which includes weavers, rickshaw pullers, bidi workers, and others who have no buffer against the vagaries of markets and prices. While the amount seems paltry in view of the millions of workers it is expected to cover, it is an important first step.

 

This is the year when education is at the forefront of our social efforts as the government has to move on the Right to Education Act, passed last September. It has also recently introduced the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), which aims to do for secondary education what the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has successfully achieved for elementary education.

 

One should remember, though, that the SSA was fuelled by a 2% cess on direct taxes levied by the central government some years ago, which helped raise a significant corpus of funding. Ensuring compulsory free education for all till the age of 14 as well as funding the RMSA are going to place demands on the exchequer which probably cannot be met by the Rs31, 036 crore allotted in this budget, even if the states pitch in. Estimates of the financial support needed (from both Central and state governments) to meet the needs of the entire Right to Education programme range from Rs1.44 lakh crore to Rs1.73 lakh crore.

 

The one very disappointing aspect in this budget's social thrust is the almost negligible increase in health spending. If there is one area that is crying out for public funding it is healthcare: this sector, which affects everyone in the country, received only Rs22,300 crore, a meagre 14% more than last year.

 

Healthcare in India urgently needs the kind of attention now being given to education, and possibly the same kind of dedicated funding the SSA initially received. Maybe we need to remind our policy-makers that 'a malnourished child cannot study', so no amount of increased SSA funding will lead to better educational outcomes if children are unhealthy. We also need to remind the UPA government of its promised hike in health expenditure to 2-3% of GDP made in 2004. With the stingy increases in health funding over the past budgets, it will be decades before the current 1% of GDP reaches the targeted 3% of GDP.

 

Our dismal health indicators put us in the same camp as some of the poorest countries, and these are an outcome of low public healthcare spending. Infant death rates are so high that the 13th Finance Commission has recommended rewarding states that manage to bring these down.

 

Overall, it bears repeating that human development in India will depend not only on funding but also on appropriate 'utilisation' of these funds. The announcement in this budget of the setting up of an Independent Evaluation Office in the Planning Commission which will objectively assess public programmes to increase their reach is very welcome.

 

At the end of the day, the sobering fact is that central government spending is only one-fifth of the government's total spending on the social sectors. This is because health, education and many other 'social' areas are also looked after by states. All the good intentions contained in increased spending announced in the Union Budget will only be effective when states also step up their funding — and their commitment — to these vital areas.

 

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DNA

MUMBAI'S ROADS ARE COMMUTERS' NIGHTMARE

ANIL DHARKER

 

Last night there was a traffic jam on Peddar Road at 9.30pm. If you go in the south to north direction of central business district to residential suburbs, the rush-hour would begin at 6 and start easing off in South Mumbai around 8pm. This was not so long ago. Now it starts off at 5.30. And if the traffic is crawling even at 9.30 on Peddar Road, the clogged traffic is not likely to ease off in Juhu/Andheri till 10.30. Soon that will become 11pm.

 

Mumbai adds over 100,000 (one lakh) to its vehicle population every year. This rapid 'birth rate' has seen the city's vehicles go up in numbers from an estimated 50,000 in 1951 to over 1.7 million now. The break-up is 530,000 cars, 920,000 two wheelers, 63,000 taxis and 110,000 auto-rickshaws. In the same period, Mumbai's road length increased from 777 km to 1930 km. In percentage terms, the road length went up by 250%, which doesn't seen so bad till you see that in the same period, the vehicle population went up by 3700%!

 

You don't have to be a traffic expert to look at these figures and say that there can only be two solutions to the problem: the first, reduce the growth in the number of vehicles. The second, increase road length as quickly as possible.

 

If only it were so easy! You can't reduce the growth of cars for the simple reason that in a democracy no one can curb any citizen's right to buy what he wants. You could discourage it by upping taxes and duties but the automobile sector does play an important role in the economy of a country, so a government overburdens it at its own peril. That leaves only one option: building roads, lengthwise and breadth wise, as quickly as possible. That needs money, and even more than money, the organisational and political will which has so sadly been lacking so far. How long has the Peddar Road flyover taken to get off the ground? Apparently it's been waiting for environmental clearance for the last few years!

 

One of the reasons that low priority is given to road infrastructure by governments is because it is seen as a problem of the affluent and not of the aam aadmi. Yes, car owners suffer due to poor traffic infrastructure, but their discomfort is infinitely less than for those who travel in crowded and sweaty buses and trains.

 

The real solution, as we all know, is for the city's train system to become world class. London's Underground is the shining example: because it is so good, the city imposes a huge charge on cars driven into the city centre. And because the train and bus services are so comprehensive, London can make do with only 20,000 cabs, an unbelievably small number when compared to our figure of 63,000 taxis and 110,000 auto-rickshaws — a massive number of vehicles-for-hire which further clog our roads whether they are plying passengers or waiting for them.

 

A small digression here. London has so very few taxis even though it has no official restriction on them. This is for two reasons. The first is that each licensed driver of a black cab must have exhaustive and intimate knowledge of each and every street and square of the city, a knowledge so deep that it can take two years to assimilate. Secondly, London's black cabs have to be of certain dimensions and specifications and so far only three manufactures have been able to combine the comfort and engineering required.

 

Reduce the number of taxis and autos drastically, remove the taxi stands on main roads, prohibit double parking anywhere, make buses stop near the pavement and not in the middle of the road… and see the difference it makes to traffic flow even with the present road length and present vehicle population.

Ultimately, this will not be enough. A comprehensive public transport system must be in place, otherwise we will soon spend all our waking hours stuck in the middle of Mumbai roads.

 

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DNA

SMILE, INDIA

 

With a little over six months to go for the Commonwealth Games to start — a rare sporting glory for India — Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit has an unenviable task at hand: getting Delhi-ites to play the perfect host to foreigners and sportspersons who will swoop down on the city for the grand extravaganza.

 

Delhi's reputation as a rude city has long transcended its geographical boundaries, and Dikshit has every reason to be wary. Though old Delhi has somewhat retained its old-world charm and manners, the residents of its modern half have drawn pride from their arrogance and brazenness. Though the government is doing its bit — the Incredible India advertisements featuring Aamir Khan are all over the place trumpeting the Atithi devo bhava (the guest is god) message, it's a case of too little too late. Dikshit knows it well, which is why she has issued a desperate appeal to the private sector to drill some sense into residents.

 

Her logic is soaked in irony: People tend to dismiss the government's efforts as "sarkaari baat", whereas appeals from the private sector seem grounded in reality. She wants the private sector to create awareness through public hoardings and etiquette classes in schools and colleges, among other things.
To be sure, its not really about Delhi. The rest of the country is hardly any better on the politeness quotient. India is no longer the tourist-friendly country it used to be.

 

Taxi-drivers, hotel owners and shopkeepers are all out to make a quick buck when faced with a gullible foreign tourist (a veritable cash cow for them). Even among tourists, the whites get a clear preference over the dark-skinned — a telling sign of colour-consciousness in a country that strongly denounces apartheid. However, these very Indians display outrage abroad when they find themselves at the receiving end on account of their colour, names and attire. Shah Rukh Khan's much-touted experience at a US airport had briefly united the nation in protests. However, it only exposes our double standards.

 

The key stumbling block to India's aspiration to be a global power is in its people's minds. Their approach and attitudes reek of hypocrisy. If we expect the world to treat us properly, here's a chance to show the world what we are capable of. Our warmth and hospitality during the Games can give the country a facelift that no international forum can offer. Dikshit can try, but will the people for once listen to her? If they do, everybody would stand to gain.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

HIJACK AND DIE!

ZERO TOLERANCE TOWARDS TERROR IS UNAVOIDABLE

 

It was six years ago that the Congress-led UPA regime promised "zero tolerance" towards terror activities. It has taken a firm step in that direction now by recommending death penalty for hijackers and suggesting other radical changes in the Anti-Hijacking Act of 1982. The hijacking threat has grown only more sinister since Pakistan-based terrorists hijacked Indian Airlines flight IC-814 to Kandahar on December 29, 1999, and secured the release of three top militants, including Maulana Masood Azhar, in exchange for 178 passengers and 11 crew members on board. These terrorists later went on to wage a virtual war against India. The Act, which at present only provides for life imprisonment and fine, is not deterrent enough for the hardcore criminals.

 

The proposal for a death sentence was sent to a Group of Ministers (GoM) after a meeting of the Union Cabinet two years ago, but no consensus could be evolved. But the heightened threat has now prompted the new GoM on aviation security headed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram to harden its attitude and the Union Cabinet has approved the amendments, which will be placed before Parliament after recess.

 

There was opposition to the proposals also, because of the anti-capital punishment sentiments, but the present global scenario does not permit any soft options. That is why the amendments would also permit the Indian Air Force to launch fighters to stop the hijacked plane from taking off from Indian soil and forcing it to land in Indian airspace. If a rogue aircraft pays no heed to warnings and deviates from its specified path or heads towards a strategic spot such as Rashtrapati Bhavan, India Gate or Parliament House, the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister or the Home Minister can even order the shooting down of the hijacked plane. Such extreme measures are inescapable if we have to avoid 9/11 kind of catastrophes.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

POWER PANGS IN PUNJAB

BRACING UP FOR A TOUGH SUMMER

 

Though the summer has just started, Punjab is already in the grip of a power crisis. Power cuts have become endemic. The Punjab State Electricity Board has imposed additional weekly off-days on the industry. The power situation has deteriorated rather too early this year and the public annoyance with the authorities is all the more acute because of the 3 per cent hike in the electricity duty announced in the state budget for 2010-11. Though the duty hike will fetch an extra Rs 270 crore a year, it is not clear whether the board will have enough funds to purchase power to meet the peak season demand. Last year was one of the worst for power consumers.

 

Though free power, which had pushed the power board to the edge of bankruptcy, has been discontinued, the Punjab government's finances remain in trouble. The government will have to reimburse the farmers' power bills. A few weeks ago the state leadership had issued huge advertisements in the media claiming how large power projects were being launched and that the state would become power surplus in three years. The reality is that in the short term the government has no money to buy power to bridge the growing gap between demand and supply. Currently, there is a demand for 1,210 lakh units and the availability is just 1,080 lakh units.

 

The power situation has deteriorated because for the past many years the government and the power board have not invested in capacity addition. The political leadership had wasted too much time in deciding whether a nuclear power plant was in the interests of the state or not. Now three thermal power projects are being set up in the state by private companies. When these will be commissioned is anybody's guess. Lack of power has held back the state's industrial and agricultural growth apart from playing havoc with normal life.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

EDUCATION FOR DYSLEXICS

UNIFORM NORMS NEEDED FOR STUDENTS

 

The Supreme Court's dismissal of a plea by a dyslexic student of Panchkula who wanted permission to use a calculator while writing his Class XII CBSE examination has brought to the fore the discrepancy between the norms followed by two of the premier school boards, the CBSE and the ICSE. While the latter allows calculators to be used by examinees, the former does not. As a result, the 820 dyslexic students appearing for the Class X and XII CBSE examinations this year will not be allowed to use calculators. Both boards make provisions for the differently-abled children to get assistance when they take examinations, taking their difficulties into account. Thus, dyslexic examinees get "scribes" to write for them. They also get extra time.

 

Sensitivity towards differently-abled children, however, is low and they face many impediments, individual and institutional, in their quest to find their place in the world. While children with obvious physical impairments can easily be identified, those afflicted with dyslexia and other learning disabilities need trained teachers and counsellors to identify them. While the school boards have made provisions for reservation of seats for these special children, unfortunately, these remain largely on paper. Even after the admission, many challenges remain, and they have to be addressed on a day-to-day basis with sensitivity and care to enable these differently-abled children to be productive members of our society.

 

Multiplicity of rules like those seen regarding the use of a calculator need to be removed and this, indeed, makes a powerful case for a uniform education policy for schools and colleges. Conflicts in ideological positions among various boards like the ICSE and the CBSE must be ironed out so that all the examinees in the nation are governed by uniform norms.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

INDUSTRY FIRMLY ON GROWTH PATH

AGRICULTURE REMAINS A LAGGARD

BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA

 

While the industrial countries in Western Europe are grappling with unemployment and high fiscal deficits owing to the economic crisis that struck the world in 2007, India seems to have come out unscathed. Industrial growth in India did decline steeply following the crisis, but now it seems the country is on a steady upward growth path. Not only has GDP growth picked up, registering a 6 per cent rise during the last quarter of the current fiscal year (which is lower than the 7.9 per cent in the previous quarter), but industrial growth has also shown an improvement. In December 2009, the IIP( Index of Industrial Production) rose by 17.5 per cent and in January 2010, it went up by 16.5 per cent.

 

India and China have both been able to come out of the recession more quickly than other countries, specially the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) of Europe. India's recent industrial growth is good by any standard though not as high as China's. When we look at the individual components of the industrial growth index, the manufacturing sector registered an impressive increase of 17.9 per cent. On the whole, Indian industry is picking up though agriculture remains a laggard. Should we feel complacent or should we be cautious? Perhaps, a cautious approach is desirable.

 

Though India is a huge country with an enormous domestic market, there is cause for concern regarding the future of export industries and the markets abroad. If the developed economies reduce their demand, it is bound to affect India's exports.

 

As is evident from the recent data, the US and the EU are not totally out of the wood yet and there is the likelihood of continuation of the recession and contraction of demand. Many countries in the EU need an urgent bailout by other members, especially Germany, and unless that happens the euro may remain in danger vis-à-vis other major currencies. Some of the PIGS have a huge sovereign debt and a growing number of the unemployed. Greece's unemployment is at 12.7 per cent and Spain's at 19 per cent. Greece's debt/GDP ratio is at 123 per cent and Italy's at 118 per cent. Obviously, their demand is going to be affected with cuts in public spending and increasing joblessness.

 

India, of course, has diversified its exports and the US and the EU, though important export destinations, are no longer the most important ones. India's trade is now more with the Middle-East and the East, and China is one of the most important trading partners.

 

Back home, because of the slowdown in agriculture, the focus of the government will have to be on revamping the farming sector, especially irrigation facilities, to preempt another drought from wrecking the crops in summer. The government would also have to try to reduce food inflation drastically and urgently. It has been plaguing the economy for the past one year.

 

Perhaps, a more meaningful and quicker way of controlling food inflation may be by releasing food stocks in the market from the huge stockpiles of foodgrains in possession of the government, and also importing other essential commodities to meet the deficit in demand and supply. It is being done, according to government sources. Unfortunately, though the recent data do show a slight reduction in the rate of food inflation, general inflation is rising due to the hike in excise duty on petrol and diesel in Budget-2010.

 

Controlling inflation is vital, otherwise it would lead to a lower demand for non-durable consumer goods because people burdened with inflation would spend less on everyday items like tootpaste, soap, clothing, shoes, etc. Already, the non-durable consumer segment of the industrial growth index is experiencing a slowdown.

 

There is also reason to revamp infrastructure development which had slowed down during the recession and is just picking up. Hopefully, the 46 per cent increase in the Plan expenditure on infrastructure should take care of the infrastructure bottlenecks to facilitate industrial growth. After all, it is the infrastructural superiority of China that has led to its spectacular industrial advancement.

 

One should also be worried about the slow credit growth that has led to a slowdown in domestic investment and capital expenditure in the past. Fortunately, the core sector growth for January 2010 has also been good at 9.4 per cent, which means electricity, gas, cement and steel industries are doing well. And the capital goods component grew at 56 per cent, which means that industry owners are making new investments and are probably spending on capacity enhancement.

 

But, then, how do we explain the slow credit growth? May be, industry is borrowing from other sources to meet its requirement.

 

How to sustain investment is a big question, and the needs of industry have to be addressed carefully. Though the Finance Minister has not withdrawn the stimulus package totally, many sectors need a further boost. Similarly, the RBI probably has to think about its monetary policy tools for controlling inflation.

 

It is customary for the Central bank to raise interest rates to suck out liquidity from the system to bring down inflation. But today when credit offtake is already low, a further hike in interest rates will lead to a postponement of investment expenditure further.

 

Perhaps, we are too eager to say that all is well and nothing very serious has affected India since the global financial crisis. In the Economic Survey, even the fear of unemployment that was caused by the closing of some export units has been eased by the news of fresh recruitment of about 5 lakh workers in these industries during the last one year. The recent news of an increase in industrial output, employment opportunities and productivity is good for the country and is being hailed by foreign investors.

 

It is the resilience of the Indian economy as well as the big market that helped India beat the global financial crisis under which Western economies are still reeling. It ought to bring home the realisation that nurturing our own industries is more vital for the welfare of the people than going strongly for export-led economic growth.

 

Linking with the global market is inevitable, but keeping in mind what has happened during the economic crisis, it is better to tread carefully on the opening up of the financial sector fully to foreign institutional investments which have started flowing in more than before, specially when there is a firming up of interest rates. It may further damage India's competitiveness (India is already suffering due to the undervalued yuan) vis-à-vis China due to the hardening of the rupee against the dollar.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

THE DANCING VICE-CHANCELLOR

BY UTTAM SENGUPTA

 

Vice-Chancellors are trusted to deliver scholarly speeches. The Chief Minister's outrage, therefore, was real when he saw the Vice-Chancellor in a vest dancing with a group of young, nubile women dressed for the occasion.

 

The CM watched in utter disbelief as the VC counted the beats on a dholak , a percussion instrument, slung round his neck and danced rhythmically in step with the dancers. The Chief Minister looked embarrassed while Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi appeared amused.

 

On his return to the state capital, the Chief Minister threw a fit. How could a Vice Chancellor do such a thing, he fumed. What would the PM think of his selection ? He calmed down after aides explained that the VC happened to be an accomplished musician as well. He played the flute as effortlessly as the nagara and the dholak , the two percussion instruments which are popular in eastern India.

 

Several months later, a friend of the Vice- Chancellor was summoned by the CM's office. Tell this man to behave, asserted the Chief Minister without mincing his words, or else he would be sacked. This time the VC had done the unpardonable act of attending a function organised by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), BJP's student wing, while it was the Congress government, which had made the appointment.

 

It was like a Vice-Chancellor in Narendra Modi's Gujarat or Parkash Singh Badal's Punjab accepting invitation to become the chief guest at functions hosted by the student wings of the Congress or the Left parties; or a VC in Bengal sharing the dais with Mamata Banerjee. Politicians in power rarely condone such suspicious conduct that bordered on betrayal.

 

But our VC was unperturbed. To the pleas of his earnest friend, he calmly replied over the telephone: " The university is meant for the students and I will continue to accept every invitation from them. Their political colour is not my concern." Well, the inevitable happened and he was replaced by a more pliant and politically correct successor.

 

Two decades later, on Friday last week, Dr Ram Dayal Munda was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the President. Ironically, he never won an election, not even on his home ground, though he contested three or four times over these years.

 

An anthropologist by training, Dr Munda was teaching in Chicago, where he spent 17 years of his life, when he was invited to return and set up a new Post-Graduate department of Tribal and Regional Languages. He returned with his American wife and while his spouse stayed in a hotel, Dr Munda set about building his house with his bare hands. " Tribals," he explained, " build their own houses with the assistance of their friends and relatives. I am merely following tradition".

 

The masons and the mistries were his friends, relatives or neighbours from his village and the Professor would work with them, climb up ladders and sleep on the heaps of straw, one of the building materials he used.

 

When the university expressed its inability to release funds for a departmental auditorium, he sought permission to build an open-air auditorium with the help of students. And his students, both boys and girls, readily laid bricks , carried sand, limestone and boulders under his instructions ! The galleries were ready in a few months, perhaps the cheapest and the fastest building exercise in any university. Whoever proposed his name for the Rajya Sabha did an enormous service to his people.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

A STEP FORWARD

CORPORATIONS TO LIFT HARYANA'S URBAN FACE

BY YOGINDER GUPTA

 

The Haryana Government's recent decision to set up municipal corporations in seven towns of Yamunanagar, Panchkula, Ambala, Rohtak, Panipat, Karnal and Hisar is being hailed as "a big initiative for urban development" and also assailed by some as "a wasteful exercise".

 

The government has merged the twin towns of Yamunanagar-Jagadhari and Ambala Cantonment-Amabla City to make two municipal corporations. Earlier these towns had separate municipal councils.

 

Till now the state had only two municipal corporations, Faridabad and Gurgaon, the former being the oldest.

 

There is weight in the argument that with these towns growing into big cities, the municipal committees or councils don't have necessary administrative infrastructure to meet the challenges of urbanization.

 

The administrative head of a committee is an Executive Officer (EO) and its engineering wing is headed by a municipal engineer (ME), who is an officer of the rank of sub-divisional engineer.

 

A corporation has a Commissioner, an IAS officer with a few HCS officers to assist him as Joint Commissioners. It has a full-fledged engineering department headed by a Chief Engineer.

 

Then there is a vast difference in the financial powers. A committee can undertake development projects only up to Rs 3 lakh, while a corporation has powers up to Rs 50 lakh.

 

For development projects of beyond Rs 3 lakh, a committee has to take the approval of the Deputy Commissioner (DC), who again has the power up to only Rs 10 lakh.

 

The Deputy Commissioner has far greater hold over a committee as compared to the corporation, over which he virtually has no control. All resolutions passed by the committee can be suspended by the DC, who many a time acts at the bidding of local politicians. The resolutions of the corporation can be suspended only by the state government.

 

All this reads very impressive. But when it comes to the ground, the situation is far from ideal. The concept of local self-government is based on delegation of powers by the state government to elected representatives at the grassroots.

 

However, no one wants to shed one's powers, least of the politicians and the bureaucracy. There are also several instances of how the person whom the authority was delegated, misused it for vested interests.

 

Till a few years ago, the oldest corporation in the state, Faridabad, had the power to sanction change of land use (CLU). Due to its proximity to Delhi, the CLU has always been lucrative for the politicians and the bureaucrats for obvious reasons.

 

The state government received reports that an officer who was posted as Commissioner of the Faridabad corporation, was misusing the power. The government amended the law. Now the CLU cases are to be dealt with by the Town and Country Planning Department.

 

Interestingly, the officer continued to wield his authority on the CLU on the basis of an innocuous provision in the Municipal Corporation Act that it was the duty of the corporation to check any unauthorised change of land or property use. Of course, the scale of the misuse of the authority had reduced!

 

Some say the upgradation of the committee to the corporations is like a "promotion without consequential

benefits". The financial health of the corporations would be no better than the committees because the rate of house tax and other levies is uniform in the state. The corporation would be slightly better placed than a committee because of the larger area under its jurisdiction.

 

The proposal to create more corporations in Haryana was first mooted in the early 2000s. But it got stalled at the highest political level. None of the cities in which the corporation was to be created had a population of five lakh.

 

Later, this condition was reduced to three lakh. It was felt that while other states like Punjab and Rajasthan had

the corporations for several towns, Haryana had lagged behind. At that time only Faridabad had the corporation.

 

The addition of many villages to the cities to meet the population criterion has reduced the "political space" for grassroots politicians. Many panches and sarpanches will lose their political posts. This has made the new proposal unpopular with them. The panchayat land will now vest with the corporations.

 

The case of Panchkula is different from the other new corporations. The addition of Kalka and Pinjore to the Panchkula corporation will make it unwieldy because of geographical incongruity. The distance of 20-km between Kalka and Panchkula will pose problems both for the people and the administrators.

 

The Periphery Act, which prohibits construction around Chandigarh, will not be applicable in the area under the Panchkula corporation. This will help those who want to go in for big projects.

 

The supporters of the corporations say the addition of villages to the municipal areas will ensure their speedy development. The prices of land will also go up.

 

Notwithstanding the administrative infrastructure of any organisation, the delivery would depend on the persons managing it.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

DEAD AT DAWN

BY ANANYA PANDA

 

AN estimated nine million children under the age of five die each year and India accounts for two million alone with the under-five mortality rate of 76 per 1,000 live births, says a UNICEF report on the "State of India's Newborns 2009".

 

Startlingly, with 57 children under one year for every 1,000 live births dying, infants constitute about 45 per cent of the country's total child deaths.

 

To address this silent emergency, World Vision, a development organisation, has identified Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, where child and maternal mortality is more pronounced, for its "Child Health Now" campaign.

 

The campaign will focus on reducing two-thirds of the child mortality by 2015 on the lines of UNICEF's Millennium Development Goals-4 through larger community reach and engagement of civil society.

 

In fact, while admitting the lapses and inadequacies in the country's flagship programmes like the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Rural Development Minister of State Pradip Jain Aditya has invited NGOs and civil society for an interface for better health outcomes.

 

Besides, he says, "The health machinery in rural areas, starting with primary health centres, has been largely unable to benefit the needy owing to rampant corruption. There has to be an integration of health schemes and education programmes at the regular community level, especially in rural India, where evils like female foeticide contribute to a large number of child deaths."

 

According to the National Director of World Vision (India), Jayakumar Christian, the current disturbing situation is due to the lack of political will and a gap between the funds needed and allocated primarily.

