media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month april 09, edition 000477, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
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- SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
- RUDRONEEL GHOSH
- KALYANI SHANKAR
- ANURADHA DUTT
- ANDREI FEDYASHIN
- VINAYSHIL GAUTAM
TIMES OF INDIA
- PLUG THE GAPS
- LAW CATCHES UP
- WHY LULA IS THE MAN -
- 'CHILDHOOD BLINDNESS IS NOT GIVEN IMPORTANCE IN INDIA' -
- A SOLDIER'S SON - JUG SURAIYA
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- A PHONE CALL AWAY
- A DEATH IN ALIGARH
- KEEPING UP
- SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW - C. RAJA MOHAN
- THOUGHTS FOR FOOD - COOMI KAPOOR
- GAME CHANGER - NIHAR NAYAK
- CHECK PLEASE - MRINAL PANDE
- SHOAIB-SANIA MARRIAGE
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- CALLING THE BIDS
- COUNTERING THE MAOISTS
- 6.5% MIGHT BE A 'NEUTRAL' POLICY RATE - SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA
- FINALLY, WE GET TO SEE SOME AUCTION - MAHESH UPPAL
- WHY OUTSOURCING WILL NOT HARM THE US - NIKHILA GILL
- BRITISH PARTIES AT THE STARTING GATE
- BARBARIC PRACTICE
- JIHADIST WARNINGS FROM MOSCOW - PRAVEEN SWAMI
- FROM CHIDAMBARAM TO CAMBRIDGE: SOLVING THE 30S SUBUNIT STRUCTURE OF THE RIBOSOME
- PHILOSOPHY OF AN ECONOMIST-CIVIL SERVANT - RAVI BHOOTHALINGAM
- ARCTIC SEA ICE RECOVERS SLIGHTLY - JULIETTE JOWIT
- SHEER NEGLIGENCE
- BLEAK PROSPECTS
- NILOTPAL BASU
- A CALL FOR MISSIONARY JOURNALISM - MADHU JAIN
- ACT BUT NOT IN HASTE
- A HOT LINE WITH CHINA
- ON CONTRACT
- JUDICIARY AT THE CROSSROADS - BY JUSTICE RAJINDAR SACHAR (RETD)
- "EXPECTANT" FATHERS - BY JUSTICE MAHESH GROVER
- LEADERSHIP KEY ISSUE - BY HARSH V. PANT
- EXPERTS FAVOUR PAU 201 - BY K S CHAWLA
- CHENNAI DIARY - N RAVIKUMAR
- 'ECONOLOGICAL' GROWTH?
- CONCURRENT PLANNING HELPS
- BULLETS ARE NOT THE ANSWER - SUNITA NARAIN
- LUXURY HOMES IN ON INDIA - BHUPESH BHANDARI
- CONCERNS ON CHINA - AKASH PRAKASH
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- FLIGHTS OF FANCY
- TOWARDS A NUKE-FREE WORLD?
- SEBI, MIND THIS GAP, TOO
- MARKET-BASED SOLUTION FOR INCLUSION - RANA KAPOOR
- WHAT CHOICE DIVINE FREE WILL? - MUKUL SHARMA
- ACTIVIST PUDR RIGHTS GROUPS ALWAYS CONDEMN WAR - S PURKAYASTHA
- MANY SUCH GROUPS ARE A MAOIST FRONT
- TECHNOLOGY ADOPTION BY SMALL FIRMS BACK WITH A BANG - SHELLEY SINGH
- INDIA IS A GOOD PLACE TO WORK ON NEW TECH' - ANIRVAN GHOSH
- FOLLOW GREEN NORMS, BUT DON'T DELAY PROJECTS: CIL - SUBHASH NARAYAN
- 'WE WANT TO FOLLOW THE STRING OF PEARLS STRATEGY' - RAJKUMAR VELAGAPUDI
- WE WILL NOT OVERPAY FOR 3G SPECTRUM: MARTEN PIETERS - RASHMI PRATAP
- PUSSYFOOTING WITH CHINA WON'T WORK
- MUGABE'S HOLD IS CHOKING ZIMBABWE - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
- TALK LESS, DO MORE, MR CHIDAMBARAM - BY SANJAY BASAK
- EASIER WAY
- PEOPLE'S POWER
- THAT LIBERAL HOUR - ASHOK MITRA
- DECCAN HERALD
- CHINESE SPIES
- VITAL INFORMATION
- NOT THROUGH THE GUN - KULDIP NAYAR
- FINAL VERDICT ON BABRI - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
- THE MASTER MISFIT - BY D A SAIT
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- DIAL-UP LAW IN A BROADBAND WORLD
- TOO BROKEN TO FIX
- TELLING ABOUT GAY WARRIORS AND ASKING FOR VOTES - BY FRANCIS X. CLINES
- THE HUMBLE HOUND - BY DAVID BROOKS
- LEARNING FROM GREECE - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- OBAMA'S NUCLEAR MODESTY - BY PETER D. FEAVER
- JUST LIKE IKE (ON DETERRENCE) - BY CAMPBELL CRAIG
I. THE NEWS
- MORE AUTONOMY?
- GOING 'DOWN THE DRAIN' - BY AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
- RIVER CROSSINGS -- AND OTHER MATTERS - BY AYAZ AMIR
- SANITISING THE CONSTITUTION - BY DR SANIA NISHTAR
- WHAT ABOUT GOVERNANCE? - BY DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
- SNIPPETS OF RIGHT AND WRONG - BY SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
- SIDE-EFFECT - BY HARRIS KHALIQUE
CHANGE THE RULES, USE THE BRO
Even as the Union Government contemplates a sterner security approach to curb Red terror, there can be no denying the fact that development has to be a part of the solution to the Maoist menace. But predictably, even though the Maoists want to project themselves as champions of the poor and the downtrodden, they would hate to see state-sponsored development in the neglected areas of the country steal from them the very source of their power poverty. Hence, it is hardly surprising that the Left-wing extremists in the Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra have put the fear of the devil in private contractors who think they can take on road construction projects in the area. As a result, despite repeated attempts, the Maharashtra Public Works Department is unable to find any contractor to build highways in the Maoist-affected Allapalli division of Gadchiroli. The reluctance of the contractors is understandable. Last year in November, two contractors were beheaded by the Maoists as a warning to others; the threat worked. In fact, given the situation, the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had advised the State Government to undertake the projects on its own. However, Maharashtra PWD officers were too scared to oversee the work, which is understandable.
In order to provide a solution to the problem, the Maharashtra Government has now asked the Centre to relax existing rules to make the nine road projects in Allapalli an attractive proposition for contractors. This includes relaxing conditions such as the minimum annual turnover and experience of the contractor, something that the State Government is hoping will entice some local companies to come forward with bids. This is definitely an idea worth looking into. But in case the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways does accept the Maharashtra Government's proposal, it can only be implemented with strict oversight. Either the Comptroller and Auditor-General should be asked to oversee the projects under the plan or there should be a civil society body comprising eminent retired judges, technocrats, etc, that should be given this task. For, relaxing the rules for the bidding of road projects in Maoist-affected areas should not become a convenient tool for our corrupt politicians and babus to feather their nests. In the past, funds allocated for Tribal Sub-Plans worth lakhs of crores of rupees meant for development projects in tribal areas simply disappeared. Had that money not been stolen, tribals areas would not have been so backward today.
The other option that could be looked at is employing the Border Roads Organisation to build roads in Maoist-affected areas. The NDA Government used the BRO to build highways in difficult terrain. There is no reason why the UPA cannot do so. If the BRO can build roads in Taliban-infested areas in Afghanistan, it can certainly operate in hostile Maoist-infested districts. Besides, the quality of the BRO's work in border areas speaks for itself. Thus, there is every reason to believe that if the BRO is entrusted with this task, it will certainly deliver. And this is something that we urgently need. Unless we have good metalled or concrete roads in Maoist-dominated areas, we will not be able to take the war on Red terror to its logical conclusion. Access will ensure effective crackdown. Will the Government wake up to this fact, please?
KARZAI HAS SAID NOTHING OFFENSIVE
The downslide in the relationship between Kabul and Washington, DC, more specifically between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his American counterpart, Mr Barack Obama, continues unchecked. A scheduled meeting between Mr Karzai and Mr Obama at the White House on May 12 may be called off because the US Administration is displeased with the Afghan President for being blunt and truthful. Apparently, Mr Obama is upset that Mr Karzai should have accused "foreigners" of trying to interfere with his country's presidential election last year. The fact of the matter is that the US, and many of its trans-Atlantic allies, did try to manipulate the Afghan election in a certain manner, insisting that the vote count should match their political preference. In the event, this did not happen and Mr Karzai won the election, albeit doubts persist about how free and fair was the polling. But the Americans and Europeans need not have made such an issue of it; after all, Western Governments are not known to have been finicky about the quality of elections or the person 'elected' to high office in more than one country, including Pakistan. They have done business, and continue to do so, with dictators, thugs and charlatans who have come to power by stealing the vote or by bludgeoning the Opposition into accepting defeat. Of course, they have done so whenever it has suited their own narrow interests. It would also be pertinent to point out that the West isn't offended by the fact that most Islamic countries are ruled by individuals whose corrupt and thieving ways, apart from disallowing any opposition to their gross misrule, have contributed in no small measure to the birth and growth of Islamism. The Muslim Brotherhood would not have flourished as a subterranean Opposition movement had the US and European countries been more discriminating about whom they supped with in the Arab countries.
In more ways than one, Mr Karzai is a far better man than 'friends' of the West whose vices are often overlooked to promote Western interests. Mr Obama should know this more than anybody else. Therefore, it ill behoves him to pretend offence or take the moral high ground over what Mr Karzai may or may not have said the Afghan President has clarified that his comments were directed at Western busybodies, namely mediapersons, and not at the US Administration. It is entirely possible that Mr Karzai's criticism is being used as an excuse to call off the scheduled meeting because the Americans are now preparing to do business with the 'good' Taliban and the man who once enjoyed the West's support is no longer seen as being 'useful'. This should not come as a surprise, given the cynicism which dominates foreign policy in America and Europe.
SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
It seems heartless to recall this in connection with Tuesday's massacre of CRPF jawans, but I cannot forget the time I had to cut across the fields on foot in a Naxalite-ridden West Bengal district to find a mechanic for my car which had broken down on the road. The peasant lad I asked if the path through the fields was safe at once replied, "Oh yes, the CRP has gone now!"
His reply bore out Mao Tse-Tung's thesis of insurgents being like fish who can't survive without water, ie people's support. Being fundamentally urban-based, the Naxalites did not enjoy it too much, which enabled Mr Ranjit Gupta, then Kolkata's police commissioner, to claim that his successful strategy, borrowed from Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templar in Malaya, was to poison the water. But as that rustic boy's reply showed, the CRPF was even more fish out of water in the countryside.
Sadly, the security forces still don't enjoy the support of Adivasis and Dalits of the interior because the state which is at war with Maoist rebels doesn't. The CRPF is just one of many instruments through which the state must enforce its will and restore peace in the so-called 'Red Corridor', as it has done before in Telangana, Nagaland, Mizoram and Punjab.
As the battle rages, the state will use whatever arrow in its quiver it considers appropriate at any given time; it cannot be inhibited except by its own judgement, which is why I was surprised when the new Army chief, Gen VK Singh, announced that his forces would take no part in the battle. It seems to me that it is not for an Army chief in any country to stipulate what operation the military will or will not participate in. That is for the civil authorities to decide, and while excessive deployment of regular troops may be injudicious, the military's aid-to-civil-power role means taking orders from its political masters.
It's neither here nor there that Mr P Chidambaram, too, made a similar announcement. A Home Minister receives advice from many sources; he might well change his mind after the Dantewada ambush. Should he not do so because Gen Singh has already pre-empted the decision? The Government ruling out using aerial power is a different matter for it is a strategic decision to avoid civilian casualties. But it would be strange if Air Chief Marshal PV Naik were to up and say "his" aircraft and crew will not be deployed.
Undoubtedly, such announcements by senior officers of proven loyalty are well meant. Undoubtedly, too, many will receive them as evidence of concern and humanity in the top brass. But whether they strengthen the sense of a unified civilian-military command with a common purpose and the determination to push it through is another matter.
The need for propriety is all the greater because Tuesday's carnage confirmed again that the Maoists present a far more serious threat than the Naxalites ever did. There are more of them, they are better trained and armed with superior intelligence and a far better grasp of guerrilla tactics. Without making a song and dance as the Naxalites did over token 'liberated zones' (Debra-Gopiballavpur in West Bengal's Midnapore district) the CPI(Maoist) actually controls sizeable chunks of territory in several States. Not for nothing did the Prime Minister describe it as the biggest internal security threat the country faces.
But it is a mistake to compare the insurrection for such it must be termed with Iraq or Afghanistan where strife is not ideological. Instability in those countries was injected from abroad. In Iraq it was the US-led invasion to overthrow the established ruler and dismantle functioning institutions. In Afghanistan, too, it was the foreign hand, whether of the Soviets, the Americans or Pakistanis depends on how far back you want to go and how you read history.
A more valid precedent for the Maoist upsurge can be found in the turmoil that convulsed Malaya for 12 years. Ironically, there was an Indian connection. Moscow's instructions to revolt went out from the week-long Conference of Youth and Students of South-East Asia Fighting for Freedom and Independence organised in Kolkata in 1948 by the World Federation of Democratic Youth and the International Union of Students. Insurrections broke out almost immediately afterwards in Burma, Indochina, Indonesia, the Philippines and, of course, Malaya.
Though Mr Ashok Mitra, West Bengal's former CPI(M) Finance Minister, and Mr Jolly Mohan Kaul, the former CPI functionary, both attended the conference and describe it in their memoirs, neither knew of this larger purpose. The Soviets probably used Bengali comrades to provide the diversionary street theatre while entrusting sabotage to more trusted henchmen. Lawrence Sharkey, a leading Australian Communist, who travelled from Kolkata to Singapore to attend the plenary session of the Malayan Communist Party (90 per cent Chinese) where the crucial decision to revolt was formally taken, probably carried the message.
Not enough is known about the CPI(Maoist) to say whether there is an external dimension here too. If there is, it will not be for ideological reasons for no one preaches world revolution any longer. The rationale would be to cripple the Indian state from within.
An advantage in crushing the Malaya rebels was that Templar enjoyed absolute power as head of civil administration and military operations. His methods were not gentle. Casualties were high, villages were burned down, communities forcibly resettled. A British newspaper revealed years later that an entire innocent village was wiped out under the notion they were terrorists. But as BV Keskar, Deputy Minister for External Affairs, concluded after touring South-East Asia, the Communist guerrillas 3,000 to start with were not freedom-fighters but outright bandits. They looted, pillaged, murdered and held people for ransom in the name of ideology.
Malaya shows what should be emulated and avoided. Templar's absolutism is difficult in a federal democracy. Despite complaints about the impact of 'Operation Green Hunt', India cannot condone some of his harsher methods. But a counter-insurgency force like the Rashtriya Rifles in Kashmir, effective cooperation between State Governments, better coordination between the various forces, improved intelligence and harmonious Centre-States relations are as essential as economic development.
Returning to Mao's analogy, the drift to anarchy will not be arrested unless the state regains control of the water that now belongs to the rebels.
In ancient China of 6th century BC, the states of Wu and Ch'u constantly competed with each other for dominance and supremacy. While Ch'u was stronger of the two it had better resources and could employ a larger army it was Wu that would consistently seize the advantage in its confrontations with the former. The secret to Wu's success was its ability to employ innovative warfare tactics that kept Ch'u constantly guessing. As a consequence, most of the time, Ch'u had to adopt a defensive strategy and, in the process, ended up providing Wu with multiple options to sustain its military advantage.
Circa 2010, China has emerged as a master in cyber warfare. The recent discovery of a massive Chinese cyber-espionage ring, dubbed Shadow Network, exemplifies this point. If Shadow Network which was able to hack into scores of Indian Government and defence computer systems and peruse through hundreds of highly classified documents relating to security and foreign-policy strategy is any measure of China's cyber-espionage capabilities, we are certainly in deep trouble. For, given the Chinese propensity to understate these things, it is quite possible that Shadow Network is only the tip of the iceberg. In other words, the public fact that Beijing spends $ 55 million annually on offensive cyber warfare technology could actually be a fraction of the real amount. If we contrast this with the measly $ 1 million that our Government purportedly spends on similar endeavours most likely to be an exaggerated figure we have every reason to be scared stiff.
By effectively using cyber warfare tactics, the Chinese can pre-empt rival strategies, stop a military in its tracks and create chaos by spreading misinformation. Yet, New Delhi, it appears, is still unable to fully grasp the gravity of the situation. The Government seems to believe that the best way to fend off Chinese hackers is by disconnecting from cyberspace Government establishments have few Internet nodes. But this is a flawed strategy and akin to the defensive posturing that the state of Ch'u adopted in the face of Wu's aggression. Instead, we should focus on building our own cyber offensive capabilities. Logging off from the Internet is no solution.
UNION MINISTER MK AZHAGIRI AND TAMIL NADU DEPUTY CHIEF MINISTER MK STALIN, BOTH SONS OF CHIEF MINISTER AND DMK CHIEF M KARUNANIDHI, HAVE DRAWN BATTLE LINES FOR WHAT PROMISES TO BE A BITTER WAR OF SUCCESSION. THIS COULD PROVE TO BE BAD NEWS FOR DMK
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi, also a celebrated film script writer, would have never dreamt of the real-life succession drama with his two sons Union Minister MK Azhagiri and Deputy Chief Minister MK Stalin bitterly fighting over his political legacy even before he has stepped down.
Kalaignar, as he is affectionately called, will turn 86 on June 3 and had announced earlier that he would retire. With the succession drama reaching a climax, it is not clear whether he will retire or not. With the Assembly elections scheduled for next year, the veteran politician is keen to ensure smooth transfer of power to either of his sons.
A five times Chief Minster and a legislator for almost five decades, Kalaignar is one of the tallest leaders in Tamil Nadu. He is a celebrated writer who has more than 100 books and 70 film scripts to his credit. His party has been a constituent of every front, which has ruled this country at the Centre from the National Front to the United Front to the NDA to the UPA. He has a clear understanding of coalition politics although he does like to share power in the State.
However, the succession battle has already taken an ugly turn. Mr Karunanidhi's younger son Stalin has already been positioned as the Deputy Chief Minister since last May and is also tipped to succeed as the party chief. While the Chief Minister has made no secret of his preference for his younger son, his elder son and Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertiliser MK Azhagiri doesn't agree to it.
Dynastic politics is new to Tamil Nadu. When DMK leader CN Annadurai died in 1969, the party elected Mr Karunanidhi as his successor. And since then he had been the undisputed leader of the party. However, his critics point out that Mr Karunanidhi did not promote any other leader except his children. Leaders, who were promising like Mr V Gopalsamy aka Vaiko, had to go out of the party to find their own space. In the past few years he had made it clear that his two sons, his nephew Dayanidhi Maran and his daughter Kanimozhi had priority over the others in claiming Cabinet berths whether at the Centre or in the State.
Last May, when he made his elder son Azhagiri as the Union Minister, he may have felt relieved that he had resolved the family quarrel but Mr Azhagiri, not finding his feet in Delhi, has made the matters worse. There is no doubt that the fight within the family has reached its pinnacle. Now the elder son is challenging his father's authority and is not willing to accept anyone else as his leader. He recently said that as long as Kalaignar is around there could be no other leader and he would not accept anyone as his leader. He has also thrown the challenge that he would contest elections if they are democratically conducted.
There are several challnges thrown at Mr Karunanidhi. First of all, the challenge for Mr Karunanidhi comes not from his party but from within the family. All senior DMK leaders like Mr Arcot Veeraswamy are as old as Mr Karunanidhi and have no role in choosing the successor. With second and third rung leaders far away from decision-making, it is left to Mr Karunanidhi to sort out the matter. His loyal followers in the party would accept anything he decides.
Second, Mr Karunanidhi knows that his carefully nurtured party may split after him if the two sons did not come to an understanding. One way of doing this could be to make Mr Azhagiri the party chief and Mr Stalin the Chief Minister. But Mr Stalin is not keen on such a formula as there will be two power centres.
Third, there is urgency in resolving the matter as Tamil Nadu goes for polls next year. There were rumours that the DMK chief would like to prepone the polls to later this year but in any case not much time is left. Moreover, a divided party will be in no position to face the electoral challenge.
Fourth, the Congress and the AIADMK are waiting to grab the space in case the DMK falls apart. For AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa, who has had a running battle with the DMK chief for last four decades, it will be a sweet revenge to grab some DMK space. After all, both the Dravidian parties have similar ideology. As far the Congress, it has been riding piggyback for almost five decades on the DMK or the AIADMK and gaining some space in the State is most welcome. Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi has been making visits to Tamil Nadu and also hinted that the Congress should become stronger on its own.
Fifth, the morale of the DMK cadre is going down. Even Ministers and legislators are worried about the future of the party. If the feud continues, then there will be a telling effect on the ticket distribution as both the brothers will try to field their loyalists.
Without Mr Karunanidhi as a unifying force, there are apprehensions that the party may split. The Tamil Nadu polity is already fractured with too many smaller parties like the PMK, the MDMK and Vijayakanth's party flourishing. A split DMK may only add to the confusion. Mr Karunanidhi is wily politicians who will try his best to avoid such a split.
THE SHOAIB-SANIA-AYESHA AFFAIR TELLS ITS OWN STORY
It turned out to be a storm in a teacup when, after stridently denying that he had married her some years ago, former Pakistani cricket captain Shoaib Malik suddenly capitulated and divorced Hyderabad-based Ayesha Siddiqui. Community elders claimed to have negotiated the parting of ways, as per Islamic law.
While Indian tennis star Sania Mirza can now seal her union with Malik, as planned, this should not be treated as the end of the matter. This is because the acrimonious dispute over the cricketer's marital status, with the man and his fiancée denying that he had a wife, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, focuses attention on some unsavoury aspects of celebrity culture. The compulsions of glamour and success eclipsing normal human responses and concerns, the two sports stars behaved as if they were a law unto themselves until Malik was forced to buckle down under public pressure.
Worse, as a foreign national, one might have expected him to be more circumspect on alien soil. But he continued to lie through his teeth almost till the very end. And Sania, considered to be an icon for teenage girls, lost much of her lustre through her complicity in his play-acting. As a prospective power couple, which could win lucrative endorsement contracts across continents, and remain in the spotlight, Sania and Shoaib are seen to have thrown all caution to the winds. The affair also raises questions about the implementation of Muslim personal law, with respect to marriage, in India and Pakistan. While Muslim men in India are accorded the right to take four wives freely, in Pakistan, for the man to marry again, the first or other wife/wives apparently need to formally grant consent. And in the matter of divorce, a period of reconciliation, involving the couple, is mandatory. Here, the man can divorce a wife simply be pronouncing talaq three times.
The most offensive aspect of the episode is the humiliation suffered by his first wife, who not only publicly suffered his rejection but had to explain why he had abandoned her. Apparently, after the nikaah in June 2002, he began to berate her for being too over-weight and ungainly. This would be ludicrous if it were not so overtly sexist. In his own defence, Malik vilified Ayesha for being a terrible letdown after alluring him with photographs of a presumably slender female. Ayesha's mother stated on television that her daughter even went under the knife to have some of the fat removed surgically, at great peril to her life. It is not a far-fetched claim but a fairly common situation, with partners' taunts forcing many women in the West, and now, increasingly, here too among the urban upwardly mobile section, to resort to plastic surgeons for a boost in self-esteem. Since females are commodified more than males, they tend to be more sensitive to taunts about appearance. Thus traumatised, she tried to make herself more acceptable to Malik though to no avail.
Apparently, a simple apology from the player and pronouncement of divorce would have been sufficient for Ayesha and her parents to agree to his marrying Sania. But his refusal to acknowledge the marriage raised their hackles and goaded them to confront him. They finally filed a case against the cricketer under Section 506 (criminal intimidation); 420 (cheating); and 498(A) (dowry harassment). While the cases have now been withdrawn, the public spat has left an ugly impression, to the discredit to the celebrity duo. One of the mediators in the dispute stated on television that they forced a truce in the interests of relations between India and Pakistan, among other reasons, as the situation seemed to be spiralling out of control. There is truth in the assertion as tempers on both sides of the border had begun to flare up over the issue. Here, women activists had also jumped into the fray on Ayesha's behalf; a Kolkata imam was reported to have come out against Malik's denial of his marriage; and Sania was being castigated for her complicity.
The one worthwhile lesson to be drawn from the affair is that the Indian understanding of Muslim personal law with respect to marriage and divorce is much more liberal here than in some Islamic countries. The laxity in rules may be the reason why Malik and Sania chose to get married in India, taking advantage of the liberal application of Muslim law.
RUSSIA, CANADA, THE US, DENMARK AND NORWAY HAVE ALWAYS HAD A SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE ARCTIC OCEAN BY 'RIGHT OF BIRTH'. FROM NOW ON, THEY WILL HAVE TO COORDINATE THEIR 'HEREDITARY CLAIMS' WITH OTHERS, WRITES ANDREI FEDYASHIN
Although Arctic issues and those of the Arctic Ocean have only been discussed by the few littoral nations until now, it appears that the region will soon be re-organised on a grand scale.
On March 29, Chelsea, Canada hosted a meeting of Arctic Ocean Foreign Ministers from Canada, the United States, Russia, Denmark and Norway that share the shores of the Arctic Ocean.
One thing is clear from the meeting: Many other countries want access to the region. Nobody would dare tell China, who is openly eyeing the resource-rich Arctic, to keep out. The eventual re-division of the area's mineral resources seems inevitable.
It is high time everybody stopped wondering how many non-Arctic nations want access to the region, including its oil and gas deposits. In addition, the Arctic has a unique natural feature giving it natural-monopolist status. Due to global warming, Arctic sea passages in northern Russia and Canada remain ice-free for increasingly longer periods.
Year-round navigation would shorten merchant-marine traffic routes from China to Germany or the US East Coast by 6,000-7,000 km in one direction.
A carefully orchestrated effort by Ottawa to show international leadership on polar affairs by hosting an Arctic summit near Ottawa ended awkwardly on Monday after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticised Canada for excluding aboriginal leaders and three northern nations, Iceland, Finland and Sweden, as well as representatives from other indigenous groups, from attending.
"We need all hands on deck because there is a huge amount to do, and not much time to do it," Ms Clinton said.
She said Iceland, Sweden and Finland were also Arctic nations and had the same rights to resources in the Arctic Ocean and its seabed as the delegates of the upcoming conference on Arctic cooperation called 'The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue' scheduled for April 22-23 in Moscow.
This unprecedented Arctic forum will become the first large-scale project of the resurgent Russian Geographical Society, with RIA Novosti acting as manager. The conference is expected to include discussions on prospecting operations and the development of natural resources, including the Arctic shelf, environmental protection issues and expanding the region's transportation infrastructure.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had to explain that the Arctic summit did not infringe upon the Arctic Council, a high-level inter-governmental forum addressing issues faced by the Arctic Governments and the indigenous people of the Arctic.
Established in 1996 at the initiative of Finland, the Arctic Council is considered the main regional organisation comprising Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Canada, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US. In reality, the Council is even larger because the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, China, Italy and South Korea have already received observer status with it.
Washington did not rebuke Ottawa and defend the uninvited parties for nothing. The US and Canada have long been wrangling over large sectors of the Beaufort Sea. Consequently, any prospective allies could help settle this territorial dispute prior to the Arctic's division when claims will be voiced by almost everyone.
Denmark regularly quarrels with Canada for staking claims in Danish-controlled Greenland. Canada also argues with the US for the same reason. At the same time, Norway lays claim to 175,000 sq km of Russia's continental shelf in the Barents Sea.
Moreover, Russia and the US have not yet reached a consensus on a 1990 bilateral maritime boundary agreement in the north Pacific, also known as the Baker-Shevardnadze line/agreement, after the officials who signed the deal, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and US Secretary of State James Baker.
Beijing, which is also shifting its gaze in the direction of the Arctic, has started converting its theoretical Arctic research programmes into applied research. China's completely modernised Soviet-era Ukrainian-built Xuelong or Snow Dragon icebreaker, the largest conventional icebreaker in the world, currently plies Arctic waters.
Although China has no right to own Arctic shelf deposits, it would like littoral countries to establish legal rules in polar seas, as well as transparent and understandable navigation regulations, to demarcate borders, oil and gas fields, etc.
Consequently, China, the world's largest economy, would be able to more easily invest tremendous amounts in regional projects, to export its products and to receive imports accordingly.
Russia, Canada, the US, Denmark and Norway have always held a special interest in the Arctic Ocean by 'right of birth'. From now on, they will have to coordinate their 'hereditary claims' with others. And this will be even more difficult than discovering the North Pole.
