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month april 06, edition 000474, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
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- FIGHTING RED TERROR
- SPECTACULAR WIN FOR BJP
- LET CONGRESS EXPLAIN 1984 - A SURYA PRAKASH
- BRIDGING THE DIVIDE - VIVEK SHUKLA
- NUCLEAR TRAIN WRECK - JAMES PHILLIPS
- WRONG AND WICKED - GWYNNE DYER
- ISLAMISM RULES IN TURKEY - BARRY RUBIN
- POWER AT THE COST OF ENVIRONMENT - SHIVAJI SARKAR
- TAKE A TOUGH LINE WITH CASTE PANCHAYATS
- MAYA'S SKEWED PRIORITIES
- WHAT STRATEGIC TIES WITH THE US? - BY KANWAL SIBAL
- PATNA DURBAR - GIRIDHAR JHA
- SURGERY SEPARATES BIHAR'S SITA & GITA - BY NEETU CHANDRA IN NEW DELHI
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- A GRAND EXPERIMENT
- HARVESTING THE SUN
- COULD IT BE THIS EASY? - ARUN K ATTRI
- GESTURE WAS IN BAD TASTE
- CLOTH IS MORE THAN APPEARANCE - AMRITH LAL
- NOTE THE CHANGE - SATISH K SHARMA
- GOVT SEEKS HEADCOUNT OF INDIA'S POOR
- HANGING BY A THREAD
- TREATING THE POOR LIKE DIRT
- FEELING SATED? - HARSH MANDER
- RED, UNREADY
- INTACH, BROKEN?
- GEOGRAPHY IS HISTORY
- PUBLIC ADVISORY - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
- ALLIES, BUT NOT BUILDING BRIDGES - KAVITHA IYER
- 'ONCE A JUDGE, ALWAYS A JUDGETHIS REGIME SHOULD DISAPPEAR'
- NEW PARTNERSHIP
- LAND UNLOCKED
- FOOD SECURITY ISN'T ABOUT POPULISM - BIBEK DEBROY
- GROWING CREDIT - SAIKAT DAS
- HOW TO DEVELOP THE BOND MARKET - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN
- SEXUAL ABUSE & CATHOLIC CHURCH
- EQUITABLE URBAN FUTURE?
- BEHIND CHINA'S INDIA POLICY, A GROWING DEBATE - ANANTH KRISHNAN
- THE GREAT DANDI MARCH EIGHTY YEARS AFTER - GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI
- SCIENTISTS' ROLE IN ELIMINATING NUCLEAR WEAPONS - MARTIN REES AND DES BROWNE
- OVER TO BENGAL
- TESTING FOR TASTE
- THE POOR AND THE POLITICS OF POVERTY - PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR
- VATICAN'S PR DISASTER - RAJEEV SRINIVASAN
- CHIDAMBARAM'S MISSIVE
- A BOLD DECISION
- NO MORE STATUES
- OBAMA'S MESSAGE FROM KABUL - BY K. SUBRAHMANYAM
- JOURNEY OF A ROAD - BY P.C. SHARMA
- CHINA'S PRESSURE TACTICS - BY AIR MARSHAL (RETD) R.S. BEDI
- A TRIBUTE - BY V.N. DUTTA
- MUMBAI DIARY - SHIV KUMAR
- NOTHING LIKE A GOOD RACKET
- RIGHT TO GOVERNANCE
- LEGISLATIVE IMPASSE
- THE DESI ROMAN A CLEF - NILANJANA S ROY
- SOLDIER, HEAL THYSELF - AJAI SHUKLA
- SUNIL K SINHA: IN A SMOG OF ITS OWN MAKING - SUNIL K SINHA
- TOO HOT FOR COMFORT - SURINDER SUD
- MONITORING FISCAL CONSOLIDATION - M GOVINDA RAO
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- NEEDED, CONSUMER-FOCUSED REGULATORS - SUMIT GULATI
- IT'S SOMETIMES SIMPLE: ARRIVING MATTERS - MUKUL SHARMA
- IBM SURVIVED DUE TO FOCUS ON CUSTOMER: ERICH CLEMENTI - PANKAJ MISHRA & PEERZADA ABRAR
- TO FOCUS ON DIRECT LENDING TO FARM SECTOR: INDIAN BANK - DEEPSHIKHA SIKARWAR & DHEERAJ TIWARI
- RECALL VALUE OF A CARD IS FAR HIGHER THAN SMS, EMAIL'S - GOURI AGTEY ATHALE
- RCOM TARGETS 100 MN NEW USERS IN 1,000 DAYS: SAFAWI - JOJI THOMAS PHILIP
- WHY SHOULD WE BE THINKING OF BEING COLONISED?
- WHEN I'M IN INDIA & CHINA I GET TO SEE OPPORTUNITIES, NOT RISKS: NOURIEL ROUBINI
- CHIDAMBARAM TAKES A BOLD STEP
- OPERATION TINDERBOX - BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
- MAKING FINANCIAL REFORM FOOL-RESISTANT - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- BHUTTO'S FOLK ISLAM - BY NADEEM F. PARACHA
- A QUIET MIND SEEKS TRUE SELF - BY SWAMI TEJOMAYANANDA
- IS PM UP FOR SOME PLAINSPEAK? - BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH
- STATUE LIMIT
- PORTENTS IN MIDEAST
- UNLIKELY HERO
- WARMING OF THE EARTH - BY DIPAK BASU
- A RAREFIED REALM OF LOGIC
- PLEA TO DELAY BHUTTO REPORT ACCEPTED
- HOME TRUTHS
- COUNT DOWN
- INCLUSIVE EXCLUSION - ASHOK V. DESAI
- SET THE AGENDA - MALVIKA SINGH
- BEAUTY AND THE MODERN CITY - UGLY TRUTH
- TEEMING, DEADLY, BUT NEVER DEAD
- MANDATE TO DELIVER
- UNCIVIL ACT
- UNSTABLE REGIMES - BY B G VERGHESE
- OUT OF SIGHT IS NOT ACTUALLY OUT OF MIND - BY COLIN TODHUNTER
- WORLD AT MY DOORSTEP - BY NAVARATNA LAXMAN
- THE BLOCKED CHANNEL
- WE'RE ALL RIGHT - BY AMIRA HASS
- A TIME TO PROTEST - BY ELDAD YANIV
- KEEP THE CULTURE BASKET - BY DAVID ZINDER
- ISRAEL'S BIGGEST CHALLENGE: INTEGRATING ITS ARAB MINORITY - BY MOSHE ARENS
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- WE CALL THAT DOUBLE-DIPPING
- WHEN A LAWYER IS WRONG
- SHOWDOWN AT INDIAN POINT
- THE BALL IN FLIGHT - BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
- TURNING OUR BACKS ON HEROES - BY BOB HERBERT
- RELAX, WE'LL BE FINE - BY DAVID BROOKS
- ALLERGY-FREE NEW YORK - BY THOMAS LEO OGREN
- DEEPENING MYSTERY
- PRELUDE TO A NEW PROVINCE? - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
- ON CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES - HUMAYUN AKHTAR KHAN
- CHALLENGES FOR THE FINANCE ADVISER - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
- THE PARABLE OF SWAT FLOGGING - TALAT FAROOQ
- THE CONFIDENCE DEFICIT - DR MALEEHA LODHI
- THE EIGHTEENTH AMENDMENT - MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN
- SPRING FLOOD
- THE MANGOES WITHER
- A BROKEN PLASTIC BANGLE..!
- RESOLVING POWER CRUNCH - SYLVIA MORTOZA
- HASINA'S CHINA VISIT
- WE NEED A RESOLUTION, NOT A REFERENDUM ON HEALTH
- THE SAVVY SIDE OF SONIA
- MORE DANGEROUS IN DEATH?
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- OUR REGIONS LEFT TO ROT
- NOT IDLE CHATTER, NOR A SMEAR
- CHALLENGES OF 'BIG AUSTRALIA' DEMAND ATTENTION
- MORE PHAR LAP THAN WE CAN STAND
- SURROGACY: WOMB TO LET
- POLITICS: DEMOCRACY AND DELUSION
- IN PRAISE OF ALFRED THE GREAT
THE JAPAN TIMES
- AMAGASAKI INDICTMENTS PROCEED
- ALARM OVER INVESTIGATION FAILURES
- GETTING A LEG UP ON HEALTH CARE - BY HUGH CORTAZZI
- AFGHANISTAN'S FATE DEPENDS ON GOVERNANCE - BY JAMIE F. METZL
THE JAKARTA POST
- AUDITING TAX OFFICIALS' ASSETS
- FROM GAYUS TAMBUNAN TO CRITICAL LITERACY - JOSEPH ERNEST MAMBU
- WHY AREN'T WE SENSITIVE TO PROBLEMS OF ENVIRONMENTAL DETERIORATION? WIRYONO
- BETWEEN PLURALITY AND RUDIMENTARY DEMOCRACY - BUDIONO KUSUMOHAMIDJOJO
- THE MIRACLE IN SHANXI
- UNITED AGAINST DISASTER
- THE PEOPLE'S CURRENCY
- DEBATE: CLIMATE CHANGE
- ARE OUR BEST PROFESSIONALS FRIED? - BY QI RANG (CHINA DAILY)
- US CAN'T BE LONE RANGER IN AFGHANISTAN - BY YANG HONGXI (CHINA DAILY)
- HOPES OF ACCORD FOR NEW TITANS - BY FU XIAOQIANG (CHINA DAILY)
- FIVE HUBS AND SIXTH SENSE
- WILL WE EVER SEE THE PROMISED UTOPIA?
FIGHTING RED TERROR
PASSING THE BUCK WON'T DO
There has been a lot of secrecy regarding the Government's anti-Maoist operation, dubbed Operation Green Hunt, which is now underway in several Maoist-affected States. From the little information that is available it is apparent that the primary objective of the security forces engaged in the operation is to establish superior presence in the Maoist-infested areas and then slowly clear the way for the local administration to take charge and implement the Government's development schemes. In all of this, our security personnel have been ordered to exercise utmost restraint and not engage the Left-wing guerrillas in direct firefights until absolutely unavoidable. But if there is one thing that can be inferred from media reports it is that our security personnel are facing tough resistance from Maoists. The recent attack wherein a convoy of Special Operations Group personnel was blown up by a landmine, killing nine jawans, is a case in point. The attack took place on Sunday in the Koraput district of Odisha while the security team was on its way to carry out the local objectives of Operation Green Hunt. There is no denying the fact that any form of terror, whether it is Islamist terror or Maoist violence, is condemnable. If Maoists truly believe that they are championing the cause of the downtrodden and the deprived, then they must immediately abjure violence and work with the Government to usher in development in the neglected areas of the country. But by taking law into their own hands and constantly attacking Government establishments and officials, they are challenging the law of the land and as such have become a grave security threat. Given this fact, the Government's purge of Maoist-affected areas is completely justified.
But what is noteworthy about Sunday's attack is that even though the movement of the security personnel was supposed to be a closely guarded secret, the extremists were able to get wind of this and orchestrate a well-planned attack. This only goes to show how organised the guerrillas are. We also cannot deny the fact that there is a certain section of the local populace in areas such as Malkangiri, Koraput, Gadchiroli, Lalgarh, etc, that does act as the extremists' eyes and ears. It can be validly argued that most of the villagers do not have a choice in helping Maoists and that they are forced at gun-point to do so. But this cannot be the case all the time. There must be something fundamentally wrong with the system if Maoists are able to draw tribals and poor villagers to their ranks with apparent ease. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram's visit to Lalgarh over the weekend exposed total Government apathy under more than 30 years of Left Front-rule in West Bengal. Lalgarh has dismal healthcare facility, Spartan educational infrastructure and no proper power supply. It is hardly surprising that such a place has become the hot-bed of a subversive movement.
Though security measures are necessary to deal with the Maoist menace, this has to be backed up with development. And for development to reach the remotest of villages, there has to be accountability at all levels along the governance chain. Mr Chidambaram, in his talks with West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, reportedly told the latter that the buck stopped with him and that he should in turn ensure that the buck stops with the local SP or the officer in-charge in his State. Mr Bhattacharjee would do well to heed the advice. For, it is only when we are able to inculcate this sense of accountability that we will be able to effectively fight back the Maoist menace.
SPECTACULAR WIN FOR BJP
BANGALORE SAYS 'NO' TO CONGRESS, JD(S)
The handsome victory scored by the BJP in the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike election is significant for three reasons. First, the results of the poll are a clear indication that the BJP retains its popularity two years after forming the Government in Karnataka. The demographic profile of Bangalore should put to rest any contrary view that seeks to minimise the import of Monday's stunning blow to the Congress and particularly the JD(S) which has cut a pathetic figure. Second, Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa has conclusively demonstrated that his personal popularity remains extraordinarily high. That he was able to oust the Congress from the civic body over which it has presided for the past five decades is both a tribute to his leadership qualities as well as a reflection of the popular perception of the Congress and the JD(S). Mr Yeddyurappa's critics, including those in the BJP who tried to destabilise his Government last year, have been shown their place. Hopefully, the fifth columnists will now desist from embarking on further misadventures. If they persist with needling the Chief Minister and weakening his Government from within, the party should show them the door. Third, the Congress, for all its bluff and bluster, is not necessarily the choice of urban India. If the party was able to grab the BJP's natural constituency in last summer's Lok Sabha election, by no means did that signal a permanent shift in political loyalties. Indeed, Monday's results suggest that if the BJP were to try hard enough, it could regain its urban support base. Of course, for that the party would require the right leadership and an inspiring agenda for development. A second lesson to be learned from the Bangalore local election outcome is that people do not take kindly to negative campaigns both the Congress and the JD(S) had focussed on criticising the BJP and Mr Yeddyurappa than on what they had to offer to the people by way of an alternative development programme for Bangalore.
There is a tendency to ignore local elections as they are contested on narrow issues. But recent general elections suggest that voters are as increasingly influenced as much by local issues as national concerns. Bangaloreans have voted for a party which they believe can provide them with a better quality of life; this is no less a decisive factor in Assembly and Lok Sabha polls. For further evidence, look at the voting pattern in West Bengal which has been more or less the same in panchayat, municipality and Lok Sabha elections over the past couple of years. This could be indicative of a national trend in the coming months and years, and serve as a reference point for political parties strategising for the next electoral contest.
LET CONGRESS EXPLAIN 1984
A SURYA PRAKASH
The Congress is unhappy that Amitabh Bachchan was invited to the inauguration of the second carriageway of the Bandra-Worli sea link. It is also troubled by the invitation extended to Amitabh Bachchan by the organisers of the All-India Marathi Sahitya Sammelan. Then comes the story of Abhishek Bachchan being given similar treatment in Delhi. Just before the start of a programme to mark Earth Day, his posters were removed and an audio-visual featuring him was taken off the programme.
The Congress is miffed that Amitabh Bachchan is the brand ambassador of Gujarat Tourism. It believes that being the brand ambassador of Gujarat Tourism is equivalent to being the ambassador of Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi because it is still in the 'Indira is India and India is Indira' mode. It is unable to distinguish a State from an individual. That is why a spokesperson of the party threw a challenge at the film star the other day and said, "If he is a sensitive man, if he is a right-thinking man, he must come out and condemn the Modi Government for the post-Godhra riots."
This constitutes a selective application of constitutional principles. The Congress's shameful role in the pogrom against the Sikhs in 1984 is still fresh in our memory. The Ranganath Mishra Commission said that 3,874 people were killed in the violence, of which 2,307 were from Delhi. Plus, 131 gurdwaras were destroyed or damaged in Delhi alone. It further stressed, "In these mobs were people with sympathy for the Congress (I) and associated with the party's activities."
Gen AS Vaidya, the Chief of Army Staff at that time, told the commission that though 6,000 troops were available in the capital, the Army was not immediately called in. The Nanavati Commission of Inquiry said, "Local Congress (I) leaders and workers had either incited or helped the mobs attacking the Sikhs." It said, "They (the mobs) were assured that they would not be harmed."
Rajiv Gandhi presided over the Government that remained a mute spectator as citizens belonging to a tiny religious minority were slaughtered. Despite desperate calls for deployment of the Army, the Government took its time in doing so, thus allowing the mobs to loot and kill at will. After it was all over, Rajiv Gandhi justified the pogrom and incriminated himself by declaring at a public meeting in Delhi that "when a big tree falls, even the earth trembles".
Going by the Congress spokesperson's self-righteous indignation before television cameras while talking about Amitabh Bachchan, one presumes that he is a citizen who is committed to core constitutional values, democracy and the rule of law. If that be so, we need to put this question to him: If you are a sensitive man, if you are a right-thinking man, you must come out and condemn the Rajiv Gandhi Government for the pogrom against the Sikhs in 1984.
Amitabh Bachchan is an eminent citizen and a global icon who commands the respect of millions of people around the world. Every Indian who has followed his life and career from the heady days of Sholay to the days of deep distress brought about by financial and health problems, can only marvel at his inner strength and resilience. He carries himself with such dignity and poise that he is undoubtedly one of the ratnas of Bharat who has been chiselled into a good human being by his life and professional experiences. That is why a lot of his time and effort is devoted to national causes. It is foolhardy to trifle with such an eminent citizen that millions of fellow citizens look up to.
As regards the post-Godhra riots, it is true that Muslims were targeted by mobs in Gujarat and Mr Narendra Modi, as Chief Minister, must take responsibility for the brutal violence that was unleashed against a religious minority. By the same token, Mr Modi must also take responsibility for failing to prevent the barbaric killings of 60 Hindu kar sevaks by a Muslim mob at Godhra, which triggered the anti-Muslim riots. This brings us to the next poser for the Congress spokesman: "If you are a sensitive man, if you are a right-thinking man, you must come out and condemn the Modi Government for its failure to protect kar sevaks who were burnt alive in the train in Godhra." The point is that selective application of secular and constitutional principles will not do. Selective memory will not do either.
The event that triggered the Congress's tirade tells us a lot more about this party. India's engineers have built a superb sea bridge connecting Worli and Bandra in Mumbai. This bridge ought to have been named after an eminent engineer or technocrat. Just as every prominent road, bridge and location in the country is named after Rajiv Gandhi (Connaught Circus is Rajiv Chowk, the clover-leaf flyover near AIIMS in Delhi is Rajiv Setu and a key intersection on NH 8 is also called Rajiv Chowk), even this engineering marvel in Mumbai was named after him. But, Amitabh Bachchan, one of India's most distinguished citizens, should not even be present at a ceremony to mark the opening of the second carriageway of the sea bridge!
One of the standard mantras of the UPA since it assumed office in 2004 has been 'inclusiveness'. But, as this incident shows, it does not include those who disagree with the Nehru-Gandhis. 'Inclusiveness' obviously means inclusion of sycophants, blind followers and sympathisers of the Congress. Since the party gets around 28 per cent of the national vote, it can be safely presumed that when the Congress runs the Union Government, 72 per cent of the citizens (including Amitabh Bachchan) stand excluded.
In his blog, Amitabh Bachchan has wondered whether he was hallucinating or "if there was a pattern to all this". Yes, citizen Bachchan, there is a pattern. This is Congress haughtiness on display and we have seen this before, especially during the mid-1970s. Members of the Congress obviously view India as some kind of a jagir of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. The sooner we disabuse their minds of this, the better it is for our democracy and our constitutional well-being. This is a worthy cause. Since we have no doubt that you are "a sensitive man" and "a right-thinking man", we expect you to take the lead and launch this public-service campaign to build a truly democratic and 'inclusive' India.
BRIDGING THE DIVIDE
Even though Indian tennis star Sania Mirza's marriage to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik seems to have become the subject of a controversy, their much publicised engagement also highlights the fact that cross-border marriages still take place despite the unpredictable nature of India- Pakistan ties. Before Sania and Shoaib, many celebrities like ace Indian woman golfer Nonita Lal Quershi who got married to Faisal Quershi, another fine golfer and businessman from Pakistan have tied the knot with their spouses from across the border. Some people might remember the nikah between actress Reena Roy and Pakistani cricketer Mohsin Khan in 1983. Similarly, Indian writer-activist Sadia Dehlvi too married a Pakistani banker.
The divided families of partition still marry their kids into families across the LoC. Though the number of such marriages decreases when tensions between India and Pakistan rise. But usually, such cross-border marriages are quite rampant. Divided Muslim families of cities such as Delhi, Lucknow, Bhopal, Rampur, Mordabad, Aligarh, Amroha, Ujjain, etc, don't mind marrying their kids into families in Pakistan.
According to Mr Riaz Umer, former principal of Delhi's Zakir Hussian College, even though it is extremely difficult for Indians and Pakistanis to get citizenship in each others' country, cross-LoC marriages are quite common. "I can safely say that around one dozen cross-border marriages took place during the last one year or so in Delhi, Meerut and Saharnpur alone," he adds.
It may be recalled that when the scion of the Bhopal royal family, Shahryar Khan, a former Pakistani Foreign Secretary and president of the Pakistan Cricket Board, married his son, Ali, to a young woman from Bhopal a few years ago, a lot of eyebrows were raised. Many people in Pakistan questioned his wisdom. Some people were very critical of his decision. But Khan said that since he hails from Bhopal, finding a bahu from Bhopal was his first priority. People like Khan are actually doing yeoman service in their own way to improve India-Pakistan relations. Let us hope that cross-border marriages face absolutely no hurdles in future.
NUCLEAR TRAIN WRECK
Iran is clearly working towards acquiring nuclear weapons and this is bad news for the world. The present regime in Tehran can't be trusted with the Bomb. Washington must alter its Iran strategy and move rapidly to mobilise global support for effective sanctions to avert a disaster
Iran has relentlessly made steady progress on its nuclear weapons programme and soon could acquire nuclear weapons. It continues to violate its IAEA safeguards agreement, refuses to comply with five UN Security Council Resolutions on the nuclear issue, and has repeatedly been caught red-handed building secret nuclear facilities and violating UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit supplying arms to Hezbullah, its terrorist client group in Lebanon. Meanwhile, it has periodically tested missiles to trumpet its defiance, while systematically repressing and intimidating its own people after they objected to the fraudulent presidential elections in June.
On November 27, 2009, the IAEA Board of Governors passed a resolution demanding that Iran stop construction of the newly exposed uranium enrichment facility near Qom and referred the issue to the UN Security Council. This paves the way for expanded UN sanctions. Iran responded not only by refusing to halt enrichment efforts, but also by proclaiming its intention to undertake a massive expansion of its enrichment facilities. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled plans to build 10 more enrichment plants at a Cabinet meeting on November 29. Mr Ali Larijani, the Speaker of Iran's Parliament who formerly led Iran's nuclear negotiations, warned that Iran may decide to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Iran has consistently concealed and lied about its nuclear programme and cannot be trusted to abide by any agreements it signs. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband complained that "Instead of engaging with us, Iran chooses to provoke and dissemble." On December 14, 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked:
"We have reached out. We have offered the opportunity to engage in meaningful, serious discussions with our Iranian counterparts. We have joined fully in the P-5+1 process. We have been at the table. But I don't think anyone can doubt that our outreach has produced very little in terms of any kind of positive response from the Iranians."
Mr Ahmadinejad's regime has made a mockery of the Obama Administration's engagement policy, which was based on the assumption that Iran's ruthless regime sought better relations with the US and the West. Yet Iran's rulers fear Washington's friendship more than they fear its enmity. Their power and legitimacy is based on resistance to the US ('the Great Satan') and enforcing Ayatollah Khamenei's harsh vision of god's will, not carrying out the will of their own people.
The Obama Administration's nuclear engagement strategy was also based on the assumption that Iran's unscrupulous Islamist regime could be trusted to come clean on the nuclear issue. This expectation was shattered on September 25, 2009, when US President Barack Obama announced in a joint Press conference with British and French leaders that Western intelligence agencies had discovered another secret Iranian nuclear facility hidden inside a mountain near Qom.
"Crippling Sanctions." The Obama Administration needs to make good on its promise to ratchet up international pressure to dissuade Iran from continuing to pursue its goal of acquiring nuclear weapons. If Tehran builds a nuclear weapon, it will not only increase Iran's ability to threaten its neighbours and US interests, but also trigger a destabilising nuclear arms race in the already volatile West Asia. Since 2006, 15 other West Asian states have announced their intentions to begin or expand civilian nuclear energy programmes, possible precursors to nuclear weapons programmes.
Yet the Obama Administration has resisted congressional efforts to provide it with more sanctions leverage over Tehran. On December 11, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg wrote a letter to Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, requesting that the committee postpone consideration of sanctions legislation against Iran. Steinberg asked for the delay "so as not to undermine the Administration's diplomacy at this critical juncture."
Despite this request to the Senate, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act passed the House (HR 2194) on December 15, 2009, by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 412 to 12. On March 11, 2010, the Senate passed the Bill by unanimous consent after amending it. This Bill would penalise companies that help Iran to import gasoline and other refined petroleum products by denying them access to US markets. The Senate passed its own Iran sanctions legislation (S 2799) on January 28, which would impose similar penalties on companies that export gasoline and other refined petroleum products to Iran, add sanctions on leading officials of the ruling regime, and tighten export controls. It is difficult to understand why the Administration now opposes the kind of "crippling sanctions" that it promised to impose and that Mr Obama promised as a presidential candidate if Iran continued to drag its feet on the nuclear issue.
The US cannot afford to rely solely on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran. Russia and China have repeatedly weakened and delayed any action there. Therefore, Washington should push for the strongest possible sanctions that it can squeeze out of the Security Council, but press its allies and other countries to impose even stronger sanctions outside the UN framework, such as freezing foreign investment in Iran, banning gasoline exports to Iran, banning the travel by Iranian officials abroad, and generally raising the price that the regime must pay to continue its nuclear programme.
Fixing the NIE
The Obama Administration should also update and correct the flawed 2007 NIE on Iran's nuclear programme. In 2009, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reaffirmed the 2007 NIE's finding that Tehran had shut down its nuclear weapons and covert uranium enrichment activities in the fall of 2003. Since then, more evidence has come to light, indicating that Iran has continued its nuclear weapons efforts or restarted them.The Governments of Britain, France, Israel, and Germany have publicly disagreed with the 2007 NIE's assessment.
A new look at the controversial NIE is long overdue. Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), the Ranking Member on the House Intelligence Committee, has called for the establishment of a "red team" of non-Government experts to review intelligence on Iran's nuclear programme and issue an independent report. Representative Hoekstra is right.
Hide and lie
Iran's strategy remains clear: To hide and lie about its nuclear programme, feign cooperation with the IAEA to delay any sanctions, depend on its Russian and Chinese friends to block any effective sanctions in the Security Council, and eventually present the world with a nuclear fait accompli.
Regrettably, the Obama Administration remains wedded to its engagement policy, which unrealistically seeks to strike a deal with the implacably hostile regime whose self-defined ideological legitimacy is unceasing antagonism to the US. Even if a diplomatic agreement could be reached on the nuclear issue, it would be foolhardy to expect Iran's unscrupulous dictatorship to permanently abide by such an agreement. Yet the Administration continues to seek such a deal over the bloodied heads of Iranian opposition forces.
Iran is the world's foremost sponsor of terrorism and cannot be allowed to obtain the ultimate terrorist weapon: An atomic bomb. Yet Mr Ahmadinejad's nuclear train rumbles onward. Unless the Obama Administration alters its Iran strategy and moves rapidly to mobilise support for effective sanctions, there will eventually be a nuclear train wreck.
The writer 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.
WRONG AND WICKED
NOTHING CAN JUSTIFY TERRORISM, NO MATTER WHAT THE CAUSE
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 on Monday. 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! This just in! What she really, 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. (Neither would true Christians, or true Jews, or true Hindus or Buddhists or Sikhs, which is why the world is so peaceful and so just.)
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 our common enemy, because it is only a technique. Enemies have to be people and the people who use terrorist techniques, though some of them may be our enemies, 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: These days they even talk of a 'North Caucasian Emirate'. 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 over the years in selling other countries on 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.
Israel obviously has a lot at stake in its quarrel with the Palestinians, since both peoples claim the same land and there isn't much of it. Russia has land to spare for every imaginable purpose, and there has never been much settlement by ethnic Russians in Chechnya and the other small Muslim republics of the northern Caucasus. They don't have much economic value, either, so why not just let them go?
The answer you always hear is that it would start the unravelling of the Russian Federation itself. Letting the so-called 'Union Republics' (Ukraine, Latvia, Azerbaijan, etc.) go when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 was inevitable, for they already possessed the legal status of independent countries in a voluntary association, and besides they were too big to stop. But the 'republics' within Russia itself were a different matter.
Chechnya, which was conquered by Russia in the mid-19th century but rebelled every time the Russian Government was weak or distracted, 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, Mr 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 does the anti-Russian terrorist campaign that was the inevitable aftermath of the Chechen defeat. It is as localised as the Basque terrorism that afflicts Spain or the occasional terrorist killings carried out by breakaway, die-hard 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. (In fact, all attacks on civilians are wicked, including nuclear war, aerial bombing, and the 'collateral damage' that occurs during conventional military operations, but never mind that.) 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 Ms Hillary Clinton was just being polite to her Russian colleague when she took the same line. It would be very bad if she actually believed it.
The writer is an independent journalist based in London.
ISLAMISM RULES IN TURKEY
PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE CONSTITUTION MILITATE AGAINST SECULARISM. THEY ARE DESIGNED TO STRENGTHEN ISLAMISTS AND HELP THEM REMAIN IN POWER FOREVER
Given the whitewash generally and generously applied to Turkey's Islamist-oriented regime internationally, there is little awareness of one of that Government's (now closer to Iran and Syria than to the United States) most dangerous projects: The rewriting of Turkey's Constitution.
The drafting of that document is in the hands of party loyalists. Nor does it deal with Turkey's real political problems: The fact that leaders of political parties are virtual dictators; the 10 per cent minimum which allowed the regime when it first 'won' the elections to get almost two-thirds of the seats with only around 31 per cent of the votes.
Instead, there are cute pseudo-democratic gimmicks that sound good but are designed to entrench the current Government in power forever.
For example, the President can appoint two people who merely have a BA degree to the Constitutional Court. One can imagine how they would vote. It also takes the right to ban political parties away from the High Court and gives it to Parliament, meaning the Government could ban opposing parties whenever it felt like it.
According to former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the Prime Minister now controls Parliament and is adding the judiciary to that, thus having total control over the branches of Government. With the Army intimidated by threats, arrests, and slander, there is nothing left to limit the regime's power.
Perhaps public criticism in those parts of the media the Government does not yet control or intimidate could make the regime back down but it could jam through a Constitution designed to end Turkey's status as a democratic state.
By taming the Army, subordinating the courts, taking over or intimidating the media, packing the bureaucracy with its own supporters, and using leverage over the universities, the regime intends to stay in power forever.
The writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.
POWER AT THE COST OF ENVIRONMENT
DAMS MAY NOT BE THE BEST IDEA TO FEED THE DEMAND FOR ELECTRICITY, WRITES SHIVAJI SARKAR
A billion people of this country need two lakh megawatt power supply. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the nation cannot progress without this vital input. Therefore, a massive effort is on to generate power even if it leads to massive ecological fallout and desertification of the northern plains.
Many ridiculed sadhus and Jagadguru Shankaracharyas when they led a massive protest during Kumbh Mela at Haridwar protesting against tunnelling and hydro-electric projects on the Ganga and its tributaries in the Himalayas in Uttarakhand. The harbingers of modernisation termed the protest a regressive move.
But now, the Comptroller and Auditor-General has seconded what the sadhus have been saying "Ganga would dry up and desertify northern plains". It has stated a corporate-Government nexus is draining the Ganga and the exchequer.
The protesters of Tehri Dam built now on Bhagirathi were similarly derided. It is possibly nobody's case that the dam, built by a private operator, almost after a decade of its completion is yet to get filled up and producing power far below its stated capacity - 2400 MW. Is it a case of miscalculation or deliberate way to mislead policy-makers?
A report last year said that the Alakananda that gives picturesque ambience to the Badarinath Valley had dried up almost five km below the Vishnuprayag dam and hydro-power project.
The CAG has warned, "There would be no water in large stretches of Alakananda and Bhagirathi river beds - the two major tributaries of the Ganga - if the Government goes ahead with 53 power projects on these two rivers. The river bed is already dry at Shrinagar in Garhwal."
The CAG also fears mass migration as people would be losing their livelihoods and reduced to penury. The area is also witnessing a spurt in crimes.
The locals complain that they are not much benefited by the generation of power as over 75 per cent of it is exported to Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and northern grid.
The CAG has faulted the Uttarakhand Government for massive diversion of river water. But it seems for political reasons it has not raised the issue of diverting almost one-third of this water to Delhi. The Uttarakhand Government is a successor to the erstwhile Uttar Pradesh Government and decisions were made by the Centre. Technically, the Uttarakhand Government has to take the blame for which it had not taken a decision except to continue the projects finalised in the 8th and 9th plans, when the State was not born.
While five power projects of the 53 sanctioned and under-construction projects are operational, more than 200 are in pipeline. As a result of such intense construction of dams, the CAG says, that three to four km of the riverbed around each project will have no water.
The State is supposed to be paid Rs five crore annually from each power project of above 100 MW and Rs five lakh if it is of less than 100 MW. It is no surprise that most of the projects are below 100 mw capacity. The private operators are earning a fortune and the State is to earn only about Rs 2.65 crore to not more than Rs 10 crore a year.
It is indeed a huge differential in cost benefit ratio. Added to this is the cost of not only drying up of Uttarakhand but of all the riparian States through which the Ganga flows. It should not be just seen as an ecological disaster or desertification of the northern plains but a threat to the bread basket of the country. Quantifying the losses in economic terms is difficult. It has to be measured in terms of multiple benefits, some seen, many unseen, that the Ganga bestows upon us.
The writer is a senior economic affairs journalist.
TAKE A TOUGH LINE WITH CASTE PANCHAYATS
EVEN as our civil society rails against the Taliban and their barbaric ways in neighbouring Afghanistan and Pakistan, we have amidst us in this country groups which think and operate on similar lines. What else can one say about khap or caste panchayats in states like Haryana that order the murder of young people when they transgress ' social norms' by marrying within the same gotra ? A sessions court in Haryana recently awarded the death penalty to five persons relatives of the girl in question who had murdered a couple in 2007 for this reason. We thought the judgement would send out the right message to such panchayats in the region. However, it appears that this hope was misplaced. The caste panchayats of Haryana have decided to hold a ' sarv khap' meeting near Bhiwani on Wednesday where they plan to chalk out a strategy to take on the judiciary and ensure that orders passed by them are complied with.
Since caste panchayats seem intent to have their way even when their stance is criminal, the state and its institutions must be hard on them. The Centre must move quickly on legal provisions that make ' honour killings' a specific crime. The judiciary must follow the precedent set in the Manoj- Babli case and hand out the severest punishment in all such cases. As for the state governments, they must ensure that their agencies do not overlook such incidents in the name of ' tradition' and do their utmost to prosecute the guilty, besides providing security to the affected families.
But, as we said before, this will not suffice.
Our politicians who wield influence among rural communities must reach out to them and emphasise the need
to check barbaric practices which are justified on the grounds of tradition. One of the distinct characteristics that marked out the founding fathers of this republic was that many of them also donned the role of social reformers. Our politicians need to understand that social evils like honour killings, dowry death, and female infanticide will not be eradicated till they take the lead in campaigns against them. It is perhaps too much to expect it of them but they could also tell the people that marriage strictly on caste considerations helps perpetuate the anachronistic social institution of caste that is the bane of our polity.
MAYA'S SKEWED PRIORITIES
IT IS no secret that Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati has been profligacy personified when it came to building parks and memorials dedicated to Dalit icons such as Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and even herself all over the state. This makes it shocking, though perhaps not surprising, that she has claimed to lack the resources for the implementation of the landmark Right to Education Act.
Government reports and independent surveys peg the total amount spent on statues and parks at Rs 3,000 crore, whereas the amount required to build new schools in the impoverished state would be just Rs 800 crore a year. Ironically, most of the beneficiaries of the new Right to Education Act would be her own constituents the Dalit community in her state.
Over the next 10 years, according to the Centre's 55- 45 per cent expenditure plan, UP would have had to shell out Rs 8,000 crore on education of the total Rs 18,000 crore estimated by the Centre. Considering that this concerns children, the future of her state, the money seems minuscule.
Mayawati's stance speaks loudly about two things: one, that the state government callously ignores its children's fundamental right to education; and two, that the UP chief minister is interested in creating a legacy through statues and concrete parks, rather than through education, a more desirable channel by any standard.
Uttar Pradesh is among the least literate states in India, and it should have warmly welcomed the Centre's great step forward in education. The positive aspect about education is that all the initial investment feeds the state in various other fields such as employment, better technology to grow crops, an efficient and accountable bureaucracy as people become more aware of their rights as well as responsibilities.
Unfortunately, the golden chance that this new legislation offers Mayawati may slip away from her only due to her own obduracy.
WHAT STRATEGIC TIES WITH THE US?
BY KANWAL SIBAL
WE MUST make a distinction between " improved", or even " transformed", relations with the US and a " strategic partnership" with it. We have moved from a relationship traditionally riddled with mutual suspicion and distrust to one of increasing openness and promise.
The comfort levels with America have greatly risen amongst the business and managerial class, the young achievers, the modernisers, the professionals and opinion makers. The new political readiness to broaden the engagement with the US natural in the changed international scenario and India's own growing capacities does not ipso facto set aside major differences that remain on several key issues. The qualitative change in our bilateral relationship should not lead us to believe uncritically in the rhetoric of a " strategic partnership".
Enhanced trade and investment, stepped up cooperation in sectors such as health, energy, clean technologies and agriculture is a consequence of India's growth story and the potential opportunities that the US sees in the world's fourth largest economy.
Such economic prospects do not by themselves translate into a " strategic partnership". If they did, US and China now " fused" economically and financially would be true strategic partners, irrespective of differences over Taiwan, US containment of China in the Pacific Ocean, its defence ties with Japan etc.
Growing India- US defence exchanges also do not automatically elevate bilateral ties to a strategic level. US defence firms naturally seek a sizeable share of the highly lucrative Indian defence market in consonance with improved political ties. India is now less resistant politically to US defence supplies even though they are conditions- laden, vulnerable to unpredictable interruptions in conflict situations and overlaid with stringent technology transfer constraints. That the US arms our most pernicious adversary Pakistan is strategically incongruent.
The argument that the US is providing us platforms with superior performance than those it gives to Pakistan suggests that the US wants double benefit. The other argument that arms supplies to Pakistan do not change the arms balance in South Asia, apart from being self- serving, is disingenuous in the background of a long standing US belief that an India-
Pakistan arms balance is stabilising. The US has not been insensitive to Pakistan's shrill advocacy of a
conventional arms balance in South Asia.
Democracy may have been a strategic cement between US and Europe in West's confrontation with the Soviet Union, but it has weighed insufficiently in US's strategic policies towards India. In our neighbourhood, US policies towards China and Pakistan demonstrate the limits of the democracy calculus. In Pakistan the US has given primacy to its short term interests in securing Pakistan's support and cooperation to combat specific challenges even at the cost of boosting the Pakistani military at the expense of the civil authority and thwarting the country's democratic aspirations. The contrast between US political hectoring of Russia on democracy issues and tolerance of Chinese authoritarianism is vivid.
While the spread of democracy, not the least in Pakistan and China, is in India's interest, and while the democratic bond did serve to temper misunderstandings between India and the US during the Cold War era, there are limits to the extent to which India can make common cause with the US to promote democracy world wide. The US often uses democracy as a political weapon against its adversaries, while ignoring, as a strategic choice, glaring democratic deficits in friendly countries.
The Indo- US nuclear deal, however critical in building trust between the two countries, is a building block for an eventual strategic partnership, not the consummation of one. The deal largely lifts the US- led sanctions on India for its decision to remain outside the discriminatory Non- Proliferation Treaty and overtly becoming a nuclear weapon state. Unless we accept that we infringed international law and merited retribution, and should therefore be grateful to the US for pardoning us, we should view the deal essentially as a welcome act by the US to redress a wrong, facilitated by significant pragmatic concessions from our side to allay US's overblown nonproliferation concerns pertaining to India. It is politic to acknowledge the huge political scope of the US decision to adjust its non- proliferation policy to accommodate India, but we should not have put ourselves politically and psychologically at a disadvantage by viewing the deal as a major favour by the US to us. The deal's core significance lies in the dramatic change of thinking under President Bush's watch, not the realisation by India of its mistaken nuclear policies.
We should not be beholden to the US to the point that they and some of our own opinion makers are allowed to use the perceived generosity of the nuclear deal as a shield to deflect any criticism about the thrust of US policies in other areas that work against our interests.
The nuclear deal has been controversial both in India and the US. While the deal protects India's nuclear weapon programme, it is also structured to " island" it and the stringent non- proliferation provisions attached are intended to prevent our strategic programme from benefitting in any way from international civilian nuclear cooperation a red herring in view of the autonomy of India's weapon programme.
On the NPT itself, and issues such as CTBT and FMCT, there is an adjustment of thinking but no " strategic partnership" between India and the US. On the issue of nuclear terrorism, while there are no Indo- US differences in principle, US reluctance to expose the full dimension of the A. Q. Khan affair and Pakistan government's complicity in it, not to mention China's involvement in building currently a plutonium reprocessing plant in Pakistan even as concerns about the Talibanisation of Pakistan have been widely expressed in western circles, points to the absence of any " strategic" understanding between us and the US on this serious issue. In this background, for the US to seek, even for tactical reasons, to keep open the doors for a US- Pakistan nuclear deal on the lines of the India- US deal, given Pakistan's record, its internal fragility and the rise of religious extremism in the country, should raise questions in our mind about US geo- political objectives in not probing to the hilt a known case but placing future threats from nuclear terrorism on the forefront of its agenda.
The reality of our " strategic partnership" with the US has to be tested primarily in our neighbourhood as that is where we face our most serious " strategic" problems.
If US policies towards Pakistan, Afghanistan, extremist Islam, terrorism, China et al are incompatible with our interests, claims that the two countries are " strategic partners" will remain unpersuasive. Reconciliation with the Taliban means expanding the political space for this extremist Islamist ideology in our region, with all its potentially adverse implications for India. The readiness to accommodate Pakistan's destabilising ambitions in Afghanistan for short term reasons, oversensitivity to Pakistan's inflated concerns about India's role there, arming of Pakistan even though this would encourage Pakistan to continue confronting India, differentiated view of Pakistan based terrorism targetting the West or India, and an assessment of China's South Asian role that ignores India's concerns are all issues on which a strategic understanding between India and the US remains unforged.
The writer is a former Foreign Secretary( firstname.lastname@example.org)
DISSENSION HAS PARTIES ON THE EDGE IN POLL YEAR
THE state assembly elections are a good six months away in Bihar but political parties are already grappling with problems of dissension. Self- styled loyalists are cribbing about being neglected by their organisations and turncoats and rank opportunists are weighing the option of switching sides.
The number of disgruntled leaders who have sounded the bugle of revolt against their leadership is increasing by the day in almost all the parties, the only exception being the Rashtriya Janata Dal led by Lalu Yadav.
Take for instance the ruling Janata Dal- United. A section of ' powerful' leaders within the party like Prabhunath Singh,
and Rajiv Ranjan Singh aka Lalan Singh have openly attacked chief minister Nitish Kumar, accusing him of functioning like an autocrat. The differences between Nitish and party president Sharad Yadav also appear to have widened following their diametrically opposite views on the women's reservation Bill. There is talk about a likely revolt against Nitish by a number of senior party leaders ahead of the assembly polls.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, JD- U's partner in the coalition government, also has simmering discontent within the organisation to contend with. Its senior leaders have attacked the state leadership for the party playing second fiddle to the JD- U. The recent reshuffle in the party by its national president Nitin Gadkari has also evoked loud protest. Besides, there has been no unanimity about the choice of the new president of its state unit, forcing the party to procrastinate on the decision for the past couple of months.
The Congress' state is no better.
The Bihar visit of All India Congress Committee general secretary Rahul Gandhi in February had generated a glimmer of hope among the Congressmen after many years. But less than a month later, the Congressmen started fighting among themselves over who should lead the organisation in Bihar. First, veteran Congressmen of the state campaigned against Bihar Congress president Anil Sharma. Then, the sharp differences between Sharma and the party's Bihar in- charge Jagdish Tytler came out in the open.
In fact, Congressmen belonging to the pro and anti- Sharma groups even came to blows at Chapra during a party programme on Saturday.
Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party also has vocal rebel leaders who want severance of the party's alliance with Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal.
Both Lalu and Paswan have reposed trust in each other time and again, but discontent in the rank and file of both the parties over their alliance can be felt every now and then.
Maybe, this is a symptom of true democracy in these parties.
LALU RETAINS HIS FOLKSY TOUCH
RASHTRIYA Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad has his own way of celebrating things. He got a big reason for a party last week when the Supreme Court ruled that the Bihar government had no authority to appeal in the disproportionate assets case against him. Lalu thanked the judiciary before proceeding to Danapur on the outskirts of Patna to pay obeisance to a deity at a temple.
He then settled down to enjoy a musical nite of local folk songs. Accompanied by his loyal supporters, Lalu inaugurated the soiree where the night- long musical contest between two folk singers, Gautam Toofan Vyas and Mahatma Tiwari Vyas, held the audience in thrall.
Even after losing power, Lalu remains the biggest patron of " Chaita" folk songs, which are popular in rural Bihar and UP. He often invites folk performers to his bungalow and organises " Chaita nites". During his hectic railway ministry days, he did not get enough opportunities to relish such programmes.
But now, he has enough time for his favourite pastime.
BIHARI CUISINE TITILLATES TASTE BUDS
THE recent ' Bihar Diwas' extravaganza organised by the Nitish Kumar government on the 98th anniversary of Bihar's statehood was aimed at juxtaposing the state's glorious past against its current achievements. It provided the Nitish Kumar government an opportunity to highlight its achievements of the past four years through various stalls put up by different departments at the Gandhi Maidan, the main venue of the celebrations in Patna.
But what turned out to be the bigger draw for the visitors were the food stalls offering the quintessentially Bihari cuisine. The stalls offered the famous khaja from Silao in Nalanda, tilkut from Gaya, khoye ki lai from Barh and 300 other varieties of food items from different parts of the state. It was certainly the biggest food fair of Bihari delicacies ever organised in the state.
No wonder, it attracted a large number of foodies on all the three days of the Bihar Diwas fair. It is generally felt that Bihari cuisine has not received the attention it deserves. Most of the people still identify litti- chokha as the only Bihari delicacy worth trying.
But that is not the case.
There are a lot of other typically Bihari delicacies that need to be tasted and savoured by connoiseurs of food. The Bihari food fair provided people an opportunity to indulge their taste buds with a mélange of items from different regions of the state that they had hardly ever relished.
SANIA LEAVES THEM UPSET
SHIV Sena supremo Bal Thackeray is not the only one to oppose the wedding of tennis star Sania Mirza with a Pakistani player. There are many in Patna like him.
Among them are members of the Bihar Viklang Khel Academy who staged a protest against her decision.
They burnt her posters and shouted slogans against her.
Even though Sania has reiterated that she would keep representing India in tennis, they argued that Sania would become the bahu of Pakistan and, therefore, would no longer play for India. This, they said, was unacceptable to them.
SURGERY SEPARATES BIHAR'S SITA & GITA
BY NEETU CHANDRA IN NEW DELHI
SUBHASH Mukhiya and his wife Nirmala Devi began Monday with hope and a prayer. Their daughters, conjoined twins Sita and Gita, were undergoing a crucial operation to separate the two at the Batra Hospital and Medical Research Centre in the Capital.
The 18- month- old twins were bornwith congenital structural abnormalities. They were joined at the hip and had a common genito- urinary and intestinal system.
The operation started at around 7 am and went on for close to 13 hours at the end of which the doctors and parents were a happy lot.