 

Only a revamp of the current health policies, scaling up of infrastructure and improving the delivery system would be a solution.

 

"The government's commitment has to be visible through the allocation at least 3 per cent of the GDP or 5 per cent of the annual budgetary allocations and quality implementation of the NHRM, the ICDS etc.

 

"Also, it is important that the government mandates the civil society engagement at the level of panchayats in monitoring and evaluating the programmes," he said.

 

In India, this year the budget outlay for health, quite in tandem with the past years' trend, has been just 2.3 per cent of the budgetary allocations, making India one of the low-spenders on health, notwithstanding that India holds the dubious distinction of having the highest number of under-five mortality.

 

Globally, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are the epicentres, recording 99 per cent of the total child deaths.

 

Further, 35 per cent of all deaths among children are due to malnutrition, indisputably linked to poverty with five million deaths (60 per cent) occurring in six developing nations alone: Nigeria (1.1 million deaths), Congo (5,00,000), Pakistan (4,00,000), China (3,82,000) and Ethiopia (3,82,000 deaths) apart from India.

 

According to the UNICEF, 40 per cent of the cumulative deaths could be attributed to preventable diseases and deaths due to neonatal complications and infections, pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria together account for 45 per cent of child mortality.

 

In the case of India, the high rate of maternal mortality, i.e, 450 per 100,000 live births also reflects the high child deaths, with India having 35 per cent of the developing world's low birth weight babies.

 

The UNICEF data also point out that children whose mothers die during childbirth are 10 times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than those whose mothers survive.

 

Pointing out that India's 40 per cent of children live with malnutrition, the UNICEF's chief health officer in India, Dr Henri van de Hombergh, says: "Cheap interventions, like breast-feeding and educating the mothers about its benefits would reduce child deaths."

 

Babies who are not breastfed are six times more likely to die within two months of the birth vis-à-vis those given mothers' milk.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

CHATTERATI
BIHAR'S GIFT FOR OBAMA

BY DEVI CHERIAN

 

Bihar's famous snack litti-chokha will soon find a place on the plate of US President Barack Obama. A day after his meeting with US Ambassador to India Timothy J Roemer in Patna, Irfan Alam has been invited to an entrepreneurship summit called by Obama. He proposes to hand over a tin of freshly baked litti with dry chokha to the President at the White House this April.

 

Irfan (30), an IIM-A graduate, is the chairman of the SammaN Foundation that works for the uplift of rickshaw-pullers and their families. There are around 10 million rickshaw-pullers in the country and mainly illiterate and poor. Of them 90 per cent were farm workers who had migrated to cities in search greener pastures.

 

Irfan got banks to finance rickshaw-pullers. He designed rickshaws, which carry newspapers, mineral water bottles and other small items for sale if a passenger needs them. These rickshaws also carry ads and the pullers get 50 per cent of the ad revenue.

 

Irfan, who has gifted a model to Roemer, started off with 100 such rickshaws in 2007. Now three lakh rickshaw-pullers from across the country are registered with SammaN. The organisation also provides books to rickshaw-pullers' children and imparts training in occupational skills to their wives.

 

Tihar prisoners learn to dance

 

It was an unusual shoe designing workshop and a dance evening by choreographer Shiamak Davar. The venue was Tihar jail. One hundred and six inmates took lessons in a fusion of jazz and modern dance. Designer Sanjana Jon, singer Shibani Kashyap, boxer Akhil Kumar and Indian women hockey team captain Mamta Kharab walked the ramp, wearing outfits created by the inmates. It was an "overwhelming experience".

 

The next time you see chic shoes they may just be hand-made by Tihar inmates. The jail has tied up with a shoe designer for a three-month course in shoe designing. Prisoners will learn how to earn their livelihood and if their conduct is satisfactory, their jail term may be reduced by 25 per cent.

 

Gadkari's choice causes a flutter

 

The new BJP team is in keeping with the 33 per cent quota for women. BJP president Nitin Gadkari has adjusted retired actresses Hema Malini and Smriti Irani, who add glamour to the party, though Vasundhara Raje is the only general secretary of substance.

 

The BJP president has coolly ignored his detractors and put all the right-hand men of the leaders who matter in the BJP and the RSS in plum posts. Anurag Thakur and Poonam Mahajan will be adjusted in the youth wing. In Bihar a piqued Shatrughan Sinha wonders why Yashwant Sinha has been ignored.

 

Shatru also wants a Rajya Sabha berth from Bihar for his wife Poonam. The BJP, which has 54 MLAs in the Bihar Assembly, can ensure victory of only one candidate in the biennial Rajya Sabha polls due in April-May. Two from a family is not a problem here. Vasundhara Raje's son and relatives and many others leaders are already adjusted.

 

The BJP keeps talking about 33 per cent reservations for women but as a matter of fact, it refrains from giving even 10 per cent representation to the fair sex. Also, the party is yet to send a woman to the Rajya Sabha from Bihar, argues Shotgun.

 

Shotgun was the first film star to join the BJP when it was a two-MP party in the opposition. He has contributed towards building the party. Despite his stature and popularity, he is neither a general secretary nor a member of the parliamentary board.

 

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

OLD REALITY IN NEW GARB

THE RECENTLY PASSED WOMEN'S RESERVATION BILL CAME INTO FORCE BECAUSE OF TWO CONDITIONS THAT HAVE ALWAYS INFLUENCED INDIAN POLITICS – THE SHEER SIZE OF THE VOTE BANK AND THE TINA FACTOR



The Women's Reservation Bill amending the Constitution to provide for the reservation of onethird of the seats in the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies for women, which was finally passed by the Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2010, is indeed a landmark in the political history of our country as a democracy.


As a senior citizen belonging to the pre-Independence generation, I find that this bill represents an old reality of Indian politics. It also opens up exciting new possibilities.


The old political reality is this: In our democracy, political will is exercised only under two conditions. The first is that there is a votebank advantage and the second is the TINA factor (There Is No Alternative). Both these conditions were in full vigorous display in this case. The votaries of the bill were motivated by the attractive and permanent size of the huge vote bank – women, half the population of this billion-strong country.
The Yadav or the Mandal brigade, which opposed the bill so bitterly for more than 14 years and so shamefully in the Rajya Sabha, was also trying to cater to their vote bank – the Dalits, the minorities and the OBCs. Hence, the mantra of quota within quota.


The second factor, TINA, was equally in display. For the UPA, surviving on the politically correct shibboleths of secularism and social justice, the bill represented a once in a lifetime opportunity. After all, it was Rajiv Gandhi who introduced the women's quota in the panchayats and the local bodies. In a way, the current bill was a permanent political memorial for him.


In the last decade and a half, the bill as a step towards gender justice had become so politically correct, like motherhood and apple pie. How can any politician be against it? In spite of the fear of losing their seats, many male politicians were also trapped by the TINA factor of political correctness and the party whip.


TINA became operational on March 9. Developments of the previous day in the Rajya Sabha had reduced the options before the Congress to two – either accept the charge of losing nerve to go ahead with the bill when push came to shove, or bite the bullet and invoke the standard rules of discipline of the proceedings in the Rajya Sabha. The numbers too were compelling. Can a small handful of members thwart the majority of nearly 200? TINA and the vote bank advantage finally triumphed.


 The bill thus demonstrated the old reality regarding display of political will. Does this historic measure also open new possibilities? We can only speculate.


 We can be sure about one thing: about what it will not do. Will it induct new blood or new leadership in politics? No. It will only strengthen the well-known element of dynastic democracy in our politics. Except for the communists, practically in every political party, families of leaders dominate. The one-third share of seats reserved for women will be fully exploited by the female members of dominant leaders in every political party.
    The bill says that the reservation is only for 15 years. The time limit is uncannily reminiscent of the initial period of 10 years visualised for reservation of SCs and STs in the Constitution in 1950. We can be reasonably sure that as in the case of SC/ST, the women reservation will also become a permanent feature of the Constitution. The antics of the Mandal brigade already indicate that quota within quota will be the next agenda before the bill is passed by the Lok Sabha.


Will the reservation for women mean less corruption in public life? Sorry, no again. When it comes to corruption, our experience shows that our women leaders are no less venal than men.


Will there be any change on gender issues? The sheer increase in the number of women MPs will develop its own political gravity. This may have a positive and healthy effect on issues that particularly affect women like prohibition, drinking water, health and education. That may be the most significant contribution for better governance flowing from this bill.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

MS MAYAWATI'S MILLIONS

WHY CAN'T OBAMA INSPIRE HER, INSTEAD OF ZUMA!

The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati Kumari, is not the first person to so brazenly challenge the values that define democratic politics. In publicly accepting cash donations, presented as a garland of currency notes, Ms Mayawati is cocking a snook not just at her political opponents but at the entire political order. Her supporters say Ms Mayawati is doing in full public view what most politicians do behind closed doors! Even so, the spectacle of accepting currency garlands is both distasteful and can amount to a corrupt practice if the cash accepted is not properly accounted for. The Reserve Bank of India has, in fact, taken a dim view of the practice of making garlands with currency notes. Both the income tax department and the central bank should serve notices on Ms Mayawati and her political party and seek an explanation for the funds garnered so far and for the manner in which this was done.

 Regrettably, some Dalit intellectuals and her party spokespersons have proffered a wholly-unacceptable justification for this bizarre display of fund collection by Ms Mayawati. It is a Dalit woman's way of asserting her newly-acquired power, say some. It is a new style of politics, say others. The protests against this incident are nothing more than the jealousy of the upper castes, say some others. All of this is utter balderdash. Ms Mayawati is neither the first leader of the oppressed Dalits of India, nor the first woman to rise to such heights of power. Consider the dignified manner in which both Dr B R Ambedkar, the great Dalit intellectual and architect of the Indian Constitution, empowered India's downtrodden? Consider his integrity and honesty and his towering intellect. Consider also the dignified manner in which Ms Mayawati's mentor, the late Shri Kanshi Ram, conducted himself. Why does this lady find it necessary to adopt such openly fascist and unpleasant methods to boost her image, power and wealth? In what way does this in-your-face style of Ms Mayawati empower India's Dalits? Imitating the corrupt ways of the ancient regime cannot be the best way of destroying it. It appears Ms Mayawati's intent is not so much to empower Dalits, as to enrich herself.

The long-oppressed and inhumanly discriminated people around the world have contrasting role models of leaders who have led them to freedom and dignity. Consider the example of Nelson Mandela, upright, honest, dignified. One only wishes Ms Mayawati had adopted Barrack Obama, the first black president of the United States, as her role model. An intellectual giant, a proud professional, a man of proven honesty and integrity, President Obama has inspired the oppressed African American people and is inspiring new generations of blacks to complete their schooling and take up professional jobs, instead of a life of drugs and crime. Rather than be inspired by Mr Obama, Ms Mayawati seems to want to emulate the distasteful political career of the likes of Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe! What a pity.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

MESSAGE TO MARKET

FROM PUSHING GROWTH TO CURBING INFLATIONARY EXPECTATIONS

The day the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) raised the repo and reverse repo rates by 25 basis points, taking them back to just last March's pre-election level, the Indian Meteorological Department announced that this year's monsoon is likely to be normal. The message from the moneymakers, the rainmakers and the macroeconomic authorities is clear — yesterday's "skewflation" will not be allowed to become tomorrow's generalised inflation. The central bank may have surprised all with the timing of its announcement, but the better informed would not have been surprised by the direction of policy. Even though senior RBI officials told the media after the January 28 policy statement was issued that the central bank would not raise rates till its next policy statement in April, the central bank's own statement did not give that assurance. Rather, as we had pointed out editorially, RBI had explicitly warned that it would raise rates, if necessary, and even before the April policy statement. The monetary policy statement of January 28 categorically stated that the central bank's policy would be to "anchor inflation expectations and keep a vigil on the trends in inflation and be prepared to respond swiftly and effectively through policy adjustments as warranted". RBI Governor D Subbarao had also very clearly signalled the end of an accommodative monetary policy stance by stating that the central bank was shifting from "managing the crisis" to "managing the recovery".

 The January 28 statement also explicitly recognised that while current inflation pressures stem from the supply side, the recovery increases the risk of these pressures spilling over "into a wider inflation process". The implication was that if the recovery process sustains and demand-driven inflation pressures build up, RBI would not hesitate to hike policy rates. It would be useful to recall that the January 28 statement also said, "However, on the assumption of a normal monsoon and global oil prices remaining around the current level, it is expected that inflation will moderate from July 2010. This moderation in inflation will depend on several factors, including the measures taken and to be taken by the Reserve Bank as a part of the normalisation process."

All in all, the central bank has acted predictably, even if it chose earlier to mislead the market by suggesting that no action would be taken till April. It is now clear as crystal that reversing inflationary expectations is the number one policy priority of the government. The choice for policy-makers was stark — 9 to 10 per cent growth with double-digit inflation or 7 to 8 per cent growth with single-digit inflation, hopefully less than 7 to 8 per cent. The growthwallahs would have erred on the inflation front, the stabilitywallahs would prefer to err on the growth front. A little less growth for a little less inflation is better than much more growth with much more inflation. Having sent the correct signals out both on the fiscal policy side and on monetary policy, and having joined the battle against inflationary expectations, the government must now act on the reform and legislative side and ensure that the growth momentum is sustained. For their part, banks and financial institutions must step in and walk the talk on financial inclusion and keep the wheels of commerce well-oiled.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

COMMON MAN'S UNCOMMON REACTION

INDIAN HOUSEHOLDS DATABASE CONSUMER PYRAMIDS ANSWERS WHY TWO YEARS OF HIGH INFLATION DID NOT MATTER TO THE CONSUMERS OF THE COUNTRY

MAHESH VYAS

 

Inflation has been high for a fairly long period of nearly two years. First, the wholesale price index had shot up in 2008-09 because of an increase in commodity prices. And then, in 2009-10, the consumer price index (CPI) rose as food prices soared following an agricultural drought that curtailed domestic supplies. Surprisingly, public uproar against this sustained increase in prices has been remarkably muted. Opposition political parties have not been able to exploit the situation. And, the Congress party could face the polls with impunity in May 2009.

 Part of the reason for this lack of bite in the rise in inflation is that it is not hurting the proverbial common man. The rise in the wholesale prices in 2008-09 did not percolate to consumer prices because of the government controls, and partly because of competition among producers.

The government controls over prices of petroleum products that are directly consumed by the common man, such as kerosene, petrol, LPG and diesel, ensured that s/he did not suffer the consequences of crude prices remaining above $100 a barrel for a large part of 2008-09. The increase in prices of other commodities was largely absorbed by companies. This led to a fall in their profit margins in that year.

In 2009-10, consumer price inflation has been high for a long time. It peaked at 16.2 per cent in January 2010 and averaged 11.8 per cent during the first 11 months of the year. But, there is no angst in the political leadership. Possibly because it faces no wrath of the electorate. But, why is there no ire among the masses?

Interestingly, the only ones who are perturbed by the rise in inflation are the economists and the financial market analysts. Both are essentially interested in telling the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) what it should do under the current circumstances. Some would like RBI to explicitly target an inflation level. They would like RBI to focus only on inflation because other interventions by the apex bank interfere in the ability of the financial markets to price securities.

The shift in the objective of controlling inflation — from protecting consumers against price increases to creating the environment necessary for a stable financial market — is an example of the extraordinary dominance of the financial markets in modern life. But, this is not the focus of my discussion.

My interest is in the consumer markets of India. The question I pose is: Why did two years of high inflation not matter to the consumers of India. And, I seek to answer this question with the help of "Consumer Pyramids", the latest and the largest database on Indian households.

According to this database, the rise in inflation did not matter much to over 80 per cent of the households. These households had incomes that were comfortably in excess of their expenses. Thus, bulk of the households had the ability to absorb inflation without hurting their consumption levels.

The remaining 20 per cent households (the bottom of the pyramid) could not meet their expenses from their incomes during the year. They had an income of Rs 3,000, or less than that, a month. At the very bottom of the pyramid (BoP-II) are those who earn Rs 2,000 or less per month. They were the worst hit. But, they account for a mere 10 per cent of all households. At the fringe of the society, they are too few and, therefore, their voices are too feeble to impact an electoral result.

The voice of the lower middle class (those who earn between Rs 3,000 and Rs 8,000 per month) is lot more effective in a democracy like India. Because, it accounts for a whopping 43 per cent of the households. But, this group has a savings rate of 20 per cent. It has the ability to absorb higher prices. And, growth in employment opportunities is more important to this group than the rise in inflation. This is also true for the next group — the middle class that earns between Rs 8,000 and Rs 15,000 per month. They account for another 20 per cent of the households.

The relentless rise in investments in recent years has created new jobs all over the country. The gradual withering of the belligerent politics of the NDA has been replaced with hopes of better employment for a large section of the middle-class households. Inflation is a small price to pay for this metamorphosis.
 

INDIA'S INCOME PYRAMID

Income groups based on
income of households

Households

Income in '08-09 (Rs)

(Thousand)

(% Share)

Per household

Per capita

Rich

2,424.0

1.0

10,21,825

1,77,705

Higher-middle income

35,382.0

15.1

3,09,950

55,213.0

Middle income

48,434.0

20.6

1,34,729

24,794.0

Lower-middle income

104,795.0

44.6

63,783.0

12,497.0

Lower-middle income - I

48,853.0

20.8

79,335.0

15,059.0

lower-middle income - II

55,942.0

23.8

50,085.0

10,097.0

Bottom of pyramid

44,127.0

18.8

27,448.0

6,064.0

BoP - I

27,462.0

11.7

32,692.0

6,988.0

BoP - II

16,665.0

7.1

18,851.0

4,410.0

Total

235,161.0

100.0

119,473.0

23,213.0

The relation between economic hardships caused by inflation and political choice is obviously not binary. Inflation levels beyond a point will hurt the consumption choices of even those who save, and this will show up in political discontent. For this, inflation in the CPI has to touch 20 per cent like it did in late 1998.

Further, the bottom of the pyramid is not totally irrelevant in a democracy. We have heard of swings that can impact electoral outcomes dramatically. In 2009-10, inflation and the distribution of the consumer's wallet were so aligned that a substitution could offset a small part of the attention-grabbing inflation of some commodities.

For example, it is likely that the poorest strata substituted potatoes and onions with healthier food items like vegetables and fruit in their diet. In 2008-09, expenditure of the BoP-II on potatoes and onions accounted for 8 per cent of their income and that on vegetables and fruit accounted for 12.5 per of their income. Prices of potatoes and onions rose by nearly 50 per cent in 2009-10, while those of vegetables and fruit increased by a much lesser 10 per cent. In the first six months of 2009-10, according to Consumer Pyramids, the share of potatoes and onions increased to 11.5 per cent but that of vegetables and fruit shot up to 24 per cent. Prima facie, this looks like some substitution effect at work in the poorest strata of society. The substitution made sense in terms of the economic value as well as nutrition.

The increase in sugar prices seems to have hurt the poor. Sugar seems to be an energy shot that the poor cannot do without. As prices increased 50 per cent during 2009-10, it took away 8 per cent of the income of the BoP-II in the first half of 2009-10 compared to just 4 per cent in 2008-09 as a whole.

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

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

A V RAJWADE: WHAT WORDS REALLY MEAN

THE FIRST REFORM NEEDED IN THE FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY IS THE CORRECT DESCRIPTION OF ACTIVITIES

A V RAJWADE

In his 1984, George Orwell described a socialist paradise where words had meanings to suit the requirements of the rulers. Orwell was perhaps underestimating the ability of western democracies, particularly of the Anglo-Saxon variety, to use deceptive words to hide the true intent and create an aura of reasonable innocence: So-called "spin doctors" are employed to add a gloss to the reality on the ground. For instance, in the cold war era, the Americans always spoke in the name of the "free world", notwithstanding the large number of brutal dictators who were an integral part of the anti-communist alliance. After the cold war was won, to quote from Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilisations, "The West is attempting… to sustain its pre-eminent position and defend its interests by defining those interests as the interests of the 'world community'. That phrase has become the euphemistic collective noun (replacing 'the free world') to give global legitimacy to actions reflecting the interests of the US and other western powers." A few years ago, the word "surge" ("a sweeping onward like a wave of the sea": Webster's), which gives an impression of a spontaneous, bottom-up increase of force, was used by US President Bush to describe the increase in troops in Iraq ordered by him, about which there was nothing spontaneous.

 Words, initially invented to communicate, are being increasingly used to hide the often ugly reality. The effect is all the more convincing when the politician is a brilliant articulator like Tony Blair who recently testified before the Chilcott Commission in the UK, enquiring into the decision to invade Iraq. When you believe you are doing God's work, as apparently Blair did, the self-righteousness breeds a moral, messianic certitude in the legitimacy of the cause: lying in pursuit of God's work is not only pardonable but, indeed, a duty! The worry now is that the financial services industry seems to think that it is doing God's work, as the Goldman Sachs CEO explicitly claimed some time ago. And, a recent article in the Financial Times claimed that speculators too are doing God's work! One wonders whether God, or at least his messengers here, would agree: Most religions frown on speculation and even money-lending.

One character in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland claimed that she could make the words mean what she desired. Bankers have clearly read their fables. Take the expression "investment bank". The first word creates an impression of a long-term commitment of risk capital to an enterprise, and the second means the acceptance of deposits for the purpose of lending. Investment banks, in general, do neither. The largest proportion of revenue comes from trading activities, and not through underwriting of bonds and equities, let alone any investment for the long term. The word "trading" (dictionary definition: "To engage in the exchange, purchase, or sale of goods") is itself a euphemism: Even the grocer round the corner trades in foodgrains and vegetables! The correct description of the trading activity undertaken by bankers is speculation — buying or selling assets, like currencies, bonds, equities, derivatives, commodities, etc, in the hope of profiting from price movement. Lately, the word trading is being substituted by the even more innocuous term "market-making". The activity remains what it always was, namely speculation.

The term "hedge funds" is, once again, often misleading. Most large hedge funds are unregulated pools of investment capital, undertaking directional bets on a leveraged basis. This activity is completely different from the traditional business of taking long and short positions in the same asset class — for example, a long position in (relatively underpriced) gold, and an equivalent short position in (relatively overpriced) silver, in a "hedged" precious metals portfolio. The actual bets are quite different from such a portfolio but the name continues to be used. Two researchers at the University of Edinburgh (Arman Eshraghi and Richard Taffler), in a recent study titled "Hedge funds and unconscious fantasy", argue that a deliberate effort is made by the managers to create an image of the funds being "phantastic objects" (i.e. objects of the imagination in the Freudian sense). This is done by creating an aura of mystery and sexiness — partly by using seductive names like Dragonback, Eclectica, Richland, Matador, Maverick, Helios (the ancient Greek god of the Sun), Farallon (radioactive islands) and Cerberus (a three-headed mythological creature), among others.

To give another example, in the recent crisis, "conduits" ("a means of transmitting or distributing") were vehicles used by banks to transfer assets, so as to reduce the capital charge! The world of derivatives is, of course, a minefield of euphemisms. To quote a couple:

 ·  "Targeted accumulated returns". The reality is a limit on gains, and none on the losses. 
 

·  "Range accruals", which actually involve the buyer to write binary options. 
 

·  "Enhanced returns", whatever they mean.

In a broader context, the word "reform" ("to make better or improve by removal of faults") has also been corrupted. Over the last few decades, this word has become a synonym for deregulation. Indeed, the first reform needed is the correct description of activities!

avrajwade@gmail.com

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

TILL THE NEXT AUDIT REPORT

YOU'D EXPECT RAJA TO REDUCE THE ARBITRAGE POSSIBILITIES - INSTEAD, HE'S GONE AHEAD AND INCREASED THEM

SUNIL JAIN

 

You have to hand it to Communications Minister A Raja. Instead of acting on the RCom audit report, which showed it had paid Rs 316 crore less by way of licence/spectrum fee in 2006-07 and 2007-08, he muddied the waters by ordering audits into other telcos like Bharti, Vodafone and Idea. Though the audits didn't show they were doing the same kind of misclassification of revenues, the way his ministry asked the auditors the question made it appear they were — so the reports got reported in a certain way, and this led to a demand that CAG be asked to audit all telcos!

While the CAG ruse will mean a delay of another year or two before any action is taken, the real issue is that Raja's policies are encouraging firms to mis-state their accounts — so, while licence fees are 6, 8 and 10 per cent for C, B and A categories of telecom circles, respectively, they are 6 per cent for long-distance calls and zero for internet services.

Instead of reducing this arbitrage by introducing one flat fee for all types of telecom services, whether voice or data, Raja referred the matter to the telecom regulator, which has still not taken a view on it. The new spectrum charges that will come into force soon are going to worsen this arbitrage.

