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Monday, April 5, 2010

EDITORIAL 05.04.10

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Editorial

month april 05, edition 000473, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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THE PIONEER

  1. LEAVE THE ARMY ALONE
  2. MEANINGLESS DEMAND
  3. CHANGE SYSTEM TO FIGHT TERROR - JOGINDER SINGH
  4. A STEP IN RIGHT DIRECTION - ASHIYA PARVEEN
  5. AT THIS SPEED, IRAN WILL HAVE A NUCLEAR BOMB BY DECEMBER - JAMES PHILLIPS

MAIL TODAY

  1. RAMESH GOES OVER THE TOP AT CONVOCATION CEREMONY
  2. NO LIQUOR IN STADIA PLEASE
  3. WHAT HONOUR? IT'S CRUEL MURDER - BY RAJEEV DHAVAN
  4. POWER & POLITICS - PRABHU CHAWLA
  5. INDIA OK ON HEADLEY ACCESS TALKS WITH US - BY DIPANJAN ROY CHAUDHURY IN NEW DELHI

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. SUCCESSION STRUGGLE
  2. CREATING A NICHE
  3. 'EXAMS DON'T NEED TO BE TEXTBOOK DEPENDENT'
  4. IDENTIFYING X, Y AND ZOO - ANEESH A

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. NOT FEELING AT HOME
  2. NOW COMES THE REAL TEST
  3. SELF-AWARENESS IS THE WAY TO GO - PANKAJ KUMAR
  4. SONIA'S BLUEPRINT FOR PARTY'S FUTURE
  5. HARD TO STOMACH - BIRAJ PATNAIK

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. GOWN TOMORROW
  2. PAYING THE FEES
  3. MINER PROBLEM
  4. LINE TO AFRICA - BIBEK DEBROY
  5. AMENDMENTS AND EXPECTATIONS - EJAZ HAIDER
  6. 'U-2 BRUTE' - INDER MALHOTRA
  7. GHOSTS OF PRESIDENTS PAST
  8. THE OIL OF FREE MARKETS - VIKRAM S MEHTA
  9. MUSLIM QUOTA: A STATES' EYE VIEW - P.S. KRISHNAN

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. GETTING FOOD SECURITY RIGHT
  2. FREE MOVEMENT OF GOODS
  3. AT 75, RBI NEEDS TO BE REFORMED - AJAY SHAH
  4. MORE REASONS TO END FUEL SUBSIDY - VIKRAM S MEHTA
  5. TRUCK WITH RECOVERY - SAIKAT NEOGI

THE HINDU

  1. SOUND DEMOCRATIC REFORMS
  2. FOR LOVE OF WATER
  3. IMPLICATIONS OF REGISTERING, TRACKING, PROFILING - USHA RAMANATHAN
  4. TROOP FATALITY FIGURES SHOW CHANGING MAOIST STRATEGY - AMAN SETHI
  5. AN ARC OF POLITICAL FLUX - P. S. SURYANARAYANA
  6. DISCRIMINATION HELPS PERPETUATE POVERTY

DNA

  1. POLITICAL REFORMS
  2. POLITICS OF OIL PRICES
  3. THE CONGRESS CAN BENEFIT FROM THE BACHCHANS - ANIL DHARKER

THE TRIBUNE

  1. BELATED DECISION
  2. GIVE MINORITIES A VOICE
  3. DESERTED NRI WIVES
  4. 'SOFT STATE' TAG STICKS - BY KAMLENDRA KANWAR
  5. IN TROUBLED WATERS - BY ASHOK KUMAR YADAV
  6. FINALLY, THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION - BY ADITI TANDON
  7. PUNJAB MUST UTILISE CENTRAL FUNDS PROPERLY - BY JANAK RAJ GUPTA
  8. CHATTERATI - BY DEVI CHERIAN

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. BEWARE OF THE TRAP OF LIES

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. LIBERATED ENCLAVES
  2. FOR AN IDEA OF INDIA
  3. STATSGURU-05-APRIL-10
  4. THE DOLLAR-YUAN PARITY - A V RAJWADE
  5. URBAN DISASTER - SUNIL JAIN
  6. REINVENTING IMF - SANJAYA BARU

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. IN SERVICE OF GOSSIP
  2. WHAT ABOUT THE FARMERS?
  3. PROTECT THE PUBLIC INTEREST
  4. STAND UP AND BE COUNTED - MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH
  5. IN STAGES, BUILD THAT INDIFFERENCE - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
  6. WHAT'S THE GOOD WORD? LIBEL! - SUDESHNA SEN
  7. DOMESTIC DEMAND STORY SETS INDIA APART: F&C ASSET MANAGEMENT - DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR
  8. 'NEXT BILLION-DOLLAR BIZ FROM INDIA?' - VIKAS KUMAR
  9. 'WE HAVE ENOUGH COAL BLOCKS TO MEET REQUIREMENTS FOR 70 YRS' - NIKUNJ DALMIA,ET
  10. INDIA AS EXPORT HUB; TO SPEND $5 MN ON MARKETING: LG INDIA - AMIT SHARMA
  11. PFC POWERING INDIA'S CAPACITY ADDITION DRIVE: CHAIRMAN - SUBHASH NARAYAN
  12. WE WON'T ENTER INTO NEW BUSINESS: ORIENTAL BANK OF COMMERCE - SANGITA MEHTA
  13. 'CLASSICAL MUSIC AND DANCE SPEAK OF THE INTANGIBLE' - ASHOKE NAG

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. ONCE AGAIN, PAK IS CLOSE TO THE BRINK
  2. SANIA'S MARRIAGE GIVEN TOO MUCH IMPORTANCE
  3. RICH-POOR DIVIDE  - BY ARJUN SENGUPTA
  4. OF CRAZY RUMOURS & BIZARRE BELIEFS  - A MINISTER MESSES UP
  5. THE BEAUTY OF ISLAM - BY PAUL GOODMAN
  6. BEING IS THE BASIC ACTION - BY THICH NHAT HAHN

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. ONLY THE START
  2. CROSSED WIRES
  3. FARMERS' WOES - S.L. RAO
  4. LOCAL ENEMIES - GWYNNE DYER

DECCAN HERALD

  1. DEADLY SHOTS
  2. LIABILITY, INDEED
  3. COMEDY OF MIRRORS - M J AKBAR
  4. STATE SECRET: WE CAN'T TELL YOU 
  5. SUMMER RAINS - BY BRINDA POORNAPRAGNA

HAARETZ

  1. DISCRIMINATION AT BEN-GURION
  2. A THIRD INTIFADA WOULD WORK WONDERS FOR ISRAEL'S BATTERED IMAGE - BY ZVI BAR'E
  3. PALESTINIAN ASPIRATIONS ARE CLEAR, BUT WHAT DOES ISRAEL WANT? - BY GIDEON LEVY0
  4. IN THE DESERT - BY YOSSI SARID
  5. ISRAEL IS REFUSING TO SEE WHAT OBAMA WANTS - BY NIVA LANIR

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. FORECLOSURE PREVENTION 2.0
  2. DESPERATELY SEEKING WATCHDOG
  3. HIGH-PRICED HUSTINGS
  4. HEALTHY, AND SAFE, SCHOOL LUNCHES
  5. MAKING FINANCIAL REFORM FOOL-RESISTANT  - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  6. OBAMA MISSES THE BIG OIL - BY MICHAEL LYNCH
  7. THROW OUT SKYBOX TAX SUBSIDIES - BY RICHARD SCHMALBECK AND JAY SOLED

I.THE NEWS

  1. CONTRADICTORY MESSAGES
  2. THE APRIL FOOL
  3. MILK MATTERS
  4. THE SWAT FLOGGING: DO WE NEED MORE PROOF? - SAMAR MINALLAH
  5. IMRAN'S STAND ON THE TALIBAN - DR ARIF ALVI
  6. ZIONISM ALARMED - M SHAHID ALAM
  7. DON'T TRASH THE CONCURRENT LIST - ASIF EZDI
  8. REMEMBERING BHUTTO - NAFEES A SIDDIQI
  9. BEST OF FRIENDS - CHRIS CORK

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. EXECUTIVE-JUDICIARY: AJK FOLLOWS PAKISTAN
  2. LET THERE BE A DEADLINE OF INDO-PAK TALKS
  3. RISING INFLATION
  4. REACTION ON ZAB'S EXECUTION - DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
  5. PAK SEEN AS A KEY TO AFGHAN CONUNDRUM - ASIF HAROON RAJA
  6. PAK-US DIALOGUE: CONVERGENCES & DIVERGENCES - DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
  7. PAK-US DIALOGUE: CONVERGENCES & DIVERGENCES - DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
  8. USING AFGHAN CULTURE TO DEVISE AN EXIT - DAVID IGNATIUS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. ENERGY CRUNCH
  2. BCL SORE POINT
  3. NO SEAT BELT SIR..!
  4. FOOD BY THE POOR FOR THE POOR - TAREQUL ISLAM MUNNA

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. PLANNING FOR PROSPERITY AND A BIGGER AUSTRALIA
  2. TESTING TIMES FOR TASMANIA
  3. OVERHAUL BUILDING PROGRAM

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. TRANSMIGRASI REDUX IN PAPUA
  2. PERSONALITY NOT REQUIRED
  3. VIRTUAL REALITY, REAL RESPONSIBILITY
  4. IN OUR DEMOCRACY, MAJORITY DOESN'T ALWAYS RULE

THE GUARDIAN

  1. WHAT AN AERIAL VIEW DOESN'T SHOW
  2. ROWAN WILLIAMS: LITTLE CAUSE FOR REGRETS
  3. IN PRAISE OF … BOTTLE KICKING

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. EASE UP ON THE NURSING EXAMS
  2. NEW MINAMATA COMPENSATION
  3. GOVERNMENTS HAVE DUTY TO AID CITIZENS CAUGHT IN A NIGHTMARE - BY RAMESH THAKUR
  4. NO FAST-TRACK EDUCATION IN JAPAN - BY GREGORY CLARK
  5. THE UNKNOWN PROMISE OF INTERNET FREEDOM - BY PETER SINGER

CHINA DAILY

  1. THE JAKARTA POST
  2. WHO WILL POLICE THE POLICE?
  3. INDONESIA–CHINA RELATIONS: RETHINKING TRADE POLICY - MAGDA SAFRINA
  4. WELCOMING A GUEST AND DE-RADICALIZATION - AL MAKIN
  5. WILL ASEAN-CHINA FTA BOOST INDONESIA'S AGRICULTURAL EXPORT? - AMZUL RIFIN

DAILY MIRROR

  1. DIABOLICAL ACT OF DESECRATION
  2. GEITHNER EYES US INVESTMENT ON INDIA VISIT
  3. VARADHARAJA PERUMAL AND THE 13TH AMENDMENT
  4. LET'S GO FOR A GRAND ACTION PLAN FOR DEVELOPMENT -CHAMPIKA
  5. EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN IS NECESSARY  

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

LEAVE THE ARMY ALONE

NO NEED TO PULL BACK TROOPS FROM J&K


The negative effects of the UPA Government's plan to scale back the presence of Army troops from Jammu & Kashmir have already started showing up. The past week has provided enough evidence to suggest that by pulling back troops the Government is simply playing into the hands of jihadis based in Pakistan whose sole aim is to unleash terror in India. There has been a visible increase in infiltration attempts from across the LoC. And, by all accounts, we can expect a bloody summer ahead with the winter snow in the mountain passes melting. The Army has reasons to believe that around 300 jihadis are waiting at various launch pads along the LoC to cross over. And if we consider the fact that at least 22 terrorists have been killed by security forces in Jammu & Kashmir in the last week alone, we can be sure that quite a few of the jihadis have already crossed over. The recent bombing of the Valley's only rail track connecting north and south Kashmir is yet another indicator that the terrorists have stepped up their activities. There is no denying the fact that unless the troop cut is reversed, the situation could deteriorate even further.


There are essentially two dimensions to the issue. First, it can be justifiably argued that law and order in Jammu & Kashmir should be handled by the State police, backed up by the CRPF wherever and whenever necessary. Every measure that aims to achieve this objective should be appreciated. Nonetheless, the Army needs to maintain a significant presence along the LoC and the border. This is the only way that infiltration can be effectively stemmed. Irrespective of what the Government says about pulling out troops — that its decision is based on the the 'sharp decline' in terror incidents in the State last year — the truth is that it has been brought on by a certain amount of American pressure. Washington, DC has been insisting that New Delhi should scale back troops deployed along the LoC and the border so that Islamabad can commit more troops to that country's western areas to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Needless to say that this is a bogus argument and Islamabad's aim is to simply get New Delhi to withdraw troops so that it can step up infiltration. Thus, the troop cut, especially in the border areas, is completely illogical. As far as the interiors of the State are concerned, in the short-term, the Army still has a significant role to play. This is because the State police is not entirely capable of taking on the burden of maintaining law and order and fighting intrusions. Therefore, the approach should be to train the State police so that it is sufficiently trained and equipped to take over responsibilities related to internal security under its jurisdiction. But till the time this happens, the Army's role in the overall security matrix of Jammu & Kashmir cannot be undervalued. What is required is a calibrated, well-planned transition.


What we really need is a change in the thinking within the Government: The reality of infiltration cannot be wished away. Nor can we afford a situation wherein we will be required to compromise on national security to earn brownie points with the US. There really is no need to do America's bidding just because Washington, DC wishes to keep Islamabad in good humour.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

MEANINGLESS DEMAND

US KNOWS PAKISTAN WON'T HALT JIHAD


The US has once again made a show of asking Pakistan to crack down on anti-India terror groups operating out of territory under Pakistani control. If we are to believe US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Mr Robert Blake, no doubt a well-meaning member of the Obama Administration but far too junior an official for his comments to be taken seriously in Islamabad, he made it abundantly clear to his Pakistani interlocutors during his recent visit to that country that they must act against organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and step up the war on global terror by targeting the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Mr Blake's reported finger-wagging at Islamabad follows Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao's trenchant comments during her visit to the US — she made it clear that the 'composite dialogue process' could resume only after Pakistan had taken demonstrative action against jihadis. While it may gladden some hearts in the UPA Government that Ms Rao's views have been taken seriously by the Americans, it would be naïve to believe that the Obama Administration will abandon its policy of least resistance which has guided its astonishing mollycoddling of Pakistan or that the Pakistanis will meekly do America's bidding. It did not require Ms Rao to travel to Washington, DC to reiterate New Delhi's well-known position on cross-border terrorism aided and promoted by Islamabad and to sensitise the Americans to India's concerns. Nor should we expect the Pakistanis to give up their policy of inflicting a thousand cuts on India simply because an American official has repeated, almost parrot-like, what has been said before.

Three facts are established beyond doubt. First, Pakistan is determined to persist with its policy of fomenting cross-border terrorism; second, Washington, DC has chosen to turn a blind eye to India's plight, although it periodically reiterates what is now sniggered at in Pakistan; and, third, asking the Pakistani politician-military-ISI nexus to act against terrorism directed at India is like so much water of a duck's back. Therefore, there is no reason to view Mr Blake's reported comments as an 'endorsement' of India's long-standing demand seeking immediate and visible action by Pakistan or to believe that this will lead to a crackdown on the LeT, the JeM and a myriad other groups which subscribe to Osama bin Laden's Islamist doctrine of hate. The Obama Administration is least bothered about India's concerns and couldn't care a toss about popular sentiments in this country. Hence, it would be in order to suggest that comments like those reportedly made by Mr Blake are at once inconsequential and meant to serve as a palliative for India.


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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

CHANGE SYSTEM TO FIGHT TERROR

JOGINDER SINGH


The perpetrators of the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai never thought that they would actually be caught. The conspiracy partially came to light after the arrest of Ajmal Amir Kasab — the lone surviving fidayeen. But there were certain unanswered questions that remained. It was only when Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley and his jihadi colleague Tahawwur Hussain Rana were arrested by the American intelligence that things started to fall into place.


A US federal grand jury in its 12-count indictment against Headley has provided extensive details of the planning behind 26/11. Some of the salient points are as follows. During the course of the attacks, the terrorists were in constant contact with three Lashkar-e-Tayyeba handlers — described as Members A, B and C — in Pakistan. The indictment reads, "During the course of the attacks, they (the terrorists) were advised to, among other actions, kill hostages and throw grenades. LeT Member A also sought to arrange the release of a hostage in exchange for the release of a captured attacker." It is now known that the ten Pakistani terrorists were given extensive training by the LeT at its various camps in Pakistan.


Pakistani-Canadian terror suspect Rana, under investigation for possible links to 26/11, has admitted that he is a deserter from the Pakistani Army.


In affidavits filed in a US federal court, the FBI has said that Rana, co-conspirator of LeT operative David Headley, "knew in advance" about the 26/11 Mumbai attacks after which he "complimented" the Pakistan-based terror outfit.


Headley has pleaded guilty to the 12-count indictment against him. The plea deal states that Headley "must... when directed by the United States Attorney's Office ...fully and truthfully testify in any foreign judicial proceedings held in the United States by way of deposition, video-conferencing or letters rogatory".


The LeT agent has pleaded guilty to the following in order to secure a lighter sentence:

·  Conspiracy to bomb public places in India

·  Conspiracy to murder and maim persons in India

·  Six counts of aiding and abetting the murder of US citizens in India

·  Conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in India

·  Conspiracy to murder and maim persons in Denmark

·  Conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in Denmark

·  And conspiracy to provide material support to terrorist Lashkar


In light of Headley's past cooperation and expected future cooperation, the Attorney General of the United States has authorised the United States Attorney in Chicago not to seek the death penalty against Headley if he "continues to provide full and truthful cooperation".


In the meantime, the Government has decided to send a team of NIA officials, along with some Home Ministry officials, to question Headley. A questionnaire is being prepared for this. Though a case against Headley has been formally registered in India, it is more academic than anything else as he will never be sent to India by the US Government to face trial.


However, depending on how it goes, Headley's interrogation could yield a wealth of information about local terrorist modules, sympathisers and ISI sleeper cells in India. The US has already promised India access to Headley. It should now keep its word.


Pakistan-based terrorists want to carry out many more Mumbai-style attacks. We need to learn from our past experiences and prepare for any eventuality. One thing that is clear is that our intelligence agencies have time and again failed to gather timely information about terror plots despite all the support given to them by the Government.

Second, our laws are not only inadequate but also practically impossible to implement. The need for an independent witness, even in the middle of a terrorist strike, for identification is simply ridiculous. Besides, no witness is going to wait for years for a case to come up for hearing and then depose in court and face threats to his or her life.


The basic problem is that instead of fighting or acting against terrorism we have been only reacting to it. We have also never been able to guarantee strict punishment to the terrorists for carrying out their nefarious deeds. The case of Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru is a classic example.


Nonetheless, a welcome sign has been the approach of the Muslim community, which has condemned terrorism publicly. Recently, the Rector of the Deoband madarsa, Maulana Marghubur Rahman, declared, "We condemn all forms of terrorism." He insisted that terrorism is completely wrong, no matter who engages in it, and no matter what religion he follows or what community he belongs to.


To deal with terrorism we need a holistic approach that involves not only intelligence gathering, investigation and preventive action but also engages each and every section of the society. According to the Home Ministry, there are over four lakh vacancies for the post of constable in police forces across India. This situation has to change.

The long delays in the judicial system also need to be rectified to make our fight against terrorism effective. With over 3.32 crore cases pending in our courts, a former Chief Justice has said that it will take around 370 years for the disposal of all these cases even if not a single case is added from hereon. This is apart from the fact that we desperately need a witness protection programme to ensure the safety and security of witnesses.

Instead of restricting the Plea bargaining Act to a few limited offences, it needs to be amended to include all categories of cases. Indeed, one reason for prompt justice or judgements in the US is that over 90 per cent of the cases there are disposed off through plea bargaining. Trials in India are nothing more than a joke in most cases.

The Bombay bombing cases of 1993 were decided in 2006, 13 years after the incident took place. Some of the accused were finally acquitted and some died during the course of the trial. Similarly, convictions in the murder case of whistle-blower Satyendra Dubey came after six years. This is something that only the Government can sort out. Police bashing will not help as it is not the police which finally acquits or convicts a person. The Government must strengthen and streamline the judiciary at the earliest.


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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

A STEP IN RIGHT DIRECTION

ASHIYA PARVEEN


Once again the democratic right to protest brought Patna to a standstill on April 1. The irony of the situation is that the protests are against the opening of a branch of a Central, and not foreign, university, even though the latter does not evoke nearly the same sentiments.


Despite the present political imbroglio over the issue, the ruling alliance in Bihar is expected to continue to advertise the fantastic growth story of the State that has purportedly drawn the attention of world organisations. The State has been projected as a 'miracle economy' for its phenomenal performance between 2004 and 2009. Nonetheless, even though such a miraculous performance has been corroborated by substantial growth in infrastructure, communication and industry, the education sector in Bihar still needs a lot of work. The State still suffers a dearth of higher education institutions and doesn't even have a single Central university. It boasts of only seven engineering colleges, 23 medical colleges and no more than 12 universities.


Therefore, such a hue and cry over the name — Aligarh Muslim University — and the choice of the district — Kishanganj — for the establishment of a branch of a Central university does not make any sense. If anything, the choice of Kishanganj is perfectly appropriate and we need more educational institutes in such areas to prevent the youth from falling prey to the forces of radicalisation. Hence, instead of indulging in irrational bickering, the responsible leaders of the State should join hands to strengthen the educational infrastructure in Bihar.

It is pertinent to note that Aligarh Muslim University has a large number of students from Bihar. But even though Kishanganj has a sizeable Muslim population, non-Muslim students from across the State can also be part of the Kishanganj AMU branch. Put in another way, the proposal will be instrumental in producing more qualified, educated youth in the State. Therefore, the resolution to establish a branch of the AMU at Kishanganj should be supported by all political stakeholders in Bihar.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

AT THIS SPEED, IRAN WILL HAVE A NUCLEAR BOMB BY DECEMBER

BY END OF JULY, IRAN WILL HAVE ENOUGH LOW ENRICHED URANIUM TO BUILD A BOMB, SAYS JAMES PHILLIPS


Iran's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad celebrated the anniversary of Iran's 1979 revolution on February 11 by proclaiming that Iran is a "nuclear state". Iran's radical Shia Islamist regime clearly sees its nuclear programme as a means of bolstering its sagging legitimacy and popularity, while expanding its prestige and global influence. It also sees nuclear weapons as a potent equaliser that could deter external attack and ensure its own survival. Tehran has spurned aggressive diplomatic offers from the Obama Administration to resolve the outstanding nuclear issue, just as it spurned efforts by the Bush Administration and by Britain, France, and Germany. As Ahmadinejad said in 2007, Iran's nuclear programme is like a train "with no brakes and no reverse gear". Despite five UN Security Council resolutions and three rounds of UN sanctions, Iran's nuclear train speeds onward.


Iran has forged ahead on its nuclear programme despite growing international pressure to comply with its nuclear safeguard agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Since the discovery of its secret uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in 2002, Tehran has failed to keep its repeated pledges to cooperate fully with the IAEA to demonstrate that it has not used its civilian nuclear programme as a fig leaf to mask a nuclear weapons programme. Tehran has refused to fully disclose its nuclear activities and to stop its uranium enrichment efforts, which can produce fuel for nuclear reactors or, with further enrichment, the fissile material for a nuclear weapon. Iran has also pushed ahead on its ballistic missile programme and building a nuclear warhead that can be delivered by a missile.


The Obama Administration has sought to engage Iran diplomatically to defuse the nuclear standoff, but with little success. Instead, over the past year, Iran has spurned Western proposals to resolve the nuclear issue, insisted that it will continue to expand its nuclear programme, installed hundreds more centrifuges to enrich uranium, been caught secretly constructing another uranium enrichment facility, and pledged to build 10 more.

Moreover, on December 14, 2009, The Times of London reported that Western intelligence agencies had uncovered Iranian documents indicating that Iranian scientists had tested a neutron initiator, the component that triggers a nuclear weapon. A neutron initiator has no peaceful application. This discovery directly contradicts the US intelligence community's position that Iran halted nuclear weapons-related work in 2003. On December 18, Iran announced that it was testing more advanced centrifuges, which could enrich uranium faster.


Since 2002, the IAEA has bent over backwards to give Iran the benefit of the doubt, in large part due to the politicised leadership of IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei, who was an outspoken critic of the Bush Administration and often acted as an apologist for Iran. In November 2009, Mr ElBaradei was replaced by Mr Yukiya Amano of Japan.


Under Director-General Amano's leadership, the IAEA appears to be taking a more objective look at the Iranian nuclear programme. On February 18, it issued a confidential report that warned for the first time of evidence that Tehran is working on a nuclear warhead for its missiles. This warning contradicts the controversial 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003.

It is time for the Obama Administration to acknowledge that its engagement policy has failed to budge the dictatorship in Tehran on the nuclear issue or on any other issue. As the history of Iran's nuclear programme makes clear, Tehran has resisted multiple opportunities to defuse mounting tensions over its nuclear programme.

What Is Known

Tehran claims that its nuclear programme is devoted solely to civilian nuclear power and research purposes. This contention is contradicted by many facts and by a series of recent revelations.


Fact #1: Iran has built an extensive and expensive nuclear infrastructure that is much larger than what would be necessary to support a civilian nuclear power programme.


Iran's nuclear weapons programme, cloaked within its civilian nuclear power programme, has made steady advances. Iran operates a large uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, which it illegally sought to conceal until 2003, and it is building up a stockpile of enriched uranium that is of no current use in its civilian nuclear energy programme.

Iran's only nuclear power plant, which Russian technicians have almost finished testing at Bushehr, does not need domestically produced nuclear fuel because Moscow has agreed to provide all the enriched uranium that Iran needs to operate it for the first 10 years of operation. Moreover, Iran does not have a fuel fabrication plant that can produce reactor fuel for the Bushehr facility.


Iran has pursued virtually every possible technology for producing nuclear fuel and did so covertly and in violation of its treaty obligations to keep the IAEA informed. This includes laser separation, a costly and complex technology to enrich uranium that is ill suited to producing fissile fuel for a reactor. Iran has also conducted plutonium experiments and is building a reactor that appears intended for the large-scale production of plutonium.

 

The Iranian nuclear programme cannot be justified on strictly economic or energy grounds. Iran lacks sufficient uranium reserves to run power reactors for more than 10 years and would eventually be forced to import either uranium yellowcake or finished fuel rods to operate them. Moreover, harnessing Iran's enormous natural gas reserves to generate electricity would be far less expensive, given that Iran is currently flaring and burning off natural gas as a byproduct of oil production.


Iran had produced approximately 1,400 kg of low enriched uranium metal at Natanz by January 31, 2010. The LEU is enriched to the level of about 3.5 per cent, and Tehran claims that it will be used for fuel rods for civilian nuclear reactors. Approximately 1,900 kg of LEU is needed to produce enough highly enriched uranium (20 kg) to build a nuclear weapon. At its current rate of production, Iran will have enough LEU by the end of July to produce a nuclear weapon if it were further enriched. Once the decision is made, the uranium processing and weapon manufacturing could take as little as six months. Experts quoted by The New York Times in December 2009 claimed that Iran's centrifuges could probably produce enough LEU for two weapons per year.


Tehran is also building a heavy water reactor at Arak, which it tried to build secretly in violation of its treaty obligations. If this reactor is brought online, the plutonium that it produces can be accessed at any time. Once a state has acquired a functioning heavy water reactor like the one at Arak — or even a light water reactor like the one at Bushehr — and it is reprocessing spent fuel rods to extract the plutonium, it gains access to a much easier and more plentiful source of weapons-grade fissile material than is produced in most uranium enrichment facilities. Plutonium also offers the advantage of having a smaller critical mass (the minimum amount needed to produce a nuclear explosion) than uranium-235. Using plutonium allows construction of smaller and lighter nuclear warheads, which are more easily delivered by missiles.

Tehran claims that it needs the Arak facility to produce isotopes for medical purposes. In late-October, IAEA inspectors discovered 600 barrels that Iran said contained heavy water, which is used in heavy water reactors as a neutron moderator and coolant. Producing heavy water is very difficult and a major obstacle to operating a heavy water reactor. The heavy water discovered in October may have been secretly imported and is evidence of yet another failure of Tehran to disclose relevant information to the IAEA. Moreover, the provision of heavy water to Iran would be an alarming case of nuclear proliferation, given its weapons-related applications.


Iran's Revolutionary Guards control key sectors of the nuclear programme. Nuclear installations are concealed on military bases, dug into hardened sites built underground, and defended with anti-aircraft missiles. Tehran's continued claims that it is building only a civilian nuclear power programme appear increasingly ludicrous in light of these facts and each new revelation.


Fact #2: Iran sought to buy technology from A Q Khan's nuclear weapon proliferation network, which also provided assistance to Libya and North Korea.


Concrete evidence has confirmed long-held suspicions that Iran advanced its nuclear weapons programme in close cooperation with A Q Khan's proliferation network, which dealt in weapons-related nuclear technologies. After initially denying this cooperation, Tehran eventually admitted that it had contacts with the network, but maintains that it broke off contact long ago.


Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, has proudly admitted his role in helping Iran's nuclear programme. He admitted in a televised interview in August 2009 that he and other senior Pakistani officials had helped to advance Iran's nuclear weapons programme. If Iran's nuclear efforts were exclusively focussed on civilian uses, as it maintains, it would have had no reason to collude with AQ Khan's nuclear smuggling operation, which specialised in the proliferation of nuclear weapons technologies.


Fact #3: Iran continues to conceal and lie about its nuclear weapons efforts.


Iran has a long record of denial and deceit on the nuclear issue. The Iranian regime ordered covert research and development on nuclear weapons and built secret pilot projects on uranium conversion and uranium enrichment in violation of its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, and it lied about these activities for years. In 2003, after the US military overthrew Saddam Hussein's regime in neighboring Iraq, in part because of Hussein's lack of cooperation with UN inspectors, Iran admitted some of these activities and agreed to cooperate more fully with the IAEA investigators. However, Tehran reneged on its promise to cooperate and reverted to a hardline policy after Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became President in 2005.


Today, Iran continues to stonewall IAEA efforts to investigate its suspect nuclear programme. It refuses to answer questions about the mounting evidence of its past nuclear weapons development efforts, contending that documents indicating that it has carried out weapons design and testing work are forgeries. It has illegally neglected its treaty obligations to provide advance notice of new nuclear facilities and allow IAEA inspectors to have regular access to facilities under construction. The IAEA has also discovered that Tehran engaged in clandestine nuclear activities that violated its nuclear safeguards agreement, such as plutonium separation experiments, uranium enrichment and conversion experiments, and importing uranium compounds.


Iran continues to play a cat and mouse game with IAEA inspectors by hiding facilities, equipment, and materials from them and by refusing to give them timely access to other facilities. In September, Tehran was forced to admit the existence of a clandestine uranium enrichment facility near the city of Qom. US President Barack Obama announced its discovery shortly after Western intelligence agencies had identified it.

Further stoking suspicions about Iran, The Times reported on December 14, 2009, that Iran was working on a trigger mechanism for a nuclear weapon as recently as 2007, four years after


American intelligence agencies assessed that Iran had suspended its weaponisation efforts. The documents describe a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, a sophisticated trigger that is one of the final hurdles for building a nuclear weapon. Significantly, the documents described the same type of neutron initiator that Pakistan received from China in the early 1980s and then passed on to Libya in the early 2000s. The IAEA also found evidence of work with polonium-210 in 2004, which suggests that Iran may have been working on a neutron generator. Iran has not adequately explained the discovery.


Mr Mark Fitzpatrick, a former US State Department official who focussed on Iranian nuclear issues, reacted to the discovery of the documents by saying: "Is this the smoking gun? That's the question people should be asking. It looks like the smoking gun. This is smoking uranium."


There are also worrisome signs that Iran has made advances in uranium metallurgy, heavy water production, and the high-precision explosives used to detonate a nuclear weapon. Iran already claims to produce four kinds of centrifuges used for enriching uranium. The fact that Iran's centrifuge output remained basically level in 2009 despite a high breakdown rate suggests Iran has improved its centrifuge designs and may be using more advanced designs.


A 2009 trial in Germany revealed that the German intelligence agency, BND, assesses that Iran is still pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. The trial was interesting because the accused — Mohsen Vanaki, a German-Iranian arrested in 2007 for brokering the transfer of dual-use nuclear equipment to Iran — attempted to use the 2007 NIE as a defence. A lower German court ruled in Vanaki's favour and against the BND based on the NIE's conclusion that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003. However, a higher German court sided with the BND's position that Iran's nuclear weapons programme is active and provided a report that noted the similarities between Iran's procurement efforts and those of countries with known nuclear weapons programmes, such as North Korea and Libya.


More recently, the IAEA issued a confidential report to its Board of Governors on February 18 stating for the first time that it had received extensive information from a variety of sources that "raises concerns about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile". The report also noted that Tehran has not cooperated in confirming that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities. Tehran has failed to adequately address IAEA concerns on a wide spectrum of issues including: activities involving high precision detonators; studies on the initiation of high explosives and missile reentry engineering; the "green salt project", which involves the conversion of UO2 to UF4; and various procurement-related activities.


The report also confirmed that Iran has begun to enrich uranium to 19.8 per cent using a small number of centrifuges, supposedly for the Tehran Research Reactor, a source of medical isotopes. The IAEA reported that Iran already has moved centrifuges from the Natanz uranium enrichment facility to the new facility at Qom. Centrifuges may also have been moved to other, unknown facilities. This is a major cause for concern because IAEA safeguards apply only to nuclear material, not to equipment such as centrifuges.


Fact #4: Iran rejected a nuclear deal that would have advanced its civilian nuclear efforts, belying its claims that civilian purposes are its only motivation.


Tehran has walked away from an offer brokered by the IAEA to enrich Iranian uranium in facilities outside Iran to refuel the Tehran Research Reactor. On October 1, 2009, Iran reached an "agreement in principle" at the Geneva talks that would have sent roughly 80 per cent of Iran's LEU stockpile to Russia for processing and then to France for fabrication into fuel rods. The uranium would then be returned to Iran to power its research reactor, which will run out of fuel at the end of 2010. This deal would have benefited Iran by extending the operational life of its Tehran Research Reactor and aiding hundreds of thousands of medical patients. It would also have temporarily defused the nuclear standoff by reducing Iran's steadily growing LEU stockpile and postponing Iran's ability to build a nuclear weapon.


After reaching the agreement in principle, the Iranian regime backpedalled and made an unacceptable counter-proposal in mid-December that would have greatly reduced the amount of uranium that would leave Iran. American officials say that Mr Ahmadinejad initially accepted the deal, but was rebuked by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and pulled back from it. On November 3, Ayatollah Khamenei warned Iranian political leaders to be wary of dealings with the US, which could not be trusted, and said that negotiating with the US was "naïve and perverted".


The Iranian regime's initial acceptance and subsequent rejection of the nuclear deal is consistent with its long-established pattern of cheat, retreat, and delay on nuclear issues. When caught cheating on its nuclear safeguards obligations, Tehran has repeatedly promised to cooperate with the IAEA to defuse the situation and to halt the momentum for imposing further sanctions. Then, after the crisis is averted, it reneges on its promises and stonewalls IAEA requests for more information. These delaying tactics consume valuable time, which Iran has used to press ahead with its nuclear weapons research.


What Is Unknown

Many important things about Iran's nuclear programme are simply not known because of Iran's systematic efforts to conceal and lie about its activities.


Unknown #1: How close is Iran to attaining a nuclear weapon?

It is not known when Iran will take the final steps to build a nuclear weapon. The uranium enrichment facility at Natanz is producing LEU at a rate that will give Tehran enough LEU by the end of July to build one nuclear device if the LEU is enriched further to weapons-grade levels. Tehran could then finish the enrichment process and amass enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon by the end of the year. Natanz subsequently could produce enough LEU to permit construction of two bombs per year. Iran is also constructing a research reactor at Arak, which could begin producing weapons-grade plutonium as early as 2013.


Vice-President Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's nuclear programme, said on December 18 that Iran has been testing more advanced centrifuge models that will be installed in early 2011. These new models will be faster and more efficient than the old centrifuges, allowing Iran to accelerate the pace of its nuclear programme. Mr Salehi claimed that more than 6,000 centrifuges were enriching uranium, which is 2,000 more than the IAEA's November report indicated.


Some, including the US intelligence community, believe that the Iranian leadership has not yet made the strategic decision to pursue nuclear weapons. This position has always been controversial given Iran's huge economic investment in the nuclear programme, longstanding willingness to defy sanctions, and well-established pattern of confrontational behaviour. It is now nearly impossible to defend this proposition after Press reports of Iranian work on neutron initiators, the revelation of the clandestine Qom enrichment facility, and the IAEA's recent finding that Iran was working on a nuclear warhead for a missile.


Unknown #2: How extensive is Iranian-North Korean nuclear cooperation?


North Korea and Iran share a common hostility to the US and have a long history of military and economic cooperation. Iran's ballistic missile force, the largest in the Middle East, is largely based on transferred North Korean missiles and weapon designs. North Korea has also sold Iran conventional weapons, including rocket launchers, small arms, and mini-submarines. The two countries are known to have close intelligence ties and to exchange intelligence regularly.

The extent of North Korean cooperation with Iran on nuclear issues remains unknown. However, both are known to have received help from AQ Khan's proliferation network. Iran helped to finance North Korea's nuclear programme in exchange for nuclear technology and equipment, according to CIA sources cited in a 1993 Economist Foreign Report. Increased visits to Iran by North Korean nuclear specialists in 2003 reportedly led to a North Korea-Iran agreement for North Korea either to initiate or to accelerate work with Iranians to develop nuclear warheads that could be fitted on the North Korean No-Dong missiles, which North Korea and Iran were developing jointly.


North Korea has also threatened to transfer a nuclear weapon. According to Mr Michael Green, former Senior Director for Asia at the National Security Council, the head of the North Korean delegation to the nuclear talks confirmed in March 2003 that North Korea had a "nuclear deterrent" and threatened that North Korea would "expand", "demonstrate", and "transfer" the deterrent if the US did not end its hostile policy. Senior US officials warned the North Koreans that transfer would cross a red line, but Pyongyang evidently brushed aside the warning and cooperated extensively with Syria in building a nuclear reactor, which could have advanced a nuclear weapons programme.


Tomorrow: Where are we now?


James Phillips is Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

RAMESH GOES OVER THE TOP AT CONVOCATION CEREMONY

 

THE Union minister for environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh, is known for his maverick — and sometimes controversial — views on issues that have often cleaved the nation's thought process into half. The Bt Brinjal debate, for example, is one where he took on his senior colleagues in the agriculture ministry, and even in the Prime Minister's Office.

 

He may have ultimately gotten his way, but not before ruffling many feathers in the power structure of the country.

 

His latest action may not be as controversial as his views on Bt Brinjal, but it does highlight how ministers can subvert a perfectly regular event and make it their own. In Bhopal on Friday to be part of the convocation ceremony of the Indian Institute of Forest Management, the minister publicly ridiculed the convocation dress, comprising a coloured gown and the mortarboard hat that is worn during a graduation function, calling it a " barbaric colonial legacy". Mr Ramesh himself is a highly educated individual — he graduated in mechanical engineering from IIT Bombay and did an M. Sc. in management and public policy from the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University before returning to India to join the government and get entrenched in public service.

 

Therefore, for him to ridicule the graduation dress in a public forum is irregular and unusual on two counts; one, it shows disrespect for the students who graduated from the university and who would have waited for the day as one of the most important in their lives. Second, he needlessly attacked a tradition that has become entrenched in our educational institutions. It is no longer " British", but a universal symbol of announcing to the world your academic credentials.

 

If Mr Ramesh had objections to wearing a gown to the convocation ceremony, he should have quietly made his views clear to the hosts instead of acting out a needless drama in front of scores of students and their proud parents.

 

With his action, the academics on the dais too would have felt deeply embarrassed. Not to mention the students who would have felt obliged to remove their own gowns to emulate the keynote speaker.

 

Maverick ministers have a place in the polity of India; after all, without their ( sometimes) inadvertent courage, we may perhaps not get bold decisions and legislation. But they also ought to understand the difference between being a maverick and being rude.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

NO LIQUOR IN STADIA PLEASE

 

SPORTS minister MS Gill's move to criticise the Indian Premier League organisers for serving alcohol in corporate boxes at various match venues around the country is in order considering the inability of our countrymen to mix alcohol with normal social intercourse.

 

Last week, a drunk fan assaulted a Delhi policeman and then claimed that he was being victimised. This is not a one- off instance that can be ignored. Everyone knows that dealing with people under the influence of alcohol in public places is not easy.

 

At a time when security forces around the country are doing their best to ensure IPL matches pass off incident free, there was no need for Lalit Modi and his men to permit drinking in the corporate boxes. More so since for the average fan, even taking a bottle of water inside the stadium is not easy because of security restrictions.

 

Even in Europe with its permissive culture, the police have a tough time dealing with lager louts at popular football venues. What happened at the Kotla is a lesson that while club houses at sporting venues in India can serve alcohol, allowing drinking in public places where a match is in progress should be a no- no.

 

India needs to put its best foot forward at this time. Considering that the Commonwealth Games are scheduled for October this year and the cricket World Cup in February 2011, we can certainly do without any untoward incident taking place at a sporting venue.

 

Taking the cue from the sports minister's stance, every effort should be made to ensure that fans at sporting arenas come in simply to enjoy the sport. There is enough action happening in the Indian Premier League to get a high without requiring liquor.

 

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MAIL TODAY

WHAT HONOUR? IT'S CRUEL MURDER

BY RAJEEV DHAVAN

 

IN THE late 19th century, District Judge J. H. Nelsen warned Madras Chief Justice Innes that the dharmasastra law was vastly different from the ' real' law of the mofussil. In 1948, Ambedkar warned the Constituent Assembly of India against the supposed innocence of villages and panchayats.

 

Politically, we have come to revere Panchayats of all kinds.

 

Socially, panchayat justice can be perverse, casteist, cruel, vindictive and murderous. We are still grappling with the real law of mofussil.

 

The collective murder of Babli and Manoj by the panchayat village near Kathal affirms the brutality of the panchayat.

 

Babli and Manoj ( aged 19 and 21) eloped. When they caught a bus, a Scorpio laden with her brother and cousins ( Suresh, Gurdev and Satish) and uncles ( Rajender and Baru Ram) and a driver chased and stopped the bus and forced them out. They were murdered — Babli by poison administered by her brothers and Manoj by strangling.

 

The bodies were found in a canal and unceremoniously cremated. Their offence: the marriage was within the gotra. The murder was ordered by Ganga Raj the Panchayat's leader who also ordered a Rs 25,000 fine on those who kept in touch with Manoj's family. Manoj's sister and his courageous mother Chandrapati were both harassed.

 

Law

 

The District Sessions Judge, Vani Gopal Sharma, imposed the death penalty on the killers, life imprisonment for Ganga Raj and 7 years for the driver. Until caught, the accused were heroes in their caste's cause. These occurrences are not new. I have over 10 volumes of reported items in my papers. The All India Democratic Women Conference's ( AIDWA) meeting on 11 January 2009, reported ' honour' killings and crimes in Punjab and Haryana ( about 10 per cent of India's total), UP, Rajasthan, Bihar and elsewhere.

 

Home Minister Chidambaram may well have responded to Brinda Karat's question in the Rajya Sabha on 28 July 2009, that his government does not recognise the Khap panchayats or their authority to punish. At least, this is a better answer than BJP's S. S. Ahluwalia officially telling the UN that allegations of honour killings were derived from "( s) elective reproduction of unsubstantiated reports … based on hearsay". Truth is so easily mortgaged to politics.

 

Like many countries, India has two legal systems. The ' real' legal system of ' social law' and the ' state legal' systemwhich overlaps ' social law'. ' State law' works with authority in a number of commercial, transactional and other areas.

 

But in many social areas, it is the ' social law' that prevails. ' State law' has kept its reformist distance as a dream in so many matters including child marriage, widows — even sati . It is the belief of panchayats and other custodians of " social law" that their law is supreme and supremely includes threats, mayhem, ostracism, beatings, humiliation, the naked parading of mothers and girls, drinking urine and eating excreta, kidnapping, rape ( what kind of honour is there in rape?) and cold blooded murder.

This is a mild review of an unending gruesome catalogue.

 

" Honour" killing and ' suicides' ( which should be called dishonourable murders) are a compendium term associated with Pakistan, Jordan, Palestine and the like.

 

It is insufficient in its description to many Indian situations which are about the maintenance of power, authority and status to make the vulnerable suffer the authority of the powerful. The Punjab High Court said on 16 March 2010 that it will not tolerate parallel judicial systems.

 

But it exists, not just in Punjab and Haryana but throughout India. It crosses the religious divide. Throwing stones at Muslim countries does not resolve India's problems.

 

How does the ' State system' accommodate the Khap system or its equivalent? This is a problem that exists throughout the world. The first approach is that of indifference. The police refuse to impose ' state law' on the law of the panchayat. If the ' state' law moves, it could result in death sentences of the kind we have witnessed in the Babli- Manoj case.

 

This is rare. Second, various countries, such as Pakistan passed laws against ' honour' killings. But consider the Pakistan Supreme Court's decision in Kamal v. State ( 1977) where it lessened the capital sentence because such killings were supposedly caused by grave provocation ( the provocation defence).

 

The bench included Justice Dorab Patel. In 1989, the Shariat Appellate Bench called for an ' Islamised' change in the law, leading to the Qisas and Diyat Ordinances after which the provocation defence was not available per se.

 

Abroad

 

But offences could be compounded, and various other ' Islamised' options were opened up. From 1995, the provocation defence resurfaced in alleged honour killings. The tide of honour killings was unabated. In 2004, further changes were made obviating defences where the crime was in " the name or the pretext of honour". Muhammad Ameer's case ( 2006) suggests that Pakistan courts may continue the " patronage of honour killings". Honour killings exist in some abundance in Eastern Turkey. In Jordan, data from 1997 to 2009 shows that women ( especially teenagers) are subject to honour deaths and buried in unmarked graves.

 

Such honour killings have also been reported in Lebanon, Egypt and even amongst migrants in England. In 2000, the UN's General Assembly passed GA55/ 111 calling governments to intervene.

 

As many as 26 States including Pakistan abstained. In July 2002 GA55/ 66 presented a report to eliminate honour killings. Asma Jahangir, rapporteur on extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions since 1998, has filed separate reports on how honour killings attract impunity throughout the world. Concurrently, Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Rapporteur on violence against women, also reported on honour killings from 1996 onwards.

 

Such killings also fall under the remit of the UN Committees on Human Rights ( HRC) and women ( CEDAW Committee).

 

The former has made it clear in General Caveat 78 on article 3 of the ICCPR ( Convention on Civil and Political Rights) that honour killings seriously undermine human rights.

 

' Culture'

One important defence of honour killings is the so called " culture" defence.

 

Culture has always been an excuse to limit women's lives and prospects. It acquires even more sinister proportions when it is argued that honour killings find their defence, justification and roots in culture. It is from such " culture" defences that the South- East Asian theory of human rights has arisen whereby the culture of human rights has to yield to the so called demands of a so- called traditional culture. If the ' culture' defence is totally accepted as in the case of Khap Panchayats, the human rights enterprise would die. Culture and the culture of human rights have to be reconciled.

 

There is a plimsoll line below which no culture can be permitted to go.

 

For our present purpose, I do not want to enter into the culture- human rights debate. I will assume that there is, and should be, universal acceptance that wanton killings of the vulnerable with intent are grievous murders. There is much richness to be drawn from multiculturalism.

 

This is not one of them. I do not subscribe to the death penalty. But such crimes cannot go unchecked, unchallenged and unpunished.

 

Indians often malign honour killings in Muslim countries. Caste driven panchayats are no better. To say that all this is about honour is a lie. It is about revenge and murder. The sooner we accept that, the better.

 

The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer

 

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MAIL TODAY

POWER & POLITICS

PRABHU CHAWLA

 

GOODBYE TO ARROGANCE

TODAY, senior Union ministers are to meet with the leaders of the opposition parties to sort out differences over the contentious Women's Reservation Bill.

 

Over the last weekend, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced that his government was ready to sit with the opposition parties to resolve differences over the nuclear liability Bill. Taken together, these convey one message: the UPA government has finally realised that it needs to get off the high horse before it falls off it. Eleven months ago, UPA II came back to power.

 

Technically, it wasn't voted back to office.

 

The coalition leader, the Congress, has just over 200 seats in the 544 member Lok Sabha and even with all its alliance partners, UPA II falls short of a simple majority and has to depend on the support from outside of parties like the Samajwadi Party, Lalu Yadav's RJD and Mayawati's BSP for survival.

 

Yet, senior ministers and officials known to be close to the establishment strutted around the corridors of power and Parliament with an arrogance that belied this fragility. When opposition leaders sought to highlight genuine concerns about important legislation, the government, far from showing regard, displayed a determination to steamroll all opponents.

 

On the women's reservation Bill for example, it roped in the support of the opposition BJP and the Communists to bulldoze " friendly foes" like the SP and the RJD. The chickens may finally be coming home to roost. With a host of important legislation awaiting passage in the two houses of Parliament, the government now realises that it cannot afford to brazen it out any longer. Recently, members of the " core group" in the government met to review the proceedings of Parliament during the brief but disastrous Budget session.

 

There is silent acknowledgement that a woeful lack of floor coordination has brought the government to this pass. Nothing illustrates this better than the confusion in the run- up to the introduction of the Nuclear Liability Bill which was to be piloted in the Lok Sabha a fortnight ago.