--The writer is a Moscow-based commentator on current affairs.
RECESSION HAS SHOWN THE WORLD THAT RAPID PROGRESS COMES AT A PRICE
By convention all growth is measured in economic terms. Over a period of time, the manifestations of economic activity have incrementally got enlarged and the list is long.
It is plausible to argue that finance is too critical an area to be left to the specialist of finance. Similarly, all actions take place in the frame of an organisation, if the organisation is formally structured and technically cognisable it is often referred to as an enterprise. By the same token all activities require resources. The resources come in the form of information resource, natural resources, time, and resources of food and just about anything, tangible or intangible, which serves as an input. One of the latest entries into the list is health.
It would bear clarification to point out that the aftermath of the meltdown has an inherent requirement of exploring the boundaries of investments and doing it in an organised form. As is being increasingly recognised despite the many efforts already undertaken to improve the macroeconomic environment and reform the institutions believed to foster financial development; financial markets in most emerging economies remain relatively underdeveloped. There is scope for stable, internationalised, and better regulated financial systems to do far more in contributing to social and economic development. In the past, there are several examples where people have tried to exploit policy loopholes in creating wealth for them and left organisations to deal with the rest.
It is not surprising, therefore, that risk management has acquired such a critical position in management of corporate strategy. It consists of risks inherent in the task of accomplishing the objectives, risks of the contingent and the unforeseen, risks of what is understood in a limited manner or that which has not been mapped adequately. In operational terms it means policy choices and the risks which go with it. The trends are troubling the costs of getting risk management wrong are increasing as is the complexity and risk interdependencies of businesses. Scrutiny both by the regulators and by the stakeholders needs to be sharpened. The companies that manage risk smartly do fare better. What is needed is a plan to react quickly and proactively to risk.
The subprime crisis of 2008 has shown to the world that rapid growth comes at a price the price of risk of downturn. The capabilities, skills, and responsibilities required of finance professionals have changed markedly over the last decade. These emerging issues and responsibilities call for the redefinition of the role of the finance organisation in the governance process.
It is well-recognised that corporate governance can influence organisational performance because it influences the strategic management of an organisation and to do so it should have a well-thought-out organisational structure. In the well-accepted complexity of the current globalised environment, companies need to identify sources of relevant information, process it effectively to improve the efficiency of the organisation, address customer issues, improve the reporting standards, etc. Companies need to incrementally and continually move towards better integrations of policy, structure and processes. They also need to deploy more evolved types of social software to better integrate with the environment.
There is the obvious need to focus on concerns of Information Technology in a digital era and see how real can be their contribution to economic growth. Is it something that can be afforded in turns of the continuous needs of up scalability? Are we all being force to fuel a vertical of the industry which is virtually meant not only for high-tech indulgence or highexpense luxury? What are tradeoffs between investment in this sector and the growth fallout? Is IT ready for serious business or policy use and if so at what costs? Where are the trade-offs and the skill pools?
Well-designed internal websites for strategic activities, collaborations on projects or operational activities are a must. This can be in the form of intranets, portals blogs or wikis.
Embedding all this in the business reality and expectation of early recovery in the crisis hit countries is clearly a challenge ahead. The assumptions of growth are export generated by improved competitiveness and may not work out in its totality. The current accounts of some of the South-East Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand registering improvements have largely resulted from import contraction. What would be required to sustain and develop this momentum needs to be addressed on a more scientific and sustainable basis.
PLUG THE GAPS
While the scope of the latest data theft perpetrated by China-based hackers is alarming, the fact that it has occurred again is not particularly surprising. From the exposure of Ghostnet in March 2009 a cyber spying operation that was found to have infiltrated important networks in 103 countries including India to the hacking of Google servers that blew up into the China-Google fracas, cyber attacks traced to Chinese soil have become increasingly frequent over the past few years. What is more surprising is that despite having been burned last year, inadequate precautions seem to have been taken by the Indian government to guard against repeat occurrences. The scale of the data mining this time, as reported by a Canadian watchdog organisation, is extensive. Highly classified information stolen from the defence ministry pertains to defence matters and Naxalism, among other issues. Computers in various Indian embassies around the world have also been compromised.
If cyber security is not moved up on the government's list of priorities, the next attack is likely to be worse. That cyber warfare will increasingly be part of a state's suite of offensive and defensive mechanisms is indisputable. India's booming IT industry and rapidly growing network infrastructure is both an advantage and a vulnerability in this context.
Our legislative and security measures are struggling to keep pace. The Information Technology Act of 2000 is a catch-all legislation severely lacking in many respects. Government agencies lag in cyber forensic capabilities. Similarly, our bureaucrats and diplomats seem to be inadequately trained in best practices, such as never transferring sensitive data from a secure network to a personal or otherwise unsecured computer. Taken together, these paint a depressing picture of our ability to defend against further cyber raids.
It is time to take our cue from other countries that have taken the initiative in this area. Not just defence and security but Indian commercial interests are at stake. The US, for example, has a robust approach to cyber security, setting up specialised cells in its intelligence agencies coupled with research. One way to beef up India's cyber security infrastructure is to bring in the private sector in a big way, with adequate confidentiality clauses. Given the high profile and undoubted expertise of our IT sector, to disregard such a resource would be wasteful in the extreme. And that, as we have just seen, is something we cannot afford.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
LAW CATCHES UP
The Laxmanpur Bathe massacre is a throwback to a dark period in Bihar's history. Members of the Ranvir Sena, a private militia organised by upper-caste landlords, shot dead 58 Dalits in this village, 37 of them women and children, over a land dispute. A Patna court sentenced 16 of the killers to death and awarded life imprisonment to 10 others on Wednesday, 13 years after the incident. A lot has changed in Bihar. Significant among those changes is the decline in caste-related violence. The new energy in the state owes a lot to the calm that has held on tenuously in society. A major reason for the reduction in sectarian violence is the effort made by the state government to enforce law and order. Nobody should be beyond the reach of the law, and once this principle is seen to be enforced the politics of retribution loses its force. This has led to the slow emergence of a culture of accommodation among communities that were pitted against each other and could perceive social relations only in adversarial terms.
Caste dictated the political framework in the Bihar of the 1990s. It continues to be an influential issue, but other terms have entered the lexicon of political debate. Politicians like Nitish Kumar have expanded the meaning of empowerment to look beyond assertion of social and communal identities. The empowerment of citizens will remain a hollow promise in the absence of jobs, transport facilities, electricity and other basic amenities. The rule of law is a must to realise these promises. The sentencing in the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre sends out the message that the law will catch up with law-breakers. Such signals help to build a law-abiding society.
WHY LULA IS THE MAN
Brasilia: Recently, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton pressured Brazil's president Lula da Silva to join the US in imposing new sanctions against Iran. Lula rebuffed Clinton, saying it's "not prudent to push Iran against a wall". This is not what Clinton wanted to hear from a country that holds a rotating seat in the UN Security Council and is lobbying for a permanent one. Subsequently, in Tel Aviv, Lula shocked Israeli leaders by refusing to visit the tomb of the father of Zionism, Theodore Herzl. In May, he goes to Tehran to meet President Ahmadinejad, a move that a US newspaper described as "unworthy of a country that aspires to be considered an equal among the world's leaders". Is Lula behaving like a world leader?
Mocked by Brazil's chatterati for his fractured grammar, Lula has become a hit on the world stage with his Everyman style. At the London summit on the global financial crisis last year, on seeing Lula, US president Barack Obama shouted, "That's my man right here. Love this guy. He's the most popular politician on earth." Obama's gushing remarks came just a few days after the Brazilian had blamed the global crisis on "the irrational behaviour of people that are white, blue-eyed, that before the crisis looked like they knew everything about economics". Lula's remarks made the Brazilian elite cringe.
Set to leave office in nine months, Lula is travelling around the world and talking attacking the UN for its "caste system", blasting the rich world at Copenhagen, campaigning for a more global role for "emerging" countries and calling for a "dialogue" with Iran. This has made some western observers wonder if he is following Venezuela's Hugo Chavez as a "gladiator of the anti-imperialist battle".
Nothing could be further from the truth. Lula has become a hero at home and a statesman abroad for genuine reasons. In Brazil, his approval ratings are 76 per cent, a record for an outgoing president. His domestic accomplishments are unprecedented: since 2003, he has more than doubled the minimum wage to $300, helped lift 20 million Brazilians out of poverty, and brought public debt down to 35 per cent from 55 per cent of GDP. Last year, Brazil's reais was the fifth best-performing currency, inflation was down to 4 per cent and the country sailed through the economic crisis with hardly a bruise.
Thanks to Lula's social programmes, growth's biggest beneficiaries have been the poor for whom the president, who grew up polishing shoes and sharing a room with his mother and eight siblings, is a sign of hope. So high is Lula's popularity that he is even credited for the discovery of oil off the Brazilian shore. Brazil may soon become the third-largest producer of petroleum, and Lula has already announced plans to spend the oil income on anti-poverty plans.
Of course, Lula has made mistakes. There have been scandals in the government and he has been criticised by Workers Party leftists for "moving too much to the Centre". But no one disputes his biggest achievement: positioning Brazil in the world. Lula has converted economic muscle into global clout by pushing "south-south" trade and growing political ties with developing countries. That explains his stand on Iran, with whom Brazil's trade has grown by 40 per cent since 2003. So good is his chemistry with Ahmadinejad that Obama has asked Brazil to mediate between Iran and US, something Lula would love to do. Amid the row in Tel Aviv, Lula called for "someone with neutrality" to mediate the Middle East peace process. And he didn't mean Tony Blair.
Once laughed at by Copacabana's caipirhinha-sipping elite that "feared" Lula might embarrass Brazil abroad, the former metal worker has shown a solid grasp of foreign affairs. During his first term, he worked on closer ties with India, China and South Africa. Today, China, not the US, is Brazil's biggest trading partner. Playing a crucial role in the creation of IBSA and BASIC two groups involving Brazil, India, China and South Africa Lula has become the most vocal proponent of emerging nations on global issues ranging from finance to climate change. With the non-aligned movement as good as dead, these groups have become the voice of Asia, Africa and Latin America in global affairs. Calling him "a referent to emerging countries and also to the developing world", in 2009, a leading French daily named Lula "Man of the Year".
Lula is the man of the moment because he has followed a simple formula of strengthening the domestic economy, delinking the financial system from the US, cultivating ties with emerging countries and following an independent foreign policy. It's because of this he can speak his mind on any issue. Call it his good luck, but a lack of charismatic leadership in other emerging nations too has helped. Today, China and India are led by technocrats, not mass leaders, South Africa has failed to produce a well-known leader since Nelson Mandela and Russian president Vladimir Putin lacks democratic credentials. In such a scenario, Lula grabbed the opportunity with both hands. An Indian leader with imagination might have written this role for himself.
'CHILDHOOD BLINDNESS IS NOT GIVEN IMPORTANCE IN INDIA'
Dr K Bhujang Shetty , chairman, Narayana Nethralaya, Bangalore, is on a mission to eradicate curable blindness among infants and restore vision in adults and senior citizens. He tells Nirmala Nagaraj about the status, progress and hurdles in preventing blindness in India:
Has tackling visual impairment in India been a big challenge?
Yes. In developed countries, the incidence of blindness is 0.3 per cent, but in India, 1.1 per cent of the population suffers from it.
Why has prevention of childhood blindness been your focus?
In India, annually there are 27 million live births and of these, 8.8 per cent weigh below two kg. So close to two million babies are at risk of being affected by Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), a big cause of blindness among infants. Over the past few decades, with advances in neonatal care, we've been able to save premature babies, but without access to timely care, these infants become visually impaired. Since these are treatable diseases, our mission is to shield children from them.
How can we address this issue?
Unfortunately, childhood blindness is not given importance in India. Without access to timely treatment, children are suffering from irreversible visual impairment. Two years ago, we started Project ROP in which we screened premature babies in seven districts in Karnataka. We screened over 2,000 premature babies and of these, around 200 were diagnosed with ROP and 200 babies were saved from blindness.
Project ROP and Narayana Nethralaya are recognised as models for preventing rural infant blindness... Narayana Nethralaya started Project ROP in 2007 in seven districts of Karnataka. Now, along with the state government, in a private-public partnership under the National Rural Health Mission, we extended the service to all districts in the state. The central government is considering adopting a similar model in other states. There are only 350 retinal surgeons in India and less than 20 centres providing comprehensive ROP screening. Through teleophthalmology, we reach infants in remote and rural areas. Our trained technicians with portable Retcams travel in a mobile unit and screen premature babies.
We have developed a unique telemedicine software. Our doctors can view, diagnose and produce reports of images, which get beamed onto their phones. With Karnataka State Internet Assisted Diagnosis of ROP, our experts can diagnose the problem of an infant in remote villages.
With increased life expectancy, cataract is a big problem.
About 40 per cent of people above 50 years are likely to be affected by cataract. Fortunately, it is reversible, so through a series of camps by government and private hospitals and NGOs, we can control cataract. The number of surgeries has doubled.
How will the increase in the number of diabetics affect cases of blindness?
Diabetes is one of the common causes of blindness. But, people don't realise that the eye is as important as the heart or the kidney. They don't take precautions at an early stage. Eyesight can be affected even with proper sugar control, as vision is related to the duration of the disease. Patients suffering from diabetes for over 10 years are at risk of developing vision problems.
What progress have we made in gene therapy?
Currently, our focus is on identifying defective genes. We are collaborating with several international organisations in the UK and Canada. Research in gene therapy is vital for India as blindness related to consanguineous marriages, which is common in India, can be addressed.
A SOLDIER'S SON
The son finds the soldier's picture by chance, with other old family photographs yellow with age. The portrait shows a young man in a Territorial Army uniform carrying a Lee Enfield rifle. The eyes are steadfast, the chin resolute. There are no shadows of doubt or hesitancy.
The soldier had always wanted to be a soldier, but he was obliged to run the family business. So he did the next best thing; he joined the Territorial Army. Even that had not proved easy. During the British raj Hindus were considered untrustworthy and were not welcome in reservist forces such as the Territorial Army. So the soldier adopted the Christian name of D'Souza in order to enlist; Indian Christians were considered more 'reliable'.
Why had the soldier wanted to become a soldier, when his country was under colonial masters? Was he not a patriot? He was an ardent patriot. But his was a practical patriotism, untinged with sentimentalism. The soldier believed, rightly or wrongly, that the open secret which had enabled a handful of British to rule over us for so long was to be found in one word: discipline. Those who had colonised us had done so by virtue of a mental and physical discipline, so focused and so different from the teeming anarchy that seemed inherent to India.
The soldier knew that one day his country would break free of the foreign yoke. It would do so not through force of arms but through a social and moral revolution, the first stirrings of which were already evident. When that revolution had fulfilled itself, and his country was free at last, the soldier knew that it would need to master itself, discipline itself, so that its newfound liberty did not degenerate into licence. That's why the soldier wanted to be a soldier. To learn the Enemy's secret and make it his own, and his country's own. He wanted to learn discipline. Which, as he understood it, was the ability to generate from within the rule of order and symmetry to unseat the tyranny of chaos.
As the self-styled D'Souza, the soldier learnt the synchronised precision of the parade ground and the arms drill, the casteless camaraderie of the evening campfire when his unit went on weekend field exercises. No one saw through the soldier's disguise except for the sergeant-major, a gruff Yorkshire man with a flinty sense of humour. Though his hair was cropped short in a military cut, the soldier had retained his tikki, the short braid of hair on the crown of the scalp that many Hindus grew. Headgear removed in the glow of the campfire, the tikki was clearly visible. "I swear, D'Souza, you're the only bluidy Christian ah've seen who wears a bluidy tikki on his head," said the sergeant-major. But he didn't blow the whistle on the soldier. The soldier was a good soldier. That was what mattered; not his religion.
The soldier died when his son was only five. The soldier had wanted his son to be a soldier too, but it didn't work out. The son didn't have the aptitude, or the inclination. But perhaps more than that was the difference between India as it was then and the country the soldier's son inherited. Then, the battlelines and the Enemy were clear: freedom from foreign rule. Today we have adversaries across the border. But, 60 years after independence, in the name of hunger and exploitation the red flag of revolt has been unfurled in almost one-third of the country. Where are the battlelines, where is the Enemy? Outside, or within, or both? How to fight an Enemy within, which is ourselves? The son doesn't know the answer.
I wonder if the soldier would have, i ask myself as i put away the photograph of my father.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A PHONE CALL AWAY
At the height of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, legend has it that it took the US nearly 12 hours to receive and decode Nikita Khrushchev's 3,000-word settlement message. The potentially catastrophic consequence s led to a reliable communication link, the famous "hotline", being wired between American and Soviet leaders, to instantly clarify the shadowy catalysts of brinkmanship. The agreement inked by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Chinese counterpart to establish a hotline between India and China's premiers may lack that chilling impetus, but it nonetheless marks a different kind of diplomacy.
Indian engagement with China has often oscillated between two extremes: rhetorical romance and aggressive posturing, especially on the risks a rising neighbour poses to our security. Both positions are unhelpful: they risk causing disappointment, or worse. What is needed is constant communication and interaction. In other words, unsentimental engagement, the bread and butter of routine diplomacy, where areas of mutual interest are cemented and disagreements sorted out. The hotline, even if symbolic, makes this point forcefully.
India's many quibbles range from immediate concerns on China's trade surplus, its currency valuation and stapled visas to Kashmiris to long-term sores on boundary lines and on China's historic ties to Pakistan. China has its own concerns, notably Indian restrictions on Chinese investments and workers. To not talk it over would be to allow media musings and provocative speeches to dictate the agenda rather than the careful calibrations of diplomacy as has too often happened in the recent past.
Reports suggest that besides setting up a hotline, the AfPak situation was also discussed. This is surely an area of common concern, one where a joint approach might strengthen the hand of each. It is hoped that Krishna's current visit and President Pratibha Patil's forthcoming one take this engagement to the next level.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A DEATH IN ALIGARH
We do not yet know if Shrinivas Siras, poet, Marathi teacher, and professor at Aligarh Muslim University, took his own life. We do know that the months prior to his being found dead in a flat in Aligarh's Durga Wadi neighbourhood were filled with disappointment, frustration and anger, as the institution to which he had given more than two decades of service turned away from him because of who he was. Siras had to turn to the courts: last Friday the Allahabad high court stayed his suspension from the AMU faculty, and ordered the university to reverse its decision expelling him from faculty housing in which he had been filmed in an act of consensual sex, which the filmers passed on to the university administration, which instead of being horrified at this blatant invasion of a teacher's privacy, suspended him. Because, of course, Siras' partner was also a man.
Aligarh Muslim University was born of Syed Ahmad Khan's modernising impulse, and has had a long history of intellectual engagement with liberalism. It claims excellence in the study of the dispossessed, of labour movements, of the victims of political violence. Yet the presence of a gay professor, they say, would destroy "the great moral credentials that AMU has been nurturing since its inception", tarnish its "valued cultural ethos". On the very day that the court directed AMU to reinstate Siras, the dean of its law faculty, M. Shabbir, told a university audience that homosexuality would be "fatal to the religious and cultural ethos and social equilibrium and morality". Such bigotry undercuts all AMU's glorious historical claims. Liberalism is not a cafeteria; you cannot withhold compassion from some, lavish it on others.
Shabbir's lecture notionally discussed the decriminalisation of homosexuality. The epochal reading down of Section 377 by the Delhi high court achieved this much at least: Siras' harassment by AMU could be halted by a court, could be condemned free of fear. The next step will need universities to lead in ending the ostracism of homosexuals, including in their faculty.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Notwithstanding the profuse outpouring of grief and concern in the wake of the Maoist massacre of security personnel in Dantewada on Tuesday, Indian public and political opinion has, as a rule, been characterised by apathy towards the working conditions and combat imperatives of the paramilitary and police. This general unconcern (and many strongly-held assumptions in ministerial circles) is what Tuesday's tragedy will ultimately trail back to, since it also marked the strategic and tactical naïveté that allowed 76 personnel to be mowed down at will by ambushing Maoists. Since things must change post-Dantewada, it is best to begin with the misconception that has not allowed us to consider paramilitary personnel as anything more than merely better armed policemen, for whom imbibing a military ethos in mindset, training, command structures is sacrilegious. If anybody yet has any doubt about Maoist motivation, discipline and ability to execute, that should have been laid to rest on Tuesday the CRPF and state police forces involved in Operation Green Hunt are combating a militarised enemy.
Tactical campaigns necessarily involve deception and resultant surprise; and, in an operation on uncharted forest terrain, Maoists will break through the grid to surprise or ambush once in a while. But if that leads to butchery on Tuesday's scale, with almost no scope for counter-attack, it implies training and command problems within the paramilitary. Even as CRPF-police coordination is aggressively reaffirmed, it is time to revisit the Kargil Review Committee and its recommendations for restructuring the paramilitary and upgrading their training and armament standards, along with facilitating manpower movement among the armed and paramilitary forces, such as earlier release of military personnel for absorption into the paramilitary; or putting army officers in command of specially trained and deployed paramilitary companies. Much of this will skirt the political problems of deploying the military within our borders against an internal enemy.
Paramilitaries like the CRPF, battling the Naxals, are engaged in combat against a well-trained, well-armed and highly-motivated adversary, not in mere restoration of civil administration in lawless regions. To keep this in mind is to ask for an overhaul of those of their standard operating procedures at odds with ground reality. Of course, the option of using air power has been kept open. However, the primary focus is revamping the paramilitary, whose training, organisation and operational tactics must change, not their identity of who they are. In other words: a civilian paramilitary, but with a military edge.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
C. RAJA MOHAN
As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travels over the weekend to join a nuclear security summit in Washington DC, his host, President Barack Obama is unleashing a big shift in atomic affairs.
Landing in Washington amidst a consequential debate on nuclear weapons, Dr Singh will need to inject a measure of innovation into India's own arms control policies beyond the oft-repeated goal of comprehensive disarmament. India needs to signal this week that its nuclear diplomacy is flexible enough to straddle the middle ground between the total abolition of nuclear weapons and doing nothing.
Obama's new nuclear measures, covering this intermediate space, include major reductions in the US nuclear arsenal and a commitment not to develop new nuclear weapons. Obama has also promised not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations that are in compliance with their non-proliferation obligations. The president's exclusion of Iran and North Korea from this important doctrinal shift has generated some criticism; but there is no doubt that Obama is moving US nuclear weapons policy in the right direction.
Equally significant is Obama's assurance that he will not retaliate with nuclear weapons to an attack on the United States and its allies with chemical or biological weapons. These decisions are all part of the nuclear posture review, released in Washington earlier this week. This is the third revision of the US nuclear theology since the end of the Cold War, during which Washington had built thousands of nuclear weapons, deployed them around the world and threatened to use them frequently.
At the end of the Cold War, Bill Clinton made no effort to challenge the nuclear status quo. George W. Bush revised the nuclear doctrine in the other direction and made it more muscular. Obama's emphasis, in contrast, is on reducing the role of nuclear weapons in the US national security strategy.
A day after unveiling a nuclear doctrine, Obama flew into Prague in Central Europe to sign a nuclear arms reduction agreement with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The agreement will mark the first anniversary of Obama's speech in Prague last year when he promised to move the US and the world, slowly and step by step, towards the long-term goal of nuclear abolition.
Next week at the nuclear security summit in Washington, Obama will promote a new international consensus on securing vulnerable nuclear material and strengthen the international resolve to contain the threat of nuclear terrorism.
All this sets the stage for India to rediscover its forceful voice on global nuclear arms control. At the dawn of the nuclear age, India continually came up with new ideas to dampen the nuclear confrontation among the superpowers. India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, supported the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, promoted a comprehensive nuclear test ban, campaigned for a freeze on the production of nuclear material, and actively participated in the building of new global institutions such as the International Atomic Energy Agency. The last such Indian initiative was the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan for Nuclear Disarmament that was presented to the United Nations in 1988.
Some of the recent Indian defensiveness was, of course, rooted in the need to protect India's nuclear arsenal from external pressures after the Cold War. Having won the international acceptance of India's nuclear arsenal under the India-US civil nuclear initiative and regained access to the global nuclear energy markets, India can now afford to be forward-looking in its nuclear diplomacy.
One initiative that the PM could consider is in limiting the use of nuclear weapons. While Obama has taken a big step towards the traditional Indian understanding that the only purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter their use by others, Delhi has moved away.
After the Pokharan tests in 1998, then-Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was unambiguous in his declaration that India's nuclear doctrine was "non-use" against non-nuclear states and "no-first use" against other nuclear powers.
The NDA government later modified this doctrine to leave the option open for use of nuclear weapons against chemical and biological attacks. In the changed context of the global nuclear debate today, Dr Singh could review the Indian position and return it to the old moorings on no-first use.
In another move, the PM should strongly support the key pillar of the global non-proliferation system, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. During his last visit to the US there was some misreading of the PM's remarks about joining the NPT under certain circumstances.
The fact, however, is that the NPT can't be revised to India's satisfaction. Instead of focusing on that hypothetical possibility, Dr Singh must strongly and unilaterally affirm India's support to the NPT. The PM must make it clear that Delhi will uphold all the obligations and responsibilities of the nuclear weapon states under the NPT.
Finally, the real opportunity for India this week lies in exploring with the rest of the world leaders the intersection of two major threats to regional and international security.
One set of issues relate to nuclear terrorism: that is at the top of the agenda in the Washington summit. Another is a set of facts that Washington finds it hard to discuss in public that the Pakistan army nurtures the world's biggest network engaged in illicit trafficking of nuclear material, and also some of the most deadly terror groups in the world.
The first theme nuclear terrorism will dominate the formal discussions at the summit. It is on the second, however, that Dr Singh would want to know if Obama's revolution will lead to greater transparency on Washington's part and a readiness to engage India on the nuclear challenges right next door to it.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THOUGHTS FOR FOOD
Few would question the right to food activists' criticism of the government's watered-down draft on the Food Security Bill. But the assumption that simply raising the quantity of subsidised grain and increasing the number of poor families entitled to such benefits is a complete answer to the complex problem of hunger and malnutrition is also misplaced. Past experience has shown that despite the government's willingness to act, and huge budget allocations for food subsidies India spends more than any other country on official nutrition programmes the impact has been minimal. India has a malnutrition rate of 46 per cent, and it has fallen by a mere 2 per cent in the last decade. In comparison, other countries have been far more successful in the battle against hunger. In Bangladesh, for instance, malnutrition rates fell by some 6 per cent in 10 years.
There is a lacuna in the implementation of our food security schemes because of leakages, failure of delivery systems (the government admitted on Wednesday that 20 per cent of its wheat is stored in the open), confused policies, corruption, inadequate monitoring and the lack of scientific interventions. Before rushing to announce a populist measure like food security, it makes sense to first learn from past mistakes. It is not legislation alone which is required, but an accompanying strategy which is both cost-effective and efficient. Otherwise budgets on food subsidies can end up merely as figures on paper.
Already, there is a debate questioning the Planning Commission's definition of poverty. By the commission's standards, only 27.5 per cent of the population falls below the poverty line. The Planning Commission's unrealistic cut-off mark of Rs 540 a month would suggest that the country's malnutrition rates are 20 per cent higher than the poverty levels.
Apart from a realistic definition of poverty levels, the draft of the Food Security Bill has omitted two crucial aspects. It has completely ignored the most vulnerable section of the population, those under two years of age. Also, the proposed hunger satiation programme gives no thought to the nutritional aspect of the food provided.
Modern medicine has categorised hunger into two types: the gnawing hunger because of inadequate calories, and the hidden hunger brought about by a diet lacking essential vitamins and minerals. While the two conditions are often interchangeable, it is in the latter category that much of India's malnourished population falls. Seventy five per cent of Indian children suffer from anaemia caused by lack of iron; 50 per cent get less than half their daily requirement of Vitamin A.
Ideally, the entire population should be beneficiaries of our subsidised public food programmes, but with limited resources it makes sense to focus first on those sections of the population which are in the greatest need of nutrition interventions. These target groups can be categorised not just on the basis of income, but also by age and geographical distribution.
The group most vulnerable to malnutrition is children under two years and pregnant and lactating mothers. Inadequate diet for infants leads to the retardation of physical and mental development, susceptibility to disease and low energy levels. And these conditions are often irreversible. The poor health of a pregnant and lactating mother impacts both on herself and her child. A third of Indian babies are underweight, weighing less than 2.5 kilograms.