But first, the RCom scandal. In July 2008, Kotak Institutional Equities pointed out that the revenues RCom reported to the government were a fourth lower than those reported to its shareholders. It also reported a higher proportion of its revenues as coming from internet services which, as has just been pointed out, don't attract any levies. All of this lowered RCom's payments to the government. It took six months after the Kotak report for Raja to order an audit, the final terms for which were finalised only in March 2009 — the report was out in October but no action has been taken so far despite Raja assuring Parliament that this would be done by January 2010. In May, however, Raja ordered special audits into Bharti, Vodafone and Idea — reports on Bharti and Idea were out last week.

Both showed an underpayment of licence/spectrum fee — Rs 101 crore for Bharti and Rs 72 crore for Idea — but with a vital difference. There has been a long-standing dispute between telcos and the government as to what constitutes "revenues" (for instance, should dealer discounts be subtracted from the MRP while calculating "revenues" which, eventually, form the basis of all licence/spectrum fees?) and the matter went to the telecom tribunal, the TDSAT. Bharti, Vodafone and Idea all classified their revenues based on the TDSAT ruling — so, in that sense, using the TDSAT definition of "revenue" was neither incorrect nor illegal. But since Raja's ministry had asked the auditors to include such revenues, the auditors said both firms also had short-changed the exchequer!
 

DIALLING TROUBLE
Differential licence fees encourage incorrect reporting

The old arbitrage

Shortfall in licence/spectrum payments for 2006-07 and 2007-08 (Rs cr)

RCom

316

Lower fees for internet services, for example, encouraged misclassification

Bharti Airtel

101

Since their classification of revenue is as per a TDSAT ruling, this shortfall is academic in nature — auditors put it in since DoT wanted it in this manner

Idea

72

The new arbitrage

Differential licence fees for 3G/BWA will compound the problem

(Rs)

 GSM/3G

CDMA/3G

GSM/BWA

 CDMA/BWA 

Voice Revenue

100

100

100

100

Data Revenue

20

20

20

20

License Fee

12

12

11.2

11.2

Spectrum Charge

7.2

3.6

6.2

3.2

Both GSM and CDMA firms assumed to be in 'A' circles; GSM has 9 MHz of spectrum and CDMA has 5 MHz of CDMA and 4.4 MHz of GSM spectrum; Combined charge paid on 3G (data) and 2G (voice) revenues; in case of BDA, revenues not combined, 1% spectrum charge paid on them

Given the RCom experience, you'd expect Raja would reduce the arbitrage possibilities — instead, he's gone ahead and increased them. There are various forms of arbitrage available now:

 ·  Take the example of a pure GSM firm which has 9 MHz of GSM spectrum and a dual-technology one which has 5 MHz of CDMA spectrum and 4.4 MHz of GSM spectrum. While both will pay a 10 per cent licence fee, the pure-GSM firm pays 6 per cent of revenues as spectrum charges while the dual-technology firm pays 3 per cent! 
 

·  Once 3G/BWA services are allowed, the new rule is that firms will pay spectrum fees on the combined 2G and 3G revenues — the licence fee will remain the same at 6, 8 and 10 per cent for C, B and A circles. For BWA, however, the revenues won't be combined with 2G revenues and a flat 1 per cent spectrum charge will be paid on the BWA revenues — the BWA licence fee ranges from 0 to 6 per cent (!), as compared to 6 to 10 per cent for 2G/3G services. So, take the case of a firm that has Rs 100 (see table) as voice revenue and Rs 20 as data revenue, with the latter coming from either 3G or BWA services. Depending on how the revenues are classified, as 3G or BWA, the licence and spectrum charges can be reduced significantly. So, till the next scandal and the next audit report…

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

EDUCATING KAPIL*

A NATION MUST EDUCATE ITS OWN, FOREIGNERS CAN ONLY HELP AT THE MARGIN

SANJAYA BARU

Kapil Sibal is a minister in a hurry. That is the good part of the news. India needs more such ministers, especially in critical areas like education and infrastructure. His ministry, the Union Ministry for Human Resources Development, needed someone like him after a decade of destruction under the whimsical and arbitrary leadership of two policy dinosaurs, Murali Manohar Joshi and Arjun Singh, their ideological thought-managers and bureaucratic know-it-alls.

 But, Mr Sibal is in danger of over-selling his initiatives. Cautioning Mr Sibal, this newspaper editorially urged him to "tread carefully" (February 25, 2010) because education is a subject that affects us all, especially the vocal, urban middle class. Any change in the education policy requires careful political handling.

Defending his latest initiative, the proposed Foreign Educational Institutions (Entry and Operation) Regulation Bill 2010, in a television interview to Karan Thapar last week, Mr Sibal likened his initiatives for education reform to the economic reforms of the early 1990s. The opposition to his proposed foreign education Bill was coming, Mr Sibal said, from the same kind of quarters that criticised economic liberalisation in 1991.

Look where India is now. QED, suggested Mr Sibal, today's critics will be tomorrow's beneficiaries. In 1991, the opposition to reform melted quickly as middle class households saw tariff rates come down and stock market indices go up! Rahul Bajaj was hamara, but the Mumbaikar did not like his Bombay Club.

Dr Manmohan Singh had the middle class on his side when he pushed for reform. Mr Sibal must ensure he too has the middle class on his side. India's upwardly mobile, vocal middle class has no other weapon but access to education to empower them. They will resist any change that may be viewed as curbing that access or threatening the process.

In a perceptive study of higher education reform in India, Devesh Kapur and Pratap Bhanu Mehta (Indian Higher Education Reform: From Half Baked Socialism to Half Baked Capitalism, 2007. Available at: www.ncaer.org/downloads/IPF2007/kapur-mehta.pdf ) tellingly make the point that inequality in access to education in India is far worse than the inequality in income or wealth. "India is to education inequality what Brazil is to income inequality," says Kapur.

Hence, any education reform has to be dovetailed with the strategy for inclusive growth. Economic reform is about jobs and incomes. Education is about status and opportunity. Trade liberalisation and industrial delicensing may have been about the future of businessmen, but for the middle class, it was about new opportunities to consume and new sources of employment. Education reform, on the other hand, is about a generation's future. Any initiative must carry conviction and credibility with India's vocal middle class.

Perhaps, the real problem with the foreign education Bill is that it is not as big a reform measure as what Mr Sibal makes it out to be. Is opening up higher education to foreign investment, that too with layers of bureaucratic red tape still in place, the same as reducing tariff rates from 300 per cent to 50 per cent and below, and permitting 100 per cent foreign ownership in scooter manufacturing?

Mr Sibal is marketing this Bill as a "game-changer". He may have been better off marketing it as a "facilitator". Consider the facts. Kapur and Mehta mention in their paper that in 2005-06, the Government of India was spending a total of US$4.3 billion on higher education, while Indian citizens were paying out almost US$3.5 billion as tuition fee to foreign universities and educational institutions around the world. Both numbers would have gone up since, as Mr Sibal himself has correctly claimed. There are several reasons why Indian students are spending so much money abroad.

The most obvious reason is that an increasing number of Indians can afford to do so. Two decades of over 7 per cent growth has created a wealthy business class, a prosperous professional class and a newly-rich rentier class that are spending money on their children's education abroad. Some go because they want to, some go because they have to — given that they have the high school scores to secure admission to good colleges but there aren't enough seats available at home in good institutions.

Those who go abroad for education because they want to are unlikely to stay home if equally good opportunities are available at home. But those who go because they have to may prefer being home if enough seats are available. Foreign investment and brands can help ease the domestic supply constraint and, therefore, ought to be welcomed.

The fact that the foreign exchange outgo would get reduced, because Indian students would pay in local currency at home, is an important factor. Instead of Mohammed going to the mountain, the mountain will come to Mohammed! In the process, India saves foreign exchange, families get to keep their children home and foreign educational institutions will compete with Indian ones to attract students.

But India's higher education system is in need of a much bigger reform and financial support. Increasing access is one challenge. Improving excellence is another, even bigger, challenge. Kapur and Mehta worry about the Indian elite opting out of publicly-funded higher education, as they have from public hospitals. When tax payers stop worrying about public service delivery, the service will suffer and so will tax collection!

Political interference, cronyism, casteism, trade unionism and an assortment of ills are stifling higher education. No foreign investor or institution is going to change this game. In education, as in national security, India must first help itself before anyone else does.

* With apologies to playwright William Russell!

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

FOREIGN HANDS: IMMIGRANTS, THE FAVOURED ONES

 

A century or so after their ancestors famously put up signs saying 'Dogs and Indians not allowed' in certain establishments in their prized colony, Britons are up in arms about an advertisement for a £38,000 a year infotech job that appeared this week which openly announced its preference for candidates of Indian origin.


Worse still for the indignant Brits, this push for Indians comes from a firm headquartered in the US, a country whose president certainly doesn't want jobs there going to desis!


Predictably, MPs and activists have accused the IT company of violating British equality laws by mentioning that '...the person should be a UK citizen with security clearance from the UK government.


Preferably of Indian origin'. Embarrassment over this episode was no doubt exacerbated by the fact that not too long ago, a supermarket supplier also opted for foreign hands and stipulated that recruits for its factory in East Anglia must speak Polish.


It's clearly time for non-immigrant Britons to wake up and smell the masala chai: there are 70 million émigrés in Britain now and official estimates are that immigration will account for two-thirds of the country's population growth over the next 25 years.


Stated in plain English, IT means Indian these days, and having the requisite Polish for a job no longer means spouting the Queen's language with élan but that spoken by the largest group of EU migrants! Given the current immigrant growth rate and increasing profile, jobs will inevitably go to the most willing workers.


In the bad old days, even without signs baldly stating racist or exclusivist intent, the practice of selective application flourished.


The same will undoubtedly hold true today; only this time, the former underdogs will be the beneficiaries. Once that gets going, there's no telling what institutions of Britishness will tumble, from poori-aloo ousting bacon 'n' eggs from the English 'fried' breakfast to kielbasa edging Cumberland sausages out of bangers 'n' mash, for starters.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IT HIRES NON-ENGINEERS

 

The emerging trend among India's largest software firms to hire more non-engineers to handle their commoditised service offerings is welcome. It signals an achievement, and a challenge. It indicates, on the one hand, that Indian information technology (IT) companies are finally moving away from their business model that depended on a linear relationship between the number of employees and revenues (more bodies, more dollars).

They have successfully automated and commoditised some services, whose delivery does not call for engineering skills. This would release engineers to perform more technical tasks that would also lead to higher value realisation.


Nasscom has forecast an increased focus on higher-end offerings like system integration, consulting, business intelligence and knowledge services in developed markets. Both sides of this change — automation of some services and migration of engineers to higher value tasks — would lead to welcome non-linear revenue growth.


At the same time, if the IT industry starts hiring non-tech graduates, those segments of business that used to hire

such entrants to the workforce would feel the pinch. The only solution is to expand the higher education sector and improve quality at all levels.


Improvement in the quality of education is a must as only 15% of our graduates are fit to be employed. Now, quality cannot be improved by action at the higher education segment alone. Students entering colleges must have the minimum level of knowledge and understanding that secondary schooling is supposed to provide. Very few actually do.


The quality of high school students depends, in turn, on the quality of primary schooling. There is no getting away from improving the quality of teaching at government schools that account for the bulk of primary school children. And that, essentially, is a question of governance reform, not just of pedagogy.


The HRD ministry, on its own, cannot tackle this. Drastic reform is called for, whether transferring administrative control over primary school teachers to panchayats or appointing teachers to individual schools, rather than to a state-level cadre where all they do is try for a transfer to a place of their choice.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SOFT SIGNAL FROM THE RBI

 

By some reckoning, the policy signalling by the RBI last Friday was a little too soft. After all, a 25-basis-point hike in the repo and reverse repo rates leaves these policy rates closer to crisis-response levels than to anything else. After revision, the reverse repo rate — the rate of interest that the RBI offers banks when they leave their funds with the central bank — is just 3.50%, nearly 42% lower than the pre-crisis level of 6%.


The repo rate, at which banks can borrow from the central bank, is now 5%, 44% lower than the pre-crisis peak of 9%. With inflation having clearly spread to non-food items and industrial production showing every sign of robustness, why shouldn't the central bank focus more on inflation and make its policy rate action stronger? This logic is persuasive, but we think the RBI is right to signal that it is getting serious about inflation, but, at the same time, to keep its action measured and gradual.


Strong growth in non-oil imports shows that domestic revival is no longer tentative. However, global recovery is far less definitive than India's, and globalising India's march to pre-Lehman growth rates can be halted by an unfortunate global setback, an eventuality that is still too early to rule out. This makes it imperative that India's policy framework continues to support growth. Alongside, fiscal correction is underway, and the government has found the courage to lower fuel subsidies.


This gives the central bank some more room to manoeuvre. And it should utilise that slack, rather than rush to hike policy rates immediately. Another reason why large rate hikes are not the ideal immediate response to inflation is that commodity prices are driving inflation — rising commodity prices reflect not so much any great jump in demand as financial speculation in a world awash with liquidity. Tougher monetary policy can step in later.

Friday's policy rate hikes should be understood as a strong signal that the RBI is concerned about inflation and is taking action without waiting for the next quarterly policy review. The softness of the measure, at the same time, makes it clear that this is just the beginning, so that economic agents can prepare for inevitable higher rates.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'INDIA IS A SPRINGBOARD TO ASIA'

G GANAPATHY SUBRAMANIAM

 

India and the EU can benefit immensely by concluding a free trade agreement (FTA), not only in terms of enhanced bilateral trade but also through long-term economic partnership. That's the considered view of Karri Kaitue, deputy chief executive of stainless steel giant Outokumpu and head of a Finnish business delegation that was in India recently. He said European corporates see India as a key growth destination without which global business portfolios would be considered incomplete.


Economic ties between the EU and India have been improving steadily and the bond will get cemented once the FTA is concluded. Of course, there will be thorny issues, but a balance has to be achieved. The partnership gained strength after the global slowdown.


It is not just companies such as Nokia that are investing in India, but an increasing number of Indian companies are also venturing into Europe, including Finland. Both sides understand that there are many areas of synergy. For example, more than a dozen business cooperation pacts have been signed by Indian companies with their Finnish counterparts after the recent round of interaction.


"Finland has the resources and India has a huge consumer base," emphasises Kaitue. These aspects complement each other and what is true of Finland applies to many other European destinations too. But what will be the catalyst driving the partnership?


The business viewpoint is that technology available in Finland can find a large number of users in India. While India will benefit from the technology, owners of the technology will also gain as they find new customers here. Prominent Indian companies such as HCL are realising that it pays to have a presence in key EU destinations such as Finland. From knowhow-related to reduction in energy consumption to nuclear waste disposal, Finland and other European countries can offer various technologies.


The biggest challenge at this juncture for EU and India is to tap the full potential of economic cooperation, feels Mr Kaitue. Perception plays an important role here and it is changing now — as many as 400 business meetings took place during this visit of the Finnish delegation.


The forthcoming visit of commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma to Finland is expected to strengthen commercial relations between the two countries. The Finnish example applies to many other EU members too, and the two sides have identified life sciences, clean tech and ICT as areas where a lot of cooperation can take place. So what does India mean for European corporates?


European companies do not see India only as a market. The emerging outlook is that India is a good base for doing business with other parts of the world, especially Asia. Outokumpu, for example, is looking at investments in India in the long run. The steel giant specialises in premium categories of stainless steel meant for top-end uses such as nuclear power, food processing, desalination and special types of infrastructure.


The idea is not to compete with the local players, but supply premium items that are not produced in India. While investment in reinforced, corrosion-resistant stainless steel may make the cost of infrastructure look high initially, the increased lifecycle of the infrastructure makes it worth every penny. "India has embarked on a huge infrastructure-building exercise and is a large consumer of steel for decades," Mr Kaitue notes. Is it not expensive to use imported steel?

In terms of reliability, low lifecycle cost and aesthetic appeal, it is important to use premium-grade available for process plants, townships, metros, malls and airports. Corrosion-resistant, reinforced stainless steel is vital for desalination and nuclear plants. Food processing units too require top-grade steel. Since metros are coming up in several cities of India, the type of steel offered by Outokumpu for rail coaches provides a new option.


While there are benefits for Indian infrastructure, the Finnish company is looking for improved market access and a conducive investment climate. That is true of other European companies as well. If these two conditions are met, Mr Kaitue feels, bilateral trade as well as investment flows will increase rapidly. He feels that steel has weathered the slowdown better than other sectors. While demand did not recover in 2009, there is a lot of expectation that the situation would be much better in 2010.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TIME TO FINANCE A NEW GLOBAL HEALTH FUND

JEFFREY D SACHS

 

WORLD leaders will come together at the United Nations in September to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Three of the eight MDGs involve bringing primary health services to the entire world's population. A small amount of global funding, if well directed, could save millions of lives each year. The key step is to expand the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria into a Global Health Fund.


The Global Fund was created in 2002 to help the world battle these three killer diseases, and its accomplishments have been spectacular, making it arguably the most successful innovation in foreign assistance of the past decade. As a result of Global Fund programmes, an estimated 2.5 million people are on anti-retroviral AIDS therapy. No fewer than eight million people have been cured of tuberculosis. And more than 100 million long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets have been distributed in the fight against malaria. In total, studies suggest that Global Fund programmes have saved five million lives.

The Global Fund's remarkable successes result from its operational procedures. Disease-specific committees, called the Country Coordination Mechanism, are constituted in each developing country. Each Country Coordination Mechanism is chaired by the national government, but incorporates input from non-government organisations to formulate national-scale, disease-specific plans for submission to the Global Fund.


Once the Global Fund receives these plans, they are sent to a Technical Review Panel to check that the plans are scientifically sound and feasible. If the Technical Review Panel approves, the plan is sent to the board of the Global Fund, which then votes to approve financing. Once the programme gets underway, the Global Fund follows the implementation of the programme, undertaking audits, monitoring and evaluation. Since 2002, the Global Fund has approved around $19 billion in funding.


There are two huge challenges now facing the Global Fund, and especially the donor countries that support it. The first is lack of financing. The Global Fund has been so successful that countries are submitting increasingly ambitious programmes for consideration.

Unfortunately, the Global Fund is already in a state of fiscal crisis. It needs around $6 billion per year in the next three years to cover expansion of programmes for the three diseases, but it has only around $3 billion per year from donor countries. Unless this is corrected, millions of people will die unnecessarily.


The second challenge is to broaden the Global Fund's mandate. So far, the Global Fund has addressed MDG 6, which is focused on the control of specific killer diseases.


Yet, control of these three diseases inevitably involves improvement of basic health services — community health workers, local clinics, referral hospitals, emergency transport and drug logistics — that play a fundamental role in achieving MDG 4 (reduction of child mortality) and MDG 5 (reduction of maternal mortality). All three health MDGs are interconnected; all are feasible with an appropriate scaling up of primary health services.

The obvious step to address MDGs 4 and 5 is to explicitly expand the Global Fund's financing mandate. Many programmes, such as those in the Millennium Villages project, already show that a scaling up of primary health systems at the village level can play a decisive role in reducing child and maternal mortality. Expanding the Global Fund's mandate to include financing for training and deployment of community health workers, construction and operation of local health facilities, and other components of primary health systems could ensure the development of these local systems.


Many countries — including France, Japan, Norway, the UK and the US — have recently recognised the need to move beyond the financing of control of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria to financing improvements in primary health systems more generally. But they seem to view the issue of health-system financing as an either-or choice: scale up control of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, or scale up financing of primary health systems. The truth, of course, is that both are needed, and both are affordable.


The annual cost of specific disease control in the next three years is perhaps $6 billion, and another $6 billion per year for health-system expansion. The total, $12 billion per year for an expanded Global Fund, might seem unrealistically-large compared to the $3 billion per year spent now. But total annual funding of $12 billion is really very modest, representing around 0.033% (three cents per $100) of the donor countries' GNP. This is a tiny sum, which could be easily mobilised if donor countries were serious.


US President Barack Obama has been outspoken in support of scaling up primary health services, yet the specific Budget proposals from his administration are not yet satisfactory. The worst of it is that the Obama administration's Budget for 2011 provides just $1 billion per year to the Global Fund. This small sum is unworthy of US leadership.


If the US would expand its annual support to the Global Fund to around $4 billion per year, it would likely induce the rest of the world's donors to put in $8 billion per year, keeping the US share at around a third of the total funding.


To raise these extra amounts, the Obama administration could levy an excess-profit tax on Wall Street to make up the Budget gap. Wall Street bankers, whose poor performance did so much damage to the world economy in recent years, and who still are reaping excessive bonuses, would also begin to make amends by seeing their new tax payments contribute to saving the lives of millions in the coming years.


(The author is professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University)
© Project Syndicate, 2010

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GRATITUDE IS PRECIOUS BUT RARE

 

Ingratitude and all the pretensions that go with this vice, can indeed be galling, especially when one observes that these emanate from those whom he may have sincerely and significantly helped. Shakespeare refers to such ingratitude as 'the most unkindest cut of all' (Julius Caesar — III, 2) and as 'sharper than a serpent's tooth' (King Lear — I, 4). In his As You Like It (II, 7), he writes: "Blow, blow thou winter wind,/ Thou art not so unkind/As man's ingratitude".


The Tamil great, Valluvar notes, (Kural 110), "There may be salvation for those who have killed all other virtues, but not for the one who has killed gratitude".


Well accepted though the merits of gratitude may be, it is, like precious stones, rare. Ingratitude, on the other hand is spread all over, common as the autumn leaves. Like germs in the air, it impacts on almost all who have to interact and transact in this sad, mad, bad world of men and matter. The wise, however forearm themselves through forewarnings from the evolved self within.


Ensconced thus in authenticity and inner power, they cease forever to even look forward to any acts of gratitude or approval from ordinary folk. Thus applying the concept, "When you forget, others remember", they obtain goodly responses from just where and whom, these would be needed.


Realised souls would also divine that most acts of ingratitude or lack of response emanate from those whose ego is unhealthy and shaky. Many would pretend they are 'self-made' and would have made it, even otherwise, on their own! Acknowledging help received, they feel, would lower their value in their own eyes and those of others!

The wise observer would also comprehend that common folk take all help for granted, as if these were their birth rights. A case in point is that of a leading opposition leader, who was shot dead, about two years back, by his own younger brother because the former refused to yield to the latter's continual demands.


Memories of all acts of earlier help received often get drowned in feelings of self righteousness, enhanced expectations and anger. This is the way of the world. There are only a very few exceptions.


These exceptions, however, are the truly precious ones, because, like acts of repentance, even in isolation, these bring that 'joy in heaven', as conceived of by the Bible (Luke: 15,7). The fact that these are rare only serves further to add to their lustre!

 

K Vijayaraghavan

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

ONLINE IS THE REAL ESTATE OF TOMORROW: MICROSOFT

AMIT SHARMA

 

Post the launch of Windows7 operating system and the Bing search engine, the world's biggest IT company- Microsoft is abuzz with activity. Fighting a battle with competitors at different levels, Hemant Sachdev, joint managing director, consumer & online, Microsoft India, talks to ET about the challenges he faces as the company forays into a diverse arena of consumer products and services.


While India is a fast growing internet market, it is also diverse in consumer profile. How is Microsoft working around this aspect of the Indian market?

India is one of the youngest countries in the world with over 60% of the population below 30 years. A large number of consumers are young but it is interesting to note that several unique audience segments are entering the market. Another change is that Indian consumers are multi tasking more than ever.
Evolution in the consumer landscape has been very positive for Microsoft, and our consumer strategy is completely aligned. In the last year alone, we have introduced a plethora of products in consumer space – be it home entertainment and computing, online solutions or security offerings . Case in point is Windows 7, which has been an unprecedented success and is simplified while being safer, faster and very secure. Extensive consumer feedback and our applied learning from Windows Vista have translated into Windows 7. It is one the fastest growing operating systems in history, and we have sold over 60 million Windows 7 licenses worldwide.


Consumers are getting increasingly wired and connected in groups online. What kind of a product and marketing strategy has your company evolved to sell them relevant offerings?

We are arguably the world's most successful consumer technology company already. A billion people "speak" Windows, in virtually every country and culture. And we've extended Windows to the Web, where more than 460 million people use our Windows Live services, such as search, e-mail or instant messaging. We've brought Windows to more than 20 million mobile phones in the last year alone. Xbox Live has introduced community and social interaction, and now has more than 12 million members worldwide, playing, sharing and connecting together.

Consumers today are getting and sharing information and experiences across multiple platforms for a multiplying number of purposes that are as unlimited as their imaginations . And across every platform, a lot of the most exciting opportunities lie in social media and social technologieshelping people connect with others.
This consumer focus is more than a new organization. It's evident of a mindset within the company – a new way of thinking about how the more than six billion consumers around the world live and work and how they choose to use technology in their daily lives. We helped democratise the PC from being a tool for business into being an indispensible resource for more than a billion people around the world – and it was only the beginning. This is the next step on the journey to make it easier for people to connect, share and learn through technology.


Online advertising is still picking up in India and is miles away from traditional media. How do you explain the frenetic activity among giant online companies to attract advertisers?

