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Thursday, March 25, 2010

EDITORIAL 25.03.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month march 25, edition 000464, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





































































Do we have access to him or do we not? That is the question. It would be fair to say that the Government's handling of the David Coleman Headley episode is turning into one big comedy circus. Barely days after Government authorities said that they would have access to Headley for questioning in connection with his role in the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, the US Ambassador to India, Mr Timothy Roemer trashed this notion by asserting that his Government had taken no such decision at all. New Delhi's assumption had been based on US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake's statement that Indian investigators would indeed be allowed access to the 26/11 plotter. But the recent flip-flop betrays the fact that there is some reluctance on the part of the US Administration to let India question Headley. There have been reports doing the rounds that Headley worked for a US intelligence agency before he went rogue, and that it is to protect his identity as an American agent the Obama Administration is trying to limit access to the undercover jihadi. However, it is noteworthy that the Danish intelligence agency has already had access to Headley in connection with the plot to bomb the offices of Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that had published cartoons allegedly lampooning Prophet Mohammed in 2005. If this is true, Washington's approach towards New Delhi over the matter is deplorable and reinforces the notion that the US is only willing to treat India as a friend as long as it suits its own interests. The Americans will not do us any favours if they feel that there is a possibility of their strategic interests being compromised. Surely, given the crimes that Headley stands accused of committing, Indian investigators need to question him. Besides, let us not forget that American intelligence agencies were among the first to get access to Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving Pakistani terrorist of the fidayeen squad that attacked Mumbai, on the ground that six American citizens were killed in the 26/11 massacre. Yet, even though the US has repeatedly stressed on its commitment to sharing information with friendly countries to wage war on global terror, it continues to stonewall India's attempts to get at Headley. Clearly, America's perception of the war on terror is more important than ours.

In the wake of Mr Roemer's assertion, the Government is trying to put on a brave face and insists that it will go ahead and despatch a team of investigators next month to try and get access to Headley. As part of his plea agreement with the American authorities, Headley is supposed to co-operate with foreign Government agencies that want to question him over specific terror plots. However, the modalities will have to be worked out in consultation with the US Department of Justice. But the attitude of the US leaves a lot to be desired. Plus, there are reports that the Americans knew about Headley's trips to India and were monitoring him all the while, but did not bother to share this information with India. This is not exactly the definition of 'close co-operation' in counter-terrorism. We simply cannot have a situation wherein we grant the Americans their every request but do not get anything in reciprocation for our sincerity. New Delhi must make it known to Washington, DC, in no uncertain terms that bilateral co-operation on counter-terrorism, or any other issue for that matter, is a two-way street.







Criminal irresponsibility is the cause of the fire that consumed 27 lives in Kolkata's Stephen Court. In the worst such incident since the Uphaar tragedy in which 59 people died, the lynch mobs are out. In their helpless rage over the needless deaths, there is a public outcry against public institutions that have a role to play in regulating urban life, namely the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, the Fire Brigade and the city's police. All these agencies are accountable, but not the only ones responsible for the series of misdemeanours that created the conditions for the tragedy. For, behind every cause there is a culprit. The immediate cause in the Stephen Court tragedy, the Uphaar inferno, the highrise fire in Bangalore, the Nandram Market and Chandni Market blazes in Kolkata, is the electricity connection. It would, therefore, appear that owners of these buildings were responsible for the tragedy. It is even easier to then shift the blame to agencies of local Government whose job it is to regulate and monitor compliance with the rules of urban life. Alas that is avoiding the reality of the reckless demands that users make on the system and their capacity to have these demands met through fair means and foul.

It is easier to succumb to the emotional impact of the horror that unfolded in front of large crowds as the flames engulfed the two top floors of a section of Stephen Court than to make a painful resolve to work towards preventing, to the extent possible, the recurrence of such tragedies elsewhere in Kolkata and indeed across urbanising India. Demanding better governance from municipal officers, police, fire fighters and hospitals requires that the citizen is both law abiding and vigilant. The impunity with which laws are bent or violated in the belief that regulation is an unnecessary hindrance is part of the environment that has contributed to regulators failing to do their job. It is easier to point a finger than to blow the whistle on those who do bend the rules. The tragedy in Kolkata, following so soon after the fire in Bangalore, is a wake-up call to civic authorities, electricity regulators and citizens that unless the rules of the compact are changed, more lives will be jeopardised as the urban jungle spreads. For without complicity of all those who are part of the urban space, it is not possible that individual acts of criminal irresponsibility can continue without a check. If the wave of emotion that is now engulfing Kolkata and the rest of India dissipates itself on accusations, it would be an even greater tragedy. For the time has come for urban Indians to demand — for the greater good, rather than limited self-interest — strict compliance with rules.



            THE PIONEER




The Obama Administration is as much in need of healthcare as the American people. By supping with the Pakistani leadership without the prescriptive long spoon, the US President and his advisers are guaranteeing a mightier inferno for the AfPak landscape than the one consuming it. The price demanded by the Pakistani Government for past and present services rendered to the American imperium amounts to a brazen $ 35 billion, with a few nuclear power plants, squadrons of F-16s and other lethal weaponry thrown in for good measure.

How the discussions in the Oval Office of the White House pan out will be known soon enough, but the promised consummation of the India-US relationship is likely to remain the 21st century's unfulfilled dream. Just as well, for tying the knot on the deck of another doomed Titanic — Pakistan in this instance — would hardly make good copy or a riveting film. However, the mystery of David Coleman Headley might, one day, do both, with its darkest secrets revealed and an Oscar to be won.

The world's 'sole superpower', the prayerful refrain of acolytes of the living Moloch, bears more than a passing resemblance to Gulliver trussed up and bound to the ground by legions of Taliban and Al Qaeda Lilliputians in Afghanistan and Iraq and the earth beyond. Superpower hubris is no assurance of second sight. Mr George W Bush proclaimed a famous victory in Iraq from the deck of an American battleship and the pronouncement, in due course, crumbled to dust.

Newsweek reproduced a picture of the former US President savouring his triumph in 2004 against its report of the recently deemed success of an Iraqi general election. What price such traduced freedom? A broken nation boasting multitudes of orphaned cripples, thousands of dead and millions living as insecure refugees abroad; a country gifted with intermittent power and water by its mendacious occupier, its innards torn out, its confessional communities at each other's throats with bombs, bullets and anything else that came to hand.

Truth will out, but not clearly in the Anglo-American media. The fourth-rate estate has long been reduced to a complicit parody in a lacquered criminal syndicate. Their news coverage refracts the seamless engagement between what can be seen as the world's second-oldest profession with the world's oldest. Checks and balances are nursery rhymes for lulled innocents cutting their milk teeth at their mother's breasts. Al Capone and Goebbels embodied fascism's infancy, today's finished product boasts a corporate face.

International alignments, once cast in stone, are in flux. Nato, like Shelley's Ozymandias, could well become a half-buried trunkless head of stone in the sands of Araby. You wouldn't have thought so leafing through the insouciance of Mr Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Polish American geostrategic guru hired by the Obama campaign team for the 2008 US presidential election, whose worldview may well be haunting the corridors of power in Washington, DC. As President Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser between 1976-80, his advice was inevitably coloured with the Pole's primordial hatred of Russians.

Apropos of clandestine US activity in Afghanistan, which pre-dated the Soviet appearance in the country, he said: "This secret operation was an excellent idea. Its effect was to draw the Russians into the Afghan trap. You want me to regret that?" (Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism by John K Cooley). In his book, Cooley writes, "Brzezinski, like President Carter's CIA director Admiral Stansfield Turner ... freely acknowledged that the possible adverse consequences of the anti-Communist alliance with the Afghan Islamists (and shortly afterward, with their radical Muslim allies around the world) — the growth of a new international terrorist movement and the global outreach of South Asian drug trafficking — did not weigh heavily, if at all, in their calculations at the time."

Years later, March 20, 2010, to be precise, The Times correspondent, Anthony Loyd, in Peshawar, described how a motley group of jihadis — Arabs, Uzbeks and Pakistani Punjabis — were giving the American and their allies a particularly hard time in Afghanistan. The 1,500 Uzbeks, apparently the most formidable of the lot, usually fought to the last man.

Three days later, on March 23, came a front-page Daily Telegraph report, with the headline: "Dirty nuclear bomb threat to Britain". Duncan Gardham's opening paragraph set the scene: "Britain faces an increased threat of a nuclear attack by Al Qaeda terrorists following a rise in the trafficking of radiological material, a Government report has warned. Bomb makers who have been active in Afghanistan may already have the ability to produce a 'dirty bomb' using knowledge over the Internet. It is feared that terrorists could transport an improvised nuclear device up the Thames and detonate it in the heart of London" and other British cities.

"Lord West, the Security Minister, also raised the possibility of terrorists using small small craft to enter ports and launch an attack similar to that in Mumbai in 2008 ... The terrorist group since then had approached Pakistani nuclear scientists, developed a device to produce hydrogen cyanide, which can be used in chemical warfare, and used explosives in Iraq combined with chlorine gas cylinders," the report says. Frankenstein's monster is now stalking its creator. President Barack Obama and his aides will have much to discuss with their Pakistani guests. If only the fly on the wall could speak and write proper English what a tale it would have to tell.

Following the demise of the Soviet Union, Mr Brzezinski, inebriated by the chaos of the Yeltsin dispensation in Moscow, issued his projection of the future, The Great Chessboard. Eurasia, the subject of his title, with its oil and geostrategic location was preordained to be a giant American bailiwick. Controlled tenancies for Russia, India and China, etc, would form part of the Pax Americana. The book's sting came in its tail, the reference to "China's support for Pakistan (which) restrains India's ambitions to subordinate that country and offsets India's inclination to cooperate with Russia in regard to Afghanistan and Central Asia".

Mr Brzezinski confides in his Chinese interlocutors in 1996 — recalled in an extensive footnote in his book, published the following year — on a possible US-China condominium for the region, inspiration, possibly, for Mr Obama's hint of G2 summits floated in Beijing last autumn. Its eccentricity is reminiscent of the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, whereby the Pope in Rome divided the newly discovered dominions of Asia and Africa between the Catholic Majesties of Spain and Portugal.

To George Nathaniel Curzon, player extraordinary of Kipling's Great Game, belongs surely the final word: "Turkestan, Afghanistan, Transcaspia, Persia ... To me, I confess, these names are the pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a game for the dominion of the world." This being 2010, checkmate, alas, it must be.






This refers to the article, "Reforming education" by Anuradha Dutt (March 19). She argues in favour of letting foreign varsities into the country. But the presumptions behind her arguments ignore a few vital points. First, as foreign universities bring with them better working environment and salary packages, there is a high probability of qualified professionals from some of the premier Indian institutions crossing over. And they would not be wrong to do so in an environment where one's salary is seen as the primary indicator of one's position or mark of one's professional excellence.

Two, to deal with this, Indian collages may feel compelled to raise their salaries and improve working conditions. But with Government subsidies constantly diminishing, the money for this will have to come from student fees which will be hiked. As a result, this will make higher education a costly proposition, especially for those students who come from economically weaker sections of the society. In turn, higher education will become progressively elitist, widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Traditionally, public exams such as our board exams have been a great leveller, allowing students from mofussil towns the chance of claiming admission in the top collages located in the metros. This provided for them a level playing field to compete for admission into medical colleges, the IITs and others. But Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal is now determined to scrap the board exams. With foreign varsities coming in and no board exams, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is bound to increase further.

Also, through these foreign collages, the Western countries will have access to Indian pockets while avoiding more immigrants on their soil. It will result in fantastic economic gains for them without any hassles whatsoever.

The questions is, if we have been able to create world-class institutions like the IIMs and the IITs in the past, what prevents us from creating more indigenous educational institutes of excellence now. If needed, we could also take the help of international experts in our endeavours. The issue deserves a wider debate.








Beware the Ides of March! Well, not quite the Ides, but close enough. On March 12, for a change, an open counter-charge was launched by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram when he undertook a point-by-point rebuttal of Pakistani High Commissioner Shahid Malik's indefensible rhetoric. Whatever the political merits or demerits of Mr Chidambaram's refreshingly aggressive stance, some are bound to criticise him as Delhi is a hub of power politics. Nonetheless, Mr Chidambaram appears to have warmed the hearts of common Indians. He has proved himself to be a person who does not take things lying down in the face of a troublesome neighbour's absurd allegations.

The Home Minister's comments marked a huge departure from the attitude of the usually indifferent Government officials who are used to being abused and criticised by visiting Pakistani dignitaries. For, the VVIPs from Pakistan are usually treated to a rousing reception by our Government and the so-called civil society intellectuals, even though the former leave no stone unturned to vilify India.

One need not think back far to recapitulate the 'bold' utterances of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who addressed us as "Indian dogs" in the UN in 1965. Recall Gen Pervez Musharraf's post-Kargil Agra Summit breakfast show which was broadcast live without the knowledge of the establishment. The incident was a classic example of India's compulsive need to play the part of a good host to a hostile guest.

What makes Mr Chidambaram's rebuttal all the more praiseworthy is that Mr Malik's comments were totally unwarranted. The Pakistani High Commissioner simply could not resist the temptation of criticising the host Government in front of its own people.

Mr Malik said, "The Pakistani Government has no intention of any aggressive activity against India." Ironically, Pakistan's image, intention, action and credibility are so transparently suspect that even its strategic ally, the US, finds it difficult to justify the US-Pakistan physical chemistry in the backdrop of Islamabad's persistent anti-India agenda.

Thus, at a Congressional hearing devoted exclusively to the activities of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, American lawmakers came down hard on Pakistan for not doing enough to rein in the outfit. Congressmen emphatically urged the the Obama Administration to exert pressure on Islamabad to go "all-out" and "crush this group of savages" without any further delay. The Americans are now convinced that the failure of their country to go all-out against Pakistan-sponsored groups like the LeT is likely to be a costly mistake. They appear to have realised Pakistan's bluff. The lawmakers observed, "They (Lashkar militants) are well-financed, ambitious and, most disturbingly, both tolerated by and connected to the Pakistani military. The same Pakistani military to which we are selling advanced arms." Better late than never, as they say.

Pakistani malevolence is there for the whole world to see. Yet, people like Mr Malik would like India to put Pakistan's nefarious deeds in 'proper perspective'. Thankfully, a no-nonsense Home Minister has stood up to Pakistan's charade.

That the Pakistanis are not trusted even by their Afghan neighbours became clear in the just-concluded high-profile visit to Islamabad by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The latter refused the Pakistani Army's proposal to train the Afghan National Army, notwithstanding his acknowledgement that Pakistan is a conjoined twin while India a close friend. What an irony, even the blood-brothers do not have faith in each other. Such is the credibility (or the lack of it) of the regime in Islamabad.

In fact, Pakistan today has been so hopelessly exposed by its misdeeds that within 48 hours of Mr Chidambaram's swift and decisive message to the world in general and to the Pakistanis in particular, combined with the unusually caustic verdict given by the US legislators in Washington, DC, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on March 13 declared that he would address American concerns about the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba during a coming visit to the US. Interestingly, Mr Qureshi, who till recently would not think twice about spewing venom on India, is now reportedly willing to provide an 'explanation' to the Americans.

Seen in this context, Mr Chidambaram's plain-speak is not only justified but completely valid. He, however, has an edge over his colleagues in the establishment — he is not the Foreign Minister. Nor is he holding the mantle of the Government as its de facto CEO. As the Home Minister, his hands-on approach makes him suitably qualified to express his views openly on the state of home affairs and internal security. Mr Chidambaram's charter of duty surely does not bind him to careful crafting of diplomatic jargons.

All in all, Mr Chidambaram has rendered yeoman service to the nation on March 12. For a change, at least one Indian has stood up to defend India. And this is no mean achievement given the fact that we have a vituperative neighbour.

-- The writer is an alumnus of the National Defence College of India and a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London








For the past few years, the Congress Government in Delhi, now into its third term, has been justifying every excess, every lapse, every imposition on hapless residents of the city, on the grounds that some sacrifices by them are required in order to turn the capital into a world-class city, fit to host an international sporting event this October. The refrain surfaces with tiring frequency whenever there is public outcry against some ham-handed instance of Government policy and implementation, such as the ill-conceived BRT corridor. Running right through the middle of major roads, the corridor not only endangers lives but is instrumental in magnifying traffic chaos during heavy rains or failure of the traffic management mechanism. Or, to cite an instance of ecologically disastrous planning, the civic agencies' colonisation of the river environs, and indiscriminate felling of trees and depletion of green cover, so as to make space for some other 'world-class' infrastructure, has been widely castigated.


Amidst this building frenzy, the city Government, in its obsession with turning Delhi into a model of development, standardised by First World cities such as New York and London, seems to have almost exhausted its resources. And, Games-related projects still require funding of about Rs 1,000 crore, if not more. According to sources, the total amount for hosting the Games is estimated to be $ 1.6 billion. Upgrading/building airports, roads and other amenities are excluded from this cost. The global recession last year apparently compelled the DDA to bail out the Commonwealth Games village with the necessary funds, to ensure completion of the project on time. This year, residents of the city will have to bail out the Delhi Government, via payment of heavy taxes, imposed on them in the new Budget. Not only have the prices of diesel and CNG been hiked, a double whammy because the Union Budget had already raised fuel prices, but cooking gas cylinder subsidy removed and VAT on many necessities enhanced. These include garments, utensils, cutlery, plastic items, kerosene stoves, lanterns, fertilisers, insecticides, pesticides, etc. And food items and beverages such as ghee, tea, coffee, cocoa, dry fruit and aerated drinks.

The Delhi Finance Minister has clearly targeted items, which are commonly used and so, are in high demand. And, predictably, the refrain of making the city world-class has surfaced to justify the burden, foisted upon the people. But the latter, reacting angrily to the additional taxes imposed upon them soon after the Union Budget, have made their feelings public. This certainly is not what they had bargained for when they elected the Sheila Dikshit-headed Government for a third time. Its first tenure in power, when it managed to put the city back on track, after it had plummeted into an abyss of urban congestion and chaos, gave the Congress a second term. But the rot set in, with the Government blundering in its conception and execution of projects, related to the Games.

Absence of transparency in decision-making resulted in conservationists opposing the location of the Games village in the river environs; and warning of erosion of architectural heritage in the Siri Fort area and elsewhere. After this anti-people Budget, and already reeling under the burden of soaring inflation, people's anger is also being directed at the Games, which, as a hallmark event, is intended to bring sporting talent in Commonwealth countries together, as well as providing an ideal opportunity to upgrade civic infrastructure in the host city. But the inept handling of projects, related to the event; failure to raise funds on its own; and race to ensure completion of work on time have merely served to discredit the Government's performance.

When New Delhi won the bid in November 2003 to host the Games, edging out Canada's Hamilton, the BJP-headed National Democratic Alliance Government was in power at the Centre. The Congress Government in the city was heading towards its second term. It is a matter of surmise whether things would have been better handled had the NDA been in power in Delhi and the Centre. But what is certain is that policy-makers awoke to the challenge of hosting the Games rather late. People now fear that the spiralling costs will gradually be passed on to them in terms of newer and newer taxes and cess. And, in its own defence, the Government pleads that they can well afford it!









It is one thing to be a yoga guru and another to head a political party. Baba Ramdev, who has just launched his new political outfit Bharat Swabhiman, may discover this very soon. Millions of his disciples wonder whether his political venture will succeed while political parties prophesy that he would soon vanish from the political scene.

Baba Ramdev's life itself is like a movie script. He was born as Ramkishan Yadav in Haryana in 1953. He overcame childhood paralysis through yoga. He joined a gurukul in Haryana and started offering free yoga classes. Soon he became a household name all over India.

In the last few years his yoga empire has grown very big with at least a dozen Chief Ministers supporting him to spread the message of yoga. He even had an audience with the Queen of England when he visited London.

However, the question is about the success of his new political venture. Has he assessed his strengths and weaknesses? Baba Ramdev is not the first yoga guru to be fascinated by politics. Swami Karpatri Maharaj floated the Ram Rajya Parishad and contested the first Lok Sabha election in 1952. To his credit the Ram Rajya Parishad won three seats but the party faded away soon. Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari's brush with politics too was unsuccessful. Then, what makes Baba Ramdev think that he would succeed while others failed?

Baba Ramdev does have many plus points. He has a huge following. He has a multi-crore yoga empire which is spreading far and wide. He has used the media, particularly electronic media, to his advantage in popularising yoga. His message is for all. He readily accepted a Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind invitation to visit Deoband and created a stir by addressing thousands of Imams and clerics to spread the message of yoga. He has no baggage — political or otherwise. He has no godfather and no coterie as of now. His intention seems to be good as he is only talking about building a corruption-free India. He has no caste advantage or communal advantage. He is starting with a clean slate. In short, he has the potential to succeed but there is a big if whether he will.

First of all, there are already too many political parties in India which fragment the polity. Moreover, it is not clear what is the ideology of the Bharat Swabhiman or what it wants to do except of course what Baba Ramdev claims that it will cleanse politics and root out corruption. These are indeed very big challenges for a party which is still at a nascent stage.

Second, why will his VVIP disciples like Haryana Chief Minister or Uttarakhand Chief Minister or other Ministers share dais with him when he wants to talk politics? Till now it was a different story, as politicians did not mind being seen with Baba Ramdev, the yoga guru and not the politician.

Third, the Bharat Swabhiman will have to be ready to fight elections and it is not that easy to sustain until then and also find 543 candidates by 2014. Moreover, he is very popular in the northern States and it is not the same in the south where there are competitors even in yoga.

Fourth, Baba Ramdev has his own share of controversies. In 2006 CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat alleged that Baba Ramdev's Divya Yoga Mandir Trust Pharmacy was using animal bones in its medicines. Although he gained from the controversy, it created a stir. In 2009, he opposed homosexuality after the Delhi High Court passed an order decriminalising it. His claims that AIDS and cancer could be cured through yoga also brought him into focus.

Finally, he has not thought of an emotional issue that can bind the party together. Talking about corruption may or may not get him votes.

Thus the questions arise: Will he not be able to influence voters as a yoga guru rather than a political leader? Although most of the national parties and the regional parties like the BSP and NCP pooh-poohed his idea, they are also not very sure about its impact on the people. They are quite confident that the support he is getting from various politicians will wither away once he becomes a politician.

Baba Ramdev has an uphill task before him if he is serious about turning into a politician. Moreover, who are the people on whom he can depend upon to build the party? Even if he manages to get some seats in the coming elections, his party may not emerge as the single largest party to form the Government. With his members, he also will have to plunge into the political system and bargain for the best terms to join a coalition. Is the yoga guru ready for it?










Seminars and conferences on post-meltdown situation have been the fashion of the conferencing season which is about to end. Economists, political scientists, financial analysts, and strategic thinkers have all pitched in and if any consensus has developed, it is still to be known.

When there is so much uncoordinated talk, there is bound to be repetition. There is bound to be gaps, which need to be bridged, if a more secure future is to be created. One such gap is the failure to recognise that of the various institutions that exist in the domain of money and finance, there is not, perhaps, any organisation with a structure and processes that has grown with conscious pre-designed thought and action.

It is obvious that there is a need to look at the 2008 global crisis with a mindset of learning lessons from it. A global economic system needs to be developed which is more robust and prudent. The crisis provided an opportunity to relook at international finance and the regulatory framework that existed at the time of origin of the problem and could not control it from occurring.

Anyone with some understanding of organisation development processes would recognise that organisation structure and processes play a critical role in an effective fulfillment of the objectives any institutions.

It is systems that make any organisation come alive and it is always the failure of the systems that kills it. Organisation design concerns are the heart of it all. It is like the organisation map which aggregates tasks into roles and jobs; jobs into units which may be called department/divisions or something equivalent and then further aggregates them all, into a unified organisational system.

Organisation design, therefore, defines roles and relationships; assigns power; structures conscious communication with stakeholders and inherently provides for accountability. There cannot be a functioning organisation which does not do so. There is, however, a difference between this being done unconsciously and inadvertently and a conscious effort being made to account for this activity, in a scientific manner.


Given the awesome responsibilities that rest on financial institutions this type of effort cannot be left, any further, to happen spontaneously. If it is done, it will run the risk of a re-run of 2008-09 experiences.

Further there is a need to interface financial regulatory institutions international and national; the various finance related regulatory institutions within the sovereign state across the domains of their jurisdiction and interface systemically the institutions concerned with financial governance and intermediary financial institutions in the area of international finance in general and financial operations in particular.

It would be helpful to remind ourselves that any organisation's design and hence its structure has to be systemically linked to its strategy. Often enough strategy drives the structure. The strategy of many key financial institutions needs to be articulated with far greater clarity to come within the threshold of general comprehensibility and communicability.

Without begging the question it remains an important concern to examine to what extent to organisation forms of international financial institutions or otherwise create a shared vision, which in turn creates focus and establishes acceptable and current priorities. In the absence of this pre-condition it is inherent that many early warning signals will escape the radar. Indeed there have been corporate entities that have held as their guiding principal the need to think of 'structuring not structure'.

In an era, which is information driven, demanding heightened resource sharing and common supervision for a creating a sense of direction, organisation forms are a key engine not only of protection and security but growth and organisation development.

Further, any senior functionary of financial services of Government will testify along with any CEO of an institution in financial domain that far too much is left for individual initiative, insight, enterprises and coordination.

The forces that are trying to design for its better future need to factor this into their thinking. An organisational map of financial institutions like any other institution has to be created which aggregates consciously tasks into roles and jobs. Jobs into units which may be called departments/divisions are something equivalent. Then they further need to be aggregated into a unified organisational system.

Financial institutions need to prioritise their own defining characteristics and reflect them into the work methods and work design. For early warning systems to work they need to be fashioned and operated.








THE Communist Party of India ( Maoist) claims to be a political force which purports to fight for the rights of the marginalised people of the country. But the blowing up of a railway track that led to the derailment of a Rajdhani Express is a terrorist act, pure and simple. By their action, the Maoists targeted innocent non- combatants— men, women and children traveling in the train. That no one lost their lives was a matter of chance. Targeting passenger trains is not new for the Maoists and in the past innocent people have been killed by their actions.


On one hand, the Maoists and their sympathisers claim that they are ready for talks with the government, but there is no indication what they would want to talk about. Though in the past many Maoist groups have abandoned armed struggle and come to participate in India's democratic system, none of the current crop of the CPI ( Maoist) leaders have ever indicated that they are willing to compromise on their basic tenet, which is the use of armed struggle to overthrow the Indian state. But it is one thing to fight the instruments of the state— the police or the armed forces— and quite another to target non- combatants.


But if the past record, and the Rajdhani incident is anything to go by, the Maoists will not hesitate to use terror as a weapon in their armoury. Curiously, Mamata Banerjee, whose Railways' departmental property is routinely targeted by the Maoists has had little to say about their attack. All she did was to reward the crew of the train. But there was no word of condemnation for those whose actions could have led to the deaths of hundreds of passengers of the train. This is a clear case of moral blindness, if ever there was one.


When kids mean nothing


MAIL TODAY ' S report about a cocktail of substandard tuberculosis drugs being provided to 2 lakh kids under the central government's Directly Observed Treatment Short ( DOTS) Course is shocking. It highlights the brutal callousness with which our governmental health system deals with hapless citizens.


How many children have paid, or will pay the price of this criminal error is not known.


The Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme ( RNTCP) has raised hopes that India, which accounts for one- fifth of the TB cases in the world, will be able to counter the grave threat of the disease. Legal action must be initiated against the private supplier of the stock, besides its being blacklisted by the government. The government must also probe the likelihood of collusion between the suppliers and its agency that procured the stock and put more stringent checks in place.


Tuberculosis being the disease it is, substandard medication could have a lethal effect on the children or it could induce resistance in them against therapy, requiring further treatment.


The government itself acknowledges that the RNTCB depends on good quality diagnosis, good quality drugs and effective administrative support. Yet in all these areas it has been found tragically wanting.







GOOGLE exiting China and thumbing its nose at Beijing by removing censorship on its Chinese search results and images, is seemingly an act of courage against the Great Firewall.


But before we glorify Google we must remember that it had been adhering to all of China's requirements even before it opened its offices there in 2005.


Google's self- censorship until this week was a result of direct business interests and everything else had become secondary in its China operations. This arrangement worked well for both parties until Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists were breached, allegedly by Chinese hackers, an event that pitted the US State Department's diplomacy against Chinese state- funded Golden Shield Project, a censorship and surveillance programme.


Now the software giant says it will rather exit China than adhere to censorship guidelines.


It is all for the good, one presumes, as the rest of the corporate world looks up to Google for moral leadership on this issue.


Just that we will have to wait and watch whether morals indeed trump commerce in the long run.







THERE SEEM to be some early signs of winds of change in Washington DC but maybe this is only early spring, and the breeze could be blown away after the US and Pakistan discuss joint strategies. Earlier this month, Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation in Washington said in an essay, " Seeking to negotiate with the Taliban leadership ( primarily based in Pakistan) before U. S. and NATO forces gain the upper hand on the battlefield in Afghanistan would be a tactical and strategic blunder with potential serious negative consequences for U. S. national security." This makes eminent sense because, as I have been saying all along, a state cannot negotiate with terrorists unless it has substantially defeated/ exhausted them; otherwise it is appeasement. She concludes her essay with the equally sane advice that " U. S. over- anxiousness to negotiate with the senior Taliban leadership in Pakistan would likely undermine efforts to coax local fighters into the political mainstream, thus jeopardizing General McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan and prolonging instability throughout the region."




In his testimony to the US Congress on March 12, Ashley Tellis from the Carnegie Endowment for Peace made the following accurate observations:


The Lashkar- e- Tayyeba ( LeT) is— with the exception of al- Qaeda— arguably the most important terrorist group operating from South Asia and was the mastermind of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. It remains the spearhead of the Pakistani military's campaign against India.


LeT remains primarily Pakistani in its composition, uses Pakistani territory as its main base of operation, and continues to be supported extensively by the Pakistani state, especially the Army and Inter- Services Intelligence ( ISI).


LeT's capability to conduct terrorism multi- nationally has increased: it does not need constant operational support from the ISI to be effective.


LeT's ambitions extend beyond India.


The organisation's close ties with al- Qaeda in Pakistan and its support for the Afghan Taliban's military operations pose a direct threat to U. S. citizens, soldiers, and interests.


Tellis' recommendations to US policy makers are forthright. He urges that the US should be candid and stop pretending that LeT is an independent actor. A recognition that the organisation receives protection and support from Pakistan would go a long way towards solving the problem. Tellis also stressed the need for a greater India- US intelligence co- operation and joint counter terrorist operations.


Finally, and this is the most important recommendation, the US should be prepared to take action if Pakistan is unable or unwilling. " If Pakistan cannot or will not take decisive action against LeT, then the United States and its allies should be prepared to act in its place. Doing so may be increasingly necessary not simply to prevent a future Indo- Pakistani crisis, but more importantly to protect the United States, its citizens, its interests, and its allies," says Tellis.


All of us should read these two reports as they state what the US interests would be and if the US were to adopt the policies recommended, India would be the gainer. So would Pakistan, but its ruling elite is so caught up in its anti- Indian- ness which secures its continuance that it will not see the rationality of these arguments.


Then we had US Congressman Gary Ackerman go even further when he said " Public estimates suggest LeT operates some 2,000 offices in towns and villages throughout Pakistan, as well as maintaining ties with the Pakistani military. There is, in fact, no reason to doubt that Pakistan's military is likely paying compensation to families of terrorists killed in the Mumbai attacks." In what was widely reported in the Indian media Ackerman went on to say, " LeT has been attacking US forces in Afghanistan almost from day one and their forces are present throughout Afghanistan. LeT has been slaughtering Indians by the score for decades. LeT has put the world on notice that they intend to escalate the carnage and spread it world- wide."




It is after many years that so many have spoken so strongly about developments that reflect our worries. There is greater interest in terrorist organisations like the LeT because they are now perceived as threatening US interests globally. However, the advice is that US interests should be protected and advanced. There is a danger of exulting in national self- congratulation as if the battle has been won. In the David Headley case, for instance, we will get precious little despite all the optimistic dossier talk in New Delhi. US attitude towards Pakistan is not going to change and we have to understand that these are the rules of the game. Nevertheless, it is in our interest to now press home the advantage with those opinion makers who see the dangers that lie ahead for US interests and to ensure that this trend in American thinking is not lost in the mist of Foggy Bottom. No one else is going to defend our interests unless we learn to seriously protect and enhance them ourselves.


On the other hand, we seem to consider magnanimity as a policy option. Each time we do an Agra, Havana, Sharm el Sheikh or New Delhi, the Pakistanis presume we are caving in and simply get more adventurous and truculent. Besides it does not suit Pakistan to make peace with India at this point in time because doing so would mean that the Pakistan armed forces and intelligence would have to get more committed in Obama's war in Afghanistan. All indications are that Pakistan is preparing the ground to raise the temperature across LOC as we hear of increased violations and encounters.


The rest of India would remain a soft target and the periodic terror alerts that one hears are serious business.




Pakistan has suddenly begun to use the water issue to whip emotions in Pakistan.


There are two reasons for this. Pakistan is going to face a huge water deficit this summer, with its own domestic

consequences, at a time when there is already unhappiness inside the Punjab as terror related violence

continues. It would be difficult for any administration to use a Punjabi force against its own Punjabis without having a revolt on its hands. The steady outpouring of Rehman- speak in the past few months which blames India for all that is going wrong inside Pakistan is part of a fairly useful and successful exercise of make belief.


Yet one of our foremost political analysts has recommended at this juncture, a day after we heard fulminations from Syed Salahuddin, that we should exhibit largeness of heart, grand strategy and breadth of vision by inviting Gen Kayani to India and give him comfort about India's policy in Afghanistan. Never mind the thousands of Indians killed by terrorists trained, indoctrinated and equipped in Pakistan. We are a big country and can take these losses or an inert sponge that will continue to absorb because Indian lives are cheap, so runs this argument.


The logic of this grand gesture is not understood. For decades we have been arguing that the LeT is a regional menace and is fast becoming a global menace, we have repeatedly argued that Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism and just when the world begins to accept this as the reality along comes this strange suggestion to extend hospitality to the person whose military doctrine is based on unmitigated hostility towards India.


Thinking out of the box is fashionable but what is this one? Is this breadth of vision, height of folly or preemptive capitulation?


The writer is a former head of the country's external intelligence service








IT IS like a supersonic jet in air leaving its boom behind for you. There is still a lot of noise in Bangalore airspace over whether or not to keep its good old HAL airport closed. In May it will be two years since its closure for commercial operations, and opening of the new Bengaluru International Airport. It was a tryst with the city's destiny at midnight, leaving behind some unfinished business.


The infotech industry would still like to have open the HAL airport that is closer to their operational areas, while BIAL is opposed to the idea.


As most of the infotech clusters are in the northern parts of the city, having the HAL airport operational would work very well for the industry.


It saves them the trouble of heading south, crossing or bypassing the city centre, and travelling over 40 km to Devanahalli.


Even as the Karnataka High Court hears a case over the airport's closure, the new argument being offered by BIAL is that the old airport could pose a risk on several counts — safety, security and legal. It would be an exception for a defence testing and research facility to accommodate civilian aircraft, BIAL has argued. Besides, a clause in its contract with the government bars operations of another airport within a radius of 150 km from its location.


While critics argue that anything can be rewritten considering the changed circumstances, there has been yet another development that might eventually influence the status quo. The Karnataka government is setting up an aerospace park near the international airport with facilities for defence as well as civilian firms. Bangalore is home to several leading Defence Research and Development Organisation ( DRDO) aero labs and test facilities. DRDO would like to have better synergy among them and expanded operations. Historically, since the Second World War Bangalore has been an air force hub.


The new government park at Devanahalli might take a lot of R& D facilities away from the old HAL airport — possibly freeing it once again for safe civilian traffic. On the other hand, if the DRDO would like to continue its operations at the HAL site, then citizens will have to continue their long drive to fly.


The whole debate raises issues relating to location of city airports, the wisdom of sharing air and ground space between civilians and defence personnel and norms to be followed in public- private partnerships.


Meanwhile, Bengaluru International Airport is on its way to a major expansion.


Recently it received ISO 14001: 2004 certification, an international environmental management system standard.


Its CEO, Marcel Hungerbuehler keeps a low profile and keeps his cool by jogging in green spaces near the airport.



THE closure of night traffic along highways in the Bandipur forests of Karnataka that lead to Kerala might soon spark off protests. On the Kerala side, in Kozhikode, there have been street meetings. And citizens are contemplating direct action.


Critics say that North Kerala, especially Kozhikode city, had been hit on account of the ban on night traffic on the two highways that connect Gundalpet to Mudhumalai and Wayanad. It has also affected transportation of vegetables and fruits. For techies going home to north Kerala over the weekend, it is a huge loss of time, as we reported earlier.


But Karnataka forest officials have been sticking to the ban decision, now supported by a court order.


Night traffic distracts and kills animals, they say. Divisional Forest Officer of Bandipur Hanumanthappa said that since the ban no road kills had been reported at night time. Reportedly, the ban has also checked poaching of rare animals like slender loris, a local sub- species.


Still middle- of- the- road environmentalists argue that drivers could be educated to avoid encounters with animals.


But it looks like humananimal conflicts are not easily resolvable.


Wipro eyes green trade


SO FAR campus bicycle tracks and fashionable energy saving measures were associated with IT giant Infosys.


But its arch- rival Wipro is now quietly stepping into the green business field. And that means toxin- free PCs of the kind they recently launched and green buildings like the one they unveiled in Pune last year are just for starters.


Wipro Chairman Azim Premji says green technologies now offer business potential comparable with what infotech gave 20 years ago.


Wipro Greentech is expanding. It includes not only energy- saving data centres, but also water conservation, intelligent lighting and customised solutions across the renewable energy spectrum.


Geothermal energy is all about extracting power from heat stored in the earth since its formation — like in hot springs. Theoretically all this heat is enough to sustain human energy needs but tapping it, of course, is the problem. What is an IT company doing in such areas? Wipro, in fact, shifts business strategies to tap profits like it did when it entered infotech. It is not a firm started by techies like Infosys so it can morph itself and find business in an oilfree world as well.



WHETHER or not Bengaluru International Airport remains the sole take off and landing spot in this city for us, its security is being beefed up considerably.


There will be more stringent checks and possibly scanning of all vehicles turning towards the airport from the highway that goes to Bellary.


The provocation has been that ground handling crew in Thiruvananthapuram recently noticed a small amount of crude explosives wrapped in a Malayalam newspaper inside the cargo hold of a flight from Bangalore.


City police commissioner Shankar Bidari is not sure about the point of origin of the stuff, as the aircraft concerned shuttles between the two cities frequently.


However, security measures are being beefed up in all seriousness by the Central Industrial Security Force ( CISF) in charge of security at the airport and the local police.


As such Bidari and his team are a worried lot of late. Outside the city, there was a ' shootout' recently at a sensitive ISRO facility in Byalalu village. As investigations progress, it is still contested whether there were gun- carrying intruders near the ISRO campus or a CISF jawan opened fire in some sort of ' hallucination', imagining he heard gunshots and mistaking some inanimate object for a terrorist.


The police are being asked to be extra vigilant anyway — fearing the next time it may not be a firecracker or a scary bit of hallucination.


There are sensitive installations of corporate as well as space and defence establishments within the city.


Now the other fear is that the new measures could possibly change the relaxed look and feel of Bangalore, where usually there are not too many security checkpoints on the road and the policemen make small talk with you.







The violence unleashed by the Maoists over the past few days points to a shift in their strategy. Earlier, Maoist operations had been directed primarily at security personnel and political opponents. That is no longer the case. The derailing of the Bhubaneshwar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express where large-scale loss of life was averted only by the actions of the train driver cannot by any stretch of the imagination be seen as acting against village oppressors, as sympathisers addicted to a Robin Hood image of Maoists often portray them. Coupled with other incidents of violence spread over those 48 hours, from the blowing up of rail tracks in West Bengal and Orissa to the destruction of a road bridge in Jharkhand, it sends a disturbing message about the organisational and operational capacities of the Maoists as well as their intent to cause harm.


The Rajdhani Express's derailing is not the first indicator of the Maoists broadening their scope of operations. Maoist leader Kishenji has threatened to hit urban centres if Operation Green Hunt is not stopped. This presents the central government with a dilemma. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the Maoists the single greatest security threat facing the Indian state. But home minister P Chidambaram's refusal to settle for conditional talks and he has good reason for it, given that the Maoists have used such instances in the past simply to rearm and regroup may have a high cost if the insurgency's push to expand beyond its traditional rural strongholds is not checked effectively.

If this is to happen, close coordination between the Centre and states involved is needed. There is no room for political games of the kind that have seen Jharkhand chief minister Shibu Soren dithering on the issue. More attacks can be expected, and Maoist violence may coalesce to some extent with that of Islamic modules. The administration is in for the long haul. A brief spike in resource allocation and training will not be adequate, and short-term measures such as arming Salwa Judum groups will prove counterproductive. It's time to treat security as an essential element of infrastructure and invest in it, like roads or electric power.

The antidote to Maoist violence cannot be purely security-oriented. Governance and development changes are urgently needed if Maoist insurgency is to be addressed. But it is a chicken and egg situation, given that the benefits of economic growth cannot be delivered to regions dominated by Maoists. The problem is multi-faceted and a comprehensive response is required.








The unfortunate fire tragedy in Kolkata's Park Street, which has taken a high human toll, is a gruesome reminder of the fact that our cities are woefully ill-equipped to deal with disasters, be they fire outbreaks, earthquakes or flooding. Just a few weeks ago, Bangalore was struck by a similar tragedy. As in Bangalore, the fire brigade reached inexcusably late in Kolkata, adding to the loss of human lives and property. Apparently the fire brigade was crippled by an impregnable traffic jam, a reason commonly cited in such instances. Additionally, the fire brigade was under-equipped with fire-fighting equipment. These problems are not unique to Kolkata.

Given the pathetic state of urban infrastructure, lack of basic safety norms in public and private establishments, and paucity of efficient emergency services in most parts of urban India, there is no telling where disaster will strike next. Our cities are growing exponentially, but public infrastructure has not kept pace. The result is that we live with outdated and inadequate infrastructure, which results in frequent building collapses, perennial traffic nightmares, water shortage etc. Clearly, there is a problem in the way we go about the business of urban planning and management. It is short-sighted and does not take into account future needs. The onus in on the central, state and local authorities to fill the gaps on a priority basis and set firm foundations for future expansion. Rapid urbanisation is a reality. If we don't get the basics right, there'll be a heavy price to pay.