The right to food activists have very correctly stressed the importance of amalgamating women and child welfare schemes and giving them statutory cover. Ironically, because of this powerful lobby's emphasis on hot-cooked meals, at the expense of all other nutrition interventions, most ICDS Anganwadis today make no distinction between tiny tots and children aged three to six. They forget that children between the ages of six months to one year have a gastric capacity of not more than 30 grams and require a totally different diet. Last year, the Ministry of Women and Child Development sent out guidelines to state governments, laying down nutrition norms for the ICDS. It recommended take-home rations of blended fortified mixes for children under three and fortified hot-cooked meals for older children. But there has been no attempt to enforce these guidelines. In fact, government policy remains unclear.
The proposed food bill could also benefit from studying the successful model provided by the National Rural Health Mission, which has focused largely on those regions in the country which have the worst health indices. Statistics show that 10 per cent of India's villages and districts account for
28 per cent of malnutrition. It is logical to concentrate on these most vulnerable areas at the start, rather than aiming at a uniform application in the first go. Today, nutrition programmes work best in the more affluent states and are practically non-functional in poorer districts and tribal regions. By spreading its net too widely from the beginning, there is a danger that what should be the flagship legislation of UPA-II could come a cropper.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
The killing of 75 central reserve police force (CRPF) personnel in the Chintalnar hamlet in Dantewada district of Chhattisragh is the biggest ever attack on the security forces in the history of Maoist movement since 1967. For the first time, such a large number of SF personnel were killed despite repeated reminders from the Union government to abide by the standard operating procedure (SOP). But it is clear now that even if the security forces were to abide by the SOPs, the Maoists have the capability to attack them at will.
In the Chintalnar case, the Maoists adopted the tactics they used in the Alampakka attacks, in which thirty six Greyhound commandos of the Andhra Pradesh police were killed and 10 others wounded when the CPI-Maoist cadres attacked a motor-launch in the Chitrakonda reservoir in Orissa on June 29, 2008. They attacked the Greyhound team when it was returning to their base camp in a relaxed mood after a joint operation with the Orissa police. The basic Maoist tactics adopted in the Alampakka attack were "attack the enemy while it retreats" and "ambush the enemy in the course of its march" (clearly mentioned in the Maoist manual).
The timing, place and nature of special operation forces in the Chintalnar attack need to be analysed. The attack was carried out from a hilltop by around 1,000 armed cadres with IEDs, LMGs and AK series rifles. The attack took place in the early morning while the CRPF platoons were returning to their base camp after opening a road for the troops to begin an area domination operation, codenamed Operation Green Hunt, against the Maoists, for three days in the jungles. Interestingly, the platoon returned without any encounter with Maoists during their operations in the jungles. They were confident, complacent and in a relaxed mood. It seemed they were under the impression that they had driven out Maoist armed cadres and the area was free from any danger. But unfortunately the SFs were not aware of the Maoist tactics. The Maoists had allowed them unhindered access to the area to conduct their operation, which must have added to their level of complacency.
As the reports suggest, the SFs were attacked from six different directions. It was initiated with an IED explosion followed by ambush with automatic rifles to cause maximum casualties on the enemy. It was meticulously planned with strong local intelligence. The precision of the attack indicates the possibility of some moles in the CRPF camp. The Maoists were well aware of the return plan of the platoons. They also knew that the platoons were tired after the operation.
It is well-known that while Maoists are heavily dependent on the militia, the police have lost the confidence of the locals, which affects their intelligence. It is difficult for paramilitary forces to operate in a Maoist affected area with zero intelligence. That gives Maoists an upper hand over the paramilitary forces. One of the major weaknesses of the CRPF in this region has been its dependence on special police officers (SPOs), who are recruited from the Salwa Judum groups in the Bastar region. It is also suspected that some SPOs are in touch with Maoists.
Moreover, Maoists have made elaborate arrangements to counter any kind of anti-Maoist operations in their strategic areas. The CPI-Maoist politburo has already passed a resolution to prepare and mobilise the entire party and their sympathisers. As part of this strategy, the central military commission was asked to plant landmines to protect their so-called strategic areas like in Malkangiri, Gadchiroli, Maad region in Chhattisgarh and Sarenda forest in Jharkhand. Simultaneously, their front organisations were mobilised to form a human chain in those strategic areas and carry out demonstrations against the operations in urban areas. Last but not least, in such cases, since Maoists are already aware of the operation, they usually disperse, relocate their forces, and either dump their weapons in a safe place or form smaller attack groups to carry out attacks on security forces. They also move their strike or action groups out of their strategic locations to avoid any confrontation with the security forces. According to the police sources, Katakam Sudarshan alias Anand is a central committee member of the CPI-Maoist who was assigned to stall the joint operations including Operation Green Hunt in Chhattisgarh.
While the Maoists are all set for a long battle, the affected states are running short of trained manpower, logistics and local intelligence. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General report in March 2010, Chhattisgarh is short of 20 per cent of the required weapons. The report says: "The police headquarters had assessed a total requirement of 47,265 units (of weapons) under various categories, against which the availability was 37,911 units only. Therefore, there was an overall shortage of 9,354 units (20 per cent of the requirement) for the whole state." There is also differences of opinion between some affected states and the Union government on tackling the menace.
There are allegations that the local police also do not pass the information to concerned authorities to avoid taking any risk to their lives and family members. Immediately after the Chintalnar attack, Chhattisgarh State Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar admitted that there was poor "coordination between state police and paramilitary force". For example, the Mizo battalion deployed in the Sukma area in 2007 had huge coordination problems with local police officers. Second, in Chhattisgarh, many local police personnel do not want to cooperate because they have been posted in that area for more than their assigned years.
This kind of attack is neither a victory for the Maoists nor a defeat for the state. Such attacks are inevitable while both the state and Maoists try to dominate a particular area. Instead of carelessly deploying security forces in the jungles, there is a need for taking adequate action to block the resources and small-arms supply routes of the Maoists to prevent such losses in future.
The writer is associate fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. His research area is the Maoist insurgency in South Asia
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
News is not only being paid for, but also created out of thin air and then stolen by the ever news-starved web portals and 24x7 news channels. All without acknowledging the source or even verifying the facts. A major Hindi daily in Delhi to prove this, sported on All Fool's day, not one or two but four audacious and entirely cooked up stories: Sania's mother in law fulminates to a Pakistani daily against her star bahu wearing mini skirts, Modi to be the next prime ministerial candidate for the BJP, Mulayam's daughter in law on the war path, and Ashwariya Rai as the next Bond Girl. The editors having planted the stories early in the morning on their portal, lay in wait for the "thieves" to cut and paste these on their sites as "Breaking News". They did not have to wait for too long. Soon all four stories had surfaced on numerous portals and several news channels were calling to check on the contact number for the Pakistani "source". One channel, unable to control itself, began carrying the stories with the help of stock footage. The fact that the Sania story was sourced to a non-existent Pakistani daily by the name of
"Nishan-e-Jung" , went entirely unnoticed by the news gatherers and their editors.
The daily then quickly arranged for screen shots of the plagiarised stories on various web sites and ran a story the next day, titled "April Fool Banaya to Unko Idea Aaya..." .
News that creates great newspapers and media establishments, that, incidentally, still trains and lends the visual media most of its seasoned hands, will need time, money, sophistication, and expertise qualities notably in short supply in the IRS / NRS / TAM driven media today. For the last 150 years (since Joseph Pulitzer's New York World introduced the crossword), the ideal or near ideal mix for a newspaper was 15 per cent hard news plus 35 per cent soft (people pleaser) stories and the rest features, entertainment cartoons, astrological predictions, and such like . It was however, the lure of handling this 15 per cent part of a newspaper that attracted the best minds and skilled hands into the business. Those fabled seven, eight - figure salaries flashy cars and farm house parties came only in the last decade. But despite its small size, hard news, as demonstrated by this corps of committed news wallahs was, and continues to be, the part that wins the newspapers and their men and women the most prestigious awards, citations and public praise and brings the media house a mantle of honour and respectability along with handsome profits.
In an age of iPods and iPhones, citizen journalists and film actor editors of the day, 24x7 channels set the pace for "breaking news", Tweeting is the most favoured format and SMSing the new language. How does one gather and then effectively anchor news stories for the new and distracted readers/ viewers, linking them to the warmth of a recognisable community of fellow humans? This is the major challenge that faces the print, television and web portals. There are no villains in this story, only a mad scramble to survive a sudden shifting of the earth's crust and the need to fill the new and vast spaces with news that gets stale within the hour and must be revived with spit and polish or simply cast aside and replaced with another "breaking news." Trivial news is not affected by the crisis nor will it be. But the disappearance of the hard news as we knew it is dangerous because however much the new breed of managers and smart alecky media barons may try to belittle its importance, it is this core that feeds all branches of the media including the search engines. The big question in this age of the Cyber Kalki is, who pays for hard news, the life blood of the freedom of opinion?
The writer is a Delhi-based journalist and chairperson of Prasar Bharati
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
In a run-up to the triangular tales of Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik's marriage and divorce involving a Hyderabadi woman, Ayesha Siddiqui, and the Indian tennis star, Sania Mirza, most papers have expressed disapproval of the "overkill" by the media. Rashtriya Sahara, in an editorial on April 4, writes : "The media has shown such great interest in this (Shoaib-Sania) marriage that the entire tension on India-Pakistan borders has vanished and everybody has forgotten that there is any other problem also between the two countries. But it is a matter of great sorrow that no stone has been left unturned in hurting the sentiments of a popular and renowned player like Sania".
Most papers have also come down heavily on Shiv Sena leader Balasaheb Thackeray and ABVP for their concerted attacks on Sania for choosing a Pakistani as her life partner. They tend to avoid the complexities born out of the claims made by Ayesha Siddiqui. In fact there are virtually no editorial comments on the drama.
Hyderabad's Siasat though, has spent considerable space on the saga terming it "aq de Sania" (a reference to the second nikaah, and a pun on Sania's name). An online poll by the paper has also queried if the drama has impacted on IPL viewing!
Delhi-based Jadeed Khabar, in its editorial (April 5) writes: "The decision about Shoaib's marriage with Sania
neither proves that the Indian Muslims are with this decision nor is there any need for the country's Muslims to form an opinion on the decision of the Shoaib-Sania marriage".
Delhi, Kolkata and Ranchi-based daily, Akhbar-e-Mashriq, in a witty editorial (April 4) says what may be a revelation to many: "It is interesting that Imran Mirza, the father of Sania Mirza, had, following the breaking up of Shoaib Malik's engagement with Ayesha, also of Hyderabad, said: 'Sialkot and Hyderabad! No, no! Punjabi parantha and Hyderabadi biryani can never mix'. It's an irony of fate that Sania, daughter of the same Imran Mirza, is getting married to Shoaib Malik. It seems a relationship of co-existence between Punjabi parantha and Hyderabadi biryani has been established and now Shoaib and Sania would savour both eatables simultaneously." In a somewhat similar vein, Bangalore-based daily, Salaar, in its editorial on March 31, writes: "When both will be playing for their respective countries, then obviously they would have acute shortage of time. There would be pressure on the marital life." It adds: "The PCB has inflicted a ban for a year on Shoaib Malik and he would have ample time during the year. But Sania Mirza will be busy preparing for the forthcoming Commonwealth and Asian Games."
Writing about the judgment of a court of Karnal in Haryana in the case of the
"honour killing" of a couple of the same
gotra, Rashtriya Sahara, in an editorial on April 1, says: "The judgment of the court is very significant as it would put a stop to the illegal decisions taken by panchayats of communities (biradaris) in different parts of the country."
Delhi-based daily Hamara Samaj (April 1) makes a reasonable suggestion on the same day: "There is need to have a separate cell for exercising control on cruel decisions of panchayats, that should present a report after a survey in different areas. Preventive steps should be taken in the light of such a report. It is necessary to assess the pathetic condition of oppressed sections and victims of atrocities in these areas of the society so that they can receive help from the government."
As the Census 2011 gets under way, there is an effort at informing the members of the minority community about its importance. Congress MP from Kishenganj and writer, Asrarul Haque Qasimi, in his column (April 6), describes the Census as "the greatest historical responsibility on the shoulders of Muslims." He warns that "it has come to be known that a big and considerable population of the country keeps itself aloof from an important activity like the Census. It is necessary to clarify that a large section of Indian Muslims are victims of this state of affairs." He attributes this to the general disinterestedness and lack of commitment on the part of the Census personnel. "And, above this, high officials deliberately work against the Muslims," he writes. As "all planning of different ministries of the government is done on the basis of the population count of different communities and classes," members of the minority community should be careful about providing all the information asked for. He also cautions about not being misled by certain false propaganda within the minority community itself against Census operations. In an editorial, Delhi-based Hindustan Express (April 2) also expresses similar views and pleads for full cooperation to the information seekers from the Census office.
Compiled by Seema Chishti
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
CALLING THE BIDS
It seems almost difficult to believe that the auctions for 3G spectrum and wireless broadband services will actually kick off today, given the numerous delays and countless controversies that have dogged what will be India's first spectrum auction. Of all the stakeholders involved, the consumer has undoubtedly suffered the most from this long delay, having to wait much longer than consumers in most other countries to get access to high-speed broadband and value-added 3G telecom services. Even now, the rollout of the services only begins by at least the end of this year if not until early 2011that's the natural lag between winning a licence and actually setting up the infrastructure to roll out services. Apart from consumers, even telecom companies are set to gain from the rollout of 3G in particular. The Indian mobile market being one of the most competitive in the world, tariff wars have put extreme pressure on the profit margins of all major telecom companies. The value-added services that come with 3G will open a new revenue stream that will also be more profitable over the medium term. Of course, the telecom industry, too, must share some of the blame for the delay. Many were reluctant to commit huge sums of precious resources through the period of the economic slowdown and were happy to play along with the delays.
Still, there is little doubt that the bulk of the responsibility for the delay lies at the door of the government, chiefly the department of telecom presided over by A Raja. The same department had earlier handed out some 2G licences on a first-come first-served basis, causing considerable loss to the exchequer. And it did little to expedite the process of 3G auctions, which ought to have actually happened sometime in the summer of 2008, before the financial crisis broke out in September. The defence forces and their parent ministry also played their part by delaying the handing over of spectrum to DoT, the kind of turf war someone in the government ought to have stepped in to avoid. In any case, the auctions, when they finally happen, will hopefully leave behind all the problems that have surrounded the process until now. Apart from consumers and operators, there is a lot at stake for the government as well, which is banking on the auctions yielding at least Rs 35,000 crore for its revenue kitty.
COUNTERING THE MAOISTS
Almost the entire Alpha Company of the CRPF was eviscerated in the Maoist attack at Dantewada on Tuesday. The PM has said that we are too close to the event to take a view on the modifications that must be made to existing policy. Indeed, rushing into policy changes is not desirable. Any change in direction must be preceded by substantive reflection. Concerned players and successful models should be debated. Years ago, Manmohan Singh had created a furore by categorising the Maoist insurgency as India's greatest internal security threat. Who would question that claim today? The brutality of Tuesday's massacre would have shaken up even those who had grown apathetic to news of violence from India's red corridor. Many explanations are floating aroundranging from faulty intelligence to an uncooperative local police. But the bottom line is that an 80-strong CRPF contingent, which was both well-armed and theoretically well-drilled in counter-insurgency measures, was apparently not much more than a sitting duck when the Maoist guerrillas attacked them. There is no question, in this instance, that the Maoist reconnaissance soundly outdid the state's forces. As a corollary, there is no question that the training, organisation and leadership of forces that are being deployed in the red corridor need a serious upgrade.
If a crude differentiation between India's economic and security interests were possible in any instance, this is not one of them. There is broad consensus that our future economic growth will substantially depend on growth in infrastructure investment and project completion. This, in turn, will demand an intensified growth in steel and other metals, cement and power, factories and railway lines, and the like. Given that a lot of necessary resources for such projects rest in Maoist-affected areas, given that Maoist threats (and delays in approval for land in general) have stalled some $80 billion worth of projects, and given that the affected players range from MNCs like Posco and ArcelorMittal to domestic giants like NMDC, there is no question that India's future is intimately tied up with an improved ability to counter this insurgency. We cannot progress in this direction without making sure that another CRPF contingent doesn't walk into a deadly blind alley next week. Better synergies, at least on training, with the Army would help. It will also be a good idea to consider success stories like the Andhra Greyhounds seriously. This elite anti-Maoist unit also took heavy casualties but it appears to have been enviably successful in its mission.
6.5% MIGHT BE A 'NEUTRAL' POLICY RATE
In my column last week, I looked back on the key drivers of RBI's monetary policy stance during the previous episode of tightening since 2005-06, in the context of the three major decision variablestiming, choice of instruments and extentthat were observed and the outcome of that particular sequence of tightening. I stated that the initial period of gradual tightening of repo and reverse repo rates in 2005 and 2006 had probably been relatively ineffective, and only an augmentation through CRR increases and then a rapid intense burst of policy interest rates led to a cooling off of key outcome expectations.
There are indications that RBI is also thinking along these lines. A relatively steep phased 75-basis-point increase in the CRR, phased through February, preceded the repo rate increase in mid-March. How is this tightening likely to play out through 2010? The first issue is clearly the determination of a neutral policy rate that balances 'potential' output and inflation. Determination of a so-called non-accelerating rate of unemployment (output) is probably more suited for mature economies and remains analytically and statistically challenging for a fast-growing economy, with higher non-stationarity and volatility. As a substitute and highly imperfect rule of thumb, we assume that real rates of interest (presumably at the shorter end of the yield curve) have to be 2-2.5 percentage points above the anticipated inflation. Why? Only because developed country analytics suggest some such mark-up. Considering that average WPI inflation, a very imperfect indicator of price pressures, will probably be around 6% over the next couple of years, interest rates should move towards 8.5%, phased over the next two years.
If this looks to be too high a rate for a short-term policy rate, which would probably push up cost of funds to borrowers to levels that would make much of investments commercially unviable, an alternative might be RBI's inflation target. As late as the third quarter policy review, RBI remained emphatic that monetary policy would "condition and contain perception of inflation (at) 4-4.5%."
Which interest rates and how much should they rise? The monetary transmission mechanism for policy signals in India presumably relies mainly on banks' cost of borrowed funds. The average tenor of these funds is less than a year. A publicly available, if imperfect, proxy for these costs, therefore, is the 364-day T-bills yield, a relatively liquid instrument. During presumably more normal years, prior to the onset of the financial turbulence, these rates have been about 94 to 110 basis points (bps) above the reverse repo rate. Of course, bank's short-term funds would involve credit risk mark-ups; an AA 2-year paper's spread has been about 130 bps. A reverse repo rise from the current 3.5% to 4.5% should, with a bit of luck, push the cost of short-term bank funds up to 6.7%.
As liquidity begins to shrink, the short end of the yield curve should also begin to move towards the higher end of the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) corridor, pushing rates towards the policy target. In addition, regulatory changes on banks' savings deposit rate calculations and the impending transition to the Base rate from the erstwhile benchmark PLR will impart a hardening bias to borrowers' cost of funds. All of this indicates a range of 6-6.5% as 'fair value' for the LAF repo rate, currently at 5%.
This brings us to the issue of liquidity. After dropping to less than Rs 500 crore in end-March, due inter alia to year-end requirements, LAF liquidity has come back almost up to Rs 1,20,000 crore. Although this will gradually constrict over time, banks have an alternative pool to tap into: Rs 1,00,000 crore parked in mutual funds. Given the anticipated rising cost of bank funds, some corporate credit demand is bound to ricochet back towards mutual funds. RBI has already expressed its apprehension about the use of mutual funds as an unregulated shadow banking channels; it will try to get these funds back into banks. If this draining from mutual funds increases costs of corporate commercial papers by a couple of percentage points, well, that just reinforces the policy signals.
So what does this portend for RBI's tightening stance? The arguments in the two parts would indicate a combination of a repo/reverse repo increase together with a CRR increase. The latter would probably precede the rate hikes on April 20, probably as early as today. Given current forecast trajectories of key variables, a 50 bps repo increase, a pause thereafter for a few months and then a graded series of 25 bps might be an effective sequencing, pushing up the repo rate to 6.5% over next 18 months.
The author is vice-president, business and economic research, Axis Bank. Views are personal
FINALLY, WE GET TO SEE SOME AUCTION
The auction of radio frequencies (or spectrum) required for 3G and broadband wireless access (BWA) services to telecommunications companies will begin today. Irrespective of the outcome, it will help settle several disputes that delayed the auction for almost four years and hurt India's attempts to expand broadband access cheaply and speedily using wireless technologies. The auction will go a long way to create regulatory stability.
Trai recommended the auctions in September 2006. It had also argued that given the huge excess of demand over the limited supply of spectrum India should adopt transparent competitive processes to determine its allocation and price. It will soon recommend reform of the current regime where mobile operators receive some spectrum (4.4MHz for GSM and 2.5 MHz for CDMA) with their licences and additional spectrum based on the number of subscribers on their network. Recently, there have been allegations that the current system lacks incentives for companies to use the limited spectrum resources efficiently. The Comptroller and Auditor General has alleged that actions of the minister of communications & IT, A Raja, lost approximately Rs 26,000 crore by charging Rs 1,651 crore each for several nationwide mobile (2G) licences whose value comes essentially from the spectrum that comes bundled with it and the rights to additional spectrum that it creates.
Unfortunately for Raja, some of the disputes are unravelling before the auction. With reserve price for 3G and BWA higher than the 2G licence, willingness to bid is a proof of how market values spectrum and how much of a bargain 2G licences were. Six companies have paid Rs 505 crore each to be allowed to bid for 3G spectrum in all circles. Eight companiesthe previous six and another twohave paid Rs 252 crore each to qualify to bid for BWA spectrum in all circles. A few others will bid selectively. 3G/BWA spectrum differs from 2G spectrum. 3G and broadband markets need expensive development before 3G/BWA begin to deliver profits. BWA, which is unlike 3G, will do little to ease the current 2G spectrum crunch. So, the number of major companies willing to compete for the limited spectrum availablebesides the fat prices already paid by foreign companies like Telenor and Etisalat for stakes in 2G licencesgives a fair idea of what Raja's acts of omission or commission have cost the exchequer.
While some companies are admittedly bidding for fewer circles, every company with a nationwide 2G network is bidding. This also suggests that companies suggesting 3G/BWA were unnecessary, out-of-date or too expensive and were looking for an appropriate time to enter the fray or to secure commercial advantage over other players. We will soon know how quickly operators can deploy and market 3G services and the level of demand from consumers. Will services be affordable? BSNL and MTNL price theirs' competitively but have seen slow growth. Will private players compete on quality? Will they survive if the services are unaffordable?
Will the final proceeds from the auction will be near the government's target of Rs 35,000 crore? The actual amount will depend on several parameters, including the seriousness of CDMA operators Tata and Reliance, which already offer 3G services through EVDO-based broadband data cards. If they bid aggressively, the prices could rise significantly. But the real priority for the government should be to ensure a transparent auction that helps discover a market price for spectrum. High or low, the final price of spectrum provides a clear idea of how it should be managed in future and, in particular, whether the government's current administrative approaches can work or not.
There have been new questions about the relative merits of 3G and 4G services of which WiMax is an example. This is untimely and unhelpful. The Unified Access Service Licence allows a telecom operator to provide any service using any technology (except satellites). BWA proponents have not helped matters either: they are content to accept regulatory advantages of lower reserve price (half of 3G) and higher spectrum allocation (twice 3G) even as they claim superiority over 3G technology. If the conditions for 3G and 4G had been the same, the auction would have helped resolve this issue. An operator would then seek the appropriate spectrum, based on the technology that seems to make most sense. Government's effort to conduct a robust and transparent auction with the help of an independent international company is not a concern. The government has been right to keep to a minimum any ex ante conditions like rollout of services. These have rarely worked. India's experience shows easy access to spectrum at government fixed low prices has lured several companies to acquire mobile licences in the world's most crowded mobile market.
The results of the auction and its aftermath will answer many questions and perhaps raise a few more. This is healthy. We will then know whether we need to review the design of future auctions or the conditions prospective bidders must meet.
The author is a telecom consultant
WHY OUTSOURCING WILL NOT HARM THE US
Tim Geithner, the US Treasury secretary, made two conflicting statements on his visit to Indiaon the one hand stating that the US has been trying to expand trade in the post-crisis period and on the other hand stating that "outsourcing makes the US economy weaker." The outsourcing debate has gained more fodder by way of forecasts claiming that 3.3 million jobs will be outsourced from the US by 2015. However, the number of jobs in an economy in the long run is determined by the natural rate of unemployment, so what is affected is the composition of jobs, not the number.
By outsourcing jobs that require a relatively low skills base, firms free up additional capital that is then available for R&Dthe bastion of growth and expansion. Information Management Consultants, an American company, illustrates this point. Their goal to develop a programme that allows pharmaceutical companies to better exploit research on the human genome would have been financially unviable if done entirely in the US. So the firm outsourced the majority of the coding to an Indian firm and for each Indian engineer it still employs six engineers in the US.
This shows that Geithner's support of protectionist policies limiting outsourcing on the premise that it increases US unemployment levels disagrees with economics. Also, not all outsourcing leads to the displacement of US workers. Owing to high costs, if certain jobs (say customer care) were not outsourced, they would be replaced by automated electronic response systems. Thus, jobs are lost anyway (to technology instead of another country) and in addition, costs are also raised.
On an empirical front, those who contend that most service sector jobs will be outsourced to India and China are mistaken. About 70% of the service jobs in the US are in retailing, catering, restaurants and hotels, tourism, and personal care. These require the consumer and producer to be at the same place and, consequently, cannot be outsourced. India's interests apart, outsourcing makes the US economy more competitive and not weaker, in contrast to popular perception.
BRITISH PARTIES AT THE STARTING GATE
On April 6, the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, asked the Queen to dissolve parliament for a general election on May 6. The campaign will take place with the country in the deepest gloom and uncertainty it has known in decades. It is in its worst recession for 80 years, under a prime minister whose colleagues have tried to remove him thrice in three years. Led by the nose by the United States, New Labour has ensured that the country has been at war for nearly as long as the two world wars combined. There is intense public disgust over the state of British politics. The continuing scandal over MPs' expenses is only part of the political culture of deceit, the worst manifestation of which has been the orchestrated lying over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. Public discontent has also been expressed in the declining turnout rate, which fell from 71.4 per cent in 1997 to 61.4 per cent in 2005, when the Labour Party won its third successive majority, this time of 68 seats on a vote of 21.2 per cent of the electorate. The British political class, however, has only recently heard even part of the message.
Defying heavy odds, Labour is doing surprisingly well in the opinion polls. It can now expect to emerge as the largest party. David Cameron's Conservatives, who led Labour by 45 per cent to 30 per cent in November 2008, have been slipping steadily in the opinion polls and the odds on a hung Parliament are shortening by the week. The Tories, funded mainly by big business and the very rich, will play on Labour's proposed increases in National Insurance contributions. Labour, desperate to recover its core vote, is talking cautiously of state support for the economy and less oppressive target-driven monitoring for the public services. The third main party, Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats, looks coherent enough. But it has seen its major constitutional plans, such as reform of the Simple Majority electoral system for general elections and the creation of a fully elected upper chamber, hijacked by Labour only to be abandoned in the rush to pass pending legislation. A major education bill suffered the same fate, while some poorly drafted bills were passed. British voters will probably not see any improved political culture. On the positive side, the Lib Dems may not be the only beneficiaries of public discontent; the Green Party, led by the highly capable Caroline Lucas and with a strong record from the 2009 European Parliament elections, is fielding no fewer than 300 candidates. The old guard of Labour and the Tories could be in for some nasty surprises in May.
Sardar Patel, the architect of States' unification, was worried that Indian democracy would prove transient: "Almost overnight we have introduced the superstructure of a modern system of government unless the transplanted growth takes a healthy root in the soil, there will be a danger of collapse and chaos." In the six decades since then, India's home-grown democracy has held together beautifully or so India is fond of telling the world. Yet every so often this smug self-belief is shattered by incidents so gruesome, so medieval that they serve to recall the Sardar's worst fears. How can a nation cast in a modern, liberal democratic framework, with a Constitution held up as a model to emulate and laws that match the best in the world, tolerate the ugly phenomenon of khap (caste) panchayats with their kangaroo court-style instant justice? For years, the panchayats, prevalent mainly in the North Indian States of Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh, have practised violence as if it was a credo, brutally and summarily punishing those overstepping the redlines. This form of 'retributive justice' has particularly targeted young men and women seeking to marry within the same gotra. In village after village, khap panchayats have hounded out, forcibly separated, and all failing, murdered newly married couples justifying the horrendous edicts as necessary to uphold local culture and honour.