In India, Online is a small industry today and while its potential has not been realised yet. We believe that with increasing PC penetration, online is geared for unprecedented growth. This is the real estate of tomorrow, and it is where consumers are living their lives. From a Microsoft perspective, we are super focused on the online space, and have made a number of investments. Search is ripe for innovation and with Bing, we have focused on listening to what consumers feel is lacking in the current search experience and have released a product that we feel better addresses the complex tasks and queries they are looking to search to complete. We have also created an integrated and compelling user experience across a wide portfolio of products and services through our Software + Services. We are one of very few companies in the world that can execute across such a broad array of services and experiences.

 

To us, online advertising represents a very large market opportunity, and one that we're positioned well to capitalize on. All our plans and innovations are geared towards the incredible growth in the online industry worldwide. With Microsoft Advertising, we provide a platform that allows the online industry globally and in India to grow and develop an ecosystem for advertisers and publishers that offer ease of use, relevant audiences and genres. And if you finally look at Windows Live we already provide some of the most popular services for consumers worldwide, such as Hotmail, Skydrive and Windows Live Messenger. And it's a platform we're constantly innovating on. Overall, in the online space, the reality of what it takes to succeed is strong infrastructure, global breadth and depth, and better core experiences for what people are doing most on the web.


Piracy is a major concern of every marketer in the IT space. As the biggest company from the sector and perhaps bearing the most damage, what are you doing to tackle the menace?

We are raising awareness among customers and resellers about the risks of counterfeit & pirated software to enable them to better protect themselves and ensure that their software licensing is in order. Our strategy is focused on education and awareness as key levers to address piracy in India and encompass a range of consumer and channel initiatives . We also have a whole host of other programs like Get Genuine Solution (GGS), Software Asset Management (SAM), Windows Activation Technologies and Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) to ensure consumers are realizing the true benefits of original software. Tackling piracy is all a part of a larger process and will take time.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GOLDMAN SACHS IS ONE OF THE MAJOR INVESTORS IN INDIA: MICHAEL EVANS

GEORGE SMITH ALEXANDER

 

Goldman Sachs started its Indian operations three years ago after breaking its decade old ties with Kotak Mahindra. When it opened shop the goal was to invest $1 billion dollars in India; that number is a little over $2 billion today, and there is no restriction on how high it can go. Last week ET met up Michael Evans, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs and chairman of Goldman Sachs Asia, to find out, among other things, the India plans of Goldman which has been on a hiring spree in the last few months. Mr Evans, who oversaw the launch of Goldman's domestic platform in China, the build up of its Indian business and expansion into South East Asia and Korea, was also part of the Canadian eight-man crew which won the 1984 Olympic gold medal for rowing. Excerpts of the interview:


How has Goldman Sachs's Indian business grown?

We are very pleased with the growth of our Indian business. As Asia has recovered faster over the last six to nine months than the rest of the world, we have added a significant number of senior people in Mumbai and Bangalore. We have ten Managing Directors in Mumbai alone and additional Managing Directors in Bangalore, a measure of the stability of operations and our senior leadership in the country. Each one of our businesses -- Investment Banking, Securities and Asset Management -- are continuing to be built out.


We plan to increase our headcount. Currently, we have more than 100 professionals in Mumbai. Moving forward, securities will attain additional licenses and expand out coverage footprint; investment banking will cover more accounts and asset management will role out their local business. Over the long term, strategy for India involves us continuing to expand our footprint and coverage of clients.


How much have you invested in India?

We started in 2007 with a goal to invest $1 billion dollars in India. That number is a little over $2 billion today. There is no restriction in terms of our investment amount. We are driven by interesting investment opportunities, where we can provide capital to growth companies that need it and can benefit from our industry expertise. Given our recent announced investments in insurance provider Max India, wireless broadband operator Tikona, infrastructure company Asia Genco; Goldman Sachs is arguably one of, if not the largest, investor in India in the aftermath of the financial crisis.


You already have an AMC license. Will you start the AMC operations?

We will look at our AMC launch sometime in the next 12 months. Timing is important when you start an asset management business. Investor flows are very important and such flows have been challenged in India over the past six months. While awaiting the opportune time, we have established a seed fund for Indian equities to showcase our track record – and the fund has been a top performer. In order to roll out the business and make it successful, we will have to make the fund much larger and establish a track record that we can use for marketing purposes.


Will you be hiring more in Bangalore?

Bangalore has been a great success story for Goldman Sachs. We are now past the 3,000 mark and continuing to expand towards 4,000. Bangalore is the 3rd largest Goldman Sachs office in the world and works across all our global businesses. The talent and human capital available in a wide range of disciplines, coupled with our firm's principle focus on people as our most important assets, has served Bangalore well to become one of our three high value locations globally alongside Singapore and Salt Lake City.

The recent divestments in India doesn't seem to have attracted many foreign investors. Your comments .


Privatisation programs around the world experience greater and lesser degrees of interest from foreign investors. Sometimes it is a function of market conditions, which in recent times have been volatile, and sometimes it is the function of the company and industry in question. Certain industries are more attractive in certain points of the cycle and less attractive in other parts of the cycle. Sometimes it is a function of pricing or structure; sometimes it is a function of retail participation versus institutional participation. Simply, one has to be very careful not to attribute too much significance to any one deal or any one issue.


Rather there is a need to evaluate the success of the privatisation program over a fairly long period of time. I spent approximately 13 years privatizing companies in Japan, China, Australia and all throughout Europe. There were many successful deals and sometimes less successful deals. The lessons learnt from the less successful deals often had to do with deal structure, markets and timing more than foreign versus domestic investor participation.


The Indian government is looking at a divestment target of Rs 40,000 cr in the next fiscal. Do you see foreign investor participation in these deals?


Investor interest in growth markets has recovered from 2008 and 2009 where a great deal of money moved out of growth markets, namely out of equities and into fixed income and money market assets. Investors have now regained confidence in the stability of the developed markets and the large growth opportunities in the growth markets. A large portion of the capital already has come back to the growth markets. In that respect, I expect deals which are structured and priced properly will generate greater international participation.


How important is Asia for Goldman? Are your revenues increasing ?

 

Asia has been a very important and growing part of our global business. I think of it less as Asia, the region and more in terms of growth markets because it is very similar to our experience in other growth markets around the world, such as the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America and Russia. The percentage of Goldman Sachs' business from outside US is now more than 50% and that ratio has been increasing for a number of years now. As a region, our revenues from Asia for 2009 were $8.26 billion, which constitutes 18% of our global revenues.


This is more than $3 billion higher than our nearest major competitor in revenues generated from Asia and double the nearest major competitor in terms of the percentage of the global revenues attributed to Asia. There is no reason to believe that this trend will not continue based on the fundamental difference between the growth opportunities in growth markets vs. developed markets.


Are there any emerging equity markets which you like better than the others?


The bigger and faster growing markets obviously have a certain appeal. Very often however they come with very specific challenges. One can easily be lured into a false sense of prioritizing the superficially most attractive economies without fully anticipating the risk associated with such locations that make it problematic to execute - whether it be regulatory, lack of rule of law, or closed economies. When we assess how to prioritize markets, we look not just at the size of the market but also the size of the GDP growth, the size of the population and the risks that are involved in executing the business strategy correctly. We make a conclusion after weighing all those factors against available resources.


Google has been having problems in China. Will this affect the investments into China?


I don't think so. Google's issues with China are specific to Google and China. We are not in the technology business. We are in the financial services business. I think people developing businesses in China have to think very much along the lines of the industry and the opportunity that is presented by that market and the regulations and rules that are in place. Goldman Sachs obviously faces a different set of challenges in China to that of an industrial or IT corporation. Financial services are an integral part of any economy. China has an emerging capital market which is not fully developed yet and it has enormous capital needs for the growth of the economy.


Developing the equity market and the corporate bond markets are enormous challenges facing the country and China is handling it very well. Banks are the principal providers of capital which we know is an important part of the economy, but that won't be sufficient in the future if the capital markets don't develop at a rapid pace. These are enormous challenges not only for China but also India. Certain parts of the capital markets in India are more developed. The competitive environment between local and international banks is quite open in India. It's more tightly regulated in China.


Are the problems in the US economy over? There's talk about continuing problems on the consumer side.

A number of challenges remain in the recovery process for the US economy, particularly on the consumer side. Income growth is weak, the savings rate still looks low relative to wealth and confidence implies weaker spending. Unemployment remains significant and how long that takes to play out is an important question. On balance though, the situation has evolved more positively than expected. We do not believe that there will be slip back into a second recession. Rather, we see a recovery taking place in 2010 and 2011. The GDP number will not be a big one, but we do expect around 2% GDP growth in 2010 and a bit more than that in 2011.


Equity markets have been on a one-way street after hitting bottom. There have been doubts cast over the recovery. Your comments


In the second half of last year we started to see rapid recovery in the equity markets led by Asia and a number of growth markets across the world. The flows and enthusiasm were, to a great extent, a normalization of capital back into growth investments and particularly into growth markets, once it was clear that the Armageddon scenario for the global financial system was unlikely to happen.


Moving forward, we expect further foreign inflows, good upside for Asian and Indian markets in 2010, but lower than the gains of 2009. Having said that, some highly respected economists, market strategists and observers continue to believe that there are real risks, such as the possibility of developed markets slipping into a second recession or the emergence of bubbles in growth markets like China.


Would there be more country defaults ? There has been talk about other European countries having issues.

A great deal of constructive work is being done to figure out how to resolve those issues in a way that is good for the Greece, the markets and the EU. Notably, Greece was able to successfully complete their recent Euro 5bn bond deal earlier this month. The government has also introduced austerity measures which were quite tough.


There are other countries in Europe which have large debt burdens and economies that are recovering in different rates. They could also experience some stress. Elsewhere in the world the situation is very different, particularly in the growth markets where we see a different economic complexion.


Considering the controversy which Goldman faced in Greece, will firms like you re-examine the way you deal with sovereigns?

A large part of our business historically and today continues to cater to the needs of sovereign entities – raising capital for them, advising them and so on. The situation with Greece specifically is related to a transaction from ten years ago, which at that time was deemed to be completely appropriate and consistent with the Eurostat principles governing their application.


We don't think those derivative swaps were anything other than what they were. The transaction itself, in a nutshell, had the effect of reducing Greece's foreign denominated debt in Euro terms by Euro 2.3 billion, which decreased Greece's debt as a percentage of GDP by just 1.6% from 105.3 to 103.7%, but had a minimal effect on the country's overall fiscal situation.


How has the crisis changed some of the global banks? Do you think banks will have a relook at their operating models?

A great deal of change has already taken place in the European and US banks. Very little has changed in the Asian and the other growth market banks. Further change will be in response to what evolves of regulatory regime. Currently, without clarity on the matter, it would be premature for banks to think about doing anything. Keep in mind, the regulatory environment which emerges in the US could look different from the regulatory environment which emerges in Europe. That's another level of complexity which will also affect the strategy of banks moving forward.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'TIME TO HAVE A GAS PRICING POLICY TO STABILISE PRICES AT CONSUMER LEVEL'

RAJEEV JAYASWAL

 

Natural gas is considered India's fuel for future growth. The country managed to double gas output with the commissioning of Reliance Industries' KG basin gas fields. Gail India manages most of the gas pipeline network that crisscross the country. BC Tripathi, chairman and managing director of the state-run gas utility talks about its plans to meet the growing demand for natural gas in the country in an exclusive interaction with ET. Excerpts:


A high-level delegation from Qatar is visiting India. Qatar is one of the largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) suppliers. Can we expect an announcement?


There are some talks with them. Qatar is one of the important energy suppliers for India. The country's deputy premier and minister of energy & industry, Abdullah Al-Attiyah, is here. He is meeting top government officials and will also attend the inaugural session of the 6th Asia Gas Partnership Summit on Monday. Both Gail and Petronet LNG are holding discussions on various possibilities, but I am not in a position to tell anything at this moment.


There was a plan to bifurcate Gail India into two firms — a gas transportation company and a gas marketing company? Is there any development in this direction?


There was a plan to unbundle company's transportation and marketing businesses to maintain a distance between the two activities. For this purpose, we have already separated the accounts. Gail Gas Ltd is created to focus exclusively on city gas distribution business.


It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gail India and has its own board. We are approaching DPE (The department of public enterprise) for separate listing of Gail Gas. It is likely to happen in the next five-six months.


Gail Gas Ltd was created to undertake marketing activities. Is it undertaking any project?

GGL is handing four city gas projects in the first round. Meerut, Dewas, Sonipat and Kota. In Dewas, the company has already started supplying both CNG (compressed natural gas) and PNG (piped natural gas). In other cities CNG sup ply will start in a phased manner by May-June and PNG supply will start from June.

Though Gail Gas had tied-up with Reliance Industries (RIL). Yet it is so far going solo on city gas projects. Why? Is the understanding still valid?


We are willing to join hands with anybody who can add value. We had signed a memorandum of understanding with RIL for undertaking city gas projects together. Projects couldn't take off due to some regulatory hassles. But the MoU still stands and we will undertake joint projects in future.


Gail is already into power generation with NTPC. Is it planning to diversify into power generation?


Gail's core business is gas transportation and marketing. But power generation is part of our diversification strategy. We don't want to undertake mega power projects. We will concentrate on small distributive power projects along with our pipeline networks.

Commercial power generation is a part of the company's business diversification strategy and the R&D (research and development) team of the company has been evaluating various power projects across the country. We also plan to double the generation capacity Dabhol Power project Ratnagiri Dabhol power project. Studies are on by consultants for the same.


Keeping in view the prime minister's Solar Mission, Gail is also focusing on various non-conventional energy sources. Gail has recently started a pilot wind power plant at Sinoi in Kutch of 4.5 mw capacity which will be on stream from April 2010. It has three wind turbine generators of 1.5 mw each.


The company also has some plans for setting up solar power plants.


The government is toying with the idea to have a uniform gas pricing regime and given the task to study its feasibility to Gail? Is it possible to have a uniform gas pricing system?


We have appointed a consultant to examine the feasibility. The first draft has come to us. Discussions are going on with stakeholders. The final report will take some time. We should wait for the report. But, it is a fact that currently, natural gas prices varies from $2 per million British thermal unit (mBtu) to $7 per mBtu. Besides, there are spot prices. This is the time to have a gas pricing policy to bring price stability at consumer level.

 

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'XEROX INDIA HUB TO FOLLOW OPEN INNOVATION MODEL'

SHELLEY SINGH

 

Xerox Corp, the $22-billion iconic inventor of products like computer mouse and laser printer whose name has come to be synonymous with photocopy, has finally set up an innovation lab in India, a move that some analysts have dubbed as a little late in the day. But Xerox's global CTO Sophie Vandebroek calls it a timely move as the company's sixth innovation hub in Chennai will be different, based on a new model of collaborative research and open innovation. She discusses the model, future of work and the new technologies for emerging markets that the lab will focus on in an interview with ET. Excerpts:


Microsoft, Intel, GE and IBM have set up research centres in India long ago. Xerox seems to have discovered India only now. Why so?

We have research labs in California, Rochester (in the US) Canada, Grenoble (France) and a joint venture in Japan. We have had Indians working in our labs across the world. On an average, we have filed 10 patents a week. We wanted to understand how a research centre in India can truly add value to our work being done in the five labs across the world.


More recently, Xerox moved into research for global services business. Now with the acquisition of ACS (a BPO company bought in 2009 for $6.4 billion), that focus on services has increased. India has a lot of expertise in IT and services to allow us to tap the talent and this was the best time to launch here.


Xerox calls it an innovation hub rather than an R&D centre. What will be the focus?

We are not looking to hire lots of researchers but will collaborate with local universities, start-up companies, governments and businesses. It will be based on open innovation rather than closed innovation (or, entirely in-house). In an open innovation model you co-create and co-innovate with partners in industry, universities and government.

Connectors (in-house employees) will connect with people in environment, be it start-ups or global experts. People here can bring the knowledge and create products for emerging markets. For instance, IIT Madras' computer science department is partnering the innovation hub on how we can leverage cloud computing technologies to improve the way services are delivered for small businesses.


Most R&D centres collaborate with industry. What's new about the Xerox model?

The Chennai innovation hub will be a centre of connectors. For every person we hire, we will partner at least 50 or more people.


Every person will be working on at least five projects and with each project, there will be at least 10 people and hence, it has a big magnifying effect. There will be a large number of innovators working. It will eventually be larger than the European centre of Xerox.


Can the open innovation model be translated to everyday work. How will people work in future?

Our role in technology is to create the future today. In 2010, we are looking at 2020 — how will knowledge workers work in the future from the point of view of technology, information and organisation. From a technology point of view, we believe there won't be any paper. That's why even Xerox is getting into services. We are helping many customers print less — for instance, P&G had 40,000 multi-function devices around the world; they will soon have less than 10,000, all connected to cloud.

There will be many other ways to interact with computers — smart phones, new devices, flexible screens, et al. New technologies will allow people to work together virtually anywhere in the world. If you look at the number of free agents (employees) over 120 years back — almost all were free agents — running little businesses, shops, working on farms and so on.


Later, people went to work for large corporations and in the 1970s, only 10% of the people in the US were free agents; the rest were working with some company or the other, GEs, IBMs, Microsofts and so on. Now, 30% are free agents in the US. In the future, personal credibility of individuals, their knowledge, expertise shared via platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook will matter and people will truly work on a global scale. We will be back to having fewer free agents in the future.


Xerox has been known for innovations like computer mouse and GUI. But in recent years, there has been little cutting-edge research?

The 1970s were a very special time for Xerox. We were the first company to commercialise ethernet, we invented the laser printer and spun off over 40 companies. That happened because of the ability to attract top-notch people to centres. We hope to do that in India as well.


Many potentially impactful technologies like low-cost water purification systems with off-the-shelf materials have been done at Xerox. We have come out with several new technologies in the solar energy space and natural language search as well.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE HOPE TO DISBURSE RS 95 CR IN HOUSING LOANS: JAMSHED DABOO

SUTANUKA GHOSAL

 

TATA Sons subsidiary Tata Capital (TCL), which is a non-banking finance company registered with RBI, was floated in 2007. It caters to the diverse need of retail, corporate and institutional customers, directly or indirectly, through its subsidiaries across various areas such as consumer finance and advisory business, corporate finance, which includes commercial and infrastructure finance, securities business, investment banking and private equity. ET caught up with Jamshed Daboo, TCL's head (consumer finance and advisory), to get a fix on the company's future plans. Excerpts:


TCL has floated a 100% subsidiary Tata Capital Housing Finance in October 2008 for providing home loans. How did the company perform in 2009-10, given that the real estate sector was hit hard by the economic downturn?

Though the housing finance company was floated in October 2008, the approval from National Housing Bank came in April 2009. It's a young company and commenced business from June 2009. Despite the economic downturn, we are hopeful of disbursing Rs 95 crore of housing loans in FY10. We believe a good beginning has been made. The real estate sector has started looking up and we are hopeful FY11 will be much better.

What new initiatives can we expect from Tata Housing Finance to grow its footprint with the market looking up?

We are in the process of tying up with real estate promoters of repute for a financing pact. We are also looking to provide project loans to builders.


However, we will first evaluate the builder's profile and his projects before providing loan support. We are also leveraging the Tata Group's ecosystem to enhance our housing loans portfolio. We will finance both residential and commercial projects. The retail sector has started looking up and we are hopeful a lot of activities will happen in the commercial sector. We are reasonably competitive in the interest rate front. However, we do not believe in the teaser rates that some of the banks and housing finance companies offer.


Do you plan to address NRIs who are keen to buy properties in India?


I would like to reiterate that Tata Housing Finance is a new company, and we are yet to expand in the overseas markets in a big way.


We have just opened offices in Singapore and London to address the Indian diaspora there. As we go ahead, we are hopeful of expanding our global footprint.


Are you keen to buy retail assets of other finance companies?


No, we have no plans to buy retail assets of other finance companies. We believe in growing our business ourselves and establish our own brand in the market. Our focus is to create a strong customer base for TCL. However, we do some amount of takeover financing. TCL's plan is to be present in 65 plus locations with 100 branches in FY11. Apart from being in the retail finance sector, we also provide investment advisory services.


The automobile sector has shown a significant spurt in the last couple of months. How has your auto loan segment grown in the current fiscal?


We do financing for all automobile companies, except Tata Motors. There is a separate company, Tata Motor Finance, which finances cars produced by Tata Motors. In FY10, we expect to disburse around Rs 741 crore on account of auto financing.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIA'S IMPORTANT PIECE OF PUZZLE: METRO CASH & CARRY

SARAH JACOB

 

The over e33.1 billion Metro Cash & Carry was the first to enter the Indian wholesale business in 2003, since 100% FDI is allowed in this segment. The Indian arm, which meets the product needs of kirana owners and the hotel, restaurant and catering (Horeca) sector, has grown to five outlets across Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Kolkata. Metro Cash & Carry India's customer management director, Ajay Sheodaan, told ET that it is focused on developing the market by moving from a transaction-led business to one based on relationships. Excerpts.


Where does India fit in the global pecking order of Metro Cash & Carry?

The world has come to recognise India as one of the fastest growing economies. For Metro too, India figures among Russia, China, Germany, France and Italy as one of the few big markets under focus. India has been given higher importance from a strategic and market complexities point of view.


This is why Metro has been keen on assigning a certain profile of management suited to deal with the ground level requirements of these markets. India is as important, if not more, than China in Asia. In fact it's a very important piece of the puzzle for any company that wants to get to the next level of growth.


Has your India strategy been far removed from the other markets that Metro has a presence in?

Unlike other markets, the most significant aspect of the Indian wholesale distribution system is that it is rather evolved and deep rooted. Yet, being fragmented and traditional, it can do with modernisation and greater efficiency that would translate into benefits for all partners within the system.


Besides that, our customers enjoy a very strong relationship with their existing supplier base. Despite being assured pricing advantages, they are often reluctant to shift from existing suppliers because they may be old friends or relations. That's a battle that has been tough to win.


Being the first mover in the cash & carry space in India, what challenges did you encounter in creating this market?

The challenges have been largely in terms of governmental obstacles in terms of licensing, particularly because each state has different regulations. Take for instance in Karnataka, where we still have a restricted APMC (agriculture produce marketing committee) license that includes fruits and vegetables but restricts sale of commodities. The nature of our customers also vary across state borders and within states.


Take for instance, the consumption habits of a retailer in Bangalore and Hyderabad against one in the smaller towns of Andhra Pradesh. In AP, there is a large base of customers who seek low-end or local brands as they operate at revenues of Rs 1,500 a day. The solutions designed for them would have to be different from those designed for a customer in a metropolis.


What solutions has Metro created for the average Indian kirana owner and are any of them exclusive to the Indian market?

A small kirana owner who ekes out a living at Re 1, 500 a day, is often not working-capital enabled and would end up sacrificing 40% of daily sale if he takes out five hours from a 10-hour work day to travel to the Metro store. Taking into account the retailer's time and manpower issues, we piloted a programme with SKS Micro Finance and a third-party logistics firm that binds together our product assortment with delivery and a loan system.

Very often, a traditional wholesaler bundles a premium product even if the kirana owner only wants the mass-priced product. We not only offer financing solutions but also give the retailer the freedom to buy what he wants. India is the first market where this programme has been developed. In fact, even Metro Cash & Carry in Pakistan intends to study and replicate the pilot.


Given the entry of several other global players in the cash & carry space, how does Metro differentiate itself?

Our research suggests the importance of going beyond price discounting and a transaction-led business to a relationship based one. The Metro Bandhan loyalty programme was designed to reach pre-identified target groups within our overall customer base, on the basis of the quantum and frequency of their purchases, and to incentivise them to increase their share of wallet at Metro through custom-made services.


At the same time, our market relevance is based not only on what our customer needs from us but also what our customer's customer expects from him. This is why we have helped Horeca customers with food & beverage training and invited chefs to our shop floor to spread knowledge on various cooking techniques.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BID FOR PUNE JUSTIFIED, SAYS SUBRATA ROY

AMINAH SHEIKH

 

Sahara Group, the sponsors of Indian cricket team for the last several years, has now entered the business of cricket by winning the new IPL team in Pune for a record $370 million —a bid that combines the three highest winning bids of IPL's first round in 2008 (Mumbai's $111.9 million, Bangalore's $111.6 million and Hyderabad's $107 million). This is an ambitious move for a group that has been under the RBI scrutiny for some of its businesses. Sahara Group's chief, Subrata Roy, speaks to ET about his new business fade – Indian Premier League. Excerpts:


Sahara's bid seems too ambitious. When do you think the team will breakeven?

Right from the Indian Premier League's first match this season, the eyeballs it has got is huge worldwide. Naturally, the valuations have risen exponentially from what it was three years ago. So, we believe the bid we placed is justified. While there will be operating profits from year one, there will be no cash flow. It's difficult to say by when we will breakeven.