India has been described by columnist Martin Wolf as a premature superpower: one of the world's largest economies, but a country with a low per capita income. In countries with low per capita income, public health expenditure has to be primarily focused on preventive healthcare, especially protection from communicable diseases. Curative care has to be largely financed from private sources. But what is the best way to do that, and how do we provide healthcare to those too poor to pay for themselves?

Health insurance is the most effective way of privately financing healthcare. However, global experience shows that private health insurance systems work in countries with per capita incomes of at least Rs 4.5 to Rs 5 lakh. Clearly, with a per capita income of only around Rs 50,000, India still has a long way to go. But there are large variations around this average and those in higher income groups can well afford to insure themselves while those at the lower end cannot. From the perspective of health insurance, three broad groups are identifiable.

For the lowest income groups, the government has launched a bold experiment under an insurance scheme called the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY). Under this scheme which started in 2007, 'below poverty line' or BPL families are given an entitlement of up to Rs 30,000 per family per year to cover treatment costs. The insurance premium is paid by the central and state governments in the ratio of 75:25 (higher for some special category states).

To minimise leakage, the scheme has introduced cashless transfers through smart cards. It is still early days. So far, 26 states are participating in the programme, of which 22 have started issuing smart cards. About one crore cards have been issued so far. Bihar, rapidly moving from near-'failed state' status to almost a star performer in governance, has just extended the scheme's coverage from eight to 30 districts in partnership with four major private insurance agencies through competitive bidding. Rs 30,000 cannot cover the treatment cost of catastrophic illness, but it is not chicken feed in a country where average income is only Rs 50,000 and where BPL families cannot afford any healthcare at all.

Since states typically inflate their BPL lists well beyond those identified as BPL by the central authorities, RSBY could eventually cover over 400 million people. If properly implemented, alongside the National Rural Health Mission, it could prove to be as much of a political game changer as NREGA, and set an example for the rest of the developing world.

If RSBY provides minimal insurance cover for a large number of beneficiaries, at the other end of the spectrum we have maximum healthcare cover at a nominal premium for a relatively small group of beneficiaries government employees, including retirees, and their families under the Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS). Though the number of beneficiaries is large in absolute terms, it is still a small fraction of the country's population. Though probably the best among the three broad systems of health insurance found in the country, CGHS still needs major reform.

Though coverage is virtually unlimited in theory, including treatment abroad, what actually gets covered is still subject to discretionary approval by the concerned authorities. That needs to change. The premiums are nominal and need to be enhanced, along with a 'deductible' share payable by the beneficiary, subject to a ceiling, to make the system financially viable. Moreover, private hospitals are increasingly reluctant to treat under CGHS coverage. They complain that getting paid is a nightmare. Nevertheless, for the beneficiaries this is on the whole a good insurance scheme.

Between RSBY beneficiaries at the bottom and CGHS beneficiaries at the other end, we have the rest of the population, close to half a billion people, left to their own devices. Those employed in the corporate sector, just a few million people, usually get medical care cover as part of their benefits. Those in high income groups, again just a few million, buy their own insurance from private insurance agencies. The rest pay what they can afford for doctors, medicines and private hospital care, or they queue up in public hospitals.

The challenge is to find a viable health insurance model for them, based on low margins and high volume. There is a peculiar distortion here in the market for private health insurance that needs to be addressed. Health insurance is bought not for treating a flu or sprained ankle but as protection against the huge expenses of treatment for a catastrophic illness or accident.

Elsewhere in the world, a good insurance policy provides unlimited cover for such illness, with a 'stop loss' limit beyond which there is no 'deductible' payable by the policy-holder. In India, it is the reverse. The 'stop loss' limit is a cap beyond which the insurer provides no cover! It is interesting to ask why no private insurer has yet offered a proper health insurance product to beat the competition. Is there perhaps a cartel at work?

The writer is emeritus professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi.






Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit has blamed the Commonwealth Games for the higher taxes proposed in the recent state budget. This can be a test case for other state governments as well. What happens when cities plan high-impact events that will upgrade their infrastructure, but discover at the last moment that they haven't been quite successful? Are they justified in calling on citizens to cough up more money? Delhi's example suggests that they aren't.

We need better urban infrastructure, for sure. That's the right of citizens and providing it is the job of the government. The logic behind taxation is that the state will collect taxes from citizens and build and run public utilities. The city's bid for the Commonwealth Games was seen as an opportunity to expand urban facilities. Financial outlays were made accordingly and funds provided by various agencies, including the Union government. These funds, let's not forget, were provided by taxpayers.

Now, the state government has overshot its budget for the games. It needs to raise more money, and fast. How did this mess-up happen? This isn't a case of bad budgeting. There is a funds shortage because of the inefficiency of the government. Deadlines were set for the completion of works, which included building new stadiums, roads, hotels etc while refurbishing and revamping existing ones. But state agencies failed to meet them. As projects lagged, inflationary pressures kicked in and costs soared. Surely, citizens aren't to be blamed for the delays. Nor must they be penalised with more taxes. What if cities expected to host the upcoming cricket World Cup insist that citizens pay more taxes to facilitate the show? Dikshit and her finance minister have got their economics mixed up. The Delhi government has set a bad precedent.







The Delhi government has said: read my lips, a few more taxes. And it's justified its budget, which also includes an LPG subsidy withdrawal, by saying incoming revenue would go into building infrastructure for the Commonwealth Games (CWG). Tomorrow other state CMs may follow Sheila Dikshit's lead, calling on taxpayers to help develop cities hosting prestigious tournaments. What's wrong with that? It's argued that outlays already exist for sporting events and governments should stick to budgets. That makes no allowances for the fact human institutions aren't perfect. Households and businesses often don't live and trade within their means. Why should it be different for governments?

In an ideal world, the authorities would never exceed spending estimates nor ask the public to pitch in when calculations go awry. But, in reality, the best-laid plans can be marred by unforeseen circumstances, such as a slowdown impacting tax collections or building activity. As for poor planning and project delays, let's not be naive. In India, that's par for the course. If ports and airports modernisation or road and highway building can take decades, not just years, why single out CWG's run-up? Staging sporting dos is a challenge not only in the developing world. Other nations have learnt this the hard way, like Greece with the Athens Olympics or the US with the Atlanta edition.

The aam aadmi is the ultimate beneficiary of the work his political representatives do, such as creating good civic amenities. Don't Delhiites still enjoy the fruits of the development and beautification drive that took place before the Asiad? The same applies to CWG: we'll access better roads, flyovers, transportation, parks, stadiums, hotels and upgraded facilities like road signs and streetlights. Surely we're all stakeholders here. We often talk about desired community participation in India's development. So why make a ruckus when asked to put our money where our mouth is?







Can we put a cap on the number and not exceed it? 


What equality? Tuesday's shocker about the 12-year-old Mumbai girl being serially raped by her cousin and eight neighbours for over a year mocked all the media chatter that has assaulted us on the gender injustices which the women's bill hopes to rectify. 


Don't ask me if  33% representation will also bring about a one-third reduction in assaults on  women, the fastest growing crime in an India lusting to become an economic super stud. There is a rape every 34 minutes, which you could argue is an improvement on the fact that a woman is molested here every 26 minutes. 


But don't bother about passing on these statistics to the 12-year-old girl from a middle-class chawl in  Mumbai's boom suburb of Andheri. Correctly, the media has refrained from naming her. But we have bared the identity of everyone else, so the spirit of confidentiality has been well and truly molested. That's another story. 


This kid was a victim long before her cousin first put his filthy paws on her. Marriages do break up, but if her parents did not divorce till she was about eight, why did they shrug off responsibility for her when she was only nine months old, and leave her with her mother's sister. The aunt did a good job of raising the child despite having to supply meals to make ends meet.

However, let's not add that she 'brought her up like her own children', because that's where the problem is. Her own son obviously hadn't learnt anything about morality or basic humanity, because when he was 22 and his kid 'sister' a little over 10, he raped her. And then invited  the neighbourhood to have a go at her. Whenever they felt the urge. The sordid club included a 71-year-old --and some of his mother's clients. Pick up your tiffin, jump on the sexual gravy train. 


Can you imagine the terror gripping 12-year-old child as she emerged each day from school in dread of  one or the other of these monsters dragging her off to 'lodges' to satisfy their lust, before 'considerately' dropping her home. When she protested, they blackmailed her with MMS clips of their acts. Whose shame would it be?   


What is more disquieting ? The facts of this case or that it is unique only in degree? Actually, something else should disturb us more. What's even more numbing than the prolonged and multi-pronged sexual assault of so young a girl is her utter isolation. For well over a year, was everyone around struck blind and deaf? Could something as regular as this not be sensed? Were victim and rapists such consummate actors?

The cops are 'all praise' for the aunt; denial is an overpowering emotion, but surely she must have known?  And what about the neighbours who are all now 'shocked' and self-righteously indignant? People are too nosey at the best of times and suddenly self-absorbed at the worst of times. It would have been too disruptive of the even tenor of everyone's lives to discover why this child was being brought back by different men long after school hours. Was she skipping blithely all the way to her door?


We have heard often enough of terrible atrocities being inflicted in the privacy of middle-class flats. But tenements such as this one have a more open-door lifestyle.


Yes, the kindly 'mausi' looked after this parentally abandoned kid for 11 long years. But at the end of the day, did this girl child become every pervert's plaything simply because she was nobody's baby?









We're such a nation of nit-pickers. And when the subject is the portrayal of freedom fighters, boy, we simply are the nit-pickmeisters of them all. On Tuesday, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued an advertisement marking Martyrs' Day. A nice, touching gesture, we thought, remembering the day in 1931 when Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru and Sukhdev Thapar were hanged to death for the murder of Deputy Superintendent of Police, J.P. Saunders (instead of the intended target, chief of police J.A. Scott).


It turns out now that some navel-gazers are upset about the government's Martyrs' Day ad depicting Bhagat Singh in a red turban as opposed to the yellow one as shown in the original painting from which the picture in the ad is lifted from. Some members of his family are also upset that he was shown in a turban at all, stating that he "wore a European-style hat". Surely, the shaheed was not always wearing a "European-style hat"? Another disaffected voice was upset that he was shown wearing a patch of beard. The fact is that he did have a beard which he shaved while escaping from the police in Lahore after the assassination of Scott. But that's like telling a Gandhi-bhakt upset on seeing the young Mahatma in a European style suit that he did wear more than khadi at some point in his life.


The bottomline: in a bid to claim ownership of such a national icon, everyone does their bit to point out how they know more about him than the other. Next, we'll find someone upset when someone highlights the fact that the author of the pamphlet Why I Am An Atheist Bhagat Singh found the belief in God ridiculous and a sign of human weakness. Imagine one of our patriotic lot quoting their hero's words, "I have chosen to deny the existence of a god... since I find god to be irrelevant." Now, that'll be the day.








India is seriously falling back in building infrastructure. The mid-term appraisal of the five-year plan that runs till 2012 notes that every second project is running late and ambitions have been pruned in electricity generation, highway building and rail and port capacity. We will end up spending the $514 billion we had set out to, but this expenditure will yield a disproportionately lower physical outcome because of a $70 billion cost overrun. Three in four respondents in a recent KPMG survey blamed material cost escalation, design changes and scope creep for these overruns. One in three said regulatory hold-ups, land acquisition and weak monitoring were the main reasons for delays. None of these issues is exactly new. And in all but material costs the government plays a crucial role.


In fact, the rare success story in Indian infrastructure — telecommunications — has telling lessons for our planners. Investment in an intensely competitive industry with a regulator in place is a third higher than what the wonks thought would be possible in 2007-12. In the bargain, the target of 15 per cent teledensity was reached three years ahead of schedule. It is no coincidence that 80 per cent of investments in the sector are being made by private companies. The proverbial penny seems to have dropped, private investment in infrastructure overall is now being projected to grow from a third today to over half by 2015. For this to happen, the government must upend the way it thinks about private partnership in infrastructure projects.


The next five-year plan is likely to double infrastructure spending to $1 trillion, but this will come at a time when the rest of Asia is furiously building its infrastructure while the US and parts of Europe rebuild capacities set up half a century ago. Demand for projects — and materials and men — is increasing at an alarming pace across the globe. India does not have the luxury of leisurely regulatory transformation. A business-as-usual approach in infrastructure could cost India as much as a tenth of its potential GDP in the second half of the decade. A 10 per cent growth rate for the economy over the next five-year plan is meaningless unless we crank up infrastructure capacity. Our planners see the shift in the roles of the State and the market; their skill lies now in convincing policy-makers of the change they need to bring into their mindsets.








As I look back and muse, I realise that Swami Vivekanand's teachings helped shape my life in a great way. He showed me the way ahead whenever I found myself stranded at the cross-road of life.


The Swami has been my icon since my early age and I sought his guidance whenever I found life difficult to face on my own.


He came to my rescue whenever I had difficult moments. The first such occasion was when circumstances were forcing me to give up schooling and work for my livelihood. At that point, I remembered Swamiji's exhortation: "Man has infinite  capacity and hidden strength". So, braving adversity, I somehow managed to continue my studies and went on till I had completed my post-graduation and obtained a professional degree in addition.


Post-matric, I was eking out my living through a variety of jobs. But none of these entailing dull routine and office drudgery had any appeal to me. At this juncture, Swamiji's words to have faith in oneself roused me from my slumber of indecision. I gave up a secured government service to opt for an exciting career, though it offered neither security of job nor monetary comfort.


Later, I was called upon to take up a challenging assignment. At that time it appeared to be a tall order. I spent days musing and meditating over the proposition. As usual, I took recourse to Swamiji and his inspiring words,"All power is within you and with it you can do everything and achieve anything," dispelled my doubts. I set out to have my tryst with the new life and its calling.


But destiny's course is perhaps inscrutable. I had not imagined that I would have to quit the place  disillusioned. I had my own share of frustration, depression and destitution. Again I looked at my pole star and made a new beginning. The story is long. But, after all, what is life without its quota of trials and tribulation!


The Inner Voice column of March 22 — A chance missed may not visit again —  was a repeat. The error is regretted.









As I look back and muse, I realise that Swami Vivekanand's teachings helped shape my life in a great way. He showed me the way ahead whenever I found myself stranded at the cross-road of life.


The Swami has been my icon since my early age and I sought his guidance whenever I found life difficult to face on my own.


He came to my rescue whenever I had difficult moments. The first such occasion was when circumstances were forcing me to give up schooling and work for my livelihood. At that point, I remembered Swamiji's exhortation: "Man has infinite  capacity and hidden strength". So, braving adversity, I somehow managed to continue my studies and went on till I had completed my post-graduation and obtained a professional degree in addition.


Post-matric, I was eking out my living through a variety of jobs. But none of these entailing dull routine and office drudgery had any appeal to me. At this juncture, Swamiji's words to have faith in oneself roused me from my slumber of indecision. I gave up a secured government service to opt for an exciting career, though it offered neither security of job nor monetary comfort.


Later, I was called upon to take up a challenging assignment. At that time it appeared to be a tall order. I spent days musing and meditating over the proposition. As usual, I took recourse to Swamiji and his inspiring words,"All power is within you and with it you can do everything and achieve anything," dispelled my doubts. I set out to have my tryst with the new life and its calling.


But destiny's course is perhaps inscrutable. I had not imagined that I would have to quit the place  disillusioned. I had my own share of frustration, depression and destitution. Again I looked at my pole star and made a new beginning. The story is long. But, after all, what is life without its quota of trials and tribulation!


The Inner Voice column of March 22 — A chance missed may not visit again —  was a repeat. The error is regretted.








The much-anticipated expansion of the Indian Premier League (IPL) from eight to ten teams exceeded all expectations and firmly established it as the world's most-profitable professional sports league. The two winning bids on March 21 — $370 million by Sahara for the Pune franchise and $333.33 million by the Rendezvous Sports World consortium for the Kochi franchise — generated nearly as much value ($703.33 million) for the league as the eight founding teams had cumulatively ($723.59 million) done during the IPL 1 in 2008.


This is, of course, remarkable and there doesn't seem to be a ceiling on the league's potential. There is now a benchmark and the bid itself was as much a valuation mechanism for the existing teams as it was an affirmation of the league's rosy future. While it would be easy to gloss over any concerns relating to the sustainability of the franchises' revenue model and future viability, one should take a closer look at both.


Using March 21 valuations as a benchmark, it will now cost more than $50 million a year to own a team — significantly more than it costs an existing team today. While for most teams that don't see a change in ownership, it is an opportunity cost. For the new and the existing teams, which are sold, this is a significant increase in expenses from what teams estimated for the first three seasons.


If this cost increase were to be accompanied by a corresponding increase in revenues then this wouldn't be such a concern. However, here's the rub: by expanding the league to ten teams, the proportion of the central revenue pool that each team receives will be reduced from 7.5 per cent to 6 per cent. Unless the future revenues, which the league receives as part of the central revenue pool, increase exponentially the costs will continue to increase but the revenues won't.


It is even more worrying when it comes to the single-largest revenue stream — broadcasting. Presently, the proceeds are divided between the league and the franchises, where the former's share is 20 per cent until 2013. It will increase to 40 per cent from the sixth year onwards. On the other hand, franchises will receive 80 per cent up to 2013 and 60 per cent from 2013-18 — lesser fixed percentage that goes towards prize money. With the induction of two new teams not only will the teams' revenue share be diluted, but, in fact, they will actually have a smaller percentage of the revenue share after 2013.


What this means is that the teams will need to be innovative and focus on collateral revenue streams like merchandising, ticket revenues, local revenue pools and other such initiatives, in order to remain profitable and grow their brands. The likelihood of success of these initiatives is not a foregone conclusion in any which way, and until teams start looking at developing and owning fixed assets like stadiums, there could be some hiccups along the way.


There is no doubt that the league is a global phenomenon and critics who dispute its potential haven't done their due diligence. The league is sound, has revenue streams that are dependable and consistent and there're barriers to entry which ensure


that there is unlikely to ever be a competitor who could drive down its profitability. There's a captive pool of the world's top cricketing talent, and the nature of cricket is such that a mass exodus of the best players to join a rebel league is unlikely to happen.


At present, things couldn't be better for the IPL. That doesn't, however, mean that the status quo will remain in perpetuity. One just needs to adopt a wait-and-watch attitude as the IPL evolves and stabilises. Until then, enjoy the ride and marvel at its success.


Desh Gaurav Chopra Sekhri is a sports attorney


The views expressed by the author are personal








I want you to consider some well-known, oft-repeated facts:


* About half of India's children are malnourished, a record poorer than the world's poorest area, sub-Saharan Africa.


* India is home to a quarter of the world's hungry — about 230 million people — according to the World Food Programme.


* India is the world's second-largest grower of rice and wheat, and more than 50 million tonnes of foodgrains lie in government warehouses.


What's your reaction?


Most of us will probably shrug, sigh a bit and say, yes, it's terrible, but we are like this only.


My reaction isn't that different. I feel deeply, I feel ashamed, but I am not sure what I can do, except make you aware that all is far from well in emerging India.


Jean Dreze, a respected Indian economist, once said the government can't get away with large-scale famine — not in 21st century India with its 24/7 television — but it can get away with chronic hunger.


Hunger in modern India isn't about protruding bellies and sunken faces, though you will find that as well sometimes. It's about not getting enough to eat and not getting food nutritious enough to live, learn and flourish, so people, especially women, are locked into an unending cycle of poverty.


Despite India's great economic leap, under-nutrition has assumed epidemic, shameful proportions. Nutritional deficiencies now plague nearly three-fourths of all women and children.


Indian children suffer exceptionally high rates of malnutrition because their mothers are made to eat last and least through their lives, even when pregnant, when they need nutrition most.


Malnourished women give birth to malnourished children: every fourth newborn Indian baby is underweight, or 40 per cent of all babies (the figure for China is 7 per cent). It's a cycle perpetuated through the centuries.


The issue, as Harsh Mander told me, is not starvation deaths. "People in this country are living with starvation, not dying," said Mander, known to many people as the bureaucrat who resigned from service after the 2002 Gujarat riots. A gentle, smiling man of great sensitivity and intellect, Mander works without pay as a Commissioner for the Supreme Court of India.


For the last nine years, in the course of public-interest litigation first filed by the People's Union of Civil Liberties in 2001, the Supreme Court has essentially set India's hunger policies. Assisted by a dedicated band of court-appointed officials, lawyers and activists, the court has overseen some successes, not least the spread of the world's largest programme to feed children in school and keep them there, the mid-day meal scheme. But state governments violate or simply ignore orders.


A nation's highest court and a small band of those who care cannot alone tackle a problem as monumental as hunger. The biggest problem is that hunger is rarely an issue in public debates and electoral politics.


This, then, is the time to push the hunger debate to the nation's centrestage.


First, even if most of her colleagues could not really care less, the country's biggest party has a leader who really cares about the dispossessed. Without Sonia Gandhi's intervention, the Right to Information Act (RTI) and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) would not be the open, inclusive legislations they now are.


Second, not wholly, but in some small measure, young, urban India is getting a conscience. That will help in galvanising not just debate but action. A host of India's brightest are already using their formidable intellects and energy to drive change in areas that would have shunned a generation ago.


Third, India will never live out its promise and hype if it does not deliver what Chilean poet and Nobel prize winner Pablo Neruda called the "justice of eating".


Though agricultural growth per capita is declining, hunger in India does not exist because there isn't enough food. The problem is getting it to those who need it, and that is where the government's myriad programmes and vast, corrupt infrastructure is failing.


This is the injustice that must be removed, and that is why the case in the Supreme Court is commonly called the right-to-food case, deriving its legal strength from the constitutional right to life.


To be sure, there are some successes, and you will read about them on the pages of this newspaper in the days to come. The battle against hunger has to shift gears soon.


The rise in global food prices and domestic food inflation is pushing India's poor to the brink. While general inflation declined from a 13-year high of more than 12 per cent in July 2008 to 9.89 per cent in February 2010, inflation for food articles tripled, from 5 per cent to more than 17.79 per cent during the same period.


As those who have jousted with India's central and state governments over the years will tell you, there are formidable obstacles ahead.


Already, there are strong indications the Food Security Act falls far short of what India's poor need, offering, for instance, 25 kg of grain to poor families (defining who is poor is another contentious issue, but I won't get into that here) instead of the 35 kg mandated by the Supreme Court during right-to-food hearings.


Sonia Gandhi will probably intervene, as she did with the Right To Information Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. Even so, one woman, however powerful, cannot feed a hungry country. How India collectively reacts will determine if it can become a truly great nation, or remain a famished, Third World pretender.






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






There is enough in Harkishen Singh Surjeet's profile to steel the political resolve of the ideologically focused CPM supporter. With his induction in the '30s in the Naujawan Bharat Sabha of Bhagat Singh, his early entry into the Communist Party of India and participation in peasant movements, and right through to his advocacy of Castro's Cuba and the Palestinian case, his long political career caught most historical threads of India's communist parties. So, the CPM's special booklet, released in the capital on Tuesday, was richly documented. But it is in the omissions of a full life that the CPM revealed its own dilemmas.


The booklet, while touching upon Surjeet's lead in constructing coalition governments at the Centre in 1989 and 1996, is absolutely silent on 2004. Those three episodes showed not just Surjeet's ability to get strange bedfellows together — the BJP and the Left in their support to V.P. Singh in 1989, stridently anti-Congress regional parties like the TDP and Samajwadi Party in the United Front with the outside support of the Congress in 1996, and in 2004 the CPM itself to support Congress-led UPA. His craftiness was just a part of it. He was also intuitively aware of the political current of the moment: so the anti-Congress coalition in 1989 when the Congress system was coming apart, the third front in 1996 when the regional parties were not yet decided on whether to align with the national parties, and in 2004 when the Congress broke with its go-it-alone past.


It is speculative to wonder if the CPM with Surjeet around would have broken ties with the Congress over the Indo-US nuclear deal.


But for the CPM, that break, and the doomed third front experiment in the general elections thereafter, remains an unexamined episode. To touch upon the 2004 manoeuvre would be to ask the question whether the subsequent reversion to ideological purity has paid off. By all

accounts, the party is too fearful of a self-examination.








Four years ago, when the popular actress Khusboo spoke her mind about premarital sex, she had no idea she was going to kick off such a big brawl on public morality. A great swarm of FIRs (22, no less) descended on her, from outraged Tamil activists and citizen forums. To her credit, Khusboo stuck by her words and, now, the Supreme Court has come to her defence, saying, "Living together is not an offence. Living together is a right to life."


Her accusers alleged that Khusboo's endorsement of premarital sex would have a morally corrosive effect on young people, and lead to "spoiling of the entire institution of marriage" and "chaos in the society". The court swatted down that argument asking for empirical evidence that her remark had led to any real incident, and why her personal opinion bothered them anyway. Besides, it sensibly pointed out, it seemed unlikely that Khusboo's opinion had the singular, awesome power attributed to it, in a time when young people were inundated with sexual information "in this age of the Internet".


The Supreme Court's life-affirming declaration must be applauded. It is in line with the world we live in, where hypocritical social and sexual conventions are fraying for many young people, and a wider array of choices are being legitimised. The evidence of this great mental unbuttoning is all around us — in contraception adverts, in the movies, on campuses and neighbourhoods. But we are still reluctant to acknowledge the fact, forced to hide and dissemble, because our public culture is still shot through with prudery and hypocrisy. Instead of viewing a relationship as a reciprocal partnership, it rests on a premise of shame and fear, and fundamental inequality between the idealised, defenceless woman and the predatory male. In fact, when women reject patriarchal straitjackets and inject a dose of reality and agency in their relationships with men, they tend to do what they feel like doing, and gain meaningful ownership of their own selves as equals.







Kolkata is a city of tangles. Tangled traffic, tangled wires, tangled explanations. On Tuesday, those tangles got in each others' way, catastrophically. Stephen Court, a landmark on Park Street, went up in flames, orange tongues of fire billowing out of its three highest floors in a macabre manner reminiscent of the festive decorations traditionally hung from the top floors through Christmas and the New Year. Stephen Court abuts the crossroads dead centre of a street that is, in turn, the centre of Kolkata when it celebrates itself. On its ground floor are places — Flurys, Peter Cat — that shepherded generations through life's mundane rituals. On higher floors, the city's genteel past and huckstering present mix: call centres and IT shops taking advantage of cheap sub-leases in the city centre, elderly tenants that have lived in one dim room for decades. All those layers were visible as tragedy unfolded on Tuesday afternoon. The young people — in the casualwear-cum-uniform of the small city enterprise — that stood on parapets, their eyes gauging the distance to the street, to the hands upraised trying to stop them from jumping, promising to cushion their fall. And the sixtyish Anglo-Indian lady in the pink dress, descending a ladder deliberately, and with dignity.


But the legal anomalies and lack of reform that allow them to work and live in old buildings in the centre of town are, unfortunately, also the root cause of the fire. One: Stephen Court, like its neighbours at that city intersection — Karnani, Park, and Queen's Mansions — are heritage buildings, which can't be altered unless an impossible set of criteria are fulfilled. Unfortunately, the modernisation necessary to support more tenants and increased electrical equipment is also "tampering". Two: archaic rent laws that favour tenants over landlords, which means they don't invest the amount they should, impacting safety. Three: the haphazard approach to utilities, which means that there isn't a corridor in those buildings that doesn't have its own tangle of electricity wires and cables.


Put that together with Kolkata's notorious traffic and the underinvestment in urban services that has marked the Left Front's aeons in power, and a fire would happen. And the response would be — and was — courageous but under-equipped. The first fire engines arrived in a few minutes; but crucial equipment reportedly took longer to arrive. It is never sensible to talk after tragedy of a lesson learnt. But illustrated here, horrifically, is another reason why, for reasons both of sentiment and of safety, India's great cities must cut through the tangle of antiquated requirements that are our urban regulations.








The real civil nuclear liability: we are not being compensated for having the wrong debate. Why the Nuclear Liability Bill is not a conspiracy against Indian people by the Indian government has been conclusively demonstrated in these pages. However, the bill may be reconsidered in that the government may amend some of the headline numbers. If — a giant radioactive if — the BJP declares itself grumblingly satisfied, the bill may pass both Houses. This is optimistic, of course. But even that optimistic conclusion does not guarantee that we will start having the right debate. If the bill passes, we may have no debate. And the government will be spared the really tough question.


That question is how we fund nuclear power generation plans. During the nuclear deal debate (another wrong-headed political debate) the oft-repeated government target for nuclear power generation was 20,000 MW in 10 years. Let's trust our government and take that target seriously.


But, first, let's get a non-answer out of the way. The non-answer is reducing commitment to nuclear power generation. Insufficient electricity generation can choke India's economic growth. Continued reliance on mainly thermal power does not produce a low-carbon economy. No matter how much climate change diplomacy India does, if it grows at, say, 8-9 per cent for 10 years and that's fed mainly by thermal power, its arguments would, as it were, lose a lot of steam. So, we need nuclear power. But how do we finance it?


There's been no official suggestion that the public sector monopoly on nuclear power generation will be changed. During the government-opposition debate on the nuclear liability bill the government said there are no plans to allow private operators. And the BJP said it suspects that the bill's distinction between operator-government liability commitments (Rs 500 crore and Rs 2,100 crore) is a de facto forerunner to privatisation. So, the government is firm on maintaining public sector nuclear power generation monopoly and the principal opposition party, suspecting the government's firmness on this issue, is even more firm.


We are looking at the public sector operator, NPCIL, to execute a massive expansion of nuclear power generation capacity. Will NPCIL require large doses of Central budgetary support? There's Central budgetary support for the power sector as such, a little less than Rs 30,000 annually. However, remember, other power sources like thermal and hydel have private and public players. On nuclear power, with its public sector monopoly, we are looking at a very different order of numbers in terms of official commitment.


The cost of generating nuclear power in India, by working in costs associated with equipment import and assuming best practices, has been estimated at around Rs 10 crore per MW. If we plan to produce 20,000 MW in 10 years, then the total generation cost is Rs 2,00,000 crore and the per year expenditure for this period is Rs 20,000 crore.


Can the government's budget fund this? You need to be only minimally familiar with the government's current and projected near-future fiscal capacity to know that this order of expenditure commitment will be extremely stressful. This government has a high welfare expenditure commitment. But it also has a commitment to a low and stable tax regime (the under-discussion new direct tax code and the goods and services tax). It also wants to, and should, return to a low deficit fiscal regime. Juggling all these is tough. Add to that the extra annual commitment of Rs 20,000 crore on just one subhead (nuclear power) of just one expenditure head (the power sector).


Will the government break its low/stable tax regime commitment to fund public sector nuclear power generation? And/or will it break its fiscal correction commitment and borrow more? And/or will it cut into welfare commitments?


Now, the government may try to answer the question by simply relaxing its target. Not 20,000 MW in 10 years but, say, 10,000 MW in 10 years. Indeed, NPCIL has been talking about producing 10,000 MW by 2020, requiring an investment of Rs 1,00,000 crore.


If we are looking at the government to fund that out of its budget, it's still problematic. Even a halving of the annual government expenditure commitment on one subhead is fiscally very challenging. Plus, the reduced generation commitment leads to the question of producing enough power in a reasonable time to feed economic growth, given the low carbon economy imperative. Is hydel power the answer? Many power sector experts think it's not, given the scale of requirement.


Given the potential stress on government budget, the pragmatic question will be, can NPCIL manage largely on its own? Here, there's a very important qualification. NPCIL raises debt in the Indian market. It also takes term loans from banks. If it raises a lot more market debt via bond issues and takes a lot more term loans, are these ultimately different from repayment obligations of the government of India? Not really. NPCIL is a wholly owned public enterprise and its debt is in effect sovereign debt. So, if we say there will be little or no Central budgetary plans for NPCIL's investment, we are not really answering the fiscal question. We are just dodging it.


The Union science minister recently said there will be budgetary support for NPCIL. We do not know for sure whether there will be any, and if there is, what its level would be. But we do know that ultimately the distinction between budget financing and NPCIL's "own" debt financing is not relevant.


NPCIL has also said a 70:30 debt/equity plan to fund its investment. The equity contributions will reportedly come from NPCIL and public sector companies like NTPC, IOL and NALCO. Here again we are looking at intra-public sector model of financing.


All of this hides the real issues. Can NPCIL manage to expand nuclear power capacity without private investor participation (going to the equity market itself)? Will even that be enough and therefore do we need private operators in nuclear power generation? Or if the above are deemed not desirable do we settle for a considerably less ambitious nuclear power expansion plan? And if we do that, isn't there a question for the government to answer about the cost to the country arising out of its public sector orthodoxy on nuclear power generation?


That's the real debate, if only the opposition would see it.








Bareilly's history of communal harmony means the recent riots have been an anomaly. It shows, however, that while Muslims project themselves as a unity and are similarly perceived by others, this unity has never been real. In Bareilly, the fundamental cleavage has been between Barelwis and Deobandis.


This cleavage dates back to the 19th century, traceable to the theological line propagated by Ahmad Raza Khan who lived in Bareilly. He distinguished his theological line from Deoband, the theological seminary located further west, in Saharanpur — some whose followers he described as "Wahhabis", after the reactionary religious movement which sought to rid Islam in India of local accretions. The Barelwis refer to themselves as "Sunnis", implying thereby that the Deobandis and other groups are not. The Deobandis and other antagonists make similar claims about them.


The differences between the two groups are not merely theological. They relate as much to Islamic practice. The Barelwis are somewhat eclectic, insisting that many of the ritual practices found among Muslims as a result of local influences are perfectly tenable. For example, they allow the veneration of saints, as well as using saints as intercessors between God and man. They also endorse the ritual offering of obeisance to the dead. The Deobandis are strongly opposed to the persistence of such practices, regarding them as remnants of a Hindu past. They want to stamp out such ritual practices and purify Islam. The Tablighi Jamat, whose founder himself was a Deoband product, has been active in trying to dissuade Muslims from adhering to such accretions and emphasise the practice of Islam's fundamentals.


These differences over theology and ritual practices have led to rioting and conflict not only in Bareilly, but also in other parts of the country where people of Barelwi persuasion are found in substantial numbers. Unlike Hindu-Muslim conflict, Bareilly has witnessed Barelwi-Deobandi riots on several occasions in the past. Over the years, the level of conflict has worsened. Each regards the other as non-believers or kaffirs. Mosques in Bareilly, and now in many other towns and cities, carry a signboard announcing that it is a Barelwi mosque and non-Barelwis cannot pray there. If missionaries of the Tablighi Jamat ever use the mosque to propagate their ideology, the mosque is washed and cleansed.


One incident eloquently brings out the mutual antagonism took place at a funeral prayer, at which people of both persuasions joined. The prayer leader was a Deobandi; Barelwi clerics subsequently pronounced that the nikah, or marriage contracts, of all the Barelwis who had joined the prayer were thereby annulled and they must go through the nikah ceremony with their spouses afresh. Such antagonism is more distinctly visible among society's lower classes; upper classes, whether of Deobandis and Barelwis, recognise these differences but quite often ignore them for marriage and similar purposes.


What sustains such theological and ritual differences are each group's madrasas, which claim to teach Islam to Muslims, but in practice they teach them Islam as propagated by their distinct theological line. The students in these madrasas come from poor families in backward areas. Soon enough, the relationship between these students and founders of madrasas build up into a strong patron-client relationship because of the material help they receive in the form of food and free education. Subsequently, these students go on to their own madrasas and end up becoming more loyal than the king, as it were, to the theological line in which they have been trained. Thus, the antagonism of faith is strengthened and spread far and wide.


The Barelwi cleric, Tauquir Raza Khan, tried some time ago to bring the two groups together. He started declaring that Muslims should take to martyrdom — meaning that irrespective of theological differences they should act as one. His position was soon contested by other Barelwis, who went on to exhort their theological brethren not to be misguided by Tauquir Raza Khan, not to join hands and interact with the Deobandis. Even a cataclysmic event like the riot could not succeed in bringing the two lines of persuasion together.


In the face of this glaring chasm, an explanation for the communal riot must be found in the changing dynamics of residential patterns in the city. Historically, Hindus and Muslims have lived interspersed in the city. With the emergence of large colonies on the outskirts, Hindus have been moving out to new colonies. Muslims are not averse to this development as it would reduce population pressure. The popularity of Varun Gandhi-style politics in the Bundelkhand region has added to the tussle. These appear to be more potent factors than any kind of Muslim communal solidarity.


The writer is a former professor of political sociology, JNU







Asian Paints is setting up a unit in my constituency at Rohtak. How do I keep track of their progress? Well, in the last few weeks, a steadily increasing stream of young candidates (about a dozen a day now), come from Rohtak to see me seeking letters of recommendation to take up unskilled work at the unit. Guestimating by their numbers, I can say Asian Paints is well on its way to starting operations soon. These young applicants are daily reminders of one of the burning issues confronting our nation, one that is only going to grow in the coming decade — the problem of unemployment.


India's economic growth has thrown up ironic patterns of unemployment. Around 60 per cent of our young labour force is still tied to agriculture, accounting for just 15 per cent of our GDP. In the coming decade, we need to move a large part of this pool into secondary and tertiary sectors, while still creating additional jobs to those already in these sectors. We need to create jobs at a higher rate than achieved by any other nation at any other time in history. By year 2017, according to estimates by the sub-group on labour force projections, 80 per cent of Indians will be between 15 and 59 years of age, and looking forward to being gainfully employed. By 2020, an average Indian will be just about 29 years old and hungry to work. The Eleventh Plan conceded that in order to merely sustain the current level of unemployment, about a 100 million new jobs have to be added in the current plan period (2007-12)! That's almost equal to the total number of employed people in the US, the world's biggest economy — the statistics are mind-numbing.


Aside from the severity and scale of the human cost, unemployment has other indirect negative manifestations. Direct cost to the government in the form of payouts and unemployment benefits (state berojgari bhattas), loss of economic productivity and lost tax revenues are examples. In the absence of an accurate measure for our unemployment rate, as is the case today, the problem gets more perplexing.


On one hand we have NASSCOM numbers that indicate shortage of skilled manpower in technology and higher value-added services, and on the other we see hundreds of thousands of applicants toppling over each other to make a handful of openings for police constables or clerks or the army. We are a young nation getting younger and more restless. Our latest official unemployment rate based on the 2005-6 NSSO survey is 8.3 per cent, the next upgrade to that statistic won't be seen until five years from the last survey.


The US unemployment rate currently hovers at above 10 per cent and is measured every single month. Imagine a recruitment rally stampede there. Easy answer — why compare ourselves to the US or some other advanced economy? Difficult reply — why not? And by the way, even if we believe the official NSSO figures, the glorious period of our economic growth starting from early '90s till today, actually coincides with a period of constant rise in unemployment (from 6 per cent in '93-'94 to 8.3 per cent today).


The real question, however, is — what is our actual unemployment rate? Is it the 8.3 per cent, an estimate in the steering committee report in the eleventh five year plan (based on NSSO estimate) or is it 10.7 per cent as in the CIA Fact Book, or is it 6.8 per cent as mentioned by a leading website specialising in Indian statistics? Nobody really knows.


It is this very problem of lack of accurate and timely unemployment data that I wish to highlight. We must regard frequent unemployment tracking as important as inflation or GDP measurement. Rapid economic growth is desirable, as are lower unemployment and inflation rates. However, there may be limits to how compatible those goals are. The success of macroeconomic policy cannot be measured by just one of these variables in isolation, because they are interdependent.


Over the long run, the faster the economy grows, the materially better off people are. In the short run, however, the rate of growth has consequences for other economic variables. If growth is too slow, then there is a risk of rising unemployment. Although rising unemployment is typically associated with economic contractions, or recessions, it is entirely possible for an economy to be growing but not rapidly enough to prevent unemployment growth.


Then there is also a relationship between unemployment and inflation. For a while, it was believed that there was a tradeoff between inflation and unemployment that policymakers could exploit. That is no longer widely considered sustainable. While minimal unemployment might seem a desirable policy goal, few economists would define full employment as employment for everyone seeking a job. Instead, many would argue that full employment is the lowest rate of unemployment consistent with a stable rate of inflation.


While tracking all three (inflation, GDP growth and unemployment) is necessary, one can argue that given our demographics, unemployment numbers should take centre-stage this decade. I, for instance, am happily willing to accept certain inflation in short run, if I know precisely how many additional jobs are getting created as a trade-off. Those with keen economic sense would know that this expectation is fully affordable in the short run (a short-run Philips curve).


In the absence of updated, accurate employment statistics, we tend to overly focus on inflation and GDP figures. To be clear, I am not suggesting that the government has failed to focus on generating employment opportunities. In fact, the UPA has broadly been successful in adopting a two-pronged approach to unemployment — betting on economic growth to generate more jobs, and also investing heavily in education and skill development to upgrade "employability". The NREGA's phenomenal success points to the need for more such schemes. Again, to better judge the impact of these initiatives one needs more frequent monitoring of unemployment statistics. I would suggest that all government schemes and expenditures be evaluated in terms of jobs they are likely to generate.


There are interesting examples around the world. In the EU, Eurostat, its statistical office, collects quarterly data from member states and for monthly calculations it refers to national surveys and employment office registers. In the US, the Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) measures employment data using two different surveys that gather data from 600,000 households on a monthly basis. Other countries that largely derive statistics from household labour force surveys based on ILO guidelines.


This is not the first time that red flags are being raised on this issue. The Planning Commission had issued a recommendation in 2003, requiring the Department of Statistics to perform a full scale annual household enquiry on unemployment as a replacement to the current five-yearly exercise. There have been similar suggestions from different quarters but no concrete steps have seen the light of day.


I await a day when an Indian finance minister opens the budget speech with a report on fresh job creation in the previous fiscal, down to previous quarter and month — and I'll call that the Youngistan budget!


The writer is a Congress MP.








It used to be all about loving your family. At the movies, in TV serials, in Indian parampara. Now, it's all about being a superstar. We have cricket superstars at the IPL, we have superstar bids for two new IPL teams. We have film superstars who own superstar IPL teams. We have superstars performing on Superstar ka Jalwa. We have talented youngsters aspiring to be superstars on IPL Rockstar (amongst other talent shows). We have yoga superstar Baba Ramdev trying to shine on the political firmament. And finally, we have Living with a Superstar. Super, man (sorry, couldn't resist the pun).


Living with a Superstar (Discovery Travel & Living). is a fine series. It follows Shah Rukh Khan wherever he goes and gives us rare glimpses of the superstar as an ordinary but candid being (otherwise known as OCB). Of course his life as an OCB is vastly different from that of other ordinary beings but that is its charm. We don't want to see how we live, we want to see how people like him do — what his home looks like (expensive, tasteful, large), how he behaves at home (casual, charming) or when he goes out with friends (still casual, still charming).