In the first-ever conviction in a case of 'honour killing,' a Haryana court recently sentenced five persons to death. The verdict has turned the spotlight on the recurring crime, triggering widespread debate followed by the promise of official action. Nonetheless, two concerns arise. Given the frequency of this barbaric practice in the last year alone several couples have been strung up and the baby of a young mother put up for sale why do so few cases come up for trial? The continued use of the term 'honour killing' is itself deeply disturbing: it implies sanction for a system of patriarchy that stigmatises women, tying them to outdated notions of purity and chastity. Several remedial measures have been suggested to rein in the khap panchyats, including a separate section in the Indian Penal Code. However, any enhancement of the legal architecture must be complemented by social enlightenment for results to prove enduring. The khaps have become a law unto themselves because of social and political support. At a recent khap maha panchayat, members had the temerity to demand a new law to prevent same-gotra marriages. Without a change in this reactionary attitude, India will remain a country that ritually holds elections but falls way short of a truly modern, liberal democracy.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
JIHADIST WARNINGS FROM MOSCOW
CHECHEN JIHADISTS HAVE PROVIDED INSPIRATION TO ISLAMISTS ACROSS THE WORLD. THREATS TO INDIA COULD EMANATE FROM RUSSIA'S BATTLEFIELDS IN FUTURE.
"The Mujahid," wrote Chechen jihadist Shamil Salmanovich Basayev, "never asks anyone for permission to strike with his sword; he just takes the sword in his hand. He will never waste his time explaining his actions; he is faithful to what has been predetermined by God."
Last month, a jihadist group founded by Basayev staged suicide bombings targeting Moscow's metropolitan train system, killing 39 people. Followed in quick time by a suicide bombing in Dagestan, which claimed 12 lives, the attacks have again focussed attention on jihadist groups in Russia groups responsible for attacks which match, even dwarf, the assaults on India by Pakistan-backed Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad.
In September 2004, jihadists from Basayev's Riyad ul-Saliheen Martyrs Brigade seized control of a school in the town of Beslan, sparking a hostage crisis which ended in the death of 334 people, including 186 children. Earlier, in 2002, the Brigade took 800 people hostage at the Nord-Ost theatre in Moscow, leading to the death of 129 of them. Last year, 29 were killed when the group bombed a Moscow-bound high-speed train.
India has paid little attention to jihadist violence in north Caucasus. It should have. The jihadist movement in Russia has provided inspiration and, on occasion, training grounds to Islamists in India and across the world. Had our police forces studied the Beslan and Nord-Ost attacks, for example, they might have been better prepared for the November 2008 horrors in Mumbai. More important, the history of the Islamist movement in Chechnya and the North Caucuses illustrates just how global the jihadist threat in fact is. In the future, India could discover that threats to its soil emanate not just from Pakistan but further afield.
India's Chechen jihadist
Twenty years ago, Mohammad Abdul Aziz 'Gidda' to his friends began an improbable journey that led him from Hyderabad to Chechnya and, finally, to the prison in Saudi Arabia, where he began serving time for terrorism a year ago.
Born in the crowded neighbourhood of Hyderabad to a police constable, Aziz's political life was shaped by the city's highly criminalised communal politics. Hyderabad's communal war of attrition was spearheaded by street gangs, legitimising themselves as defenders of the community. Educated at the Anwar-ul-Uloom College in Mallepally, Aziz discontinued his studies in 1984 and apprenticed with an electrician. But he soon fell in with the gang of Mohammad Fasiuddin, from which many jihadists would emerge. Aziz cut his teeth in an anti-prostitution campaign targeting the Mehboob ki Mandi red light district. He also joined the Darsgah Jihad-o-Shahadat, a vigilante group set up by cleric Maulana Mohammad Naseeruddin.
Late in 1989, Aziz got a job in Saudi Arabia, where he worked as electrician with construction giant Bemco. He returned home on a vacation in December 1992, days before the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Embittered, he joined an Islamist group in Saudi Arabia. In 1994, he volunteered to fight against the Serbian forces in Bosnia. Aziz trained at Zentica along with jihadists from Europe, West Asia and Africa before being despatched to fight on the front lines.
In an interview to the Pakistani jihadist magazine, al-Sirat al-Mustaqeem, in August 1994, Aziz said his
decision to fight in Bosnia had been laid by the speeches of Abdullah Azzam the Palestinian jihadist who was Osama bin Laden's ideological mentor and co-founder of the Lashkar's parent organisation, Markaz Dawat wal'Irshad. "I was one of those," Aziz said, "who heard about the jihad in Afghanistan when it started. I used to hear about it, but was doubtful about its purity and imagination. One of those who came to our land [through audiotape?] was Dr. Abdullah Azzam. I heard him rallying the youth to come forth and go to Afghanistan. I decided to go and check the matter for myself. This was the beginning of my jihad."
Back home in 1996 carrying a Bosnian passport as a memento of his tour of duty Aziz found his desire for jihad unstilled. In March that year, he travelled to Moscow and on to Shatoy, near Grozny in Chechnya. Aziz helped provide logistics support to fighters operating under the command of the Saudi Arabia-born jihadist Samir Saleh Abdullah al-Suwailem. Later, in April, al-Suwailem's forces carried out the now famous ambush, massacring troops of Russia's 245 Motor Rifle Regiment, killing 53 soldiers. Fighting alongside Basayev's jihadist forces, al-Suwailem commanded the guerrilla units which sparked the second Chechen war. Al-Suwailem was eventually assassinated by Russia's Federal Security Service in 2002.
For his part, Aziz returned home to help assemble infrastructure for the growing jihadist movement in India. In 1996, India's intelligence services say, he met with the Lashkar's covert operative, Mohammad Ishtiaq who, operating under the code-name Salim Junaid, had set up one of the organisation's first cells in the country. He also met with Lashkar commander Mohammad Azam Ghauri, one of the co-founders of the outfit's Indian networks. Helped with funding from his Saudi contacts, Aziz set about making plans to execute bombings across India, to avenge the demolition of the Babri Masjid. He was arrested by the Hyderabad police, but he jumped bail and worked for several years as a jihad financier before his arrest in Saudi Arabia.
The jihad in Russia
Like India, complex political processes underpinned the growth of the jihadist movement, of which Aziz was a part. In the 18th century, as Russia expanded into territories until then controlled by Iran and Turkey, it faced frequent resistance from local Muslim rulers. Chechen rebellion often broke out in times of crisis. In 1940, Chechen fascists allied with Nazi Germany in an effort to gain independence from the Soviet Union, sparking a prolonged insurgency.
Even as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991, a war for independence broke out between Russia and the newly-formed Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Years of fighting followed, claiming the lives of an estimated 5,500 Russian troops. In the wake of a ceasefire with Russia, Basayev was appointed Vice-Prime Minister of the Chechen Republic by President Aslam Maskhadov. But in August 1999, he led an Islamist army to stage a coup in neighbouring Dagestan. Russian forces intervened, ending the de facto independence of Chechnya. Basayev himself was killed in 2006.
Basayev's writings show that the Chechen jihadist movement, like others across the world, was a product of modernity not traditionalist Islam. His iconic 2004 book, The Book of the Mujahid, was derived bizarrely from the Brazilian pop novelist Paulo Coelho. "In late March of last year," Basayev wrote in the preface, "I had two weeks of spare time when I got a hold of Warrior of the Light: A Manual. I wanted to derive benefits for the mujahideen from this book and this is why I rewrote most of it, removing some of the excesses and strengthened all of it with Quranic verses, Hadiths and stories from the lives of the disciples [of the Prophet]."
From mid-2008, the jihadist movement in Chechnya began to gather momentum again. In November that year, jihadist leader Doku Khamatovich Umarov declared himself the amir, or supreme leader, of a so-called Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus. Early this year, he gave an interview warning Russians: "God-willing, we plan to show them that the war will return to their homes."
In July 2008, a woman suicide bomber critically injured the President of the Russian republic of Ingushetia, targeting his armoured convoy. The previous month, a sniper shot dead Dagestan interior ministry chief Lieutenant-General Adilgerei Magomedtagirov, while gunmen assassinated Aza Gazgireyeva, deputy head of Ingushetia's Supreme Court, and Bashir Aushev, Deputy Prime Minister. In May, another suicide bomber killed two police officers while attempting to target the offices of the Interior Ministry in Grozny.
Early in March, Russian forces shot dead Alexander Tikhomirov, a key jihadist commander who operated under the name Sheikh Said Buryatsky. Born to an ethnic-Buryat mother and a Russian father in eastern Siberia, Tikhomirov converted to Islam and studied theology in Egypt. His unit, the Russian media reported, was part of a group planning to assassinate Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and presidential envoy to the North Caucuses Aleksandr Khloponin during a visit to the region. The killings followed the elimination, in February, of al-Qaeda-linked Egyptian jihadist Mohammad Shabban in a shootout in Dagestan.
Last month's Moscow bombings are believed to have been carried out to avenge these deaths. Before the Beslan
attacks, the Riyad ul-Saliheen Martyrs Brigade bombed the headquarters of the Chechen government in 2002, killing 72 and injuring 280. In August 2003, Riyad ul-Saliheen also targeted a hospital serving both military and civilian patients, killing 52.
India has lessons to learn from Russia's experience. Its jihadists, like those of the north Caucasus, are intimately entwined with Islamist groups in Pakistan but, increasingly, are acquiring the capabilities needed to stage major operations independently. Facing up to the new challenges of a globalised jihadist movement will need unprecedented levels of international cooperation.
FROM CHIDAMBARAM TO CAMBRIDGE: SOLVING THE 30S SUBUNIT STRUCTURE OF THE RIBOSOME
IN THIS CONCLUDING EXCERPT FROM HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY WRITTEN FOR THE NOBEL FOUNDATION, 2009 CHEMISTRY LAUREATE VENKATRAMAN RAMAKRISHNAN RELIVES HIS EXPERIENCE OF STAKING ALL ON "ONE RISKY PROJECT" WHEN, IN 1999, HE TOOK A HEFTY SALARY CUT AND MOVED TO THE MRC LABORATORY OF MOLECULAR BIOLOGY, CAMBRIDGE, U.K. REASONING THAT "THE STRUCTURE OF THE RIBOSOME WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT GOAL IN MY FIELD," HE DECIDED TO FOCUS ENTIRELY ON THE 30S SUBUNIT. THE REST, INCLUDING THE NOBEL AND THE PADMA VIBHUSHAN, IS HISTORY.
V. RAMAKRISHNAN MRC LABORATORY OF MOLECULAR BIOLOGY, CAMBRIDGE, UNITED KINGDOM
Starting an independent career
My first experiment [at Brookhaven National Laboratory] was on ribosomes, in which I tried to settle an emerging controversy about whether the proteins and RNA in the 30S subunit were asymmetrically distributed. This resulted in my first independent paper being a single author paper in Science. Since this was a decade before the internet, I wrote a letter to my father in India when it was accepted, and about a month later received his reply saying that he was glad I had made a good start, and that if I continued to work hard, I might some day even have a paper in Nature.
[Dr. Ramakrishnan went on to do a sabbatical at the MRC Laboratory in Molecular Biology at Cambridge, England in late August 1991 to learn crystallography, as he felt that was how he could answer the really important questions in his field. Having learnt the nuts and bolts of how to solve a structure, he returned to the U.S. and moved to the Biochemistry department of the University of Utah.]
Starting work on the 30S subunit at Utah
Even before coming to Utah, I had ideas of solving the structure of the ribosome, beginning with its small or 30S subunit. My first task was to convince someone in the lab that this was a worthwhile project.
The project really took off when the graduate students came on board. [Bil Clemons, John McCutcheon, Brian Wimberly and Joanna May joined the team.]
As soon as we started, my insecurities about funding again set in. I could just imagine writing a grant application to NIH saying that we had no good crystals of the 30S subunit but had some ideas about how to get them, and that although a group had been working on good crystals of the 50S subunit for almost a decade, we had some ideas for how to solve our structure if we got good crystals. Having served on study sections myself, I could just imagine the peals of laughter that would go around the table as my application was considered.
On the other hand, I knew that the LMB, where I had done my sabbatical, had a longstanding tradition of supporting exactly this kind of difficult but fundamentally important project. Apart from funding issues, I felt I would have access to world leaders in crystallographic methodology who could help me if I ran into technical problems.
So I wrote again to Richard Henderson, who by that time had also become the director of the LMB, and we agreed that I would visit on my way to a ribosome meeting in Sweden. After my talk on ribosomal proteins, Richard and Tony Crowther (who was joint head of the division with Richard) chatted with me for a couple of hours on the "ribosome problem." They were interested in my ideas, what the competition was likely to be, what approaches had failed, what resolution one would have to reach to achieve a significant breakthrough in understanding and how long that was likely to take. The conversation was unlike any other job interview. There was no discussion of space, salary or equipment, just about science and ideas.
At the time, I had no crystals; nevertheless Richard wrote shortly after my visit saying they were interested in supporting me, and would let me know when they would have the additional space to accommodate me. A few months later, Richard wrote again to say that indeed the space had materialised.
I suddenly had to make what was one of the hardest decisions of my life: whether to gamble everything on going to the LMB and work exclusively on this project, which would involve taking a large salary cut and leaving our families (including our grown children) in the USA, or to continue working in Utah, where I would probably have to hedge my bets by working on safer projects simultaneously. In the end, I decided that the structure of the ribosome was the most important goal in my field, the time was ripe for an attack on it, and it would be a mistake to be distracted from it by other projects because there was only a narrow window of opportunity before other groups entered the field that had so long been dominated by just one person, Ada Yonath.
Most people thought that it would be insane to move to England staking all on this one risky project. Vera and I finally decided to leave Utah where we were very happy, take a 40 per cent salary cut and move to the LMB.
With the decision to move to the LMB made, I decided to focus entirely on the 30S subunit. Within a few months we had crystals, and a few months later, we had cracked the problem of getting them to diffract well. This was largely due to John and Bil's willingness to try completely new approaches to purifying the 30S subunit and to their sheer dedication and hard work.
Work at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
I moved to Cambridge in April of 1999, while Brian, Bil and Joanna stayed behind. The result was that I was able to make use of the LMB's computing resources to try several phasing runs in parallel, and send the maps to Utah. Because of the seven-hour time difference, we may have been the only group that actually speeded up to some extent as a result of a move.
So only a few months after my move to Cambridge, we had made a major breakthrough in tracing [the entire central domain of the 30S subunit.] When I revealed our findings at the triennial ribosome meeting in Denmark in June, I could sense the shock in the audience, especially since virtually none of them knew we were working on the problem. Soon afterwards, our work was published in Nature in August 1999 with much fanfare.
By this time, Brian and Bil had moved from Utah, and we needed to focus on getting to high resolution.
Solving the 300S subunit structure
Getting to the high-resolution structure of the 30S subunit was beset with problems, which are described in the Nobel lecture. This was a particularly stressful time for me and my lab members. The Yale group of Tom Steitz, Peter Moore and their colleagues was making steady progress with their structure of the 50S subunit. More significantly for us, soon after we had decided to focus on the 30S subunit in Utah, I had found out that Ada Yonath, who had first crystallised the 50S subunit and had been working on determining its structure for over a decade, had now essentially switched to determining the 30S subunit structure using crystals obtained by a slightly different route. So instead of having a quiet niche to myself, we were in a flat-out race.
Given the competition, we wanted to ensure that our data collection at the [Advanced Photon Source (APS) in Argonne in February 2000] was a success, since it was not clear that we could avoid being scooped if that trip failed. [Team members] froze over a 1000 crystals in the cold room while listening to Johnny Cash on a mini stereo system. Four of us worked in 12 hour shifts using a large spreadsheet that told us which crystals we had to look at next. Ditlev used his computing skills to streamline our data collection and analysis procedures. We calculated an anomalous difference Fourier map while still at the beam line, and when I saw the large number of strong peaks for our best derivative, much to Rob's amusement, I started dancing around the office saying, "We're going to be famous!"
The maps from the improved data were stunning, and we were on our way to building the structure. With five of us working long hours, were able to build a complete atomic model for the subunit within weeks. Even before we had finished, Andrew Carter had crystallised the subunit with three different antibiotics, and seeing them directly in difference Fourier maps was another great highlight.
The structure of the 30S subunit led to a number of follow-up studies on antibiotics and ligand binding. The most important of these, largely carried out by James Ogle, led to understanding how the ribosome ensures the accuracy of translation during decoding of the genetic message. Our studies on decoding continue to this day in the context of the whole ribosome.
The politics of scientific recognition
People go into science out of curiosity, not to win an award. But scientists are human, and have ambitions. Even the best scientists are often insecure and feel the need for recognition. Our ribosome work led to lots of invitations to give seminars and speak at conferences. It resulted in my election to the Royal Society and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and also led me to receive a prestigious European prize, the 2007 Louis-Jeantet prize for medicine. Thus in both my scientific efforts and the recognition for it, I had succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.
Although few scientists are foolish enough to enter a field to win a Nobel Prize, ever since the 30S subunit had been solved, people would regularly bring up "the Prize" in conversations whenever I went to conferences or give seminars. It was clear to me that the ribosome was at least as important as other structures that had been awarded the Nobel Prize. But there were many more than three people who had contributed to the ribosome, even if one only counted principal investigators, which itself is a fictional view of the way modern science is done.
While we were solving the structure of the 30S subunit, I had mostly refused to be distracted by going to meetings to speak about our work. So it was something of a shock when only a couple of months after the atomic structures of the subunits came out, a prize in the USA was awarded to just one aspect of the ribosome, peptidyl transferase. It seemed to me that instead of waiting for the impact of the ribosome work to become clear and then thinking hard about what had really made a difference to the field, the committee had hurriedly decided on which three people they wanted to honour and then written a citation around them that would exclude the others. Richard Henderson, my director, suggested that I should accept more invitations to meetings and talks to get our story known if only to get proper recognition for our work, regardless of prizes.
Deep down, I felt that the scientific event that transformed the field more than anything else was the determination of the atomic structures of the ribosomal subunits and the functional studies that followed as a result, to which we had made a major contribution. However, international prizes for work on ribosomes always seemed to go to other people. So over the years, I had gradually come to accept that I would probably not get a major international prize for the ribosome, least of all the Nobel Prize. Once I had accepted that, I felt liberated and happier, but I have to confess that I felt some trepidation each October. Every time I learned the Nobel Prize was for something other than the ribosome, I would be relieved because it was a postponement of what I felt would be the inevitable disappointment. As the years went by, it seemed to me and many other scientists that there would never be a Nobel Prize for the ribosome because the problem of choosing three people out of all the contributors appeared insurmountable.
The Nobel Prize and its immediate aftermath
On October 5, 2009, the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine went for work on telomerase. Since the Chemistry prize had been awarded for biological work the previous year, I was confident that it would not be awarded for the ribosome that year.
On the morning of October 7, I was halfway to work when my bicycle developed a flat tire. As a result, I came in quite late and somewhat irritated, and had completely forgotten that it was the day the Chemistry Prize was going to be announced. So when the phone rang soon afterwards and a voice said it was an important call from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, I immediately suspected it was a prank orchestrated by one of my friends like Rick Wobbe or Chris Hill, who like practical jokes. When Gunnar Öquist came on the line and started talking to me, at first I simply refused to believe him and even complimented him on his Swedish accent. Finally, after he was done, I asked if I could speak to one of the committee members, Måns Ehrenberg, whom I knew personally. When I heard his voice, it was with a shock that I realised it was true, a feeling that was reinforced when Anders Liljas and Gunnar von Heijne also came on the line to congratulate me.
Two members of my lab, Martin Schmeing and Rebecca Voorhees, had desks just outside the open door to my office and had overheard my end of the entire conversation. They did not share my scepticism and could hardly contain themselves. By the time I got off the phone, they were jumping up and down, and Martin popped open a bottle of champagne he had been saving to celebrate the publication of a paper that had just been accepted in Science. In the intervening minutes between the phone call and the public announcement, I was unable to get hold of Vera, because she was taking a walk with Tanya and does not use a mobile phone. It was 2 a.m. in Seattle and 5 a.m. in New York, so I did not want to wake up my father, sister, or Raman. Unfortunately, the press was not so considerate.
It was not until I saw the public announcement on the Nobel website that it fully sank in. Within a few minutes, the phone rang and did not stop ringing for two days. My colleagues at the LMB, many of whom had supported me when I had nothing but an idea, were delighted. They organised the customary drinks celebration in the canteen, for which Mike Fuller bought and served the champagne as he had for all the previous Nobel Prizes awarded to scientists here. After the celebration, Vera and I walked my bicycle home in the rain.
It was touching to get congratulatory messages from old friends and scientific colleagues around the world. I was especially moved by messages from colleagues in the ribosome community, including my mentor Peter Moore and Joachim Frank, both great scientists who had made major contributions to the field and were justifiably contenders for the prize themselves. Peter was particularly (and typically) gracious, and seemed proud that his protégé had done so well. Much was made of my prize in India, and I found myself the subject of an entire nation's celebration. I was taken aback by the flood of emails from complete strangers in India, and when they continued unabated for several days, I overreacted to what I felt was an intrusion on my ability to carry out my work. This angered many people there and a clarification I made only partly mollified them.
The Nobel week in Stockholm in December was surreal and memorable. After Sweden, I went on my usual annual visit to India, but this time with some trepidation because I did not know what the reaction to me would be given the email controversy. I need not have worried, because I was overwhelmed by the warmth and affection from both members of the public and my scientific colleagues there. I was honoured that the Government of India decided to bestow upon me their second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan. I have come to realise that I have inadvertently become a source of inspiration and hope for people in India simply by the fact that I grew up there and went to my local university, but could nevertheless go on to do well internationally.
On my return to Cambridge in early January, things slowly began returning to normal after the euphoria of the autumn. I began to realise that the Nobel Prize could be seen not just as an affirmation of my past work but also as an encouragement to continue to work on interesting problems. Certainly, it seems to have fired up people in my laboratory, and I look forward to the struggles ahead as we try to answer some of the hard questions in our field and beyond. Looking back on my life so far, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for having been able to lead such a rich life both intellectually and personally. © Nobel Foundation
( This is the concluding excerpt from an autobiographical essay by 2009 Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry V. Ramakrishnan, made available exclusively to The Hindu . The entire essay is now available at The Hindu website and will be published by the Nobel Foundation in a few months.)
PHILOSOPHY OF AN ECONOMIST-CIVIL SERVANT
IN THE BIRTH CENTENARY YEAR OF S. BHOOTHALINGAM, ICS, A TRIBUTE BY HIS SON TO HIS MANY-SIDED TALENTS AND ACHIEVEMENTS.
S. Bhoothalingam, my father, studied economics in Cambridge University during 1929-1931, just before the Great Depression. There his teachers and mentors were Pigou, Keynes, Robertson, Kahn and Joan Robinson. He read widely in history and philosophy, and taught himself French. From this early exposure he gained the lesson that economics is more a method of approach than a body of knowledge with fixed answers. What he termed "the method of Socratic questioning combined with Cartesian logic" stayed with him.
His approach to economics, though analytical, was far from deterministic. He learnt from Keynes that mathematics is only a tool, a very useful one. He developed the realisation that economics is what he termed "an organic science," closer to biology than to the physical sciences. This led him to the insight that economics is more of an evolutionary process, where a multiplicity of causes works together, rather than an exact science that is strictly governed by inexorable mathematical laws. He developed a healthy scepticism towards economists who needed to use detailed and complicated mathematics. This, he felt, was an inherently apologetic attempt to force economics into a pale imitation of physics.
His Socratic-Cartesian approach, deep knowledge of economics, and eclectic reading, produced a unique writing style. His prose was simple and lucid, with short sentences. Verbs were verbs, conveying action. Never did he use mealy-mouthed language such as "it would seem" or the bureaucratically ambiguous "may." He eschewed the quaint and archaic language the Indian bureaucracy invented for itself after Macaulay. To lend colour, he used analogy and example.
During the years of his service in government, economic controls played a very large part. The 'control raj' started during the Second World War received renewed life and vigour under the governments of Nehru and Indira Gandhi. As he served in the commercial, industrial and economic arms of government throughout his career, he was closely involved in the formulation, evolution and implementation of economic controls. His views on these are interesting, articulated as they were in the context of those times. On controls, he felt frustrated by the "one step forward, one step sideways or backwards" approach adopted by the government, which was "willing to strike but afraid to wound." He was not against controls as a philosophy.
In accordance with his general approach, his analogy was that "markets must be used as a sailor uses the wind." The market was the wind, and controls were the sails. The good sailor would choose and set the right sails to take advantage of prevailing winds and so move towards the destination. The incompetent sailor would either not choose the appropriate sails, or persist with the same settings even when the wind had changed. The vessel would then at best be becalmed, or at worst, move in the opposite direction.
Similar was his approach to the raging debate of his time: public sector versus private sector, which was "better"? He argued that this was posing the question wrongly. In his view, the real problem was to distinguish between good management from bad management. There were several examples of good management in both sectors, and many more of bad management too. What were the key differentiators? He pointed to the example of the French public sector (in the 1960s) as an illustration of success.
One is often asked: "Was Bhoothalingam a leftist or a rightist?" His own answer to this question was that the true question was not between left and right but between "the modern and the medieval." There was not much difference in the relative endowments of leftists and rightists they had several modern ideas, but also many more old and tired shibboleths. The trick was to distinguish between the two, and choose novel combinations that met the objective. Here his years of experience in practical administration in the districts served him in good stead. A good policy will deliver only what the delivery system is capable of handling.
He kept this in mind while designing schemes and programmes. He understood the need to take calculated risks and encourage innovation. His strategy of cautious experimentation followed by mass roll-out was more famously adopted by Deng Xiao Ping in China, who gave it the picturesque name of "crossing the river by feeling the stones."
In the final analysis, what mattered were his qualities of character. He had integrity, moral and financial. He had the confidence and the conviction, harmonised with pragmatism and the willingness to learn. He had the generosity and the ability to inspire a team, invest in the members of the team and let it take credit for a job well done. He had a sense of comme il faut, which motivated him to work and take important decisions until the very hour of his retirement.
He often said that one day he would write a book titled 'Beyond Economics' which would spell out his personal beliefs and philosophy of life. That never came. But this final quote might give a pointer: "The only way to work properly and not lose your balance is that whenever you take a decision, you must be there on the assumption that you are going to be there for all time. Otherwise, you will not really envisage the future."
ARCTIC SEA ICE RECOVERS SLIGHTLY
Scientists monitoring the Arctic ice cap report an increase in the amount of sea ice that is two years old or more in the region, but they are also warning that the spread of ice is still low compared with the amount seen in past decades.
Walt Meier, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC), at the University of Colorado, said of the region's sea ice: "I think it's the sixth or seventh lowest maximum of the previous 32 years." The NSIDC released data on Tuesday for the winter of 2009-10, which showed that the maximum extent of ice by March 31 this year was 15.2m square kilometres. This was 647,000 square kilometres below the 1979-2000 average for March, the month when measurements are taken for winter sea ice.
The twice-yearly figures published by NSIDC of the winter highs and summer lows for Arctic sea ice are seen as a strong indicator of global warming. The sea ice reflects sunlight, keeping the polar regions cool and moderating global climate. The rate of decline for the March months, over the 1979 to 2010 period, was 2.6 per cent a decade.
Meier predicted that this year's summer melting season would also show historically low amounts. The quantity would depend, though, on both temperature and the winds which sometimes take the ice out of the Arctic Sea into the warmer Atlantic and Pacific currents.
"I would say [it's going to be] low, perhaps one of the lowest, but not approaching 2007," said Meier, referring to the record dip in that year when the Arctic lost an area of ice the size of Alaska. "Given the amount of thin ice, we know we're going to be low, it's just a matter of how low." © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
The shocking death of four girls and health complications in 120 others due to a cervical cancer control vaccination programme suggests some degree of negligence on the part of the authorities involved in the process, which includes PATH, a Seattle-based NGO, the Indian Council of Medical Research (AICMR), the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, and Merck, the USA-based manufacturer of the vaccine. In an effort to control the damage, ICMR, which is a technical partner to the programme, has asked Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat to immediately suspend the programme.
The programme was part of a two-year study to monitor the utility of a vaccine in public health initiatives and acceptability of Gardasil, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. What's even more shocking is that even before the researchers could be satisfied with the drug's efficacy, Gardasil has already hit the market and is available in medical stores throughout the country.
Imagine the consequences if the programme, originally designed to test about 32,000 girls aged 10-14 had completed its course. At the end of it all ICMR chief VM Katoch said that they would be checking who was at fault an assurance that comes too late to matter to the girls who were subjected to this risk.
The entire episode is another glaring proof of how public health in India is taken for granted by both the government and multinational drug companies. It is a known fact that most pharmaceutical multinationals find easy human guinea pigs in third world nations as health safety in countries like India and Africa is hardly a priority for their governments. Usually, the MNCs exploit the poverty of the recipients a phenomenon unthinkable in developed countries as any mishap could involve huge monetary compensations.