You had expressed interest in bidding for Lucknow. Why the change of heart?

We did want to bid for Lucknow but we were advised by the Indian Premier League to consider bidding for Pune as it made sense in terms of logistics and infrastructure. The new stadium coming up in Pune is one of the world's best. Also we have the advantage of cross leveraging resources of Aamby Valley.

 

Sahara Adventure Sports will be driven by IPL and other sporting events. We intend to start a sports academy of international standards located in Aamby Valley. The company will have an office in Pune for IPL, we are yet to finalise who will head the IPL business.


You have been closely associated with cricketers and Bollywood stars. Will you rope in a celebrity for the IPL team?

We have their support and they are always with us. However, we have not given it a thought yet. In the past few days I've received many calls from cricketers encouraging us to bid for IPL. And we have over a decade shared an emotional rapport with both domestic and international players.


Apart from the short format of the league, do you feel Bollywood stardom has helped IPL gain popularity?
It certainly is a combination of both—the sport and the glamour. One cannot deny that the glamour quotient does have an impact on human beings. A right association with celebrity can add value to the team franchise.


Will Sahara exit the Indian cricket team sponsorship due to end in June?

We haven't taken a call yet. We will decide later.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

INDIA'S DEMOGRAPHIC ADVANTAGE ILLUSION

 

The observation of a National HRD Network board member that due to the acute shortage of skilled manpower in the infrastructure sector infrastructure companies are unable to take advantage of the immense opportunities thrown up by the government impetus to this sector is alarming. Further, a report by a consultancy firm and the Project Management Institute says that around 53 per cent of the companies they surveyed agreed that non-availability of experienced labour was the root cause of delays in projects. It is estimated that the total loss due to project delays is around Rs 54,000 crores and, between April 1999 and March 2009, a massive 82 per cent of projects failed to meet their deadlines while 41 per cent faced cost overruns. The shortage is more alarming when it comes to project managers, quality supervisors and planning engineers. This should ring alarm bells throughout the country as it could derail the economy in a way that could threaten India's development and progress on the road to becoming a superpower. It is an irony that whilst India is one of the few countries on a growth trajectory of nine per cent, it has a shortage of skilled personnel. There are various estimates of the shortage of skilled manpower. A leading businessman has said that half-a-billion Indians are without any skills. This punches a major hole in the much touted demographic advantage that India has. A recent study has said that 75 per cent of engineers and 85 per cent of students graduating in the arts, science and commerce streams are unemployable. The silver lining is that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is aware of this gaping, dangerous shortfall in the supply-demand equation in the employment sector. India has seen an explosion in economic growth, particularly in the services and infrastructure sectors, since economic liberalisation, but training in the requisite skills has not kept pace to meet the requirements of growth. The Indian Technical Institutes (ITIs) had been badly mismanaged all these years and now a business chamber has adopted some 240 of them under the private-public participation initiative. This shortage of skilled labour is also a cultural problem. Most parents want their children to get a college education and go for degrees rather than diplomas. The mindset of this generation, and even earlier generations, was to go for comfortable government and office jobs, particularly in the IT sector where you sit and work in air-conditioned comfort. Here is where the Malaysians, Chinese and Vietnamese score over us. In Communist regimes education and health were two programmes that were universal. They believe in the dignity of labour whereas in India working with your hands is considered infra-dig. The Southeast Asians are more Westernised in their thought processes and are now starting to flood the Indian infrastructure sector, be it steel, refineries or roads. The government will require a nationwide programme to attract youth to vocational training. India is lucky to have an HRD minister like Kapil Sibal pushing this idea and introducing vocational courses in the last two years of schooling so that students can get a job as soon as they finish Class 10. The shortage of labour has also been attributed to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme which gives workers Rs 100-Rs 120 per day for 90 days a year.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

BUDGET FAULTLINES

BY ARJUN SENGUPTA

 

Now that the Union Budget 2010 has been virtually passed with kudos for the finance minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, it is time to look for the faultlines. First is inflation management. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, was right when he said that prices must be adjusted when the fundamental supply-demand conditions changed, and there can be a real trade-off between growth and inflation. The government obviously chose growth at the cost of inflation and Mr Mukherjee has followed suit. But he could have chosen better timing, especially for petro-product prices. I see no way out of raising those prices but in a situation with strong inflationary expectations and liquidity, a small increase in petro-product prices may have a cascading effect. Petro-products enter into many activities that directly or indirectly affect most sectors. Mr Mukherjee restored some of the taxes he withdrew earlier but at a time when the markets were fragile with high inflationary expectations. Such price increases will fall far short of the requirements. Mr Mukherjee could have been more selective and he could have waited for a more opportune time.


Even while raising petro-prices Mr Mukherjee should have tried to protect the common man's interest by trying to establish a dual price regime, at least for LPG, kerosene and diesel. Earlier also we have lived with dual prices in kerosene and LPG, which had not been very efficient but the poor consumers invariably got some protection. Dual pricing for diesel is difficult. Requirements of poor farmers, trucks carrying up to five tonnes of vegetables and long-distance and low-cost buses should be subsidised. The administration of the system is not so difficult but requires some learning. If FM could at least initiate such arrangements, these would have an effect on the market and the sentiments of the common man.


Besides oil, the other most sensitive item for inflation is food, constituting wage goods, and increasing money wages with real or expected spreads, affecting the whole economy. So for purely inflation management a good case can be made for controlling wage goods prices of food. In addition, there is of course a good case for controlling food prices through a universalised public distribution system or food security by guaranteeing 35 kg of good grains to all families below the poverty line.


The second faultline is the inadequate attention to the aspect of stimulus for expanding the domestic market, especially of products which are in high demand by the aam aadmi and which can be stimulated either positively or negatively with a small per capita stimulus. Mr Mukherjee should have seen to it that the stimulus was fully maintained for low-cost domestic goods consumed by the poor.


The reduction of excise duty is not of great help because even if they are passed on to consumer prices, the net effect is very small. Even if the price elastics are high, a small reduction in prices will hardly have an effect on demand.


The decrease in excise duty would raise traders' profits. But if these profits are taxed together with other forms of direct taxes at a time when the corporate sector is making 130 to 140 per cent profits, as per the estimates of Confederation of Indian Industry, this could give the government the revenue to increase expenditure in areas that need improved investment. Mr Mukherjee did not choose that measure. He has, of course, increased expenditure, especially on social services, but is not protecting the delivery of those services. Such increase in social expenditure is correct policy, both for economic growth and for protecting the common man. But they have the risks of fuelling inflation and negating the good effects, unless delivery is ensured.
The third faultline is Mr Mukherjee's failure to monitor the delivery of such increasing expenditure through a system of social auditing. The government this year has established a committee in the Planning Commission within the government. This has not worked before and there is no reason why this will work now. Social auditing must be left to social auditors, independent experts and activists.


The fourth faultline is more critical. The main failure of our growth process is the inability to generate employment. Employment has increased at a rate of over two per cent a year but almost wholly in the unorganised sector, where workers do not have job security, wage security or minimal social security of health and pensions, and miserable working conditions. That cannot be the gift of the very high rate of economic growth which has left only 20 per cent of our economy shining and 80 per cent in abject poverty.


Mr Mukherjee had the a chance this time to deal with these problems directly by offering stimulus to unorganised enterprises in order to absorb the unemployed. Proposals have been made to expand skill formation of the poor and to update the technology of tiny enterprises. They have not found any consideration in the Budget. A proposal was also made to create a development bank like the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard), an institution for the unorganised sector called the National Fund for Unorganised Sector (Nafus), to provide credit and equity as well as marketing and technology facilities. We have learnt from experience that telling the financial institutions to lend relatively more to unprofitable units when there is huge demand for profitable services does not work. That is why specialised institutions were recommended only to work for the unprofitable activities. A group of highly professional monetary economists worked out a whole scheme for such a Nafus and even the Raghurajan Committee Report appreciated that link. But Mr Mukherjee has failed to pursue that link. All he could do was to open a special window in the Small Industries Development Bank of India, a financial institution meant for small but profitable industries.
Mr Mukherjee came with the promise of producing a Budget for the aam aadmi. He has done a lot in detail for that, but he could not capture the broad thrust which people expected from him. He did not keep to the full measure of his promise. That I think is the worst faultline of the Budget, especially because if anyone in the government was capable of delivering that promise it would have been Mr Mukherjee, the former finance minister of Indira Gandhi.

 

*Dr Arjun Sengupta is a member of Parliament andformer economic adviser toPrime Minister Indira Gandhi

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

AMERICA'S REAL DREAM TEAM WITH ITS SPARKLERS

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

Went to a big Washington dinner last week. You know the kind: Large hall; black ties; long dresses. But this was no ordinary dinner. There were 40 guests of honour. So here's my Sunday news quiz: I'll give you the names of most of the honourees, and you tell me what dinner I was at. Ready?


Linda Zhou, Alice Wei Zhao, Lori Ying, Angela Yu-Yun Yeung, Lynnelle Lin Ye, Kevin Young Xu, Benjamin Chang Sun, Jane Yoonhae Suh, Katheryn Cheng Shi, Sunanda Sharma, Sarine Gayaneh Shahmirian, Arjun Ranganath Puranik, Raman Venkat Nelakant, Akhil Mathew, Paul Masih Das, David Chienyun Liu, Elisa Bisi Lin, Yifan Li, Lanair Amaad Lett, Ruoyi Jiang, Otana Agape Jakpor, Peter Danming Hu, Yale Wang Fan, Yuval Yaacov Calev, Levent Alpoge, John Vincenzo Capodilupo and Namrata Anand.


No, sorry, it was not a dinner of the China-India Friendship League. Give up?

OK. All these kids are American high school students. They were the majority of the 40 finalists in the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search, which, through a national contest, identifies and honours the top maths and science high school students in America, based on their solutions to scientific problems. The awards dinner was Tuesday, and, as you can see from the above list, most finalists hailed from immigrant families, largely from Asia.


Indeed, if you need any more convincing about the virtues of immigration, just come to the Intel science finals. I am a pro-immigration fanatic. I think keeping a constant flow of legal immigrants into our country — whether they wear blue collars or lab coats — is the key to keeping us ahead of China. Because when you mix all of these energetic, high-aspiring people with a democratic system and free markets, magic happens. If we hope to keep that magic, we need immigration reform that guarantees that we will always attract and retain, in an orderly fashion, the world's first-round aspirational and intellectual draft choices.


This isn't complicated. In today's wired world, the most important economic competition is no longer between countries or companies. The most important economic competition is actually between you and your own imagination. Because what your kids imagine, they can now act on farther, faster, cheaper than ever before — as individuals. Today, just about everything is becoming a commodity, except imagination, except the ability to spark new ideas.


If I just have the spark of an idea now, I can get a designer in Taiwan to design it. I can get a factory in China to produce a prototype. I can get a factory in Vietnam to mass manufacture it. I can use Amazon.com to handle fulfilment. I can use freelancer.com to find someone to do my logo and manage by backroom. And I can do all this at incredibly low prices. The one thing that is not a commodity and never will be is that spark of an idea. And this Intel dinner was all about our best sparklers.


Before the dinner started, each contestant stood by a storyboard explaining their specific project. Namrata Anand, a 17-year-old from the Harker School in California, patiently explained to me her research, which used spectral analysis and other data to expose information about the chemical enrichment history of "Andromeda Galaxy". I did not understand a word she said, but I sure caught the gleam in her eye.


My favourite chat, though, was with Amanda Alonzo, a 30-year-old biology teacher at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, California. She had taught two of the finalists. When I asked her the secret, she said it was the resources provided by her school, extremely "supportive parents" and a grant from Intel that let her spend part of each day inspiring and preparing students to enter this contest. Then she told me this: Local San Jose realtors are running ads in newspapers in China and India telling potential immigrants to "buy a home" in her Lynbrook school district because it produced "two Intel science winners".


Seriously, ESPN or MTV should broadcast the Intel finals live. All of the 40 finalist are introduced, with little stories about their lives and aspirations. Then the winners of the nine best projects are announced. And finally, with great drama, the overall winner of the $1,00,000 award for the best project of the 40 is identified. This year it was Erika Alden DeBenedictis of New Mexico for developing a software navigation system that would enable spacecraft to more efficiently "travel through the solar system". After her name was called, she was swarmed by her fellow competitor-geeks.


Gotta say, it was the most inspiring evening I've had in DC in 20 years. It left me thinking, "If we can just get a few things right — immigration, education standards, bandwidth, fiscal policy — maybe we'll be OK". It left me feeling that maybe Alice Wei Zhao of North High School in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, chosen by her fellow finalists to be their spokeswoman, was right when she told the audience: "Don't sweat about the problems our generation will have to deal with. Believe me, our future is in good hands". As long as we don't shut our doors.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CUTBACKS IN NEW MAYA, GOGOI SUGAR POLICIES

Reporter's Diary

 

Marriage of convenience

It is rare to see the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress join hands except over issues such as the Women's Reservation Bill. But the unthinkable happened in Alwar, Rajasthan, recently when MLAs of both the parties blocked roads together to oppose the social audit of works done under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme by noted activist Aruna Roy.


Several sarpanchs of both the parties are facing corruption charges and the social audit would have brought out all the sordid truths.


The protests led by MLAs from both parties forced the state government to withdraw the social audit. However, the unity of convenience got busted soon when BJP MLA Banwarilal Singhal complained in the Assembly that the police filed cases only against MLAs of his party.


The rural development minister, Bharat Singh, who supports the social audit, used the occasion to wonder why there was so much opposition to the audit in Alwar. This embarrassed the BJP which never tires of emphasising how different it is from the "corrupt" Congress.

 

Maya's 1 gulab jamun policy

 

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati could be accused of ostentation and a flamboyant style but she is firmly austere when it comes to sugar.


At a recent press conference at her official residence journalists were treated to a sumptuous array of snacks. But when one journalist — who has a sweet tooth — asked the waiter to serve him two gulab jamuns, he was taken aback by the answer. "Ek hi milega — oopar ka aadesh hai", the waiter said. "Oopar", in Uttar Pradesh's political parlance, refers to the chief minister and her secretariat, situated on the fifth floor of the Sachivalaya. The stunned journalist called in a senior official who asked another waiter to get two gulab jamuns. But he too refused. Later, the same official explained. "The chief minister is concerned about everyone's health and wants the sugar crisis to ease. That is why we wanted to restrict gulab jamuns to one".

 

Aluminium turns gold

In 2004, when former Kerala chief minister K. Karunakaran and his son K. Muraleedharan split from the Congress and formed the Democratic Indira Congress (DIC), they used all available platforms to spew venom at the parent party. Mr Muraleedharan, a former Pradesh Congress Committee chief, even pooh-poohed the showcause notice issued to him by Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Sonia Gandhi, with the much-quoted one-liner, "I am afraid of no Aluminium Patel". The DIC did not click and a chastened Mr Karunakaran returned to the Congress. But his son is still being kept out of the party despite umpteen apologies. A persistent and desperate man, he flew to Delhi recently and apologised to Mr Patel, terming his old comment a slip of the tongue. "He assured me that he never took it seriously", said a happy Mr Muraleedharan, hoping that this may finally open the door for him. Mr Patel must have hid a chuckle thinking how he had turned from aluminium to gold in six years.

 

From Big B to Babbar

A well-known businessman in Allahabad, Ravi Wadhawan, shot to fame in 1984 when he set up the Amitabh Bachchan Fans' Association and became its national president. Since that was the time when Mr Bachchan was contesting the Allahabad election, Mr Wadhawan's proximity to the Big B earned him considerable clout and wealth. When the Big B quit politics, the fans' association in Allahabad got dissolved and Mr Wadhawan slipped back into oblivion.


He travelled through several political parties and last week he finally found an entry into the Congress. And his mentor in politics, this time, is Congress MP Raj Babbar, also known to be an arch rival of the Bachchan family — both on a political and personal level. While the photographs of Mr Wadhawan joining the Congress in the presence of Digvijay Singh, show him smiling from ear to ear, the biggest grin was on Mr Babbar — after all, weaning someone away from the Big B is no mean task.

 

CM with a sweet tooth

Doctors have restricted Assam Chief Minister Mr Tarun Gogoi from consuming sugar but his weakness for sweets is posing a major problem for his wife Doli Gogoi. If insiders are to be believed, Mr Gogoi was recently caught red handed by his wife while gulping sweets with some foreign tourists at Kaziranga.
Mr Gogoi, who was the chief guest at a feast organised to welcome foreigners at Kaziranga Elephant Festival, suddenly disappeared from the crowd of dignitaries and moved silently towards the sweets corner. His office staff immediately informed Ms Gogoi. But by the time she reached the spot, Mr Gogoi had already gulped some sweets but clarified that he just had a small piece.


It is learnt from reliable sources that Mr Gogoi sometimes goes to the house of his uncle, Mukti Gogoi, where they happily eat sweets together. And whenever they are caught, they blame each other.

 

A role reversal

Orissa ministers are showing unusual interests in journalists these days following speculation about an imminent reshuffle. They want the media, both national and local and both print and electronic, to highlight the performance of their respective departments. And bemused reporters are witnessing a role reversal as the ministers desperately seek appointments with them.


A few ministers have also been offering to entertain the scribes with drinks and dinners at posh hotels in the city to detail their achievements.


The ministers are worried about what decisions are being taken about shuffling portfolios and dropping of some members on the third floor of the secretariat (the chief minister's office).


But not all are trying to save their job. Some are also tipping their "trusted" scribes on the omissions and commissions of their colleagues (read opponents).

 

Anyway, the journalists are enjoying all the attention.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

TRY TO LOVE OTHERS

BY SADHGURU

 

Question: What is the concept of self-love?

Sadhguru: For love, you need a subject and an object. It's like if I want to talk, I need somebody to talk to. These days you see people talking to themselves and walking on the street. Ten years ago, this would have immediately attracted the label of insane, but today we know you are on hands-free phone! As long as people are not talking to themselves, it's considered alright. But, if they were, you would think s/he is "gone"! So, love is about something or somebody, not about you.


"I love myself" is a bad idea. It's just like "I talk to myself". If you are talking to yourself, one has become two. If this becomes well-established, then we call the person schizophrenic.


You need two to love simply because love is a transaction. There is no such thing as "I love myself". It's simply out of a deep sense of loneliness and when you are unwilling to transact with any other being around you, that you try to invent a way of loving yourself. Either you hate yourself or you love yourself: both are psychological states. But you can't have a love affair with yourself.


A popular philosophy says, "Love yourself. Believe in yourself". Now, you only believe in things that you do not know. Know thyself, that's good. Believe in yourself? The idea itself is crazy! Why can't you just say, "I can't perceive?" I believe in myself, I love myself, this is a sure way to mess yourself up. You will create a loony breed...


When you say, "I love myself", you don't have to transact with anybody. Loving somebody costs life because if you have to love somebody, you have to give up something of yourself. You have to make space. Only people who have never truly loved, they think it's a pleasure. Love is not a pleasure; love is a way of self defeat. The more you love, the more you will fall apart. That's why the term "falling in love". Nobody rises in love, nobody climbs in love, you fall in love because what you consider as myself, only if at least a part of it falls, there is room for a love affair. If you are intact and you are trying to love, nothing like that will happen. You will never know what it is. The beauty of love is that you are being obliterated in the process. It is a longing for self-destruction. That's what love affairs are...


It's when you are not willing to even give an inch to anybody, you start a love affair within yourself. And after sometime, you will become two because without two, there is no love.


So don't try to love yourself; try to love someone else. If human beings are impossible for you, try loving a dog. Really. A lot of people have already given up on human beings and are trying dogs because, you know, nobody can possibly treat you as well as a dog would. If you come home five times a day, all five times he welcomes you with utmost enthusiasm. Not your wife, not your child, nobody will do this for you! So, if you are badly in need of attention, a dog is good for you. Try a dog; if you are successful, then try a human being. But, don't try to love yourself because it's absurd. You can't love yourself because then you would be creating two entities. And once these two entities get established, you will become sick!


Now, we are trying to make everything one through yoga. Within you, you are trying to make divisions. You are an "individual". An individual essentially means it's something that's not further divisible; it's indivisible. If you can divide this further, then it's not an individual. You can include everything, but you can't divide it further. If you do, then you will become sick...

— Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a yogi, is a visionary,humanitarian and a prominent spiritual leader. An author, poet, and internationally-renowned speaker, Sadhguru's wit and piercing logic provoke and widen our perception of life. He can be contacted at www.ishafoundation.org [1]

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

ERASER DUTY FOR BART?

MAUREEN DOWD

 

Angry nuns have been calling Congressman Bart Stupak's office to complain about his dismissive comments on their bravura decision to make a literal Hail Mary pass, break with Catholic bishops and endorse the healthcare bill.


As a Catholic schoolboy, the Michigan Democrat had his share of nuns who rapped his knuckles when he misbehaved, like the time he crashed a kickball through the school window.
So, of course, he's having some acid flashbacks, but he told me, "They're not printable even in the New York Times".


Like that other troublemaking Bart (Simpson), Stupak, who wants to kill the healthcare bill because he thinks the language on abortion funding is not restrictive enough, should have to write on the blackboard a 100 times: "I will listen closely when the nuns tell me I am wrong. I will not be an obstinate lawmaker".
Stupak got in hot holy water when he told Fox News, "When I'm drafting right-to-life language, I don't call up nuns".


He followed that with more scorn for sisters, telling Chris Matthews that the nuns were not influential because they rarely try to influence — which makes no sense — and because "they're not the recognised spokesperson for the Catholic Church". He listens to the bishops, he said, and anti-abortion groups.
We might have to bang Bart's head into a blackboard a few times before he realises that in a moral tug-of-war between the sisters and the bishops, you have to go with the gals.


The nuns are giving the Democrats cover. As Bob Casey, an abortion opponent who helped negotiate the abortion language in the Senate bill, observed, quoting Scripture: "They care for 'the least, the last and the lost'. And they know healthcare".


On Friday, Tim Ryan, an anti-abortion Democrat from Ohio, took to the House floor to say he had been influenced by the nuns to vote for the bill.


"You say this is pro-abortion", he said to Republicans, and yet "you have 59,000 Catholic nuns from across the country endorsing this bill, 600 Catholic hospitals, 1,400 Catholic nursing homes endorsing this bill".
For decades, the nuns did the bidding of the priests, cleaned up their messes, and watched as their male superiors let a perverted stain spread over the entire church, a stain that has now even reached the Holy See. It seemed that the nuns were strangely silent, either because they suspected but had no proof — the "Doubt" syndrome — or because they had no one to tell but male bosses protecting one another in that repugnant and hypocritical old-boys' network.


Their goodness was rewarded with a stunning slap from the über-conservative Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican is conducting two inquisitions into the "quality of life" of American nuns, trying to knock any independence or modernity out of them.


The witch hunt has sparked the nuns to have a voice at last. Vulnerable children were not protected by the male hierarchy of the church, which treated sexual abuse as a failure of character rather than a crime. The men were so arrogant it never occurred to them that they should be accountable to the secular world. In their warped thinking, it was better to let children suffer than to call the authorities, embarrass the church and risk diminished power.
Now the bishops think that it's better to deprive poor people of good healthcare than to let the church look like it's going soft on abortion.


Under the semantic dodge of ideological purity, the bishops also are doing the bidding of the Republicans, trying to kill the bill and weaken the President.But the nuns are right when they say that "the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions" and that its protection of pregnant women is the "real pro-life stance".


The nuns stepped up to support true Catholic dogma, making sure poor people get proper healthcare. (Which would lead to fewer abortions anyway.)


The men running the church seem oblivious to the fact that, with the ranks of priests and sisters dwindling, they can't afford to alienate the nuns who make their schools and hospitals run smoothly.
And now, just as he's finally issuing a pastoral letter about the Irish clerical child abuse, the pope himself has been ensnared in the international scandal, with a psychiatrist in Germany saying that an archdiocese that Benedict led at the time ignored warnings in the 1980s that a priest accused of sexually abusing boys had to be "kept away from working with children".


Because Pope Benedict has addressed the sex scandal belatedly and sparsely, stonewalling on the skeleton in his German closet, he has lost authority to speak about the issue consuming his church.


The only internal investigation he has undertaken with alacrity, for heaven's sake, is the one bullying American nuns.

 

By arrangement with theNew York Times

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

OPEN SESAME

THE EUPHORIA IS PRESUMPTUOUS

 

Cabinet approval for the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill has doubtless been a landmark development in the sphere of academics. But the almost compulsively reformist minister's perception ~ "greater than the telecom revolution" ~ is no more than a euphoric ha-ha, as premature as it is overly emotional. This is more than a little amazing as Kapil Sibal, then in charge of science and technology, was the principal detractor when Arjun Singh floated the trial balloon. True, a raft of checks and balances will now be in place, notably a Rs 50,000-crore corpus should a foreign university decide to leave the shores of India. More crucially, the government reserves the right to cancel applications on grounds of national security and sovereignty. The third condition is that the earnings cannot be repatriated and must be invested in India. Finally, "selected universities" will be exempted from the provisions of the National Commission for Higher Education and Research. The crux of the matter is that the identification of the "selected" remains fogbound. 