" The surgery had been successful and the kids had been separated," Dr Sanjeev Bagai, chief executive officer and senior consultant paediatrician of the Batra Hospital, said. " However, the reconstructive surgery was still on," he added.
The children were learnt to be doing well.
The surgery was precise and technically very difficult as the doctors had to create a urinary diversion, an intestinal diversion and also had to reconstruct the lower part, including the hip bones.
While most of the organs had been be separated, an MRIand CAT scan revealed that the whole of the rectum and urinary passage had to be given to one while the same had to be recreated in another.
It took a team of 28 doctors and highly trained nurses to perform the marathon surgery.
The multi- disciplinary team was led by paediatric surgeon Dr Arvind Sabharwal and included plastic surgeon Dr Rohit Nayyar, urologist Dr P. P. Singh, orthopaedic surgeon Dr Tucker and Dr Pawan Gurha, who took care of anaesthetic and critical care.
Sita and Gita were born at Bhawanipur Kushwaha Tola under Sangrampur police station of East Champaran district in Bihar. They come from a very poor family.
Father Subhash is a daily wage worker while Nirmala is a housewife.
" My wife and I were at our wit's end when we saw our daughters in this condition.
We approached a lot of doctors in Patna who refused to take up the case because of the risk involved in the surgery," Subhash said.
The doctors advised the parents to go for surgery to separate the twins. But for the family, which barely
manages to eke out a living, affording this kind of surgery was out of the question.
" We are very poor and couldn't manage the money for the operation. We had to accept our daughters' fate as it
was," Nirmala said.
The distraught parents also took the conjoined twins to different shrines and even consulted village quacks, but to no effect.
They then visited the East Champaran district magistrate's office at Motihari seeking help from the administration.
The twins were referred to the district civil surgeon to look into the case. District civil surgeon Dr Biltu Paswan constituted a medical board and advised the Mukhiyas to take their daughters to the Capital.
In the meantime, Patnabased Dr Ajay Kumar came to hear about the case and offered financial assistance.
The Batra Hospital offered to carry out the surgery and took care half of the Rs 5 lakh expenses while Dr Kumar donated the rest.
TIM'S GIFT TO DIDI
RAILWAY minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee hopes to trounce the Marxists in next year's West Bengal Assembly polls. On Monday, she got inspiration when US ambassador to India, Tim Roemer, presented her President Barack Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope . Held in the backdrop of the upcoming visit to the US by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and domestic opposition to the civil nuclear liabilities Bill, Roemer described the meeting as a courtesy call. Mamata presented the US envoy a miniature train model.
Roemer evaded questions on whether the two discussed status of the nuclear liability Bill. Roemer, who was apprised about railway projects in the country by senior railway officials, said he discussed with the railway minister his visit to West Bengal some months back.
SECRET OF SUCCESS
With the IPL fast becoming a craze and a money spinner, the power and glory of its supremo is invincible. Even teams owned by big- wigs of business and filmdom nod to his diktats. His word is law, his command is unquestionable and his writ is final. ' Tremble and obey' is the dictum.
So all hell broke loose when his order was not complied forthwith by one of the teams. He promptly ordered the banishment of those concerned. What's more surprising and shocking is that even the affected party is unwilling to unwind about what happened inside the dressing room of Feroze Shah Kotla.
Not even a whisper. Such is the stranglehold of the supremo over the league! Perhaps this accounts for the success of the IPL. Way to go, sir!
WIN- WIN SITUATION
RETIRED bureaucrats, who have been spurned by the private sector, are canvassing their suitability for a slew
of posts that are up for grabs.
The PMO believes that their wealth of experience can hold them good in any situation from pen- pushing, ploughing to rocket science. Some jobs are highly lucrative, like the one at the Asian Development Bank in Manila. It doesn't matter if you know nothing of multilateral banking.
Then comes the chairmanship of the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority. Also up for grabs is chairmanships of the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction and the National Highway Authority of India.
Bankers, apart from babus, are also favoured for post- retirement plum jobs. A prized post is that of the chairman of the India Infrastructure Finance Corporation Ltd.
Many former bankers are interested, but a few ex- babus have also thrown in their hats. There are openings at the top levels of Exim Bank and the National Housing Bank also. Never say die, nay retire, is the latest buzz!
Just for farmers
A ' RESIDENT intellectual' at Yojana Bhawan sets the agenda for the UPA. When prices were going through
the roof, he attributed it to a global phenomenon.
Now he says that the Centre let food prices soar to benefit farmers. But is he aware that they have been benefited to such an extent that they are committing suicide across the country? Jai Kisan !
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A GRAND EXPERIMENT
Years of wrangling, backroom deals and acrobatic manoeuvring later, the Pakistani political establishment has finally taken the first step towards fulfilling a long-standing promise. Taken together, the highlights of the 100-odd amendments recommended in the constitutional reforms package stripping the president's post of its excessive executive powers, amending the procedure for appointing judges, and abolishing the Concurrent list with all its subjects going to the provinces have the potential to alter Pakistan's power dynamics dramatically. However, it will not be an easy process. Achieving political consensus on the 18th Amendment was a considerable achievement given Pakistan's rancorous political environment. But much remains to be done. There can be a vast gulf between legislation and implementation, particularly in Islamabad's beleaguered corridors of power.
Since its implementation, Pakistan's 1973 Constitution has been more honoured in the breach than the observance. From Zia ul-Haq to Pervez Musharraf, successive extra-constitutional authorities have cannibalised it to cement their authority. Not surprisingly, this has perverted the dynamics of its power structures entirely, undermining the system of checks and balances that is the foundation of any democracy. The results have been plain to see - a continual erosion of civilian authority with the military accruing more and more power to itself. By stripping the president of the right to dissolve parliament and appoint the three services' chiefs, the amendment goes some way towards sealing the military's entry point into Islamabad's power structure. Likewise, establishing the transparency and independence of the judiciary could enable it to work in harness with the executive after years of acrimony.
The missing ingredient in all this, however, is political tradition. The amendment may seek to restore power to the executive along the lines envisaged in the 1973 Constitution, but it is a model that has little precedent. Without the structural robustness that comes from decades of observing political and procedural norms, it becomes that much easier for the cattle trading that has been going on in Islamabad to derail the process.
That is why the Pakistan People's Party, the Muslim League and the PML(N) must now ensure that the good work done so far is carried through to its logical conclusion. Any other path will lead to political instability, institutionalised violence and the spectre of recurrent army coups. Pakistan is crying out for accountable government. For the country to establish itself as a functioning parliamentary democracy, its political parties must establish the principle of civilian supremacy over the military.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
HARVESTING THE SUN
It's free, it's bright, and it's natural. Solar energy is clean, it has no side-effects, and the resource is abundantly available. It's the perfect alternative to smoke-belchers like coal. The dream renewable option however has eluded us all the while, though, only because the cost of solar panels photovoltaic cells, to be more precise has been prohibitive, particularly in a developing country like India where coal is available in large quantities and the cost of drawing energy from it is far less. Unsurprisingly, the choice has been the cheaper, though risky, option. There has been limited public appeal for using solar energy in households for heating water and cooking food.
It is therefore welcome news that the government plans to make available a 30 per cent subsidy for installing solar panels on rooftops for household use, with the promise that the cost waiver could be increased to 50 per cent if all states show encouraging signs of implementing the proposal. The proposal is in keeping with the prime minister's National Action Plan on Climate Change, that sets great store by solar energy initiatives to reduce polluting emissions from fossil fuels like coal and oil. The ministry of new and renewable energy is planning to generate 1,000 MW of solar energy by 2013 and 20,000 MW by 2022. To subsidise the cost of photovoltaics is a good way to initiate investment and interest in solar energy. However, long-term solutions have to be based on cheaper technology. Collaborative projects with countries like Germany where considerable effort has gone into honing solar panel technology including attempts to replace silicon with hair that is a better conductor and costs almost nothing to produce more affordable panels with newer materials would help bring down costs.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
COULD IT BE THIS EASY?
ARUN K ATTRI
Notwithstanding the IPCC's role in creating cynicism about the global warming debate, the issue is real and alive. Simply, the laws of physics can be used to assess the partial trapping of infrared radiations emitted by the Earth's surface from constituents present in atmosphere. The main concern is increasing atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, an end-product of energy use in any form. Wishing a cap on emissions by countries is, at best, a fantasy immersed in a black hole of convoluted discussions to no end. One casualty of never-ending parleys within countries, between countries, between groups of countries and diverse interest groups has been the search for alternate solutions to cool the planet's temperature
Almost all incoming solar radiation, known as short-wave radiation, passes through the atmosphere and reaches the Earth's surface. The bulk atmospheric constituents (99 per cent) nitrogen and oxygen are transparent to short-wave solar radiation. On reaching surfaces, short-wave radiations undergo reflection and absorption. 'Fractionation' between these two is associated with the nature of the surface. That is, the surface composition's exture and colour determine what fraction of incident radiation gets reflected and goes back.
The characteristics of short-wave solar radiation do not change when reflected, and essentially the atmosphere remains transparent on its return journey too. Albedo, or surface reflectivity, determines the fraction of radiation absorbed by the surface, and thus its temperature. Low albedo implies a larger fraction will be retained. In short, tinkering with the albedo of surfaces can help lower surface temperature by reflecting a larger fraction of incident solar short-wave radiation back.
Take the example of the surfaces amenable to albedo tinkering in a large city like Delhi. About 64 sq km (12.5 per cent of the city's total area) is occupied by roads made of asphalt. When freshly laid, the colour is black and the albedo 0.05. With time, the colour changes to grayish black and the albedo to 0.15. In the first case, the black surface will only reflect 5 per cent of the incident solar radiation and absorb 95 per cent. Later, the grey reflects 15 per cent and absorbs 85 per cent.
Now, if instead of asphalt the road surface is made of cement, the albedo jumps to between 0.3 and 0.4, implying that additional short-wave solar radiation can be sent back (30 to 40 per cent). In the middle of June in Delhi, mid-day asphalt road surface temperature can be about 65 degrees centigrade, much higher than the Met department's daily record, where the maximum temperature is never more than 45 degrees as it is measured in the shade at a height of about four feet.
Short-wave radiation absorbed during the day transforms into heat, and this heat is sent back into the atmosphere as infra-red radiation partially trapped by green gases, the essence of the global warming problem. This area is large enough to alter the albedo substantially by bouncing a large chunk of short-wave solar radiation back. By the simple expedient of raising the albedo from 0.15 to 0.4, an additional 25 per cent of the short-wave radiation can be reflected away from the Earth's surface, lowering the city's overall average temperature by about 2 degree Celsius. This decrease would send less infra-red radiation back to be trapped by green house gases.
Almost 90 sq km area of Delhi is covered by high and low density dwelling units. If even 50 per cent of the roof area of these buildings is appropriated for change in albedo by painting roof surfaces white (an all-weather exterior coat), an additional 40 per cent of short-wave solar radiation will be reflected back. The results can be so substantial as to be startling. A roof that is cooler prevents conduction of heat to rooms on the floors below, ensuring a decrease in power requirements for cooling. This measure alone would lower the entire city's temperature by 2.5 degrees Celsius.
Planting trees along roads would also help lower temperature by reflecting a major fraction of short-wave solar radiation spectrum back. Plants are green because they reflect this range of radiation. Almost 12 per cent of incoming solar short-wave radiation energy comprises this fraction. The efficacy of this step will depend on the number of trees planted and their canopy size but, in any case, the cooling effect is assured.
If these steps are taken, rough calculations indicate that the average reduction in city temperature can be between 3 to 5 degrees Celsius. Given the direct correlation between power consumption and higher daytime temperatures during summer, summertime energy consumption will be considerably lowered. Lower power consumption implies less emission of dreaded carbon dioxide, or a saving of precious carbon credits.
This seems a simple, logical way to counter global warming: introducing measures based on established scientific facts, thus transforming large cities into the first frontier of the battle against global warming, without imposing carbon dioxide emission caps on nations. Or we could continue to think nations will somehow agree to decrease emissions of global warming gases, a dream indeed.
The writer is professor, atmospheric chemistry, School of Environmental Sciences, JNU.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
GESTURE WAS IN BAD TASTE
Here we go again, down the cliched swadeshi vs phoren route. Controversial environment minister Jairam Ramesh has jumped the gun once more. While addressing a convocation ceremony of the Indian Institute of Forest Management in Bhopal, he ripped off the convocation gown he was wearing and described it as a "barbaric colonial legacy". To rub insult into injury, he ridiculed the custom among young graduates of tossing their hats up in the air, by saying it didn't make sense wearing a cap if one had to throw it.
The minister is wrong, on several counts. Far from being barbaric or colonial, wearing a convocation gown is an accepted practice at graduation ceremonies the world over. And no one has designed an indigenous version of a convocation gown yet. Certain occasions call for formal dress. The point of any ceremony is, well, that it is ceremonial. It's understandable that after the many years of grit and grind students put into earning their spurs for the wider world, there should be a little ceremony at the end of it. And tossing hats into the air is a gesture of celebration and release. It's puerile and crassly reductionist to put that down by saying the cap must stay on the head all the time.
If one were just to turn up in shirts and trousers at a graduation event and go home after collecting one's degree, as the minister suggested, there would be little point to the whole exercise. Why not, in that case, simply mail students their degrees? The point is that life stripped of all ceremony and conducted solely along utilitarian lines has little meaning. If it's just a question of the inconvenience the minister faced wearing the gown in hot weather, he should have skipped the ceremony.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
CLOTH IS MORE THAN APPEARANCE
Jairam Ramesh has a point when he asks for convocation ceremonies to be held in a simple dress. His disapproval of the current convocation dress is for two reasons. One, it is a colonial legacy: The convocation gown is part of a British tradition that dates back to the 13the century. Two, it is unsuitable for our climate. Both the reasons are valid.
Why should Indian universities continue with this fancy dress? Such pompousness was originally meant to highlight that those who got a university degree belonged to a superior class. It prioritised a particular form of knowledge and practice of knowledge acquisition. It helped the colonial masters to mark their difference. With the end of British occupation, this particular colonial tradition too should have ended. There is no reason to throw out every institution or tradition that came as part of colonialism, of course. But, it's also pointless to parody British manners in the name of continuing with a tradition. We needn't continue with convocation gowns and other similar uniforms like the lawyers' attire, particularly since they are unsuited to our tropical climate. The necktie as part of school uniform must also go. A dress code reform is necessary to free us of this colonial baggage.
Interestingly, dress played a part in the creation of a national consciousness during the freedom struggle. Gandhi had turned clothing into a symbol and an instrument to spread his political message. Khadi was a cloth, a uniform and a movement. It represented his economic philosophy, which was integral to his idea of freedom. The idea was to promote an alternate code of clothing that stressed on the use of local material and local tools. By stressing on spinning one's own cloth, Gandhi emphasised the importance of labour. A truly critical approach to the colonial legacy in education must include a criticism of the means and methods of knowledge production promoted by the colonial enterprise. Are we game?
THE TIMES OF INDIA
NOTE THE CHANGE
SATISH K SHARMA
The lot of currency notes is a grim one. From the moment they come out of the security press they begin to attract dirt and grime. And though few would deny their worth, each time they try to spread their wings, we hear sanctimonious voices warning us against decline of values in society.
Take the latest case. Someone shaped them into a garland okay, a biggish one and people made a mountain out of a mala hill. A garland of greenbacks, or pinkbacks for that matter, may sound like a malapropism but to see any malevolence in it is to miss the good for the greed.
The point that everyone seems to be overlooking is that a note-mala is a rare innovation, a piece of art from the Hindi-artland. It's a pity that the inventor is a resident Indian. Had it been done in the US, the garland-maker would have already patented it and sold it for millions of dollars.
Today, everything and everyone seems to be breaking out of set moulds. Thus, you have newspapers doling out entertainment, cellphones working as cameras and gaming devices, film stars taking management classes and yoga gurus nursing political ambitions. How fair then it is to expect a currency bill to go on playing the limited role of a legal tender?
When you look at it, there are good reasons for choosing notes over flowers as mala material. Flowers, for all their swollen pride, aren't such unmixed blessings. They carry pollen a known source of allergy. What kind of welcome would it be if the garland sends the dear leader into a paroxysm of sneezes? The ready answer is this: delete flowers and insert currency notes. It is not an opinion but a scientific fact that very few leaders in any walk of life are allergic to currency notes.
Ever since they broke free of the gold standard, printing currency notes is the cheapest thing to do. On the other hand, flowers don't exactly grow on trees. From their cultivation to retaining their freshness to their transportation to distant locales, it costs a bushel. And what are they after their use? Mere biodegradable garbage. But look at currency notes. They continue to retain all their value even after they have been used up in a garland.
Of late, Indian currency notes have also shed their funereal greyish look. Now, they come in bright colours. In fact, our 1 k currency note is rosier than a rose. Fold it tastefully and it can grace the buttonhole of your jacket and throw in a few 500-rupee greenbacks around them and you have an elegant ensemble that few would decline. One could even recommend exchange of a basket of currency on special occasions.
Fairness demands that we allow currency notes entry into other areas reserved for flowers until now. For example, why go on hanging on to a cliche in Bollywood songs? Why could the romantic lead not welcome his beloved crooning, "Baharon note barsao, mera mehboob aaya hai?" Or, if she throws them back at him, why could he not chide her intoning, "Note ahista phenko, note bade najuq hotey hain."
Going further, one could even suggest that we develop our own brand of ikebana using currency notes rather than fumbling with flowers all the time! And for that matter, why not indulge in a kind of Indian origami using a single thousand-rupee-bill to showcase one's creativity?
Unfortunately, we know that none of that is going to happen. Because we have a vocal lobby of those who are fixated only on the familiar in everything. How can anyone satisfy those who would accept nothing but 'news' in the 'breaking news', cricket in the IPL and flowers in a garland?
GOVT SEEKS HEADCOUNT OF INDIA'S POOR
Taking the first step towards fixing the shortcomings of the proposed food security bill, the UPA government's empowered group of ministers (EGoM) on Monday asked the Planning Commission to decide precisely how many poor people there were in India those who would be the largest beneficiaries of the landmark law.
India has been unable to settle on the BPL headcount, decided on the basis of a combination of 13 socio-economic parameters, including calorie intake and income.The draft legislation was recalled last week after the Congress leadership found it wanting in some respects. The Congress, however, has denied there were differences on the bill between the government and the party.
The EGoM, led by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, decided to take a calibrated approach, addressing the bill's biggest deficiencies first, such as lack of a clear idea of the below-poverty-line (BPL) headcount.
Simultaneously, it has asked the food ministry to study how 22 other countries enacted and put into practice similar food-for-all laws.
The quantity of cheap grains for India's poor pegged at 25 kg a month a key issue is likely to stay the same, despite some objections voiced claiming it was not enough. The EGoM found no problems with the ration quota, sources said.
"After the Planning Commission and the food ministry complete the spadework, their findings will be circulated among all colleagues," food minister Sharad Pawar said.
Both the Planning Commission and the food ministry have been asked to get back in the next three weeks, when the EGoM will meet again.
India has been unable to settle on the BPL headcount, decided on the basis of a combination of 13 socio-economic parameters, including calorie intake and income.
According to the Suresh Tendulkar Committee, 37.2 per cent of Indians qualify as poor. According to the Planning Commission, which is being followed, it is 27.2. Yet another estimate from state governments puts the figure at 10.52 crore families or 45 per cent of all Indians.
The final draft glossed over key decisions taken at the February 12 eGoM meeting on March 5, such as entitlements for destitutes, beggars, street children and the homeless.
The final draft also kept enough legroom to increase the issue price of cheap grains from Rs 3 a kg.
HANGING BY A THREAD
The Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, has caused a flutter by disrobing in public. Before you have a fit, the poor man merely flung off a convocation robe at a university function declaring that we should not dress like medieval vicars and should dress in comfortable clothes. Now this is no shirt off our backs, but Guru Ghasidas Central University agrees with the green tsar and has said that henceforth, convocation attire will consist of kurta-pajama with a traditional pagri (headgear). With this, Mr Ramesh who has not been able to plug the ozone layer has opened up a vast gamut of sartorial possibilities for graduation ceremonies.
For example, those of us from the south could attire ourselves in mundus and angavastrams. What a novel way to showcase our native dress. Of course, the brown sahibs from Calcutta may turn up in coattails and top hats but then who are we to complain? The problem will arise when, say, those who are the arbiters of all things cultural like uber Marathi manoos Bal Thackeray may decree what constitutes the appropriate dress for sons of the soil. Each state has different types of traditional dress, so what are we to wear? What if you were graduating from a fashion institute? Would you wear Balenciaga or Dior? We can already see an almighty kerfuffle ensuing. If, as dear Mr Ramesh says, we must fling off these appurtenances of a barbaric colonial past, should he be speaking in English? Imagine corporate moghul Ratan Tata running around in full Parsi regalia. So in addition to our differences over caste, creed, ethnicity, language, political affiliations and sexual orientations, we can now have one more, that our wardrobes.
The fabric of a nation certainly hangs by its threads. Who knows, this could lead to a new couture line in convocation wear. Anything is possible now that the uncapped crusader has raised the coat of arms against conforming.
TREATING THE POOR LIKE DIRT
Forget that easy, lazy compartmentalisation of the country into 'Real India' and the 'India We Live In. To tag on to a 'new' cliche is to strengthen it and provide the dangerous illusion that identifying a problem is halfway to solving it.
(We all know where 'Garibi hatao!' got us.) When this paper uncovered the fact that children in 2010 India are being forced to suppress hunger by eating mud because not enough food is available to them, it was not an exposé of the way a vast number of Indians live we just need to go out of our homes to know that the old cliches of poverty are still very much there but a thuddering confirmation of how the 'sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic Republic of India' takes care of its hungry and malnourished citizens.
In the flurry of India's economic progress and growth of wealth and wealth-creating institutions, starving or malnourished Indians can be such a party-pooper. Which must be the only explanation as to why children in Ganne village, some 45 kilometres away from the hometown of India's first prime minister and consequently of India's first political family have been left to come up with their own version of a food security programme while an expert group of ministers met to firm up an anti-hunger law. And eating silica-rich mud certainly seems to have been a more effective way of beating hunger than the current set-up that, on paper, feeds the nation's poorest of the poor.
Denials are the usual reaction and authorities entrusted to see that food reaches India's many Gannes have always found a way to treat 'malnutrition' as a vast improvement on 'starvation'. Some five years ago, when there were reports of 'starvation deaths' in West Midnapore district of West Bengal, state authorities went on an overdrive not to fix the system to get food to the hungry but to point out that the deaths were caused by 'malnutrition' and organ failures resulting from such a condition. This time round too, the cause of diseases and ailments among Ganne's children is kidney problems related to their ingestion of mud and thus a debate on whether the issue is 'malnutrition' per se has already broken out. Such jugglery will get us nowhere. Add to this, the buck-passing between state and central governments and then we understand that eating mud isn't only logical but also necessary for so many, too many Indians. And this has nothing to do with 'Real' or 'Unreal' India at all.
A flourishing intellectual cottage industry has grown in India and across the planet around the worthy enterprise of measuring and estimating poverty and hunger. Much of the published reams of this debate, to which economists, nutritionists and public planners tirelessly contribute, would appear strangely remote to a person who lives with and battles hunger. She would recognise little in their involved, sophisticated, bitterly contested and often opaque calculus, assumptions, arguments and conclusions. She would not find adequate acknowledgement of the struggles that dispossessed people the world over wage every single day against want and injustice, to feed, clothe and house themselves and the people they love.
The debates would probably seem strangely detached to her from their daily triumphs and defeats, from the profound suffering and powerlessness of watching one's children cry themselves to sleep on a hungry stomach, from the shame of depending on charity, from moral victories and collapse, from the loneliness of migration, from the helplessness of debt bondage, and from love and longing which is so terrible because it is so hopeless.
There are periodic reports of starvation deaths that briefly divert the media from more pressing news such as of the contests of electoral politics that seem unencumbered by concerns for the poor, fashion contests and beauty pageants, cricket, and sensational crimes. The occasional stories of how the other half starves impel a brief flurry of dusty jeep rides for hasty media penetration into the sleepy countryside with intrusive cameras and accusative interrogation.
What typically follows are bitter and angry denials of starvation by the administration; triumphant condemnation by the political opposition; sensational reports of the sale of a child allegedly for a price less than a bottle of packaged mineral water; and fleeting TV images of gaunt and bewildered adult 'victims' cradling skeletal forms of starving babies. And before long the matter is forgotten by all except those who have no option but to continue to live with hunger.
At senior levels of government planning, goal posts are surreptitiously changed to convince the world that India is rapidly vanquishing poverty, justifying even further reduction of the already unconscionably low levels of public investments in food, social security, health care, education, agriculture and housing. Official committees themselves cannot agree on estimates of poverty, which swing wildly from 23 per cent to 40, to 50 to 77 per cent. Economists, nutritionists and planners hotly quarrel about modes of estimating the numbers and levels of hunger and poverty.
Many believe that free markets will ultimately eliminate hunger and want. Solutions that are pressed in governments worldwide to end persisting hunger, usually range from expanding further the reach of international markets and trade, deflationary economic policies cutting back further on public investment for the needs and rights of disadvantaged citizens, and competitive provisioning of public goods like healthcare and education by the private sector. Others promote technical solutions like micro-nutrient fortification, genetic engineering in agriculture or control of populations. But a depleting band of economists and public planners persist in arguing that there is no substitute for large public action, massive State investments in food, agriculture and work, health and education, as well as democratic civic mobilisation for recognition and enforcement of the social and economic rights of disadvantaged people who live with hunger and malnutrition.
Many of these debates are important, but are in constant peril of reducing people living with hunger themselves to statistical ammunition, subjecting both their intense suffering and valiant resistance to the cold economics of costs and benefits. Discussions around poverty and under-nourishment by economists, professionals and planners often portray people living with hunger as helpless, mostly inert, pitiable and passive receptacles of charity and State largesse, and not as active agents with often sturdy spirit and humanity who endure in the most inconceivably difficult circumstances of want and oppression.
It is these debates that lie behind the vastly divergent positions of government and the Congress, and of economists and activists, about what the proposed Food Rights Bill should guarantee to the people of this land. The initial government draft law sought to restrict state responsibility to a truncated Public Distribution System (PDS) for people whom the government estimates to be poor. But others are convinced that the law must create a wide range of obligations for the state to provide food to every child, woman and man who lives with hunger and malnourishment. It is time we asked the opinion of those millions of men, women and children who are forced to sleep hungry every night.
India surges ahead to impatiently claim its long-denied status of a giant economic superpower, with the world's largest vibrant, talented acquisitive consuming middle class, and confident and predatory Indian business leaders stalking the world for new corporate acquisitions and trophies. We are embarrassed by reminders of a much larger population of people with stagnant or falling living standards, millions of whom struggle daily to strive to feed their families and only sometimes fill their bellies. Inequality without outrage and resistance has always scarred and shamed our country. But until recently at least the poor were around us, in our films, in poetry and literature, in the promises of budget speeches and election slogans, in newspaper reports and television screens. Today they have become invisible. They do not matter anymore. I hope that the proposed food security law can begin to change this.
Harsh Mander is Director, Centre for Equity Studies
The views expressed by the author are personal
In doing what West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee hasn't bothered to do for two years paying a visit to Lalgarh Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram killed at least a couple of birds with the same stone. He iterated a number of times that the "buck stops" with Bhattacharjee, thereby reminding the CM of his primary responsibility. But he also resolved the Centre's dilemma over how far to go: let there be no doubt that law and order is a state subject, he seemed to say. The Centre can assist, but the restoration and maintenance of peace is the state's duty. Failure will rest on the CM's shoulder. Given Bengal's demonstrably broken state machinery, witnessed as recently as February during the Silda EFR camp massacre, that warning and clarification must be paid heed to, especially since, coupled with Maoist violence, Bengal is one of the worst cases of routine, and bloody, political violence.
The Left Front's history of subverting the state machinery led to its studied bungling on Maoists political and operational. Since Operation Green Hunt calls for disparate jurisdictions to work together, there can be no passengers. Chidambaram implied as much in pointing out the difference in success levels in Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh-Andhra on the one hand and Jharkhand-Orissa-Bengal on the other. That necessitates political coordination to facilitate the tactical coordination. The Bengal government had begun with the wrong words and no action. And after a little activity, it appears to be hitting the doldrums.
In interacting with the villagers, Chidambaram brought to light how the poverty-stricken people of Maoist-affected areas lack, and desire, development. And apparently, the locals know the difference between the government and the insurgents, and who can actually help them. Asking the villagers to resist the Maoists may be one thing, and villagers gathering the courage to do so in the face of gun-toting rebels another, but it underlies the state's recognition of the fact that hounded villagers are not necessarily Maoists or sympathisers. That sort of PR is needed to secure ground-level cooperation in the anti-Naxal operation. Those like the Bengal government that still send mixed signals on Maoists, should take note of the likelihood of Maoists regrouping and revising their strategy. Vigilance and action cannot falter now in an operation that has begun to taste success. That success needs everybody on board to be consistent and comprehensive. No half measures, no half-heartedness.
INTACH the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage has recently seen something of a succession battle, in which incumbent president S.K. Mishra was replaced by Major General L.K. Gupta. Normally, the bitter internecine warfare raging behind the scenes of even the most publicly po-faced NGO is not worth noticing, hardly relevant to anyone's life. But INTACH is far from your average NGO. Indeed, the problem is precisely that: it appears that it has become a victim of its own success, growing so fast in the conservation space it chose to occupy that it is now seen as the only reliable conduit of government money increasingly, therefore, a quasi-governmental agency.
This was formalised, practically, in a bill passed by the Lok Sabha a fortnight ago: the Ancient Monuments Bill 2010, which controls construction within 200 metres of protected areas. The only agency allowed to sanction construction? Till recently, the Archaeological Survey of India. The new bill, however, fuzzes the distinction between the government-run ASI and the privately-held INTACH. (In various clauses, responsibility is assigned to "ASI/ INTACH".) Along with an increasing amount of responsibility, monies including government grants have begun to flow through the NGO in the hundreds of crores.
INTACH has grown both through its reputation for professionalism as well as being comfortably embedded in the Delhi power-culture circuit, particularly that associated with the Congress party. Both have created the situation we are now in: in which a state, unsurprisingly convinced that it cannot fix every heritage site itself, turns to the private/ NGO sector for professional help; but there is also, apparently, only one private alternative. Capturing that "private" but quasi-governmental, monopolistic alternative will now become, therefore, a primary aim for politicians and retired bureaucrats. Our cultural administration will turn into our cricket administration, a cosy network of the politically connected and the commercially interested. What is needed is to ensure no monopoly builds up; otherwise the government's attempts to ensure professional conservation and INTACH's efforts to stay non-sarkari are both doomed. And we'll hear a lot more about power struggles within a quasi-governmental organisation
GEOGRAPHY IS HISTORY
We're not in Kanpur any more, it turns out. A joint study by Internet and Mobile Association of India and marketing research firm IMRB has revealed that India's smaller towns, Thrissur and Bellary and Kolhapur , are surging ahead of the bigger cities in terms of Internet use. Seventy-one million Indians are now familiar with the Internet, out of which the number of regular users has jumped to 52 million in September 2009 from 42 million in 2008, a year-on-year growth of 19 per cent. "Remote urban pockets (small metros and towns) and lower socio-economic classes" are responsible for this leap, says the survey.
These are not just demographic abstractions. Many of today's "claimed users", just about acquainted with the Web, will be tomorrow's avid users who read, work and play online. Internet usage has also gone up by a stunning 70 per cent in terms of hours spent. Despite years of overheated and bipolar coverage of the Internet's impact, we are often dulled to the unfolding marvel of it, that never in history have so many had the chance to know what so many others were thinking on so many subjects.
The Internet drastically undercuts the divide between the margin and the metropolis. What defines a small town? A social fishbowl, less diverse cultural stimuli, slenderness of opportunity, a sense of being just a bit behind the times? Not any more. The new Web can be a workplace, a library, a support group, a salon, an arcade, a romantic rendezvous, a heckling crowd. You can participate in all that a city offers, the news of the world comes to you, you can work and network. India needs much more affordable computing in local languages for this to be a truly tectonic shift, but that's a matter of when, not if.
PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
It is not yet clear what the mandate and priorities of the newly constituted NAC will be. Historically, the NAC has been associated largely with inputs into social sector schemes, and important governance legislation like the Right to Information Act. The authority of the NAC in relation to government will always be a matter of concern; it will have to energise the functioning of government and line ministries without pretending it is one itself. But in so far as it exists, its priority should be to bring intellectual coherence to a vast developmental agenda.
Although for political reasons it makes sense for the Congress president to take ownership of the NAC and particularly social sector schemes, it is important not to let the end become the means. The social sector agenda and the reform agenda are still often politically presented as two distinct areas of concern: one the province of the Congress president, the other the province of the prime minister; one concerned with the poor, the other with capital in a broad sense. But both agendas are actually causally related, and the causation runs in both directions. The expansive social sector agenda of the UPA would not have been possible without growth and the rise of opportunities and revenue that it entailed. On the other hand, that growth and reduction in poverty are not going to be sustainable without investment in health and education: creating citizens who can participate in this growth. The NAC should not be seen as undercutting the need for or political legitimacy of reform; it should be seen as requiring it.
Second, expanding opportunities for the poor requires very supple governance. Just take a few examples. NREGA has been an important scheme in many respects, and in particular its effect on raising wages seems to have been pronounced. But, even apart from how it is administered, there are issues associated with it: how to get wage rates right, so that there are tangible gains in welfare, without distorting labour markets too much? Are gains from rising wages wiped out by food price inflation? In short, are the gains of a well thought-out social sector scheme neutralised by a non-performing ministry of agriculture? If the objective is poverty alleviation, then agriculture reform and investment are possibly more consequential. Sometimes it is worrying when some Congress politicians seem to confuse poverty alleviation with schemes, more proud of the fact that NREGA is helping more people rather than asking how we can expand opportunities so that NREGA becomes less necessary.
Third, the determinants of poverty alleviation are also becoming more complex. It will be a mistake to think that infrastructure, for example, has little to do with poverty alleviation. By some estimates now circulatory migration in India is close to 150 million. Transport costs are central to the lives of the poor. Or take the power sector. While the well-to-do can arrange for captive power, it is the smallest of small businesses that needs reliable power supply. We underestimate the degree to which a lack of energy policy is hurting the poor. What do you think will happen to poverty in a state where even the smallest flour mill cannot run because of lack of power? On new data available, the range of services which the poorest of the poor are buying using private means is astonishing. What does this portend for how we look at the cost of services?
Or the really big elephant in India's poverty story: urbanisation. Urbanisation impinges on poverty in two ways. Not only do the urban poor have a special set of challenges, but there is little doubt that the form and pattern of urbanisation is going to be critical to create a long-term growth path out of poverty. Or subsidy reform can, if intelligently done, free more resources for the state. Again, while the focus on schemes is vital, the gains will be neutralised, if other, less politically visible reforms are not produced.
Fourth, India is at an interesting moment in state-building. It is poised to now inscribe rights-based welfare architecture across the board: from education to information, from food to possibly health. In a way, the paradox is that a rights-based approach is necessitated by a backdrop of serious state failure. But, given the massive ramp-up in both entitlements and scale, there is a greater need to think of a long-term integrated architecture for welfare. In some ways, the big disjunction is that delivery architectures still seem trapped in old models.
These have three downsides. First, we know that poverty varies considerably by region. In fact geographical location seems to determine the prospects of the poor considerably. The paradox is that the better governed and better placed states are also better placed to take advantage of Centrally sponsored schemes. Second, while many states are moribund, it is wishful thinking to suppose that in the long run welfare architecture can be sustained only by Central largesse and monitoring. In the long run, too much centralisation that comes with the scheme mentality will be self-defeating. Third, can these schemes be leveraged to break old intellectual mindsets? What was, in principle, innovative about NREGA was that it relied on self-identification. Can we think of alternative methods of identification that cuts through so much of the controversy associated with drawing BPL lines? To put it somewhat provocatively, given the character of poverty, is a BPL list, even revised with all the convincing sophistication of the Tendulkar Committee, an intellectual help or hindrance in addressing poverty? A BPL list is increasingly irrelevant to most emerging schemes: they are relying either on universal entitlements or self-identification. Perhaps this logic needs to be followed through, leaving controversies over BPL more for researchers than making them the basis on which schemes sink or swim.
In a way, the promise of the NAC will not be redeemed if it concentrates on monitoring schemes, or merely is a vehicle to project Congress ownership of schemes. If its promise is to be redeemed it must be able to balance and articulate the tradeoffs between different elements of a new social contract. At this juncture, India needs a liberal defence of freedom, enterprise and a critique of oligarchy. It also needs a social democratic critique of both populism and inequality. One without the other will be self-defeating.
The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
ALLIES, BUT NOT BUILDING BRIDGES
For a city originally gifted away as a Portuguese princess's dowry, modern day Mumbai is a bristly inheritance, as Chief Minister Ashok Chavan is no doubt discovering. Everybody agrees that Mumbai has never been so decrepit, and now even its icons can't be untouched by its petty politics.
Not only was there an unseemly discomfiture over the invitation of a national icon, Amitabh Bachchan, to the inauguration of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, but the Congress-NCP coalition also put on public display the thornier side of its relations, with Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal asking Chavan for speedier clearing of files about rebuilding. But the state's recently announced budget has little for Mumbai, apart from hitching its wagon to the stars: a Bollywood museum, a Sachin Tendulkar museum.
The story of rebuilding Mumbai's infrastructure, from storm-water drains and water supply to affordable housing and adequate transportation systems, is now little more than a tale of delays and missed deadlines; many have turned victim to the less than cordial relations between the ruling parties. While the chief minister heads the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) has been traditionally controlled by the NCP. The two have been in a protracted tug-of-war over key city projects: the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link, which has been in the pipeline since the '70s, and on MSRDC's design boards for over a decade, will now be executed by the MMRDA. A proposed revamp of the slice of South Mumbai that houses state administrative headquarters, for which the NCP-controlled Public Works Department even invited and received tenders, will now be subsumed in a revamp for all 180 acres of Nariman Point, executed by the MMRDA the recently-appointed Special Planning Authority for all of the Backbay Reclamation, including South Mumbai's famous business district.
NCP ministers' complaints about Chief Minister Chavan's appetite for personally taking decisions on all key matters are at least partially true too: the contract to build the Worli-Haji Ali Sea Link, a critical extension to the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, was kept pending for a year, till the evening before the winning bid's validity was to expire. Contracts for the Mantralaya revamp and the redevelopment of a 100-acre colony of government flats in upmarket Bandra were almost ready for announcement until Chavan put them both on hold before the elections.
The rivalry is unsurprising. The MTHL is estimated to cost about Rs 10,000 crore; the Mantralaya precinct makeover was pegged at Rs 1,400 crore before being brushed aside to make way for an inexplicable Nariman Point makeover that will cost about Rs 3,500 crore (not counting the conservative estimate of Rs 12,500 crore the "government" stands to gain from selling space.) The 100-acre Bandra Government Colony redevelopment is to cost Rs 2,400 crore.
What has appeared to be a bouquet of funding models for various projects was actually wild see-sawing by the state government from the PPP model to traditional contracts. The MMRDA vows to build the remaining eight Metro corridors on the "DMRC model", but a series of flip-flops ensued and the government returned to the PPP model for the second route. A third route could follow the DMRC's "Airport Link model', with the MMRC funding civil infrastructure while rolling stock, signalling and operation/ maintenance will be funded through private equity.
The Mumbai Trans-Harbour Sea Link saw a similar saga: acrimonious litigation that ended with the Supreme Court stating that the state government had not applied its mind in disqualifying the REL-led consortium, followed by the government stating that the consortium's bid being "too unrealistic", the bridge would be built by government agencies. Ditto for all other key projects: the bidding process for the Rs 15,000 crore Dharavi redevelopment remains stalled, five years on, while seven consortia await key government decisions. All the road and rail components of the showcase Mumbai Urban Transport Project were to have been complete by April 2008. The fresh deadline, revised several times over, is now June 2011. The Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project for roads and flyovers was one of the key culprits for the flood waters not receding for two days following the deluge of July 26, 2005 MUIP contractors had been repeatedly warned that the drains along arterial roads were clogged with debris. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus was to see an expansion and decongestion project take off by December 2007. Consultants are still fine-tuning plans. The Mahatma Gandhi Pathkranti Yojana to rehabilitate pavement-dwelling families, which should have moved 25,000 families by April 2008 has rehabilitated 861 families until mid-March. The water transport project, for hovercrafts and boats connecting Nariman Point with Borivali and Ferry Wharf with Nerul were both to be ready for use by the end of 2006. The project, with the MSRDC until now, is now being eyed by the MMRDA.
Despite it all, Mumbaiites get it right each time, bouncing back famously after every flood and railway breakdown. But for officials and politicians to get it right, they have to keep their nose to the grindstone, and then admit that the city, and its politics, stinks.
'ONCE A JUDGE, ALWAYS A JUDGETHIS REGIME SHOULD DISAPPEAR'
WITH THE WOMEN'S RESERVATION BILL PASSED IN THE RAJYA SABHA AND THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION COMING INTO EFFECT, LAW MINISTER VEERAPPA MOILY HAS SUCCESSFULLY DRAFTED UPA II'S LANDMARK LEGISLATIONS. IN AN INTERVIEW WITH THE INDIAN EXPRESS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF SHEKHAR GUPTA ON NDTV 24X7'S WALK THE TALK, MOILY SPOKE ABOUT THE OTHER BILLS IN THE WORKS AND TACKLING JUDICIAL CORRUPTION
Shekhar Gupta: Welcome to Walk the Talk. I am Shekhar Gupta and my guest today is one of the most silent and certainly one of the least controversial ministers of this Cabinet and probably one of the busiest and most effective. Veerappa Moily, welcome to Walk the Talk again.
Veerappa Moily: Thank you.
Shekhar Gupta: We stand in front of Parliament, where we make laws, and you are busy grappling with a lot of new laws these days.
Veerappa Moily: That's my job. We are in this ministry and we have to draft a new law and then whet it.
Shekhar Gupta: It is very tough in India to pass laws.
Veerappa Moily: That's a skill by itself, with a different craft altogether. But I just love it. I've always loved it. That's why we have trained people, because every word counts. Right from my early days in the Karnataka government, I have been very fond of drafting.
Shekhar Gupta: There's something very interesting. Every recent law that has been drafted/passed/moved has been controversial, whether it is the Women's Reservation Bill, Right to Education, Nuclear Liability Bill, they've all come through your ministry. Other ministries get caught in controversy, but not yours. What is that special skill?
Veerappa Moily: Administrative ministries want a law to be made in a particular manner. Then we come into the picture of drafting it. The intention has to be very clear from the administrative ministry. Many a time, we ask them, 'what is your intention?'.
Shekhar Gupta: So tell us what went on behind the Right to Education Bill. Many people thought this would never get passed. It has been there for a long time.
Veerappa Moily: This is part of a mandate of the Constitution of India. In our 62 years, we couldn't make it so. Even now, more than 50 per cent dropouts are at the level of Class 4, more than 60 per cent at Class 8. This is disastrous. Of course, we have travelled a long wayin 1947, we started with a 16 per cent literacy rate.
Shekhar Gupta: But how we define literacy is also ridiculous.
Veerappa Moily: I don't think literacy (rate) reflects the real picture. Literacy means a certain level of education to be conferred on you. That's why, today, we want to make it compulsory from six-14 years of age, to enable them to get educated and make this a great country.
Shekhar Gupta: The reason we started this conversation about the Right to Education Act is because you were brought in by the PM when OBC reservation came in suddenly with Mr Arjun Singh. You were brought in to change that into an opportunity instead of a controversy. What you did led to massive expansion of higher education. In 42 years, we had expanded by what1 or 2 per cent?
Veerappa Moily: Apex education had expanded only 1 per cent. In four years, after my report, it expanded 54 per centwhich is phenomenalwithout sacrificing merit and excellence.
Shekhar Gupta: And then a lot of money got allocated to these institutions, which had not been done. Is there any such opportunity sitting on the Right to Education Act?
Veerappa Moily: We need to do it. The question is not how many numbers there are in schools, it's the quality. It can be transformed. To be very frank with you, I started an experimental school in 1991, the Mahatma Gandhi Residential High school, in my constituency. I gave preference to the people who scored the least marks, particularly from orphanages, and other destitute people. Within three years, they started scoring not less than 85 per cent in all the exams. This is the potential of these poor students. That kind of quality education has to be given. That has to be backed not only by law but also by real capacity building in terms of building schools, training teachers.
Shekhar Gupta: So what should Kapil Sibal or the state governments do to convert this into an opportunity now?
Veerappa Moily: Ages six-14 are very crucial in the life of children. We have the potential. We'll have to convert them into students who will take this education forward. It is quite possible with the right kind of infrastructure and training.
Shekhar Gupta: So you don't think it's a hollow law?
Veerappa Moily: No. I'd rather say, forget the rest and concentrate on this.
Shekhar Gupta: Because it is also said unkindly by sceptics that UPA will legislate India to heaven and pass a law against bad weather, a law against floods, a law against earthquakes, poverty...
Veerappa Moily: You may recall the record of UPA I. It made the rural employment guarantee scheme a reality. We could provide that kind of money. We've also done many things in the Right to Information Act and it has become a reality. On the nuclear issue, we faced the risk of losing the government, but we dared it.
Shekhar Gupta: What will happen with the Nuclear Bill?
Veerappa Moily: I don't think it will have the kind of resistance we faced earlier. This one is to make it a liability and charge it for rehabilitation. It is the need of the hour. When you go in for more nuclear powerhouses, whatever risks it involves have to be covered.
Shekhar Gupta: What about the doubts, which I don't share, about a country which has suffered from Bhopalthat we are giving too easy a way out to people who will be running nuclear plants here?
Veerappa Moily: Bhopal happened at a time when environmental science and technology was not developed. For any industry to be established, proper technology should be in place.
Shekhar Gupta: So this, as critics say, is not a Bill to please the Americans?
Veerappa Moily: No. It is to please India. It is dangerous to have this kind of industry and technology without particular safeguards. This is like providing a fort for protection.
Shekhar Gupta: I have not seen any other Congressman defend this Bill as passionately as you are doing. Why is this so?
Veerappa Moily: Because I understand. When you want to have a big expansion on a goal like thissee, ultimately the answer to power shortage is nuclear power, whether any body likes it or not... this has happened in France.
Shekhar Gupta: Could your party have done more homework on this? There's opposition within the party. Now it looks silly, it's been sent to the standing committee.
Veerappa Moily: It has to go to the standing committee. They have to discuss it. This is a procedure of a parliamentary democracy. Let the people understand what it means.
Shekhar Gupta: But why was it not moved in the last session?
Veerappa Moily: Because there were apprehensions. The House had an insight. I think apprehensions have to be cleared, we need to explain to people. If there's any improvement needed, we'll do it. We don't want any Bill to be discussed in isolation of public opinion.
Shekhar Gupta: Do you see the Bill passing now?
Veerappa Moily: If this Bill goes to the parliamentary standing committee, it'll take another nine months.
Shekhar Gupta: Then we don't see it passing maybe till the end of 2011?
Veerappa Moily: It can be passed. Could take six-nine months, depending upon the committee.
Shekhar Gupta: Maybe monsoon session next year. You have no regrets that the Bill has had to be delayed?
Veerappa Moily: No, it has to be cleared because our expansion programmeparticularly the nuclear sectorwill be held up.
Shekhar Gupta: The other Bill in the works, the Judicial Accountability BillI believe you've now taken the higher judiciary's concerns into account.
Veerappa Moily: We have only the Judicial Enquiry Act, 1968, which provides only for impeachment, an extreme punishment.
Shekhar Gupta: And almost impossible to administer.