Under different circumstances this would have been a very satisfying voyeuristic experience, one we can safely recommend to the entire family (with shows like Emotional Atyachaar around, you can't be too careful). But the truth is we have had too much of a good thing, in this case of SRK. We've seen so much of him, heard so much from him about himself after his remarks on Pakistani cricketers and the release of My Name Is Khan that Living with a Superstar is an over-indulgence. Or sheer bad timing. We're not bored by him — SRK can never be boring — but we are sorta tired of him.


Watching Baba Ramdev has sorta changed too. Now that his political ambitions are public, his history lesson (Sanskar) on how everyone from Robert Clive onwards has exploited India, how we must transform India into an economic superstar (!) and build a "rashtra mandir"(?) sounds like a speech-for-votes, nothing spiritual or uplifting about it (for that you have to practise levitation asanas!).


IPL Rockstar (Colors) is just another talent hunt show, exploiting the current craze for circus cricket (no offence to the game itself). Contestants sing, judges judge, Sukhwinder Singh sings. It's business as usual. Except. The performances were interspersed with visuals of wildly cheering cricket spectators at Delhi's Feroze Shah Kotla grounds. You couldn't tell whether they were applauding the cricket or the performances since we never saw the spectators and the contestants in the same shot. In the case of Superstar ka Jalwa (Star Plus), the spectators' silhouettes were clearly visible in the foreground. They were there, who ever they may have been. Not that it mattered. The show was about the superstars. It saw them perform some of our favourite Bollywood numbers, old and new. The Bachchans were there, the Khans are there. Everyone who was somebody was there. Why they were there was not at all clear. To begin with it seemed an extraordinary coup for Star Plus to have assembled such a superstar cast for such exciting performances — even Aamir Khan is scheduled to perform a number from 3 Idiots and nobody on TV has managed that before. We thought we were watching one more talent show contest featuring the best of the best. A sort of Dancing with the Stars of the Bollywood kind. Which would have been extraordinary. Alas, no such thing. As Aaj Tak showed us later, the cine stars had come together to perform at a charity event for the cinema industry. That made Chitrangada Singh's performance no less watchable. It seared the edges of the TV screen and set the stage on fire. Will someone dial 101?








The editorial in the latest issue of Organiser, the RSS mouthpiece in English, talks about the recent communal clashes at Bareilly, and argues that the tragedy "could have been averted if the administration had acted firmly and fairly against the culprits. The RSS mouthpiece in Hindi, Panchajanya also has an editorial on the same subject, and argues that pure vote-bank politics is to blame for the violence at Bareilly. The Organiser editorial, titled "Maya fiddled as Bareilly burnt," says: "Mayawati is busy collecting garlands of notes and the Congress in its newfound craze for emerging out of its decades-old slumber finds a chance in pandering to jehadi thugs determined to establish social supremacy in the region". "Competitive wooing of Muslim fanatics by the Congress, BSP and SP has convinced the Muslim community that they have the bargaining chip to browbeat the politicians and get away with terror, mayhem and murder. It is not a secret that Congress politics and revival plan in UP are dictated by the Deoband and Barelvi sects of maulvis. Raza Khan, accused of fomenting trouble in Bareilly, has a long criminal history," argues the editorial in the RSS organ.


The Panchajanya editorial, titled "Bareilly ka sach saamne layein " (Bring to the fore the truth of Bareilly), says: "The state government was not interested in bringing out the truth of Bareilly and worked on its own Muslim agenda... There has been a competition of sorts between the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Communist parties to woo Muslim voters."



Spiritual guru and Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has been known for his role in promoting inter-faith dialogue, and understanding between followers of various religious denominations. Sri Sri made a suo motu statement on the M.F. Hussain controversy recently, that has been carried in its entirety in the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser. A dispatch from Gautam Vig, a known Art of Living teacher in Delhi, talks about Sri Sri's statement on the controversy. "It's unfortunate that there is much hue and cry about M.F. Husain giving up Indian citizenship. While India has a policy of free expression, one cannot accept blatant insult to the heroes of its land. It is the intention behind a man's creativity which is questionable. In one of Husain's paintings of Mahatma Gandhi, Karl Marx, Albert Einstein and Hitler, he has painted only Hitler nude and said that his way of humiliating a person is to paint him nude. Caught in his own words, his intention is to humiliate. No one has ever sculpted Rama and Sita as nude. Creative expression is always welcome. No country has been as liberal as India, especially Hindus. But there is a limit to tolerance and taking insults".


Sri Sri's statement, according to Vig's dispatch, further says: "Any nude woman could have been painted by him but calling the women Sita, Lakshmi, Saraswati shows his perversion and hatred. Will M.F. Husain show the same creativity and the same spirit with Islamic heroes and would he, then, be able to retain his Qatari citizenship? One fails to understand how we can have different criteria for Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen on the one hand and M.F. Husain on the other. Will the same people who support him, encourage him to paint women / men of his faith in a similar manner? Double standards, bias and hatred do not go well with men of excellence".



The latest issue of the BJP's mouthpiece in English, Kamal Sandesh, has a picture of Nanaji Deshmukh on the cover. The issue is otherwise devoted to the BJP's recent national executive and council held at Indore. The editorial says that the BJP is the country's "natural party" and that the "Indore session is a milestone" in its "evolution". It talks about the new BJP president Nitin Gadkari describing politics as "constructive work" and that in the 21st century only "those will remain relevant who are honest towards their work". In conclusion, the editorial refers to L.K. Advani's speech, where he expressed the hope that the new president would nurture a fourth generation of leadership in the party.







The Democrats were walking around in a state of shock.


Holy cow, they were saying to themselves. We're not total wimps! We don't have to sit around and let ourselves be slapped silly by Republican bullies and Tea Party scaremongers. We can actually get something done if we suck it up and find a way to pull together. One minute they were legislative losers, squabbling and scrambling for the off-ramps. The next they were history-makers, sharing chest bumps and goose bumps at the White House. How had the lofty president and the wily speaker suddenly steered them off Jimmy Carter Highway and onto F.D.R. Drive?


One gleeful and relieved White House aide called the bill-signing ceremony in the East Room, packed with Democratic lawmakers snapping pictures and acting like obstreperous children, "an Old Spice moment." "You could see it in their faces," he said. "It was kind of like that Old Spice ad where the guy smacked himself on the cheeks and said, 'Wow, that feels good!' It was like they smacked themselves on the cheeks and said, 'You are a member of Congress and now you can start doing things. Wow, that feels good!' "


David Axelrod agreed: "It was incredibly moving to be in that room today. This was such an emotional high that I actually saw congressmen hugging senators. People are so used to low expectations around here that the idea that you could do something big and meaningful is exhilarating." The Democrats held hands, held their breath and jumped over the cliff — not that it was a radical bill. And, mirabile dictu, nothing awful happened. The markets went up. The polls went up. Their confidence went up.


John McCain threatened Democrats, telling an Arizona radio affiliate that "there will be no cooperation for the rest of the year" from Republicans. So much for "Country First." (He's so clueless that he came on the Senate floor and said, "Let's stop this legislation, and let's start from the beginning.") But David Frum, the former W. speechwriter, conceded that in trying to turn health care into Obama's Waterloo — a replay of the Clintons' disaster in 1994 — Republicans may have made it their own Waterloo.


"We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat," Frum wrote on his blog, adding: "Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother?"


Some base members of the Republican base showed themselves as the racist Neanderthals they are. Protesters outside the Capitol on Saturday called two black congressmen, the civil rights hero John Lewis of Georgia and Andre Carson of Indiana, a racial epithet as they walked by. Another, Representative Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, was called that epithet and got spit on. Barney Frank of Massachusetts was called an anti-gay slur. The anti-abortion Democrat Bart Stupak was called a "baby killer" by Texas Republican Representative Randy Neugebauer, who says he's had a "tremendous outpouring" of support for his outburst.


It was disgusting. And for the Democrats who had battled each other through every twist and turn of health care, it was unifying. Senator Al Franken, who had blown up at Axelrod after Obama held a televised session with Senate Democrats in February, arguing that the president wasn't fighting hard enough or strategising well enough, sent Axelrod a congratulatory note after the bill passed. "You're welcome," Franken wrote. He added an asterisk: "Joke. I used to be in comedy."


Only a week ago, Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post's editorial page editor, had written that Obama did not seem happy in his job, that he projected "weariness and duty" instead of the "jauntiness" of FDR and JFK. But Tuesday, the president was joyous, and that infectious smile so sparsely offered over the last two years lit up the East Room. Many Democratic lawmakers and Obama supporters were frustrated at the president's failure to show more spine earlier. As Representative Louise Slaughter told The Times in February, "I wouldn't mind seeing a little more toughness here or there."


Until now, Obama has gotten irritated at those who cast Washington affairs in Manichean terms of strength or weakness and red or blue. He wanted to reason, to compromise, to float in his ivory tower. But at long last, when push came to shove, he shoved (and let Nancy push). He treated politics not as an intellectual exercise, but a political one. He realised that sometimes you can't rise above it. You have to sink down into it. You have to stop being cerebral and get your hands dirty. You can fight fear with power.


The Chicago pol in the Oval has had to learn one of the great American truths: You've got to slap the bully in the face. He's a consensus-building "warrior," Axelrod boasted to Charlie Rose. The president, who has been reading Edmund Morris's The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, has always spoken with a soft voice. Now he's wielded the big stick.







Perhaps the only challenge greater than planning projects to bridge India's huge infrastructure deficit is to mobilise the resources necessary to finance them. The government estimates that in addition to the $500 million needed to finance infrastructure between 2007 and 2012, around $1 trillion worth of funds will need to be pumped into infrastructure between 2012 and 2017. So, it's easy to understand why the finance minister has raised the possibility of allowing private sector companies to issue tax-free bonds for infrastructure. At the moment, only public sector companies are allowed this exemption. While such a move may act as a catalyst for cheaper financing of infrastructure—bank finance for this sector comes with double-digit interest rates, while bond finance will undoubtedly come with lower rates—it does leave the door open to not just a number of distortions to enter the bond market but also to perverted incentives for private sector companies and government.


There is little doubt that India still has a terribly underdeveloped bond market; but whether a tax-free bonds scheme is the best way to deepen the market is questionable. Is it particularly wise to have two disparate bond yields (one for taxable bonds and the other for tax-free bonds) in the same market? Surely that distorts market signals. Away from the bond market, how will the government choose which private sector firms are to be given the privilege of floating tax-free bonds? In the absence of a uniform, transparent criterion, there is ample room for wasteful rent-seeking as firms will lobby the government to get the exemption. If there is indeed to be a uniform, transparent criterion, what will it be based on? If the government decides to set a cut-off using net worth, for example, many smaller but deserving firms may get left out and would suffer on account of preferential treatment given to some others. Consider, also, the bigger picture on the direction of the government's tax reforms. Until now the government has given the impression that it is moving towards a regime that does away with exemptions and non-transparent fiscal transfers/concessions. That is, of course, the right direction to be heading in. However, if some companies are allowed to issue tax-free bonds, the government may be reneging on its commitment to a better tax system. Of course, there remains a clear case for public sector funding going into infrastructure projects. But it is better to do this transparently with an on-budget subsidy—for example, as done by the Viability Gap Funding mechanism. It is better not to hide these fiscal transfers in non-transparent ways such as tax-exempt bonds.






The Prime Minister's statement that both real and nominal expenditure in the infrastructure sector will, for the first time, be close to the plan targets in the 11th Five Year Plan points to the large gains made by the sector, despite initial hurdles and ambitious targets. So, even though total infrastructure investments will still fall a little short of the target of raising it from 6% of GDP in 2006-07 to 9% in 2011-12, the overall message is very optimistic, especially since private sector flows to some sectors like telecom and power have already exceeded expectations. The challenges in the future will be much greater since the infrastructure investments in the 12th Plan will be a massive $1 trillion, which will require that the government ring in substantial policy changes that will provide a further boost in flows to laggard sectors like roads, ports, airports, railways and water supply. Replicating gains in the telecom sector in other areas calls for a more concerted approach, even though the problems are varied.


For instance, while the major stumbling blocks in roads, ports and airports are the hitches in pushing forward the PPP projects, the main problem in the power sector is the continued dominance of the distribution network by the state utilities and the difficulties faced in reducing transmission losses and rolling out open access facilities. But, as pointed out by the Prime Minister, the focus of the next stage of reforms should be on regulatory institutions in different infrastructure sectors. While some infrastructure sectors like telecom have proactive regulators that have ensured greater competition, many others like the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board are handicapped by weak regulatory frameworks. In other sectors, like in railways and airports, there are no independent regulators at all. There is clearly a need to work out an overarching framework to speed up regulatory reforms and iron out the divergent mandates and practices by standardising the basic institutional features and regulatory processes across sectors—independence and competence should be common minimum criteria. Currently, most regulatory agencies are favoured areas for posting retired bureaucrats and there is an urgent need to develop statutory rules and conventions to bring out greater transparency and to ensure that regulatory bodies are manned by individuals with greater specialisation and competence, who inspire confidence in both the stakeholders and the general public. An early consensus on the provisions of the Regulatory Reform Bill drafted by the Planning Commission and its quick enactment will give a major boost to improving the regulatory regime and further accelerating investment flows into infrastructure.







FM Pranab Mukherjee said on Tuesday that he will consider tax-free status for bonds floated by non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) or other private financial institutions (PFIs) to fund infrastructure projects. The estimated deficit in financing for core infrastructure projects in the 11th Plan (2008-12) is estimated to be about Rs 7,50,000 crore. This deficit is equal to around 35% of the investment planned in the infrastructure sector during the period. It seems that the FM's 'grant' is to take care of the impending shortfall in funding. Let's try to understand the merits of financing infrastructure projects through tax incentivised bonds.


One of the key roles of the government is to facilitate infrastructure development, which raises living standards, improves long-run productivity and also bolsters the economy. Broadly defined, infrastructure includes roads, power, airports, railways, irrigation, drinking water, etc, for public use. Building infrastructure costs a substantial amount of money and the monetary returns on these investments accrue over a fairly long period of time.


One way to fund infrastructure development is to facilitate public capital accumulation through NBFCs and PFIs. The government has set an ambitious target of investing Rs 22.5 lakh crore in infrastructure during the 11th Plan period. In the first two years of the 11th Plan, many tendered public-private partnership (PPP) projects did not find bidders due to viability concerns. A major reason the projects were not viable is the low returns on these projects vis-à-vis the cost of capital. Exemption of taxes on infrastructure bonds would mean lower interest rates paid to investors by NBFCs and PFIs who, in turn, will provide low-cost financing for these projects, thereby making them more viable.


In a way, the FM is trying to provide subsidy to the infrastructure sector. The only difference is that instead of giving a grant or a direct subsidy, the FM is providing an indirect subsidy through tax exemption. So, effectively, what the FM is saying is that if you lend money for infrastructure projects to NBFCs, the interest paid to you on the bond would be tax exempted. If the government does not take a share from your interest income, as an investor you would be happy with a lower interest rate from the issuer. The government loses out on the tax revenues. The tax exemption clause helps the NBFC and PFIs tap public savings that would have otherwise reached other intermediaries like banks or mutual funds.


The problem is not that the FM wants to subsidise the infrastructure sector—I believe he should—but that this is not the best way to go about it. While the government would forgo tax collections each year, NBFCs and PFIs would receive only two-thirds of this 'subsidy'. The remaining one-third would be picked up by the high net worth investors who ideally shouldn't receive any tax benefits.


Let us understand why not all the 'subsidy' would reach the NBFCs and PFIs and eventually the infrastructure developers, and how a good proportion of this subsidy would be shared by the investors. Consider the last popular tax savings bonds that were issued by RBI in 2003. These were five-year bonds bearing a coupon of 6.5%. An equivalent five-year taxable bond then yielded 8%. Assuming a marginal tax rate of 30%, a taxable 8% bond means that an investor makes effectively 5.6% post tax, i.e. he ends up paying 2.4% (30% of 8%) to the government as taxes. However, with a tax-saving bond, the coupon is 6.5%. Of the taxes (2.4%) that the government forgoes, more than one-third (0.9%) is held back by the investor. Another downside to this is that if you allow high-income taxpayers to avoid taxes, it doesn't do a world of good to the already low tax discipline in the country.


Rajiv Lall, CEO, Infrastructure Development Finance Co, suggests that the government should allow insurance and pension firms to buy debt paper of infrastructure focused NBFCs, instead of allowing tax-free private sector bonds. I think it is a good suggestion. In other industrial countries with good infrastructure, pension funds are often active participants in infrastructure financing. Of the ten largest pension funds in the world, six are public pension funds, and all six are strong players in infrastructure investment. The message is clear. If public pension funds have the opportunity to invest in infrastructure, they do so, sometimes quite extensively. They would recognise it is a good investment that also responds to the needs of a growing economy. Likewise, insurance firms tend to have long dated liabilities. Having long dated infrastructure bonds would be a good fit for the asset liability management of their balance sheet. Both insurance and pension firms will have higher funds available in the future as the country has a young demographic profile. Tapping those resources would be more prudent than creating tax deviations through exemptions. Personally, as an investor, I would welcome the FM's suggestion. However, I am not sure if it is the best thing for the government.


The author, formerly with JPMorganChase, is CEO, Quantum Phinance







A popular Chinese proverb goes, an ant may well destroy a whole dam. It took what most corporations would have considered an insignificant footnote in their pursuit of the big Chinese market—an attack on the Gmail accounts of some human rights activists—to persuade search giant Google to stop censoring its search service in China, shut down its site and migrate users to a Hong Kong site. If this was a fable and we were looking for a moral ending, these developments would lead the government to relax its straightjacket over information and the Internet. All the photographs of Chinese people leaving flowers outside local Google offices perhaps feed such romanticism. But it couldn't be more misdirected.


Consider the geography of political protests at present. They can claim density only in ethnic pockets like Xinjiang and Tibet. Around 60% of Internet users are under the age of 30, but campuses are not roiling with heat. And this is despite the fact that YouTube, Facebook and Twitter—those benchmarks for the growth of social networking and associated freedoms of personal expression in India, the US and elsewhere—have been blocked for some time. Sure, there are dissident voices. Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, for example, says that 140 Twitter words would amount to a novel in Chinese characters, sustaining profound discussion on freedom, poetry and the like.


A select group on the mainland is undeterred by the Great Firewall. Technology helps. Twitter has an open application programming interface, which allows the posting and retrieving of tweets on alternative sites. The way in which the Chinese government chases down tweets on different URLs, one by one, is obviously a precursor to how Google will try to get ahead of the Chinese censors at its Hong Kong base. In some sense, the future rests with fundamental technological innovations' ability to outpace the Chinese government's evident desire to increase control over the Internet and beyond. Two factors are in the government's favour. First, cheap Internet services that offer access only to Chinese sites (as opposed to the ones in English and other 'rebellious' languages) are very seductive for students and similar communities. This is the secret of success for domestic companies like Baidu, Tencent and Youku. Second, it appears that entertainment resoundingly trumps information as the object of Chinese Internet activity and searches. Domestic companies that are equally happy about complying with censorship dictates and defying copyright norms are in a win-win situation. Since Google announced a possible exit from China in January, its shares have lost around 6% of their value. In contrast, shares of Baidu have climbed around 50%.


If there is little evidence to suggest that the Google move will spearhead reforms in the Chinese system, is there any to suggest that it will at least spearhead American companies to take a more confrontational stance with respect to censorship and protectionism? The American Chamber of Commerce in China—which is traditionally strong on lobbying for more engagement with China—has been polling companies' sentiments for four years. In its 2009 annual survey, the percentage of companies that feel they are unwelcome in the Chinese market has jumped to 38%, up from 26% in December 2009 and 23% in 2008. But look at statements from Google's peers. Yahoo! has expressed support. But Bill Gates has voiced scepticism. Factor in that Bing may be looking at capturing Google's local marketshare, but also factor in the fact that it's pretty much a non-player as of now. Then consider the emphatic statements—Microsoft is committed to staying in China, but it's looking at a 20-year rather than a 3-year journey. It believes that if you do business in a country, you have to obey its laws. And it's clear which way the wind is blowing.


If Google can't count on technology peers for support, can it count on the US government? Co-founder Sergey Brin has called on Washington to make China's censorship of the Internet a high priority: "Since services and information are our most successful exports, if regulations in China effectively prevent us from being competitive, then they are a trade barrier." Such an argument plays into the currency dynamic that's capturing many headlines at present. US President Barack Obama is under tremendous domestic pressure to persuade the Chinese to let their currency appreciate and thereby trim the gargantuan trade gap with the US. On the Chinese side, domestic pressures are equally aggressive. On both sides, partisans are mounting the artillery to argue that the other side will suffer more in the event of a face-off.


Google can afford a face-off. reportedly accounts for only 1-2% of the company's revenue. But US and Chinese governments are too interdependent to imitate the Google playbook. And if you consider the growing number of American and Chinese students travelling to each other's lands for higher education, the Siamese effect is actually growing at the ground level.







Planning Commission's mid-term appraisal has advocated raising food, fertiliser and fuel prices to contain subsidies at their budgeted levels. A bold suggestion indeed given the huge political ramifications such a step will entail. The country's budgeted subsidies for the 2010-11 financial year have been estimated to be over Rs 1 lakh crore and this math could go awfully wrong if fuel prices are not hiked to keep pace with international crude oil rates.


A little step has been taken in the fertiliser sector after it was brought under the new nutrient-based regime. But, oil subsidy and the central issue price (CIP) of foodgrains distributed through the public distribution system still remain unattended. Take food subsidies. The government buys grain from farmers at MSP, which has been consistently hiked over the last few years. But CIP, the price at which it sells to targeted consumers, has not been revised since 2002.


As a result of which, food subsidies, which are almost half of the government's total subsidy bill, have swelled from Rs 17,499 crore in 2001-02 to the budget estimate of almost Rs 55,578 crore in 2010-11. The proposed move by the government to increase the central issue price of foodgrains sold to above poverty line families (some reports said that proposed hike is to the tune of over 75%) is not only a welcome step to bring down the subsidy bill, but is also needed to check diversion of grains meant for PDS to the open market.


At the current CIP level, government gives a subsidy of 86.7% for wheat sold under antodaya anna yoyana (AAY) through the public distribution system, a subsidy of 72.4% for wheat distributed to below poverty line families and of 59.5% for that distributed to above poverty line families.


Similarly, for rice, government's subsidy for distribution under AAY as of 2009-10 is around 84.2%, for BPL families 70.2% and that for APL families the subsidy for rice distribution is almost 56.2%. So, when foodgrains are sold through the PDS at rates less than the market price, there is more incentive to sell those in the market rather than distributing to the beneficiary. This should be reason enough to trim subsidies.








The successful flight of the BrahMos missile on March 21 spotlights India's status as a world leader in launching supersonic cruise missiles vertically from moving warships and manoeuvring the missiles at the supersonic speed of 2.8 Mach. Launching a missile in an inclined mode is relatively easy. But lifting off vertically from a rolling and pitching vessel, climbing, turning and cruising horizontally, performing manoeuvres, and precisely hitting the target is technologically a big task. Astonishingly, BrahMos performed its intricate manoeuvres at 2.8 Mach, with its propulsion fully switched on during the whole course of its flight. (Normally, when a missile performs manoeuvres, its engines will not operate.) Another highlight was the advanced indigenous software for way point manoeuvring that enables the low-flying missile to hit a target vessel taking shelter, for instance, behind a rocky island. This was the 22nd launch of BrahMos, a joint venture product of the Defence Research and Development Organisation of India and NPO Mashinostroyenia, a space-missile enterprise of the Russian Federation. BrahMos is a versatile, two-stage missile that is nine metres long and weighs 3.9 tonnes with the canister. It has a range of 290 km. It can carry only non-nuclear warheads. With a flight record demonstrating a high degree of reliability, it has already been inducted into the Navy and the Army. India has ship-to-ship, ship-to-land, land-to-land, and land-to-ship versions of BrahMos.


Nobody in their right mind wants lethal missiles fired to kill, destroy, and inflict damage on civilian targets. Since the BrahMos missile is all about enhancing defence capability, a vertical launch from a ship has several advantages. First, it ensures the vessel's safety because the missile is pushed out vertically and its booster engine is fired in the air, allowing the ship to move away. Secondly, the missile in vertical launch can take on a target lying anywhere in a 360-degree range. Whatever the ship's orientation, the missile can turn in any direction to pursue the target. Thirdly, the vertical placement enables accommodation of more missiles in less space in a warship's cramped environs. The missiles are concealed inside the ship, providing them with long and safe storage and protection against corrosion. With India declaring that it would not use nuclear weapons first against another country, BrahMos becomes a formidable and highly cost-effective defence because it can hit any attacker with speed, power, and precision. Given its fast reaction — it takes off in four minutes from the time the command is given from launch headquarters — the missile has virtually no equal in a hypothetical conventional battlefield. BrahMos is a state-of-the-art demonstration of the great advantages of Indo-Soviet, and now Indo-Russian, defence cooperation.







The Reserve Bank of India's traditional policy dilemma of reconciling economic growth with price stability has once again come into sharp focus. Last week the central bank hiked the short-term policy rates, the repo and the reverse repo rates, by 0.25 percentage point each. Taking into account the unexpectedly large 0.75 percentage point increase in the Cash Reserve Ratio announced in the January policy, the latest move confirms the shift to a tighter monetary stance. The CRR hike resulted in an impounding of nearly Rs.36,000 crore of bank deposits. Evidently, the developments since January, especially the unrelenting rise in the inflation rate, suggested stronger, more overt signals from the RBI in the form of a hike in the repo and the reverse repo rates. Many financial market participants, of course, were taken by surprise. Banks close their books for the financial year on March 31 and interest rate changes have enormous implications for their balance sheets. Besides, since the annual policy statement for 2010-11 is due on April 20, many assumed that the RBI would not act until then. However, there have been several occasions in the recent past when monetary measures were announced outside the policy dates. More specifically, the third quarter review in January left no one in doubt that the RBI would intervene proactively and strongly if and when necessary.


Economic growth has been underpinned by a strong performance of the manufacturing sector. The acceleration in the growth of the capital goods sector points to a revival of investment activity. After declining for 13 successive months, exports have been rising since November 2009, but more significantly it is domestic demand that has been driving the recent economic growth. With supply of goods struggling to catch up, inflation concerns are growing. Despite some slight moderation, food inflation remains at unacceptably high levels. The overall inflation in February based on the wholesale price was just short of double digits, while consumer price inflation, as measured by various indices, has accentuated further. The hike in the policy rates has to be seen as a continuation of the process of moving away from the cheap monetary policy that began in October 2009 and was carried forward in January. Given the still-abundant liquidity, several banks have said that they will not be marking up their lending rates immediately. It is however highly unlikely that they can put it off for long











Improved public health standards and the antibiotic revolution resulted in the conquering of infectious disease in the western world. Although the HIV/AIDS epidemic did dent human confidence in our ability to tackle infections, its control though education, public health strategies and development of new treatments re-focussed attention and efforts at controlling non communicable diseases in developed countries. The conquest of infections among the upper classes in India through effective interventions of clean water, sanitation, nutrition, housing, vaccination and easy access to health care has made Indian decision makers also take on the challenge of non communicable diseases. Yet, decades after the availability of technology and solutions, India continues to face disproportionate morbidity and mortality from infectious disease.


The situation begs the question why. The answer lies in our refusal to take into account the local reality, our reduced emphasis on national priorities, our submission to international recommendations and our failure to set our own health agenda.


The polio paralysis: The west eradicated polio by the use of clean water, improved sanitation and the oral polio vaccine. India adopted the use of the oral polio vaccine, sans clean water and sanitation. Many arguments were used to support the use of the oral vaccine over its injectable cousin. The policy pursued for over forty years has not made India polio-free. The voices within the Indian research community that had been arguing for the use of the injectable vaccine were sidelined; the Indian administration listened to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and continued the use of the oral vaccine. The recent re-emergence of polio including the incidence of vaccine-associated polio in many parts of the country has resulted in a rethink of the policy. It is now fashionable to list the merits of the injectable polio vaccine, both in India and within the international research fraternity. Clean water and sanitation, despite their significant contribution to population health, are still not part of India's battle against polio and infectious diseases.


The all-persuasive argument for the use of vaccinations as a panacea to prevent diseases is an example of the medicalisation of public health. The elimination of small pox through vaccination was an outstanding example of disease prevention. However, not all infections are similar. The presence of asymptomatic carriers and feco-oral transmission make the polio virus a completely different cup of tea. The eradication of polio will surely also involve the provision of safe water and sanitation in order to prevent the spread of the virus. The fact that different departments at the WHO and at the Government of India handle water, sanitation and vaccines means a compartmentalisation of the holistic view required to take on the challenge of polio.


The swine flu fiasco: The much-hyped swine flu pandemic, predicted by the WHO and fanned by national and international media, never materialised. More people probably died of seasonal flu than from the "pandemic." It, however, resulted in public panic and the possible re-direction of massive resources to procure medication, masks and vaccines. One suspects that many pharmaceutical companies laughed all the way to the bank. The WHO failed to revise its prediction, after the initial hysteria and despite mounting evidence of the low level of intensity of the infection, resulting in massive financial losses to many governments.


International health agencies faced similar situations when the predicted avian flu epidemic also failed to appear. However, the panic resulted in huge economic losses with the culling of millions of birds and the restrictions on travel and tourism across many regions and countries.


Typhus tales: The past decade had seen the emergence of acute and debilitating fevers with high mortality rates in India. These patients were negative for the standard aetiologies of typhoid and malaria, common in the country. A systematic investigation into such presentations resulted in the documentation of the re-emergence of scrub typhus and rickettsial infections. Investigations from several districts and states documented the wide prevalence of such fevers. These fevers did not generally respond to the newer antibiotics but showed dramatic improvement with the older but currently infrequently prescribed medication (such as doxycycline). Typhus is localised to India and Asia and falls below the radar of global health agencies, resulting in a lack of international guidelines. Diligent Indian researchers identified the re-emergent typhus and solved the mystery infection.


Vacuous new vaccines: Financial institutions and the pharmaceutical industry support vaccines, which are profitable, for the prevention of disease over provision of clean water and sanitation. Despite several recent key reports, which emphasise the dramatic health and economic benefits gained from improvements in water and sanitation, such solutions receive low priority in funding. On the other hand, vaccines, which target diseases with much lower prevalence and that have much less impact on the health of populations, receive generous support. Many lobbies are now arguing for newer vaccines (E.g. vaccines against Haemophilus influenza type b and Streptococcus pneumoniae), developed and used in the west, in India. However, these vaccines target rare conditions in India and play into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry. They take away resources from the task of providing basic public health needs for the country. A cost benefit analysis taking into account the effectiveness against the risks is mandatory for countries with limited health budgets and in resource poor settings.


WHO is to advise? : The WHO was set up to promote and coordinate efforts at improving the health of populations across nations. It is responsible for the analysis of causes of ill-health and for recommending solutions to improve the health of populations. It is actively involved in developing international guidelines for the control and eradication of disease. However, the organisation by its very nature, takes an international perspective on issues. While its advice may be technically correct, the diversity of health contexts across nations may make its recommendations less appropriate to country-specific situations. Developed nations rarely follow its advice and set their own health agenda. Some countries like China study its recommendations but employ their own solutions by tailoring the suggested proposals to their local reality.


The World Health Organisation, by its composition and funding, is controlled by international and western expertise. Its advice is tailored to a broad context of low and middle-income countries. However, its ability to mobilise resources are limited. Nevertheless, its advice is followed by western and international donor agencies that use their funding schemes to control the health care agenda in low and middle-income countries. Yet, such solutions may not exactly fit the Indian context. While India does provide know-how to the WHO, such expertise seems to be subservient to the overall goals of the international health and financial communities.


The way forward


Despite over 60 years of independence, India continues to be colonised by the west, but in subtler form. We seek and receive advice from international agencies, which do not fully understand our different context nor acknowledge our priorities. Indian problems require Indian solutions. India needs to highlight its own health priorities and formulate its own health policies. While international advice from the WHO and from donor agencies should be considered seriously, we need to make our own decisions suited to the Indian context. We need to encourage independent thought and local expertise, which provides advice to national authorities and which are accountable for the nation's health. International advice tailored to meet the needs across national borders may not be suitable for India. Following international advice and recommendations also means throwing one's hands up in despair, when the suggested solutions fail to deliver.


There is a need to set up statutory bodies composed of experts with a genuine track record of research and policy making. Decisions should be based on good evidence, honest discourse and intelligent policymaking. The experts will need to evaluate the health problems of the country, study its context and be involved in decision and policymaking. They should be accountable for their impact on the health of populations. A regular review of strategies, the identification of policies and plans that fail and course corrections or a different approach and direction are mandatory.


India has such expertise in health. It needs to be empowered to assess local reality, suggest solutions, make decisions, set the national health agenda for the health of its people. Unless India decides to take the destiny of the health of its people in its own hands, we will not be able to tailor solutions for the Indian context, improve the health of our population and empower our people.


( Prof. K.S Jacob is on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the position of any institution or organisation.)








The ongoing theories of justice in mainstream political philosophy are very strongly dependent today on a way of thinking largely initiated by Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century, with an overwhelming concentration on a hypothetical "social contract" that the people of a sovereign state can be imagined to have endorsed. This presumed contract is supposed to identify the "just institutions" needed. This "contractarian" approach is the dominant influence in the contemporary political philosophy of justice, and its limited focus has narrowed the analysis of justice unduly, and in particular distancing the theories of justice from the actual lives of people.


In contrast with the contractarian tradition, a number of other Enlightenment theorists (Adam Smith, the Marquis de Condorcet, Mary Wollstonecraft, Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill, for example) took a variety of approaches that shared a common interest in the people's actual lives, rather than on institutional perfection. What happens to people depends not merely on the institutions that exist but also on other influences, in particular people's behaviour and social interactions. This alternative approach has much to offer to contemporary political philosophy and also to our actual practices and policies.


If our concentration has to be on the actual lives of people, the question that immediately arises is how to understand the richness and poverty of human lives. The approach I have tried to pursue has largely focused on the freedoms, in various forms, that people enjoy. This differs sharply from many other approaches to assessing the demands of justice: for example, looking for the fulfilment of certain formal rights that people should have, and whether or not these rights can be actually exercised. Many of these rights can, of course, have an instrumental rule in advancing more free social lives, but the pursuit of justice can hardly stop there. Individual freedoms can be seen to be a social commitment, and this requires the state to play an active role in advancing the substantive freedom of the people to do what they have reason to value, as well as to know what is feasible.


If it is important not to be restricted by the reading of freedom within institutional libertarianism, the need to go beyond the utilitarian concentration on the mental metrics of utilities in the form of pleasures or desire-fulfilments is no less strong. Even if chronically deprived persons — the hopelessly poor, or long-term unemployed — learn to come to terms with and accept cheerfully their deprived lifestyles, that cultivated cheerfulness will not eliminate the real deprivation of freedom from which they will continue to suffer.


Freedom has many aspects, and it is necessary both to distinguish between them and to choose the focus of analysis depending on the nature of the problem being addressed. For example, in dealing with the issue of torture and its unacceptability as a means to other — allegedly more important — ends, what would be particularly important is to see the relevance here of the classical libertarian aspects of freedom, arguing for the immunity of every human being from forcible infliction of pain by others.


When, however, the focus is on issues of economic and social inequality in the lives that different people lead, the relevant aspects of freedom can be captured better by a fuller assessment of what is called, in the new literature, "capabilities", which reflect the actual opportunities of a person. It is easily checked that means such as incomes and other resources, while valuable in the pursuit of capabilities, are not themselves indicators of the capabilities and freedoms that people actually have. The real opportunities that different persons enjoy are very substantially influenced by variations of individual circumstances (for example age, disability, talents, gender, maternity) and also by disparities in the natural and the social environment (for example epidemiological conditions, pollution, prevalence of crime). An exclusive concentration on inequalities in income distribution cannot be adequate for an understanding of economic inequality.


Consider an example. Being disabled has a double effect, in reducing the person's ability to earn an income (the "earning handicap") and in making the conversion of income into good living that much harder, thanks to the costs of assistance, and the impossibility of fully correcting certain types of disadvantages caused by disability (the "conversion handicap"). A person who happens to be physically disabled may need to pay for assistance, and even then may not become able to move around freely. The conversion handicap is routinely missed in poverty relief programmes that concentrate only on the lowness of incomes.


As Wiebke Kuklys, a brilliant young student at Cambridge, has recently shown (she died tragically shortly after completing her work), the conversion handicap for British families with disabled members is four or five times as important as the income handicap, in terms of their respective impacts on deprivation. A system of poverty removal that concentrates only on the lowness of income, in particular whether a person's — or family's — income is below the poverty line, will catch the earning handicap, but not the conversion handicap, and this could make the poverty relief programme fundamentally inadequate.


What about power — a concept that closely relates to the idea of freedom? To say that a person is powerless in reversing the kind of neglect that they have been experiencing can also be expressed in the language of capability: they are not capable of reversing the neglect from which they suffer. And yet there is some evocative strength and rhetorical force in the language of power, particularly in dealing with powerlessness, that the word capability, which is really a term of art, cannot really match. Analysing power and powerlessness can help to generate a better understanding of the divided world in which we live. Mary Wollstonecraft's wrath and bitter irony about the subjugation of women complemented her cool reasoning against gender hierarchy in her 1792 classic, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.


Or take Steve Biko's remarks on "powerlessness" in the apartheid-based South Africa in the 1970s. "Powerlessness breeds," Biko said, "a race of beggars who smile at the enemy and swear at him in the sanctity of his toilet; who shout 'Baas' willingly during the day and call the white man a dog in their buses as they go home." If capability failure of any kind is a matter of concern, those related to people's inability to act freely or speak openly because of the power of others have special urgency. This is an important concern in the advancement of freedom and capability, since societies involve conflicts as well as togetherness and mutual support. The pursuit of justice in enhancing freedoms and capabilities in peoples' lives has to be alive to both. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010


(Amartya Sen, a Nobel prize-winning economist, teaches philosophy and economics at Harvard and is author of The Idea of Justice . The article above is based on his Demos annual lecture.)








Islam stands for peace and social stability, but the Taliban are clearly anti-Islam. They breed terrorism, are anti-humanist and have an acutely contrarian stance when it comes to the ideal of world brotherhood. Where Hinduism sees divinity in every man, true Islam in its essence is essentially based on the philosophical principles of Advaita. Fanaticism-incited religion forgets the Prophet, who was all for humanism, order, and faith in the divinity of every religion. The Taliban want explosive killing even for fellow-Muslims, through treacherous means of barbarity.


It is a pity that they should seek to use "godism" to wipe out those belonging to other faiths. This is nothing but denial of the freedom of faith. Does God have to be liberated from rival gods through carnage? "Godism" is in every religion. The Kingdom of God is within you, said Jesus. Religion is the manifestation of the divinity in everyone, said Vivekananda. So all of humankind is one indeed.


Let us promote global fraternity. The faith of the nation is set in Gandhiji's creed of non-violence. He died, shot by Nathuram Godse, who was not a Muslim.


I have prayed in both mosques and temples from the depths of my being. Mecca and Ajmer, Varanasi and Rameswaram, are holy and hallowed. Jesus was not judged by a Christian judge but by the Jewish Pilate. Everyone is a brother's keeper: this supreme unity is the conscience of every true religion.


The Taliban are anti-Islam as someone like me is Islamic by conviction. Near Tipu Sultan's fortress in Seringapatam there is a fine temple as well as a good mosque. Close to Varanasi there is a mosque. The bright, divine, black stone in Mecca is hallowed. So is Sree Narayana Guru, the spiritual revolutionary of Kerala who treated Muslims as his disciples. God is universal. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the great guru of Vivekananda, was said to have become a Muslim for a few days since for him god was present in every true religion.


Let the world's Muslims, Christians, Hindus and others stand together in a spirit of fraternity and fellowship and resist terrorism and Talibanist barbarity. That will be the finest hour of universal, merciful Allah.


Is God a terrorist? No, he is merciful. So are Rama, Krishna, the Buddha and Jesus. This is secularism — to see the divinity and perfection in every human being. To worship this profound truth in every being is the glory of terrestrial majesty. There is no materialism since all creation is by God. God sleeps in the mineral, wakes in the vegetables, flies in the birds and thinks in man. Let man think in all sincerity of his true being. Who am I?


Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote: "He prayeth well, who loveth well/ Both man and bird and beast/He prayeth best, who loveth best/All things both great and small;/For the dear God who loveth us,/He made and loveth all."


Islam is derived from the Arabic root salema: peace, purity, submission and obedience. In the religious sense, Islam means submission to the will of God and obedience to his law. Everything, every phenomenon in the world other than man, is administered totally by laws made by God. That is, they are obedient to God and submissive to his laws, they are in the state of Islam. Man possesses the qualities of intelligence and choice, thus he is invited to submit to the goodwill of God and obey his law, that is, become a Muslim. Submission to the good will of God, together with obedience to his beneficial law, that is, becoming a Muslim, is the best means to man's peace and harmony.


Islam goes right back to the age of Adam and its message has been conveyed to man by God's prophets and messengers, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Islam's message has been restored and enforced in the last stage of religious evolution by the last Prophet and messenger, Muhammad. The word Allah in Arabic means God, or more accurately, the One and Only Eternal God, Creator of the Universe, Lord of all Lords, King of all Kings, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. The word is also used by Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians to mean God.


The gory Gods at war divide the world into Islamic wealth and non-Islamic "illth." At the bottom of it all God is absolute, infinite and supremely single. The iron curtain that now divides humanity is only a manifestation of the ancient rivalry between the Arab and Aryan languages, cultures and divinities. Beneath both is the same Brahman. This man is without passion and hunger for power. You will then see this light, this truth. The Taliban with its violent cult has early mortality given the Aryan unanimity of humanity.








Islam stands for peace and social stability, but the Taliban are clearly anti-Islam. They breed terrorism, are anti-humanist and have an acutely contrarian stance when it comes to the ideal of world brotherhood. Where Hinduism sees divinity in every man, true Islam in its essence is essentially based on the philosophical principles of Advaita. Fanaticism-incited religion forgets the Prophet, who was all for humanism, order, and faith in the divinity of every religion. The Taliban want explosive killing even for fellow-Muslims, through treacherous means of barbarity.


It is a pity that they should seek to use "godism" to wipe out those belonging to other faiths. This is nothing but denial of the freedom of faith. Does God have to be liberated from rival gods through carnage? "Godism" is in every religion. The Kingdom of God is within you, said Jesus. Religion is the manifestation of the divinity in everyone, said Vivekananda. So all of humankind is one indeed.


Let us promote global fraternity. The faith of the nation is set in Gandhiji's creed of non-violence. He died, shot by Nathuram Godse, who was not a Muslim.


I have prayed in both mosques and temples from the depths of my being. Mecca and Ajmer, Varanasi and Rameswaram, are holy and hallowed. Jesus was not judged by a Christian judge but by the Jewish Pilate. Everyone is a brother's keeper: this supreme unity is the conscience of every true religion.