There are red herrings across the trail. The government doesn't have a clue on which universities have evinced interest in opening campuses, let alone hallowed institutions of Britain and America. The quality of the instruction will hinge on the ratings of the universities in their home countries; if a certain standard is not assured, the HRD minister's expectation that Indian universities will face a stiff, if healthy, competition is presumptuous. It bears recall that Arjun Singh's proposal was shot down because universities, with dubious credentials in their own countries, were eager to set up shop in India. A mere "foreign" tag is scarcely synonymous with excellence, which can be said to be a "given" if Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and MIT ~ to name but a few ~ come over. A run-of-the-mill foreign institution can be inferior to some of our own universities. For now, the only competition that faculties in India may face is in terms of salaries. And the probability of an exodus of home-grown talent is substantial. 


However titillating, the Bill mirrors the distorted sense of priorities of a government that is struggling to cope with the absurdity of deemed universities. And close to the bone must be the grim reality that on the 60th anniversary of the Republic, hundreds of thousands are either illiterate or barely literate.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

MISSILE MISFIRE

NO NEED TO GO BALLISTIC 

 

DISAPPOINTMENT rather than dejection ought to be the limit of the obviously unhappy reaction to the failure of the fourth test of a ballistic missile defence system being developed indigenously. The three previous tests were generally successful, and in any case there are always some hiccups in so advanced a programme. This time around it was the "attacking" target that failed, the interceptor was not launched intelligently. Sure there will be more tests, and maybe some years too, before a home-made shield can be deployed, but that is no reason to slam the programme. Missile development is perhaps the only major area of success of the Defence and Research Development Organisation, and it must always be remembered that a restrictive technology-control regime has had to be circumvented to get as far as we have reached. It would be all too easy to unfavourably compare the Indian system with what has been developed elsewhere, but self-reliance is a target that must never be abandoned. Maybe seeking joint-venture development and technology transfers is the best option ~ to try and do everything domestically would entail reinventing the wheel, and the DRDO has gone down that route much too frequently. It is time that the promised revamp was undertaken, the DRDO made to understand that it has been tasked with providing the forces with state-of-the-art equipment: academic scientific pursuit is not its prime objective. Maybe that will bruise some egos, but reality cannot be overlooked.


One little-recognised gain of whatever limited success the DRDO has achieved is that it "opens doors". It is no mere coincidence that when an indigenous project is nearing fruition foreign manufacturers, and their governments, waive previous restrictions on sales, technology transfers etc and come up with commercially attractive proposals of weapons and systems that have the all-important "proven" tag attached to them. 
 This is certainly no alibi for the several DRDO flop-shows ~ the MBT Arjun and the Tejas LCA ever the red rag to its scientists ~ only a call for realistic reappraisal of its activities, slashing what has slim chances of success, adding thrust to where it has made reasonable progress. And a plea for greater involvement of the military's specialists in development programmes ~ the buyer-seller stand-off leads nowhere.

.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

RECURRING MENACE

MUMBAI NEEDS DETERRENT ACTION 

 

IN the past there have been nagging suspicions that money from dubious sources flows into the film industry, prompting individuals and units to be targeted for extortion. One would like to believe after all that has happened in the past few years, the notorious links are on the fringe, if not eliminated. It is a different matter when extortions are masterminded by a political party and carried out by hooligans. The MNS and its parent organisation, the Shiv Sena, had disgraced themselves with their display of musclepower against Shah Rukh Khan prior to the release of his last film. The blackmail that was apparently rooted in utterances the actor had made with regard to the Pakistan cricket squad has now been extended to squeezing money from a producer who had engaged foreigners for roles that the MNS believed ought to have gone to locals. Again, there are ominous echoes of a party trying to push its sectarian agenda to the point of interfering in matters which are not its concern. It is ridiculous to suggest that producers would need to check with Raj Thackeray on selections for the cast, failing which they could only be let off with a hefty fine. 


This is lawlessness at its worst and it is to the credit of the producer that he not only refused to bow down but made sure the hooligans were dealt with under the law. The courage may have come from the firmness that Shah Rukh Khan had shown, unlike some of his colleagues who rushed to the leader of the lumpens to apologise for what the Shiv Sena had seen as an "insult'' when "Bombay'' had figured somewhere in a script. Ashok Chavan is politically correct in reassuring the film industry that there is no place for a super-censor. There is perhaps more room for deterrent action by not only rounding up confirmed anti-socials, but identifying and acting against those who masterminded these disruptions. The ruling Congress and NCP have also been trapped by Marathi sentiments which they may now be trying to shake off. They still need to demonstrate the will to deal effectively with the Thackerays in order to cleanse Mumbai of a recurring menace.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

PRIMARY DISASTER

ELEMENTARY EDUCATION CRIES OUT FOR REFORM

PARTHASARATHI CHAKRABORTY

 

India's elementary education system, based almost unquestioningly on the Western model, is not in accord with society's needs and aspirations. It also doesn't address the needs of the children in search of learning.  Education fails in its larger objectives if it is entirely career-oriented, bereft of  human values. 
The schools were once regarded as temples of learning. The poorly paid teachers were considered the backbone of  society, and were widely respected. The schools were known for their strict discipline and clear-cut rules and regulations. The teachers were a  committed lot. The children enjoyed the  classroom experience and there was a cordial  relationship between the teacher and the taught. This equation is extremely important and conducive to the teaching-learning process. 


The scenario has changed dramatically.  Today, the child is burdened with a heavy curriculum. Learning has become a joyless experience.  And there is little or no time to play.  Most children in the urban areas have no experience of leisure and games. There is an increasing tendency to cram and not to learn. The child doesn't experience the joys of childhood. He is deprived of the pleasure of exploring the world. 


Child psychology

Neither teachers nor parents can anticipate the consequences ~ an aggressive temperament, arrogance, sudden bursts of anger or even complete nervous breakdown. The child's psychological development is determined by the emotional bonding, sufficient care and acceptance of his/her frailties.  


The elementary educational system is appalling with 450 million illiterates ~ a number that is higher than the combined population of the USA, Canada and Japan.  Budgetary allocation of funds has drastically been curtailed. Unicef's report fully bears out the crisis. It is necessary to re-examine our elementary education policy.


Very little by way of tangible results has been achieved despite JP Naik's valuable recommendations on primary education and the reports of the education commissions, notably those headed by adhakrishnan, Mudaliar, Kothari and Yash Pal and the earnest efforts of the NCERT. In many states, the role of the SCERT has been dismal. There is a disconnect between the framing of policy and its implementation. The process lacks transparency and the result can be disastrous.


There are several reasons why elementary education has been neglected. The political parties were never sincere about its success. The result has been sordid.


Teachers play a formidable role in shaping character and values. Just as clay-modellers shape the idols with the soft clay, the cognitive and intellectual skills are influenced at a very young age. However, most teachers are loyal to political parties; they divide their working day between the classroom and engaging in politics. The number of dedicated teachers with a sense of commitment is dwindling. The attitude of the majority of teachers needs to be changed. They must be focused on the child. Barring a few exceptions, teachers are not generally devoted to their profession, let alone hone  their professional skills.


If the country's policy-makers really intend to develop the minds of the young and effect a radical change in the social framework, reform in the formal primary education system is absolutely necessary. The history of primary education and its expansion since  independence is marked by compromises and failures. The opening up of new frontiers of  knowledge has turned out to be a futile exercise.

The country has failed to make primary education meaningful.  This has often been attributed to insufficient funds. The focus of formal primary education has been consciously diverted to the non-formal, open school system. The launching of the literacy programme, saksharata abhijan, the universalisation of elementary education, the  collaboration with Unesco, Unicef, and Britain's  Department For International Development have yielded little or no results. The time has come to give total attention and strengthen formal primary education, abolishing others. Funds should be diverted to foster the formal system only.  A fundamental weakness of the policy is the low priority accorded to primary education compared to higher education and research.


A challenging task

Arguably, funds should be diverted from higher education to the primary segment by doing away with the obscure institutions of higher learning. This will be a challenging task to undertake, but will eventually yield results. It must be borne in mind that the value of freedom is an element of the humanistic perspective of life. Promotion and development of the human potential at the social and individual levels, particularly for the young, is imperative.


The country needs an elementary education commission to review the pros and cons, the points of strength and weakness, successes and failures on the lines of the Sadler's Commission of the pre-independence days.
What has been referred to as the "educational epistemology", as perceived by Tagore, has tremendous relevance even today. It is a blend of nationalism and humanism. According to Tagore, freedom of the mind is more important than anything else. It helps absorb the uniqueness of the environment. The real educational concept should go beyond curriculum or curriculum integration. The essence of real education enhances creativity and imagination, and makes one intellectually free. In order to implement this kind of education, in keeping with the legacy of Tagore, we need a firm and committed administration, completely insulated from politics. Above all, we require  qualified, devoted teachers with a sense of  values, morality and ethics.

 

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

EDITORIAL

UNHOLY ALLIANCE

 

The latest craze is the business correspondent, the fancy name banks have given to postmen whom they use as mobile tellers. The postmen recruit villagers as depositors, and give them elementary services, including some interest, as banks' representatives. The number of such bank accounts is approaching a crore. The compulsions that are driving this development are twofold. The banks are under pressure from the populist government to extend their services to villages; using the post office is a low-cost alternative that makes it unnecessary to open branches, recruit staff, or persuade them to go to villages where there are no decent schools or hair-dressing saloons. The post office has been offering banking services to villagers for more than a century, but cannot decide how to develop them.

 

What this makeshift arrangement is sabotaging is innovation in rural banking. About a half of India's population, including every woman, child and hermaphrodite, has a cellphone. New technology makes it possible to use these cellphones to store cash, just as in a bank account, and to pay people, just as with cheques — all without any use of paper, any human intervention, and need for bank-style red tape. Telecommunications companies would gladly offer this service to villagers; so would new entrants such as PayPal. All that prevents them is the Reserve Bank of India. It is petrified that this low-cost competition will hurt the banks' business, expose the enormous profit margins they charge, and eventually drive them bankrupt. That cannot be allowed to happen according to central banking orthodoxy. That would be financial instability — the most undesirable eventuality a central bank has to face. So the RBI has set its face against it.

 

It is not clear what the post office gains from offering business correspondent services. It already offers

extremely efficient depository services to villagers. But it does not know what to do with the money. It deposits the money with the finance ministry; the ministry, which is the mother of all government banks, has money pouring out of its ears and does not want the few thousand crores that the post office brings. The deal with banks pre-empts the options of the post office, and prevents it from finding a creative solution to its problem. There are two possibilities. One is that it may itself start lending to villagers. No one knows villagers better than the post office. If it starts giving loans to those it considers the soundest and most promising of them, it will generate economic activity and employment in villages, and achieve repayment rates much higher than banks ever can. Or it can lend the money for infrastructure development — for instance to builders of ports and airports; they will give it much higher return than banks can. It is to be wondered why the post office is shying away from these solutions and running after banks.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

RESCUE FANTASY

 

The BBC's choice of celebrities for the filming of documentaries on serious subjects may leave one wondering. Beyond that, there is hardly any surprise about the way Lindsay Lohan has talked about her trip to India to film the miseries of child labour and trafficking. She broke a law by travelling on a tourist visa although she had come to the country on work. That is certainly an offence, although she did not use her trip to set up terrorist camps. And she may have fantasized a bit after the trip. She claimed to have "rescued" 40 trafficked children and went to town with her feelings of pious ecstasy. It appears that she had not arrived in the country when that rescue took place. But some celebrities have a tendency to mix up fact and fiction. They thrive on attention, and that was all she was looking for.

 

That the Indian government is considering putting her on an immigration blacklist is perhaps taking her a bit too seriously. The visa offence should be looked at, and vigilance heightened, because not all visa offenders are ignorant or innocent. But Ms Lohan has not, for example, subverted the Constitution, or incited hatred, or engaged in terrorist activity or even got in touch with terrorists. These are the actions that merit blacklisting. Closing a country's doors to a visitor is an overt expression of disapproval, and should be accorded the full weight it deserves. By blacklisting Ms Lohan, India would run the danger of making the same mistake as its erstwhile visitor: trivializing something serious. Even Madhuri Dixit once embarrassingly said that Nepal had earlier been a part of India. It was forgiven after the initial hullabaloo. Ms Lohan has done a couple of silly things. An easy-to-follow, step-by-step lesson on the need to have the right visa should be enough. Telling the truth cannot be taught.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

STRAIGHT FROM THE SUN

ASSESSING THE PRACTICALITY OF THE NATIONAL SOLAR MISSION

COMMENTARAO S.L. RAO

 

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

 

Science fiction induced dreams that scientists will find a way to provide everyone with limitless energy at practically no cost and no pollution. Climate change fears have imparted a new sense of urgency to getting alternative energy sources operational on a much larger scale and reducing dependence on the polluting or carbon- and methane-producing energy sources now in use. This has led to the surge of interest and investment in renewable energy, from the sun, wind, sea waves, biological and human wastes, hydrogen, and so forth. However, their direct costs are far higher per unit of energy than existing hydro, coal, gas and nuclear energy sources.

 

In spite of the fact that India is the lowest polluter from energy generation, in absolute and per capita terms and in relation to the gross domestic product, the Western world is putting the heat on India to reduce its dependence on coal. India has few economical choices. While much gas has been discovered in recent months, lack of clarity in government policies on usage, costs, tariffs, and ownership has prevented much use of this non-polluting fuel for generating power. The potential for hydro-electricity is limited and located mostly in strategically vulnerable parts of India. Nuclear energy is a good alternative but it will take many years to become important in our energy mix, and at higher cost than coal and gas.

 

India is now paying greater attention to renewable energy, especially solar, of which India has great potential. The government has a national solar energy mission with an initial capacity target of 22 gigawatts by 2022. The feed-in tariff is to be Rs 17.50 per megawatt for 20 years. Distribution utilities will pay Rs 5.50 and the central government will pay the balance. The cost will be Rs 176,000 crore, which is beyond the finance ministry's resources, and the target is likely to be reduced to 4,000 MW, at a cost to government of Rs 90,000 crore over 20 years. The capacity addition comprises large photovoltaic and solar thermal power plants and smaller rooftop PV systems, two GW of off-grid distributed solar plants, 20 million square metres of solar collectors for low temperature applications, and 20 million solar lighting systems for rural areas. Prayas Energy Group estimates the subsidy cost at Rs 82,000 crore. In addition to these direct subsidies, other indirect incentives are low interest loans, and exemption of custom and excise duties on certain capital equipment, materials and components.

 

Around 60 per cent of India lives in villages and is without reliable power. Distributed power generated locally and controlled by local communities, not supplied from a grid from miles away, is an important answer. Yet, the national solar mission proposes spending vast sums on grid-connected solar energy.

 

The Energy and Resources Institute scenario estimates that, at an annual GDP growth of nine per cent, these solar energy targets are a small fraction of energy requirements. Solar energy will, despite large government support, not make even a small dent in our coal-based energy generation and the cost will be high. Investing in proven and economically viable solar technologies, like rooftop panels, will be quicker and more cost-effective.

 

State governments have laid down the percentages to be procured from renewable energy, from three per cent in Kerala to 14 per cent in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. But the actual generation is minuscule, and in only three states. Grid-connected solar energy has so far been a non-starter. The budget speech for 2010-11 announced "concessional customs duty of five per cent to machinery, instruments, equipment and appliances required for the initial setting up of photovoltaic and solar thermal power generating units". There is also exemption from central excise duty. These concessions must be withdrawn when Indian technology has developed.

 

The national solar mission allocates up to 1,000 MW of centrally unallocated power to states that have new solar generation capacity. The cost of solar power of the developer is Rs 13 per kilowatt hour. The NTPC power is around two rupees per kWh. The average cost will come down to an acceptable Rs 4.75 per kWh. This is close to and at times even below the cost of power bought in the market exchanges. However, this scheme can at best be a limited solution. Unallocated power is limited and has been used for priority sectors and to support severely power-short states. The government will lose the needed flexibility in using it. Further, unallocated power could surely be put to better use than subsidizing expensive grid connected solar power.

 

The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission proposes to issue renewable energy certificates to renewable energy developers. They can trade the RECs to others who are short of the quota of renewable energy set for them in each state. This will provide an additional income to renewable energy developers. It could reduce the cost of solar energy. However, clarity is still required on how and when the REC can be issued since the issuing state has to first meet its own renewable energy quota. The state electricity regulatory commission's regulations and the recognition of RECs as valid instruments for discharging mandatory obligations are awaited.

 

Just as many high-net worth individuals and profitable businesses added wind generation capacity when they were allowed 80 per cent depreciation, solar energy must also get this benefit. Such an incentive should apply to capacity creation and something similar devised for actual generation of power. Such incentives for solar capacity creation and generation could boost both.

 

The imperative, however, is to lower the costs for solar power, both thermal and photovoltaic. This will come through new technologies, cheaper financing, economies of scale, and fiscal incentives. Assistance in acquiring enough land at affordable cost, availability of water at affordable costs, a transmission network that can evacuate power to the grid and payment security to the seller are also needed.

 

India today does little work on solar technologies but there is considerable development work in the United States of America and in Europe on substituting expensive semiconductor material with a cheap optical system. Other advanced technologies include low-cost mechanics, optics for concentration of solar radiation, central tower technologies, and dish Stirling solar chimney technology. Access to these developments at low cost, if not for free, is essential for India to move speedily ahead on solar energy to substitute for the use of coal. Technology access at affordable costs from the developed world is crucial.

 

Apart from encouraging research and development into technologies and cost reduction of solar energy, other requirements to promote it are accelerated depreciation, more flexible debt equity ratios, and lower interest rates (to be cross-subsidized by other lending). Costs of solar panels and photovoltaics have already fallen drastically, though they are still expensive compared to conventional power. Scale will bring costs down further. The object of fiscal and other incentives must be to rapidly scale up production and use so that cost reduction becomes possible.

 

The 2010 budget has made coal thermal more expensive, raising power costs by two-and-a-half to three paisa per unit). The development of power markets through the exchanges has brought power prices closer to market prices. As coal thermal rises in price, solar energy might become more feasible.

But grid-connected solar energy today is very expensive. Perhaps India should concentrate on solar panels, solar lighting and distributed solar power. The national solar mission might be better focused on existing proven technologies and on research and development.

 

 


THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

NOT A BRIGHT IDEA

GWYNNE DYER

 

As a general rule, we should all encourage and support international cooperation. Once in a while, however, a proposal comes along that is so disconnected from reality that you check the date in case it's April Fool's Day. There is now such a proposal on the table.

 

The French government has suggested that France and Britain pool their ballistic missile-firing submarines — 'boomers' — in effect merging their nuclear deterrent forces. This would allow some savings on operational costs, since at the moment each country always has at least one boomer at sea. Under the French proposal, they could just keep one submarine at sea, hidden and invulnerable in the mid-ocean depths, ready to retaliate against an attack on either Britain or France.

 

The whole policy of always having one boomer at sea is a left-over from a different era anyway. During the Cold War, when countries worried about the other side launching a nuclear Pearl Harbour, it made sense never to have all your missile-firing subs in port where they could easily be destroyed. It's the classic logic of deterrence. If the other side knows for certain that at least one submarine will survive, and shoot back with dozens of unstoppable nuclear warheads, then it won't attack in the first place. That's why Britain has four "Vanguard" class boomers and France has three "Triomphant" class boats with a fourth building: so there will always be one at sea.

 

But if Britain and France insist on maintaining these patrols, then they have to realize that one submarine cannot provide cover for both countries. The idea was apparently discussed for the first time when President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London in March 2008, but it's not likely that either man really understands the theory of deterrence. So here, for their benefit, is a potted version of the strategy.

 

Poor combination

 

Let's suppose that it's a British submarine out on patrol, and some evil country strikes France with nuclear weapons, eliminating all of France's boomers in port. Does the British submarine retaliate with its own nuclear weapons, knowing that to do so means that Britain may also be attacked by nuclear weapons?

 

If I were French, I wouldn't trust British promises about this. And if I were running the evil country in question, I would likewise doubt that Britain would really retaliate against me on France's behalf, knowing that I might then hit British cities too. In practice, when Britain has to choose between its loyalty to the European Union and its instinct to go with the United States of America, it almost always chooses the latter option. France has always had less faith in American judgment and in the US's willingness to fight a nuclear war on Europe's behalf, which is why it spent all that money over two generations to build a truly independent nuclear deterrent force.

 

The British nuclear deterrent force is different, since the missiles it uses have been American ever since 1962. There is no formal US veto over the use of the missiles that are in British submarines, but those missiles are only leased by Britain and belong to a pool of missiles that also supplies American boomers. A missile that is in a British submarine could be in an American one in its next service cycle.

 

The French navy must be furious at Sarkozy for offering to combine their genuinely independent nuclear force with a British deterrent force that is very closely tied to the US. Fortunately for France, the British navy doesn't like the idea of job-sharing either, and can be counted on to resist, undermine, and ultimately kill the idea. The astonishing thing is that it ever got out into the public domain at all.

 

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

ON THE TIGER TRAIL

"IT IS NOT DIFFIC-ULT TO MAINTAIN THE TIGER POPULATION."

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has rightly expressed his concern over the dwindling numbers of tigers in India's forests and decided to write to state chief ministers to take more effective steps to protect the national animal. Reports of continuing tiger deaths are disquieting. A week after parliament was told that there were 1,411 tigers in the country, discoveries of dead tigers have reduced that number to 1,399. Even this figure is disputed. It is thought that there are only about 1,000 tigers left in the country. The number is less than when Project Tiger was launched in 1972. Last year saw the death of over 100 tigers, the largest in recent years. This year there are fears of a worse situation because this is the Year of the Tiger in China, which might increase the demand for tiger parts in that country.


Both the Centre and state governments are responsible for the maintenance of the tiger population as conservation is a state subject. But their actions and policies sometimes do not agree. In Sariska, while Central and state officials blamed each other, the tiger became extinct. The forest department in most states are understaffed. Some have not recruited guards for many years. The guards also lack the best equipment and arms and are no match for poachers who use the most modern devices and arms. The changes periodically brought about in habitat specifications by states have sometimes led to loss of connectivity between tiger habitats, constricting their movements. As Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has noted, many states have not notified the buffer zones in protected areas. They should be persuaded to do so, so that there is no disruptive construction activity near the forests. The nexus between the poaching mafia, local politicians and forest dwellers should also be broken, but this is easier said than done. The relocation of families from tiger reserves has not made much progress for various reasons. There also needs to be better collaboration with the authorities in Nepal, Myanmar and China to prevent the smuggling of tiger parts.


If there is effective action in these areas, it is not difficult to maintain the tiger population. This is proved by indications that the number of tigers has not decreased in Karnataka's Bandipur and Nagarahole parks and may perhaps have gone up in the terai region in the Himalayas. But the overall outlook is grim and that should spur concerted and sincere efforts everywhere.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

MISSED CALL

"BSNL'S PRESE-NCE IN RURAL AREAS IS AN OPPORTUNITY."


The recommendations of the three-member committee headed by Sam Pitroda, appointed to study the affairs of the government-run telecom company, BSNL, deserve serious consideration.


The continuous fall in profits and market share of the company has been starkly evident. From over Rs 10,000 crore a few years ago, profit has shrunk to about Rs 500 crore now, that too from interest income and not from operations. While it once had a monopoly, BSNL's market share is about 12 per cent now.  When telecom business was expanding explosively in the country, it is the only company which has lagged behind and is stagnant. There is still a lot of space to expand into, but only if the company is poised to capture it. Competition with private players has hit it badly, and corruption, political interference and sluggishness have weakened it. With its structure and style of operations it will be unable to get out of the present rut.


The panel has found that a third of its 3 lakh-odd employees are excess and it has no hope of turning around if the staff strength is not pruned. This can be done through a voluntary retirement scheme over a period. The government should divest 30 per cent of its stake and bring in a strategic investor or public partner. The whole management set-up needs to be restructured, with the appointment of a person outside the government as chairman and there should be a performance-based approach to key appointments. The ministry's interference in the company should be minimal. Outsourcing of network management will bring down financial costs. Assets like land and equipment can also be utilised better to bring in more revenue.


The soundness of the recommendations cannot be disputed as they have come from a person of the credibility of Sam Pitroda who has played a key role in India's telecom revolution. Another member on the committee was the telecom secretary himself. The government should summon the courage to implement the recommendations. BSNL is perhaps the most pan-Indian of all Indian companies with a presence everywhere, and it touches the lives of the largest number of people. Its presence in the rural sector is an opportunity which private players do not have. Its potential role in the upliftment of backward areas is a given. The government now has a challenge and an opportunity to stop its decline and lift it up.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

PAKISTAN'S INDIA PROBLEM

"THE REVIVAL OF A MILITARY EQUATION BETWEEN RUSSIA AND INDIA IS EVIDENCE OF SHARED GOALS."