 

The Bill formed part of the list of business in the Lok Sabha, but shortly before it was to be introduced, Speaker Meira Kumar informed the house that she had received a request from the government that it does not intend to introduce the Bill in the house as slated. This was something unprecedented in Indian Parliamentary history.

 

The core group that consists of Pranab Mukherjee, AK Antony, P Chidambaram and Veerappa Moily was joined by Parliamentary Affairs Minister PK Bansal, as is the custom, when matters relating to Parliament and its proceedings are discussed.

 

Bansal's earnestness is beyond question but the same cannot be said about his capability or efficiency.

 

I suspect the government wished it had the likes of Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Vayalar Ravi or even Pramod Mahajan or Sushma Swaraj who used their cross party connections to win bipartisan support to push through crucial legislation. Neither Bansal nor V Narayanaswamy, the affable junior minister for parliamentary affairs, seem up to their admittedly difficult assignments.

 

Many more important and contentious legislation are due to come up in the next few months.

 

Apart from the nuclear liability and women's reservation bills, there are the Pensions Funds Regulatory Bill, the Foreign Universities Bill and the Communal Violence Bill, to name just a few.

 

In all these, the dividing line between supporter and opponent is blurred and the government will have to walk the tightrope to ensure that allies are not annoyed and opponents are won over.

 

There are no permanent friends or enemies in politics. It is all the more important to keep this truism in mind in

the coming months when the Congress and its allies set out to face elections in important states like Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Whether the Congress faces the polls in alliance with the DMK and the Trinamool Congress would depend to a large extent on how the party manages these allies in Parliament.

 

I understand that the core group, or the " awesome foursome" as they are known, have in a reversal of recent policy decided to abandon the confrontationist model that has characterised the Congress in the first year of UPA II and adopt a consensual approach. Many of the prime minister's big ticket reforms will come up for parliamentary scrutiny in the next few months. The Congress will need all the help it can hope to garner.

 

Already, HRD minister Kapil Sibal has spoken to Murli Manohar Joshi and I see many more hatchets being buried. I predict that UPA II will bend over backwards to win the support of even ideological opponents as long as they have a national perspective, which many of the Congress's own allies don't.

 

GOVERNANCE AGENDA BACK ON TRACK

SO, AFTER a long gap of four years, the National Advisory Council is back with Sonia Gandhi once again heading it as the Chairperson. When set up shortly after the UPA had come to power in May 2004, it was often criticised as being a parallel power centre as Sonia enjoyed the rank of a cabinet minister and the NAC was given unrestricted access to all government documents, including cabinet files.

 

The NAC attracted further attention when, in 2006, Sonia got embroiled in the office of profit controversy and quit as its chief as well as a Lok Sabha member. She easily won reelection to Parliament but she did not return to the NAC which remained a defunct body. Even its website hosted by the National Informatics Centre simply said, " This site is temporarily unavailable". I am not surprised at the sudden decision to revive the NAC. The feathers in the crown of the UPA — the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Rural Health Mission and the Right to Information Act, among others— were thanks in large measure to the vital role that the Council played in pushing these through in the UPA's early years.

 

Since then, there is widespread feeling that the government has lost its way, particularly on the UPA's social agenda where implementing policies and programmes that ensure delivery to the aam aadmi is first priority. Sonia is busy picking the members for the newly resurrected council which once constituted will meet once every month as in the past.

 

I believe that just as the government has decided to go in for a broad political consensus on programmes and legislation concerning national interest, the NAC under Sonia will interface with the civil leadership and provide feedback to the government to ensure that good governance is back on track. For first signs of that, I will keep checking the NAC website to see if it springs back to life.

 

MINISTERS LEARN THAT PM RUNS A TIGHT SHIP INDEED

MANMOHAN Singh is known as a prime minister who gives his ministers a free hand in running their departments. What is less known however is Manmohan's habit of keeping a close watch on the departments, in particular, the financial health of units under the public sector. This was evident once again last week on the occasion of the inauguration of 47th National Maritime Week when Manmohan had a quiet tete- a- tete with the Minister of Shipping Shri G. K. Vasan where I understand he was busy quizzing the minister on matters like turnover and profits at our ports.

 

Normally, these are the kind of functions where the prime minister, or any other dignitary, pretends to be a keen listener but is actually very bored and can't wait for it to be over. But Manmohan was different. What caught his attention was the theme for this year's Maritime Week celebrations : " Sea Faring: A Career of Opportunities". Apparently, one of the speakers noted that there are about 50,000 ships sailing around the world at any point of time and the demand for new crew was estimated to be around 2 lakh sailors in the next five years alone. According to sources who attended the meeting, that's when Manmohan smelt opportunity.

 

Remember, he is the man who unleashed the liberalisation process that now enables Indians and Indian companies to compete with the best anywhere in the world. He was all ears as the Shipping Secretary K Mohandas explained in detail about the immense potential in the sector and later as the Chairman of the Shipping Corporation of India gave a detailed account of the PSU. Don't be surprised if the prime minister now keeps a close watch on the maritime sector. As long as there are jobs waiting to be filled and profits to be made, he believes Indians will be up there challenging the finest in the world for every job and every dollar.

 

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MAIL TODAY

INDIA OK ON HEADLEY ACCESS TALKS WITH US

BY DIPANJAN ROY CHAUDHURY IN NEW DELHI

 

INDIA was satisfied with the progress of talks with the US over access to Pakistani- American Lashkar- e- Tayyeba ( LeT) terror suspect David Headley, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao said on Sunday.

 

" We are satisfied with the progress these negotiations have made," Rao said in the Capital.

 

She claimed there had been good cooperation between India and the US in counterterrorism, adding that Indian agencies and the home ministry were in talks with their US counterparts over access to Headley.

 

India has been seeking access to Headley to find out all details of his activities regarding the Mumbai attack and plans for further attacks.

 

On Pakistan seeking an Interpol red corner notice against prime accused Mohd Ajmal Qasab, she said he was undergoing trial in India for 26/ 11 and justice was taking its course.

 

Rao also called Iran a responsible country in reaction to US pressure on India to galvanise global support for sanctions against Tehran. New Delhi contended that the forthcoming global nuclear security summit would not focus on country- specific clandestine nuclear proliferation or illicit nuclear trade.

 

In the run- up to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's trip to Washington to attend the summit on April 12- 13, the government refused to get drawn into the debate on clandestine nuclear proliferation by Pakistan and Iran's nuclear programme.

 

" We are not going to get into country- specific situations.

 

The meeting is not about that.

 

The entire global context will be discussed," Rao said.

 

Countries such as Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela, have not been invited for the summit in Washington. When asked whether the fact that Iran has not been invited for the summit meant that it was not a responsible country, she said Iran was a responsible country. " Iran is a country with which we have had substantial bilateral ties for many years," Rao said.

 

Iran is organising an international meet — ' Nuclear Energy For All, Nuclear Weapons For No- one' on April 17- 18. India will be represented at the meet by its ambassador Sanjay Singh.

 

While Rao publicly refused to name Pakistan, New Delhi remains concerned over the danger of Pakistan's nukes falling into the hands of terror groups and non- state actors.

 

At the summit, Prime Minister Singh is expected to flag India's apprehensions about terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

 

Rao said, " Since 2002, we have been piloting a resolution at the UN on preventing terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

 

We are also active in the works of International Atomic Energy Agency on setting and enforcing standards on physical protection of nuclear material and facilities as well as on combating illicit trafficking in nuclear material." At the summit, the Indian PM may underscore the need for greater impetus on securing nuclear material through physical protection and legal mechanisms. He may also propose creation of an International Nuclear Safety Centre in India. The summit will conclude with the release of an outcome document, which has been under negotiations for the past six months by senior officials called Sherpas.

 

Rao is the Sherpa from India's side.

 

RAISINA TATTLE

DIGVIJAY MISSED

CONGRESS general secretary Digvijay Singh is abroad these days. His absence is having some impact on internal party matters.

 

Expelled Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh is moving close to the Congress, thanks to his proximity with Pranab Mukherjee and Salman Khurshid.

 

While there is no signal if Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi will be willing to accommodate Amar in the party, the anti- lobby in the Congress is anxiously waiting for Digvijay's return to keep him under check.

 

Retirement perks

 

ATTRACTIVE post- retirement perks come easy for those in the good books of the UPA government. Hence, there's a buzz in town that senior bureaucrats don't retire — they just fade into a plum post.

 

The grapevine has it that bureaucrats Ashok Chawla and M. Madhavan Nambiar — currently secretaries in the Union finance and civil aviation ministries — enjoy the UPA's goodwill and they are retiring soon.

 

This means, Nambiar may head the culture ministry's London- based Nehru Centre, while Chawla is tipped to get a place in the Asian Development Bank, Manila.

 

Reshuffle wind

 

A MAJOR AICC reshuffle is finally on the cards. Union ministers Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mukul Wasnik, Veerappa Moily, A. K. Antony and Prithviraj Chavan, who have dual charges, have been given the choice of either staying in the party or working for the government.

 

Of the five, Antony and Moily are sure to retain their ministerial portfolios.

 

The others appear to be vulnerable.

 

AICC general secretary Mohsina Kidwai may not be so lucky, Congress insiders say.

 

Missing chief guest

 

A SENIOR culture ministry official, known for attending functions in ethnic clothes, was the most eagerly awaited person at the inauguration of an exhibition of paintings. The official was to inaugurate the show at 6.30 pm, but he was nowhere to be seen.

 

Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit was also invited to the function and she duly arrived at the yet- to- be- inaugurated exhibition. She peeked at the paintings for a while and left, but the chief guest was nowhere to be seen. Finally, he reached the venue a few minutes before the exhibition was to close for the day.

 

Graveyard shift

 

BJP CHIEF Nitin Gadkari may owe his rise to the RSS. But in terms of work culture, he is appearing to be close to the Congress.

 

The former Maharashtra party chief has a habit of functioning until late into the night. Many BJP leaders with an RSS background follow an " early to rise, early to bed" mantra and they are finding it difficult to meet the party chief at an hour where they prefer to rest.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

SUCCESSION STRUGGLE

 

The prospects of political parties run on dynastic principles can be hurt in unexpected ways. Look at the DMK, which runs the government in Tamil Nadu and is a crucial ally of the UPA at the Centre. The party has had a dream run in elections since it came to office in 2006. It's ducked anti-incumbency to win many more Lok Sabha seats than the opposition in the 2009 general election. The DMK and its ally, the Congress, have won 11 bypolls in the state since then. In the midst of all this happy news comes the challenge mounted by M K Alagiri to M K Stalin, his brother and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi's choice to succeed him.


Last week, Alagiri told the media that the party chief must be elected and he'd run for the post in the event of a contest. That's a clear challenge to Stalin and to Karunanidhi. Alagiri prefers the party chief's post because he's in no position to match Stalin's record as an administrator. Alagiri's reputation as an organisation strongman is backed by his ability to get DMK candidates elected even from constituencies where the party is weak. The succession battle has just intensified because of reports that Karunanidhi wants to retire from active politics after over six decades in public life. By demanding an election to the party post, Alagiri has shifted the contours of the debate.


However, it is amusing that the demand to replace nomination with election to the party chief's post has come from Alagiri, who's yet to prove his credentials as a leader willing to accommodate dissent and disagreement. The tussle within the DMK is likely to open up the political space in Tamil Nadu. The impact will be felt even in national politics since the state sends 39 MPs to the Lok Sabha. The immediate beneficiary will be Jayalalithaa's AIADMK, currently smarting under successive electoral defeats. Its present plight is because of the failure to stitch together a coalition of opposition parties in the state. The situation could also help the Congress reclaim the influence it once had in the state.


The DMK government has run a populist administration. But, in effect, it has created a welfare state with a strong public distribution system, educational facilities and public transport. The pro-business environment in the state has helped the government to finance its schemes. The DMK stands to lose if the war within spills over and divides the party. Tamil Nadu is headed for interesting times.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

CREATING A NICHE

 

Economic slowdown and inflation both cramp spending. But neither reportedly has dampened India's organic food market. If anything, India recently gained a competitive advantage in the field over heavyweights like the US and China. A newly adopted GPS tracking system will help trace products of its 3.3 lakh organic exports farms back to their fields of origin. This can only enhance our huge export potential. In an age of increasing green and health consciousness, world demand for the organic label is growing, led by Europe and America. The market is slated to be worth over $70 billion by end-2010. Though India's been in the game for long, its exports were a modest $116 million in 2008-09. Product quality has been a big issue with overseas consumers, and revelations that certifying agencies have been designating farms as organic without inspections haven't helped.

Organic farming requires fields to be free of pesticide and chemical fertiliser use for stipulated periods, as well as buffer zones. Farm certification is thus key to product acceptability. By introducing technology bar-coding and satellite mapping that tracks output, the authorities rightly aim at transparency to enhance consumer confidence. If those behind shoddy exports can be identified and threatened with product recall, greater accountability and quality control will result. But, while India goes hi-tech for a niche market, action is also needed at another end. Lacking resources to get certified, countless small organic farmers can't access competitive prices. Surely funds spent on aiding them and educating them about international quality benchmarks make more sense than, say, subsidising rich farmers' wasteful use of water, power and fertilisers.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

'EXAMS DON'T NEED TO BE TEXTBOOK DEPENDENT'

 

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) promises additional schools, larger funds, more teachers etc, but is quiet on the transformation we may want to see in the outcome. Hemali Chhapia asks Madhav Chavan, founder of Pratham, a leading NGO in education, what'll change for our children, or will it at all?

First, a basic question: do you think the RTE will ensure that all our children will be in school?

That's a good question. If the RTE has to be implemented and enforced in the absolute spirit of the law, it will have to be linked to several other laws - the Child Labour Act, the Juvenile Justice Act, etc. The RTE does not forbid a child from missing school and working in the farm during the harvest system. So governments will have to literally play a parental role; and it remains to be seen if they can play that well.


Although enrolment numbers have ballooned, quality is still a huge concern.

Not having exams and promoting every child without finding out the progress she has made, is an urban middle class concern. The idea of comprehensive and continuous evaluation is quite a bogus one. I fear that not having exams will lead to the neglect of some students. Passing everyone may lead to a situation where some children may not learn at all. Already, academic support in our schools, to put it mildly, is useless.

 

But the concept of rote learning, stress-free education is picking up around the world.

An ideal situation of no exams may be fine in a Dhirubhai Ambani school. But our village environment is still attuned to holding exams. Understanding the concept of comprehensive and continuous evaluation, and getting it done in the true sense, is not going to happen overnight. Learning outcomes are extremely important. This Act is assuming that all is well - the teacher is teaching and the child is learning. But there are no benchmarks on what is quality teaching and learning. No process in the class, not even exams, should cause stress, or be about rote learning. Exams don't need to be textbook dependent. If a child can read from a text, connect two facts, go beyond what the texts are saying and formulate his own thoughts, we know he has learnt. He doesn't need to be given a question paper for us to know how much he has picked up in a year.


There are other challenges like teacher absenteeism and teacher training.

About 25 per cent absenteeism in a government office is common in our country. But children absenteeism is something we should talk about. There's no problem south of the Vindhyas. In the southern states, for that matter even in Gujarat, 90 per cent children are in class on a particular day. The problem is in the north where 50 to 60 per cent children of a class are absent. They will start coming to school if they find school interesting, if the classroom has something to offer them. Let me clarify here, children don't come to school to eat the mid-day meal. The mid-day meal scheme should be spoken about as a nutritional scheme, and must not be linked to education. We need to strengthen our teacher training programmes. Our teachers are a product of the school system we are trying to change. So we have to do something different. But the government doesn't have a clue on what it should do.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

IDENTIFYING X, Y AND ZOO

ANEESH A

 

You know your visit to the zoo fell below expectations when the most exciting episode of the trip happened right outside the entry point. As my friends and i took the tickets and waited in line to enter, the level of enthusiasm was at an all-time high. In my 25 years, i had only been to the zoo once, and that was about 12 years ago back home in Kerala. My fellow zoo-goers had similar stories as well that dated back a decade or so.


My two friends who were ahead of me flashed their tickets and were immediately granted entrance into the magical world of the zoo. I too flashed my ticket and assumed i would be given smooth entry. However, the ticket-checker guy stuck out his hand and looked straight into my face and said, "Aap kaunse desh se ho?" Granted being from Kerala and having been in Delhi for only about two years, my Hindi was still mediocre. But i knew enough to comprehend what the question meant. Now, if you thought it was weird saying the words "I'm from India" outside India, imagine having to say it inside India to another Indian.


Not convinced with my answer, the ticket-checker demanded ID proof that i was from India. Sure, the combination of my shaved head, goatee beard, half-pants and, how should i put it, tanned complexion may have bamboozled him but i found it amusing that my nationality mattered while visiting the zoo. Was the white tiger going to object to being viewed by a non-Indian? Was the chimp going to say: "Hey, this guy isn't desi. I'm going back to my cave"?


At this point, my north Indian friends stepped in and explained in Hindi that i was from Kerala and not some equatorial country. This ticket-checker was, however, committed to the cause of disproving my racial roots. He said, "Kyunki yeh South Africa ke lagte hain." He apparently believed Indians were either fair or brown but never mocha. Now, besides bordering on being racist, i found this remark to be a tad dim-witted. If i were indeed from South Africa, the home of all kinds of exotic animals, why on earth would i leave all that and come to this particular zoo where most animals looked half-dead and incredibly lethargic? I mean, i could count the number of feathers on the poor wreck of an emu that i later saw inside the zoo.


At last, the ticket-checker gave in and i was granted entrance. One of my embarrassed north Indian friends pointed out that tickets for foreigners were more expensive, which was what caused the ticket-checker to interrogate me about my race. To be honest, it sounded more bizarre that a South African adult would have to pay more money to see the same monkeys and bears that an Indian adult gets to see for about 10 bucks. Then why not up the rates for movies, food at restaurants and lodging in hotels as well? One rate for Indians, and one rate for non-Indians.


So, clearly the opening act at the zoo was a tough one for the zoo animals to try and match. The one incident, however, that came close was the unmistakeably bovine-looking beast i saw in the midst of a dozen Sambar deer (which at first i thought was a slur against south Indians). There was a cow hanging out with the deer. Now, i'm not sure if the zoo authorities ran out of deer and decided to fill up the space by adding a cow or if it was some sort of deer-cow mutant, but this creature was definitely more cow than deer. Fortunately, the ticket-checker wasn't around. Or else the poor deer-cow would have struggled to come up with some ID proof.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NOT FEELING AT HOME

 

When the Commonwealth Games get off the starting block, we can think of a new discipline in which our MLAs can participate. That of competing for a plush residence in the Games village. While the other athletes could be given medals, the Delhi MLAs should compete to get across the finishing line and be given homes according to their performance. The MLAs have demanded that the flats built in the Games village be given to them at special prices which could then be financed by soft loans.

Now for the rest of us working stiffs who have barely got a roof over our heads, the argument that MLAs don't have homes, so the government must provide for them, seems infuriating. But we do admire their taste in real estate. Not for them some far-flung outpost in the NCR, but the portals of these tony flats. We would have thought that with all the cash being splashed around for the Games, the government would want to sack the flats to the highest bidder and not subsidise MLAs who pretty much live off the fat of the land anyway.

Housing, we notice, is something that excites our elected representatives more than most other things. And by this, we don't mean the Houses of Parliament. We understand their logic. If they don't have a place to rest their weary heads after all that tough legislation-making, how are they to work for the benefit of the rest of us? Which means that if the Games village flats are not handed over, we could be in for worse, if that is possible, times in the Capital. But perhaps, we should just take a chance on that and put in a bid for those flats ourselves. After all, we have grown used to the policy of take and take.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NOW COMES THE REAL TEST

 

Nation-building is a continuous process and the operationalisation of the Right to Education Act, 2009, is yet another push towards this. On April 1, India joined 135 other nations to pass a revolutionary legislation that puts the responsibility of educating our young citizens — all those who are between six and 14 years — on the government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself made the importance of the Act clear by addressing the nation on it.

Now comes the operationalisation part; the real challenge will be how to build a bridge between intent and delivery. And it won't be an easy task. Revolutions never are. According to the law, the authorities have to ensure compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education of every child. The natural tendency would be to seek comfort in enrolment numbers. Yet, doing that would be counter-productive: the Annual Status of Education Report (Rural), 2009, (ASER) shows that while enrolment in Bihar schools is 90 per cent, attendance is still under 60 per cent. The attendance rate, as the report correctly suggests, must be taken as the enrolment rate. The government also needs to address related issues like what keeps students from attending schools: is it distance, economic condition or gender discrimination?

The law also specifies the minimum norms in State schools and provides for reservation of 25 per cent seats in private schools for under-privileged children and prohibits unrecognised schools. The representatives of the two sections are up in arms: how will the government influence the owners of posh schools to open their gates to poor children? We have seen what has happened in the case of the high-end hospitals: the seats for the poor are only there in the rulebooks, in reality all sorts of impediments are put up. As for the unrecognised schools, closing them down might be a knee-jerk reaction. They have sprung up because there is a demand. Instead of targeting them, it would be more prudent to keep an eye on the quality of education they are imparting and, simultaneously, upgrade infrastructure and number of teachers in government schools so that students go back.

Of course, all this needs money and participation of states since education is on the Concurrent List. It is estimated that Rs 171,000 crore will be needed to implement the Act over the next five years. As of now, the Finance Commission has provided Rs 25,000 crore to the states. Yet, the value for all that we are investing now will come to nothing if the government fails to keep an eagle eye on the learning outcomes, constantly monitor the sector and make the reports public.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

SELF-AWARENESS IS THE WAY TO GO

PANKAJ KUMAR

 

Spiritual masters and psychologists tell us self-awareness can give us happier and more effective lives. Meditation, writing and doing routine work mindfully are some of the ways to increase self-awareness.

Mindfulness meditation is one of the simplest methods. We sit down with our eyes closed for 10-20 minutes and observe what is happening inside: our thoughts and feelings, sensations and breathing. We should observe our thoughts and not elaborate on them. If we find ourselves elaborating on thoughts, we should combine this method with breathing meditation (observing our breathing) or mantra meditation (repeating a name of God or a mantra).

Janette Rainwater, clinical psychologist and writer says: "Philosophers and mystics, people such as Socrates, Gurdjieff, Krishnamurti, the Buddha and Lao Tsu, have all stressed the necessity for self-observation or awareness as the first requirement for becoming enlightened. But it is important to learn the difference between genuine self-observation and introspection or obsessive, squirrel cage thinking."

Writing down one's thoughts and feelings for say 20 minutes regularly develops one's self-awareness. Robin Sharma, author or self-help books, says: "Journaling builds self-awareness. I also use my journal to write daily goals, plan and record what I'm grateful for, and capture and process new ideas along with lessons learnt."

Self-awareness enables us to gain control over our lives. For instance, a person who smokes should smoke with full awareness. After doing this for some days, he can decide whether he wants to continue.

A person who tends to overeat can try to eat with full awareness in order to control the desire.

One can do routine work like chopping vegetables slowly and without talking to develop self-awareness.

Rainwater says we should ask ourselves these questions from time to time: What am I doing? What am I feeling? What am I thinking? How am I breathing? What do I want from myself in this new moment?

She says the basic tools of self-observation are journal writing, writing an autobiography, analysing one's dreams and meditation. We can improve the quality of our lives by developing self-awareness.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

SONIA'S BLUEPRINT FOR PARTY'S FUTURE

 

Congress president Sonia Gandhi's re-appointment as the Chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC) is a clear signal from the party of its overall assertion over the government. It is also, in a way, an admission by the party that the government needed better direction to implement the party agenda that was in tune with the aam aadmi. By institutionalising her position as NAC supremo, the party expects ministers to be more committed in their approach. The Congress is clear — its focus remains on social causes.

The announcement was made even before information about Ms Gandhi's appointment had been formally conveyed to the UPA allies. While there had been widespread speculation about her taking over as the NAC Chairperson for sometime now, the announcement assumes significance in view of reports that several ministers were busy pursuing their individual, rather than the party's, agenda. The move is likely to curb the activities of those ministers who did not prioritise the party's interests. This will also spell out in definite terms that, apart from the Prime Minister, even the party is watching their performance closely.

The start of the UPA-II government has not been impressive. The party and its supporters have been worried that if this perception is allowed to persist, it may prove to be very costly. During the first edition, the support from the Left parties had also contributed to ensuring that the government's agenda remained more focused on the downtrodden sections. But after the formation of the new government in May last year, there has been a perception in many quarters that the UPA-II had been unable to control rising prices and that the statements and actions of some ministers were diluting the aam aadmi agenda of the Congress. In the process, policies were tilting towards the corporate world. In a few matters, the country's interests seemed to have been undermined.

Even though the equation between the PM and the Congress president remains unchanged, Ms Gandhi — as the party president — has to look at its interests beyond the present government. In other words, she also has to bring the government around to implementing its promises so that the Congress continues to be a potent force even beyond 2014. The party has to look towards the future.

The possible reason for her looking ahead is that she has always been a visionary. She had given a call to secular and like-minded parties during the Congress's Shimla conclave in August 2003 to come together to defeat the communal forces led by the BJP. Now she perhaps feels that if the government does not implement the party's agenda with commitment, the Congress she leaves to Generation Next might have a credibility problem.

It is natural for a forward-thinking person to be worried about this. Had the BJP implemented its Ram mandir agenda during its six-and-a-half years in power, it may have continued to be in the government. Ms Gandhi is seized of the fact that if the Congress fails to fulfil its promises and allows an extraneous agenda to be implemented, the repercussions for the party may be wide-ranging.

Critics may question her appointment on the ground that as the Congress president she could accomplish whatever she wanted; so where was the need to head the NAC? It is true that she is an extremely powerful person but, in politics, occasions arise when there is need to institutionalise advice as also to assert the party's position without hesitation.Ms Gandhi is looking at the future and at the aspirations of Generation Next. She is committed to the aam aadmi agenda and wants to perhaps ensure that the government remains on course. Between us.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

HARD TO STOMACH

BIRAJ PATNAIK

As the nation debates the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and its implications on food security for the country, it is pertinent to pause for a moment and ponder some of the structural reasons for the mismanagement of the food economy of the country. Forget the past or the future or even the present set of policies being pursued. The UPA-II is pushing the nation inexorably towards a regime of greater food insecurity. The mismanagement straddles all the arenas of the food economy including financing, storage and allocation of foodgrains.

Take the Union Budget this year. In a skilful display of fiscal chicanery, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee ensured that the Union Budget allocated only Rs 55,578 crore for the food subsidy — a figure that is, in fact, less than last year's allocation of Rs 56,002 crore!

What makes this budget allocation alarming is the fact that both the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Food, Public Distribution and Consumer Affairs know fully well that the actual expenditure that will be incurred this year on account of the food subsidy will be much higher at around Rs 72,000 crore. The food subsidy has two elements to it — one based on consumer offtake and, the other, the cost of maintaining the buffer stocks. So, it's possible to accurately project in advance the budget required for any particular year.

The Food Ministry had, therefore, budgeted its expenditure based on the spending of the previous financial year. For the last financial year, the Government of India allocated Rs 14,000 crore less than the expenditure incurred by the ministry. This year, the ministry is likely facing a deficit of a similar quantum. Since the funds are not going to be made available, the Food Ministry will neither reimburse the Food Corporation of India (FCI), nor the state governments, the full complement of the funds they use up for procurement this year.

The result? The FCI will borrow the money from banks at near-commercial interest rates of 11.25 per cent and the State Food Corporations (SFCs), whose loans are not backed by sovereign guarantee, will pay interest rates that are even higher. Some state governments will choose not to provide budgetary support to bear the additional interest burden; the SFCs will be insolvent and will end up paying even higher interest rates to the banks.

The fact that the banking system charges extortionate rates for food procurement is itself a travesty. It is 5 per cent higher than what the same banking system would charge a consumer for purchasing a super-luxury condo in a gated community in Gurgaon. This is compounded by the graver injustice on those state governments who participate in the decentralised procurement scheme to help provide farmers with a minimum support price and bail out the Government of India by procuring food stocks for the central pool.

Uttar Pradesh (with an un-reimbursed balance of close to Rs 1,600 crore) has already shown its unwillingness to participate in the decentralised procurement scheme and Chhattisgarh (the Central Food Ministry owes it Rs 600 crore for last year's procurement) has threatened to follow suit. This will severely affect the procurement process and thereby the food security situation in the country. Postponing expenditures to contain fiscal deficits is one of the oldest tricks in the book. To do this at the cost of food security, in a country where nearly half the children under the age of six are malnourished, is downright perverse.

The nation has, in recent weeks, been shocked to see photographs from across the country of food stocks rotting in the open even as reports of chronic hunger and starvation pour in. In Rajasthan, FCI godowns are being used to store liquor while food stocks rot outside. Even more shocking is the fact that the FCI systematically dismantled its own storage infrastructure by 'de-hiring' 170 lakh metric tonnes of storage space in the three years during 2006-2009. This was ostensibly done to 'rationalise' the storage infrastructure but, in reality, is a classic example of poor planning.

Consider this: if you were constructing a road, you would factor in peak traffic that is likely to use the road 20 years hence, and not the traffic that uses it today during non-peak hours. While dismantling its own infrastructure, the FCI did exactly the reverse by using projections of the lowest levels of procurement. The likely outcome? Foodgrains will continue to rot in the open while millions sleep hungry.

What will further exacerbate this situation is the fact that the rabi harvest is round the corner and the government is still struggling to store foodgrains procured two years ago. The most logical way of dealing with this situation would be to immediately release the foodgrains into the Public Distribution System so that the poor can afford it. This would also contain inflation. The Empowered Group of Ministers, headed by the Finance Minister, did exactly the opposite and decided against the Food Ministry's proposal to release 5 lakh metric tonnes every month to state governments for use by families holding Above Poverty Line cards who are equally badly hit by food inflation.

The ostensible reason? It's likely to extend the food subsidy by Rs 5,000 crore. The short-sightedness of this policy becomes apparent when you consider the fact that the storage cost for this quantum of foodgrains is likely to be in excess of Rs 2,000 crore while a significant amount will go waste as well.

The state governments' alternatives to deal with this situation are even more frightening. Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are providing subsidised foodgrains to distilleries to produce liquor. Is there any more evidence needed to prove the dictum that power not only corrupts, but also intoxicates?

Not many summers ago, in 2001, India was giving exporters a higher rate of subsidy than it was providing to the poor to ship out excess grain. That year also saw the landmark Right to Food case being filed in the Supreme Court that virtually led to the courts taking over the food schemes. Will we see a repeat this year or will the political class do better this time around and legislate a National Food Security Act that comprehensively reforms our food economy? The jury is still out on this one.

Biraj Patnaik is the Principal Advisor to the Supreme Court Commissioners in the Right to Food case

 

The views expressed by the author are personal 

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

GOWN TOMORROW

 

Was it just the heat under the robe? Or something more planned? When Union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh discarded his academic gown while addressing the seventh convocation of the Indian Institute of Forest Management in Bhopal on Friday, he must have been aware that he was triggering a debate on what he called "a barbaric colonial legacy". It is uncertain whether he knew that the argument he was provoking would not be about Tradition vs Modernity, but about whose tradition we discard, whose we keep.

 

Ramesh clarified that he doesn't want to involve himself in a swadeshi vs videshi debate. But with former Union HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi standing up for him and some Christian groups offended at Ramesh's contemptuous dismissal that the staid gown makes people wearing it look like "medieval vicars and popes", he might just have bitten off more than he can chew. He might wonder if it is his calling to remove this "last" vestige of our colonial legacy. And by means of proscribing a singular gown, with an accompanying cap (mortarboard) that young graduates toss in the air to celebrate the fact that one of life's most gruelling but path-finding stages is over? The ritual may be hackneyed, along with its aesthetics. Yet, that's the moment of initiation for those who — annually, class after class — collect a certificate, laugh a little and pass on to more serious engagements.

 

 To be fair, Ramesh's dislike for the colonial robe is nowhere near the full-scale "Indian" replacement (dhoti-kurta) that some ministers of Madhya Pradesh — and certainly Joshi — must have in mind. Now, there may be a public debate on it; but will it be worth it? Ramesh et al must be implored to see the sunnier side of it. After all, for many of those tossing their silly convocation cap in the air for a photo, it may just be their last sincere laugh for a long, long time. In a dhoti, they'd think twice before moving an inch.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PAYING THE FEES

 

The Right to Education Act has been swaddled in praise, never mind the fact that it comes decades too late. Even though free and compulsory education for children until the age of 14 years was one of the directive principles of state policy and meant to be executed within 10 years of the Constitution coming into force, it remained an empty thought. Now, access to quality schooling is now an absolute legal promise to every child. However, UP CM Mayawati has, typically, forced everyone to confront the elephant in the room: this commitment is riddled with potential implementation blocks.

 

Though opposition parties have long been carping about the lack of infrastructure and finances to reach the Act's lofty targets, the real tussles have only just begun.

 

CPM-led West Bengal and BJP-led Madhya Pradesh have expressed their reservations about the states' financial burden. This budget allocated around Rs 15,000 crore for the first year of action — less than half the number projected by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration. Nearly all the spending was expected to be immediate, given the Act's grand goals, like recruiting teachers at a 30:1 ratio in every school within six months, providing a decent neighbourhood school for every child in three years, and training teachers to a national norm within five years. State governments find it difficult to absorb these funds; even previously, teacher training and classroom construction funds for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have remained unused.

 

Earlier, much of the battle over the right to education had involved the Centre requesting the states to craft their own versions around a model bill (circa 2006). But now that it has been passed as a Central legislation overriding state laws, Mayawati is correct in claiming that the Centre must bear maximal responsibility. (A ratio of 65 per cent by the Centre and 35 per cent by the state had been agreed upon.) States, meanwhile, must unclog their delivery lines and demonstrate their ability to put the new infusion of resources to good use. Implementing the right to education would involve a giant feat of coordination between Central ministries and states.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MINER PROBLEM

 

This newspaper extensively documented last month in an exhaustive investigative series that the Reddy brothers of Bellary in Karnataka have so far succeeded in evading a suitably careful investigation of their mining activity. The series reported the extensive allegations against their companies, particularly their flagship Obulapuram Mining Company or OMC; and laid out the various points at which OMC was given a free pass by the state governments of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Soon after that, the Supreme Court suspended several Reddy mining leases to allow a fact-finding team investigate claims that the extent of the Reddy lands had been illegally increased; a report will be submitted to the court on April 9.

 

While Central efforts proceed with commendable swiftness now that they have been put into motion, at the state level — particularly in Karnataka — little has changed. (The Andhra Pradesh government reportedly suspended or transferred several officers who, in its opinion, had favoured OMC at various points.) News, therefore, that Union Mines Minister B.K. Handique wrote to Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddiyurappa over 17 pending investigations should come as no surprise. However, the other letter that Handique wrote, on March 31, to Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, is worth thinking about. In it Handique asked the FM to sanction more staff for the mines regulator. Normally bureaucratic demands for more staff are a near-automatic response to any problem, and are symptoms of little more than empire-building; on this occasion, however, as the investigative series showed, regulators were genuinely swamped. Buffing up regulatory oversight is a necessary response to the various accusations of subversion of mining rules that continue to be thrown about.

 

The final, fraught question is whether matters such as this require the Central Bureau of Investigation to step in. While nobody could claim the CBI is free of all political interference, the power of the Reddys over the local apparatus of law enforcement is such that it is very difficult to imagine a suitably tireless investigation at the state level — even if one brother were not still state revenue minister, and another the local MLA. Andhra Pradesh has agreed to a CBI probe. The Centre will be forced to continue to make the case to Karnataka that, as The Indian Express revealed, the local machinery has broken down when it comes to regulating and investigating mining.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

LINE TO AFRICA

BIBEK DEBROY

 

Bihar was symbolic of much that is wrong with India. In similar fashion, sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), with the exception of South Africa, was symbolic of much that is wrong with the world. Yet in 2008, Angola grew at 13.2 per cent, Ethiopia at 11.2 per cent, Rwanda at 11.6 per cent, Equatorial Guinea at 10.6 per cent and Niger at 9.5 per cent. Till now, one billion in Africa (800 million in SSA) have been at the bottom of the development pyramid. 80.5 per cent of SSA's population lives on less than $ 2.50 per day. (Lest we forget, the number is 85.7 per cent for India.) There are 49 LDCs (least developed countries) in the world and 33 of them are in Africa.

 

The world is divided into developed countries, developing countries and LDCs; but most developing countries and LDCs should actually be called RDCs (refusing to develop countries), since development is constrained by erroneous economic policies and mis-governance. Pre-1991 India was nothing but that, though growth did pick up from the late-'70s. So was pre-2005 Bihar. But Bihar has changed — and so has Africa, especially since 1995. With euphoria over China and India, this take-off in African growth has passed relatively unnoticed.

 

Coltan — columbite-tantalite — this is an ore used for making capacitors, required in electronic products like mobile phones, computers, pagers, DVD players and so on. The Congo has 70 per cent of the world's reserves. Other than that, Africa has cobalt, platinum, gold, chromium, uranium and bauxite. Consequently, before the crisis, FDI inflows into Africa increased sharply, from $2.4 billion in 1985 to $36 billion in 2007. This was partly in the primary sector, since natural resources were opened up and commodity price increases made these lucrative.

 

The rest of it was in services and infrastructure. These were also opened up: FDI policies became more liberal and bilateral investment promotion and double tax avoidance treaties were signed. Of course, FDI inflows were concentrated in Angola, Nigeria and South Africa and little of it was in manufacturing.

 

Plus there has been an increased Chinese presence through trade, aid and FDI. China has hosted four summits of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation so far, the first in 2000, and from around then (China formally joined the WTO in 2001), all three forms of Chinese presence have increased quickly. However, in all three, there is a difference between absolute levels and increments.

 

For example, much has been made of China becoming Africa's largest trading partner, overtaking the US. However, Africa still has a small share in China's trade basket. But the growth has been fast, facilitated by ODA (official development assistance), debt relief and trade credits. There is an estimated Chinese diaspora of 500,000 in Africa and an FDI stock of $ 2 billion — though there are some methodological problems with the way the Chinese count FDI. (Most

 

Chinese FDI is in Sudan, Algeria and Zambia.)

 

Outward FDI from both China and India have increased and some contrasts, at the level of aggregate generalisations, are evident. First, most outward Indian FDI is in manufacturing and most is destined for developed countries. Second, most outward Chinese FDI is in natural resources (including oil) and services and infrastructure and most is destined for developing countries. Third, most outward Indian FDI is private-sector driven, while most outward Chinese FDI is state-driven. But these are generalisations and one must be careful. For example, in China it is difficult to decide what is state and what is non-state. But state-driven initiatives are more obvious for natural resources, less obvious for textiles, mining or construction. Nor is it quite the case that Chinese FDI in Africa has only been driven by an appetite for natural resources.

 

Much has been made of large consumer markets in China (evident since the late-'80s) and a 300 million-strong middle class in India, however defined. Those 300 million were promised from India in 1991, but only now is finally beginning to materialise. But if Africa and SSA grow at 6 per cent, there will be a 300 million middle class there too, since income and consumption growth will pull people above the poverty line, however defined. That fortune, at the bottom of today's pyramid, is fairly tangible and China has realised this faster than India has.

 

Perhaps, more accurately, the Indian initiative has been entirely private-sector driven and has been concentrated in some sectors (construction, telecom, auto) and some geographical regions (East Africa). While India may technically offer "aid" to 23 countries, little of this is classic foreign aid and is largely restricted to trade credit. India, interpreted as the government, simply doesn't possess the resources to match the Chinese drive in Africa.

 

At one level, Bharti's acquisition of Zain is a corporate decision and some work (Ghana, Bangladesh), while others don't (South Africa). But the context is a broader pattern: the rise of not just China and India, but of Africa and SSA too. Indeed, it is desirable that such outward FDI from India should be private sector driven.

 

Courtesy the RBI, we have data on Indian outward FDI till September 2009. Out of $6.9 billion for April to September 2009, almost $3 billion is in manufacturing. This raises the question of whether such FDI is attracted by a pull (lower costs, locational advantages, consumer markets) or is pushed out because of high costs for business at home. The primary destinations are Singapore, Mauritius and the US, in that order. Africa isn't yet part of the big league.

 

But there is yet another question that should be flagged. Admittedly, there are issues of measuring outward FDI appropriately, depending on how it is being financed. But outside the RBI, why is there little discussion of Indian outward FDI? For example, there will hardly be any mention of Indian outward FDI in the government's Economic Surveys, this year's Survey being a case in point. Before 1991, the government never thought FDI was important enough to warrant discussion. 1991 changed that, but seemingly, only for inward FDI. As more such Bharti-Zain instances occur, this should change and FDI (inward and outward) discussions encompass more than just Singapore and Mauritius.

 

The writer is a Delhi-based economist

express@expressindia.com

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

AMENDMENTS AND EXPECTATIONS

EJAZ HAIDER

 

The Pakistan People's Party, and with it Pakistan, has achieved a landmark success despite a last-ditch attempt by Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League, or PML (N), in cahoots with judicial vested interests, to derail the constitutional reforms package. The Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reform has delivered: its 27 members signing the draft package on March 31. No mean feat this, evolving a consensus on constitutional reform in a divisive political atmosphere.

 

While the committee worked in camera and its draft has only now been placed before Parliament, as information goes, it scrutinised the Constitution article by article and has recommended amendments to nearly 100 articles — besides doing away with the Concurrent List, the subjects therein going to the provinces.

 

Three other controversial areas related to the president's powers, the procedure for appointing judges, and renaming the North West Frontier Province. The president's powers have been scrapped, a judicial commission formed for judges' appointments and the NWFP renamed. All's well that ends well? Yes and no.

 

Recommending setting up the judicial commission and renaming the NWFP, with the benefit of hindsight, were the easiest to resolve even as they became the thorniest issues during deliberations, threatening to and nearly succeeding in scuttling the broader process. The NWFP now has an unwieldy hyphenated name, Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa. But if the Pakhtoon want to celebrate it, so be it.

 

The deliberations nearly broke down on the issue of whether the judicial commission should have six or seven members. There was much controversy, with the Chief Justice of Pakistan reportedly getting a lawyer close to the PML(N) to write a letter and ask Sharif to intervene. And just as the committee sat down to sign the draft, Sharif called a press conference to make his disagreement known. He didn't cover himself in glory; because the fact is that setting up the commission was, and is, more about transparency of the procedure than numbers. Every candidate will now have to be scrutinised first by the seven-member judicial commission and then by a parliamentary committee of eight members, four each from the lower and upper houses, divided equally between the treasury and the opposition.

 

There are still likely to be snags in the process, but by bringing in representatives of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary and attempting to harmonise their functions through checks and balances, the committee can hope to create a much better system than the existing one, which, as we saw, pitted the executive against the judiciary.

 

It is not clear who would prevail in the event that the parliamentary commission refuses to vet a particular candidate sent to it by the judicial commission, but the details should become known soon when the draft is debated by the legislature for incorporating the 18th Amendment.

 

The troublesome areas are the president's powers and the abolition of the Concurrent List. Pakistan has been oscillating between a useless president and an all-powerful one. The correct balance lies somewhere in between. While the prime minister is decidedly the chief executive in a parliamentary system, the president must have the power, under extraordinary circumstances, to intervene. That power can, and should, have checks and balances, of course. The problem in this case is that Pakistan is too close to the Musharraf era to look objectively at the balance between presidential and prime ministerial powers, and that is not a good thing given Pakistan's history.

 

The second important issue relates to the Concurrent List. Reportedly, the committee has recommended that it be abolished and all the subjects under it transferred to the provinces. While one cannot fault this recommendation in and of itself, it is likely to create problems of implementation and institutional functioning, at least in the short term. There are several federal institutions dealing with subjects that would now be transferred to the provinces. The provinces, for the most part, are unprepared for the transition and have a serious capacity problem. It is one thing to campaign for transferring these subjects, essentially an exercise in politics, but quite another to actually take care of the work.

 

This is not to argue that the Concurrent List should not have been abolished. The point simply is that the decision would need to be implemented in a phased manner because the provinces may just be out of their depth. One hopes that the debate in Parliament will focus on the time and modalities of getting it done.

 

What is most important is to have a permanent monitoring and oversight committee for the implementation process. There is always some discrepancy between the drawing board and ground realities. That is what requires calibration.

 

The achievement at this stage is symbolic and general. That is important because symbols underpin both expectations and perceptions. The real test, however, will come now because the second phase is unsexy, and relates to the banality of implementation. Let's see if the legislators meet expectations. 

 

The writer is national affairs editor of 'Newsweek Pakistan'

 

express@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'U-2 BRUTE' 

INDER MALHOTRA

 

All of a sudden a long forgotten American spy plane called U-2, which had a stellar role during the Cold War, has got a new lease of life even though the Pentagon would have retired it years ago but for resistance by the US Congress. Built in the pre-satellite age, it was used to locate the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenals, for it flew so high that it couldn't be shot down. The US army is now using it in a war of a totally different kind in Afghanistan.  It now pinpoints roadside bombs, and does so more effectively than the unmanned drone. Western field commanders swear by it.

 

 Even so, there would have been no need to take note of it, but U-2's virtual resurrection has triggered a flood of memories of one of the gravest crises between the two power blocs, created in the last year of Dwight Eisenhower's presidency by this plane, a pride of the CIA and its all-powerful director, Allen Dulles. Incidentally, he was a brother of the equally vehement anti-Communist secretary of state, John Foster Dulles. For four years beginning 1955, the U-2 had flown across the Soviet Union for nearly 50 times with impunity. Then in 1960, the Red Army shot it down for the first time. Coincidentally, this happened on May Day, 1960, and at the mammoth rally at Red Square, Nikita Khrushchev went ballistic, threatening dire action against violators of the Soviet air space and sovereignty. The world trembled with the fear of a nuclear exchange. Even America's close allies criticised it trenchantly. "What brother Foster couldn't do, Allen Dulles has done", said some. The US, added others, was "playing with fire". A particularly notable cry, adapting Shakespeare, was: "U-2 Brute".   

 

 Yet, the initial American response was brazen beyond belief. Persuaded by Allen Dulles, Eisenhower flatly denied that any spy plane had flown over the USSR. An aircraft of the US weather agency, he added, had strayed from its course and the heartless Russians had shot it down. Evidently, the US president was taken in by the CIA chief's firm belief that, in accordance with the prescribed procedure, the U-2's pilot, Gary Powers, must have committed suicide by swallowing the poison capsule. Powers hadn't. In Soviet custody, he was singing like a bird. But wily Khrushchev maintained complete silence about this for some time, letting the US make some more palpably false statements. Yet a long-planned four-power summit (Britain and France were the other two participants) duly began in Paris but immediately fell flat. Relations between the two superpowers deteriorated precipitately.

 

 India, like the rest of the world, was an interested witness to the depressing chain of events. However, its interest in Pakistan's involvement in the U-2 affair and its consequences was profound. Gary Powers had flown on his last mission from the secret American base of Badaber, close to Peshawar. America's extra-territorial rights on this base were so watertight that no Pakistani, not even Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as minister in Ayub Khan's cabinet, was allowed to enter it. When the crisis erupted and Khrushchev issued apocalyptic warnings, Pakistan was unmoved. Instead, on the authority of the PAF chief, Air Marshal Asghar Khan, and the director-general of the ISI, Brigadier Aijaz Husain, the Pakistan Foreign Office had denied emphatically that the U-2 had taken off from Badaber. It also shared the American belief that the pilot must have killed himself as soon as his plane was hit.

 

 What followed is best described by one of Pakistan's outstanding and highly respected diplomats, who was then in charge of relations with the Soviet Union and later ambassador to China, Japan and the United States as well as foreign secretary during the Bangladesh War, Sultan Muhammad Khan. In his book, Memories and Reflections, he writes: "When the Soviet Ambassador, Dr. Kapitsa came to see me, I was confident of dealing with him effectively and refuting any charges he might make. The meeting turned out to be quite different! He asked me whether Pakistan still denied that the U-2 had taken off from its territory and I said that I would deny it categorically. He seemed pleased to hear that, and pulled out a paper from his pocket. Pointing to it he said, 'This is the confession of Gary Powers the U-2 pilot, who has named the Americans at Badaber who looked after him and assisted him in his departure. There are other incriminating details in it and your denials are worthless; either the Foreign Office is ignorant of what goes on at Badaber, or you are deliberately covering up for the Americans. Let me warn Pakistan solemnly that if these activities do not cease at once, we can obliterate Peshawar and Badaber in a single strike'."

 

 "It was," adds Mr. Khan, "an unpleasant meeting to say the least, and it took some effort to calm down Ambassador Kapitsa, who in imitation of his master Khrushchev was pounding the table, fortunately with his fist, not his shoe! Along with the USA, Pakistan had been caught red-handed and the USSR was determined to extract the maximum advantage out of it — few, if any in Pakistan — were aware of the U-2 operations, and the Foreign Office was totally ignorant about them".

 

 That night Bhutto, the head of the ISI directorate, and the embarrassed diplomat were together at dinner. Brigadier Husain reconfirmed that he knew nothing about U-2 operations. Bhutto was "bitter about the extent to which Pakistan had made itself an expendable commodity in the struggle between the two superpowers, and vowed to rectify the situation if he became Foreign Minister". Three years later his wish was fulfilled. Another three years later he was sacked. Some more years were to pass and much water to flow down the Indus when the Americans were told to shut down the Badaber base. By then they didn't need it. Not only the satellites were doing their job adequately but also the US's newfound friends, the Chinese, had given it electronic facilities up north to keep tabs on the Soviet Union.

 

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

GHOSTS OF PRESIDENTS PAST

 

For years, Bill Clinton tried to negotiate an arms control treaty for the post-cold-war era. He and Boris Yeltsin even agreed on a framework for a new Start treaty in Helsinki. But it never came to be. So when President Obama flies to Prague this week to sign a New Start treaty with Russia, it will culminate Clinton's unfulfilled aspiration.