The Taliban are anti-Islam as someone like me is Islamic by conviction. Near Tipu Sultan's fortress in Seringapatam there is a fine temple as well as a good mosque. Close to Varanasi there is a mosque. The bright, divine, black stone in Mecca is hallowed. So is Sree Narayana Guru, the spiritual revolutionary of Kerala who treated Muslims as his disciples. God is universal. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the great guru of Vivekananda, was said to have become a Muslim for a few days since for him god was present in every true religion.


Let the world's Muslims, Christians, Hindus and others stand together in a spirit of fraternity and fellowship and resist terrorism and Talibanist barbarity. That will be the finest hour of universal, merciful Allah.


Is God a terrorist? No, he is merciful. So are Rama, Krishna, the Buddha and Jesus. This is secularism — to see the divinity and perfection in every human being. To worship this profound truth in every being is the glory of terrestrial majesty. There is no materialism since all creation is by God. God sleeps in the mineral, wakes in the vegetables, flies in the birds and thinks in man. Let man think in all sincerity of his true being. Who am I?


Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote: "He prayeth well, who loveth well/ Both man and bird and beast/He prayeth best, who loveth best/All things both great and small;/For the dear God who loveth us,/He made and loveth all."


Islam is derived from the Arabic root salema: peace, purity, submission and obedience. In the religious sense, Islam means submission to the will of God and obedience to his law. Everything, every phenomenon in the world other than man, is administered totally by laws made by God. That is, they are obedient to God and submissive to his laws, they are in the state of Islam. Man possesses the qualities of intelligence and choice, thus he is invited to submit to the goodwill of God and obey his law, that is, become a Muslim. Submission to the good will of God, together with obedience to his beneficial law, that is, becoming a Muslim, is the best means to man's peace and harmony.


Islam goes right back to the age of Adam and its message has been conveyed to man by God's prophets and messengers, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Islam's message has been restored and enforced in the last stage of religious evolution by the last Prophet and messenger, Muhammad. The word Allah in Arabic means God, or more accurately, the One and Only Eternal God, Creator of the Universe, Lord of all Lords, King of all Kings, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. The word is also used by Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians to mean God.


The gory Gods at war divide the world into Islamic wealth and non-Islamic "illth." At the bottom of it all God is absolute, infinite and supremely single. The iron curtain that now divides humanity is only a manifestation of the ancient rivalry between the Arab and Aryan languages, cultures and divinities. Beneath both is the same Brahman. This man is without passion and hunger for power. You will then see this light, this truth. The Taliban with its violent cult has early mortality given the Aryan unanimity of humanity.








For the past three years, the Shabab, one of Africa's most fearsome militant Islamist groups, have been terrorising the Somali public, chopping off hands, stoning people to death and banning TV, music and even bras in their quest to turn Somalia into a seventh-century-style Islamic state.


At the same time, they have drawn increasingly close to the al-Qaeda, deploying suicide bombers, attracting jihadists from around the world and prompting American concerns that they may be spreading into Kenya, Yemen and beyond.


But could Somalia finally be reaching a tipping point against the Shabab?


Not only is Somalia's transitional government gearing up for a major offensive against the Shabab — with the American military providing intelligence and logistical support — but Mogadishu's beleaguered population, sensing a change in the salt-sticky air, is beginning to turn against them.


Women who have been whipped and humiliated by morality police for not veiling their faces are now whispering valuable secrets about the Shabab's movements into the ears of government soldiers. Teenage students outraged that Shabab-allied fighters hoisted a black flag in front of their school recently pelted the fighters with stones. Since 1991, when Somalia's central government collapsed, the people here have endured one violent struggle after another, which has reduced the capital, Mogadishu, to ruins and this nation to the archetypal failed state. But never before has the Somali public had such a vested interest in who wins as they do in the coming showdown against the Shabab.


The Shabab have defied expectations in the past and proved resilient, determined and formidable. Some Somalia analysts fear that even if the government dislodges the Shabab and ends their ability to operate in the open, they can still wreak havoc with suicide bombs and other guerrilla tactics.


But if Somalis, who possess considerable firepower of their own, decisively turn against the Shabab, it could be difficult for the militants to reconstitute themselves, even as a guerrilla army. — © 2010 New York Times News Service







Passing through Israel's Ben Gurion airport, a few kilometres east of Tel Aviv, is a unique experience no first-time visitor is likely to forget.


It represents the pinnacle of modern aviation security. Baggage is passed through giant, state-of-the-art machines, and travellers — both arriving and leaving — are frequently subjected to lengthy, personal and repetitive questioning by officials, on their ethnic background and that of any local acquaintances they may have made.


It is not at all uncommon for the mostly youthful immigration officers to wander off, passports and tickets in hand, ostensibly to consult with their seniors. Surrendering documents at check-in or at immigration has hitherto been considered a necessary evil for all those travelling in and out of Ben Gurion.


But the evidence that the Israeli state has been taking the information gleaned from these inspections to create cloned identities for its spies introduces a new level of risk to the experience. The report by the U.K.'s Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) into the use of cloned British passports in the Dubai assassination makes clear their view that this is what happened as Britons travelled through the airport in the months and years before the plot was hatched to kill Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.


The Soca report concluded that the passports must have been cloned at the airport or at other interfaces with

Israeli officialdom, such as airline offices in other countries. There were no other links between the 12 individuals whose identities were stolen.


According to insiders, the language in the Soca report, produced after a four-week investigation, was "direct" and the findings unequivocal: the inquiry showed that the victims' data was taken, stored and passed on when they handed their passports to Israeli officials or those linked to them.


Soca concluded the report on their findings last week and handed it to the U.K. Home Office on Friday, which passed it to the U.K. Foreign Office on Monday. It then moved from the criminal sphere to the diplomatic, as Foreign Secretary David Miliband translated the raw findings into concrete measures to be taken against Israel: the expulsion of a diplomat and a travel warning that Israeli officials were not to be entrusted with passports.


The Foreign Secretary's decision to accuse Israel directly in Parliament on Tuesday reflected both the certainty among British officials of Israeli state involvement, and the anger among diplomats and security officials at such a blatant infringement of British sovereignty. At least 12 British passports were used in the Mabhouh plot, more than any other nation's.


That irritation was heightened by Israel's record. In 1986, eight British passports were found inside an Israeli embassy envelope in a West German telephone box, apparently left there by an absent-minded Mossad agent.


The next year, a Palestinian found with an arms cache in the eastern English port of Hull turned out to be a double-agent working for the Mossad, taking part in a covert operation Israel had omitted to tell Britain about. After investigating operations by the Mossad, the government expelled an Israeli diplomat, Arie Regev, for "activities incompatible with his status". And the Israeli government of the day gave an assurance that such transgressions would not be repeated.


Today, Britain is looking for similar assurances.


According to those close to the Soca investigation, detectives soon realised the passports involved were no ordinary forgeries of the type most often seen during inquiries into organised crime, terrorist support networks and money launderers in the U.K. and abroad.


Most experts agree that British passports are notoriously difficult to forge, and those which do come to light are either poorly doctored originals, or passports created from fake documents.


"It is rare for us to see forged British passports," said one police expert. "When we do, they are not often of the quality which could pass through an international border." So when investigators from Soca examined the details of the passports, they immediately noticed the difference.


"These were incredibly good forgeries. They are not the thing that anyone could do," said an investigative source.


"The originals were still in the hands of their owners and someone had used the information to create a new document. The quality of the forgeries made it highly likely that there was state involvement." The accusations will put considerable strain on Britain's relationship with Israel.


But MI6 (British intelligence), which pursued its own informal investigation into the affair, is likely to maintain its close, professional relationship with the Mossad.


Key findings from the Soca investigation have been passed to the United States and to investigators in the United Arab Emirates. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









The new theme song of the UPA government is infrastructure. On Tuesday, prime minister Manmohan Singh, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and minister for human resources development Kapil Sibal harped on it. Singh and Mukherjee did it at a conference on infrastructure sponsored by the planning commission; Singh reiterated it at themeeting of the commission for a mid-term assessment of the 11th five-year plan the same day. The PM has identified it as the boom sector for the 12th five-year plan which will generate jobs. He believes that infrastructure will need US $1 trillion, which is almost as big as the size of the Indian economy today. This kind of investment, if it materialises, will drive growth in the next plan period, taking it into double-digits.


Mukherjee has indicated that private sector participants in the sector will be allowed to float bonds and they will get the same tax exemptions as public sector enterprises. Sibal has pitched education as part of the infrastructure project, which passes muster to an extent.


The emphasis on infrastructure cannot be overstated, and Singh and his colleagues cannot be faulted for doing so. But there is a clear danger that it could become a mere theme song at best and a slogan at worst. What is needed is clear thinking on infrastructure which looks beyond the immediate lack of it.


Whether it is the case of roads, ports, airports, housing, hospitals and schools, power generation and supply of clean drinking water, the demand has to be projected in the next quarter of the century. It is not that in the last 60 years nothing was done in infrastructure but it was done in such a haphazard and slipshod manner that there is a frighteningly gaping hole. It looks as though nothing was done. The lapses of the past will be replicated in the future if thought is not given to ways, and not just the means, of meeting the infrastructure challenge.


While money and technology are one part of the equation, the real problem is policy. Infrastructure, by definition, tends to be land-hungry, and also needs a lot of regulatory clearances, including environmental ones. In these areas, however, India has made little progress. We are still miles away from a single-window clearance for big infrastructure. This is the biggest hurdle, and not money or resources. The PM needs to focus on this area to make infrastructure boom.







The fire which ravaged the top floors of a colonial building in Kolkata's prestigious Park Street was, like so many similar buildings all over India, a disaster just waiting to happen. Old amenities, no fire safeguards, no access to escape routes and a misuse of electrical wires that we all take for granted: that is how it is in India, we shrug.


Ironically and tragically, the fire that ravaged the spanking new Carlton Towers in Bangalore a month ago also showed that the builders and users had a typical contempt for fire safety protocols. Old or new, our disregard clearly is the same, with tragic results.


In both cities, several people died and if those deaths are not to be in vain and forgotten as the next disaster comes along, we need, as a nation and as a society, to understand the need to respect the dangerous materials we use so insouciantly. There has to be systems in placeto deal with possible calamities.


All buildings in India are required by law to have fire escapes and fire extinguishers which are easily accessible. These are customs, as the adage goes, more followed in the breach. We are proud that our buildings are growing taller and taller but our fire brigades are not equipped with snorkel ladders which can go higher than seven or eight storeys in most cases. Fire drills, which are mandatory and scrupulously followed in some parts of the world, are unheard of. And then there is the wanton and criminal overuse of single electrical points, often with frayed or naked wires, which are nothing but killers in waiting. Electrical short circuits are the most common cause of such fires.


The other problem — faced in Kolkata and Bangalore — as well as elsewhere is the response of the fire department. The fact is that often fire tenders leave their stations in time but cannot reach the site because of traffic or access roads and sometimes cannot fully function because of insufficient water, depending on the extent of the blaze. All these are problems which can be anticipated — and would be — if we were not so sanguine about such matters.


Our usual response to such disasters is to set up commissions of inquiry, the results of which are often dead and buried if indeed they are ever completed. If we never learn from these lessons, the tinderbox is ready to light up and destroy at any time.








The mindboggling bids for the Kochi and Pune franchises of the Indian Premier League (IPL) — adding up to over Rs 3,300 crore between them — is indicative of one thing: very big money is getting into the game. And when very big money enters the picture, one can be sure that not all of it will be pearly white. This cautionary note is important, even though there is no doubt that the money will do wonders for this form of the game.


Any thinking person should ask several whys, whos and whats. Why is so much money getting into the game so soon? Who are the people behind it? When Bollywood gets aligned with cricket, what does it mean for the business of cricketainment? When money from the Sheikhdoms starts invading the sport, what does it portend?


It is no secret that both cricket betting and Bollywood have mafia money behind them, as the widely-publicised

presence of Dawood Ibrahim in both arenas has made clear. With IPL now providing a confluence of both

businesses, one has to worry about the colour of the money coming in.


This is not to say that any of it is funny money. But one has to put one's antenna up when someone is willing to

pay Rs1,500-and-odd crore for a franchise like Kochi — a city known neither for its quality of cricket nor its

ability to groom cricketers. It is also worth considering that among all forms of the game, T20 is the diciest. The inglorious uncertainties of cricket apply more to T20 than test or one-day cricket. In the inaugural edition of the IPL in 2008, rank outsiders Rajasthan Royals won. In the following year, the previous year's bottom-rankers won. This is not to take anything away from the quality of their wins. But surely T20 is the most unpredictable form of cricket. One man's heroics — or lack of it — can change the result. If I were running a crooked betting syndicate, this is the kind of game I would offer game-by-game odds on.


The way the bids happened for the additional two slots at IPL also does not augur well for the future of its funding. In the initial auction, the two winning bidders — the Dhoots for Pune and the Adanis for Ahmedabad — bid at the base price. This congruence suggests two possibilities: either they were in cahoots or they thought the base price itself was too high to make a business out of it.


In the next round, not only did the previous two winners fail, the field was taken over by two other bidders — Sahara and Rendezvous. What explains this initial reluctance to bid being followed up by a rare exuberance in round two?


Now look at the winners. While the Sahara group is a known hand in cricket sponsorship, Rendezvous emerged as a joker in the pack, chaperoned by minister of state for external affairs, Shashi Tharoor. Now why should a government minister, known more for his book-writing skills than book-building ones, not to speak of the ability to tweet into controversy, want to suddenly back faceless individuals to buy a cricket franchise?


Now cricket has been a happy hunting ground for all varieties of politicians. From Sharad Pawar to Arun Jaitley to (more recently) Narendra Modi, they are all in it for the possible publicity spin-offs and the glory of associating with sporting icons. But if you have the moolah, Rs1,700 crore will buy you as much influence as you want. So what's the extra allure in it for everybody?


It is not my contention that everybody's in it for dubious purposes. But there is no guarantee that funny money will not get into the game. In the stock markets, participatory notes give unknown investors the opportunity to grow their wealth anonymously and even launder some of it in a tax regime that is capital gains-friendly. In the real estate business, politicians and criminals are making hay by controlling land supplies, using discretionary state power and buying up land through benami deals.


As it is currently structured, IPL offers the perfect setting to align funny money with straight money — not to

speak of reaping the publicity benefits of bringing Bollywood badshahs and begums together with cricket's pashas and prima donnas. IPL's management will have to exercise extraordinary caution if it wants to keep the game unsullied as it expands into uncharted waters.


If I were Pranab Mukherjee, I would put my best sleuths and CAs to take a look. Not because there's anything wrong already, but because something certainly can go wrong in the future. In corruption-ridden India, it is safe to presume that if there is scope for hanky-panky, there is a strong probability of it. IPL's latest auction gives the game's arbiters the chance for a strategic timeout to ponder about what kind of money is driving the game now and why.







Kanu Sanyal, the chief architect of the Naxalbari movement that gave us words like 'Naxalite', killed himself yesterday. I read the news in West Bengal, Sanyal's home state by birth and choice. And am shocked by the arbitrariness of the reports and obituaries.


Suicide is suspected, the papers said, he was found hanging in his hut. But there was no suicide note. So speculation ruled. Sanyal was suffering from depression, they said. He may have killed himself because he wasn't getting enough attention, suggested one paper. Another mentioned details of his failing health — apparently reason enough for an octogenarian to hang himself. Sure, there were the usual references to his being one of the main leaders of the Naxalbari movement. In general,today's press seemed embarrassingly unaware of the phenomenon that was Kanu Sanyal. Even in Bengal.


But that has been Sanyal's fate with the press. Back in the heyday of Naxalism, his comrade Charu Mazumdar was the chosen voice of the movement in the press. That's when Sanyal, the grassroots organiser forever working and living with the peasants, was projected as second to Mazumdar. Even in the Naxalbari movement, which was spearheaded by Sanyal in clear opposition to his comrade's line of thought.


The two CPI(M) rebels fighting together had serious differences. Mazumdar focused on individual killings in the name of annihilation of 'class enemies' while Sanyal's focus was on claiming land for peasants. Mazumdar believed that small groups of armed revolutionaries could bring about a revolution, Sanyal believed in involving the entire working class, particularly the peasants. Mazumdar was an ideologue, Sanyal a leader of the unwashed masses. Mazumdar leaned on the gun, opposing elections and other democratic means, while Sanyal was not against elections, just disinterested in democratic processes that had failed to give the poor basic rights. The Naxalbari movement, that began in 1967 when a policeman was felled by the arrows of peasants defending their right to the land, was spearheaded by Sanyal. The Naxalite movement, which spread through Bengal to other states, was built by Sanyal, Mazumdar and Jangal Santhal, the legendary tribal hero who is forgotten now by the urban middle class, especially its media.


In May 1969, in a mass rally in Kolkata, Sanyal had announced the birth of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). That was the beginning of Naxalism that has now morphed into our biggest internal security threat. But Sanyal disapproved of today's Naxalites. "This is just violence," he explained to me some time ago. "Maoists are exploiting the situation, this won't improve the lives of peasants." But weren't they violent too, in their time? "That was very different. We made mistakes, but ours was an inclusive struggle, a genuine people's movement." The fact that


Mazumdar's tactics of individual killings of class enemies is the chosen method of today's Naxalites pained him. He was firmly against it.


The revolution that Sanyal had sparked off has splintered into a thousand shards and is doing more harm than good to his country. Even the land redistribution that Sanyal had fought for from his early days in the Tebhaga movement had not been satisfactory. He had much to be disappointed about.


Like Jangal Santhal, who also suffered from acute depression as he watched the march of politics and finally drank himself to death. Sanyal had tried to stop him then. Forever full of hope, he was convinced that he would see his country change for the better. But there may be a certain dignity in opting out of a situation when you reach a dead end. Mazumdar died in jail in 1972, Santhal in 1981 and with Sanyal passing away yesterday, the original flavour of Naxalism is almost history.










Tuesday's blaze in a seven-story Kolkata building in which at least 24 persons lost their lives was almost a replay of a similar incident in Bangalore on February 23 in which nine persons perished. All the perennial shortcomings manifested themselves. A short-circuit or gas cylinder explosion started it. A huge quantity of hazardous material seemed to have been stored in the 150-year-old building, as suggested by the blue flames leaping out of the windows.


Soon the entire building was aflame. The wooden staircase of the colonial building caught fire and several victims were trapped on the upper floors. Fortyfive fire-tenders waded through milling crowds to reach the site and then tried to fight the inferno and rescue the trapped persons. The 70-metre-long ladders which were needed took a long time to reach because they had to be brought from distant places. Meanwhile, many persons jumped to their death from upper storeys. According to the police commissioner, the fifth and sixth floors of the building were constructed illegally and were later regularised.


What made the job of the rescuers all the more difficult was the continuous stream of VIP visitors. They not only hampered the work, but also presented the ugly sight of scoring political points, with Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee blaming the West Bengal Government. They can perhaps keep their rivalry in abeyance at least on such sombre occasions.


The bigger tragedy is that such horrifying accidents are waiting to happen at many other places. Where there are high-rise buildings, there are not suitable ladders. In old congested areas, it is difficult to send in fire-tenders through narrow bylanes. Central government rules stipulate that there should be two fire stations for every one lakh population. In most towns, barely one-tenth of this number is in existence. People themselves are not aware of the risks they are taking by blocking the emergency exits. Nobody cares to keep firefighting equipment inside the buildings. There is no safety audit either. Unless this callous attitude ends, it will be very difficult to ward off disasters like those in Kolkata and a hundred other places earlier. 








Maoists have frequently demonstrated their capability and readiness to blow up railway tracks, hijack trains and keep passengers hostage for long hours. But while such attacks were earlier carried out one at a time, the series of coordinated attacks in four eastern states this week is certainly ominous. Maoists had given a call for a two-day bandh in the region — West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa to be precise — against the joint operation launched by security forces.


 A dozen-odd strikes during these two days disrupted the running of both passenger and goods trains in the region, derailed the Bhubaneshwar Rajdhani Express and affected the movement of minerals. The strikes also indicated the end of the honeymoon, if ever there was one, between the Maoists and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee. The Left, particularly the CPM, has been alleging a close nexus between Mamata and the Maoists. The minister can now legitimately claim that there is no love lost between her and the rebels. But politics apart, the fact that the Maoists got away with the attacks despite the presence of a large security force and despite the on-going operation against them should be a matter of concern.


While the attacks may also indicate a certain degree of despair or desperation on the part of the Maoists, one can unfortunately draw very little comfort. Railway travel in the region in any case was never very safe and with the Maoists threatening to target the tracks, travelling by train in the region will not be the same. Even more worrying is the thought that with the security forces intensifying their offensive, the rebels may well be tempted to retaliate by targeting the railways. The tracks in this region pass through sparsely populated areas and it is not very difficult for a small but determined group of rebels to damage those.


The Railway Board has ordered trains to slow down in the region as a precautionary measure. Patrolling of the tracks has been intensified and important trains are being escorted by pilot engines as a safety measure. But the fact remains that every train cannot be escorted and every inch of the tracks cannot be patrolled round the clock. The board, therefore, will have to think of long-term measures to instil a sense of security by ensuring, for example, a stake in the network for people living on both sides of the tracks.








The Supreme Court's observations on pre-marital sex and live-in relationships are progressive, egalitarian and reflect the winds of change in the corridors of the higher judiciary. Chief Justice of India Justice K.G. Balakrishnan's obiter dicta that there is nothing wrong — legally or otherwise — if two adults want to live together cannot be faulted. Significantly, the Bench, also consisting of Justice Deepak Verma and Justice B.S. Chauhan, has given a new interpretation to live-in relationship when it said that living together is part of the individual right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.


 Though the Bench has reserved the judgement, its observations while hearing a batch of petitions filed by Tamil actor Khusboo to quash 22 FIRs filed against her by Tamil activist groups and forums for her alleged comments endorsing pre-marital sex, make it clear that if two adults are leading a happy life, it is no criminal offence and the courts — or society — have no business to interfere.


Interestingly, this is not the first time that the apex court has endorsed such relationships. In a historic ruling in August 2008, Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice P. Sathasivam not only validated these as marriages but also declared that children born out of such a relationship are legitimate. In 1978, it recognised a live-in relationship as a valid marriage and charged the authorities with questioning a relationship 50 years after the couple had begun living together and were treated as married by their relatives.


Critics dubbing live-in relationship as a threat to social norms and cultural ethos are, perhaps, guided by the fact that India is widely known as a country with strong moral values and traditional integrity. The union of a man and woman is considered most sacred in the country and, consequently, living together and/or having pre-marital sex is frowned upon by as section of the people. Nonetheless, the new millennium has ushered in great changes. From films to daily soaps, the younger generation, though in a minority at present, has started leading a liberal lifestyle. To know their partners better, they denounce the age-old ethics and take the bold step of living together. One needs to take a liberal and pragmatic view of the matter. As law always inclines in the interest of legitimacy, such relationships ought to be put in a context rather than uniformly denounced.
















Pakistan has become such a fig-leaf artist that nothing appears to shame it. So, perhaps the confessions of David Coleman Headley, the self-indicted American of Pakistani origin who helped the Lasher-e-Toiba plan and execute the deadly Mumbai attack on 26/11, may only add "literature" to the shelves of all the many literary giants that rule Pakistan today. However, India and the world will not be satisfied by such denial.


Pakistan's lies have been nailed over and over again but it is able literally to get away with murder because it remains a crucial frontline state for the Americans in Afghanistan. Headley, who reconnoitered the targeted sites in Mumbai, has confessed to the existence of LeT training camps, which he visited in 2008, and to consorting with LeT members training to assault Mumbai and their handlers in Pakistan.


A quote from his plea bargain confession before a Chicago court on March 19 says it all: "Beginning no later than in or about late 2005 (the Musharraf era), and continuing through on or about October 3, 2009 (the Kayani-Gilani era), at Chicago and elsewhere within and without the jurisdiction of the United States, the defendant conspired with Lashkar members A, B, C and D, and others, to commit acts outside the United States …namely, murder and maiming in connection with attacks carried out by the Lashkar in India". The dates are revealing.


Handley was a double agent, working for the US Drug Enforcement Agency, who had been arrested earlier and then let off the hook on condition that he went back to Pakistan and fed Washington with information about the terror network and drug mafia in that country. Yet India was not kept informed until much later and even after 26/11 when Headley was back in India reconnoitering more sites for the Lashkar. This was duplicitous, despite whatever information has been vouchsafed. It is in line with the long rope earlier given to the notorious A.Q. Khan whom the US allowed to proliferate to and receive nuclear technology and material variously from China and Korea, and to negotiate with Iran, Libya and even Osama agents after he had been caught red-handed by Dutch intelligence only to be let off by the CIA. In both cases the primary victim has been India.


India has been promised Headley's testimony through interviews or video-conferencing in the US as part of Indian judicial processes, but he will not be extradited to this country. Whether giving "testimony' allows for "interrogation" remains to be seen, though the FBI had full access to Kasab. Possibly the US is worried that Headley may reveal too much. Whatever be the case, there will be reservations about the US stance and sincerity until the outcome is known.


Pakistan must. however, be confronted with the new Headley revelations and its diversionary forays, asserting Indian mala fides on water and Balochistan-Afghanistan, nailed. India's public communications policy has been abysmal over the years and little spurt of information disclosure is no great triumph. Public information policy — not jingoistic propaganda — is today a prime instrument of diplomacy, security, national morale and preparedness. It is time the government woke up to this reality.


General David Patraeus of the US Central Command recently told the Senate Armed Forces Committee in Washington that elements like the LeT are not yet on Pakistan's radar although he had praise for its fight against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But distinctions have begun to be made as between the good, "moderate" (read Pakistan) Taliban, with whom it might be possible to do business, and "radical" Taliban which must be fought to the end.


These are dangerous waters and India has real concerns based on bitter experience that US military aid to Pakistan ultimately goes in substantial measure to support jihad and confront India. The new US-Pakistan strategic dialogue in Washington, in which General Kayani was the key Pakistan spokesman, should not be allowed to exacerbate these tendencies, American assurances having been consistently belied in the past.


Meanwhile, the BJP and Left criticism of the fuel price increase announced in the budget must factor in international trends that are beyond domestic control. The Opposition cannot demand more expenditures on social and welfare programmes and cavil at efforts to raise resources at the same time. Equally, the strident opposition to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill is misplaced as being solely dictated by American interests. It is part of an international regime being built through various protocols to encourage investment and technological support for nuclear power development. This should not be stalled by fears of unlimited liability in case of a nuclear mishap. Victims will be more swiftly compensated though a limited vendor liability, an international compensation fund and insurance. Let not the country shoot itself in the foot.


The BJP and the Left are threatening cut-motions on these issues during discussions on the Finance Bill. The blackmailing tactics of the SP, the RJD and the Trinamool Congress must be resisted. If the UPA falls, no other coalition will be able to form a government. So, let the bluff be called and fresh elections held. The electorate will know whom to punish.








Journalism in India is 230 years old. Still, many don't understand the profession. Very few seem to know that the newspaper they buy for Rs 2 or 3 requires effort of over a thousand persons daily. 


Reporters often take pains in explaining the wide difference between them and an Editor. Still, invitation letters address them as Editor, Auditor, District Auditor Saheb, Main Editor, Chief Editor and some even as Editorial Saab.


 More hurting is to see your name spelt awfully wrong on the invitation cards despite the byline appearing in the news columns. I still get invitations in the name of Japinder, Jubinder, Jupendra and, weirdly, Jupiter Singh.


Journalists also live under the illusion that everyone reads their byline. When I got my first byline in a newspaper, I left home, chin up, thinking everyone — right up to the chief minister — knew me now.


It took me only a few hours to return to the ground. A person called up at the office seeking to talk to my predecessor. He had read the news and wanted to congratulate him. I pulled my hair, "How can he miss reading my name." 


Then, nearly six months after I had switched over to another newspaper, a Punjabi University Professor left no congratulatory adjective unused while hailing my news stories appearing in my previous newspaper in the last few months. The expression on his face should have been preserved when I told him I had left that newspaper half a year ago. The guffaws of his colleagues still ring in my ears.


An aged uncle of mine was not amused when I told him I was working as a journalist. He had brought a marriage proposal of a girl working as a Bank Probationary Officer in Patiala. "Patarkarta taan theek hai, changa shaunk hai, par roti khan layi ki kam karda hein?" (journalism is fine, but what do you do for a living?) 


 A couple of days after my marriage, performed in a simple ceremony, an aged woman confronted my mother-

in-law on why they were not invited and what the jawayi puttar does? "He is a patarkar. Akhbaar vich naukri hai," my mother-in-law tried to explain.


"Hai hai…you have married your well-educated daughter to an akhbaar wala," she said. "Every morning he would rush out to distribute newspapers. No wonder, he had no money for a good ceremony and invite us."  


Taken aback, my mother-in-law told her I was a reporter. "He does the same work as my daughter. Both are in the same office. They gather news and send it to Chandigarh where it is printed."


"Oh my God. He gets up to distribute newspaper and gather news all day. And your daughter too? No wonder you also did not organise a ceremony!"n









I have no new prescription for Punjab," rued Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal when he presented his fourth budget on March 16.


In a budget of Rs 43,925 crore, he leaves a fiscal deficit of Rs 6,706 core and a revenue deficit of Rs 3,787 crore. The government has no clue how to bridge the huge gap.


The present trends in the economy and the efficiency level of governance do not support his optimism to mop this huge amount through an improved tax collection.


The state's economic survey indicates that the manufacturing, trade and services sectors are losing. Only agriculture shows an uptrend. This means the economy is not diversifying the way it should.


Farmers are protesting the imposition of electricity charges worth Rs 850 crore annually. Last week over 25,000 farmers and workers held a demonstration in Jagraon. They plan similar protests in Amritsar and Chandigarh later this month. They want a rollback of the power charges and the increase in the diesel price.


About one-third of Punjab's revenue goes into debt servicing and meeting the subsidy bill. The sluggish tax collection has added to the gloom. The VAT fetched Rs 4,829 crore in 2006-07, Rs 5,342 crore the following year and Rs 6,529 crore in 2008- 09.


This growth does not meet the needs. Tax compliance is low. And money borrowed for development is often diverted to pay salaries. The next year's plan is for Rs 9,500 crore though the state resources show that it cannot exceed Rs 8,000 crore.


Haryana's plan for the next year is pegged at Rs 11,630 crore, including the central component.


Punjab's total debt has now touched Rs 64,924 crore, rising 10 per cent annually. When the Akali BJP government came to power in 2007, Punjab's debt was Rs 48, 344 crore. It had blamed the then Congress government for the uncontrollable burden. How will it answer the same charge?


The 13th Finance Commission has not accepted the state's plea to write off or reschedule its debt. Punjab had also urged the commission to meet at least half the staff pay hike burden. Besides, it asked the panel to meet 90 per cent of the cost of maintenance, repair and expansion of water infrastructure to raise foodgrain production. The commission only marginally increased the state's share in the Central taxes.


The Punjab Governance Reforms Commission says the chief cause of the fiscal crisis is not the increasing wage bill. "This exaggerated discourse in no way can be a defence of the inefficiency of government services". It has suggested streamlining of the administration, which is inefficient and fraudulent.


The basic issue relates to governance. The tax collection machinery is sluggish and shady. The government has done little to streamline it. The performance level of government staff is poor. The government has bungled in the recruitment of teachers, doctors and even anganwadi workers.


The state has not been able to use more that 50 per cent of the funds available through the central schemes as it could not make matching contribution.


The agrarian crisis, manifesting itself in suicides, drug addiction and alcoholism among the rural youth and poverty among the Dalits, does not get even lip sympathy. 








For the first time since the eruption of armed militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, the Centre has, prodded by the NC-led coalition government in the state, decided to help rebel Kashmiri youth return home to lead normal life.


Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had announced on February 11 that the Centre's acceptance of the amnesty idea to facilitate the return of Kashmiri youth, who had crossed over to Pakistan occupied Kashmir for getting arms training.


Many of them, 800 according to a report, had expressed their willingness to lead normal life back with their families in Kashmir.


No time frame has been set for the implementation of the rehabilitation policy. The authorities have observed a change in the mindset of Kashmiri youth who had joined the armed struggle.


The Central gesture also reflects a fast improvement in the situation in this trouble-torn state after a period of about two decades.


The implementation of the policy, viewed with resentment by the separatist camp in Kashmir, the rightwing parties of the Jammu region and the migrant Kashmiri Pandits, will also involve a role of Pakistan.


The modalities of working out the number of those willing to return would have to be taken up by India and Pakistan so as to push forward the scheme, which the state government affirms as "purely a rehabilitation process".


There have been instances of the return of Kashmiri youth from Pok or Pakistan via Nepal. This is being discouraged through the "comprehensive policy of the return and rehabilitation of these youth".


In view of the rehabilitation of the migrant Kashmiri Pandits in the Jammu region and elsewhere outside the valley, and also the rehabilitation of migrants from different areas of Doda, Udhampur and Reasi and the border areas of Rajouri and Poonch, many people seem to be unhappy with the government's initiative.


Apprehensions could crop up in the minds of those willing to return and get rehabilitated as many other militants who had earlier surrendered and worked with the security forces are a dissatisfied lot.


The separatists in Kashmir believe that the rehabilitation policy was a "ploy against the freedom struggle".


The opposition PDP, confronting various moves taken by the NC-Congress coalition government, is in favour of the rehabilitation of the youth and has also taken up the issue with the working groups.


The rehabilitation policy would draw greater attention in India and Pakistan before concrete measures are taken to find the exact number and background of those willing to return and get rehabilitated.


Mission abroad


The separatist Hurriet (Freedom) Conference chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, has returned from Geneva after a diplomatic mission abroad impressing upon the international community and human rights organisations to take cognizance of the Kashmir issue.


For the past couple of weeks he has been on the mission during which he met a number of leaders and diplomats from different countries.


Many diplomats from different countries have been visiting Kashmir and meeting the separatist leadership, including the moderate APHC-led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the hardline APHC chairman, Syed Ali Geelani, and the pro-independence JKLF chairman, Mohammad Yasin Malik.


Addressing a press conference in Geneva last week, the Mirwaiz referred to the formula submitted to the central government for the resolution of the Kashmir issue, which includes the withdrawal of troops and release of political prisoners, and asserted that the only way out to end human rights violations was a reduction in the troops' presence.


Sikhs demand justice


A decade after the massacre of 35 members of the Sikh community at the hands of unidentified gunmen in Chattisinghpora village of Anantnag district, justice eludes the microscopic community of the Kashmir valley.


The incident had taken place on the night of March 20, 2000, at a time when the then US President, Bill Clinton, was on his visit to India.


While the government blamed the separatist militants for the massacre, the incident was followed by the killing of five suspected militants in a nearby village five days later.


But the government is yet to present hard evidence on its claim, says Jagmohan Singh Raina, coordinator of the All Parties Sikh Co-ordination Committee. He wants the Justice Pandan Commission to extend its investigations as the killings of civilian demonstrators at Brakpora days later and that at Chatisinghpora were interlinked.









Workers involved in the construction of the new Secretariat and Assembly complex in Tamil Nadu were treated with a non-vegetarian feast on Sunday. Popular Hindi film songs were played since most of the workers were from the Hindi heartland.


However, some of the officials who knew that Chief Minister M Karunanidhi was in the forefront of the anti-Hindi agitation in 1965 were a bit worried. Their hearts skipped a few beats, when the Chief Minister, who came to the function later, mentioned the playing of Hindi songs.


To their great relief, Karunanidhi said: "As most of the workers were from the Hindi heartland, it is appropriate to play songs in their mother tongue. The DMK was not opposed to Hindi as a language. The party opposed the imposition of Hindi in school curriculum".


IPL Twenty20 hurts film industry


The Tamil film industry has suddenly started disliking cricket. Even a few of the Kollywood stars, who were cricket fans, are not watching cricket now, thanks to the popularity of IPL Twenty20.

After the tournament started, the number of film goers have dwindled and most of the films which hit the screens last week, have failed to fetch the expected collection.


Kollywood used to release many films in April and May as they would draw youths and college students, during summer vacation. Now, most of the theatre owners are afraid of releasing new films next month due to the IPL fever.


President of Tamil Nadu Cinema Theatres Association S Panneerselvam openly complained in a function that IPL was causing losses to the film industry.


A film producer said Kollywood stars should start a campaign to explain the youth that IPL was only a commercial event and it had nothing to do with developing cricket or bringing laurels to the nation or a state.


A film director, who followed suit, said cricket was the game of the elite and the upper castes, while football and hockey are the common man's games.


Politics of power disruptions


When PMK leader S Ramadoss campaigned in a few villages for the Pennagaram bypoll, there were frequent power cuts. Ramadoss addressed a few meetings in darkness, without speakers.


After a few days, it was known that local DMK functionaries are deliberately switching off power supply from the nearby transformers. Now, a group of PMK cadres have a special task when Ramadoss addresses meetings. They stand near the transformers and see that no one tampers with power supply.








It doesn't matter at all if you've never heard of Acumen Literary Journal published in the UK. What's amazing about it is that founder-editor Patricia Oxley has kept it going for 25 years, and continues to do so. She has just published an anthology of the best poems of sixty issues called First Sixty. The journal publishes poetry, reviews of and articles on poetry. She, a reader rather than a writer of poetry, and her husband William, a writer, also organise the Torbay Poetry Festival every year, and publish small, pamphlet-type books of poems. Some issues of the journal also have Focus Sheets, in which one poet is represented by about eight poems.

Of the anthology, Patricia Oxley writes, "If the editor of First Sixty: The Acumen Anthology believed in biographical notes, the reader would have realised they were reading poems by poets laureate, Forward and T S Eliot, prizewinners… There is even a poem, written under a pseudonym, by the murdered queen of Nepal. But the poems, as in each issue of the magazine, are made to speak for themselves and unless a poet's name is recognised, all these poems could have been written by poets in any of the above categories."
With some exceptions, the poems chosen are arranged chronologically. "I felt like I was reading a social history of the past quarter of a century. And not just a social history, but a history of poetic forms and fashions," Oxley says. When she first began editing Acumen, she says, many of the poems were concerned with searching for role-models, grandparents, those who had fought in the Wars, and "upheld firmer traditional values of life…"


Later, poverty, violence, mental illness, boredom with life. At the same time, "the personal poem came to be the norm to such an extent that if a poet wrote a fiction with the poem, it was taken as true."

After 9/11, "global visions were expressed, anger and hurt and bewilderment burst into the poetry. And suddenly questions appeared: about God, war; where had we gone wrong…" And Nature "often doubled for lost faiths."

   The book opens with a wonderful poem by Dannie Abse called 'The Abandoned', who uses an epigraph from George Herbert, "…thy absence doth excel/All distance known". The "thy" refers to God. Abse reminds him that He needs us more than we need him. The poem begins, "God, when you came to our house/we let you in. Hunted,/we gave you succour,/bandaged your hands,/bathed your feet./Wanting water we gave you wine./Wanting bread we gave you meat./Sometimes, God, you should recall/we are your hiding-place./Take away these hands/and you would fall."

 In the second section, Abse says, "Dear God in the end you had to go./Dismissing you, your absence made us sane./We keep the bread and wine for show." Part of the reason for dismissing God? "The winds of war and derelictions blow,/howling across the radioactive plain./We keep the bread and wine for show."

Instead of God, we now have politicians playing god. Duncan Forbes gives us a poem on Moggie (sic) Thatcher:

"My name is Moggie Thatcher, I'm a biter and a scratcher,/I'm renowned for landing on my feline feet./I'm the grocer's puss from Grantham, who became the National Anthem/And I like expensive cuts of public meat." In 'Bargain Hunt' by Simon Zonenblick, a man is looking for guns to kill kids and refugees who are not dying fast enough. A friend recommends a woman called Maggie Thatcher who "sells 'em by the thousands. Her deals are really good." But she's difficult to find as she's a bit of a "jet-setting, footloose old bird". He goes to the place indicated, but she wasn't there. "Still, I found someone else who was just as good./His name was Tony Blair."








While a Kerala government committee has said that the Coca-Cola plant at Plachimada in Palakkad district caused Rs 216 crore of damage to the environment before it shut down in 2004, the company has categorically denied this. It has argued that it was never asked to give evidence before the committee, that there was no scientific evidence and so on — in other words, as and when the state government decides to levy a fine on the company, the case is sure to head for the courts, perhaps to join the original case involving the very same Coca-Cola plant that is in the Supreme Court. In this case, when the matter went to the Kerala High Court, the single-judge bench ruled in favour of the panchayat which wanted the plant closed since, the panchayat had argued, it was reducing the availability of water and the effluents released by the plant were polluting the nearby areas. Coca-Cola challenged this decision before a division bench which, after a committee appointed by it submitted its report, ruled that Coca-Cola could draw up to 5 lakh litres of water a day except when the monsoon was below normal. The Centre for Science and Environment, which claimed Coca-Cola and Pepsi soft drinks had pesticide residues, in turn, challenged this committee's report, arguing it had seriously overestimated the region's recharging capacity and hence its 5-lakh-litre figure was excessive. All of which proves that proving culpability of Coca-Cola is not going to be an easy task.

 What can be said with a lot more certitude, and this applies to Pepsi which has also been asked by the government in Kerala to cut its consumption of water (by as much as 60 per cent), is that India desperately needs a groundwater usage policy. Right now, thanks to the fact that there is no law on the subject, the owner/lessee of land is free to use as much groundwater as she pleases — so Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and indeed any other user, pay just a nominal fee for the water they use. Till 2004, Coca-Cola used around 4 litres of water for every litre of Coca-Cola it produced, and this is now down to around 3.3 litres. But the company pays just 30-40 paise per 1,000 litres of groundwater by way of a cess to the state pollution control board — to pay for the treatment of the effluents it creates. At around 3.3 litres of water per a litre of cola, that's just one paisa for every 10 litres of cola sold in the market. While Coca-Cola and Pepsi doing this grabs the headlines, especially given the comparison in the costs of the water and the cola that's sold by them, this applies to all industrial firms. Some years ago, the government had moved on legislation that required industry to pay realistic prices for the groundwater it used, but this never moved forward beyond a point. While the government looks into the claims and counterclaims on pollution, it is time to revive that piece of legislation.