Veerappa Moily: Not a single judge was punished under it. That means it is ineffective. We had to add a lot of teeth to it. I decided there are some values, virtues and standards to be maintained by judges. Standards of accountability will be incorporated in this law, which will become enforceable. The next question will be the punishment. I have provided for graded punishment. This is a revolutionary step when it comes into play. A day will come when not a single tainted advocate or judge can become a high court judge. Or, he can't be promoted. It won't just minimise corruption in the judiciary but also, the perception of corruption will be removed.
Shekhar Gupta: But have you got the agreement of the higher judiciary on this Bill now?
Veerappa Moily: I don't confront the issue, I'll have an understanding. It is about the standards of accountability of judges, which they have been pronouncing in judgments of the Supreme Court. This is to practically codify that.
Shekhar Gupta: I know you don't confront them in public but you've sent back more judges' appointments than three law ministers before you. You've sent back almost half the appointments.
Veerappa Moily: This is again in the best interests. I've sent back these proposals quoting lacunae. We don't want people with doubtful integrity to be judges. Once a judge, always a judgethis regime should also disappear. A judge has to maintain his integrity throughout.
Shekhar Gupta: The judges' collegium for appointment to high courts and to the Supreme Court has accepted quite a few of your doubts. What is the strike rate? If you send 10 back, on how many cases do they accept your doubts?
Veerappa Moily: It is a secret between us, we don't discuss it. The judiciary is interested in reform and maintaining standards of accountability, it responds to the norms of integrity which are required by the public and also by them.
Shekhar Gupta: Many such appointments, then, are being withheld. Is that not leading to shortage or delays in posts being filled up?
Veerappa Moily: No. We're evolving a system in which I'd like to see that within six months from today, all the vacancies should be filled up. We are working out certain parameters of a methodology in consultation with the judiciary.
Shekhar Gupta: And what about other reforms, like in appellate courts?
Veerappa Moily: The debate is open. The Law Commission has given recommendations to open law benches all over. I agree with the Chief Justice of India that this isn't a good idea and shouldn't be done. Maybe we can think of opening up the courts of appeal, particularly for criminal and civil cases, at a regional level. This is only an idea and is in practice in the US, the UK and many other countries. With this, the Supreme Court can concentrate on the Constitution and interpreting the law. We can also thin down many litigations.
Shekhar Gupta: But you avoid confronting the judges.
Veerappa Moily: What I feel from my experience as a law minister at the state level...
Shekhar Gupta: And as founder of the National Law School of India...
Veerappa Moily: Yes... confrontation isn't going to take us anywhere. There is a willing judiciary to reform itself.
Shekhar Gupta: Is there a willing political class that doesn't want to interfere and will let the judiciary be free?
Veerappa Moily: Yes. The independence of the judiciary shouldn't be interfered with at any cost. That is a sacred duty, which the executive should maintain.
Shekhar Gupta: Coming back to the laws, now there's one more law in the works, the Foreign Universities Bill.
Veerappa Moily: I think that Bill has been misunderstood. There are already collaborations made between Indian and foreign universities. We need to do a lot of educating on this. My friend Kapil will do that.
Shekhar Gupta: So a lot of things are happening surreptitiously?
Veerappa Moily: Yes. Instead of interfering with the education sector, we are interested in putting appropriate and very strict regulations in place. Whatever you do, you agree to do it within a proper regulational framework. And that is what we intend to do: to maintain the quality of education by an accreditation law. Medical colleges, deemed universitiesthere is a big rot.
Shekhar Gupta: And this is a step in the direction to clear that rot?
Veerappa Moily: Yes. And also maintaining standards. We must have in this country, world class education, particularly, higher education: whether in the legal, medical or engineering field. Students who come out from the Law School University, for example, are first-class students who can go and make their mark anywhere in the world.
Shekhar Gupta: These have become the IITs and IIMs of law.
Veerappa Moily: They get higher salaries than students from the IITs and the IIMs. Now I am getting into the second generation of legal education reform. I am going to have a national consultation on this.
Shekhar Gupta: So you are a full supporter of the Foreign Universities Bill.
Veerappa Moily: As conceived today.
Shekhar Gupta: And you expect it to pass.
Veerappa Moily: Yes.
Shekhar Gupta: You think it's a good idea because it basically regulates what's already there.
Veerappa Moily: Even in information technology, where I could think of Karnataka as the alternative silicon valley of India, I did only two things: I created infrastructure like the IT Park and the electronic city and made IT education accessible to everyone. So with infrastructure and the largest talent pool, the IT industry of Karnataka has captured the international technology of the world. That is what I am going to do with legal education. That is what I want Kapil to do with other higher education.
Shekhar Gupta: Regarding the OBC reservation, you were brought in when there was a complicated issue which was about to become a problem. The OBCs got their reservation, nobody was denied seats and our institutions expanded. Did you share notes with Mr Arjun Singh about it? You've known each other for a very long time.
Veerappa Moily: I know him very well, since so many years. I must be thankful to him because he brought in the 93rd Amendment and because of him I got an opportunity to present my report, which has become a part of history.
Shekhar Gupta: But he wasn't very happy with the report.
Veerappa Moily: He may have some perception but he accepted my report. Even the Supreme Court upheld my report.
Shekhar Gupta: Do you still find time for your creative writing? You just got an award for your Ramayana.
Veerappa Moily: The Moortidevi Award. I am now writing on Draupadi. Sixty per cent of it has been completed. I must tell you, when I complete Draupadi, this will be the most powerful epic poem in a classical style ever written on the work. That's an open challenge. It flows like the Amazon River in my mindearly in the morning, from 5 a.m. to 6-6.30, I can't stop it. That is the passion I have in poetry, particularly on Draupadi. If I don't write five or six pages of Draupadi in the morning, that'll be a very bad day for me. I won't be in a good mood. My literature and my poetry brighten my career and fuel me for the entire day.
Shekhar Gupta: We look forward to Draupadi and look forward to more laws. Thank you very much.
Transcribed by Ruchika Talwar
US Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner's visit to New Delhi this week will launch the US-India Economic and Financial Partnership. The partnership will help strengthen the bilateral economic relationship, particularly in the financial sector and infrastructure. Predictably, the US side will be interested in extracting concessions from India on FDI caps across different sectors, and commitments on further liberalisation of finance. India, on the other hand, will be looking to press Geithner on maintaining a liberal regime for outsourcing services to India. Those are the sort of issues that are likely to be taken up by the various working groups set up under the partnership. What is perhaps more important is the big picture. And let's face it: the Indo-US economic relationship
isn't likely to be anywhere near as high profile as the US-China one. In fact, often bitter rhetoric over the right value of the yuan has dominated the headlines in both the US and China in recent weeks. And America's huge deficit with China, financed by massive Chinese investments in US T-bills, is what many people believe is the biggest disequilibrium in the global economy.
Compared to the high stakes in the US-China relationship, the Indo-US relationship is low-profile. That is also an opportunity to be constructive and take the engagement to a higher plane, something a more antagonistic relationship such as the China-US one would not allow. But that would mean give and take. It isn't clear if the UPA government is ready to proceed with the kind of reform that US firms would be interested in, never mind the fact that such reform would be good for India in any case. And the Democratic administration of Barack Obama, coupled with the Democrat-dominated US Congress, is unlikely to cede much on either outsourcing or free trade. Politics, therefore, could prevent this partnership from reaching a level of engagement that it ought to. Interestingly though, both countries have much reform to carry out domestically, particularly on the fiscal front. Of course, for India and the global economy, the stakes in quick US recovery are high. Despite the talk of American decline, the US is still the largest economy in the world by some distance and still likely to be the engine of global economic growth for many years. In the interest of partnership, the US would do India and the rest of the world a great favour by getting its own house in order, sooner rather than later.
The government has drawn up an ambitious plan to unlock the value of surplus land held by state-run pharmaceutical companies in prime locations. This involves letting private investors use the land assets on a long-term basis through a clutch of joint ventures and it makes eminent sense. The government's inability to push through the new land acquisition Act, alongside an increasing resistance from landowners, has curtailed the availability of land to corporate investors, whether it is those seeking large areas for infrastructure investments or much smaller production units. So, the transfer of the large unutilised land areasboth with the government and the public sector enterpriseswill provide at least a short-term solution to the immediate problems, while at the same time allowing the concerned government and public sector units to unlock some of the value locked in land. Available numbers show that the defence services have the largest block of land, constituting about 17 lakh hectares, including those in 62-odd cantonments. At least a part of this can be leased out for use by environment-friendly industries. Railways, the second-largest holder of land in the country, also has great potential to unlock value given that its land bank is as large as 4.32 lakh hectares. Almost a quarter of this land is not being utilised properly. While one-tenth of the land is vacant, a significant part of it is being used for unrelated activities like afforestation (45,187 hectares), pisciculture (3,451 hectares) and for schemes to grow more food (6,166 hectares). And the area encroached upon is a very substantive 1,999 acres. At present, the railways gain only from the 3,216 hectares that have been commercially licensed out.
The government's lackadaisical approach towards utilisation of surplus land was highlighted by a recent CAG report, which pointed out that although the government disinvested VSNL, it was unable to derive any benefit from the 773 acres of surplus land that remained in the custody of the disinvested company for as many as four years. The only public sector unit that was able to utilise at least a part of the value of the surplus land was the NTC mills, which sold 1,355 acres of their surplus 2,738 acres of land and 258 acres of the surplus of 287 acres of buildings as a part of the revival scheme. But the best example is the Airports Authority of India, which leased out land to private builders to earn a revenue share from the PPP projects. It is time that other government departments and PSEs also opted for this route, unlocking the full value of the unutilised land to help meet the growing needs of industry.
FOOD SECURITY ISN'T ABOUT POPULISM
The Human Development Report (HDR) for 2009 states that 46% of India's children under the age of 5 are underweight. International Food Policy Research Institute's (IFPRI) Global Hunger Index (GHI) for 2009 reports that more than 40% of India's children are underweight. United Nations World Food Programme's 2009 report states India is 94th among 119 countries in GHI. More than 27% of the world's undernourished population lives in India and 43% of children (under the age of 5) are underweight. This is among the highest in the world and is much more than the global average of 25%. It is also higher than sub-Saharan Africa's 28%. 230 million are reported to be undernourished and 1.5 million children suffer the risk of becoming under-nourished because of the increase in food price inflation. 350 million of India's population is 'food-insecure' and 50% of world's 'hungry' population lives in India. In May 2004, UPA-1 promised in its National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) that a medium-term strategy would be worked out in three months for food and nutrition security. Nothing happened for five years. Then in June 2009, UPA-2 promised through the President's address to Parliament that a National Food Security Act would be passed so that every BPL family would be legislatively entitled to 25 kg of rice or wheat at Rs 3 per kg.
So far so good and there can be no dispute that something should be done about food insecurity. The debate is about what. We have been going around in circles trying to identify BPL. We have four different BPL numbers floating around, three of which use the same NSS 2004-05 dataPlanning Commission's conventional poverty number, Planning Commission's Suresh Tendulkar number, rural development ministry's NC Saxena number and National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector's Arjun Sengupta number. There can be no dispute about subsidising the poor, and the National Food Security Bill, cleared by EGoM, presumes the non-poor will not be subsidised, which is why the NGO lot and Left are upset about the Bill. As beneficiaries of subsidies, given in the name of the poor but catering to the rich, why should the pampered urban middle class, the aam aadmi invariably depicted in electronic media, voluntarily give up subsidies? Instead, this opposition wants a universal food subsidy, akin to universal PDS. Other than fiscal costs, this is contrary to common sense. However, without BPL identification, the Bill is doomed. NSS-based identification won't work. It is a census, not a survey. Data surfaces with a lag. States have a vested interest in projecting higher poverty numbers so that they obtain larger handouts.
The President's address to Parliament talked about decentralised identification through gram sabhas and urban local bodies. That's probably workable in rural areas, assuming gram sabhas meet. What isn't as obvious is how this will work in urban areas. It shouldn't be that difficult to identify a large chunk of poorthe elderly, the disabled and women-headed households. Poverty among those in working age groups should be a different proposition. Since UPA hasn't yet figured out how to identify the poor, the Bill faces its biggest hurdle. Like NREGA under UPA-1, right to food is probably going to be UPA-2's landmark legislation. After all, it has the approval of none less than Amartya Sen. The second problem is quasi-legal. Compared to targeted PDS and Antyodaya Anna Yojana, the Bill reduces entitlement from 35 kg to 25 kg and one shouldn't forget there are other programmes with food components, too. NSS data shows an expected switch in consumption patterns (even among poor) away from rice and wheat. If properly implemented, 25 kg should be adequate, especially because NREGA is supposed to have boosted incomes among rural poor. However, 35 kg now seems to be a court-guaranteed minimum.
The third problem is one of implementation. PDS leakage has been documented ad nauseam, including recently by Supreme Court appointed Justice DP Wadhwa's central vigilance committee. It is "inefficient and corrupt" and diversion and leakage is controlled by a "vicious cartel of bureaucrats, fair price shop-owners and middlemen." The annual central food subsidy of Rs 28,000 crore doesn't, therefore, benefit the poor. Every sensible economist will advocate direct conditional cash transfers, such as through food coupons. These offer choice and competition and result in efficiency and there is no reason why they cannot be implemented on pilot basis. There have been pilots. But since food coupons were first promised in UPA-1's Budget for 2004-05, one detects a lack of seriousness, though the current Bill does mention the possibility. One gathers the EGoM will now take a relook at the Bill and, given populist pressures, may well recommend a hike to 35 kg. That doesn't solve the problem, since the heart shouldn't work against the brain. The bottom line is UPA has failed to introduce reforms, including in rural India.
The author is a noted economist
Credit growth is one of the key indicators of a country's economic prospects. With India Inc becoming optimistic about economic recovery, credit growth in most of the banks seems to have achieved RBI's targeted 16% for the fiscal year 2009-10, although the central bank is yet to release the official figures. For more than a month now, bankers have been talking about a pick-up in demand for loans from individuals and corporates. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Indian banks have achieved credit growth to the tune of 18-20% in FY2009-10.
Interestingly, total credit grew 16.05% year-on-year for the fortnight ended March 12, 2010, for scheduled commercial banks. That's nearly 26 basis points higher than 15.79% seen in the previous fortnight ended February 26, 2010. According to data released by RBI, total non-food credit rose by 16.28% year-on-year. We have seen a gradual increase in total non-food credit in the last couple of months. In the period between January 29 and March 12, it rose to 16.28% from 15.20%. RBI initially targeted 18% credit growth for banks but later brought it down to 16%, after having learnt about the slower pace of economic growth worldwide.
Businessmen, who are in talks with bankers for loan sanctions, are increasingly embarking upon greenfield and brownfield projects with special focus on the infrastructure sector. The lure of India's growth story, also endorsed by foreign players, adds fillip to this high degree of optimism, wherein banks' credit disbursement will extend key support to such optimism. Moreover, power sector, non-banking financing companies and retail, too, claim significant shares of banks' lending. The sentiment has improved dramatically in those sectors. NBFCs, which aim to lend more to the SME sector, borrow money from banks. With greater job security in a relatively better economy, retail customers intend to borrow more from banks to fund their house purchases or lifestyle requirements.
It is expected that RBI will fix a higher credit growth target of around 18-20% in 2010-11 while a majority of banks are likely to post credit growth between 19% and 25%.
HOW TO DEVELOP THE BOND MARKET
Late last week the PM observed that India's infrastructure sector needed access to long-term finance facilitated by a robust domestic debt market. For some time now, there have been suggestions that the FII (foreign institutional investors) limit for investing in corporate bonds be upped from the current $15 billion. FIIs have been buying Indian paper as though it's going out of style; between January and now they've picked up just under $5 billion of corporate debt and gilts together, while the cumulative number for both has crossed $12 billion. Most of the money, however, is in paper with shorter-term maturities; understandably, no one is willing to take an interest rate risk at a juncture when rates are poised to move up. The other reason, of course, is that the debt market in India, especially the corporate bond market, remains lethargic.
This, at a time when volumes in the equity markets are exploding. Data culled from the Sebi Web site indicates that volumes these days are averaging Rs 3,500-Rs 4,000 crore; that's less than a billion dollars a day. Of course, this may be a five-fold increase over the volumes clocked four or five years back but that's no consolation. Just for some perspective, as of 2009, the size of the worldwide bond market (total debt outstandings) was an estimated $82.2 trillion, of which the size of the outstanding US bond market was $31.2 trillion, according to BIS. Also, nearly all of $822 billion average daily traded volume in the US market takes place between broker-dealers and large institutions in a decentralised over-the-counter (OTC) market. However, a small number of bonds, primarily corporate, are listed on exchanges. Back home, too, most of the deals are put through on the OTC but since a reporting structure was put in place, a couple of years back, there's been greater transparency. As dealers point out, at least one can figure out the spread that an AAA corporate is paying, over the benchmark gilt rate. If the corporate bond market had a little more depth, it is possible that FIIs would be willing to take longer-term bets on Indian companies. Of course, only the best names will attract their attention.
As far as attracting money for infrastructure spending goes, the other suggestion that has been doing the rounds is to allow banks to float infrastructure bonds that don't attract reserve requirements. Since banks are by far the biggest lenders to the infrastructure space today, they could do with some respite, given that they're in danger of creating asset-liability mismatches for themselves, lending as they are for 10 years-plus while borrowing at average maturities of three years or less. Floating non-SLR bonds or non-CRR bonds will not just bring down their cost of borrowing, it will also mitigate the potential for asset-liability mismatches, if these are issued for the longer term. But this won't be easy to do because individuals will be reluctant to trade their three-year fixed deposits (FDs) for ten-year bonds, unless they have an exit route. Few individuals will want to hang on to the bonds for such a long time, not only because it will mean taking on an interest rate risk but also because, unlike FDs, these can't be liquidated by paying a penalty. This is where a liquid debt market comes in. There is no reason why we can't have a vibrant secondary market for bonds floated by banks and companies that can be traded on the NSE. Companies today are hobbled because they can't mop up money when they want; they are forced to rely on banks, other lending institutions and the overseas markets that are only too willing to hold the bonds till maturity. Since the coupon on most bonds is usually attractive, there is little incentive to trade.
Individuals today are exposed to the corporate and government debt market primarily through mutual funds and insurance firms. Some of this intermediation is quite needless and eats into the individual's returns. Ideally, bonds should be available on tap because there are enough wealthy in this country who would love to buy Tata Steel paper, provided they were sure they could sell the paper without losing money. The same would be true of SBI paper. Today, illiquidity adds to the cost of the company issuing the bond, because the interest rate demanded by a bond investor builds in not just the premium for the risk of not being paid on time or in full, but also the risk of not being able to resell the bond for what it is worth. This needs to change.
The biggest obstacle, as far as corporate bonds are concerned, is the stamp duty, which varies from state to state and the ease of transactions is essential if the market is to work. Also, paper could be standardised without put and call options and a fixed interest rate again perhaps to facilitate more transactions. India may be close to becoming a $2 trillion economy, but without a vibrant bond market, it could be a while before we're on our way to becoming a $10 trillion economy.
SEXUAL ABUSE & CATHOLIC CHURCH
That the Roman Catholic Church has been delinquent in handling widespread sexual abuse of members of its flock by some or several of its priests has become evident as it faces a new wave of paedophiliac scandals. An institution so deeply bound with the life of societies in many parts of the world suddenly faces the prospect of eroding credibility and moral authority, leaving many ordinary Catholics demoralised and confused. This has the makings of a crisis of historic proportions for the Church. No more can it afford to be in denial of what the Pope unhappily termed "the petty gossip of dominant opinion" as the scandals overwhelm it in much of its heartland in Europe, besides the United States where 11,750 allegations of child abuse have so far featured in actions settled by individual archdioceses. Predominantly Catholic Ireland has been rocked by three judicial reports in the past five years detailing child sex abuse and cover-ups going as far back as the 1930s. The finding of Judge Murphy's Commission in Ireland was not merely that sexual abuse was "endemic" in boys' institutions but also that the Church hierarchy protected the perpetrators. Shockingly, despite knowledge of their propensity to reoffend, these paedophiles in priestly garb were allowed to take up new positions involving children after the victims were sworn to secrecy.
A key focus for those seeking Church reform is priestly celibacy, a tradition dating to Christianity's early days but made mandatory only in the 11th century. The debate over whether the rule should go has come into sharper relief than ever before. As Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, leader of Germany's Roman Catholic bishops, said in a message to mark Good Friday, the Church may be in dire need of "a new departure." Transparency should be a guiding principle for that process. The Church must acknowledge and make amends for even decades-old cases. While Pope Benedict XVI has continually spoken out and apologised for the "heinous crimes" he also met victims in the U.S. and in Australia he himself has come under pressure. This followed allegations published in The New York Times that, as Archbishop of Munich and later as the chief enforcer for 24 years (until 2005) of Catholic doctrine and morals and head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger might well have failed to act against offending priests. It seems unlikely that the Holy See will now be able to overlook international law, which counts egregious sexual abuse of children as a crime against humanity. To treat the assaults as "sins" subject only to action by religious bodies looks increasingly indefensible.
EQUITABLE URBAN FUTURE?
The news on the conditions of people in the world's slums is mixed: there has been tangible improvement but it is not enough, and the mass of the slum population is growing. Since 2000, the lives of about 227 million living in slum conditions have improved and the Millennium Development target for shelter has been surpassed by 2.2 times. The State of World Cities 2010/2011 published by UN-HABITAT highlights this. The report also reminds us that the issue of adequate housing has not been solved. Rapid urbanisation has helped reduce urban poverty levels and improved access to services, but it has also made it difficult for the poor to find affordable housing. Every year, the global slum population swells by six million. The progress on slum improvement has been inadequate and the report exhorts governments to take urgent steps to ensure an equitable urban future. A `dignified and secure existence', which is a part of the right to an adequate standard of living, is a core value enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). It will not be an exaggeration to say that, in the case of the poor in cities, this is inextricably linked with the peaceful future of city life.
What does this report hold for India? The country has been commended for the improvements made to the slums. Since 2000, about 59.7 million people have been lifted out of their slum conditions. However, the optimism generated by these figures fades before the worsening shortage in the supply of affordable housing. The 11th Five Year Plan estimates that the housing shortage for the poor, which was 24 million at the beginning of 2007, will increase to 26 million by 2012. Unless this huge gap is addressed, the report cautions, polarities within Indian cities will exacerbate. Investment and provision of land for affordable housing need to be scaled up. For example, if all the public money earmarked for this sector, including the allocations made in the current budget, is put together, the total amount would still fall short of the annual investment of about Rs.71,000 crore required for bridging the housing deficit. The state alone cannot be expected to bear the burden. Through a combination of regulations and incentives, the private sector must be persuaded to commit itself to social housing. Existing polices must be radically revised and imaginative financial incentives, such as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit successfully implemented in the United States, need to be put in place. A lot can be achieved if individual cities take the lead without waiting for central or State government directives and devise their own progressive housing plans.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
BEHIND CHINA'S INDIA POLICY, A GROWING DEBATE
BEYOND THE EXPECTED STATEMENTS CHINESE OFFICIALS WILL EXCHANGE WITH EXTERNAL AFFAIRS MINISTER S.M. KRISHNA IN BEIJING THIS WEEK, THERE IS LITTLE CONSENSUS AMONG DIFFERENT POLICYMAKERS IN BEIJING ON HOW TO ENGAGE WITH A RISING INDIA.
Earlier this year, the United States' decision to approve a $ 6.4-billion arms sale to Taiwan sparked a series of agitated commentaries in China's military journals. The tone will sound somewhat familiar to an Indian audience: it reflected a growing anxiety among strategists that the U.S. was building a "crescent-shaped ring" to encircle and contain China. Interestingly, much of the debate focussed on what role India would or would not play in a supposed U.S.-led "encirclement." Some strategists expressed concern that an eventual "integration of India" into an American alliance "would profoundly affect China's security," as the official China Daily reported. Dai Xu, an Air Force Colonel of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), warned that China needed to be vigilant against this growing network running "from Japan to India" that would suffocate China.
Others, however, were not so convinced, and instead sought to calm the tensions. Pei Yuanying, former Chinese Ambassador to India, said India, as "an independent international power in the international arena," was "unlikely to be part of any such U.S. scheme." Shen Dingli, one of the leading voices in the strategic community in Beijing, also disagreed with Dai's views in an interview with The Hindu, suggesting that the current relationship was sound enough for China to have no reason to worry about India's ties with the U.S.
These differing views point to an ongoing debate in Beijing on a question that many policymakers are grappling with: how should China engage with a rising India? On one side of the debate are voices from the PLA, who are pressing Beijing to take a harder line with India and who see little room for cooperation between two rivals. On the other are voices in the Hu Jintao government and official think tanks, which are pushing for a more moderate and non-confrontational foreign policy line, one which they see as crucial to China's own self-interest and continued development.
The military view
The appearance of a number of articles and commentaries last year in military journals and official Communist Party-run newspapers has led some to suggest that the first group is increasingly beginning to have its voice heard. In recent months, articles in influential publications like the People's Daily, have taken a noticeably harder line on India, accusing New Delhi of "arrogance" and calling on China to take a stronger position on the border dispute. The People's Daily, in particular, has also begun to devote extensive coverage to India's military build-up, frequently speaking of an "India threat."
The articles more or less reflected the "PLA view" of Sino-Indian ties, according to Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University who studies the Chinese military. According to him and other analysts, this view is predicated on three basic policy positions on India. The first assumes that India is seeking to become a great power. The policy response is to support Pakistan, which China continues to do, and confine India's influence to South Asia. The second, he says, assumes that India has "hegemonic ambitions in South Asia" a phrase often used by the People's Daily last year. The policy response in China is to "oppose hegemony" by supporting smaller states in South Asia, like Nepal and Bangladesh. The third is on India's presence in the Indian Ocean, and the policy response is to strengthen China's naval capabilities.
The other view
Much as the PLA is influential, its view by no means reflects a consensus opinion among the highest policymakers. Besides the PLA, there are at least three groups which have a role in shaping China's India policy, including commercial lobbies, retired officials and a select group of India scholars in official think tanks. This section tends to view the relationship beyond the narrow military paradigm of the PLA. It argues that despite the persisting mistrust between the countries, it is in China's own interest, both from the point of view of sustaining its economic development and its standing as a responsible world power, to have harmonious relations with India and a peaceful periphery.
"Many people in the Chinese government realise that despite historical differences, there are growing commonalities in relations between the two countries and their positions on international issues," says Ma Jiali, a leading South Asia scholar at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), who advises the government on its India policy. "There is also the common goal that both countries do not want to see a unipolar world." He considers "four roles" India plays in shaping his policy view "a close neighbour, a developing country with common goals, a rising power and an increasingly important international player." "The basic fact is," he continues, "we must have good relations with India, or our national interest will be damaged."
His view is echoed by Sun Shihai, another influential 'India hand' at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He says he "completely disagrees" with the policy views voiced by the nationalistic commentaries in much of the official media last year. "Many of those reports misperceived India very deeply," says Professor Sun. "Among most scholars at least, there is a growing awareness that India's power is rising, its international status is rising, and these facts are a reality that cannot be altered." He believes that it is in China's self-interest to work with India on issues in which the countries have a common stake such as climate change and combating terrorism. "China has more respect [now] for India's rise, and it is in our interest to co-operate where we can, as we did so effectively last year at Copenhagen [on climate change]," he says. "But as two rising powers with growing international roles and strategic weight, cooperation and competition will be natural. What the governments need to do is manage the competition and avoid conflict. Most serious scholars are of this view."
Reading the debate
Do these different views matter to India? Chinese foreign policy is ultimately decided at the highest levels of the ruling Communist Party's Central Committee using these various inputs. But how these inputs get used is "an extremely complicated process," says Prof. Kondapalli. "Various groups put out their agenda to try and have their opinions heard, but what is eventually decided depends on who has greater influence at a given moment in time." For now though, the outcome of this debate still seems uncertain. "The academic community appears to follow a soft and co-operative line while the PLA maintains its stridency to keep India on tenterhooks," says Brigadier (retd.) Arun Sahgal of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi.
Until there is greater clarity on its outcome, the mistrust between the countries will likely persist. For usually, it is only the harder "PLA view" of India that gets covered in the media, serving as fodder for the often over-hyped 'China threat' perspectives dished out by strategic analysts. Part of the reason, no doubt, is that these views are more "newsworthy" than balanced views from the government and other scholars. But another factor behind misperceptions is the continuing opacity in China's own government, in both policy-making and the state's control of the media.
"The main problem in understanding China's policies is the lack of transparency, which often leads to misperceptions" Prof. Kondapalli says. Consequently, even extreme opinions, from any media outlet, often tend to be regarded as Beijing's official line, and drown out other views even if they are no more than voices in an ongoing debate. And until China becomes more transparent, analysts say, external observers will likely continue to imagine the worst when reading the tea leaves.
THE GREAT DANDI MARCH EIGHTY YEARS AFTER
MAHATMA GANDHI'S CHOICE OF SALT FOR THE 1930 CAMPAIGN INITIALLY EVOKED DERISION AND SCEPTICISM BUT THE MARCH PROVED TO BE SUI GENERIS, A GIFT OF GIFTS TO INDIA. IT IS TIME TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK TO DANDI, A COMMEMORATION THAT IS NOT STEREOTYPICAL.
This was not the first time that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had decided to lead a march.
A great column of over 2000 men, women and children had moved in 1913 under his lead from Natal across the Transvaal border to break a ban on Indians travelling from one South African province to another, and to protest against a law that rendered all marriages barring those under Christian aegis as illegal. The result, coming with the Relief of Indians Act, was dramatic.
His work among the indigo peasants in Champaran, Bihar in 1917 and among Kheda's peasants in Gujarat the following year saw him trudging the dusty trail again. Both those roads led to the removal of the peasants' grievances within some six months.
The 24 days during which he led a column of 80 satyagrahis traversing 241 miles from Sabarmati to the Surat coastline to break the salt laws did not yield such results. Though raw salt was lifted 'illegally' by Gandhiji and his followers and though 'contraband' salt was made and sold, the salt laws stayed and the salt tax was not repealed. And yet the salt march culminating at Dandi on April 6, 1930 is regarded as the most electrifying of all his satyagrahic campaigns, with Jawaharlal Nehru saying "it seemed as though a spring had been suddenly released."
The choice of salt for his campaign had initially evoked derision. The Statesman wrote: "It is difficult not to laugh, and we imagine that will be the mood of most thinking Indians." The Congress leadership too had been ambivalent, with Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru being initially unpersuaded and Gandhiji's 'right arm,' Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who wanted a land revenue boycott instead, not concealing his scepticism of salt.
C. Rajagopalachari saw both the logic and the magic of his leader's decision. Speaking at Sholanur, C.R. said: "You may say, hello, this is a funny thing. All along he was telling [us] that if we made khaddar we will get swaraj, now he says we must make salt also..." And then at Tuticorin explained in detail why this "funny thing" was not funny at all. "Suppose," C.R. said, "a people rise in revolt. They cannot attack the abstract constitution or lead an army against proclamations and statutes...Civil disobedience has to be directed against the salt tax or the land tax or some other particular point not that that is our final end, but for the time being it is our aim, and we must shoot straight."
Gandhi's 'southern warrior' then did a salt march from Tiruchirappalli to the Tamil coastal village of Vedaranyam, in spectacular sync with Dandi.
Sardar Patel, we have noted, was not an initial enthusiast for salt as a satyagrahic weapon. But once the decision was taken, he not only plunged into the preparations but, typically, gave the campaign its first propulsion. 'Putting Sardar Patel out of the way' became the Surat District Administration's priority because it knew that in a salt-based satyagraha in Gujarat, Sardar Patel would be the salt's very savour.
The Sardar was touring the area to determine the best route to the salt-laden coast and to alert the peasantry, already 'trained' by the Bardoli satyagraha, for the coming campaign, when villagers in the Surat village of Raas engaged him on March 7 (five days before Gandhiji's column started from Sabarmati) in eager conversation. "How many in Raas are ready for prison?" the Sardar asked. About two hundred came forward. "Are the women ready too?" A group of them, young and old, said they were. Later, when he was about to rise to address the villagers of Raas, an order was brought by a first class magistrate forbidding him to address any meeting in the district. After the Sardar went through the paper the Magistrate asked him, "What do you intend to do?" Came the answer, "I will ignore the notice and speak." Before he could utter a single word to the gathering, the future Home Minister of India, the country's first to hold that office, was asked to follow the posse of policemen. Rajmohan Gandhi writes in his biography of the Sardar: "Patel rose from his seat, farewelled the audience and stepped smiling and laughing into the police car."
The campaign had started.
What made this campaign different from earlier ones?
Earlier campaigns had been sharply focussed on issues that were as vital, but with all their voltage, were still of local import. Dandi, despite being geographically identifiable with a particular district, a specific stretch of coast, and a particular spot on that coast, yet straddled the nation. This was by virtue of its being centred on an object that all of India related to. That a gift of nature, salt, could be turned into a government-controlled commercial monopoly suddenly seemed unacceptable. And non-violent but strident resistance of that monopolisation also suddenly seemed logical and in fact vital.
Gandhiji utilised the march to breach some things other than the salt laws as well. One of these was the caste divide in the villages en route. On his arrival in some villages he headed straight for the so-called 'untouchable' quarters and drew water from the well there for his wash, making his village hosts, often from 'higher' castes, to cross those ancient and hurtful divides.
Another thing on his mind was the fragility of Hindu-Muslim equations at the time. There were only two Muslim marchers in his team of 78, which later became 80. But the role he gave to Abbas Tyabji, as his alternative 'leader,' and his choice of the beachside home of Sirajuddin Vasi (locally known as Shiraz Abdulla) as his place of stay in the village of Dandi sent a clear message. It was that the swaraj being fought for was to be for all India, across religious denominations.
A third 'bonus' of the campaign was the profiling it gave to women satyagrahis and thereby to the Indian woman. Gandhiji did not include women among the marchers, but gave them roles along the campaign, with Kasturba setting the marchers off at Sabarmati, Sarojini Naidu being at hand the moment the first fistful of salt was lifted at Dandi on April 6,1930, and the remarkable Parsi social worker Mithuben Petit standing just behind the Mahatma when he repeated the violation at Bhimrad three days later. A memorable photograph captures the moment, Gandhiji stooping to lift the salt crystals. And at different places, women like Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Hansa Mehta, Amina Tyabji, and Rukmini Lakshmipathy broke the salt laws. Their example acquires a meaning of its own today as the nation moves dramatically ahead with what is popularly called the Women's Reservation Bill.
But beyond these, there are two other 'Dandi achievements' that need to be recognised and studied for their contemporary salience.
Dharasana, 25 miles south of Dandi, had a government salt depot. The satyagrahis did a series of raids on this depot. The brutality with which the non-violent raids at Dharasana led first by Abbas Tyabji and then by Sarojini Naidu, with Gandhiji's son Manilal Gandhi participating, was met showed, in J.C. Kumarapppa's words "the fangs and claws of the government in all its ugliness." But more astonishing than the state use of force against the satyagrahis was the amazing self-discipline of the satyagrahis in the face of the repressive violence. Not one satyagrahi retaliated to the baton charges, often delivered from horseback.
Dandi and Dharasana exemplified Gandhiji's non-violent methods of protest based on the principle that "to kill for freedom will legitimise killing after freedom." They carry a meaning today that we cannot afford to miss.
The other abiding 'Dandi achievement' lies in an altogether different area. Explaining "why salt?" Gandhiji said: "Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life."
Gandhiji was not a conscious 'environmentalist.' The term 'ecology' did not figure in his vocabulary. But the fact that he described the criticality of salt as being "next to air and water..." assumes an enormous significance. At a time when environmental pollution and the contamination of water sources are all too plain and can shock us into astonished disbelief, the attention paid by Gandhiji to those two lifelines and then to the only inorganic material that humans and animals consume carries more than a significance. It carries a message and constitutes a mandate.
There is no governmental monopoly over Indian salt today. But India, like the rest of the world, is aware of the manner in which the industrial behemoths of the world hold nature's gifts of air and water, of non-renewable resources, including land and its minerals, in a techno-commercial grip.
Dandi gave India a gift of gifts in 1930. It is time, during this 80th anniversary of that gifting, for India to give something to Dandi. This can and should be in terms of a 'built' commemoration that vivifies the Great March. Dandi would like to see such a memorial. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's announcement in Dandi in April 2005 was to that effect. And the Government of India and the Government of Gujarat are working towards raising precisely such a complex.
But the more abiding 'gift' to Dandi needs also to be in terms of a 'living memorial' that enriches the quality of the life of the people of Dandi and the region, enabling them access to more drinking water, green energy. The march was sui generis. Its commemoration cannot be stereotypical.
Which is why it is hope-giving to see State and central authorities planning a project at Dandi, which, apart from a sculptural-cum-architectural monument complex, will use solar power for lighting the venue and later generate solar energy at Dandi, and give it a bioshield as well. The stretch of beach at Dandi today is no different from our coasts elsewhere. Need one be surprised? The Gujarat Vidyapith at Ahmedabad, which played a major role during the Dandi campaign, is planning to collaborate with the local authorities to see the Dandi beachline becoming, in time, pristine.
With remarkable sensitivity, the Archaeological Survey of India has, under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture currently under the Prime Minister's direct charge , restored the house at Dandi where Gandhiji stayed. Its solar-illumining on April 6, 2010 by the Ministry of Renewable Energy will spotlight the multi-mode memorial.
His pocket watch dangling at the waist, Gandhi truly took time by the forelock at Dandi. The evolving commemoration of that historic event will also have to do more than be in step with the times. It will have to show the way to an ecologically sustainable future where the gifts of nature are not in thrall.
( The author is Chairman of the Dandi Memorial Committee constituted by the Government of India.)
SCIENTISTS' ROLE IN ELIMINATING NUCLEAR WEAPONS
MARTIN REES AND DES BROWNE
This week Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev will sign a new strategic arms reduction treaty. Since the U.S. and Russia own 95 per cent of the world's nuclear weapons, the signing of this treaty is the most significant step towards nuclear arms reduction since the original document was signed in 1991. Despite this advance, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is under increasing pressure. Nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are firmly back at the top of the political agenda and their importance at this time cannot be overestimated.
Every country has a responsibility to contribute towards disarmament efforts, strengthening the non-proliferation regime and ensuring our nuclear security. At the same time, we also face the spread of nuclear technology as growing numbers of states harness the use of civil nuclear power for their increasing energy demands. States that can enrich uranium and reprocess spent fuel can more readily acquire the capability to create a nuclear weapon, so a truly international and non-discriminatory regulatory system is urgently needed to govern these technologies.
We would argue that since scientists helped to create nuclear weapons, the scientific community today has a profound responsibility to help reduce and ultimately disarm them. Governmental cooperation with scientists is essential if we are to ensure that the spread in nuclear expertise does not introduce new dangers and instabilities that could undermine nuclear disarmament. At this relatively early stage on the road to nuclear disarmament, the most effective way for scientists to fulfil this responsibility is to ensure that their advice is heard by policymakers.
Investing in the necessary research would pay huge diplomatic dividends and provide concrete evidence of nuclear-weapon states taking seriously their obligations to pursue disarmament. The scientific community often works beyond national boundaries on problems of common interest, making it ideally placed to facilitate the widening of discussions beyond Russia and the U.S. to prepare the groundwork for future negotiations that will include China, France and the U.K. Science diplomacy like this will play a decisive role in an area where international relations are greatly complicated by political and historical considerations.
The U.K. needs to take advantage of the wealth of British scientific expertise in this area, following the example of the U.S. At the end of last year the Jason group in the U.S., a body of independent scientists, produced a report, Life Extension Options for the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile. It looked at the ways in which the U.S. could ensure the security and reliability of its nuclear arsenal without testing or developing new warheads, at the same time as confirming their technical viability. This assessment allowed Mr. Obama to speak with clarity when setting out his vision for a world free of nuclear weapons.
The timescale for complete nuclear disarmament will be long, and focusing on the detailed challenges of the final stages may be premature. But the scientific community can make an immediate practical contribution by developing technologies to monitor whether countries are complying with their disarmament obligations. International cooperation can help build much needed trust between states.
One year ago, Mr. Obama proclaimed "America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." While this week's treaty signing may give cause for hope, there is still a long way to go on the road to multilateral nuclear disarmament. The scientific community has a critical role to play in this journey. Despite recent successes, as the Harvard professor Graham Allison recently reminded us, "the global nuclear order may be as fragile today as the global financial system was a few years ago [but if the non-proliferation regime collapses] there will be no bailout." © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
( Martin Rees is president of the Royal Society; Des Browne is a British Labour MP and former secretary of state for defence.)
OVER TO BENGAL
The visit by Union home minister P Chidambaram to Lalgarh in West Bengal, which is seen as a Maoist stronghold, and his strong message to the state government that the buck stops at the chief minister's chair can be seen in two ways: it is either a challenge from the Centre to the states that their performance was being monitored or a political gamble by the Congress in trying to take on the Left in its own backyard.
Both contentions could only be partially true. The problems posed by areas under Maoist control and the attendant violence even as Chidambaram was in Bengal there was an attack on the police in neighbouring Orissa's Maoist-infested Koraput district is certainly more than a mere local law and order issue. It is also apparent that the West Bengal government was not fully prepared for the resurgence of the Naxalite movement in a state where it had practically disappeared several decades ago. But there is also an element here of scoring brownie points. Locals claim that no state minister has visited Lalgarh or interacted with them for years. The balance of Centre-state relations is always a delicate one and West Bengal has certainly not had very steady relations for the past 30-and-odd years. "Step-motherly treatment" has been the common refrain by Left politicians when referring to the Centre. By flying straight into the lion's den as it were and then spending time listening to the local people about their problems, Chidambaram has certainly thrown down some sort of gauntlet to the Left Front in Bengal.
There can be no doubt that had the Left Front government worked harder at development in areas like west Midnapore or been better aware of the return of the Maoists to Bengal the current situation was unlikely to have arisen. It took the resurgence of Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress in Bengal and the dual episodes of Nandigram and Singur over land acquisition to turn national attention to the Maoist presence in Bengal.
The solution, alas, is not so simple. The states and the Centre have to work together on several fronts law and order, development schemes and regaining the confidence of the people. In fact, Chidambaram makes a good point when he says that needless political posturing and inter-party fighting is likely to be detrimental to the cause here. The ball is now in West Bengal's court.
TESTING FOR TASTE
Information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni is walking a tightrope. She finds that some of the stuff that is being telecast in serials and reality shows are vulgar, bad for moral health. But she is quick to point out that she does not intend to censor any of it. She expects the channels to regulate themselves and be responsive to viewers' sensibilities. The content providers are always going to stretch the limits of vulgarity and they will be forced to check themselves once the viewers turn away in utter disgust. Excess is its own nemesis and this is quite evident in the media and entertainment world.
The countless television serials which present maudlin family feuds and traumas have a tendency to go into overdrive that puts off people. This has been the case with films, too. Following on the success of Mani Ratnam's film Roja on terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir in the early 1990s, there followed a chorus of films on the same subject. Many hit the box-office not with a bang but a thud. The storylines in the last few years have turned to light-hearted romantic comedies. Call it the self-regulatory mechanism. It is not different on the small screen as well. The 'saas-bahu' (mother-in-law-daughter-in-law) sagas could not sustain viewer interest after a few years. The scriptwriters are literally running helter-skelter in their quest for story ideas that are different and interesting.
The aesthetes and the morality crowd would still grumble that the stuff produced for popular shows is absolutely mediocre and that there is hardly any space for what they consider experimentation and innovation. The demand that an art work should be pleasing and edifying is quite an unrealistic one if the bottomline of entertainment is ignored. Critics who carp forget that the majority of the people are repelled by vulgarity, on the one hand, and baffled by abstract artiness. Their taste hovers over something around in the middle, perhaps more near the median of what the high-minded would call mediocre stuff. That is what mass entertainment is all about.
It is not that there is no scope for artistic work that is accessible to many and not just to the connoisseurs. The epic tales of Ramayana and the Mahabharata in India, Shakespeare's plays in English literature, and Charles Chaplin's films manage to do the miraculous thing of touching the extreme ends of the spectrum of taste. But these are not made-to-order or customised creations.
THE POOR AND THE POLITICS OF POVERTY
PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR
Both the Right To Education (RTE) and the proposed food security bill are ostensibly targeted at the poor people in this country and the Congress is only too eager to take full credit for it. It is a sign that the poor are back on the political agenda, for good and bad reasons. The party learned the hard way after 1996 and its eight-year exile in political wilderness that the poverty card should never be discarded.
The party, and it is not alone in this, is convinced that whatever one does or not, it is important to be seen to be tending to the poor to win elections. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and some of the antiquated socialists in the party are sincerely committed to reach out to the poor. There are others who think that paying attention to the poor pays rich political dividend. Then there is the third type represented by prime minister Manmohan Singh and human resources development minister Kapil Sibal who think, and largely rightly, that it makes economic sense to help the poor and that it is necessary to do so to improve the economic growth rates.
Motives and intentions do not matter as long as the programmes conceived and implemented will help reduce the number of the poor in the country. There is some sort of a serious debate going on whether the economic reforms since 1991 have helped people from below the poverty line levels. Proponents and defenders of reforms believe that from as high a level as nearly 40%, poverty levels has been reduced to about 26%. Not all of them are agreed if one goes by the Suresh Tendulkar committee report which pushes up the figure back to the 40% mark. Economists have a legitimate argument on both sides and it is not necessary to dismiss them as mere statistical quibblers. It is good to pore over the microscopic details.
The critics of reforms need not have been scoffed at if they had only done their homework a little better. They will have to prove two things. First, that the economic reforms have directly or indirectly pushed people into poverty. Second, they will have to show that reforms did not reach the poor and that it only helped the middle class. They may find it easier to prove the second point than the first, and that would not strengthen their case against reforms. The critics are also on a weaker ground with regard to the kind of state intervention that would help the poor. The national rural employment guarantee scheme is an ameliorative measure which is different from economic activity that provides fair wages, prospects of better wages and a sense of self-worth.
The failure of the critics to drive home the point does not help the case of the defenders of reforms. There are degrading levels of poverty in large parts of the country and among large groups of people. It would seem that market reforms would not be sufficient to pull them out of the poverty trap and there is need to fall back on welfare measures. It would be wrong to believe that it is just the populists who are forcing the Singh government to implement meant-for-the-poor programmes. The reforms brigade is of the view that it is possible and necessary to use these measures and they say the issue is of efficient targeting rather than one of abandoning them.
The moral and political battle between the pro-poor and pro-reforms lobbies is a theatrical show meant to win the hearts of the poor rather than of removing poverty. At the end of it all, the poor are left to fend for themselves and when they manage to heave themselves up from below the poverty line it is not due to the altruism of the state or of the private capitalist. The poor folk literally claw their way into the ranks of consumers. It is this story of the heroism of the poor that remains untold and unsung. There is need to call the bluff of the patrons of the poor. Let the Congress win elections but it should not get away with the lie that it helped the poor.
VATICAN'S PR DISASTER
The raging controversy over child abuse in the Catholic church is spiralling out of control. What started a few years ago in Boston has now spread to Ireland, Germany and Brazil. Without making any value judgment about guilt or innocence though there is a lot to say about betraying trust it is obvious that damage control and containment were poor.
The apparent facts are as follows: many people are alleging that they were sexually and physically abused as children by priests. Furthermore, they allege a cover-up, whereby predatory padres, instead of being disciplined or dismissed, were spirited off to distant parishes where many continued dubious activities unhindered.
Some damaging allegations are now even reaching the top of the hierarchy: Pope Benedict, who was Cardinal Ratzinger before he was elected Pope. It is being whispered that he was aware of the problem, and that he may have turned a blind eye to the cover-ups. The church could have handled itself much better, whether or not there is truth in the accusation: perception is reality, after all.