 

Nine years after Clinton left office, Obama has in some ways picked up his Democratic predecessor's mantle. And the 44th president is arguably profiting from the work, and the setbacks, of the 42nd president.

 

The treaty to be signed this week and the health care overhaul signed into law last month represent the most obvious examples. But Obama also pushed through an economic stimulus package last year, which Clinton tried unsuccessfully to do in his first year. Obama has drawn bipartisan support for lifting the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military, an idea that backfired on Clinton. And where Clinton never submitted the Kyoto treaty to a hostile Senate, Obama is pushing forward with climate change legislation that has a shot at passing.

 

Other presidents have built on the policy agendas of predecessors. George W. Bush fashioned his presidency as an extension of Ronald Reagan's, especially in cutting taxes. And Franklin D. Roosevelt completed the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, particularly in building a lasting international organisation with American participation.

 

"Every great progressive era, if you look at history, begins with somebody hitting the barricades first and the other person establishing that progressive agenda and coalition," said Rahm Emanuel, who was a senior adviser to Clinton and is now Obama's White House chief of staff.

 

Such was the case with health care, 16 years after Clinton's effort collapsed, he said. "Without '94 creating some space and some knowledge, the truth is 2010 could not have happened." Of course, the comparisons are imprecise and the times in which the two men governed are radically different. In the calm after the cold war, Clinton was trying to pull his party back to the political center after years in the wilderness, while Obama campaigned as a more liberal figure in a time of war, terrorism and economic crisis. And there are areas where Clinton's agenda has no need for continuation. Clinton's success in reshaping welfare, pushing through free trade policies and enacting a tougher approach to crime arguably took those issues off the table for Obama.

 

As he pursues initiatives that echo the Clinton era, Obama is benefiting from a changed society. Attitudes toward gays in the military have shifted since Clinton's time. But by paving the way on some of these issues, Clinton provided a roadmap for Obama. On gays in the military, for instance, Obama was careful not to tackle the issue from the start, as Clinton did much to his regret because it blew up in his face and he was forced to accept the compromise known as don't ask, don't tell.

 

"Rather than rushing into top-down change, the Obama White House has carefully mobilised support within the military leadership and has created a process of consultation designed to mute complaints that change is being rammed through," said William A. Galston, a former Clinton adviser now at the Brookings Institution.

 

On health care, some like Galston argued that Obama took the Clinton lesson too far by giving Congress too much free reign. But Obama succeeded in part because Democratic lawmakers saw what happened when Clinton failed and they lost their majorities. And Democrats learned, perhaps, to be bold. That applies overseas as well. Strobe Talbott, who was Clinton's deputy secretary of state and main interlocutor with Russia, noted the different contexts the two presidents faced. "That said, there's no question that the main themes and exertions of the Clinton foreign policy did lay a groundwork for what Obama's trying to do," he said, citing arms control, nonproliferation, strengthening international institutions "and, for that matter, climate change."

 

The danger, naturally, is to draw too much from the Clinton experience. "You have to be careful not to overlearn old lessons," said Joel P. Johnson, a former senior adviser to Clinton. "The times and circumstances have changed dramatically. But certain fundamentals remain the same, and past mistakes provide present insights. It's the rough equivalent of studying game films in the NFL."

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE OIL OF FREE MARKETS

VIKRAM S MEHTA

 

Reflect on the following disparate facts!

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that in 2008 India spent approx. $40 billion on subsidies to the petroleum sector. This amount was next only to the sums paid out by Saudi Arabia. Even Iran doled out less. The figure came down appreciably in 2009 but India still ranked amongst the top five "subsidisers" in the world

 

l The consumption of petrol and diesel in the OECD countries has peaked. In fact it shrunk by approximately 8 per cent over the period 2007-09. On the other hand the demand for these products in India rose by 15.2 per cent and 9.4 per cent in 2009 alone. This rate of increase is close to the highest rates seen in the past 15 years.

 

l The OECD countries require 1.1. barrels of oil equivalent (at market exchange rates) to produce $1000 worth of GDP. The non-OECD countries require 3.5 barrels to produce an equivalent value. India is a significant contributor to this non-OECD statistic.

 

l ONGC will be seeking a special dispensation from the government to invest Rs.15,432 crores (loan plus equity) to acquire an 11 per cent stake in a heavy oil field in the Orinoco oil belt of Venezuela. This is because when added to the amounts they have already invested overseas ONGC will exceed the limits set by the government. The prescribed ceiling (I understand) is 20 per cent of the company's net worth and ONGC's net worth in March 2009 was around Rs.80,000 crores.

 

l The Planning Commission has revised downwards the 11th plan oil and gas production targets by 9 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. The Government has acknowledged that ONGC / OIL produces only around 28 per cent of the hydrocarbons discovered. The International oil companies on the other hand average a recovery rate of 40 per cent in fields of comparable geology.

 

l Our petroleum PSUs allocate less than 1 per cent of their turnover to Research & Development (R&D). This figure is amongst the lowest in the industry.

 

What does this jumble of facts suggest or portend? What policy prescriptions can one draw from a weave of such disparate information?

 

The first point to note is the correlation between a free market on one hand, and demand conservation and energy efficiency on the other.  The demand for petroleum products in the  OECD  countries  has peaked because the consumers have not been cushioned by subsidies. They have responded to high oil prices by conserving demand; by investing in less expensive alternatives  and  by improving energy efficiency.  The fact that OECD economies have moved beyond the energy intensive phase of economic development has also muted demand but the underlying structural trend is because of the play of market forces. The opposite trend is evident in India because the market has been smothered by subsidies and price regulation. No doubt the demand for petroleum products has increased because of industrialisation, urbanisation and changing lifestyles. But the acceleration in the rate of consumption of petroleum products and the widening gap in the efficiency index between the OECD countries and India is fundamentally because of the absence of countervailing market incentives. This reflects a well-known economic principle. When prices rise because subsidies have been removed the demand softens and energy efficiency improves.

 

The second point to note is that India's energy security is becoming too dependent on long and potentially brittle supply links. ONGC's foray into Venezuela has been driven by a strategic policy to acquire equity crude overseas. The merits of this policy can be debated.  Oil is a tradable commodity and it could be argued that rather than expose itself to political, economic and technological risks, ONGC should simply purchase its requirements on the open market. This is especially since in the event of a global supply disruption the supplies from all oil fields including those in which ONGC has a portfolio stake would be curtailed. The purpose here is not however to engage in such a debate. I am sure ONGC has adduced strong commercial and strategic reasons for recommending such an investment. It is however to point out that the Venezuelan foray is a consequence of current market conditions. ONGC has been compelled to move far afield because it does not have access to "easy" and geographically proximate foreign oil fields.   These fields are controlled by the state owned companies of the country and if and when foreign entities are invited to participate it is on stringent terms without equity rights.  "Resource nationalism" is the prevailing sentiment. This means ipso facto that our energy security policy will be continually exposed to distant and complex logistic, distribution and technical risks. These risks can no doubt be managed but the question should nevertheless be asked "has the balance of emphasis in the energy security policy shifted too much towards supply accretion?  Should not perhaps demand management and energy efficiency be given greater importance?"

 

The final point to note is that Indian companies do not appear to be harnessing the full value of technology.  The statistic on the allocation of funds for R&D suggests that innovation is not in the "forefront" of the petroleum PSUs strategic thinking. This may of course be a mistaken inference. It might just be that companies have been compelled to reduce their allocations because of short-term cash exigency. Their balance sheets have after all been weakened by years of price regulation and they may not be in a position to spend money on activities with a lagged pay back. I doubt that is the explanation but I do know that if technology is not pushed forward on their strategic agenda the companies will fail to unlock the huge unrealised value of enhanced oil recovery; nor will they be able to overcome the existing emergent geophysical and environmental hurdles.

 

These three points suggest the following policy prescription. The market needs to be given freer rein; subsidies need to be reduced; demand management and energy efficiency needs to be more strongly emphasised and technology and innovation has to become the centrepiece of strategy.

 

  The writer is chairman, Shell Group in India; views are personal

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

MUSLIM QUOTA: A STATES' EYE VIEW

P.S. KRISHNAN

 

The overwhelming majority of India's Muslim population belongs to the same castes/communities which have been subsequently classified as Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Backward Classes (BCs) among Hindus. Socially advanced Muslim communities constitute a small minority.

 

In the country's north, the groups that moved to Islam were mostly artisans and other "occupational" communities. In the south, conversions were mainly from the "untouchable" castes and other "low" castes, consisting of agricultural labour etc. These Muslim groups have continued their pre-conversion traditional occupations and their low social status/backwardness continues to attach to them.

 

There has been some recognition by the state of these social realities based on the historic origins of Muslim society in India. It has been the practice from the beginning in reservation regimes designed in the south before Independence, and after the Constitution came into operation in the north and at the Centre, to include Muslim social groups in the lists of the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (BCs). The basis of this inclusion has been social backwardness, and not religion.

 

The Kerala and Karnataka pattern:

In both these states, from the times of the maharajahs, Muslims have been perceived as a collectivity drawn from the 'untouchable' and other 'low' castes and included in the BC list. After the Constitution came into operation, in Travancore-Cochin/Kerala, the BCs have been sub-classified since 1951 into eight sub-categories, one of which is 'Muslim, Mappila' with a sub-quota of 12 per cent, out of the total 40 per cent BC quota.

 

In Karnataka, a few Muslim groups are included in one of the sub-categories of BCs, largely of those without assets or skills, along with a number of other communities. The rest of the Muslims were included in another sub-category. Taking note of the fact that the Muslims were not able to compete with some of the other communities in their group, in 1994, they were constituted into a separate sub-category of BCs with a reservation of 4 per cent.

 

In both these states, the central list, on the basis of the advice of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), has excluded certain specific communities of Muslims which are not socially backward. Those who remain included in the central list constitute the overwhelming majority of the Muslim population, but the Centre has not introduced sub-categorisation of its BC list for each state.

 

The Tamil Nadu pattern:

Tamil Nadu's list covers more than 90 per cent of its Muslim population. The central list for Tamil Nadu does not include certain small socially advanced communities which the state has later included. Unlike the other three southern states, Tamil Nadu was late in introducing the categorisation of BCs; it did so only in 1989.

 

None of the Muslim communities were included in the sub-category of Most Backward Classes (20 per cent sub-quota out of the total 50 per cent BC quota). Taking note of the complaint that the Muslim groups were not able to compete with some of those in the Backward Classes sub-category, the state government in 2007 created a new sub-group of these Muslim groups in a separate sub-category with a 3.5 per cent sub-quota carved out of the 30 per cent sub-quota of BCs.

 

The Bihar pattern:

When BCs were recognised and reservation was provided for them in 1978 in Bihar, the list was ab initio  divided into Backward Classes and Most Backward Classes with separate sub-quotas. The Most Backward Classes list includes most of the Muslim Backward Classes, so that they, and the Hindu MBCs, do not have to face unequal competition with the Bania castes (most of whom figure in the state list but have been excluded from the central list on the advice of the NCBC) and peasant BC castes, and have to face competition mostly with comparable artisan and other occupational castes of Hindus.

 

The Andhra Pradesh pattern:

Unlike the other three southern states, Andhra Pradesh had failed to recognise most of the backward social groups of Muslims till recently. Only one small group (inherited from the Madras List) and one very small social group found place in two of the four sub-categories of BCs. In 2007, based on the P.S. Krishnan Report and the statutory recommendations of the AP Commission for Backward Classes, the state legislature enacted legislation recognising 14 social groups and one residuary group of Muslims, specifically excluding 10 advanced social groups. Taking into account the obvious inability of the newly included social groups of Muslims to compete with castes having reservation since decades, the Act constituted these social groups into a new Group E with a 4 per cent sub-quota (out of the total 29 per cent BC quota). This was shortly before Tamil Nadu introduced the new sub-category of its Muslim BCs.

 

The Centre and most northern states are yet to adopt any pattern or model of sub-categorisation of the backward classes.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

GETTING FOOD SECURITY RIGHT


In the run-up to last year's general elections, the Congress manifesto touted an ambitious national food security legislation as the politically promising and socially uplifting second avatar of the NREGA. Once the elections had been won, the President's parliamentary address took up the same anthem. The drought scare (that thankfully didn't live up to its worst portents) put the idea to bed for some time. Now, the rabi reports are good and the legislation is back in the news. Around the middle of March, an EGoM headed by the FM cleared the draft Food Security Bill against the backdrop of overwhelming wheat stocks. But the 35 kg of rice or wheat at Rs 3 per kg per month promised to poor families in the Congress manifesto was slashed to 25 kg for BPL families. Sonia Gandhi, the chairperson of the recently resuscitated National Advisory Council, is reportedly putting pressure for the goalpost to be moved back to the manifesto pledge. Some ministers, not to mention other interested agents, are also demanding that the entitlement be extended to all 'vulnerable' groups. Obviously, the government needs to do something substantive to retard India's horrifying hunger and malnutrition statistics. Equally obviously, any additional largesse should to be doled out against the backdrop of fiscal discipline. Improved efficiencies offer a mechanism for progressing along these twin tracks. These must be the priority in redesigning the draft Food Security Bill.

 

First, it is not economically feasible to deliver a food guarantee without accompanying agriculture reforms. These must extend to the retail, wherein India needs to encourage investment in the entire supply chain infrastructure. Second, the government needs to be prepared for the fact the food guarantee will increase procurement demand. If this hikes MSPs and therefore inflation, how will the government balance its liabilities? What will it do with existing schemes like Antodaya Anna Yojana, Kishori Shakti Yojana and so on? These really need to be streamlined. Third, all of this assumes an ample grains supply. What will one do when there is a bad harvest? Fourth, the existing PDS system is riddled with leakages, with the number of cards actually exceeding the population in some states. Fifth, poverty estimates are in a mess. Beyond the fact of their range, we have to contend with states pumping up stakes for vested reasons. It's not like there is no action taking place in positive territory. The Economic Survey has suggested that a cash transfer will deliver better results than a food delivery system. But before rushing into new legislation, the government really needs to consider food subsidy schemes holistically.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

FREE MOVEMENT OF GOODS

 

The plan to introduce a more liberal national permit system for truckers to ease the inter-state movement of goods from the next month hasn't come too soon. This will help accelerate the flow of freight and perhaps make a dent on food inflation levels. This step will ensure greater flexibility in the overall national trucking fleet, which is now saddled with national permits that only allow them to operate in a maximum of four contiguous states, including the home state. Though the annual permit costs will now be trebled, the gains in market access would ensure that the truckers are more than adequately compensated. But the new national permit rules will ease only one hurdle that hinders truckers who usually have to tackle at least seven different agencies to facilitate the smooth movement of goods. These include state tax agencies, regional transport officer, excise officials, regulated market committees, civil supplies agencies, forest officials and the department of geology and mining. Though some states have come up with single-point check posts to ensure simultaneous checks at one common point, the majority of the truckers still have to obtain clearances at different points, causing undue delays that push up freight costs.

 

Taking full advantage of superior quality roads and higher speeds on the newly built national highways would require that the number of agencies monitoring the movement of trucks—and, therefore, delays in inter-state movement—are reduced to the maximum extent possible. Expert estimates, in fact, show that the cost of delays due to the existence of various check posts was around Rs 4,300 crore in 2004 and this will go up to as much as Rs 60,168 crore by 2017. But it is important to recognise that it is not simply trucking regulations alone that lead to delays and cost escalations but also the policy regimes that regulate movement of different products—some of which are both commodity specific and some location specific—varying across different freight categories like food products, livestock, forest produce, minerals and manufactured goods. This makes the monitoring by the different agencies rather inevitable. Eliminating this excessively large burden would require a massive rework of the policies that regulate both the movement of transport vehicles and also products, including various laws like the essential commodities act, the forest produce act and the mining and mineral development act.

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

AT 75, RBI NEEDS TO BE REFORMED

AJAY SHAH

 

In the private sector, the age of an organisation is not a problem. Private firms have to constantly pass the market test. If an organisation fails to reinvent itself in an ever changing world, it bleeds capital and labour. The market economy steadily euthanises the old when they fail to change with the times. For each rejuvenated firm like Tata Motors or Tata Steel that we see today, there are hundreds of firms of their vintage that we do not see today, which collapsed when the world changed and the organisation did not.

 

In government, creative destruction does not happen by itself—it requires a special push called economic reform. Arms of government are monopolies and do not face a market test. The policy process must, hence, exert a continual harsh scrutiny upon each agency and law, asking whether it has reinvented itself adequately to reflect the needs of today's India. The older an agency is, the more problematic it is likely to be.

 

The design of the RBI Act is rooted in British government committee reports of 1914 and 1925. As a consequence, there are two fatal flaws: (a) the designers did not intend a central bank for a free India, and, (b) essentially nothing about monetary economics was known at the time. To some extent, the age of RBI is worse than 75 years: in a few years there will be the 100th anniversary of the 1914 committee.

 

The role and function of RBI was further distorted in the decades of Indian socialism, and put under great stress with bank nationalisation. Far from maturing into a genuine central bank, it became a central planning agency for finance. When central planning died, the rationale for the existence of this central planner ended.

 

We now do things very differently in India, when compared with the age of colonialism or the age of socialism. Sebi presents a useful comparison of the present ethos of public administration. Sebi regulates a competitive ecosystem of exchanges and depositories—it does not own or run them. RBI has the conflict of interest of owning and running a exchange and depository, thus combining (monopoly PSU) service provision with regulation in the manner of the old DoT.

 

Sebi does not trade on the markets that it regulates. RBI is a big market manipulator on the very markets where it is supposed to be a regulator.

 

Sebi's world is one with rule of law where all orders are public and there is a vigorous appeals mechanism at the SAT. RBI's world is one where actions are not public, where the same rule is interpreted differently for different supplicants and where financial firms have neither an effective mechanism, nor the courage to appeal.

 

RBI scores in the bottom decile of the central banks of the world on the question of transparency. The agenda papers of Sebi board meetings are on the Sebi Web site. Sebi has overseen the greatest success in Indian finance—the rise of a world-class equity market. This is the only area where India appears in top 10 rankings in global finance. RBI has overseen the greatest failures of Indian finance—the bond-currency-derivatives nexus and banking.

 

The fossil from the days of colonialism and socialism, the old lady of Mint Street, hence draws little veneration from the people who understand her work. Some of her siblings—ancient organisations such as Tata Motors and Tata Steel—have reinvented themselves for the age of globalisation. In every aspect of their behaviour and functioning, these firms do the opposite when compared with what they did just 20 years ago. Private firms born in 1934, which did not reinvent themselves, were euthanised by the market economy. But being a government organisation, RBI has faced little threat of euthanasia.

 

In this picture, the pompous celebrations of RBI's 75th year are a bit like the May Day parades of Soviet Russia. The showy celebrations symbolise the insecurity of a framework that is hollow inside.

 

It is now time to reinvent RBI, drawing on what we have learned in recent decades worldwide about central bank reform, and what we have learned in recent decades about law, regulation and public administration through success stories such as Sebi. Such change will, of course, be resisted by the incumbent. DoT did not support telecom reform; the ministry of steel resisted decontrol of steel prices; the EPFO detests pension reform. RBI is no different. It comes up with many different elaborate arguments but always the same predictable conclusion: RBI is always right and nothing should be done by way of reform. The views of RBI staff or loyalists are hence not useful in thinking about RBI reform.

 

The author is an economist with interests in finance, pensions and macroeconomics

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

 MORE REASONS TO END FUEL SUBSIDY

VIKRAM S MEHTA

 

Reflect on the following disparate facts: the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that in 2008 India spent approximately $40 billion on subsidies to the petroleum sector. This amount was next only to the sums paid out by Saudi Arabia. Even Iran doled out less; the consumption of petrol and diesel in the OECD countries has peaked. In fact, it shrunk by approximately 8% over the period 2007-09. On the other hand, the demand for these products in India rose by 15.2% and 9.4%, respectively, in 2009 alone. This rate of increase is close to the highest rates seen in the past 15 years; the OECD countries require 1.1 barrels of oil equivalent (at market exchange rates) to produce $1,000 worth of GDP. The non-OECD countries require 3.5 barrels to produce an equivalent value. India is a significant contributor to this non-OECD statistic; ONGC will be seeking a special dispensation from the government to invest Rs 15,432 crore (loan plus equity) to acquire an 11% stake in a heavy oil field in the Orinoco oil belt of Venezuela. ONGC's net worth in March 2009 was around Rs 80,000 crore; the government has acknowledged that ONGC/OIL produces only around 28% of the hydrocarbons discovered. International oil companies, on the other hand, average a recovery rate of 40% in fields of comparable geology; our petroleum PSUs allocate less than 1% of their turnover to R&D, amongst the lowest in the industry.

 

What does this jumble of facts suggest or, might I say, portend? The first point to note is the correlation between a free market on the one hand and demand-conservation and energy-efficiency on the other. The demand for petroleum products in the OECD countries has peaked because consumers have not been cushioned by subsidies. They have responded to high oil prices by conserving demand, by investing in less expensive alternatives and by improving the efficiency of energy usage. The opposite trend is evident in India because the market has been smothered by subsidies. No doubt the demand for petroleum products has increased because of industrialisation, urbanisation and changing lifestyles. But the acceleration in the rate of consumption of petroleum products and the widening gap in the efficiency index between the OECD countries and India is because of the absence of countervailing market incentives.

 

The second point to note is that India's energy security is becoming too dependent on long and potentially brittle supply links. ONGC's foray into Venezuela has been driven by a strategic policy to acquire equity crude overseas. The merits of this policy can be debated. Oil is a tradable commodity and it could be argued that rather than exposing itself to political, economic and technological risks, ONGC should simply purchase its requirements on the open market, since in the event of a global supply disruption, the supplies from all oil fields, including those in which ONGC has a portfolio stake, would be curtailed. I am sure ONGC has adduced strong commercial and strategic reasons for recommending such an investment. It is, however, to point out that the Venezuelan foray is a consequence of current market conditions. ONGC has been compelled to move far afield because it does not have access to 'easy' and geographically proximate foreign oil fields. These fields are controlled by the state-owned companies of the country, and if and when foreign entities are invited to participate, it is on stringent terms without equity rights. 'Resource nationalism' is the prevailing sentiment. This means, ipso facto, that our energy security policy will be continually exposed to distant and complex logistic, distribution and technical risks. These risks can no doubt be managed but the question should be asked: Has the balance of emphasis in the energy security policy shifted too much towards supply accretion and away from demand management?

 

The final point to note is that Indian companies do not appear to be harnessing the full value of technology. The statistic on the allocation of funds for R&D suggests that innovation is not in the 'forefront' of petroleum PSUs' strategic thinking. This may, of course, be a mistaken inference. It might just be that companies have been compelled to reduce their allocations because of short-term cash exigency. Their balance sheets have, after all, been weakened by years of price regulation and they may not be in a position to spend money on activities with a lagged payback. I doubt that is the explanation but I do know that if technology is not pushed forward on their strategic agenda, the companies will fail to unlock the huge unrealised value of enhanced oil recovery, nor will they be able to overcome the emergent geophysical and environmental hurdles.

 

These points suggest the following policy prescription. The market needs to be given freer rein, subsidies need to be reduced, demand management and energy efficiency needs to be strongly emphasised, and technology and innovation has to become the centrepiece of strategy.

 

The author is chairman of Shell Group in India. These are his personal views

 

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 FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

TRUCK WITH RECOVERY

SAIKAT NEOGI

 

Sales of multi-axle trucks and trailers are one of the best indicators to gauge the momentum of economic activity in the country. The sale of commercial vehicles was the first to come to a grinding halt during the economic downturn. Data from the Indian Foundation of Transport Research & Training shows that multi-axle trailers with capacities of 30-49 tonnes have reported a sales growth of five times from 675 units in March last year to 3,276 units in the same month this year.

 

Similarly, sales of multi-axle trucks, with capacities of 25-31 tonnes, have doubled in the same period. They are used to transport materials used in construction, infrastructure and heavy engineering industries. Overall, truck sales across all categories doubled in March this year, as compared with the same month last year.

 

Apart from the rising industrial activities, the demand for new trucks, especially in these two categories last month, was also because of the new emission norms to be implemented from April 1. Fleet owners purchasing new trucks got an accelerated depreciation allowance of 50% for vehicles purchased before March 31, which brought down the tax liability of vehicle owners and big operators who added to their existing fleet.

 

The steady decline in sales of commercial vehicles started from April 2008 as industrial activities took a beating. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that truck sales were sluggish last year because of overcapacity in the national fleet and a sharp decline in cargo offerings. Though the government stimulus packages in the form of a 6% excise duty cut on truck and foundry products helped boost sales of commercial vehicles on a month-on-month basis, it was restricted only to sales of light and commercial vehicles, which are used by logistics firms for retail cargo and firms in the consumer goods segments.

 

Going ahead, vehicle manufacturers are upbeat about rising sales as the economy gains momentum. As the government has set October as the deadline for BS-III compliant emission norms, there may be a slight dip in truck sales. But analysts say the surge in manufacturing, construction and infrastructure activities and increasing cargo offering would keep truck sales buoyant through this year.

 

saikat.neogi@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

SOUND DEMOCRATIC REFORMS

 

Pakistan's elected politicians have risen admirably above their zero-sum approach to forge a cross-party consensus on a set of constitutional reforms that hold the promise of strengthening democratic governance. The centrepiece of these reforms, known collectively as the 18th amendment, is the transfer of executive powers from the President to the Prime Minister. It will bring the system closer to the parliamentary democracy envisioned in the original 1973 Constitution before General Zia-ul-Haq and General Pervez Musharraf introduced distortions to reinforce their presidencies. In proposing the repeal of the Musharraf-era 17th Amendment, the reforms tabled in the National Assembly last week seek to strip the President of the powers to dissolve Parliament and appoint the three service chiefs and governors, thus rendering his role ceremonial. It was thought that President Asif Ali Zardari would never agree to the reforms. He can now justifiably take credit for keeping a longstanding PPP promise. For going through with a process that affects its leadership directly, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is likely to regain some of its lost shine. The opposition Pakistan Muslim League(N) can take credit for keeping up political pressure on the PPP towards this end. Although the party's last-minute disagreements with some aspects of the package delayed the tabling by a week, the PML(N) leader, Nawaz Sharif, should be happy as it does away with a two-term bar on the prime ministership. The Pakistan Army, which has an uneasy relationship with Mr. Zardari, must be pleased too.

 

In the longer term, the proposed changes will make it difficult for an Army chief to manipulate the presidency and get an elected government dismissed. But it can also be argued that this leaves a politically ambitious general with no option other than the martial law, although under the proposed changes, "suspension" of the Constitution will count as high treason along with subversion. Anyhow, the Pakistan Army is not expected to become less powerful unless elected politicians can prise away from it the right to frame policy on crucial issues such as national security and foreign policy. The main question now is if President Zardari can capitalise on the political goodwill earned for giving up his powers and survive his ongoing battle with the judiciary. The Pakistan Supreme Court's insistence that the government ask Swiss authorities to reopen money laundering cases against Mr. Zardari (closed in 2007 under the now-annulled National Reconciliation Ordinance) is a move to force an interpretation on presidential immunity against prosecution. It is unfortunate that Pakistan's political instability never seems to abate.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

FOR LOVE OF WATER

 

The United Nations reminded all countries on March 22, World Water Day, that humanity continues to impose a staggering burden on rivers, lakes, and deltas each year in the form of pollution. What the UN has highlighted in its report titled "Sick Water?" should stir the conscience of people everywhere. Pollutants dumped in key water sources annually are estimated to weigh as much as the global population — close to seven billion people. This disturbing truth should encourage everyone starting with national governments to do more to protect the broth of life. The first step is to plug the sources of the millions of tonnes of sewage and industrial and agricultural waste that are pumped perennially into waterways and other freshwater reserves. Action taken to improve water quality pays rich dividends — the UN Environment Programme and Habitat estimate the return to be anything between $3 and $34 for every dollar spent, depending upon the region and technology employed. Such investments are particularly important for India.

 

India's response to pollution has been atrociously slow. In 2008, the country had the capacity to treat only about 18 per cent of the sewage produced in cities and towns; and the increments since thenhave been insignificant. The rest of the sewage flows into waterways and lakes, contaminating groundwater and spreading disease. The Lok Sabha recently heard from Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh that in the nation's capital, a vast volume of untreated sewage was flowing into the Yamuna every day. This goes on merrily at a time some idle capacity is available in Delhi's treatment plants. The problem is linked to the national issue of insufficient housing, sanitation, and sewerage. The most infamous example of India's failed attempts at river cleansing is that of the Ganga, which has over the millennia been revered as a holy river. It is listed by the UN as severely polluted, with its basin receiving billions of litres of wastewater every year. Clearly, governments are abdicating their responsibility towards citizens by allowing the poisoning of meagre and dwindling freshwater. Some are keen to set up expensive desalination plants, without making a parallel effort to protect surface and groundwater, and recover wastewater. The way forward is to enforce the well-recognised 'polluter pays' principle. Industry and municipal authorities should lead the clean up. When will rising India realise it must go all out to ensure clean water for its people?

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES


IMPLICATIONS OF REGISTERING, TRACKING, PROFILING

DATA COLLECTION, INCLUDING FINGERPRINTING, FOR THE NATIONAL POPULATION REGISTER HAS BEEN LAUNCHED ALONGSIDE THE 2011 CENSUS EXERCISE AND UNDER DIFFERENT STATUTES. THIS IS NO INNOCENT DATA COLLECTION IN A VACUUM. SET AMIDST NATGRID AND UID, IT CONJURES ORWELLIAN IMAGES OF BIG BROTHER.

 

Usha Ramanathan

The relationship between the state and the people is set to change dramatically, and irretrievably, and it appears to be happening without even a discussion about what it means. The National Population Register has been launched countrywide, after an initial foray in the coastal belt. All persons in India aged over 15 years are to be loaded on to a database. This will hold not just their names and the names of their parents, sex, date of birth, place of birth, present and permanent address, marital status – and "if ever married, name of spouse" – but also their biometric identification, which would include a photograph and all eight fingers and two thumbs imprinted on it. This is being spoken of with awe, as the 'biggest-ever' census exercise in history. 1.2 billion people are to be brought on to this database before the exercise is done. This could well be a marvel without parallel. But what will this exercise really do?

 

For a start, it is wise not to forget that this is not data collection in a vacuum. It is set amidst NATGRID (National Intelligence Grid), the UID (the Unique Identification project), and a still-hazy-but-waiting-in-the-wings DNA Bank. Each of these has been given spurs by the Union Home Ministry, with security as the logic for surveillance and tracking by the state and its agencies. The benign promise of targeted welfare services is held out to legitimise this exercise.

 

If the Home Ministry were to have its way, NATGRID will enable 11 security and intelligence agencies, including RAW, the IB, the Enforcement Directorate, the National Investigation Agency, the CBI, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and the Narcotics Control Bureau to access consolidated data from 21 categories of databases. These would include railway and air travel, income tax, phone calls, bank account details, credit card transactions, visa and immigration records, property records, and the driving licences of citizens. It is not insignificant that, when Vice-President Hamid Ansari quoted an intelligence expert and asked, "How shall a democracy ensure its secret intelligence apparatus becomes neither a vehicle for conspiracy nor a suppressor of the traditional liberties of democratic self-government?" and suggested that intelligence agencies be accountable and subject to parliamentary oversight, there was resistance among the agencies.

 

On February 14, 2010, The Hindu reported a discussion at a Cabinet Committee on Security meeting on the NATGRID proposal where "some Ministers raised queries about safeguards and said there was a need for further study." There were concerns about privacy and potential misuse of information for political ends. "Highly placed sources," it was reported, "said the main objections raised at the meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, revolved around the need to put in place a more elaborate safety mechanism for upholding the privacy of citizens. But discussions veered around to the political scenario in which a UPA regime might no longer be in power and in which the informational opportunities provided by NATGRID could possibly be misused by another ruling party." That meeting ended inconclusively, asking that further consultations be held before deciding whether to go ahead with the proposal or not.

 

Sixty years should have been sufficient to get over being a 'subject' of the state, and to attain citizenship. The state is sovereign vis-à-vis other states, but within the country it is the people who are sovereign. All this, however, becomes empty talk when the people have to report to the state about who they marry, when they move house and where, what jobs they do, how much they earn, where they travel, what their pattern of expenditure is, and who they live with. And to make tracking easier, there are the fingerprints and the photograph.

 

The NPR is not an exercise undertaken under the Census Act 1948. It is being carried out under the Citizenship Act of 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003. Why should that matter? Because there is an express provision regarding `confidentiality' in the Census Act, which is not merely missing in the Citizenship Act and Rules but there is an express objective of making the information available to the UID Authority, for instance, which marks an important distinction between the two processes. Section 15 of the Census Act categorically makes the information that we give to the census agency "not open to inspection nor admissible in evidence." The Census Act enables the collection of information so that the state has a profile of the population; it is expressly not to profile the individual.

 

It is the admitted position that the information gathered in the house-to-house survey, and the biometrics collected during the exercise, will feed into the UID database. The UID document says the information that data base will hold will only serve to identify if the person is who the person says he, or she, is. It will not hold any personal details about anybody. What the document does not say is that it will provide the bridge between the 'silos' of data that are already in existence, and which the NPR will also bring into being. So with the UID as the key (forgive the oscillating metaphor), the profile of any person resident in India can be built up.

 

Why is this a problem? Because privacy will be breached. Because it gives room for abuse of the power that the holder of this information acquires. Because the information never goes away, even when life moves on. So if a person is dyslexic some time in life, is a troubled adolescent, has taken psychiatric help at some stage in life, was married but is now divorced and wants to leave that behind in the past, was insolvent till luck and hard work produced different results, donated to a cause that is to be kept private — all of this is an open book, forever, to the agency that has access to the data base. And, there are some like me who would consider it demeaning to have this relationship with the state. For the poor, who often live on the margins of life and legality, it could provide the badge of potential criminality in a polity where ostensible poverty has been considered a sign of dangerousness. (This is not hyperbole; read the beggary laws, and the attitude of some courts reflected in the comment that `giving land for resettlement to an encroacher is like rewarding a pickpocket.')

 

The Citizenship Rules cast every 'individual' and every 'head of family' in the role of an 'informant' who may be subjected to penalties if he does not ensure that every person gets on to the NPR, and keeps information about themselves and their 'dependents' updated. There isn't even an attempt at speaking in the language of democracy!

 

The arrangement that emerges is that the NPR will gather data and biometrics of the whole population. This does not guarantee an acknowledgement of citizenship; it is only about being `usually resident.' This information will not be confidential, and will feed directly into the UID data base, which, while pretending to be doing little other than verifying that a person is who they say they are, will act as a bridge between silos of information that will help profile the individual. This will assist the market and, through NATGRID, the intelligence agencies, who will continue to remain unaccountable.

 

To do this, the UID has been given Rs. 1,900 crore in the current year's budget and the NPR has been allocated Rs. 3,539.24 crore. This will bring Orwell's Big Brother back to life; and we are asked to accept that each of us be treated as potential terrorists and security threats, for that is the logic on which this tracking and profiling of the individual is based.( Usha Ramanathan is an independent law researcher who works on the jurisprudence of law, poverty and rights.)

 

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THE HINDU

TROOP FATALITY FIGURES SHOW CHANGING MAOIST STRATEGY

INCREASING SECURITY FORCES LOSSES TO GUNFIRE SUGGEST IMPROVEMENT IN MAOIST WEAPONRY AND AMMUNITION.

AMAN SETHI

 

In the opening skirmish of the ambush, Head Constable P. Bhai leapt for cover, and landed on an improvised explosive device (IED) with a feather-touch trigger. The ensuing explosion flung him through the air; he landed on another IED that exploded on impact.

 

The crackle of automatic fire continuing overhead, constable Balbir stepped on a third pressure bomb that blew away his legs and genitals. He bled to death. In the fourth and final explosion, Constable Mukund Gayari lost his leg and a fellow soldier was burnt severely. In all, two men died and two were injured on March 18 this year when the Maoists ambushed the 168th Battalion of the CRPF on in Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district.

 

As the Indian government continues to intensify anti-Maoist operations across Central India, paramilitary forces are confronted by a rigorously drilled guerilla force capable of orchestrating sophisticated operations with considerable accuracy.

The remoteness of the contested territory and the near absence of information from battle sites make it difficult to analyse the dynamics of military operations; however fatalities figures sourced from the Chhattisgarh police impose a helpful, though by no means comprehensive, pattern on the fluid violence surging through Chhattisgarh's hilly forests.

 

According to police figures, IEDs account for about 40 per cent of the 408 troop fatalities in Chhattisgarh since 2007 and nearly 70 per cent of all injuries sustained by security forces from January 2008 to March this year.

 

"IEDs are the one of the biggest challenges facing the troops in Chhattisgarh," said Inspector General R.K. Vij, spokesperson for the Chhattisgarh Police. The devices are easily assembled and consist of the bomb itself — which could be a metal tiffin-carrier, or bucket, filled with fertilizer, a detonator cap sourced from the mining industry, torch batteries and a trigger to complete the circuit. The devices are often used when regular ammunition is hard to come by.

 

Innovation

 

"Maoist IEDs are usually cheaply produced from indigenously available materials," said an intelligence official, "commonly used explosively include urea mixed with diesel, potassium and ammonium nitrate." It is the trigger devices however, that best illustrate Maoist innovation.

 

Pressure bombs, as the name suggests, are IEDs that work like anti-personnel mines — exploding when someone steps on the trigger.

 

Explosives experts showed this correspondent a piece of bamboo about six inches in length — split halfway along its vertical axis to resemble a device not unlike a pair of kitchen tongs. A piece of wood, no thicker than a toothpick, served as a fulcrum — holding apart the two ends of the tongs that were wrapped with exposed copper wire.

 

Once planted, the bamboo trigger is indistinguishable from the brush, bramble and leaves that litter the jungles where the battles are fought. When stepped on, the ends of the tongs make contact and complete the circuit that triggers the bomb. Another popular trigger is a medical syringe with electrical contacts on the plunger and a point lower down the syringe's cylindrical body. Stuck face-down in the ground, the device explodes when someone steps on the plunger and completes the circuit by bringing the contacts together.

 

"In the Bijapur ambush, the Maoists had worked out our route in advance," said a CRPF officer, "Instead of planting IEDs on the path where the bombs could be detected, they placed them where the force was most likely to take cover if ambushed." Once the CRPF reached the designated spot on the Basaguda-Avapalli road, the Maoists opened fire; the force took cover, stepping on carefully camouflaged triggers: the IEDs did the rest.

 

Apart from their obvious lethality, the mere threat of IEDs is almost as effective in crippling troop movements. "The psychological impact of IEDS goes far beyond the fatalities," says P.V. Ramana, Research Fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, "Troop morale is severely affected by the possibilities of being permanently handicapped by such an attack."

 

In 2008 for instance, 21 policemen were killed in Malkangiri, Orissa, when Maoists blew up a police vehicle. Since then, all patrols and company movements are conducted on foot. By scattering troops across an area, rather than confining them to vehicles, security forces hope to reduce what they call the "kill-ratio" of an IED blast.

 

While the fatalities caused by IED blasts have hovered between 40 and 45 per cent of total police deaths each year since 2007, the high percentage (about 60 per cent) of deaths caused by Maoist gunfire is much higher when compared with guerilla groups around the world.

 

In Iraq for instance, gunfire accounted for only 20 per cent of US military deaths with IEDs accounting for 63 per cent of deaths since October 2001; in Afghanistan, gun fire accounted for 25 per cent of U.S. military deaths with IEDs accounting for 53 per cent of deaths.

 

Speaking on background, intelligence said they expected gun-shot fatalities to rise even further in the coming months due to what intelligence officials refer to the "Nayagarh effect."

 

In February 15 2008, Maoists attacked a police armoury in Nayagarh, Orissa, killed 13 policemen and made off with nearly 1200 weapons including 400 INSAS rifles, 20 AK-47s, three light machine guns and huge supplies of ammunition. The successful raid altered Maoist tactics.

 

"We lost 49 men last year, all due to gun-shot injuries," said S. Jaikumar, Superintendent of Police, Gadchiroli, a district on the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border. Jaikumar's team defused at least 15 live IEDs last year; however, Maoists have changed to a stand-and-fight strategy that has been rarely witnessed before.

 

"Maoists are showing a greater tendency to engage security forces in prolonged encounters, suggesting a steady and reliable source of ammunition," confirmed Jaikumar, "Their fighters are better armed than before and each company carries at least one light machine gun."

 

"The reliance on either IEDs or gunfire is part of the lifecycle of any guerrilla operation," said a serving Army officer, "While IEDs are an essential part of guerrilla tactics, sustained gunfire exchanges are necessary to assert the physical and psychological presence of both sides in the minds of the civilian population."

 

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THE HINDU

AN ARC OF POLITICAL FLUX

THERE IS NO OVERARCHING TREND OF TRANSITION TOWARDS ANY COMMON SET OF NORMS OF GOVERNANCE WITHIN STATE BOUNDARIES IN MYANMAR, THAILAND, MALAYSIA, INDONESIA, AND THE PHILIPPINES.

P. S. SURYANARAYANA

 

Thailand's embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has offered to dissolve the House of Representatives and hold a snap general election nearly a year ahead of the scheduled timeline of December next year. The dissident United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) does not see this, however, as responsive politics. By Sunday (April 4), the UDD, with its record of organising essentially peaceful but also stridently propagandist anti-Government protest marches and picketing for over three weeks in Bangkok, found Mr. Abhisit in an increasingly combative mood.

 

On balance, the current crisis in Thailand cannot be seen in conventional terms of democracy versus dictatorship or responsive governance versus arbitrary rule. In a simple yet profound sense, Thailand is in a state of political flux.

 

Currently, a few other Southeast Asian countries, too, are passing through some form of political transition or other. Besides Thailand, Myanmar as also Malaysia and Indonesia, and even the Philippines are together in an arc of political flux. The defining political aspiration in each of these countries is distinctive. There is no overarching trend of transition towards any common goalpost such as a set of norms for governance within state boundaries. Also absent is any linkage among the mutually-exclusive activist-groups which are seeking, along parallel tracks, a new political ambience in their respective domains.

 

Of these countries, Myanmar, with its long contemporary experience of military dictatorship, still remains, in outer space terminology, light years away from any system of representative rule. Priding over this, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the Myanmar junta styles itself, is currently engaged in "restoring democracy" or more precisely paper-democracy through what can only be seen as utterly undemocratic means.

 

The SPDC's transparent bluff of political reforms is being called by the dissident National League for Democracy (NLD), which is led by the still-incarcerated Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi. The NLD has now decided to stay away from the junta's promised democracy-restoring general election. Under the SPDC's new electoral decrees, the NLD runs the risk of losing its current status as a political party. Such de-recognition, an existential dilemma, is the price that the NLD has decided to risk. While the proposed general election has already lost credibility in this situation, even a flawed poll process is likely to push Myanmar towards some form of political flux.

 

In Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, a twice-elected Prime Minister who was toppled in a bloodless military coup in 2006, is seeking to change the current rules of the political game in his country and bounce back to power. He is a proclaimed fugitive following a judicial verdict against him in absentia in a recent case. And, he orchestrates the UDD campaign through exhortations over video-links from foreign bases in his self-imposed exile. Mr. Abhisit is seeking ways of banishing Mr. Thaksin's political ghost without de-plugging Thailand from the grid of political globalisation, as it were.

 

Formidable challenge

 

Thailand is no stranger to coup-masters or the political shadows of the armed forces. Its latest identity crisis, when seen against this background, reflects the search for a uniquely Thai form of democracy. The challenge is formidable. Mr. Abhisit, a military-friendly civilian leader, presides over a flawed system in the context of some political chain-reactions that followed a general election held by the coup-masters in 2007.

 

Of the five countries in today's Southeast Asian arc of political flux, Malaysia is unique in having a robust practice of keeping the country's military bloc away from the democratic politics of civilian rule. So, the new storyline is that of translating the idea of "1Malaysia" into live-reality. For this, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has announced plans for a "New Economic Model (NEM)" that could benefit the disadvantaged people in each of the various ethnic groups.

 

The major groups are: (1) the Bumiputeras, comprising the Muslim-majority of Malays and the indigenous populations, (2) the ethnic-Chinese minority, and (3) the people of Indian origin as another significant minority group. The NEM, yet to be blueprinted in substantive detail, is being envisioned as a policy-sequel to the decades-old New Economic Policy (NEP).

 

In Mr. Najib's view, this is being done to overcome the divisive politics of perception that the NEP had completely marginalised the vulnerable sections among the minorities, especially the ethnic-Indians. The perception flows from the NEP ideology of affirmative actions for the benefit of the Bumipeteras. Such actions were originally intended to set right certain historical economic imbalances in the Malaya region. Mr. Najib says that the NEP implementation has not really created new economic or political fault-lines across the social domain. Moreover, the intended benefits have not even reached all of those who needed them among the Bumiputeras. His political narrative on these lines is disputed by some activist groups like the banned Hindu Rights Action Force and the unrecognised Human Rights Party of Malaysia.

 

In all, today's political flux in this upscale developing country is being addressed through prescriptive economics rather than the more fundamental calculus of basic statehood and statecraft. And, regional experts generally reckon that Mr. Najib is on the right track in making this choice. His political discourse also reflects an awareness that Malaysia's long-term political identity as a pluralist society with an Islamic core can be ensured only by addressing the existing disaffection among several sections of the minority groups.

 

Regardless of the blurred military-civilian boundary in the politics of some pockets in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has in recent years given up its addiction to the praetorian model of governance. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, authentically re-elected not long ago in a political process widely believed to have been fair, gets praised in regional circles for this particular success story. The Indonesian military is no longer breathing down the neck of the civilian administration – a far cry from the past when the army ran the state either directly or more often through proxies.

 

However, Indonesia's free-will tryst with democratic pluralism, in a Muslim-majority social setting, is far from being fully accomplished. A new political identity apart, the country is still in a state of flux over such economic issues as a people-friendly growth model. Public controversies relating to a recent bank-bailout package are just symptomatic of the economy-centred discourse. On the political side of the state ledger, Mr. Yudhoyono (also known as Mr. Susilo or more simply SBY) is carrying out a vigorous anti-terror campaign. However, his anti-corruption drive has run into a storm of suspicions about "selective" raids and political "kickbacks" that might have "benefited" his party.The Philippines, famous in the region for proving the efficacy of "people power" against autocratic rule in the past, is not such a shining story now. Of all the controversies during Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's long rule, due to run until the next presidential poll in May, the "political legitimacy" of her ascent to and stay at the helm has not been fully sorted out. In this larger sense, the Philippines finds itself in political flux yet again before the imminent poll.

 

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THE HINDU

DISCRIMINATION HELPS PERPETUATE POVERTY

 

The findings of a major survey, titled "Human Development in India: Challenges for a Society in Transition," reported by Aarti Dhar in The Hindu of March 28 are stark: Indigenous groups and Dalits continue to be at the bottom in most indicators of well-being; Muslims and the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) occupy the middle rung; and forward caste Hindus and other minority religions are at the top. The data relating to the period 2004-05 are drawn from a survey of 41,554 households in 1,503 villages and 971 urban blocks across 33 States and Union Territories.

 

Expose inadequacy

 

These findings expose the inadequacy of governmental efforts to set right centuries-old wrongs done to nearly one-fourth of the population by caste-based oppression, discrimination, and exploitation. It shows India has a long, long way to go in doing justice to the victims of prejudice. The report found the disturbing pattern to hold in respect of several indicators, including household incomes, poverty rates, land-ownership and agricultural incomes, health, and education. The survey also noticed some variations. For instance, in respect of access to education, Muslims find themselves in the company of Dalits and at the bottom. Similarly, in respect of health care, tribal folk are better placed than Dalits in northeastern States.

 

The survey has done a valuable service by demarcating two major aspects of disparities among these social groups.

 

Two major aspects

 

The first aspect is that much of the inequality is caused by differential access to livelihoods. Salaried jobs, which account for higher earnings, elude Dalits and tribal people who have no choice but to settle for agricultural labour. They mostly live in rural areas and do not have the necessary education to seek more lucrative jobs. The salaried jobs tend to go to people from upper castes and religious minorities other than Muslims. To quote from The Hindureport: ". more than three out of 10 forward caste and [non-Muslim] minority religion men have salaried jobs, compared with about two out of 10 Muslim, OBC and Dalit men, and even fewer Adivasi men." Another disadvantage that makes Dalits and tribal people more vulnerable is their landlessness. Even if a small proportion of them manage to possess some land, they find that this land is less productive.

 

The second major aspect of the group disparities brought out by the survey is that, as Aarti Dhar notes, "future generations seem doomed to replicate these inequalities because of the continuing differences in education - both in quality and quantity . social inequalities begin early in primary schools. Thus, affirmative action remedies are too little and too late by the time students reach the higher secondary level."

 

From discrimination to deprivation

 

A recent book, Blocked by Caste: Economic Discrimination in Modern India(2010, Oxford University Press), deals elaborately with the linkages between discrimination, more particularly economic discrimination, and the denial of many entitlements to rights, which the victims of such discrimination suffer. Economist Sukhadeo Thorat, who is Chairman of the University Grants Commission, and sociologist Katherine S. Newman, have edited, and contributed sensitively to, this valuable volume.

 

"In India," they point out in their Introduction, "exclusion revolves around societal institutions that exclude, discriminate against, isolate, and deprive some groups on the basis of group identities such as caste, ethnicity, religion and gender . Caste/untouchability-based exclusion is reflected in the inability of individuals from the lower castes to interact freely and productively with others and this also inhibits their full participation in the economic, social and political life of the community."