Clinical trials of medicines on human beings are an intrinsic part of medical research. Any new drug meant for human consumption has to be first administered to a set of people or group who voluntarily submit themselves for the tests. They are closely monitored for the drug's effects. Only when researchers are completely sure of the drug's safety and efficiency, it is released in the market. The whole process requires a strict protocol, which unfortunately is observed more in the breach in India. The health ministry needs to get its act together to avoid further Gardasil-type debacles.
Now the prime minister has competition. Trying to be remembered in history is an infectious disease. The human resource development minister appears to be a confirmed victim. He has claimed that he has set out on doing to education what his PM had done to the economy in the nineties. The impact of the new economic policy direction which was initiated by Manmohan Singh is a subject on which history will pass its judgment. But, the analogy between education and economy is interesting.
Sibal's claim is prompted by new initiatives to reform the education sector.The plethora of education related legislations that he is aggressively pushing sets out the direction and content of the reforms he is aiming at.
To start with, it is necessary to assert that if there is any sector in India which demands serious attention, the obvious priority should be education.Apart from the fact that this sector and investments herein both financial and intellectual has the greatest multiplier effect for the overall advance of the economy and society, India's current status of educational achievements is, to say the least, sordid.
According to the latest World Human Development Report brought out by the UNDP, India ranks 132nd among 177 nations. A closer reading of this report and a little more focused attempt to delineate the factors for such a poor showing conflicts with the claim that India is the fastest emerging economy. The inescapable conclusion that emerges from the analyses of the data thrown up by the report is that investment or lack of it is the single largest reason for this bleak situation.And, it must also be pointed out that as a signatory to the Millennium Development Goals mooted by the UN, India has a major responsibility towards achieving the global targets, given its humongous deficit.
Sibal's claim for transforming India's education is based on the implementation of a national legislation to ensure Right to Education (RTE). First the Supreme Court and then the Parliament had amended the Constitution to convert the Right to Education from the directive principles of the State to a fundamental right. But, the bill had to wait because of the lack of political will to make sufficient financial allocation for the realisation of this fundamental right. That the enactment did not have a clear financial memorandum and apportioning of responsibilities between the states and the Union was a clear pointer to the lack of political will. The 13th Finance Commission deciding a 55:45 share between the Union and the states underlined a total lack of sensitivity given the mismatch between the extent of state responsibilities and resources to fulfill them. The Union budget has also failed to allocate resources commensurate with even the minimal share that has to be borne by the Centre as ordained by the finance commission. An obnoxious provision of the Act has imposed all responsibilities on the state to make good for any financial deficit in making RTE Act successful. The catch is it will further open up vulnerability of the school education system and accentuate dependence on the private sector. Can the private sector address the absence of access and facilities that the more unfortunate sections of the society suffer from and yet collect the profit which prompts their priorities?
Sibal's agenda for reforms acquires a more sinister note as the aims and objectives of other proposed legislations are coming to light. The first for which the primary draft of the bill is available aims to create a National Commission of Higher Education and Research which will be invested with a great degree of centralised powers making the Parliament, the state legislatures, the state governments, the governing structures of universities and other autonomous institutions irrelevant. The direction again is for promoting private and commercial intervention in higher education and to do away with any discord that may be articulated at the state or the university level.
Another 'great' idea is the proposed legislation for allowing foreign educational institutions to take care of our higher education. Little is Sibal and his team aware that in countries like Singapore or Israel or the Gulf, this model has failed thoroughly. No worthwhile foreign institution will be interested in coming to India.
The bill to create a national accreditation authority is also on the anvil. Its enactment will lead to the closing down of all institutions, including local schools, if the stipulations for securing an accreditation are not met. Legislative fiat is no recourse to overcoming financial and infrastructure deficits.
Education in its thousands of years of history has provided lifeline for integration and unity. By recognising and empowering the role of the diverse entities a true democratic and modern reform can transform Indian education. And, it is obvious that we have to find adequate levels of non-profit resources for carrying out such a reform process. That is the key question. Mr Sibal, are you listening?
A CALL FOR MISSIONARY JOURNALISM
The words of my boss still rankle, decades later. "Look, forget all this missionary journalism. Nobody likes to read about poverty." There was a major drought going on that summer in Rajasthan. I had just returned to Delhi after over a week in the remotest corners of the state barely a stone's throw from the Pakistan border on the trail of famine deaths.
The government of the day was almost going blue in the face denying famine deaths. But I had found several such incidents, mostly children who had died after successive years of malnutrition heart-rending stories, each one of them.
Yet, nobody seemed interested. My story didn't make the cover. Shrunk considerably at the desk, it got middling billing. I was even called in by a bureaucrat in the PMO (the Prime Minster's Office) and gently ticked off for imagining things. There was only a little malnutrition, he told me, genially offering me a cup of overly sweet tea and some glucose biscuits.
Two things happened recently that have made me bring up such an old anecdote: a front page lead story in a daily about hungry children eating silica-laced mud to survive in Ganne village not far from Allahabad; and the massacre on Tuesday in which about 76 Central Reserve Police Force troopers were killed in an ambush by Maoists in the dense forests of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh.
I see the two issues as related. Both have to do with poverty. The children go to sleep hungry and try to stop the gnawing hunger in their swollen bellies by eating mud. The thought of children eating mud is bad enough. But it is probably worse elsewhere: I've seen people picking out undigested food from cow dung to satiate their hunger.
The Maoists are ostensibly fighting for the rights of the dispossessed, the poor and the hungry. I don't for a minute condone violence and unequivocally condemn the perpetrators of the Chhattisgarh massacre. However, I have to say that many of the Maoists believe that they are engaged in a war against poverty and injustice and hunger that plagues large swathes of our population. Ironically, a large number of those killed in the massacre also came from similar backgrounds as the people the Maoists were fighting for.
Nothing much seems to have changed. Plus ça change Initially the district administration, according to newspaper reports, refuted the news regarding cases of malnutrition and starvation in Ganne village. Poverty is still, apart from the occasional rhetoric about hatao-ing garibi, much below the radar for those who govern us at all levels.
Considering the abysmal conditions under which a majority of Indians live, it seems a little indecent for politicians and bureaucrats to proudly sport garlands worth thousands of rupees, push for entitlement to fly first or club class. Lately, MPs and MLAs in Delhi have been clamouring for the houses which are being built for the Commonwealth Games. Hum Mange More.
As for those at the very top: why should the nuclear deal be a do-or-die issue, or for that matter a seat on the UN Security Council? And, of course, the Commonwealth Games: who are they really going to benefit?
The real war to be waged is right here, at home, beneath our noses: poverty and inequality. The shortest route to vanquish the Maoists is to root out poverty: it might go a long way in removing their raison d'être.
Poverty is also not a sexy issue for the media most of the time that is. These days they are mired in the hullabaloo over Sania-and-Sohaib. They are obsessed by the IPL, Indian billionaires, the clichés of India Shining. And, of course, the Page 3 syndrome and the most trivial of pursuits of the inhabitants of Bollywood.
Perhaps, it is the time for missionary journalists.
ACT BUT NOT IN HASTE
ANTI-NAXAL STRATEGY MUST BE REVIEWED
It is but natural for a shocked nation to demand tough action against Maoists who ambushed and killed 76 CRPF jawans in the jungles of Dantewada this week. It is indeed a shame that so many young lives were lost in a war that increasingly makes little or no sense to the rest of the nation. The bloodiest attack carried out by Naxalites in over four decades has inevitably led to the clamour for calling in the Army and the Air Force. While many would be eager to get even with the 'enemy', saner counsel must prevail. Both the Prime Minister and the Home Minister have rightly ruled out the deployment of the military in the offensive against Maoists. It would be hasty and unwise to do so because past experience shows that military deployment has not worked in either the North-East or in Kashmir. Using such force against our 'own people' and in our own country can only be a last resort.
In any case, the efficacy of a limited use of the Air Force in transporting the security forces, in conducting aerial surveys, in evacuation and use of helicopter gunships in exceptional circumstances etc was discussed in the past and the proposal discarded. However, when the Union Home Minister reluctantly conceded that the government might have to revisit the option of using air power, he was giving voice to doubts that the government may have grossly underestimated the adversary. Unlike militants and insurgents in Kashmir and Nagaland, where they are mostly confined within the geographical limits of a single state, Naxalites are admittedly active in 18 states and in over 200 districts. Indeed in 95 districts across the country they are acknowledged to be calling the shots. What is more, the Maoists alone, among all militant outfits, seem to hold territory.
A review, therefore, of the government's current strategy is certainly called for. But officials in the North Block would do well to take into account issues such as corruption, inefficiency and infighting, besides the lack of leadership, both in the security forces and the civil administration to understand why the offensive is yet to make much headway.
A HOT LINE WITH CHINA
A SMALL STEP FORWARD IN BILATERAL TIES
It would have been unrealistic to expect dramatic results from the talks that External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna held with his counterpart Yang Jiechi and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Beijing earlier this week. By that token, the fact that the ongoing dialogue between the two countries is alive and kicking is itself a cause for satisfaction. It affords an opportunity to the two sides to project their positions on issues that need debate and discussion. However, in concrete terms, the signing of an agreement to set up a hot line to open up communication between prime ministers of the two countries is the only clear forward movement in a relationship that is characterized by apparent frostiness. How useful and important this hot line proves to be would be borne out by how much it is actually used, be it for diplomatic niceties or for discussing crucial issues.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao couched it in diplomatic terms when she told the media after the talks that the issue of Beijing giving stapled visas to Indians from Kashmir was a subject of "ongoing discussion" and the Chinese side "listened attentively" to Indian concerns. Likewise, the Chinese were not prepared to budge on Indian concerns over Chinese projects in Pak-occupied Kashmir, beyond reiterating that the Chinese believed that undertaking projects in PoK did not detract from their position that Kashmir issue was a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. On India's seeking Chinese support for her bid for a UN Security Council seat, the Chinese re-emphasized in general terms their known position that China supported a "bigger role" for India in the UN. By India's own admission, the recent report that China-based hackers were hacking into documents of the Defence ministry and a number of Indian embassies around the world was not even taken up during the talks.
All in all, while the talks yielded little of note, there were no major contentious issues that came in the way of an ongoing dialogue. Clearly, there is need for patience on India's relations with China.
A ROUNDABOUT WAY TO BEAT THE AGE
The Punjab government has only recently rejected the request to increase the retirement age of its employees beyond 58 years, on the basis of the plea that it wanted to give a chance to young blood to run the state administration. That would have appeared to be a fairly sound argument, but for the fact that it has been at the same time re-employing retired employees to run the state administration. According to an exclusive Tribune story, several important tehsils and subdivisions of the state have been handed over to these officials with statutory powers. Some 26 PCS officers who had retired during the past five years have already taken over and will serve till December 31. Another list of names is being formulated.
If all of them were men of proven uprightness and integrity, the re-employment would not have raised eyebrows. But many of them have had a dubious past. Still, the government re-inducted them into service despite objections, merely because no criminal or vigilance case was pending against them. Many rules were thus bent to facilitate their re-induction. The chosen men will now have no accountability in terms of confidential reports, or fear of penal action.
It is true that Punjab has 288 posts of PCS officers, but only 160 serving officers. But the excuse that there is shortage of PCS officers in the state is rather thin. There are many other services also where there is similar shortage. How come an exception is made only in the case of the PCS? Naturally, there is heart-burn among other employees. Such ambivalent policies are tailor-made to demoralise the general staff. Ironically, that is what the Punjab government can least afford.
JUDICIARY AT THE CROSSROADS
TIME FOR SERIOUS INTROSPECTION
BY JUSTICE RAJINDAR SACHAR (RETD)
The judiciary, though one of three wings of sovereignty, is considered the weakest by the public, though in the constitutional scheme it should be the strongest. But this downgrading unfortunately is brought about by self-inflicted wounds. The judiciary owes to itself to do a little more serious introspection if for nothing else but to just maintain its esteem among the public at large.
A serious charge against the judiciary is the pendency of about 2.7 crore cases in the trial court, 45 lakh in the High Courts and over 55,000 in the Supreme Court. It is true that in this blame-game the judiciary is the only recipient which is unfair, because one of the important reasons for delay is the paucity of judges. Against even a modest requirement of keeping a ratio of 107 judges per million population as recommended by the Law Commission (2000), we have a ratio of 10 or 15 per million population.
The delay in filling the vacancies is another indictment. The Supreme Court had four vacancies for months and even now two are still unfilled. The High Courts have about 260 vacancies (out of 895) and the lower courts about 2500 out of the sanctioned strength of 16721. The High Court of Allahabad alone has 77 vacancies out of the strength of about 160 judges for over a year and it will continue as the previous Chief Justice has been promoted to the Supreme Court. The blame lies in the continuing wrong policy of having Chief Justices from outside who are naturally not familiar with the local judiciary and the Bar.
I am afraid the arrears in the Supreme Court will further increase because of a recent reference by a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court to the Chief Justice to refer the matter to a Constitutional Bench to decide which kind of cases should be entertained under Article 136 of the Constitution and for laying down broad guidelines in this connection. With respect this is an instance where expeditious disposal of arrears is the theme song, but the remedy is the opposite. Article 136 of the Constitution states that the court may in its discretion grant special leave to appeal against any judgment, sentence in any case or matter passed by any court or tribunal. In the instant case, at the instance of a defendant in a suit, the genuineness of the well-being questioned, it was sent for expert opinion to the Forensic Science Laboratory. Not satisfied with the report from laboratory, the petitioner wanted a second opinion the same was refused by the trial court and the High Court. He then filed a special leave petition before the Supreme Court.
Though the court observed that it was "prima facie of the opinion that such special leave petitions should not be entertained by this court", but it still chose to make a reference to a larger Bench to elaborate on the scope of Article 136 notwithstanding the settled law already. In (1950) by a Constitutional Bench of five judges (noticed by the referring Bench) Fazal Ali J., speaking for the Bench, categorically laid down the scope of Article 136 thus, " On a careful examination of Art. 136 along with the preceding article, it seems clear that the wide discretionary power with which this court is invested under is to be exercised sparingly and in exceptional cases only." Similar have been the principles laid down in a 2007 case noticed by the referring Bench itself.
In defence of the referring judges I am willing to admit that this kind of exercises do occur off and on. In 1978, the Government of India gave half serious thought whether to meet the problem of the arrears in the Supreme Court, Article 136 should be abolished. I remember at a function called by the then Law Minister, Justice S. Murtaza Fazal Ali of the Supreme Court seemed prima facie to agree to the tentative suggestion of the government. I half-jocularly told Murtaza, "If you read your respected fathers' judgment in Pritam Singh case you will find that fault is not with Article 136, but with judges who refuse to heed the caution repeatedly given about the limited nature of Article 136."
These questions of law are not capable of being answered with mathematical precision. It may be noted that about 25 years back Chief Justice E. S. Venkataramiah referred the question as to and under what circumstances PIL (Public Interest Litigation ) cases should be entertained. After a period of over two decades first a smaller Bench referred it to a Constitutional Bench and then the later gave a "momentous decision" that it is not possible to lay down any firm rule as to how and when PIL cases are to entertained by a court or not, and came out with the lame observation that "it will depend on the facts of each case, and no guidelines can be laid down". I see no reason as to how any larger Bench can give any other answer except in the language and content mentioned by the Supreme Court as referred to earlier.
Of course, the Chief Justice in the normal course has to refer it to a larger Bench unless on reconsideration the referring Bench itself recalls it.
Another matter, the subject of adverse publicity, is the case of the cash-at-door scam of a judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. A three-member panel of judges of the High Court appointed by the Chief Justice of India found a prima facie case against the erring judge. A CBI investigation found the same. The Union of India, relying on the ex-parte opinion given by the Attorney-General, refuses to proceed, especially when the Chief Justice of India declines sanction. Embarrassingly, the trial court refuses to allow the CBI to withdraw the case on being urged by lawyers of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
An application under the Right to Information Act is rejected on the ground that the CJI's office is not covered. But then the Law Ministry is covered under the Act can it, in all fairness, withhold information from the public, especially when it has agreed to the transfer of the judge to another High Court? I feel it is even unfair to the concerned judge that reasons, which apparently hold her blameless, should not be disclosed to the public and taint be allowed to continue.
Am I being too harsh to my own fraternity of lawyers and Judges. If so, I plead in the words of Justice Holmes of the US Supreme Court, who said, "I trust that no one will understand me to be speaking with disrespect of the law because I criticise it so freely . But one may criticise even what one reveres . And I should show less than devotion, if I did not do what in me lies to improve it."
The writer is a retired Chief Justice of the High Court of Delhi.
BY JUSTICE MAHESH GROVER
Two decades back the maternity ward of the P.G.I. was a dreary room at the end of the corridor, with no waiting area, a small window and a door on one side manned by a brusque peon, who was geniality personified when announcing the birth of a son.
At nights, the "expectant" fathers "laboured" in the corridor ducking the guards, who asked them to clear off, reminding one of the cops restoring order on the first day of a movie release.
An expectant father myself, I sat on a sheet spread out on the floor keenly observing the likes of my creed.
A few were a picture of paranoia. They stood glued to the window exasperating the staff inside. Others paced incessantly displaying troubled anxiety; some walked with a swagger and a proud glint in their eyes, as if they had achieved something of which they were unsure of.
But, one who won my instant admiration was a gentleman, who commanded his accompanying servant to check if the labour pains to his wife had set in or not. "My feudal Lord", I thought.
Enters a man from a martial race attired in a blue tunic, a huge headgear, with a sword and two portly ladies in tow, who waddled into the labour room, while he spread himself on my sheet. I shrank into a corner, displaying mute wisdom. With a piercing look with his gimlet eyes, he asked me "Guddi Andar Hai?" (Is your daughter inside?). "No, my wife is inside". I stuttered, and cursed my countenance, which was sans cosmetic camouflage. Silence ruled thereafter.
Morning saw the older lady emerge from the room, agitated. She had been perceived to be a legitimate victim by the nurses inside. On hearing this, the eyes of the gentleman flashed angrily, but soon softened as the old lady announced the arrival of his son. She then demanded the clothes of the child, as desired by the nurses. He was flabbergasted and said nonchalantly, "Jamayan Kisse Ne, Kum Nursa Ne Kita, Te Kapde Mere Ton Bhaalde Hon" (Child has been delivered by the nurses, and clothes you are expecting from me).
The logic and clarity of thought instantly won him his mother's admiration, my fascination and the bewilderment of the nurse, who overheard the conversation and quickly withdrew to her safer confines to emerge shortly with a child wrapped in a surgical gown and handed him over to the ladies, who followed the blue robed man to the accompaniment of clanging accessories on his dress.
"Cool cucumber and undoubtedly martial," I thought and realised that it is the attitude which actually wins a situation while fretting gets one nowhere.
As I mused, the peon approached me a picture of geniality and I knew, a son was born to me, bringing curtains to my experience as an "Expectant" Father.
LEADERSHIP KEY ISSUE
A NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY IS REQUIRED
BY HARSH V. PANT
The new Army Chief, General Vijay Kumar Singh, takes office at a time when the armed forces are desperately looking for a good leadership. The onus now is on him (and on the other two service chiefs) to give the Indian defence policy a new direction, a trajectory that does justice to India's rising stature in the global inter-state hierarchy. Blaming the government for all the ills afflicting the defence seems to be becoming the default position within the ranks of the military, and taking this too far can be really dangerous for the liberal democratic ethos of this nation.
India's armed forces need a fundamental restructuring that enables them to operate with utmost efficiency in the rapidly evolving domestic and global context. The armed forces can begin by putting their own house in order.
It is true that big issues remain beyond the influence of the armed forces as they have to work within the strategic framework set by the civilian leadership. The Indian economy will have to continue to grow at high rates of growth if the Indian defence needs are to be adequately catered to. High rates of economic growth over the last several years have given India the resources to undertake its military modernisation programme and redefine its defence priorities.
A country like India does not have the luxury to make a choice between guns and butter and high economic growth is the only solution that will allow it to take care of its defence and developmental needs simultaneously. India's own version of "revolution in military affairs" will force it to spend much more on sophisticated cutting-edge defence technology and on trained manpower.
The other issue is of appropriate institutional frameworks that enable a nation to effectively leverage its capabilities diplomatic, military and economic in the service of its strategic interests. India lacks such institutions in the realm of foreign and defence policies. While the Prime Minister laments the paucity of long-term strategic thinking in India, his government has done nothing substantive to stimulate such thinking.
The National Security Council still does not work as it ideally should. The headquarters of the three services need to be effectively integrated with the Ministry of Defence and the post of Chief of Defence Staff is the need of the hour for single-point military advice to the government.
The fact that the successive governments have failed to produce a national security strategy is both a consequence of the institutional decay in the country as well as a cause of the inability of the armed forces to plan their force structures and acquisitions adequately to meet their future challenges.
Yet, the politico-bureaucratic establishment is not the only guilty party here as the armed forces also have a lot to answer for. Their top leadership has shied away from making tough choices about reducing manpower strength, adjusting the inter-service budgetary balance and restructuring the professional military education system.
Resources alone, however, will not make the armed forces the envy of its adversaries. It is the policy direction that is set by the military leadership and the quality of training imparted to its manpower that will make the difference.
The questions that need to be debated and answered include: Do we have a 21st century military in terms of doctrine and force structure? Have the doctrines and force structures evolved in line with the equipment that the nation's resources are being spent on? Do India's command and control processes reflect the changing strategic and operational requirements? Does the military have the capacity to initiate actions on very short notice and actually conduct military operations that result in something other than a stalemate, something that India might have wanted to do during Operation Parakrama in 2001-02 but could not? Have the armed forces got the balance between capital and labour right?
The armed forces will have to find a way to strike a balance between growing manpower shortage and the easing of budgetary constraints. The services have no option but to modernise their human resources policy recruitment, retention, promotions, exit et al which will make a huge difference to the satisfaction levels of the rank and file.
The armed forces need to do some serious introspection if these issues are to be sorted out before it's too late. It is disappointing to see the service headquarters continuing to resist greater integration and inter-services rivalry continuing to be as vicious as in the past. When the Army came up with the doctrine of Cold Start, it found no support for it in the other services. The other services may have had genuine concerns about the doctrine but they have made no attempt to reconcile their differences, underlining Indian operational weaknesses.
The armed forces face a choice: They can keep blaming the political-bureaucratic establishment and do nothing or they can initiate a process of internal reforms forthwith. India's future, in many ways, will depend on the choice that they make.
EXPERTS FAVOUR PAU 201
BY K S CHAWLA
While the Punjab government has asked farmers not to sow the PAU 201 rice variety, scientists of Punjab Agricultural University feel the government should have defended the 201 variety instead of siding with rice millers. There is nothing wrong with the variety and it suits the national food security mission as well as farmers. In Haryana this variety was sown last year in 4 per cent of the area. No hue and cry was raised by rice millers in that state.
Dr. Gurbachan Singh, Union Commissioner Agriculture, maintains that the Agriculture Ministry has not banned the 201 rice variety. "This is a good variety for the Punjab situation. The controversy has arisen because of the grain quality. PAU should improve the grain quality".
The 210 rice variety was released for cultivation in 2007 and the first crop arrived in mandis in 2008. In 2009 the area under this variety rose to 18 per cent and the production of this particular variety was estimated at about 40 lakh metric tonnes. The rice millers alleged that the damage in this variety was more and that the pinhead of the grain was black. The FCI allegedly refused to accept the grains of this variety.
Agricultural Minister Sharad Pawar set up an expert committee to assess the damage. Seventyfive samples were taken from the fields which were analysed at the Directorate of Rice Research, Hyderabad, the Post Harvest Technology Centre, IIT, Kharagpur, PAU and CIPHET, Ludhiana.
This committee, which submitted its report in November 2009, observed, "The blackening of the grain might be possibly due to a high-iron content, climate change and brown pigmentation in the alerurone layer The average total blackened grain varies from 3.4 to 8.79 per cent."
Besides, the PAU 210 variety was also analysed at the Food Research and Standardisation Laboratory, Ghaziabad, the Central Food Laboratory, Pune, and the CFTRI, Mysore. Twentyfive samples were sent to each of these laboratories by the Food Ministry of India.
In his report on March 3, 2010, Dr. Dhir Singh, Director of the Ghaziabad Laboratory, observed, "All samples of rice are found to be conforming with the prescribed standards". The Director of the Pune Food Laboratory observed, "I am of the opinion that all samples conform to the standards of rice as per the PFA rules 1955". The CFTRI Institute, Mysore, found that only three samples were having damage content to the extent of 5.7, 6.7 and 6.2 per cent respectively.
Dr. Gurdev Singh Hira, a former Additional Director Research, PAU, has stated in a study that the additional production due to the 4.6 lakh hectare area under PAU 201 was 49 lakh tonnes. The additional benefit to farmers of the state was of Rs. 504.7 crore and it saved 1.6 lakh hectare meter water and 155 million units of electricity and generated a revenue of Rs. 62.1 crore over the other non-basmati varieties.
With a switch from non-basmati varieties to PAU 201, amenable to the delayed transplantation up to 25 June, it is expected that the prevalent trend in the fall of the water table in 74 per cent area will be arrested and the area experiencing a fall in the water table will reduce to 42 per cent.
Moreover, in 58 per cent area of the state the ground water table would rise. The PAU 201 variety is also suited to poor ground water quality zone where it has shown better salinity-alkalinity tolerance over other non-basmati varieties of rice. PAU 201 yielded 71 quintals per hectare against 64 quintals per hectare in the case of other varieties in Bathinda district.
According to Dr P S Minhas, Director Research, the PAU 201 rice variety matures in 144 days whereas other varieties like PR 116 and Pusa 44 mature in 160 days. The yield of this variety is 32-36 quintal per acre and it has gone up to 40 quintals.
Dr. Minhas alleges that the rice millers bring broken rice from other states and mix the same with the rice millers in Punjab and manage to get the breakage limit extended as it was earlier 3 per cent and then it was raised to 4 per cent. This was also confirmed by a senior official of the Food Supplies Department of Punjab.
RAJNIKANTH TO JOIN POLITICS?
Tamil superstar Rajnikanth is all set to take a plunge into politics, says film director Shankar. The director known for mega budget films is directing Rajni's latest film "Endhiran" (Robot). There are many scenes in the film with dialogue hitting out at politicians.
Those scenes and dialogue were written with the prior consent of the superstar, the director has told his friends. The only instruction from Rajni was to see that there were no personal attacks.
But, another director, who had worked with Rajnikanth in the past, dismissed the idea. "Such rumours are spread by directors and producers to seek publicity for their films. Some other people had done so in the past. It has become a habit for everyone to spread such rumours to attract Rajni's fans and people to the new movie", he quipped. But, the star himself remains elusive on the subject. So his fans assume the final word has not been uttered yet.
Adieu sweet home
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's house is known to most of the top leaders in the country. Former Prime Ministers like AB Vajpayee and I.K. Gujral, have visited this house, which is the DMK leader's permanent address for about five decades.
The surprising news doing the rounds is that the veteran leader is planning to shift to a new residence. DMK circles say that the old house had developed cracks at some places. Initially, the Chief Minister had thought of repairing the house. But his family members seem to have persuaded him to shift the residence.
However, the 86-year-old is reluctant to move far from Gopalapuram. His son and Deputy Chief Minister Stalin, daughter Kanimozhi and other friends are on the look out for a new house.
Karunanidhi has laid down two conditions to choose a new house. First, it should be comfortable and convenient. Second, it should not appear luxurious. If everything goes according to the plan, the Chief Minister is likely to celebrate his next birthday in the new residence.
Coconut farmers in Tamil Nadu have announced a novel protest. They will freely serve toddy, a liquor taken from coconut and palm trees, to the delegates of the World Classical Tamil Conference to be held in Coimbatore. This agitation is against the state government's crackdown on toddy tapping.
The government action has led to allegations of suppressing swadeshi liquor and supporting videshi drinks. Farmers are raising questions over the liquor policy of the state, selling IMFL products through government-owned TASMAC shops.
Protesting farmers argue that toddy is not an intoxicating drink, but a food item. The alcohol content of toddy does not exceed 13 per cent. The alcohol content of IMFL products goes up to 46.5 per cent.