There are case studies of how large companies handled public-relations disasters, and these are relevant. For, the Catholic church, in an alternative retelling, is the oldest, largest, richest, and most successful multinational company ever. Its offering, religious belief, is in high demand; the church is a ruthless and savvy competitor. There is a remarkable advantage to religious faith: It is the only product where, if successful, and the customer gets what he wants, he is pathetically grateful; on the other hand, if the customer does not get what he wants, he blames his own lack of faith, not the church. Most companies would kill for such a 'teflon' product. However, only Microsoft has come even close.
A little history is in order: The Catholic church was born at the Council of Nicea circa 345 CE; it immediately proceeded to create the dominant design by eliminating the other alternatives on offer. It declared as heretics, for instance, the Gnostics, the Cathars, the Nestorians, et al, and burned some at the stake. It also gained intellectual property protection by declaring its Book to be inviolate, the literal word of God.
When Martin Luther created a competitor, Protestantism, the Catholic church lost market share. However, it retaliated with its Counter-Reformation, and the result has been an uneasy duopoly with fluctuating marketshare, and, in Pope John Paul II's pithy words, the Protestants were "preying upon [his] flock like wolves".
The next major upheaval was the Enlightenment in Europe, which dulled the appeal of the core product. People balked at vague promises about heaven: they wanted instant gratification, and so competing faith products appeared. For instance, Communism.
Pope John Paul was a savvy CEO, and he engineered a hostile takeover of Communism, via a joint venture with the Americans.
He knew the value of PR, so he created more saints than all his predecessors combined. When he found his core market under attack from the followers of Mohammed and of secular Humanism, he decided to explore new markets, as he declared in Delhi: "Plant the cross in Asia in the third millennium".
Alas, Pope Benedict XVI is no marketer, but a rigid, doctrinaire theologian. A savvy manager would have shown contrition, muttered mea culpas, and sought forgiveness; this plays well
because people like to see the mighty humbled. Consider some examples: Johnson & Johnson(J&J) after the Tylenol scare, Union Carbide after Bhopal, and Toyota in its problems with faulty brakes.
When bottles of the pain-reliever were found laced with cyanide in 1982 in Chicago, it was obvious it was not a production issue, and that some criminal had injected the poison into bottles on retail shelves. But J&J took full responsibility, immediately apologised, and recalled every unit at considerable cost. Result: J&J gained a reputation as a caring and ethical pharmaceutical company.
After the chemical leak in 1984, Union Carbide pointed fingers at everybody but itself; when it offered compensation, it made insulting racist assumptions. There was an international criminal warrant on the CEO's head, and the company never quite recovered from the fiasco.
In Toyota's recent disaster, it first pretended that there was no problem; it then underplayed its response. Its chairman was nowhere in sight to take the blame or institute corrective action. Toyota's reputation for honesty, dependability and straight-shooting compared to fast-talking American competitors has been damaged.
Learning from all this, the Vatican should not have attempted to brazen things out, suggesting that the reports of abuse were "gossip". It should have made dramatic concessions, admitting fault, instead of getting defensive. A few scapegoats should have been sacrificed, and seen leaving, weeping in contrition. Some actual reforms should be put in place. A papal resignation would be ideal, thus exalting the office and the individual. Sadly, marketers were out-shouted by dogmatists; the whole thing is a fine mess now.
STATES CANNOT PASS THE BUCK ON LAW & ORDER
IT is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in West Bengal that Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on Sunday had to publicly remind the Chief Minister of his government's responsibility to maintain law and order, which in any case is a state subject. The Union Minister was stating the obvious when he took recourse to Americanism to remind Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee that he could not possibly pass the buck for lawlessness in the state. It is no secret that the ruling Left Front holds the Congress and the Trinamool Congress responsible for hobnobbing with the Maoists on one hand and unleashing violence against the Left Front cadre on the other. Mr Chidambaram was merely stating the obvious, however, when he reminded Bhattacharjee of his 'Raj dharma'. The Chief Minister, he contended, had to take stern steps and ensure that the buck stopped with the District Magistrates and the Superintendents of Police. It is certainly the job of the state government to see that police stations enforce the law impartially.
Plain speaking by Mr Chidambaram may not, however, lead to much qualitative change on the ground. Mr Bhattacharjee is a prisoner of the past, when the Left Front filled up the police stations and government offices with its own loyalists. Under the false assumption that the Left Front government would rule over the state for a brief period, the state government headed by the CPM laid less emphasis on governance and more on strengthening the party organisation. While the Left Front has woken up to the belated realisation that it is expected to administer with an even hand and ensure development on the ground, it finds to its horror that its delivery mechanism has ceased to function.
Maoist violence must eventually be dealt with squarely by the states. Even the Central forces deployed in the states are expected to assist the state police. But none of the four eastern states, namely Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal, seem to be acting in coordination or taking the tough but necessary decisions. It is to be hoped that Mr Chidambaram's message, that the buck really stops with them, sinks in sooner rather than later.
A BOLD DECISION
KEEPING RETIREMENT AGE AT 58 IS WISE
THE Punjab government has taken a bold decision by keeping the retirement age for its employees at 58 instead of raising it to 60 years. Though it runs contrary to its electoral promise, the decision would be welcomed by the youth. Over 18,000 employees, who would have benefited immediately from the enhanced retirement age, would, however, be disappointed. Had the government decided to raise the age of retirement, it would have, in the short-term, deferred payments to the tune of Rs 700 core this year and another Rs 762 crore during 2011-2012. However, in the long-term, it would have had serious financial implications for the state. The government would have had to pay two increments to employees who are already in the top bracket of their salaries. The burden of the government would also have increased because of a rise in the employees' pension and other emoluments over a period of two to three decades.
For those attaining the age of 58, extension of service by two years could be described as a bonus. But this was, certainly, not in the state's financial interest. It would have adversely affected the prospects of Punjab's youth as well. The government's refusal to buckle under pressure and decision to enhance the maximum age for recruitment from 35 to 37 years will help check, albeit marginally, the acute unemployment problem in the state. Significantly, 70,000 youth have applied for over a thousand vacancies of Food and Supply Inspectors. For about 600 posts of Excise and Taxation Inspectors, the government received as many as 30,000 applications from candidates that included MBAs, PhDs and scientists.
While the decision on retirement is expected to help the unemployed youth most, it is debatable whether the new recruits will help improve the quality of governance. Infusing fresh blood is welcome. At the same time, the government needs to save money by trimming the bloated bureaucracy and checking public spending and leakage of funds.
NO MORE STATUES
PARLIAMENT ALREADY HAS TOO MANY
THE recommendation of a high-powered committee of Parliament not to have any more statues in Parliament House has not come a day too soon. Already, the majestic building is crowded with nearly 40 of them. Any more would only interfere with its heritage character. What should be borne in mind is that it is not a museum of statues. Some were installed to show genuine respect, but then competitive politics stepped in. If a national leader belonging to one party was to have one, then there were other claimants as well, and before everyone could be pleased, there was a problem of plenty, forcing the Committee on Installation of Portraits, Statues of National Leaders and Parliamentarians in Parliament House complex to call a halt now.
But it is not a blanket ban. It has been said that the permission for installing more such statues could be given if the Heritage Committee of Parliament gave its approval. Now that can cause some uneasiness. Given the clout that some politicians enjoy, they may prevail upon the heritage committee to allow statues of less than fully deserving persons. The committee coming under the jurisdiction of the Speaker will have to steel itself against all sorts of pressure tactics.
Besides being a heritage issue, there is also the question of maintaining the sanctity of these towering structures. Those that are there must be shown due respect. On Martyrs' Day this year (March 23), only one MP turned up to pay floral tributes at Shaheed Bhagat Singh's 18-ft bronze statue created two years ago by sculptor Ram Sutar in Parliament. No official commemoration was held and no intimation published in the bulletin for parliamentarians. There is no point installing such statues if due respect is not given to them, even on the day on which Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev kissed the gallows 79 years ago.
OBAMA'S MESSAGE FROM KABUL
US CAN'T AFFORD TO LOSE WAR IN AF-PAK AREA
BY K. SUBRAHMANYAM
President Obama spent 26 hours in the air to spend six hours on the ground in Kabul on March 28, 2010. He met only President Karzai and addressed the US troops at Bagram airforce base. As the Commander-in-Chief he wore a bomber jacket while addressing the troops.
A President does not do all this as a ritual. There must be a message in this act and what he said in Kabul. He undertook this journey after the strategic dialogue between the US and Pakistan, after President Karzai's visits to China and Iran and after the Iranian President's visit to Kabul.
His message came out loud and clear in his remarks at the end of the meeting with President Karzai. Obama said, "I want to send a strong message that the partnership between the United States and Afghanistan is going to continue But we also want to continue to make progress on the civilian process of ensuring that agricultural production, energy production, good governance, rule of law, anti-corruption efforts all these things end up resulting in a Afghanistan that is more prosperous, more secure, independent; is not subject to meddling by its neighbours; a transition will be able to occur so that more and more security efforts are made by the Afghans.
His reference to meddling by the neighbours is of particular significance. And there can be no doubt about its implication for Pakistan.The message is delivered three days after the US-Pakistani strategic dialogue in which General Kayani was reported to have highlighted the Pakistani interest in Afghanistan as its strategic depth.
Obama also made it clear that the development of Afghanistan will continue to be supported by the US. That will mean that India's role in Afghanistan's development is not likely to get diminished. Pakistani establishment who have been calculating on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and consequent installation of a Pakistan-pasand regime there and diminishing and eliminating Indian role in that country may have to rethink their strategy.
Obama's emphasis on long-term commitment of the US to Afghanistan is unmistakeable. He invited President Karzai to Washington in May and added, "and we intend to have a discussion about our long-term strategic interests between the two countries all of us are interested in a day when Afghanistan is going to be able to provide for its own security but continue a long-term strategic partnership with the United States".
People around the world, particularly in India who interpreted Obama's speech of December 1 as notice by the US that it was going to cut and run when Obama stipulated that the US will start a draw-down of forces 18 months after the initiation of the surge of troops will have to reinterpret what the President meant. It did not occur to many people that he was setting a target date for his forces to finish the job successfully in the Af-Pak area.
That comes through clearly in his address to the troops at Bagram base. He told them, "We can't forget why we're here. We did not choose this war. We were attacked viciously on 9/11. Plots against our homeland, plots against our allies, plots against the Afghan and Pakistani people are taking place as we speak right here. And if this region slides backwards, if the Taliban retakes this country and al-Qaeda can operate with impunity, then more American lives will be at stake And as long as I'm your Commander-in-Chief, I am not going to let that happen. That's why you are here
"Our broad mission is clear: We are going to disrupt and dismantle, defeat and destroy al-Qaeda and its extremist allies. That is our mission. And to accomplish that goal, our objectives here in Afghanistan are also clear: We're going to deny al-Qaeda safe haven. We're going to reverse the Taliban's momentum. We're going to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces and the Afghan government so that they can begin taking responsibility and gain confidence of the Afghan people".
He further added realistically, "But we know there are going to be some difficult days ahead. There's going to be setbacks. We face a determined enemy. But we also know this: The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something. You don't quit, the American armed services does not quit, we keep at it, we persevere, and together with our partners we will prevail. I am absolutely confident of that."
He also had something to say about the kind of people the US is fighting which should give some thought to those who are talking about negotiating deals with the Taliban. He justified the war, as he did in his Nobel Prize address in terms of a Just War. He exhorted the US forces, "Make no mistake, this fight matters to us. It matters to us, it matters to our allies, it matters to the Afghan people. Al-Qaeda and the violent extremists who you're fighting against want to destroy. But all of you want to build and that is something essential about America. They've got no respect for human life. You see dignity in every human being. That's part of what we value as Americans. They want to drive races and regions and religions apart. You want to bring people together and see the world move forward together. They offer fear, in other words, and you offer hope."
Is this a speech of a person thinking of cutting and running in the next 15 months?
The Quadrennial Defence Review of the US Defence Department published early February says, "We now recognise that America's ability to deal with threats for years to come will depend importantly on our success in the current conflicts".
If this is read with Obama's Kabul speech can he afford to lose the war in Af-Pak area and hope to win the 2012 elections? The Pakistani leadership appears to have made as disastrous a mistake as they made in 1965, 1971 and 1999 in concluding that the US will cut and run in 2011.
As Pakistan gets hooked on US aid and finds it difficult to do without it, the US will be able to persuade the Pakistani Army to fall in line with their strategy.
The Indian establishment should bear in mind the above interpretation of Obama strategy and not fall into the trap of assuming that the US will withdraw from Afghanistan in 2011 leaving the field open to the Pakistanis.
JOURNEY OF A ROAD
BY P.C. SHARMA
Travelling from New Delhi to Chandigarh by Shatabdi Express the other day my mind and eyes remained fixed on the GT road that runs almost parallel to rail line till Ambala.
Sher Shah Suri built the road in the 16th century and called it Sadak-e-Azam. Only public way that links India's present to its past and connects the eastern region to the western, its precursor is said to be the road Chandragupta Maurya built from Taxila to Patliputra to link India's trade with the Hellenic world.
Sher Shah had defeated Humayun in a battle and banished him from India. Paradoxically, this same road, later, served Humayun to re-enter India from his Persian exile and re-establish the Mughal dynasty.
Dotted with "Kos" minars and Caravan sarais, Sadak-e-Azam provided shelter to travellers and served as the first postal communication system. Caravan sarais have now become extinct but "Kos minars" are extant.
However, modernity has asserted itself. This lifeline is now dotted with fast food joints, motels and tourist spots and adorned by signages and traffic warnings.
Route to invaders and empire builders, it has also served folks living in the plains and in the rugged valleys it slices through. Caravans of traders, thugs and plunderers have thrived on it, invaders and the pilgrims have walked on it. It is now a smooth purveyor of cars and Cadillacs. But keeping company with carts and camels still, this Milky Way on earth has not broken with the past.
Farid Sher Shah Suri perhaps, never envisioned that two of the most transformative systems he introduced in India Sadak-e-Azam and Rupiah would revolutionise communication and currency. Today both are serving the nation like nothing else.
History has traversed on this road with gigantic steps and thundering noises. The Mughals led their campaigns to Peshawar and beyond. Serving all the Mughals in their glory, it was also a witness to their downfall. The British troops moved from Bengal to North-Indian plains in 1857 and the British reinforcements marched on it from Lahore and Ambala cantonments. Capture of Bahadurshah Zafar and his subsequent exile signalled the fall of Mughal Empire and the rise of British domination. Sadak-e-Azam was rechristened Grand Trunk Road. Another milestone in its journey.
In 1947 when India was partitioned, there was unprecedented scale of murder, misery and migration of millions of people. The railways and this road served the people to seek shelter, safety and a new life. This was its most painful signpost.
Travelling on this highway is like being a witness to the vignettes, pageantries and a spectacle of the unity and diversity of India, union of the past with the contemporary and a window to the future. Aptly it has been described not as a national highway but a national monument. In Kipling's words "GT Road is a wonderful spectacle. It runs straight bearing without crowding India's traffic for 1500 miles such a river of life as nowhere exists in the world".
CHINA'S PRESSURE TACTICS
INDIA NEEDS TO BE VIGILANT
BY AIR MARSHAL (RETD) R.S. BEDI
CHINA is likely to emerge as world's second largest economy by the end of this year. Its military might is also growing simultaneously at the same pace. Deng Xiaoping outlined his vision in 1979 when he said: "The world would have no option but to listen to you if you have a robust economy and powerful military".
China has settled its disputes with almost all its neighbours except India. With India, it seems to prefer to keep the pot boiling so far as the Sino-Indian border dispute is concerned.
Shrewd as the Chinese are, they managed to sign a treaty of 'Peace and Tranquility' with India in 1993 during Prime Minister, Narasimaha Rao's visit to their country, thus ensuring peaceful borders by putting the resolution of currently intractable border issue in cold storage indefinitely.
Last month, Chinese soldiers stopped the work on 8 km long road being constructed under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) at Demchok. India just caved in and instead blamed the state government of Jammu and Kahsmir for taking the initiative.
In June, 2009, the Chinese helicopters violated the air space in Ladakh and left behind tell tale signs of their intrusion including air dropping of food cans near Chumar.
Precisely a month later the Chinese soldiers came along in Chumar area once again and painted rocks with the word 'China' in Cantonese. In 2008, they intruded in Sikkim's'Finger Area' and we dismissed it by calling it a minor issue. In 2007, the Chinese in fact intruded nearly 20 km inside the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh. The UPA government just denied it and of course so did the Chinese.
The Chinese have not hesitated resorting to such antics even when Indian dignitaries are on their visits to China. In 2003, when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was on a visit to China, the PLA soldiers cut across the LAC and apprehended an Indian patrol. In all these cases, India just down played these incidents. China's aim is to keep India off balance by devious tricks, otherwise how does one explain its objections to Indian dignitaries visiting Arunachal Pradesh and issuing stapled visas to Indian nationals from J&K.
India's response on China's attempt at diverting Brahumputra River before it enters India near the 'great bend' is another example of its helplessness. India already seemed to have resigned to a fait accompli, if one is to go by recent statements of Mr Pawan Kumar Bansal, our Minister for Water Resources. There are also reports of China planning to divert Indus river water to the arid plains of western Tibet, a matter of extreme concern for India. India must rise and face these challenges in best possible manner.
Both the NDA and the UPA governments have failed to see through the Chinese strategy. Frequent and deep violations of the LAC are to give credibility to their claims. China has been nibbling large tracts of land and advancing gradually across the LAC. Their permanent settlements have come much closer than they were ever before in the past. They have been constructing roads, permanent structures and devious settlements adjacent to the Indian side of the LAC. They have also been claiming the traditional grazing fields of our Ladakhi people by scaring them away.
Instead of standing up to the Chinese as they do to our similar construction work, the Indian governments more often than not back out tamely. The Chinese dismiss India's objections invariably with a firm denial whilst we down play their actions under the cover of differing perceptions of LAC. We always want to avoid precipitating the issue.
Apparently, 1962 syndrome continues to haunt our thinking. China's multi-dimensional threat to India's National Security has become a cause for serious concern.
Strategic divergence, competitive economic growth, territorial disputes, India's growing ties with the US and their civilian nuclear cooperation despite not having signed the NPT, long Joint Defence Framework and last but not the least Dalai Lama and his one lakh Tibetans' presence in India are some of the major factors that are viewed by China with mistrust.
China is apprehensive that India may at some critical juncture exploit Tibetan nationalism and encourage clash between them and the Hans in Tibet.
Besides, China also sees India's benign rise as an impediment and a long term threat, particularly in Asian context. China will keep debilitating pressure on India through diplomatic offensive as also through strategic incursions and offensive posturing for time to come. But it will not let the situation go out of hand and turn into a major war like conflict.
Conflicts will remain localised, for large scale war is not in China's interest presently. India will have to change its mind set and cope with the changing situation with requisite confidence, lest its credibility as a rising power is sullied.
The writer is former Director General, Defence Planning Staff
A LIFE OF READING, WRITING AND TEACHING
BY V.N. DUTTA
Soft-spoken and a well-meaning man with affable manners, Dr Amrik Singh stood firmly for the welfare of the teaching community and the advancement of higher standards of excellence in education. With an insatiable quest for learning, he sought knowledge not for its own sake, but for the cultivation of the mind and the regeneration of society. He regarded education as the key to all progress. He was an individual meeting whom was an intellectual stimulus. With his death, the cause of education has suffered a loss in the country
Amrik Singh graduated from Khalsa College, Amritsar in 1940. The Khalsa College founded in 1896 was then a unique institution with some distinguished teachers such as Teja Singh, Waryyam Singh, Gurbachan Singh Talib, Sant Singh Sekhon and Arjan Nath Matoo.
Though Amrik Singh took his MA degree in English from the prestigious Government College, Lahore, he remained consistently in touch with his Khalsa College teachers from whom he imbibed his quest for learning and his left-wing radical orientation of a dissident, protester and an agitator against the spurious, the sham and the hypocritical.
Amrik Singh told this writer that after obtaining his M.A. degree, his father Dr Gopal Singh, a medical practitioner, advised him to travel and meet some of the leading intellectuals to widen his learning and experiences. Amrik Singh often recollected how intellectually profitable and rich his experiences were at Lucknow and Allahabad Universities where he spent some days in the company of eminent educationists. At Lucknow University he met Professor N.K. Siddhanta, who had secured a first class in the English tripos at Cambridge. He was greatly impressed by the wide learning and intellectual calibre of D.P. Mukherjee, a leading Marxist and easily one of the rare intellectuals endowed with an acute sense of originality and sensitivity.
Amrik Singh joined Khalsa College, Delhi in 1951. I remember vividly visiting Sardar Hukam Singh, the Deputy Speaker, Lok Sabha in early 1954. Sardar Hukam Singh was then the Chairman of the Khalsa College governing body. As we were conversing, a telephone bell rang. Hukam Singh picked up the phone, and spoke for about two minutes. After he replaced the receiver, he said: "Well, we have in our college a promising teacher, but he is always agitating for the rights of teachers and causing us great embarrassment."
Throughout his life, Amrik Singh engaged himself in reading, writing and teaching. He read widely, and was never a scholar of the library. He wore his learning lightly. As a Punjabi, he possessed an uncommon common sense, which gave to his personality not the image of a pensive, brow-knitted scholar, but of a simple warm-hearted smiling friend, dedicated to the cause of education. In his youth he visited bookshops in Connaught Place, but with his growing age, he worked mostly at the India International Centre Library.
Ideologically, Amrik Singh was not a Marxist. He belonged to no political party. He was a rationalist, an eclectic. Religious rituals and ceremonies he abjured. Religion he regarded essentially an inward experience of spiritual growth. He respected the feelings and sentiments of others, who followed their religious faith.
Though Amrik Singh obtained his Ph-D in English literature from London University, his deep and abiding interest lay in his study of education and its promotion in the country.
For the enhancement of literary skills, he floated at his expense a fortnightly journal India Book Chronicle which continues to be published from Jaipur. Amrik Singh never desisted from criticising the Government and University authorities whenever they acted arbitrarily by diluting academic standards, or disregarding the rights and interests of the teaching community.
Amrik Singh travelled alone. He chartered his own course. Witty and sharp with a twinkle in his eyes, he was, indeed, a loveable person, good in company. Never did anyone, to my knowledge, hear him speak ill of anyone. His gentle smile and warm handshake I shall ever miss.
PREITY BUSINESS MOVES
Preity Zinta's Kings XI Punjab may be at the bottom of the heap during the third edition of IPL, but the bubbly actress who puts in an appearance at every single match is not short on confidence.
The buzz is that the actress who, along with her former beau Ness Wadia of Bombay Dyeing and the Burmans of Dabur, is a co-owner of the team and wants to divest part of the stake in the team. Rumours that have been floating for the past several months have been denied. What has raised eyebrows is the invisibility of the other owners of leaving Preity to carry the baton all on her own.
Preity doesn't seem to mind their absence though. According to her close aides, the actress spent the earlier part of this year at the Harvard University picking up the basics of business management.
Preity is expected to play a larger role when the IPL management allows team owners to trade players or float Initial Public Offerings to investors. Watch the dimpled actress trade her team colours for sharp business suits.
TAJ BALLROOM RESTORED
Nearly two years after terrorists attempted to burn down the place, the famous Taj Ballroom on the first floor of the heritage wing of the Taj Mahal Hotel is open for business again. Kuala Lumpur's LTW Designworks, which had carried out renovations in the premises before the terrorist attack was roped in to restore Taj Ballroom to its former glory. For more than a year, architects and experts from the company pored over historical photographs to get a feel of the original Victorian design of the sprawling ballroom. According to the hotel management the restoration project cost more than Rs 130 crores.
The carpets that line the floor of the Taj Ballroom are from Hong Kong while the lighting system is from London. Typical of all Taj properties, the artworks have been sourced from India in addition to Victorian and period art that is the hallmark of the Mumbai property. The rest of the heritage wing of the Taj Hotel which suffered the brunt of the terrorist attack would be open for business in the next few months. The management has gradually opened the Sea Lounge, restaurants Wasabi and Golden Dragon, and the Harbour Bar which were badly damaged in the 26/11 terrorist attack.
JOHN TO TIGERS' RESCUE
Model and actor John Abraham who is known for promoting the conservation of elephants has now set his sights on saving the tiger.
Following reports of wildlife experts warning of the number of tigers in India decreasing alarmingly, Abraham said he would work on creating awareness to save the big cat.
The actor is now producing a documentary along with green film-maker Mike Pandey. The feature traces the progress of four tiger cubs into adulthood.
This documentary, says John, would be screened at major film festivals. In addition, dignitaries like parliamentarians and decision makers would also be shown the documentary, according to the actor.
NOTHING LIKE A GOOD RACKET
INDIA'S REACTION TO THE SHOAIB-SANIA EPISODE SHOWS OUR WEAKNESS FOR SORDID SOAP OPERAS
The moment I heard Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik were planning to get married, I braced myself for pandemonium. In India, the circus thrives on intolerance, fanaticism and various forms of prejudice. Give us star-crossed lovers divided by nationality, a matchbox, a couple of effigies, and we're in business.
Things, however, didn't go exactly as I'd expected. In the first two days of blissful political-correctness, the India and Pakistan references were few, far between, made only to celebrate cross-border affection, and the usual rabblerousers were brushed aside with sarcastic smirks.
But when a third character Ayesha, the alleged first wife who said she was too chubby to be seen in person entered the story, things started to change quickly. Breaking news countered breaking news, and we were soon engulfed by the usual, calamitous media storm.
Armed with nikaahnamas, allegations of impregnation, and accusations of fraud, we
were in business once again selling newspaper copies and accumulating TAM ratings.
The reaction to the Sania-Shoaib affair over the last week perfectly illustrates the changing mindset of a nation that is slowly becoming more tolerant about communal divisions but, as if to balance that, is getting more and more consumed by the sordid drama that saas-bahu soap operas are made of. So, while the age-old effigy-and-matchbox response was handled with great maturity, the 'other woman' angle succeeded in bringing out the child in us.
The charges levelled against Shoaib by Ayesha (Maha apa, if you prefer) cover several morally indefensible headers from breach of trust, to polygamy, to the utter disregard for another person. And his counter-allegations against her are almost as damning. They suggest fraud, the intention to malign , and a complete lack of self respect.
But beneath this layer of chicanery and deceit, the Shoaib, Sania and Ayesha story will eventually be remembered as a laugh riot. If you're gullible enough to marry a photograph on the internet, you're courting trouble. In fact, Shoaib's admission of his own stupidity is so unusual that I tend to believe him despite his lack of evidence. In his entire version Ayesha's first phone call, the exchange of photographs, his Hyderabad trip, the mysterious Maha apa, the 'fake' marriage, his brother-in-law's visit the only unwavering thread is that he was consistently a 'fool in love'.
Shoaib and Sania's latest interaction with the media, live on television for over an hour, sounded less like a press conference and more like an inquisition. They had perhaps come out thinking the image of young love would conquer all, failing to take into account how deeply the Indian media had got involved in the minutest, most salacious, details of their romance.
Shoaib was ironically trying to be the voice of reason, a slightly left-out Sania was trying not to get too impatient, and the reporters were trying to ask same question in different ways sometimes with a smile, sometimes with a vigorous shake of the head.
The whole show was a combination of strange, disconnected statements. "If you have a stomach ache, where will you go? Why is Ayesha going to news channels when she should go to a doctor?" Shoaib asked, no one knows why. "We belong to respectable families," Sania cut in, for some strange reason. "The point really is that Shoaib has a lot to answer for," summed up the allknowing anchor with a sceptical glint in his eye.
By the end of the day, with six-way splits on television screens to accommodate a lawyer, a journalist, a cleric, a cop, and a family member from each side, it was proclaimed that a "billion-and-ahalf people" wanted to know who was telling the truth.
But some of us just wanted to know when the madness would end.
RIGHT TO GOVERNANCE
THE SOCIAL SECTOR AGENDA IS NOW GETTING ONEROUS
This has to be the ultimate irony. Barely a few weeks after a Supreme Court committee comes out with a verdict that the public distribution system is bust and needs a drastic overhaul, the government clears a food security bill that seeks to push more food through this very same burst pipe. If newspaper reports are to be believed, the Congress president is not happy with even this and wants the government to increase the quantity of subsidized food from 25 kg per poor family per month to 35 kg. Apart from the issue of what this increase will do to the subsidy bill, surely there should be a discussion on how the PDS can possibly deliver on its new responsibilities when it is practically non-existent in several states, apart from the huge leaks in it? What is even more curious is that the Congress party should be keen on increasing the scope of the PDS when the government is talking of switching over to cash transfers linked to the Unique ID system. If you take even the 35 kg figure the Congress party is in favour of, and a Rs 10 per kg subsidy, that's around Rs 4,200 per family per year. Multiply that by around 60 million poor families, and that's a cash transfer of Rs 25,200 crore as opposed to Rs 55,600 crore that has been budgeted for this year.
The tension between the Congress party's social sector agenda and the need for governance is not restricted to just the food security bill. The Right to Education Act, it has been pointed out by many including this newspaper, will hit private sector education providers that are 'unrecognised' and will, if the Act is scrupulously implemented, result in them being driven out of business. Given that they provide education to a fourth of children in rural India and anywhere around 50 per cent in many cities, this is a serious concern. If these education providers are driven out of business, this means much higher costs for the government which is now mandated by law to provide free schooling to all. More important, since the Act is more focused on quantity and not on quality, there is nothing to assure us that the education provided will be of a higher quality than that provided by the private sector. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), similarly, is in danger of upsetting the wage market clearance with around half the country's work force registered for jobs under the scheme around 21.5 crore workers of the workforce of 45 crore have registered under MNREGA. While a large number of states are reporting labour shortages at harvest/sowing time because MNREGA wage rates are higher, there is a demand to further hike MNREGA wages to Rs 100 per day in real terms (that is, indexing these to inflation). That is, the Congress party's social sector agenda is now beginning to cause a serious problem for the country's governance. That is bad news.
BETTER POLITICAL MANAGEMENT CAN HELP
At least seven important bills including the nuclear liability bill, the foreign universities bill, the women's reservation bill and a couple of other long-standing economic bills are all awaiting parliamentary approval and seem unlikely to secure it. Congress Party managers are blaming the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left Front for this legislative impasse, especially in the upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha. The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition does not have the numbers in the Rajya Sabha to get official bills passed. In the Lok Sabha the UPA has the numbers but the margin has come down sharply with supporting parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party no longer extending unconditional support to the UPA. With a wafer thin majority in the Lok Sabha, where the UPA now has 277 members in the 543 member house, the government feels constrained to back off. This is an unfortunate turn of events given that the UPA came to power with a massive majority and the opposition virtually decimated. How has the government come to this pass? In part this was bound to happen, given that some of the fellow travellers of the UPA are rivals of the Congress Party at the state level and should be expected to drift away as state elections approach. This is the case with the RJD. In Uttar Pradesh, however, the Congress has managed to alienate both the BSP and the SP, each with 21 members in the Lok Sabha. The BJP and the Left should have been expected to become more assertive given that they have to recover lost ground before the next round of assembly elections.
All this ought to have been factored into the government's strategy for legislative action. It cannot be that the government becomes legislatively incapacitated so early in its tenure in office. Part of the problem is within the ruling coalition, indeed, the ruling party. The Congress Party must evolve a strategy to deal with this impasse. To begin with it must shepherd its own troops more effectively. The government has had avoidable embarrassment in parliament due to poor floor management and inadequate attendance by ruling party members. More importantly, the Congress should reach out to the BJP. The UPA may find the Left Front more difficult to appease since the Left is going in for elections in the only two states it is in office, namely West Bengal and Kerala, in 2011. The BJP is also ideologically closer to the Congress on key economic and national security issues. Reaching out to the BJP would certainly help the government push through its bills in parliament. It is time the Congress treated the BJP as a normal political party, indeed a party of government, considering that the BJP runs more state governments than the Congress. The manner in which the women's reservation bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha, with even the Left joining hands with the BJP, shows the benefits of political cooperation in non-election season. It is the country as a whole that benefits from cooperative engagement between major political parties when it comes to important legislative business. This should be the guiding principle.
NILANJANA S ROY: THE DESI ROMAN A CLEF
"I read Glenarvon too, by Caro Lamb / Goddamn!" In 1816, when the Lady Caroline Lamb published her infamous roman à clef, Glenarvon, Lord Byron's response summed up his dismay at discovering the history of their tempestuous romance preserved for posterity. Glenarvon, now barely read, went into multiple editions at the time; Caro Lamb was ostracized and condemned; Byron continued his devastating career despite the scandal.
The reviews were stern and moralistic (the British Critic lamented the sorry influence of the excesses of the wicked, depraved Continent-oh, those Italians!-upon staid, upright English society), and the sales were spectacular: in other words, Glenarvon surpassed the hopes that any publisher of a roman à clef may harbour.
Good fiction and good gossip have a lot in common-so does bad fiction. James Wood once dismissed John Updike's suburban-America stories as so much "gossip in gilt". The pleasure of the roman à clef lies in the drawing-room thrill of the guessing game, as has happened with Hindutva, Sex and Adventure (Roli Books), by 'John MacLithon'.
Hindutva, Sex and Adventure is a silly season book. At 166 pages, it fictionalizes the life, amours and journalistic biases of one of India's best known adopted foreign journalists, Mark Tully, badly disguised as Andrew Lyut. It's slight, but has enough insider dope to do well at the Foreign Correspondents Club, and bets on the author's identity have been placed in the very best Delhi salons. (The smart money's on Francois Gautier, despite his denials-Gautier hints that Tully himself wrote the novel, and Bernard Imhasly is the third favourite in the Identify MacLithon stakes.) How does it stack up against roman à clefs of the past?
Bengal Nights, Mircea Eliade: This lyrical, and I use the word with prejudice, lush and overblown 1933 novel romanticizes the relationship between Alain (Eliade himself) and Maitreyee Debi, poet, protégée of Tagore, and daughter of a renowned Bengal philosopher. Though Eliade refers in passing to the social world of 1930s Calcutta, most of his focus is on the ineffable, mystical aspects of his affair, where Maitreyee Debi stands in for the mysterious East. Decades later, she responded in kind with the equally sonorous It Does Not Die (Na Hanyate), making this a rare instance where the novel does duty as syrupy love letter.
Beethoven Among The Cows, Rukun Advani: Though this isn't a classic roman à clef, this early novel by a highly respected publisher included an unforgettable portrait of the scholar Gayatri Spivak. "Professor [Lavatri] Alltheorie's Collected Marxist Phonecalls had outsold Gone With The Wind Her Collected Feminist Faxes was in press. Her opponents defined her subject-position with a law-Lavatri's Law: Incredible Articulation + Incredible Incomprehension = Incredible Salary."
The Insider, PV Narasimha Rao: This 1998 novel by a former Indian PM is now justly forgotten; Rao's political revelations were overshadowed by his fondness for his upright, morally anguished protagonist, Anand. It was widely assumed that his characters were based on the politicians of the day Sanjeeva Reddy, Brahmananda Reddy, Lakshmikantamma and V.B. Raju, among others. At 767 pages, it suffered from the defects of a great deal of Indian political writing-the gossip wasn't good enough to justify the prolixity.
A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth: Seth's magnum opus included a vast array of cleverly executed sketches of post-Independence politicians-GB Pant, CB Gupta and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed appeared under various pseudonyms. The novel had ambitions beyond the scope of the conventional roman à clef, and lived up to them, but he was devastatingly accurate-especially in the Calcutta sections. The lady intellectual who speaks of Duality and Oneness, the father-and-son lawyer pair known as the Bony Bespectacled Banerjis and the gorgeous, unfaithful boxwallah's wife were among the many characters based on real persons, which may explain why A Suitable Boy continues to sell like sandesh in Bengal.
With the exception of Seth's fiction, most Indian roman à clefs have followed the Glenarvon route. Mrinal Pande's My Own Witness touched on the early years of TV stardom in India, with Prannoy Roy and Pritish Nandy easily identifiable in her cast of characters. It made a brief stir in 2001, just as Aatish Taseer's The Temple-Goers (with characters loosely based on V S Naipaul, Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Mala Singh is receiving some critical attention today. Back in 1816, C Lemon wrote to Lady Frampton of Glenarvon that there was "no connection between any two ideas in the book", and expressed further disapproval. Having done so, she provided a key to the characters-so and so was Lady Oxford, such and such Lady Holland-that made it clear she had read her way avidly through the novel, despite her criticism.
Hindutva, Adventures and Sex, like Kanika Gahlaut's 2002 expose of Eminence Greases and fashion victims in Delhi, Among The Chatterati, is unlikely to last more than a season; a better roman à clef may last a decade; but they're not meant to last. The roman à clef promises entertainment for the moment, insider gossip and perhaps a little in the way of snapshot wisdom. It's as serious, and as frivolous, as the changing fashions of the day.
AJAI SHUKLA: SOLDIER, HEAL THYSELF
GENERAL VK SINGH, THE NEW CHIEF OF ARMY STAFF, HAS WISELY IDENTIFIED THE ARMY'S "INTERNAL HEALTH" AS HIS KEY FOCUS
Figuring out the state of an army's morale is easy. All it takes is a couple of drinks with two groups of people: the officers and the enlisted men. If the chatter is mainly about sports and professional competitions, ongoing training and about how much tougher and smarter they are than their rival units, morale is high. If talk centres on pay and allowances, promotions and postings and on the world outside the army, you can bet money that morale is low. Applying this yardstick to the Indian Army I believe the morale of officers is low, while that of the jawans is high.
In this gloomy assessment I have illustrious company. The new Chief of Army Staff, General VK Singh, on assuming office on the 1st of April, has wisely identified the army's "internal health" as his key focus. Pointing out that an internally vibrant army would easily swat aside external threats, the army chief has promised to revitalize traditions, core values and the army's ethos.
Earlier chiefs, some as well-intentioned as General VK Singh, have embarked on similar paths. General K Sundarji, on taking over as chief in 1986, wrote to army officers individually, urging them to follow their professional convictions and promising to tolerate dissent. But that led nowhere as actions failed to follow words. Today, as the new chief implicitly accepts, the army has become a personality cult where officers either conform to the inclinations of the boss or get weeded out. Originality and eccentricity, those priceless attributes of a successful military leader, have been rendered extinct by a dull, humourless routine that is set by what the boss thinks his boss wants.
Keeping the officers in line is a terrible God called the Annual Confidential Report before which even the brightest and most capable officer must kneel or be scythed down. While annual reports are an evaluation tool in many professions, the army has accorded the ACR absolute control of an officer's career. Considering that this primacy is born of the army's laudable quest for an impartial, empirical evaluation system, it is ironic that the ACR has turned into a monster of subjectivity. If the boss is unhappy with an officer for any reason whatsoever a single lukewarm ACR can sink a brilliant career.
Dismantling this tyranny, and unlocking the potential of his officer corps, is the task ahead for General Singh. This is easier said than done. Blocking any radical change is the tribal ethos of the Indian Army. An officer belongs first to his regiment or battalion; only after that is he an Indian Army officer. An army chief's first duty is towards the regiment and battalion that nurtured him; reforming the army conflicts with the role of regimental patriarch.
When General JJ Singh, an infantry officer from the Maratha Light Infantry, took over as chief, the honour guard that welcomed him to South Block was from the Marathas. So was his aide-de-camp and most of his personal staff. The tenure of his artillery successor, General Deepak Kapoor, saw the Corps of Artillery quickly muscling out the infantry as the flavour of the month. Upwardly mobile artillery officers were quickly posted into friendly environments, under "friendly" superiors, to ease their paths towards higher ranks.
These are only the most recent examples of the army's longstanding patriarchal tradition that General VK Singh can now embrace or dismantle. A key step would be the creation of a clearly enunciated promotion policy, printed as a manual and sanctioned by the government, to ensure that each successive chief cannot tinker with the policy to suit his constituency. Today, 63 years after independence, the military has no promotion manual; policy exists only in a constantly revised torrent of letters from the Military Secretary's branch.
The other major change that General VK Singh could implement is the reversing of promotion quotas to higher rank: the "Mandalisation" of the army as it is evocatively referred to. From the institution of the Prussian General Staff in the early 18th century, professional militaries have employed the criterion of merit alone to select their senior command. For over half a century, so did the Indian Army; but recently, in a burst of patrimonial fervour, quotas were instituted to ensure that each combat arm got its share of the senior ranks. Initiated by artillery and infantry chiefs to safeguard the interests of their officers, the quotas are now favouring less talented officers of other arms.
Few chiefs would voluntarily divest themselves of power but, paradoxically, the institution of the COAS would be greatly strengthened by transparency and the absence of discretion in promotions and postings. It would also free army chiefs from accusations of prejudice; a lever that Ministry of Defence officials and in one well-known case, a defence minister have successfully employed to demand favours for their own candidates.
SUNIL K SINHA: IN A SMOG OF ITS OWN MAKING
IT TOOK 10 YEARS FOR THE POLLUTION LOAD OF INDUSTRY TO DOUBLE, AND THEN IT TOOK JUST THREE MORE YEARS FOR THIS TO RISE BY 50 PER CENT
SUNIL K SINHA
An important outcome of the economic liberalisation and changes in industrial policy initiated since 1991 has been industrial restructuring and reallocation of resources towards activities and sectors with a greater comparative advantage. This has improved the productivity and efficiency of India's manufacturing sector and made it globally competitive. But does comparative advantage also mean that the sectors witnessing increased industrial activity are less or more polluting?
If you look at Annual Survey of Industry (ASI) data along with the Industrial Pollution Projection System (IPPS) method developed by the World Bank, this suggests that in the post-reforms period, the share of 'more polluting' industries in total manufacturing sector has gone up ('more polluting' includes paper, chemical, rubber and basic metals production see table for list of industries in various polluting categories). And this is true on all the three parameters selected, namely employment, value of output and value added.
In 2005-06, the share of 'more polluting' firms declined marginally when it came to employment while 39.5 per cent of those employed in the entire manufacturing sector in 2002-03 were in the 'more polluting' industry, this fell to 38.6 per cent in 2005-06. This marginal decline, however, did not take place when you look at the share of the 'more polluting' industry in overall manufacturing output or even value added (see table). The share of 'less polluting' industry (wood and wood products, for instance) rose but given its very low share (3.7 per cent in terms of overall manufacturing sector output), this hasn't helped much.
It is difficult, on the basis of the ASI data, to say whether industrial policy pursued since 1991 has had a bias in favour of 'more polluting' industry, but the structural shift in the relative share of the type of industry in total manufacturing indicates that 'more polluting' industries have expanded much faster than 'somewhat polluting' industries between 1990-91 and 2005-06.
When environment policies are weak, more polluting industries tend to come up in developing countries is this happening in India as well? The Industrial Entrepreneurs Memorandum (IEM) filed with Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion suggest this is the case. The share of 'more polluting' industry in the total IEM's filed since 1991 increased from 53 per cent in 1998 to 54 per cent in 2002 and further to 56 per cent in 2005. It is only after 2005 that their share in total IEMs declined a bit.
Another way to look at industrial pollution is to apply an innovative method pioneered by the World Bank where environmental data is generally not available. Based on extensive data available for USA, a ratio of emissions per unit of manufacturing activity was found and the World Bank calls this Industrial Pollution Intensity Index the method itself is called the Industrial Pollution Projection System (IPPS). It is obvious that there will be country-specific differences but the pattern of sectoral intensity rankings is likely to be similar.
Our calculation shows that air, land and water pollution load of the manufacturing sector as whole in 2005-06 has increased considerably as compared to 1990-91. For air pollution, the load rose from 2,108 tonnes in 1990-91 to 4,143 tonnes in 2002-03 and to 6,052 tonnes in 2005-06; for land pollution, the figures rose from 4,498 tonnes to 8,887 tonnes to 12,921 tonnes; for water pollution, the figures were 429, 926 and 1,239 tonnes respectively. That is, the pollution load of the manufacturing sector on all three counts (air, land and water) around doubled between 1990-91 and 2002-03 and then rose another 50 per cent after that. While it took more than 10 years for the pollution load to double from the 1990-91 level, it took only three more years for it to triple from the 1990-91 level.
Although industries belonging to the 'more polluting' segment emit more pollution per unit of output, their overall contribution to environmental pollution will depend upon their size in manufacturing activity. For example, though non-metallic mineral products belong to the category of 'more polluting' industries, their overall contribution in total air pollution load in 1990-91 was around 1.2 per cent of the total this has remained around the same ever since. On the other hand, though textiles belong to the category of 'somewhat polluting' industries, their contribution in total air pollution load was 10.6 per cent in 1990-91, 7.7 per cent in 2002-03 and 6.8 per cent in 2005-06. Moreover, the four largest polluting sectors (chemicals and chemical products, rubber, petroleum and coal products, basic metals and textiles) contributed around 88 per cent of total air pollution in 2005-06 and 91 per cent of the land pollution load. An implication of this is that a substantial reduction in total pollution loads can be achieved by actually focusing pollution control efforts on a limited number of industrial sectors.
Although a number of factors influence the growth and spread of industrial activity, industrial policy plays an important role. To the extent it reduces economic distortions and promotes economic efficiency by bringing in reallocation of resources and improving industrial efficiency, such policies are good for the environment. However, in the presence of unaddressed market failures and/or policy distortions, the reallocation of resources and increased industrial activity may actually aggravate environmental problems. Thus a policy programme that seeks to promote both industrial growth and environmental protection is always more attractive. Unfortunately, this is not the case in India.
(The author is Head and Senior Economist at Crisil Ltd. The views expressed are personal)
TOO HOT FOR COMFORT
SMALL AND MARGINAL FARMERS PRACTISING AGRICULTURE ON RAIN-FED FARMS WILL BEAR THE BRUNT OF CLIMATE CHANGE
The vulnerability of Indian agriculture to climate change is well acknowledged. But what is not fully appreciated is the impact this will have on rain-fed (non-irrigated) agriculture, practiced mostly by small and marginal farmers who will suffer the most. The crops that may be hit include pulses and oilseeds, among others. These are already in short supply and are consequently high-priced.
Nearly 80 million hectares, out of the country's net sown area of around 143 million hectares, lack irrigation facilities and, hence, rely wholly on rain water for crop growth. Over 85 per cent of the pulses and coarse cereals, more than 75 per cent of the oilseeds and nearly 65 per cent of cotton are produced from such lands. The crop yields are quiet low. The available records indicated that the predominantly rain-fed tracts experience three to four droughts every 10 years. Of these, two to three droughts are generally of moderate intensity and one is severe.
Most of the rain-fed lands, moreover, are in arid and semi-arid zones where annual rainfall is meagre and prolonged dry spells are quite usual even during the monsoon season. This makes crop cultivation highly risk-prone. If the quantum of rainfall in these areas drops further or its pattern undergoes any distinct, albeit unforeseeable, change in the coming years, which seems quite likely in view of climate change, crop productivity may dwindle further, adding to the woes of rain-fed farmers.
According to A K Singh, deputy director-general (natural resource management) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), medium-term climate change predictions have projected the likely reduction in crop yields due to climate change at between 4.5 and 9 per cent by 2039. The long run predictions paint a scarier picture with the crop yields anticipated to fall by 25 per or more by 2099. This will have a detrimental effect on farmers' income and purchasing power, with obvious down-the-line repercussions.
Though the rainfall records available with the India Meteorological Department (IMD) do not indicate any perceptible trend of change in overall annual monsoon rainfall in the country, noticeable changes have been observed within certain distinct regions. At least three meteorological sub-divisions Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Kerala have shown significant decrease in seasonal rainfall though some others have recorded an uptrend in precipitation as well. Since rain-fed crops, like coarse grains, pulses and oilseeds are grown mostly during the kharif season, these are impacted by both low as well as excess rainfall. The groundnut crop in the Rayalaseema area of Andhra Pradesh in 2008 can be a case in point. It suffered substantial damage because of high as well as low rainfall at different stages of crop growth. While heavy rainfall early in the season adversely affected the development of pegs (which bear groundnut pods below the soil), the relatively drier spell at the later stage hit the development of pods.