The words "mining" and "scam" seem to be inseparable. Most of these relate to mining of iron ore, although taint to other minerals can't be ruled out. The ingredients of the scam are as follows. The state government grants mining leases to dubious private parties in a non-transparent way, certainly without a public auction. Maybe there are the so-called "bedroom" auctions. Subsequently, there is very little monitoring of compliance of lease conditions. Enforcement and monitoring officials are bought out, or become compromised. Crony capitalism ensures that this wink-and-nod indulgence cuts across political lines, hence nobody makes a fuss. Add to this cocktail the voracious appetite of pre-Olympics China for iron ore which caused ore spot prices to jump by 500 per cent in the past five years. To top it all, you have ministers entangled in this gold rush. This heady cocktail was bound to lead to unforeseen political explosions. In Jharkhand, a former chief minister is in the dock charged with "selling" leases, and old leases are being investigated. In Karnataka, the government was split and almost toppled due to charges of illegal mining in Bellary. The billionaire barons of Bellary owe their meteoric rise to wealth from iron ore mining, and among them are the Reddys whose writ runs large in Bellary, and who are also cabinet ministers. In Orissa, in response to a PIL, more than 125 leases have been suspended on charges of flouting lease conditions.

 The Supreme Court-appointed Centrally Empowered Committee described Orissa's mining leases as a "can of worms". Finally, in Andhra Pradesh, the apex court has suspended mining operations of a mining company owned by the Reddy brothers of neighbouring Karnataka. The charges against the company are illegal mining, muscling onto neighbouring leases and encroaching state forest boundaries. As the political heat rises, there is, however, a danger that some obvious lessons may be lost in charges and counter-charges. The root causes of all these scams are inevitably linked to mispricing of the resource and licences, insufficient teeth for enforcement and monitoring of the leases, and an inadequate mechanism for addressing grievances. The mispricing problem can be fixed by making lease allotment more transparent, i.e. through a public auction. No special consideration should be given to "captive" mine leases, which often serve as disguised freebies. After all, since steel is sold at international parity prices, why should iron ore be artificially cheap to steelmakers? The same applies to coal, which will soon be auctioned to private miners and power companies.

Secondly, the enforcement and monitoring weakness can be fixed by setting up an independent and suitably empowered national mining regulator. The flouting of lease conditions can be easily verified by satellite imagery, a technology now used everywhere, from the protection of mangroves to detection of illegal construction. Indeed, the regulator may be required to display all satellite imagery of mines regularly on its website, much like the Trai reports on subscriber information of telecom players. Apart from leases, mining has many other challenges, such as land acquisition and rehabilitation of displaced people. The new mining reform legislation, currently in Parliament, is an opportunity to establish a new code of conduct for mining in India.







The automobile industry is one of the engines of the Indian economy. We are manufacturing a large number of cars today. Simultaneously, traffic jams are now commonplace in all metros. The purpose of the automobile revolution was to make travel fast and convenient. But what is happening is the opposite of this. Time taken in travel is increasing because cars cannot move due to congestion. People are reaching their destinations unnerved and uptight because of long hours spent in solitary confinement. Recently, this writer had an occasion to travel to three metros. Travelling from Howrah station to Ballygunge in Kolkata took an hour; from K R Puram to Basavanagudi in Bangalore took one and a half hours and from Nizamuddin to Karol Bag in Delhi took two hours. Only three years ago, the same journeys could be completed in one-third of the time. Just like overeating causes stomach sickness, excessive number of cars causes traffic sickness. More importantly, traffic jams created by car owners impose a huge cost on hapless bicyclists, scooterists and even pedestrians. These poorer people waste their time on the road because the motorists have captured our roads. Yet, the same large number of cars adds to the statistics of growth rate. The number of cars sold and the amount of petrol burnt in traffic jams are counted as additions to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country.

 The situation is no different in other countries. A webpage on Australia's traffic reads: "A hundred years ago, it took about one hour to travel from Paramatta to the centre of Sydney by horse and cart. Today, it takes longer by car." Data provided by the Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics of Australia show that congestion costs — principally longer travel times — were set to double in Australia by 2020. Professor Matthew A Turner of the Department of Economics at the University of Toronto has conducted a study on the development of the highway system in the US. He writes: "In 2001, the average American household spent over two and a half hours (or 161 person-minutes) per day in a car to accomplish travel that required only 147 minutes in 1995. Multiplying by households and working days, we find that US households used about 5 billion more hours in 2001 than in 1995 to accomplish the same amount of routine daily travel."

One suggested solution is to build more roads and flyovers. But, the number of cars keeps increasing and traffic jams keep coming back. Professor Turner says, "Adding 10 per cent more lane miles to a city increases vehicle miles travelled by 10 per cent. That is, in less than 10 years, new roads cause traffic increases directly proportional to the increase in capacity." We can see this happening before our eyes everyday. A large number of flyovers have been constructed in all metros but traffic jams have continued to increase. Limited amount of land is available in the cities for making roads, flyovers and parking lots, but the number of cars that can be produced is almost unlimited. Therefore, the supply of cars increases to overwhelm the available road space.

The improvements in fuel efficiency have made things worse. The Ambassador car gave an average of 11 km per litre in the 70s. Present-day cars give 20 km per litre. This has reduced the cost of car travel. More people are using cars, causing an increase in traffic jams. The problem will only become worse if an average of 30 km is obtained from the newest models.

The finance minister has increased the price of petrol and diesel, and also the tax on large cars in the Budget. This is a welcome move. But this does not solve the problem of traffic jams because this price burden is like a drop in the ocean for urban car owners. The impact of this price rise on a city dweller driving 2,500 km would be about Rs 500 per month. Moreover, this expenditure is mostly tax-deductible for professionals and businessmen. The net payment, therefore, is a paltry Rs 350 or so per month.

Expansion of metro and bus services will not help either. Professor Turner explains: Increases in the supply of public transit operate in the same way as road capacity increases do. Every person who gets out of his/her car and onto a bus makes free some extra capacity on the road. In a few years, the road is again filled up to its initial level. Adding public transit, therefore, increases the total number of persons who are transported but does not reduce traffic congestion.

The only solution to traffic jams, in that case, is to impose a "congestion tax". Londoners have to buy a daily permit of GBP 8 to enter the city centre. Although this has not eliminated congestion, the situation would be much worse without such a tax. Similar taxes have been imposed in Stockholm, Seoul and Singapore, and have shown good results. Similarly, we should impose an "entry fee" of Rs 1,000 per day for entry of cars into specified areas of the metros. Even government vehicles should not be exempt and the charge should not be reimbursed by the departments. Reduction in the number of government cars was a significant contributor to the easing of traffic congestion in Seoul. Metro and bus networks should be expanded along with the imposition of this congestion tax. That will provide a cheaper and quicker mode of transport to the people. Just as rich New Yorkers prefer to take the subway instead of driving into the city, so also rich Indians will take Volvo busses to the Writers' Building.

However, care should be taken while implementing such a congestion tax. It is reported that the City of London has collected a massive 800 million pounds through this tax. But most of the collections have been spent in the administrative expenditures of the police. Therefore, we must use modern electronic methods to implement this scheme and not allow the bureaucracy to usurp the collections.

The Hoda Committee, constituted by the Planning Commission, had given the same suggestion in its report of 2006. Other recommendations of the committee were: Increase in parking fees; increase in registration charges of cars; and collection of annual road tax on the basis of the size of the car or carbon emissions. These suggestions must be implemented forthwith. We should not waste precious time of the people for securing unreal GDP growth from the sale of cars and burning of petrol in traffic jams.







It's a shame and a tragedy that this vaunted "liberal" state of ours showed no sense of loss and expressed no regret or lament, except for a few words of bureaucratic propriety, as one of its most famous painters surrendered his passport and became a foreign citizen under circumstances that no democratic nation would be proud of.

 "We would be very happy if M F Husain returns to India," said Home Minister P Chidambaram, with a stiff bureaucratic insensitivity that's his wont. "The government is ready to provide security to the artist if he plans to return," said Home Secretary G K Pillai, glibly forgetting that there was no security for Husain while he still lived in India. "Husain is the pride of India," chimed Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, making a bland statement that only bureaucrats are capable of.

It's as if Husain is the one to blame for his choosing to leave India. There's no recognition in these comments of the criminalities that forced him into exile in the first place, no atonement or apology or acknowledgment of failure, no anxiousness to bring the "pride of India" back with honour and respect. Even from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh we haven't heard a word, as if he has nothing to say on a matter that touches on India's image as a liberal democratic entity.

We aren't dealing here with the matter of an individual Indian deciding to relinquish his citizenship. Thousands of other Indians have done that before Husain. We aren't bothered also by what many see as Husain's selfish motives, including his alleged desire to evade Indian tax authorities. These may or may not be true. More disturbing for us is the fact that a creative Indian — of Husain's fame and stature at that — was hounded for years by political wolves, attacked and humiliated at every opportunity, till he was forced to leave home to pursue his art in peace at the fag end of his life. But the state of India didn't come to his rescue and take a firm stand in favour of what constitutes the very spirit of our democracy — the freedom of thought and expression.

Of course, there's a counter-argument and it's well-known: If Husain has the freedom of thought and expression, so do his opponents. Yes, but the language of his opponents is violence, and violence can't be a democratic right. We'd have loved if they had engaged in a philosophical debate, exchanging arguments. That would have been democratic. But they chose to attack his shows, vandalise his works, raid even his home and museum, cast upon him a religious slur, and slam him with scores of politically-motivated court cases, enough to rob anybody's mind of peace.

These were acts of naked cultural jingoism, an open defiance of the very ideals that India is supposed to stand for. Yet, the state of India stood silently. Nobody thought it was essential for a democracy to keep creativity, as distinct from motivated calumny, beyond the pale of law courts. The society at large simply turned the other way as the issue degenerated brazenly into one of Islam and Hinduism, a Muslim artist painting Hindu goddesses in the nude, thereby, in the Hindu point of view, committing a cardinal sin. Mobs took over; vote-bank politics eclipsed moral issues and the authorities thought it was safer to do nothing.

An ideal was thus murdered in the open while the nation watched. What good is Chidambaram's promise to Husain when we can't even protect our own belief? Salman Rushdie's is a bad example. Rushdie's enemies were from outside his country; Husain's are from within his. How good even a prison would be — that's what round-the-clock security would mean for Husain — in an intolerant, unsympathetic society red in bigotry and hatred, where culture is increasingly "talibanised", and the authorities are hesitant to do anything even as the fundamental rights of citizens are openly violated by criminals and hoodlums?

This brings me to another aspect of the Husain controversy that even many of our so-called liberals would like to flaunt. Freedom to express is fine, it's argued, but stoking or hurting communal feelings is not. I agree. But I fail to understand how a nude Saraswati can hurt Hindu feelings when the subject is only a concept and we have many ancient temples lavishly sculpted with nude gods and goddesses. Even that's beside the point. In an open, pluralist, democratic society, there's no such thing as absolute truth. There'll always be a differencse of opinion and clashes of views. That's how a democratic society finds its way and corrects itself to stay alive. Do we now propose to stop expressing lest someone somewhere should feel offended? Is it our intention that we should shut our windows and entomb our mind?






In post-Independence India, time and again there have been many moments when a policy change or an intrepid entrepreneur causes a complete change of the game and catalyses either the birth of or a rapid transformation of the landscape for that particular business sector. In the last 30 years alone, some of these game-changing milestones include Sanjay Gandhi's launching of Maruti, Rajiv Gandhi's dismantling of licensing and moves to modernise technology and telecommunication sectors, Reliance Industries' first really mega project (Jamnagar refinery) and subsequent entry into the telecommunication sector, Kishore Biyani's bold moves in retail followed by Mukesh Ambani's entry into the sector, arrival of Infosys, L N Mittal's spectacular success globally, leading to escalation of ambition of many others in India, Ratan Tata's successful launch of Nano, leading to many others in other industries to look at innovative solutions for India's specific challenges and needs, etc.

 Fortis' investment in Parkway of Singapore could well be the turning point for the Indian health-care sector. In 2010, health care is already India's second-largest consumer-spending sector. At about Rs 180,000 crore in size, it is significantly smaller than Indians' spending on food and grocery, but already more than what they spend on clothing and also more than all other sectors. With a growth rate of over 15 per cent per year in the last decade, and this growth is likely to be sustained for decades to come on account of several factors, including the most obvious: the country's population may touch the 1.2 billion mark by the time the next census is concluded in 2011, and then add another 150-odd million in the next 10 years alone! By 2020, the size of India's health-care industry may well be over Rs 600,000 crore.

There are many unique characteristics of this sector. The oddest one is that it already has the presence of some of India's largest and most entrepreneurial business groups, including Tata, Birla (almost all branches) and Ambani (both Mukesh and Anil). It also has some of the most visionary and dynamic entrepreneurs, including Dr Prathap Reddy of Apollo, Analjit Singh of Max and Dr Devi Shetty of Narayan Hrudyalaya (not to mention Malvinder and Shivinder Singh of Fortis). There are many centres of excellence in the public sector which include AIIMS (Delhi). There are many other exemplary institutions among a host of not-for-profit institutions, such as the CBCI-run St John's in Bangalore. Yet, until now (and very surprisingly), the health-care sector has seen interest from the private sector more as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity rather than a high-potential business.

It is in this context that Fortis' investment and acquisition of a significant stake in Parkway of Singapore is a potential game-changer. In one stroke, it has catapulted Fortis to becoming the largest private operator of hospital beds in Asia with over 10,000 beds spread across seven Asian countries. While financial analysts are more focused on the price paid for this investment, most are probably missing the many strategic advantages that Fortis can reap with this audacious move, and how it has set itself up to potentially become one of the largest and perhaps the most influential health-care services providers in the world by 2020.

The interest in the Indian health-care industry is likely to go up exponentially from now onwards. Firstly, the current incumbents (most notably Apollo, Max, Narayan and Care) are not likely to take this challenge lightly and will certainly accelerate their own growth plans. The interest from financial investors in India and overseas is already very high in this sector, and fortunately with practically no policy constraints on raising local and foreign capital, unlike in some other high-promise sectors such as retail and education, these incumbents will not find it difficult to raise the needed financial resources. Secondly, going by history, it is but a matter of time before one or more of the large Indian business houses announce their own mega-plans for entering this sector as yet one more major diversification.

India needs more than a million new hospital beds, distributed all across, right now. More millions of beds, entailing investments in hundreds of billions of dollars, will be needed in the coming decades. Fortis' audacious move could well change the game for the Indian health-care sector!






The pre-Budget Economic Survey of the government, published in late February, exudes optimism about economic growth: "Indian GDP can be expected to grow at 8.5 +/- 0.25 per cent (in 2010-11), with a full recovery breaching the 9 per cent mark in 2011-12." In his Budget Speech, the finance minister said, "With some luck, I hope to breach the 10 per cent mark in the not-too-distant future." Government statements at Budget time are expected to be optimistic. But it is surely time to sit up and take notice when normally hardnosed commentators like Martin Wolf write, "I have little difficulty in imagining that India can sustain growth of close to 10 per cent a year for a long time" (Financial Times, March 3, 2010). How justified is such exuberance on growth expectations?

Much of it is based on solid experience, especially the economy's resilience during the Great Recession. In the five years up to 2007-08, India's economic growth averaged close to 9 per cent a year. The downdraft from the global crisis certainly slowed India's momentum in 2008-09 but much less than the overwhelming majority of international and domestic analysts (myself included) had feared back in the post-Lehman autumn of 2008. Despite dropping a shade below 6 per cent in a couple of quarters, full-year growth in 2008-09 was a surprisingly resilient 6.7 per cent, thanks largely to massive fiscal and monetary stimuli. In 2009-10, despite a fairly serious agricultural drought, overall economic growth is officially expected to exceed 7 per cent. And that's an estimate very few would bet against. Then, with normal rainfall, what's so difficult about growing at 8.5 per cent in fiscal 2010-11, above 9 per cent in 2011-12 and perhaps 10 per cent soon after? Well, let's dig a little deeper.

The acceleration of India's growth from around 6 per cent in the early years of the decade to 9 per cent by 2005-06 can be attributed to several factors. An important one must surely be the remarkable rise in the rate of aggregate investment from around 25 per cent of GDP in the early years to 35 per cent by the middle of the decade (Figure 2). This unprecedented increase in the investment rate can, in turn, be attributed to a number of interlinked causes, including a sharp increase in private corporate savings (depreciation plus retained profits) from below 4 per cent of GDP in the early years to above 8 per cent in the later years; remarkable progress in fiscal consolidation which improved governmental savings by 4-5 per cent of GDP by 2007-08; and relatively low nominal and real interest rates (Figure 3). The last feature was undoubtedly buttressed by the buoyant (pre-global financial crisis) international capital markets and the concomitant surge in foreign capital inflows into India during 2004-08.

The Great Recession and its aftermath have hurt some of these growth-friendly conditions. First, because of expansionary fiscal actions undertaken to counter recessionary forces (and increase government pay and expand entitlement programmes), India's combined fiscal deficit (Centre and states) remained above 10 per cent of GDP in 2009-10, double the pre-crisis level of 5 per cent in 2007-08. Despite a modest deficit reduction of about 1.5 per cent of GDP projected in the Central Budget for 2010-11, government borrowing requirements will remain high at a time when the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has begun to reverse the exceptional liquidity expansion and policy rate cuts of late 2008 and early 2009. Unsurprisingly, the yield on 10-year benchmark government bonds has hardened post-Budget. With domestic inflation high (nearly 10 per cent year on year in February as measured by the WPI and significantly higher according to partial CPI indices), there is a strong likelihood of further policy rate increases by RBI in the months ahead. So, the investment rate, which took a modest knock in 2008-09 (as did domestic savings), may not recover any time soon. It might even fall further.

Second, the strong GDP growth during the noughties was somewhat lopsided, with about two-thirds coming from services, less than 10 per cent from agriculture and the remainder from industry. Long-term sustainability requires a more balanced pattern, with higher contributions from agriculture and industry. But industry, especially manufacturing, remains burdened by poor infrastructure, rigid, anti-employment labour laws and a still complex indirect tax structure. The government has made some limited progress in tackling infrastructure constraints and the promise of an integrated goods and services tax (GST) by spring 2011 buoys hopes. However, there is no political appetite for reform of labour laws, which could unlock enormous potential in employment-intensive manufacturing and hugely enhance the inclusion of unskilled, non-farm labour in India's development, especially in the country's poorest states.

In the short run, the prospects for faster growth of the tradable sectors (industry, agriculture and traded services) are clouded further by the recent trend of an appreciating rupee. Between March 2009 and February 2010, the RBI's six-currency real effective exchange rate (REER) index of the rupee has shown an appreciation of a hefty 15 per cent, partly because of an apparently novel, non-interventionist approach by RBI in the face of rebounding capital inflows. Unfortunately, this relatively new and questionable stance comes at a time when China's renminbi remains firmly pegged to a depreciating US dollar. The exchange rate toll on tradable production will look worse as the higher inflation numbers for March, and perhaps April, feed into the REER index and bodes ill for the already high (10 per cent of GDP) merchandise trade deficit in the quarters ahead.

In the longer run, there is no denying the favourable potential for India's growth prospects from the demographic dividend of a young population, the technological "catch-up" advantages of a relative late-comer to development and the impressive efflorescence of entrepreneurial talent. But transforming this potential into sustained high growth requires politically difficult commitments to fiscal consolidation and serious reforms of agriculture, infrastructure, labour laws, education, retail trade, energy pricing, banking and urban policy. This is especially true when the "new normal" for the global economic environment suggests slower growth of industrial countries, a rising possibility of trade frictions and uncertain energy prices.

Over the past six years, the UPA government has spent far more of its energies on expanding entitlement programmes than on economic reforms. Against that background, it may me safer to bet on medium-term economic growth of 7-8 per cent than the 9-10 per cent blithely projected by government spokespersons… and Martin Wolf.

The author is honorary professor at ICRIER and former chief economic adviser to the Government of India. Views expressed are personal







That Leonardo da Vinci embedded secret clues in his paintings has led to a slew of successful novels, not to mention movies. But the fictional Dr Robert Langdon , in his effort to crack the da Vinci Code, evidently missed one major pointer that the Italian maestro left behind which has tremendous significance in today's world: the size of the apostles' plates as they sat in row for the Last Supper.

Making up for Langdon's lapse, a pair of brothers — one a director of the Food & Brand Lab at Cornell University and the other a professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College — have tracked the increase in portion sizes by examining 52 depictions of the Last Supper, painted over the past thousand years by da Vinci, Titian, Tintoretto, El Greco and others. By comparing the relative dimensions of the food and the disciples' heads, they concluded that the size of the main platter set before Christ and his companions has grown 69% in a millennium, each plate has swelled 66% and the bread has expanded 23%.

That seems to provide just the right measure of divine justification to let Americans off the hook for introducing the world to supersized helpings. Indeed, the propensity for bigger portions (as chronicled in the paintings) seem to conclusively predate the surpluses created by modern industrial farming which is supposed to have instigated America's gluttony in the first place.

Whether paintings are an accurate gauge of social and sociological phenomena is debatable of course, but there have been instances of scientists turning to art to bolster their theories. A decade ago, Swiss scientists pored over paintings and art works to document the retreat of Alpine glaciers, for example. If indeed it is proved that art imitates life, an entirely new genre of research may gain credence!







Three months after Google threatened to quit China over allegations of cyber attacks directed at email accounts of Chinese human rights activists, the company finally announced it was relocating to Hong Kong.


The decision follows a long face-off over censorship. In retrospect, this was inevitable. Google launched its search engine in 2006, lured by the prospect of gaining entry into the huge Chinese market, after agreeing to censorship of its search results. The move had come in for a great deal of criticism. Many saw it as a needless compromise by a company that prided itself on its 'don't be evil' motto, but readily capitulated before the lucre of the Chinese market (nearly 340 million Chinese now go online as compared to just 10 million a decade ago). The company justified its decision saying its exit would hurt civil liberties more. Well, four years later, it has done just that.

The decision ends a stormy relationship with the authorities that saw the company sign the Global Network Initiative Agreement with rivals Microsoft and Yahoo, pledging better protection of online privacy of speech and against government interference in 2008; something that it was clearly unable to deliver. However, many would argue that its decision was driven not so much by commitment to freedom of speech as by limited commercial success. Unlike in many other markets, including India, where Google is numero uno, in China, it is the number two search engine with just about 30% of the market, way behind local giant Baidu's 60% market share.

It is quite possible the company, realising it is unlikely to overtake the entrenched market leader, decided to pull out for commercial reasons; but it does no harm to pitch its exit as fight for freedom of speech. Just as it does not hurt us in India to use this opportunity to drive home the point that India offers far more open and transparent a market, one where companies can play by the rules and, in case of dispute, seek legal redress. Multinationals looking to invest and trying to decide between India and China would do well to take note.







The proposal to give tax breaks on infrastructure bonds of private sector companies is a bad idea. For one, the incentive that private builders of infrastructure need is reassurance about revenues. That calls for depoliticisation of user charges.

Investment in power is hostage to the political penchant to patronise theft or give power away free. Tolls for roads are increasingly gaining acceptance, but not the idea that an honest kisan does not have the right to ride his tractor up an embankment and on to the wrong side of a gradient-separated expressway.

Fleet operators must have the freedom to pass on a rise in fuel costs, without half his fleet being damaged by violent protests against 'neoliberal' policies. Such are the key challenges the political leadership must address. Further, to make some private bonds artificially cheap at a time when a market for corporate bonds is yet to take off is to distort the nascent market. Non-infrastructure companies would find themselves edged out, unless they also start an infrastructure arm, raise statesubsidised debt and divert the funds to other arms.

Given the fungibility of money, it would be a regulatory nightmare to keep track of end-use. The corporate debt market would be distorted in another fashion as well. Tax breaks for a company are likely to be interpreted as state guarantee of viability and safety. In case of default, there would be immense pressure on the government to respond to a frenzied cry to 'save the retail investor'.

Further, when the government wants to move to a regime that eschews tax exemptions and resultant distortions , why open a new front of exemptions? If an infrastructure project is worth fiscal support, why not just use the existing window of viability gap funding?

At a time when $8 trillion worth of cumulative global forex reserves are scurrying to find a safe haven, shortage of capital is pure make-believe. If entry and exit of capital are facilitated (including in insurance), returns on investment made immune to non-commercial risk and macroeconomic management is credible, the world's savings and not just India's, would rush in to fund infrastructure. Tax breaks are a lazy way out.








International Women's Day on March 8 this year has initiated extensive discussion and debate on the role of women in public institutions in India.


The passage of the women's reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha is a land mark development. The decision by the Supreme Court regarding the status of women in the armed forces is another major step in getting fair treatment for women. It's about time that Corporate India also introspects on the role women directors can and should play in the governance of companies in India.

At a Downing Street breakfast meeting with leading female executives on the International Women's Day , Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, "It is completely unacceptable that some of our top 100 public companies have not a single woman on their boards and that none at all have a majority of women on their board" . Reports show that one in four FTSE companies still have an exclusively male board and only four have female chief executives.

In India, it is estimated that majority of the corporate boards do not have a woman independent director and only 5% of directors are women. Out of these women directors, only the large companies have professional independent directors and majority of women directors are from the promoter families. In China also around 5% of board seats are with women, but most of them are professional women. In the US roughly 15% of the board members of the Fortune 500 companies are women as reported by Nicola Clark in her recent article in the New York Times. In the EU nearly 10% of the board members are women.

But the most advanced country in this area is Norway, which in 2003 passed a law requiring that 40% of all company board members be women. It has been very successfully implemented not only in public companies but even privatelyheld companies voluntarily have significant number of women directors. Spain and Netherlands have passed similar laws and France, Britain, Germany, etc., are discussing such law. On the other end of the spectrum are countries such as Japan and South Korea with very few women directors.

In India, the boards are generally homogenous , most of them 'Old Boys Clubs' with men over 55 years of age coming from similar educational, socioeconomic , professional or business backgrounds . This is not conducive to having a rich discussion in the board room which requires diverse points of views to be presented and debated before taking important decisions. A range of opinions, lateral and out-of-the-box thinking, different insights and views on future opportunities are missed out in such boards' deliberations putting the companies at a long-term disadvantage.

Having woman directors, it is believed , will improve board's effectiveness and quality of its decisions. It will help the boards become more sensitive to issues faced by women employees including unequal opportunities, working conditions, safety and sexual harassment . Boards will be able to take advantage of additional opportunities due to better customer insights and intuitions of women directors. It will reduce the risk of the enterprise by having different points of view at the board level. Because of women's greater association with children, schools, healthcare, and community issues, it is likely that corporate social responsibility performance will improve. The basic proposition is that the diversity achieved by having more women directors is in the longterm interest of any company, its employees and customers and creates superior shareholder value.

THE next most important question is 'how should it be implemented' . Should there be a law, regulation or a quota? It is completely unnecessary. Once the business leaders, company promoters, chairmen of boards become convinced that having women on the board is in the long-term interest of the company, they would act voluntarily. No legislation or regulation will be required . However, a discussion on this important subject should be promoted by industry associations like CII, Ficci, Assocham, Nasscom, IBA, etc., to bring this issue into focus. It is an idea whose time has come and the enlightened business leaders will make it happen.

Of course, there are practical issues in implementing this idea, the most important being the availability of competent and experienced women to become board members. Fortunately, there are growing number of business and professional women to take up these positions. In addition, there are a number of women serving on the boards of NGOs, in educational institutions and in government who, with additional orientation in business and finance, will make excellent board members. The search firms specialising in Board Searches will play an important role in this initiative. However, this talent pool of potential women board members should be diverse . It will defeat the purpose if we end up with an 'Old Girls Club'.

Equally important, the induction of women on board of directors should be phased in over the next few years as existing directors retire and suitable women director candidates are identified. We all know that for a change to happen, particularly in business there has to be a clear objective and someone has to be responsible . The responsibility for inducting women directors should rest with the chairmen of companies and, as a first step, they should propose the following resolution (or a variation thereof) in their next board meeting:

"Our company believes that there is a significant long-term benefit in having adequate number of competent professional women as independent directors on our board of directors. This will provide diversity of perspectives, enrich discussion, enhance decision-making process in the board, reduce business risk and enable us to become even more sensitive to the needs and aspirations of our women employees and customers.

"In the light of the above, the company sets for itself a voluntary goal to have (one or more) independent directors on the board by 2011/12/13 and at least one board committee chairperson by 2014/15."

(The author is chairman of Shriram Capital and independent director on several boards .)








Kurt Godel used to walk every day with his friend Albert Einstein at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton. Einstein told a colleague that in the later years of his life, his own work — which had married space to time and spawned the atom bomb — no longer meant much to him and that he used to come to the institute merely "to have the privilege to be able to walk home with Godel."

If Einstein had upset our everyday notions about the physical world with his theory of relativity, his younger friend had had a similarly subversive effect on our understanding of the abstract world of mathematics. Godel , who has often been called the greatest logician since Aristotle , seemed to be unfazed by Einstein's reputation and did not hesitate to challenge his ideas.

Although Einstein and Godel seemed to hover on a higher plane than the rest of humanity, they had also morphed into 'museum pieces' , to use Einstein's words. Einstein did not accept the quantum theory and Godel believed in ghosts, rebirth and time travel and thought that mathematical abstractions were every bit as real as tables and chairs, a view that philosophers had come to regard as laughably naive.

"Both Godel and Einstein insisted that the world is independent of our minds, yet rationally organised and open to human understanding. United by a shared sense of intellectual isolation, they found solace in their companionship," writes Jim Holt in Time Bandits, his profile of the two mega-scientists in The New Yorker.

Of course their politics differed . Einstein supported Adlai Stevenson and Godel voted for Eisenhower in 1952, which prompted the genial relativist to exclaim that his brilliant companion had "gone completely crazy".

As usual, Einstein turned out to be prophetically right, but only after his death. After Einstein's demise, Godel became ever more withdrawn. At some point, he tipped over the edge. Fearful of being poisoned, he would have his wife, a former cabaret dancer, test his food. And when she was no longer there, he succumbed to malnutrition. Along with inventing "proofs" for the existence of God, Godel's work also ushered in a unique philosophy of mind that challenges reductionists and those trying to mechanise it with mindless programs. For all his quirks, Godel also showed that the truth (satyam) could be both beautiful (sundaram) and transcendent (shivam).







The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) raised policy interest rates and through its communiqué signalled that this could be just the start. The RBI has started the process of normalisation of monetary policy to a situation more appropriate for a growing economy rather than of an economy in crisis. Thus, the RBI could be seen hiking the reverse repo rate by a cumulative of 125-150 bps through end-March 2011.

But the point being debated is: will the RBI move kill growth? The first dose of hike was anticipated and, in fact, the market was expecting the RBI to move by around 50 bps on the reverse repo rate. The banks have already been adjusting their deposit and lending rates upwards and there might not be a further increase in the lending rates due to this move. Further, liquidity remains comfortable even today and the RBI would continue to ensure that there is adequate liquidity in the system at all points so that the government's borrowing programme does not suffer.

In essence, the operative rate for the system is likely to be the lower end of the interest rate corridor — the reverse repo rate rather than the repo rate. And if this is true, then jerky adjustments to interest rates are unlikely. The important point to note is that with inflation — based on both wholesale price index and and consumer price index — being so high, the real interest rates in the economy would continue to remain negative for a significant period of time despite expectations of a gradual increase in policy rates by the RBI. And, this is

However, growth would not have risen to anything beyond 8% even if RBI had held rates steady. Recent numbers indicate that a significant push to the IIP had come from capital goods and consumer durables, and the pace of growth in these sectors was more likely to have moderated to a reasonable and sustainable pace rather than the current scorching pace of 50% and 30% respectively. Far from being undesirable, this would have been a necessary normalisation of growth.

The risks to growth do not come significantly from the RBI's monetary policy normalisation. Agriculture would need to be keenly watched: there might be some negative surprises, with indications of El Nino being strong for another year. A second consecutive year of monsoon failure in India could prove difficult to handle, as there is little fiscal room available.

The other risk for India continues to be the global situation. Any risk aversion could prove detrimental for India's consumption dynamics via wealth erosion out of the equity market. As flow of external funds also gets affected, the pressure of government borrowings can risk a crowding out of the private sector credit demand.

Further, it appears that risks of a double dip in the global economies have increased due to the sovereign debt issues. If this comes true, the exports from India are likely to move lower once again, thus also affecting growth.

Growth in India remains strong and resilient. To prevent any excessive overheating of the economy, the RBI is expected to normalise monetary policy but is unlikely to tighten to the extent of throttling the economy, especially as risks out of the global scenario still exist. A 7.8-8% growth for 2010-11 would be reasonable for the Indian economy.







An increase in interest rates when industry is showing signs of moving back to the high growth trajectory will have an adverse impact on the growth momentum. Although the recent hikes in repo rate and reverse repo rate are small, these have come after a 75-basis-point increase in cash reserve ratio (CRR) announced by RBI in January 2010. These are clear signals from RBI on where it wants the interest rates to move in the days ahead.

With subdued credit growth, the banking sector has not immediately responded with an across-the-board interest rates hike. However, an upward revision in interest on auto and home loans has already been seen. Industry is apprehensive that interest rates for other borrowers could also harden. If this happens, the support for stabilising growth would weaken.

The capital expenditure cycle in the economy is gaining strength and companies are taking a relook at projects that had been shelved due to the global economic crisis. Investment projects are interest-sensitive and even a marginal increase in interest cost can have a large impact on the internal rate of return rendering them unviable. With the global economy still susceptible to shocks, continuous strengthening of the levers of domestic demand is important. Supporting consumption and investment in the economy should, therefore, be a priority.

By recommending this, one is not saying that inflation should not be on the radar screen of policymakers. It should be a matter of concern, especially now when it is close to the double-digit mark. However, we need to closely analyse the underlying factors for this inflation build-up and use appropriate tools to address them.

Ficci's research shows that the current bout of inflation is largely supply-side driven. Rising prices of primary articles, food articles in particular, have led to a spurt in the inflation rate. These prices are effected by factors such as international commodity prices, domestic availability of agricultural products and efficiencies in the distribution channel.

Food price inflation can be effectively tackled only by increasing the domestic availability of agricultural products and by ensuring that there is a seamless distribution channel for making these available in different parts of the country.

Using monetary tools to address food price inflation may, therefore, prove counterproductive. While a tight monetary policy will fail to arrest rising prices of food products, it will certainly have a bearing on industrial and economic growth. We saw this happen in 2007-08 when, in response to the building inflationary pressures, RBI hiked all the three key variables. This macro management of monetary variables took a toll on industrial growth so much so that by the time the global crisis hit India, our industrial performance was sputtering. Even in the late 1990s, we had a similar experience and it took a while for the economy to regain momentum.

A small increase in interest rates now may not destabilise industrial growth, but it will certainly hit investor and business confidence. Remember that in Budget 2010, the fiscal stimulus measures were partially rolled back by the government. Hardening of interest rates now may, therefore, prove to be a double whammy for industry. And in any case, with inflation expected to begin to die down by the middle of the year, why the hurry to harden the interest rate structure?








An increase in interest rates when industry is showing signs of moving back to the high growth trajectory will have an adverse impact on the growth momentum. Although the recent hikes in repo rate and reverse repo rate are small, these have come after a 75-basis-point increase in cash reserve ratio (CRR) announced by RBI in January 2010. These are clear signals from RBI on where it wants the interest rates to move in the days ahead.

With subdued credit growth, the banking sector has not immediately responded with an across-the-board interest rates hike. However, an upward revision in interest on auto and home loans has already been seen. Industry is apprehensive that interest rates for other borrowers could also harden. If this happens, the support for stabilising growth would weaken.

The capital expenditure cycle in the economy is gaining strength and companies are taking a relook at projects that had been shelved due to the global economic crisis. Investment projects are interest-sensitive and even a marginal increase in interest cost can have a large impact on the internal rate of return rendering them unviable. With the global economy still susceptible to shocks, continuous strengthening of the levers of domestic demand is important. Supporting consumption and investment in the economy should, therefore, be a priority.

By recommending this, one is not saying that inflation should not be on the radar screen of policymakers. It should be a matter of concern, especially now when it is close to the double-digit mark. However, we need to closely analyse the underlying factors for this inflation build-up and use appropriate tools to address them.

Ficci's research shows that the current bout of inflation is largely supply-side driven. Rising prices of primary articles, food articles in particular, have led to a spurt in the inflation rate. These prices are effected by factors such as international commodity prices, domestic availability of agricultural products and efficiencies in the distribution channel.

Food price inflation can be effectively tackled only by increasing the domestic availability of agricultural products and by ensuring that there is a seamless distribution channel for making these available in different parts of the country.

Using monetary tools to address food price inflation may, therefore, prove counterproductive. While a tight monetary policy will fail to arrest rising prices of food products, it will certainly have a bearing on industrial and economic growth. We saw this happen in 2007-08 when, in response to the building inflationary pressures, RBI hiked all the three key variables. This macro management of monetary variables took a toll on industrial growth so much so that by the time the global crisis hit India, our industrial performance was sputtering. Even in the late 1990s, we had a similar experience and it took a while for the economy to regain momentum.

A small increase in interest rates now may not destabilise industrial growth, but it will certainly hit investor and business confidence. Remember that in Budget 2010, the fiscal stimulus measures were partially rolled back by the government. Hardening of interest rates now may, therefore, prove to be a double whammy for industry. And in any case, with inflation expected to begin to die down by the middle of the year, why the hurry to harden the interest rate structure?







Media agencies have evolved at a faster pace

In the business of communications, the heart and the mind work together. The media is the engine that drives the heart, the creative message. We are a complementary force or, in many ways, part of the same team that is focused on nurturing and building brands. The changing media landscape and the way the media is consumed have resulted in huge opportunities to use media creatively and innovatively.

Media agencies have evolved at a faster pace than most agencies that offer only creative services simply because they have invested in more knowledge and skills that have helped them deliver a powerful value for money equation. Businesses invest heavily on marketing, often the second largest component of expenditure. What they demand and deserve is not just an artistic rendition of their product or brand, but true returns on their investment (ROI). The consolidation of media with one agency results in effective leveraging of the entire volume of media that is planned and bought to ensure better or best pricing that works.

Every rupee saved can be invested back in the business, be it brand building or greater capacity or R&D. However media strategy is not just about managing costs or delivering efficiencies, it's about building connections with the consumer effectively.

The key challenge is to ensure a desired outcome. It is the reason why leading media agencies have made the effort and invested in specialist tools to understand the consumer, models for analyzing and allocating budgets and research to evaluate outcomes.

Our clients rely on us because they see value. Brands, both international and local, have grown in stature on the strength of the use of media.

Since the late nineties, the media function has grown in dominance, due to two key reasons. First, the focus on impacting business results. Some media agencies realized the opportunity and stressed on outcomes rather than sheer output. Second, the focus on the relationship between the brand and consumer. Successful media engages with the brand impacting every important touch point and builds innovative solutions to use the media.


Media innovations are not brand ideas

In a world of over-choice and hyper competition, merely focusing on brand awareness is futile. The goal of brands should not be to increase awareness, but to reduce choice. And the only way this can be achieved is through avid consumer engagement. An engagement that creates conversations about stuff consumers are interested in...

Hence we in the industry need to understand that consumers are not going to listen to what brands have to say, unless what brands have to say interest them. This is the crux of every long-lasting relationship, and so it is between brand and consumer. The future of brand building will be about creating brand-consumer conversations through media-neutral ideas. And not about buying idea-neutral media.


Fragmentation, regional complexity and media costs have resulted in media agencies developing specialized skills to master this new landscape. As a result, they have grown in size and stature. However, by no stretch of imagination can media be said to be more important than the idea creators themselves, for the simple reason that media innovations are not brand ideas. A media innovation can make a good brand idea great. But, a weak brand idea renders a strong media innovation useless.

As technology empowers consumers through the net, DVR and mobile, the days of brands pushing their ideas through effective media buys are over. Consumers will pull and consume the ideas they like and want to spend time with. That's a reality that we all need to live with.

What does that mean? Very simply, that the real king here is the consumer...Engaging consumers, creating conversations and building brand-consumer relationships are enormously challenging tasks. These require advertising agencies and media agencies to collaborate more than ever before.

If advertising agencies and media agencies race against each other, there would only be one loser... the brand.








In a world of over-choice and hyper competition, merely focusing on brand awareness is futile. The goal of brands should not be to increase awareness, but to reduce choice. And the only way this can be achieved is through avid consumer engagement. An engagement that creates conversations about stuff consumers are interested in...

Hence we in the industry need to understand that consumers are not going to listen to what brands have to say, unless what brands have to say interest them. This is the crux of every long-lasting relationship, and so it is between brand and consumer. The future of brand building will be about creating brand-consumer conversations through media-neutral ideas. And not about buying idea-neutral media.

Fragmentation, regional complexity and media costs have resulted in media agencies developing specialized skills to master this new landscape. As a result, they have grown in size and stature. However, by no stretch of imagination can media be said to be more important than the idea creators themselves, for the simple reason that media innovations are not brand ideas. A media innovation can make a good brand idea great. But, a weak brand idea renders a strong media innovation useless.

As technology empowers consumers through the net, DVR and mobile, the days of brands pushing their ideas through effective media buys are over. Consumers will pull and consume the ideas they like and want to spend time with. That's a reality that we all need to live with.

What does that mean? Very simply, that the real king here is the consumer...Engaging consumers, creating conversations and building brand-consumer relationships are enormously challenging tasks. These require advertising agencies and media agencies to collaborate more than ever before.

If advertising agencies and media agencies race against each other, there would only be one loser... the brand.







In the business of communications, the heart and the mind work together. The media is the engine that drives the heart, the creative message. We are a complementary force or, in many ways, part of the same team that is focused on nurturing and building brands. The changing media landscape and the way the media is consumed have resulted in huge opportunities to use media creatively and innovatively.

Media agencies have evolved at a faster pace than most agencies that offer only creative services simply because they have invested in more knowledge and skills that have helped them deliver a powerful value for money equation. Businesses invest heavily on marketing, often the second largest component of expenditure. What they demand and deserve is not just an artistic rendition of their product or brand, but true returns on their investment (ROI). The consolidation of media with one agency results in effective leveraging of the entire volume of media that is planned and bought to ensure better or best pricing that works.

Every rupee saved can be invested back in the business, be it brand building or greater capacity or R&D.


However media strategy is not just about managing costs or delivering efficiencies, it's about building connections with the consumer effectively.

The key challenge is to ensure a desired outcome. It is the reason why leading media agencies have made the effort and invested in specialist tools to understand the consumer, models for analyzing and allocating budgets and research to evaluate outcomes.

Our clients rely on us because they see value. Brands, both international and local, have grown in stature on the strength of the use of media.


Since the late nineties, the media function has grown in dominance, due to two key reasons. First, the focus on impacting business results. Some media agencies realized the opportunity and stressed on outcomes rather than sheer output. Second, the focus on the relationship between the brand and consumer. Successful media engages with the brand impacting every important touch point and builds innovative solutions to use the media.