 

Thorat and Newman point out that the economic organisation of the caste system is based on the division of people in social groups (or castes), in which the social and economic rights of each individual caste are predetermined or ascribed by birth and made hereditary. However, the entitlement to economic rights is "unequal and hierarchical (graded)" and since "economic and social rights are unequally assigned . the entitlement to rights diminishes as one moves down the caste ladder."

 

As a consequence of the working of this kind of discriminatory system, those at the bottom-most layer of this unequal society are deprived of their otherwise rightful share in the land, jobs, and wages they are entitled to, and also access to education, public health facilities, free lunch for school children, the public distribution system, and numerous other governmental schemes, including food security programmes which are supposed to be universal. (It seems the only universal programme Dalits can access without difficulty is the immunisation scheme meant for children.)

 

In health centres

 

Sangh Mitra S. Acharya explains, in his article (Chapter 7), how certain social and religious groups have been excluded from the health care system and how equitable use of medical services has been discouraged. Incidents of doctors using derogatory language against Dalit children, refusing to touch Dalit patients, showing reluctance to talk to them on the nature of their illness, and keeping them waiting for a long time are not unusual in the primary health centres in several places. All these are not uncommon in rural hospitals. Studies have found that doctors are unwilling to visit Dalit patients at their homes. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that Dalits receive little or no care in medicare centres.

 

The plight of Dalit schoolgirls is even worse. "When Dalit and Muslim children go to school," Thorat and Newman note in their Introduction, "with young people from HC ["Higher Caste"] backgrounds and majority religions, they often face subtle forms of discouragement and ostracism that make school a painful place to be." This explains why a sizeable number of Dalit children, particularly girls, drop out of school.

 

Caste and religion are factors

 

Under such circumstances, how can one expect better results in respect of human development indicators? Some chapters in the book provide sufficient evidence to show how continued discrimination practised in the name of caste and religion plays a powerful role in keeping hundreds of millions of oppressed people at the bottom-most layer in all perceivable ways. This applies to education, access to decent and well-paying jobs, possessing wealth in the form of land and buildings, improving their health, and so on. This is the state of the oppressed six decades after the republican Constitution outlawed the heinous practice of untouchability and mandated, through not fewer than 20 Articles, protection against discrimination of every kind.

 

Slogans like `inclusive growth' are not going to achieve in the next 10 or even 20 years what independent India has failed to deliver over the last six decades. For those who suffer the double handicap of socio-economic discrimination and denial of entitlement to several rights, `inclusive growth' sounds like a slap in the face, a mockery of their condition. Unless policies are adopted, backed by massive investments, to radically change the situation on the ground, that condition is not going to change. It means expanding in a big way social opportunity - in education, health, employment, livelihood, ownership of land and other assets, and so on - as part of the process of development, as progressive thinkers like Amartya Sen envisage. It means more effective legal protection against discrimination and exploitation.

 

Rural India must be the focus

 

Since nearly 70 per cent of Dalits live in villages, a very strong focus on transforming the situation of rural India is an absolute imperative. This became absolutely clear to me during the course of field visits over a decade (1995-2005), as Frontline'sSpecial Correspondent, to study and write about the condition of Dalits in Tamil Nadu villages. My investigation began with the anti-Dalit violence that broke out in the southern districts in 1995 but went beyond that. The realities even in a progressive southern State were shocking beyond words and I tried to convey them in more than 50 articles published in Frontline.

 

As Readers' Editor, I can see that journalists, especially young journalists, working for newspapers, television, and radio can do a lot more to cover both discrimination and deprivation than they are doing today. In this connection, the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, has done commendable work by making the hundreds of young women and men who have graduated from it over the past decade do a required course called "Covering Deprivation," which involves field visits as well as a critical reflection on the issues.

 

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

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THE HINDU

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

POLITICAL REFORMS

 

Pakistan has had a turbulent relationship with democracy since its inception. Unlike India, which in spite of all its problems has kept faith with its Constitution and democracy — barring the unfortunate event of the Emergency — Pakistan has been subject to military rule and the pruning of democratic powers by dictators.

 

The debate on the 18th Constitutional amendment is scheduled to take place today, Monday, and the amendment aims to strengthen the post of the prime minister and reduce the powers of the president. This takes the country back to where it was when General Zia-ul-Haq passed the controversial 8th amendment, which had restricted the powers of democratic institutions in Pakistan.

 

The new rules do not just limit the powers of the president vis-à-vis the prime minister but also include a slew of reforms ranging from right to information to repealing the president's power to dismiss the national assembly to no longer restricting a prime ministerial term to two years. It is hardly surprising that the amendment has the backing of most of Pakistan's political parties.

 

Many are calling it an attempt to clip current president Asif Zardari's powers but that is perhaps a short-sighted outlook. The aim is to reduce the stranglehold of the military on Pakistan's civil life. Amongst its many problems, the over-dependence on the military to run the country is what has prevented Pakistan from growing as a democracy and indeed what has thrown it into the maelstrom of Islamic fundamentalism and made it the terrorist hub of the world.

 

A democratic and stable Pakistan will be of enormous benefit to the neighbourhood. However, it would be naïve for India to assume that these nascent steps to democracy mean that peace in the region is now closer to reality. Pakistan's politicians have not been friends of India any more than the military has been. The state that the country is in, getting it back to a semblance of normality will be a long, difficult and tedious process. It is therefore possible that the short-term will see more turbulence in the area as fundamentalist forces will resist. Nor can it be assumed that the army will become a sudden convert to political freedom and Constitutional sanctity.

 

The comity of nations and Pakistan's friends in the West now need to give it as much support in this endeavour as possible rather than only look at their immediate needs.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

POLITICS OF OIL PRICES

 

Sixty-six countries at the 12th International Energy Forum in Cancun on Friday have agreed to create an open database with regard to oil production, consumption and trade as a way of beating the speculators who are held responsible for the excessive market volatility in oil prices in 2008 just before the financial market meltdown brought down the prices from the US$147 to US$32 in a span of six months. As the world economy looks to recovery, there is a natural anxiety that if speculators were to queer the pitch once again then things would go into a disastrous tailspin.

 

The plan may not achieve its rational goal of keeping the oil prices on an even keel by keeping all the information out in the open. It will be difficult to rein speculators like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan in the US and UK because of the policy of not interfering in market processes.

 

There is also the other important factor that it will not be easy to get oil producers and oil consumers to reveal all the data. For example, India, which is the fifth highest oil consumer in the world does not have a market monitoring agency which tracks the production and consumption patterns, and the country is also not a member of the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA). There are the politics on the one hand and information gaps on the other. Both need to be tackled.

 

Unlike in the past, India need not be a passive spectator of international oil price trends because slowly, but grudgingly, the realisation is dawning on oil producers as well as its market-watchers in the West that emerging markets like China and India are the major consumers of the future.

 

This allows India a say in influencing what can be done to keep prices within reasonable limits. The oil producing countries are more than willing to take India and China aboard in these matters. Petroleum minister Murli Deora met with some success in recent months in the matter where it has been conceded that oil prices cannot get out of hand and that it is as bad for the producers as it is for the consumers. But he would need to press home the advantage.

 

Opec will certainly not give concessional prices to India though there is an element of it in the long-term contracts but what is of interest and importance is that India is now a player to reckon with in the matter.

 

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DNA

THE CONGRESS CAN BENEFIT FROM THE BACHCHANS

ANIL DHARKER

 

Who would be Amitabh Bachchan? He has, on one hand, everything going for him (unimaginable fame, riches, work satisfaction, family); on the other hand, every day new controversies seem to break around him, most of them erupting through no fault of his. Take the latest. From what we can see through press reports, Ajit Gulabchand who heads the consortium which has built the Bandra Sea Link, invites Bachchan to the inauguration of the second carriageway.

 

Bachchan accepts and as befits a national icon, is seated with the Chief Minister. The ceremony goes off well, the media coverage is huge… Then all hell breaks loose.

 

Who are the anonymous Congressmen creating the ruckus? Why are they making such a massive mountain out

of a tiny molehill? In making the invitation to Bachchan such a contentious issue, why are they forgetting one simple fact? The Bandra Worli Sea Link is not, repeat NOT, a Congress party bridge. It's a link made for each and every Mumbaikar, and paid for by each and every Mumbaikar whatever his or her party affiliation, whether Congress, BJP, Sena, MNS, SP or no party. So if Amitabh Bachchan, one of the city's best known figures was invited and given a place of honour, it was only fitting that this was done.

 

Why are these clamorous Congressmen also forgetting another simple fact: Amitabh Bachchan is himself not a party man at all. He may be brand ambassador for Gujarat Tourism, but he has also been brand ambassador, if memory serves right, for UP Industries, and in choosing these disparate roles, he has shown admirable non-partisanship (though not admirable judgement)Why are these clamorous Congressmen also forgetting that the only party Bachchan has belonged to in his life is their own? I am willing to bet that some of the party workers making the most noise now were the most fawning of courtiers when Rajiv Gandhi was alive and Bachchan stood by his side in the 1985 elections.

 

The mistake in judgement that Bachchan made in accepting the Gujarat Brand Ambassadorship now is in a way similar to his acceptance of the Congress ticket in Allahabad way back then. Both have come from a political naiveté: at that time the only reason he gave for taking on the redoubtable former UP CM Bahuguna (and routing him in the elections), was that he was doing it because Rajiv Gandhi had asked him to. You don't make career choices out of friendship, especially to go into a line so full of snake pits and charlatans, but that's what Bachchan did. The only reward he got was to be tarred with the Bofors brush, a linkage which in the end proved to be entirely unfounded as far as he was concerned.

 

Sonia Gandhi will surely realise that the Bachchan star-power is considerable: there's not just Amitabh himself, but wife Jaya, son Abhishek and daughter-in-law Aishwarya. Get them on your side, and you have enough wattage to blind any opposing politician in an election. Three of the four Bachchans are apolitical (and of these three, one has been a Congressman); the fourth (Jaya) is with SP which till recently has been supporting the government. Even she must be re-thinking her association with Mulayam Singh Yadav's party, not just because of good friend Amar Singh's resignation from the SP, but because of the uneasiness of any woman with the Yadav stand against the Women's Bill. Now is the right time to strike, and get the Bachchan clan to support the only political party which makes sense now.We will then see the fun begin. We will see the sealink clamouring Congressmen running for cover. We will then see them wait for a while and seize the right chance to emerge out of the woodwork with chants that go, "Sonia Gandhi zindabad, Amitabh Bachchan zindabad."

 

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DNA

THE CONGRESS CAN BENEFIT FROM THE BACHCHANS

ANIL DHARKER

 

Who would be Amitabh Bachchan? He has, on one hand, everything going for him (unimaginable fame, riches, work satisfaction, family); on the other hand, every day new controversies seem to break around him, most of them erupting through no fault of his. Take the latest. From what we can see through press reports, Ajit Gulabchand who heads the consortium which has built the Bandra Sea Link, invites Bachchan to the inauguration of the second carriageway. Bachchan accepts and as befits a national icon, is seated with the Chief Minister. The ceremony goes off well, the media coverage is huge… Then all hell breaks loose.


Who are the anonymous Congressmen creating the ruckus? Why are they making such a massive mountain out of a tiny molehill? In making the invitation to Bachchan such a contentious issue, why are they forgetting one simple fact? The Bandra Worli Sea Link is not, repeat NOT, a Congress party bridge. It's a link made for each and every Mumbaikar, and paid for by each and every Mumbaikar whatever his or her party affiliation, whether Congress, BJP, Sena, MNS, SP or no party. So if Amitabh Bachchan, one of the city's best known figures was invited and given a place of honour, it was only fitting that this was done.


Why are these clamorous Congressmen also forgetting another simple fact: Amitabh Bachchan is himself not a party man at all. He may be brand ambassador for Gujarat Tourism, but he has also been brand ambassador, if memory serves right, for UP Industries, and in choosing these disparate roles, he has shown admirable non-partisanship (though not admirable judgement)


Why are these clamorous Congressmen also forgetting that the only party Bachchan has belonged to in his life is their own? I am willing to bet that some of the party workers making the most noise now were the most fawning of courtiers when Rajiv Gandhi was alive and Bachchan stood by his side in the 1985 elections.
The mistake in judgement that Bachchan made in accepting the Gujarat Brand Ambassadorship now is in a way similar to his acceptance of the Congress ticket in Allahabad way back then. Both have come from a political naiveté: at that time the only reason he gave for taking on the redoubtable former UP CM Bahuguna (and routing him in the elections), was that he was doing it because Rajiv Gandhi had asked him to. You don't make career choices out of friendship, especially to go into a line so full of snake pits and charlatans, but that's what Bachchan did. The only reward he got was to be tarred with the Bofors brush, a linkage which in the end proved to be entirely unfounded as far as he was concerned.


Sonia Gandhi will surely realise that the Bachchan star-power is considerable: there's not just Amitabh himself, but wife Jaya, son Abhishek and daughter-in-law Aishwarya. Get them on your side, and you have enough wattage to blind any opposing politician in an election. Three of the four Bachchans are apolitical (and of these three, one has been a Congressman); the fourth (Jaya) is with SP which till recently has been supporting the government. Even she must be re-thinking her association with Mulayam Singh Yadav's party, not just because of good friend Amar Singh's resignation from the SP, but because of the uneasiness of any woman with the Yadav stand against the Women's Bill. Now is the right time to strike, and get the Bachchan clan to support the only political party which makes sense now.


We will then see the fun begin. We will see the sealink clamouring Congressmen running for cover. We will then see them wait for a while and seize the right chance to emerge out of the woodwork with chants that go, "Sonia Gandhi zindabad, Amitabh Bachchan zindabad."

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

BELATED DECISION

JUSTICE DINAKARAN GOES ON LEAVE, AT LAST!

 

The Supreme Court collegium's directive to Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran to proceed on leave is welcome but belated. It exposes the failure of the present in-house mechanism to expeditiously inquire into and bring to book corrupt judges. Acting Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court Justice Madan B. Lokur has been appointed in Justice Dinakaran's place. After the Tiruvallur District Collector confirmed to the Tamil Nadu government in two reports allegations of land encroachment by Justice Dinakaran at Krishnarajapuram in October 2009, the collegium headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan should have promptly asked him to go on leave, pending a comprehensive inquiry. Instead, the CJI delayed action against him by seeking a report from the Survey of India on the allegations of land grabbing. Though the collegium stalled his elevation to the apex court and withdrew judicial work from him in December last, its failure to take prompt action against him speaks of the system's inability to haul up errant judges and bring them to book.

 

Justice Dinakaran proceeding on leave is not the end of the story. A three-member committee headed by Justice V.S. Sirpurkar, appointed by Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari, is currently probing charges against the beleaguered judge following a motion seeking his impeachment by 76 MPs. But this is a long and cumbersome process. Reports suggest that this panel may take a year or so to complete the probe. And even after its completion, nobody knows whether the motion of impeachment will stand the test of Parliament scrutiny. As the removal of Supreme Court and high court judges is arduous, Parliament should examine an alternative mode to fix accountability and throw out the malcontents expeditiously. What is of utmost importance today is the people's faith and confidence in the judiciary.

 

In the light of increasing cases of corruption, there is an imperative need for resurrecting the judiciary's image by evolving a foolproof method of selection and removal of judges. Only those of unimpeachable integrity, merit and character need to be appointed to the higher judiciary. The Union Cabinet, meanwhile, should rectify the anomalies in the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill and ensure its smooth passage in Parliament. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

GIVE MINORITIES A VOICE

STATES MUST SET UP MINORITY COMMISSIONS

 

Seventeen years after the National Commission for Minorities was set up as a statutory apex body, half the states are yet to set up their respective commissions. Whether the absence of such bodies has adversely affected the interests of minority communities is a question that begs an answer. The national commission was set up with the objective of safeguarding the interests and evaluating the development of minorities in the country. While the apex body did serve as a forum to draw attention to discriminatory or dilatory practices in relation to minority educational institutions, it largely remains a toothless and cosmetic body. Large sections of the minority communities seem to be ignorant about the existence of the commission and its helpline. It came as no surprise, therefore, when representatives of several states, including those from Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, reiterated, at a conclave in New Delhi last week their reluctance in setting up state bodies for minorities.

 

While states like Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir do not have a minority commission, Punjab has constituted a non-statutory body this year. Although minorities constitute over four, 10 and 17 per cent of the population in Himachal, Haryana and Punjab respectively, all the three states have argued that they do not require a commission because minorities in their states are well taken care of . The claim is dubious at best, especially in view of the increasing sectarian strife in parts of Punjab and Haryana. Also, minority communities in these states do not seem to enjoy even proportional representation in government services, police or academic institutions.

 

In these states minority communities clearly do not enjoy much of a political voice and are of little or no significance to political parties. So small is their number and so scattered are they that they carry no political weight. It is, however, precisely because of this that they need a forum to look after their interests. It is in everyone's interest, therefore, to ensure that minority commissions are not just set up but are also allowed to work effectively. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

DESERTED NRI WIVES

STRICTER LAWS TO PROTECT THEM IMPERATIVE

 

The dream of a better life abroad has led many unsuspecting Indian girls to fall into the trap of fraudulent marriages with NRI men. The Centre's plans to have more stringent rules to protect NRI brides can help check the harassment which they often face at the hands of their NRI spouses. Besides looking into the possibility of making visa applicants to India declare their marital status, the government is also considering tracking of cases through family courts and increasing the funds earmarked for legal assistance to brides left in the lurch in foreign lands. All these measures are much-needed and must be put in place.

 

In a nation, where reportedly 50,000 brides have been deserted by NRI men over the years, the need for stricter laws has been reiterated time and again. The National Commission for Women had earlier demanded a separate legislation to cover NRI affairs, particularly with regard to matrimonial disputes, maintenance of women and children, ex-parte divorce and alimony. The Ministry of Women and Child Development had proposed a second passport for Indian brides who marry NRIs to ensure their safe passage back home. The Law Commission too had made significant recommendations involving changes in maintenance and alimony laws. Yet the solution to the unenviable plight of abandoned wives is nowhere in sight and closer home Punjab faces the maximum number of bride desertions. Stringent laws, however, can act as a deterrent and bring justice to women abandoned by their husbands.

 

States must pay heed to the Centre's guidelines and those that have not enacted laws on the compulsory registration of marriages must do so at the earliest. Fast track courts in states with high NRI population, as suggested by the Law Commission, too can bring succour to many women. The Overseas Indian Affairs Ministry and Overseas Indian Women's Association can play a crucial role in preventing what have in effect become "vacation marriages". Parents too cannot escape responsibility and must double-check the financial and marital status of prospective NRI grooms. Multi-pronged efforts including massive awareness drives have to be made to ensure that lure for greener pastures doesn't translate into tears and misery for hapless women. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

'SOFT STATE' TAG STICKS

EXTRADITING HEADLEY WON'T SERVE INDIA'S CAUSE

BY KAMLENDRA KANWAR

 

There has been so much exaggerated bravado about India seeking the extradition of David Headley to stand trial in this country for his role in the ghastly Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008 that this country's inglorious record in bringing terrorists to book is being ignored in assessing the justification for India's request.

 

The Americans on their part have ruled out extradition and are even casting doubts on whether India would be given direct access to the Pakistani-American terror suspect. Evidently, they are wary of skeletons tumbling out of the cupboard on Headley's CIA connection if they allow him to be grilled without American sleuths being present.

 

While Home Minister Chidambaram continues to insist that he is confident that India would be given direct access to Headley, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake reiterated as late as April 1 that no decision has been taken on this until now.

 

Going by the antecedents of the CIA, it is not hard to believe that Headley may have been under its pay and that he double-crossed his American masters when he branched out to fulfil the agenda of the Lashkar-e-Toiba which included targeting Americans, among others, in the Mumbai terror attacks.

 

The American connection perhaps explains why the Obama administration is so cagey about giving direct access to Indian investigators. While it is perfectly in order for the Manmohan Singh government to press on with this demand, extradition is quite another matter. On that, there is a credibility gap because of the notoriously "soft" nature of the Indian state.

 

The difference indeed lies in the approaches of the two systems. The Americans are uncompromising and ruthless when it comes to dealing with terror and terrorists. On the other hand, successive Indian governments have been inordinately lax in dealing with terrorists. Vote bank politics plays a key role in not meting out deterrent punishment, and national interest is often sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.

 

India's record in bringing to book perpetrators of terror has been questionable. Take the case of former underworld don Abu Salem for instance. He was extradited by Portugal in November 2005 along with his paramour, Monica Bedi, with much fanfare. Ms Bedi was freed a couple of years ago while the cases against Abu Salem are still dragging on in Indian courts with no signs of coming to an end.

 

A former alleged Khalistani terrorist who was extradited from the US in 2006 after a 12-year effort was freed after acquittal in three murder cases against him by the Punjab police. Kulbir Singh Barapind alias Kulbira was acquitted by an additional district and sessions judge for want of evidence in the last of the three cases last year.

 

Though there were cases against the terrorist under TADA, the Punjab police could not pursue those as it had given in writing to the US courts that he would not be tried under any special law (like TADA) after his extradition.

 

There was also the case of Muthappa Rao, a Dawood Ibrahim aide, who was deported from Dubai in May 2002 and lodged in Bangalore jail. Two years later, he was a free man, acquitted in the last of the nine cases against him, a case of murder of a real estate agent in Bangalore, on grounds that the prosecution had failed to prove the charges against him.

In May 2003, Riyaz Siddiqui and Raju Sharma alias "Chikna" were deported on charges of abetting several crimes committed in Mumbai by Dawood's gang. The evidence against Sharma included five audio tapes of a conspiracy to murder which were given to the crime branch who later told the court that they could not find the tapes. In the absence of this crucial evidence, Raju Sharma was acquitted.

 

In the case of Riyaz too, the FIR and the witnesses' statements were reported missing and he was let out on bail.

 

In Punjab, where terror held sway in the late eighties and the early 1990s, there was not a single conviction of a terrorist in those days because no one dared challenge a terrorist. When Chief Minister Beant Singh was assassinated in August 1995, Punjab was in the grip of fear and terror. A special court was set up whose verdict came 12 years after the assassination when the state was mercifully out of the terror stranglehold. One convict was awarded 10 years imprisonment and since he had already served more than that, he was immediately freed. Two others, who were awarded life imprisonment, were released a little later while two more, who were sentenced to death, are still going through the legal processes of Supreme Court appeal and mercy petitions.

 

From January 2004 to March 2007, the death toll from terror attacks in the country was 3,674, second only to that in Iraq during the same period.

 

According to a statement by Home Minister P Chidambaram, 28 clemency petitions are pending with the President's office and each one is considered according to its serial number.

 

Mohammad Afzal Guru, convicted for the attack on Parliament in 2001, is one among many terror convicts, serving death row, who have appealed to the President for clemency.

 

All-India Anti-Terrorist Front President Maninderjeet Singh Bitta, who is a former Youth Congress president and was attacked by terrorists in 1993, said in a newspaper interview last year that even after the highest court of the land ratified the death sentence to a terror convict it took years for the government to execute it.

 

"The Supreme Court awarded the death sentence to my attacker Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar in 2002 but his mercy petition is still pending with the President of India for the last seven years," Bitta said. Bhullar was sentenced to death by a designated court in 2001 under TADA after being found guilty of involvement in the 1993 bombing of the Youth Congress Office in Delhi, which led to the deaths of many.

 

Said he in an interview to Mumbai's Mid-Day: "The number of those who died due to terrorist violence is much bigger than those who died during the Independence struggle. Around 36,000 people were killed during the Punjab militancy only. About 40,000-50,000 died in Jammu and Kashmir while Assam has seen more than 15,000 deaths as a result of terrorist violence. Till date successive governments have treated terrorism as a poll issue, nothing more."

 

And so the juggernaut rolls on with a great deal of lip service being paid to fighting terror but little on the ground to deter the perpetrators who draw great strength from the weak will of the Indian state.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

IN TROUBLED WATERS

BY ASHOK KUMAR YADAV

 

THE corridors of power continue to be abuzz with endless discussion about the omnipotent molester who fell into troubled waters, following his conviction in the Ruchika case.

 

I started wondering how water, acknowledged for its serenity, could be branded as troubled, in sharp contrast to its intrinsic attributes.

 

As is evident, the word troubled etymologically suggests agitation or disturbance, pertaining to mind or physical elements, like water or sky. This explication has apparently been accepted over a period of time, since at least the 14th century. However, the axiom of waters, as opposed to water, was incorporated for the first time in Benjamin Rush's Essays, published in 1798.

 

Contemplating its coolness and fire-extinguishing characteristics instantly fluttered the reminiscences of excursion-in-smooth-water during my visit to Manila. It was amazing to gape through the glass boat floating on still waters, and capture oceanic corals, breathing silently beneath waters.

 

How would the super cop, once mighty and highly decorated, now freezing in deep waters, manage to keep his head above waters while combating turbulent waves? Pitched in multifarious battles, he would obviously need to spend like water, notwithstanding a sizable cut in his pension looming over his head. Presumably, he would have never imagined that an invincible cop of his stature could ever be pushed into hot waters, baking water blisters on his "decorated" persona and exposing him to water-borne contamination.

 

Facing stiff hostility from all segments, the convict finds himself marooned, stripped of all police medals, with water water everywhere, not a drop to drink. With the plugging of all escape routes in Macaulay's criminal law and slapping of new criminal cases against him, the ace cop would find it difficult to pull himself out to safety, notwithstanding his gutsy beautiful wife by his side.

 

He would have to curb his trademark smirk, hold water with strategic strokes and pull out his oars to tread high waters, to make to the shore of safety. He must also ensure that water levels do not rise any further. Being waterlogged and all tides turning against him, he would have to keep cool like ice water so that he is not consumed by tsunamis of public ire.

 

It needs to remind him that the offence committed by him is really grave, not simply written in water. The same water cannons which he allegedly used umpteen times against the relatives of hapless Ruchika have now been trained at him. With so much of venom spit at him, his critics clamour that he would surely meet his Waterloo, while possibly inching to his watery grave. Whether the convicted cop succeeds in pouring oil on troubled waters and manoeuvres to turn the tide in his favour would be revealed only in the days to come.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

FINALLY, THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION

AHEAD, A BUMPY ROAD TO IMPLEMENTATION

BY ADITI TANDON

 

Not often does a nation demonstrate the kind of resolve India showed this April 1. After 63 years of dithering, the government guaranteed free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school to every child aged 6 to 14 years, no matter who is he, where he is and from what class.

 

The promise is of educating 194 million children in the target age group at an initial cost of Rs 1.78 lakh crore for the first five years of the law. There's also a commitment to trace every invisible child trapped in difficult circumstances including trafficking. Some 35 million children in India are in need of protection; 30 million are in child labour and one crore are out of school.

 

That explains why the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2010 is so ambitious. The UNICEF has already hailed it as unmatched in the world in terms of targets it sets on access and quality of education and teachers' qualifications. For the first time, India has a law that lets a child demand education as a right. Every state, local authority, school and parent must deliver or face penalty.

 

Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal likes to say it differently: "Water has been released from its source. It has no place to go but forward," Asked what he thinks of stakeholders' fears of delivering, the minister says, "There's no escape now. This has to be done. In any case, only difficult things are worth doing."

 

It's this firmness of government resolve that's bothering many, especially the private, unaided schools which must reserve 25 per cent seats in Class I from the next year for disadvantaged children from SCs, STs, Dalit, minorities and disabled categories. In return, they'll get the per child expenditure, which states incur. Under the Act, this expenditure would be calculated by dividing state's total expenditure on elementary education in all schools with the number of students enrolled.

 

Private schools however feel this reimbursement is too meagre for the quality they offer. "We spend around Rs 25,000 per child every year. We support the Act but we must know where the money to teach 25 per cent students will come from?" says Ameeta Wattal of Springdales School, Delhi.

 

Some legal experts argue that reserving 25 per cent seats would amount to discriminating against the 75 per cent kids who don't make it to high quality public schools. "This is state-sponsored privatisation. Education must be offered through neighbourhood schools," says Niranjan Aradhya, Fellow, National Law School, adding, "We can't look at the law romantically. It is discriminatory and leaves out children in 0 to 6 and 15 to 18 year category."

 

One of the strongest criticisms of RTE Act, which requires state governments to set up neighbourhood schools in three years from April 1, is its blacking out of 170 million children in pre-primary and secondary school level.

 

"India has signed the UN Convention on Rights of the Child which defines a child as someone up to 18 years. But the law is restrictive and says nothing on the education of 0 to 6 year category. It assumes children will be ready for class I. That's improbable when millions suffer malnutrition and anganwaris are not universal," educationist Vinod Raina, who helped draft the RTE Law, says.

 

The government admits it could have done better had finances not been an issue. "Funding delayed RTE for children aged 6 to 14 years. Even for this, we need private public partnership," Sibal says.

 

But private schools are anxious; some have already moved the Supreme Court against the 25 per cent quota norm, saying it infringes upon their right to self govern. They are also concerned that the law bars them from screening children. "How are schools to admit these kids, who will come from disadvantaged settings? Would they feel comfortable among peers who are educationally ahead of them? The government should have increased spending on education from 3 to 6 per cent of GDP and not depended on private schools," says Pooja Marwaha of CRY.

 

Another grudge is being voiced by the minorities who feel the Act goes against Article 30 of the Constitution which guarantees them the right to establish and administer institutions. But Sibal rejects the argument. School management committees (to be constituted within six months from April 1) which will monitor teachers' performance and make school development plans in government neighbourhood schools will only have an advisory role in minority schools.

 

The law's public enforcement remains a huge challenge, given its mighty provisions — teachers must reach a standard qualification in five years or they can't teach; schools must create basic infrastructure in three years or close down; states must finish school mapping in one year to find every child who must get to school. "States have limited capacity. Most are ill prepared," says Raina, who participated in 12 state consultations on RTE.

 

Moreover, though the Act requires State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights to monitor the implementation, hear complaints and appeals, 30 states/UTs don't have a commission yet. Until the systems are created, RTE would remain a dream. Sibal himself admits RTE will get real only after five years. It will be worth the wait for millions of disadvantaged children.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

PUNJAB MUST UTILISE CENTRAL FUNDS PROPERLY

BY JANAK RAJ GUPTA

 

States blame the Centre for their fiscal problems, particularly when the political parties in power at the two levels are different. This is what the Punjab Finance Minister did while presenting the State Budget for 2010-2011.

 

True, almost all the elastic sources of revenue — income tax, corporation tax, union excise duty, custom duties, service tax, capital tax, etc. — belong to the Centre and its access to mobilising additional resources of revenue is much wider than all the states put together.

 

However, for Punjab, the fiscal transfers recommended by the 13th Finance Commission for the five-year period from April 1, 2010, is one of the best. No doubt, in totality, the share of all the states in the divisible pool has been fixed at 32 per cent compared with the effective rate of 30.5 per cent recommended by the 12th Finance Commission. This increase in share (4.92 per cent) has been recommended by the 13th Finance Commission in view of the "higher buoyancy registered in Central revenue."

 

Punjab has also received a sizeable jump in state specific grants. The 13th Finance Commission has recommended Rs. 27,945 crore as grants for state-specific needs compared with just Rs 7,100 crore recommended by its predecessor.

 

While summing up the discussion on the Union Budget in Parliament, Union Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, announced a grant of Rs 800 crore for compensating Punjab for providing electricity to the agricultural sector at extra cost thereby ensuring the rice supply for the Central Pool, in spite of the widespread drought in the country.

 

Therefore, the Punjab government deservers kudos for presenting its case before the 13th Finance Commission and receiving a quantum jump in grants for its specific needs. However, it should redouble its efforts to make best use of these funds lest the grants would lapse.

 

Experience shows that Punjab has not been able to reap the full benefits from the Central schemes. Even for such national flagship programmes as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewable Mission, the National Rural Health Mission, etc. Punjab's poor performance is common knowledge.

 

Significantly, in the first year of assuming power, the Badal government created a special cell to monitor the utilisation of Central funds available through various schemes. However, due to lack of political will and bureaucratic apathy, this experiment didn't work. Unless every government department is held responsible for the shortcomings in the use of Central assistance, such aids would be of no avail to uplift the state economy.

 

The Sukhbir-Kalia report envisaging mobilisation of additional resources amounting to Rs 4000 crore is commendable though its main recommendation to enhance the VAT rate, where large-scale evasion is rampant, is running into rough weather. Similarly, the proposed hike of electricity duty in 2010-2011 budget by three per cent to collect Rs 270 crore should not be grumbled provided 24 hours electricity supply is ensured. However, the reduction of entertainment duty from 125 per cent to 25 per cent does not stand the test of logic particularly when new sources of entertainment need to bought into the tax net.

 

Then, there is a need to revamp non-tax resources like fees, fines and other user and administrative charges. In fact, an item-by-item study for every government department should be conducted to identify the potential sources of revenue.

 

For the first time, the state budget has focused on environment for which Rs 300 crore has been allotted. A three-year plan for checking pollution of the Sutlej and the Ghaggar rivers has been prepared and a provision for Rs 135 crore has been made in the budget 2010-11. But the Finance Minister has missed the opportunity to levy green tax on vehicles and institutions polluting the environment such as 15-year-old vehicles, luxury and diesel cars, hotels, private nursing homes, marriage palaces, etc.

 

Another front on which the Punjab budget has failed is to prune and rationalise public expenditure. Though not much can be expected from the government which has less than two years to face the electorate, by resorting to austerity measures, at least in personal expenditure of ministers and the so-called peoples' representatives some positive signals can be thrown.

 

As all the political parties are talking about putting an end to vendetta politics, they should, as a first step, sit together to find ways to rejuvenate the Punjab economy to regain its lost economic glory.

 

The writer is a former Professor of Economics and UGC Emeritus Fellow, Punjabi University, Patiala

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

CHATTERATI
CRICKET AND PARTIES

BY DEVI CHERIAN

 

Delhi has been through a hectic social week. A bunch of Indian Premier League (IPL) matches and non-official after-match parties along with the FDCI Fashion Week and its bacchanalia all coincided. The party of the first IPL match in Delhi was a 'happening' one. For a change, the owner of the Mumbai team Nita Ambani and her two children were present. The Ambani children have been kept out of the media glare till now. This was actually a fun evening with the country's top models walking on the ramp in Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna's outfits.

 

The much-awaited fashion week of the FDCI was, however, a dampener. The FDCI's could not get their fire licence in time, thus leading to the first day's shows getting cancelled en masse. So, Ritu Beri, for example, could not get Sushmita Sen as her show-stopper the next day because Sushmita was already booked for the next programme.

 

Actually, the fashion weeks are now quite a public flop. In this fashion week, one neither saw celebrities or major buyers. The designers were not, privately, happy with arrangements at all. But here once again the after-party of some designers were quiet a hit. Free booze and free khana is after all, always welcome in Dilli.

 

Not Amitabh

 

Drawing room Delhites are busy indulging in their favourite pastime — trying to keep tabs on the Commonwealth Games. Suresh Kalmadi's reply on who's going to be the face of the Commonwealth Games was: It has to be a sportsperson, a young face and not a repeat of old Amitabh Bachchan of the Asian Games. It is as if the love-hate relationship that Amitabh and the Congress have is being carried on. And it cannot be that Amar Singh can remain out of it all. Delhites still cannot, after many many years, fathom: What is Amar Singh all about?

 

The Bachchans' have a history of being in the way of the Gandhi family controversy. So many people are now watching the Amar, Akbar, Anthony relationship closely as to see what the future holds for them.

 

Rahul's agenda

As the Congress gears up in Uttar Pradesh to take on Mayawati, Rahul Gandhi has his own agenda very clear. As he is already now known for his hard work, he is working overtime to take in as much as he can, whether it is meeting editors over a quiet meal or spending time with renowned religious scholars. He frequently visits Dr Karan Singh, who is a master of literature, music, art, and culture, and has authored books on Hinduism. Rahul is often seen with dedicated NGO heads at a south Indian eatery. He walks into conferences to hear speakers who interest him. He recently swept the Black Swan author Nassim Taleb away for a quiet lunch.

 

So, when Rahul is not campaigning across the country he is busy grasping all that he can by meeting people, right from scientists to thinkers and industrialists. He has a limited circle of friends where he might spend a quiet evening at home with them; otherwise this young man spends his time meeting Congressmen from across the country.

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

BEWARE OF THE TRAP OF LIES

PEOPLE MAKE FALSE PROJECTIONS ABOUT THEMSELVES AND THEN FALL OFF THE WALL LIKE HUMPTY DUMPTY


High performance… Delivered!" That was the short, catchy advertisement punch line for the leading MNC Accenture. It came at the end of a quiet attentiongrabbing video clip, showing the greatest golf legend of our times Tiger Woods, concentration personified, taking a thoughtful aim and swinging his club with the finest professional touch, sending the ball up in the air, unerringly to the hole. Indeed, it was an unforgettable demonstration of high performance in sport delivered exquisitely. If credibility is the test for effectiveness in advertisements, that ad passed it with flying colours.


Apart from professional competence, what added a strong dose of credibility was the long-standing widely held perception that Woods led a life without blemish. He was not only a role model in golf but also a loving father and husband.


The advertisement campaign went on for years.


And then the unexpected happened. One day (or rather late at night) Woods was found trapped in his car, which he had apparently dashed against a fire hydrant in a state of drunkenness. Very soon, a lot of skeletons tumbled out of his personal life and it seemed that Woods was not a role model at all. He had cheated on his wife.
The fall was instant and irretrievable, like that of Humpty Dumpty. Accenture withdrew the ad campaign immediately.


Nearly a year ago in India, we saw the fall of another H u m p t y Dumpty – the famous IT icon Ramalinga Raju of Satyam Computers. For more than a decade Raju was one of the wonders of the Indian IT industry, but on January 7, 2009, he confessed to a fraud of more than Rs 7,000 crore.


Why do these things happen? Why would Woods and Raju – men with extraordinary talent – risk their career and reputation, built so carefully over the years?

 

Be it business or politics, success in modern life is not possible without managing communication. Perceptions are as important as reality in today's world.


Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, was an original thinker when it came to mass communication. In fact, he spelt out the basic modern ground rules of perception management. He is the unsung guru for spin masters of our times. It has been said that doing business without advertisement is like winking at a girl in the dark – you know what you are doing but the other party does not. Books such as Hidden Persuaders have stressed how the tastes and views of the consumers can be manipulated.


While image projection is important, there has to be a basic element of truth behind the claims underlying the message. The more you stray from the truth, greater is the danger. By a strange quirk of human nature, that danger itself has its own charm and attraction, like the fatal attraction of high speed which tempts a driver to risk his life and drive the car recklessly.


It is in this context that Goebbels came with a great insight. He claimed that if you repeat a lie a thousand times, people will start believing you. Greater the lie, the better. In his classic satire on communism, 1984, George Orwell elaborated how a state can manipulate the media by indulging in double speak. The ever-present danger in this exercise is that truth, like murder, will be out one day. And when that happens, the whole edifice comes tumbling down. Humpty Dumpty falls.


But then why do so many people fall victim to Goebbels' trap of the big lie?

 

When a projection of a false image takes place in a limited way, it affects individuals, but when it becomes a collective phenomenon, what we have is a case of group think, leading to bubbles. The massive financial services meltdown of 2008, starting with the sub-prime crisis and many past cases of stock market bubbles, are all collective manifestations of Goebbels' trap gone wild.


 Can we be sure that there will not be any more cases in the future of Goebbels' trap? Unfortunately no. This is because as has been rightly said, a sucker is born every minute.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

LIBERATED ENCLAVES

GOVERNMENT MUST MAKE THE WHOLE COUNTRY A VIABLE NMIZ

Two decades after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh first unleashed his dose of economic liberalisation, industry continues to be shackled — an average manufacturing unit has to comply with 70-odd legislation, each of which requires at least one licence/certificate. All told, a unit has to fill up around 100 returns a year. In addition, there are the usual issues of lack of labour flexibility, the time it takes to close units down, and so on, basically all the issues that ensure India is at the bottom of most 'doing business' surveys. To the extent the services sector, like the IT/ITeS segment, was relatively less shackled, it grew faster. Not surprisingly, the government wants to increase the share of manufacturing to 25 per cent by 2022 — it's around 16 per cent right now if you don't include construction and around 25 per cent if you do — since this will also create large-scale employment. So, it has a proposal for special industrial enclaves, called the National Manufacturing and Investment Zones (NMIZ), and the paper that is up for discussion can be downloaded from the industry ministry's website.

 In principle, the NMIZ is much like the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) for exports — the idea is to give tax and other breaks to developers and units within these zones, to provide world-class infrastructure, simpler environment and other clearances, less rigid labour laws (the paper even encloses a draft of a loss-of-job insurance contract), and so on. NMIZs are also to have 'processing' and 'non-processing' areas, for production and residential/commercial uses, respectively. While the NMIZs themselves are principally promising a subvention of interest rates by 4 percentage points and income tax exemptions to input suppliers, the proposal suggests you can have SEZs inside the NMIZs — that is, the NMIZ is SEZ-plus on the tax-breaks front.

Theoretically, the principle behind NMIZs is appealing and is a familiar one, namely that since the government can't risk the political and other wrath of changing labour laws across the country, why not do it in specialised enclaves? This, as this newspaper has pointed out in the case of SEZs, is fraught with problems since there is no way of knowing whether the investment being put into these SEZs is incremental in nature or whether it is investment that would have come in anyway keeping in mind India's growth and increasing productivity and is now getting diverted to SEZs. If it is the latter, then that's a fiscally ruinous pattern of industrialisation, more so at a time when the government is increasing its spending and taking on larger social responsibilities on jobs and food security. Nor, apart from the labour laws, is it clear why the government clearance procedures can't be expedited across the country without incurring political flak, after all Dr Singh did it in 1991. Like the SEZ policy, this one will also run into problems in acquiring large tracts of land (this has to be done solely by the state governments) and it is unclear if states will agree to relax labour laws for NMIZs since they haven't for SEZs either. Since a large part of the fast-tracking of clearances and approvals the NMIZ wants are related to the environment ministry, it will be interesting to see its comments on the proposal.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

FOR AN IDEA OF INDIA

CENSUS 2011 IS ABOUT PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

The watchword of India's decennial population census for 2011 is "Our Census, Our Future". By focusing on the future the managers of Census 2011 have wisely tried to steer away from the past in enumerating the present. Demographers and social scientists will understandably use the data to analyse changes in the economy and society since the last census of 2001. But Census 2011 is more about the future than the past because it will be used to construct for the very first time an electronic database on the basis of which the government of India will issue a Unique Identity Number to every enumerated and finger-printed person. Covering 640 districts, 5,767 tehsils, 7,742 towns and more than 6 lakh villages in the country, the 15th National Census takes forward a process first launched in 1872. The socio-economic and cultural database will enable the government to produce the National Population Register. Thousands of enumerators, mostly school teachers, local officials and senior citizens will span out across the country to collect a range of information that will include, for the first time, data on ownership of mobile phones, computers, internet, availability of treated drinking water facilities, electricity and so on. The importance of the census for India cannot be under-estimated. It is a mirror to a changing, complex society and economy. Census data have been used for the empowerment of people and for policy planning. More recently, the corporate sector has drawn on the data and its analysis for its own marketing and manufacturing strategies. In more modern and better wired economies the population census is no longer the only means of data collection. But in India, where a vast majority of the people are still not part of the modern networked economy, the census retains enormous economic value.

 Institutions like the Election Commission and the Registrar-General of Census have reasons to feel proud of their record because they perform a task and on a scale that few other countries in the world can even imagine. The modernisation of data collection, storage and retrieval has hugely improved its utilisation and potential. The website of the registrar-general and census commissioner, www.censusindia.gov.in, is comprehensive but is still 'under construction' as far as Census 2011 is concerned. It promises to offer some useful and interesting material like 'census for kids', which should have more visual content than is presently available on the site. The key to the successful conduct of Census 2011 would lie in the ability of the government and national political leadership to keep the focus on the economic benefits of enumeration, and eschew its political misuse. There is increasing evidence in India of greater awareness among all sections of society of the importance of accurate and relevant data. The weaknesses of Indian statistical database, to the extent they exist, arise more out of the inertia of the data gathering and dissemination systems than any resistance from the population being surveyed or enumerated. It is a measure of an open and free society and of an aware and empowered people that they are willing to share personal information with the agencies of the government. It is up to government and researchers to make the best use of the information gathered

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

STATSGURU-05-APRIL-10

Multi-Speed Recovery seems to be the latest buzzword when it comes to describing the global economy — slow growth in the OECD countries and high growth in China and India. The latest news from the US, in terms of Q4 growth and creation of new jobs, is exceptionally good and will not sustain. But even allowing for the "inventory effect" to peter out in the next quarter, forecasts for US growth are the highest in the OECD. While stock markets are up and spreads down, bank lending has yet to pick up, partly due to the possibility of further write-downs. The problem, as Martin Wolf, the chief economics commentator of the Financial Times points out, is that should there be a dip in growth, the OECD countries have precious little firepower left, given how high their deficits already are.

 In India, the recovery is firmly taking root, and exports have started growing, thanks to the global upturn — while global exports fell 12.8 per cent in 2009, the IMF projects they will grow 5.8 per cent in 2010. Industrial growth continues to rise, but with core sector growth slowing sharply in February, industrial growth will slow a bit. India Inc has made the most of a rising market and, in the past few months, bank credit has also started rising.

The strengthening rupee poses a challenge, but the more immediate problem is that of inflation. After being restricted to primary articles, inflation has spread to other sectors — in the latest period, manufactured goods contributed nearly 42 per cent to inflation while primary articles contributed around 38 per cent. In which case, further interest rate hikes are likely. The joker in the pack is the fiscal deficit since the government's Budget has very low oil subsidy projections. The 3G/BWA auctions towards the end of the week will be eagerly watched since the government has estimated earnings of Rs 35,000 crore from here — experts are split between whether firms have the money to bid large amounts or not. It will also indicate the levels of "animal spirits" in the economy.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE DOLLAR-YUAN PARITY

UNLESS US CONSUMPTION HABITS CHANGE, A YUAN APPRECIATION WILL ONLY INCREASE THE COST OF IMPORTS FROM CHINA

A V RAJWADE

China's current account surplus is once again rising with the revival of the global economy. As unemployment in the West remains stubbornly high, however, there has been persistent pressure from both the US and Europe on China to appreciate its currency. China appreciated its currency by more than 20 per cent against the dollar between mid-2005 and mid-2008, before suspending the appreciation. Since 2005, the yuan has appreciated about 15 per cent in trade-weighted terms, and is now back to where it was in 2000.

 The exchange rate issue may lead to a confrontation during the next couple of weeks. On April 15, the US Treasury will publish its semi-annual report on the exchange rate policies of its trading partners. There is considerable political pressure, particularly from the US Congress, to brand China as a currency manipulator. This would facilitate the imposition of import duties and/or filing a complaint of unfair trading practices against China before the WTO. WTO rules generally prohibit subsidies to exports. (While charging China with subsidising its exports through its exchange rate policy, the US and Europe conveniently overlook their own direct subsidies to agriculture, which is affecting exports from Africa and is a major block in the way of a successful outcome of the Doha Round.) The treaty also has a clause barring members from frustrating the objectives of the treaty "by exchange action". The question whether Chinese policy contravenes the provision has no clear answer. For one thing, this particular provision goes back to the era of fixed exchange rates: To what extent is it valid in the current environment? Again, if China maintains parity with the dollar — i.e. an unchanged exchange rate — how can the US charge it with subsidising exports?

In the US, economists like Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman have argued that, global economic growth would be about 1.5 percentage points higher if China stopped restraining the yuan and running trade surpluses (Economic Times, March 20), and advocate pressuring China on the issue through trade sanctions. Others like Stephen Roach, chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, stoutly oppose such pressures, arguing that the best way of reducing the US deficit is by raising the savings rate. They see the issue of global imbalances as arising more from the differing savings investment equations in various countries, and not the exchange rate alone; the US has deficits with other countries as well: China accounts for only a third of the total.

Overall, it is debatable whether an appreciation of the Chinese currency would do much to reduce the US trade imbalance. On reason is that US manufacturing has hollowed out over the last few decades, with many industries closing down, unable to face competition from imports. Therefore, unless there is a basic change in US consumption habits, a yuan appreciation may only lead to substitution of imports from China with imports from other countries — or, even, continued imports from China, but at higher prices.

As a global economic power (the world's largest exporter and the second-largest economy), China would be extremely reluctant to be seen to be giving in to western pressures on the issue of the exchange rate, whatever the economic logic. China's exchange rate policies are also hurting many Asian countries whose currencies have appreciated against the yuan. Perhaps a more multilateral approach towards China's exchange rate policy may stand a better chance of success than bilateral pressure. (India had a bilateral trade deficit in excess of $20 billion in the financial year 2008-09, and it is growing rapidly.) A cooperative solution, rather than the one of confrontation, is obviously in everyone's interests, especially as the global economy is just coming out of recession. After all, it should not be forgotten that Chinese exports keep global inflation lower than what it otherwise would have been, and the US needs Chinese surpluses to finance its fiscal deficit without a sharp rise in interest rates.