This aside, climate change is also reflected in the increasingly fluctuating weather cycle with unpredictable cold waves, heat waves, floods and exceptionally heavy single-day downpours. The most noticeable of such events in recent years included the country-wide drought in 2002, the heat wave in Andhra Pradesh in May 2003, extremely cold winters in 2002 and 2003, and prolonged dry spell in July 2004 and January 2005 in the north, unusual floods in the Rajasthan desert in 2005, drought in the north-east in 2006, abnormal temperature in January and February in 2007, and 23 per cent rainfall deficiency in the 2009 monsoon season. All these events took a heavy toll on crop output.
Indeed, the silver-lining in this dismal scenario is the National Action Plan on Climate Change, launched in 2008, which aims at developing technologies to help rain-fed agriculture adapt to the changing climate patterns. At least four of the eight 'national missions' started under this programme will have direct or indirect bearing on rain-fed farming. These are the missions on sustainable agriculture, water, green India and strategic knowledge.
The ICAR-led national agricultural research system is also conducting research on specific projects under the umbrella programme on climate change. "Apart from the use of technological advances to combat climate change, there has to be sound policy framework and strong political will to achieve this objective", maintains Singh. State agricultural universities and regional farm research centres, too, will have to play a role in developing local situation-specific strategies for adapting the rain-fed farming to emerging climate patterns.
MONITORING FISCAL CONSOLIDATION
LEGISLATION ON FISCAL DISCIPLINE WILL NOT HELP UNLESS GOVERNMENT IS READY TO BITE THE BULLET
M GOVINDA RAO
With renewed emphasis on fiscal consolidation, it is necessary to internalise the lessons from the first phase of the implementation of the fiscal responsibility legislation. It is clear from experience that the mere passing of the legislation will not bring about fiscal discipline. First of all, it is necessary for the government, not just the Ministry of Finance, to take responsibility for fiscal discipline for stable macroeconomic management and political motivation; no legislation can ensure this. This is not to mean that legislation does not have any role. This can work when the executive realises the urgency of the issue and is willing to make the required sacrifices. Secondly, it is necessary to evolve an institutional mechanism not only to monitor but also to ensure the participation of all spending departments in implementation.
The experience with the implementation of the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act (FRBMA) has raised some important questions on its efficacy. First, there were attempts at creative accounting to show compliance, the most obvious being the subsidies on fertilizer, food and oil which were taken out of the budget to show lower fiscal and revenue deficits. Second, although the fiscal deficit estimates broadly followed the targets set by the task force for the first three years, the targets were missed in the last two years by a wide margin. This was mainly due to burgeoning subsidies, the loan waiver and revision of pay scales. The attempt to attribute this to the global financial crisis and characterise the rise in expenditure as "stimulus" only raises questions about the credibility and commitment of the government. Third, even in the first three years, there were pauses and the actual adjustment did not follow the path set out by the FRBMA task force. Contrary to the stipulated reduction of revenue expenditure by two percentage points from 13.1 per cent in 2003-04 to 11 per cent in 2008-09, the revenue expenditure actually increased to 14.5 per cent.
Similarly, FRBMA adjustment path required an increase in the percentage of capital expenditure to GDP ratio from 2.3 in 2003-04 to 3.4 in 2008-09. Instead, it declined to 1.6 percent. Thus, whatever adjustment was made was on account of the increase in tax revenues, lower interest payments due to debt swap and compression of capital expenditures.
The 13th Finance Commission in its revised roadmap for fiscal consolidation has recommended that the Central government's debt-GDP ratio should be reduced from 54.2 percent in 2009-10 to 44.8 per cent in 2014-15. In their scheme, this translates into compression of the fiscal deficit from 6.8 per cent to 3 percent and phasing out of the revenue deficit from 4.8 percent. It has also recommended increase in disinvestment proceeds from 0.1 percent to one percent and increase in capital expenditure from 2.1 percent to 4.5 percent; outstanding guarantees are to be capped at 5 percent of GDP instead of an annual 0.5 percent of GDP.
The commission has also recommended a number of reforms in the FRBM legislation to make the adjustment process more transparent, responsive to exogenous shocks and to ensure better monitoring and compliance. It has recommended the preparation of a more detailed medium-term fiscal plan (MTFP) to put forward detailed forward estimates of revenues and expenditures to make it a statement of "commitment" rather than merely one of "intent". It has recommended a number of micro measures such as putting forward the economic and functional classification of expenditures as a part of MTFP, preparing the detailed statement on Central transfers to states, reporting compliance costs on the major tax proposals, presenting the revenue consequences of capital expenditures, fiscal fallout of PPPs, preparation of an inventory of vacant land and buildings valued at market prices by all departments and enterprises.
The commission has recommended that the values of parameters underlying the projection of revenues and expenditures in the MTFP should be made explicit and the band within which the parameters can vary when there are exogenous shocks while remaining within the FRBM targets. It has also recommended that the nature of shocks warranting the relaxation of FRBM targets should be specified. The stimulus to the states should be in terms of larger devolution rather than increased borrowing limits and the Centre should meet this additional cost. Most importantly, the commission has recommended the setting up of a committee which will eventually transform into a fiscal council to conduct an annual independent public review and monitoring of the FRBM process. The council should be an autonomous body reporting to the Ministry of Finance, which in turn should report to the Parliament on matters dealt with by the council.
Although many of the recommendations are important, the question is whether the commission has gone beyond its mandate to micro manage the process. In fact, some of the recommendations are not necessary for the implementation of FRBM per se, whether it is providing a detailed statement on Central transfers to states or a statement on the inventory of land and buildings. Indeed, requirements such as presenting compliance costs of various tax proposals have formidable data problems with the taxpayers unwilling to disclose the cost such as the amount of bribe paid to tax officials. The NIPFP study in 2002 by Arindam Das-Gupta had to rely on a small sample to make the estimates.
Mere passing of the FRBMA and presenting the detailed MTFP with all the details recommended does not translate the intent into commitment. Has the government not been presenting the documents on outcome budgeting and revenue foregone from various tax exemptions and concessions without much effect? Furthermore, without the involvement of the various spending departments in the preparation of MTFP, it will be impossible to ensure discipline from them.
How much faith can we repose in the capacity of the committee which will evolve into a Fiscal Council to undertake independent review and monitoring of the process? Given that the council will be appointed by the Finance Ministry and will report to it, how independent will the review be and how effective the monitoring process? Without the government's willingness, institutions cannot ensure fiscal discipline.
The author is director, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi. Views are personal.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NEEDED, CONSUMER-FOCUSED REGULATORS
The consumer needs a guardian. And, a powerful, devoted one at that. Regulators mostly focus on the big picture and tend to miss the daily, routine pain of the consumer. Action in favour of consumers often comes in bursts and after long lags. And, once it does come, it takes long for the spirit of the change to filter down. Thereafter, enforcement remains a big issue.
The criticism may sound harsh, especially when it comes at a time when most regulators are literally in overdrive. Take the case of RBI the regulator of banking services in India. The centralbank has pursued vigorously the case of existing home loan borrowers who get left out of downward home loan interest rate changes even as new home loan borrowers are enticed with lower interest rate offers. Sebi, the markets and mutual fund regulator has brought in dramatic, consumer-centric changes modification of the IPO process, scrapping of compulsory commissions to mutual fund distributors etc. IRDA, the insurance regulator, has done its bit by moving on initial expenses of the popular (and highly mis-sold) unit-linked insurance plans and Trai, the telecom regulator, regularly publishes a quality of service audit of all mobile services providers.
The above measures do not in any way indicate the absence of regulatory oversight. Consumer and financial markets have indeed become better and safer over the years. But, at the same time one can argue that the regulators took an inordinately long time to respond to problems that were well known for years.
The reason for delay in corrective action perhaps lies in the way regulators structure their priorities. For instance, Trai can hardly be expected to scan mobile phone billing closely at a time when there is a huge government-corporate and corporate-corporate war going on over allocation of new licences and spectrum.
The same holds for RBI inflation, withdrawal of loose monetary policy is perhaps what is taking most of its time right now and not some piddly interest rate calculation on a co-branded credit card. In a nutshell, the regulator-to-business (R2B) aspect overwhelms the regulator-to-consumer (R2C) one in the way things happen right now.
One would expect in the current day and age that there would be intelligent systems capable of classifying consumer complaints and detecting a pattern. Timely detection of such patterns will mean that the regulator will be in a position to move all by itself to plug gaps that are being used to rip the consumer off. This unfortunately does not seem to be happening.
Plus, mandatory information disclosure still has a long way to go. For instance, why can't banks post a standard home/ car/personal loan agreement clearly on their websites so that customers can read through carefully before picking up the phone to ask for a loan? Why can't insurance companies be asked to disclose publicly on their websites the percentage of claims they pay? Why can't the finest of the finest detail about each insurance policy be available for download from the company website?
Topping this is a huge unregulated space where the law of the jungle rules. Real estate is one good example. Consumers continue to fight delayed allotment, poor workmanship & pure cheating and get swindled on something as basic as built-up area, carpet area and super area. Is no one aware or is someone not listening or does someone not have the time to act? Addressing little-little aspects at the consumer level will go a long way in removing the source of a large number of consumer complaints.
This isn't about a grievance redressal mechanism. This is more about combing through tonnes of communication and data to identify areas about which consumers are complaining the most and identifying specific areas which need to be tightened. Perhaps, one solution is to set up a body which records and classifies all kinds of consumer complaints. This body can find patterns and identify weak areas. It should also be the job of this body to pursue the appropriate regulator or ministry or department to plug the gaps found.
This body could also devise a mechanism that electronically tracks the status of a consumer's complaint till the time it is resolved or till the time the disputing parties agree to fight it out in court. Various consumer organisations and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) can interact with it to put law change requests forward. Effectively, it means regulators can outsource the nitty-gritty details of their 'C' (consumer) aspect to this body if they are not in a position to focus on it themselves.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IT'S SOMETIMES SIMPLE: ARRIVING MATTERS
A friend once said, "But what do we do when we get there after driving 12 hours?" That particular time, the "there" in question was a little hill station which apparently still lay cocooned in its sleepy colonial legacy but it could have been anywhere the group had decided to go that year to have elicited an identical comment from one or the other of us. For, depending on our profound priorities, some needed an accessible high-end food joint to get hamburgers and pizzas, some a nearby fastwater for fly fishing; others required historical structures within spitting distance, yet others cable TV in their hotel. Whatever the instance, however, the arrogant wail invariably was: "But what do we do when we get there?"
What indeed? After all if there's an effort involved, there must be a payoff attached. Also, we lose sight of the question so often that the more streetsmart amongst us tend to fall into the refined trap of subscribing to the often convenient belief that it's the travelling which matters, not the arriving. (Your vacation begins when you lock the front door. The start of a thousand mile journey is taking the first step. Etc.)
Yet the main reason why all arrivals are not created equal and there's so frequently a sense of deficit after reaching one's destination is because the planning was reward oriented to begin with without realising the plan itself was the prize. Apparently Arjuna too was famously ploughing the same furrow on a battlefield in Kurukshetra when he stopped to ask his illustrious charioteer "What's in it for me?" Krishna had to remind him repeatedly there was no goal involved but that of action without afterthought.
Evolution too, plays out along similar lines. Admittedly its efforts are purposeless and goals blind but in the end after multi millions of years it appears even if in hindsight that its progress can be justified because it didn't necessarily orient itself to the best arrival scenario.
It also doesn't pat itself on the back for having perfected the adaptability of a humming bird or virus, nor does it regret the many who got ruthlessly eliminated along the way. But if a whole species had an overmind it would probably say to itself, "Hey, what do you know, a whole lot of us made it! At least to this point. Of course what we do from here is another story and some of us, again, may not make it. But it's worth a try, right?"
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IBM SURVIVED DUE TO FOCUS ON CUSTOMER: ERICH CLEMENTI
PANKAJ MISHRA & PEERZADA ABRAR
BANGALORE: For India's growing outsourcing companies, IBM's 100 years of existence offers several valuable lessons on addressing people-led linear growth and dealing with the growth versus profitability dilemma. As IBM prepares to define its business goals for the next century, increased focus on India and technologies such as cloud computing are set to play a crucial role. Erich Clementi, IBM's head of global strategy, is in many ways the brain behind every major bet the Big Blue makes. From reviving IBM's traditional mainframe computer server business a few years ago to devising a strategy for offshore outsourcing, Clementi has earned the reputation of being IBM's 'thinking cap'. In an exclusive interview to ET, he captures IBM's 100 years of existence, the lessons learnt and the strategies ahead. Excerpts:
What are a few tipping points or inflection points that enabled IBM to survive over the past hundred years?
Over the past hundred years, we have taken several decisions, some of them were hard ones too. I think IBM drew different conclusions than other companies around 2002, from what was happening. Looking back, the mainframe was the seminal moment, it created the software industrythere was no software industry.
In 1993, because of our crisis, we realised that we needed to move to services. In 2002, we had three conclusions: value shift to integrated model, compute model shift and we realised globalisation sooner than others. Part of the industry was still thinking about the next hot gadget that people will buy among other things. We saw three fundamental shifts taking place. The first change was globalisation. The common thread to all this was that we stayed focused on the enterprise.
The rule of the thumb is that if you are not making profit, you have to ask yourself: is it because you are uncompetitive or you are operating in a space which is so commoditised that everybody can do it and it is very difficult to be perceived different. Take, for instance, the PC industry and the airline industry, which is nearly profitless. We are going to be 100 years old next year. How many technology companies have survived so long? We had our close shaves too, but we survived because we are focussed on our customers. When the biggest problem of automating the back office emerged, IBM created mainframes, we created disks. Then disks became a commodity, (and) we sold our hard disk business to Hitachi. The value had gone into software, so we built a software portfolio. We used to do only hardware and customers told us to do the integration, so we went into services. When services got that scaling issue, we needed standardisation, we moved heavily into software. When value moved from base software to integration software, we started integration framework with the industry. Compare it with companies that have gone down. Digital Equipment dominated the distributed world, they were technically brilliant. When PC came around, it became so powerful that it killed the distributed module. Customers were giving them signals, but they did not get it. You have to listen to the customer.
We observed three fundamental changesglobalisation, we said that there are a billion new consumers that are emerging, India and China were the posterchildren, but it was not really limited to them. There were Latin America and ASEAN countries. We asked ourselves: how do we deal with that? There was an opportunity shift. Second thing we saw was that our distributed compute model was unsustainable from a cost and complexity point of view. At that point of time, if you remember, we said compute on-demand. That might have been premature, certain technical and standards were missing. The third change we saw is that customers want a more integrated buying experience.
If you want to step back and compare us to others, we have made two conscious decisionsrelentless focus on the enterprise space and high value. If something commoditises, we do not want to play for a simple reason that you can be very, very good but a good business model outweighs a good execution.
What are the top lessons IBM has learnt over the past hundred years? What did you do after observing these shifts in the marketplace?
Lot of people associate IBM with hardware. Last year our profit from hardware was just 7%, while 42% was services, 42% was software, 9% was financing. Our software business is $24 billion. We grew our software business in the last 10 years by $10 billion. After Microsoft and Oracle, in middleware we are the biggest. Services alone, sooner or later, will not scale, it is a lot of complexity. In terms of acquisitions, Indian companies now are buying software and our West Coast competitors are buying services companies. We moved into services in 1990s. We saw the value moving to software and middleware.
We said that we have to deliver value which is not going to be in PCs and laptops, so we sold that to Lenovo. If customers want an integrated experience, then we need to know the industry and we bought PricewaterhouseCoopers. If the compute model is going to be different, then we need to be aligned with most important drivers and that is system management and automation technology and anything around data. We spent around $12 billion between acquisitions and data. The other area where we massively invested was Maximo and Tivoli asset management. It was because of these three fundamental shifts.
As you become more global, political lobbies become very difficult to deal with, especially in the business of outsourcing. How to deal with protectionism?
Look, populist or not, you do not stop something like globalisation. The way we look at the world is there is an opportunity, and you need to go after it. It was a daring thing for a small company in the US around 1914 to say you know we are International Business Machines (IBM). Tom Watson always believed in that, it's fascinating that somebody would think this way some hundred years ago. Last year, our revenues from growth markets were 19% of the total revenue. Every year they got a lot of percentage point of our revenue. The delta between the two is pretty constant between 8-9% and that is huge, because we are talking of volumes here. The investments in India, China and Brazil are huge. To deal with organisational complexity, you have to be faster in emerging markets than the mature markets. In India, we are an Indian company; in the US we are an American company. We are part of the social and economic fabric everywhere we operate.
So how did we react to globalisation? In India, in 2000, we were few and today we are very many. Last year we created a growth market unit in IBM to take in account the way you need to operate here. We couldn't operate with the same complexity we did in mature market, so we created a emerging market unit located in Shanghai, it covers India, China, Middle East, Africa, Russia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, Australia and excluding Japan.
Many of your Indian outsourcing rivals face the growth versus profitability question. What to pursue, and must you sacrifice margins for growth?
Margin is an expression of value, of a relative value. When you have something that makes you more desirable is when you can charge higher value than somebody else.
You can deliver value when you have something more desirable than others, otherwise it is difficult to define margin. I think outsourcing will move to sourcing options and the opportunity is endless. It makes sense to be aggressive on margins if you know that once you have volume, you will get the scale effect. Assume that you have high fixed cost-based business. What you want is a lot of volumes. As soon as you add anything to the fixed costs, every new volumes that comes in is profit. If instead your business does not have a leverage factor, then every point of margin you give away is a profit. Take software companies which have margin of 80-85%. The marginal cost of an addition is almost zero. So software has a very good margin. There will always be segments that commoditise where margin goes away, e.g. labour arbitrage.
So is India-led offshoring not really sustainable?
For sure (it's not). What is happening in India is that it is one of the fastest growing countries and is going to have increasing wealth. With increasing wealth, there are going to be other countries with better cost structure. How do you afford a higher cost structure? You need to deliver more value. So naturally, some of the available work will go where it is best executed.
Take, for example, what IBM is doing in india. We started out with offshoring, but today we have IBM India Research Lab, India Software lab, Cloud Lab, Business Innovation Lab, GPS Delivery Excellence Lab. Lab means intellectual property. I am sure the Indian companies are moving in the same direction. I mean, Tata bought Jaguar and Sunil Mittal just acquired Zainyou are creating multinationals. That's very different from being labour or just offshoring.
Some would argue that IBM is becoming too big and the complexity is only increasing. From what we witnessed at Toyota, how do you ensure that increasing complexities do not lead to more challenges?
I said before that customers increasingly wanted integrated suppliers, they did not want to be self-integrators anymore. It's surely complex, but customers want us to deliver. They wanted something they could buy as a result. Do you think it's easier for me to make IBM hardware, software and services to work together, or it's easier for me to get Cisco, EMC, Microsoft and HP to work together?
Many people say consumerisation is driving commoditisation. But I think consumerisation innovates the interface. For example, what India does on the cellphones is phenomenal that too at low cost. You invented a lower cost, innovative way to do this. But innovation is not to so much on end-to-end. The innovation in consumerisation is mostly on interface but it drives the innovation for the whole supply chain. IBM sits in the supply chain. For instance in India, when Bharti Airtel innovates, we are directly participating in delivering that value, because we handle their back office. When iPhones take over in the US with AT&T, we are faced with the delivery problem because we have to deliver the value. However, there is a lot of innovation required in infrastructure to deliver the user experience. If iPhone is the tip of the ice berg, then enterprise including IBM is the ice berg.
Many years ago, India's top technology companies started offshore outsourcing and disrupted the existing models. Can cloud computing do the same to these companies' low-cost, India-based delivery models?
Cloud computing is the next big wave, but everything is not going to the cloud, because the cloud is a new delivery methodology. Cloud is a complimentary delivery model, but it will take 15-20 years to mature. A sign of a maturing industry is reintegration. When an industry is very young, everyone tries to compete on functional base alone. When technology matures more and becomes more pervasive, you need make sense to the customer. Cloud computing is the industrialisation of IT-supported services. Back to industry dynamics you need to have three thingshardware, software and delivery capabilities. Either you acquire or get together to create these capabilities. But we are happy with these capabilities.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TO FOCUS ON DIRECT LENDING TO FARM SECTOR: INDIAN BANK
DEEPSHIKHA SIKARWAR & DHEERAJ TIWARI
Indian Bank has firmed up its plans both for domestic and international expansion and set itself a 20% credit growth target. Under its newly-appointed chairman and managing director TM Bhasin, the bank wants to target the farm and the SME sector. In an interview to ET, Mr Bhasin elaborates on his plans. Excerpts
Do you see credit growth picking up? What are your targets for the new fiscal?
We've crossed a total business of Rs 1,51,000 crore as of March 31 this year. Out of this, Rs 1,45,000 crore has been generated from domestic business and the rest from our global business. We have set a target of 20% growth for the current financial year. We believe that the total business should go up to Rs 1,83,000 crore, of which Rs 1,75,000 crore should come from the domestic side operations and the rest from our foreign operations. Also, we'll be focusing on our international business, especially in Sri Lanka and Singapore.
What are the priority areas for the bank?
Our focus area will be lending to the agriculture sector. We've already crossed the 18% agriculture credit target. Now, we plan to grow it at 20% or so, and the focus will be more towards direct lending to the agriculture sector. Another important area is lending to medium and small enterprises (MSME). Last year, we achieved a growth of 35% and we would like to continue at the same pace in the current financial year 2010-11. Internally, we have decided to increase our exposure towards lending in sectors like retail, housing and education. Our next focus area will be will be infrastructure lending. As far as corporate loans are concerned, there is always a competition to match the rates and hence we're going for a diversified risk portfolio.
Your bank has been so far focused on the southern part of the country. Are there any plans to strengthen your pan-India presence?
We have, as on date, 1,756 branches. Out of this, our major presence is in Tamil Nadu (757) and Andhra Pradesh (230). The credit absorption in these areas has been very good. Also, the non-performing assets (NPAs) have been very low as compared with other banks. Now, we are focusing on opening 400 branches in the next two years and around 80% of these branches will be in northern and western areas of the country.
Both the government and RBI are very concerned about financial inclusion. Have you firmed up your plans?
We've already submitted the plans to RBI and government. These plans have been approved by our board. We are aiming at taking the services of the post-offices and kirana merchants. Already this model is being tested by some banks and is at nascent stage.
Are you expecting some recaptilisation support from the government and any plans for a follow on public offer?
Our capital adequacy ratio is already at 13.28%, and after the results we'll be ploughing some profits to the reserve, which will give us some head room. Our tier I is already 8.6% and if at all we need more capital, we'll go for follow on public offer. This depends on how the need arises and how is the market conditions.
The new base rate system is soon going to be put in place. Who will benefit the most from this regime?
Well, prime lending rate (PLR) has lost its relevance because most of the banks to muster business have been giving sub-PLR loans and that has affected the bottomline. The regulator has been concerned since some banks are taking short-term deposits and lending long-term, creating a mismatch. With this new base rate system, there'll be equilibrium between corporate and non-corporate interest rates and the small borrowers will benefit the most out of it.
Do you see the interest rates moving northward and what are your expectations from the monetary policy review?
I don't see interest rates moving up in the next 30 days. I don't think there will be any immediate exorbitant rise in interest rates. As of today, inflation control is the most important thing. Whatever monetary policy measures are taken, will fall in line with that. Rabi crop is coming, which is a bumper crop and this should cool down the food inflation part. The policy, in my view, will focus on inclusive growth, inflation control and some announcement on augmenting the export.
Any plans to move into non-core businesses?
As on date we've this bancassurance agreement with HDFC on life insurance and with United India on non-life insurance. The focus is how we can increase the commission income from premium. We've not decided anything for going into some other business. Also, life insurance is a capital intensive industry. We'll put all options before the board and then take a call on it.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
RECALL VALUE OF A CARD IS FAR HIGHER THAN SMS, EMAIL'S
GOURI AGTEY ATHALE
Remember those old-fashioned greeting cards that you used to receive in dozens in snail mail on your birthdays and other special days? Well, theyare still around and Hallmark, a more than 100-year-old US greeting cards company, is on a return to India. Its Indian franchisee, Vintage Cards and Creations, which ran into huge problems some years ago, is now restructuring. It wants to catch up with Archies, the leader in the Rs 300-crore Indian greeting cards market, says Nitin Naik, executive director, Vintage Cards.
The company hopes to make major grounds over the next three years through regional-language cards, corporate gifts and expanded distribution network, adds Mr Naik who was once the super distributor for Vintage Cards, when it was being run by the original promoters, Anil Kapur and Rajeev Vaishnav. The company, whose single largest shareholder is the Sharad Pawar family's media empire Sakal Papers with a 26% stake, is also eyeing private equity to fund its expansion, he told ET in an interview. Excerpts:
Could you explain your revival strategy for Vintage Cards and Hallmark brand in India?
Nine years ago, Archies and Vintage were at par. Today, Archies has grown five fold and we have fallen five fold. It will take us time to get back. We have a three-year road map, which includes expanding our franchisee network, getting out new products like greeting cards in regional languages and the export of Hallmark-branded products from India targeting the Indian diaspora and items like scented candles besides corporate gifts.
We expect to be operationally profitable from our first full year of business, that is, from 2010-11. However, it will take four-five years before we wipe off our accumulated losses of Rs 26 crore which could rise to Rs 30 crore. We are looking at raising additional capital and are in talks with banks to raise debt or then we could look at an open offer. Private equity is another option.
You were a Vintage Card distributor once; now you are heading the company. How and when did the transition happen?
Vintage Cards and Creations was set up by the Kapur and Vaishnav duo, who then established the Hallmark franchise in India. The company went public, when Schroeder Capital was one of its investors. From 2000, Vintage began doing badly and by 2005, it had lots of financial problems, including a host of unsecured debtors. I was one of the debtors since I had been an all India super distributor for Hallmark. A scheme of arrangement was worked out, the capital reduced and unsecured debtors converted into equity. I now hold a 9.5% stake and run the operations.
A new board was set up, comprising the unsecured debtors who had converted their dues into equity, which took over the management of the company in 2006-07, before finally getting control on April 1, 2009. By December 2008, Mr Vaishnav stepped down and the scheme of arrangement was completed under which the equity structure changed.
But isn't technology challenging the existence of greeting card industry, with the increasing use of emails and mobile messages (SMSes)?
No! The greeting cards business is more or less stagnant at Rs 300 crore, true. But the recall value of a card is far higher than an SMS and email. Moreover, the regional language market for cards has not really been tapped.
We sell cards with Marathi messages: this is a really big market since 40% of the cards we sell in Maharashtra are in Marathi: that is a Rs 4-5 crore per annum market. I believe that languages with a literary heritage have a market waiting to be tapped so we could do Bengali and Gujarati in a year's time. We are also studying the southern Indian language market. And Hallmark would like us to go to Bangladesh, which makes Bengali a very attractive market. For the moment, though, we are concentrating on the English and Marathi markets.
We are also looking at the gifting business since that segment comprises a far bigger market, worth around Rs 2,000 crore, but is dominated by the unorganised sector.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
RCOM TARGETS 100 MN NEW USERS IN 1,000 DAYS: SAFAWI
JOJI THOMAS PHILIP
Syed Safawi is just 100 days into the corner room of Reliance Communications (RCOM), but he has already launched a strategic shift at India's second-largest mobile phone firm. He says the tariff war plaguing the companies could well be over because new launches are getting more rational on the tariff front. Putting employees on top of the priority list, he says the message has been conveyed that winning is improving the revenue market share to 20% over the next three years from the current 12%. RCOM has set itself a target of getting its next 100 million customers in 1,000 days, which Mr Safawi believes can be achieved with its current pace of growth. Mr Safawi is changing the compensation structure in the company with an emphasis on target-linked pay across the board. The rewards and variables will no longer be on annual basis, but quarterly, he tells ET in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
It has been 100 days since you joined RCOM as its wireless business CEO. What is your take on the telco?
We have mapped out where we were as a company, and having figured that, we have chalked out a strategy of where we want to go, and how to get there. We have launched a new strategy, R2.0 R stands for resurgence, reformation, revival and even Reliance, while 2.0 is the new version of the company. We are on a transformation journey, a 360 degree initiative of being new.
Is the new strategy, R2.0, born out of the realisation that RCOM was losing market share? Reliance topped subscriber additions in the first three months of last year, but since then it has declined.
It is beyond that. R2.0 is about a change in strategy. We wanted to see if customers were the benchmark, or if it is something larger than that. R2.0 will measure our business health differently. We have just unleashed a new vision for RCOM, which we will make public within the next week to 10 days.
What will change?
We defined winning differently. Earlier, winning was all about customer market share, but now, it will be only about incremental revenue market share leadership this is a change in the way RCOM operates.
We have defined nine strategic pillars and six enablers, which will get us there and also laid down measures to define success. For example, some of the nine strategic pillars are say distribution we are new into GSM, we have a long way to go, and therefore, we must enhance distribution. In CDMA, it is about value creation. Here, it is linked to handset and how do we play the handset game. Another critical pillar is people. Enhancing our network, customer experience are some of the enablers that will get us there. Everybody in the organisation will be measured against these parameters.
RCOM has also automated its operational structure a person sitting in Mumbai can see national, regional, local, cluster level and even picture what is happening at the site. If my traffic/customer base is dropping, or revenues are coming down at the site level, this can now be measured. Revenue market share has to come from the traffic and customer market share at each site. The performance of the organisation is a buildup of that. Next big change is everybody in the organisation from foot soldier to the CEO will have a significant portion of their salaries linked to meeting revenue market share leadership targets. This will no longer be calculated annually, but on a quarterly basis. We have further empowered our employees as their performance targets and data are all SMS linked the employee can pull out his performance data via SMS, evaluate where he stands and calculate his reward.
How will RCOM attract better talent? The industry perception that the best of talent does not go to Reliance, is this a concern?
The changes over the past 100 days should be testimony that we are changing and attracting best talent in the industry. The people who have joined us in our top management are all from competition. R2.0 is also employee-centric and proof we are changing with regard to our employees. The reward system we have put in place shows we are not only seeing a reformed RCOM, but also the new look and face to a transformed RCOM.
What are the customer targets as part of R2.0?
Next 100 million customers in 1,000 days. This can be met at current growth rates. It is, therefore, about incremental market share and this is a huge strategic shift. We are comfortable with current growth rates and we will retain it. We are not walking away from customer share, but focus will be on the quality of customers and what we need to do to increase usage.
How do you increase the quality of customers? CDMA, your core base, suffers from a perception problem.
On CDMA, we are upgrading handsets to give better choices to our customers. On GSM, we are increasing the quality of customers by focusing on revenue earning customers. For example, our focus will not be limited to acquiring a customer, but also giving him recharge options. Then you get much better quality customers from day one.
Other telcos, whose tariffs are not as low or competitive, are doing equally well, or even better. Does the customer really understand a few paise lower here and there?
On the acquisition side, all operators are adding the same level of customers. All top players are adding between 2.6 to 3 million and entry level tariffs are common for the industry. What is different is the base as some operators may have a higher level of postpaid customers, translating into higher revenues.
Does it put new entrants like you at a disadvantage as the older operators have a huge base and they need not offer competitive tariffs to their existing customers as these subscribers cannot shift out?
Our calculations show that Bharti has 30% revenue market share, while RCOM has 12%, so, in terms of customer market share, you are second, but in terms of revenues, you are at the level of Idea Cellular. We see this as an opportunity. Our CDMA customers are the core base and we are challengers in GSM.
But the difference is that your core base may not give you revenues as compared to Bharti's core base...
RCOM also has a core base of data customers (data card users). We are market leaders here by a huge margin, this is a high-speed, 3G-enabled service and brings in 6-7 times the ARPU of mobile customers. So, I am driving data, I am aggressive in GSM and I have core CDMA base, which is very stable. Both GSM and our data offerings are expanding rapidly. Our high-speed data services will soon be available in 100 towns while our 1x data services are offered in 10,000 towns. The data speeds in CDMA are far superior. Also, for the first time, the peak capex is behind us our capex for this fiscal is Rs 3,000 crore, but we were spending about Rs 10,000 crore each over the past two years. We are now cash positive and at a position to drive growth. In three years time, our target is to achieve a 20% revenue market share. We are at the takeoff point.
But if the top 3-4 players are adding same number of customers, if acquisition tariffs are same for all players, then where is the differentiator that will help increase revenue market share?
The stickiness of CDMA is far greater because of the handset and churn is much less. Unlike competitors, RCOM has a portfolio that has three wings CDMA, data services and GSM presenting us the platform to increase revenue market share.
Again, one of your wings, data, will soon be with GSM competitors too as the 3G spectrum auctions are just round the corner.
But we will also bid aggressively for 3G. These services will take time to roll out. It will first come to the top 100 cities. RCOM will compete in the first 100 cities on 3G, but difference is that, by then, we will have our data card services in 500 cities and CDMA-based 1x data services in about 20,000 towns.
Does the survival of some of the operators depend on 3G? If 3G and number portability happens, high-end customers of operators, who don't offer these services, may walk away. Telcos with 3G can ride the spectrum crunch by shifting customers to 3G networks.
Yes, that may be the case with some operators. For us, 3G is a technology road map. Being new to GSM, we have enough headroom to acquire new customers here outside 3G. Same with our CDMA operations. Unlike, some players, RCOM doesn't need 3G to shift some existing customers to that platform to relive 2G spectrum crunch. We have a road map for data though CDMA. Globally, 25-30% of revenues come from data, but in India it is only about 10%. So there is ample scope for growth.
Is the debt on your balance sheet a concern? Even with Bharti's $9 billion loan to buy Zain's African operations, its debt will still be only as much, or a little more than what you are carrying currently. Look at it from the historical perspective. In the past two years alone, our capex was at Rs 20,000 crore. Now, that is behind us. We have a free cash flow and this year will be repaying some of our debt. Our EBIDTAs is more than adequate to take of debt. RCOM's fixed costs are already taken care and going forward, the company's balance sheet will improve. We are at that point of time when the peak is behind us.
What do you see as the future for telecom in India? Can tariffs fall further? What about consolidation? What is the way forward for the sector?
The peak tariff erosion has already happened. If you see recent launches, they have been rational on the tariff front. Everybody has realised that we cannot sell at below cost for ever. But there will be the normal erosion based on customers coming in, tariffs vouchers, etc. My opinion is that, there will not be a huge erosion on tariffs in the future. We clearly see termination charges as another opportunity to reduce tariffs further this can go down to 10 paise/minute and ultimately zero. There is some value in lowering termination rates, especially because, operators are not in a position to lower tariffs further.
In an indirect way, consolidation is already happening. All new players are not going in for pan-India rollouts. They have become very cautious and are opting for select rollouts. This is the first step in consolidation. But will we buy some of the new players? We have to see what we are buying. Once number portability comes in, we can get those customers we already have a superior network when compared to the new players, we have better distribution, stronger brand, employees, systems and processes. So an acquisition will only buy spectrum. If you are amongst the top few players, you are already there, all our offerings are already superior. This must be a worry for the new players, there is nothing that an incumbent can get by buying them out.
For India's telecom sector, annual revenue growth will be at 6-7%. Industry revenue will be around Rs 107,000 crore this fiscal. Data revenues are set to go up and we are well placed to tap that. 3G will offer new revenue streams that could become big. In the next two years, maybe only about 6 players will be left in the country. This is because, operators cannot keep losing for every minute they offer to customers. There is no way that key stakeholders and promoters will allow this to continue for long.
What are the new verticals you are looking at for increasing revenues?
Beyond traditional value-added services (VAS), there are two verticals which we have been looking at. One is m-commerce financial services on mobile. There are other areas that will become very big such as multi-portal gaming. Given our strength in data, this is a huge opportunity for us. The next is about adjacent industries and how companies can tap them through mobiles. For example, health it is already undergoing a revolution in India with top hospitals coming up. We at RCOM also have insurance services (offered by the ADA Group). Now, the aim is to offer a patient all his health data on his mobile and link it with his insurance provider. He should be able to make payments on his mobile, view his history and even the doctor should be able to monitor all this - this will be the next explosion. Globally, health data is getting digitised and with download speeds going up, all this should be available on mobiles.
Your level of outsourcing is lower than that of Bharti...
We have a balanced outsourcing model. For IT, we have our own in-house company called RTS. We have outsourced the management of our GSM networks to the Alcatel-Lucent JV that we have formed with them. Outsourcing is to rationalise and reduce costs, but if my in-house model can help me reduce costs, I'll use that. At the same time, we are also open to engaging with other partners to reduce costs further. RCOM is already ahead on the curve of integration - the backend, the IT and shared sources are all common. There is a cost2.0 as part of R2.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WHY SHOULD WE BE THINKING OF BEING COLONISED?
Frontline contemporary artist Jitish Kallat has had several solo exhibitions in India and abroad. He has also been exhibited at museums and institutions across the world. His work has been part of several biennale and triennales including the Havana Biennale, Gwangju Biennale, Asia Pacific Triennale, Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale and the Guangzhou Triennale amongst others. The Mumbai-based Jitish Kallat travelled to Calcutta recently for a workshop on Art in Public Space fielded by Ficci, Max Mueller Bhavan, Kokata Museum of Modern Art and Kolkata Municipal Corporation, when Ashoke Nag of ET met him for an exclusive chat. Excerpts:
You have been invited to Calcutta by Ficci for this meet on Art in Public Space. What are your thoughts on this form of art?
I'm on Ficci's Committee for Art and it is nice to see a concerted effort coming from Kolkata to look at art and its role in the public domain. The discussions have been really fruitful and if some of this dialogue crystallizes in action, it will have a huge impact.
Tell me about your beginnings a bit.
I was born in Mumbai in 1974 and grew up in what one might call middle-class, suburbia. The parenting that I received was quite focused on middle-class values, and education was always at the center of things.
Did you contemplate becoming an artist from an early stage in your life?
Not really an artist at a very early stage. I was interested in mass-media, advertising etc and joined art school with the intention of pursuing that path. Within a month of joining JJ School of Art, I found my true calling and decided to become an artist.
Which was your first break as an artist and how did it happen?
Oh, I feel it happened from a student exhibition during my fourth year at art school, when one of my pieces was acquired by Deutsche Bank. Usually, the bank would only acquire mid-career to older artists, but surprisngly they also had this up in their lobby. A German curator who visited the bank then, tracked me down at art school. He invited me to be part of an important show titled 'Innenseite' and also contribute to the conference. At the conference, I read an essay titled 'Are we Coca-colonised?'. Being just twenty-two at the time, it was a real learning experience.
Can you expand on the various mediums of artworks you create?
The medium is really just a vehicle to germinate an idea. So, the realisation of a piece as sculpture, photograph, painting or video, would be determined by what might best deliver the freight of metaphors and meanings that make up the work.
How would describe yourself as an artist: a painter, sculptor, installation artist......or all?
I'd would think of myself simply as a member of civil society; of course, one's preoccupation with deciphering and interpreting life can take the form of a painting, sculpture etc. So, these labels might be quite inevitable. I like a description assigned by art critic Nicholas Bourriaud of the artist as 'semionaut'....making connections in this world of proliferating signs.
Which are some of the major venues where you have exhibited in India and worldwide?
Well, these vary from museums such as the Tate Modern (London), Art Gallery of New South Wales (Sydney) and Gemeente Museum (Hague). At the same time, there are galleries such as Chemould Prescott Road (Mumbai), Haunch of Venison in London and Zurich or Arario in Beijing and Seoul. One would also exhibit in non-institutional venues such as the open landscape in the Boreal Mountains in Quebec or within the context of biennales such as Gwangju or Havana.
Can you please tell me a little more about your massive solo with Haunch of Venison, London that concluded recently?
My recent solo titled 'The Astronomy of the Subway' was a culmination of several ideas that I've been working on for the last two years. The themes of survival, mortality and sustenance that are central to these works have been consistent in my work over the last two decades. The works were in varied formats, media and were connected more deeply through overlapping themes rather than through superficial family resemblance. For example, a large immersive video projection titled 'Forensic Trail of the Grand Banquet' simulates a journey through space wherein planetary and stellar formations, galactic clusters and nebulae are replaced by hundreds scans of food. This dark, cryptic, hypnotic space when viewed a little longer, can begin to appear like floating cellular formations, suspended tumours etc morphing the insides of the body with the dark, indeterminate cosmic space evoking notions of sustenance, survival and mortality. There were other pieces like the intricately treated sculptural work, 'Annexation' and the photopiece titled, The Cry of the Gland'. The photopiece is in 108 parts with several close shots of people's pockets taken on the streets, each one bulging like a bodily protusions, laden with personal possessions.
The show was built across seven rooms and the viewer could wander through these enormous spaces making links and connections...
You must be also participating in art fairs overseas. Which are these?
It is normally the galleries who participate in art fairs. My presence in this context happens when a gallery that represents my work has a piece up in the fair. Artists normally have very little to do with these events, except for participating in panel discussions or lectures that might happen as collateral events.
Where and what genre of art are you exhibiting now....your latest, that is?
I'm working on two key pieces at the moment, both quite diverse. One is the Pilane Sculpture Project in Sweden wherein the piece will occupy a running length of about 100 to 120 feet in an open landscape which is interestingly a prehistoric graveyard. Embedded within the landscape would be a single line that would read, 'WHEN WILL YOU BE HAPPY'. Each alphabet will be a 6 feet sculpture, shaped like a bone, almost like an unearthed relic found during an archeological excavation. Yet another major piece of mine, 'Public Notice3' is slated to open at a major American museum on 9/11 this year. I'm not yet speaking about this since the museum will make an official announcement in the months ahead.
Do you agree with the astronomical rise in both Modern and Contemporary art prices during the boom?
At one level, given the quality of art that was being made in India, it was highly undervalued until about five years ago. Globally speaking, one has to see the rise in value in the context of the general realignment of the world and India's sphere of influence on the planet as an emerging power. That has created a deep interest in everything Indian and we see that interest extending to the art market as well. But, as we now know, the art world and its markets go through cycles of infatuation, so one should take neither attention nor neglect too seriously.
How do you see the contemporary art scene now and in the future?
The art scene in India has gained tremendous internal momentum and I only see more and more people getting involved with the field of contemporary art. As the circumference of the Indian World grows, I hope the institutions museums and art schools as well as the media grow and operate in a more enlightened fashion.
Which artists, both Indian and foreign, have inspired you or you admire?
The list is really long as my bandwidth of interest is wide-ranging from the miniatures, the propaganda posters and covering a large pantheon of artists across generations and various geographical locations. For a lot of my works during art school, the television and the billboard remained a key reference.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WHEN I'M IN INDIA & CHINA I GET TO SEE OPPORTUNITIES, NOT RISKS: NOURIEL ROUBINI
ET NOW's Shaili Chopra moderated a roundtable discussion among Nouriel Roubini, Chanda Kochhar, Adi Godrej, Sanjay Nayar, N Chandrasekaran and MV Nair at the Edelweiss India Conference 2010. Excerpts:
There was a time when everybody used to talk which is the next big opportunity. Today, we think of which is the next big trough. So are we constantly looking out for the worst case?
Nouriel Roubini: That's really the 'bad psychology' in the sense that we have gone through so much economic and financial turmoil in the past couple of years both in the US, in Europe and it has spilled over a little bit also to emerging markets. Even investors are now more optimistic than worried about the next downside risk. So, you have to be balanced. You have to see what are the opportunities. In the US, Europe and Japan, there is concern about the risk and vulnerability, but when I visit countries like India, China, rest of Asia and Brazil and even other parts of emerging markets, there is more of a sense that things are going better and the opportunities are greater than the downside risks as well.
Chanda Kochhar: I am actually looking for the next big opportunity. In the past few years, our growth has been really moving on the basis of domestic consumption. This is an advantage that will stay with us for decades. But I am now seeing the next driver of growth which is investment. There is a lot of investment being planned for manufacturing and infrastructure. And that's going to create a further multiplier effect, taking our GDP growth to much higher levels.
Where is the turning point, between being an economy that was slowing and believing that we are confident about this economic recovery?
Sanjay Nayar: I am not really sure where that points to get a sustainable double-digit growth rate. Look at IP numbers for the past few quarters, auto, cement despatches, non-oil imports, all of those are in right direction. We really have not unlocked the capital available in the country and the reason is the fiscal being what it is, it does take away a lot of private savings. So, if you want to really tackle and have a sustainable model, we need the supply side to build, which is really infrastructure.
Mr Godrej, in many ways, we did not go through a recession. We might have slowed down. And that was always your thinking. What would you tell Dr Roubini about your experiences dealing with this rural opportunity?
Adi Godrej: The worst quarter we had was the October-December quarter of 2008, after the global banking crisis. Liquidity was also affected and our growth rate was around 5%. Thereafter, we have accelerated in growth and consumer businesses have continued to do very well in India throughout the global crisis. To my mind, India is going to have a 10% growth rate over the next decade. The major driver will be the goods and services tax. To my mind, it will add 1.5-2% to India's growth. The consumer demand is what has been driving India's growth and if investment also picks up, then we have a win-win situation for a very rapid growth rate.
The stimulus that we have experienced in the past 12-18 months is on its way out. In India, we have already seen the announcements to that effect. Do you think the impact of the exit is still to play out?
MV Nair: The slow exit is good for the economy. Then, we will clearly see consumption demand picking up, the investment demand picking up. But I would like to add one more dimension to the growth opportunities. In India, opportunities are coming up from all sectors. But there is an important challenge that we shouldn't overlook at. There is a social tension happening, because it is not equitably distributed. Out of 600 districts, about 200 are facing Naxal threats. If we don't address this issue, the over 9% growth story that we are looking at may not get us the benefit.
Do you feel that we are still not out of the woods in the US?
Nouriel Roubini: There is an economic recovery, but there is also a debate in the US on whether the recovery is going to be like previous recovery from recession V-shape. There is going to be a slower economic recovery.
What about in India?
Sanjay Nayar: We are clearly on the uptrend of the U, but we depend upon capital flows. The point that Dr Roubini made is pretty relevant, because there is a lot of deleveraging yet to happen in the developed world.
N Chandrasekaran: We keep talking about U-shape, but it's relevant for the US, the UK and other markets. In India, actually, we did not have such a big dip at all in the first place. It is more of a small curvature. The second point is considering that this crisis happened, probably raised awareness among Indian companies that they have got to focus on domestic growth. The third thing is, considering that there are not many countries in which the funds will flow to, India is in a much better position. I believe that this should actually enable India to attract more funds.
Would you in any way think that in the recovery, we are somewhat decoupled from the West?
Chanda Kochhar: We are somewhat decoupled because the basic driver of growth has been the domestic demand. The investment, which will be the next driver, is also arising out of domestic demand. Today, even for investments, we are relying on capital flows. So, that's the extent of linkage that we have.
Is there a risk of a new bubble surfacing in India? Two months ago, we were talking about China continuing to show some resource bubbles or property bubbles...
Nouriel Roubini: I see more of a risk in the case of China, because its real estate boom is becoming excessive commercial and residential. We have excessive increase in production in new homes and offices. We have also bubbly condition in other markets and there is overinvestment capacity going on in China. In India, it's different, because there are supply constraints in terms of capacity infrastructure and demand is quite robust from the demand side. So I don't yet see evidence of a real financial bubble but certainly a lot of the money has to go into real projects to create more production and supply.
What is it that a country like India could do to try and avoid what has been the crisis of 2008?
Nouriel Roubini: Two things are key. On one side, you need a framework of market economic and financial stability. So, you need sound and well-supervised regulated financial institutions, but you also have to allow financial innovation. There is a risk of being too cautious of not letting financial institutions grow. You also have to make sure that you don't have micro imbalances.