BYLINE M J AKBAR

 

Pakistan's India policy is nurtured by a fundamental principle: Pakistan is always right. The obverse assumption is, but naturally, that India is always in the wrong, and gets away because of its size. The conflation between size and strength is meaningless and unhistorical, but remarkably effective. Britain was less than the size of a medium-level principality of the Indian subcontinent, and it ruled half the world.


Grievance is a wide canvas, creating elbow room even for the unacceptable. In this Pakistani logic, even cross-border terrorism becomes India's fault since its 'root cause' is Indian injustice towards the Muslims of the Kashmir valley. History becomes the story of lament, and if facts do not suit the lament then facts must be suitably altered. Little mention is made therefore of the fact that it was Pakistan which began the war on Kashmir within six weeks of freedom; this was the first foreign policy decision taken by independent Pakistan, on the assumption that it could seize what it wanted while India remained comatose. The reality is that if there had been no Pak-sponsored invasion in 1947, the status of Kashmir would have been settled through negotiations by 1948, probably through some form of partition. There would have been no Kashmir problem.
There are two starting points to history as written by Islamabad: Kashmir in 1947 and Bangladesh in 1971. The first exonerates cross-border terrorism; the second is used to explain Islamabad's need for 'strategic depth', which, in effect, means Pak control of Kabul without interference from India. Once again, the military defeat of Pakistan and birth of Bangladesh is 'big' India's fault. The sequence of events from Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's spectacular victory in the general elections to the massacre of Bengali civilians in East Pakistan and the consequent arrival of millions of refugees into India is excised from public memory. These are not academic issues; they impinge on current objectives creating tensions, as for instance in Afghanistan.


Any nation's foreign policy must keep space for flexibility, and therefore cannot be bound to a specific pattern, but its contours are always evident. The world's powers and superpowers cannot be indifferent to India-Pakistan relations, not only because the two neighbours have nuclear weapons, but also because they are involved in a critical battle zone of the next decade. America and Britain would be happy to see peace between India and Pakistan, not because it is a good thing in itself, but also because it is in their interest to release Pakistan from confrontation with India so that it can concentrate on the confrontation with their foes in Af-Pak region. Their need for Pakistan makes them add to their historical ambivalence about a core problem, the terms on which this peace can be arranged. It would suit them to see a more compliant India, even though, on paper, India is closer to Anglo-America's definition of terrorism than Pakistan's. Washington and London, therefore, have to negotiate each decision, whether on policy framework or specifics like Headley, through a complex web of immediate necessity, medium-term options and long-term horizon. Contradictions are inevitable.


A tilt

Russia, aware of its post-Soviet limitations, but determined to pursue its interests in Iran, Central Asia and Afghanistan to the extent possible, would prefer a greater convergence of Russia-India objectives on terrorism as well as national priorities in South, Central and West Asia. The revival of a military equation between these two powers is evidence of shared goals. The reasons are not the same, for the world is radically different, but the impulses and intellectual reasoning that brought India close to the Soviet Union are again in play within the India-Russia relationship. Russia would be happy at a resolution in South Asia, but with its tilt towards Delhi.

China is the one regional power that has no interest in Indo-Pak peace, and as long as China remains Pakistan's all-weather benefactor, a settlement is unlikely. Pakistan's self-image, painted with the brush of lament, suits China perfectly, because it can outsource a substantive part of its competition/confrontation with India to Pakistan. China and Pakistan offer a vital service to each other, by improving mutual comfort levels. With China by its side, Pakistan can negate, psychologically, India's 'big' factor. China helped build Pakistan's nuclear arsenal not only as reassurance, but also to stretch the nuclear confrontation from the north to the west. Pakistan is the nuclear hedge that China factors into its war games at a time when India is displaying the promise of economic resurgence and military potential.


Diplomats and their political guardians are used to tiptoeing through minefields, but surely there is no region more explosive than the stretch between North India, Iran and Central Asia. West Asia has dangerous triggers of course, but only one side, Israel, has nuclear arms. (This could change, of course, if Iran goes nuclear, a prospect that keeps the mood wintry in Washington and Tel Aviv.) The sheer danger of an unmanageable explosion should, in theory, make the imperative for an Indo-Pak settlement that much more urgent. In practice, the absence of minimal trust, and the competition of a widening arc of national interests, keeps India and Pakistan frozen in a winter of despair.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

ISRAEL REMAINS INTRANSIGENT ON PALESTINE

UNTIL ISRAEL PERMITS PALESTINIANS TO ESTA-BLISH AN INDEPENDENT STATE, IT WILL BE REGARDED AS A ROGUE STATE.

BY MICHAEL JANSEN


When Barack Obama became US president in January 2009, he expressed his determination to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the major threat to West Asian peace and to US interests in the Muslim world. Obama signaled a new approach by addressing the Muslim world and appointing Northern Ireland peacemaker George Mitchell special envoy to restart negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. Obama also called on Israel to halt construction of Jewish colonies in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank and to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority for the creation of a Palestinian state on land captured by Israel in 1967. He spoke movingly of the suffering of Palestinians and their need for a state.


His words were music to the ears of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims who believed that Obama would use US leverage with Israel to resolve the core regional dispute. However, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remained deaf to Obama's call. He flatly refused to freeze Israel's colonisation drive. Even when Obama persuaded Netanyahu to agree to a cosmetic reduction in colonisation, the Palestinians refused to talk.

Helplessness
Obama took no action against Israel which receives $3 billion annually in US aid as well as arms and political support. Already weakened by the loss of Gaza to Hamas and its inability to secure benefits for its people, the Palestinian Authority was in no position to drop its demand for a freeze while Israeli colonies eat up land designated for the Palestinian state.


By carrying on with colonisation, Netanyahu was merely following a longstanding Israeli strategy of adopting policies certain to sour Arab-Muslim relations with the US. Ever since its founding in 1948, Israel has done its utmost to undermine rapprochement between its antagonists and the US. Israel wants to be Washington's only friend and ally in West Asia even if this poisons US relations with Arabs and Muslims.


Netanyahu slipped up, however, when, during a visit of US Vice President Joe Biden, his government declared that it plans to construct 1,600 new Israeli housing units in Palestinian East Jerusalem. Although previous Israeli governments had suffered no ill-effects after such announcements were made while hosting senior US and European figures, Obama was furious. The declaration was seen as a slap to Biden and a humiliation for the administration. The timing was bad.


The declaration coincided with testimony in the US Senate by US regional commander General David Petraeus who said that 'insufficient progress' in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is inflaming Arab and Muslim anger against the US and constitutes an impediment to the achievement of US objectives in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. Israeli intransigence, he said, is jeopardising US standing in West Asia and on the Afghan-Pakistan fronts.


Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Netanyahu to withdraw approval of the new housing project, make a 'substantial gesture' towards the Palestinians and declare that all 'core issues' in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be on the table in fresh talks brokered by Mitchell. Netanyahu counter-proposed "mutual confidence building measures" to be undertaken by both Israel and the Palestinians although it is Israel's actions which led to the suspension of negotiations.


Last week's clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem and the West Bank have made it imperative for the US secure commitments from Netanyahu on which he will act. Independent Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti warns that his people are on the brink of a third Intifada, a popular rising involving Gandhian civil disruption and disobedience. This is likely to embrace the Palestinian Authority, generally regarded as Israel's surrogate, as well as Israel. Meanwhile, Obama is being blamed by the US hard-line pro-Israel lobby for tensions with Israel.


The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the chief factor that defines Arab and Muslim attitudes towards the US. Israel's military campaigns against the Palestinians and its neighbours, its siege and blockade of Gaza, and land-grab in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are seen by West Asian regimes as existential threats. Until Israel permits Palestinians to establish an independent state, withdraws from the occupied Syrian Golan and signs peace treaties with the Arab states, nuclear powered Israel will be regarded as a dangerous rogue state unleashed by the West on West Asia.


Consequently, US attempts to secure Arab and Muslim backing for sanctions against Iran are unlikely to bear fruit. Furthermore, Arab governments cannot be expected to crack down on wealthy citizens who fund Muslim fundamentalist groups fighting the US as long as Washington pours billions of dollars into an intransigent Israel.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

A PIGEON'S TALE

THE PIGEONS WERE QUICK TO SENSE MY ACQUIESCENCE AND GOT BUSY.

BY SAPNA SHARMA


It was a persistent pair of blue rock pigeons. Spring had just arrived and birds were booking places for nesting. For some days, the pair had been making the rounds of the front balcony which faces the sun directly, but I paid no heed. I was alarmed when they started placing twigs in the recess of the last of the three rolled up 'chiks' (bamboo screen).


The sun wasn't yet sharp and there was no immediate need to roll down the chiks but in Ahmedabad summer comes without warning. If I let the pigeons to nest in the chik the eggs would be at risk — what if someone rolled down the screen unmindfully? Twice I had the twigs removed and twice they returned. The pair had become so possessive of the place that they drove away a pair of mynah, which had apparently similar designs for the place. What disarmed me was that they had chosen the last of the three chiks, the one that would need to be rolled down the last — other two could keep the sun away for some more days.


They were quick to sense my acquiescence and got busy. The male would fetch the twigs — one at a time and pass it to the female — beak to beak. When the female brooded the eggs, the male brought grain and was around for protection. Thus they became a part of the balcony setting, my life. A month breezed by.


Come March I hoped that now the guests would move on with their chicks so I could screen the potted plants from the blazing shaft of the afternoon sun. That's when I noticed that the male had stopped visiting the nest. The female also looked troubled. Then she too vanished. To be doubly sure, I waited for a couple of days. When she did not return, I had the chik recess checked out.


I wasn't prepared for what the domestic help showed me. Among the remains of the nest lay the shrivelled up body of a dead chick. I was perturbed. Relief came when I recalled having read somewhere that rock pigeons bond for long, sometimes for life. The Sun is getting sharper but I am keeping the third chik rolled up for a few more days. Who knows they might return for a fresh beginning.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

UNENLIGHTENED IN ASHKELON

 

Without even a flicker of shame, the cabinet made a decision yesterday that could not have been made in an enlightened country: A new wing of the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon will be built on a different site from the one planned due to suspicions that ancient tombs rest under the original location.


Because of these graves, construction has already been delayed by two years; now we must wait another year, and another NIS 135 million in taxpayers' money will be squandered. Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman's threat to resign if the site is not changed had the desired effect on the cabinet, which passed the decision by a narrow majority.


After a street in Tel Aviv had to be built on stilts and the construction of Route 6 and other major roads was delayed for fear of disturbing ancient resting places, Barzilai's new wing has been added to the list of sites where religion has triumphed over the state, faith over reason, and the parties of the ultra-Orthodox minority over the secular majority. Litzman explains his insistence using his religious beliefs, but it's absolutely impossible to tolerate the cabinet's submission to his pressure. The decision represents a new low point in groveling to the ultra-Orthodox community, which has once again forced its obscurantist beliefs on the majority in a country that puts on airs of being enlightened and secular.

 

There was no good reason for postponing the construction at Barzilai, which has in recent years been in the eye of the storm due to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and which provides medical services for hundreds of thousands of people. There was also no good reason for increasing the cost of the project.


Health Ministry experts headed by Director-General Dr. Eitan Hai-Am - who tendered his resignation yesterday because of the cabinet's decision - urged that the original plan be implemented, but the ministers gave in to the ultra-Orthodox. They thus wasted a great deal of money and precious time, and they must all bear the responsibility.

In its decision yesterday, the cabinet not only approved the relocation of the planned wing, it also endorsed once again the sad inference that behind a facade of enlightenment and openness, Israeli society displays the symptoms of fundamentalist religion that has no place in a Western democracy. The cabinet should reconsider the matter and rescind its decision.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

JEWISH POLITICIANS ARE TAKING JERUSALEM'S NAME IN VAIN

BY AKIVA ELDAR

Even while fast-talking politicians transform Jerusalem into the city that never stops (building), the line "a unified Jerusalem, Israel's heart for all eternity," remains a surefire winner at any Jewish convention. It's a safe bet that every time Benjamin Netanyahu utters the magic word "Jerusalem" Monday night at the annual AIPAC conference, the applause will make the place tremble.


The Ramat Shlomo construction affair raised the bar for Jerusalem-related cliches to new records. On Sunday the prime minister, on the eve of his flight to speak to the pro-Israel lobby, said that "building in Jerusalem is the same as building in Tel Aviv." Last week, President Shimon Peres opined that "only Israel" can preserve freedom of worship at Jerusalem's holy sites.


It's clear that these leaders have no clue what's happening in Israel's largest city. Forty-three years after Levi Eshkol's government annexed East Jerusalem at the expense of its Palestinian residents, "an undivided Jerusalem" is little more than an empty slogan. For 17 years, since the days of the Peres-Yitzhak Rabin administration, holy places in the Old City have been closed to Muslim and Christian believers from the occupied territories. The only East Jerusalem residents allowed to enter the Temple Mount compound are women and the elderly.

 

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The Netanyahu administration is hardly unique in all things related to Jerusalem. Every Israeli government built on the hills in the eastern part of the city and dug beneath the Holy Basin's historical sites. All discriminated against East Jerusalemites. And all displayed the same tactlessness, again and again, to the sensitivities of the various religions. It's true that building in Jerusalem is no different from building in Tel Aviv - on condition that the issue is construction for Jews. Has the state put up even one neighborhood for Arabs in West Jerusalem? Does anyone know of an Arab contractor given permission to build a single apartment in a Jewish neighborhood in the eastern part of the city?


On March 21, 1999, the first Netanyahu government announced that it would "strengthen Jerusalem as an undivided city through equality in services and infrastructure between the western and eastern parts of the city." Eleven years on, East Jerusalem lacks more than 1,000 classrooms. It's much cheaper to apply Israeli law to Arab lands than to apply the Compulsory Education Law to Arab children. It's easier to get the Knesset to pass the Basic Law on Jerusalem than to dedicate funds for paving sidewalks in the Arab villages Israel has converted into "Jerusalem neighborhoods". It's far simpler to utter sage words about an undivided city than to tear down walls of discrimination and isolation.


But none of this is of concern to these Jewish-American activists, most of them liberals who rejoiced in the election of a black president. Like most Israelis, most have never come close to the Shoafat refugee camp, in "undivided Jerusalem." Fifteen years ago, to mark Jerusalem's 3,000th anniversary (and the annual AIPAC conference), U.S. lobbyists pushed a bill recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital. Bill Clinton, and later George W. Bush and Barack Obama, used their clout to suspend the bill, citing national-security considerations.

The current U.S. government also understands the wide-ranging political and security implications of changing Jerusalem's status quo. According to Washington and the entire international community, Jewish building beyond the Green Line remains a violation of international law. Israel continues to be the only country in the world in which no other country recognizes its capital.

In January 1937, a few months before the Peel Commission presented its recommendations to the British government, David Ben-Gurion said that "Jerusalem and Bethlehem must be taken out of the equation - they must be international zones under the authority of the British, with local Jewish-Arab administration." Though he later changed his opinion, Ben-Gurion was prescient: For 19 years Jordan's Hashemite monarchy treated Jewish holy sites callously. For the last 43 years, however, Jewish politicians have taken Jerusalem's name in vain, paying the eastern part of the city mere lip service.


East Jerusalem is greater than the two peoples living in it. This unique city demands unique government - generous, restrained and fair.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

KINGS OF THE ROAD

BY ZE'EV SEGAL

 

The unprecedented sentence of 20 years in prison that the Tel Aviv District Court imposed on Shai Simon, who was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Meital Aharonson in a hit-and-run accident in Tel Aviv in October 2008, is a milestone in the battle against traffic accidents.


Judge Zvi Gurfinkel, who is held in high esteem among defense lawyers whose clients are charged with serious crimes, was good enough to say that "the time has come to make it clear to drivers who get behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol that they will be judged like someone who shoots a weapon indiscriminately." A light punishment was suggested, but that didn't prevent the judge from handing down a stiffer sentence that reflected his hope that it would "send a message" to all drivers.


Sentencing experts will argue that judges would be wise to stiffen sentences gradually and not ignore what has been customary in such cases. The sentence imposed on Simon is indeed much harsher than that imposed on other drivers in similar circumstances. For example, in recent years, another driver was sentenced to seven years in prison for killing a pedestrian while driving not only drunk, but also with a suspended license and without insurance. A driver who ran over a pedestrian in a hit-and-run case was given a four-year sentence, and there are other similar instances. Despite this, Gurfinkel decided, correctly, to shock the system.

 

A single prison sentence, even a harsh one that stands up on appeal, cannot signal the beginning of an unstinting fight against traffic accidents, however, because it is just one aspect of the problem. At the same time, such a sentence can be a wake-up call for law-enforcement officials, who have not been doing enough in such cases. Though there has been a slight drop in the number of accidents recently and the police have tried to bring down the numbers in recent years, it appears that the authorities, including those responsible for funding and education, still need to reassess the situation.


But road safety is not just a concern of government authorities. The Or Yarok road safety organization, which was founded by business executive Avi Naor, has taken a leading role in recent years and has reached about 250,000 drivers through comprehensive educational activity. In light of the Israeli mentality, which views taking to the road as a kind of test of power and strength, it is difficult, however, to assume that current realities can be changed without a change in enforcement methods, of which stiffer sentences are just one element.


Journalist Natan Zahavi detailed his own plan to prevent traffic accidents earlier this month in Maariv. His suggestions include trying such cases immediately, impounding the driver's vehicle and automatically revoking the license of anyone caught driving with a suspended license. Similar programs proposed by Zahavi have been examined by transportation ministers but have not been implemented, mainly out of concern that they would violate drivers' civil rights.


Drastic emergency measures against individuals do require proportionality, even if their purpose is proper, but it appears that circumstances justify especially harsh measures. There are also other methods that generate relatively little disagreement such as developing additional regulations for the police, prosecutors and judges that deal exclusively with the fight against traffic accidents.


Gurfinkel's ruling is liable to remain an isolated case. Courts that hear cases involving especially serious accidents are not obligated to follow his lead, and they can ignore the general message of his ruling. A proposal initiated by the Justice Ministry that has been under discussion for about two years would provide for mandatory sentencing guidelines, from which courts could deviate only if they spelled out their reasons.


The proposal, which would be designed to eliminate lenient punishment in certain types of cases, has engendered unjustified opposition from those who view it as restricting judicial discretion. In any event, before the adoption of the proposal as a whole, it would be appropriate to implement it without delay in traffic cases involving injuries, whether caused by criminal indifference and recklessness or negligence. Such an approach is also appropriate in connection with serious traffic violations, even if they do not cause immediate harm; for example, failure to stop at a red light, failure to obey a No Entry sign or crossing a solid white line. A real crackdown on such offenses, including revocation of driver's licenses for a substantial period, will help reduce the number of accidents that are currently caused by drivers who see themselves as kings of the road.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

 

HOLLAND IS SCARED

BY KARNI ELDAD

 

Holland used to be all tulips and wooden clogs, windmills and bicycles, flatlands and dikes; quite idyllic, except for the drugs and red-light district, and children having to stick their fingers into those dikes to save the country from flooding.


Today, however, Holland is homosexuals who are afraid to go out for fear of being beaten up by Muslim gangs, women threatened in the street for not dressing modestly or not covering their heads, and Theo van Gogh, the filmmaker whose throat was cut by a Muslim fanatic.


But it also Geert Wilders, a blond Dutchman who has his finger in a different kind of dike. Wilders is a member of parliament and leader of the Freedom Party, which polls indicate is on course for victory in the election scheduled for June. In 2008 he produced a film called "Fitna" where he draws parallels between verses from the Koran calling for shocking acts of violence, and actual events that have occurred in recent history.

Wilders argues that more than a religion, Islam is a totalitarian ideology, and as evidence he points to the violence and absence of basic human rights in Muslim communities. In the film he presents customs such as executions by stoning, female genital mutilation, beheadings, family-honor killings, hangings of homosexuals and forced juvenile marriages.


The Dutch are among the most moderate people in Europe. A hundred years ago, there were only some 50 Muslims in the country, whereas today there are a million. Wilders sees them as a Trojan horse, and fears that European civilization will be lost if the trend of blind, post-modern, multicultural, suicidal tolerance is allowed to continue unchecked.


After extremist Muslims put a price on his head six years ago, Wilders surrounded himself with a team of six bodyguards, a decision also affected by the murder of van Gogh in Amsterdam.


As he sat on his balcony, surrounded by guards, I asked Wilders if what he was doing was worth his loss of privacy and a normative family life. He explained what I had hoped to hear, what I longed to hear, and I thought I would not hear.


"Yes. It is worth it. I tell the truth," he said. "There are people who are frightened of hearing it, who are willing to kill me so that I will be silent. I am not frightened."


Because of a high birthrate and swelling immigration, Europe is becoming more and more Muslim every day. Islamic culture, dress and religion are so starkly different that Europeans have begun feeling like strangers in their own homes.


Against this feeling, Wilders is able to act with confidence. He is facing charges of incitement and discrimination against Islam, but instead of stammering apologetically he has turned the proceedings into a show trial in which he intends to demonstrate the dangers of multiculturalism, all that is violent and murderous in Islamist ideology. He plans to show that while not all Muslims are terrorists, the vast majority of terrorist acts in the world are perpetrated by Muslims in the name of their religion.


I watched interviews that Wilders gave after a hearing in his trial. He unblinkingly declared that if he is elected prime minister he will outlaw the wearing of burkas, ban the construction of additional mosques and stop immigration from Muslim countries. Would anyone dare to say these things here?


Wilders is a prominent figure in Dutch politics, and his views are backed by many. How is it conceivable that in Holland the arguments against Islam are much more extreme than in Israel, which is saturated with Islamic terror?

The prosecution in his trial claims that it is of no importance at all whether Wilders is speaking the truth, because what he is saying is illegal. If the truth is illegal, there is something hugely wrong with the law.


This postmodernist bubble is going to blow up in all our faces soon - for the better if Wilders is acquitted and a truthful and courageous prime minister arises in Europe, and for the worse if opponents of sharia law have their throats cut.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

ISRAEL WANTS TO PUSH PALESTINIANS BACK INTO CYCLE OF VIOLENCE

BY AMOS GOLDBERG

 

Israel has been waging a bitter battle in recent months against human rights activists and the non-violent struggle by Jews and Arabs against the occupation. To this end, the state has made use of the most questionable means available to it.


They are attacking on all fronts, and it is hard to believe that their actions do not represent official policy. As such, without the citizens noticing it, Israeli democracy is once again heading in the direction of the "democracies" of Russia and Egypt.


It began with harassment and unwarranted arrests of the leaders of the Bil'in and Na'alin demonstrations. When these did not have their desired effect, the army declared the area of the villages a closed military zone on Fridays.

 

For the next six months, whoever goes to these areas in order to demonstrate will immediately be charged with entering a closed military zone and will be brought to trial.

 

Designating a closed military zone is a draconian legal measure that limits basic human rights and is meant to prevent security risks, not protest. Of course, the army has never adopted a like tactic to prevent, for example, the rebuilding of illegal outposts after they have been razed. Only the protests of the left and the Palestinians are allowed to be prevented without any limits.


The harassment and the arrests made by the army and the Shin Bet may have failed to break the protests at Bil'in and Na'alin, but they worked in Jerusalem. During the past few years the police have managed to crack down on quiet civil protests in Silwan using these methods. They are now using similar policies in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.


The settlers there, who are immune, use violence against the residents, especially women and children. The residents turn to the police, which take their time in arriving and do not arrest anyone.


After the Arabs lose their patience, one of them responds with a shove, is immediately arrested for aggravated assault and is brought to trial only after a lengthy waiting period in custody. Sometimes charges of aggravated sexual harassment are brought against residents for nothing more than using strong language. This is happening here and now.


The same method is being implemented by the security forces in Hebron and in the southern Hebron Hills. One of the activists in the struggle for grazing areas for the Bedouin, who have been stripped innumerable times of their lands by the army and the settlers, was charged with cutting a wildflower and has been held for a week. Children and adults, mostly from families linked to groups like B'tselem, are arrested on a near daily basis on false accusations.


The effectiveness of these measures is enormous because in addition to the fear element, the process is so expensive (hiring an attorney, posting bail, etc.) that the activists are unable to meet the costs, even if the legal process does result in the release of those who have been arrested.


At the same time, the state is waging a campaign against human rights groups. Not only does it send its senior officials to European capitals to convince the governments there to prevent funding for these organizations, but in recent days the Justice Ministry has begun working on legislation that will make funding these organizations with foreign donations nearly impossible.


This is the look of the only democracy in the Middle East - one that cannot suffer even non-violent protests by Jews and Palestinians, or the activity of human rights groups, Jewish or Arab, that expose its true colors.