There is also a broader issue involved. Are surplus countries to be blamed for the woes of the deficit countries? (On an even broader plane, are the poor poor, because the rich are rich?) One recent article by Martin Wolf (Financial Times, March 17) suggested: China is expected to have a current account surplus of $300 billion in the current year, and Germany $200 billion. In a way, this argument is on a par with the way some western economists blamed Asian savings habits for the financial crisis of 2007-08. The pseudo logic was that Asian surpluses kept dollar interest rates low, thereby tempting US home owners to borrow more, and US investors to invest in more risky assets, in order to increase yields: this, they claim, was the real cause of the crisis. The "logic" is on a par with that of a bank management blaming depositors for its bad debts: after all, had the depositors not placed money with the bank, how could it have created those bad debts?

avrajwade@gmail.com  

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

URBAN DISASTER

TILL THE TIME THAT POLITICIANS ARE FOCUSSED ON RURAL VOTERS, IT'S UNLIKELY THEY'LL GIVE CITIES THE KIND OF SPACE THEY NEED

SUNIL JAIN

 

With 130-140 million Indians likely to move to cities in the next decade and an equal number in the one after that, the development of urban India represents the biggest challenge you can think of — in the next two decades, India will have to create as many new cities as it created in the last several hundred years. Alternately, the existing cities which are home to around 285 million people today will have to absorb nearly double the number of people they do today.

In the next few weeks, we're going to get two heavy-duty reports on various aspects of this — one from McKinsey & Co and another from a government committee headed by Isher Ahluwalia. While the Ahluwalia one is supposed to be more focused on the huge sums of money that will be required and the McKinsey one on the policy changes required, it's hard to separate one from the other — so both reports are likely to have a fair amount of overlapping. Whatever the amount, it's safe to say you can almost immediately expect sharp increases in allocations for programmes like the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) — while the Rs 50,000 crore allocated for 65 cities in 2005-06 has already been spent, another Rs 50,000 crore has been sanctioned.

But even as we wait for the final estimates of both reports, a few broad points are easily made. For one, the need for money, important as it is, may not be insurmountable. Most urbanisation projects you hear of, the Delhi metro, the Delhi airport, the Hyderabad metro, the Nandi corridor in Bangalore, all have essentially been financed through dollops, huge dollops, of real estate. Around 250 acres for the Delhi airport were to fetch the concessionaire Rs 17,590 crore of deposits a few years ago (if he had decided to monetise all of it in one go); in 2008, the Delhi Metro chief E Sreedharan estimated that the 296 acres of land given by the government to the Hyderabad metro was worth around Rs 10,000 crore; apart from several thousand crores of tax, import duty and other concessions, the Delhi metro's annual report talks of 960 acres of land it has got from the government — and that's in just one place in the report!

While Nachiket Mor of the ICICI Foundation talks of US cities that got great hospitals and schools in return for free land given to developers, this is where we need to be really careful, otherwise urbanisation in India will end up becoming the biggest boondoggle of all times. The problem with the Delhi airport centres around the developer refusing to share the deposits it got from the land — this reduces the government's revenue-share from the project significantly; in the case of the Nandi project, the Karnataka government refuses to give the company the land it was supposed to get for developing cities along the highway since it argues the developer is going to get a king's ransom from this; few hospitals who get concessional land from the government keep their promises to treat the poor for free; the list goes on. While both the McKinsey and the Ahluwalia reports will probably stress on the government going in for PPP projects (it is an optional reform under JNNURM) while developing existing cities and creating new ones, let's keep in mind that, the way they're governed today, most PPP projects are hugely riddled with corruption.

There are then the various issues of urban planning that are critical, once again funding is not really the issue here. So, for instance, should you build cities where people travel huge distances to work, or do you build cities where workplaces and residences are around each other?; if you build public transport systems, should they be expensive metros or cheaper bus transport corridors?; should you treat sewage locally or should you transport it huge distances for treatment?; the list goes on. Ramesh Ramanathan, who focuses on urban development in a big way, talks of how most cities don't even have proper accounting systems — just 23 cities, according to the JNNURM website, have modern double-entry accounting systems; a presentation Ramanathan made at a Neemrana conference some months ago gave examples of how, in the highway out of Bangalore to Mumbai, there are four civic authorities who are in charge!

The JNNURM, of course, is supposed to be getting cities to start their reform, but the results are patchy since, while the money is available upfront, the reforms are backloaded — just 11 cities have managed to collect more than 85 per cent of the property tax due to them (states like Punjab and Haryana have even abolished property tax!); while the JNNURM website talks of six cities which have achieved '100% cost recovery - O&M for water supply', Ahluwalia made a presentation at Neemrana showing two of them, Pune and Chennai, metered just 16 and 4 per cent, respectively of their water connections!

Dismal as this is, even this is not the real issue. The real issue is political power. While cities account for around 65 per cent of India's GDP, they account for only 28 per cent of votes. Till the time that politicians are focussed on rural voters, it's unlikely they'll give cities the kind of space they need, either in terms of political power (the police don't report to the chief minister in Delhi!) or the power to raise truly meaningful levies to finance themselves (look at the wealth Mumbai creates and the state of its infrastructure). In other words, perhaps the best we can hope for is rural amenities in urban areas — as opposed to former president Abdul Kalam's Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas!

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

REINVENTING IMF

MEETING OF MINDS IS NEEDED AND POSSIBLE BETWEEN INDIA AND THE US

SANJAYA BARU

This photograph, of an imperious Michel Camdessus, former managing director of the IMF, standing hands folded like a schoolmaster, peering over a bent President Suharto of Indonesia, signing up for an IMF bailout and policy advice, is etched deep in the psyche of every south-east Asian. It is the one visual, the one moment, that will forever mark the turning point in the global standing of the Fund.

The Fund's handling of the financial crisis in South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia in 1997-98 has made it deeply unpopular across east and south-east Asia. It has helped revive, under Chinese aegis, an earlier Japanese proposal for the creation of an Asian Monetary Fund (AMF). The gathering pace of this idea and Europe's own woes and a loss of self-confidence have prompted the idea of a European Monetary Fund.

Fighting this regional sentiment and seeking renewed credibility the IMF has taken several measures, including softening up its hard conditionality windows of lending. Yet, few countries around the world feel comfortable knocking on the Fund's door for help, despite the help from the G-20 in garnering resources. India's finance minister Pranab Mukherjee wears even now his return of the last tranche of an IMF loan in 1984 as a badge of political honour.

Nothing short of a major restructuring of the management of the organisation and a proper recanting for past sins of omission and commission of the so-called "Washington Consensus" will re-legitimise the Fund in the eyes of many across the world.

Some see a change in ownership and management as a way out, but this is easier said than done. Others, like economist Barry Eichengreen, see the 'professionalisation' of the Fund as the answer. Dr Eichengreen wants the next managing director of the Fund to be chosen on the basis of merit rather than nationality or race. It is the kind of argument Indians are familiar with in discussions at home on reservations and affirmative action.

No one knows this better than incumbent IMF managing director Dominic Strauss-Kahn and his many European predecessors. None of them fancy themselves with the thought that they got the job on merit. They had to lobby hard and, more often than not, their governments lobbied hard to get the job. Often a rival at home would help to get the person sent across the Atlantic! Mr Nicholas Sarkozy, we are told, dreads the idea of Mr Strauss-Kahn returning home, much like incumbent civil servants in Delhi dreading the return of a potential rival serving abroad!

Dr Eichengreen does not spell out on what basis the 'merits' of a potential candidate will be decided, and who will do this. He talks of 'ideas' — but the crisis staring the IMF is nothing but a clash of ideas. Who will define what is a 'good' idea? If, at the end of the day, the final decision is based on the wisdom of major shareholders then it is their prejudices that will define the qualifications. The coat will be cut according to the cloth.

The debate on succession at the IMF recalls to mind the original debate between John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White — the twin architects of the Fund. Keynes' biographer Robert Skidelsky tells us (in J M Keynes: Vol 3- Fighting for Britain, 1937-1946, Macmillan 2000) that Keynes in fact wanted a 'professional' IMF, not a 'governmental' institution. Keynes, says Skidelsky, felt "all governments liked to have positions available where they could pension off people past their prime, but it would not make the institution efficient to have these people hanging around." (p.466)

Seeking to "protect the Fund from preponderant US political control" Keynes saw "the managing director as analogous to the governor of a central bank, ultimately accountable to his board, but not under its day-to-day control". By contrast, says Skidelsky, "American conception of the Fund was hegemonic."

Skidelsky's account of Keynes' last days in and around Bretton Woods present the picture of a man saddened by the turn of events. Keynes wanted to create a professional organisation, Mr White and his colleagues at the US Treasury wanted to create a multilateral organisation that they could control and through which they could manage the global economy. Keynes went to Bretton Woods with economists and bankers, White arrived with lawyers and government officials. Keynes lost the battle and died in the trenches, so to speak.

So, it is amusing to see an American rediscover the virtues of Keynes' original idea of a professionally managed IMF. But much water has flowed down the Potomac, the Yangtze and the Ganga. When Japan wanted Toyoo Gyohten, the then chairman of the Bank of Tokyo, to succeed Mr Camdessus as IMF managing director in 1995, at the Fund's famous 50th anniversary annual meetings in Madrid, the trans-Atlantic powers conspired to keep an Asian out and gave Mr Camdessus an extension.

This prompted Japan to float the idea of an AMF and the US ensured, with China's help, that it was still-born. Today, it is China that wants an AMF. It may well settle for less if it gets a bigger voice at the Fund. Faced with internal disarray, Europe is talking about an EMF. These proposals are not just about new power equations but about new ideas too. Some even talk of a 'Beijing Consensus' in economic management.

India is not particularly enamoured by the AMF idea and would much rather see the Fund revitalised and reinvented as a multilateral institution. Indeed, there could be a meeting of minds between India and the US on the IMF's future. It is certainly a subject that can engage the attention of the visiting US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner and his Indian interlocutors.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IN SERVICE OF GOSSIP

 

The rather sorry antics surrounding the reported tieup between tennis star Sania Mirza and former Pakistan cricket captain Shoaib Malik, if one wereto look at it that way, could just be a perfect real-life enactment of one of those frighteningly-dramatic soaps on TV. The plot, so far, goes like this: A prominent boy and girl meet, love is in the air, apparently, till the past indiscretion (or was it?) makes everyone agitated, with much attendant family squabbling. Was he really already married? Who cheated whom, if so? Is there, TV-drama style, going to be some coup de grace revelation? To her credit though, Sania seems to be quite maintaining a dignified front.

The shoddy part, however, is that the story is just too full of rich gossip, of cross-border involvement, for the media to allow the people involved to actually get a chance to sort things out properly. If all concerned wanted to, that is. And the day might not be far off when some suitably-creative producer decides to dig in. Why dredge up yet another script when one is at hand?


And things were bound to get juicier, and nastier, when our peculiar perspectives on national belonging were activated. Thus, the absurdity of people suddenly claiming national treachery was in the air since Sania was marrying one from the wrong side of the line. Not that the objecting lot have a lot of love for the community, they just don't like them marrying around here and there, according to personal choice.


One could propose a twist to that aspect of the question. Just why can't we also ask if Shoaib Malik will, in the event of any nuptials, play for India? Wouldn't it give those biased hearts a whole lot of pleasure to see a former Pak captain as a field replacement or twelfth man or something? That's the rub. See, we just don't need him, but wouldn't the Pakistanis like to get a player of Sania's standing! Or maybe only till the fundos on that side start to object on moral apparel grounds. It is, thus, an unseemly affair, a tragedy and a farce all rolled into one. Let's just hope no one gets hurt!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WHAT ABOUT THE FARMERS?

 

While the government's recent clarification on the policy on foreign investment in wholesale trade is welcome, it needs to be complemented with a policy to empower our farmers to interact with modern, organised retail productively. Organised retail can catalyse a second green revolution in India when farmers become empowered to negotiate prices for their produce with retailers.


The industry ministry's recent guidelines for wholesale trade, known as cash and carry, signal a cautious approach to further liberalisation of foreign investment in retail. The new rules, meant for foreign retailers that form joint ventures with domestic companies for wholesale trade, define wholesale trade with greater specificity, and lend clarity to the existing FDI policy. Further, they prevent foreign retailers from entering the domestic retail market in the garb of wholesale trade.


Whether domestic retail needs to be thus sheltered from external competition is debatable, but clarity definitely is better than confusion. Foreign investment in retail will change the dynamics of agribusiness in India. Retail chains bring in technology to develop logistics and supply chains, helping farmers and the food processing industry. Competition would enhance the benefit to producers and consumers. Middlemen control the food trade; and farmers and consumers end up getting a raw deal. This is unacceptable. Food retail chains provide an opportunity to break the stranglehold of middlemen. Contract procurement can work to farmers' advantage if they are a part of a larger body capable of negotiating and standing up to organised retail.


A producer company like Amul has shown results in the dairy sector. Cooperatives have also been successful, to some extent, in the sugar and plantation sectors. Foodgrain and vegetables too need organised farmer bodies. Retailers, in turn, can help farmers access not just the market, but also technology and credit to raise productivity. Modern retail will do well to highlight this aspect of their operations.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PROTECT THE PUBLIC INTEREST

 

The government must insist on rollout according to a time schedule and reserve the right to cancel spectrum allocation to those who hoard spectrum instead of using it to provide broadband access to connectivity starved Indians. In the high-profile spectrum auctions for third generation (3G) mobile services and broadband wireless access (BWA), the focus has been on the money the auctions would generate and the policy design that keeps foreign operators out.


An equally valid concern is the omission, in the BWA auctions, of any requirement for a rapid rollout of services after allocation of spectrum. Large commercial interests are at stake and they get championed, and the public interest falls by the wayside. The public interest in wireless broadband is that it should be available; the sooner, the better. The amazing ways in which knowledge, information and communications can be combined to create new economic opportunities have been distilled into numbers: so much additional growth of GDP per so much addition to the chunk of population with broadband access. Whatever the precise number, there is little dispute that a populace with high-speed access to the Net would be more creative and produce more than one deprived of such access.


India needs high-speed networks, the poor need it more than the rich: for new income opportunities, healthcare, education. And the cheapest way to provide it is by wireless. Broadband wireless is a battleground for multiple technology standards, WiMax and LTE-TDD being the chief contenders. While WiMax already has many deployments around the world, its truly mobile version is still getting validated.


LTE-TDD is being tried out in China, but probably lags WiMax in validation. As it is, telecom companies have little incentive to offer high-speed wireless broadband — their revenue from voice services would fall further if calls switch to a ubiquitous Net. And they have no offsetting range of value-added services to offer. Add the technology validation delays, and they could just decide to wait to roll out wireless broadband. India cannot afford that. The government should mandate rollout within 12 months, not 60, as specified now.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

STAND UP AND BE COUNTED

MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH

 

Has India's population overtaken China's? How many languages do we have? (Census 2001 said 6,661!) How many religions do we have? 2,800, said Census 2001. How many households have access to drinking water? To toilets? What is our literacy rate? The sexratio? Does it vary across states, across districts and by how much?



Today, we do not have precise answers to these and other similar questions. As a natural corollary, many of our policies are ill-designed and fail to deliver. But last week as the country embarked on two major experiments — one to translate the right to education, now a fundamental right, into reality and the other, to count every Indian and create the firstever National Population Registry, a database of residents — there is hope we might finally have the answers.


More importantly, flowing from these answers we will be better equipped to tackle the yawning gap between promise and delivery. Each experiment is a game changer in its own right. But while the Right to Education has attracted a great deal of interest, Census 2011, which also commenced on 1 April, has come in for much less attention. Yet their success is inextricably interlinked.


If every child between the ages of six and 14 is to have access to elementary education, at the very least we must know how many children we have in this age-group. We must also know how many villages have schools, how many do not and so on and so forth. Only then can we design programmes to realise the promise of education for all. At the same time if Census data is to be credible, those furnishing information must be educated. Only then can we rely on the information gathered.


But it is not only in the field of education that Census 2011 and the Population Registry can make a difference. Together they could pave the way for path-breaking change across a broad spectrum, ranging from national security to ensuring vastly improved delivery of statefunded services in healthcare, old-age security, water, sanitation, you name it.


Take any of the alphabet soup of social programmes the government has launched in the name of the aam admi and on which it is spending 37% of its total annual budget. Regardless of which programme we are talking about unless we know the numbers involved and in which village, town, state of the country they live, we will not know how to budget for it. Nor will we be able to ensure effective delivery. And to the right people! Take another example; the numbers below the poverty line. We could argue about what the poverty line should be until the cows come home. But at the end of the day, even assuming we do arrive at some kind of consensus on what that number should be, what do we do with it? Do we have any idea how many households fall below that number? No!


And in the absence of that essential information what kind of poverty alleviation programme can we design? One that continues the same fudge as in the past where the middle man and vested interests walk away with the bulk of whatever is spent in the name of the poor? This is where Census 2011 could make a difference. Admittedly, it does not seek information on income, as the idea is to obtain only objective verifiable data that will ensure data quality. But a detailed count of the ownership of something like say, a cycle or a radio, could arguably serve as a better proxy of income than questionable survey methods based on consumption levels that are used at present.

Indeed the Census is the only source of primary data at the grass roots level on demographic trends, economic activity, literacy, education, housing, urbanisation, fertility, mortality, religion, etc. It also doubles up as an exhaustive case-sheet, alerting the government to adverse socio-economic trends, enabling it to take ameliorative action. For instance, it was the decline in sex-ratios that came to light in earlier Census operations that alerted the government to the practice of female infanticide. This led to legislation banning sex-determination tests and several special programmes targeting the girl child were also launched. Likewise the Total Sanitation Campaign was launched following the revelation in Census 2001 about the distressing lack of toilets in vast swathes of the country, including urban areas.


True recent Census operations in India have glossed over one of the main reasons for a headcount in a democracy: delimitation of seats in Parliament. Admittedly this is a political hot potato; one that will have to be addressed some time in the future. However, it is likely to remain on hold for now in view of the shift in political equations that will result in a scenario where the southern and western states have been more successful in limiting population size compared to states in the north and the east, resulting in a decline in their relative strength in Parliament.


That brings me to the Population Registry. Given what is being attempted and for the very first time — details of usual residence complete with photograph and biometric identity (10-finger prints) — it is going to be a gigantic logistical exercise. The office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India is confident the task is not as impossible as it looks. It has already done a pilot project in 3,331 coastal villages in nine states and union territories where people, reportedly, waited in line for hours together to get themselves photographed and finger-printed.


It is doubtful the public in urban areas will be as cooperative; especially as the exercise envisages people going to a central point where they will be photographed and finger-printed. Much will depend on what kind of arrangements are made; otherwise we will find all the ills associated with obtaining a driving licence or a passport (touts et al) are replicated here, defeating the purpose of a Registry. Once the exercise is completed the population database will tie-in with the Unique Identification Number project of the Unique Identification Authority of India for issue of a UID number.


Of course, all this is a long way into the future; but it is a beginning. And provided civil society and government work together to make a success of both ventures, no future prime minister need lament, a la Rajeev Gandhi, that of every rupee the government spends, only 15 paise reaches the poor.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IN STAGES, BUILD THAT INDIFFERENCE

K VIJAYARAGHAVAN

 

Resentments caused by various factors, including ingratitude, leave enduring scars on the psyche. Various techniques - ancient and modern - have been tried. In many cases, these have only temporary effect, as the mind, unable to reconcile, goes back to square one. It is well accepted that it is necessary to cultivate that benign indifference and imperviousness to shallow relationships, let downs, pretensions and unfair responses.

But then, in actual practice, how can this be done? In fact, could one pre-empt even having to face such situations? The answer, perhaps, lies in evolving gradually and in stages, starting from that stage, which is simple and practical. Further progress would naturally follow.

This process is conceived of by sage Patanjali. The starting point, easy to practise, is cultivation of affinity and friendship (maitri) to all those manifestations in life, which would bring with them true joy and peace (sukah), identified through simple observation and discrimination. The next stage is compassion (karuna) to all the suffering (dukah), whereby the seeker, sensitised to his own goodness, divines that he is truly fortunate, in comparison is a major step to freedom from resentments.


Maitri and karuna naturally lead the evolved spirit to appreciate and delight in the virtuous and the sublime (punya), whereby pursuit of excellence in one's chosen fields, which would follow, would ensure that the aspirant is always engrossed in the worthwhile. He would thus have no time or inclination to even think of possible acts of ingratitude or imperfections around.


Invariably and naturally, the fourth and final stage of indifference (upekshana) to all the dross and evil (apunya) would be reached, where one obtains that healthy ego and resilient psyche, which would not ever be affected by any 'dreary intercourse of daily life'. Indeed and in fact, this approach rooted in clarity, poise and precision (yogastah) is verily that state of supreme dexterity in action (karmasu koushalam). This is also that state, where the person would not ever have to even confront any deceits, shallow relationships or pretensions. This is because he would always, through right choices and priorities, be in that evolved company and companionship, marked by virtues and true self esteem - that world where all that he beholds would always be "full of blessings"!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WHAT'S THE GOOD WORD? LIBEL!

SUDESHNA SEN

 

It's supposed to be spring, but it still feels like deep winter: Grey, wet and cold. There, now that I've got my pet peeve out of the way, we can get on with more important things. I could go on about IPL. However, to most non-Indians, even sport-crazy types, that obsession is about as incomprehensible as the British obsession with the weather. So we'll skip it for now. And talk about why Robin Williams calling Australians 'English rednecks' becomes an international scandal, from Melbourne to Alabama. And who Simon Singh is, and why he's suddenly a cause célèbre. Wait, there's a connect.


First, Robin Williams. By definition a comedian as well as an actor, one assumes Mr Williams is allowed to poke fun at people and things without bringing on WW-III. Mr Williams said Australians are basically English rednecks. The Oz PM, Kevin Rudd, hit back, commenting that Mr Williams should go spend time in Alabama before calling people rednecks. Whoops. The Alabama governor, Bob Riley, immediately took offence and called for an apology from the Australians. Good for Mr Riley, for pointing out that Mr Rudd's rebuttal itself was in exactly the same vein as Mr Williams' joke, using a pop-culture stereotype derogatory to Alabamans. Plenty of people joke about stereotypes, in every country. It's okay for Mr Rudd to be ticked off, but it's not quite okay for a PM to suffer from an attack of Tharooritis, and shoot from the hip.


Really, I used to think the Indian government's PR was bad. Somebody get the Aussies a decent spin doctor. Add this to the absolutely-pathetic image management of the Indian student crisis, and I rest my case. This brings me, in a convoluted way, to Simon Singh, who's in the eye of a storm about what constitutes fair comment, free speech, or crosses the line into libel. While Robin Williams' palaver is just a bit of fun to liven up a dull Easter weekend, that one isn't. A British academic of Punjabi origin, Simon Singh, till two years ago, was best known as scientist and author, on esoteric subjects like Fermat's Last Theorem. Suddenly, he's the spearhead of a movement for libel reform in England and Wales, a beacon for the scientific community and a champion of free speech.


Simon Singh fell victim of Britain's odd libel laws, which has ended up with London being known as the 'libel tourism' capital of the world. Libel cases usually make global headlines when it's about celebs and tabloids, but for once, a scientist is hogging headlines.


In a nutshell, here's how it works here. You can sue anyone for libel in a British court, even if both parties are foreigners, and so is the publication, as long as the disputed material can be accessed online anywhere in England or Wales. Jurisdiction is irrelevant; it doesn't even have to be in English. The onus of proving that it's not libel is on the defendant, and London's courts have a reputation of handing out massive damages. If you believe allegations in the American media, there are a bunch of law firms who specialise and thrive in winning libel judgements, with huge fees.


The issue has drawn international opprobrium, so much so that influential American media biggies have officially threatened to stop selling their publications in England and Wales, and to isolate UK from their websites. Back to Simon Singh, who wrote a column in The Guardian's debate pages giving his scientific opinion about certain medical claims made by chiropractors. He was sued by the British Chiropractic Association. I won't even try to explain, I'm totally foggy about what chiropractors are, forget the validity or otherwise of their claims. I don't want to end up like Simon Singh.


The Simon Singh case, however, hung on an interpretation of English usage. The special high court judge for libel, Justice Eady, ruled that his use of the word 'bogus' in describing some claims was a factual statement, and that chiropractors 'happily' promote them — implying dishonesty, and that happily meant knowingly. Not an opinion, therefore not 'fair comment', a possibly defensible position. The unique interpretation of the words left most people gobsmacked, scurrying for dictionaries. It meant that no scientist could doubt or query, say, XYZ's new drug, or as prominent cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst has found, a new heart implant from a multinational, without fear of libel.


Two years and 200,000 pounds later, Mr Singh has won a critical legal judgement from a three-judge bench. He's allowed to appeal, and can fight on for years. The judges pointed out scientific disputes can't be tackled by courts. Besides the scientific world, comedians kicked in on the row, as did the media, bloggers, and human rights community. There's now a campaign for libel law reform, complete with shows and demos at Westminster and so on, but justice secretary Jack Straw is finding the going bumpy. As of now, according to the latest verdict, happily means 'blithely' again, and bogus means, well, bogus, not deliberately dishonest. Phew.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

DOMESTIC DEMAND STORY SETS INDIA APART: F&C ASSET MANAGEMENT

DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR

 

He is bullish on India, but would rather wait for the market to correct before increasing his exposure to equities here. Sam Mahtani, director, emerging market equities, F&C Asset Management, feels India and Indonesia rank among the best picks in Asia. In a chat with ET, he says inflation is a concern for India in 2010, but the micro story is better compared to some of the other emerging markets. Excerpts:


What is your outlook on India, in the backdrop of the recent rating outlook upgrade and the upcoming quarterly earnings season?


We are positive on India from a 12-month view. We expect the market to gain at least another 12-15% from this level. The next few months, though, are likely to be volatile and there will be small corrections along the way. We expect earnings to be quite good, particularly for the next quarter. But the market appears to have factored that in. We are looking at a 20% annual growth in earnings per share in FY11 and FY12. The micro story for India is very positive compared with some of the other Asian markets or emerging markets.

 

How worried are you about rising inflation?

Our view is that inflation will climb to around 12% in the next few months, before dropping in the second half of this year. You are already seeing signs of absolute inflation peaking out. We believe the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is being proactive in its stance on monetary policy.


What do you rate as a key risk to the market in the second half of 2010?

It would have to be inflation. It is still the main risk in India in 2010. If inflation proves to be much stickier than consensus estimates i.e. it doesn't come down and stays in the double-digit range for long, it will be a concern and the market will start worrying about further tightening by RBI. From a long-term view, the key issue is how the government takes the reform process forward. It has to deliver on the infrastructure programme. The Budget set out a very clear road map on reducing the fiscal deficit, but the market will be concerned if the government doesn't achieve the target.


How does India rank compared with regional peers?

We would rank India very highly. We are currently overweight on India and underweight on China. It is clear that interest rates will move up in India by around 100-125 basis points in the cycle. But that is something that has been flagged by RBI.


India has seen an uptick in inflows for March. Would you attribute this to lack of attractive alternatives? Is India

doing fundamentally better than others?


One of India's attractions is that the recovery has been broad-based. What sets India apart is the massive domestic demand story. Some of the other Asian economies have seen the governments pumping in a lot of money and the growth-showing is really because of that. China is a good example. India has a much more robust economy and domestic demand as a percentage of GDP is much higher than China and other Asian economies. India still lags China in terms of economic development and the catch-up story is still very powerful in India.


What are the key themes in India portfolio?

We currently manage over $2.5 billion in assets in emerging markets, of which, $350 million is invested in India. We have four key themes — IT, financial services, pharma and metals and mining. We focus on large caps and some of our high-conviction ideas include Jindal Steel & Power and Ranbaxy. In this environment, I feel that there are more opportunities in sectors linked to the domestic demand story. I am negative on utilities, particularly regulated utilities like NTPC. I am also negative on consumer staples like HUL, as competition is increasing. This year, we will stick to large-cap quality stocks. We will be looking to increase our exposure to India, but will probably do so when the market corrects. The market is clearly going to be volatile for the next two-three months.


Has the risk reward ratio narrowed? Where do you see opportunities globally now?

India is trading around six times one-year forward earnings. It's not cheap, but not expensive either. The corresponding multiple for emerging markets in general is 12 times forward which is not expensive. If they go to 16-18 times, they will be overvalued. We see opportunities globally in countries that benefit directly from the US recovery like Mexico, for example.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'NEXT BILLION-DOLLAR BIZ FROM INDIA?'

VIKAS KUMAR

 

For a nation that has thrived on its IT services skills, developing world-class software products from India has always been a challenge. However, Naresh Gupta, senior vice-president for print and classic publishing solutions business unit and managing director for India R&D at Adobe, says the ingredients for successful product creation are very much present here. The key is picking the right talent and striking a balance between the freedom of a creative hotshop and the process-driven discipline of a software services firm.


That's the culture the $2.95-billion (2009 revenues) San Jose, Californiaheadquartered company is inculcating in its India centres. "At Adobe, we don't count the hours one puts into a product. It's not like being at an assembly line. But we ensure there's predictability in output." Product innovation is fraught with a high degree of risk: Only one or two in 10 ideas succeed in the market. So what capabilities does Adobe look for in recruits?

Among others, the ability to work with new technologies, unarticulated customer needs and how those could change over time, says Mr Gupta. "Unlike a project (services) company, you ask the 'what' before the 'how'. You look at where the ball could be, not where it is now." Most of Adobe's flagship products such as Photoshop, Acrobat, Flash and InDesign are targeted at creative professionals, developers and content creators across both traditional and new Internet technologies. How does it ensure that its offerings are in line with the rapidly-evolving demands of this community?


Apart from regular feedback mechanisms, Adobe consults a Customer Advisory Board comprising domain experts from client firms for insights on its products under development. "We give them pre-release versions to play with and they come back to us with their suggestions and ideas." What's kept the company ahead in the product game for nearly three decades is the ability to keep its ears to the ground and develop solutions to upcoming problems. So, while its PDF format (now an ISO standard) brought document portability and collaboration to the publishing business, Flash (through the Macromedia acquisition) is now the most ubiquitous video and graphics platform online.


Between the Noida and Bangalore centres, Adobe's 1,700 developers — that's 35% of its global R&D headcount — work with other global teams on new products and on enhancing functionality of existing ones. And even as the recession pushed the US parent to retrench about 680 employees globally, Mr Gupta says he actually added 'a few hundred people' in India in 2009.


Finding talent that fits the 'product' bill might not be an issue now, but how different was it when he launched Adobe's India operations in 1997? "We started in an environment where little product development was happening. It took us five years to build the culture and capabilities within the organisation. We hired very slowly."

As India's IT industry matured, the realisation dawned that innovation, not costleverage, was the key to its survival. Other factors also helped make it easier to develop products here. "There's a large pool of advanced customers who're stretching the limits and want to create content that's unique. We don't have to necessarily go outside India to do new things," says Mr Gupta, referring to clients such as Infosys, Wipro and TCS, and e-learning firms doing work out of India. "Media companies too are producing high-quality content and they tell us about new requirements."


Collaboration is another way to stay relevant. In May 2008, Adobe launched the Open Screen project with leading players to make its Flash technology accessible on desktop, mobile and consumer devices such as TV set-top boxes. It has companies like Google, Dell, Samsung, Nokia, Intel, MTV and The New York Timeson board. "We are offering Flash free for inclusion in their devices so that they can develop products and content based on it," says Mr Gupta.

 

But for this PhD in computer science who once worked as a researcher on the Mars Rover and Star Wars programmes in the US, the real rewards will be in getting a blockbuster product for Adobe out of his own country. "The new challenge is: how can we create the next billion-dollar business out of India?"

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'WE HAVE ENOUGH COAL BLOCKS TO MEET REQUIREMENTS FOR 70 YRS'

NIKUNJ DALMIA,ET

 

With India's ambitious growth targets, the demand for coal is surging. Union Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal discusses government policy on coal with ET NOW at the Edelweiss India Conference 2010 this week.


How committed is your ministry towards coal reforms in India?

Nearly 55% of India's energy needs are met through coal, and it will continue to be so for the next 15 years. But we have enough coal blocks to meet our requirements for the next 70 years. The main problem, however, is getting environment/forest clearances and land acquisition. About 90% of our coal properties are in the states of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where law and order situation is not good and getting clearances there is tough.


Can you tell us how the bidding process for coal blocks for private players will be carried off?
The bidding is expected to begin post-October. We will ensure it happens in this financial year. We have already finalised the changes in the Mines and Mineral Development Act. In the second half of Parliament session, that mines bill will be passed and we will get on with the bidding then. Last time when the coal blocks were allotted, 50% of those who got coal blocks did not have the requisite technology or the required capital to extract coal through mining. So, we have decided that coal blocks should be allotted through competitive bidding, so that only those companies who have the capabilities to develop it get the blocks.


When is Coal India IPO expected? How big will be the issue size?

By August, Coal India will hit the capital markets. 10% of Coal India will be divested. Our profit since last year has doubled from Rs 4,600 crore to 10,600 crore up to February.


With the demand for coal surging, will prices go up?

Coal prices have not gone up as much as the demand has gone up. We want the coal prices to go up. We need to reduce the gap between import coal prices and domestic coal.

 

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIA AS EXPORT HUB; TO SPEND $5 MN ON MARKETING: LG INDIA

AMIT SHARMA

 

onsumer electronics leader LG is repositioning itself in India. Its in the process of changing its image from being mass-market, value-for-money player to a brand that causes happiness and enriches life by focusing on softer aspects of life. "The company would be spending $5 million on marketing this year just to communicate its new identity," says Moon Bum Shin, managing director of LG Electronics India.


The wholly-owned subsidiary of South Korean LG Electronics is quite clear about the strategy. "The Indian market is the number one priority of the parent company," he told ET. "The company would be spending $5 million on marketing this year just to communicate its new identity and the change that it plans to bring in the life of its consumers," he added.


A leader in the Rs 65,000-crore consumer electronics and home appliances market, LG India has also been trying to get noticed as an up-market brand. Its recent campaigns and products such as Jazz LCD televisions and Chocolate mobile phones are an attempt to lure back a sizeable chunk of consumers who, over the years, have moved up the value chain.

 

In an interview, Shin discusses the plan of making India as the company's second-biggest market within the next Cfive years. Excerpts:


A market leader in India for years, how does LG plan to rejig its identity?

We believe that as an organisation serving consumers, we must deliver on the promise of bringing well-being and happiness to them. We, therefore, plan to launch a slew of products this year that are driven by Indian insights. In line with a total reshaping of the brand, by 2012, we will completely change our entire portfolio of products to include green appliances. We will be spending $5 million on marketing this year just to communicate our new identity and the change we are about to bring to consumers. LG has dedicated itself to help preserve the global environment, a change that is driven from the global headquarters in South Korea. So, we will live up to our brand promise of 'Life's good- Let's create a wonderful life.'


How challenging is it to appeal to the mass consumers as well as cater to the high-end ones?
It is a bit of a challenge. However, we have always tried to stimulate demand by showcasing cutting-edge technology in our flagship products so. But constant below-the-line initiatives promote the mass products concurrently and this strategy has borne fruit for us. While our focus is to market to the young generation of Indians who are confident and have disposable spends, all our products have a strong value proposition that stimulates purchase decisions.


Indian consumers are not well known to pay a premium for greener products and services. What will be your strategy to make them buy such products?


A way to change this consumer behaviour will be to clearly articulate the cost of ownership of our new products and the long-term savings that consumers stand to make. All benefits will be quantified in rupee terms so that consumers see tangible value.


The Indian market is the global headquarters' number one priority and we are clear about this. Almost 6% of our overall global revenue comes from here, a figure that we wish to double by 2015. Our biggest markets are the US, Korea, Brazil, followed by India. We will be the second-biggest market in the next five years. Our revenues last year were around Rs 13,500 crore, and this year we are targeting Rs 17,000 crore.
Where does India figure in your global scheme of things?

 

We will make India the export hub for LG. This market will lead our global innovation and new development, and supply the new platform of green and environment-friendly products globally. We have chosen India to lead because the labour market here is rich with talent. There are scores of qualified engineers, best in class universities, and most importantly, a big base of English-speaking population. We are betting on this vast consumer base- the youngistaan of India.


We have set up a learning, design and R&D centre in the Greater Noida headquarters. We will take these to big, separate locations within five years. This year, we plan to invest Rs 400 crore in R&D and Rs 700 crore in marketing. Our aim is to have 40% share in each category that we operate in within five years.


Over the past few months, a number of local and Japanese brands have forayed into India. How do you see the competition taking shape?

It's nice to see so many companies coming. But there's going to be only one leader. Let us see who listens to the consumer the best. It will really take time for other companies to reach where we are. Evolution as a preferred brand takes time, apart from sheer passion, integrity and gumption to emerge from scratch. We have benefited from having a winning culture within the organisation, one that is difficult to replicate.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PFC POWERING INDIA'S CAPACITY ADDITION DRIVE: CHAIRMAN

SUBHASH NARAYAN

 

Power Finance Corporation (PFC) has a vital role to play in the ongoing massive power capacity creation. It has to ensure that projects do not suffer due to a paucity of funds. PFC chairman and managing director Satnam Singh talks about the company's preparedness to meet the ambitious goals set for the sector in an interview with ET. Excerpts:


Has the global downturn affected the power sector? How far did it impact PFC's business?

Despite the global financial crisis, the Indian power sector is doing well. The likely capacity addition in the 11th Plan period will be about 62,000 mw. The crisis has also not really affected the private investment flow into the sector, which is reflected in the likely private share of about 28% of the incremental capacity addition, as against 9% in the 10th Plan period.


Even during the liquidity crisis, the bidding was successfully conducted for ultra mega power projects (UMPP) in Tilaiya, Jharkhand. PFC has shown an impressive disbursement growth of 30%, loan growth of 25% and net profit growth of 63%. PFC recorded 82% net profit growth for the nine-month period ended December 2010. Further, it raised Rs 4,000 crore through bond issue, which is the largest by an Indian corporate, during extremely tight liquidity market conditions.


What is the outlook for power sector?

The power sector is on an accelerated growth path. If you compare the 11th Plan with the 10th Plan, the growth in capacity addition is likely to be 300% plus. Out of about 1,00,000 mw targeted capacity addition in the 12th Plan, already more than 50% is under construction. I am optimistic on capacity addition front. To sustain 9% plus GDP growth, the target is to have 800 gw capacity by 2032, which implies power supply has to grow by five times.


What are the priorities of the company and the sector?

PFC is a playing a dominant role in Indian power sector in terms of funding the sector, acting as principal implementation partner for various programmes of the government to improve the sector. Therefore, the priorities of the company and the sector are closely aligned. The first priority of the sector is to add large capacities to bridge the power deficit. In this regard, the government has embarked on an ambitious plan of UMPPs with each project adding 4000 mw. PFC is the nodal agency for UMPPs. It has awarded four such UMPPs and is in the process of awarding three more in FY 2010-11.


The other major priority for the sector is to reduce high AT&C (aggregate technical and commercial) losses, which is the single largest sector viability issue. The government has formulated the R-APDRP programme to reduce AT&C losses to below 15% from the current level of 30% plus. PFC is the nodal agency for this scheme. The scheme has been rolled out and we have sanctioned in excess of Rs 5,000 crore and disbursed Rs 1,300 crore. Against 1,420 eligible towns we have covered 1,378 towns.


Additionally, PFC has also participated in the government's accelerated generation and supply programme, DRUM programme for training power sector personnel, floated two power exchanges for developing trading platform for powers sector.


What are the gross non-performing asset (NPA) levels of PFC?

As on December 31, 2009, gross NPAs as percentage of loan assets is 0.02 % and net NPA as percentage of loan assets is 0.01%. PFC has always maintained a healthy asset quality and since its inception we have not written off a single loan. Our good performance on this front owes primarily to our robust project appraisal and security mechanisms in built into the loan documentation. The low NPAs are also due to the disbursement safeguards and recovery policies that we have formulated based on our extensive experience in power sector.

Is PFC planning to raise foreign debt?


In the financial year 2008-09, due to tight financial conditions in international credit markets, PFC did not raise any external commercial borrowings (ECBs). However, the ECB market has improved since then, we have accordingly, raised ECB of $300 million during FY09-10. SBI was the lead arranger for this ECB. We are happy with investors' response on this ECB.


Do you see yourself diversifying beyond providing financial assistance to power projects?


PFC has redefined its growth strategy to focus on niche areas like consortium lending, financing renewables, equity financing, acquisition advisory services and also to diversify into new business areas having backward linkages to power sector like fuel supply, gas, coal and equipment manufacturing and forward linkages to power sector like power exchanges.

 

Will you explain the recent initiative of PFC in setting up an Equity Investment Group (EIG)?


The fund requirements of the power sector is huge. A working group report on the 11th Plan said about Rs 10,60,000 crore investment in power sector is required. It is also estimated that considering all the available resources the funding gap will be around 40% of this requirement. Further, the private sector participation is likely to increase going forward in the 11th Plan and the 12th Plan which is estimated to be 28% and 63%, respectively, which will require equity support to set up power projects in addition to debt.


In this backdrop, PFC has created a new group EIG for equity investments in power sector. The group has started by offering a new financial product of loan towards promoters' equity against security of commissioned projects. PFC has sanctioned its first loan of Rs 100 crore to APGENCO. This new product would improve our interest spread as the interest rate charged will be higher than our normal lending rates.


We are also having direct equity funding proposals in hand and we are exploring to fund equity for these power projects in consortium with other investors or through a dedicated Fund. This will mean fee based income and returns on equity investments by PFC in power projects. The macro objective of this initiative however, is to facilitate faster capacity addition in power sector.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE WON'T ENTER INTO NEW BUSINESS: ORIENTAL BANK OF COMMERCE

SANGITA MEHTA

 

T Prabhu, CMD of Oriental Bank of Commerce has been a career banker, having worked almost 39 years in the banking industry first with Canara Bank

 

and then as an executive director of Union Bank of India. Known as a very conservative banker, he spoke to ET on a range of issues, including consolidation of banks, on the economy and plans for OBC this year.


What is your view on consolidation? Do you think the time is right? In a list of banks classified as acquiring banks, OBC's name was omitted. Instead, it figured in the list as one of the target banks. How do you react to this?

When we talk about consolidation, we need to be clear about objectives of such a consolidation exercise. Consolidation in the banking industry will take place in the due course based on complementary strengths and the need for exploiting synergies between two institutions. But then, there are various issues which need to be resolved before we take up consolidation. Human Resources and Information Technology are two critical issues which have to be resolved.


The main objectives of consolidation should revolve around bringing down the cost of intermediation and expanding extension of banking facilities to the financially excluded segments of the economy. OBC has been projected as a target bank but we have not received any communication on this, nor have we received any offer. Right now, the government's focus is on financial inclusion.


Are you looking at entering into new areas of business considering that despite a wide base in north India, the bank has not fully leveraged itself? (In the sense, OBC has stayed away from owning businesses such as mutual funds, credit card, merchant banking and stock broking).


We have a joint venture in life insurance with Canara Bank and HSBC, which offers life insurance products. We are looking forward to strengthening the distribution of these products. Other than this venture, we have no plan to enter into other areas at least for the current year.


Could you elaborate on the reasons?


The insurance joint venture has started operations in year 2009-10 and it is doing very well. But at the same time, it is a capital-intensive business requiring huge capital infusion. Thus we need to work on it before entering into new business.


What is the status on the extent of capital that the government is planning to provide to banks? How much capital does OBC expect the government to provide?


As on December 2009, Oriental Bank's capital adequacy ratio was 13.20% with tier-I capital at 9.78% and tier-II at 3.42%. Since the government's stake is 51% in the bank, there is no further scope for diluting the capital. We have asked for equity capital. Hence, we had requested the government for capital support of close to Rs 1,000 crore. We understand that in the first phase of capitalisation, the government is capitalising those banks with tier-I capital less than 8%. We expect to receive capital in the second phase.

What is your opinion on the new base rate system?


The base rate is akin to the prime rate system that is the rate at which banks will be lending to some of its top clients. For all other clients, lending will be done at the prime rate plus the respective risk premium. In other words, banks are prohibited to lend below the base rate. The shift towards base rate will change the way banks price their loans. More than 65% of the loan book of banks are priced below PLR. The new system will enable banks to properly price the risk. The new base rate could work out to approximately 150 basis points below the PLR (now most banks' PLR is around 12%). Those corporates who use to borrow at below PLR will have to move up towards the base rate. This would benefit borrowers from the medium, small and micro enterprises sector.


What is your agenda for this calendar year?


The total business of OBC for 2009-10 has grown over 20% and we have crossed the landmark figure of Rs 2 lakh crore business mix (deposits plus advances) as on March 2010. This is a momentous occasion for us as a bank. When we were nationalised in 1980, the total business mix of the bank was Rs 435 crore. We expect the total business to grow around 25% for the current year 2010-11. We propose to open about 175 new branches during the year and recruit around 1,500 staff consisting of marketing officers, agriculture officers, credit officers and specialist officers.


Our focus will continue to remain on core activities such as mobilisation of CASA (low-cost deposits), lending to agriculture & allied activities, medium, small and micro enterprises and mid-corporates. Financial inclusion is also one of the focus areas. We have opened close to one million no-frill accounts. For the current year, we want to establish credit linkage with these account holders to enable them to improve their existing economic activity or to start new ones so that they shall be able to improve their income levels. We also propose to appoint around 1,000 business correspondents (BCs)/business facilitators (BFs) to service these no-frill accounts.

Do you see signs of revival in the economy? What is your perception on growth?


Yes, economic revival is evident by GDP growth, which is expected to be over 7% for 2009-10. The manufacturing sector has also shown a strong growth as reflected from the IIP. For 2010-11, GDP is expected to grow over 7.50%, driven mainly by agriculture, manufacturing, services sectors such as hospitality, health care, education and infrastructure. Exports have also shown an upward trend.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'CLASSICAL MUSIC AND DANCE SPEAK OF THE INTANGIBLE'

ASHOKE NAG

 

She is an internationally acclaimed dancer-choreographer. A firm believer in the continuity of the classical tradition, she has, over the last twenty years, evolved a distinctive dance style. A style that explores and expands the language of Bharata Natyam drawing from the deeper sources of Indian cultural heritage while bringing an immediacy which speaks in the present tense. Her name: Malavika Sarukkai.


Malavika has participated in major Dance Festivals in India and in Festivals of India, cultural events and International Festivals in the US, France, the UK, Japan and Brazil, to mention just a few. She has featured in the BBC/WNET TV documentary, Dancing, a 9-hour series on world dance. Sequences of her dance have been filmed by German TV for ARTE and Cinematheque of Dance, Paris. Recently, the government of India specially commissioned a film, Samarpanam by Sushant Misra for the National Archives. Lately, Barbara and Eberhard Fischer, of Zurich's Museum Rietberg, produced a film titled, Malavika Sarukkai — Dancing Life, reflecting her philosophy on dance. In an exclusive interaction with Ashoke Nag of ET, the danseuse par excellence, who was once described by The Guardian newspaper as a "a goddess" who danced "at Edinburgh", speaks of her life and work. Excerpts:


What is your first memory of going on stage?

This is when I was first handed the 'ghungrus' (anklets) by my guru. This auspicious occasion is called Arangetram. This is when your guru decides that you are ready for a public concert. This was in the early 70s and we were in Bombay at that time. I was in Bombay Cathedral School.

 

What led you to venture into dance?

Actually, I was totally initiated into dance by my mother (Saroja Kamakshi). I was seven then. She was deeply interested in the arts. Her passion for the arts got me into the dance class. She also focused on my dance rather than studies. When I took it up, I did not have the slightest idea whether it would make a career for me. There was just no guarantee of anything. In fact, when you take up the arts, there is basically never any guarantee where you will end up, even if you are talented. You can be handed a gem. But, it may be overcrusted and would need a lot of polishing and chiselling before it gains lustre.


How did life progress after that?

We are South Indians as you know. We went back to Chennai, from Bombay, in 1975 and I continued my dance lessons. I was learning a repertoire of dance, which included Bharata Natyam. Carnatic Music is rich in tradition. It blended with my dance style.


You love Carnatic Music, together with other classical music forms, of course.....

(Smiles appreciatively). Yes, Carnatic Music is so attractive and appealing.


Did your focus on dance intensify more in Chennai?

 

Well, what happened was that I quit everything else, including my studies, when I was sixteen, to devote myself entirely to dance. In fact, even when I went onstage for the first time, I felt it was so much my space.... There are some things you can't explain.


Yes, some things are absolutely internalised....

You've used a word I'm extremely fond of. I use it whenever I can. That explains it like nothing else. I'm a very private person. When I see my friends who have gone to school with me and they are preparing to send their daughters and sons abroad, I feel this internalisation within me more.


And your marriage...

No, I haven't married. Actually, for me it was a different calling. You don't rationalise when you embark on such decisions in life. And, one doesn't even aim for any particular goal. Dance, for me, has been a personal journey. What the audience sees at my performances now is this internal journey.


As I can clearly gauge, this journey must have been very fascinating...

Oh, yes, it has been extremely fascinating. When I started learning the art at the student level, it was just training the body. Then, when I went on stage, I was grooming the mind. Gradually, the mind and body begin to sychronise. And, finally, this sychronisation starts to happen effortlessly. That, effortless harmony is sheer bliss. You experience a different state of mind. That is the magic of art. When great artists sing or perform, you sense those magic moments.


The audience is privileged to encounter the artist's communication with his or her medium. Sometimes, I think this magic is a spiritual experience. You want to reach that state of mind again and again...


I've heard of these famous mood shifts of great exponents of the performing arts. How far does this hold true for you, too?


Yes, that's true. I sometimes experience these mood changes, too. But, I have taught myself to control my mood.

You have performed in various fests and concerts in India and abroad...

Yes, I have performed in virtually all major fests in India. At Khajuraho, Sangeet Natak Academy, Music Academy in Chennai, National Centre for the Performing Arts, Bombay and the Kamani Auditorium in Delhi. And, of course, a range of concerts. I have also performed for corporates like CII where the audience is different. I also tremendously enjoy attending lectures with performances woven in, like the Ananda Coomaraswamy Memorial lecture. I have also worked in close association with Spic Macay to promote classical music. It's very stimulating to interact with the young students of Spic Macay. They are so enthusiastic and curious. It's very rewarding.