JAIRAM RAMESH HAS A FAIR POINT
The union minister for environment and forests (MoEF) is in the unenviable position of having to publicly confront his cabinet colleagues and risk being dubbed a stick-in-the-mud, anti-development green crusader. First it was a tiff with the agriculture ministry over Bt brinjal. Then it was a rebuke by the Planning Commission over mining and power project approval delays and now, a dispute with the surface transport minister that is on full display in the Supreme Court. The road of contention goes through a tiger reserve near Mr Kamal Nath's constituency, and Mr Jairam Ramesh will not oblige. The tiger and road conflicts are but symbolic of a larger question that the nation has to wrestle with: how to manage the trade-off between environmental concerns and economic development. It is not just jobs versus air and water quality, but the interests of present versus future generations. This means occasional harsh decisions like Mr Ramesh's ban on new projects in 43 out of 88 critically-polluted industrial clusters across the country, or his reluctance to give clearance for Mumbai's new airport. Is the minister being unfairly painted as Dr No? His ministry has cleared more than 95 per cent of the proposals seeking forest and environment clearances. the MoEF clearances are not disguised licence raj. In fact, most of the pending clearances awaited are for steel, power and coal mining projects. Large investment funds are committed to these sectors, which, in turn, will fuel infrastructure growth. But that growth must be answerable to ecology and sustainability. Thus, while reforms in coal allocation via transparent auctions are welcome, that does not mean environmental clearance can be short-circuited.
The minister has rightly protested against being presented a fait accompli in which projects are flagged off without consulting the ministry and the ministry is then blamed for the subsequent delay. If the sequential approach is found wanting, the Central government should enable a genuine single- window clearance, wherein if a coal block is put up for auction, it is deemed to have been cleared by the MoEF. A similar coordinated approach can be taken in the award of all other mineral and mining projects. For his part, Mr Ramesh has offered to label areas pre-emptively as "go" and "no go", so that no proposal need even be entertained in the "no go" areas. Such inter-ministerial proactive coordination will go a long way in clearing the logjam referred to by the Planning Commission. We must recognise that India's economic growth cannot ride on underpriced coal or forests. In addition to under-pricing our ecology, we are also guilty of under-pricing minerals, whose royalty in many cases are still not ad valorem. India needs an enlightened and reformed mineral and forest policy, as well as a holistic environment policy.
CONCURRENT PLANNING HELPS
THE SC'S VIEW ON GST WILL HELP, BUT OTHER CHALLENGES LOOM
The government's decision to seek Supreme Court opinion on the proposed Constitutional amendments to facilitate introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) will help it overcome legislative hurdles to what is arguably the most ambitious revamp of India's indirect taxes regime since reforms began in 1991. A Presidential reference to the Supreme Court will undoubtedly reduce the scope for any further litigation on the issue. This also pre-empts any action that some state governments may have planned to approach the Supreme Court to pre-empt the Centre's move on GST on the grounds that the new regime would adversely affect their finances by curbing their flexibility in raising tax revenues. A ruling from the apex court on what is good in law will eliminate such delays in the roll-out of GST. The downside risk, however, is that the Supreme Court may take six months to a year before coming out with an opinion on the questions raised. If the finance ministry is serious about meeting its second deadline for rolling out GST by April 2011 (the first one of April 2010 having already been missed), it should seek concerted action from the law ministry as well to ensure that the apex court comes out with its opinion well before six months.
Legislative hurdles, however, are only one of the many challenges the finance ministry faces in rolling out GST. There is, therefore, need for concurrent planning on various fronts, instead of remaining content with sequential planning that is often a recipe for inordinate delays. Much before the Supreme Court furnishes its verdict on whether placing GST on the Concurrent List (which would give the Centre an edge over the states in matters of dispute) is better than an agreement between the Centre and the states (as recommended by the 13th Finance Commission), the finance ministry has to initiate several steps on several fronts to make GST a reality before April 2011. While manpower planning and strengthening of the information technology platform used by the tax collecting agencies are important imperatives, the most contentious of the upcoming challenges, of course, pertains to agreeing on a minimum of two rates of taxation: a lower rate for essential items and a standard rate for general goods, although this in itself is a deviation from the standard GST regime. Indeed, the proposed two-rate structure already envisages two additional rates: a zero rate for exempted goods and a special rate for precious metals. The fewer the rates, the better are the chances of keeping the standard rate for GST closer to 12 per cent. And the lower the standard rate, the easier it will be for the political leadership to make the new tax system acceptable to the people with virtually no pain of any additional tax burden on them. Another contentious issue that the Centre and the states must quickly resolve before the Supreme Court comes out with its opinion is the GST exemption limit for companies. There can be no dispute that for a successful GST roll-out, the exemption limit will have to be uniform for both the states and the Centre. While many states still insist that the exemption limit should be Rs 1.5 crore turnover for companies, the Centre wants that limit to be Rs 10 lakh. The economic logic of GST suggests that with a lower exemption limit, the coverage will be larger, providing the benefit of duty set-off to more entities, thereby further reducing the standard GST rate.
BULLETS ARE NOT THE ANSWER
WE CANNOT SAY THAT DEVELOPMENT-RELATED ISSUES ARE LONG TERM WHILE THE IMMEDIATE TASK IS TO ANNIHILATE THE NAXALITES
The massacre of 76 policemen in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh by the Naxalites is reprehensible. There is no doubt that this use of force is illegal and it is wrong. But, it is also clear that we cannot brush aside the underlying issues of poverty, deprivation and lack of justice that are breeding tension and anger in many rural and tribal areas of the country. We cannot say that these development-related issues are long term, as the Congress party spokesperson has reportedly said, while the immediate task is to annihilate the Naxalites. Because, unless we can fix what is broken here, let us be very clear, there is no real solution at hand.
In the past, I have written about the irony that vast parts of our country that are the richest in terms of minerals, forests and water are, in fact, the poorest in terms of indicators of development and social well-being. We need to ask this question again and again: Why is it that the poorest people live in the richest lands of the country? We have to ask the question so that we can change this.
We know that the Naxalites profit from our collective loot of the resources from these lands. It is from these areas that we get resources for the electricity that lights our houses. But, the people who live in these very areas have no electricity. They should own the minerals or forests and seek the benefits of development. But they do not benefit from the extraction or conservation of natural resources. Instead the policy and design are such that their lands are taken away, their forest cut, water polluted and livelihood destroyed. This development makes them poorer than ever.
But we want to hear none of this. A few years ago, in Raipur (Chhattisgarh), while releasing our detailed report on mining and environment, I saw how intolerant we had become. At the release function, the room was "filled" with members of mining-at-all-costs lobby. They shouted down any voice that spoke of poverty and other problems that mining had brought to the region. The Governor who was releasing the report was visibly caught in a bind. He could not deny our data and analyses. But he was also desperate to brand us insurgents for raising uncomfortable issues.
The next day, the state machinery got even more active. It openly challenged us. But it never presented data on how it had shared revenues that it got from mining with the people. It did not explain how it had controlled the enormous and deadly pollution from the sponge iron factories that encircled the region. It did not also explain why it was allowing the open manipulation and misuse of laws to dispossess people of their lands against their will. It branded as anti-development those who were questioning mining policies and seeking new answers. The next step was to say that we were against the state and on the side of the Naxalites. With us or against us. This is a war syndrome, which cannot buy us peace at any cost.
The challenge is how we can build an economic growth model, which uses the wealth of the region for local development first. The answer is complicated because such a development model would mean listening to people who live on these lands about what they need and want for their growth. It would mean agreeing to the principle that people should have the right to decide if they want mining in their backyard, or want the forests to be cut. It would mean taking democracy seriously.
Once this principle is accepted, people's protest against mega-development projects will have to be seen in a new light. These are not misguided people (or Naxalites) who are holding up the Vedanta bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa, or the Tata Steel project in Chhattisgarh. These many (and there are many) mutinies will have to be heard and listened to carefully. We cannot keep doing what we want today brushing aside these concerns in the guise of a "considered" decision taken by an unaccountable environmental appraisal committee sitting in Delhi or somewhere else. We cannot dismiss these voices because we believe we know what is best for them.
The tough part will begin once we accept the principle of local veto over development decisions. On the one hand, it would mean seriously engaging with people to find ways that will benefit everyone. This would mean sharing revenue sought from minerals with people not the poisoned peanuts we are promising them today. It would also mean changing the priorities of development valuing the standing forests of the region as the protectors of our water, wildlife and low-carbon future. It would mean paying money directly to local communities so that they can decide to protect the forests, because it brings them development benefits.
But more importantly, listening to the voices of dissent will mean reinventing development. We will have to accept that we cannot mine all the coal or the bauxite or the iron ore lying in forests. We will have to make careful choices concerning how we can use less of our minerals for more growth. We will have to do more with less. The lesson the poor are teaching us is: walk lightly on earth. Let us not answer them with bullets.
BHUPESH BHANDARI: LUXURY HOMES IN ON INDIA
LUXURY IN INDIA MAY NOT HAVE GONE "MASS MARKET" AS IN CHINA, BUT IT HAS TAKEN SOME VERY FIRM STRIDES
The trick is, an Indian diplomat told me over drinks, to knock one zero off. We were a group of Indian journalists in Beijing. There was a talkfest on how to improve relations between India and China, and what role the media can play. Mission accomplished, there was shopping on the agenda. We were promised a trip to a popular shopping mall in downtown Beijing. This is where the diplomat decided to educate us. "If the shopkeeper asks for 100 yuan, you start your negotiations with 10 yuan. He might curse you and ask your country, but don't let that deter you." He spoke out of gainful experience.
The market was an eye-opener. Every luxury apparel brand in the world was available in the crowded market place. And yes, the prices were all negotiable. "Shop with confidence," boards all over the place exhorted buyers. It was almost as if luxury was being sold by weight. An hour was enough to make the mind boggle.
Luxury in India is a different ballgame. It may not have gone "mass market" as in China, but it has taken some very firm strides. Porsche Design of Germany recently opened its first store in New Delhi. It tracks ten luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Mont Blanc, Prada, Ferragamo and Dunhill; if eight of these have set up shop in a city, it goes to that city too. The fact that it has come to Delhi means most of those brands are already here. It could look at a second store in the city and possibly one in Bangalore.
A Dubai company earlier had the Porsche Design franchise for India. But it has now tied up with the Bird Group, which is into air travel and is a distributor for BMW. It thus has a ready list of high net- worth individuals who can be interested in Porsche Design merchandise and companies which could consider Porsche Design pens, for instance, for gifts. Of course, its store in Delhi measures just 44 square metre, thanks to high real estate costs. This makes it probably the smallest Porsche Design showroom anywhere in the world. Of course, it also means that sale per square metre in India could be higher than any other place!
The Porsche Design example drives home several points. One, the luxury market has crossed the inflexion point. What was a trickle has now turned into a stream. Two, high real estate costs, and the non-availability of high-street locations, will ensure that these will not be expansive showrooms. Small is the prescribed format. Three, Indians have begun to shop at home for luxury. Earlier, this was something reserved for overseas visits. That mental barrier no longer exists. Four, these brands will search for local partners who understand the brands and can get customers. Existing rules stipulate that foreign brands cannot own more than 51 per cent in an Indian subsidiary. The choice of the right partner thus is of critical importance. Hermes of France, for instance, has formed a 51:49 venture with Neelam Khanna (she is the wife of PRS Oberoi's grandson Ashok Khanna) called Hermes India.
There are various estimates of the luxury market in India. It is now agreed that it could be worth 2 billion. (China is 6 billion, Japan 19 billion and the United States 33 billion). But most brands will tell you the numbers do not matter. Just the queue of Indians in their showrooms in Dubai and Hong Kong is good enough reason for them to come here.
The size of the high net-worth population in India is large. The third annual Asia-Pacific Wealth Report published by Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and Capgemini had estimated that there were 123,000 millionaires (in dollars) in India at the end of 2007, up 22.7 per cent from a year ago. It had predicted that the high net worth wealth in China and India will increase by more than $4 trillion over the next ten years. According to the 2008 edition of the report, the average net worth of Indian millionaires was $3.6 million, higher than $3.4 million for the Asia Pacific region but lower than the global average of $4 million. Much of this wealth has been contributed by the stock markets. And with markets on the upswing one more time, the number will certainly see more additions in the days to come.
Of course, most luxury brands insist that high import duties have dampened the market, which has hurt employment and skill development in luxury marketing. Still, prices in India are closer to those in Europe, where most of these brands are housed, than China. For most brands, prices in India are not more than 4 to 10 per cent higher than in Europe. But this could be strategic pricing. In other words, prices could go up once the brands are well established. Shatrujit Singh of Louis Vuitton says that Indians had patronised the western luxury brands before Independence, especially after they were hit hard by the Great Depression. Those days could return if India can recreate the world of refinement by restoring its old architecture, improving its infrastructure etc. That might be wishful thinking. Still, things aren't too bad for Singh. Louis Vuitton, for the record, opened its fifth store in the country last year. Singh claims absolute leadership in the luxury market! Could you ask for a bigger sign of change?
CONCERNS ON CHINA
THE CHINESE INVESTMENT BOOM EXHIBITS ALL THE SIGNS OF A CLASSIC INVESTMENT BUBBLE
One recent trend that seems to be gaining momentum is concern about China and its growth outlook. Is China a bubble waiting to explode? Will the coming collapse of China take down all emerging and commodity markets? These are some of the issues on investors' minds these days. The concerns around China are clearly benefitting India as investors seem to be far more sanguine about India's long-term growth prospects. No one thinks India is in the midst of some super bubble, and the noticeable pick-up in investment flows from foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) into India can be partly traced to some asset allocation shifts on the margin from China to India.
There are two-three interesting articles laying out the bear case on China, all available on the web. The presentations by Jim Chanos, Vitaliy Katsenelson and Edward Chancellor of GMO are the most interesting. I have chosen to focus on the GMO white paper in this article, but the points being made by Chanos and Katsenelson are quite similar to what Chancellor outlines in the GMO paper.
Chancellor, who is a noted financial historian, makes the point that China today exhibits many of the characteristics of great speculative bubbles or manias. He starts out by outlining some of the common features or characteristics of previous financial bubbles and then points out how they can be used to describe China today. Historically, rapid (above trend) credit growth has been the single most important indicator of a developing financial bubble. This is closely followed by the build-up of an asset price bubble. Very low and sustained interest rates and rapid money supply growth over an extended period are also classic warning signs. Investment manias have always been built on compelling and credible growth stories like China's. A general increase in capital investment leading to misallocation and wastage of resources is another classic sign of a developing investment mania.
Testing the current China story against these historical markers of an impending crisis, Chancellor concludes that it fits the bill on most of the criteria. In fact, there are red flags wherever you look at China. First of all China is clearly a huge economic success, and one can see why it is such a compelling long-term growth story around which a bubble could easily develop. China has 1.3 billion people, with a per capita income only about 10 per cent of US levels, and over the past 30 years the country has increased its GDP 16-fold.
Over the last year, China has overtaken Germany as the world's number one exporter and Japan as the second largest economy. Over the coming decade, 300 million rural inhabitants are expected to move into cities, laying the foundation for continued 8-10 per cent GDP growth for many decades. Its economic momentum seems unstoppable. Chancellor's contention is that investors are simply extrapolating recent growth rates and that forecasts for urbanisation and growth may be exaggerated. He also feels investors are ignoring the growth-inhibiting aspects of the Chinese demographic story.
If one were to look for an investment boom characteristic of a bubble, it can be found in 2009. Last year, in the midst of a global recession, Chinese fixed asset investment rose 30 per cent to a record 58 per cent of GDP, contributing 90 per cent of the year's economic growth. Infrastructure accounted for more than two-thirds of the spending although China already has adequate infrastructure, with highway usage running at just 12 per cent of the OECD average. Capital spending in an industry like cement increased by two-thirds despite utilisation running only at 78 per cent. There are numerous anecdotal stories of empty roads, airports and huge excess capacity across the industrial complex.
Chinese interest rates are also seemingly artificially depressed. As a general rule of thumb, nominal interest rates should broadly track nominal GDP growth over the medium term. In the US, for example, the prime rate has averaged about 1 per cent more than nominal GDP over the last 40 years. In the case of China, the prime rate has averaged 9 percentage points lower than nominal GDP since 1990 (source:GMO). Low interest rates are one of the tools the Chinese authorities use to subsidise state-owned enterprises and boost investment.
China is currently going through a huge credit boom. In 2009, bank lending increased by RMB 10 trillion, approximately 29 per cent of GDP. Money supply growth exceeded 30 per cent, but it seems unlikely that credit could have expanded at this pace with no decline in asset quality, and the Chinese banking system could be overwhelmed by NPAs. In a world where most are de-leveraging, China has seen the fastest credit expansion in its history.
There seems to be an asset bubble developing in China's property markets. First, on the residential side, prices are clearly stretched. Nationally, home prices have climbed to around eight times the income and in Beijing the ratio is 15. As Chancellor points out, in Tokyo, at its peak, this ratio was 9. Commercial rents in leading Chinese cities are already at international levels, with rents in Beijing and Shanghai rivalling those of New York.
Chancellor makes the point that China's real estate market, its economy and financial system are all working on the assumption that past rates of growth will continue into the future. This assumption justifies continued investment, leading to strong growth and this growth drives further investment, thus confirming the initial thesis and setting up a positive feedback loop. If growth were to disappoint, this can easily reverse into a negative spiral. He equates the China of today with the last stages of the dotcom bubble when investors extrapolated growth and a surge in investment created a spike in demand that justified even the most optimistic predictions. Once the initial predictions were exceeded, investors quickly went overboard in their expectations and long- term modelling of demand.
My own sense is that predicting the timing of any collapse is impossible, and being a state dominated economy China may be able to delay its day of reckoning. It has huge resources, in terms of foreign exchange and in the fiscal elbowroom it enjoys, to keep this party going. As long as it continues to convince the world that it will underwrite 8 per cent growth, the believers will keep investing. The political consequences of dropping below 8 per cent growth, will also ensure that he government will leave no stone unturned in propping up growth. However, if history is any guide this will ultimately end badly.
How to invest with one eye on long-term structural issues like China and yet remain tuned to the short-term momentum of investor enthusiasm for emerging market assets is a dilemma that every investor faces today.
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FLIGHTS OF FANCY
It reads like something straight out of a sci-fi movie or at the very least, a Richard Branson wishlist. The new boss of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Dr K Radhakrishnan has revealed that apart from proceeding with work on India's human space flight programmes, the space body will focus on "low-cost access to space tourism" and the colonisation of Mars and the Moon.
It is not known whether the venerable scientist's announcement is part of a wider government plan to decongest cities or a new avenue for those employed under NREGA but the proposals do seem a tad ambitious. The Russians offer a $20-35 million per person, no-discount, no-points, no-free-companion round-trip to their space station while Branson's Virgin Galactic has already collected $200,000 each from 330 astro-tourists for barely a couple of minutes in space some time next year, so the term 'low cost' is relative. No meals, less baggage, more seats and other such conventional cost-cutting methods would be rather difficult to implement during a 250-day trip to Mars. That duration would exceed the leave limit of the average traveller and his budget anyway, so Isro's target clientele is mystifying. Then there is the problem of accommodation.
Russia and the US have the first-mover advantage as they are already targeting 2030 for human habitation on Mars. Will they let immigrant Indian-Martians undercut them by setting up less expensive tourist facilities later, just as they have done back on Earth?
Dr Radhakrishnan has earmarked 2013, 2016 and 2018 as "good opportunities for Isro to launch a Mars mission" (read spacecraft with an Indian astronaut, not a station just yet), and plans to send a robot to the Moon a year before that. So, there is still time for Earthlings to save up for that dream holiday, and for Singapore and Bangkok to think about how to deal with Isro pipping them in the budget holiday stakes by offering cheap getaway packages for Martian motels and Lunar lodges.
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TOWARDS A NUKE-FREE WORLD?
The signing of a treaty between the US and Russia on reducing their strategic nuclear arsenals is most welcome, even if the larger aim of nuclear disarmament remains distant. Cutting their nuclear arsenals by a third over seven years (down to 1,550 warheads from the 2,200 allowed by the 1991 strategic arms reduction treaty) still leaves enough to destroy the world several times over.
Further, this new treaty does not apply to entire categories of weapons, including thousands of reserve and tactical warheads. Then again, on such an issue, a start is surely better than stasis. And that, together with the Nuclear Posture Review brought out by President Barack Obama this week, can well be called the embryonic start of a new vision towards at least a less nuke-filled world. The Review's two main points are that the US will not launch a nuclear attack on a non-nuclear state and would not go in for new tests or develop more warheads. It can, in effect, be called a new nuclear policy.
But caveats and grey areas still remain, from the other categories of undeployed stockpiles to the US reserving the right to not apply the Review to some states. Now, nuclear weapons are special, and have to be excluded from any concept of equal entitlement for the countries of the world. At the same time, might alone shapes the power structure that decides which countries can possess nukes, and which ones cannot. And its moral foundation is shaky, when the nuclear haves include an undeclared weapons power like Israel, an unchallenged proliferator of both warhead and missile technology like China, and a known proliferator like Pakistan, whose ability to keep nuclear material out of the reach of terrorists is never totally above suspicion.
Still, the present development is a step forward. As the Review rightly points out, the world must focus on preventing proliferation. Perhaps, we might never again face the Cold War situation in which the former USSR and the US together deployed around 19,000 warheads. That, however, is not good enough. India must play a constructive part in taking this momentum forward.
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SEBI, MIND THIS GAP, TOO
The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has done well to shorten the time between issue closure and listing of shares, in an initial public offer by a company. Now, it should fix the current tendency for the period between filing of a detailed red herring prospectus and its vetting by Sebi to be obstinately indefinite, anything from 30 days to 150 days or even more.
Truncating the gap between closure of a public issue and the listing of the company on the stock exchange is a logical step in the IPO reform process. A shorter timeline of 12 days instead of 22 will free up funds faster for investors. Companies also stand to receive the issue receipts faster.
Sebi should fast-track the procedure of evaluating a draft red herring prospectus filed by a company that plans to raise money from the market. The regulation is that no issue can open unless the prospectus has been filed with Sebi 30 days prior to its registration with the Registrar of Companies (RoC). The RoC will register a prospectus only after vetting by Sebi.
However, this 30-day period can stretch indefinitely, as Sebi can seek clarifications or make observations in a piecemeal, serial manner, and the 30-day period would begin after the company sends in its reply. Companies, in turn, have no time limit to respond to Sebi's queries. What such procrastination does is to deprive a company of the opportune time to tap the market, or worse, make it suffer due to its obligation to stop talking about itself beyond what the draft prospectus says. Sebi would do well to display, in its issue document processing statement put up on the Web, how many queries/observations it made and when.
The onus of certifying that the issuer's disclosures conform to the relevant Sebi guidelines rests with the lead manager, in any case. Perhaps, Sebi should fix a timeline for clearing a draft prospectus after its filing, in consultation with merchant banks, who have the responsibility to adhere to guidelines and vouch for the authenticity of disclosure. Sebi should hire additional staff, if manpower is a constraint on clearing issue prospectuses with dispatch, to improve its self-discipline.
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MARKET-BASED SOLUTION FOR INCLUSION
While India has witnessed unprecedented economic growth in recent past, its development has been lopsided with the country trailing on essentialsocial and environmental parameters of development. I believe that addressing social infrastructure or environmental problems will require mainstream intervention models that are implemented on a massive scale.
Philanthropy, given its relatively more risk-taking nature, developmental organisations that lend patient capital and the state that enables scale to a certain extent, have all played an important role in formulating solutions to some of the most critical problems we face today.
However, truly sustainable inclusive growth requires intervention models implemented on a large scale using efficient, scalable mechanisms to enhance impact. While philanthropy, development agencies and the state will continue to play crucial parts in building such interventions, the role of the private sector becomes ever more critical, given that it embodies attributes such as sustainability, efficiency and scale that are vital to make a sizeable impact.
For a country like India, therefore, sustainability is not just an ethical imperative but a sound business decision that allows private enterprise to meet market demands by servicing underpenetrated markets with customised and cost-effective products and services, leveraging the potential of untapped natural and human resources while enhancing social and environmental benefits.
Harnessing market principles for sustainable development: Market-based solutions to development issues represent a win-win proposition, providing cost-effective access to basic services such as health, finance, education, water or housing for the bottom of pyramid (BoP) while offering an opportunity for the private sector to go beyond shortterm financial gains to ensure long-term longevity. Indeed, there are abundant opportunities across the sustainability spectrum that are being tapped by fledgling social enterprises and the big boys of India Inc alike. Healthcare: In a country where 80% population has access to only 20% of healthcare, organisations such as Sankara Nethralaya which provides a universal standard of care for all through low-cost specialised healthcare represent a growing breed of enterprises addressing healthcare market in aprofitable and socially-relevant manner. In 30 years, it has grown into a super-speciality institution for ophthalmic care serving 1,200 patients and performing 100 surgeries daily. Financial inclusion:India is estimated to have the second-largest number of financiallyexcluded households, i.e., 13 million. Pioneering grassroots financial interventions over the last 30 years, however, have demonstrated bankability of the BoP its ability to save, service and honour credit commitments and demand for affordable financial products and services. Many such interventions have become torchbearers of commercially-viable market-based solutions, e.g., Grameen Bank and SKS Microfinance. Education:It is estimated that 17% of Indian villages do not have primary schooling facilities, raising an urgent need to augment education infrastructure. This need is being addressing by Indian School Finance Co an NBFC that extends medium-term loans at market rates to affordable private schools in partnership with Gray Capital Matters a private foundation with the aim to developing an effective educational ecosystem.
Energy: India's enormous power deficit (15% peak deficit in 2009) coupled with increasing per-capita consumption of power (636 kwh p.a. compared to world average of 2,490 kwh p.a.), high oil imports, overdependence on coal and limited rural electrification raises energy sufficiency issues that can be addressed by judicious use of renewable energy. Buoyed by government-mandated Renewable Portfolio Standard that targets 10% of all grid-supplied power via renewable energy by 2012, planned expansion in renewable energy is estimated to result in investments of over $19.3 billion. Enterprises such as Greenko a renewable energy platform with 101 mw of biomass and small hydel projects and FreePlay which focuses on rural household applications and offers self-powered devices including lanterns are addressing a sizable market with cost-effective 'clean' products.
Water and sanitation:Today, 200 million people in India don't have access to safe drinking water and nearly 33% lack sanitation. Companies such as Sarvajal a for-profit social enterprise that aims to increase access to clean drinking water are making significant impact using community-based models that are designed around scalable innovations and technical/process improvements, ensuring livelihoods for local entrepreneurs. The new normal: The viability of markets across the sustainability spectrum and customer segments including the BoP is being demonstrated everyday, reiterating that sustainable, scalable market-based solutions are no longer esoteric pipedreams but the new normal, representing a confluence of top-down and bottom-up approaches. This is evident in how the renewable energy space is being addressed by both a global market leader in wind energy like Suzlon Energy and a private enterprise that focuses on rural community access to energy such as D.light Design. Or, even in how a conglomerate like ITC is helping small farmers make informed decisions by providing access to commodity price information through its e-Choupal network. Indeed, catalysing the agriculture and rural economy (both farm and non-farm), and stimulating unorganised and micro-organisations (MSMEs) are two of the biggest areas of opportunity.
Successful inclusive growth strategies, therefore, seek to rectify imbalances in a business-like manner; they are not acts of charity. What makes inclusive growth sustainable and particularly effective is that it focuses on 'capacity creation and skill development for productive employment rather than on direct income redistribution'.
While sustainable inclusive growth will be fuelled by market-driven forces of growth that enable a wider range of social sectors to access markets and equip them to be more productive, the government plays a key role in broadening access to economic opportunities and build resilience of the most-vulnerable against economic shocks.
In sum, actualising the inclusive growth vision requires coordinated efforts to synergise the initiatives of the government, private sector, community-based organisations and civil society both from top-down and bottom-up perspectives. And, private enterprise is poised to stand front and centre of India's development story, partnering key stakeholders to build collaborative frameworks for sustainable development.
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WHAT CHOICE DIVINE FREE WILL?
Do we possess free will the power to prefer one thing over another that is unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine resolve? A lot of intellectual, emotional and spiritual investment has been made over many human ages towards the resolution of this inquiry with no final consensus of opinion anywhere near the horizon so far.
But philosophical wrangling aside, one thing is fairly clear: if we don't have free will, then neither do other animals. Meaning, it makes little sense for panthers or bacteria to have free will and not us. At the same time, if it turns out we do have free will, then so should members of our ancestral lineage at least to some extent.
And so they seem to. When bacteria are placed in lactose, the decision to synthesise an enzyme called beta-galactosidase is immediate because it's vital for their existence. But from this if we claim the little organisms choose life over death, anti-free will proponents would counterclaim it's only due to what their DNA determines them to do.
However, if lactose is not available and death is imminent, other bacterial mechanisms are brought into action that detect any other possible fuel that then alters their action so that they can utilise whatever else is available. The problem is that this can also be ascribed to DNA determination.
But, again, from this to extrapolate that the reason we choose, for example, to see Alice in Wonderland and not 3 Idiots on a particular day is because of what our genes make us do seems totally unfair, if not absolutely absurd. We might as well pardon all serial murderers and rapists.