Beyond the issue of democracy, are we to understand that the state is destroying the channels of peaceful protest in order to push the Palestinians back into a cycle of violence? This would then allow it to go back to wrapping itself up in self-righteousness and argue that it is combating terrorism. After all, this is what it considers to be its forte.

The writer is a fellow at Scholion Research Center at Hebrew University and an activist in Ta'ayus - Arab-Jewish Partnership.

 

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

HEALTH CARE REFORM, AT LAST

 

The process was wrenching, and tainted to the 11th hour by narrow political obstructionism, but the year-long struggle over health care reform came to an end on Sunday night with a triumph for countless Americans who have been victimized or neglected by their dysfunctional health care system. Barack Obama put his presidency on the line for an accomplishment of historic proportions.

 

The bill, which was approved by the Senate in December and by the House on Sunday, represents a national commitment to reform the worst elements of the current system. It will provide coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, prevent the worst insurance company abuses, and begin to wrestle with relentlessly rising costs — while slightly reducing future deficits.

 

Amendments approved by the House and awaiting approval in the Senate would provide additional coverage and make somewhat deeper reductions in the deficit.

 

All of this was managed despite the fact that not a single Republican in the House or Senate was willing to vote for the bill. Efforts by the White House and Congressional Democrats to draft bipartisan legislation were met by demagoguery. That is not likely to end now.

 

Republican leaders, who see opportunities to gain seats in the elections, have made clear that they will continue to peddle fictions about a government takeover of the health care system and about costs too high to bear. Mr. Obama took too long to get into the fight, but came on strong in the end and will have to keep pushing back so all Americans understand the benefits of reform.

 

Most Americans — those who already have employer-based insurance — will not see much change for a while and certainly not in the seven months before the elections. They will get one important benefit quickly: for an additional fee, parents will be able to keep adult dependent children on their policy through age 26. That is good news when so many young people are struggling to find jobs during the recession.

 

The biggest difference for Americans who have employer-based insurance is the security of knowing that, starting in 2014, if they lose their job and have to buy their own policy, they cannot be denied coverage or charged high rates because of pre-existing conditions. Before then, the chronically ill could gain temporary coverage from enhanced high-risk pools and chronically ill children are guaranteed coverage.

 

The focus of the reform is on improving the dysfunctional and hugely expensive insurance markets for individuals and small businesses, and on expanding Medicaid coverage for the poor. The big expansion of coverage will start in 2014, but some reforms start quickly, like tax credits to help small businesses provide coverage.

 

Over time the reforms could bring about sweeping changes in the way medical care is delivered and paid for. They could ultimately rival Social Security and Medicare in historic importance.

 

NEAR-UNIVERSAL COVERAGE The United States is the only advanced industrial nation that does not provide or guarantee health care coverage for virtually all of its citizens. It is a moral obligation to end this indefensible neglect of hard-working Americans. The bill does not quite reach full universality, but by 2019, fully 94 to 95 percent of American citizens and legal residents below Medicare age will have coverage. The bill achieves that by requiring most Americans to obtain health insurance, providing subsidies to help the middle classes buy policies on new competitive exchanges, and expanding Medicaid coverage of the poor to include childless adults and others not currently eligible.

 

INSURANCE REFORMS The legislation would rein in many of the insurance industry's worst practices. Insurers would no longer be able to reject applicants with "pre-existing conditions" or charge them exorbitant rates. They could not rescind policies on specious grounds after people become sick (that becomes effective immediately) or cap the amount they are willing to pay toward a beneficiary's illnesses in any given year or over a lifetime.

 

The most important reform — forcing insurers to accept all applicants regardless of their health status — cannot be achieved unless nearly all Americans are required to have coverage, so the costs can be spread among the healthy and the sick.

 

A START AT COST CONTROL The legislation won't quickly bend the cost curve for medical care or insurance premiums — no one has yet found a surefire way to do that — but the reform will make an important start. Some experts believe it will lay the structural framework to mount the most serious effort ever made to control medical inflation. It will create competitive insurance exchanges that should help lower premiums for individuals and small businesses by offering an array of private policies and rates comparable to large group coverage.

 

The legislation will impose an excise tax in 2018 designed to drive employers and their workers away from the highest-cost insurance policies, which typically provide generous benefits at little out-of-pocket cost to the workers. Health economists consider the excise tax a very strong cost-control measure, because if workers have to pay more of the cost themselves, they and their doctors are apt to think more carefully about whether a test or procedure is really needed. The impact of the excise tax gets increasingly strong as the years pass.

 

The legislation creates an array of pilot programs within Medicare, to test other innovative cost-reduction strategies. They include encouraging new medical groups to better coordinate care of the chronically ill, and paying doctors and medical institutions based on the quality, not quantity, of services they deliver. The reform measure will establish an independent board to push approaches that work into widespread use in Medicare and ultimately, by force of example, the private sector.

 

With so many mechanisms available to hold down medical costs, it's hard to believe that they won't bear fruit, if not in the next several years then in the decade thereafter.

 

•Just as Social Security grew from a modest start in 1935 to become a bedrock of the nation's retirement system, this is a start on health care reform, not the end. A lot will depend on whether future presidents and Congresses stick to the savings and deficit targets set in this legislation; on how aggressively states administer the new exchanges; on how health care professionals and institutions respond to the challenge of changing their ways; and on how the public responds to the mandate that everyone obtain insurance or pay a penalty.

 

Our hope and belief is that this reform will in the end accomplish its great objectives. Right now, the good news for all Americans is that despite all the politics and the obstructionism, the process has finally begun.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EX-OFFENDERS AND THE VOTE

 

Millions of ex-offenders who have been released from prison are denied the right to vote. That undercuts efforts to reintegrate former prisoners into mainstream society. And it goes against one of democracy's most fundamental principles: that governments should rule with the consent of the governed.

 

Congress held hearings last week on a bill, the Democracy Restoration Act, that would allow released ex-felons to vote in federal elections. It would also require the states, which administer elections, to give them appropriate notice that this right has been restored.

 

Voting rights are largely set by state law, and many states prohibit people who have been convicted of crimes from voting in state and federal elections.

 

Currently, about four million Americans who have been released from prison are disenfranchised in federal elections by laws barring people with felony convictions from voting.

 

Many of the laws disenfranchising former criminals date back to the post-Civil War era and were used to prevent freed slaves from voting. These laws still have a significant racial impact. About 13 percent of black men in this country are denied the right to vote by criminal disenfranchisement laws, more than seven times the rate for the population as a whole.

 

There is no good reason to deny former prisoners the vote. Once they are back in the community — paying taxes, working, raising families — they have the same concerns as other voters, and they should have the same say in who represents them.

 

Disenfranchisement laws also work against efforts to help released prisoners turn their lives around. Denying the vote to ex-offenders, who have paid their debt, continues to brand them as criminals, setting them apart from the society they should be rejoining.

 

Although elections are generally considered state matters, the federal government has a proud tradition of enacting laws, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, when states wrongly deprive some of their citizens of the franchise. For reasons of both principle and sensible social policy, Congress should step in and give ex-offenders the right to vote.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

FESS PARKER

BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG

 

I don't remember a single episode of "Davy Crockett," nor did I own a coonskin cap. As for the famous theme song, it tends to wander away on its own, erratically, once it gets rolling in my head. But I remember Fess Parker. Any account of masculinity, for a certain generation, is incomplete without Mr. Parker, who died last week at age 85. In my memory, he embodies an inexplicable authenticity. This was not just the naïveté of a child viewer, unaware of how TV shows were made or coonskin caps sold. It was something inherent in Mr. Parker.

 

Partly, I think, it was the angularity of the man, who seemed as lean as his flintlock rifle. And it was the way his right eye seemed to be slipping downward as his wry smile slipped upward. He had a solid frontier squint that every kid I knew tried to imitate when we looked into the faraway. What tied it all together was Mr. Parker's voice, less Tennessee than Texas and carrying an astounding freight of respectability for such a soft backwoods twang. Whatever else he was to American lore, Davy Crockett was always Fess Parker.

 

Reading his obituary, I realized that I have a Fess Parker theory of the universe. He is said to have been unhappy at not being allowed to act for John Ford or with Marilyn Monroe, because of his relationship with Disney. But we live in a universe in which a Parker-Monroe pairing is simply not possible onscreen. It would have annulled the Fess-ness that made him Davy Crockett to so many children. I've been tempted to go back and watch "Davy Crockett" once again. But to do that, I would have to be terribly young again myself. VERLYN KLINKENBORG

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

FEAR STRIKES OUT

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

The day before Sunday's health care vote, President Obama gave an unscripted talk to House Democrats. Near the end, he spoke about why his party should pass reform: "Every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made ... And this is the time to make true on that promise. We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine."

 

And on the other side, here's what Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House — a man

celebrated by many in his party as an intellectual leader — had to say: If Democrats pass health reform, "They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years" by passing civil rights legislation.

 

I'd argue that Mr. Gingrich is wrong about that: proposals to guarantee health insurance are often controversial before they go into effect — Ronald Reagan famously argued that Medicare would mean the end of American freedom — but always popular once enacted.

 

But that's not the point I want to make today. Instead, I want you to consider the contrast: on one side, the closing argument was an appeal to our better angels, urging politicians to do what is right, even if it hurts their careers; on the other side, callous cynicism. Think about what it means to condemn health reform by comparing it to the Civil Rights Act. Who in modern America would say that L.B.J. did the wrong thing by pushing for racial equality? (Actually, we know who: the people at the Tea Party protest who hurled racial epithets at Democratic members of Congress on the eve of the vote.)

 

And that cynicism has been the hallmark of the whole campaign against reform.

 

Yes, a few conservative policy intellectuals, after making a show of thinking hard about the issues, claimed to be disturbed by reform's fiscal implications (but were strangely unmoved by the clean bill of fiscal health from the Congressional Budget Office) or to want stronger action on costs (even though this reform does more to tackle health care costs than any previous legislation). For the most part, however, opponents of reform didn't even pretend to engage with the reality either of the existing health care system or of the moderate, centrist plan — very close in outline to the reform Mitt Romney introduced in Massachusetts — that Democrats were proposing.

 

Instead, the emotional core of opposition to reform was blatant fear-mongering, unconstrained either by the facts or by any sense of decency.

 

It wasn't just the death panel smear. It was racial hate-mongering, like a piece in Investor's Business Daily declaring that health reform is "affirmative action on steroids, deciding everything from who becomes a doctor to who gets treatment on the basis of skin color." It was wild claims about abortion funding. It was the insistence that there is something tyrannical about giving young working Americans the assurance that health care will be available when they need it, an assurance that older Americans have enjoyed ever since Lyndon Johnson — whom Mr. Gingrich considers a failed president — pushed Medicare through over the howls of conservatives.

 

And let's be clear: the campaign of fear hasn't been carried out by a radical fringe, unconnected to the Republican establishment. On the contrary, that establishment has been involved and approving all the way. Politicians like Sarah Palin — who was, let us remember, the G.O.P.'s vice-presidential candidate — eagerly spread the death panel lie, and supposedly reasonable, moderate politicians like Senator Chuck Grassley refused to say that it was untrue. On the eve of the big vote, Republican members of Congress warned that "freedom dies a little bit today" and accused Democrats of "totalitarian tactics," which I believe means the process known as "voting."

 

Without question, the campaign of fear was effective: health reform went from being highly popular to wide disapproval, although the numbers have been improving lately. But the question was, would it actually be enough to block reform?

 

And the answer is no. The Democrats have done it. The House has passed the Senate version of health reform, and an improved version will be achieved through reconciliation.

 

This is, of course, a political victory for President Obama, and a triumph for Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker. But it is also a victory for America's soul. In the end, a vicious, unprincipled fear offensive failed to block reform. This time, fear struck out.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

TO REDUCE PARTISANSHIP, GET RID OF PARTISANS

BY PHIL KEISLING

 

Portland, Ore.

WANT to get serious about reducing the toxic levels of hyper-partisanship and legislative dysfunction now gripping American politics? Here's a direct, simple fix: abolish party primary elections.

 

From now to September, virtually every state will hold primaries to select Democratic and Republican candidates for the November general election. At stake are 36 Senate and 435 Congressional seats, along with 37 governorships and more than 6,000 state legislative seats.

 

What can we likely expect? Abysmal voter turnout; incessant waves of shrill, partisan invective; and legions of pandering politicians making blatant appeals to party extremists. Once you understand the role that party primary elections really play, and who votes and doesn't, the real question isn't why our politics are so dysfunctional — it's how could they not be?

 

The current party primary system was actually reformist, an early 20th-century innovation to replace the smoke-filled backrooms of party bosses. Though party leaders fought this effort, within a generation it and the direct election of senators eventually swept the country — and improved our politics considerably.

 

But a century later, this reform has outgrown its usefulness. We are left with a system in which almost every state still outsources its elections to what are actually private organizations. With the approval of the Supreme Court, the parties have the authority to exclude independent voters or other non-members who might seriously challenge their partisan shibboleths or taboos.

 

Some state parties deign to allow non-members to participate in their primaries. But very few independents bother. Most party members don't, either. In 2006, during the last non-presidential primary cycle, most states had turnouts of only 15 percent to 30 percent of registered voters (New York had less than 5 percent). So far, the 2010 primary cycle has shown a new low of 23 percent in Illinois, and 16.5 percent in Texas, a record high for that state.

 

So what can be done? States should scrap this anachronistic system and replace it with a "fully open/top two" primary. All candidates would run in a first round, "qualifying" election, with the top two finalists earning the chance to compete head-to-head in November. Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, Tea-Partiers, even "None of the Above's" could all run in the first round. Voters would certainly know candidates' party affiliations, but no political party would automatically be entitled to a spot on the November ballot.

 

This would create far more races that were truly competitive, especially across the vast majority of lopsided districts where winning the party primary essentially guarantees election. In those districts, both finalists might be from the same party, but there could be genuine differences between the two that would give voters a meaningful choice.

 

Of course, it's likely that the finalists of most qualifying elections would still be a Democrat and a Republican. But these candidates often would be (or, at least, act) different than those produced by partisan primaries. Gone would be the ideological purity tests of primaries, which more and more punish the Republican concerned with global warming or the Democrat wrestling with eye-popping budget deficits. Candidates wouldn't have to practice the dark arts of the "message zigzag," securing the base then feinting to the center. A system without partisan primaries would reward candidates who work, from Day 1, to appeal openly and forthrightly to the broadest group of voters.

 

To replace party primaries with this fairer election system requires no federal legislation, or even any changes to most state Constitutions. State legislators or voters could do it with simple, majority votes, as Washington State voters did in 2006. This June, California voters will have a chance to become the second state free of party primaries — a move favored by 68 percent of Republicans and 71 percent of Democrats there, according to a recent poll. I myself was the chief petitioner of an unsuccessful ballot measure to change Oregon's system in 2008. I hope we'll have another chance here.

 

The primary system gives disproportionate power to the shrillest and most mean-spirited of our partisans, while preventing civil dialogue and progress on a host of important issues. But a "fully open/top two" system would empower every American to be able to vote for the best candidate in every election. That is as good and achievable an antidote to what now ails the body politic as our democracy can hope for.

 

Phil Keisling, a Democrat, was the Oregon secretary of state from 1991 to 1999.

 

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


THE NEW YORK TIMES

HOLE EARTH CATALOG

BY ALEXANDRA LANGE

 

AT the beginning of March, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg traveled to Staten Island to fill his administration's two millionth pothole. It was a milestone for him, but it was also a reminder that a new season is upon us: spring is pothole-filling time.

 

After I'd read the news, I thought of the pothole outside my old apartment on Court Street in Brooklyn. The city would fill it one year, but the next spring it would reappear, larger than before. And so I despair: is our cash-strapped city condemned to filling in the same two million holes again and again?

 

A week later, though, I saw a television report on Niederzimmern, a German village where citizens can sponsor pothole repairs after this year's especially cold winter. For a $68 contribution, they get their name embossed, over the town crest, on a patch of new asphalt.

 

With a few tweaks, New York could have its own sponsor-a-pothole program.

 

True, Niederzimmern is home to only about 1,000 people, and traffic is probably a lot thinner than in New York. Once a pothole is fixed in Niederzimmern, it's likely set for a while.

 

In New York, potholes are like pets — requiring constant care over years and years — so our program would mean almost literally adopting a patch of road. It would also come with a slightly higher price tag than in Niederzimmern: filling a New York pothole costs about $30; new asphalt every 18 months for 15 years would cost $300.

 

But the idea of such a commitment contains the germ of a viable educational plan for New York: call it Pick-a-Pothole, a citywide civic investment program.

 

In Niederzimmern one contributes to a fund; in New York you would get to choose a hole to sponsor. Rather than a brick for your child's school, why not pay to repair the hole that swallows your stroller tire, with a personal marker in the pavement to recognize your effort?

 

You could even take part in the repairs, as Mayor Bloomberg did in Staten Island. That could be you in the Day-Glo vest shoveling gravel (professionals would handle the steaming asphalt kettle). The repair crew might even send you home with extra rocks to fix small repeat depressions, since constant attention would stave off the hole's return.

 

And since we're talking about shoveling only a few loads of rock, why not involve your children? People complain about how disconnected our children are from the outdoors and civic life. Families, youth groups and high school earth science classes could collectively adopt a pothole — this could be a great way to get young people to look more closely at their surroundings, even if they're not actually wielding shovels.

 

With the budget deficit rising, new methods for the city's upkeep need to be explored. At the same time, New Yorkers seem more willing to invest in their communities than ever before. And we have a mayor consumed by the same issues that would motivate a pothole adoption program, including metrics, education and sustainability.

 

Sure, Pick-A-Pothole wouldn't be for everyone. But for those looking to give something back to their city, it would be a great way to unleash their inner Bob the Builder.

 

Alexandra Lange, a contributing editor at New York magazine, is a co-author of the forthcoming "Design Research: The Store That Brought Modern Living to American Homes."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

STIFLING THE ECONOMY, ONE ARGUMENT AT A TIME

BY ROBERT E. LIGHTHIZER

 

FRUSTRATED with years of delay and stonewalling, 130 members of Congress last week urged the Obama administration to punish China for manipulating the value of its currency to the detriment of American exports. But this issue does not stand alone; it is part of the larger, murkier world of international trade policy, centered on the Doha round of World Trade Organization negotiations. These talks, which began in 2001, long ago became a quagmire. It's time to admit the global economy has passed them by and pull the plug on them.

 

The trade talks, which never had more than modest support from American businesses, were intended not just to lower barriers to trade, but particularly to "ensure that developing countries, and especially the least-developed among them, secure a share in the growth of world trade commensurate with the needs of their economic development." Given that Western countries had enjoyed significant economic growth in the 1980s and 1990s, helping poorer states seemed like a noble goal.

 

There was never much reason to believe that the Doha round would really help United States workers and businesses. American farmers in particular dislike the negotiators' focus on reducing or eliminating their government subsidies — given the limited gains they would see in real foreign-market access.

 

Global trade officials claimed that Doha could be used to further open developing markets like China and India to American manufacturers, but — as the National Association of Manufacturers has pointed out for years — such countries have refused to put on the table any significant market-opening offers. Finally, efforts to use the Doha round to improve export opportunities for American service providers have also gone nowhere.

 

As trade ministers have chattered on for nearly a decade, the world has changed. The notion that we should adjust global trading rules to help the rest of the world compete with the West has become outdated.

 

Since 2001, the West has suffered its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In the United States, we

have seen our financial services sector — which accounted for 40 percent of American corporate profits in 2007 — implode. Since the start of these talks, we have run up a cumulative trade deficit with China of more than $1.5 trillion, and have lost some four million manufacturing jobs.

 

Meanwhile, the World Bank projects that developing countries will enjoy 5.2 percent growth in 2010 and 5.8 percent growth in 2011 — while "high income" countries will experience growth rates of only 1.8 percent in 2010 and 2.3 percent in 2011. Under these circumstances, why would we continue with the same tired agenda for trade negotiations? It is like trying to improve standard-definition TV in the world of high-def.

 

Unfortunately, President Obama is reading from the same nine-year-old talking points as the trade bureaucrats. On March 11, in comments echoing part of his State of the Union address, he re-committed his administration to working "towards an ambitious and balanced Doha agreement." That is a mistake. The president should push for a new United States trade agenda suitable for a world in which the Western countries are losing ground while "developing" countries like China, Brazil and India are surging.

 

Any serious multilateral trade talks should address four main topics:

 

THE UNITED STATES-CHINA TRADE BALANCE Our trade deficit with China grew from $103 billion in 2002 (the first full year after China joined the W.T.O.) to $268 billion in 2008 — an increase of 160 percent in only seven years. Although the recession has forced American consumers to reduce their purchases of Chinese imports, our 2009 trade deficit with China was still almost $227 billion. This imbalance has become a symbol of American decline and poisoned many Americans' view of free trade. By some estimates, China's aggressive exports and reluctance on imports could lower global world production by 1.4 percent and cost Americans 1.4 million jobs.

 

CURRENCY MANIPULATION China has stockpiled some $2.4 trillion in foreign currency reserves in its determination to keep the yuan from rising — as market forces would normally require — and maintain its trade advantage. No wonder almost a third of the House demanded last week that the Obama administration take some action. Many experts believe that the artificially low interest rates caused by Chinese currency manipulation contributed directly to the real estate bubbles in the West that exploded with such disastrous results.

 

UNFAIR TAX RULES The United States relies primarily on income taxes to pay for government services, while most of our trading partners depend on value-added taxes on purchases. Under current W.T.O. rules, countries with value-added taxes are allowed to give tax rebates to their companies on exported goods, and to impose those taxes on imports. Companies in nations with income taxes, however, are not allowed similar treatment. Thus an American product shipped to France is effectively taxed twice, while a French product can be sent here effectively tax-free. The consequences are serious: a 2004 analysis concluded that this practice cost American exporters more than $100 billion per year.

 

REGULATORY DISPARITIES Foreign companies often benefit from relatively weak labor and environmental rules that enable them to operate with significantly lower costs than their United States competitors. This leaves American manufacturers with three options: lose market share, cut profit margins or move abroad. Indeed, one of the main concerns about proposed climate change legislation is that such laws would result in significant carbon "leakage," as carbon-emitting manufacturers flee to countries with lower standards. If we want an efficient global market, we should be more serious about making sure companies in all nations play by the same rules.

 

Ending the Doha round will not be easy. Many trade bureaucrats, both here and abroad, will cling to the mantra that doing so would hurt free trade. But Americans would be receptive to an argument focused on their concerns: in a 2008 Rasmussen poll, 73 percent of respondents said that a free-trade agreement had had a negative effect on their families, while only 14 percent said they had benefited from such an agreement. And while other countries would undoubtedly resist changing a global trading system that puts Americans at a severe disadvantage, we have enormous leverage, in the form of the world's largest market. We should use that leverage.

 

Finally, what do we have to lose? The Doha talks are never going to significantly help Americans anyway. One benefit of the recession and the pause in the Doha talks is that President Obama has a rare opportunity to re-focus our trade agenda. He should take it.

 

Robert E. Lighthizer, a lawyer, was a deputy trade representative in the Reagan administration.

 

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******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

NO, NOT FORGOTTEN

 

It began on March 20, 2003 with President George W Bush saying: "On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance." Baghdad was being bombed and the Iraq war was upon us. This March 20 marked the seventh anniversary of a war that nobody seems keen to memorialise any more and it went unremarked in much of the world. Even the White House declined to make a statement, and considering it was the White House that ignited this war one would have thought they would have the decency to at least acknowledge it. Who remembers the 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' that never were? Or the declaration of victory by Bush that was both hollow and wrong? The hauling down of the statue of Saddam Hussein? Most people in the world with access to electronic media will have at least some memory of the war that is now seven years old, and many will remember the governments of the day telling us it was 'not about oil' and was really all about 'the spread of democracy and the overthrow of a dictator.'


Piffle. Utter piffle. There are plenty of ways of overthrowing odious dictators without bringing together a fractious coalition of warriors who have varying degrees of willingness; and then embarking on a military campaign of vast expense in treasure and blood. Belatedly, let us remember the over 600,000 Iraqi civilians that have been killed. The 140 dead journalists. The 9,381 (December 2009) Iraqi police and soldiers. Iraqi insurgents have killed - about 55,000 so far. American casualties - 4,379 killed and 31,669 wounded (September 2009). Non-American troops killed - 316, with 179 of those from the UK . And then the treasure. The cost of deploying a single American soldier for one year to Iraq is $390,000 and the cost to America of conducting the war was calculated as $5,000 per second in 2008. Today, Iraq is riven by conflict, unstable and heavily reliant on the international community to keep it afloat. The politics of violence dominates despite the trumpeted success of recent elections and it all could have been so different. No, not forgotten and yes, it really was all about oil.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

PRICE OF CONFLICT

 

Imagine yourself and your family living in a conflict-ridden area. You would shudder at the thought of spending day