CHIDAMBARAM TAKES A BOLD STEP
How long it would take the country to beat back the menace posed by armed Naxalite groups is a matter of conjecture. The Union government and its proactive home minister, P. Chidambaram, believe that the trouble could die out in two or three years. More to the point, however, the ideology that sustains the Maoist groups has to be demonstrated to be bankrupt if real respite from this backward and violent tendency is to be gained. It needs to be established that contrary to the propaganda disseminated by the Maoists the State cares for its people enough to insist on delivering the basic ingredients of development that human beings must have in order to mark progress. In a nutshell, this is the message that the rural poor gave Mr Chidambaram during his bold foray into Maoist territory at Lalgarh in West Bengal the scene of armed confrontations and blood-letting in recent times on Sunday. What emerged from the home minister's interactions with the people of Lalgarh is scepticism that the government will deliver on its promises as similar assurances made in the past have proved to be vacuous. To his credit, Mr Chidambaram seems to have grasped this. He also detected hope. He noted that the people were aware that it is only the government that could offer development goods, not the Naxalites. The latter can only offer confrontation and violence, whatever the nature of the promises they make. The Maoists had given a general strike call to protest against the home minister's visit to the area. Clearly, the appeal for a bandh was ignored as the poor people came forward to talk to the high government representative. They did not boycott him. The home minister's Lalgarh sojourn can be seen as a morality play in three acts. These involve the Naxalites themselves, the people of the area, and the government of West Bengal, which appears to be wholly clueless in dealing with the situation that has turned progressively volatile in recent years. In the Naxalite den, Mr Chidambaram chose to call them "cowards" who did not possess the nerve to engage in a dialogue with the government. He should have completed the thought and clearly stated that they were fearful of talks as a reasoned conversation would expose them as being hollow. As for the people, by not shunning the home minister's overture for an interaction they showed they were ready to walk the few steps toward normality provided genuine hope lay at the other end. The protagonist of the last act is the state government. Throwing them a challenge, Mr Chidambaram said: "The buck stops with the Chief Minister." This would have stung Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, but being an intellectual he would recognise the truth of the assertion. The CPI(M) politburo member, Mr Biman Bose, trotted out the lame excuse that political life (and development) could not be sustained in the Naxal regions in the atmosphere of violence. It is pathetic to hear this from a top leader of a party that has run the state for three decades in the name of the people, seeking to distinguish its own record from that of "bourgeois" parties. To have done justice to the theatre he crafted, Mr Chidambaram's play should have had one more acts concerning the Trinamul Congress, whose leader Ms Mamata Banerjee has left the impression of being in cahoots with the Maoists to discomfit the state government.
BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
"...Stands a City, Charnock chose it ...by the sewage rendered fetid, by the sewer made impure...
Chance directed, chance-erected, laid and built, on the silt..."Rudyard Kipling inDepartmental Ditties (1885)
Kipling's 19th century lament on the city, then Calcutta (now Kolkata), remains relevant more than over a century later, as its citizens watched flames devour almost unimpeded a crumbling but inhabited "heritage" building in the centre of Park Street, the city's golden mile. Forty-three lives were lost.
The city's under-equipped, inadequately trained and overstretched emergency management services the Kolkata police, the fire brigade, the city's hospital and ambulance network and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation did not cover themselves with glory, but their unsatisfactory performance merely reflected the noxious politico-civic environment and slothful work culture in the state and the city which, over the years, has pushed public services down the road to perdition. Post-mortems in media make it clear that the gallery of rogues ensconced within the system remain timeless and unchanged politicians (of all parties), real estate vultures and venal civic functionaries, besides, of course, the occupants of the building themselves, who had knowingly flouted every single civic law and rule.
It will be a cardinal mistake if the Stephen Court blaze is perceived purely in the context of Kolkata, because the rest of the country is no better off in this respect. Similar incidents are waiting to happen elsewhere in India as well, which should be cause for national concern about the state of emergency management services across the nation.
Disasters, whether natural or resulting from human error, are immeasurably complicated if associated with terrorist action as well. The conflagration at the Taj Mahal Hotel on 26/11 at Mumbai is a classic example of the latter. And while Stephen Court in Kolkata happened to be purely an act of fate caused by decades of accumulated negligence and administrative lethargy, dealing with catastrophe, whether embellished with terrorism or not, requires integrated responses by joint teams of security forces and civil defence agencies, well trained and adequately equipped. But not much attention was paid to this aspect until highlighted during 26/11. Even subsequently, public attention and debate has focused almost exclusively on issues of security in such situations, and very little on the civil defence organisations, who are the other component of the emergency management team. As things stand, crisis management capabilities in the country are limited, and appear to be unable to handle any but the most low-level incidents in terms of intensity and magnitude.
With the enactment of the National Disaster Management Act 2005, an elaborate framework for disaster management has been put together at the national level, which establishes a National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) with a national executive committee, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. The NDMA has in turn created a National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) of eight battalions raised from paramilitary forces and stationed at various centres across the country for rapid intervention, both in natural calamities as well as NBCR (nuclear, biological, chemical and radiation) crises such as the Bhopal gas tragedy. The NDMA also requires states to establish their own state disaster management authority, under the chairmanship of the respective chief ministers, along with a state disaster management force created from state resources to ensure that the disaster management chain reaches down to the level of districts and municipalities. All things considered, state level iresponse is critical to effective disaster management, but is also perhaps its Achilles' Heel.
The largest and most effective national disaster management resource is of course the armed forces, well trained and readily available, and they have been deployed on innumerable occasions. That notwithstanding, the cutting edge of civil disaster management continues to rest with the state governments, which will almost always absorb the first shock of any catastrophe and function as the initial crisis managers. The emphasis for training, preparedness and coordination for disaster management has perforce to concentrate at this level, for which the integral assets available in terms of organised manpower and expertise are the police, fire services, medical emergency services, hospitals, departments of public utilities like electricity and water supply, transportation services and local civic bodies like the municipal corporation. The bulk of manpower will generally be from the state police forces, which require to be dual-trained in primary and secondary roles of law enforcement as well as disaster management. Some states have created general duty auxiliary forces for civil defence and other secondary tasks. Their personnel too are available as additional assets, and hopefully have been recruited after a proper selection process, and not, as is the case in at least one state, distributed amongst political party workers. Ideally, state police and civil defence auxiliaries should receive common training as armed constabulary as well as disaster management groups, and be able to cross-supplement each other whenever necessary. But given ground realities, such arrangements are perhaps impossibly utopian. The fire and emergency medical services are other critical components which generally remain in outer penumbra of official and public consciousness under normal circumstances. Recent exposes in the media after the traumatic events at Stephen Court present a grim picture of lack of even basic firefighting equipment, even though more than adequate funds for the purpose were stated to be lying unutilised with the state government, which even has a separate ministry for fire-fighting.
So while the national structure envisioned for disaster management is unexceptionable, the entire design will have to be implemented at the ground level of state administrations, where the devil, as always, will be in the detail.
- Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament
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 (Financial reform: A hard issue to follow, April 3), 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 behaviour 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 profile in 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.
BHUTTO'S FOLK ISLAM
BY NADEEM F. PARACHA
The majority of Muslims in Pakistan are ensconced in the popular Barelvi creed of Islam that is the mainstay of Muslims in the subcontinent. It reassures the enshrinement of the traditional Sufism that prevailed due to a long period of interaction between Islam and the esoteric strains of Hinduism and other faiths of India.
"Folk" Islam became the dominating creed of the rural peasant, the urban proletariat and the semi-urban petty-bourgeoisie. It incorporated the anti-clergy elements of Sufism, and a more relaxed fiqh, fusing these with accommodating forms of worship and the concept of overt religious reverence of people it considered divine. The result was a sub-continental Muslim ethos that was socially tolerant and repulsed by the puritan dogma.
Though agrarian in its worldview, "folk" Islam did not negatively react to modern Islamic reform initiated by rationalists like Syed Ahmed Khan, and consequently (by the 1960s) it became the chosen expression of populist (secular) politics in Pakistan.
The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) became the first Pakistani political party to set the tone of its rhetoric according to the populist imagery of "folk" Islam, in the process managing to attract the urban working classes and the rural peasantry towards its social-democratic programme.
Not only did the PPP chairman, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), become one of the first major Pakistani political figures to start being seen indulging in rituals associated with "folk" Islam (such as visiting Sufi shrines), PPP rallies too started radiating an aura of the colourful activity found at many Sufi shrines. The 1970s in Pakistan thus became an era of populist extroversion.
With "folk" Islam adopted as a populist political expression by the ruling PPP, this form of expression eventually became the tool that culturally connected the country's secular political parties with the spiritual and political moorings of the working classes and the peasants.
The cultural synthesis emerging from such a connection was one of the reasons behind Bhutto's image, graduating from being that of a "brave patriot" (1967-68), to becoming a people's messiah (1970s) and the embodiment of a Sufi saint posthumously.
The ZAB regime was a vibrant mix of rural and urban populism (such as through the promotion of folk and proletariat art and music), and of modern bourgeois liberalism that helped urban society maintain a liberal aura. Night-clubs, horse racing and cinemas continued to thrive; religiosity largely remained a private matter, or manifest itself in a display of passion at shrines through dhamal, qawali, etc.
However, lurking within this mix was also an awkward anomaly. As the popular variation of Islam in Pakistan peaked in the 1970s, the modern variation (tied to the Aligarh thought) started to erode when things started to change within some state institutions after the 1971 East Pakistan debacle. A move was seen afoot in the Army towards puritanical strain of Islam, especially those advocated by renowned Islamic scholar and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) chief, Abul Ala Maududi.
The JI was an early advocate of what came to be known as Political Islam. It first emerged as an opponent of secular/socialist Muslim nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s and was also opposed to the more populist strains of the faith. The JI was eventually successful in converting a sizeable section of the urban middle class to its cause after the former stopped resonating with the modern, reformist tradition of Syed Ahmed Khan. The populist "folk" Islam they began to associate with "Bhuttoism" or a "vulgar" populism, supposedly aimed at undoing the hold on society of bourgeois politics and economics.
Thus, the urban bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeoisie became the main players against the Bhutto regime during the 1977 Pakistan National Alliance movement, led by the JI and its allies. But it wasn't until the arrival of the Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship and the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad that political Islam managed to find state approval.
As the US and Saudi Arabia pumped in millions of dollars of aid for the "jihad", the more aggressive and puritanical strains of Islam that were largely alien to the region's Muslims began finding official sanction as well. But in spite of the rapid proliferation of the jihadi mindset and penetration of puritanical Islam in the workings of society that Zia initiated, Bhutto is still remembered as an icon in the devotional sense of loyalty to the culture of "folk" Islam.
Thus, it is not surprising that his death is not seen by his supporters as martyrdom gained through the puritanical concept of "jihad" against an infidel. Instead, his execution by the Zia dictatorship is embroiled in the kind of folk imagery that would leave the Islamists cringing. It is remembered more as a murder of a modern Sufi saint who danced to the gallows in defiance of a usurper and his malicious, scheming team of puritan clerics.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged at Central jail, Rawalpindi, on April 4, 1979
A QUIET MIND SEEKS TRUE SELF
BY SWAMI TEJOMAYANANDA
In Mahabharata, When Arjuna breaks down in the face of the impending war with his relatives, his charioteer, Sri Krishna, tells him that he must not grieve over the past, nor fear the future.
One may ask, "Why should we not grieve over those who have died or are about to die?" Lord Krishna answers this question: "Never did I not exist, nor you, nor these rulers of men. Nor, verily, shall we ever cease to exist in the future". (II:12)
Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna that there is only one self. It is the absolute, the immortal essence that dwells within the hearts of all beings. When the physical form dies, the self or the atman that has enlivened that body, does not cease to exist. It is imperishable and eternal. The Vedas proclaim, "That thou art!" Therefore, why grieve?
There is yet another reason why the wise person should not grieve: "Just as in this body the embodied soul passes into childhood, youth, and old age, so also does it pass into another body after death; the wise man does not grieve at this". (II:13)
The body has been the object of our attention throughout the ages. In its evolution it has progressed through countless changes, much like the stages we experience in life. Identifying with the body we say, "I am a child" or "I am an adult". But we fail to see that these stages belong to the body only and not to the immortal self.
The "I" that was there in childhood, youth, and adulthood always remains the same. As we pass from one stage to another in life we do not grieve over the "child" or "adult" body, nor do we crave for it. That particular body is gone, but we are still here. In the same way, when this physical structure dies and is no longer capable of supporting life, we take another body.
Therefore, the wise person does not become deluded by these changes. He knows that death is only a change and it is foolish to cry over it. We, on the other hand, are affected not only by the people and events around us, but also by physical factors such as hunger, thirst, heat and cold.
"O Son of Kunti, the objects that are perceived by the senses are subject to birth and death. They give rise to heat and cold, pleasure and pain, but they have a beginning and an end; they are impermanent. Therefore, endure them bravely, O descendent of Bharatha". (II:14)
Our sense organs give us the experience of heat and cold, sound, colour, smell, taste and touch. Those objective experiences lead to the subjective experience of joy or sorrow. For example, when it is very hot, a cool breeze will bring us joy. Conversely, when it is very cold, and we enter a warm room, we enjoy that warmth.
Similarly, if we have extreme hunger or thirst, fulfilment of those needs brings a feeling of contentment. Our experiences and moods change according to contact with the sense objects.
Experiences come and go. Therefore, it is of no use complaining about anything; instead we should endure all that we encounter in life bravely.
There is a saying, "What cannot be cured, must be endured". However, this seems to imply an attitude of resignation. A more positive approach would be: what cannot be avoided should be accepted cheerfully. If something cannot be cured, at least endure it calmly with the understanding that nothing is permanent in this world. If we find that a situation is out of control, we need to keep calm, wait a while and then see if we can do anything about it. For example, if it is hot, we can turn on the airconditioner. But if the power goes off then there is nothing we can do.
"That person who is not agitated by the senses and their contact with objects, and is ever balanced in pleasure and pain becomes a fit candidate for attaining immortality or self-realisation". (II:15)
This deeper understanding of endurance leads us closer to our true self. Agitation, restlessness and lack of endurance clearly show that we have identified with the body and mind. The more we identify with them, the further we are from our true self, which is neither the body nor the mind. If, instead, we keep our minds calm we are closer to our true self.
Swami Tejomayananda, head of ChinmayaMission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission and Swamiji, visit www.chinmayamission.com .
© Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.
IS PM UP FOR SOME PLAINSPEAK?
BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during his forthcoming visit to the United States (April 12, 13) to attend the "nuclear summit" and sign the Indo-US "reprocessing agreement", will be conscious of the fact that the "heady" 2004-2008 George Bush period was an aberration. The former President's unconventional style of functioning, and the Republicans' pro-India stance, led to the signing of a unique nuclear deal. But now it appears that good Indo-US ties are not destined to last long.
The US, especially under the current Democratic regime, follows a global policy of "balance of power" between regional states, which means that in South Asia, Pakistan will always be propped up with financial and military aid to keep it at par with India.
After the US-Pakistan "strategic bonhomie" in Washington last month, things are back to square one. And India finds itself placed on the historical "backburner" again, a situation similar to 1947. The additional American aid and military hardware promised to Pakistan recently is really a tactical move by the US to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2011, leaving Pakistan and the "good Taliban" to supervise the return of religious fundamentalism in AfPak, which will then export terror globally. The increased numbers of Pakistani troops along India's borders in end March, and daily gun battles with the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba in Kashmir, are indicators of the things to come.
Having made only two visits each to the US, China and Pakistan, I am certainly no expert on these nations, but in my view India should avoid any emotional knee-jerk reaction to recent events. Good Indo-US relations are important and mutually beneficial.
US President Barack Obama, who got his healthcare bill passed on March 21, 2010, and reached an agreement on the 30 per cent nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia on March 26, now has only three more items on his list to ensure that he gets re-elected as President in 2012: withdrawal of American forces from the disastrous war in Afghanistan; revitalising the American economy; and "firm action" against Iran. The $750 billion US defence budget could then be reduced by $300 billion and this "saving" could be ploughed back into the ailing US economy, while leaving a couple of billions to pay Pakistan annually, to "police" AfPak.
In January 2010, Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani gave a 62-slide power-point presentation at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) headquarters in Brussels, which convinced the audience that he could help get Nato out of Afghanistan, provided Pakistan's strategic concerns are met. On January 28, 2010, at the London Conference, Britain and America supported Gen. Kayani's theory that "Pakistan needs to be the lead player in the Taliban reconciliation process".
The US today is bending backwards to appease Pakistan. In the last decade, India too was bending over backwards to woo America, and though it got the beneficial nuclear deal and carried out unprecedented levels of military exercises with the Americans, it burnt its bridges with Iran in the process. Interestingly, despite the US' relations with Iran, Pakistan recently signed the Iran-Pak gas pipeline deal, which was followed by a mandatory US warning against the deal.
India has signed nuclear deals with nine nations, and the US will join the list if the proposed Nuclear Liabilities Bill is modified and passed by Parliament.
Remember Sharm el-Sheikh and the recent foreign secretaries talks, supposedly done under American "pressure". There will be more pressure on India to placate Pakistan over Kashmir, and also to join Mr Obama's "global zero" movement to eliminate nuclear weapons, via the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty route. Recently, in fact, the US even signalled its displeasure over an Indo-Iran gas pipeline deal.
American military equipment is undoubtedly very advanced, but some items like nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers and F-22 stealth fighters are "export prohibited", as are manned space vehicles. As per media reports, India is getting similar items from Russia. Nonetheless, despite End User Monitoring Agreement, some sophisticated military equipment has been ordered directly from the US, under the foreign military sales programme, and a few more items like C-17 transport aircraft, helicopters, 155 mm "light" mountain howitzers etc are on the anvil, while American fighter jets compete for the $11 billion multi-role combat aircraft contract. Media reports now indicate that these deals may be jeopardised. Pakistan, of course, is getting similar American items for free!
The Obama administration seems to have taken India for granted, while giving Pakistan the opportunity to have cordial relationships with three competing nations viz. US, China and Iran. After the expected Nato withdrawal from Afghanistan, China (which has invested $3.5 billion in a copper mine there) will need Pakistan-backed Taliban's assistance to "pacify" Afghanistan, to ensure that it gets unhindered access to that nation's mineral wealth. Afghan President Hamid Karzai's recent backing of the "good Taliban" and Beijing visit is an indication of China's growing role in the region. In essence, Pakistan, in addition to getting "strategic depth", financial aid and military gifts, will now be "re-hyphenated" with India, while China sits on the high "G2 table" with the US, and Iran benefits from its gas exports to Pakistan.
This new American policy leaves India marginalised not just in Afghanistan, but internationally. India can, of course, "wait and watch" if American businesses (involved in civilian nuclear, aviation and military sales to India, worth over $100 billion) step up or drop pro-India lobbying in Washington DC.
In my view, however, Dr Singh needs to convey a dignified message to the US that India will not compromise on its national interests or self-respect.
Ironically, Mr Obama, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, appears to have sown the seeds of a bloody conflict in South Asia our history shows that Pakistan has always gone to open war with India over Kashmir whenever it has had sufficient stocks of gifted American weapons.
Fredrick the Great of Prussia said, "Diplomacy without military power is like music without instruments". I have been a supporter of Dr Singh's economic reforms and the Indo-US nuclear deal, but he is now stepping into an unfamiliar strategic environment where great powers (eg. China and US) only respect a decisive nuclear weapons power which displays a combination of strategic vision, political will, economic power and military capability. It is time for India to stand tall. Good relations with China and US should be achieved without appearing to kneel.
- Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval
CAN IT BE SET IN STONE?
QUANTITY detracts from quality. While nobody would deny that, nobody would be eager to identify the specifics that must have weighed heavily when the parliamentary leadership took the bold decision to put a cap on the statues and portraits that "adorn" the apex legislature complex. For there are several untenanted "slots", but some of the recent additions are aesthetically wanting ~ indeed a few statues of "tall" leaders are downright horrendous.
One of the key reasons being that the entities seeking a statue or portrait of their leader in the building were required to actually present the item, and then those in authority lacked the political will to declare the "art work" sub-standard. Hence there are apprehensions that the welcome announcement on the cap may not take effect in the near future. Note that no decision has been taken on pending applications, the majority of which would have been tendered by those wielding "live" political clout. So from when will the limit be imposed, what is the cut-off date? It must not be forgotten that a previous move in that direction was scuttled, and that there is lingering resentment over the previous Speaker's decision to permit only ceremonial unveiling of portraits in the historic, circular building and then shifting them to a gallery in the library complex. As domestic politics get more "regional" and caste-driven, the newer players will not take kindly to a ban. Adding complications to the difficulties of keeping a coalition intact. A Mayawati-clone could contend that the ban was imposed to deny the non-traditional leaders their due. Pique is ever part of the political pow-wow.
Obviously the door has not been permanently closed, with the buck for future approval being passed to the Heritage Committee. Like all committees composed of MPs that one too will come under political pressure, and the opinion of its technical advisers could be rejected. A test of noble intentions could be asking both Houses to adopt a resolution endorsing the "ban", or getting the parliamentary wings of major political parties to furnish formal undertakings that for the next 20-30 years they will not press for a portrait or statue of any of their stalwarts. Let's see who will go that far!
PORTENTS IN MIDEAST
ATTITUDES HARDEN ON EITHER SIDE
THE ferment in the Middle East has intensified with the recent clashes in the Gaza Strip and the Arab League warning that Israel's actions could torpedo the peace process. In the immediate aftermath of the violence ~ the fiercest since the three-week Gaza war of 2009 ~ the Israeli military has pulled out of the Strip, a move that ends the incursion into Hamas-ruled territory. The latest encounter may make it still more difficult to end the deadlock in the negotiations ~ mediated by the USA ~ between Israel and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas. Precipitate actions on both fronts have made heavy weather of Abbas' peace moves ~ the unrelenting hostility of the Hamas and the construction of Israeli settlements on occupied land. The crisis might well deepen with the Arab League chief, Amir Moussa's warning that Israeli recklessness might end the peace process. Indeed, there is an element of defiance too in Benjamin Netanhayu's resolve to step up the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem, indeed defiance of a kind for which he has even been put on notice by the White House. Positions are bound to harden further with Mousa's appeal to the Arab League summit in Libya to evolve a new strategy aimed at exerting pressure on Israel, making it clear that the peace process is "not open-ended". The Arab nations had approved Abbas' participation in the America-brokered talks, but have threatened to withdraw support for the negotiations in the wake of the Israeli announcement on new constructions in those areas that the Palestinians have demanded for a future state.
Israel's actions make it plain that it is yet to derive a message from what has been described as President Obama's "bruising encounter" in last week's talks with Netanhayu and the tough posturing of the Arab League. The nature of the latest hostilities, in which two Palestinians were killed, suggests that Israel may have become pretty much desperate. Whether or not the Hamas, which had held its fire for sometime, retaliated in self-defence, the portents are ominous enough. The fact that the Israeli cabinet meeting concluded without a breakthrough illustrates that the Middle East is in the melting pot again.
SUSTAINING HOPE FOR THE COMMON MAN
LIFE in West Bengal would have been transformed if there had been more unlikely heroes emerging to remove touts at government hospitals, tackle owners of ration shops who have been diverting essential items to open markets or clear squatters on railway tracks in the way a man did with rare success last Friday. These are pillars of evil which have thrived often with the connivance of parties, the police and the administration. The Left may have thrown up its hands in despair while its main rival is led by someone projected as the new symbol of hope, launching one new train after another and holding out inspiring prospects of industry and employment. What the railways have still not done is reassure the public that travelling by train is reasonably safe and that, in West Bengal, services will not be disrupted at the drop of a hat by demonstrations led by party goons. Friday produced the extraordinary example of a common man fighting his way through the blockade single-handed and fetching support from fellow passengers so that his three-year-old son with a heart ailment could reach a hospital in Kolkata from the northern suburbs. However proud he may have felt after the squatters took to their heels, it was not meant to confirm that public resistance was the answer to the vicious cycle of militant unionism, rank indiscipline, corruption and connivance.
Like the Government Railway Police that stood by for two hours while the squatters posed a threat to the child who began to sink in the stifling heat of the stalled train, the other arms of the administration have taken all this as part of the hazards to which citizens are reconciled. The commuter who turned personal despair into a social signal emphasised that public awareness can make a crucial difference in attitudes if not in reforming the system. It may be too much to expect parties aided and abetted by anti-socials such as those who were protesting in Barasat on appallingly flimsy grounds to change their style or governance to be more visible than it is now. But isolated signals of motivation and social change can yet sustain hope. Ultimately, we get the leaders we deserve.
WARMING OF THE EARTH
WHEN MARKET FORCES INFLUENCE SCIENCE
BY DIPAK BASU
THERE has been a debate over the distortion of data by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change. It has predicted that the Himalayan glaciers will melt by 2035. This points to a robust effort by the developed countries and their banks to create another speculative market on carbon missions. The exercise will not benefit the world. Nor will it have an impact on the global climate. The IPCC doesn't realise that carbon trading is not the solution either.
Under the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, the polluters of every country have been given carbon permits. They can then sell these permits if they have reduced their emissions to those who have not. In practice, it means rich countries can pollute if they can pay the poor countries to buy the rights to pollute. The pay-to-pollute principle is scheduled to start from 2013, but it has already been undermined by the opposition of both the developed and the developing countries.
The USA, along with China and India, argued that setting limits to emissions would threaten their growth.
The planet's temperature has risen to levels not known in thousands of years. The degree of warming has begun to affect plants and animals. If the world becomes warm by two or three degrees Celsius more, it will be a very different planet. The last time it was so warm was about three million years ago, when the sea level was about 25 metres (80 feet) higher than today and most continents were under water.
WARMING has been marked in the Indian and western Pacific Oceans. This has had a major effect on climate, and could lead to devastating storms. Already the storms have become severe both in terms of force and frequency. There will be a severe water shortage due to the melting of glaciers on the mountains of the world. To guard against such consequences, America and the other rich nations should reduce their emission of harmful gases by at least 40 per cent below the 1990 levels to keep temperatures under control.
However, there is a strong argument that man cannot alter the cyclical pattern of climatic changes that can be brought about by Nature ~ changes in the Earth's magnetic field and the long cycle of warming and freezing.
The sudden change in the Earth's magnetic field can occur at regular intervals in every 26,000-30,000 years, changing the climate dramatically and instantly. Such changes will allow only a few human beings or animals to survive and wipe out all signs of existence. The Earth's magnetic field affects the energy transfer rates from the solar wind to the Earth's atmosphere, which in turn affects the North Atlantic Oscillation. Movement of the poles changes the geographic distribution of galactic and solar cosmic rays, moving them to particularly climate sensitive areas. Changes in distribution of ultraviolet rays resulting from the movement of the magnetic field may result in an increase in the death rates of oceanic plant life, which destroys carbon. That increases the global warming process.
The Earth has experienced warm periods in the past, including the Medieval Warm Period (approximately 800-1300 AD), the mid-Holocene (6,000 years ago), and the penultimate inter-glacial period (125,000 years ago). The Earth, 130,000 years ago, was much warmer than today and a substantial portion was then under water. Records show that climate has changed abruptly in the past, and there has been a remarkable correspondence between carbon dioxide change and temperature change during the Earth's glacial cycles.
Change in lifestyle
ALTHOUGH human action alone may not be responsible for the global warming, such activity has intensified the warming process. It can only be reversed if we change our lifestyle and the method of energy generation.
There can be three viable solutions:
(a) The fast breeder nuclear reactors can use natural uranium only in the first cycle. It can then produce plutonium from the waste products to make these reactors self-sufficient.
(b) The other alternative is what the Russian scientists have proposed in the 1980s, specifically to set up a giant solar reflector in Outer Space to reflect the Sun's energy to the Earth. This can produce all the energy the world needs without using the fossil fuels. That can slow down the warming process of the world without sacrificing the lifestyle of the industrialised societies. Thus, a worldwide effort under the aegis of the United Nations is needed to construct such a giant solar reflector in Outer Space. The technical design has been developed by the Physico-Technical Institute of the Russian Academy of Science.
(c) The third scientific solution is to put a massive amount of sulphur dioxide in the upper atmosphere of the Earth to cool down the temperature by 2-3 degree below the current level. It was observed that during the volcanic eruptions, which emit sulphur dioxide to the upper atmosphere, the temperature of the Earth cools down.
The Kyoto Protocol's market-based solution can at best reduce the emission levels by 4-7 per cent below the 1990 level. It is not a solution to the problem of global warming. However, it has already created a very lucrative market of trading between the countries and industries that have an excess permit to pollute and those who want to have more permission for the carbon emissions. This is the reason why the banking industry and politicians in many countries are so eager that to ensure that the Kyoto Treaty survives in another form beyond 2012.
Some debates become so entwined with the people's moral identity that they can never be resolved through reason and evidence. That is possibly the reason why scientists attached to the IPCC have scant regard for alternative solutions, already available, to move away from the fossil fuel and the resultant carbon emission.
The writer is Professor in International Economics, Nagasaki University, Japan
A RAREFIED REALM OF LOGIC
Bryan Magee is a philosopher brought up in the tradition of Bertrand Russell and AJ Ayer in the heyday of the Oxford school of logic. Mahasweta Chaudhury describes the man and his ideas after an informal meeting
Usually, philosophers and their work are regarded by non-specialists as difficult in a weak sense and abstruse in a strong sense. But the philosopher in question is an exception. He is a versatile thinker rooted firmly in a mundane world but intellectually soaring to a rarefied realm of reason and logic. He is Professor Bryan Magee of Wolfson College, Oxford.
Recently I met him at the college where he invited me for lunch. An octogenarian but intellectually very active, he is writing the second part of his memoir which is an intellectual history of his time. The first part, Clouds of Glory is a story of his cockney childhood in crime-ridden Hoxton of the grimy East End. World War II bombing ousted the family from the area and Magee went to public school and then to Oxford. My friend from the London School of Economics, David Miller, told me that Professor Magee does not change and write in his pyjamas till one in the afternoon and becomes social only at lunch time. I was not surprised for, in India, usually we are also not formally dressed until we go out or else there is a special occasion.
Magee never uses computer, e-mail or mobile phone and is quite happy with his typewriter. He asked about my work and opinion on several issues on some of which we had a difference of opinion. But the mutual respect was there. One of my present interests being environmental degradation and rights of nature, I said that unless mindless exploitation of nature is stopped or at least a minimalist approach like that of Gandhi is followed, there will be disaster. He agreed in general but did not agree that freedom ensures right; implying that right assumes rationality of some sort and, therefore, nature has no right as it is not free.
The topic of worldwide violence and the enormous wastage of money and human lives came up. The mindless destruction of nature brought us to the topic of non-violence and Gandhi. At this point Richard Sorabjee, an Indian-British philosopher of repute, joined us. In this context, Nazi ideology is mentioned to show a counter-case where the non-violent method will fail. This problem cropped up many times and I am not sure if there is an adequate reply. Talking about Hitler, Magee told us an unknown story. Towards the end of the war, when Hitler was burning his books, Christina Foyles (owner of the book company) wrote him a letter asking him not to destroy the books offering to buy them. Magee knows that Hitler replied to her letter, but the content of the letter is not known.
Magee is a philosopher brought up in the tradition of Bertrand Russell and AJ Ayer in the heyday of the Oxford school of logic. Russell was his guru and told him that his (Russell's) aim was to become a scientist. Instead he became a logician-philosopher. Similarly Magee wanted to be a musician and actually trained in classical music, but became a philosopher. His work on Wagner (The Tristan chord: Wagner and Philosophy) indicates ample knowledge of western classical music. Nevertheless, like his intellectual forefather Russell, Magee also is deeply involved in social issues. His various writings and radio talks indicate that. In fact, he was elected a Labour MP for some time and was actively involved in socio-political matters.
The most interesting aspect of his academic achievement, however, is bringing philosophy down to a clear and non-technical level. This is no mean task as it needs deep knowledge of the problems to make it transparent. His book on Popper is an introduction to epistemology and philosophy of science written in a lucid style. To write on Popper the professed "enemy"' of logical positivism from Oxford, the citadel of logical positivism and analytic philosophy that claims to reduce philosophical problems to the linguistic level, is no mean achievement. For philosophical problems were genuine to Popper who vehemently opposed the English trend of linguistic analysis. It was a brave move for Popper with Russell and Wittgenstein in Cambridge and Ayer in Oxford still reigning over the English speaking world of philosophy. To write a general treatise about Popper in this ambience was equally a great achievement. Magee not only followed Popper's view of science and rationality but argued for it to a larger audience Many people, including non-philosophers, became interested in Popper's philosophy of science and methodology after reading Magee's book for Popper's own work was too technical for a beginner.
Equally popular and well written are Magee's Introduction to Western Philosophy and Story of Philosophy. He told me that this book surpassed Will Durant's famous introductory book in popularity (and sale) except in the USA. Confessions of a Philosopher: a Personal Journey from Plato to Popper documents the time of his intellectual maturing in a world that witnessed violence and hunger as well as the creative splendour of literature, music and the visual arts. The Philosophy of Schopenhauer and The Great Philosophers have helped popularize professional philosophy.
Magee's versatile interest in people and society brought out various facets of his personality. One of this was the series of BBC interviews with famous philosophers and other personalities on radio and also on television. Many of these are now documents of a period. Nationalism: The Melting Pot Myth, an interview of Isaiah Berlin, is valuable not only for the replies but also the incisive questions. Talking Philosophy: Dialogues with Fifteen Philosophers brought out valuable ideas from various philosophers. When asked, he said he was now working on the second part of his memoirs. In his Confessions, Magee mentioned fear of death which sometimes haunted him, but "now as I approach nearer to it", he said to me "the idea of death no more makes me afraid or nervous". One shall be surprised to hear that he writes two books at the same time, but how? He answered that after writing one for some time, he leaves it for a while and start writing the other for some time and then comes back to the first one and so on. Sounds strange. I also learnt that he never consulted any notes, but wrote everything from memory! Amazing feat and almost unbelievable to most of us! But there it is from the lips of the very person who does it.
More people joined us after lunch in the senior common room for coffee. We had discussions on social and political issues and shared reminiscences about Popper's centennial congress at Vienna in 2002 with scholars from all over the world. Later, Magee took me around to show me the college which is fairly new compared to the ancient ones and one of the few with a post-graduate department. Wolfson College stands away from the ancient cluster of colleges. The buildings are modern and lack the awe-inspiring impression of the older colleges and their narrow alleys in the city centre.
I wondered about the citadel of philosophy which once denied the very existence of the mind (remember Gilbert Ryle's The Concept of Mind). But now several philosophers are working on the philosophy of the mind and some in the area of consciousness. Perhaps everything is possible not only in the world of politics but also in the intellectual arena of academic philosophy. Bryan Magee, nevertheless, remained quite steadfast all his life and was vocal about his own commitments no matter what the majority of his fellow academics did later with changing philosophical fashions.
The writer is a freelance contributor
PLEA TO DELAY BHUTTO REPORT ACCEPTED
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has accepted an urgent request by Pakistani President Zardari to delay the release of the Commission of Inquiry report into the facts and circumstances of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto until 15 April 2010, according to a statement issued by his spokesman, Martin Nesirky, in New York. The statement noted that the Commission had informed the Secretary-General that all relevant facts and circumstances had been explored and the report was now complete and ready to be delivered.
Three members of the Commission of Inquiry that looked into the death of Benazir Bhutto was supposed to brief the press on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the report. Ambassador Heraldo Munoz of Chile chaired the commission along with Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia and Peter Fitzgerald of Ireland.
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters that the request for delay had come overnight from the Pakistani authorities. He said that when the head of state of a country made such a request, the Secretary-General needed to consider it, and in this case he accepted the request.
Asked whether the report would be changed, Nesirky said the report was complete, and was now being kept safe by the Commission of Inquiry. He noted that neither Ban Ki-moonc nor the government of Pakistan had yet seen the report. Pakistan would not be presented with the report until 15 April, Nesirky added.
Once the report was presented, he said, it would be forwarded to the government of Pakistan and to the Security Council members for their information. It would then be published, he told reporters.
Moscow bombings: Ban Ki-moon has strongly condemned the twin suicide bombings in Moscow subway station on 29 March that caused the loss of many lives and injured many people, according to a statement issued by his spokesman, Martin Nesirky, in New York. Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that he was confident that the Russian authorities would bring to justice the perpetrators of this heinous terrorist attack.
He extended his deepest condolences to the families of the victims, and to the government and people of the Russian Federation, the statement added.
The Security Council also strongly condemned the twin suicide bombings in the Moscow subway system that have killed dozens of people and injured scores more. The media reported the attacks occurred within 40 minutes during rush hour at the Lubyanka and Park Kultury Metro stations, while witnesses stated that the attacks were carried out by women suicide bombers.
"The members of the Security Council reaffirmed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation", the Council said in a press statement read out by Ambassador Issoze-Ngondet. The Council members also "reiterated their determination to combat all forms of terrorism".
Iraq polls: President of the Security Council, Ambassador Emanuel Issoze-Ngondet of Gabon, issued a press statement on the Iraqi elections. He said that the Council members congratulated the Iraqi people and Government on the successful election and called for the political entities to respect the certified election results and the choices of the Iraqi people. The statement said that the members of the Security Council urged Iraq's political leaders to avoid inflammatory rhetoric and actions.
Hashish production: According to a new UN office on drugs and crime survey, Afghanistan, the world's biggest producer of opium, is now also the global producer of hashish. Afghanistan Cannabis Survey, produced by the UNODC, stated that while a precise estimate was not technically possible, cannabis was grown over an estimated 10,000 to 24,000 hectares in Afghanistan every year.
The survey found that there was largescale cannabis cultivation in exactly half of the 34 provinces.
Afghanistan's cannabis crop yields 145 kg per hectare of hashish, the resin produced from cannabis, as compared to 40 kg per hectare in Morocco, the report said.
"While other countries have even larger cannabis cultivation, the astonishing yield of the Afghan cannabis crop makes the country the world's biggest producer of hashish, estimated at between 1,500 and 3,500 tons a year," said UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa.
The study said that cannabis not only reaped a high return of $3,900 in gross income per hectare as compared to $3,600 from opium but it was cheap to harvest and process. It was three times cheaper to cultivate a hectare of cannabis in Afghanistan than a hectare of opium.
According to the survey, opium is favoured over cannabis among Afghan farmers, and it noted that the latter had a short shelf-life and was a crop grown during the summer months, when less water was available for irrigation.
Rebuilding Haiti: Ban Ki-moon called for the rebuilding of Haiti as he urged donors to provide $11.5 billion for the next 10 years for reconstruction that was devastated by a massive quake in January. "What we envision today is wholesale national renewal, a sweeping exercise in nation-building on a scale and scope not seen in generations," he told delegates from over 130 nations who had gathered in New York for a high-level meeting to secure the financial resources necessary to help Haiti recover and rebuild.
Some $3.9 billion of the $11.5 billion being sought will be channeled into specific projects through a newly-created Interim Haiti Recovery Commission in the next 18 months. Ban Ki-moon said reconstruction work had to move in tandem with emergency relief and urged donors to provide support to the revised humanitarian appeal for Haiti. That appeal called for $1.4 billion, but was only 50 per cent funded.
"The rainy season is fast approaching. Some camps for displaced persons are at risk of flooding. Heath and sanitation issues are growing more serious," he said.
Haiti President René Préval, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and UN special envoy for Haiti Bill Clinton are co-hosting the conference, entitled Towards a New Future in Haiti. Some 200,000 people died in the Haiti quake.
Travel ban: UN HIV/Aids called on states to fight the spread of HIV and has supported a call by the world's parliamentarians to lift travel restrictions for people living with the disease. Unaids and the Inter-Parliamentary Union urged the implementation of legislation to protect people living with HIV from discrimination.
Some 52 countries, territories and areas have some form of HIV-specific restriction on entry, stay and residence including banning tourists or study based on positive HIV status. "Travel restrictions for people living with HIV do not protect public health and are outdated in the age of universal access to HIV prevention and treatment," said Michel Sidibé, Unaids executive director.
Running an administration is not about pleasing allies or upsetting foes. It is about doing what is right and necessary. But that is often expecting too much of Indian politicians. The Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, has repeatedly proved that he has a different approach to his job. He showed it again during his visit to West Bengal. In all he said and did during the visit, he made one thing clear his priorities were administrative and not political. It is no surprise, therefore, that his approach upset both Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Mamata Banerjee. He did not mince words while criticizing the failures of the state administration in fighting the Maoists and in ending political clashes. Ms Banerjee was upset that Mr Chidambaram was not "harsh enough" on the chief minister. He also left leaders of his own party, the Congress, unhappy for not visiting some places in Burdwan district where Marxist cadre are said to be harassing activists of the opposition parties. Even on the Maoists, Mr Chidambaram spelt out his strategy in unambiguous terms. The fight would be hard and long, but the Centre would not flinch from doing what is necessary. Given the confusions among the political class and the administrative inefficiency that shackles the anti-Maoist campaign, this clarity and firmness should be reassuring.
Mr Chidambaram's visit sends out several messages to both the ruling and opposition parties in the state. The most important message, of course, is that the administration cannot be allowed to play second fiddle to the politics of the day. While he did not spare the chief minister for his failings, he made it clear to Ms Banerjee that the Centre cannot interfere with the state's constitutional right over law and order. In fact, his reiteration of New Delhi's commitment to fight the Maoists shows his anxiety to help the state in this. The other message is that political rivalries cannot be the reason for a confrontation or non-cooperation between the Centre and a state government. Similarly, the compulsion of pleasing a political ally, as Ms Banerjee is to the Congress, cannot be the basis for administrative decisions. It may be in Ms Banerjee's partisan interest to try and see that Union ministers do not attend even development-related programmes in West Bengal. But that is not in the state's interest. More important, it is against the spirit of the Constitution.
At certain moments India's size and population seem particularly noticeable. For example, the Election Commission has every reason to congratulate itself after heaving a secret sigh of relief each time the general elections are over, because the magnitude of the enterprise is something that few other countries can imagine. Similarly, the registrar-general and census commissioner must be at the peak of activity with the beginning of the enumeration for the 2011 census this April. India's population is 120 crore, of which an estimated 26 crore families live in far-flung areas. The decennial census provides the basic data for analysis by economists and social scientists, and for the formulation of policy. This time the census will be used to build an electronic database that the government will use to issue a unique identity number to every person. The successful completion of the enumeration would be another triumph for the registrar-general, for in a country where a large number of people are not linked to modern networks, the census is the only means of knowing how the people are faring.
For the first time, there will be questions on ownership of mobile phones, internet connectivity, electricity connections, drinking water arrangements and so on. Such questions are vital for correctly targeted economic policies and infrastructure distribution. But it is also extremely important that enumerator and subject both do their jobs well. It is not clear how conscious people are that giving truthful answers is useful for their own sakes. This awareness of the importance of census enumeration should have been created by now this is the seventh census. Also, the choice of enumerators should be reviewed. Schoolteachers and government workers can do the enumeration only to the detriment of their jobs; this cannot be good either for them or for their levels of dedication. Local young people who have passed at least Class X could be trained in each district and sent off with the lists they would be happy to earn money. Encouraging people to be truthful and enumerators to be dedicated is all to the good, but this is predicated on trust. The detailed information gathered from and by trusting people should not be put to political use: that is the one fear that makes people reticent. It is the government's job to see that the outcome of a task of this scale is put only to positive uses.
HOW TO IDENTIFY THE REALLY POOR
ASHOK V. DESAI
For no fault of theirs, the poor have given the government much trouble. Unlike Blacks or Women, two other classes of people chosen often for favours, the poor do not distinguish themselves; and if they are identified by means of external criteria, their characteristics can be faked or forged. The temptation to do so becomes overwhelming when the government gives favours rations, jobs, places in schools, medical treatment only to the poor. So a large proportion of these favours goes to those who are not poor. Foremost amongst the fortunate are government functionaries who are supposed to identify the poor and pass on favours to them. They pass on the favours to themselves instead, and get ever richer. To protect the business, they infiltrate the party that gives the favours. That is how the party gets corrupted.
The corruption is good for the party; it keeps its rank and file happy and gives them an interest in getting the party re-elected. But once in a while a supporter gets pangs of conscience about the dishonesty of it all, and does some introspection. Jean Drèze is not a Congressman or a bureaucrat: on the contrary, he is a man of conscience who lives on very little and spends his life in social service. But he believes that the government should serve the people; he was one of the people who inspired the national rural employment guarantee programme. No wonder his conscience troubles him sometimes. The Congress leaders organized a grand celebration of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act; Jean Drèze kept away from it. When the finance minister called the NREGA a magnificent success, Jean Drèze said that "this is bound to sound a trifle heroic to anyone who is familiar with the ground realities".
But unlike cynics like me, Jean Drèze is not prepared to condemn the NREGA or contemplate its termination. He keeps thinking of ways of improving it; and since he was once an economist, his ideas are often sensible. One of the issues he has seriously thought about recently is the problem of identifying the poor. In an article in the Economic and Political Weekly (XLV. 9), he and Reetika Khera start with the notoriously poor correlation between the really poor and those the government has identified as being below the poverty line: 18 per cent of those amongst the richest 20 per cent villagers had BPL cards, while 47 per cent of the poorest fifth did not have one. According to my calculations based on these statistics, the proportion of those in the two poorest quintiles who did not get BPL cards comes to 21 per cent of the entire population, and the proportion of those in the two richest quintiles who got cards comes to nine per cent. So the proportion of the population in respect of which the government made a mistake comes to 30 per cent. The proportion to whom it gave BPL cards was 34 per cent. Compare this with the 30 per cent who should have got cards and did not and those who should not have got cards and did. If proof was needed that the government's identification of the poor through its own functionaries is so inaccurate as to be worthless, this is it.
My reaction to these figures would be that the BPL was a misstep and should be wound up; the benefits of terminating it are greater than those of continuing it except of course for the ruling party and its corrupt supporters. Jean Drèze's reaction is, let us look for a way of identifying the poor that is less manipulable. He takes four indicators that a rural household is not poor that it has a pucca house, that it has a pucca house with many rooms, that it has six acres of unirrigated land (irrigated land being taken as equal to twice as much unirrigated land), or that it has any one of the following: a car, a fridge, a telephone, a scooter, a colour television, or electricity plus tap water plus flush toilet. Almost every household that has land above the limit also has a pucca house with many rooms; so one of the two criteria can be dispensed with. Of rural households, 23 per cent had one of the assets; besides having one of the assets, five per cent had land, six per cent had a pucca house with many rooms, and eight per cent had a single-room pucca house.
The use of exclusion criteria would be unacceptable to the government because they would exclude many of the Congress's favourites: scheduled castes and tribes (32 per cent of the households), landless (42 per cent), agricultural workers (33 per cent), households headed by women (15 per cent) and households without an adult who studied beyond Class V (39 per cent). To get them in, one would have to add an inclusion criterion.
With the four above exclusion criteria and five inclusion criteria, one has choice of 20 combinations between the two. Jean Drèze and Reetika Khera get a bit impatient at this point and work out proportions for only four combinations: an exclusionary approach which ignores inclusion criteria and rejects a household only if it meets any of the exclusion criteria; an inclusionary criterion which ignores exclusion criteria and selects a household only if it meets any of the inclusion criteria; a play-safe approach which rejects a household only if it does not meet any of the selection criteria and is then rejected by one of the exclusion criteria, and a restrictive approach which selects a household only if it meets any of the selection criteria and is not rejected by any of the exclusion criteria.