The Maoists are trying their level best to prove right Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's assertion that they represent India's biggest internal security threat, blowing up rail tracks, killing policemen and eliminating class enemies in the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Precisely because they have escalated matters to the level of an internal security threat, there is hope that this will lead the polity to address the gaping deficit of democracy and development in large swathes of rural India , in whose mulch of misery and oppression the seeds of Maoism germinate. In this sense, the Maoists are an instrumentality of India's development, political and economic, albeit a self-destructing one.

The suicide earlier this week of Kanu Sanyal , a founding leader of India's Naxalite movement, chronicles the foretold death of Maoism in this country. The violent uprising in Naxalbari in 1967, led by Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal, taking inspiration from Mao's ideas, led on to the formation, in 1969, of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist ). The party splintered, over time, into a number of groups and factions, some of whom realised the futility of relying solely on violence and left the underground to take part in mainstream politics. Kanu Sanyal, at the time of his death, led one such group. Some factions that continued to believe in the armed overthrow of the state as the only solution to poverty and underdevelopment formed the Communist Party of India (Maoist). They have been mobilising and arming marginalised communities, exploited and oppressed by sections of mainstream India, to wage war against the Indian state.

This is sufficient for one stream of liberal opinion to lionise them as the only true champions of the oppressed in the country. They are willing to overlook the violence carried out by the Maoists, against sundry policemen, villagers whom they believe to be police informers, members of other political parties, chiefly other communist parties the Maoists disagree with.

Now, the point must be conceded that violence by itself makes a movement neither good nor bad. We have all been led to hail some very violent acts as great, in a historical sense. Alexander's conquest of the known world, the American revolution, the French revolution, the Russian revolution , the Allies' defeat of Hitler, the Vietnamese defeat first of the French and then of the Americans, various episodes in India's own resistance to British rule, ranging from the 1857 revolt to the Quit India movement of 1942. India's most popular philosophical tract, the Bhagavad Gita, urges violence. Krishna urges a reluctant Arjuna to overcome his revulsion at the thought of turning his destructive prowess on his own cousins, guru, uncles and sundry other relatives. The point is not violence, per se, but to what end that violence is practised.

Violence suffuses life in rural India, some latent, a lot of it structural and quite a lot more, murderously bloody. When the forest department declares an entire village as illegal, because it allegedly stands on forest land, evicts the inhabitants, and then, a year later, renotifies the land as revenue land, fit for habitation, and proceeds to parcel out the land to cronies of the local political and bureaucratic elite, how do we describe the treatment meted out to the original inhabitants of the village, dispossessed by the state in the name of the law? Tender loving care? If these villagers resort to violence, they will become law-breakers, and put behind bars. If they petition the higher authorities, these higher authorities will ask for a hefty bribe and do little. If they go to court, the case will come up for hearing after most of the petitioners have lived out their lifespan. Into this vacuum of viable choices, the Maoists saunter in. Every Maoist advance is a tombstone over a fatal failing of democracy.

Why should the Maoists become a self destructing force? This is because the Maoists see no value in the institution of constitutional democracy and see violence and overthrow of the state as strategic goals. This is different from the use of violence as a contingent necessity in situations where the promise of liberal democracy stands dishonoured, to be discarded as and when the promise is kept. Ultimately, democracy has great value and those who refuse to see it, are abandoned by the people.

The YSR regime of Andhra Pradesh beat the Maoists back, with a combination of efficient policing, functional governance and massive investment in rural development. This is a potent mix.

The Centre's Operation Green Hunt brings in the policing. But where is the effort to bring in the missing ingredients of democracy and development? For this, non-Maoist political parties have to take the initiative, and champion the cause of the rural poor. If they do, suicidally depressed Kanu Sanyal would still remain an epitaph for Maoism, but would not have struggled and died in vain.








Reliance Retail will soon pilot the retail venture of Office Depot and open the first Hamleys toy store as the Mukesh Ambani-led retailer beefs up its portfolio and expansion plans. Its offerings under the lifestyle umbrella range from books & music, apparel, toys and opticals to jewels and office supplies. ET caught up with Reliance Retail's president & chief executive-Lifestyle Bijou Kurien for an exclusive interview. Edited Excerpts:

Are the multiple verticals under the Lifestyle division operating profitably?

Both Reliance Time Out, which will grow to 20 stores by 2011, and the relatively smaller-store-sized Reliance Jewels, which will have 50 stores by 2011, broke even last year. Almost half of our 46-odd optical retail stores Vision Express have also broken even. The Marks & Spencer brand has now been repositioned to compete in the mid-market segment in India. We intend to open bigger stores of around 15, 000 to 20, 000 sq ft where merchandise will be extended from apparel to personal care, home ware and accessories. India will also account for a larger sourcing component for Marks & Spencer.

Over a year after joining hands with US-based Office Depot how has the JV progressed?

The Office Depot JV currently operates through a business-to-business relationship where we've focused on the small, medium and large office supplies space so far through our joint acquisition of eOfficePlanet, a supplier of office products and services to corporates. We are testing our first retail foray through an Office Depot store in Bangalore.

Has the lifestyle division also set its sights on smaller cities yet?

Reliance Jewels is positioned as a mid-market retailer which doesn't cater to the everyday low-priced diamond jewellery segment but targets the occasion (wedding, births etc) and adornment-led jewellery segments. Given the fact that the Reliance brand is strong, we've positioned some formats such that it can tap into the potential of rural retail without creating a separate brand for smaller markets like Dhanbad and Jamnagar. Vision Express also holds relevance because like jewellery there are few national optical retailers and sight correction is a need that cuts across population strata.

The lifestyle division will also make inroads into smaller cities by co-locating with Reliance Hypermart's roll out. Classically, hypermarkets are designed in a manner where the area in front of the cash till is allocated for several independent stores. So, in areas such as Rajahmundry and Kolhapur we've opted for co-location opportunities for Reliance Jewels and Vision Express with the hypermart. From a cost point of view too, drumming traffic towards independent formats and affordability of standalone rent often becomes a challenge within smaller cities.

How did the discretionary-purchase driven Reliance Time Out perform in a year when consumer sentiment took a beating?

Time Out was the only format within Reliance Retail that grew substantially in the slowdown period. Although, the sheer market size of our offerings is only around Rs 10, 000 crore, as the categories are highly underpenetrated, sales can be strengthened by creating occasions that lend themselves for purchases. This is why we had 200 events across three of our stores within 11 months.


We've performed better than competitors because our stores are built on architecting merchandise in line with people's lives as opposed to being in a purely product-selling mode. Products are just the ambassadors, if you go beyond that by building an exciting store experience then sales don't get dictated by macro trends. In fact, despite being a discretionary category it clocked 47% like-for-like growth this January.

Time Out corners now also feature within Pantaloon Retail's Central formats across Bangalore and Ahmedabad. What is the rationale of being present in a rival's format?

It's a win-win partnership for both retailers. Central is a premium format where the consumer traffic is relevant to Time Out and the offerings appeal to the audience. Being wants and aspiration-driven, the format's presence itself drives consumption. From a competitor's point of view, it offers the option of partnering with a competent player to add to other categories.

Will there be a product overlap given your franchisee agreement with British toy retailer Hamleys?

Given the size of the population, the toy category is fairly underdeveloped in India. If you don't show toys through large stores, you won't sell enough of this impulse-driven segment. Most Indian retailers have included toys only as an aspect of multi-category stores so far. Our experience with Reliance Time Out showed that there existed a larger opportunity in having a full-fledged toy store. We will open the first store in Mumbai this month, followed by Chennai.







What mobile phone do you use?

The Nokia E51. With it, I can check my mails and browse the web while on the go. I also have access to Microsoft Excel, Word and PowerPoint and can even view PDF documents and ZIP files received as email attachments. My favorite application on the E51 is Worldmate: an application with weather, world clocks, and a currency converter.

Desktop or laptop that you use at home/office?

As I also use a Blackberry, besides the Nokia, I am not overtly laptop or desktop dependent. I use an IBM desktop equipped with the basic configurations. I use it for basic official work.

Any other gadget that you use a lot or particularly like?

I have a particular fondness for my iPod Classic. With its immense 160GB of storage capacity, it can store up to 40,000 songs, 200 hours of video, 25,000 photos, or any combination. And with its 36-hour long battery life, you can play on for a long time.

The next gizmo you're planning to buy?

I was planning to buy an Amazon Kindle E-Book Reader. Now it looks like I'm going to wait, like many others I know, for the latest Steve Jobs wonder, the Apple iPad.

The gadget/gizmo that you don't end up using much?

I have this Harmony 525 Advanced Universal Remote from Logitech. Though I like the device, I end up using the individual remotes.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL





Pakistan is not going to acquire a nuclear deal with the United States similar to India's in a hurry, but the mood music coming out of Washington is an indication of the light years the two countries have travelled since the days the world sat agog soaking in details of the amazing nuclear arms bazar that A.Q. Khan had opened for business. That the US is now willing "to listen" to Pakistan's plea and, in the US secretary of state, Ms Hillary Clinton's words, "going to be considering it", is a warning signal to India of the storms ahead in the Indo-US strategic partnership.


The United States chose to turn a blind eye to Pakistan's efforts to secure a nuclear weapon in the 1980s because Islamabad was helping chase the Soviets out of Afghanistan. And the US was later prepared to buy the fiction that the Khan business venture in nuclear weapons was a one-man enterprise. Fast forward to 2010: it is now willing to humour Pakistan to consider its request for breaching the international nuclear regime in a first Cabinet-level strategic dialogue with Islamabad.


The reasons for the American about-face are clear enough. Pakistan is key to American plans in Afghanistan in coping with the Taliban and Al Qaeda militarily and in what is now becoming the flavour of the season in midwifing talks with the militants to speed up the withdrawal of US and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces from Afghanistan. Together with the surge in troop levels the Obama administration announced while setting a target date for beginning withdrawal, Washington has showered Islamabad with a generous bounty in money and arms.


The immediate issue India has to face is to recognise that Indian and American objectives diverge in Afghanistan and these divergences cannot but have an impact on the Indo-American relationship. The divergence flows from the American belief that given Pakistan's geography and its record of nurturing extremists as a matter of state policy, Islamabad was essential to its future plans in Afghanistan. In any event, even in the days of the George W. Bush presidency America's "war on terror" was restricted in scope and did not encompass helping India fight Pakistan-sponsored terrorists in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country. The Mumbai carnage changed the picture to an extent by an American willingness to share intelligence data, even as a new test lies ahead in granting access to interview David Coleman Headley, the Pakistani-American who has pleaded guilty in an American court to helping stage the Mumbai tragedy.


The Indian approach to Afghanistan is quite different because it wants to maintain its traditional presence there and wishes to ensure that any withdrawal of Western forces takes place after ensuring that a moderate stable Afghan dispensation can take effect. As it is, the prospect of this happening is not rosy, given the recently-retired United Nations representative there publicly acknowledging that he was talking to the Taliban leadership, until Islamabad spoiled the budding discourse by arresting the militants' number two leader in Karachi. Obviously, Islamabad wants to be a primary mediator in any deal that is cut between the West and the Taliban in Afghanistan to ensure that it maintains preponderant influence there.


Knowing the stakes involved, Pakistan's approach to Washington is clear. It has been sending signals that India should reduce its presence there — a point made on its behalf by the earlier bombing outside the Indian embassy in Kabul and the more recent bombing of Indian-patronised guesthouses there. Second, Islamabad is seeking to mount pressure through the US on India to come to the table to discuss the Kashmir issue. And its constant refrain for American benefit has been that the threat it perceives from India does not permit it to send more troops to fight the militants, particularly in the semi-autonomous tribal belt. The Pakistan Army Chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who has taken charge of the Washington strategic dialogue (a singular development in itself), has made his views public.


The problem for India is two-fold: safeguarding its important relationship with Washington and to make it loud and clear to the US that this relationship will be adversely affected by the extent to which the United States chooses to tilt towards Pakistan for short-term gains. It might be a replay of an old gramophone record, but the stakes are higher this time around because, whatever Washington's immediate compulsions, India cannot but ensure its national interests in a dangerous neighbourhood.


The external affairs minister, Mr S.M. Krishna, has already reacted to the new developments in measured tones, but a lot more needs to be done to impress on Washington how seriously New Delhi views the beginning of what must surely represent the sea-change that has taken place in Washington in how it conceives Pakistan's nuclear policies. Every US administration has its own policies and priorities, and the US President, Mr Barack Obama, obviously wants to wind down the two wars he was bequeathed by his predecessor. New Delhi must make it clear that it will fight to safeguard its interests by calling a spade a spade.


The danger for India is not alleviated by the inevitability of the long gestation period any reversal of America's nuclear policy on Pakistan would involve, including sharp opposition from many on Capitol Hill. The essence of any reliable partnership is the element of trust that exists between two parties. The United States should be told in plain language that if it chooses to cosy up to Pakistan in the nuclear field, it would be damaging the structure of the Indo-American strategic relationship, so recently capped by the civil nuclear deal.







Normal bilateral relations between any two countries would normally not excite undue interest here. However, the foreign minister-level strategic dialogue between Pakistan and the United States which began in Washington on Wednesday cannot but have a direct bearing on India. Unless the past is no guide, the Pakistani agenda is certain to include Kashmir and Afghanistan. There is also the distinct possibility of the US being more attentive to Pakistan's demand for civil nuclear energy cooperation on the same pattern as America's agreement with India in that sensitive field. Afghanistan and the nuclear question go beyond the realm of the bilateral. And it has been Pakistan's persistent effort over decades to internationalise the Kashmir issue, which continues to occupy a significant space in Islamabad's strategic calculus, although this is far from warranted in terms of the history of India's Partition. Given the nature of the discussion menu, New Delhi needs to remain alert to the emergence of new conversation tracks between Islamabad and Washington that may be prejudicial to its interests. At present, it is Washington that is vulnerable to Pakistani pressures, not the other way round, in the matter of Afghanistan. It has come to be widely believed that the US is looking for an honourable exit out of Afghanistan, and many in the Obama administration appear to think this is only possible if the generals in Islamabad are around to help inserting the Taliban (whom they have cosseted) into the governance structures in Kabul. There is some irony in this. America spent the past nine years trying to rub the Taliban out of existence with Pakistani assistance, but Islamabad was perfidious — playing both ends. Washington, now at the end of its tether, is looking for a way out of Afghanistan even if this means having the Taliban back in Kabul. It is an entirely fanciful thought, of course, that the Taliban's return will mean tranquillity for Afghanistan and elimination of jihadist streams which would like to dunk America into the Atlantic. Pakistan's Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI head Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha will be the real interlocutors for the US during the strategic dialogue, although the foreign minister, Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi, will notionally lead his country's team. The Pakistan Army is out to reassert itself by installing the Taliban, and thus exclude India from Kabul. If Washington sees this in its own interest, it is likely to give in to the persistent Pakistan demand for a civil nuclear deal (to gain parity with India). A projected nuclear agreement with Pakistan, even if this is not like the Indian deal and does have strings attached, is likely to put Washington alongside North Korea, China, and some others who have no hesitation playing ducks and drakes with international nuclear non-proliferation covenants when it comes to dealing with Pakistan, which has rightly been treated as an international pariah in the nuclear and missiles field due to its abysmal track record. The silence at this juncture of the nattering nabobs of counter-proliferation in the US establishment, who had kicked up a shindig when India was discussing the civil nuclear agreement with Washington, is deafening. India must not fail to read the tea leaves. First, it must exert return pressure on Washington by withholding the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill from Parliament and discourage US firms making nuclear materials from setting up shop in India.








The US President, Mr Barack Obama's winning passage of national healthcare is both exhilarating and sobering. Covering so many uninsured Americans is a historic achievement. But the President had to postpone trips, buy off companies and cut every conceivable side deal to just barely make it happen, without a single Republican vote. If the Democrats now lose seats in the midterm elections, we're headed for even worse gridlock, even though we still have so much more nation-building for America to do — from education to energy to environment to innovation to tax policy. That is why I want my own Tea Party. I want a Tea Party of the Radical Centre.


Say what? I write often about innovation in energy and education. But I've come to realise that none of these innovations will emerge at scale until we get the most important innovation of all — political innovation that will empower independents and centrists, which describes a lot of the country.


Larry Diamond, a Stanford University democracy expert, put it best: "If you don't get governance right, it is very hard to get anything else right that government needs to deal with. We have to rethink in some basic ways how our political institutions work, because they are increasingly incapable of delivering effective solutions any longer".


My definition of broken is simple. It is a system in which Republicans will be voted out for doing the right thing (raising taxes when needed) and Democrats will be voted out for doing the right thing (cutting services when needed). When your political system punishes lawmakers for the doing the right things, it is broken. That is why we need political innovation that takes America's disempowered Radical Centre and enables it to act in proportion to its true size, unconstrained by the two parties, interest groups and orthodoxies that have tied our politics in knots.


The Radical Centre is "radical" in its desire for a radical departure from politics as usual. It advocates: raising taxes to close our budgetary shortfalls, but doing so with a spirit of equity and social justice; guaranteeing that every American is covered by health insurance, but with market reforms to really bring down costs; legally expanding immigration to attract more job-creators to America's shores; increasing corporate tax credits for research and lowering corporate taxes if companies will move more manufacturing jobs back onshore; investing more in our public schools, while insisting on rising national education standards and greater accountability for teachers, principals and parents; massively investing in clean energy, including nuclear, while allowing more offshore drilling in the transition. You get the idea.


How best to promote these hybrid ideas? Break the oligopoly of our two-party system. Diamond suggests two innovations. First, let every state emulate California's recent grass-roots initiative that took away the power to design Congressional districts from the state legislature and put it in the hands of an independent, politically neutral, Citizens Redistricting Commission. It will go to work after the 2010 census and reshape California's Congressional districts for the 2012 elections. Henceforth, districts in California will not be designed to be automatically Democratic or Republican — so more of them will be competitive, so more candidates will only be electable if they appeal to the Centre, not just cater to one party.


Second, get states to adopt "alternative voting". One reason independent, third-party, centrist candidates can't get elected is because if, in a three-person race, a Democrat votes for an independent, and the independent loses, the Democrat fears his vote will have actually helped the Republican win, or vice versa. Alternative voting allows you to rank the independent candidate your No. 1 choice, and the Democrat or Republican No. 2. Therefore, if the independent does not win, your vote is immediately transferred to your second choice, say, the Democrat. Therefore, you have no fear that in voting for an independent you might help elect your real nightmare — the Republican. Nothing has held back the growth of independent, centrist candidates more, said Diamond, "than the fear that if you vote for one of them you will be wasting your vote. Alternative voting, which Australia has, can overcome that".


Obama won the presidency by tapping the Centre — centrist Democrats, independents and Republicans who wanted to see nation-building at home "to make their own lives and those of others better", said Tim Shriver, the CEO of the Special Olympics. They saw in Obama a pragmatist who could pull us together for pragmatic solutions. But hyperpartisanship has frustrated those hopes. (Alas, though, it is not equal. There are still many conservative Blue Dog Democrats, but the liberal Rockefeller Republicans have been wiped out.) If that Radical Centre wants to be empowered, it can't just whine. It needs its own grass-roots movement to promote reforms like non-partisan redistricting and alternative voting in every state. It's tea time for the centre.








Permanent commission (PC) women officers have always been there in the Army Medical Corps and the Nursing Corps. The consideration of PC for more women officers would aggravate a fairly acute existing cadre management problem of promoting officers to selection grade ranks. With the Army's steep pyramidical structure, the satisfaction levels at each stage are woefully low, leading to dissatisfaction among officers who have otherwise been consistent performers. The ratio of SSC officers vis-a-vis PC officers is worked out keeping in view the requirement of maintaining adequate satisfaction levels. In fact, the intake of SSC officers is now being enhanced while lowering the intake of PC officers.


Service in the Army involves working in a very difficult environment. It is barely possible to provide the minimum necessities that women require for their daily basic needs. With no women being there in the ranks as yet, senior women officers could find themselves as the only woman in the outfit. Further, our men are from a predominantly rural background where a patriarchal model shapes attitudinal sub-sets.


In reality, there are no so- called "non-combat" arms, i.e. Army departments that will not be involved in combat. Most of the services could be embroiled in vicious combat. The Army may have no choice but to absorb women senior officers in softer appointments, making it difficult to rotate all officers between soft and hard tenures.


The Army must pursue the objective of creating more opportunities for women. It must continue to respect gender equality. To state the most rudimentary facts, this is the organisation that gives women the most in our society.


However, its operational requirements, the minimal comforts it deems necessary for women, and willing obedience by the men of their commanders, will need to be factored in with dispassion. In effect, it has been a long march already — transition from male bastion to women as SSC officers in all the services, and a few arms. The latest strides have led to PC for women in more areas.


A situation has been reached where the vacancies available for intake are not being fully subscribed.


The progress made so far has kept pace with our changing societal norms and attitudes. It needs to be simultaneously recalled that the Army has not inducted women in the ranks of personnel below officer rank.


Nor has there been any spirited espousing of such a cause!


— Brig S.K. Chatterji (Retd), former deputy director-general, Public Information, Indian Army








Upanayana Samskara is a ritual prescribed by our forefathers to mark the beginning of a child's education and it shows how much knowledge was valued in the Indian society.


According to our ancestors, a child is meant to start his education when he completes five years of age. The child is given a sacred thread, rudraksha chain or a talisman symbolically to signal the beginning to learning. It is under the guidance of a preceptor or guru that this rite is conducted.


The Sanskrit word upanayana means "take near to (God)". Hence the whole ceremony assumes a certain kind of sanctity.


As a devotee approaches God, the child approaches the guru and gets blessings and guidance in starting his education formally.


However, this simple ceremony, which indicated the value given to education by our ancestors, has now become highly ritualistic and confined to the brahmin community. It has become an expensive affair as well.

After Upanayana Samskara, Vidyarambham is observed. Any day can be selected for observance of Vidyarambham, the formal commencement of the child's education. We Indians consider this the most important rite in the life of a person.


Irrespective of religious and caste differences, this rite is observed all over India. Sadly, just as Upanayana has become an exclusive observance of brahmins, Vidyarambham too has turned out to be more a religious practice of the Hindus rather than a secular one, as it should be.


On the day of Vidyarambham, the child takes a bath and dresses in new clothes. Then parents take him to the guru, who is seated near a holy fire.


The child is asked to conceive the Lord in his mind and then he is asked to circumambulate the fire and sit facing the guru and the rising sun. The child now appeals to the guru to give him the mystery of knowledge.

The guru then chants "Om" and then the Gayatri Mantra, the most powerful of spells. It is followed by another mantra praising Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge:


"Saraswathee Namasthubhyam

Varade Kamaroopinee

Vidyarambham Karishyami

Sidhi bhavathu me sadaa"

The shloka urges the goddess to enable the learner to receive knowledge forever.


The whole ritual marks the beginning of a strong relationship between the guru and his disciple.


From then on, the guru's efforts are focused on turning the student into an obedient disciple, virtuous son and a useful citizen. The child listens to the guru with reverence and in discipline.


In some states instead of the Gayatri Mantra the Supreme Goddess in her three different aspects is worshipped and another mantra is chanted at the time of Vidyarambham:

"Lakshmee dadaana samaye

Vidyadaana samaye saradindu subhraam

Vidweshi varga nidhinebhi kamaala neelaam

Durgaam thriloka jananeem saranam prapadye"

(When the Supreme Goddess assumes the form of Lakshmi, the one who grants all material prospects, she shines like coral. When she assumes the form of Saraswati who gives vidya, she appears all white resembling the moon of the autumn season. And when she takes the form of Durga who annihilates the wicked ones, she shines in dark blue. Upon the feet of the Supreme Goddess who thus holds different expressions and wins all the three worlds, let me take refuge)


This sense of submission at the feet of the Almighty is the beginning of knowledge as per the Indian tradition.


The strong relationship between the guru and disciple also forms the base of Indian culture.


— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the author

of Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals.

He has also written books on the Vedasand Upanishads. The author can be reached

at [1]







Peshawar, Pakistan

WHAT are Americans to make of all the good news coming out of Pakistan in recent weeks?
First, the Afghan Taliban's military chief, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was arrested in a raid in February. Around the same time, several of the Taliban's "shadow governors" who operate out of Pakistan were captured by Pakistani forces. Last week, the Central Intelligence Agency director, Leon Panetta, announced that thanks in large part to increased cooperation from Pakistan, drone strikes along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border are "seriously disrupting Al Qaeda", and one killed the terrorist suspected of planning an attack on an American base in December that caused the deaths of seven Americans. Meanwhile, Pakistan has mounted major operations against its own extremists in places ranging from the Swat Valley to Bajaur. Yes, extremists continue to do great damage, as at Lahore on March 14 when about 40 civilians were killed in bombings. But after travelling across the country in recent days as a guest of the Pakistani military, I was convinced that Pakistan has become much more committed to battling extremists over the last couple of years, as the country felt its own security directly threatened.


Things are complicated, as always in this fractious land. Pakistan's resolve is clearest against its own internal enemies. And while its will to pursue the Afghan Taliban has grown, its policies are changing incrementally, not fundamentally. It is rebuilding trust with America only slowly. And its obsession with India will continue to constrain its ability and willingness to act against the groups that threaten the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) mission across the Afghan border.


First, though, give credit where credit is due. Pakistan has become deadly serious about its own insurgency, loosely referred to as the Tehrik-i-Taliban. Total Pakistani troops in the North-West Frontier Province, Balochistan and the tribal areas now number about 150,000, up from 50,000 in 2001. In addition, there are 90,000 paramilitary troops of the Frontier Corps in the area, and they are far better equipped, paid and led than in years past.


As I toured the nerve centre of the Pakistani military in Rawalpindi, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the Army's spokesman, recited an impressive list of statistics. The Army now has 821 posts on the Afghan-Pakistan border, as opposed to just 112 manned by Nato and Afghan forces on the other side. Pakistan carried out 209 operations in 2009 of brigade size or larger (that is, involving at least 3,000 troops), twice as many as in the previous two years combined.


Carrying out all these operations has been very costly, though. The Pakistani military says it had some 800 soldiers killed in operations last year, in contrast with Nato's total losses in Afghanistan of 520. Thousands of Pakistanis have lost their lives in terrorist attacks, and several hundred village elders, critical figures in any efforts to pacify the tribal areas, have been killed as well.


Most Pakistanis feel, with some justification, they have suffered all this as the result of American decisions and interests. Pakistan didn't experience suicide bombings until the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. Pakistanis do not begrudge America that act of self-defence, but do expect us to appreciate the sacrifices they have made. And, while Pakistanis acknowledge American economic help, they consider the $17 billion or so that we have provided since 9/11 to equal only about half their total costs, direct and indirect, from the war on terrorism.


Still, Pakistan is hitting the terrorists hard. As a top commander of the Frontier Corps told me from his centuries-old fort in Peshawar, since 2007 or 2008 he has known that there has been "no turning back". This means ensuring that militants do not return to those areas that have been cleared in recent months. This won't be easy. Often, Pakistani military tactics amount to notifying the local population of a pending mission and asking people to leave before the assault. Afterward, the population is allowed to return — but any extremists who had snuck out with the people can then try to sneak back in with them. Pakistan also doesn't want to fight over too much of its territory at any one time. Islamabad's deliberateness makes Washington impatient at times, but there is a strategic logic to it.


In the near term, any progress will be fitful. Pakistan seems unwilling to move much more of its Army away from the Indian border, meaning a further delay before operations commence in North Waziristan — home to the Haqqani network, a radical group headed by the Taliban commander Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, which is believed to be behind some of the largest attacks in recent years.


I did not meet any Pakistanis who actually seemed to wish to see the Afghan Taliban back in power. But the country simply does not have the military capacity to make major moves against the Afghan fundamentalists. And, less understandably, Pakistanis tend to see Indian conspiracies behind what is happening in Afghanistan, and fear being trapped between their long-time nemesis on one side and an Indian puppet on the other.


At the headquarters of the Pakistani spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, I was told that India was suspected of providing explosives to Tehrik-i-Taliban extremists through Afghanistan. Many Pakistanis claim that the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai is essentially a reincarnation of the old Northern Alliance from the Afghan civil war — a union largely made up of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks and partly financed by India. (This despite the fact that Afghanistan's ministers of defence and interior are Pashtun, as is President Karzai.) Pakistanis wonder why India is building so many consulates in Afghanistan, and even Indian-subsidised health clinics are considered suspicious.


As he departed for a "strategic dialogue" this week in Washington, Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, announced that "it's time for the US to do more". This isn't what America wants to hear from an oft-unreliable ally.


- Michael E. O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution







IT is a milestone in American history, quite as  profound as the country electing her first African-American President in November 2008. If by a whisker ~ 219 to 212 ~ Barack Obama has won the vote in the House of Representatives for the healthcare reform package. Beyond the individual triumph of  the President is the historic achievement for the country. It is above all a victory that has been won after a 50-year struggle to enact legislation on universal healthcare coverage. The chief merit of the Bill lies in its tangible formulations: insurance coverage will be extended to 32 million Americans, now uncovered. No less crucially, it will ban discrimination by insurance companies against those with "pre-existing medical conditions", something that regulators in India would do well to take note of. The major objective, to rein in the insurance sector, ought be achieved though the absence of a "public option" health insurer has been cited as a loophole. Nonetheless, President Obama's confident assertion that "the Bill will move things in the right direction" mirrors the fervent hope of Americans. 

Late Sunday night's passage of the Bill will help Mr Obama to shore up his image. Not that it had sullied remarkably, but he will be able to live down the dominant impression ~ and not merely in America ~ that he is high on rhetoric and not correspondingly so in terms of action. The Bill transcends his fondness for grandstanding. It bears recall that after the loss of Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts Senate seat to the Republicans in January, the President was under pressure to abandon his healthcare reform agenda and address the economic crisis. Yet he soldiered on; at one stage it appeared as though he had staked his presidency on this Bill. Failure would have shaken his authority to its foundations, and might indeed have placed the prospects of the Democrats in 2012 under a cloud.  

The legislative victory is but one facet of the matter, the other being the response of the public, still far from convinced. It devolves on the Democrats to make the legislation acceptable to a still rather cynical civil society not least because of the setbacks in the Congressional elections. The two major grounds for reservations are what they call "socialisation" of medicare and the inevitable increase in public expenditure in parallel with mounting deficits. The country now needs to be convinced. The success of the Bill places the President ever more firmly on the saddle. Obama has demonstrated to America and the world that "it can be done".








KUDOS to Mamata Banerjee for immediately appreciating and rewarding the professionalism of the crew which averted serious injuries to passengers on the Bhubaneshwar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express that came under Maoist attack. But for the alertness and experience of Driver RK Singh and Assistant Driver AK Khalko, along with other safety measures to be sure, the sabotage of the track could have taken a heavy human toll. However, it is relevant to ask if a cash award of Rs 30,000 to each of them and Rs 20,000 each to Guard R Minz and Train Supervisior AC Ojha is adequate recognition. This is not to press for enhancing the cash awards, but to stress how their showing could be "exploited" for in-house inspiration and boosting public confidence in a system that is taken for granted, if not overly condemned. Why cannot those generally unsung railwaymen be presented to the media, the story of their commitment and competence conveyed all across the country? The Railways' extensive publicity apparatus must not limit itself to boosting the images of ministers and the bigwigs of Rail Bhavan. The men and women who actually "run" the railway merit more attention than is grudgingly allotted to them.

Time was when professional pride provided the system more effective "traction" than steam, diesel or electricity. Drivers, firemen (as assistant-drivers were known in those heady days of coal-burners), guards, station-masters, ticket-checkers, permanent way inspectors etc were all accorded much priority in the pecking order. They were not just the "face" of the system: their dedication and efficiency ensured punctuality, cleanliness and glittering engines. In smaller towns the "refreshment room" was often the most preferred restaurant. Tragically, over the years the "bhav" of that hands-on section of the railway community was reduced, even their colonies, schools and "institutes" went to seed. No longer was the Mail Driver the man everyone admired. A direct link between that "downgrade" and deteriorating work culture is evident. When will we get another bloke like Cunningham (of the Jhansi loco-shed) who, when presented to Queen Elizabeth after "driving" her from New Delhi to Agra, quipped: "I hope we didn't bump you too much, Your Majesty?"









NOT just the Communists from whom Kanu Sanyal broke away to start the Naxalbari movement but also the Maoists who have taken to loot, violence, kidnappings and killings may now say that he lived and died with false ideas of a revolution. Mainline Communists have joined the parliamentary system which the Naxalites had discarded, while Maoists have in the past taken part in elections and thrived on despair in villages deprived of the fruits of development. Sanyal's decision to end his life may have been provoked by other factors but he could only have observed with dismay that his former colleagues in the CPI, which he joined in 1952, had changed beyond recognition. That may have been one reason apart from his indifferent health why he had virtually become a recluse after he was released from a jail in Visakhapatnam in 1977. A rare departure was the decision to join the cause of farmers in Singur. The revolutionary fervour must have subsided but he may have been driven by a spark surviving from the days when he dreamt of building a mass movement with peasants in a remote North Bengal village in 1967. The Singur movement did appear to have the old echoes though eventually his disillusionment may have been reinforced by the cross-currents of agrarian and industrial interests of those who had taken up the cause of displaced farmers.

Sanyal must be one of the rare leaders who was never prepared for any compromise to the point of refusing an offer of medical treatment from the government during his last days. The principles he believed were still relevant never allowed him to move out into the larger, and more lucrative, world of contemporary politics. If he chose to suffer in silence, it could be traced to the time he differed with Charu Mazumdar on basic strategy, having never accepted his comrade's line of annihilation. For Sanyal, it was the more challenging task of building an organisation. That he failed in his endeavour and found Naxalism being transformed into factions of Maoism as it spread to different states with dubious objectives ~ to the point of joining hands with parties which may have been considered the instruments of feudal power ~ may have left him a shattered idealist. Ideologically misguided as he was, history will still remember him as someone who dared to dream.








Like the Gulbarg society massacre in Ahmedabad in 2002, the killing of the Sain family in Burdwan in 1970 was a defining moment in West Bengal's recent history. And just as the Gujarat carnage was sought to be hushed up by a biased prosecution and an indifferent judiciary before the case was revived by the Supreme Court, the Burdwan deaths, too, had become a closed chapter because the Left Front government did not want its past misdeeds to be brought to light and the culprits in its ranks punished.

However, both fascists and communists are learning how difficult it is to suppress criminal offences in a democracy. Thus, the Supreme Court may be moved to reopen the 40-year-old case of political murder. For the CPI-M, already beleaguered and besieged in West Bengal according to Eric Hobsbawm (who was quoting Prakash Karat), the possibility of a retrial is disturbing since some of its senior leaders may be arraigned for the crime.

Unholy nexus

THE grim episode marks an important chapter in the rise of the Marxists ~ and explains their subsequent decline. In 1970, however, the CPI-M regarded the incident as a stepping stone to their upward journey, just as the Gujarat riots of 2002 were seen by the BJP as a boost to their party's position, as its electoral victories in the state have tended to confirm. Similarly, the CPI-M's run of successes since 1977 must have made it look upon the Burdwan murders as of little consequence either politically or legally. The party took care of the legal aspect by withdrawing the cases against the accused after it came to power in 1977. But now, if the case is reopened, it will realise that nothing is forgotten ~ as the reburial of the Romanov family in St Petersburg demonstrates.
  The Burdwan tragedy was important for several reasons. For a start, it was one of the first occasions when the comrades carried out a murderous raid in a town. Till then, most of their depredations were in the countryside, where they pretended to be fighting the landlords on behalf of poor peasants. This tactic has continued to this day via their onslaughts on the Trinamul Congress. Another reason was that it marked the beginning of the cadre-police combination to target a political adversary, which was also seen in Nandigram. As is known, this unholy nexus was a feature of Narendra Modi's government during the riots.

The incident in Burdwan on 17 March 1970 took place, however, when the West Bengal government was in a limbo. Chief Minister Ajoy Mukherji had resigned the day before to end his prolonged confrontation with his own government during which he went on a fast in Curzon Park in protest against the widespread lawlessness at the time. Much of the violence was due not only to the clashes between the CPI-M and the Congress, but also between the Marxists and other constituents of the United Front government, including the RSP, the Forward Bloc and the CPI. The Naxalites were also active at the time with their politics of annihilation.

Mukherji felt helpless in the matter of controlling the situation since Jyoti Basu was the deputy chief minister and home minister with the police under his thumb. This factor proved to be crucial during the attack on the house of the Sains, who were known to be pro-Congress. A bandh called by the CPI-M in protest against the chief minister's resignation had added to the prevailing tension in the town. President's rule was imposed in the state on the next day, bringing the first period of the Left's ascendancy since 1967 to an end. 

When the Marxists returned to power in 1977, however, a great deal had changed. First and foremost, the CPI-M began to display greater sobriety than it had ever done before. The departure of the Naxalites from the party and their subsequent attacks on it seemed to have made the Marxists realise the negative side of their credo of violence which they used to extol earlier. The CPI-M no longer engaged in frequent clashes, therefore, with the coalition partners as in the 1967-70 period. Its substantial majority also made it act more responsibly. Although its allies said that they were willing to support a government formed by the CPI-M from outside, the latter requested them to join the ministry by saying that the people had voted for the Left Front as a whole and not for the CPI-M alone. 

Silent intimidation

THUS began the rule of three decades, which is seemingly drawing to a close. However, one reason why the CPI-M initially turned out to be different from the party which was said to be behind the attack on the Sain family was its sense of confidence, stemming, first, from the acquisition of a comfortable majority and, secondly, from the virtual decimation of the Congress. The period of (in)glorious isolation which the CPI-M had spent between 1972 and 1977, when it boycotted the assembly, had also taught it the virtues of political moderation. What was more, the Marxists no longer believed, as they did in 1967, that their electoral success was the first step towards launching a revolution, a belief which inspired the Naxalites then as it does now.  
Instead of a brazen resort to violence, therefore, the CPI-M took to the path of silent intimidation, taking advantage of the fact that the Congress was a spent force and that its  allies were a cowed lot. However, when Mamata Banerjee threw down the gauntlet against its heavy-handed ways, the kind of attack which was seen in Burdwan began to be repeated in the rural areas against Trinamul Congress activists in Panskura, Chhoto Angaria, Garbeta, Khanakul, Keshpur and elsewhere.

This infamous list, which includes Nandigram, points to the similarities between West Bengal and Gujarat with one crucial difference. While Gujarat has purposefully taken to the path of development to overcome the taint of the riots, West Bengal has slipped into the company of BIMARU states.

The writer is a former Assistant Editor, The Statesman








In the articulation of a contemporary political theory, Gandhi, Tagore and MN Roy have left a deep impression. Amlan Dutta's (1924-2010) seminal contribution has been to integrate the ideas of the three thinkers and modernise them in the context of the problems that man faces in the 21st century. He is like Cicero, the Roman thinker, who modernised and interpreted the ancient Greek texts rather than trying to be original. His political philosophy is presented as a grand narrative in the style of European thinkers till the 19th century before the social sciences were compartmentalised and partitioned. This had allowed him the flexibility to blend the positive aspects of all the important aspects of the social sciences and build a philosophy of life appropriate to our times taking into consideration a unified humanity and the prime necessity to link ethics and politics.
As an uncompromising democrat with a firm belief in the invincibility of the human spirit and the capacity of human beings to transcend a crisis, he criticised both capitalism and communism. His charges against capitalism were the familiar ones of economic inequality and environmental degradation. His critique of communism was based on the rejection of any political philosophy that spreads dogmatism and sectarianism. Without the checks and balances of a democratic order, the totalitarian system gave rise to a horrifying division between a small number of the privileged elite on the one side and the multitude of ordinary people on the other side.

In the context of the modern state, Dutta took note of the ill-effects of a centralised power structure on society and family. State terrorism and other forms of organised terror perpetrated by small groups with particular interests dwarfed the individual and were impediments to the realisation of human freedom. A life of alienation and deprivation was the consequence of such a centralised power. Dutta's analysis had two broad aspects, one local and the other universal. Following Tagore's line of thinking as outlined in Swadeshi Samaj (1904) and Gandhi's quest for regeneration of Indian villages where the majority of Indians live a life of abject poverty, Dutta looked to their present plight in the context of a mad rush for urbanisation. Jangal Mahal was the inevitable fallout of such a mission which followed the model of a highly centralised state with emphasis on large-scale industrialisation and commercialisation. Like Gandhi, he was critical of the city-centric consumerist model of development since Independence.

The curse of communalism pained him and he was one of the most powerful voices of composite nationalism as being the foundation of freedom. Similarly, he was disturbed by the curse of unemployment and put the blame on a centralised planning process which had no concern for employment generation. In the context of West Bengal, he was a vocal critic of the Left Front government. In fact, even in the 1950s, and 1960s when it was not fashionable in Bengal to be a critic of Marxism, Dutta, with logic influenced by Bertrand Russell, raised his voice against any form of dogmatism. In 1953, he published a volume pointing out the incompleteness of communism and the shortcomings of the Soviet economy. He never concealed the fact that he was a believer in democracy but had no love for dogmatic communism.

Dutta's criticism of the Left Front rule in West Bengal revolved around the inevitability of a totalitarian ideology to perpetuate its rule in which the oppression of the law-abiding citizen destroys the edifice of democracy. In a graphic description, he demonstrated that in West Bengal, the institutions of democracy were dysfunctional. His support to Mamata Banerjee and all other pro-democracy forces emanated from a hope of redemption and restoration of the democratic order. This led him to visit Lalgarh and speak from the dais at Singur when Manata was leading her struggle in support of the land rights of the ordinary peasantry. Even in this hour of crisis, he never deviated from his commitment to the protection of citizens. He stated that he was no supporter of the Naxalites yet he did not support their suppression or arrest.

In combining a concern for the under-privileged and an optimism in finding a solution to contemporary world problems, Dutta linked local initiatives with universal ones. He propagated an alternative social order with a new philosophy of life which may be described as imbibing Gandhi's philosophy of voluntary poverty. He demonstrated in his own life that leading a simple life can be saisfying and fulfilling. As he used to say, "I have no demand and I have no scarcity either''.

As a believer in democracy, his ideal was a well functioning decentralised order. But he was also aware that mere rotation of government and the functioning of a democratic government need not be enough to meet the crisis of our times dominated by over-centralisation, terrorism, piling of armaments and destruction of the environment. To meet all the challenges, he dreamt of of an historic individual modelled on Vivekananda.
As former vice-chancellor of the Visva Bharati, Dutta was pained at its fall and repudiation of the principles of Tagore. His solution was to recreate it within a smaller ambit in consonance with Tagore's ideals. He used to remark that the 20th century belonged to Marx but the 21st would be that of Gandhi. It was the urge to think in terms of an alternative paradigm incorporating the local and universal that made him an outstanding thinker of our times.