Tell us a little about performances overseas.

I have performed at Festivals of India in the US, France, UK, Japan and Brazil. I also participated at cultural events including the Edinburgh Festival, Saddlers Wells and Queen Elizabeth Hall in UK, the Biennale de la danse, Lyons, Theatre Du Rond-Point and Theatre De La Ville in France, to mention a few.


Do you mainly focus on Bharata Natyam or other dance forms, too?

I used to perform both Odissi and Bharata Natyam for many years. But, then I began to concentrate singularly on Bharata Natyam.


You are also a choreographer. You have recently worked on a DVD which, I gather, reflects glimpses of your prowess as a choreographer.


Oh, my involvement as a choregrapher is, again, a long story. The latest DVD, titled Vaahini, is being marketed by Times Music. It hovers around a contemporary poem in English written by my sister Priya Sarukkai Chabria, which she transcreated into Tamil. I then set it to music and choreographed for it. Choregraphy emanates from imagination, the knowledge of dance technique and delineates a story.

Do you feel the entry of sponsors in the music scene is a healthy development?

 

I don't think it's unhealthy. But, they mostly sponsor classical music programmes, probably because these concerts draw a larger audience. But, they should also sponsor classical dance more. The two forms should co-exist.

Are you of the opinion that professionalism has entered the field of classical music and dance?

Well, yes and no, to an extent. Sometimes, organisers are unprofessional. On other occasions, performers are, too. There have been times when organisers don't even mop the stage on which I'm going to perform. I hate dancing on an unclean stage. Organisers and event managers, as the case maybe, should create the right environment and ambience and sound systems for performers. If they realise the potential of these spheres, there would be a more fertile fostering of the arts.


Finally, do you find materialism seeping into the realm of classical music and dance?

Some artistes may have become materialistic. Others haven't. Classical music and dance speak of the intangible ... It's not like a painting you invest in for the prices to appreciate. Dance and music add value to one's life, but not currency.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

ONCE AGAIN, PAK IS CLOSE TO THE BRINK

With no institutional bulwark other than that of its Army (questions have been raised about this too) to act as a protective shield, Pakistan is an uncertain place at the best of times. An unsettling tradition of military coups, of political parties cosying up to the Army for short-term gains, and a historically supine judiciary that managed to find strange arguments to rally around successful coup-makers, has tended to enervate the national spirit, although its people have on occasion shown the gumption to take matters into their own hands as they did by launching successful public protests to end the presidency of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Looking at recent developments, it is not unthinkable that the people might once again be called upon to take the lead to urge all national institutions to respect one another, not precipitate matters, and display a sense of maturity and balance. The failure of civil society to rise to the occasion can plunge the country into chaos at a time when the internal security scenario is grim and the economic outlook just short of disastrous. Only recently the 18th Amendment Bill has been introduced in Parliament, marking the end of the year-long labours of a nonpartisan parliamentary committee. This purports to strip the presidency of the overarching powers with which military dictators had covered themselves, bolsters Parliament and the Prime Minister (rather than the President) in the Westminster tradition, enhances the powers of the provinces and local governments, and broadly restores the 1973 Constitution (for Pakistan the pie in the sky). True, it would have been even better if the President, Mr Asif Ali Zardari, had himself initiated legislative steps to jettison the legacy of military rule right after his party came to power in the post-Musharraf election instead of hanging on to the panoply of laws favoured by Army bosses. In a sense, then, political circumstances have obliged Mr Zardari to adapt in the democratic direction. (Today he would be wishing he were still Prime Minister, not President!) It is also true that in Pakistan a military coup is easily staged, nullifying all best practices intentions. Nevertheless, all things considered, this ought to have been a moment of great morale boost for the country. But that does not appear to be the case. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who had played a pivotal rule in the ouster of Gen. Musharaf, appears to have viscerally turned against Mr Zardari too as the latter had given the impression of restoring the Chief Justice to office — from which he had been ejected by Gen. Musharraf. Now Mr Chaudhry has passed orders to reopen money laundering and other corruption cases that had been suppressed through the National Reconciliation Ordinance, issued under American guidance to enable the return of Benazir Bhutto and Mr Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan to facilitate resumption of normal political processes and the conduct of fresh national elections. This impacts Mr Zardari directly as he had cases against him under Swiss jurisdiction. The PPP and its government has made it clear that the Supreme Court's directive on the "Swiss cases" would not be implemented. The country's attorney-general, who had gone along with the court, has resigned, causing governmental confusion and political unease. Addressing a crowd at the grave of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the PPP founder, on the 31st anniversary of his death on Sunday, Mr Zardari darkly spoke of "a conspiracy being hatched" against the PPP government.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

SANIA'S MARRIAGE GIVEN TOO MUCH IMPORTANCE

 

 

This is with reference to the report Shoaib pays Sania a maiden visit, April 4. Sania could not have asked for more. Though I feel sorry for Ayesha, I cannot support her just because she is an Indian girl. We should find out how authentic her telephonic marriage was. It can also be that Ayesha deceived Shoaib by showing photographs of another person. Marriage in Islam is performed on telephone only when it is not possible for the couple to meet. The bride is then sent to the groom's home at the earliest.

Khalid Mahboob Raza

Hyderabad

***

It is unfortunate that the media is giving too much importance to Sania's marriage, as if it is a national issue fit for debate and discussion. The marriage should concern her family members only. Others have no business in it. Whether she marries a Pakistani or any person of any nationality, nobody should be bothered. She is a tennis player and we should be concerned about her game only.

nandigama Sekhar

Hyderabad

***

What was Sania thinking? I always admired Sania for her courage. My father was so proud of her that he would always cite her example. To get married with a Pakistani cricketer and live in Dubai seems awful. Is it possible that she could not find a single suitable bachelor in India?

Saba Siddique

Via email

***

I fail to understand why Sania chose a man from Pakistan. Whatever may be the reason, it is her decision and nobody has any right to interfere. The media should be blamed for generating all this excitement which is not needed. Let the couple settle wherever they want to.

Sabita Pandey


Hyderabad

INDIA SHOULD NOT INVITE PAKISTAN FOR TALKS

This is with reference to the report India for round 2 of Pak talks, April 4. I fail to understand why should India take the initiative to invite Pakistan for a second round of talks. Despite several requests, Islamabad has not taken any concrete steps to control terror on its soil. It still continues to support terror groups operating from their country. Holding talks will be meaningful only if Pakistan makes a serious attempt to curb terror with an iron hand.

Prasun Munda

Secunderabad

IN FUTURE, POWER CUTS SHOULD BE CHECKED

This is with reference to the report Power cut in cities to be lifted after April 15, April 4. This will bring much-needed relief to the common man and industries. If power cuts continue, there may be a mass exodus of industries. The government must take care to ensure that such a precarious situation does not arise again in the future. The confidence of industries would be shattered if there are more power cuts like this.
R.K. Gautam

Hyderabad

BUILD SCHOOLS TO IMPLEMENT THE ACT

This is with reference to the report Education is a birthright, April 1. The first thing that needs to be done to implement the Right to Education Act is to build schools. Free education is possible only if there are schools for children to go and study. If the Centre feels that it is not in a position to built schools especially in the rural areas, it should seek the help of private companies.

K.M. Dastoor

Hyderabad

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

RICH-POOR DIVIDE

BY ARJUN SENGUPTA

 

A totally unnecessary controversy has been raised on the estimates of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) about the number of people (836 million or 77 per cent of the population) at the end of 2004-2005 living below Rs 20 per day. These numbers were not invented by the NCEUS but were derived from published household data of consumption by National Sample Survey (NSS). All the NCEUS did was to divide the country in terms of per capita consumption into six groups:

* Extremely poor — up to 0.75 per cent of poverty line (PL)

* Poor (0.75 per cent to 1PL)


* Marginally poor (1 to 1.25 PL)


* Vulnerable (1.25-2 PL)


* Middle income (2-4 PL)


* High-income (above 4 PL).

Neither did the NCEUS invent any new poverty line. It used the official poverty line as a benchmark to classify the categories of poor, only to make the data comparable over a period, for three different years of NSS survey — 1993-1994, 1999-2000 and 2004-2006.

According to that exercise in 2004-2005, the absolute number of people in category one of "extremely poor" was 70 million, which had a substantial fall from the corresponding number of 103 million in 1993-1994. In the second category of "poor" also, the numbers declined but to a much smaller extent, from 172 million in 1993-1994 to 167 million in 2004-2005. Taken together people below the official poverty line declined significantly from 275 million to 237 million.

But for the next two groups, "marginally poor" and "vulnerable", the trend was reversed from 458 million in 1993-1994 to 599 million in 2004-2005. The average per capita consumption of the fourth group, described as "vulnerable" was Rs 20 per day, which was highest among all the four groups "extremely poor", "poor", "marginally poor" and "vulnerable". That is how the NCEUS calculated that 836 million (77 per cent of the population) were living below Rs 20 per day.

Since this was an average, there will always be some people even in the fourth group who will be having more than Rs 20 per day consumption. As the purpose of the NCEUS was to give an overall, comparable picture, it dealt with average numbers and, therefore, the statement that 77 per cent of the Indian population in 2004-2008 on an average were having less than Rs 20 per day consumption was perfectly correct. The truth of the statement does not change even if different political groups use it for their own purpose. Effectively it makes clear that in spite of 10 years of high economic growth after the reforms of the earlier 90s, roughly 77 per cent of the population do not live on more than Rs 20 per day.

In a sense, this is a major indictment of policies for growth after economic reforms. Two points should be noted here: First, the data ends with 2004-2005 when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government first took over; second, during the period 1994-1995 to 2004-2005 the country was ruled by both Congress and non-Congress governments so the indictment was not against the Congress Party but against the ways reform policies were practised.

The UPA government followed quite different sets of policies. First, it raised the levels of social expenditure to much higher rates during the whole period. Secondly, it targeted the most vulnerable people, namely the rural poor unemployed (through National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and Bharat Nirman programmes), small marginal farmers (through loan waivers) and several specific schemes to benefit rural and urban poor.

So it is reasonably certain that although we do not have any new sample numbers, during the last seven years of the UPA government, from 2004-2010, the per capita consumption must have gone up. But that is not a great comfort. Even if a new survey shows improvement of per capita consumption, it is hardly likely that people living below Rs 20 per day will be much less than 70 per cent of our population. There is a long way to go to change the situation and what the NCEUS tried to show is that we need very specific programmes with the aim of removing poverty and raising per capita consumption and standards of living.

The UPA government, instead of trying to disprove the veracity of these numbers, which can be done only if the government holds a public debate with the academics and experts, should try to implement the polices suggested by the NCEUS. These policies designed to bring those people into the mainstream of economic development, primarily through extending their job opportunities and earning capacity through credit technology and marketing facilities for their enterprises. It also emphasised on policies that increase their employment through skill formation. Since most of the enterprises would remain as they are now in unorganised sector, the NCEUS spelt out several programmes to improve the productivity and viability of the unorganised sector enterprises. Very little has been done by the UPA in that direction.

There are two other major findings of the NCEUS that have not attracted much public notice. First, those groups of people, from "poor" to "vulnerable", also account for the most socially-discriminated and disadvantaged group of the country — 87.8 per cent of the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) belong to this group, 85 per cent of all Muslims, except ST/SCs, and 77.9 per cent of all Other Backward Classes, except Muslims, belong to these groups.

This is a coalition of the deprived and discriminated people of India which may suddenly explode to disrupt the normal functioning of the other 23 per cent India which is "shining" with high incomes, luxury consumption.

Further, most of the people from "poor" and "vulnerable" are not employable — 86 per cent of India's illiterate belong to these groups as also 78.6 per cent of people with education only up to the primary level. As a result most of these people earn their living as informal workers with no security of jobs, wages, health or insurance against vulnerabilities. So all the current programmes of expanding primary health or education have to focus on these people, simultaneously with job training and skill development programmes.

The NCEUS does not exist any more but the reports exist which have now become a subject of worldwide discussions because of the meticulous nature of their study and most constructive suggestions. Their observations and suggestions will be repeated again and again by experts, political parties and socially-discriminated groups. It is high time that UPA government realises this and does something substantially.

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

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

OF CRAZY RUMOURS & BIZARRE BELIEFS

A MINISTER MESSES UP

Assam's social welfare minister, Akan Bora, almost messed up the careful plans devised by the Congress and the chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, to win both the seats for the Rajya Sabha.

The Congress had made moves to win over 10 MLAs from Opposition to ensure the victory of its two Rajya Sabha candidates and gave strict warnings to its own MLAs to prevent cross voting.

Then the shocking news came that Mr Bora committed the blunder of signing the ballot paper leading to the cancellation of his vote. This happened because the minister was too clever by half. His rival, Ripun Bora, was the election agent and the minister thought the former was trying to mislead him by asking him not to sign the ballot paper. So he promptly went ahead and signed it, inviting trouble. An angry Mr Gogoi immediately summoned Mr Bora and was planning to sack him. But then the minister walked in and fell at his feet, begging an apology. The chief minister had no choice but to forgive him.

A tycoon's quirks

India's own mobile phone tycoon, Sunil Bharti Mittal, has got a peculiar habit — he turns his face away from mutton briyani or the butter chicken and turns vegetarian whenever he is about to make a multi-billion deal.

Last time, when he was looking to acquire South African company MTN, the Punjab da puttar twice refrained from eating meat. But the deal fell through.

However, insiders say that Mr Mittal's habit is bearing fruits, slowly but surely. Last week his company signed an agreement with Kuwait's Zain to buy the latter's African assets valued at $10.7 billion. This is the largest acquisition by an Indian company after Tata bought Corus and has made Bharti the world's fifth largest telecom company. But Mr Mittal is still not ready to take a risk. He plans to eat meat only after the deal closes.

A joke with a twist

On April 1, rumour mills worked overtime to spread the tale that the Orissa chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, had decided to quit his post and settle down at Parish to author books. Political leaders, officials and mediapersons were all on their toes till the chief minister's personal staff denied the reports as "mischievous rumours" late in the evening. Mediapersons received telephone calls in the morning from sources who claimed to belong to the inner circles of the chief minister who asked them to be ready for an important announcement.

As is the wont, journalists went on an overdrive and tried to confirm the news with ministers and officials. It took a few hours for everyone to realise that it was only an April fool joke. But the worst part of the joke, at least for the chief minister, was that he had chosen his political rival and Assam governor J.B. Patnaik as his successor.

Maya's whimsical ways

There is a strange jinx working on anyone who tries to please the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Mayawati. The jinx started when two senior officials landed up at her residence, armed with sweets and bouquets, to wish her a happy New Year. Though the Iron lady accepted the gifts, she promptly suspended the two on flimsy grounds the very next day. The two men who wrote Maya Puran and Maya Chalisa, eulogising the chief minister have also been banned from the chief minister's office. Reason still not known.

Likewise, a Bahujan Samaj Party leader from Kanpur who gifted the chief minister a plot of land on the moon on her birthday, found himself behind the bars as soon as reports of the unusual gift appeared in the media.

The latest one to face Ms Maya's ire is a lawyer from Banda district who has announced his plans to build a temple for her. The local police are hunting for the lawyer who is now on the run. After this, it is doubtful if anyone will try to appease mighty Ms Maya.

'Loyal' receptions

The loyalists of the former chief minister,
Vasundhara Raje, are a quirky lot. Whenever their leader faces a rebuff or gets an accolade, they organise a reception for her.

She received an overwhelming reception when she was back to Jaipur from Delhi after her elevation to the post of the party's national general secretary.

"When she was asked to resign from the post of Leader of the Opposition, her supporters organised a reception", said a detractor of Ms Raje in the party. "When she was summoned by the party to Delhi, they organised a send-off. When she quit her post, there was another felicitation. And now that she became general secretary, it is receptions all the way".

An Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader added in good measure, "These people are only interested in baithaks (meetings), bhojan (food) and vishram (rest)".

However, Ms Raje's loyalists say that she is a mass leader and deserves such grand functions.

Bhojan or khana?

For most of us, both bhojan and khana simply means food. But in the BJP circuit these two are used as "code words" whenever there is a lunch or dinner hosted by party leaders. A senior leader explained: "Bhojan means you will be served only pure vegetarian food, while khana includes non-vegetarian food items. Most leaders ask their host whether they would be served bhojan or khana". On most occasions it is bhojan that is served, the BJP leader clarified.

Jena's pound of flesh

The union minister of state for chemicals and fertiliser, Srikant Jena, has scored a brownie point over his arch rival, the Orissa chief minister, Naveen Patnaik.

Mr Jena was once touted as political inheritor of legendary Biju Patnaik. But Mr Naveen Patnaik took over the mantle of the then Janata Dal in Orissa after his father's death, elbowing Mr Jena out of the party. Mr Jena, who later joined Congress. Both the leaders recently took part in an investors' meet organised by Indian Chamber of Commerce. At the end of the meet, the organisers started a question and answer session, much to the discomfiture of Mr Naveen Patnaik. The industry captains fired questions one after another at an unprepared Mr Naveen Patnaik leaving him embarrassed and unsettled. Mr Jena, who shared the dais with Mr Naveen Patnaik, was seen smiling all along.

A lesson for Kabir

It is not the first time that the rebel Trinamul Congress MP, Kabir Suman, has thrown tantrums. He has been embarrassing the party chief, Mamata Banerjee, for the past six months.

First he levelled charges of corruption against a section of party leaders. His tirade against a district leader Sovan Chatterjee considered close to Ms Banerjee is also old hat.

His displeasure with the party chief for not opposing the ongoing joint operations against the Maoists in Lalgarh is also not new. But this time the singer-turned-politician apparently bit off more than he can chew. He sent a text message to Ms Banerjee threatening to resign, but unlike before, Ms Banerjee did not depute anyone to placate him and instead requested the Lok Sabha Speaker, Meira Kumar, to cancel his membership. Mr Suman realised rather late that he was dealing with the agni kanya of Indian politics.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE BEAUTY OF ISLAM

BY PAUL GOODMAN

For anyone trying to follow the journey begun by Abraham, conversion to Islam should recommend itself with compulsive force. It's the most plausible of the three religions that look back to him. Near the root of Judaism is the conviction that a single people are chosen by God. At the core of Christianity is the belief that a man was God and rose from the dead. Both claims seem to spit in the face of reason. Nonetheless, the suggestion that Islam might be preferable to either is objectionable to modern Western minds. It provokes visions of frenzy: failing states, suicide bombers, fanatical mullahs, shrouded women, burning books, oppressed minorities. But it should also conjure images of tranquillity: serene mosques, the circles of dhikr, a certain detachment from the claims of politics, distaste for the extremism within its own ranks of which the Prophet Mohammed warned, and — until fairly recently — better treatment of religious minorities than Europe's.

For most of its history Islam has been the most relaxed of the three faiths. It neither aches for the coming of a Messiah nor announces that outside the church there is no salvation. It offers monotheism for all. The path to paradise isn't closed by original sin. Rather, it remains open, but man strays from it in heedlessness and forgetfulness. I converted from Judaism to Catholicism in my mid-20s. Changing one's religion once is enough to be going on with. Perhaps this thought has inhibited me to date from doing so a second time, and accepting Jesus of Nazareth as a great prophet rather than as the saviour of the world. If I'm remembered for taking up any cause in the Commons, it may be for fencing at Islamism and its fellow-travellers in Britain. But Islamism is a polluted tributary of the great river of Islam, and my allergy to a politicised version of the religion hasn't deterred me from sitting at the feet, from time to time, of its traditional, classical form.

Islam has three advantages over modern Christianity. First, it has better preserved its liturgy. A Muslim prays five times a day in much the same way as his ancestors did at the time of Mohammed, perhaps because there's no single source of authority in Islam to drive through liturgical change. There are no guitars, inexact translations of Arabic into English and imams that face the people rather than Mecca. Pope Benedict, who understands the centrality of liturgy to religion, might see a connection between Islam's soaring numbers and its immutable worship.

Second, it has better preserved its spiritual inheritance, and kept polished the chains of spiritual transmission. The silsilah is a chain — the pupil receiving authority from a master who received it from his own master, and so on all the way back to Mohammed. Christianity has its apostolic succession. But this is the preserve of the bishops, not the laity, and in Islam everyone is a layman. This may help to prove that flat structures protect tradition more effectively than hierarchical ones. For better and worse, Islam has experienced no Reformation or Enlightenment — no questioning of the transmission of the Quran to Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel himself. There is a gimmicklessness about the practice of its spirituality.

Third, it has Sufism — the sum of that spiritual inheritance. I'm not dewy-eyed about Sufis, but the tradition they follow is one of the world's great religious movements, balancing the Quran's proclamation of the transcendence of God — "Who begetteth not, nor is begotten, and none is like Him" — with its persistent whisperings of immanence, of a God who "is nearer to him than his jugular vein". I've ploughed my way through 61 of the 62 discourses in Jilani of Baghdad's Al-Fath Al-Rabbani — literally "the Revelations of the Lord".

Each discourse is supported by verses from the Quran. The first chapter quotes the following: "Surely, God is with those who are patient". It's a theme of Jilani's, and seems to be one of Islam's as a whole. The religion appears to lack that Western word, angst. Perhaps the ox-like endurance of suffering is a feature of less developed societies. But for whatever reason, a sense of Jacob wrestling with the angel is never long absent from either Christianity or Judaism. Why suffering happens is one of the greatest human mysteries. In Christianity, God plunges into the depths of suffering and transforms it through the Resurrection. The good old story may not make suffering bearable, but it may at least make it comprehensible. Once it's accepted, the Trinity becomes a partner rather than a stranger to reason.

The vision of Islam — of actualising the divine names as Mohammed did, thereby restoring man's original nature — has, as all great religions do, its own romance. But some calls must be questioned, however imperiously they're couched. There's cause for the eye of faith to pass on from the black stone of the Kaaba, and rest upon the white cloths that lay folded, on that first Easter morning, inside an empty tomb.

- Paul Goodman is Conservative MP for Wycombe and shadow minister for communities and local government

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

BEING IS THE BASIC ACTION

BY THICH NHAT HAHN

When we observe humans doing something together we can also see the wisdom, the intelligence, the experiences handed down to them by many generations of humans that have come before. The social insects too have their means of communication. They don't use language like us but they do communicate. The bees can dance, they can release pheromone messages in form of chemicals that can communicate very well and sometimes perfectly. The ants can also dance and make sonorous vibrations to communicate, and they also release pheromone, tiny particles of chemicals that can communicate so well. We humans, we use language. We know how to store information, we know how to process and how to retrieve information. We know how to communicate. We use language, we use fax, we use email, we use telegrams and telephone and so on, but sometimes communication is difficult.

In a practicing Sangha (a group or community of people undertaking joint meditation and similar learning engagements) we communicate with each other also, but the base of our communication is silence. Sitting in a Sangha — even if you don't do anything — makes you alive, makes you solid, makes you happy. In the modern world, we have very sophisticated instruments and means for communications, but very often we feel stuck. Sangha communication is based on freedom from discrimination.

The bees are always doing something: building the hive. The ants are always trying to do something: building the hill. We humans, we the members of the Sangha, may be our spiritual vocation, our biological structure tells us that we are there also to build some kind of hill, some kind of hive, but we don't do it by our work alone. We don't do it by action alone, we do it by non-action, namely, being. Because doing is not the only thing we can do as humans and as members of a Sangha. Being is the basic action. It can be called non-action, but that is the foundation of all meaningful actions. So when you observe the organism of a Sangha, you see there is action but you see there is non-action. That means being, and being is an art. When we come and sit together, we are not doing anything, but our being together, our confidence in the path, in the practice, in the Sangha is a tremendous source of energy. This energy is able to heal and transform us. It brings us solidity, freedom and joy. So, non-action, being, is the foundation of all kinds of actions.

When we practise walking together we don't do anything, we just enjoy every step we take. When you see the centipede walking with so many feet, we are like that, we are just one body with so many feet walking at the same time. And where do we go? We go nowhere because our destination is the here and the now where life is available right now. And, therefore, every step brings us to the here and the now — to life and all its wonders that are available in that moment.

— Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most respected Zen masters in the world today. He is also a poet and peace and human rights activist. For information in India about Thich Nhat Hanh's Mindfulness Meditation email ahimsa.trust@gmail.com [1] or visit www.ahimsatrust.org [2]

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

EDITORIAL

ONLY THE START

 

The euro was trading around $1.50 at the beginning of December. By the end of March, it was down to $1.35 — it had lost 10 per cent of its dollar value in four months. Although the European Union has a central bank, it does not intervene in the exchange market like the Reserve Bank of India; it is the market that has marked down the euro. It fears the outcome of the developing Greek crisis. In December, Greece disclosed that it had been lying about its national debt, which was twice as high as it had been made out to be. Not surprisingly, the credit rating of the Greek government nosedived; it became that much more difficult to finance maturing debt payments. In February, the Greek budget was placed under the supervision of the European Commission to restore confidence in the figures. But the EC needed a go-ahead of the heads of State before it could mount a rescue.

 

They met in Brussels on March 26. There, Angela Merkel refused to support a bailout for Greece. That was a turning point. It signalled the end of Germany's role as champion and protector of the EU which it has played steadfastly since the formation of the union. It means that Greece has to choose before long between declaring bankruptcy and tightening its belt unbearably. Just how much it would have to tighten its belt can be judged from the fact that its public debt is over $400 billion, 25 per cent more than its gross domestic product, and its external debt is over $550 billion, 75 per cent more than its GDP. With government revenue over $100 billion, Greece could perhaps continue to service its public debt. But it is doubtful that its balance of payments can bear the strain of debt servicing. Since Greece is a member of the EU, it has no currency of its own. Hence devaluation to improve the BoP is out of the question. The only way it can be improved is by reducing domestic demand. If the government does not do this by taxing more or spending less, the rest of the economy will have to undergo a contraction of incomes and jobs. If imports shrink as a result, that would help the BoP.

 

But here too, Greece faces a peculiar difficulty. It is the world's greatest maritime nation; its biggest export is shipping services. And ships are not anchored in Greece's harbours. They can go and be domiciled anywhere. If the fortunes of Greece look uncertain, its shipowners could well go and register their ships in other countries; that would deprive Greece of ships' earnings. So it is difficult at the moment to see how Greece can avoid default and bankruptcy. That may not be the end, but the beginning of a sequence that cannot be imagined.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

CROSSED WIRES

 

That Good Friday was comparatively sombre on Park Street is an indication that Stephen Court will not be easily forgotten. But that painful memory would be most meaningful if it could finally induce a change in Calcutta's approach to fire-safety. What the tragedy made clear is that people have to help themselves as a first step. The investigations and analyses of the problems of old buildings being undertaken by the media have revealed a number of areas in which the residents could act. They could locate the most vulnerable spots in the building and try to see how those can be improved, maybe with the help of electricians and other experts, keep safety equipment at hand, look after the maintenance of the building, or repair broken-down fire-escape stairs. These would help somewhat, even if they cost money. Some problems would be intractable, of course, such as a wooden staircase as the only way of escaping the building, but a high awareness is some part of the battle won.

And it is ultimately the citizens who would have to compel the fire services minister and the department he heads to be accountable. The authorities cannot be allowed to remain indifferent to the fact that only 1,640 firefighters and operators have been functioning in a department that needs 4,540 personnel. On top of that, essential firefighting and safety equipment has not been bought although there is no dearth of money for it. Far from modernizing the service, the minister is not even interested in providing the men with means of communication. They try to get in touch with one another in an emergency on their own mobile phones, which do not always work. In any case, emergency strategies cannot be coordinated over mobile phones. Recently, some firemen got trapped when trying to put out a fire in a colony. They could not get through to their colleagues. By the time they were found some were critically injured. Nothing has so far moved the fire minister to action, but maybe pressure from citizens, generously applied, will dent his love of rest.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

FARMERS' WOES

STATE POLICIES HAVE REDUCED INDIAN AGRICULTURE TO A PARLOUS STATE

COMMENTARAO: S.L. RAO

 

A meticulously researched book by A. Vaidyanathan, Agricultural Growth in India: Role of Technology, Incentives and Institutions, is an illuminating scholarly work. Thinking about it one realizes the dismal and declining state of Indian agriculture and the poor governance at both Central and state government levels that has brought it to this sorry pass. A valuable compendium of data and analysis of Indian agriculture since Independence, it is a valuable reference to the policies and resultant developments in agriculture. Vaidyanathan is among the most distinguished of Indian researchers. His range of work is wide and covers empirical and conceptual research, policy formulations and governance and socio-economic research. This book puts together his wide spectrum of work on Indian agriculture.

 

My observations draw on this book and other data. Governments at the Centre and the states have long followed populist, short-sighted agricultural policies that have not benefited agriculture. Declining productivity, destruction of the underground water table in large parts of the country, growing salinity and damage to limited land resources have kept the rural population in poverty, and dependent on agriculture. "Bharat" is the nomenclature given to this agricultural India while marketers use "India" for the much better-off urban India.

 

After Independence and in the first five-year plan, the emphasis was on agriculture. Land reforms, big dams, irrigation projects, canals, mechanisms to get scientific research to the farmer, minimum support prices to ensure that the farmer got a remunerative price for his produce were some major policy instruments that led to faster agricultural growth. Concurrently, a food procurement and public distribution system was introduced, primarily to give the urban industrial worker protection through food and other necessities at below-market prices. The industrial unions exercised political clout and agitated for low prices for workers' essential foods. Low retail prices on ration cards meant low prices for the farmer.

 

When working on the extent of subsidy in Indian agriculture in the early 1990s, Ashok Gulati compared international and domestic prices. He concluded that Indian agriculture was negatively subsidized. Insulating domestic from international prices minimized the burden on government budgets caused by public distribution. The Indian farmer could have earned more if he had sold his produce, especially foodgrains, abroad.

 

Restriction on exports and imports of agricultural products was said to be in the interests of the Indian farmer. It resulted in distortions and inefficiencies. Thus, the policy of self-sufficiency for edible oils like groundnut and coconut diverted some unsuitable Indian farmlands to oilseeds. Other crops might have been more efficient. Neighbouring Southeast Asian countries produced groundnut, coconut and palm oil more efficiently and sold them cheaper — at a profit for their farmers. They could have met any shortfalls in India's production.

 

The concept of minimum support prices was extended to even commercial crops. Cotton was a good example, with State procurement agencies piling up large stocks and making huge losses in order to ensure higher prices to farmers. Sugarcane mills, controlled in states like Maharashtra by politicians, also exploited the sugarcane grower for the benefit of the sugar factories.

 

The Lyndon Johnson administration that gave foodgrain loans to India under PL 480 was criticized for insisting that India focus on agriculture and food production. To avoid an annual begging pilgrimage, India mounted a Green Revolution, which for years gave self-sufficiency and even surpluses in foodgrains. Recently, the government has permitted vested interests to export grains even when local supplies were short and prices were rising.

 

Minimum support prices to guarantee sales soon became procurement prices for grains for the PDS, adding to government costs. Government procurement and distribution involved vast logistics and coordination to move grain from farm to retail ration shops across India. Huge corruption and waste at all levels was proven. Many of the really needy did not even get ration cards, while the cheap grains went to the better-off or were diverted for sale in the market or for processing.

 

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Green Revolution was made possible because agricultural research reached the farmer. Later, the number of extension personnel did not match the demand for the services. After the 1980s, agricultural research did not reach the farmer on many occasions. Advice on soil conditions, fertilizer balancing, good seeds, the careful use of water, and relating them to crops, was not available to most farmers.

 

Worse, the government adopted a populist fertilizer pricing policy. Urea was priced low while phosphatic and potassic fertilizers were priced disproportionately high. So, the government paid high subsidy costs to fertilizer factories which kept raising costs of production. The farmer used unbalanced and excessive quantities of urea, to the detriment of land productivity.

 

According to Indian law, underground minerals belong to the State, but water belongs to the landowner. No restrictions exist on groundwater extraction. Poor farmers with shallow wells see them dry as neighbours use pumps. Shortsighted politicians seek votes by underpricing electricity for pump sets or even giving them free. This has changed cropping patterns. Many dry lands now grow wet land crops, resulting in depleted groundwater in many parts of India. In many states, it has made land saline and unusable.

 

Water has been very poorly managed by governments. Irrigation water is grossly underpriced. Operation and maintenance costs of dams and canals are only fractionally met by water tariffs. Small irrigation projects like check dams and other watershed management exercises were rarely invested in. Government funds went to pay for subsidies on fertilizer, grains, cotton, writing off farmer loans, and so on, apart from electricity subsidies. This money, if it had been invested in creating assets for water conservation, irrigation, storage, roads, transport, would have improved agricultural productivity, cut wastage and given more remunerative prices to the farmer.

 

The rural credit survey committee of A.D. Shroff had in the late 1950s identified the need for easy rural credit. Despite many committees since then, rural credit remains inadequate. Instead, governments, by periodically writing off unpaid farmer loans, encourage the inefficient and penalize the efficient, as well as discourage lending institutions from lending to farmers.

 

However, the farmer has changed crops for his survival. Wheat and rice now account only for 20.8 per cent of "agriculture and allied activities" in the country's gross domestic product. Milk and horticulture each accounts for 17.6 per cent of agriculture, and receives little or no government support. Nor do coarse grains like pulses that account for 6.6 per cent of agriculture (versus wheat at 8.1 per cent). Government policies are fixated on rice and wheat (and to an extent on sugar and cotton). These two crops contribute 3.3 per cent of GDP and receive two per cent or so of GDP as subsidies. This has preempted government funds from creating assets, institutions, helping other agricultural production, and diminished social sector expenditures.

 

Contract farming for large corporations and farmers has also led to changes in crops, farming practices, and more remunerative incomes for farm owners. Similarly, genetic modification appears to have given a boost to productivity of cotton.

 

Indian agriculture has been planned for by urban economists with ideological predilections favouring industrial labour and trade, not farmers and farm labour. They have sacrificed the essentials for the marginal and populist policies. In the process, agricultural productivity has declined. The nation, the farmer, and the consumer have not benefited. The inefficient public procurement and distribution have slowed and even stopped the agricultural clock. Public investment for asset creation has been declining, as has necessary legislation to improve returns on agriculture.

 

The author is former director-general, National Council for Applied Economic Research

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

LOCAL ENEMIES

GWYNNE DYER

 

"Whether you are in a Moscow subway or a London subway or a train in Madrid or an office building in New York, we face the same enemy," said US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, responding to the twin suicide bombings on the Moscow metro system that killed 39 commuters. And it's true: the Chechens, the enemies of all mankind, are everywhere these days. No? That's not what she meant? Oh, she really meant that Muslims are the common enemy, whether they are Chechen Muslims in Moscow or British Muslims of Pakistani descent in London or Moroccan Muslims in Madrid. That's a relief. Then all we have to do to be safe is get rid of all the Muslims.

 

Hang on a minute! What she really meant was that we all face the same enemy, a shadowy network of Islamist extremists who plot terrorist attacks against innocent people, mostly Christians, all around the world. But they aren't true Muslims, or they wouldn't do such terrible things. Okay, I'll stop now, but do you see why it makes me so cross? A terrible event happens somewhere, and then we have to listen to politicians talk pompous nonsense about it. Terrorism cannot be the common enemy, because it is only a technique. Enemies have to be people — and the people who use terrorist techniques have little in common from one place to another.

 

The Chechens, who are strongly suspected of being behind the Moscow bombs, are waging a quite traditional colonial struggle for independence. As they are Muslims, they have increasingly adopted the Islamist ideology that is now fashionable in Muslim revolutionary circles. But in practice, their sole target remains Russia, the imperial power that oppresses them. There have never been any Chechen bombs on the London underground, or on the commuter rail network in Madrid, or in office buildings in New York, nor will there ever be. Russia, like Israel, has been remarkably successful in selling other countries the notion that they must maintain a joint front against 'terrorism', but the fact is that the only terrorist threat either government faces is from its own subject peoples.

 

Wicked plans

 

Chechnya declared its independence in 1991. Moscow rejected the declaration on the grounds that it did not have the right to secede under the old Soviet constitution, and that letting it go would create a precedent for some of the other 20 ethnic republics within the Russian federation to leave as well. Moscow tried to reconquer Chechnya in 1994-96 in a war that left Grozny, the capital, in ruins, and about 35,000 Chechen civilians dead. The Chechens actually defeated the Russian army, and a ceasefire in 1996 was followed by Russian recognition of Chechen independence in 1997. However, Vladimir Putin reopened the war in 1999, and Chechnya has been back under the Russian heel for the past 10 years.

 

None of this has the slightest relevance to people outside Russia, nor to the anti-Russian terrorist campaign that was the inevitable aftermath of the Chechen defeat. It is as localized as the Basque terrorism that afflicts Spain or the occasional terrorist killings carried out by breakaway, diehard Republican groups in Northern Ireland. And as pointless, for the Chechens too have decisively and permanently lost.

 

All terrorist attacks on civilians are wicked, because they transgress one of the few boundaries that we have managed to place on war. Most wicked of all are attacks that are mere vengeance after all hope of victory is gone.That is what the Moscow metro bombings are, and therefore they are doubly to be condemned. But they should not be confused with some vast, global terrorist conspiracy although the Russian government naturally pushes that line. Let us hope that Hillary Clinton was just being polite to the Russians when she took the same line.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

DEADLY SHOTS

''THE REGULA-TORY SYSTEM CAN BE MADE STRONGER.''

 

The death of four tribal girls in Khammam, Andhra Pradesh, who were vaccinated with the human papiloma virus (HPV), shows, yet again, the lack of control over clinical trials in the country. The vaccination was a demonstration project and was intended to prevent cervical cancer. It was  undertaken by an NGO on behalf of a pharma multinational and the vaccine was administered to thousands of girls. The authorities have denied the deaths were caused by vaccination and have claimed the girls committed suicide. But there are serious doubts about the project. Though the authorities have denied any side-effects, it has been confirmed that many girls suffered from problems like epileptic fits and nausea after the vaccination. As in the case of many clinical trials, the full truth is not revealed to the public.


In the strict sense of the term the HPV vaccination programme was not a clinical trial as the vaccine is ready and is even sold in the country. But the demonstrative nature of the project makes it a clinical trial.  It has now come to light that the vaccine has not undergone country-specific safety trials. The International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC) is conducting these trials and before the results are known the vaccine was administered to thousands of girls and is being sold over the counter. The dangers posed by unregulated clinical trials to human lives and health are well-known. Many of the companies that undertake such trials are known for their unethical conduct.


The government has claimed that the regulatory system is strong. But it can be made stronger. The testing procedures and processes should be more transparent. The rules are not implemented effectively. Otherwise how can a vaccine which is only undergoing trials in controlled conditions be administered to thousands of school girls? The authorities even tried to defend themselves with the claim that the girls' parents had given their informed consent for the vaccinations. What does consent from illiterate tribal parents mean? Such trials have resulted in deaths in the past, including in the premier medical institution AIIMS. A Delhi court issued a notice to the health ministry last year for giving permission for use of untested vaccines. All this underlines the need for more caution and vigil in dealing with clinical trials. Poor and ignorant people should not be allowed to become victims of the use of untested vaccines and unsafe trials.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

LIABILITY, INDEED

''THE DRAFT IS NOT IN THE COUNTRY'S BEST INTERESTS.''

 

 

With India and the US reaching an agreement on the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, both countries have moved closer to implementation of the civil nuclear deal. An agreement on reprocessing rights had evaded finalisation because of India's reluctance to allow American officials' entry into reprocessing facilities for inspection and demands for more than one reprocessing facility and for narrowing of the conditions under which the US can suspend reprocessing permission. Negotiations on these contentious issues continued for months and the final agreement reflects a compromise on them, with both sides feeling that their concerns and demands have been adequately addressed.


The American officials' visits, restricted to only once in five years after an initial visit, will be only consultative and not intrusive and interventionist. Only the International Atomic Energy Agency's safeguards regime will be respected and its inspectors allowed entry and inspection. The Indian demand for more than one reprocessing facility has also been agreed to as there is risk in transporting nuclear fuel. Only two facilities have been conceded but there is a provision for expanding, modifying or adding to them and augmenting the refuelling capacity. This takes care of needs that may arise in future. The new agreement also makes it extremely difficult for the US to suspend reprocessing rights. It can suspend the rights only if there is a serious threat to its own national security or to the physical security of the facilities. The US had wanted this to be an open-ended clause and India had wanted only 'exceptional circumstances' as a ground for any US decision on suspension. In the event the provision is closer to the Indian demand than to the original US position. This will probably eliminate a Tarapur-like situation in which the US had denied reprocessing rights to India. The agreement has also instituted safeguards which will ease US concerns about diversion of fuel and should be acceptable to the US public and legislators.


What remains on the table is the nuclear liability bill which India has to legislate. As drafted by the government it has provisions which are not in the country's best interests. It should rework the bill in such a way that the victims do not get a raw deal in the event of a nuclear mishap. The prime minister has promised to do this and it is for the government to convince the country that the law serves our needs and interests best.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

COMEDY OF MIRRORS

"SHAKESPEARE TOOK CARE, WHEN WRITING 'ROMEO AND JULIET', TO MAKE THEM ABOUT 15 YEARS OF AGE."

M J AKBAR


A comedy of errors is a minor fracas. We have all been there. But beware the comedy of mirrors, when you don't get what you see — or, worse, you don't see what you get.


Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik have known 'true love', or one of its many transitory manifestations, before, otherwise the first would not have got engaged and the second would not have got married earlier. There is another lady in Hyderabad, Ayesha, who is displaying a nikahnama as proof of an earlier Malik marriage. The Malik family is careful in its response, describing the document as invalid rather than a forgery. But they are safe, since there is no legal hitch to the Shoaib-Sania wedding: Muslim men can marry four times in Pakistan (or, indeed, in India). Sania recently celebrated her engagement to a childhood friend who turned out, on closer inspection, to be maritally challenged.


Shakespeare took care, when writing 'Romeo and Juliet', to make them about 15 years of age, in the middle of their teens. You have to be gloriously naïve to die for love. Adults live for love, and hope for sustainable compatibility in marriage. It is ironic that the term 'Romeo' has acquired connotations of promiscuity when the actual chap was the very model of high romance and fidelity.


Shoaib is 30, and certainly not a Shakespearean Romeo, either in age or temperament. At 30 the original Romeo would have had a son looking around for his own Juliet. Sania has surely factored in the possibility that her soon-to-be-husband might have been a modern rather than an old-fashioned Romeo. But that is a meaningless quibble. She is perfectly aware of the implications of her decision, including the fact that she is marrying a Pakistani. She has every right to make a personal choice that transcends nationality, but she must indulge in the luxury of illusions.


There are other issues, etched in the sexual subconscious of the subcontinent, some of which can barely be mentioned in print but resonate through a mass psychology created by subsets of false arrogance. Signals will be read into television images once the drama is given its visuals.


Sania and Shoaib are stellar magnets for the media, and their marriage will be a public event with repercussions and interpretations beyond their mutual relationship. Pakistani tennis authorities have already made a claim on her; although we have not been told whether Pakistan's morality monitors have endorsed the short skirts and T-shirts Sania wears on tennis courts. Her mother-in-law, apparently, has already said that such sartorial minimalism is not her preferred taste. India has no problems with skirts, but it might have one with such mothers-in-law.

Love is about wives and husbands; marriage is about mothers-in-law. Fed with the adrenalin of illusion, it is easy to rush in where angels dare to tread. In your happy delirium you do not notice that the honeymoon has been named after a moon, and a moon wanes after it waxes — and if you are not careful, disappears behind a cloud. Sania's first serious lunar probe should be to find out whether she has become a wife or a trophy wife. This would apply on both the individual and collective level.


Shoaib Malik's track record is not very encouraging, if his 'alleged' first wife Ayesha is to be believed. It was a marriage, apparently, made in a telephone bhavan, since the nikah was solemnised over long-distance phone on June 3, 2002. Ayesha's photographs in which she seemed slim, it seems, entranced Shoaib. According to Ayesha, she was dumped when he discovered that she was fat. Shoaib contests this. But it would be unusual for a conventional Indian woman to invent a high-profile accusation of such a sensitive nature. In any case, the relevant point for Sania is not the weight of an allegation that may or may not be true, but the weight of the reason. If Ayesha's problem was the difference between pose and adipose, I hope, for her sake, that Sania is immune to rising fat levels in her body.


Equally, for her sake, I hope Sania has not become a trophy wife for her husband's country.


Sania still believes that she can continue to be a citizen of India. This is correct in theory; the practice might be another story. India and Pakistan do not permit dual citizenship. Pakistan law demands that if a citizen's spouse wants to live in the country, he or she must become a Pakistani citizen. A subcontinent mother-in-law might wonder why her son's wife can only meet her with permission from the government. And Sania would need a separate passport booklet only for Pak visas.

 

For the couple, Dubai will be a residence, not a home. Sania and Shoaib are sports professionals. Their flutter with the limelight is lucrative, but brief. Their children will need a nationality, and, unless they shift to London or America, they will be Pakistani. Sania is welcome to whatever future she has fashioned for herself, but she should not fool herself into believing that she can marry a Pakistani and retain the rights and privileges of an Indian. On April 11 Sania Mirza will acquire the right to become a citizen of Pakistan, with its mother-in-law's dress codes. She should grasp the opportunity. Why the reluctance?

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

STATE SECRET: WE CAN'T TELL YOU


For more than 20 years, it was settled law, born of bitter experience, that the government may not eavesdrop on people in the United States without a warrant.

 

Until, that is, after the 9/11 attacks, when President George W Bush ordered the National Security Agency to ignore the law. When 'The Times' disclosed the spying in late 2005, Bush argued that the attacks changed everything: Due process and privacy were luxuries the country could no longer afford. Far too many members of Congress bought this argument. Others, afraid of being painted as soft on terror, refused to push back. In 2008, at the White House's insistence, they expanded the government's ability to eavesdrop without warrants.


Even that was not enough for the Bush administration, which insisted that targets of the earlier, illegal spying could not sue the government because what happened was 'too secret' even to be discussed in court. The Obama administration has embraced the secrecy argument and has used it to block several cases. Fortunately, it has not completely succeeded.


Accountability at stake

The chief judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, Vaughn Walker, ruled last week that the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was the law of the land for Bush and that when the government failed to get a warrant to wiretap, it broke the law. He also said that the government could not evade accountability with absurdly broad claims of state secrets.


This ruling does not end warrantless wiretapping. The particular programme 'The Times' uncovered has been suspended; there are still others, however, and the 2008 FISA amendments permit warrantless spying.


Judge Walker's ruling establishes that state secrecy claims do not trump the requirements of FISA. The next big case, filed by several human rights groups and still being appealed, challenges the 2008 amendments.

 

Judge Walker's ruling also provides a chilling account of the relentless efforts by the Bush administration and then the Obama administration to kill the civil lawsuit filed by an Islamic charity in Oregon called al-Haramain. The group was subjected to warrantless surveillance and then declared a sponsor of terrorism in 2004.


When the lawsuit was filed in 2006, the government argued that the charity and two lawyers who worked with it could not sue unless they knew the charity was being wiretapped. They could not know that because the wiretapping was secret. If they somehow found out, they could not prove the wiretapping was warrantless, because that was also a secret.


The plaintiffs first tried to build their case on a classified document they were given by mistake. When that document was suppressed, they showed from public records that they were subject to illegal surveillance. The government said that those should be suppressed, too. The lawyers argued that the only basis for a suit would be if the government admitted it had no warrant. And it would not admit that, because that was a secret.


A clearly exasperated Judge Walker said all the government had to do was produce a FISA warrant. It refused. Because any warrant was, well, you get it.


That reminded us of the movie 'Animal House' and the college dean who puts a fraternity on 'double-secret probation'. It doesn't know the rules, or even that it is on probation, so it can never get out of it. Judge Walker more politely called the government's defence 'argumentative acrobatics' that took a 'flying leap' and missed 'by a wide margin'.


The new suit over the FISA amendments points out that the supreme court recognised more than 40 years ago that there are few threats to liberty "greater than that posed by the use of eavesdropping devices." In fact, FISA was originally passed because of spying conducted on anti-Vietnam War protesters and civil rights activists.

Senator Obama promised repeatedly in the 2008 campaign to reverse Bush's many abuses of power. This was one of them. President Obama should read this court ruling with chagrin and eliminate warrantless spying. It is also far past time to stop hiding behind spurious, often ludicrous, claims of national security.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

SUMMER RAINS

IT WAS INTERESTING TO WATCH THE DIFFERENCE THE RAINS MADE.

BY BRINDA POORNAPRAGNA

 

A pleasant welcome awaited me as I stepped out of the office. A wisp of air brought with it the smell of damp earth — the first rains of summer had arrived. The late afternoon sun was playing with the thick black clouds, the air was moist and cool and the rain drops which were falling gave a perfect start to the evening!


As I sped away in the car, towards home there were a multitude of reflections and thoughts on the rains: on the freshness it brings with it and the changes which happen in nature.


The air conditioner of the car was no longer required. As I rolled down the windows, it hit me that the comfort which the fresh-rain laden winds bring can never be matched by the best air-conditioning that we have created!


It was interesting to see the difference these rains made and how the world reacted to it — pedestrians and people riding two-wheelers rushed for shelter and am sure were cursing themselves on why they did not get their rain gear; hawkers, rushing to nearby buildings were complaining that the rains would disrupt their business. And of course, people who live on the streets were upset the most.


As we drove along, I noticed the lush green lawns of the golf course and the trees on both sides of the road drenched fully in the rain — looking clean, fresh and full of life.