For, it's also true that we are now capable of choosing to make things like geneticallymodified plants of certain crops like soybean, corn, cotton and many others that can be tweaked to develop desired properties. Or we can choose to make element 118 as scientists have just done. None of these things are found in nature or anywhere else in the entire universe for that matter.
Our DNA did this? Not our will? If we choose to believe that these things were already predetermined, then what choice do we have than to also believe that God had to make the universe and everything in it not due to some divine resolve but because He had no choice in the matter? Now that's the kind of un-free will we can live with since it makes us gods too.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ACTIVIST PUDR RIGHTS GROUPS ALWAYS CONDEMN WAR
In the present war declared by the Indian state, it is continuously being demanded of civil rights groups to condemn Maoist violence. The civil rights movement has always upheld the right and dignity of human life and has opposed war. Undoubtedly, the April 6 killings are unfortunate and no democratic person can agree that to kill is a good thing. However, it is a known fact that the CRPF battalion had gone into Dantewada for 'area domination' exercise as part of Operation Green Hunt. Killing is part of this planned war. The fiction of this being a 'just war' is part of the plan.
While the war is being fought in the heart of adivasi land, the enemies, we are told, are not adivasis, but Maoists. The issue, it is argued, is not development and displacement but of destabilising the nation, of overthrowing the state and of savagery. In keeping with justice, Maoist deaths are never condemned and no thought is given to such losses. Now the effort will be to target 'enemies of the people' with greater vengeance. Again, we will be told, that 'people' are not the focus but villagers in Dantewada will have to brace for a new round of heavy repression as several will be killed, tortured, raped, arrested and thrown into prison. Atrocities by security forces will be denied or passed off as 'collateral damage'.
It is shocking that a duly elected government announces that it will not address socio-economic issues but 'wipe out the Naxal menace'. It has chosen to eliminate the middle ground of dissent and discussion over issues such as mining, land grab and privatisation of resources which its policies have inaugurated. Worse, it has simply decided to kill dissent.
The government has alternatives. It can withdraw Operation Green Hunt, initiate dialogue, cancel MoUs and revoke the ban on CPI (Maoist). But in refusing to do any of the above, the government is determined to cause more bloodshed as combatants on either side will be killed. Civil rights organisations will always condemn such a war which the government has thrust on its people.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
MANY SUCH GROUPS ARE A MAOIST FRONT
The entire civil rights discourse in India has become an apology for the Maoists. Civil rights groups have been transformed into weapons in the hands of various terrorist and insurgent formations in India, engaging in a campaign of harassment and disruption, undermining the capacities of state forces, and often paralysing the state's agencies in their counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism campaigns. This isn't just a question of misplaced intellectual sympathies or confusion. It is an integral element of the Maoist strategy.
Many, though, of course, not all, of the 'civil rights' groups are, in fact, no more than front organisations set up by the Maoists. The Strategy and Tactics document of the Communist Party of India - Maoist clearly identifies the multiplicity of such organisations the party must set up or exploit. In addition to the underground revolutionary organisations that are the core of their armed struggle, it outlines the setting up of Open Mass Organisations, Cover Organisations and a range of Legal and Democratic Organisations. In addition, a spectrum of those who have, in a different context, been described as 'useful idiots', are to be brought together under the canopy of United Front Activities. This may include a number of well-intentioned or simply opportunistic or self-seeking civil rights groups, who are co-opted into the Maoist strategy.
By and large, none of these groups condemns the Maoists even for blatant brutalities. Where qualified condemnation is heard, it is followed up by justification in terms of the 'root causes' shibboleth. What is ignored is that extreme violence, intended to terrorise the people, is an escapable element of Maoist strategy. As Mao noted, "it is necessary to create terror for a while in every rural area, or otherwise it would be impossible to suppress the activities of the counter-revolutionaries... Proper limits have to be exceeded..." Extreme cruelty is, thus, a part of the Maoist paradigm, a fact that is ignored by Maoist 'civil rights' fronts and sympathisers.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TECHNOLOGY ADOPTION BY SMALL FIRMS BACK WITH A BANG
Metamorph Learning, a four people Bangalore-based startup, recently opted for an accounting and financial system to manage billing, invoice, cash flow and profit and loss records.
The system, based on a SaaS (software as a service) model, cost the company, which imparts training to economically disadvantaged youth for employment in the retail industry, about Rs 4,000 a month (for a single user license). But Metamorph's managers went for it in view of the long-term advantages of the technology.
"When you are a small company you have to watch expenses carefully. Even our chief financial officer is outsourced. The system takes away headaches of constantly updating financial information," says Sudha Iyer, founder and CEO of Metamorph, who opted for a Microsoft Dynamics solution.
Indeed, for many small and medium-sized companies, it's finally time to digitise operations. Technology adoption for such businesses, which hit a trough in the last 12-18 months of economic downturn, is back with a bang.
While smaller companies want to benefit from technologies, the requirements have moved beyond just having a few computers and an Internet connection. It now includes software business packages for applications ranging from finance to logistics management, wireless Internet routers, unified communications tools and more.
Increasingly, deployments are moving away from a local area network environment to taking on SaaS and looking at cloud computing to meet business software to communication needs. While the level of sophistication of technology used by SMBs has gone up and small to mid-sized companies have sought technology tools to boost performance, an overwhelming number of the 7.5 million such enterprises are yet to make the shift to adopting technology.
Companies, big and small, from global giants like Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, Dell to Eastern Software, Nucleus Software, Tally Systems, see the underpenetrated technology market as both an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is estimated to be $8-9 billion a year, growing at 16-18%.
The challenge is to build systems relevant for the needs of SMBs rather than just tweak or retrofit systems meant for large enterprises.
Says Pramodh Menon, senior V-P, Cisco, India & Saarc, "The best days are ahead as more and more companies look to go high-tech." Among SMBs defined by employee base of under 500 and a turnover of under Rs 400 crore (many of the small companies like Ekgaon and Metamorph Learning have revenue of around or below Rs 1 crore) there have been sectors like auto ancillary where companies had no option but to adopt technology and others like transport, which are now trying to convert their archaic paper-based systems to digital ones as they eye bigger growth in the domestic market.
"The SMB dialogue has been changing from 'why do I need IT' to 'tell me how can I do it'," says Rajesh Kumar, director for business planning and strategy at Microsoft India.
Like in the case of Metamorph Learning which needed a simple system to manage its accounts without the hassles of updates or investing in a full-time finance team. It opted for a SaaS model that costs around Rs 4,000 a month and has already trained over 400 youths to take up jobs in the retail industry, since starting operations about a year back.
In the past, the move to go for technology solutions has been driven by large enterprises and the nature of the work that SMBs were doing. For instance, for auto ancillary units supplying to big carmakers there was no option but to implement technology solutions and be in sync with the customers' systemsbe it for e-commerce, supply chain management or human resource requirements.
For other small enterprises that opted for online delivery of services, the startup phase itself saw use of technology tools. But now a lot of businesses seeking efficiency are working on an outsourced model with very lean staff and want to make services attractive to new users and hence the desire to go high-tech has increased even more.
Take for instance the three-star Hotel Golkonda in Hyderabad which is currently implementing a wireless LAN from Cisco. Suresh Reddy executive director of the hotel says, "It will take the hotel to the next level of customer value proposition."
Another trigger for technology adoption now is that the technological complexity has been taken away. Explains Mr Menon of Cisco, "For SMBs technology has traditionally been perceived to be complicated. They don't have the infrastructure or resources to decode complex system. Cloud-based services and SaaS help take away complexity and accelerate technology adoption." Instead of having a CIO or a CTO, companies can rent technology solutions, making it easier to use.
According to IDC, India has about 7.6 million SMBs and most of the growth will be led by mid-market segment (100-499 employees) rather than small businesses which traditionally lead SMB IT spending recovery. Mr Kumar of Microsoft says over 60% of SMBs are still not touched by any technology and this makes India the most underpenetrated market even if you compare with other emerging countries.
Brazil has a technology penetration rate of 60% among SMBs, China has 42% and Russia 44%. On the other had, mature markets like US have a SMB technology penetration of 98% and the UK has 89%. He reckons that in India at least 300,000 to 350,000 will opt for some basic technology adoption this year.
Samik Roy, head, growth business, Oracle India cites a change that is helping accelerate technology adoption. He says, "Earlier small companies looked up to big companies and wanted to be like them. Now they want to be better than them and see technology as a key strategy to achieve that goal. Hence technology use has penetrated to not only high-tech SMB enterprises but also logistics, education, insurance and other companies." Technology could help them be better than 'me-to'.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INDIA IS A GOOD PLACE TO WORK ON NEW TECH'
The directions you get from the GPS navigator in your car is a result of the efforts of Sanjai Kohli, who is among the final three nominees for European Inventor Award 2010 instituted by the European Patent Office and the European Commission. His team reinvented the signal processing physics of a GPS system, making it smaller, cheaper and a lot more effective in urban locations. ET quizzes the entrepreneur about his innovation and future plans.
How did you hit upon this innovation which has made GPS a household device now?
We had a solid team. We created a revolutionary receiver-chip design which allowed GPS to be introduced in the consumer market. Till then it could not be used in places that had tall buildings or any obstacles, and as such was meant for defence purposes. We asked why so? And then worked on creating the chip. Equally important was to offer it at a reasonable price.
What was that price point to make it viable?
Before we made the chip, a GPS device could cost you maybe a thousand dollars and be inoperable in the cities. Post this chip, you can now get it for $100, and use it wherever you need. This was essential to make it a commercially viable product.
How did you convince people of that this was possible when you started off?
It was difficult initially. I started SiRF in 1995 for this purpose and slowly built a team. Gradually we raised
funds, starting with around $4 million in 1996. As our project showed results, funding became easier. We managed to raise around $70 million in all from various VC players, Nokia and a major Japanese operator.
Once the product was commercialised you decided to exit?
That is after I brought in a professional CEO and the management team was in place. The job was done, the company was ready to go on while I moved on to the next exciting thing. I founded a wireless communication company, WirelessHome, in 1999, and then a mobile video company, TrueSpan, in 2004.
You have been part of PE funds in the recent past. What next?
I was part of two PE funds for whom I was identifying the right companies to invest in. After the stint I feel it is much more exciting to be doing something on your own. I will go back to being an entrepreneur. I have formed a team to work on increasing the power yield from a single solar panel. We are working on increasing the yield by 25%. This means you can have much more energy generation and yet use the same space for solar panels as before, something that crowded countries will find very useful.
But you haven't formed a company yet, or decided on a name for it...
Let me tell you that deciding a name for my companies has been a really tough job, more than even the actual work! I will decide in the near future. For now, I am packing my bags to go to Madrid for the European Inventor Award 2010. Let's see who wins on April 20.
How is the innovation scene in India?
The market is ripe right now, with VCs and PEs ready to support innovation. We see that happening in IT and also in technology. So it's a good place to have a team and work on new technologies. We have a team in Bangalore and I think the talent is surely there. The problem is in finding a leader who has previously sold a complete product, not parts of it. You do find them, but it's much more difficult here than in the US.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FOLLOW GREEN NORMS, BUT DON'T DELAY PROJECTS: CIL
The government's focus on infrastructure sector and the huge power generation capacity addition target has brought Coal India (CIL) in the limelight. The navratna public sector enterprise meets over 80% of the fuel needs of the power projects. CIL chairman Partha S Bhattacharyya said the company will expand its capacity rapidly to meet the growing demand. Excerpts from an interview with ET.
Coal mining activity has also come under severe scrutiny from the environment ministry. How will you meet the rising demand?
CIL is doing its best towards environment and forest protection. But I feel the country needs an integrated approach towards environment and forest clearance, especially with respect of coal projects. The activity creates huge opportunity for employment generation and lift the economic activity in the region.
If we aim for higher growth, we need to increase production of energy and coal. The rules on compensatory afforestation and reduction in environment pollution should be strictly followed, but projects clearance should not be delayed. With respect of CIL, we have created more forest than we have degraded.
Will CIL raise coal prices seeing buoyant demand and rising international prices?
CIL has already increased coal prices and has no plan for any further hike in fiscal 2010-11. We are very competitive even by selling coal at notified prices, which are lower than the market rates. But we have a plan to relate our coal with international prices once the company starts selling washed coal. CIL plans to set up 20 washeries in the next few years. Once washeries start functioning, we see a situation where by 2016-17, about 55% of CIL coal will be washed. And when that happens, the washed coal will be priced keeping in mind international prices.
Selling washed coal at international prices may see a big jump in your revenues?
This will certainly boost our revenues from fiscal 2012-13. The average price of our coal is roughly $20 a tonne. By washing the coal, we may lose 20% of coal or $4 a tonne. Another $2 will need to be spent on washing. This takes total cost of washed coal (equivalent to 5000 kilo calorie Indonesian coal) to $26 per tonne. While international price of same quality of coal is currently running at $45 a tonne. So even if we sell this coal at a discount of 15%, we can gain about 50% in terms of realisation.
What is the status of your IPO?
We are awaiting Cabinet approval on the proposal to sell 10% government equity in the company through a market offering. This would mean that about 63 crore shares will be offered through the IPO. The government has also agreed to reserve 1% or 6.3 crore shares for CIL employees. Subject to government approval, we have set June 15 as an internal deadline to file the draft red herring prospectus. The issue will happen by the end of July or early August this year. We also have international precedent as a very recent market offering by a Chinese coal company fetched good returns.
CIL wanted to offer a part of its shares in the public offering to project affected people...
There are some legal issues. We have kept this option out from the IPO as it would have delayed the whole process. A legal examination on the proposal is being carried out and once views are available we will take the decision to pledge a portion of the equity with a co-operative or a special purpose vehicle. They could then offer the shares to affected people as part of the compensation package. The entire exercise could be undertaken through a special share issue once government nod is given.
CIL has returned good numbers for financial year 2009-10...
The year 2009-10 has been one of the best years for CIL with all its companies including BCCL and ECL returning profits. The increase in profit has come despite severe constraints particularly of rake availability from the railways. Still we managed to increase our coal production by 6.8% to 431.27 million tonnes.
This is the highest growth in terms of percentage and absolute terms. We didn't get commensurate growth in offtake because of problems in getting rakes from railways. Coming to financial numbers, the company has reported a Rs 8,312 crore net profit in 2009-10, which is almost four times the Rs 2,078 crore figure seen in 2008-09. The sales of company has also grown by 14% to Rs 52,088 crore in 2009-10.
Your were exploring strategic partnership in overseas markets...
We are currently evaluating 10 proposals from five global companies for strategic partnerships. The initiative will be three fold. CIL will look to hold equity in projects of global companies, form joint ventures for third country exploration and mining and also look at long-term coal offtake contracts. Our aim is to have 50 million tonnes from our overseas operations in next four to five years and spend around $ 2 billion.
What is your plan for coal imports?
We have been assured that Vizag port will be available for importing coal. We are also talking to NTPC to do coal imports together through the joint venture route.
Any plan to enter power generation?
We are planning to have a 1000 mw plant with NTPC near North Karanpura coal fields. Another project could be considered with them near Brahmini coalfields. We have built a stock of 62 million tonnes of coal due to shortage of rakes from Railways. We may be forced to enter into power generation in a big way if infrastructure bottleneck remains. We may also consider power projects with utilities such as Orissa Power Generation Corporation, Chhattisgarh State Electricity Board and Neyveli Lignite Corporation.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'WE WANT TO FOLLOW THE STRING OF PEARLS STRATEGY'
In a fiscal where India's top technology firms are expected to renew their M&A pursuits for joining the big league and also acquire newer skills by buying smaller, niche firms, HP-owned MphasiS plans to follow the 'string of pearls' strategy. MphasiS, which acquired Fortify Infrastructure Services for $15.5 million on Thursday, also established a new business unit focused on managing IT infrastructure of customers in the US and Europe. Rajkumar Velagapudi, the chief executive of Fortify, who will lead MphasiS' new business unit, speaks to ET, along with Ganesh Ayyar, the MphasiS CEO. Excerpts:
Managing computer and communication infrastructure is considered by some as a commoditised business. What's the rationale for acquiring Fortify and what's the potential?
Ganesh: First of all, I do not think it's as mature as the application development business yet. It's not commoditised, especially if you consider the kind of outcome-based model Fortify is offering. Being a smaller, mid-sized company, we have to take a calculated risk and bet on potential, instead of buying historical business. We acquired AIG captive in August and everybody asked us why are we adding more of insurance skill, but we need to focus on our strengths. The remote operations management is around $12 billion market globally, and nearly $4 billion can be delivered from offshore. We have been looking at how to change this game. We identified around 70 targets in this space, shortlisted three of them and finally decided to acquire Fortify.
Rajkumar: We want to leverage the domains of financial services, healthcare and entertainment and grow this business unit to $100 million. We realised that with MphasiS, we can scale our platform better. We have around 280 professionals, and most of them have been with the company for 10 years.
There are many bigger companies offering remote infrastructure management and almost everybody is talking about the outcome-based pricing. What kind of customers you serve?
Rajkumar: We have around 24 customers, with 13 of them accounting for 75% of our revenues. Outcome-based model is not an easy task you must have the required domain knowledge. It can be something as complex as network management services where time taken to repair is very critical. At one of our customers, we replaced all 5 existing service providers. We told them that we will move everything to outcome model in 60 days and we did it. The customer, which was serviced by companies such as IBM, has 2,000 servers across many countries.
How is this acquisition really going to help you?
Ganesh: This gives us an opportunity to tap the mid-market segment comprising below Fortune 1,000 companies. With this platform, we can serve them better, and it's really going to be a sweet spot for us.
What's going to be MphasiS' strategy for future acquisitions?
Ganesh: We started last year with $12 million cash and by first quarter of 2010, we had $256 million in cash, which gives us some choice. We want to follow the 'string of pearls' strategy because we are a mid-sized and young company.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE WILL NOT OVERPAY FOR 3G SPECTRUM: MARTEN PIETERS
MUMBAI: He has worked for telecom operators in three diverse continents Europe, Africa and Asia. Marten Pieters, MD and CEO of Vodafone Essar, the second-largest operator by revenues in India, knows how to make money and keep the business growing even when tariffs hit half-a-paisa per second. Now, he is taking the upmarket Vodafone brand to rural India and readying the telco for 3G services. ET caught up with Mr Pieters after Vodafone announced reaching the 100 million subscriber mark. Excerpts:
You are the fifth operator in the world with 100 million customers in a single country. What helped you reach this milestone?
We reached it by making sure that we have relevant and good offers for our customers and once they are our customers, we do take good care of them. The focus of this company has really been more on execution of strategy than on the strategy itself. It's easy to define a strategy, but the real hard work is to get the execution right. We have over 1.2 million outlets in the country, which means the customer never has to walk far to get a top up.
To what extent has outsourcing and infrastructure sharing helped in speeding up the journey to the 100 million mark?
I don't think outsourcing or sharing model has helped a lot with numbers. It might be true of new operators who can take advantage of existing infrastructure. That's not true of us as we were among the first ones to build extensive infrastructure. But it has helped, for sure, to work on what I would call the affordability because if we share a tower with two or three other operators, our costs go down considerably. That's why we have started Indus with Bharti and Idea because it's good for all of us. And, with tariffs at where they are right now, we need to be keen to drive costs down.
Do you see tariffs going down further? Are we heading for a free calls kind of a scenario with some fixed charges?
Business models are changing all the time and things we thought were impossible ten years ago are happening today. I have been long enough in the technology sector to see the bubble at the beginning of this decade where we thought that Internet was a business model that could be for free, but that didn't last long. Most companies went broke and a lot of shareholders lost billions or trillions of dollars. So, building a business model based on free is extremely difficult, and I don't see it happening in the mobile industry immediately. At the same time, I would say that in India, it is nearly for free. We get tariffs in India that are 10% of what my colleagues in Europe get if you look at the per minute price. That's why you need scale. We have 21% of the revenue market here and that's what counts. We love every customer that comes to us and, at the same time, we manage the company based on revenues and not customer numbers. Because in the end, we need to pay for our bills and I can only pay with money. So, it's important to get money from my customers.
Do you think the current tariff scenario is unsustainable?
No, I am not saying that. It's unsustainable for an individual operator if you don't have enough scale. It is not unsustainable for the industry and not unsustainable for us because we have scale. It is extremely difficult to have more than 5 players in a market. In an extremely mature and developed market like the UK, where they had five players, the number four and five are merging because it was unsustainable and they could not make money.
So, are you are foreseeing some kind of consolidation in the Indian market too?
Yes, that needs to happen. I cannot see how 13-14 players can survive in the market.
By when do you think consolidation will set in?
That depends very much on the rules. Today, the rules for mergers and acquisition for telecom companies are very unfavourable. They don't stimulate consolidation at all.
You have bid for 3G as well as broadband wireless access (BWA) spectrum. How will you utilise both of them?
Both spectrums are used for different technologies. It is not mutually exclusive or, by definition, doing the same thing. So, based on the outcome of the auction, we will define how we go to the market with different services.
The common perception is that operators are looking at 3G for easing voice congestion and offering data services using BWA spectrum.
That is assuming that customers will have 3G-enabled handsets for voice and I can tell you that there are not too many of them in the country. So, that could be possible, but I think data services on 3G will be a big thing because it will, for sure, improve customer experience. It is absolutely not only voice.
How will you be able to recover the investments in 3G? We have seen the problems with auction in the UK.
We, as operators, learnt some lessons from Europe, where prices for 3G licence in hindsight were very high. With that learning, I can tell you we are not planning to overpay. So, whatever we pay will be based on a valuation and business case, which means that we can make returns on that investment. At the same time, you have to realise that 3G is not like starting a new business. It's the next version of the same thing.
It is the turbo on the existing engine. Which means, 3G services will not be sold as separate category. It means we can sell our existing customers better data services. It is completely built on top of the existing business case.
How are you funding it all?
We are fully funded for auction, but I will not give details.
How important is India in Vodafone's global strategy and in terms of contribution to the group revenues?
It is disappointingly low. We carry 50% of the total MOUs (minutes of use) of the Vodafone group in India, but it's only 6% of revenues of the group. In the end, business is also about the money being made. So, there is an issue here that tariffs are really low in India. The only thing that can, over the time, make the business model work is the scale.
Any target for the future in terms of revenues or subscribers?
No, I am not giving any numbers. We have consistently increased our revenue market share in India in the past four years.
You have been just a notch below
Reliance Communications in terms of subscriber numbers for almost two years now. RCOM hit 100 million just three weeks back.
We have 21% revenue market share. We don't manage the company based on customer numbers. I am interested in revenue. It's better for me to have a few customers with high revenue than a lot of customers with lower revenue because every customer also comes with a cost be it the acquisition cost or a number that I need to give or space in my data system. For us, revenue is far more important than pure customer number.
Any plans to list in India?
We don't have any plans to list. We have strong shareholders the Vodafone group and the Essar group. There must be a reason for a listing. Typically, it could be money or additional equity. We don't need it. We are fully funded and in a strong financial position. Over time, a listing may come up in the future, but it's not in the existing plans.
What's your strategy for the next 100 million?
Our strategy is very much based on driving further penetration in rural areas and focusing on data part of the business, because we think there is an opportunity to further grow Internet access services and value added services. At this moment, we are lacking spectrum. Spectrum is so scarce in India. 3G auctions are coming and so something comes from that.
You are considered very urban-centric. What are your plans for rural areas?
We started operations in seven 'C' circles in the past 18 months. We achieved 3 million users in Bihar within 18 months. We are thinking more about introducing dedicated VAS for farmers and rural users. We are far more segmented than before and rural customers are a separate segment in our strategy. About 20-25% of our customers are from rural areas and 60% of new additions are coming from rural markets.
Vodafone has invested Rs 20,000 crore in the past three years. What will be your capex for the future?
It's very difficult to say. But, as long as we can predict good returns, there will be money available for investments because Vodafone group is in this business to stay and it's the only business it has. And, it has been willing to invest and will keep investing in business and that's all based on the assumption that money will make return.
What are your focus areas for investment?
If you look at new businesses, we are investing in four areas one, rollout in the seven 'C' circles where we started operations in the past 18 months, the second is the carrier business, third is enterprise business and the fourth is data business.
Could you throw some more light on your carrier business?
We were buying capacity from others. So, the first thing we did there is to focus on building so much network that we could carry our own traffic. Today, we carry 95% of our traffic on own networks in the country, which saves costs. We have built 80,000 km of fibre in the past few years. We are also adding a lot of fixedline enterprise services. So, there is opportunity for us to bundle mobile services with fixedline services for big enterprises.
PUSSYFOOTING WITH CHINA WON'T WORK
It was never realistic to expect that the visit of the external affairs minister, Mr S.M. Krishna, to Beijing earlier this week would in any way change the existing dynamics between the two neighbours, characterised by a lack of warmth. On the whole, however, the two countries have managed their relations in a utilitarian way so far. Mr Krishna's trip underscored this. Sometimes sensitive issues such as the boundary dispute, or the way India should treat the Dalai Lama (who is a red rag to the Chinese), have threatened to get out of hand, as we saw last year. In recent years, Beijing has also allowed irritation to surface when regarding the slightest degree of warmth in India's relations with the United States. India has done what it can to bring ties back to an even keel when there has been the slightest flutter. New Delhi has been mindful that India and China are major countries, regionally and in the world. China, in addition, has acquired economic muscle that gives it super leverage on the international stage. For these reasons, any tension in India-China relations has the potential to unsettle many perspectives. Seen in another way, there is genuine room for suitably enhanced cooperation between India and China in the economic and business field. There is also scope for them to collaborate in tackling some world issues, such as those to do with climate change. These should be explored and taken forward as much as possible. But it would be a mistake to brush matters of concern under the carpet, a tendency New Delhi has been prone to exhibit. That's a sure way of keeping our public uninformed. In Beijing, for instance, Mr Krishna, in his public comments, made a big thing of formalising an agreement to set up a hotline between the Prime Ministers of the two countries while betraying no disappointment at Chinese stonewalling on key areas of Indian concern. A hotline is no more than a device for instantaneous high-level communication which can be put to good use to head off trouble. It is well to remember, however, that the existence of a hotline has done little to improve matters between India and Pakistan. So, in the end, it really does boil down to having good intentions and the requisite political will. At a crucial time in international negotiations when India's civil nuclear agreement with the United States was in the works, the Chinese leadership had simply refused to take a phone call from the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. Mr Krishna discussed with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao some key questions. These included soliciting Beijing's endorsement for India's candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council, and issues relating to Jammu and Kashmir Beijing building development projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and granting stapled visas to residents of Kashmir (these amount to accepting Pakistan's case on Kashmir). On neither issue were the Chinese Communists forthcoming, advising India patience on the subject of Security Council membership, which has become the mantra of Middle Kingdom manadarins when they wish to fudge and get by. On the eve of Mr Krishna's departure for Beijing, Canadian and US computer security researchers sensationally showed how a Chinese computer espionage gang based in Sichuan province had singularly focused on hacking into Indian official computers worldwide and stolen documents relating to strategic defence, India's relations with dozens of countries, and its security assessments for its own states.
MUGABE'S HOLD IS CHOKING ZIMBABWE
BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Here's a measure of how the President, Mr Robert Mugabe, is destroying this once lush nation of Zimbabwe: In a week of surreptitious reporting here (committing journalism can be a criminal offence in Zimbabwe), ordinary people said time and again that life had been better under the old, racist, white regime of what was then called Rhodesia.
"When the country changed from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, we were very excited", one man, Kizita, told me in a village of mud-walled huts near this town in western Zimbabwe. "But we didn't realise the ones we chased away were better and the ones we put in power would oppress us".
"It would have been better if whites had continued to rule because the money would have continued to come", added a neighbour, a 58-year-old farmer named Isaac. "It was better under Rhodesia. Then we could get jobs. Things were cheaper in stores. Now we have no money, no food".
Over and over, I cringed as I heard Africans wax nostalgic about a nasty, oppressive regime run by a tiny white elite. Black Zimbabweans responded that at least that regime was more competent than today's nasty, oppressive regime run by the tiny black elite that surrounds Mr Mugabe.
A New York Times colleague, Barry Bearak, was jailed here in 2008 for reporting, so I used a fresh passport to enter the country as a tourist. Partly for my own safety, I avoided interviewing people with ties to the government, so I can't be sure that my glimpse of the public mood was representative.
People I talked to were terrified for their personal safety if quoted much more scared than in the past. That's why I'm being vague about locations and agreed to omit full names.
But what is clear is that Zimbabwe has come very far downhill over the last few decades (although it has risen a bit since its trough two years ago). An impressive health and education system is in tatters, and life expectancy has tumbled from about 60 years in 1990 to somewhere between 36 and 44, depending on which statistics you believe.