The author is a retired Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi







She bewitched Hitchcock, snared Prince Rainier and captivated cinemagoers. Grace Kelly remains the ultimate ice blonde, and as a major show celebrates her life and style, John Walsh confesses to a lifelong crush.

It started in 1966. It was a moonlit night somewhere in the sultry Mediterranean, and Grace Kelly and I were snuggled together at the end of our little yacht. She was wearing a pink cashmere sweater (a bit posh, I thought, for crewing a small boat, but she was like that) and I had brought my squeezebox along. She lay with her head in my lap as I played Cole Porter's True Love on the old melodeon, and we sang the last bit as a duet, three tones apart. She sang like a little girl, but I had no idea she could sing at all, so I was entranced.

It was one of the great dreams of my unconscious life. I'd watched High Society on TV the night before – a Sunday, I remember – and all next day at school, aged twelve-and-a-half, I couldn't get her face out of my head, nor the lyrics of the song out of my heart. High Society was, to be cruelly objective, a stilted and inferior musical remake of The Philadelphia Story. It suffered from one major flaw, which was to cast Bing Crosby as CK Dexter Haven, the raffish, sardonic ex-husband of the society beauty Tracey Lord. In the original he was played by Cary Grant. In my man-of-the-world view at 12, Bing Crosby was obviously wrong, hopelessly, absurdly wrong for the part. Which is why, in my dreams, I had no trouble booting him off the yacht called True Love and substituting myself. There I remained, in a little dream of romance with the divine Ms Kelly all through my teens and well beyond.

She has never gone far from public consciousness, although she starred in only 11 films in a brief career lasting six years. It abruptly ceased in 1956 when she married Prince Rainier III and became Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco. After their wedding, the Prince banned any screenings of her films in Monaco, and vetoed any future offers of roles – even from Hitchcock (who wanted her for the lead in Marnie.) She became a semi-willing prisoner of a rich principality, confining her energies to garden clubs, charitable works, poetry readings and narrations of inoffensive, child-friendly documentaries.

After her tragic death in 1982, biographers luxuriated in the rumours of sexual impropriety that had surrounded Grace Kelly from her early 20s. She was said to have gone to bed with the leading man in every one of her movies: Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Ray Milland, James Stewart, Bing Crosby, William Holden... As time went on, the line-up of supposed lovers varied (Grant and Stewart were, in fact, never more than friends to her) but others were added – such as Fred Zinnemann, her first director, in High Noon. When her affair with the married Milland became public, she was denounced as "a nymphomaniac" by the gossip writer Hedda Hopper. And just before her wedding in 1956, her own mother, Margaret Kelly, obligingly blabbed to the press about her daughter's celebrity conquests.

Last year a new biography by Donald Spoto, High Society: Grace Kelly and Hollywood, attempted to whitewash Grace's reputation and deny most of the rumours of off-screen rampancy. It was roundly mocked by The New Yorker's film critic, Anthony Lane: "If this trend continues", he observed, "we can look forward to the life of, say, Lady Gaga, expressed in the form of a two-volume memoir, compiled by a loyal friend, in which a discreet narrative is linked by her personal correspondence".

Well, she was, without question, the most beautiful actress of Hollywood's golden age. Who would disagree with that? Marilyn, Liz, Vivien, Ava, Rita, Lauren and Lana all had their good sides, their electric scenes and blow-up-your-skirt moments; but nobody shone like Grace Kelly. She looked best with all her hair brushed back from her wide Teutono-Celtic face – one set of grandparents was German, the other Irish – to reveal those proudly matchless features.

She could never look ordinary: as her head turned during the action on screen, every frame looked like a perfect still. She moved across the floor like a dancer. But she still looked human. No major-league sex symbol had such a cheery smile as Grace, or such imminent tearfulness in her eyes. Nobody possessed the same combination of dazzle and self-effacement, confidence and hunger, class and trashiness. In her first decent role, in Mogambo (1953), all these elements were on display. John Ford's steamy African jungle romance, in which Grace and Ava Gardner vie for the attentions of Clark Gable's great white hunter, is a vastly silly film but Kelly's emotional development is riveting.

Alfred Hitchcock spotted her dual quality when he saw her screen test for a film she never made, Taxi, and promptly cast her in Dial M for Murder. In an early love scene, she wears an amazing strapless couture gown, her blonde hair is fixed in a complex Gordian knot, and her blue eyes sparkle; she looks unassailably perfect, even when passionately entwined with her lover. Once assailed by the murderer, her body squirming and flailing in her diaphanous nightgown, her hair tousled and unkempt, she looks, I'm shocked to reveal, even more beautiful. It's one of Hitchcock's flattest and least inspired works.

Hitchcock never roughed her up again; he seemed content just to gaze at her perfection. The defining moment of directorial admiration comes in Rear Window, when we first meet Kelly's character, the society flit-about Lisa Fremont. As the camera tracks across the apartment where James Stewart sits dozing in a wheelchair after breaking his leg on a journalistic assignment, we see a shadow steal across his face. He wakes, smiles helplessly and we see the object of his attention as Grace Kelly's face moves in on his. Hitchcock photographs the kiss sideways-on, to catch her immaculate profile, and slows the camera down as though in abject, gob-smacked worship. I'm not aware of the director using such deliberate slow-mo in any other movie. It really is homage to a goddess. She was a terrific kisser. She kissed like she really meant it. In Mogambo, she snogs Clark Gable so enthusiastically that he looks positively alarmed. In The Bridges at Toko-Ri, she kisses her doomed husband (William Holden) goodbye with such ferocity you'd swear they were having a real-life affair (indeed they were.) The best kiss, because so tantalisingly deferred, comes in To Catch a Thief, the last film she made with Hitchcock. We never, thank goodness, saw her do more than kiss her on-screen lovers. It wouldn't have been relevant in male fantasy-land. Because the idea of actually having sex with Grace Kelly was almost unimaginable: it would spoil the bliss of simply gazing at her face and her long, slender frame, watching her glide about the room and listening to her well-bred, liquid, cooing, slightly over-deliberate voice.

But what sustains down the years since her brief, flaming film career is a quality beyond physical appeal. It was her evident love of life. She glowed with joie de vivre. James Stewart, in his funeral eulogy, said: "Grace brought into my life, as she brought into yours, a soft, warm light every time I saw her, and every time I saw her was a holiday of its own."

An exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, next month promises to dissect the elusive Grace Kelly look, as encapsulated by the actress on and off screen, and, of course, also by a long line of pale imitators who include everyone from Kate Winslet to Diana, Princess of Wales. Kelly's signature white gloves, the neatly pressed masculine shirt teamed with narrow cropped trousers and polished loafers, the demure tailored day suits worn with a sensible mid-heel and, naturally, the Hermès Kelly bag, will all come under scrutiny once again.

The Independent



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It is not an offence to live together just as it is no offence to say so. The Supreme Court decisively brushed off the cant that surrounds these issues in the hearing of the petition of Khusboo, the Tamil actress, who had asked the court to quash the cases against her. The actress had said that there was nothing wrong with pre-marital sex. Immediately a rash of cases were filed against her for expressing 'immoral' views that could influence young people and for articulating opinions against the 'Indian' ethos. Apart from violating Ms Khusboo's constitutional right to the freedom of speech, the complaints seem to have confused a pompous moralism with the law, leading the judges in the Supreme Court to say that what was seen as immoral by certain sections of society could not be termed an "offence".


In a number of earlier cases, the higher judiciary has made clear that there is nothing remotely wrong with live-in relationships or sex between consenting adults. The question, of course, is why the court should have to pronounce on the private arrangements of citizens at all. If people brandish the law as a weapon when the girl-next-door spends the night with her male friend, it is a mark of ignorance and poor social and intellectual evolution disguised as moral disapproval. But what is even more dangerous is the deliberate identification of morality with 'Indian' culture, hinted at in the cases against Ms Khusboo, but experienced by victims of Valentine's Day vandals with greater physical immediacy. The source of M.F. Husain's decision to give up his Indian citizenship lay in this kind of contrived identification, with dollops of religious sentiment thrown into the poisonous brew. Yet in such cases, although the law is broken through violence, the courts' point of view is barely heard. It is drowned in the hullabaloo of idiots. It is a pity that the Supreme Court must deal, instead, with equally idiotic efforts to punish Ms Khusboo for expressing her opinion in matters that do not, under normal circumstances, concern the law at all.








It is the familiar story of years of silent neglect, bolstered by a shameful lack of preparedness, leading to a terrible disaster. Only this time, no one had quite anticipated the scale of the tragedy, or even its timing and venue — in broad daylight, in the middle of the city's most happening corner. It is perhaps for the first time, and hopefully for the last, that people were seen jumping off a building on fire as scores of firefighters looked on stupefied, unable to offer even a safety cushion to relieve the impact of the fall. It is ironic that West Bengal is the only state to boast of a fire services minister, Pratim Chatterjee, whose primary job seems to be the defence of the indefensible. He has firmly stood by his department in the face of bitter public criticism, and explained away all possible lapses as being entirely fortuitous, therefore beyond reproach — absence of a proper floor plan, an ancient wooden staircase, traffic jam, and the list goes on. It is another matter that a vast number of posts in his department lie vacant, that the average age of those in service is 45 years, or the equipment available to them is either obsolete or insufficient in number. As the people of Calcutta have learned their lessons the hard way, they wisely did not rely on a troop of unfit firefighters scrambling helplessly to deliver their duty. It is laudable that the common people lent active support to the rescue operations, even risking their own lives. But, at the same time, this only goes to show how little the people can depend on the authorities when in dire straits.


In the last three months alone, Calcutta has seen two major fires that gutted two slums, one in Tangra and the other in Ultadanga, which were, once again, attributed to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation's reluctance to demolish unauthorized structures, like the two floors which came up on Stephen Court in 1984. It is no secret that an elaborate paralegal structure, defying every civic law, thrives in Indian cities. Electoral concerns always come first, allowing illegal activities to go on unabated, even when they pose a threat to public life. The huge blaze in Nandaram Market in 2008, lasting for more than 100 hours, clearly did not shake up the administration strongly enough.


It is especially shameful that a grand old mansion like Stephen Court, featuring prominently on the list of heritage buildings (most of which are falling apart), had to meet such a fate. The administration could not be bothered with its upkeep or even with retrieving a colossal amount of tax lying unpaid. But proactive measures and progressive thinking have never figured in the CMC's blueprint for the city anyway. It is up to the people now to save themselves, thanks to the combined venality of the CMC and the fire department.









Interesting times to be in Delhi last week, watching the rocky path of the women's reservation bill through Parliament. While, as a woman, I cannot help but be delighted at any promotion of my still unequal gender, I equally cannot help feeling disappointed that such measures continue to be required to give women a public voice, and even more so when the same applies here in our far older democracy. I wrote in the last Westminster Gleanings that voters in this country, Labour or Liberal Democrat as much as Conservative, are small 'c' conservative in the choice of their party's local parliamentary candidates. This applies whether or not the candidate has any real chance of winning the parliamentary seat. In an ideal world, people want local candidates who they know, who know them and who understand their constituency geographically and demographically.


Of course, there may not always be so suitable a contender for all or any party, but the parachuting in of candidates with the right national party profile by party central offices continues to alienate constituency associations, and this regrettably applies equally, if not more so, where all women shortlists have been imposed. The new Conservative candidate here, in my father's old constituency, is a woman seen to have been rewarded for her work as a policy advisor in the office of the shadow chancellor, George Osborne. The shortlist included both women and men, but many will have sympathized with the view of one local blogger: "Experience at Credit Suisse, First Boston, McKinsey and Bank of America. Just what we rural types in deepest Wiltshire have been waiting for." Gender was not an issue at stake — rarely is it in many other places — except that the quality of so many of our existing — and perhaps too our potential — female politicians is so dismal.


Our recent women members of parliament have not been an inspiring bunch — think of all those 'Blair's babes' who have fallen by the wayside, including some implicated among the worst expenses offenders. Few have achieved the image of intellectual rigour, campaign skill, determination, attractiveness, humour or charm of manner of some of our earlier women parliamentarians, like Barbara Castle and Shirley Williams and, in the case of Margaret Thatcher, whatever I may think of her politics, straightforward bulldozing power. These days they are inclined to be a pretty dank, faceless and often spineless bunch, and hardly an example encouraging to those associations faced with a female shortlist. Only think of the terrifying professional virgin Ann Widdecombe, newly packaged as the "People's Politician" on the Conservative side and, on the face of it, the more normal Caroline Flint, former Europe minister, who resigned on the back of a statement saying that Gordon Brown had used her as "window dressing".


I have a feeling that India's potential female politicians are made of sterner stuff, honed by harder struggle and will, however it is packaged, and embrace any opportunity to make their voices heard as the vanguard of their sex and for the betterment of their country. Meanwhile, as an alternative ploy, the wives and mothers of our politicians are being brought to the fore in support of, to quote Gordon Brown's wife, Sarah, their 'hero' spouses or sons. Cherie Blair continued to work as a barrister when her husband was prime minister, although she could also play the clingy wife when required, but now some members of the press are suggesting that our election result may hinge on the wifely images of peripheral females, thus attempting, neatly if improbably, to put several other highly professional women with independent careers right back in their corsets and their kitchens.


Long gone, or at least so I hope, are the days when party associations in even the most rural and reactionary constituencies here assumed they were getting two for the price of one. If they had a male MP, the wife came as part of the package for free. My mother must have been one of the earlier rebels against such expectations, with a fully fledged career of her own in the political sphere that began from the earliest years of her marriage at age 19. She did her fair share of local campaigning, but precious little of avoidable prize-giving and fete-opening — she didn't have the time and became national vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, an unconservative one at that, not long after my father was elected to parliament for the first time.


In the last few days, David Cameron's mother has been wheeled onto the stage, not literally, you understand: she is a fit, 75-year-old former magistrate, who is ready to add a down-to-earth family gloss to her son's image and an indication of the important values inculcated by her during his childhood, those that by implication are valuable in a future leader. His wife, Samantha, has been seen supportively watching speeches and appearances since his election as Conservative leader, and that in spite of a serious business career and young children. It is hard to know whether Cameron is benefiting from these attempts to humanize his image further. His popularity continues to fall and aside from candidates' lists and alternately vague policy plans or hardline cost cutting threats, he is being seen as a much colder fish than the man who had all our sympathies when his young disabled son, Ivan, died. A source who has encountered both men on a number of social and royal occasions suggests that Gordon Brown, for all his apparent lack of people skills, makes far greater efforts to be friendly to those not seen to be of obvious importance.


Maybe Sarah Brown is responsible for her husband's unexpected, and not regularly apparent, human touch. Of the party leader's wives, she is the one who, while undoubtedly a professional, has turned her public relations training and skills wholly to the requirements of her family and husband and allowed herself to become, even moulded herself to the role of, 'election accessory' with Michelle Obama as her shining role model. Well, I suppose the photographs of wives being wifely can fill the Sunday supplements but it does little for women in general and I doubt the voters will choose to be swayed by loyal wives or mothers or be other than put off by openly uxorious political leaders if they choose to portray such sickening images as election winners.


What a pity it is that we don't have a female party leader to change this peculiar picture except in the Welsh Liberal Democrat Party, not exactly a centre-stage concern. In India, reservation of seats may redress the gender imbalance in political power and perhaps in time all women shortlists will make a difference here. But the focus on political wives, however independent in reality, does nothing for the cause, and other ways into parliament and into government and leadership must be found than the imposed shortlists of either gender that will remain sources of contention among our essentially conservative local political associations and discourage their efforts to get a disenchanted public to the polls at all.









"My family of seven needs 3 kilograms of rice everyday, but I can manage only 2 kgs," says Fazlu Khan, squatting beside his bow-legged nine-month-old daughter with a distended stomach. Fazlu is one of the 17 families whose homestead was washed away by Aila. Now they live on someone else's land under a tarpaulin roof ready to leak in the next rain.


The tranquil boat-ride to K-plot had not prepared me for the harsh reality on the island. K-plot is an island on the southern edges of the Sunderban delta. The embankments that circumscribe the island to keep the water out at high tides proved to be no match for the fury of Aila. On its way out, water from the ocean turned all cultivable lands saline. Residents say that their island has never been so barren before. With no rain since October, salt has risen to the surface of the soil, making it impossible to grow anything on it.


All farmers mostly depend on the rains for raising their crops. Landed farmers grow their own rice, and agricultural labourers and sharecroppers take rice in lieu of their wages. But now families are forced to buy all the rice they need at Rs 22 per kilogram. Prices of vegetables have also skyrocketed. With no work and expensive food, a famine is stalking the people of K-plot.


In the course of the day, I met more destitute families. Jaba Dewa is a widow with two young daughters and a mentally handicapped son. Streaks of sunlight come in through the tarpaulin roof and bamboo walls of her 'home'. She begs from door to door to put together one meal a day. Jaba stares blankly through the thick cataracts on her eyes, saying softly that she needs help. According to a worker in a local community organization, 700 families are living under tarpaulin sheets these days.


Empty promises


It would be wrong to assume that the villagers of K-plot are asking for charity. These resilient people are ready to perform any labour. The Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity has organized the women in K-plot after Aila, and it is because of its pressures that the government has started employing villagers in the task of rebuilding the embankments under the national rural employment guarantee scheme. But work is still insufficient and payments are delayed, forcing people into debt.


In an all-women congregation in the village, I was told that 300 women had gheraoed the BDO, asking for the implementation of the NREGS. They had been promised 25 days of work this month, and an assurance that their daily wages would be raised from Rs 88 to Rs 100 a day. Everyone hopes this is true, since most promises are not kept.


The promise of compensation up to Rs 10,000 for homes broken by Aila remains mired in the political battle between the ruling party and the Opposition in the panchayat. The committee responsible for finalizing the list of beneficiaries has failed to do so since each party wants exclusively its supporters (and their kin) on the list. When finally the list was released with the consent of both parties, it turned out that the total number of beneficiaries in the Patharpratima block was 56,000 families when the total number of families in the entire block was supposed to be 49,000.


As I walked back towards the ferry ghat, an old man came howling to me. I held his arms but could not understand a word he said except that he had lost everything. A few minutes later, another elderly man walked up to me and said that his wife and daughter had gone begging five days ago and have not returned since.


What do we need to change so that the people of our country are not dragged through such misery again? Better politics? Social change? Economic help? Environmental awareness? Perhaps all of these.







Bhutan will set new standards if it ensures that delivery processes in critical areas succeed in generating collective happiness, writes Malvika Singh


It is heartening to watch, witness and listen to leaders obsessed and committed to developing mechanisms and processes by which they can administer their country and bring 'collective happiness' to their people within the framework of an operating democracy. This is a task that needs equal participation from the civil society and the government. Both institutions need to take on the responsibility of creating a model of governance that sets a fresh, humane agenda for development within carefully spelt-out parameters. At a time of strife and violence across the planet, 'Gross National Happiness' could be the development philosophy and index for the future.


A landlocked kingdom that was once a fine-tuned monarchy, Bhutan had been consciously led by an enlightened king and turned into a 'democracy' that is structured on a carefully drafted constitution to guide its entry into the realm of the world of nations. Bhutan — with its royal family and parliamentarians — is attempting, creatively, to deal with the socio-economic and political challenges in its neighbourhood as well as on the international stage. It is also working to ensure that its administrative delivery systems carry GNH to the citizens and protect them from the onslaught of the failed systems and processes that the 'outside' world has had to endure.


Bhutan is remote, pristine and different. Buddhism and a sense of tranquillity dominate the country. The population is small but scattered across a rough-and-tough terrain that is difficult to traverse. It is a treasure trove of bio-diversity, which is zealously protected and revered. Its ruling elite is well-educated, informed and confident that it will have to address the many challenges and dramatic changes with alacrity as well as with considered caution. The rulers are aware of the pitfalls and problems, and are open to debates, discussions and to sharing ideas and experiences to cross the hurdles with ease.


The first crop of people who stood for elections did not come from civil society but, instead, from the elite bureaucracy that had administered the kingdom for the monarch. This simple truth brings in its wake a strange realization that the person who was trained and experienced to operate the delivery process has become the democratically elected 'leader'. Therefore, it is imperative to nurture a new, young leadership from the community that will make demands to meet the needs of the people. The foundations of change have to be put in place in preparation for the next election.


There is need for a dialogue between the young and the old, as well as among carefully selected groups of Indians and Bhutanese regarding a number of pertinent issues — democracy and its operational mechanisms; non-government activism that supplements the work done by the State; processes that protect the environment from the ravages of commercialism; the conservation of the ethos and cultural strains that make a country and its people resilient and confident; strategies regarding effective delivery of a rooted 'education' to the young who will have to deal with an alien world; measures to ensure the health and well-being of all citizens, approximately 650,000 of them; and on transparent, inclusive governance with the fundamentals of GNH as the anchor.


This exercise was conducted under the banner of the Centre for Bhutan Studies and the Seminar Education Foundation, and had its first meeting in March in Thimphu. Sharing and learning are two essential ingredients of bilateral exchanges that have, unfortunately, been diluted during most 'talks' and 'seminars'. This has led to polarized pontifications with the larger entity being the know-all, and therefore unable to command respect or engage in a substantive dialogue that generates smaller, more intense, workshops and discussions that lead to action on the ground.


India has much to learn from Bhutan on a number of issues, such as protection and conservation, learning, listening and good manners in the public domain as well as the profound commitment of rulers towards inclusive, effective governance. The first flush of the exciting challenges of making a fledgling democracy work and work well with transparent operating systems is palpable here. The mistakes made by democracies such as ours need to be shared, defined and scrupulously avoided.


If the delivery processes in areas such as education, health, civil society and governance can be instilled with the tenets that can ensure collective acceptance and 'happiness', Bhutan will be at the forefront of setting new standards for a world that is talking seriously about sustainable development. To live with your environment, by your environment and for your environment is how democracy should work. That, of course, includes all aspects of living. The carefully calibrated balance will generate pride, which is the cornerstone of self-respect and confidence.


Bhutan could lose this in-built strength quite easily, and quickly, unless it continues to pursue new strategies of good governance without making the process sterile or insular. Members of civil society, women and schools must be drawn into dialogues that discuss threadbare the many issues that the new government is grappling with. The operating structures that belong to other nations, even those in the immediate neighbourhood, are alien and will need to be adjusted to adhere to local socio-cultural, economic and philosophical needs. The purpose of these kinds of dialogues is to share ideas and translate them into better delivery systems.


If India, too, could evolve a set of dos and don'ts to monitor the operation of the panchayat and other grassroots systems of governance and were able to judge whether they will work or not, it would be a step forward. Indians can learn a lot about the protection of heritage, enhancing the skills of the people and the conservation of the natural environment from the Bhutan experiment. Small examples, remodelled to suit different areas and regions, could become links in the larger chain of transparent, inclusive administration. Public-private partnerships need to be initiated in which the stakeholders — men, women, and children in a panchayat — participate to change their lives in accordance with the parameters that have been carefully enunciated.


The outcome of these experiments will lead to many more detailed dialogues, and, hopefully, people-to- people engagements will continue unabated. Ideally, CBS and SEF will remain a catalyst for the mushrooming of separate, independent and situation-centric partnerships. South Asia is in turmoil. International players are conducting political and military games here to achieve their limited goals at the cost of the concerned nations. Political consensus is an imperative, but that is for the heads of the Saarc states to chalk out and execute in a determined spirit of trust and comradeship.








The women's reservation bill goes against the principle of gender equality


The bill to reserve one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies for women was passed in the Rajya Sabha amidst jubilation from supporters of women's rights. The only opposition, descending to the depths of unparliamentary behaviour, came from a section of politicians who wanted sub-quotas for 'other backward castes' and Muslims. This is a spurious excuse, as those who are making these demands are, and always were, free to select as many women candidates as they want from these categories.


If passed by the Lok Sabha and enough state assemblies, the women's reservation bill would change the face of Indian politics, resulting in a massive rise in the number of women in the Lower House and the state assemblies. In the Lok Sabha, the number of women would be guaranteed to rise from 59 in the current Parliament, the highest proportion in six decades, to close to 200.


Yet the women's reservation bill deserves to be abandoned by the government. The bill harms women's interests, and is against the principle of gender equality. This is not because of intrinsic problems with quotas — there is no doubt that Indian women need quotas for having equal opportunity in politics. But Parliament needs to pass a simpler, fairer, gender-neutral quota, versions of which have been available to the Parliament for a decade.


Despite having women in important positions of power, Indian society still severely undervalues them. Millions of women are 'missing' because of female foeticide and female infanticide, and countless others suffer discrimination. The percentage of women members of parliament stayed in single digits for six decades, crossing the 10 per cent mark only in the current Parliament. The proportion of women in Parliament actually declined several times during this period. The bill to reserve seats for women has been around since 1996, and was introduced in Parliament before. Most major parties professed to support it, and yet it was shelved repeatedly.


The women's reservation bill ghettoizes women, forcing them to contest only against other women in reserved constituencies. It prevents suitable male candidates from contesting in these constituencies. This undermines merit, and is unfair to men and women.


Criticisms of the women's reservation bill have come from civil society. Yogendra Yadav, Madhu Kishwar, Jayaprakash Narayan and Dhirubhai Sheth thought that the bill was flawed and proposed a variety of alternatives, including an elaborate proposal to amend the Representation of the People Act, retaining the lower quota of one-third for women, combined with constitutional amendments to extend quotas for women in the Rajya Sabha and legislative councils. The detailed nature of this alternative risks providing the opponents of women's rights further excuses for objections and delay, but contains propositions worthy of consideration.


There are far better alternatives to achieve gender parity in India than the women's reservation bill. India should drop it and adopt a gender-neutral, easily enforceable quota by amending the Representation of the People Act. It is not too late for India to do the right thing for gender equality, in a way that strengthens, rather than damages, its intended beneficiaries and the electoral system.

Sarmila Bose








Assam is set to become the first state in the country to legally guarantee the right to health to all residents of the state. A bill has been introduced for the purpose in the state assembly and it ensures all people will have access to health care and physical well being.

It provides for health equity and justice for all citizens and has set a goal of achievement of health for all. All development projects are mandated to carry out health impact assessments and the results of the assessments will have to be respected. The bill also makes it compulsory for all hospitals, both in the government and private sectors, to provide free health care services, maintaining appropriate protocols of treatment, for the first 24 hours to an emergency patient. The bill will also bind the state to its obligations with respect to public health, like minimum nutritional food, supply of safe drinking water and proper sanitation facilities.

It is a tall responsibility that the state is seeking to undertake. The absence of an enabling law is the not the reason for the poor state of health delivery facilities in state, and in the country. Finances have been a major problem. But utilisation of funds, efficient delivery of services and creation of health awareness among the people have posed greater challenges. The high cost of health care and  inadequate infrastructure have made access to services difficult. All these problems will remain but the bill marks a commitment on the part of the state to provide basic and essential health care to the people and a readiness to be accountable for it. The bill has comprehensive provisions that cover the responsibilities of government departments, mandate processes and mechanisms to realise its aims and point to the entitlements of the citizens that flow from their right.

Implementation of the legislation will be much harder. The government will have to spend a lot of resources if the right has to become a reality for the people. But it is a welcome initiative which will hopefully make the right to health more and more real for the people in the course of time. The Centre had asked all states to work in that direction. Assam has taken a pioneering step which other states should follow.








The suicide by Kanu Sanyal, once firebrand revolutionary and co-founder of the Naxal movement of the late 1960s along with Charu Majumdar and Jangal Santhal, passed almost unnoticed. It was a tragic end to a fabled life-as-an-armed-revolutionary. Along with the more erudite Maoist ideologue Majumdar, who was hailed by the Chinese Communists as 'the beacon light' of the Indian peasant movement, Sanyal led an armed rebellion that erupted in the rural backwaters of Bengal 43 years ago in Naxalbari. The 'people's war' soon spread to urban centres, including Calcutta. The growth of the Maoist cult in the 60s worried not just the authorities but also the CPI and the CPI-M. But it was the Congress government of Siddhartha Shankar Ray that put down the movement, though it could not completely crush the armed struggle.

Within a few years, the Maoists reappeared, but Sanyal and Majumdar were not its leaders. Majumdar had died under mysterious circumstances in police custody after his capture in July 1972. Two years before Majumdar's death Sanyal went into hiding as the armed insurrection began to die out in the wake of police repression. He was arrested in 1970 and jailed in Andhra Pradesh's Visakhapatnam district. Leaderless and losing popularity, the extreme Leftwing movement was faced with extinction. After his release from jail in 1977, Sanyal led a sedentary life in a patch of land close to Naxalbari, once considered a pilgrimage for budding revolutionaries indoctrinated in the heady mix of radical thinking, armed revolution and overthrow of the state. Reports, however, indicate that he had turned a recluse as Naxalbari, once the byword for radical people's struggle against state oppression, turned a smugglers' haven. Sanyal's bare abode — a thatched mud-house by the road leading to Naxalbari — and the framed photographs of Marx, Lenin, Mao and some of his comrades-in-arms is testimony to his continued attachment to his original ideology.

Today, Sanyal's death may not be a moment of reckoning for the widening Maoist movement lately described as the worst threat to India's internal security. The Maoist insurgency has signaled the singular failure of the Centre in general and the West Bengal government in particular to address human survival issues. The unrelenting war and its deadly reach has also ignited a sharp debate on where the Indian state has failed its people, some of whom live in the most isolated, poverty-stricken, bleakest and all but abandoned pockets of the country.









Yoga guru Baba Ramdev has demanded that all so called spiritual gurus should declare their assets. The demand has come after horrifying stories of sex and sleaze surrounding several such gurus were unearthed recently. It is a clear pointer to the fact how conmen masquerading as godmen are amassing wealth.

Swami Bheemananda Ichchadhari is behind the bars and Swami Nityananda is on the run. In Delhi, one such sadhu has been arrested for raping a mentally challenged woman. Serious allegations have been levelled against Asaram Bapu. The list of saints under cloud is long and they are not the only ones to make fortune and indulge in sex and other sensual pleasures.

Spiritualism has become a corporate enterprise and it is the capacity to con that brings instant success. What these so called gurus are doing is not only against the Indian tradition, but they are guilty of perpetrating the worst sort of crimes for which they must be punished as per law. But unfortunately, they are so influential that even after arrest they are reportedly getting VIP treatment. The question is how do they dupe people?
India is known and revered for its sages and hermits who renounced everything and became 'aniket' (shelterless) and led a life of 'ramata yogi' (wandering mendicant). Hindus have two sets of scriptures — the Shrutis which deal with eternal issues like the soul and the god, and the Smritis which contain truths as described by Manu, Yajnavalkya, and others and also in the Puranas down to the Tantras.

Shrutis are considered superior and in case of conflict on any issue between the Shrutis and the Smritis, the former prevails. Sages who have recorded truths in the Shrutis were so self-effacing that very little is known about their personalities but they preserved the sublime thoughts for the welfare of the mankind.

In direct contrast, personalities are quite pronounced in the Smritis. Swami Vivekananda has written, "This is a peculiarity which we have to understand: that our religion preaches an impersonal personal god. Except our religion, every other religion in the world depends upon the life or lives of some personal founder or founder. If at any time the historical evidences about the existence of these personages in ancient times become weak, the whole building of the religion tumbles down and is broken to pieces.

We escaped this fate because our religion is not based upon persons but on principles."
But Vivekananda adds that ancient sages did realise that ordinary man does require a personal god in some form or the other. So they left the people free to worship great personages like incarnations.

Indian tradition

Then there are secondary characters like Rishi, a word which is mentioned copiously in the Vedas. They are the ones who have attained self-realisation and are face to face with spiritual truths. This is the Indian tradition, but in recent decades, there is a mushroom growth of preceptors or gurus who are self-styled god. They have beautifully mixed the dross of the Indian culture which is superstition, which of course is not the sole domain of the Hinduism, with the western culture whose strength is organisation and commercialisation.

The guru has a sublime role of unshackling the disciple from the bondage of ignorance so that he attains self-realisation. In fact, the word 'Upanisad' has its genesis in the root 'sad' which means to sit down, to destroy and to loosen. 'Upa' means 'near by' and 'ni' means devotedly.

Thus, the word means the sitting down of the disciple near his teacher in a devoted manner to receive instructions about the highest Reality which loosens all doubts and destroys all ignorance of the disciple. Therefore, India has a strong tradition of 'guru-shishya'. However, it never means that one cannot have the glimpse of god without the inspirational guidance of a guru.

Saints like Samarth Guru Ramdas and Raman Maharishi did not have any guru. Even Mahatma Gandhi did not get initiated by any preceptor as he did not find any one with all attributes that a guru should have.

The modern gurus pose themselves as intermediaries between the god and men, and exploit their superstition to the hilt. It is time that real saints educate people and encourage the tendency to doubt and question. The Hindu tradition never discourages questioning.

In the modern age also there are two paradigms — one representing rationalism which goes from Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Jawaharlal Nehru and the other is theistic which goes from Maharishi Dayananda Saraswati to Mahatma Gandhi. Though Gandhi did not share many views of Dayananda, both were also great rationalists and never advocated abject surrender to religion.

People must be enlightened that it is the renunciation which pervades the Indian tradition. Swami Ramakrishna always said that 'kamini' (woman) and 'kanchan' (money) are the biggest roadblocks to the path of self-realisation. He also denounced those who impressed people by performing miracles. Those performing miracles cannot create food by their supernatural power to feed the hungry.

Let me conclude with what Vivekananda has said: "Is religion to justify itself by the discoveries of reason, through which every other science justifies itself? Are the methods of investigation, which we apply to sciences and knowledge outside, to be applied to the science of religion? In my opinion this must be so, and I am also of the opinion that sooner it is done the better."









History has never provided a better time to act on nuclear disarmament. The desire to free the world of the 23,300 nuclear weapons currently in global stockpiles has come vividly into the spotlight as both global leaders and civil society groups lead the charge toward abolition.

Last April US President Obama declared his intention to "seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons". It is a goal shared by civil society groups worldwide. While the US and Russia continue to possesses 96 per cent of the world's nuclear armaments, this expression of an intention to free the world of these weapons is both welcome and long overdue.


There is growing recognition that verifiable and complete nuclear disarmament cannot be achieved by incremental steps alone but only through a comprehensive framework. To achieve this, civil society groups and an increasing number of governments are joining in a call for a comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC).

In 1997, non-government experts took the bold move of releasing a model NWC. Such a convention had been in discussion for many years in multilateral forums and had gained momentum since the re-launching of the Model NWC in 2007. It is a document that has been accepted twice by the United Nations, in 1997 and 2007.

While governments talk, civil society has again come up with positive solutions, setting in motion an achievable trajectory and providing a blueprint to start work on a verifiable, comprehensive NWC.

Plan in phases

It's not a new concept but rather an idea whose time has come. A NWC would strengthen the handful of disarmament negotiations already in place by prohibiting the production of fissile material and the development, testing, stockpiling, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. Parties would be required to declare all nuclear weapons, material, facilities, and delivery vehicles. They would then be required to abolish their nuclear arsenals in set phases, first taking the weapons off high alert, then withdrawing them from deployment, removing the warheads from their delivery vehicles, disabling the warheads, and placing all fissile material under international control.

While some governments question how much political capital they would gain by pushing nuclear disarmament in highly demanding domestic settings, civil society continues to drive the agenda towards a world free of these ultimate weapons of mass destruction.

Each year about two-thirds of nations vote in favour of a resolution in the UN General Assembly calling for the early commencement of negotiations on a NWC. This is shown in polls commissioned by Global Zero in 2008 in 21 countries indicating that 76 per cent of people globally wanted their governments to reach a binding agreement to abolish nuclear weapons within a specified time frame. The UN Secretary-General has proposed a convention as the first point in his five-point plan for a nuclear-weapon-free world. Civil society and an increasing number of governments see the sense in developing a comprehensive convention or treaty. It is here that we find the leadership required to draw reluctant countries towards the plan for zero.

The barriers to the successful negotiation of a NWC are political, not technical. Language of intent from all governments is needed and must be followed with action. Preparations towards a NWC must be made now if the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons is to be realised.

Global civil society groups are working together on this agenda. These groups, representing medical practitioners, local government, women of peace, people of faith, and people of vision, meet regularly with governments and ambassadors to drive the agenda for a NWC.

On June 5 groups all over the world will be taking united actions under the banner 'NWC — Now We Can' — demanding global governments move forward the agenda of zero nuclear weapons, driven by concerns that substantial progress may not be made at the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference at the UN in May.

There is growing impatience with the 40 year-old NPT as the threats of proliferation continue. Insufficient substantive progress on nuclear disarmament has been achieved in the past four decades. A NWC would enhance the existing commitments to disarmament contained in Article VI of the NPT by providing a road map to elimination.

Right now there are at least 23,300 reasons to pursue a NWC in the world. And every one of them carries with it an imperative to action. Civil society knows this. Now is the moment for governments to meet the expectations of the majority of the world's people and prepare for a NWC to finally abolish nuclear weapons for all time and for all people.








I am thrilled to know that more than 2,000 people are eager to serve the Bruhat Bangalore populace. How do I know? Look at the number of people who have filed the nomination papers for the BBMP elections. If they are not interested in serving the public would they have entered the fray? The logic is as simple as that.

But the pity is that of these 2,000-odd eager service minded people only about 200 'netas' get elected because the BBMP council hall can accommodate only that many. The others, 1,800 or so have to wait for the next round of elections to try their luck to serve the BB populace. They will all be disappointed and wonder how they will drown their sorrows.

Why are so many so eager to serve us all? Again it's simple logic. The present one is taking place after a long time. Who knows when the next one is destined to take place? Like the NICE project it might get stalled. That's why so many are so eager to jump into the fray. Fill the bucket while the tap is on.

Be that as may be, can we still claim that the rich have no concern for the poor? Dismiss the thought. Look at the number of crorepatis who have come forward to serve us all. Why should they sacrifice the comforts of their rich life and sweat it out to reach one and all for support if they do not have genuine concern for service?

There is an advantage of having a crorepati as your corporator. A crorepati already, he does not have to look for more money and so the tender money should be safe. That many of our 'netas' have become crorepatis after their election is a different matter altogether. 

But the issue is: can my crorepati corporator understand my problem? Water for him could be Bisleri, but for me every drop of Cauvery is a precious commodity. Similarly, if I ask for redoing the bus shelter in my area, pulled down a year back, will it ring a bell in the crorepati corporator's ears?

My wife settled the issue by saying that 'aam janata' should not bother crorepati corporators with trivial issues. Now I am looking for top notch issues that can be placed before the CC.


But who will build the bus shelter now?








Someone assassinated Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, Hamas' liaison officer with Iran and the man responsible for the abduction and murder of Israel Defense Forces soldiers Ilan Sa'adon and Avi Sasportas in the late 1980s.

According to foreign sources, this was an operational action by Israel and its institutions. But Phyrrus of Epirus said of such costly and fleeting achievements: "One more victory like this will be the end of me."

In the two months since Mabhouh's death in his Dubai hotel room, a new Mabhouh has doubtless arisen. No serious damage has been documented in the flow of arms and expertise from Tehran to Gaza. The price of the success has not yet finished being tallied: the exposure of what are supposedly the Mossad's techniques, the inability to use them again until the storm passes, and the request by the Dubai police of Interpol to issue an arrest warrant against the Israelis caught on camera.

Responses against Israel escalated this week with the severe steps Britain took in expelling a Mossad agent, who has diplomatic status, from the embassy in London and presenting Israel as an identity thief that every British citizen should fear.

If that is the case in Britain, it is reasonable to assume that other countries whose passports were used in Dubai - Ireland, Australia, Germany and France - cannot not remain indifferent.

The Mossad is not its own master; It is an emissary of the Israeli government. This statement means nothing when the government does not know what is to be carried out for it and in its name. Military actions are discussed among the prime minister, the defense minister and usually from two to five additional ministers. The Mossad operations are discussed only by the prime minister and the Mossad chief. If IDF assistance is required, the top military brass is brought in to the secret discussions, but without involving it deeply in consideration of strategic aspects.

Mossad chief Meir Dagan should have retired last year, at the end of his seventh year at the helm. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a mistake in giving Dagan another year. Operational and political responsibility for the failure attributed to the Mossad in Dubai falls on both of them.

If Netanyahu does not know ahead of meetings with the president and vice president of the United States what is happening in Ramat Shlomo and Sheikh Jarrah, how can we trust he will wisely oversee what is planned in Dubai? The government should appoint a new Mossad head and establish a committee of ministers to oversee those who are supposed to be watching the head of the Mossad.







When Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister, he made it clear in private conversations that his mission was dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat. He analyzed the historical meaning of the threat in depth. He sharply criticized his predecessor's failure to blunt it. He believed that he had a mission the likes of which no prime minister had faced since David Ben-Gurion: to cope with a strategic development that was liable to endanger the existence of the State of Israel - and cast a dark shadow over the future of the West.

Netanyahu's perception of reality has not changed in the past year, but his ability to tell the truth out loud has been lost. Diplomatic activities against Iran are in the main conducted behind the scenes, and non-diplomatic measures are entirely carried out behind the scenes. This is also true of preparations for D Day, if and when it comes. Therefore, Netanyahu cannot share his true agenda with the public.

He does not report that both the time at his disposal and the state's resources are to a large extent subject to the strategic matter at hand. He does not inform us that the lightning and thunder we see and hear in the media are actually just marginal noises, beyond which a fateful drama is playing out in silence.

There are four possible responses to the Iranian threat: international sanctions, American military action, Israeli military action or joint American-Israeli preparations for a nuclear Iran. Each differs from the others, but they share one common factor: None of them can work without close American-Israeli cooperation, with Israel's being treated as a leper state, with the entire international community preoccupied with the occupation and settlements. The delegitimization of Israel, the weariness with Israel, the lack of attention to what Israel is saying - they are causing a situation in which any effort to come up with a real response to the Iranian threat is liable to run into snags and fail.

The significance of this is clear. Netanyahu, on the basis of his own beliefs, should have formulated a Palestine-Iran-Palestine strategy, a three-stage process that created a positive linkage between the challenge of the regional arena and the challenge of the immediate, local arena. He should have initiated a limited but meaningful move with the Palestinians that would have enabled the Americans to deal with Iran before coming back to try and end the occupation and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

One formula could have been no construction and no evictions until the Iranian question was settled. Another could have been reaching an interim agreement or an interim situation on the West Bank. A third formula could have been partial, unilateral withdrawal. One way or another, Netanyahu should have made a genuine move on the Palestinian front that would have made genuine moves on the Iranian front possible, that would have made dealing with the core of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute possible at a later stage.