All the criteria are pretty good at including the poorest. Both the inclusionary and the play-safe approaches would bring more than 50 per cent of the richest quintile into the category of the poor, and deserve to be rejected for that reason. In other words, a programme which includes everyone who has one of the politically desirable qualities cannot be a pro-poor programme. The exclusionary and the restrictive approaches give the most desirable outcomes in the sense of covering the poor and excluding the rich. Both involve excluding those who have undesirable assets; the exclusionary approach stops there, while the restrictive approach selects from those who do not have undesirable assets only those who have one of the desirable qualities. Both give about the same results. They reject 13 per cent of agricultural workers (presumably because of other sources of income for instance, a son working in a city), 20 per cent of landless households (presumably because they have occupations not involving land), 18 per cent of households headed by women (presumably because the women have remunerative occupations) and six per cent of households without an educated adult (presumably because it is possible to make a good living out of agriculture without knowing how to read). Of the two, the exclusion approach gives a higher coverage of the poor, and thus comes out best in my judgment. The best way to identify the poor is to exclude all who have at least one of the designated assets, and ignore all else.
SET THE AGENDA
The entire South Asian region is besieged by a tradition of political violence, with the exception of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Brutality has been rampant in South Asia, committed not by alien aggressors but by internal dissenters M.K. Gandhi was assassinated by an Indian who was a fundamentalist, Indira Gandhi was shot dead by a Sikh bodyguard, Rajiv Gandhi was blown up by a suicide bomber and yet we have the audacity to call ourselves a 'peace-loving nation'. In the immediate neighbourhood, the 'first families' of rulers have all suffered inhuman assaults. From Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to Nepal and Pakistan, 'mercy' and a sense of dignity in dealing with political differences have been non-existent.
Physical assault has been the norm, and the connivance by disparate groups, some in control of the official machinery and others not, appears to be in the realm of possibility. Investigations take more than a span of life to be completed and cease to have any real impact. Perpetrators of such crimes see the lethargy in bringing culprits of heinous crimes to book quick and fast, and this in itself encourages many more acts of a similar kind. It is as though the State is helpless, soft and incapable of reading out the Riot Act, ensuring law and order, and thereby setting the norm of civilized living. This needs to be changed.
Many questions remain unanswered about 'who' influenced and 'masterminded' some of these assassinations. Was there an international 'conspiracy' to destabilize a region that could, as a political collective in sync with one another, become a formidable market and a stronghold for 'Western' powers to contend with? Was the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation geo-politically important for the 'superpowers', which wanted to conquer the largest potential market of this millennium? Puppet leaders have been safe, and in contrast, those who appealed to the larger masses with a mind of their own were 'eliminated'.
A mature nation state would seize the moment and use its age-old strengths to manipulate the colonizer and extract only that which is imperative for its growth and betterment, rejecting, albeit deviously, that which suppresses its liberty, freedom and self-reliance. Present-day leaders need to play this political game deftly, with astute strategy. Instead, we seem to be grovelling for recognition and 'appreciation'. The colonizers cannot remain 'powerful' without being partners with nations in this region. Seeing the writing on the wall for what it is, the South Asian nations must play a carefully nuanced 'international' game on their own terms. If serious, the Saarc summit appropriately taking place in Bhutan, a young, fledgling democracy whose gross national happiness is an indicator of its development and growth must make an international impact and shake other similar collectives of nation states out of their standstill attitude.
Saarc nations can devise, with ease, alternatives for the people who have been neglected and exploited for
decades. Their skills and expertise, suppressed by 'modern' tools and man-made, inorganic products, which have polluted the so- called rich world, need to be revived and put into the 'mainstream' development agenda. People are comfortable and confident doing what they know best. The Western world is rapidly discarding all the horrors that have poisoned their land, and condescendingly dumping those failures on the 'developing' world, which is, ironically, far more sensitive to the need for sustainable development. Saarc needs to teach the 'developed' world some real lessons about life and living, cease being insecure when confronted with the 'other' world, generate pride and secure its place in this competitive world.
BEAUTY AND THE MODERN CITY
While civic authorities are content to look after a few parks, the presence of millions living in squalor on the streets, deprived of hygiene and security, complicates the vision of a beautiful Calcutta
Beautification may not be the most beautiful word in the English language but it features prominently in the civic vocabulary of those who administer Calcutta. From planting a few saplings to keeping a park clean, all kinds of rudimentary municipal activities are often brought into the fold of an exalted 'beautification drive'. Every modern metropolis aims to inculcate a unique aesthetic identity by staking claim on its history, art and architecture. But such ambitions make sense only after the primary battles with power and water supply, road safety and illegal settlements are won. So, with a lumbering system of delivery, the authorities responsible for the city try their best to hide the unruliness under a patina of modernity. Hence, the guise of beautification.
Last month, at a seminar on the role of art in public space, a spirited panel of curators, art historians, artists and architects had confronted civic authorities on the need to look beyond 'a public works department brand of aesthetics'. In their defence, the officials spoke of the good work they do by looking after the city parks. One gentleman even offered several roundabouts to artists who may wish to beautify these places with artworks (although he tactfully kept silent on how these projects were to be funded). But can a city, which a recent survey declared to be the least liveable Indian metropolis, be made beautiful by a few well-maintained parks or works of art in strategic places? The key to a beautiful modern city lies beyond what meets the eye.
Public space in post-colonial countries is necessarily mixed up with private lives. In Calcutta, poverty is abject and undisguised. People are born and die on the streets, live in shanties, in filth and squalor. Deprived of basic hygiene and security, the presence of millions complicates the vision of a beautiful Calcutta. The State has so far managed to come up with cosmetic measures at best (like allowing little ghettos of slums and 'colonies' to grow up in certain areas) and twisted face-savers at worst (the underdevelopment of Calcutta, its old buildings and crumbling infrastructure, are often talked about in a rhetoric of noble gloom, and praised as a brand of aesthetics peculiar to the city, and having its own quaint charm).
Around the physical reality of public space there is the less tangible domain of public sphere, charged with ethics, morality and decorum central to civic life. Pollution control, proper disposal of garbage, and efficient traffic management are some of the fundamental duties of the modern State, which must then be instilled into, if not strictly enforced on, its citizens. In India, people are habitual jaywalkers, they relieve themselves, spit, or make a litter, everywhere. Thus individuals, educated or otherwise, claim a private ownership on public spaces in a way that goes against the first principles of any meaningful public enterprise. So public art projects become vulnerable to damage, theft and defacement, thanks to this nexus of public-private neglect and disregard for the rules.
Calcutta, teeming with history, timeless yet unpredictable, has much to offer to the creative eye. Ever ready to jostle the senses, the city provides an ideal platform for public art, but maybe not the most suitable conditions yet for such a project to flourish in.
As I proceeded towards the Wipro flyover from Chingrighata, I thought I had entered Wonderland. Like the world Alice discovered after sliding through a rabbit hole, this, too, was peculiar: a wide, snaking stretch where logic had been turned on its head. First I saw a snail-like creature on one side of the road. Huge chessboard figures pawns and knights came next, followed by what looked like a Rubik's Cube. Finally, on seeing camels and sand dunes made of fibre reinforced plastic, I craned my neck to check whether the Great Pyramid of Giza loomed ahead. Alas, I was greeted by sari-clad, fair-skinned Rajasthani beauties carrying pots on their heads. Worse, they weren't even real.
The snail and cube, knights and elephants, camels and village belles are part of a beautification drive being carried out by the Nabadiganta Industrial Township Authority, which, in turn, is being partnered by Encon and Selvel. Enquiries revealed that the FRP models had cost around Rs 9 lakh. The idea, however incongruous, was to add to the beauty of the pot-holed stretch (there is some kind of construction and drainage work going on, supervised by the KMRC) with a dash of regional flavour. More local themes, with Bengal dominating the core, would be added once KMRC finally figures out what it is after. Does that mean less of camels and more of women with dusky skin and beautiful tresses?
One might not agree with the visual aesthetic, but what can be appreciated is the transparent nature of such public-private initiatives. One phone call is all that it takes to get eager officials share frightening ideas regarding beautification. On the other hand, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation is strangely elusive when it comes to sharing its views. There is very little information on its official website. But that has not perturbed the citizens who seem to be content with what is being passed around as beauty: the bust of Kishore Kumar, covered in bird-droppings, gnashing its teeth near Tollygunge, or a mural depicting Mother Teresa wearing what looks to be Hush Puppies at the Rashbehari crossing. Even the indifferent Biman Bose was recently moved by the plight of Bengal's (and India's) famous sons and daughters in stone. But the mayor has no time, busy as he is dousing flames.
The idea that a city's intangible resources beauty and aesthetics are as important as its roads, buildings and water-supply seems to have eluded most Calcuttans. They are equally oblivious to the fact that a public-private partnership in a beautification project should accord citizens their rightful place as decision-makers. And what about conserving the few remaining things that are truly beautiful: old, ornate buildings, the grey river as well as the parks and promenades littered with refuse? Why do we not hear of really inclusive public-private partnerships when it comes to resurrecting Calcutta's rich architectural legacy?
In fairy tales, ugly people are often transformed into things of beauty. But Calcutta's romance with fairytales is long over. Not even the touch of a fairy can make those plastic women near Sector V beautiful.
TEEMING, DEADLY, BUT NEVER DEAD
There is something cruel, callous and shameless in every Calcuttan. It is an often inhuman sense of curiosity and fun, mainly in the eyes, without which it would be impossible to survive the demons of this city. That terrible, hard-hearted part of me could not help a secret chuckle on hearing that a young German artist had taken it upon himself to create 'public art' for our city, and that he was coming here on a visit, for the first time in his life, for a recce. How would the Münster aesthetic deal with Moulali, I wondered. What would happen to European Minimalism when faced with Ma Durga and monoxide? I was somewhat reassured about the state of my own humanity when that first wicked chuckle turned into more enduring interest as I watched this artist's initial bafflement on arriving in the city turn into a quickening of the pulse. I could see that Calcutta was going to be some sort of a milestone in the journey of his eye. His imagination had been aroused and challenged.
Yet, I am still not sure that subcontinental cities need public art. (And I'm not talking about dead new townships, but the teeming, deadly, but never dead, core of an Indian or Pakistani city.) European cities most certainly do their citizens would die of boredom, of Nothing Ever Happening, otherwise. That is why Western public art is never 'beautiful'. It is made to shock, stun or outrage, and seldom to 'beautify'. The eye made quiet by the power of civilization must be made to feel the jolt of the unexpected, if only for a few moments. Finding a gigantic bronze spider called Mother looming over your city square, or the entire opera house wrapped in fabric, becomes a matter of life and death when, at the prospect of walking to your therapist's round the corner, or stepping out with your chihuahua for the Sunday papers, you know that your route would lie through nothing but clean, law-abiding avenues, more or less unpeopled, except for you-clones exchanging tight smiles or collecting dog-poo in ozone-friendly bags and popping them into boxes made for that purpose. So, something new has to happen from time to time, if only to your retina, when you step out into this civic, automatically civilized, space something that you had not quite imagined or bargained for. And who but the artist, with flashing eyes and floating hair, can deliver you from this menace of the first-world mundane? And if this is how you feel in Hampstead, imagine living in Hartford, Hereford or Hampshire, where hurricanes hardly ever happen.
But now think of Hazra Road while on the H-trail the entire stretch from Ballygunge to the more. Setting out for, say, the Jatin Das Park metro, would you ever be able to predict what would happen to you on the way not just to your retina, but to your person and personhood, private and public? I had never imagined, for instance, that one day, from the auto taking me to Jatin Das Park and loudly playing the Three Idiots lovesong, I would see a beautiful young woman, entirely naked, with close-cropped hair and delicate collar-bones, dragging herself down the middle of the road, chattering and smiling and trailing a line of menstrual blood, while every other person, animal and thing, including myself, took her in how ironic that phrase! and moved on.
Art has a great deal more than visual boredom to deliver Calcuttans from. I'm not sure if it is, or ought to be, quite up to such a task.
MANDATE TO DELIVER
'THE BJP NOW HAS TO DELIVER ON ITS PROMISES.'
The resounding victory of the ruling BJP in the elections to the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) seems to have surprised even that party. By all accounts, the BJP's winning tally of 112 seats in the 198 wards council, has far exceeded its rosiest expectations. Given the BJP's intra-party problems and the consequent loss of image and its failure to solve the acute power and water crises, the party was most reluctant to hold the polls and tried every trick in its bag to have them postponed. But the people of Bangalore have given the BJP a clear mandate, hoping that the Yeddyurappa government will attend to the City's pressing problems. The only disappointing aspect is that the middle classes stayed away from elections and the polling was as low as 44 per cent.
The main reason for BJP's spectacular win is that the party was smart enough not to bring in its agenda into the election campaign. There were other reasons too. Voters, particularly in the erstwhile CMCs, seem to have decided that their civic needs would be best fulfiled by the ruling party in the state. The BJP had made it amply clear that areas that voted it would be taken care of, in terms of roads and drains. In any case, many of the BJP candidates, as were that of the Congress and the JD(S) were money bags, local musclemen and relatives of established politicians. They did not carry ideological baggage, which may have helped them. Those that did lost miserably, as in the case of minister Aravind Limbavali's nominees in Mahadevapura wards. Of course, the Congress campaign was listless, as if the party is already comatose and the JD(S) wasn't really expecting much as it has an image of being anti-urban populace.
Now that it has Bangalore in its pocket, the BJP would be expected to deliver on its promises of development. The problems that the metropolis faces requires urgent attention with enormous will and commitment. The shortages of water and power, the woeful infrastructure, particularly in the newly annexed areas, garbage disposal, environment-friendly sanitation, traffic management, creating and maintaining lung spaces, and the public health care, particularly for the low income population call for speedy and dedicated solutions. Hopefully it is these challenges and not the thousands of crores of BBMP budget that will attract the attention of our corporators.
'REPRESENTING GUJARAT IS NOT MATTER OF SHAME.'
The Congress leadership has only shown itself in a poor light by creating a controversy about Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan sharing a dais with actor Amitabh Bachchan at a government function in Mumbai. The inauguration of the second phase of the Bandra-Worli sea link was not a party function. Bachchan was officially invited for the function. Leaders of other parties and important personalities are routinely invited for such functions. This should be so because such events showcase a city's achievement and cannot be appropriated by any person or political party. But the Congress sought to politicise and personalise the event by making an issue of Bachchan's participation in it.
The chief minister, in the good old Congress tradition of toeing the high command line, good or bad, suddenly distanced himself from it and claimed that he did not know that Bachchan had been invited for the function. A number of factors worked together to compound the issue: the leadership's strained relations with Bachchan, sycophancy in the party and rivalries in the Maharashtra Congress and even within the state's ruling coalition.
For appearances, the Congress claims that its objection was to the role of Bachchan as the brand ambassador of Gujarat. But that does not make Bachchan an untouchable. It is wrong to identify Gujarat with Narendra Modi. Representing Gujarat is not a matter of shame and nobody should be ostracised for that. The real reason for the Congress making an issue of Bachchan's presence at the event or his association with Gujarat is thought to be the actor's strained relations with Sonia Gandhi's family. It is unfortunate that the party president's personal relations give rise to such untenable positions, which are presented in the garb of principles and high political morality.
Amitabh Bachchan's politics and personal and social relations have shifted in the past. But the actor has an image above politics and narrow considerations. By trying to paint him saffron and calling him black, the Congress is exposing its streak of intolerance and allowing prejudice to decide its policy. It should behave with more maturity, behoving of a national party with a great tradition. The country's political life is increasingly losing civility and decorum. It will do a world of good if there is a sense of propriety and respect for others in public discourse.
THE NATURAL ECOLOGY, WHICH SHAPES TIBETAN WEATHER, IS BEING DEGRADED BY UNINFORMED AND UNWISE CHINESE POLICIES.
BY B G VERGHESE
The recently resumed trial of hapless Bahai's in Iran, a small, peaceful community, is symptomatic of the tyranny of unstable regimes that fear their own people.
As brazen is the feverish anxiety on the part of the Mynmarese military junta to block every single avenue for anything like a remotely fair and free election, the first in 20 years, in that unhappy country. No firm dates have been announced but the charade is planned for some time towards the end of the year.
Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy, who won the last poll by an overwhelming margin, has been barred under a newly announced electoral law that does everything to ensure the poll is rigged in favour of the junta, which has reserved 25 per cent of all elective seats for itself. The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and the National Unity Party (NUP) are also being desperately propped up to win the remaining 'popular vote' as nothing can be left to chance.
On March 8, the junta announced five laws with regard to the election commission, political party registration and related matters under a new constitution that was crudely imposed on the people some months ago in a fraudulent 'referendum.'
A military caretaker government is soon to take over the reins of administration and the new government may not be formed until several months after the poll so that everything is carefully arranged. The media is on a tight leash so that nothing untoward is said. Meanwhile, plans are reportedly afoot for a military makeover with the older guard retiring to make way for a younger lot, while some cadres are enrolled in the legislatures.
The ethnic minorities pose a problem. The separate ceasefire agreements signed with 17 ethnic groups in effect entailed a tacit live and let live policy for many without any compulsion to lay down arms. For the past several months the junta has been trying to persuade some of these groups to convert their armed cadres into a Border Guard Force, presumably as a step towards bringing them under the discipline of the Burmese Army.
The debate on whether or not the NLD should contest the elections, howsoever loaded the dice, has finally been settled in favour of a boycott. This will further strain the credibility of the exercise.
China too continues to exhibit fears of freedom. Google has pulled out of the mainland to Hong Kong because of censorship and official hacking into and spying on dissidents' ID accounts. Now 'Go Daddy,' the American domain name register group, is thinking of following suit. Beijing is also coming under pressure to revalue the yuan upwards so as to stop subsidising its exports.
Tibet constitutes a continuing worry as Buddhism remains a 'second sun' in the sky challenging (Chinese) communism. Hence the intimidatory and insidious efforts to undermine the authority of the Dalai Lama by heaping abuse on him as a 'splittist' and renegade secretly working for independence. However, His Holiness only seeks economic and cultural autonomy for Tibet under the terms of the 17-Point Agreement of 1951 on which Beijing has reneged.
The Chinese-chosen Panchen Lama is again being built up and many suspect Beijing will select a docile reincarnation in his place after the present Dalai Lama, now 75, passes on. These tactics will not work.
Even as the political drama unfolds, Tibet is caught in the throes of a climate change-induced environmental crisis with the melting of its permafrost and glaciers, the first being in some ways even more important than the second. India and the south Himalayan region in general is already beginning to feel the effects of debris and glacial dams, aberrant river flows with erratic westerly snowfall and attendant sediment surges.
The natural ecology, which is both shaped by and shapes Tibetan weather, is however being degraded by uninformed and unwise Chinese policies. A series of Tibetan papers circulated at the recent Copenhagen climate change summit, outlined a set of looming dangers.
Faulty pastoral practices have been imposed on Tibetan nomads who herd sheep, goats, yaks and horses. Initial insistence on enlarging herds to maximise production for a growing (immigrant) population proved unsustainable. This has now apparently yielded to another mistaken policy to restrict the nomads to confined pastures.
The new policy of 'closing the pastures to restore grasslands' has reduced many nomads to 'ecological migrants.' This human wrong, compounded by intensive grazing within 'enclosures' instead of the traditionally sound practice of extensive but light grazing, is degrading the rangelands.
The delicate balance between pasture lands, permafrost melting, the heat balance, rain and snowfall and their timing and other physical and atmospheric parameters has been adversely affected. The consequence has been greater dust and erosion, dying wetlands, desertification and a lowering capacity for carbon sequestration.
This is a complex process that calls for collaborative international research and careful corrective action. India and the world have stakes in this process, as does China. Tibet's future is at stake in more than one respect.
OUT OF SIGHT IS NOT ACTUALLY OUT OF MIND
POOR PEOPLE AND THOSE WHO ARE DEPRIVED OF THEIR RIGHTS ARE BEING LABELLED AS A NUISANCE OR A BURDEN.
BY COLIN TODHUNTER
As the Delhi authorities attempt to clear the streets of an estimated 1,00,000 beggars in the run up to the Commonwealth Games, I get the impression that India's poor are at best an embarrassment to the authorities and sections of the well to do, or, at worst, a damned nuisance. Corporate India seems hell bent on presenting the international media with a happy, smiling 'Coffee Day' image of the nation.
I remember someone from the USA once asking me, "What are the Commonwealth games?" Like many others around the world, he had never heard of them. Yet, to the city hosting the event, it is a great opportunity to put its best foot forward and to show the world well those who know about the games or those who could be bothered to show any interest in them that their place is a bastion of Shanghai-inspired urban splendour.
Delhi Social Welfare Minister Mangat Ram Singhal said last year that beggary is an offence and can lead to imprisonment for up to 10 years. He also stated that in 2010 the authorities wanted to remove beggars from Delhi. How come he only recently woke up to this? Oh yes, that's right, it is our old friend the 'games'. He said that two mobile courts would travel around the city and would ensure that the Bombay Prevention of Beggary Act, 1961, is strictly enforced. As a result, beggars are being imprisoned or put into juvenile homes.
The Delhi High Court has ruled that beggars should be rehabilitated in their native places in coordination with the Delhi government and various states. The mobile courts catch beggars and present them before the court, and subsequently some are being sent to their respective states.
The court recently heard a public interest petition of social activist Harsh Mander, who said that begging should be decriminalised and that if a person is destitute and begs for a living then he or she cannot be treated as a criminal and cannot be arrested or sentenced. Mander also challenged the constitutional validity of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act.
What is happening in Delhi has occurred elsewhere when a city is placed in the international spotlight. Cities become spruced up and beggars and the homeless are taken from the streets and put elsewhere out of sight, out of mind.
In many places throughout the world, the poorest people and those deprived of their rights are being labelled as nuisances, a burden or, even worse, if they resist, as terrorists. It seem that, in the view of some, certain people in India are holding back 'progress', whether they are beggars on the streets of Delhi, or, further afield, such as people in the so-called tribal belt.
Thousands of Indian paramilitary troops and police are now engaged in fighting a war against some of the country's poorest inhabitants in the tribal belt. According to official figures, nearly 6,000 people have died in the past seven years of fighting, more than half of them civilians. These tribal areas are home to some of the nation's poorest people. Villages are emptied or are deprived of basic services and amenities, so people are forced out one way or another and the mineral rich forests are open for the mining corporations to enter.
A corporate democracy
But what can we expect? This is a corporate democracy 21st century style. It is the poor and vulnerable who are usually oppressed in the name of progress and impoverished in the name of prosperity. Of course, all of this is seemingly carried out for their own good.
So, later this year, when I visit Delhi once more, will I suddenly be confused into thinking I am in Singapore, with its clean streets, gleaming buildings, orderly traffic and beggar-free environment? I don't think so. Even if I venture into the brave new steel and glass worlds on the outskirts, it will still be the same pollution-choked place, with chaotic traffic, grime laden buildings and, dare I say it beggars.
Some think, like certain figures in Delhi, that India's problems can be airbrushed aside with the stroke of a court order or two, a media image makeover or by repressive actions. The poor have become an embarrassment to some who have fallen under the mesmerising spell cast by the mainstream media, with its notion that the country is surging headlong towards a Barristo-drinking, Wills Life Style inspired bright new future.
Perhaps a reality check is now required. Maybe it's time for some to wake up and smell the coffee.
WORLD AT MY DOORSTEP
DESPITE ALL ODDS, DAILY NEW-SPAPERS HAVE MAINTAINED THEIR SUPREMACY.
BY NAVARATNA LAXMAN
As a kid it was my responsibility to wait for the newspaper boy every early morning and bring the paper to my father who would be eagerly waiting for the same with his cup of steaming coffee. For nearly one hour he would be glued to the paper doing 'vishwa paryatana' through its pages, having given instructions to us that he shouldn't be disturbed unless it was an emergency.
This was nearly seven decades ago and the pattern of this routine continues with the same fervour in my family the only difference being that the players now belong to present generation. Those days, besides daily newspapers, radio transmission was the only other means of communication for news coverage and this obviously could not cover the entire gamut of regional, national and world news in the manner that could be presented in specified columns as done in the newspaper, enabling the reader to pick his choice leisurely.
With the advent of satellite communication, enormous innovative developments have taken place in this sphere. Today we have innumerable options for enjoying programmes on every conceivable topic presented through sophisticated electronic media encompassing far wider and deeper coverage of happenings in every nook and corner of this globe and even beyond! The number of TV channels are in hundreds with many service providers catering to every taste and interest with the nonstop coverage of 'breaking news' of the moment with its on the spot TV projections round the clock and round the year.
Despite all this glamour and versatility of the electronic media, the good old daily newspapers have maintained their supremacy and are undoubtedly an inseparable part of our own little world, the reason for which is not far to seek. The compact package of info the daily brings to our doorsteps in limited number of pages cannot be obtained in the given time even by numerous TV channels. Life is fast these days and nobody has that much time and patience to browse through so many channels to get the desired particulars. This explains why the print media has kept abreast with the ever-developing and sophisticated electronic media.
I have no idea about the functioning of the newspaper enterprise though I am much fascinated by it, but I do know that it has to be essentially an extremely well and meticulously organised network, always on its toes, dedicatedly keeping pace with the constant flow of events around the globe with remarkable system potential to present the same authentically and responsibly in a nutshell with unfailing regularity.
Though I view TV programmes selectively, my day doesn't get kick started without the eagerly awaited soft thud of the morning paper hurriedly plonked by the newspaper boy at my doorstep. Right now I am waiting for just that!
THE BLOCKED CHANNEL
According to a special report commissioned by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, there is no chance for negotiations between Israel and Syria in the near future. The report, the main points of which were published in Haaretz on Sunday, bases its pessimistic conclusions on the results of meetings between its two authors - Sarkozy's adviser on Middle Eastern Affairs and the head of the Middle East desk in the French Foreign Ministry - and senior Israeli officials.
One does not have to study a report, be it French, American or any other to conclude quickly there is no chance at this time for talks between Syria and Israel. Israel is unwilling to withdraw from the Golan Heights, and Syria is not prepared to accede to Israel's demand to disengage from Hezbollah and from Iran. Thus, ostensibly, the channel of communication between the two sides is blocked, preventing any chance of a breakthrough.
However, the concepts "at this time" and "in the near future" are misleading and deceptive. Timetables depend on political priorities, and we have seen that heads of state respond in times of need to international pressure that endangers the status of their countries.
Just as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu changed his position on the principle of a two-state solution, under the right circumstances withdrawal from the Golan Heights could stop being a vital condition. Policy is a dynamic thing, as France knows, having changed its Middle East policies several times, including its attitude toward Syrian President Bashar Assad. Wisdom consists of preparing conditions for a change of policy and creating a foundation for peace. That is also the mission of the French president, who has been involved in steps in the Middle East.
France is not an observer nor a commentator; it is an important country in the European Union and the partner of the United States in its moves against Iran. It must be hoped that the report compiled by two of its top diplomats will present a challenge to France and not bring efforts to move ahead on negotiations between Israel and Syria to an end. Israel, for its part, should not wait for external pressure or the next war. It must declare its intention to withdraw from the Golan Heights and return the occupied territory to its owners under conditions to be achieved during talks. The presentation of preconditions, like the demand that Syria detach itself from Hezbollah and Iran, rather than discussing security arrangements that would neutralize their impact, guarantees the failure of any negotiations.
WE'RE ALL RIGHT
BY AMIRA HASS
Israelis really love to hear how good things are in Ramallah. This is the conclusion from talks with the kind of Israelis who don't demonstrate with Palestinians and face teargas, rubber-coated bullets and beatings by Israeli soldiers, and who don't spend hours closely watching what goes on at military courts and checkpoints.
It's amazing what Israelis who live 12 minutes from the checkpoints of Qalandiyah and al-Za'im know, even though they have never set foot there and have never seen the wall blocking the sunsets, the watchtowers and the barbed wire fences. They know about the cafes, restaurants, fancy houses and traffic circles. It's very similar to their intimate knowledge of the underground tunnels below Rafah.
The thought process here is obvious: The Palestinians have money, even in the Gaza Strip. They shouldn't complain about a humanitarian crisis. We can go on living normally 12 or 21 minutes away from them, teach at the university, go to concerts and exhibitions, travel abroad and have fun in malls. We're all right.
In a sense, the two Palestinian governments - the one in Gaza and the other in Ramallah - are also interested in relaying the message that they're all right. Ismail Haniyeh's government in Gaza is all right because it's meeting the public's needs thanks to the tunnel economy (from greasy french fries to fuel, from sheep for the feasts to cars). If only the Rafah crossing would open, you would see that we can have a better administration than Fatah's. This propaganda, by the way, is well received by mainstream people in the West Bank who don't have a 2010 model car or a good salary in a prestigious nongovernmental organization.
And Salam Fayyad's government in the West Bank is all right because it's finally proving that there is an administration that knows how to build institutions on the way to statehood. Of course, it should be said in favor of this government that it does not stress the improvement of superficial consumer issues (of the kind Israelis are keen to point out), and that it takes the trouble to relay messages that undermine Israel's claims. No, most of the checkpoints have not been removed; the improvement is because of the Palestinians and despite the occupation. All the settlements, including those in East Jerusalem, are illegal. Area C? This letter is nowhere to be found in our alphabet. And that unarmed popular struggle is the other aspect of building institutions.
But there are traps in this "all right." Just as Paris' 16th arrondissement and Ramat Aviv Gimel (not to mention the Akirov Towers) are not representative, neither is Ramallah. This city attracts people with generous incomes, who are not the majority, as well as the money of the building contractors and merchants. Its prosperity does not yet reflect an overall productive recovery: The Palestinians have far from met their potential, first and foremost because of the occupation. Some 60 percent of their territory (C) is banned to Palestinians - so what can we expect? Every month tens of thousands of civil servants fear that their modest wages will not be paid on time. In villages and smaller towns, not to mention the refugee camps, unemployment is even more evident.
The biggest trap is the growing gap between the general population and the layer of society that represents that population to the outside (in politics, in the NGOs, the media and culture). It is impossible to blame only the occupation for this. You don't have to directly embezzle funds to live exceptionally well. The Palestinians have a great deal to learn from the Israelis about the direct link between political and military status and well-padded salaries.
But for the Palestinians, the unacceptable gaps and the atmosphere of detachment and indulgence in Ramallah are impeding the popular struggle for independence. For more and more people to adopt the courage and persistence of the protesters in the villages, they must trust their representatives. They must trust that the individual is not being sent as cannon fodder, while their leadership pays them lip service and gives handouts to the popular struggle. They must trust that their leaders are not taking advantage of their sacrifice and that they are building institutions that will ensure quality medical treatment and education - also for people who can't go to private clinics and schools.
This is the Fayyad government's pressing mission before setting up a state in 2011. Its duty is to divide the national income in a just way and narrow the stark inequality that the prosperity in Ramallah reflects. This is not an anachronistic slogan but a necessary precondition for the existence of a popular struggle.
A TIME TO PROTEST
BY ELDAD YANIV
It wasn't easy getting through this Passover. It wasn't the matzot, or the kids on vacation or the endless family gatherings. What ruined the festival was the suspense from the bombshell dropped by Labor minister Avishay Braverman some 10 days ago. "Labor's Knesset faction," the minister announced proudly on the radio, "will meet directly after the festival and decide whether to go on serving in the government!"
So, is it possible that we of this generation will yet witness that wondrous moment in which Labor's ministers will give up their seats? What about Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, for whom "minister" is no longer a mere title but an inseparable part of his name? And what will happen to Israel's agriculture after another year of meager rains if Shalom Simhon gets up and goes? What about his national responsibility?
It's no coincidence that our right-wing government is on a collision course with a giant iceberg. Ehud Barak is scared that if he jumps ship and swims ashore, waiting there will be Isaac Herzog, who will devour him alive. Eli Yishai hasn't slept well for years with his dreams of Aryeh "The Lion" Deri pouncing on him and mauling him all through the night. As for Avigdor Lieberman, he believes that if he holds the government tight in his fist, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein will find it difficult to decide to indict him. The members of this league of cowards hold on to each other's shirttails as they lead the country exactly where it should not be going. It is possible to get rid of this league of cowards, which is endangering the country's security. To do so, the left must take to the streets. For years the Zionist, national-minded left in Israel has not held a righteous Israeli demonstration. The time has come to once again fill the squares with blue and white flags and to effect an Israeli, left-wing, Zionist protest, from Metula to Eilat, that will show the way out of the darkness that has enveloped us and into the light.
In the eyes of world, the occupation is over, and now we have to reach the same conclusion urgently. We did not return here after two millennia of exile to be drowned in a single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean with a Palestinian majority and an Israeli minority. We came back here in the wake of Benjamin Zeev (Theodor) Herzl's vision, and we declared our state, in the words of the Declaration of Independence as read out by David Ben-Gurion, because "this right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state."
The criminals on the West Bank hilltops, the Israeli government and its head, Benjamin Netanyahu, are the new post-Zionists. They are the binational, piggishly capitalist camp that stands opposed to the national camp, which believes the end of the occupation is an Israeli interest, with an agreement or without one. To withdraw from the occupied territories so there will be a Jewish democratic state here. To draw the permanent boundaries and to defend Israel from the Qassams and the rockets, from our side of the fence.
Barack Obama is a true friend of Israel. As such, he told Netanyahu what most of us know in our hearts: End the occupation. The time has come to look after ourselves and to go back to building everything from the beginning again. Close your eyes and think what Israeli society could have been like within the Green Line, if $100 billion had not been burned up in the territories, which we will soon be leaving. Our future as a Jewish and democratic state is too serious a matter to be left to Ben-Eliezer and Simhon to decide. We must go out into the streets with a song in our hearts and Israeli flags in our hands and bring down this right-wing, post-Zionist government. We must be the masters of our own fate.
KEEP THE CULTURE BASKET
BY DAVID ZINDER
Two weeks ago, Bruria Becker announced her retirement after serving for years as director of the Education Ministry's so-called national culture basket, which tries to expose Israeli children to art and culture. Two questions arise that must be answered. First, why did someone for whom this enormous project was her life's work decide to pack up and leave? Second, why did all the poisoned arrows that were aimed at Becker and the culture basket in recent months have to do with theater and not other fields like film, literature, music, dance or the plastic arts?
The answers to these questions are intertwined. The culture basket's theater repertoire committee, of which I am chairman, is at a key crossroads. A lot of money is involved and many actors and others are dependent for their livelihoods on the outcome of our deliberations. This is why everyone in the theater has always had an eye open for ways to influence the committee's decisions and bend them in their direction.
However, the structure and goals of the culture basket, as well as those of the various committees, are immune to such external influences; it seems that this more than anything was why things reached boiling point. Devoid of ways to influence the committee, the frustrated parties began a smear campaign.
From the eye of the storm, I can testify that everything that has been said recently about the way Becker ran the committees - from accusations of dictatorship to charges of settling accounts with theater companies and producers - is sheer malicious nonsense. For years, all the members of the theater repertoire committee have been theater people, but to avoid conflicts of interest, they have not been active creatively. They are all intelligent with absolutely independent minds, and they are guided only by the good of the students. They have never been in the thrall of Becker or anyone else.
Becker never interfered in the committee's deliberations and never tried to sway us in one direction or another. All the talk of her being an "autocrat" or a "cultural commissar" who ran the culture basket high-handedly is nothing more than a falsehood that has taken on the appearance of truth simply because it has been repeated so often.
The national culture basket is a project that is unmatched anywhere in the world. It has improved steadily during the years Becker has run it, both in the way the committees function and in the deep and vital links that have formed with schools' cultural coordinators. It's not a failed organization whose director should be replaced. It's a unique institution that for almost a decade has kept its head above the sewage of the ratings culture that is flooding us from all directions.
We don't need reform, but rather preservation by making the culture basket a statutory body, enshrined in law, and maintaining its current successful format, including all its committees. If Becker's resignation is exploited as a lever for significant change in the organization's structure and activities, we will have surrendered to evil market forces and cut down yet another blossoming tree in our cultural grove. And when in a few years all that is left of that grove is a bald patch, we will once more find ourselves bewailing the ignorance of our children and their lack of understanding of our cultural assets and those of the world.
The writer, a professor emeritus at Tel Aviv university, is the chairman of the national culture basket's theater repertoire committee.
ISRAEL'S BIGGEST CHALLENGE: INTEGRATING ITS ARAB MINORITY
BY MOSHE ARENS
One of these days it will dawn on Israeli politicians that the foremost challenge the country faces, more serious than the peace process with its neighbors, is integrating its large Arab minority into the fabric of society. It is apparent that as successive governments ignore this challenge and many of the country's Arab citizens become increasingly alienated from the State of Israel, the situation is getting more difficult as the years go by.
Every once in a while an alarm bell rings. We get a wake-up call, but our politicians, stirred from their torpor momentarily, go back to dealing with the seemingly urgent problem. The urgent first and the important later has been the strategy of Israeli governments for many years.
he latest alarm bell sounded last week during demonstrations in Sakhnin, when some demonstrators carried portraits of Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah and Imad Mughniyeh, two of Israel's most prominent enemies, responsible for the death of hundreds of Israelis. Still fresh in our memory are the Arab riots of October 2000. The Orr Commission, which investigated these occurrences, pointed a finger at the Islamic Movement's northern branch and its leader, Sheikh Raed Salah.
The commission said in its report that "Sheikh Salah was responsible in the period before October 2000 for the repeated relaying of messages encouraging the use of violence ... messages that negated the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel, presenting the state as an enemy." There were also messages claiming that a massacre had been planned at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on September 29, 2000. The report concluded that Salah had made "a substantial contribution to provoking tempers and the violent and widespread outburst that took place in the Arab sector at the end of October 2000."
No punitive action was taken against Salah and he has continued his pernicious activities, including his annual mass meetings in Umm-al-Fahm under the slogan that "Al-Aqsa is in danger." His movement has made serious inroads among the Bedouin population in the Negev, preaching hostility against the State of Israel and calling on Bedouin youth not to volunteer for service in the Israel Defense Forces. Salah's most recent activity was his incitement to riot in Jerusalem.
All evidence points to the fact that the Islamic Movement's northern branch is a subversive movement whose aim is the destruction of the State of Israel. Yet it has been permitted to spread its poisonous propaganda, exploiting Israel's democracy, which it vilifies and seeks to destroy. The government's neglect of the Arab sector leaves fertile ground for those dedicated to preaching hostility toward Israel. So far no measures have been taken to restrain the northern branch's dangerous activity, even though there seems to be full justification to declare its activities illegal. What is the reason for the seeming impotence of the Israeli legal system in this matter?
One should not underestimate the negative effect that such inaction is having on Israel's Arab citizens. Many interpret it as a sign that anyone can feel free to engage in anti-Israeli activity and that the state finds no reason to actively discourage it, or is incapable of doing so. Arab citizens who have moderate views and do not identify with Israel's enemies feel increasingly isolated, as the Islamic extremists seem to be capturing the mainstream of Israeli Arab society. This is happening while the Bedouin in the south, for years neglected by the government, easily fall prey to the preaching of radical Islam.
The government seems to show little interest in Israel's Arab citizens, who represent nearly one-fifth of the country's population. Rarely does a cabinet member or the prime minister visit Arab towns and villages. Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman's proposal to grant financial assistance to some Arab municipalities represents a modest beginning in dealing with the challenge of integrating Israel's Arab citizens into society.
But this only scratches the surface. Should the government seriously consider the subject, it must adopt a two-pronged policy. It needs a long-term program that will benefit Israel's Arab citizens, one that would include improving Arab schools, affirmative action for the Arab community in employment, incentives for doing military and national service, and an emergency program to deal with the Negev Bedouin, the most disadvantaged sector of Israeli society. At the same time, legal measures need to be taken against seditious and subversive organizations preaching violence and support for Israel's enemies. It is late, but not too late.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
WE CALL THAT DOUBLE-DIPPING
Republican critics are continuing to pummel health care reform. Their newest charge is that the elimination of one generous tax deduction for retiree benefits would take such a bite out of corporate profits that companies may have to cut back on hiring, drop that retiree benefit, and shift added costs onto the taxpayer.
What is really going on? It is true that, starting in 2013, the new law eliminates a corporate tax advantage on retiree drug benefits that amounts to double-dipping.
It is also true that accounting rules require that the present value of the entire additional tax that companies will have to pay over the next several decades be put on the books now. That led AT&T to declare a charge of about $1 billion in the first quarter of 2010 and Verizon to declare $970 million.
Those look like staggering amounts until one understands that they don't require any immediate cash payments and that the added taxes will be paid out slowly over perhaps 30, 40 or more years, depending on a company's retiree plan.
Wall Street certainly gave a collective yawn. Stock prices for the companies that made announcements barely budged (some went up), and analysts urged investors not to overreact because the accounting change would have a negligible impact on these companies' valuation, or market capitalization.
The affected companies have already profited from an inequitable provision in the 2003 Medicare prescription drug law. At the time, many employers were already providing drug coverage for their retirees. And to keep them from dropping that coverage, the new law provided doubly sweet subsidies to corporations.
For every $100 the company spends on retiree drug benefits, Medicare sends it a subsidy payment of $28. On top of that, the companies got a rare double tax break. The $28 subsidy is tax-free, and the company was allowed to deduct the entire $100 as a business expense.
The new health care reform law has left the 28 percent subsidy intact and continued to exempt it from taxation. But companies will no longer be allowed to deduct the subsidy as if it were an expenditure of their own.
That seems a reasonable way to generate a bit more revenue to pay for covering the uninsured. It also treats all employers equally instead of favoring profit-making firms with a special deduction that is of no value to nonprofit organizations, state and local governments, or firms that lose money.
The unanswered question is whether as the critics charge the change will push a lot of employers into dropping their retiree drug plans. The remaining tax subsidy is substantial and many companies and their workers value the retiree drug benefit, so defections may be small. If some retirees do lose their company drug benefits, they can buy government-subsidized coverage in Medicare that may be just or almost as good and will be getting better as health care reform progresses. Willing employers could also help subsidize their retirees' drug coverage in Medicare.
That's the least they should do in return for the generous tax benefits they have been receiving.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHEN A LAWYER IS WRONG
Immigration laws have changed over the years to make it easier to deport noncitizens convicted of crimes, even nonviolent crimes. But that does not mean they should be treated unfairly in court a point the Supreme Court drove home last week by ruling that lawyers for noncitizens must advise their clients if a guilty plea would put them at risk of being deported.
Jose Padilla, a commercial truck driver, Vietnam veteran and native of Honduras, has lived legally in the United States for 40 years. He was arrested in Kentucky after he was found with a large amount of marijuana in his tractor-trailer. He was charged with drug offenses that would make his deportation virtually mandatory.
When Mr. Padilla asked his lawyer about the consequences of pleading guilty, he said he was told that he did not need to worry about his immigration status since he had been in the country so long. When he faced deportation, Mr. Padilla argued that he pleaded guilty only because of that erroneous advice. The Supreme Court of Kentucky rejected his claim. It said his right to effective assistance of counsel did not apply because deportation was merely a "collateral" consequence of his conviction.
The Supreme Court voted 7-to-2 to reverse. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for a 5-member majority, said judges used to have considerable discretion about whether a noncitizen should be deported after being convicted of a crime. Because much of that discretion has been taken away, correct legal advice is more important than before for immigrants. Justice Stevens said it was wrong to dismiss deportation as a "collateral" issue because deportation is nearly automatic in many cases.
The court went on to rule that if Mr. Padilla's account was correct, his lawyer had not met the constitutional standard. The court noted that the ability to remain in the country can be more important to a client than the possibility of a jail sentence. And it would not have been difficult for Mr. Padilla's lawyer to ascertain that a guilty plea would put him at considerable risk of deportation.
To get relief, Mr. Padilla still needs to show that he was actually prejudiced by the bad advice. No matter how this case is resolved, it has already established a constitutional principle that will help ensure that the Sixth Amendment rights of immigrants are protected.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SHOWDOWN AT INDIAN POINT
In a very welcome decision for the health of the Hudson River, New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation has ruled that the obsolete cooling system at the Indian Point nuclear power plant violates the federal Clean Water Act by polluting the river with heated water and needlessly killing vast numbers of fish. The agency has now left the Entergy Corporation with a choice between spending many millions of dollars to install a system that recycles cooling water or shutting down the plant.
No one should be hoping for a too-hasty shutdown. Indian Point supplies 30 percent of the electricity used by New York City and Westchester County, and replacing that power won't be easy. Instead, Entergy should get serious about finally obeying environmental laws.
The Indian Point plant sucks up 2.5 billion gallons of water a day, circulates it through the system and then dumps it back in the river, hotter and untreated. This kills almost a billion fish, fish larvae, eggs and other aquatic organisms each year.
The damage was starkly illustrated by New York State's recent decision to close the Hudson to all fishing for American shad one of several fish species in steep decline, partly because of power plants.
Though Entergy has tried hard to market Indian Point as safe, clean and reliable, its public-relations efforts have been hurt by years of news about tritium leaks, faulty warning sirens, an unrealistic emergency evacuation plan and that disastrous cooling system, whose technology became obsolete decades ago.
Environmentalists and politicians including the group Riverkeeper, State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky and the folk singer Pete Seeger, among others were right to press the issue: suing to get New York to enforce clean-water laws at Indian Point. We hope they keep pressing.
The future of the power plant was not immediately clear. The federal licenses for the reactor expire in 2013 and 2015, and the water-quality certificate that has now been denied is a prerequisite for renewal. But Entergy officials said they might fight the ruling in court and, if they fail there, take their case to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington.
The worst outcome now would be a long legal battle and some unwelcome intervention by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission that protects the status quo. Entergy should clean up its plant and stop abusing the Hudson River.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE BALL IN FLIGHT
BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
It is practice day at the start of a junior tennis tournament in Southern California. And because it's a warm Sunday afternoon, the ball is in play all across the region any ball, on every patch of grass, every field and diamond and pitch. At the clink of an aluminum bat and the convergence of female softball players, two boys under a nearby hoop stop facing off to see how the play turns out. So do some casual soccer players just over the fence. I feel for a moment like an alien, entranced by our fondness for small representations of the spheroid on which we live. How we love to test gravity and admire the trajectory of a spinning orb!
Above all, these are games of interception, games about striking and stopping, meeting and returning, launching a ball or interrupting its decaying orbit with a glove or foot or bat or racquet. And there's something entrancing, too, in the fields of force the carefully chalked and painted lines that seem to govern these games.
Down at the tennis courts there are four juniors on every rectangle, but they're practicing one on one, each pair keeping to each side. Between the courts, two girls lob a ball back and forth over a bench. Down the sidelines, the young players walk. Their faces haven't grown into their bodies, or their bodies haven't grown into their faces. On the court, they clout the ball with an intensity separate from age or size.
I see nearly every word I've heard from a tennis coach embodied out there. The forehand leaves only a faint puff of dust lingering in the air. I watch one player whose backhand is a perfect Justine Henin. They are lost in a synchronicity of eye and hand and ball, caught up in an internal calculus that even I can sense when I hit a ground stroke squarely.
Just what this joy of eye and hand and ball should be called is hard to say. But it is ubiquitous here. The other day I stopped at a railroad crossing near dusk. As the train passed, I watched a middle-aged man hitting a tennis ball against the side of a building next to a lumberyard. The asphalt at his feet was cracked and pitted, but he knew the surface, and he knew his game, and it looked as if he could have played all night.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
TURNING OUR BACKS ON HEROES
BY BOB HERBERT
While growing up just outside of Chicago, Dennet Oregon dreamed of being an artist. He loved to draw. He enrolled in art school after high school, but then came the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He left art school at the age of 19 and joined the Army.
"Sept. 11th was the main reason I joined," he said, "but there were other underlying reasons as well. I was just poor, and I was tired of being poor. And tuition was kind of high. I called recruiters and we talked about the benefits of the G.I. bill, etc. And I figured, 'Hey, join the Army and then get out and school would be paid for.' "
Mr. Oregon was assigned to the infantry and found that he liked it. He enjoyed the travel, the sense of adventure and the camaraderie with fellow soldiers. He wasn't crazy about the danger, but, over all, he found the Army agreeable. At the end of four years, he re-enlisted.
"I got hurt March 29, 2005," he said.