Further down, I noticed that the shower on two of the most beautiful buildings — Vidhana Soudha and Windsor Manor — had 'washed' the dust, which had continuously gathered over the last couple of months to give a new 'look'. But my thoughts did not stop with the buildings — I wondered whether the people who are an integral part of these buildings also feel and undergo a similar 'facelift'?

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

DISCRIMINATION AT BEN-GURION

 

Last week Israel deported three Swedish women from Ben-Gurion International Airport who had arrived in a group of seven young people of Jewish and Palestinian heritage, active members of a Jewish-Palestinian education group in Sweden. The three women - all Swedish citizens of Palestinian background, two of whom were born in Sweden - were loaded onto a plane home after being held at the airport for eight hours of intermittent questioning.


Amira Hass reported in Haaretz Hebrew Edition on Friday that a Jewish member in the group, Tigran Feiler - whose father is the Israeli-Swedish artist Dror Feiler and whose grandmother was among the founders of Kibbutz Yad Hanna - was also delayed in his arrival. In addition, he was asked to sign a statement that he would not enter Palestinian territory and was ordered to provide NIS 5,000 in collateral. Feiler ultimately signed under protest, stating that in his 25 previous visits to Israel he had never received such hostile treatment.

T
he Interior Ministry did not respond to a request by Haaretz to explain the authorities' conduct toward Feiler and the deportation of his compatriots, or to a request to supply figures on other foreign citizens deported under similar circumstances. Still, there has been a rise of incidents recently in which Israel has prevented foreigners from entering due to their pro-Palestinian views or activities in promoting peace. Two years ago, Jewish-American historian Norman Finkelstein was barred from entering the country on such grounds and was subjected to the humiliation of deportation after being questioned at Ben-Gurion.


It's hard to believe that the three Swedish women in question threatened national security, having come to Israel for educational purposes and to coordinate meetings between Israelis and Palestinians. The policy of closing the country's doors to visitors based on their political ideology is foreign to democratic countries. The fact that the group's Jewish members were ultimately allowed to stay while the Swedes of Palestinian origin were not colors the affair with more than a tinge of race-based discrimination.


The group came to Israel through the funding of the Olof Palme International Center, a Swedish nonprofit group with ties to the country's labor movement. Its members are active in an organization that promotes coexistence between Jews and Palestinians in Sweden's schools. Israel's doors should have been opened to them. Continuing a policy of denying entry to visitors for political reasons is liable to make European countries, and perhaps even the United States, adopt a similar stance against Israeli citizens. One can only imagine the scandal that would erupt in Israel if Sweden had prevented West Bank settlers or rightist activists from entering its territory.

Israel must remain a country open to visitors, whatever their worldview. Deporting tourists causes negative repercussions in their countries of origin, hardly contributing to the view of Israel abroad as a liberal, enlightened state - an image already severely compromised. Visitors who do not present a clear security threat must not be expelled. Israel should apologize to the deported Swedish women, invite them to return, and let them visit the country and experience it openly for themselves.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

A THIRD INTIFADA WOULD WORK WONDERS FOR ISRAEL'S BATTERED IMAGE

BY ZVI BAR'E

 

Civil uprising? That's not a civil uprising, just local riots," defense minister Yitzhak Rabin told journalists back in 1987 when they asked why he was going to Washington just as the territories were flaring up. Rabin waved his hand dismissively, and his aide, Danny Yatom, reprimanded the interviewers: "You don't know what you're talking about." True, journalists also didn't quite grasp the full scale of the upcoming intifada. At first the events were called protests, then disturbances, and finally riots. It took a while for the word "intifada" to enter the Israeli vocabulary.


Nor was anyone prepared for the second intifada. Some observers say Ariel Sharon set it off with his provocative visit to the Temple Mount, but the truth is that the intifada was waiting for a spark like a tightly packed powder keg. If not Sharon, someone else would have provided it.


Interestingly enough, both intifadas exploded when things were "more or less" all right. Just before the first one, the Civil Administration published a snazzy book detailing its achievements and including impressive data on the improved Palestinian economy. Forty percent of Palestinian manual laborers worked in Israel at the time, and the statistics on "television sets and refrigerators" ostensibly showed that the Palestinians never had it so good. Relations with the Palestinians seemed just as rosy in 1999. Growth in the Palestinian Authority was at 5 percent, and economic cooperation with Israel flourished. It seemed nobody could predict that someone on the Palestinian side would let an entire intifada break out and spoil the fun.


And so today Israelis once again have a warm and fuzzy feeling that "everything's okay." Shopping malls open in Jenin and Nablus, Hebron is thriving thanks to a clear-eyed mayor with vast business experience, Ramallah's bars and concert halls are packed, the Palestinian cell phone companies are bursting with new customers, and iPhones have become commonplace among Palestinian youth. Can it get any better? After all, not just armies but occupied nations also march on their stomachs, don't they?


Life is looking good on the political side, too. It's true that there's no peace process, but at least Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is talking peace, not armed struggle, and Hamas is locked up in the Gaza Strip. There are no leaders who can authorize a new intifada, and it seems Palestinians can be rather pleased about the approach of the new administration in Washington.


Most importantly, haven't the Palestinians learned their lessons from the two earlier intifadas? After all, these are intelligent people who know when not to provoke their occupiers. But here's the rub: A civil uprising always comes as a surprise. Only when it's happening do we begin searching for the early signs. Intelligence organizations will bicker over who predicted the revolt and who didn't, pundits will say they told you so, and the immediate concern will be how to stem the rebellion already underway. As far as early signs go, any number of them are out there already.


Last week, Amira Hass reported here about Palestinian leaders, including economics-friendly Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, joining the Land Day demonstrations. "We will be seen wherever the popular struggle is happening," Nabil Shaath told Palestinian news agency Maan. The participation of political leaders might indicate they know something the Israeli intelligence services don't. They don't want to be sidelined when the real uprising breaks out, as they were during the first intifada. This time, they will want to lead.

Meanwhile, "popular struggle" is a term that sits nicely with the Israelis. It's interpreted as demonstrations here and there, some joint protests by Israelis and Palestinians, maybe a stone or two. It's what they call "relatively quiet." Like a volcano that's relatively quiet, until it's not. The solutions are well known, and the Israel Defense Forces is, as ever, "prepared to make progress on every development."


An outbreak of violence will certainly do wonders for Israeli interests. There's nothing like a murderous terror attack to give Israel back its image of being the victim; it would give us an excellent excuse to stop the fake freeze on settlement construction and show Barack Obama who the real culprit is. Enough with playing games, bring it on. Save us with an intifada.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

PALESTINIAN ASPIRATIONS ARE CLEAR, BUT WHAT DOES ISRAEL WANT?

BY GIDEON LEVY

Does anybody know what Benjamin Netanyahu wants? Has anybody ever understood what his predecessors wanted? Where are they headed? And where are they leading us? One after another, Israeli politicians have been asked these questions, only to reply with the standard rejoinders: "You don't expect me to answer this question" or "Let's leave this for the negotiations." Vague answers, obfuscations, evasive and noncommittal cliches - promises, promises. There was one clear, unequivocal answer - none. There is no other country whose citizens, friends and enemies have not the slightest clue about which direction it is facing. For our enemies not to know is understandable, but don't we deserve to know more? Don't we at least deserve to know the ultimate goal?

While the Arabs have always declared their aspirations - and did so with clarity, precision, sharpness and at times extremism, the Israelis have donned masks. While the goals of warring parties in international conflicts are known to all, and while everyone knows what the Palestinians are after in the Middle East - the '67 lines, a state, a solution to the refugee problem, the right of return - nobody knows what the Israelis want. Do they wish to annex the territories? Come on. Do they want to evacuate them? Not now. If not now, when? It remains unclear. How much of the territories? Nobody knows.


A few days ago, journalists broached the question of a construction freeze in Jerusalem to a few ministers. Almost all of them refused to give a response. Why should they? This is nothing less than a scandal. A minister who is not ready to state his position on an issue is derelict in his duties. When a prime minister refrains from doing so, it is 10 times as grave. While Swedish law obligates the publication of every letter sent from the office of a minister, we cannot even extract a response from our top officials over critical issues.


The blame, as usual in these instances, is shared by us all. Through the years we have implicitly agreed that our leaders would guide us on the basis of fraud, or at the very least distortion. The mantra of there's-no-need-to-say-it-aloud has become a matter of consensus, almost an axiom.


The conventional thinking whereby striving for peace is likened to market bartering and late-night horse-trading, as if it were verboten to clearly specify a final price, has become official policy. What might work for the illusory world of advertising and marketing, or the avarice of the consumer culture, has become a philosophical cornerstone in this country. Vagueness is the message. Perhaps this country has no goal, or a way to get to a goal, and the vagueness is meant to obfuscate this disgrace.


Is the prime minister of Israel ready to withdraw from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria? Yes or no? Don't we deserve to know? Which parts of the West Bank, if any, is he ready to evacuate? And what, for heaven's sake, does our defense minister want? What are his policy goals? Does anybody know? And why is it that if we were to know the answer, this would weaken our position and not strengthen it? Is vagueness tantamount to strength? Is trickery a modus operandi?


Our amateur merchants, as is their wont, will never reveal their opinions. No wonder their wholesale marketing strategy has proved to be a resounding failure. Israel's global standing is at an all-time low due to, among other things, ambiguity and a loss of direction. Even the all-knowing president of the United States has no idea what his ally wants. Now at least he is trying to get an answer by saying, "Tell me what it is you people want." It is doubtful whether he will get the answer he is looking for.

Forty-three years after the start of the occupation, no one, either here in Israel or anywhere in the world, knows what we really want and in which direction we are heading. Thus, we have not only become the only country in the world without clearly defined borders, we are also the only country without clearly defined national goals.


In William Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," Shylock forces Antonio to agree to a loan on highly unfavorable terms. Yet the Jew provides us with one of the most memorable monologues ever written: "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?" The monologue given by the merchants of Jerusalem, on the other hand, is far more wretched. "If they give, then they'll receive," or something like that.

 

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


HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

IN THE DESERT

BY YOSSI SARID

 

Passover is also the holiday of anti-Semitic boors peddling today's blood libels. Jews, they say, use the blood of Gentile children to bake matza, pouring their blood into the unleavened dough while kneading. The libel still exists today, if only in a slightly modified form - but what a monstrous form it is.


Nowadays these uncircumcised louts, having imbibed Jew-hatred with their mother's milk, make ugly accusations against us. Israel, they say, is a state created by the Elders of Zion, one where people travel by camel, as if we had never completed the Exodus from Egypt. What's more, they cook meat on iron grills like cavemen who have just discovered fire, then lunch in forests, fields or traffic islands like beasts. Haters the world over talk about us as if we were a failed state. These loathsome libels must not go unanswered, bleeding like a Christian or Muslim child on Passover Eve. All the better, therefore, that our Information and Diaspora Ministry decided to staunch the bleeding and show Israel as it really is.


It's easy to burst through a door that's already open. Israel, after all, is not really viewed as a country that eats with its hands and rides camelback. The whole world knows Israel as a developed country, one adept at creating high technology and electric cars, and assembling cluster bombs, phosphorous shells and nuclear warheads (according to foreign media reports, that is).

 

On television the world doesn't see us as an underdeveloped country, but rather one that in the heat of battle sometimes goes a bit crazy, one in which the leaders, and the led, sometimes lose their heads. After all, when do we ever appear on the screen? When the ultra-Orthodox let loose, when the settlers go wild. That is the collective image broadcast, the impression left. Even our friends can't help asking: "Is this really Israel? Is that Jerusalem?" In the eyes of the world we are as an unruly mob that never quite crossed the Red Sea.


Over this holiday season we add another picture to our family album, this one of thousands of Israelis loping like camels in heat, pushing and shoving, trampled like bugs at the entrances to clothing and furniture stores. It's easy to imagine the enjoyment that must have filled the hearts of the descendants of the Vikings watching the heirs of the Hebrews pounce on a bra-and-underwear set of their own Scandinavian manufacture, as we once pounced on their homespun kibbutz volunteers. Was it not in Sweden that a blood libel spread about the Israeli army trafficking in Palestinians' organs, and which Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman boycotted in all of our names, in the names of the looters at H&M? Were Sweden not so cold and expensive, we would give it the Turkish treatment and boycott it for a month.


One doesn't need a particularly active imagination to imagine the upheaval in the desert during the Exodus when God brought the Israelites manna from heaven, its taste sweet like honey. Good thing there was no television back then. Slaves we were, slaves we remain.

 

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


HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

ISRAEL IS REFUSING TO SEE WHAT OBAMA WANTS

BY NIVA LANIR

The most embarrassing argument came from a senior political source. "We," he complained after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned from Washington, "don't understand what the Americans want. The secretary of state said this and the vice president promised that .... So what do they really want from us?"


In a country that has more experts on American policy than on its own policies, this is a troubling question. The prime minister, the first among the Americanologists, doesn't understand; his messengers for dialogue with the administration are having difficulties understanding, so they send their advisers to meet the media and announce that they don't understand. The ambassador also doesn't understand (well, the Israeli ambassador in Washington is not meant to understand. He is meant to explain.)


The Israeli leadership's dyslexia requires no diagnosis. It's made obvious by a number of facts: The Americans have a president who can walk and chew gum at the same time. He's not evil, he changed the rules and he even bothered to announce the change. Henceforth he himself, not a ministering angel, sets the administration's policy and its handling of the economic crisis, the national health insurance legislation, the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Iranian threat and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - all at the same time.

 

Why then are more and more envoys, advisers and mediators needed to tell the Israelis what is so clear to everyone? What intellectual effort is required of the forum of seven senior ministers to understand that the U.S. president sees the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the path of the Green Line, for a limited amount of time - and therefore will not show restraint where his predecessors held back for more than 40 years?

What's so hard to understand? Israel's governments and their leaders have not changed their positions during the past 40 years. From the reaction in Jerusalem, you would think it's about some hidden wisdom that requires a particle accelerator to understand.


Barack Obama is nothing like George Bush, father or son. He is determined and more daring than Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and in Jerusalem, we must admit, there is no new David Ben-Gurion or even a modest copy of Menachem Begin or Yitzhak Rabin. Netanyahu and his government are behaving like the three monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil - they just don't grasp the situation. But unlike the monkey that covers his mouth, in Jerusalem they talk. How they talk. About the circumstances, the needs, the exigencies. The only thing they don't talk about is peace. And there is no plan or Israeli initiative for peace. But really, how much can you achieve in a single year in office?


In recent months, we have been told over and over about the forum of seven's discussions. Our discussions have never been better, the defense minister claims, praising the substance, depth and seriousness of the talks. How comforting. A little bit more and the collective wisdom of Netanyahu, Barak, Lieberman, Yishai, Begin, Meridor and Ya'alon - spiced up by their determination and political honesty - will produce a rational and balanced answer to Obama's questions and demands: The kind of "yes, but..." that is accompanied by a weak apology that the mishap which occurred at the Shepherd Hotel will be corrected and not repeated in the coming days.

The next crisis with Washington will be put off for later. It's worth waiting, because then Netanyahu will have to answer a more complex question than the issue of starting up the indirect talks with the Palestinians: How he intends to achieve the division inherent in the "two states for two peoples" he agreed to.

This will be a question he has to answer. It will not be Likud MKs Tzipi Hotovely, Danny Danon and Miri Regev who raise it, nor will Labor ministers Ehud Barak and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer make things difficult for him. Netanyahu's partners and opponents will defend him as long as he is on the verge of making a decision. Just as long as he's the one who needs to answer and act, not them. Obama will stand in their place and ask: Well, Netanyahu, what do you intend to do to end the conflict? Have you prepared your answer to the plan and the timetable the U.S. administration is keen to uphold?


This question is already being voiced by everyone in Washington, not just in the White House, even from places where letters of support are sent to Israel's government. The date for sending the question to Jerusalem may be delayed a bit, before the freeze in settlement construction in Judea and Samaria ends in September, or near its end. But it will be asked. It may not be the determining moment, but it will be a formative moment. Because at that moment it will become clear who is the American citizen who forms Middle East policy and influences things the most. Is it Barack Obama or Irwin Moskowitz?

 

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


 

******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

FORECLOSURE PREVENTION 2.0

 

If all goes according to plan, the Obama administration's new antiforeclosure effort will prevent many more foreclosures than its current one and do more to moderate the decline in home prices. That is a big if.

 

One of the big drawbacks to the administration's original plan, launched a year ago, is that it focuses on reducing a troubled borrower's monthly payment by lowering the interest rate. That ignores the fact that unemployed borrowers often cannot afford even reduced payments. And those who are "underwater" — who owe more than their homes are worth — often lack the ability and the incentive to keep up with payments.

 

Another problem with the original plan is that participation has been largely voluntary; lenders were offered incentives to join but were not compelled. The improved plan attempts to address the problems of borrowers who are unemployed or underwater. And for jobless homeowners, lenders that participate in the plan will be required to help in some cases.

 

For borrowers receiving unemployment benefits, lenders will be required to lower payments to no more than 31 percent of gross income for at least three months, provided the borrower is not more than 90 days' delinquent. Unpaid amounts will be added to the loan's principal, to be repaid later. After several months, the hope is that the borrower will have found new work and will qualify for a loan modification in which payments will stay at the reduced amount.

 

Unfortunately, if the borrower does not find new work, he or she may lose the house anyway. Foreclosure will have been postponed, but not prevented.

 

For borrowers who are deeply underwater and behind in their payments, lenders will be "required to consider" reducing the loan's principal. They will also be encouraged to reduce principal for underwater borrowers who are still current in payments.

 

Those efforts would reduce the monthly payment and restore some home equity, but as with earlier antiforeclosure efforts, lenders are not required to help. Despite government incentives to modify bad loans, lenders might wait to see if bigger incentives are offered later. They may also prefer foreclosure to modifications because the long foreclosure process lets them postpone taking losses.

 

If lenders do participate, the new plan could prevent nearly 1.5 million foreclosures from now through 2012, compared with an estimated 650,000 under the old plan, according to Moody's Economy.com. Many foreclosures will also be delayed, though not ultimately prevented, as lenders assess whether borrowers qualify for help under the new plan. Taken together, preventing and postponing foreclosures would help stabilize house prices in the near term and thus reduce the threat that foreclosures pose to the nascent economic recovery.

 

But foreclosures would still be a problem. Even if the new plan saves 1.5 million homes, an estimated 3.6 million homes will be lost between now and 2012. That portends a weak housing market for a long time, which, in turn, portends a long, slow recovery.

 

For now, lenders call the shots. If the new plan doesn't work, the administration must find a way to compel them to rework troubled loans. The risks from the spree of bad lending and bad borrowing — foreclosures, falling house prices, economic hardship — are still there.

 

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


THE NEW YORK TIMES

DESPERATELY SEEKING WATCHDOG

 

Government officials talk a lot about accountability. There's even a Government Accountability Office. The trouble is, it hasn't had a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed chief for more than two years.

 

By law, a bipartisan commission of House and Senate leaders is supposed to submit candidates for the job to the president, a lengthy process in the best of times. These are not the best times.

 

Recently, Democratic Congressional leaders sent President Obama a list of four candidates to run the G.A.O. Two days later, Republican leaders sent a letter supporting three of the four choices, apparently rejecting one and adding one of their own — and charging that Democrats had cut them out of the loop.

 

That doesn't bode well for the leadership of what is often called the watchdog of Congress. As an independent, nonpartisan agency within the legislative branch, the G.A.O.'s mission is to assist Congress in lawmaking and oversight, and in the process enable it to check and balance the power of the executive branch.

 

The work generally involves audits, evaluations and investigations of government activity, usually in response to questions from Congress. The agency raises issues lawmakers may not be aware of — or would rather avoid. It has done pioneering work on the nation's fiscal problems and broken system of defense acquisitions.

 

At times, the G.A.O.'s work involves high-level showdowns, as in 2002, when the agency sued Vice President Dick Cheney for records on the White House's energy task force. The judge dismissed the suit, but the effort created pressure for disclosure — and served as an early warning of the excessive secrecy of the Bush administration.

 

The G.A.O.'s independence is embodied in its leader, who holds the title of comptroller general of the United States and serves a 15-year term — the longest of any term-based position in the federal government. The interim head, Gene Dodaro, a longtime G.A.O. professional, has served ably. But without a presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed leader, the agency lacks the power and validation to pursue its mission to the fullest.

 

Mr. Obama can choose from the names he has been given, or request more. The important thing is to keep the process moving. Public mistrust in Washington is already high enough. For true accountability, the government needs a strong G.A.O.

 

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


THE NEW YORK TIMES

FORECLOSURE PREVENTION 2.0

 

If all goes according to plan, the Obama administration's new antiforeclosure effort will prevent many more foreclosures than its current one and do more to moderate the decline in home prices. That is a big if.

 

One of the big drawbacks to the administration's original plan, launched a year ago, is that it focuses on reducing a troubled borrower's monthly payment by lowering the interest rate. That ignores the fact that unemployed borrowers often cannot afford even reduced payments. And those who are "underwater" — who owe more than their homes are worth — often lack the ability and the incentive to keep up with payments.

 

Another problem with the original plan is that participation has been largely voluntary; lenders were offered incentives to join but were not compelled. The improved plan attempts to address the problems of borrowers who are unemployed or underwater. And for jobless homeowners, lenders that participate in the plan will be required to help in some cases.

 

For borrowers receiving unemployment benefits, lenders will be required to lower payments to no more than 31 percent of gross income for at least three months, provided the borrower is not more than 90 days' delinquent. Unpaid amounts will be added to the loan's principal, to be repaid later. After several months, the hope is that the borrower will have found new work and will qualify for a loan modification in which payments will stay at the reduced amount.

 

Unfortunately, if the borrower does not find new work, he or she may lose the house anyway. Foreclosure will have been postponed, but not prevented.

 

For borrowers who are deeply underwater and behind in their payments, lenders will be "required to consider" reducing the loan's principal. They will also be encouraged to reduce principal for underwater borrowers who are still current in payments.

 

Those efforts would reduce the monthly payment and restore some home equity, but as with earlier antiforeclosure efforts, lenders are not required to help. Despite government incentives to modify bad loans, lenders might wait to see if bigger incentives are offered later. They may also prefer foreclosure to modifications because the long foreclosure process lets them postpone taking losses.

 

If lenders do participate, the new plan could prevent nearly 1.5 million foreclosures from now through 2012, compared with an estimated 650,000 under the old plan, according to Moody's Economy.com. Many foreclosures will also be delayed, though not ultimately prevented, as lenders assess whether borrowers qualify for help under the new plan. Taken together, preventing and postponing foreclosures would help stabilize house prices in the near term and thus reduce the threat that foreclosures pose to the nascent economic recovery.

 

But foreclosures would still be a problem. Even if the new plan saves 1.5 million homes, an estimated 3.6 million homes will be lost between now and 2012. That portends a weak housing market for a long time, which, in turn, portends a long, slow recovery.

 

For now, lenders call the shots. If the new plan doesn't work, the administration must find a way to compel them to rework troubled loans. The risks from the spree of bad lending and bad borrowing — foreclosures, falling house prices, economic hardship — are still there.

 

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


THE NEW YORK TIMES

DESPERATELY SEEKING WATCHDOG

 

Government officials talk a lot about accountability. There's even a Government Accountability Office. The trouble is, it hasn't had a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed chief for more than two years.

 

By law, a bipartisan commission of House and Senate leaders is supposed to submit candidates for the job to the president, a lengthy process in the best of times. These are not the best times.

 

Recently, Democratic Congressional leaders sent President Obama a list of four candidates to run the G.A.O. Two days later, Republican leaders sent a letter supporting three of the four choices, apparently rejecting one and adding one of their own — and charging that Democrats had cut them out of the loop.

 

That doesn't bode well for the leadership of what is often called the watchdog of Congress. As an independent, nonpartisan agency within the legislative branch, the G.A.O.'s mission is to assist Congress in lawmaking and oversight, and in the process enable it to check and balance the power of the executive branch.

 

The work generally involves audits, evaluations and investigations of government activity, usually in response to questions from Congress. The agency raises issues lawmakers may not be aware of — or would rather avoid. It has done pioneering work on the nation's fiscal problems and broken system of defense acquisitions.

 

At times, the G.A.O.'s work involves high-level showdowns, as in 2002, when the agency sued Vice President Dick Cheney for records on the White House's energy task force. The judge dismissed the suit, but the effort created pressure for disclosure — and served as an early warning of the excessive secrecy of the Bush administration.

 

The G.A.O.'s independence is embodied in its leader, who holds the title of comptroller general of the United States and serves a 15-year term — the longest of any term-based position in the federal government. The interim head, Gene Dodaro, a longtime G.A.O. professional, has served ably. But without a presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed leader, the agency lacks the power and validation to pursue its mission to the fullest.

 

Mr. Obama can choose from the names he has been given, or request more. The important thing is to keep the process moving. Public mistrust in Washington is already high enough. For true accountability, the government needs a strong G.A.O.

 

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


THE NEW YORK TIMES

HIGH-PRICED HUSTINGS

 

Recently, as Congress was being lobbied to go easy on reforms aimed at Wall Street abuses, a fund-raising letter for Senator Bob Corker, a Republican point man on the issue, was offering affluent donors the pleasure of a meal with the senator for $10,000. The senator denounced the letter as a "grotesque and inappropriate" mistake when it was reported by Politico. But the V.I.P. access tab was not that unusual a symptom of political money's abominable grip on the Capitol.

 

Among Democrats, Representative Barney Frank was infuriated to discover that a key staff member in the writing of the House financial overhaul legislation had suddenly gone through the revolving door to become a lobbyist for a company the legislation directly affects. Mr. Frank issued an unusual public rebuke — as much for the bad timing as the departure, since staff-to-lobbyist is a well-worn platinum path across the Capitol.

 

Political money's power to upstage the boilerplate bromides fed daily to constituents is currently bedeviling the Republican National Committee and its chairman, Michael Steele. The ultimate threat from the notorious "Voyeur" incident (in which an R.N.C. staff member shepherded Young Eagle donors to a California bondage nightclub) is not so much to the party's family-values agenda as its financial goals.

 

Republican fund-raisers are worried that the money pipeline will suffer. The Family Research Council, a political beacon for social conservatives, urged members to stop giving money to the R.N.C. And Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate and celebrity fund-raiser, is emphasizing that she will not be present at a New Orleans money rally in which the R.N.C. had touted her presence.

 

Mr. Steele is considered not in danger for his job even though he has offered a steady stream of personal gaffes. He recently had to reverse the position he took in an interview in which he said abortion was an "individual choice" that should not be banned by constitutional amendment, as his party zealots propose.

 

The chairman's chief reaction to all the controversy was to announce "substantive changes" in the party's accounting methods for the hundreds of millions of dollars in donations spent on travel, hotels and entertainment. It's a pity politics comes down to that — a candid confirmation that it's a capital-intensive industry, for all its idealizing about government.

 

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


THE NEW YORK TIMES

HEALTHY, AND SAFE, SCHOOL LUNCHES

 

It is probably too much to hope that the more than 30 million school lunches served every day will taste absolutely fabulous. But Congress should at least make certain that whatever lands on those cafeteria trays is nutritious and safe to eat. Every day it delays doing so is another mealtime when millions of students are cheated of programs that could help relieve hunger and reduce obesity.

 

A reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act is now before the Senate. The bill's main sponsors, Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, and Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, have written useful revisions and improvements. The measure deserves prompt approval. It is also time for the House to produce its own version. If Congress can act by late spring, next year's school cafeteria crowd can be more confident that the food is healthier and safer to eat.

 

The Senate bill reauthorizes several antihunger programs for children, but its biggest impact would be felt in schools that offer free or cut-rate meals. The bill would give the Agriculture Department new powers to set nutritional standards for any food sold on school grounds, particularly junk foods that contribute to obesity. It would expand the use of local farm products, organic food and school gardens, and require the government to notify schools more quickly about tainted foods. It also provides the first real increase in funding in 40 years.

 

The bill can and should be improved when it reaches the floor. President Obama — no doubt nudged by Michelle Obama, who has personally campaigned for better nutrition — asked for an additional $10 billion over the next 10 years for child nutrition. The Senate version provides only $4.5 billion extra. The Senate should also ban all trans fats, a cause championed by Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York.

 

The driving force behind the House bill is Representative George Miller, a California Democrat, who is expected to ask for stronger food safety regulations. He also seeks more money for fighting childhood hunger and obesity, especially in the schools.

 

In many ways, this is yet another side of the health care issue because better childhood nutrition is preventive medicine at its best. The new federal powers proposed in these bills would improve what millions of young Americans eat every day — and improve their chances of a healthy life.

 

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

 


THE NEW YORK TIMES

MAKING FINANCIAL REFORM FOOL-RESISTANT

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

The White House is confident that a financial regulatory reform bill will soon pass the Senate. I'm not so sure, given the opposition of Republican leaders to any real reform. But in any case, how good is the legislation on the table, the bill put together by Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut?

 

Not good enough. It's a good-faith effort to do what needs to be done, but it would create a system highly dependent on the wisdom and good intentions of government officials. And as the history of the last decade demonstrates, trusting in the quality of officials can be dangerous to the economy's health.

 

Now, it's impossible to devise a truly foolproof regulatory regime — anyone who believes otherwise is underestimating the power of foolishness. But you can try to create a system that's relatively fool-resistant. Unfortunately, the Dodd bill doesn't do that.

 

As I argued in my last column, while the problem of "too big to fail" has gotten most of the attention — and while big banks deserve all the opprobrium they're getting — the core problem with our financial system isn't the size of the largest financial institutions. It is, instead, the fact that the current system doesn't limit risky behavior by "shadow banks," institutions — like Lehman Brothers — that carry out banking functions, that are perfectly capable of creating a banking crisis, but, because they issue debt rather than taking deposits, face minimal oversight.

 

The Dodd bill tries to fill this gaping hole in the system by letting federal regulators impose "strict rules for capital, leverage, liquidity, risk management and other requirements as companies grow in size and complexity." It also gives regulators the power to seize troubled financial firms — and it requires that large, complex firms submit "funeral plans" that make it relatively easy to shut them down.

 

That's all good. In effect, it gives shadow banking something like the regulatory regime we already have for conventional banking.

 

But what will actually be in those "strict rules" for capital, liquidity, and so on? The bill doesn't say. Instead, everything is left at the discretion of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a sort of interagency task force including the chairman of the Federal Reserve, the Treasury secretary, the comptroller of the currency and the heads of five other federal agencies.

 

Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute, whose blog has become essential reading for anyone interested in financial reform, has pointed out what's wrong with this: just consider who would have been on that council in 2005, which was probably the peak year for irresponsible lending.

 

Well, in 2005 the chairman of the Fed was Alan Greenspan, who dismissed warnings about the housing bubble — and who asserted in October 2005 that "increasingly complex financial instruments have contributed to the development of a far more flexible, efficient, and hence resilient financial system."

 

Meanwhile, the secretary of the Treasury was John Snow, who ... actually, I don't think anyone remembers anything about Mr. Snow, other than the fact that Karl Rove treated him like an errand boy.

 

The comptroller of the currency was John Dugan, who still holds the office. He was recently the subject of a profilein The Times, which noted his habit of blocking efforts by states to crack down on abusive consumer lending, on the grounds that he, not the states, has authority over national banks — except that he himself almost never acts to protect consumers.

 

Oh, and on the subject of consumer protection: the Dodd bill creates a more or less independent agency to protect consumers against abusive lending, albeit one housed at the Fed. That's a good thing. But it gives the oversight council the ability to override the agency's recommendations.

 

The point is that the Dodd bill would give an administration determined to rein in runaway finance the tools it needs to do the job. But it wouldn't do much to stiffen the spine of a less determined administration. On the contrary, it would make it easy for future regulators to look the other way as another bubble inflated.

 

So what the legislation needs are explicit rules, rules that would force action even by regulators who don't especially want to do their jobs. There should, for example, be a preset maximum level of allowable leverage — the financial reform that has already passed the House sets this at 15 to 1, and the Senate should follow suit. There should be hard rules determining when regulators have to seize a troubled financial firm. There should be no-exception rules requiring that complex financial derivatives be traded transparently. And so on.

 

I know that getting such things into the bill would be hard politically: as financial reform legislation moves to the floor of the Senate, there will be pressure to make it weaker, not stronger, in the hope of attracting Republican votes. But I would urge Senate leaders and the Obama administration not to settle for a weak bill, just so that they can claim to have passed financial reform. We need reform with a fighting chance of actually working.

 

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


THE NEW YORK TIMES

OBAMA MISSES THE BIG OIL

BY MICHAEL LYNCH

 

Amherst, Mass.

THE Obama administration's decision to allow oil drilling off northern Alaska and the East Coast and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico is a bold political move that demonstrates a rational approach to energy policy. Yet, given the peculiarities of petroleum extraction, the public shouldn't buy any arguments that it's going to accomplish a lot in terms of energy independence or payback for taxpayers.

 

The administration is trying to deflect criticism from environmentalists by pointing out that the decision should help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, create thousands of high-paying jobs and generate much-needed tax revenue. But Mr. Obama is being careful not to offer any specifics, and for good reason: estimating undiscovered resources in areas with little previous drilling is as much art as science; even the most optimistic projections concede that the amount of petroleum we're talking about here is relatively minor; and while some jobs may be created fairly quickly, profits (and tax revenues) are going to come slowly.

 

The best estimates of the federal Mineral Management Service suggest that the three new drilling areas combined have 4.5 billion to 22 billion barrels of potential oil, and 13 trillion to 95 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Considering that our current total estimated domestic reserves are 20 billion barrels of oil and 250 trillion cubic feet of gas, this sounds significant.

 

But this estimate of potential resources is misleading in a number of ways. Most important, the term "potential resources" refers to the amount likely to be discovered over a very long time, while our current reserves are those that have already been found but not yet tapped. Think of potential resources as the estimated harvest from an unplanted orchard, and reserves as what's on the trees right now.

 

A more meaningful yardstick of potential in the new areas is the estimated undiscovered petroleum in all our domestic offshore areas, which amount to 40 billion barrels of oil and 200 trillion cubic feet of gas. And, unfortunately, there is always a possibility that little or no oil or gas will be found in the new sites, especially off the East Coast, where past exploration has been confined to a few unsuccessful wells decades ago. My personal take is more optimistic over the very long run — we're talking decades — as throughout the history of oil exploration technological and scientific advances have tended to increase estimates of recoverable resources.

 

But, as Keynes said, in the long run we are all dead. Production half a century from now is not very relevant to either politicians or policy makers. To think of near-term production levels and timing, we might want to consider the North Slope of Alaska, where drilling began in the 1960s; it contains the Prudhoe Bay field, which was found to have oil in 1968.

 

With estimated resources of about 25 billion barrels, this area looked like an answer to our prayers. Yet, between the inherent difficulty in extracting petroleum and opposition from environmentalists, serious production did not begin until the completion of the trans-Alaska pipeline in 1977, ramping up over a couple of years before falling to the current modest production of a bit less than 700,000 barrels a day.

 

If this history is any guide, we might get production of as much as one million barrels a day of oil from these newly released areas, but only after 10 to 15 years of effort. Natural gas production might be greater, and come sooner: because it is off the contiguous states and not Alaska, there is likely to be less objection from environmentalists. However, the price of natural gas tends to be significantly lower than that of oil, so it will mean much less tax revenue.

How much money are we talking about? Those amounts are certainly difficult to predict, but assuming prices stay at current high levels — $80 per barrel for oil, $4 per million cubic feet of natural gas — the oil revenue over the long term would be $30 billion a year, of which as much as half would be paid as taxes. Gas revenue would be closer to $12 billion, and the tax take would probably be a smaller fraction (this is because gas prices are set in relation to the costs of extraction, while oil prices are set in a global market). The best guess is that the government could, eventually, make at least $10 billion a year in taxes, and no more than $25 billion.

 

There is, of course, a way to bring in more tax money, and provide more oil: opening the California coast. We know from earlier operations that it has significantly more resources than the all the newly opened areas combined. Yet most extraction there came to an abrupt halt in January 1969, after a Union Oil platform off Santa Barbara spilled more than 80,000 barrels into the ocean. There are still 40 or so active leases there that now produce some 40 million barrels a year safely. They have given us a good understanding of the geology, thus exploration would be quicker and less costly than in unknown areas, and the return more certain.

 

This area, especially off Southern California, has an estimated 7.5 billion to 14 billion barrels of oil and 13 trillion to 24 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It could probably generate as much revenue as the other newly released areas combined; the oil, not having to be piped from northern Alaska, would be cheaper to harvest. While California drilling is one of the third rails of American politics, the federal government forgoing at least $20 billion a year in taxes seems unwise.

 

Clearly, the petroleum from the new areas isn't going to offset our 12 million barrels a day of imports, and the tax revenues aren't going to put a huge dent in a budget deficit in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Still, the plan makes a contribution on both fronts, and one that is almost pain-free. This is certainly better than spending billions on money-wasting alternatives like ethanol, or taking more tax money directly out of consumers' pockets by raising taxes at the pump.

 

Michael Lynch, the former director of the Asian energy and security working group at the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is an energy consultant.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THROW OUT SKYBOX TAX SUBSIDIES

BY RICHARD SCHMALBECK AND JAY SOLED

 

UNTIL the 1970s, Major League Baseball was a populist sport. Bleacher seats cost as little as a dollar, meaning middle- or even working-class fans could afford to take their families to a game a few times each season.

 

But in the years since, tickets to baseball games — along with other professional sports events — have skyrocketed in cost. Over the last two decades, the average ticket price for a Chicago Cubs game has increased 265 percent, more than four times the inflation rate. Add in parking, concessions and souvenirs, and a family trip to one of this week's opening day games could easily cost a few hundred dollars.

 

There are many reasons for the price explosion, but a critical factor has been the ability of businesses to write off tickets as entertainment expenses — essentially a huge, and wholly unnecessary, government subsidy.

 

These deductions have led to higher ticket prices in two ways. On the demand side, they have fueled competition for scarce seats, with business taxpayers bidding in part with dollars they save through the deductions.

 

On the supply side, the large number of businesses bidding for expensive seats has driven the expansion of luxury skyboxes and a reduction in overall seats in new ballparks.

 

While baseball parks built in the 1960s and before held as many as 56,000 seats, the modern trend is toward smaller-capacity parks, with a higher percentage of total space dedicated to skyboxes. The new Yankee Stadium, the only major-league park built since 2000 with more than 44,000 seats, has 3,000 fewer seats than its 1923 predecessor but almost three times as many skybox suites.

 

Congress has occasionally expressed concern about deductions for business entertainment, including tickets to sporting events. In 1962, it placed limits on the deductibility of business entertainment generally. In 1986 it restricted the deductibility of luxury skybox tickets to the face value of non-luxury premium tickets, like center-court seats at a basketball game or behind-the-plate seats at a baseball game. For example, if a ticket to a skybox suite cost $500 and a seat behind the plate cost $100, a business could deduct only $100, subject to other limitations on deductibility.

 

That made sense when there was still a substantial price disparity between skybox seats and tickets for even the choicest non-luxury seats. But the price for non-luxury premium tickets has grown significantly in recent years — thanks in part to endless demand from businesses and the use of more sophisticated, Web-based pricing tools by the teams — rendering the skybox rule meaningless.

 

Ideally, Congress would get rid of business-entertainment deductions altogether — after all, they are little more than an excuse for corporate executives to consume luxury items at a discount, distorting markets and cheating the public out of substantial tax revenue.

 

Given corporate America's passionate attachment to sports-related perks, a blanket elimination may be unrealistic, though. A more feasible but still effective approach would be to limit deductions for luxury skybox tickets to a low, fixed amount — say, $50 per seat, per game.

 

Such a limit would be fair, unambiguous and easy to enforce. But above all, it would help baseball return to its roots, when average folks — not corporate entertainers — were the ones filling the seats.

Richard Schmalbeck is a law professor at Duke. Jay Soled is a professor at the Rutgers Business School.

 

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******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

CONTRADICTORY MESSAGES

 

The messages coming out from Naudero were somewhat mixed. In his speech as the Central Executive Committee of the PPP gathered for a meeting on the eve of the death anniversary of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, President Asif Ali Zardari vowed to uphold democracy at all costs. The CEC meanwhile stated that despite the 18th Amendment the president would continue to decide all national affairs. While it is too early to say if this will translate into anything in real terms, both the undemocratic sentiment and the sycophancy are disturbing. The repetition by the CEC of views expressed earlier by the party that reopening the Swiss cases amounts to desecrating the grave of Bhutto is also rather meaningless. While the gathering to mark the 1979 hanging of the man who still defines the PPP is always an emotive occasion, it is hard in rational terms to find any link between cases of corruption against Mr Zardari – the son-in-law Zulfikar Bhutto never knew – and the grave of the late premier. There is also argument in favour of the view that the legacy of the PPP, as a party of the poor, would indeed be better served by bringing those who loot public money to book. The time has perhaps also come for the party to learn that it needs to move on, beyond the troubling events that took place over three decades ago and live in the tough times of today. Many would not disagree with the opinion expressed at the CEC that the execution of Mr Bhutto amounted to judicial murder, but we must ask what the reopening of the case at this juncture would achieve. This is all the more true given the fact that the mysteries surrounding the murder of Mr Bhutto's daughter remain unresolved, even though her party holds power. Credibility is not a quality that would mark its tenure.


The assertion by the president that he would never take steps to betray democracy and efforts for national reconciliation would continue are welcome. The success in building the consensus that allowed the 18th Amendment Bill to be tabled in parliament is rare in our country. Mr Zardari would do well to build agreement on a still wider range of issues. He has also once more spoken of doing all that is possible to combat terror – and with this too there can be no dispute. The question though is if the government possesses the vision to move beyond the military operation and tackle militancy in a more holistic manner. The president spoke too of conspiracies against his government and his determination to defeat them. He must remember this will be possible only if promises are delivered on and the PPP works towards translating into reality the hope that still brings hundreds of thousands to Naudero each year.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE APRIL FOOL

 

April fool jokes are mostly harmless fun, some are thoughtless and malicious and some downright mad. Some are not even jokes at all in the conventional sense, and one such appears to be the latest utterances by President Karzai that had the UN and the world holding their collective sides with laughter concerned last year's elections in Afghanistan . Karzai won the elections as we all know, but they were massively rigged – votes cast exceeding the number of registered voters in a district, returns made from polling stations that never opened and perhaps millions of votes fraudulently stuffed into ballot boxes. And who was it that committed all this electoral malfeasance? Why none other than those wicked foreigners, for they it was who planned the rigging in order to oust that paragon of virtue – President Karzai. The president pointed the finger at Peter Galbraith, the then deputy head of the UN mission who he said had organised the fraud. He went on to accuse Galbraith (who was sacked from his UN job because he alleged that the UN was not doing enough to combat fraud in the election) of 'feeding details' of fraud to the international media in an effort to discredit him. Galbraith of course has responded with incredulity.


Karzai's remarks are probably linked in the real world to his attempts to gain personal control of the Afghan electoral commission; and they were made the day after parliament rejected his attempt to have an all-Afghan body monitoring elections, with members selected and appointed by himself. He has already had several of his proposals for cabinet membership bounced back by parliament and he is doubtless still smarting from the drubbing he got from President Obama who dropped in recently. Parliament snapped at him again on Saturday, with the speaker roundly rebuking him for his foolish speech. Karzai's comments will amuse few and please virtually none, but he is a reality that everybody has to live with, like it or not. There is no obvious alternative president waiting in the wings and the country is so politically fragile that Karzai has to be protected and worked with because he is the only game in town. The only – very dark – humour in any of this is that the Americans put him there.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

MILK MATTERS

 

The Lahore High Court, hearing a case pertaining to the quality of milk sold in the city, has for the moment barred the press from publishing the findings of a report on the quality and contents of packaged milk. Samples had been sent for testing to Germany, after local laboratories said they lacked facilities to test it. The case is one of immense interest to the public. We have in the past heard of substandard bottled water and other items being sold, often at high prices. The petitioner has suggested this may also be true in the case of milk. The new interest in consumer rights and the willingness of courts to take up these matters is important. The consumer courts have indeed also played their role in this matter by acting against the manufacturers of a range of items, including shampoo and air-conditioners.


We live in a society where consumerism is rampant. Everyone able to do so buys a huge range of products on a regular basis. As such they need some guarantee of the quality – and safety – of what they are buying. At the moment there are few regulatory controls to guarantee this in any way. Many packaged edibles carry only a limited list of ingredients; sub-standard material is used in others. We must hope the LHC case can draw attention to this issue and as such ensure better protection for all of us.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE SWAT FLOGGING: DO WE NEED MORE PROOF?

SAMAR MINALLAH


A year has passed since we heard the screams of a girl from Swat and saw how she was flogged by the Taliban in full public view. The Taliban spokesman, Muslim Khan, admitted in clear terms that the Taliban had carried out this act. Not only did he say on international electronic media that the Taliban flogged the girl in public, he also admitted that the case had not been investigated properly before the girl was punished. In addition, he has said it on record that the punishment was not carried out in the manner prescribed by Islam, where a child is supposed to give the lashes out to women. And, he said that the girl should not have been flogged in the open, in the clear view of the public.


Having heard all that loud and clear on TV, are we still wondering whether the incident took place or not? If an Islamabad-based NGO allegedly paid money to film-makers and actors in Swat to make a 'fake' video, then did the Taliban spokesman also take money to say that the Taliban indeed carried out the flogging? For those who still think the entire country suffers from memory-loss, please have a look at the video at this web-address, in order to refresh your memory and to decide for yourself if the video was fake:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKrfwXD6A34&feature=related.

Much to the disappointment of our 'conspiracy theorists' the entire country condemned the incident. People came out on the streets to protest over the incident while the Taliban and their supporters conveniently termed the video as a western conspiracy saying that it was produced at the behest of "anti-Islam forces".


The same Taliban apologists are again, attempting to engage the people in this nonsensical argument. They ignore how the Taliban used violence against women and men, cutting throats, hanging body-parts in public places and executing people. They seem to have conveniently forgotten all those gruesome beheading videos that were sold openly as 'Swat-1' and 'Swat-2'. All this was not only filmed by the militants but also proudly owned and disseminated by them. None were 'fake'; none were funded by any anonymous NGO based in Islamabad. The entire world knew about them. Alas, short is the memory of our many arm-chair analysts!


A news item, 'The Swat flogging video is fake', (The News, March 29), alleging that the video was a fake did not specify the name or identity of the 'Swati man' who claims to have made the video. It does not give the name of the NGO that allegedly paid some 'local actors' for acting in the 'fake' video. If all they were paid actors, does that imply that the Taliban leaders who admitted that the incident had happened were paid, too?


At a time when the entire country was under threat from militants, I not only brought the attention of the country to this video but also condemned it at the risk of my own life. Much to the disappointment of many "professional conspirators", the video was made by the Taliban and not by me. My role was merely to bring it to public attention. No NGO made millions by 'launching' the video because the video was already present on mobile phones and the Internet since weeks. The only thing "added" to it was open and clear condemnation from me.


In the words of Rehana Hakim from 'Newsline, April 2009', "Everyone, it appears, had been silenced into submission by the Taliban guns, including the ruling ANP government. It was shocking to hear an ANP spokesperson, remark that the incident had taken place before the Swat peace agreement, and that the video clip released by a Pakhtun activist to TV channels was intended to break the peace-deal! Did the incident, whether it happened now or six months back, not warrant investigation or condemnation?" If this was not the 'right time' to raise a voice in support of the Pakistani girl who was flogged, then can someone tell me when the 'right time' to do such a thing is? Thanks to the maligning campaign, I have received death threats, my credibility has been questioned, again, only by those who do not matter. The rest have given me strength and support. The people of Pakistan came out on the streets so that no other girl should be treated in this manner. As for myself, I have been giving voice to the women of this country for the last 15 years, and will continue to do so. I have spoken against all forms of violations and abuse against women. Enough of gimmickry has occurred in the name of politics and religion. Once again the perpetrators of the past are being portrayed as the heroes of today. But the conscious citizens of Pakistan will not let it happen again.


About the authenticity of the incident, Delawar Khan and Alifia wrote in The News dated April 12, 2009 titled 'Our Collective Shame'. It goes: "I witnessed the flogging myself, so there is no reason to doubt the occurrence," says a resident of Kala Kalay. At that time about 200 militants and 130 villagers were present to see the flogging of the girl. The flogging was a shocking development for the villagers. They had assembled to watch the screaming girl but everyone was frightened and helpless while the militants were unmoved."


A senior journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai is quoted in the same article, "The Taliban in Swat awarded punishment of public flogging about 25 times to men and twice to women during the past two years as they consolidated their control in the valley and established their own courts."


If this is 'fake' then what about the way Shabana was brutally killed in front of many silent spectators? All those (visible and invisible) Muslim Khans who remained unmoved have not only defamed our religion but also the integrity of each and every man and woman of Pakistan. Who will ever be held accountable for the thousands of women who were victimised by Maulana Fazlullah? Did those women not belong to this country? Were they not citizens of a sovereign state? If yes, then why did we not reach out to save them when they needed us the most?


All those who protected the Taliban, like the then Malakand commissioner Javed Shah should also be made accountable. Apparently, he has been set free by the court for "lack of evidence" in the whole mayhem that occurred under his nose in Malakand division until the military moved in. As for me, I will continue to challenge those who misuse religion for power and politics. I will continue to raise my voice against individuals and political parties who use my religion to spread hatred. I will continue to expose and challenge the 'conspiracy' and 'propaganda' theories that try to befool the people of this country. Those who continue to sit on the fence must make their voices heard. It is essentially the sane voice of the silent majority that matters.