On Tuesday night, relations between the United States and Israel were thrown into deep crisis. Barack Obama demanded that Netanyahu bow down on the Jerusalem issue, and Netanyahu refused. This crisis is foolish, redundant and dangerous. When maturity and responsibility are the order of the day, both the Americans and the Israelis are evincing a lack of those qualities. Instead of agreeing on constructive measures, they are insisting on brawling over an issue whose symbolic importance is great, but whose immediate importance is slight. They are allowing Ramat Shlomo, the Shepherd Hotel and Silwan to become trump cards in the hands of Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah and Meshal.

The Obama-Netanyahu crisis broke out now because of certain isolated events: the provocation against Joe Biden, the success of the health care bill in Congress, Netanyahu's speech at AIPAC. But, fundamentally, it springs from the fact that in the past year, the president and the prime minister failed to formulate a joint strategy to face the historic challenge that they are both facing.

It looks as if the two men don't like each other, and won't in the future. But ultimately they will succeed or fail together. History will judge both by the way they cope with the Iranian nuclear menace. The only way both can get out of the tailspin they are in is by adopting a joint strategy: Palestine-Iran-Palestine.







The Jewish people's national movement - Zionism - was born as a secular movement and conducted itself as such. The ultra-Orthodox, who made up the absolute majority of Jews at the time of its establishment, objected to it furiously. They saw it as a movement of heretics, instigators and false prophets. Even the Holocaust, whose extent would not have been so fatal had the ultra-Orthodox rabbis not prohibited emigrating to Palestine, did not change this fundamental approach. To this day, albeit more in theory than de facto, the ultra-Orthodox do not recognize the State of Israel - just like the radical left and factions in the Arab community.

The ultra-Orthodox community's growing strength is spurring it to dictate behavior patterns to the public majority. In matters like the graves under Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center, this dictation proves how powerful - and absurd - the ultra-Orthodox leaders' sense of power is.

Perhaps this will be a turning point that will bring us all, religious and secular, to block the ultra-Orthodox community's ambition. We have seen how the majority's outcry forced the prime minister to come to his senses about the Ashkelon graves.

The majority in Israel allows the ultra-Orthodox to issue decrees in the most basic matters of identity because of their political power. This majority is doing itself a grave moral injustice, especially to ultra-Orthodox society. The majority can wean the ultra-Orthodox from their absolute dependence on the state, thus turning them, albeit against their will, into a productive community.


If the majority does so, then by force of reality, like the ultra-Orthodox in America, in addition to scholars who study the Torah there will be ultra-Orthodox scientists, doctors, engineers and psychologists. They will be productive, rather than dependent. Thus, one may assume, their appetite to impose on the majority's lifestyle that it objects to will diminish.

If the ultra-Orthodox are undermining the freedom of spirit in Israel, the radical left on the other hand is undermining the Jewish people's very freedom as a state. This left uses the generous financial assistance of foreign states and organizations - including Jew-haters - who act, under the guise of "human rights," to deny the Jewish people's right to sovereignty, destroy the Jewish state's moral basis, return the Palestinian refugees, make the world hate Israel and undermine the legitimacy of its existence.

When the ultra-Orthodox go too far, as they did in the Barzilai Medical Center, the majority, pushed by the media, rebels. But when radical leftist organizations provide most of the false data in the Goldstone report and organize "Israeli Apartheid week" in campuses abroad, the public hardly knows about it. This is because the media, a considerable part of which sympathizes with them, is silent.

When the Im Tirzu movement exposes the New Israel Fund's deeds, financed by subversive bodies, it remains a lone voice in the wilderness. When information erupts in a different way the media, instead of denouncing the subverters, denounces their exposers.

Thus, for example, the public is not aware that the governments of Britain, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden and others finance Peace Now's demonstrations, the groups advocating draft evasion and the serial petitions to the High Court of Justice (and the High Court's cooperation with these groups). These countries also finance activity that encourages Israel's Arabs to set up nationalist, cultural, political and organizational infrastructures to separate from the State of Israel.

The "vision papers" issued by Israel's Arabs, whose composition was encouraged and financed by the United Nations, European Union and New Israel Fund, are in fact Israeli Arabs' divorce papers from the state whose citizens they are. The radical Jewish left supports the separatist trends deriving from these papers. Thus the Jewish sector has remained almost unexposed to the danger that in the tiny space of Israel a Palestinian state could rise - supported by numerous countries - in addition to the one that exists de facto in Judea and Samaria.

Following the wide media coverage, the Zionist Jewish majority is aware of what the ultra-Orthodox are doing, and one may assume that one day it will put them in their place. But this majority remains passive vis-a-vis the real danger to its political future's freedom, even in its reduced state. Thus it allows the subverters to destroy the identity - as a prelude to destroying the existence - of the state that tens of thousands of it have sacrificed their lives to establish and safeguard for the past 62 years.








Futna Jaber, the Israeli Arab woman who came in fourth in the Big Brother reality TV show this year, is to be given a regular cooking program on Channel 2. The idea apparently stemmed from the support that viewers gave the strapping Jaber, who speaks warmly about her husband and his hummus. So is this evidence of our tolerance and a lessening of our racism toward Arabs, at least toward those with Israeli identity cards?

Ostensibly, attributing positive qualities to people based on their belonging to a difference group, along the lines of "those Arabs sure can cook," is not an expression of racism.

However, the assumption that racism is nothing more than attributing negative qualities to other groups is out of date. The social psychologist Susan Fiske and her colleagues have developed what they call the Stereotype Content Model, which they say gives a more accurate understanding of racist attitudes, by positing that these attitudes comprise both negative evaluations - "Arabs are lazy" - and positive ones. And these elements follow a clear patterns that don't merely exist side by side haphazardly.

When we label a person belonging to a group we perceive as threatening, we follow two basic axes: one relating to abilities, and the other to warmth. The former is made up of things like intellectual capacity, professional skills, stability and credibility, while the latter, the warmth axis, comprises emotional, physical and instinctual elements, and includes things like cooking.

Groups that are regarded as being inferior get low grades on the abilities axis ("Arab handiwork is horrible") but higher ones on the warmth axis. On the Mako Web site, for example, Jaber is described as a "loving, devoted, secure, considerate person." And vice versa, of course: The stronger groups get higher grades for their abilities - check out the magic word "kibbutznik" on notice boards - but they are considered low on warmth, as in "dead Friedmans" - a phrase used on "Big Brother" to describe heartless Ashkenazi Jews.

The validity of this model has been borne out dozens of times in societies all over the world, and it fits in well with what we know about ourselves too. In the United States, people who think blacks tend to be lazy, scofflaws and dangerous, will also say that they sing nicely, are good at sports and are "earthier." In Israel, people who believe that Mizrahi Jews of Oriental extraction are inferior to Ashkenazim in categories such as intelligence, responsibility and getting things done, will tell you that they sing and cook well and generally speaking have more passion than their European brethren.

It's no coincidence that the Stereotype Content Model grew out of the study of sexism, which is also made up of openly hostile assumptions, such as "women are unstable" alongside the no less sexist attribution of ostensibly favorable qualities, such as "delicacy." Our positive fantasies about the objects of our racism are in fact an integral part of stereotypical thought. But why does racism bolster itself with these fantasies? Perhaps because it makes it easier to tolerate our ethical failures.

And it surely helps us to preserve the status quo: We remain in the position of strength, and we placate those whom we consign to inferiority by giving them cooking programs on Channel 2.








Satisfaction - that's what Israeli faces radiate, at least as observed by people who just came out of Ramallah or Gaza and watch Jerusalem's busy Ben-Yehuda Street, the Ramat Aviv Mall or Ben-Gurion International Airport.

To the Israelis, nothing exists beyond the moment. It's just like the smugness exhibited by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his private playing field, the AIPAC conference. Have our diplomats been expelled? Is the American administration angry? We'll bow our heads for a moment, the storm will pass, and we'll be accepted into the honorable club of the OECD. The main thing is that Israel's obstinate policy of separation has succeeded and that two adversarial Palestinian entities has been created.

One is building its Islamic principality in an isolated enclave, bouncing around promises that the second step toward the liberation of Jerusalem and Haifa has already been taken. The other proudly hosts representatives of donor nations in its small and crowded enclaves, and tries to persuade everybody that this is the way to build a state that includes Area C, no-man's land, Latrun, Gaza, Al-Aqsa and the approximately 70 square kilometers that Israel has annexed and calls Jerusalem.

But we Israelis know that everything is equally imaginary. We are the wizards of the status quo. We establish it as we like, moving an acre here and a military base there, until the world says it agrees. When God wants, Ramallah will also be called a holy city and Gaza will be crowned an Egyptian district capital.

That is not the way the future looks in the two separate entities. Their mutually contradictory rhetoric is based on a similar assumption: Both Gaza and Ramallah believe that change will eventually come from the outside, and that is the popular expectation as well.

The Ramallah government expects that the United States, Europe and the pro-Western Arab states will come to their senses and force Israel to do that which it has avoided since 1968: withdraw ("with slight border adjustments") and bring the settlers back home. The Ramallah government expects that external factors will cause Israel to understand that which it does not understand on its own. There is nothing boastful about this stance; rather, it is one of compassion for the Israeli people, which has encased itself in a bubble of smugness that ignores historical processes.

More than a decade ago, during one of the futile rounds of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Saeb Erekat allowed himself to wonder: "Aren't the Israelis thinking about their grandchildren?" A similar question is heard from inhabitants of Gaza whose homes were destroyed and whose children were killed, as well as from Palestinian farmers in the West Bank who have had their fill of harassment from settlers. Everyone wants to know: Don't the Israelis understand that they cannot depend forever on their economic and military superiority? That it is impossible to maintain forever an aggressive regime based on extreme inequality and privilege for Jews?

In other words, it is a request to the West: "If Israel is so important to you, save it from itself."

That approach sees the Jewish Israeli community as an accepted part of the region, whether in one state, in two or in a federation of states. It does not matter. It proposes foreseeable time frames for implementation: two years, five years, 10. This is an approach that still preserves faith in Western common sense.

The Gaza government, meanwhile, is expecting a Muslim intifada to break out in countries near and far, which will turn the regional and the global balance of power upside down: Peoples will rise up, pro-Western governments will fall, and the new governments will not show tolerance for Western aid to Israel or the foreign element that the West has planted in the East. That scenario, too, sees Israel as the one responsible for everything that happens and might happen, but has no compassion for an entity that views 1 billion of its neighbors as unimportant. Its time frame is much longer than the compassionate scenario. Those who patiently anticipate a widespread Muslim intifada are convinced that their scenario, and not the one that expects the West to take action, is the one that will happen; after all, they are convinced, the West will not change its spots.




******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




It pays to live in the home district of the New York Legislature's big shots. According to a new analysis by several citizens' groups, Senate and Assembly leaders grabbed much bigger chunks of political pork than lesser members did. This is yet another in a long list of reasons to oppose member items, as pork is known in Albany.


Altogether, legislative member items amount to about $170 million a year. If the dollars were distributed equally, Assembly districts would average about $300,000, and Senate districts would get an average of $1.2 million.


But we're talking about Albany, so some districts get a lot and others a pittance, even though they have about the same number of people. This system helps perpetuate some of Albany's worst abuses, mainly giving legislative leaders power over individual members.


Senator Malcolm Smith, a Democrat from Queens who is the Senate president, weighed in with the most pork last year, a daunting $5.7 million that he could distribute to favored civic groups. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, lost access to big payouts the moment they lost their majority. Thomas W. Libous, a Republican who represents Binghamton, dropped from a high of more than $3 million a few years ago to $250,000 last year.


In the Assembly, which Democrats have controlled for decades, Speaker Sheldon Silver received $2.6 million for his favorite groups. Assembly Republicans did well to get more than $125,000.


These big slush funds have gotten some legislators into trouble. Former Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, a Democrat from Queens, is now in prison after giving to a Little League, then stealing almost $100,000 back. The trial of the former Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno, a Republican, on federal corruption charges, uncovered how he had hid his member item contributions to unions that participated in his pension investment company.


Two Democrats are fighting to make these bonuses fair. Assemblywoman Sandra Galef of Ossining (who has never taken member items) and Senator José Serrano of the Bronx (who got $1 million last year) have proposed a bill to ensure that each district would earn the same amount, ban conflicts of interest and impose better monitoring on groups that get the money.


That would be an improvement, but it would be best to cancel these lump sums in the budget altogether. These expenditures should appear the normal way in the budget, line by line.






Schools across the country are understandably concerned about students "sexting" — sending sexually suggestive photos and text messages by cellphone. But a Pennsylvania school district went too far when it referred several female students for criminal prosecution after their images showed up on other students' phones and they refused to participate in an antisexting education program. A federal appeals court was right to rule last week that parents had the right to block the district attorney from prosecuting the girls.


In the fall of 2008, officials in the Tunkhannock Area School District discovered nude and seminude pictures of female students on cellphones belonging to other students. After they found out that male students had been exchanging these images, the officials turned the phones over to the district attorney to investigate.


The district attorney wrote to parents of at least 16 students, who either owned the confiscated phones or appeared in the photos, threatening to prosecute the students on child pornography charges. If the students enrolled in an education program covering sexual harassment, sexual violence and related issues, he said, they would not be charged.


The parents of three girls refused to enroll their daughters. The parents of one girl, who was photographed speaking on a phone in a white bra, said she was simply being a "goof ball." Another girl was seen in a towel, looking like she had gotten out of the shower.


These parents sought a temporary restraining order to block the district attorney from bringing criminal charges against their daughters, which the court granted. The cases against two students were dropped and the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, has since upheld the lower court. It said the third student and her parents are likely to succeed with their constitutional claims.


The prosecutor's threat to bring charges, the appeals court ruled, would be retaliation for the exercise of protected constitutional rights — the parents' 14th Amendment right to parental autonomy, and the child's First Amendment right against compelled speech. Students in the program are required to write about how their actions were wrong.


The court said the prosecutor was trying to retaliate, rather than simply enforce the law, because there was so little basis for believing the three students had engaged in illegal activity — that they ever possessed the images or were involved in transmitting them.


Schools have a strong interest in maintaining an appropriate learning environment, indeed a duty to do so. But as students use more — and more elaborate — forms of technology, school officials will need to do a better job of upholding decorum without creating felony prosecutions out of misbehavior that should be handled by parents.






A year ago, Michelle Obama and pupils from a Washington elementary school dug up a patch of the South Lawn to plant a White House vegetable garden. Mrs. Obama's stated goal — apart from providing food for her family's meals and for formal dinners — was to promote healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables and healthier eating by kids at a time of rising rates of childhood obesity and diabetes.


Mrs. Obama has translated that into a serious national initiative to improve childhood nutrition and health. In appearances around the country, she has been talking about childhood obesity and engaging parents, schools, pediatricians, celebrities, and public officials, including members of her husband's cabinet, with the goal of solving the problem within a generation.


Last month, Mrs. Obama began her "Let's Move" campaign. Beyond encouraging greater physical activity by children, the Food and Drug Administration is trying to help parents make healthy food choices by making food labels more customer-friendly. The campaign includes $400 million to bring grocery stores offering fresh produce and other healthy food to underserved, often poor areas, and a planned nutritional upgrade of school lunches when Congress reauthorizes the Child Nutrition Act.


Recently, appearing before the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Mrs. Obama spoke with humor about her own experience as a mother trying to encourage healthy eating habits in her children, and praised food companies for some positive steps. But she also chided the industry for not going fast or far enough.


"We need you not just to tweak around the edges, but to entirely rethink the products that you're offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children," Mrs. Obama said. "That starts with revamping, or ramping up, your efforts to reformulate your products, particularly those aimed at kids, so that they have less fat, salt, and sugar, and more of the nutrients that kids need."


Mrs. Obama's campaign is just beginning, but she has already started a national conversation on obesity.






Pope Benedict XVI's latest apology for the emerging global scandal of child abuse by predatory priests — an issue that the Roman Catholic Church should have engaged years ago — is strong on forgiveness but far short of the full accountability that Catholics need for repairing their damaged church.


With the scandal spreading across Europe, Benedict apologized to Irish Catholics last week for the "sinful and criminal" sexual abuse of thousands of children across decades. But he made no mention of the need to discipline diocesan leaders most responsible for shielding hundreds of priests from criminal penalties by moving them from parish to parish to continue their crimes.


The pope's apology fell short not only for Catholics in Ireland, but for those in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, where hundreds of new allegations are emerging to be investigated by a Vatican office that has but 10 workers to do the job. Benedict's promise of a special Vatican inquiry into the Irish scandal came across as too little, too late, considering it took two scathing investigations by the Irish government to prod the Vatican into action. One of these found church officials were able to convince Dublin police to join in their cover-up.


German Catholics are questioning Benedict's role nearly 30 years ago when, as archbishop of Munich, he allowed the transfer of a priest molester. That priest had managed to remain at work until last week when he was suspended as the scandal grew with news media scrutiny. There are also questions about Benedict's directive as a Vatican cardinal in 2001 that bishops worldwide were to keep pedophilia investigations secret under threat of ex-communication.


The Vatican insists this was to protect the innocent and never intended to encourage what has been established as a widespread failure by church officials to alert police to the criminal abuse of children. As pope, Benedict emphasized the duty to tell civil authorities, but church secrecy has been a hallmark defense by numerous dioceses that have fought in the courts against a full accounting to pedophilia victims.


It was hard to see how Vatican officials did not draw the lessons of the grueling scandal in the United States, where more than 700 priests were dismissed over a three-year period. But then we read Laurie Goodstein's disturbing report in The Times on Thursday about how the pope, while he was still a cardinal, was personally warned about a priest who had molested as many as 200 deaf boys. But church leaders chose to protect the church instead of the children. The report illuminated the kind of behavior the church was willing to excuse to avoid scandal.


The American church's investigative board of laity cautioned "there must be consequences" for prelates who orchestrated cover-ups. This has not been fulfilled, even though the board criticized management of rogue priests by Cardinals Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, the nation's largest diocese, and Edward Egan, the former leader of the New York archdiocese. The pope's expression of "shame and remorse" for the Irish scandal is not to be doubted. But what is most urgently needed was well described by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel — "truth and clarity about everything that took place."







IN the past five years, as the phenomenon known as colony-collapse disorder has spread across the United States and Europe, causing the disappearance of whole colonies of domesticated honeybees, many people have come to fear that our food supply is in peril. The news on Wednesday that a Department of Agriculture survey found that American honeybees had died in great numbers this winter can only add to such fears.


The truth, fortunately, is not nearly so dire. But it is more complicated.


There is good news: While some areas are seeing a shortage of bees, globally the number of domesticated honeybee colonies is increasing. The bad news is that this increase can't keep up with our growing appetite for luxury foods that depend heavily on bee pollination. The domesticated honeybee isn't the only pollinator that agriculture relies on — wild bees also play a significant role, and we seem intent on destroying their habitats.


To understand the problem, we need to understand the extent of the honeybee's role in agriculture. Humans certainly benefit from the way bees — and to a lesser extent, other pollinators like flies, beetles and butterflies — help plants produce fruits and seeds. Agriculture, however, is not as dependent on pollinators as one might think. It's true that some crops like raspberries, cashews, cranberries and mangoes cannot reproduce without pollinators. But crops like sugar cane and potatoes, grown for their stems or tubers, can be propagated without pollination. And the crops that provide our staple carbohydrates — wheat, rice and corn — are either wind-pollinated or self-pollinated. These don't need bees at all.


Overall, about one-third of our worldwide agricultural production depends to some extent on bee pollination, but less than 10 percent of the 100 most productive crop species depend entirely on it. If pollinators were to vanish, it would reduce total food production by only about 6 percent.


This wouldn't mean the end of human existence, but if we want to continue eating foods like apples and avocados, we need to understand that bees and other pollinators can't keep up with the current growth in production of these foods.


The reason is that fruit and seed crops that are most dependent on pollinators yield relatively little food per acre, and therefore take up an inordinate, and increasing, amount of land. The fraction of agriculture dependent on pollination has increased by 300 percent in half a century.


The paradox is that our demand for these foods endangers the wild bees that help make their cultivation possible. The expansion of farmland destroys wild bees' nesting sites and also wipes out the wildflowers that the bees depend on when food crops aren't in blossom. Researchers in Britain and the Netherlands have found that the diversity of wild bee species in most regions in those countries has declined since 1980. This decrease was mostly due to the loss of bees that require very particular habitats — bees that couldn't adapt after losing their homes and food sources to cultivation. Similarly, between 1940 and 1960, as land increasingly came under cultivation in the American Midwest, several bumblebee species disappeared from the area. It is difficult to count and keep track of wild bee populations globally, but their numbers are probably declining overall as a result of such human activity.


Even if the number of wild pollinators remained stable, it would not be sufficient to meet the increasing demand for agricultural pollination. Could domesticated bees take up the slack? By looking at data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, we found that the number of managed honeybee hives increased by 45 percent during the past five decades.


Unfortunately, this increase cannot counteract the growing demand for pollination or the shortage of wild pollinators. Domesticated bees mainly produce honey; any contribution they make to crop pollination is usually a secondary benefit. In most parts of the world, they provide pollination only locally and not necessarily where it is needed most.


Thus a vicious cycle: Fewer pollinating bees reduce yield per acre — and lower yield requires cultivation of more land to produce the same amount of food.


Eventually, a growing shortage of pollinators will limit what foods farmers can produce. If we want to continue to enjoy almonds, apples and avocados, we have to cultivate fewer of them, more sustainably, and protect the wild bees that help make their production possible.


Marcelo Aizen is a researcher at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina. Lawrence Harder is a professor of pollination ecology at the University of Calgary.







Ann Arbor, Mich.

AT the White House signing ceremony for health care legislation on Tuesday, President Obama declared, "In a few moments, when I sign this bill, all of the overheated rhetoric over reform will finally confront the reality of reform." For Democrats nervous about political fallout from the bill in the November midterm elections, it's reassuring to imagine that the myths about the legislation — that it provides free coverage to illegal immigrants, uses taxpayer money to subsidize abortions and mandates end-of-life counseling for the elderly — will be dispelled by its passage.


But public knowledge of the plan's contents may not improve as quickly as Democrats hope. While some of the more outlandish rumors may dissipate, it is likely that misperceptions will linger for years, hindering substantive debate over the merits of the country's new health care system. The reasons are rooted in human psychology.


Studies have shown that people tend to seek out information that is consistent with their views; think of liberal fans of MSNBC and conservative devotees of Fox News. Liberals and conservatives also tend to process the information that they receive with a bias toward their pre-existing opinions, accepting claims that are consistent with their point of view and rejecting those that are not. As a result, information that contradicts their prior attitudes or beliefs is often disregarded, especially if those beliefs are strongly held.


Unfortunately, these tendencies frequently undermine well-intentioned efforts to counter myths and misperceptions. Jason Reifler, a political scientist at Georgia State, and I conducted a series of experiments in which participants read mock news articles with misleading statements by a politician. Some were randomly assigned a version of the article that also contained information correcting the misleading statement.


Our results indicate that this sort of journalistic fact-checking often fails to reduce misperceptions among ideological or partisan voters. In some cases, we found that corrections can even make misperceptions worse. For example, in one experiment we found that the proportion of conservatives who believed that President George W. Bush's tax cuts actually increased federal revenue grew from 36 percent to 67 percent when they were provided with evidence against this claim. People seem to argue so vehemently against the corrective information that they end up strengthening the misperception in their own minds.


The debate over health care reform, which was marred by false and misleading claims about the plan's contents, provides a case study in how difficult it is to correct widely held misperceptions. Democrats cite various reasons to think that public understanding of the plan will improve in the aftermath of its enactment, but none of them are particularly persuasive.


First, some Democrats have suggested that politicians and others responsible for the spread of false information will be discredited when their doomsday predictions fail to materialize. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey predicted on Monday that "when this bill goes into effect, and none of the things Republicans warned about begin to happen — none of the death panels, none of the government takeover, none of the socialism — Republicans will have no credibility."


This is too optimistic. While some provisions of the plan will start before November, the most far-reaching changes won't take effect until 2014. False claims about the contents of the bill will just morph into harder-to-debunk predictions about the consequences of reform. We've seen this happen already with Sarah Palin's claim that her parents and baby would "have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel.'" After this claim was widely discredited in the press, some conservative pundits retreated to claims that future rationing of health care would amount to "de facto death panels."


In addition, some have suggested that personal experience will change Americans' beliefs about health care reform. But that reality will also take a long time to arrive for most voters. It will be years before many people experience substantial changes in how their health care is paid for or delivered. Even after the insurance expansion is complete, it's not clear that direct contact will correct the public's mistaken beliefs — remember the town hall participant who told a Republican congressman last summer to "keep your government hands off my Medicare"?


Finally, the "fog of controversy," in the words of the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is unlikely to lift. With Republicans already arguing for the plan's repeal, health care will play a major role in the midterms and the 2012 presidential campaign. The endless debate over reform will surely spawn new myths among voters already disenchanted with President Obama and the state of the economy.


In the end, access to health care may increase, but the plague of misinformation won't be cured any time soon.


Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist, is a health policy researcher at the University of Michigan.







Change is so traumatic.

There we were, minding our own business, when all of a sudden, whammo, health care got reformed.


Really, it was quite a shock. I guess it was because of the new president, Barack Obama, who is so much more decisive and take-chargey than the old president, Barack Obama. And, of course, he was helped by the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who is strong and brave and pure of heart. As opposed to that party hack, whatshername. Hated her.


The American people certainly seemed impressed, giving thumbs up to the new law in public opinion polls. Since the polls had been showing that they were strongly opposed to that very same plan last week, we can only presume that we have also acquired a whole new set of Americans.


Really, there is just so much transformation a person can handle. One day you go to bed worrying about death panels. Next day you wake up and health care reform is so trendy that the coolest spring accessory is a pre-existing condition.


We can only handle so much newness at once. So it's been comforting to return to the U.S. Senate and find that it's exactly as insane as it was last month and the month before that.


The Republicans are continuing their ongoing search for new ways that any one single senator can bring all activity to a standstill. You will remember that their dedication to this cause allowed Jim Bunning — a senator who is recognized even by members of his own party as being completely loopy — to put a perpetual hold on the confirmation of a deputy trade representative because he is angry with the Canadian Parliament for banning the sale of cigarettes with candy flavoring.


Now, in celebration of the passage of the health care reform bill, the minority party has begun invoking a rule that allows any one senator to block all committee hearings scheduled to run later than 2 p.m.


Quite a bit of activity has already been canceled, beginning with a hearing on bark beetle infestation. O.K., I know some of you are sitting there chortling about bark beetles, but you'd feel differently if you were a tree. Or a state senator from Colorado who'd paid $600 of his own money to fly to Washington to testify.


And irony of ironies, at another hearing, a witness had just gotten to the part of her statement about "improving access to government information" when the chairman told her that the 2 o'clock buzzer had gone off and they were compelled to close up shop and go home.


Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman, was enraged because his hearing on judicial nominations couldn't go forward. Although really, Leahy should count his blessings. At least Jim Bunning didn't put a hold on the nominations because of some antismoking initiative in Finland.


Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, begged the Senate to allow him to go ahead and hear testimony from military commanders who had come from as far as South Korea to talk about the defense budget. Even the new, unimproved version of John McCain — the one who vowed there would be "no cooperation for the rest of the year" — was willing to allow an exemption for that one. But another Republican gave a thumbs down, and the officers were dismissed for the day.


"Disappointed," tweeted Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who had to cancel a hearing on police training contracts in Afghanistan. Bad as we think the Republicans' behavior has been, it should not be taken as an excuse for senators to take out their frustrations on Twitter. No good can come of political tweets.


Over on the Senate floor, everyone was debating the caboose to the health care train, a bill full of fixes that

unfortunately was not entitled "Act to Eliminate Embarrassing Things Feckless Senators Stuck in the Health Care Reform Act."


The Senate Democrats wanted to approve the exact same version that the House has passed so this debate will be over and everyone can move on to congratulating victorious college basketball teams and discussing why Republicans are opposed to a consumer protection agency for financial products.


But the Republicans drew up a slew of amendments, many of which made no sense but offered opportunities for spectacular election-year attack ads. The most instantly famous, from Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was the classic "No Erectile Dysfunction Drugs to Sex Offenders."


This could go on for some time. Meanwhile, feel free to remind Rush Limbaugh that he promised to move to

Costa Rica if health care reform gets implemented. Once you're done, you can go back and remind him that Costa Rica has national health care.







Before I ask for a drumroll and reveal "the secrets" of fighting poverty, a bit of background:


For a quarter-century after World War II, the United States made great progress against poverty. Then in the 1970s, we fumbled. Over the last 35 years, our economy has almost tripled in size, but, according to the United States Census Bureau, the number of Americans living below the poverty line has been stuck at roughly 1 in 8.


One reason is that wages for blue-collar and other ordinary workers peaked in the early 1970s, after adjusting for inflation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A second is the breakdown in the family and the explosion in single-parent households. A third is the quintupling of incarceration rates beginning in 1970, making it harder for impoverished young men to play a role in families or get decent jobs.


When those factors converge — a young woman with a 10th-grade education trying to raise a couple of kids as a single parent — poverty proves almost inescapable. Often the cycle is transmitted from generation to generation.


Still, there's a reason for hope: We're getting a much better handle on what policies can overcome poverty. We're now seeing more experiments, modeled after randomized drug trials, that measure carefully whether an approach works and how cost-effective it is. Partly this reflects the rise of economists (at the expense of political scientists and do-gooders) and the rigor they pack in their briefcases.


"To make a difference, we have to do things that actually work," said Gordon Berlin, the president of MDRC, a research organization that pioneered the use of randomized trials to evaluate poverty-fighting strategies. "In the last 15 to 20 years, we've begun to build a compelling body of evidence that policy makers and program operators can act on."


Here's a peek at some of the interventions that seem to make a difference (and there are many more):



High-quality early childhood programs, before kids get behind. Much-studied examples include the Perry Preschool program in Michigan in the 1960s and the Abecedarian Project in North Carolina in the 1970s. Both worked with impoverished children who had much better outcomes than control groups. For example, those who had been through the Perry program were — as adults, decades later — only half as likely to go on welfare and much less likely to be arrested.



Intensive efforts in the ninth grade (which is well known as education's Bermuda triangle, swallowing up poor students). A program called Talent Development in Philadelphia gave ninth graders a double dose of math and English and reduced absenteeism and significantly improved performance for at least the next couple of years. Tentative results suggest it is also improving high school graduation rates.



Career academies. These keep students engaged in high school by teaching around career themes and partnering with local employers to give kids work experience. Eight years of follow-up research suggests that graduates are more likely to hold jobs and earn more money.



Jobs programs. One of the most successful is the "jobs-plus" demonstration, which trains people living in public housing to get jobs and gives them extra incentives to keep them. Participants thrive — and the gains continue even years later, after the program ends.


The two most important interventions seem to be education and jobs. Schooling programs pay off from early childhood all the way through community college. And jobs programs lift entire families: even though one might worry about children getting less supervision with parents working, studies suggest that children then do better at school.


All this underscores a long-term cost of this recession: there are cuts in both education and schooling, harming the two most effective stairways out of poverty. That's tragic, and I hope we consider schooling and jobs every bit as important as our multibillion-dollar surge in Afghanistan.


In effect, what's needed to overcome poverty in part seems to be a change of culture, to break self-destructive behaviors — resignation to unemployment, self-doubt, alcohol and drug abuse, disintegrating families, lack of engagement in children's education — that create self-replicating cycles of poverty. The Harlem Children's Zone Promise Academy, a charter school where third graders from a disadvantaged neighborhood outperform their peers around New York City and New York State, offers a shining example of what is possible.


This wave of research suggests that there's no magic bullet, that helping people is hard, and that even when pilot programs succeed they can be difficult to scale up. But evidence also suggests that we increasingly have the tools to chip away at poverty. We know what to do if we just can summon the political will.




******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS




The agenda for the talks between top Pakistani and US officials in Washington is becoming clearer. Pakistan's foreign minister has pulled from his pocket a list of issues on which Pakistan seeks US assistance. These include helicopters, drone technology and help in the energy sector. It has also sought US mediation on the Kashmir issue. Meanwhile, at least one senior US official has clarified that Islamabad should not expect a 'big' announcement but approach the talks as an exercise aimed at chalking out a sound future for the two countries. This is significant because, traditionally, talks that lead to such an announcement are denounced at home as a 'failure'. This is something the government will need to guard against. It is also becoming apparent that one of the matters that Pakistan aims to bring up is of civilian nuclear plants. The agreement reached under the Bush administration with New Delhi on this count has long been a sore point with Islamabad. It would desperately like to draw even by striking a similar agreement. The US secretary of state has acknowledged that the issue will come up during the talks. However, she has also made it a point to emphasise that it is not one that will necessarily be resolved easily in Pakistan's favour.

There are somewhat complex issues to grapple with here. With good reason, Pakistan feels aggrieved that it has not been sufficiently awarded for its role in combating terror. Whereas this struggle should be considered one waged for its own people and its own survival as a state, the reality is that to some extent at least the promise of thick rolls of greenbacks has played a part in deciding policy. To be fair, Pakistan cannot fight on its own what has become a Herculean battle against militants. This country has rendered tremendous sacrifices. We have seen our soldiers killed in battle and we have seen men, women and children tumble and fall like ninepins on the streets. There is some justice in holding that it is now payback time. But it is important also to consider another reality. There is still a trust deficit that has not been filled in completely. Washington is not entirely convinced that Pakistan is totally committed to the war against militancy. The matter of groups based in southern Punjab has been raised more than once. New Delhi alleges 'jihadi' groups in Kashmir remain untouched. There is also the issue of possible terrorist acquisition of nuclear weapons. No matter how far-fetched the scenario, it lives on in US minds. This will make the task of pushing any kind of deal involving nuclear technology through US Congress all the harder. What Pakistan needs to focus on for now is filling in the gap that exists in trust. This must be a focal point for its team. Only when trust exists can progress be made, and it appears Pakistan will need to concentrate on that vital first step while hoping for something more tangible from its mission in Washington.














The government has once more made it abundantly plain that it has no intention of proceeding with orders from the Supreme Court in the NRO case, especially those concerning the re-opening of cases in Swiss courts. In its petition against the NRO ruling, the government states that reviving the cases would amount to placing the dead Benazir Bhutto on trial. All this is quite unnecessarily melodramatic. The key issue surely is getting to the bottom of the cases of alleged corruption and, as a precedent that may deter others from pilfering state money, penalising those who were involved in dishonest practices. This is hardly an unusual practice. The hearings in the infamous Bofors case, involving kickbacks in a defence deal, have continued long after the tragic assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, who was accused of involvement in the case. In India there has never been any demand that the matter not be investigated or probed.

The conduct of justice is after all an affair governed by rules which do not take into account emotion or other similar matters. This of course is how it should be. One of the basic rules of justice is that the same rules apply to all. The government's efforts to distort this are unfortunate. We need to see the corrupt tried. The efforts to use Benazir as a shield and the tampering we have seen with evidence only adds to the belief that there are people in high places who are very guilty indeed. It is important that they be brought to justice – as a means to restore among people some faith in our justice system and all that it stands for.







Following the military announcement of an end to fighting in Bajaur, and the re-opening of schools in the tribal agency that had been closed for months, there had been a sense of celebration and an expectation that things would return to normal in the area. This has not been the case at all. Instead we have accounts of militants blowing up even the schools and health centres that had survived before. Of the 74 schools, reported by this publication to have been destroyed or damaged in Bajaur, only a few have indeed been able to resume activity. In many cases both teachers and pupils remain displaced and the infrastructure necessary for education is simply not in place.

It is obvious that while the bulk of militants may have been defeated, others remain entrenched in the area. They also, quite evidently, retain their capacity to stage strikes on targets of their choice and disrupt life. As a result many of the IDPs who fled Bajaur remain away from home, uncertain if it is safe to return. For those who never left fear is a constant factor in life. Victory has been proclaimed in Bajaur. The challenge now for the authorities is to turn this into a genuine triumph. On the military front, the pockets of terrorists still based in the area need to be tracked down and defeated. On other fronts the flow of life needs to be restored in an area that has seen fighting for many years so that people can resume the work and education denied to them for too long.








It is true that Benazir and Nawaz Sharif agreed in the Charter of Democracy to eliminate the concurrent list. But that is no reason why the members of the committee and parliament should blindly try to implement this commitment and not apply their own minds. The charter was drafted in great haste by one individual, a prominent PPP lawyer who was later excluded from the party's higher councils for supporting the restoration of the chief justice and has since returned to the party's fold. The result of his labours was a hurriedly prepared list of political demands bearing the grand title of Charter of Democracy. The two leaders, then in exile, who signed it were under great pressure to produce a political declaration challenging the Musharraf dictatorship and had neither the time nor the inclination to study its finer points. The charter is not a sacrosanct document and several hare-brained proposals made in it, like the establishment of a constitutional court and a truth and reconciliation commission, have wisely been thrown into the dustbin without any tear being shed.

The claim that the abolition of the concurrent list will give more powers to the provinces is false. They already have the power to legislate on subjects in this list, which they share with the federation, and will not get any additional powers as a result of its deletion. The demand for provincial autonomy is no doubt legitimate. In the past, the rights of the provinces were trampled upon because of their merger into one unit (1955-1971) and because during the long periods of military rule the country was governed practically as a unitary state. Moreover, the Ayub constitution (1962-69) was federal only in name. Now that the country has been put on the constitutional track, a very large measure of provincial autonomy has been restored. If the provinces want more, we should look separately at each item in the federal and concurrent list, rather than completely abolishing the latter.

The present Concurrent List actually consists of two types of subjects, although they are not separately categorised as they were under the Government of India Act of 1935 and the Constitution of 1956. The first type (placed in Part I of the concurrent list in the 1935 Act and the 1956 Constitution) comprises not concrete subjects but rather various branches of civil and criminal law, substantive and procedural, and includes the Pakistan Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Civil Procedure Code, the law of evidence, family laws and various other subdivisions of civil and criminal law. Both the federation and the provinces can legislate on these matters and under Article 143 the federal law prevails over a provincial law in case of inconsistency between the two.

The second type (placed in Part II of the concurrent list in the 1935 Act and the 1956 Constitution) is composed of concrete subjects over which both the federation and the provinces can legislate. The rationale for including them in the concurrent list is that these are matters (like drugs and medicines, environmental pollution, labour welfare and the regulation of the legal, medical and other professions) which can only be dealt with effectively through coordinated action at the federal level.

The deletion of the concurrent list will have two major consequences:

First, parliament will forfeit all powers to legislate in the field of civil and criminal law. The country will soon have not one but four Penal Codes and the same number of Criminal Procedure Codes, Civil Procedure Codes, laws of evidence, family laws etc., one for each province. Similarly, there will have to be not one federal law on accountability of holders of public office but four provincial laws on this subject. Some of the provinces might not even have such a law. That might be a blessing for the corrupt politician, who will find it much easier to evade justice, but would hardly be in interest of clean government. There will also have to be four provincial anti-money laundering laws instead of one for the whole country. The powers of the FIA will be limited largely to investigating breaches of immigration, quarantine, copyright and currency laws. Such examples could go on and on. The single legal space that the country has had for the last century and a half would be a thing of the past. Instead, there will be four provincial legal regimes of uneven quality.

Second, there will have to be four separate provincial laws instead of one federal law to protect the environment and to check the sale of spurious and harmful drugs, to give just two examples. That will make enforcement difficult, because the province with the least stringent laws or no law would become the haven for law-breakers or evaders. Similarly, since each province will set separate standards for workers' welfare, the province with the most lax labour legislation would attract industrial investment. That would be a boon for the rich industrialist but a bane for the poor worker. Furthermore, since each province will regulate the different professions, a lawyer, doctor, accountant or teacher from one province, who wants to practise in another, will have to meet the qualifications and other requirements, such as registration, of that province as well.

Following a TV discussion on 15 March in which the consequences of eliminating the concurrent list were pointed out to two members of the committee, it seems that it has finally woken up to the full implications of a blanket repeal of the list and is trying to find ways of mitigating the damage. There are reports that the committee is now discussing a proposal to put five subjects presently in the concurrent list – including the Criminal Procedure Code, the Pakistan Penal Code and the Evidence Act – in part II of the federal list that comes under the preview of the Council of Common Interests (CCI). That means that policy will be formulated in the council but only the federal parliament will have the power to pass laws on these subjects.

This proposal too suffers from two major flaws:

First, although the provinces will participate in the CCI in formulating a national policy on these subjects, they will lose the power which they currently have, concurrently with the federation, to legislate in those areas. That means fewer powers for the provinces, not more.

Second, it seems that the five subjects which the committee is now considering transferring to Part II of the federal list all deal with criminal law. That means that in civil law matters (such as family law, civil procedure, the structure and jurisdiction of the courts etc. including the high courts), the federal Parliament will lose all legislative powers.

The problem is that the committee has become a slave to political slogans. Instead of looking rationally at each item of the concurrent list on its merits, its members are blindly trying to implement the CoD's commitment to delete the entire list, whatever the consequences. The question we should really be addressing is whether we want a single legal space for the whole country or four different legal regimes, one for each province. Similarly, we need to debate whether or not we want uniform laws on such matters as the control of medicines, protection of workers, environmental protection, the regulation of professions etc. The opaqueness of the proceedings in the Committee has so far stifled this discussion.

If we do not want a single legal space for the country or common standards for these matters, or if we want a federation that has no powers to legislate on criminal and civil law, then by all means we should eliminate the concurrent list. But we should first debate the issues openly and extensively and without any artificial deadlines. If that means delaying the repeal of the 17th Amendment, then so be it. These are far more important matters for the state than the power to appoint the army chief or the chief election commissioner.

If, following this debate, we find that we need to retain the concurrent list, with or without modifications, we could divide it into two parts. One part could consist of items on which the federal legislation prevails over the provincial legislation, while the second part could comprise those on which the provincial laws prevail. This should allow greater diversity as well as uniformity, while satisfying the just demand for enhanced provincial autonomy.


The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service. Email:







Zaid Hamid, the self-proclaimed 'defence analyst' and a 'scholar' with innumerable other self-bestowed platitudes, has suffered from a number of humiliating setbacks recently. I wrote about this purveyor of hate speech, militarism and spontaneous fiction (conspiracy theories) nearly a year and a half ago, criticising him for hate-mongering and half-truths.

In retaliation, he sent out a mass email claiming that I was critiquing him at the behest of international Zionists and bankers, getting me threats from his acolytes and followers. No longer the darling of TV evangelism, today he has been put down several pegs, rendering him temporarily ineffective.

He was run out of Islamia College in Peshawar by a peace group, his conventions in Islamabad were disrupted by angry students, he's been named in an FIR for murder and his most ambitious project, creating a new Pakistan resolution at Minar-e-Pakistan in front of millions of his followers, as he had boasted, fizzled in front of far less than a hundred people at a hastily concluded event at Alhamra in Lahore on the 23rd of this month.