"Got hurt" was an understatement. Mr. Oregon, by then a sergeant, was in the lead truck of a convoy passing through a treacherous village not far from firebase Cobra, in the province of Uruzgan in central Afghanistan.
There was an uneasy feeling in the convoy that bordered on dread. Villagers gathered to stare at the American soldiers. "They stopped what they were doing," said Sergeant Oregon, "and they were all eyeballing us."
Everybody in the convoy was thinking I.E.D.: improvised explosive device. As Sergeant Oregon explained, "The road paralleled a river, and between the road and the river was just mud. If you tried to go through the mud, you would only get stuck. So the road was the only way."
As he recalled the incident during an interview one recent afternoon at his apartment, Mr. Oregon said, "Everybody was scared. I remember saying to my driver, 'As long as I don't lose my hands, I'm fine.' Because I like to draw, you know? 'As long as I don't lose my hands.' "
Some of the soldiers climbed out of the trucks to hunt for a device. But they didn't spot anything. The bomb had been buried and paved over with concrete. It was detonated remotely as Sergeant Oregon's truck passed over it.
A buddy of Sergeant Oregon's lost his right leg. Sergeant Oregon was the most seriously wounded. He lost both legs. Each was amputated just below the knee. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury, three fractured vertebrae and cuts to his face and head.
There is a strong tendency, in our collective national consciousness, to give short shrift to the many thousands of Americans who are suffering grievously as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The wars have become like white noise in our culture. They hit the front pages from time to time, and there are evenings when some aspect of the wars are featured on the national news telecasts. But we have no real sense of the extraordinary sacrifices that have been made by the young men and women who are fighting these wars in our name.
The agony for many of the wounded has been all but unbearable those who have lost limbs or been paralyzed or horribly burned, or who lost their hearing or eyesight.
The suffering extends to the families and loved ones of the wounded, and in all too many cases will last throughout their lives. These are peculiar wars in that the impact on the warriors inevitably is profound, while the effect of the wars on most other Americans is minimal.
There is something shameful dishonorable about relegating these warriors to the background. We sent them into hell and we owe them, at the very least, our grateful acknowledgement of their tremendous efforts and boundless sacrifices. There is no way to do that without paying serious attention to them.
Dennet Oregon, who now walks with prosthetic legs and works in an office at the Pentagon, is but one of many wounded soldiers piecing their lives back together after their encounters with catastrophe.
During a recent visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I spent some time in the Military Advanced Training Center, a remarkable facility where dozens of recent amputees under the guidance of an extraordinarily talented and dedicated staff were engaged in the arduous task of physical rehabilitation.
Nearly 1,000 service members have lost limbs as a result of the two wars, and nearly 200 have lost more than one limb. More than 17,000 G.I.'s serving in Iraq or Afghanistan have suffered wounds so serious that they could not be returned to duty.
These wounded service members, many of them quite young, deserve much more of our awareness and support than they are getting.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
RELAX, WE'LL BE FINE
BY DAVID BROOKS
According to recent polls, 60 percent of Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction. The same percentage believe that the U.S. is in long-term decline. The political system is dysfunctional. A fiscal crisis looks unavoidable. There are plenty of reasons to be gloomy.
But if you want to read about them, stop right here. This column is a great luscious orgy of optimism. Because the fact is, despite all the problems, America's future is exceedingly bright.
Over the next 40 years, demographers estimate that the U.S. population will surge by an additional 100 million people, to 400 million over all. The population will be enterprising and relatively young. In 2050, only a quarter will be over 60, compared with 31 percent in China and 41 percent in Japan.
In his book, "The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050," über-geographer Joel Kotkin sketches out how this growth will change the national landscape. Extrapolating from current trends, he describes an archipelago of vibrant suburban town centers, villages and urban cores.
The initial wave of suburbanization was sprawling and featureless. Tom Wolfe once observed that you only knew you were in a new town when you began to see a new set of 7-Elevens. But humans need meaningful places, so developers have been filling in with neo-downtowns suburban gathering spots where people can dine, work, go to the movies and enjoy public space.
Over the next 40 years, Kotkin argues, urban downtowns will continue their modest (and perpetually overhyped) revival, but the real action will be out in the compact, self-sufficient suburban villages. Many of these places will be in the sunbelt the drive to move there remains strong but Kotkin also points to surging low-cost hubs on the Plains, like Fargo, Dubuque, Iowa City, Sioux Falls, and Boise.
The demographic growth is driven partly by fertility. The American fertility rate is 50 percent higher than Russia, Germany or Japan, and much higher than China. Americans born between 1968 and 1979 are more family-oriented than the boomers before them, and are having larger families.
In addition, the U.S. remains a magnet for immigrants. Global attitudes about immigration are diverging, and the U.S. is among the best at assimilating them (while China is exceptionally poor). As a result, half the world's skilled immigrants come to the U.S. As Kotkin notes, between 1990 and 2005, immigrants started a quarter of the new venture-backed public companies.
The United States already measures at the top or close to the top of nearly every global measure of economic competitiveness. A comprehensive 2008 Rand Corporation study found that the U.S. leads the world in scientific and technological development. The U.S. now accounts for a third of the world's research-and-development spending. Partly as a result, the average American worker is nearly 10 times more productive than the average Chinese worker, a gap that will close but not go away in our lifetimes.
This produces a lot of dynamism. As Stephen J. Rose points out in his book "Rebound: Why America Will Emerge Stronger From the Financial Crisis," the number of Americans earning between $35,000 and $70,000 declined by 12 percent between 1980 and 2008. But that's largely because the number earning over $105,000 increased by 14 percent. Over the past 10 years, 60 percent of American adults made more than $100,000 in at least one or two of those years, and 40 percent had incomes that high for at least three.
As the world gets richer, demand will rise for the sorts of products Americans are great at providing emotional experiences. Educated Americans grow up in a culture of moral materialism; they have their sensibilities honed by complicated shows like "The Sopranos," "The Wire" and "Mad Men," and they go on to create companies like Apple, with identities coated in moral and psychological meaning, which affluent consumers crave.
As the rising generation leads an economic revival, it will also participate in a communal one. We are living in a global age of social entrepreneurship.
In 1964, there were 15,000 foundations in the U.S. By 2001, there were 61,000. In 2007, total private giving passed $300 billion. Participation in organizations like City Year, Teach for America, and College Summit surges every year. Suburbanization helps. For every 10 percent reduction in population density, the odds that people will join a local club rise by 15 percent. The culture of service is now entrenched and widespread.
In sum, the U.S. is on the verge of a demographic, economic and social revival, built on its historic strengths. The U.S. has always been good at disruptive change. It's always excelled at decentralized community-building. It's always had that moral materialism that creates meaning-rich products. Surely a country with this much going for it is not going to wait around passively and let a rotten political culture drag it down.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
ALLERGY-FREE NEW YORK
BY THOMAS LEO OGREN
San Luis Obispo, Calif.
AS certain trees burst into bloom in spring, their pollen wafts through the air in a wanton attempt to reach receptive blossoms. Millions of people with allergies pay the price, in sneezing, wheezing, coughing, drowsiness and itchy, watery eyes. They needn't suffer so much. Cities could reduce the misery by planting street trees that produce very little pollen or none at all.
Street trees weren't always as allergenic as they are today. Back in the 1950s, the most popular species planted in the United States was the native American elm, which sheds little pollen. Millions of these tall, stately trees lined the streets of towns and cities from coast to coast. Sadly, in the 1960s and '70s, Dutch elm disease killed most of the elms, and many of them were replaced with species that are highly allergenic.
This has caused trouble for Americans with allergies as many as 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children most of whom are sensitive to pollen, as well as for the many millions who have allergy-induced asthma. Although some pollen can be carried great distances by the wind, most atmospheric pollen comes from plants growing nearby. In other words, the pollen that's making you sneeze as you walk down the street probably came from the tree you just passed. So it makes sense for gardeners, especially public gardeners who plant trees by the dozens, to pay attention to the pollen their trees produce.
Some trees shed huge amounts of highly allergenic pollen; others produce very little, or their pollen is only moderately irritating. Female plants produce no pollen at all. But arborists rarely take this into account. In New York City, street trees are selected only for their hardiness in winter; their resistance to disease, insects and drought; their ability to withstand smog; and their size, shape and color.
The pollen that causes the most severe allergic reactions comes from a few so-called monoecious species of trees, which have both male and female flowers, and from the males of separate-sexed (dioecious) species. Many arborists and landscapers like to plant male trees and shrubs because they're "litter-free" that is, they produce no seeds or seedpods. But male trees shed lots of pollen; that's their job. And once it's released, it can be blown around for months.
In New York City, about 30 percent of the street trees are Norway maples and London planes, both monoecious kinds that always produce allergenic pollen. And of the total 5.2 million trees growing on the city's private and public lands, some 300,000 are male mulberry trees and almost 100,000 are box elders, mostly also male making it all the more important to reduce the number of allergenic trees along the streets.
Another problem with New York City street trees is that there are so few kinds of them. Only 10 species of trees account for nearly three-fourths of the total. That means New Yorkers are repeatedly exposed to the same kinds of pollen, which increases the likelihood that they will develop allergies. City arborists could set a healthy example for property owners by increasing the diversity of street tree species and choosing low-pollen kinds.
They should consider planting and encouraging people to plant many more tulip poplar, hawthorn, goldenrain, dawn redwood, mountain ash, apple and serviceberry. And they could make far greater use of female trees of many varieties, including junipers, yews, aspens, cottonwoods, poplars, Chinese pistaches, red maples, silver maples, box elders, tupelos, willows and sassafras.
Of course, it would not be possible, or even desirable, to landscape in such a way as to eliminate all pollen. The aim should be to reduce people's total exposure. Lowering the dose reduces allergy symptoms in some people, and in others it eliminates suffering altogether.
Nor would we ever want to replace all street trees that are young and in good health. But trees are continually being replaced. Each year, ice storms, destructive beetles, disease, vandalism and old age kill huge numbers of them. Every one of these should be replaced with a low-allergy tree. Only in the case of the most allergenic trees male box elder, yew and mulberry should city arborists consider deliberate removal.
Those extraordinarily allergenic mulberry trees could be made less irritating to allergy sufferers if they were given a sex change that is, top-grafted with weeping mulberry, which is female and pollen-free.
It's been three decades since Walter H. Lewis, America's foremost pollen expert, wrote, "It makes no sense to plant highly allergenic trees or shrubs close to where we live." Yet city gardeners still do so every day. Why not instead plant the kind with less pollen and make it much easier for everyone to enjoy the beauty and the shade?
Thomas Leo Ogren is the author of "Allergy-Free Gardening: The Revolutionary Guide to Healthy Landscaping."
******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS
Well-planned, tightly coordinated and effectively carried out would be an accurate analysis of the attack on the area of Peshawar in which the American Consulate is situated. A similar analysis could be applied to the suicide attack on an ANP rally at Timergarah earlier in the day, where perhaps as many as forty-six died and over fifty were injured. In Peshawar the target in the later reports was said to be a building used by the intelligence services, which was reported to have been completely destroyed. It is clear that terrorist groups, far from being rendered incapable by the operations directed against them over the last year, are still capable of mounting large-scale attacks on sensitive and heavily defended targets as well as soft targets like celebratory political rallies. In the Peshawar attack at least two suicide car bombs and a larger vehicular IED were used, at least two rockets were discharged at the security forces and there was a fire-fight lasting thirty minutes. This was a full-frontal assault which led to at least six dead. Late in the afternoon the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban claimed responsibility for the Peshawar attack. Nobody claimed the deadly attack at Timergarah.
These attacks are significant for a number of reasons. It is alleged that the attackers in Peshawar were wearing FC uniforms. If true, this is not the first instance of that happening. Such uniforms are available across the country and an end needs to be brought to their sale. The terrorists may still get uniforms from other sources, but let's not hand their tools to them on a plate. And just how effectively have we countered the extremist threat? The Peshawar attack required reconnaissance, equipment and manpower, training and money. The Timergarah attack required no more than for the bomber to show up at the rally, look like everybody else and detonate himself at an appropriate moment. We may have battled the Taliban but they have not been completely defeated. Apparently they have taken casualties but not in sufficient numbers to break them militarily. They have their supporters who will work to fund and protect them, and are therefore sustainable as an entity and a fighting unit. Guns alone will not win this war. We must find a strategy by which the 'hearts and minds' may be won and the darkness within confronted.
I. THE NEWS
What we have to be pleased about with the news that the US has 'discarded' the list of 14 nations which includes Pakistan whose citizens required additional screening at airports is far from clear. The list had led to much bad feeling and protest, most recently conveyed to Richard Holbrooke when he visited us in January and by the members of our mission that was recently in the US. It is reported that "the principled engagement of Pakistan's leadership on this matter with the US resulted in this policy change" which looks fine on paper but what does it actually mean? What it does not mean is that full-body scanners are to be phased out. They will remain a part of the screening process and their use is more likely to become ubiquitous than occasional and not only in America. It does mean that our citizens will no longer be subject to a mandatory pat-down search on entry to the US. Instead there is to be a return to our old friend profiling. US Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told journalists that "these new measures utilise real-time, threat-based intelligence along with multiple, random layers of security, both seen and unseen, to more effectively mitigate evolving terrorist threats".
Within the jargon there is little comfort. The new criteria will select passengers for additional security checks based on possible matches to intelligence information, including physical descriptions, age or a particular travel pattern. It is likely that the revised system will come into operation later this month and will apply to all air-carriers which land in the US. The plan is that the Department of Homeland Security will provide information to security staff at airports to match passengers for potential threat and then subject them to additional screening but intelligence gathering is a far from precise art, mistakes can be and are made. The very recent emergence of white western females who present a terrorist threat has thrown the profiling issue up in the air, and it can no longer be assumed that stereotypical profiles are applicable because anybody might be a bomber, whatever their skin-colour or national origins -- or faith as the arrests of the Hutaree Christian terrorists last week so ably demonstrates. Those of us planning surface travel in the US, as well as the large Pakistani diaspora already living there, should also note that the Department of Homeland Security is planning to revise security procedures for mass-transit systems, commuter and long-distance passenger trains, freight rail, and commercial vehicles. De-listing fourteen states is little more than cosmetic and designed to alleviate tensions, and the bombers, whatever their race, creed or gender, are going to continue to try getting through.
I. THE NEWS
The arrival of a preteen girl outside the family home of Dr Aafia Siddiqui in Karachi adds to the mysteries surrounding her case. No one appears to recognise the child, but there is speculation it may be Siddiqui's daughter who was four years old when she vanished along with her mother in 2003. There are so many loose ends in the case that it has become almost impossible to knot together a coherent tale. At home, emotion has sometime ridden atop rationality with demands made for the woman detained in the US to be freed. In major cities protests continue to be staged demanding this. Persons able to explore the facts with greater detachment have meanwhile questioned the veracity of Dr Siddiqui's story, raised doubts over some aspects of it and implied that her family had perhaps not come completely clean on the fate of her three children.
It is difficult to say where the truth lies. The image of a haunted, imbalanced woman possibly driven to a state of mental and physical ruin by torture and solitary imprisonment -- will stay with us for a long time. The question of what became of her children brings up still more nightmares. Whatever the story of Aafia herself may be, there can be no doubt her children had committed no crime. Aafia's family has said her youngest child, an infant, had died during her disappearance and detention. The father of the children has raised questions about all this. It is also unclear why more effort was not made to raise the case of the kids with US authorities. People must be told the whole truth about the role of Pakistani agencies, US authorities and other players in the whole saga. But we must also discover the full story about Dr Siddiqui. The route that took a scientist to a jail cell is one that we need to follow to better understand the forces shaping our society and the events that take place within it.
I. THE NEWS
PRELUDE TO A NEW PROVINCE?
It is the fate of the people of our province to have long and hyphenated names. Upon its creation by the British rulers of India in 1901, it was named the North-West Frontier Province having 25 characters, or 26, if one were to include the hyphen. If all goes well and the constitutional reforms package is approved by parliament, as expected, the province will become known as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. That is 18 letters, or 19, if the second name were spelt "Pakhtoonkhwa."
As Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is a long name, its abbreviation KP is likely to be commonly used. Besides, those who don't like "Pakhtunkhwa" would simply call it "Khyber." The majority in the NWFP, though, would ensure that the usage of Pakhtunkhwa, for which the nationalists have been campaigning all these years, becomes common because it asserts their Pakhtun identity.
Pakhtun ultra-nationalists are angry with the ruling Awami National Party (ANP) for conceding the PML-N's demand for "Khyber" being prefixed to Pakhtunkhwa and thus diluting a name that was finally going to give an identity to their Pakhtun-majority province. Some Pashto poets and intellectuals are accusing the nationalist ANP of compromising its principled position on the renaming issue and wasting a historic opportunity to give the 109-year old province a proper name. The ANP was also accused of giving up its long-held stance that the NWFP Assembly resolution favouring only "Pakhtunkhwa" be honoured.
Maulana Fazlur Rahman didn't miss the opportunity to embarrass the ANP and belittle its achievement. The Maulana, whose own party supported "Pakhtunhkwa," entered the fray by saying the new name had come from "Takht-e-Lahore," or throne of Lahore, as agreement on "Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa" became possible only after it had been accepted by the PML-N leadership belonging to Punjab.
Like the ANP, the PML-N, which presented the hyphenated new name as a victory vindicating the party's stance in the renaming issue, also faced criticism from supporters. In particular, in its Hazara stronghold the PML-N is now confronted with a combined challenge by all rival political parties and candidates who were defeated by its nominees in the last general elections or who are hoping to seize this opportunity and win the next polls.
The PML-Q, which was the only party in the parliamentary constitutional reforms committee to oppose "Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa," insisting on the meaningless name of "Sarhad" for the province, is spearheading the agitation in parts of Hazara. Obviously, the PML-Q has to oppose anything done by the PML-N, but in this case there was an opportunity to snatch Hazara from it, as well as use the renaming issue to seek votes from those opposed to "Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa" elsewhere in the province and in the country.
The PML-N was apparently mistaken if it thought that, because of the "Khyber" prefix, it could sell "Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa" to its electorate in Hazara. While it earned the resentment of Pakhtuns who wanted an undiluted Pakhtun name for their province, it is losing the respect and support of many Hazarawals and other non-Pashto-speaking people in the province for failing to protect their identities.
One is at a loss to understand why the name of a mountain pass was prefixed, because it cannot confer an identity on any ethnic group, and certainly not the people of Hazara. Still, certain PML-N leaders are claiming it as an achievement since "Khyber" will precede "Pakhtunkhwa." This is a negative approach aimed at political point-scoring, instead of giving an appropriate name to a province where 74 per cent of the population speaks Pashto, and many others are ethnic Pakhtuns who speak Hindko and other languages in place of their original mother tongue.
The PML-N could have insisted on "Afghania" as the new name, which some of its leaders had hinted was acceptable. Afghania was certainly more appropriate than Khyber and was also one of the three names suggested by the ANP, besides Pakhtunkhwa and Pakhtunistan. Though no opinion survey in Hazara or elsewhere has been carried out to find out if Afghania was acceptable, there are reports that many Hazarawals would have preferred it to Khyber and Pakhtunkhwa. As someone pointed out, even Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah didn't object to Afghania, as he must have known that Chaudhry Rahmat Ali had suggested this name for NWFP when he coined the word "Pakistan" for the new Muslim homeland in India. The ANP had reasons to be happy with the renaming of the province even if it had to accept the addition of Khyber to its preferred name, Pakhtunkhwa.
At the same time, the proposed constitutional amendments will accord all the provinces unprecedented provincial autonomy. In fact, these have been the cherished goals of the ANP, together with the rejection of the Kalabagh Dam project and more recently the battle against religious militancy. The party is hoping to cash in on these achievements in the next general elections. Each election, though, has its own dynamics and the outcome is determined by the situation at that particular time. However, it was felt that the ANP and its government in NWFP overdid its celebrations on the renaming issue. It is possible that this provoked opponents of "Pakhtunkhwa" to mobilise likeminded people and start a movement for a separate Hazara province.
The PPP didn't arrange any celebrations in the province or elsewhere, despite the fact that its support was crucial in getting the province renamed. In fact, President Asif Ali Zardari ensured that Pakhtunkhwa was part of the new name even if that meant annoying some of his NWFP party leaders. He overruled all opposition in his party to Pakhtunkhwa and almost sealed the name by mentioning it in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly session in New York.
Celebrations by ANP members and supporters were visible, and at times they were spontaneous. But there wasn't much excitement among ordinary people that their province had been renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Mostly preoccupied by the daily struggle to survive amid the terrorism, insecurity, displacement, inflation and unemployment, ordinary people in many cases have other priorities.
The strongest reaction to "Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa," as expected, has been in Hazara division, particularly in its headquarters, Abbottabad. There have been some protests in Mansehra, the second-biggest city in Hazara, and Haripur, and apparently none in Battagram, where more than 80 per cent of the population is Pashto-speaking, and in Kohistan, where Kohistani is the dominant language and many people also speak Pashto.
The demand of protestors in Hazara is for provincial status for their region. Even the JUI-F has joined the movement, and so have local leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and other parties. Some PML-N leaders too are being compelled to back the demand for Hazara province in view of the growing support for the idea.
Creation of a new province isn't going to be a priority in a present-day Pakistan plagued by serious security and economic problems. However, a popular movement cannot be ignored for long. The agitation in Hazara hasn't reached the stage of a movement and the ruling political parties are hopeful that the protests will subside. Rather than making an effort earlier to seek support for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in Hazara and elsewhere, the ANP-led government in the province is planning to do so now. Already, there have been demands that the net hydel-generation profits the province is receiving from Tarbela Dam should be given to Hazara, where the project is located.
Some serious political work needs to be done to control the damage and keep the province intact by listening to those offended by the name Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. For years the demand for Hazara province had been being championed by fringe political elements, but the bigger parties and known politicians now demanding it cannot be ignored for long.
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim yusufzai @yahoo.com
I. THE NEWS
ON CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES
HUMAYUN AKHTAR KHAN
Since Pakistan came into existence there has been a tussle between politicians and generals. When they get into power, generals seek legitimacy and the politicians seek more power. Together, they shred the constitution to pieces. The generals must remember that no matter what the causes of their takeovers, they may never be able to secure legitimacy. The politicians should remember that no amendments to the Constitution can protect them from their inadequacies and shortcomings.
We seem to be going through another effort to amend our Constitution. We have a problem with the powers of the president. Agreed, that in a parliamentary form of democracy the chief executive should be the prime minister. What we should ensure is that, as in a true parliamentary system, the prime minister, the cabinet and parliament are all empowered, and not just the prime minister.
The most notorious section of our Constitution at present seems to be Article 58(2)(b). Although it should not be there, a number of coups have been avoided and the democratic process has resulted from Article 58(2)(b). For the time being we need a safety valve in the shape of 58(2)(b). The judicial review we have in the 17th Amendment is not appropriate. We politicians should try and resolve our problems politically.
The president's power under this section should remain, but with adequate political checks. One check may be the president's being obligated to seek a vote of confidence in the newly elected National Assembly resulting from the exercise of that power, failing which he or she should be stripped of power.
We have the very important issue of provincial autonomy. Nobody can disagree with the concept but a few fundamental questions arise. Is it not true that our provinces now are more autonomous than the Indian states? Is the abolition of the concurrent list the only way more autonomy may be given to the provinces? Or is the main problem the present structure of the federation, where Punjab constitutes over 60 per cent of the population? As the federation stands today, when Pakistan grows, Punjab grows at a faster rate than the rest of the country, and thus becomes still richer.
The creation of new provinces should not be based on ethnic or linguistic reasons. Their capitals should be reachable by the populations easily. The current balance in the Senate should not be distorted, meaning that the balance Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh and NWFP have in the Senate at present should be retained after the creation of any new provinces. This criterion can only be met if we split the existing provinces in equal numbers. The process to create a new province should be simplified in the Constitution.
Creation of more provinces in Pakistan will strengthen the federation as it exists today. These provinces should be given direct control of more sources of revenue. At present a major chunk of the combined revenues of the federal and provincial governments are collected by the federal government. Almost three- fourths of all provincial expenditures are met through resource transfers from the federal government in accordance with the NFC awards. More autonomy may also be given to the provinces by making their share in their natural resources more equitable, and by giving them adequate employment quotas in all government services.
The Constitution as it existed on Oct 12, 1999, should be restored, but the amendments relating to joint electorate, the reserved seats for religious minorities and women, the lowering of the voting age and the increase in the number of seats in parliament should be retained. The term of the National Assembly should be reduced to four years.
The concurrent list is a list of areas where both the provinces and the federal government can legislate. In case of a conflict, the federal legislation currently prevails. We seem to believe that abolition of the concurrent list and reduction of the federal legislative list is the means for more provincial autonomy. No one seems to have done any homework on the implications of such a move for the federation as it now exists. It may entail a major dismantling of the federal structure and major enhancement of the capacity of the provincial governments. The federation may cease to function and become redundant.
We should reduce the federal legislative list somewhat and add these items to the concurrent list. The existing concurrent list should be retained. However, in the concurrent list we should have two sections. One section should be laws and areas where the federal legislation will prevail. The other should be laws and areas where provincial legislation will prevail in case of a conflict. This will give adequate autonomy to the provinces without jeopardising the federal structure.
The concept of a judicial commission making initial recommendations is fine. Parliamentary scrutiny in the end is done in many countries. The prime minister should have some say too. The Charter of Democracy's clause of three recommendations of the judicial commission to be sent to the prime minister, who then forwards one to the parliamentary committee, seems appropriate.
The appointment of the chief justices of the provincial and supreme courts should be made by the prime minister. These should not only be based on lengths of service but also on competence and reputation. The appointments must also come before the parliamentary committee, which having equal representation of the opposition and the treasury, should be able to block them with a two-thirds majority. Similarly, the appointments of the head of the accountability organisation or the chief election commissioner again should be made in a similar fashion as the appointment of the chief justices.
Our first-past-the-post electoral system is biased towards the larger political parties of the country. As in the case of reserved seats for women and religious minorities in the national and provincial assemblies, a new category of technocrats should be added to the list of reserved seats. All the reserved seats should depend on the actual percentage of votes a particular political party is able to get in an election, and not on the number of members it is able to get elected. A serious problem in Pakistan is the non-existence of adequate capacities within the ranks of political parties to govern once they get into power. The addition of the category of technocrats in the legislatures would give the political parties an improved capacity to govern. Also, the minorities still remain unrepresented in the Senate, for which provisions should be made in the Constitution.
Most legislation in Pakistan is done through ordinances, which essentially is a legacy of our colonial past. In the presence of elected bodies no country in the world permits the issuance of ordinances. If we look at the history of our legislation, no ordinance, apart from the NRO, has subsequently been removed or significantly changed by an assembly. If we want to empower our assemblies, we must get rid of the power of the executive to issue ordinances.
The last local-governments system had a lot of positive points. The system had its teething troubles, though. Revenue and law-and-order functions should be taken away from these local bodies. Other powers should remain intact. The process for the election of nazims, naib nazims and reserved seats for district/tehsil councils should be simplified, so that it is less prone to malpractices.
With respect to the status of Fata, the options are for the territory to continue as it is, administratively and politically; to become part of our existing provinces; to become a new province; or to be given special status like Gilgit-Baltistan. Obviously, the people of Fata must be consulted in what they want for themselves. My recommendation would be for them to be given that status which Gilgtit-Baltistan has received.
Years of mismanagement, political manipulation and corruption have made Pakistan's civil services incapable of providing effective governance. The last regime's devolution plan led to further confusion. Reforms of the civil service should be prioritised for it to become a more effective and accountable institution. The recommendations of the National Commission on Government Reforms, which was set up by the last government in 2006 and which presented a report to the prime minister in May 2008, could be the starting point for the debate to reform the civil services.
The 18th Amendment, a good effort, is necessary, but certainly not sufficient. If we really want to strengthen democracy, let us start delivering to the people and let us learn to protect the interests of the state rather than our own. What happened in Washington should be an eye-opener: only two years after the election, the red carpet was rolled out for our army chief, with politicians nowhere to be seen. Such is the level of vacuums we create, which of course take no time being filled.
The writer, a former federal minister, is secretary general of the Pakistan Muslim League (Q)
I. THE NEWS
CHALLENGES FOR THE FINANCE ADVISER
DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
The government has appointed Dr Hafeez Shaikh as the advisor to the prime minister on finance after the exit of Shaukat Tarin. Let me congratulate the president and the prime minister for appointing the right man for the right job in an extremely difficult economic environment. I also appreciate Dr Shaikh's courage for accepting the challenge.
Dr Shaikh has inherited an extremely fragile economy which was badly handled by those who had little understanding of the subject for over the last two years. The economy is currently facing multi-dimensional challenges such as slower economic growth resulting in the rise of unemployment and poverty; large budget deficit and heavy reliance on domestic sources, particularly the banking system to finance it, has made the country's monetary policy subservient to fiscal policy.
The persistence of higher double-digit inflation is not only affecting adversely the poor and fixed income group but also forcing the State Bank of Pakistan to keep the discount rate at an elevated level. The higher interest rate is discouraging private investment and causing interest payment to rise which, in turn, is eroding the fiscal space to be utilised for development spending.
The sharp depreciation of exchange rate (from Rs62.76 per dollar to Rs84-85 per dollar) has itself created multi-dimensional problems. It has added approximately Rs1200 billion in public debt alone; it has forced the government to increase the price of oil and electricity and emerged as one of the major sources of persistence of higher inflation. And most importantly, it has led to the sharp increase in interest payments, thus putting pressure on the budget. Exports on the other hand, have registered a decline.
Also, the sharp depreciation of exchange rate coupled with senseless borrowing, both from domestic but primarily from external sources, have drowned the country in debt. It took 60 years to add Rs4.8 trillion in public debt but in the last two and a half years Rs3.7 trillion have been added in public debt. This is the departing gift of Shaukat Tarin to the nation in general and Dr Shaikh in particular because the poor Shaikh will have no fiscal space to provide relief to the inflation-stricken poor of this country.
Other than that, our economy is also facing challenges such as power shortages and the persistence of circular debt. These are not only hurting the industrial production and exports but adversely impacting the general business activities as well. Consequently, the country's tax collection efforts are being hampered.
How should Dr Shaikh proceed? He should first prioritise the challenges. Restoring investors' confidence should be his number one priority. What needs to be done in this area? He has to bring economy at the center stage of the government's public policy. The government should be seen as taking interest in the economy and providing 200 per cent support to the finance advisor. Dr Shaikh should interact selectively with the media and explain his economic agenda.
He must appoint a spokesperson of the ministry of finance who should interact with the media, explaining the government's viewpoint. To build investors' confidence, Dr Shaikh must start visiting the leading chambers of commerce and industry and meet the business leaders. He should also meet the foreign investors by visiting their chambers in Karachi. He should also meet the country's leading bankers and industrialists separately. To establish a strong relationship between the fiscal and monetary authorities, he should immediately call the meeting of the Fiscal and Monetary Policies Coordination Board and must ensure that the board meets regularly on quarterly basis.
Dr Shaikh must make every effort to achieve the fiscal deficit target of 5.2 per cent of GDP for the year 2009-10 and the SBP must continue with the tight monetary policy. Every effort should be made to collect Rs1380 billion by the FBR. In the event of any slippages, the advisor should be ready to restrict the releases of the PSDP. Dr Shaikh should make the provincial governments responsible for keeping a close eye on the prices of essential items by inviting chief secretaries in the ECC meeting. The problem of circular debt needs deft handling. My suggestion is that Dr Shaikh may request the international investment banks to calculate the power rate hike to get an independent view.
To bring the debt situation under control, Dr Shaikh should keep budget deficit in the range of 3.5 4.0 per cent of GDP in 2010-11. Such a policy would release pressure on interest rate and would encourage the SBP to cut discount rate. Reduction in interest rate may encourage private investment. Low budget deficit would lead to less borrowing and slow the pace of accumulation of debt.
Dr Shaikh needs to appoint a committee to look into the issues of throw-forward and clean the portfolio of development projects. To bring inflation under control, he will have to put his foot down in freezing the support price of wheat at the current level for two more years. The SBP must continue to pursue the tight monetary policy until the end of the first half of 2010-11. The SBP must maintain stability in the exchange rate.
To raise resources to address the circular debt problems, Dr Shaikh may like to float Sukuk or conventional domestic bonds. He may like to consider a non-deal roadshow in leading financial capitals of the world to apprise global investors about Pakistan's emerging economic story. It goes without saying that he must give full attention to the energy crisis, and regularly take briefings on the issue, as economic activity and energy requirements are strongly linked with each other.
Though it is difficult to do justice in explaining the points in limited space, I have attempted to list the main issues and possible measures to address them. I wish Dr Shaikh the best of luck in his new assignment at the critical juncture of our economic history.
The writer is director general and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: email@example.com .pk
I. THE NEWS
THE PARABLE OF SWAT FLOGGING
This piece, dear reader, is from the heart. After reading Samar Minallah's article in The News (April 5) I decided to watch the Swat flogging video again; it immediately whipped up feelings of humiliation and indignation with the same force as when I had seen it the first time. I was once again reminded of the fact why the ordinary people of Pakistan reacted so fiercely against the sordid event and with their courageous outpouring turned the tide against the Taliban and their supporters. It happened not only because the ordinary citizens of this country are more God-fearing than many self-proclaimed soldiers of God but also because they could relate to the helplessness and indignity of the female in the video both at the conscious and unconscious levels.
The video is also a parable that symbolises our story. Our self-esteem has received various blows over the decades; the American drone attacks constitute just one of the items on the long list of humiliations and abuses that our nation has endured. The unfolding tragedy on the video reminds us that since the creation of Pakistan a large segment of our society has suffered perpetual humiliation at the whip-wielding hands of the powerful, be they influential feudal lords, affluent businessmen, military and civilian dictators, religious bigots or a stagnant bureaucracy. While they continue to hold us hostage to their personal agendas, our own hands and feet, like the hapless girl, are in the strong grip of their minions and cronies.
Both the elite and their allies are control freaks who continue to inflict excruciating pain on us to ensure we remain incapable of rational judgment, just like the silent spectators in the video. Their silence symbolises Pakistan's silent majority which, despite knowing that the wheel is inherently designed to come full circle, is too self-absorbed or apathetic to speak up.
The silence of the majority reflects a deep sense of inferiority that stems from decades of being denied the right to participate in the process of nation-building on our own terms. Forced into chasing imported dreams from America and the Arab world we continue to suffer from identity crises.
In the video the young woman on the ground embodies complex symbolism. On one level, she represents the vulnerable female at the mercy of physically strong males in a patriarchal social-structure, unequipped with the essentials of education and awareness of rights and lacking social and state support. Her fundamental human rights, of which her dignity is paramount, remain an elusive dream. The so-called Islamic state and its Nizam-e-Adl, as envisioned by the likes of the Taliban, can only function if she is incarcerated physically, mentally and emotionally to ensure her stunted growth.
On another level, the face-down posture of the female victim in the video signifies the faceless millions belonging to the marginalised and deprived sections of our society. They live and die as non-entities in their own land and are made to eat dust everyday in the face of red tape-ism and VVIP culture; their screams fail to move the affluent and the resourceful. Governmental institutions, feudal justice systems and tribal mindsets mete out a daily dose of humiliation and indignity to them; this, coupled with institutionalised corruption, compounds their helplessness and uproots all hopes of social amelioration.
The burqa-clad 17year-old reminds us of the underprivileged for yet another reason. Like her, the faces of the poor are also invisible to the powerful elite; yet they themselves can clearly see through the veil and are able to bear witness to the identity of both their torturers and the onlookers. And to them, as to her, they are both on the same side.
The only promising factor in the video is also the most heart-breaking. The screams of the victim, sometimes loud sometimes muffled, demonstrate her ability to verbalise her pain under extreme duress. May her screams become consistently louder with every passing day till the silent majority discovers the courage to denounce both conspiracy theories and their creators. This alone would give them the nerve to snatch the whip from the hands of their torturers. Her screams may yet jolt, with greater intensity, the hearts and minds of the various segments of civil society that has begun to stir and squirm under the weight of injustice and hypocrisy.
The parable of the Swat flogging is incomplete; it is up to the people of Pakistan to give it a dignified ending.
The writer is executive editor of the magazine Criterion, Islamabad. Email: talatfarooq11@ gmail.com
I. THE NEWS
THE CONFIDENCE DEFICIT
DR MALEEHA LODHI
The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.
The consensus over the Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment marks a watershed moment in the country's chequered history that should, as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani pointed out, be a source of pride for all Pakistanis.
But this effort to invoke a sense of national pride is at odds with the conduct of political leaders on the external front where they constantly look to outsiders to address the country's challenges.
If proof was needed of the increasing tendency of Pakistan's governing elite to focus outside rather than on itself to solve the country's problems it came during last month's strategic dialogue in Washington. The government rolled out ten 'sectoral' tracks for further engagement. These only expanded the areas in which Pakistan sought assistance from the US instead of concentrating on core strategic issues.
Broadening relations that have long been anchored in the security realm made eminent sense. But identifying so many sectors where Islamabad sought US help did not. Apart from scattering focus and detracting from pivotal issues this approach exposed a more telling phenomenon: a growing mindset of dependency. To seek improved relations with the US a worthwhile goal is one thing. To want it to solve virtually all of Pakistan's problems betrays a lack of confidence in the country's own ability to meet challenges.
This was all the more surprising given that the talks took place in the backdrop of successful counter-militancy campaigns in Swat and FATA that were Pakistan's own efforts for which the nation united in support.
Three points emerge from the ruling elite's help-us-with-everything stance. One that it appears to be overwhelmed by the challenges at hand and seems to regard these as insuperable. Two, it doesn't seem to have much confidence in its own ability to fix these problems. And three it has come to believe that only outside help can resolve these issues and even considers foreign actors to be catalytic agents for the country's stabilisation if not progress.
All these premises are false. Nations rise, rebound and regenerate themselves by their own efforts. Foreign help can supplement but not substitute for national efforts. Pakistan's problems are complex but soluble.
True that the challenges are unprecedented. Seeking international help to meet some of them is justifiable not least because regional interventions by external actors have contributed to and exacerbated these problems. But if this translates into an over-reliance on outsiders without adequate national effort there is something fundamentally wrong and unsustainable about this approach.
As Pakistan's history attests such external help however well-intentioned sets up a perverse set of incentives by which urgent domestic reform is postponed or avoided as resort is made to band-aid or quick-fix solutions imported from abroad. Assistance should serve as a means to build self-sustaining national capacity so as not to need more external financing. But this has not been the experience of the past two decades or more.
Meanwhile the costs of delayed reforms are exploding around us today: in the collapsing physical infrastructure, the energy crisis and a rising public debt burden.
The kind of external dependence that has been in play over the years speaks of an official mind-set that seeks to offset its own lack of effort by shifting the responsibility elsewhere. Whether this reflects an innate resistance to reform by a privilegentsia or its aversion to the pain of undertaking meaningful change this exhibits itself in the lack of self-confidence.
This in turn has deleterious effects on national morale. Far from fostering self-esteem this undermines national confidence. Yet confidence determines a nation's ability to address and bounce back from challenges.
What also plays into this are foreign portrayals of the country as a 'problem' or 'failing state' and other caricatures of the country that serve to influence people's image of themselves. Rather than challenge these characterisations members of the ruling elite implicitly endorse them for a variety of motives: to secure more largesse from abroad, prove how their role has averted imminent breakdowns or simply because they have no paradigm of their own.
The expedient use of false or flawed constructs feeds into the confidence game, eroding national self-respect and contributing to a culture of pessimism. The job of leadership is to talk up confidence not just by words but more importantly by deeds. This is only possible if a vision is set out that inspires hope and confidence in the future. That vision has to be anchored in credible pathways to address challenges.
This is especially warranted in moments of distress to enable people to have faith in the prospect that conditions will improve as they see that a clear direction has been charted to address problems.
What the country needs is for its leaders to tell the people and demonstrate by policy measures that a national resolve and capacity exists to solve problems and that they are prepared to set an example of sacrifice to persuade the public to bear the pain of reform which is always a wrenching process .
Instead of taking this path to economic revival and national regeneration the country's ruling elite has preferred short cuts through external assistance which may buy temporary respite but cannot be a transformative vehicle to address deep rooted problems. And as these problems have grown so has despondency.
A culture of pessimism is the very antithesis of an environment that fosters a sense of empowerment and self-confidence. It limits progress by being an impediment to unlocking the dynamic potential and innovative capabilities of society. The country is also denuded of the means of connecting the numerous dots of individual excellence that are evident in so many different fields.
A new book 'The Geopolitics of Emotion' by Dominique Moisi examines the influence of emotions on geopolitics. It argues that emotions that reflect underlying cultural traits have often shaped the national destiny of countries and their encounter with the world.
Single-factor explanations are almost always inadequate to encapsulate complex reality. To view the multidimensional forces of history through the lens of a subjectively determined emotion is also contestable.
But it is still instructive to consider the book's central thesis. This is to relate the cultures driven by fear, hope and humiliation to the different trajectories and experiences in the West (US and Europe) Asia (China) and the Muslim world respectively.
Using this template Pakistan's dominant condition is best described by acute insecurity that is both a cause and consequence of fear. Widespread apprehension about the present and the future has drained hope that generates confidence. The dominant dynamic is a lack of faith that the future would be better given the public's protracted experience of poor governance and deterioration in public services. This is borne out by opinion polls that confirm this gloom.
Hope gives countries the confidence to confront challenges and equips them to purposefully tackle problems. But hope cannot be conjured out of a hat. Building a national narrative of hope that can unleash the promise of Pakistan requires vision, energy and a track record of improved governance.
It means policy actions that create a sense of national purpose and foster the belief that the capacity to overcome challenges lie within and not without. The empowering effect of national pride should not be underestimated.
Building confidence is not easy especially in a sea of trouble. But it is a necessary first step to self-empowerment. This needs above all a credible leadership that is both inspired and inspiring. Intellectual leaders also have a pivotal role to play in transforming a culture of despair into that of optimism and enabling hope to trump fear. Without this meaningful progress is well nigh impossible with the country left rudderless.
The dire implications of this condition are poignantly captured in a couplet written by the poet Iftikhar Arif. Translated from Urdu this reads: "As we had no faith in ourselves, this time even a single hostile horse rider seemed like an army on the battlefield."
I. THE NEWS
THE EIGHTEENTH AMENDMENT
MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN
Prime Minister Gilani has achieved an amazing breakthrough in the chaotic political arena of Pakistan. It was his efforts, fully backed by President Zardari that almost all the political parties managed to act as one cohesive unit to restore the 1973 Constitution. Mr Gilani was the driving force behind the reforms package which was debated meticulously by the special committee headed by Mr Raza Rabbani.
The restoration was not a bipartisan issue but one of national importance. It even caused crisis-like situation, creating rift among the political parties of the country. However, Mr Gilani never lost his cool and perseverance despite many provocations. He stayed true to his goal of restoring the 1973 Constitution, ably aided by Mr Rabbani who remained as cool as his leader, strictly adhering to his task and ignoring irritable remarks meant to sabotage the consensus reached in the special committee.
There was no logic in keeping the Constitution Reforms Package under lock and key after its main features had been announced in parliament, as it would have given a valuable opportunity to the lawmakers, constitutional experts and analysts to debate the various aspects of the package, generating thousands of suggestion, many of them quite feasible.
Once the 18th Amendment is passed by parliament and signed by the president, the Constitution 73 will stand restored, as promised in the PPP manifesto. The constitutional amendments made by the two military usurpers Gen Zia and Gen Musharraf would be buried for good. These two military dictators destroyed the 1973 Constitution because what a dictator abhors most is the rule of law. However, the PPP government with the cooperation of all the political parties represented in parliament have undone these dictators' nefarious designs. The 18th Amendment has saved the constitution, which in turn would save democracy and the federation. However, the repeal of the evil amendments does not ensure that our journey towards a more stable democratic system would be smooth and that the 18th Amendment will work as a barrier against any future usurpation. After all, the 1956 Constitution could not stop Gen Ayub Khan from taking over the government; Gen Zia removed ZA Bhutto, suspended the 1973 Constitution and assumed the office of the president; the dismissed Gen Musharraf overthrew the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. The 58(2)(b) was excessively used by civilian presidents. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan used it twice, both against Benazir and Nawaz Sharif. President Leghari used it once, against Benazir. Both presidents lost their positions after elections, proving that people hate dictators.
The 18th Amendment has put Pakistan back on the democratic path. It will strengthen the parliamentary system and we should hope to get rid of the present hodgepodge of a system constructed by Zia and Musharraf for their own benefit, which is neither parliamentary nor presidential. However, all the efforts to repeal the 17th Amendment will be proved useless if the rule of law was not established; if corruption was not eliminated from the government as well as from our society; if prices of utilities and food items were not reduced to an affordable level. The only way to strengthen and protect the constitution is by observing it.
A tribute: It is normal for politicians to go through vicissitude. They rise, they fall and hope to rise again. ZA Bhutto's faults bear no relation to the price he paid. As someone said, "It was not his fault, it was his fate."
Email: mirjrahman@hotmail .com
Flash floods, as expected, have hit the country's north. This is almost an annual event here as rains hit the hills in late spring. It results in flash floods in the valley lands and other low-lying areas, adjacent to the hills. There is nothing unnatural about all that but Bangladesh being a densely populated area people live and cultivate in those low areas and they and their crops are badly hit when such natural calamities occur.
The need to survive in the lowlands has created its own challenges. And embankments are necessary, if not to stop the flow fully, at least to reduce the impact of the fast moving water. This year, there have been complaints that the embankments that were meant to protect the huge population in the haors (swamps) in Sunamganj and Netrakona gave in. It is alleged that the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) did a shoddy piece of work. There was more sand and less of substantive material that would have held the structure together.
Now this is a serious charge as so many millions of lives depend on it. The administration should look into it and stern action should be taken against the officials and contractors involved. For a deltaic country like Bangladesh the management of water bodies which often double as crop land cannot be underestimated. The structures cannot be too heavy as it might destroy the fragile eco-system, at the same time it cannot be so trivial that it cannot withstand the minimum impact of nature. So far, the crop land inundated is around 30,000 hectares. Most of this land was under Boro cultivation when the flood waters came. They have been largely destroyed.
All countries have their fair share of natural hazards. For some countries like the Netherlands, it is a scarcity of land. For others like Australia, it is the desert. For much of Africa it is the Sahara, while for much of the North it is long winters. Our problem is one of a huge population living in an active delta. How we address it will define our course of development. Like it or hate it, we have no other option but to live with it.
THE MANGOES WITHER
Less than two months ago farmers were expecting a bumper mango crop as the trees were in full bloom and the weather was favourable for flowering. Providing there was no prolonged drought, storm or foggy weather everything was looking fine as almost all the trees in the region of Rajshahi were covered with buds. A few early variety trees had even started to bear fruit. A senior official of the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) in Rajshahi region was quoted as saying, "If the climate remains favourable, we will see bumper production this year." That now seems like tempting providence. Now DAE officials are advising mango growers about taking precautionary measures to protect the buds from hoppers during the fruiting period and growers are taking care to protect the buds from insects by spraying insecticides, pouring water and fertiliser around the mango trees to ensure a good yield. Seemingly all was in vain because due to the prolonged drought, extreme heat and unfavourable weather conditions for mangoes harvest are withering in Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj districts, both known for mango production.
The mango orchard owners and farmers are naturally getting worried due to continuing drought threatening mango output this year. If there is no much-awaited rain in next few days, mango production may fall drastically. Senior Scientific Officer of the Regional Horticulture Research Centre in Chapainawabganj, Sorof Uddin, informed that flowers in many mango trees have withered because of high temperatures. Farmers are trying to save the crop by using potash and boron to protect the trees from the heat and insects. But that may not yield the desired result unless the weather turns favourable through welcome showers.