The writer is a research anthropologist, documentary film-maker and the director of the NGO, Ethnomedia. Email: samarminallah@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

IMRAN'S STAND ON THE TALIBAN

DR ARIF ALVI


The terror situation in Pakistan is getting worse every year. If the number of killings and suicide bombings are any indicator, statements by many politicians and by government functionaries that the terrorism is the terrorists' last stand is based more on optimism than reality. Mr Imran Khan offered to negotiate peace much before the Americans started to talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan, but our lobby supporting the "War-on-Terror" accused him of being a Taliban sympathiser.


The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf is not a supporter of the Taliban. Far from it. We condemn the violence perpetrated by the Tehrik-e-Taliban or any other group against innocent people. The PTI condemns those who murder and slaughter people. However, we believe that the Taliban label also encompasses those who are reacting to the US presence in Afghanistan. They fight the army and target the civilian population because of the US presence in Pakistan. What are referred to as Taliban also include fundamentalists who believe that Sharia should be imposed, even against the wishes of the people, because of disillusionment with the present system of justice in Pakistan. Meanwhile, many who suffered the war's collateral damage are out for revenge. This is not to mention "local" and "outside" agencies (the latter including those sponsored by India), and criminals belonging to land and drug mafias who want to take advantage of the strife.


The PTI and Imran Khan have advocated efforts to understand the problem, not support to the Taliban. We equally oppose this "War on Terror," which is not a primary solution. When the army, prompted by foreign interests, calls the shots in an area infested by terrorists and in a situation with political-religious elements to it, its action will always lead to heavy-handed treatment of civilians and killing of innocents. This, in turn, increases hatred, ethnic polarisation and overall worsening of the situation. The army, which bears the brunt, has lost countless brave soldiers, and innocent civilians have been killed, in the so-called Taliban areas and throughout Pakistan.


The civil government is not calling the shots because it is under US-Pentagon pressure, from foreign officials in remote lands running a "joystick war." Temporary gaps in this battle lull us into thinking that things are getting better. Justifications for the war will become untenable in a few years, but by that time we will have caused enormous damage to the Pakistan polity. A war on terror presumes tremendous collateral damage.


Far from justifying terror and offering excuses for it, the PTI and Imran Khan merely emphasise its multi-factor origin. We continue to be in a time warp of our own although, looking for solutions, even our US masters have started to identify the differences among the Taliban. Our policies and our elite opinion are just delayed echoes of Washington. The PTI believes that once we understand the reasons for the malady, we will come up with viable treatments for it, before the disease becomes terminal.


Somebody has to talk to what are labelled as Taliban and seek out their grievances. There are thousands of Taliban prisoners in Pakistan. The media should reach them and find for us the root causes of their frustration. We have adopted in our discourse about the problem the "Bushism" that they are simply against our "freedoms and liberties." The elite in Pakistan believe that the Taliban have an extreme Sharia which they want to impose on us. This may be true of some groups, but I am also sure that if the media is allowed to hear them out and then inform us of the point of views of even the arrested criminals, we will be closer to understanding the reason for the phenomenon. If we choose to see only an extremist face, then the sight can only prompt extreme solutions.


A Rand Corporation study published in 2007, which had surveyed all terrorist situations from 1968 to 2006, concluded that military force has rarely been the primary reason for the defeat of terrorist groups. The phenomenon can only be handled through a range of policy instruments, which include negotiations. Army action has glaringly failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Palestine the original "War on Terror."


Pakistan is in trouble on too many fronts to be able to bear the colossal cost in human, political and financial terms. Like all Muslims since 9/11, Musharraf, while condemning terror, wanted to focus world attention on the causes of terror. Tragically the same argument was promptly forgotten when we ourselves were hit, becoming the victims of this senseless conflict too.


Let us not take dictates, because foreign dictation involves our losing our own perspective. Terror has no doubt also become our problem, but with reasons that remain beyond our borders. We should use our own medicine for this disease. Instead we are forced into entering the vicious cycle of terror begetting terror.


Talks and efforts for understanding do not exclude army action. But today it is more stick and little carrot. The PTI and Khan only advocate more carrot and less stick if we are to find a real solution. In any case, we will start talking sooner rather than later, since our masters have already begun to change course. They are no longer reluctant to commit the "heresy" of grading the Taliban into different groups, the ultimate result of which will be talking to the enemy.


Let us likewise be open to possible solutions for which we may need a paradigm shift and some lateral thinking: in the beginning no one has a clear solution, ourselves included. It would be a long path to peace.

 

We believe in a Pakistan envisioned by Jinnah in his speech of Aug 11, 1947, and an Islam as understood by Iqbal in his well enunciated Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. Pakistan should be a non-theocratic country, though steeped in its Muslim tradition of humanity, emancipation, equal opportunities, welfare and freedom for all to practice their respective faiths.


The writer is the secretary-general of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Email: arifalvi@ cyber.net.pk

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

ZIONISM ALARMED

M SHAHID ALAM


The US love fest with Israel appears to have run into a spot of trouble. In a reversal of its previous policy, the US is insisting that Israel suspend new settlement construction in East Jerusalem to pave the way for 'peace' talks with the Palestinian Authority. For a change, the US is countering Israel's 'No' with tough talk not heard in a while.


On March 9, when the US vice president was greeted in Tel Aviv with news of new settlements in East Jerusalem, he was furious. Privately, he told Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel's settlement activity "undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us, and it endangers regional peace."


This is not a message right-wing talk artists could shout down. Joe Biden was echoing the message delivered by General Petraeus, commander of US troops in the Middle East, to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the US Armed Services Committee. Hillary Clinton too reiterated this message in her speech to AIPAC.


What has occasioned this open rift between two spouses in a heavenly marriage? There have been tiffs before between them, but never before has a US administration told Israel that its policy endangers American troops or American interests in the Middle East? This talk is serious. It belies decades of rhetoric that has boosted Israel as America's unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Middle East.


It appears that its past is beginning to catch up with Israel. Adversaries it had long suppressed, forces it had harnessed for its expansionist policy, blowbacks from decisions made in hubris have now converged to limit Israel's options. Is the Zionist logic that had brought endless successes in the past now working in the opposite direction? Is Israel running out of its fabled resourcefulness?


Israel's stunning victory in June 1967 had produced two destabilizing results. Having solved its native problem in 1948, Israel had created it anew in 1967 by its decision to retain the West Bank and Gaza. The June War also swelled the ranks of extremist Jews who began to colonize East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza. Unable to drive out the Palestinians, this new round of colonization would turn Israel into an apartheid state.


In the 2000s, international civil society started taking notice. Movements were launched to divest from, boycott and sanction Israel. Activists began to use Western legal systems to prosecute Israelis for war crimes. Israeli leaders visiting Western campuses are now heckled routinely. Slowly, Western publics are turning away from Israel.

In 1982, in a bid to extend Israel's northern border, Israel invaded and occupied southern Lebanon. The Lebanese Shias responded by creating Hizbullah, a multi-layered grass-roots resistance, the most formidable adversary Israel had ever faced. In 2000, they forced Israel to withdraw unilaterally, and in July 2006 repulsed a fresh Israeli invasion, giving Israel a bloody nose.


No more was Tehran a distant threat for Tel Aviv: it was now positioned right next to Israel's northern border. Although Hizbullah spoke to the grit and discipline of Lebanese Shias, it could not have grown without Iranian support.

At about the same time, as part of its strategy to defeat the Second Intifada, Israel built the apartheid Wall cutting through the West Bank, and it pulled the Jewish settlements out of Gaza while sealing it from outside contacts. By stopping the suicide-bombers, the Wall gave Israel time to complete the creation of Gaza-like enclaves in the West Bank. In consequence, 'peace' talks with Palestinians lost their urgency and were shelved. This made the pro-US Arab regimes a bit nervous: they needed the charade of 'peace' talks to shore up what little legitimacy they had with their home audience.


The Egyptian-Israeli siege of Gaza brought Iranian influence to Israel's southern border. The siege has stopped Hamas from becoming another Hizbullah, but their home made rockets reminded Israel that its native problem had not gone away – that it would continue to haunt them.


In the 1990s, the Zionist logic had spawned Al Qaeda, a group that would use terror to lure the US to wage war against the Middle East. After the Cold War, the Zionists too – led by the Neocons – pursued the same goal. Using the absurd thesis of the 'clash of civilizations,' they began to promote a Western war against the Islamicate. They urged the US to take out Iran, Syria and Iraq.


This was a departure from Israel's long-standing war strategy. Israel took US money and weapons, but fought its own wars. This had several advantages. It built Israel's military strength and prestige; it kept the US military out of Israel's path to hegemony over the Middle East. Also, American support for Israel might wear thin if they saw their troops dying in Israel's wars. If Israel was ready to abandon this strategy in the 1990s, that is because it could not take on Iran, Iraq and Syria on its own.


And so the die was cast. When Al Qaeda struck on 9-11, Israel saw opportunity. The Zionists began to press full steam for the US to invade Iraq – and succeeded. Few Israelis worried that the chickens would come home to roost. In April 2008, Netanyahu said, "We are benefiting from…the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq."


Now, some ten years later, the chickens are coming home to roost. The Iraq war has achieved little for Israel. It removed a defanged Saddam Hussein, but extended Iran's influence into Iraq and it has brought Iranian proxies to its northern and southern borders. Iran now uses Palestine to undermine pro-US Arab regimes.


More ominously, the US military has now spoken. It has warned that Israeli policy raises tensions in the Middle East and endangers US troops on the ground. It will not be easy for Israel and its backers to shout down US generals with charges of anti-Semitism. That is why so many Zionist commentators look alarmed. One Israeli commentator warns that "Obama and Netanyahu are at point of no return." Others are saying worse.


It appears unlikely that this 'flap' between the US and Israel will blow over soon. If it does not, attacks by Jewish groups – inside and outside Israel – against Obama will become more frequent and nastier. The loyalty of some Americans, both inside and outside the Congress, will be tested. It is hard to predict where this will go.


However, this much should be clear. Even if US-Israeli differences over the Middle East are finessed for now, that will not be the end of it. The pressures that have persuaded the US to insist on a 'solution' to the Palestinian problem will persist. The realities that have produced the present 'flap' are not going away.


The writer is professor of economics at Northeastern University, Boston. He is author of Israeli Exceptionalism (Palgrave, 2009) and Challenging the New Orientalism (IPI, 2006). Email: alqalam02760@ yahoo.com.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

DON'T TRASH THE CONCURRENT LIST

ASIF EZDI


The writer is a former member of the PakistanForeign Service.


Nawaz Sharif was right when he said at a press conference on March 27 that the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reform were being rushed in a half-baked way. What he did not say, for understandable reasons, is that the Charter of Democracy, which the Committee was mandated to implement and of which he himself is the signatory, is itself a half-baked political manifesto which is full of serious flaws because it was prepared in great haste without full examination of all its implications.

Some of these flaws, like the proposed establishment of a constitutional court, have been conceded even by the PML-N and this proposal has been quietly shelved. The most serious shortcoming of the charter, which has now been incorporated in the committee's recommendations, was the demand for the deletion of the concurrent legislative list. The PML-Q has submitted a dissenting note on this issue but most other political parties have either supported the abolition of the concurrent list or have decided, despite their reservations, to go along with the recommendation.


There are two reasons for this. First, the rationale for the existence of the concurrent list has not been fully understood or appreciated. Second, the abolition of the concurrent list has become identified in the public perception with provincial autonomy.


But the truth is that doing away with the concurrent list will only enfeeble the federal government and largely paralyse the federal parliament, without adding to the powers of the provinces. To ensure greater provincial autonomy, which is a just demand and a desirable objective, a far better approach than deleting the concurrent list would be to empower the provincial legislatures to override a federal law on a concurrent subject in its application to that province.


In Pakistan's constitutional history, the concurrent list was adopted for the first time in the Government of India Act of 1935, which was the country's first federal constitution. The concurrent list was later incorporated also in the 1956 and 1973 constitutions. Its justification, as given in the report of the Joint Select Committee of the British Parliament (1934), was threefold: (a) to secure uniformity in the main principles of law throughout the country and to implement international conventions; (b) to give a lead to the provinces, as in the case of labour legislation; and (c) to regulate matters extending beyond one province, such as diseases of animals.


The 1935 Act divided the concurrent list into two parts. Part I comprised those branches of civil and criminal law on which uniformity throughout the country was considered desirable, while Part II consisted of subjects on which inter-provincial coordination and giving a lead to the provinces were the principal considerations. The 1935 Act also laid down that on matters in Part II, the executive authority of the federation extended to giving directions to a province, if authorised by a federal act. This division into two parts was continued in the 1956 constitution. The 1973 constitution however merged them together.


The abolition of the concurrent list would be justified if we reached the conclusion, after a nation-wide debate, that the country no longer needs uniformity in the main principles of civil and criminal law and that there is no need for federal regulation of matters which extend beyond one province. But the committee not only failed to discuss these aspects, it also seems to have failed to comprehend the issues. The government too provided no guidance to the committee on what the abolition of the concurrent list would entail.

Even worse, neither Zardari nor Gilani seem to care or be aware of the consequences of taking such a radical step. Zardari is evidently much too preoccupied with saving himself from corruption cases to concern himself with matters of state. But Gilani's total non-involvement in the work of the committee is shocking. Coming from the head of government, it is nothing but culpable dereliction of duty.


For your benefit, Prime Minister, here is what the deletion of the concurrent list will do.


First, parliament will for the first time in the country's history lose the power to legislate (except for the Islamabad Capital Territory) on the country's penal code, criminal procedure, civil procedure, law of evidence, and other major branches of substantive and procedural law such as marriage and succession. The single legal space that the country has had so far will be history. There will be not one but five penal codes and the same number of criminal procedure codes, civil procedure codes and law of evidence, one each for the four provinces and another one for the Islamabad territory. Similarly, the country will need not one but five new accountability laws to replace the NAB Ordinance and five anti-money laundering laws, to give just a few examples from recent legislation.

The authors of the Charter of Democracy who demanded the deletion of the concurrent list obviously did not realise the consequences. If they had, they would have proposed not one but five independent accountability commissions to replace NAB. Aitzaz Ahsan, the legal genius who drafted the Charter, has some explaining to do.

Second, parliament will lose the power to legislate on a number of matters which can best be regulated at the federal level, such as drugs and medicines and environmental protection. The result will be quintuplication at best and chaos and large-scale evasion of the law at worst.


The overall result of abolishing the concurrent list will be confusion and inter-provincial disharmony. To cater for greater provincial autonomy, a better approach would be to retain the list but give the provinces the power to modify federal laws passed on concurrent matters.


Presently, under Article 143 the federal law always prevails over the provincial law in case of inconsistency between the two. The 1935 Act and the 1956 constitution had somewhat different provisions. Under these two constitutions, a federal act on a concurrent subject was normally to override a provincial act. But if the provincial law had been assented to by the governor-general (under the 1935 Act) or president (under the 1956 constitution) after having been "reserved" for his consideration by the provincial governor, it was to prevail over prior federal legislation. The federal legislature could nevertheless amend or repeal such a provincial law. But under the 1935 Act, prior sanction of the governor-general was required for the introduction of such a bill in the legislature. Under the 1956 constitution this requirement of prior sanction was removed.
What our parliament needs to do now is to retain the concurrent list but amend Article 143 to lay down (a) that a provincial law would override a federal law on a concurrent subject if the provincial assembly passes it with a majority of its entire membership; and (b) that such a provincial law may be modified by a later federal law if it is passed not only by the National Assembly but also by a two-thirds majority of the total membership of the Senate. This would be a sufficiently high bar to reassure the smaller provinces. Such an amendment would ensure that in matters on the concurrent list, the provinces will have the last word, except in the rare case when the Senate decides, by a two-thirds vote, that there should be a uniform law for the whole country.
If we adopt such an amendment, we will have a win-win solution. While enhancing provincial autonomy, it would preserve a viable federal structure and the benefits of a single legal space on matters in which countrywide uniformity or inter-provincial coordination is required. The move is yours to make, Prime Minister.
Email: asifezdi@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

REMEMBERING BHUTTO

NAFEES A SIDDIQI


Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was among those leaders of the world who shape the destinies of their peoples.

Bhutto asserted Pakistan's national independence when the country was a member of Western military pacts. It is his initiative in the 1960s that paved the way for Kissinger's secret diplomacy with China, something that brought the United States and China together and eased international tensions. That courageous initiative is still the mainstay of Pakistan's territorial integrity. He laid the foundation of a nuclear Pakistan.


Leading a recently vanquished Pakistan, Bhutto, through the Simla Accord, succeeded in securing the return of 90,000 prisoners of war and over 5,000 square miles of Pakistani territory from India.


Bhutto assembled a team of men that included J A Rahim, Mahmud Ali Kasuri, Dr Mubashir Hassan, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada and Mairaj Mohammad Khan who ably assisted him in the execution of his plans. Unfortunately, the PPP today does not such brilliant and courageous people at the top. There is no one on the national scene, not even in his own Pakistan People's Party, who could take over his mantle after the assassination of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.


The PPP's political leadership, which lacks a sense of direction, is pushed around by the establishment on the important issues. Despite the achievement of a significant political gain over the constitutional package through consensus, the establishment is cleverly easing the party out, because of the PPP's lack of will. Meanwhile, the military leadership is being portrayed as the country's saviour. The PPP leadership's faux pas have become one of its leaders' hallmarks.


Bhutto's biggest contribution in nation-building was the 1973 Constitution and his revamping of the economy. Internationally he was a great exponent of the rights of the Third World.


Although Bhutto advocated populist politics and declared the people as sovereign and the ultimate source of power, he did not limit his options by adopting class struggle and trade unionism. The PPP had been formed as a party which vigorously mobilised the middle class, but he endeared himself to millions of illiterate people throughout the country.


In his book The Myth of Independence, Bhutto Sahib gave a clear indication of the emerging analysis of the developing world political and economic order. He emphasised that "the under-developed nations' struggle for a better economic relationship with the developed nations makes it incumbent on the underdeveloped nations to articulate their common objectives in order to strengthen their collective bargaining capacity. The North-South struggle, however important it may be for the future welfare of the under-developed nations, is overshadowed by the East-West polarisation, which has the power of inciting ideological passions."


In the 1960s Third World countries had been reduced to supplying the raw materials needed for the capitalist economies of the Western countries. The Third World had become the dumping ground for the industrial products of the neo-colonial West. Today also the developing countries have become the dumping ground for cheap products of the developed countries. This has resulted in the drastic decline in industrialisation and job opportunities.

Bhutto Sahib had understood the dichotomy of the Western capitalist system and had realised that when developed countries cannot find a solution to the problems caused by their own policies, they become ruthless and more repressive in dealing with the world. That is why the great visionary had decided that Third World countries should join hands in deterring the neo-imperialist onslaught and evolve a framework for their own development, progress and self-preservation.


Under this framework, Bhutto had proposed that more energy resources should be developed to provide electricity and availability of more oil for industrial growth should be ensured. He had visualised evolution of the industrial complex of the Third World that would produce industrial machinery and consumer products. He had emphasised the need for setting up the steel industry the backbone of any industrial activity. He advocated the setting up of more and more nuclear power plants for the generation of electricity and energy. Today such a vision and initiative is lacking.


It was the commitment and resolve of the PPP leadership that enabled Pakistan to negotiate the return of 5,000 square miles of territory occupied by the Indians and the return of over 90,000 civilian and military prisoners of war. National honour was vindicated by the agreement to drop trials for alleged war crimes. National interests were upheld by India's formal recognition that Pakistan's position on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute remained unchanged. Relations with Bangladesh were established.


Besides picking up and reassembling the pieces of our shattered relations in the subcontinent Pakistan's foreign policy under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the PPP government took a new turn on the basis of the principles enunciated in the party's foundation convention. Bilateralism was the cornerstone of Bhutto's foreign policy, as it helped in avoiding the entanglements of East-West politics and the Cold War between Russia and the United States. It focused on what was in Pakistan's national interest and not what suited Pakistan's donor countries.


This is the time for Pakistan to claim back its autonomy and self-respect. As we commemorate the judicial murder of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on April 4, 1979, it is time for introspection by the PPP leadership, which needs to ask itself where it has moved off-target and away from the aspirations of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Salvation will not come from above, it has to come from within.


The writer is a senior leader of the PPP.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

BEST OF FRIENDS

CHRIS CORK


How many friends have you got? Me? One hundred and sixty-six. That's a lot of friends you may think, but I know people who have thousands. Out of my list I have actually met sixty-four face to face, the rest I am unlikely ever to see in the flesh. Why? Because they are my Facebook friends, I have another hundred or so with many duplicates on Orkut, fifty or sixty in various scale modeling chat-rooms and thirty-eight on Skype. My 'virtual' friends have long outnumbered my 'real' friends and living far from my own country and family members the majority of my social interaction with them is over the internet. I recently met, for real, a person I had until then only known as a cyber-mate and was immediately struck by the qualitative difference in the nature of the relationship. We will meet again and this is a cyber-friend who will cross the divide and become 'real' – others won't and some will suffer that ultimate social ostracism – they will be de-friended.


'De-friending' is the modern equivalent of 'breaking it off', the fracture of a relationship be it close or far, but one which was based on actual contact, proximity and awareness. Periodically I go through my list of Facebook friends and have a cull. I may boot dozens from my friends' list to the obvious surprise of some and the irritation of others. Why do they get the order of the boot? A variety of reasons; from me suspecting that they are not who they claim to be in the mini-biography that goes with the Facebook page, or because I don't like the views they express or the causes they espouse. Or simply because there has been zero interaction since we 'friended' one-another. And there they are gone.


They came at the flick of a button and went with the same. There was no awkward discussion sitting in a cafe or a public park where I might have to look these people in the eye, sense their rejection, their hurt or puzzlement at my casting them aside. There are no memories of them, how they might sit, what their habits were, whether they took sugar in their tea. There is little or no emotional luggage that goes with these one-click 'friendships'.


But this is not true of all my cyber-relationships at least two of which do much to sustain me through thick and thin. We are grumpy old men, similar in age and outlook, liking many of the same things in life, and have been together for over eight years. A bond has developed between the three of us that transcends the trivial and we look to each other for support and friendship. One is in Canada, the other in the US. I don't expect ever to meet either, but I feel closer to them than some 'real' friends I have known for far longer.


As the internet becomes a more layered experience and we are now able so see the person we speak to, to open windows on our lives and ourselves that we never could before, then there is emerging a type of cyber relationship that has real depth, tangible emotion and true value. The intriguing thing is that the quality of those relationships is determined by how close they come to physical interaction in the real world. The 'messenger' friends are never as 'real' as the Skype friends - and none of them beat coffee and cakes with a real friend who came out of cyberspace and into a world where clicking them out of existence is not an option.


The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: manticore73@gmail .com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

EXECUTIVE-JUDICIARY: AJK FOLLOWS PAKISTAN

 

IN a dramatic development, the Azad Kashmir President on Saturday filed a reference against Chief Justice of the territory Riaz Akhtar Chaudhry and appointed senior most judge Manzoor Hussain as the Acting Chief Justice. According to a notification the reference against the Chief Justice was filed on the advice of the Prime Minister to the Supreme Judicial Council of the region.


The reference has rendered Justice Riaz dysfunctional pending the final report by the SJC but according to reports he has refused to leave his seat insisting that the action was unconstitutional. The Acting President and Speaker of the AJK Assembly administered the oath to the Acting Chief Justice. The Reference charged Justice Riaz with violating and subverting the constitution, personal gains and acting beyond jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. All this episode has caused a dent in the Executive-Judiciary relationship. This ironically appears to be in line to what is happening in Pakistan since Musharraf days. We are of the considered opinion that clash between executive and the judiciary is in no one's interest and all institutions in Azad Kashmir must function within the laid down parameters. Senior Judges and members of the legal community in Azad Kashmir had strongly objected over the appointment of Justice Riaz as Chief Justice in October, 2006 as he had only less than a month's service and senior judges were ignored. Justice Manzoor Hussain Gilani who was the senior most judge in AJK in October, 2006 and ignored for unknown reasons has also knocked the doors of the Supreme Court of Pakistan to seek justice. Now that a reference has been filed in the Supreme Judicial Council, it is in the fitness of things that Justice Riaz Akhtar should plead his case there and wait for a verdict rather than sticking to his seat which will create more heart burning and tension between the executive and the judiciary. We believe that such infectious tendencies should be avoided and all the appointments should be made as provided in the constitution for smooth functioning of all organs of the State.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

 

LET THERE BE A DEADLINE OF INDO-PAK TALKS

 

ANOTHER round of Foreign Secretary level talks between Pakistan and India appears to be in the offing as reports in the Indian media suggest that New Delhi is in touch with Islamabad for this purpose. It is good that there is a realisation in India that talks are the only way to remove tension and resolve all outstanding issues.

Right from day one Pakistan had been emphasising that crucial issues including the Kashmir problem should be prioritised and resolved but India had been using delaying tactics and side tracking the real issues. The last round of Foreign Secretary level talks in New Delhi could be described as an ice breaker but it failed to come out with any positive initiative like agreement to resume composite dialogue. New Delhi persisted with one point agenda demanding hand over or punishment of those who it claims were involved in the Mumbai attacks. Core issue of Kashmir, storage and diversion of Pakistani share of water by India in occupied Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek are the main disputes between the two countries and they must be addressed with sincerity by both sides. No doubt terrorism is also a source of concern for both the countries but once the main issues are resolved, this menace would surely meet its natural death. After the visit of Dr Manmohan Singh to Saudi Arabia and his talks with King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, in which the Indian Prime Minister is reported to have asked the Saudi King to use his good offices with Pakistan for improvement of relations with India, one had hoped for resumption of a serious and result oriented dialogue between the two countries. The Pakistani Foreign Minister also held talks with the Saudi leadership on Saturday and has welcomed the mediation of the brotherly country for the restoration of composite dialogue with India. In our view talks for the sake of talks would be of no benefit to the two countries and the need of the time is that the two sides should chart out a time frame of six months to one year to resolve all the issues that bedevil relations between them.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

RISING INFLATION

 

THE Sensitive Price Indicator for the week ended on April 1, 2010 has registered an increase of 0.30 percent over the previous week which indicates that the inflation continues to show upward trend. The main reasons for increase in inflation are increases in power tariff and POL products which adversely affect all sectors of the economy and lead to increase in prices of essential commodities.


Fearing inflation to shoot up further in the days to come, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) in its latest Monetary Policy decided to keep interest rate unchanged at 12.5 per cent. The Bank has anticipated that the average CPI inflation for FY10 will remain close to 12 per cent during the year. In economics, inflation is a rise in the general level of prices of goods and services in an economy over a period of time. When the price level rises, each unit of currency buys fewer goods and services; consequently, annual inflation is also an erosion in the purchasing power of money, a loss of real value in the internal medium of exchange and unit of account in the economy. The government had succeeded to bring inflation rate down which was averaged at 10.8 percent during July-January (2009-10) against 23.8 percent in same period last year but for various factors including the power rates and POL prices it is again going up and hitting hard to the poor masses. In order to contain inflation various measures are being adopted including review of price situation on regular basis in the country, prudent macro-economic policies to contain excess demand in the economy including a tight monetary policy and improvement in the supply chain yet low productivity due to energy shortages is hampering to achieve the desired results. To mitigate the sufferings of the people, the impact of lowering international prices of wheat and sugar must be passed on to the end users rather than protecting the cartels who exploited fully to the masses when sugar was in short supply and international prices had gone high. We hope that the Government would seriously look into the situation and take steps to keep the inflation within single digit during the current financial year.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

REACTION ON ZAB'S EXECUTION

AMBASSADOR'S DIARY

DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI

 

The sad incident of execution of late Prime Minister Bhutto took place when I was Ambassador to Egypt. I recall the scene as I witnessed in Cairo. All sections of society in Egypt, high or low, official or non-officials, the ordinary fellaheen, labourers, painfully watched ZAB's trial like the central character in it was someone with whom they were closely related. Even Asian and African diplomats were equally worried on ZAB's fate. But after Lahore High Court sentenced him to death, public sentiments were strongly against Pakistan's military regime. I was witnessing anger and receiving insults from the common man on the streets and in the shops. First my flagged car was jeered in Port Saeed where I used to go for normal outing, as it was so near Cairo, "Why have you sentenced Bhutto to death?" This was not a question, it was like a charge as if I were the person who was responsible for the judgment. Then I could still give a reply that this was not the end of the case. Its appeal was being heard by the Supreme Court.


While the Supreme Court hearing was on, I had to go to Turkey as my niece – Sofia Elias, daughter of my elder sister was getting married to a Turk, Muzzafer Ozkan, her fellow student in the University. She had gone to Ankara to study at the Middle East Technical University. According to Turkish law, a foreign girl has to be married by her parents or nearest direct blood relation. After landing at Istanbul, I was received by my niece and Muzaffer at Istanbul Esenbuga Air Port and drove straight to Ankara. On arrival I was taken to the flat of her father in law to be. General Hosnu Ozkan, who had been Chief of Staff of Turkish Air Force when Menderes was toppled and hanged. Hosnu Pasha had been member of that Military Junta who toppled Menderes, and had become a life Senator. I had hardly sat down. after welcome by the General and Khanum Ozkan, the first thing Hosnu Pasha spoke to me was about ZAB's trial. He said: "You should not hang Bhutto. I replied, " Pasha, I have nothing to do with the trials." May be he thought that I was a military officer sent out as ambassador He said, "If you hang him, Pakistan will be strongly polarized." I replied " Why do you presume that the Supreme Court will confirm the death sentence of the Lahore High Court" He snicaly smiled and said nothing, as if the remark was to be ignored, and repeated that Bhutto should not be hanged. I am telling you as a friend of Pakistan We wish Pakistan well "I replied " I am surprised you are saying so. You were in the National Unity Committee (which was the name the Military Junta had taken for itself). " You were one of those who hanged Mendres." He said, "Yes, this is why I am telling you not to hang Bhutto. He went on to say," After we hanged Mendres Turkey never became one. It was polarized. If we had the foresight of what will be the repercussions of our decision, we would not have hanged him". After the Supreme Court confirmed ZAB's death sentence, there was gloom in Egypt I will mention only a few glimpses of the reaction. I drove down to Port Said from Cairo As I parked my flagged car in front of a shop, a few ordinary people gathered round my car asking me why we were hanging Bhutto. In the shop the owner was more interested in venting his anger on me and grief for ZAB than selling me any thing. On 23rd March, the Deputy Chief of Protocol came to the embassy to greet Pakistan on behalf of President Sadat and talked to me after he had done his official job. He said the jurists in Egypt do not believe that Bhutto could be sentenced to death. The day the Supreme Court delivered its judgment sentencing ZAB to death, and the news was carried on the Egyptian TV and radio, I saw another cruelty of history. As I came out of my room to give a file to my Social Secretary in her office, adjacent to mine, I was stopped by an elderly person whose face was heavily lined with age and seemed very familiar to me. It was a very kindly face, no trace of arrogance, sad. Apparently he wanted to see me right away "Ambassador… "He said, wanting to stop me while I was walking to my secretary's desk and had the file in my hand. " Just a minute, Sir, I will be with you "Just then Rashad, the local assistant, a Pakistani-Egyptian whispered in my ears "General Naguib!" to identify the person. I immediately stopped and very courteously opened the door of my office to usher him in. "No, I am in a great hurry. They are hanging Butto. I want this telegram to go right away to Dia ul Haq. I am asking pardon for his life. Right away "General Naguib said " here is my telegram I want you to send it to Dia ul Haq, can you send it. I suggested that he did it himself. I assured him ZAB could not be hanged right after the judgment" "What is Dia's address?" I replied "Excellency, just General Zia ul Haq, President of Pakistan Rawalpindi is enough of address for him. It will reach him". He wanted to leave right away for the Telegraph Office. I escorted him out to his old dusty car standing in front of the embassy gate with its chauffeur. I opened the door and put him in it. As the car moved on the Egyptian militia on guard duty at the embassy asked me "Man huva?" who is he? "General Naguib", Here was the man who had played a role in the history of his country. He was getting into a dusty old car and a militia of his country was asking "Man huva? " and shrugged his shoulders " Genraal" Naguib? " Here was the man who created history in Egypt and in 1979 a soldier was asking "who he is? "man hua"


The unkindest cut of it all was when official instructions arrived asking us to have the residence and the Chancery illuminated on the night before he was hanged on the pretext of some festival that occurred on that day or so. "Sir, we have instructions to have illuminations 'I wondered whether he was doing it purposely. "Well, do what you have to do Leave me out of it." It was not a question of right or wrong, it was a sad day, black day, I did not want to be part of this act of cruelty and worst of it all to make illuminations on this saddest day. Hanging of a very popular although equally controversial prime minister of the country was no ordinary thing to do. Reaction in the public on this hanging was of hatred for Pakistan. During this time I visited Port Saeed. Pakistan flag flying on my car – to pass through Duty Free Area,-, the public gathered round me. Although I had a favourable image in the public, I faced a hostile gathering round my car. "Why are you hanging Butto" It was said with anger, with a sharp tone, as if I was the Judge. The shop owner would talk only this topic. You are hanging a great friend of Arabs, a great leader. What has happened to you.. Are you in your senses" I witnessed the same scene when I went to a shop on Nile Street, Cairo's main road. It was my habit to personally drive round Cairo, in the evenings, without a flag and without a driver. As I entered the shop the owner would not talk to me. "You cruel people, you are killing a great leader. Are you not ashamed of yourself." Scenes like this were plenty. My daughter, who was a medical student in Cairo University, went to the embassy's dentist, a Coptic Christian. He put her on the dentist's chair, forgot what she had gone him for , and started giving her a piece of his mind on the crime of hanging of a great progressive leader of the Third World. Of course it would not have escaped notice that I heard these harangues silently, with a sad face, stolidly, speaking not a word in defence of the judgment. Except for the military staff, all from the embassy were tongue-tied. Silence was eloquent.


But the most difficult acting for me was when Sadat's Foreign Affairs Adviser Usama El Baz called me to give a formal note asking for amnesty for ZAB. He was speaking and my mind was blocked with grief. I had to keep control of my self. I heard him say that lawyers in Egypt do not agree that this could be counted as first-degree murder etc. Later I recalled another of Regina's prophesy she (Regina Lutfi, wife of a Deputy Minister of Justice) had made when my wife and I visited her on X mas evening- she was a Palestinian Catholic- to wish her happy Christmas in 1978. "I see blood blood, from here to your country, revolutions, assassinations, toppling of regimes" This happened. Shah (of Iran) was thrown out by Islamic Revolution, ZAB was hanged, Sadat was assassinated. Regina was a well-known seer who could forecast the future.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PAK SEEN AS A KEY TO AFGHAN CONUNDRUM

ASIF HAROON RAJA

 

The main objective of USA to occupy Afghanistan in November 2001 was to break the myth that Afghanistan is unconquerable, tame the Afghans and convert it into a permanent military base for the realization of its regional and global ambitions. After eight years of fighting the sole aim of the US is how to pullout its forces from self created Afghan quagmire safely and honorably. Till 9/11, India taking advantage of its relationship with USA, painted Pakistan as a failed state, abettor of cross border terrorism in occupied Kashmir and involved in manufacturing an Islamic bomb. The US obliged India partly by placing Pakistan in the watch list of countries suspected of indulging in terrorism and keeping it under harsh sanctions.


9/11 helped India achieve what it could never have in normal course. New rules on global terrorism framed by USA and doctrine of pre-emption and shock and awe conceived by George W. Bush Administration helped India to convert Kashmir freedom struggle into terrorism, brand Pakistan as an extremist state indulging in international terrorism and in nuclear proliferation. Pakistan's nuclear capability was projected as a threat to world peace. The US helped India in regaining and expanding its influence in Afghanistan to be able to encircle Pakistan and to put into operation the devised game plan. Themes of extremism, terrorism and nuclear proliferation appealed to the jittery senses of western audience fearful of Islamists and also fitted into the policy framework of new rules injected in New World Order in which Islam figured as the chief threat to US imperialism and capitalist oriented international order. There was clear cut mutuality of interests between the four strategic partners USA, UK, Israel and India. Pakistan did not fit into George Bush doctrine but was accepted as a tactical coalition partner on condition of taking upon itself the most hazardous task of frontline state. It was to be kept within the loop till the realization of US short term gains and then dropped like a hot potato at an opportune time. Although the ground situation made it crystal clear that Pakistan had been turned from an ally into a target from 2005 onwards, our short-vision leaders infatuated with friendship of US and India ignored repeated warnings of saner elements and kept pursuing US agenda under the false hope that such a recourse would be beneficial for Pakistan. They received the whips without a whimper and shut their eyes to Indian ingresses into Pakistan merely to remain in their good books. As a consequence, flames of terrorism engulfed each and every part of Pakistan and caused colossal human and material losses.


To the utter bad luck of people of Pakistan, even the new leaders whom they had elected with fond hopes brought no change in the highly damaging policies. They too took no notice of the deadly game of our adversaries', hell bent to destabilize, denuclearize and balkanize Pakistan and continued to follow the dictates of US energetically. Already reeling under the impact of fruitless war on terror, Pakistan's position became more fragile when its economy collapsed and the country fell into the clasp of IMF. I have not an iota of doubt that the US gave all out support to India and would have continued to support its filibustering, blackmailing tactics and covert operations till the accomplishment of laid down sinister objectives against Pakistan had the security situation in Afghanistan not spun out of control and US economy nosedived radically making the stay of coalition forces dangerous. Afghanistan became the proverbial Achilles heel of USA and military defeat at the hands of rag tag Taliban became a reality. Decision to withdraw from Afghanistan starting mid July 2011 and to gradually hand over security responsibilities to Afghan security forces was a tough one. Extremely bitter pill was swallowed by Obama only when he found out that monster of terrorism had become so powerful that it could become a catalyst for downfall of US Empire. The US-NATO military commanders operating in Afghanistan had realized much earlier that they were fighting a losing battle and reliance on military force was no more a viable option. They were dissatisfied with the performance of Afghan National Army (ANA). Another factor that worried them was the glumness and disheartenment that set in among foreign troops deployed in Afghanistan and 80% increase in desertion rate since 2003.

Their desire for a political solution to Afghan imbroglio and early exit based on realistic appraisal compelled Obama to take the decision which brought some relief to the world in general but caused immense heart burns to India, Israel, Karzai regime and hawks within US corridors of power. Troop surge was meant to enable Gen McChrystal to win some tactical battles in southern and eastern Afghanistan and place USA in better bargaining position by mid 2011. It was also meant to put extra pressure on Pakistan to deal with Al-Qaeda, Quetta Shura and Haqqani network more effectively since in US view the tide in Afghanistan couldn't be changed in its favor without dismantling Pakistan based bases.


In contrast to poor showing of ISAF, Pakistan military had performed exceptionally well against more well equipped and well entrenched militants in Malakand Division, Swat, South Waziristan and Bajaur duly supported by foreign agencies. It also enabled Gen Kayani to remind Washington that 148000 troops were deployed in the northwest as against nearly 100,000 coalition troops from 43 countries and that for the time being his troops could stretch no further. He refused to give in to US demand to further thin out troops from its eastern border and start another operation in North Waziristan on the silly plea that India posed no threat. The US was also told that Pakistan's gains were much more and sacrifices much larger than anyone else and hence do more demand was no more applicable to Pakistan. The US was clearly informed that increased Indian military presence in Afghanistan was a cause of concern and unacceptable. Once USA, India, Karzai regime, Saudi Arabia and the UN failed in breaking the alignment between al-Qaeda and Taliban and in dividing Taliban, a hard reality stared in the face of US military that given the resurging power of Taliban-Haqqani network-Gulbadin Hikmatyar-alQaeda nexus and lack of commitment among coalition soldiers and ANA; resistance forces would make the pullout of coalition troops very costly. Carrying out an in-house appraisal, US policy makers had to grudgingly admit that Pakistan was a key to Afghan conundrum and the only country that could help USA in its withdrawal, possibly on a triumphant note. Changed geo-strategic realities coupled with altered perceptions have transformed Pakistan from a pariah state into a most sought state.


There is now a marked change in the attitude of US officials compared with the hawkish and demeaning attitude of US officials against Pakistan which they had adopted for so many years. Transformation from haughtiness to affability led to holding of strategic dialogue in Washington in the last week of March. The hosts were extremely respectful, affectionate, responsive and accommodating; on no occasion any American official tried to be nasty. For the first time the hosts refrained from singing nauseating mantra of 'do more' since they knew that it was their time to payback. Even US media remained in check. The superstar on whom the spotlight remained focused was Gen Ashfaq Kayani. Pakistan's pivotal position in Afghan affairs has been re-emphasized and ground is being paved to bridge trust deficit and remove some if not all grievances.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

 

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PAK-US DIALOGUE: CONVERGENCES & DIVERGENCES

DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN

 

United States established its diplomatic relations with Pakistan in early in 1948, once Paul Alling, a career diplomat arrived Karachi, then capital of Pakistan. Later on Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, visited U.S in May 1950. This visit marked the formal beginning of the Pak-US relationship. In the subsequent history, Pakistan's relations with United States have "careened between intimate partnership and enormous friction-reflecting the ups and downs of global and regional geopolitics and disparate national interests." While maintaining a balance relationship with India, US relations with Pakistan have been "intense and extraordinary volatile."


It is viewed that Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan maintained good relations with Pakistan whereas, in the periods of; Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Bush senior, and Clinton, there remained chill in the bilateral relationship of both countries. The two tenures of President George W. Bush, from 2001 to early 2009, have mostly been a period of dubiousness, mainly owing to the so-called global war on terror. Because of Pakistan's alliance with U.S and Western world throughout during the cold war, its relations with the former Soviet Union and other countries of Communist bloc remained at the lowest ebb. Sequel to Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, Pakistan provided all out assistance to U.S and West once they promoted global Jihad against the invasion of former USSR in Afghanistan. This assistance indeed, left deep rooted effects on the Pakistani society in the form of extremism, proliferation of weapons and drug culture and many other social ills, Pakistan is anguishing, following the incident of 9/11. As rightly pointed out by Dr. Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, that; in the international politics, "there are neither permanent friends nor permanent foes of a state". These are indeed, the convergences and divergences of national interests of states that make them friends or enemies to each other. National interests of states are not constant, but continue changing depending upon the emerging realities from time to time. National strategies are made on the principals of national interests' not on emotions or on personnel liking or disliking of leadership or a particular factor. In the history of Pak-US relationship, there have been more frequent convergences and divergences. The convergences have mostly been on the operational and tactical level, whereas, the divergences existed at the strategic level. "This strategic divergence made relations perpetually vulnerable to accusations and counter-accusations". However, in the post 9/11 scenario, the Pak-US "bilateral engagement has changed the historical pattern of tactical convergence versus strategic divergence. In this tenure, owing to the commonality of fighting the global war on terror, there appear to be "shared threat perceptions and common national and global objectives that the two partners seek".


Pakistan was confronted with the threat to its security, integrity and existence emanated from the aggressive Indian designs right from its inception in 1947. Indian aggression on Kashmir, in October 1947, induced Pakistan to opt for a partnership with US and West. This angst of insecurity led her to become part of Western sponsored military alliances like SEATO and CENTO, thus making her the most allied ally of the US. In its subsequent history, this alignment became the strategic necessity for the entire period of the Cold War. Apart from having the security guarantees' through these pacts, Pakistan perhaps thought that this Western alliance would help her in the resolution of the Kashmir issue. A number of Western backed resolutions, passed by United Nations Security Council (UNSC), all warranting Kashmiris their right of self determination provided enough logic that Pakistan should keep itself an ally of West and the U.S. This Pakistani compulsion and its geo-political location was well exploited by US for its own strategic needs. U.S otherwise needed a partner in South Asia, which could act as a counter weight against the spread of Communism. Indian refusal to become US ally in 1949, left US with no option, but to make Pakistan as its partner and Pakistan needed it for its security assurances as well as its own fears against the Communism. The reality was more than this. Indeed, India has become a strategic partner of the Soviet Union through the conclusion of a number economic and defence agreements. However, apparently India upheld the status of neutrality from the forum of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Although diverging at the bilateral level, except containment of Communism, there became a convergence of strategic interests of Pakistan and US at the regional and global level to some extent. Unfortunately, this strategic convergence of interests mostly benefitted the United States. US got enough space for spying and limiting the activities of its ideological opponent, throughout during the period of cold war. Pakistan, however, was not supported by US at its trying moments like; 1965 and 1971 wars. As a result of 1971 war, Pakistan was even disintegrated, whereas US stopped its military assistance to Pakistan. Thus, "this Cold War relationship was in many ways a subset of the two countries' other strategic concerns. Pakistan's being India, while for the Americans it was the containment of communism. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 however, brought a convergence of Pakistan and US interests and concerns".


Because of its geographic contiguity with Afghanistan, Pakistan was the only country in the region, which could help US and the West to operate against the former Soviet Union, the moment they waited for a long. Besides, Pakistan too was threatened by the Communist regime. This convergence remained effective throughout the period of 1980s. The Soviet disintegration brought the cold war to an end, thus positioning US at the status of sole super power.


Pakistan was worst affected by the fallouts of this ideological confrontation of the two camps of the cold war. After attaining the desired results, U.S left the region in hast, leaving Pakistan alone to clear the debris of this polar conflict. As after effects, this convergence left for Pakistan; "over 3.5 million Afghan refugees, proliferation of sophisticated weapons and the profusion of narcotics which spread from the uncontrolled areas of Afghanistan to parts of Pakistan". This was not the end. The strategic convergence of 1980s turned into a chill and brought divergence in the Pak-US relationship once in October 1990, United States, clamped economic and military sanctions on Pakistan. Imposed through the infamous Pressler Amendment, these sanctions were discriminatory and only Pakistan oriented, aimed to limit its nuclear programme. So much so that the military hardware for which Pakistan has already paid $1.2 billion, prior to 1990, were also not provided to it. Divergences in the relations touched the lowest ebb in 1993, once US threatened to declare Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism and imposed additional sanctions on Pakistan through Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) for receiving the so-called missile technology from China. After the nuclear explosion of 1998, US imposed additional economic and military sanctions on Pakistan, which remained valid until 2002. It is worth mentioning that India exploded

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PAK-US DIALOGUE: CONVERGENCES & DIVERGENCES

DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN

 

United States established its diplomatic relations with Pakistan in early in 1948, once Paul Alling, a career diplomat arrived Karachi, then capital of Pakistan. Later on Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, visited U.S in May 1950. This visit marked the formal beginning of the Pak-US relationship. In the subsequent history, Pakistan's relations with United States have "careened between intimate partnership and enormous friction-reflecting the ups and downs of global and regional geopolitics and disparate national interests." While maintaining a balance relationship with India, US relations with Pakistan have been "intense and extraordinary volatile."


It is viewed that Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan maintained good relations with Pakistan whereas, in the periods of; Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Bush senior, and Clinton, there remained chill in the bilateral relationship of both countries. The two tenures of President George W. Bush, from 2001 to early 2009, have mostly been a period of dubiousness, mainly owing to the so-called global war on terror. Because of Pakistan's alliance with U.S and Western world throughout during the cold war, its relations with the former Soviet Union and other countries of Communist bloc remained at the lowest ebb. Sequel to Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, Pakistan provided all out assistance to U.S and West once they promoted global Jihad against the invasion of former USSR in Afghanistan. This assistance indeed, left deep rooted effects on the Pakistani society in the form of extremism, proliferation of weapons and drug culture and many other social ills, Pakistan is anguishing, following the incident of 9/11. As rightly pointed out by Dr. Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, that; in the international politics, "there are neither permanent friends nor permanent foes of a state". These are indeed, the convergences and divergences of national interests of states that make them friends or enemies to each other. National interests of states are not constant, but continue changing depending upon the emerging realities from time to time. National strategies are made on the principals of national interests' not on emotions or on personnel liking or disliking of leadership or a particular factor. In the history of Pak-US relationship, there have been more frequent convergences and divergences. The convergences have mostly been on the operational and tactical level, whereas, the divergences existed at the strategic level. "This strategic divergence made relations perpetually vulnerable to accusations and counter-accusations". However, in the post 9/11 scenario, the Pak-US "bilateral engagement has changed the historical pattern of tactical convergence versus strategic divergence. In this tenure, owing to the commonality of fighting the global war on terror, there appear to be "shared threat perceptions and common national and global objectives that the two partners seek".


Pakistan was confronted with the threat to its security, integrity and existence emanated from the aggressive Indian designs right from its inception in 1947. Indian aggression on Kashmir, in October 1947, induced Pakistan to opt for a partnership with US and West. This angst of insecurity led her to become part of Western sponsored military alliances like SEATO and CENTO, thus making her the most allied ally of the US. In its subsequent history, this alignment became the strategic necessity for the entire period of the Cold War. Apart from having the security guarantees' through these pacts, Pakistan perhaps thought that this Western alliance would help her in the resolution of the Kashmir issue. A number of Western backed resolutions, passed by United Nations Security Council (UNSC), all warranting Kashmiris their right of self determination provided enough logic that Pakistan should keep itself an ally of West and the U.S. This Pakistani compulsion and its geo-political location was well exploited by US for its own strategic needs. U.S otherwise needed a partner in South Asia, which could act as a counter weight against the spread of Communism. Indian refusal to become US ally in 1949, left US with no option, but to make Pakistan as its partner and Pakistan needed it for its security assurances as well as its own fears against the Communism. The reality was more than this. Indeed, India has become a strategic partner of the Soviet Union through the conclusion of a number economic and defence agreements. However, apparently India upheld the status of neutrality from the forum of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Although diverging at the bilateral level, except containment of Communism, there became a convergence of strategic interests of Pakistan and US at the regional and global level to some extent. Unfortunately, this strategic convergence of interests mostly benefitted the United States. US got enough space for spying and limiting the activities of its ideological opponent, throughout during the period of co