Western countries have made the mistake of focusing their denunciations on the seizures of white farms by Mr Mugabe's cronies. That's tribalism by whites; by far the greatest suffering has been endured by Zimbabwe's blacks.
In Kizita's village, for example, I met a 29-year-old woman, seven months pregnant, who had malaria. She and her husband had walked more than four miles to the nearest clinic, where she tested positive for malaria. But the clinic refused to give her some life-saving anti-malaria medicine unless she paid $2 and she had no money at all in her house. So, dizzy and feverish, she stumbled home for another four miles, empty-handed.
As it happened, the clinic that turned her down was one that I had already visited. Nurses there had complained that they were desperately short of bandages, antibiotics and beds. They said that to survive, they impose fees for seeing patients, for family planning, for safe childbirth and the upshot is that impoverished villagers die because they can't pay.
I also spent time at an elementary school where the number of students had dropped sharply because so few parents today can afford $36 in annual school fees.
"We don't have desks. We don't have chairs. We don't have books", explained the principal, who was terrified of being named. The school also lacks electricity and water, and the first grade doesn't have a classroom and meets under a tree.
This particular school had been founded by Rhodesians more than 70 years ago, and the principal mused that it must have served black pupils far better in Rhodesian days than today.
At another school 100 miles away, the deputy headmaster lamented that students can't even afford pens. "One child has to finish his work, and then he lends his pen to another child", he explained.
Zimbabwe is one of my favourite countries, blessed with friendly people, extraordinary wildlife and little crime. I took my family along with me on this trip (my kids accuse me of using them as camouflage), and they found the scenery, people and wild animals quite magical.
At a couple of villages we visited, farmers were driving away elephants that were trampling their crops and they were blaming Mr Mugabe for the elephants. That struck even me as unfair.
The tragedy that has unfolded here can be reversed if Mr Mugabe is obliged by international pressure, particularly from South Africa, to hold free elections. World-wide pressure forced the oppressive Rhodesian regime to give up power three decades ago. Now we need similar pressure, from African countries as well as Western powers, to pry Mr Mugabe's fingers from his chokehold on a lovely country.
TALK LESS, DO MORE, MR CHIDAMBARAM
BY SANJAY BASAK
If Maoists believe in shooting their way to revolutionary glory, Union home minister P. Chidambaram seems to believe that he can rein them in by shooting off his mouth and jumping the gun.
His predecessor, Shivraj Patil, earned the wrath of the nation by speaking in platitudes and dressing up on the wrong occasions.
Mr Chidambaram, on the other hand, seems hell bent on seeking infamy through his thoughtless rhetoric.
Between platitudes and rhetoric, there is little to choose. Both are hurdles to effective action.
Take Mr Chidambaram's visit to Maoist-infested Lalgarh on April 4. It was meant to be a confidence-boosting visit. But the Union home minister did nothing of that sort. Instead, he tried to pass the buck for the ongoing Maoist violence to the CPI(M)-led state government.
"Eventually the buck stops at the chief minister's table", he said, as if the key question was who should shoulder the blame and not how the Maoists should be tackled. "If the buck goes beyond the chief minister's table, then it is the failure of the administrative machinery."
And for good measure, he added that Maoists were "cowards hiding in jungles". Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took umbrage at the use of the word "buck" and the provoked Maoists hit back with vengeance within 48 hours, butchering 76 security personnel at Dantewada in Chhattisgarh with impunity.
A rattled home minister then hurriedly termed the Maoists "savage" as if the whole issued hinged on the adjectives he chose.
The man who uses words lavishly was tongue-tied when it came to explaining the colossal strategic failure in deploying untrained CRPF men in Maoist terrain. Where does that buck stop?
This is not the first time Mr Chidambaram's rhetoric has landed him as well as the government in trouble. In a late-night press conference on December 9, 2009, he surprised the nation by announcing that the Centre was initiating the process to divide Andhra Pradesh and create Telangana.
All hell broke loose in Andhra Pradesh. In hindsight, Mr Chidambaram should have spoken more carefully, should have been more tentative and should have given enough thought to the wide ramifications involved. But he did nothing of this sort. The result he had to swallow his own words a few days later.
Many Andhra Pradesh leaders complained that Mr Chidambaram was merely reacting to the "blackmail" by a section of pro-Telangana leaders and had no clue of the response his words might evoke.
As Andhra burnt and Parliament was rocked, the Centre, thanks to Mr Chidambaram's careless quip, had to initiate a fire-fighting operation. But the home minister had already let loose the genie and there was no way it could be summoned back to the lamp.
Though the Andhra government had been taking steps to cannily tackle the Telangana Rashtra Samithi agitation, Mr Chidambaram gave a fresh lease of life to the party as well as its leader, K. Chandrashekhar Rao, who were completely marginalised both politically and electorally.
This was not what the nation expected when Mr Chidambaram took over as home minister in December 2008, immediately the 26/11 horror. The country wanted him to shake the slumbering home ministry to action and tone up the nation's security.
Mr Chidambaram, who was expected to play the part of an iron man, rapidly turned into a man full of irony. His hard talk did not elicit anything favourable from Pakistan. And when he started focusing on the Maoists, they hit even harder. During the past one year, Maoists have killed nearly 200 security personnel. And the body count is rising.
And Mr Chidambaram shows no sign of taking any moral responsibility for the bloodiest ever attack unleashed by the Maoists in recent times. Instead, he has again taken refuge in rhetoric. He does not want to face the fact that the so-called Operation Green Hunt is a dismal failure.
For him, "there's no going back now," since "Maoists have thrust a war upon us." He also warns darkly that the "government has to revisit the mandate on the use of the Air Force in the offensive against Naxalites."
Grinding poverty and lack of basic infrastructure plagues tribals living in the dense jungles of Dandakaranya in Chhattisgarh, the haunt of Maoists. They don't even have clean drinking water. Women in these tribal lands are an exploited lot.
Taking advantage of the situation, Maoists are luring the boys and girls to take up arms against the state. The CPI(Maoist)'s armed unit-People's Liberation Guerrilla Army comprises of over 40 per cent women.
The Maoists are like shadow warriors living among poor villagers. How does Mr Chidambaram intend to use the Air Force against them?
In fact, by speculating loudly on the use of the Indian Air Force, Mr Chidambaram is only walking into the trap set by Maoists. If warplanes shoot at tribal hamlets, the extremists wouldn't even have to persuade the young to take up guns.
If he seriously wants to tackle the Maoist menace, the home minister should stop trying to score brownie points as he did in West Bengal. It may please his ally, the Trinamul Congress, and anger the Marxists. But in the end, it only creates division in the ranks.
Mr Chidambaram should ideally study carefully how Andhra Pradesh has used its elite force Greyhounds to tackle the Maoists effectively in its terrain. Maybe there is a lesson in that.
Ironically, the Maoists who were decimated by the Greyhounds are back in action again in the state, thanks to the home minister's out-ofturn promise to carve out Telangana.
Likewise, in the case of Lashkar operative David Coleman Headley, Mr Chidambaram is talking of extradition while the United States is only mentioning access for interrogation. Here too, there is no clarity.
Recently, perhaps unwittingly, the home minister came up with an honest self-assessment. On February 19, during an interaction with the media at the Indian Women's Press Corps in New Delhi, he remarked: "My performance is pretty close to zero. As home minister, I need to interact with people more."
Of course, he does. And he needs to talk less and do more.
It is astonishing what can go down in the name of political correctness. Get women to fill up a respectable number of seats in Parliament by hook or by crook, or it 'looks bad'. Reserving seats for women in Parliament is exactly that, either hook or crook, because such a notion assails the very root of democratic politics. It also insults women by reducing them to a homogeneous mass of gender representatives, erasing parties, constituencies, disparate political struggles and ideologies, and different dreams. Besides, reserving seats narrows the field of competition, pitting women against women only, and presumably because women are unlikely to be allowed to wander out of their reserved precincts men against men. The last is the way they like it, but that is beside the point. The bill for one-third reservation of seats for women in Parliament creates these problems, while being unable to address those raised by its conscientious objectors.
There is obviously a need to rethink the bill, if necessary to redo it, for its intention is positive: to get more women to participate in politics and rise to decision-making positions. Evidently all options have not been explored. An alternative has been lying around since 2000, presented then as a private member's bill, that proposes a sensible, unfussy alternative. For the sake of gender parity, the quota should be imposed on the different political parties. No party should have less than 40 per cent of either male or female candidates. This would automatically bring about a rise in the number of women contesting seats, and the competition would be open. The actual numbers of men and women respectively would vary in Parliament after each election, but that would reflect the people's choice, not an imposed gender code. To institute this, the Representation of the People Act would need an amendment; that would be easier than a constitutional amendment. The conscientious objectors to the present bill would then have the freedom to teach by example and show the world how social justice actually works. The idea of imposing quotas within parties is not an entirely new one, although the private member's bill in question works it out methodically. Parties have always evaded this option, which might suggest to the cynical that the game is to stall the change forever. No wonder the private member's bill has been lying in storage since 2000.
Burning coffins, breaking a pot before the statue of King Taksin, throwing plastic bags full of rotten fish, and even pouring 300 litres of human blood on important government buildings last month the Thai Red Shirts, protesting against the misrule of Abhisit Vejjajiva, finally seem to have run out of bizarre rituals of rebellion. The storming of the parliament by vehement demonstrators of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, on April 7, was shorn of symbolism, and left scores of lawmakers scrambling for their lives. The mood was palpably dangerous ministers had to be airlifted to safety and continues to be so. Just as the rebels have lost all patience with the imperious Mr Vejjajiva, the government, too, is in no mood to relent. So the inevitable has happened. After months of calculated silence, while dissenters were allowed to express their outrage, Mr Vejjajiva has finally seized the opportunity he was waiting for and imposed a state of emergency on his country.
There is very little that Mr Vejjajiva can hope to take away from this momentary triumph, if it can be called that. While a state of emergency will allow him to exercise sweeping powers over his people, it is not going to make him one bit popular. Ironically, it is popularity that is crucially at stake in Thailand. Mr Vejjajiva, who ousted the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, in a coup in 2006, is yet to earn his mandate to rule. So far, his sole claim to legitimacy has been upheld by the army, and supported by the tiny clique of the traditional elite who were terribly put off by Mr Shinawatra's pro-poor policies. Demands for fresh elections have been ignored with impunity, as the Oxford-educated Mr Vejjajiva made no secret of his innate disdain for hoi polloi. So present-day Thai politics looks perilously close to what Myanmar has experienced for decades. But unlike General Than Shwe, Mr Vejjajiva has wisely refrained from outright confrontation with the protesters. Yet, a gentle approach is not going to help either, which is not to recommend open combat as the only way out of this mess. Already, sections of the police and the military are withdrawing support from the government, which possibly explains the growing might of the protesters. Unless Mr Vejjajiva honours the demand for elections at the earliest, Thailand is not only going to spiral out of control but also pull him down along the way.
THAT LIBERAL HOUR
ECONOMIC PLANNING BEGAN WITH THE DREAMS OF A YOUNG INDIA
CUTTING CORNERS - ASHOK MITRA
Once one reaches a certain age, deaths of even very close friends cease to cause much of a convulsion. Perhaps a defence mechanism is at work: the mind has a limited absorptive capacity; it can take in this much of sad tidings, and nothing beyond. Besides, K.N. Raj was a far gone Alzheimer's case for the past few years. It was an excruciatingly painful experience to watch him suffer. His death a couple of months ago why pretend otherwise? was deliverance.
And yet, there is no bar to surfing in a flurry of memories, many taking one back a full five-and-a-half decades and even a bit more. Raj had created history by becoming full professor in the Delhi School of Economics while still in his twenties. It was a proud moment for young academics and their friends. The realization struck them like lightning: they had arrived, they had arrived and gained social reckoning, henceforth they were going to have a role in determining how newly liberated India was to be moulded. All honour and respect were due to the older generation, whose advice and counsel were worth their weight in gold, but a proper hearing had to be accorded to what the youngsters had to say. The young crowd admittedly had not gone through the rigours of the freedom struggle, they were without the wisdom which being around for some while endowed. Was not their freshness itself, though, an immense asset? Because they were young, their minds had not got frozen; they possessed antennae that were extraordinarily sensitive to the new vibrations that kept the world a-trembling. Some of the young academics were in foreign universities during the Second World War and in the years immediately following and had the opportunity to observe directly the sequence of confusion, stampede, destruction and creativity which constituted contemporary history. They knew as much of the New Deal in the United States of America as of the Stakhanovites in the Soviet Union.
This young lot had arrived in the nation's capital from different parts of the country. They were bubbling over with both ideas and enthusiasm and could not wait to see action. New Delhi was where the constituent assembly was in session. It was where Jawaharlal Nehru was all the time expatiating on the mystique of planned development which would transform India. It was the seat, too, of the newly established Planning Commission which was the deus ex machina for giving concrete shape to the nation's aspirations to build a just, prosperous, secular society. Raj had joined the Commission the day it opened its portals and had put together, along with J.J. Anjaria, most of the First Five Year Plan document. None was more conscious than he and his colleagues of the modesty, often bordering on timidity, underlying the First Plan. Of this bunch of young people who congregated in New Delhi, some were in government, some were in the university, a few were with private corporate entities. They came together by happenstance, perhaps because they were all billeted in the same hostelry. They were outwardly irreverent, full of doubts and questionings; none could still accuse them of taking leave of their manners. Their irrepressible hilarity would often skirt dangerously the outer fringe of lightheartedness, but, deep down they felt an enduring passion for the country they belonged to. The nation, they firmly believed, was capable of doing a lot better than what the First Plan promised. Nehru was the accepted godfather; he would continue to be enshrined where he was: the young cubs were ready, if not to take over the mantle from his shoulders, then to be on his side even as he held out the promise of a breathtaking tryst with the future. True, the youngsters tucked into themselves political ideologies that were not identical, but that did not prevent them from taking a common and united pledge to strive, jointly and severally, for a bolder initiative in the nation's development efforts.
Raj's friends were proud of his key role in the preparation of the First Five Year Plan. His entry into the Delhi School of Economics was occasion for more cheering. Youth had gatecrashed into the sanctum of the establishment, now things were bound to change. The young ones had, in fact, begun to infiltrate into the citadels of power at different strategic points. One amongst them was the first Indian to be appointed director of armament supplies in the post-independent national navy. That too called for celebration. Further excitement was soon to follow. There was that distinguished body attached to the Planning Commission, a nominated collage of senior dons, known as the Panel of Economists. Most members of the Panel were well past fifty, some of them were even more ancient, hoary octogenarians. Revolution knocked at the door; K.N. Raj, then barely thirty-one, was nominated to the Panel. When it assembled to discuss P.C. Mahalanobis's draft outline of the Second Five Year Plan, Raj's sheer brilliance and the lucidity of the arguments he deployed to espouse its virtues both bewitched and flabbergasted the old hegemony.
The season was one of expansive liberalism, and one which was not confined merely to the admittance of the young flock into the concourse of elders. The liberal spirit infected the portentous chambers of decision-makers too. Take, for instance, Mahalanobis's Plan model. Contrary to the image painted later by the free enterprise fetishists, Mahalanobis wore no horns, he had impeccable Cambridge credentials. While acutely aware of the art of the possible, he was still firm in his belief that enough was enough, the colonial sloth would no longer do. The growth model he offered was a watered-down version of the original Feldman model the Soviet authorities had toyed with in the late 1920s in their endeavour to speed up self-reliance and economic growth. Mahalanobis reworked the model to accommodate issues germane to the Indian realities of mass unemployment and a decentralized economic structure. The conditions on the ground called for a balance between emphasis on investment in heavy industry and the necessity to innovate with labour-absorbing, employment-creating activities.
The Planning Commission was then no sheep's opera as it has become today. It consisted of men of stature with minds of their own. The incumbent finance minister, the seasoned civil servant from British days, Chintaman Deshmukh, who was an ex officio member of the Commission, came to scoff, but was so bowled over by the rationale of the proposed new Plan model and its internal consistency that he even agreed to be president of Mahalanobis's foster child, the Indian Statistical Institute. Many of the ruling politicians were of the persuasion of Fabian socialism; quite a few represented the interests of landed gentry and private industry. The country's resource endowment, they, however, all agreed, warranted a vigorous strategy of self-reliant growth that the Second Plan embodied. The young crowd Raj belonged to spearheaded this drive for a national consensus on faster growth. Just as Raj corralled the Panel of Economists, others set to work within the government and industry as well as the media. About everybody who mattered became a believer in economic planning at that juncture. Tolerance, too, for other points of view was, however, not lacking. Amongst the 20-odd members of the Panel of Economists, one eminence held out and wrote a note of dissent. It was circulated, under official auspices, as extensively as the recommendations of the Panel as a body.
Liberalism also implied communion between home and the world. India, so to say, kept open house. Cognoscenti from all over the world were invited to come and offer their comments on India's new Plan model. Those who came were from different continents and different ideological alcoves. One or two conventional planners from the Soviet Union were juxtaposed with such mavericks as Michal Kalecki and Oskar Lange from Poland. If Joan Robinson and Nicky Kaldor arrived from Cambridge, the invitation went out to Milton Friedman at Chicago as well. Paul Baran, the rigid Marxist from rather unlikely Stanford, found himself in the company of the New Deal zealot often lapsing into cynicism, John Kenneth Galbraith. The effusive Swede, Gunnar Myrdal sat next to the saintly Jan Tinbergen from the Netherlands and, what do you know, the inscrutable Ragnar Frisch from Norway too was there to offer suggestions. Humility was in the air. Politicians and decisionmakers were keen to know the views of the respected foreign scholars on what the nation was embarking upon.
Behind the scene, the junior-most member of the Panel of Economists had a great deal to do with arranging these visits and the continuous exchange of views and counter-views. It was India's greatest liberal hour. K.N. Raj contributed in a major way to the making of that hour; he was also one of its finest products.
''THE THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY IS INDEED GRAVE.''
It is a matter of serious concern that classified information relating to India's national security and diplomatic relations has been accessed by hackers operating from China. The revelations have come from researchers in Canada who have tracked international hacking operations and cyber espionage. Among the data suspected to have been compromised are those relating to the security situation in the North-East, which is of interest to China, the Maoist insurgency, missile defence and diplomatic secrets. The computer networks of the National Security Council secretariat and some Indian embassies are reported to have been penetrated. Some Tibetan organisations were also targets, and the hackers reportedly gained access to the Dalai Lama's e-mail for the past one year. The risk posed to national security through leakage of vital information is indeed grave.
The Canadian researchers had last year also found Chinese hackers breaking into international networks, including India's, for sensitive information. The operations which have come to light now show that there is an increase in the cyber espionage activity directed at India. China has officially denied any role in the activities but such denials do not carry conviction. Chinese hackers are known to work on behalf of the government. They are believed to have built up formidable expertise in cyber espionage and have carried out many attacks against foreign governments' networks.
Espionage is a fact of international life and since vital information flows through computer networks they become easy and attractive targets. Expertise in computer technology makes it possible to steal information without the risks attending conventional espionage methods. Countries the world over have strong cyber security systems and keep improving their techniques. India too has instituted safeguards and firewalls but the revelations show that they are not foolproof. In an interconnected environment, computer users and private companies should also be aware of the need to protect security. Joint international efforts to prevent illegal cyber activity have been suggested but these are difficult to undertake in view of the vested interests of all countries. It is best to reduce vulnerabilities, increase vigil and adopt the most effective counter-measures so that the country is always two steps ahead of hackers and spies. The government should pay special attention to this. The industry too should be alert, because industrial espionage is rampant.
''DATA COLLECT-ION SHOULDN'T VIOLATE CITIZEN'S RIGHTS.''
The 15th Indian census which was launched last week is the most ambitious programme of enumeration of human beings in history. It goes beyond just counting heads and involves a socio-economic mapping of about 120 crore people, undertaken by an army of officials for many months. The photographing and fingerprinting of every resident above 15 years of age is no mean task. The data collected through the census will provide an important basis for many initiatives which are being implemented. It will lead to the creation of a National Population Register and will provide the information base for the issuance of a Unique Identity Number to citizens. The utility of such a data base is great in a country like India where development planning is constrained by lack of information and delivery of services is adversely affected by corruption and inefficiency. Better subsidy targeting and elimination of the need for multiple identity proofs are obvious benefits. The trend in some developed countries is to scale down census operations, but it is vital for India to gain that information because the profile of India as it emerges from the census will be a key input for its future development.
The census exercise will record the changing trends in demography, economic activity, literacy, housing and household facilities, fertility, mortality, language, religion, migration and many other social and economic indicators. For the first time data will be collected on mobile and internet use, banking habits and availability of civic facilities. The census is a nationwide primary data and will provide the basis for many multi-disciplinary studies. Enumeration techniques have improved with the use of computer technology and this will make collection, storage and retrieval of data easier than in the past.
There is huge responsibility on the enumerators to record correct data and make the exercise a success. There are some fears that some questions being posed to citizens and some procedures of the operation are an intrusion into their privacy. It must be ensured that the collection of data does not constitute a violation of the rights of citizens and it is not misused by the government or its agencies for political or other wrong ends.
NOT THROUGH THE GUN
Not many Indians are happy with the prevailing system. Too many disparities have come to be entrenched and too many people have been driven to live on the margin.
Corruption of the bureaucracy and the involvement of political masters are too blatant. And it may be a cliché but aptly describes the situation: crime has been politicised and politics has been criminalised.
The question that faces the nation is how to change the system. Should it be with the gun as the Maoists and their sympathisers in the civil society have come to believe or should the people decide it through the ballot?
It has become more pressing and relevant after the Maoists are on a killing spree. This week's tragedy in the deep forests of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh where 76 policemen were killed is an adequate proof, if any more proof is needed, that the Maoists are out to capture power through the gun.
What is worse is that they not only planned the attack but also managed to take away all arms and ammunition from the police. This underlines the fact that the Maoists have improved their tactics and weaponry. On the other hand, the police remain ill-equipped, under-trained and ill-served by intelligence.
This carnage is the Maoists' way of conducting an armed revolution. When India won freedom under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, it did not fire a shot to oust the mightiest world power. The reason why the Mahatma could do so was the power of people behind him. The poor, the illiterate and the backward were all with him. In fact, most of the affluent were on the British side to enjoy their luxurious living. The bureaucracy too was part of the imperialist power. Still the Mahatma won.
If the Maoists represent the poor, the illiterate and the backward, let them prove so, not egging them on to use the gun but through elections which are held, by any yardstick, fairly and independently. This needs persuasion, patience and arguments to win people over. The Maoists believe that they do not have to do so. The gun can do the job. This was the language of the imperialists also.
What the Maoists do not understand or realise is that the state has many more guns and can ultimately silence other guns. The rulers may not be to their liking but they have come through a process where people have queued up before the booths to cast their vote.
Violence in today's world is out of place. Even the limited violence can turn out to be dangerous. In India where there are so many fissiparous tendencies, violence can result into anything. Trigger happy groups or some other forces can try to seize power when the arbiter is the gunman.
Bhagat Singh was also a revolutionary. He too believed in armed struggle. Yet, he never preached violence. Nor did he or his organisation, Hindustan Socialist Republic Army, behead any person. The Maoists have much to learn from him. The British hanged Bhagat Singh because they were afraid of his philosophy, not him.
What did killing mean to a revolutionary? Bhagat Singh explained it in his own words: "We attach great sanctity to human life; we regard man's life as sacred. We would sooner lay down our lives in the service of humanity than injure anyone." There was no revenge, no vendetta, no brutality.
In his article, 'The Philosophy of the Bomb,' which Bhagat Singh wrote at the age of 21, he said revolutionaries do not shun criticism and public scrutiny of their ideals or actions. They rather welcome these as chances of making those understand, who have a genuine desire to do so, the basic principles of the revolutionary movement and the high and noble ideals that are a perennial source of inspiration and strength to it. But the Maoists are running away from talks. The killings do not tell what they stand for.
I do not like all the things that home minister P Chidambaram does. But in the case of Maoists, he has gone quite far to initiate a dialogue with them. He has not asked them to surrender their arms, nor to give up their ideology. He has only told them to renounce violence. If they were to do so, the Central government would talk to them, sitting across the table.
The government would, in the meanwhile, do well in stopping industrialists and businessmen from appropriating minerals and other natural resources which constitute the tribals' wealth. They should be made partners in ventures which come up to utilise the resources. The Maoists have been harnessing grievances of tribals for their armed revolution. Once the tribals know that they have control over natural resources, they will stop supporting the Maoists.
In the name of revolution, the Maoists are getting money and weapons from 'questionable sources.' They cannot play with the Indian polity, however wanting the government may be. The rulers can be ousted in election. But the blows inflicted on India can be irreparable. The Maoists are making the mistake of equating the government with India.
FINAL VERDICT ON BABRI
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
The testimony in court on oath in the name of Sri Rama by Anju Gupta, IPS, who was then posted in Ayodhya and in charge of L K Advani's personal security when the Babri Masjid was demolished on Dec 6, 1992, should clear once for all any doubts about who was involved in the shameful act of vandalism. She still remains to be cross-examined, but it can be assumed that what she has said is the truth.
There can now be no doubt that Advani was the prime mover of the campaign to rouse Hindu communal frenzy across the country and succeeded in doing so by his Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya. He made an inflammatory speech from the podium facing the ancient mosque emphasising over and over again that a Ram Mandir would be built at the very spot where the masjid stood. He watched the destruction and when the last dome went down, celebrated its collapse embracing others on the dais and during celebration a 'peda' was popped in his mouth.
In his autobiography he mentions the jubilant crowds greeting him on the wayback to Delhi and exulting "Sab Safaaya Kar Diyaa" swept away all of it. With what face can he now say that it was the 'saddest day of his life'?
It pains me to hear educated, well-meaning people say that while Muslims destroyed so many Hindu temples, why should there be so much hue and cry over the demolition of one mosque.
My answer is that demolition of places of worship of any religion was not one-sided. I quote what Banda Bairagi, better known as Banda Bahadur, did in Sirhind soon after the assasination of the last guru Gobind Singh in 1708. He laid the whole of Sirhind destroying mosques and dargahs that came his way. A Punjabi couplet records:
Marhee Maseet dhah kay kar dey maidanaNa koee Turk rahey, na MussalmaanaaDestroy every mosque and dargah, level them to the groundLeave no Turk alive, Nor any Mussalmaan.
When we gained independence in 1947, we decided to forget our past full of communal strife and build a new India where different communities would live in harmony. The process of binding together could have gone on but for the ill-conceived conspiracy to destroy the Babri Masjid. Perpetrators should have known the consequences that would follow.
The very next day Hindu temples and Sikh Gurdwaras (for good reasons Muslims lump Hindu and Sikhs together) were, attacked and many destroyed from Bangladesh to Pakistan to England. And the communal atmosphere in India poisoned as if for ever.
Isn't it time we punished those who did it and we resume our quest for communal goodwill.
My grand-daughter Naina Dayal who recently got a doctorate from the JNU for her thesis on the Ramayana tells me that there are dozens of versions of the epic and we are not sure when exactly they were written.
One was by Valmiki. We also do not know who Valmiki was and when he lived; it could be between 3rd BC to the 4th century AD. However, whatever doubts there may be about its genesis or the authorship, there can be no doubt that it is the only epic in the world which lives in the minds of Hindus wherever they may be.
For them Sri Rama is the personification of God (as it is for Sikhs as well). Sita is the Mother Godess, Lakshman the example of what a younger brother should be and Hanuman the powerful Bajrang Bali, the devoted caretaker of the divine family. Ravana is the incarnation of the devil.
Aryans, who have questioned these assumptions have been severely censured. Aubrey Menon's 'Ramayana Retold' is to this day banned in India (that is one reason I made it a point to read it).
The latest version of the epic shorn of miracles is by Ram Varma. He is a product of Allahabad University, taught English literature in Jodhpur before he qualified for the IAS and was assigned to the newly created state of Haryana. He rose to the highest position of becoming its chief secretary till he retired in 2000. For the last 10 years he has been composing his own version of the epic.
'Before He Was God: Ramayana Reconsidered Recreated', illustrated by colour paintings by his daughter Vandana Sehgal was launched on Ram Naumi at a large gathering and was a near sell-out on the very first day. A highly profitable labour of love by a 'Rambhakta'.
Varma has adopted the traditional way of our ancient poets of dividing the text into 12 chapters, according to Vikrami calendar Baramasi: one set of episodes for every month. I found the text highly readable without anything that a same person would find offensive. But I have no idea how fundoos will take this retelling of Ramayana.
No smoking here
Ram: It is strange you sell cigarettes in this store but you don't allow customers to smoke here.
Sales girl: Don't talk about what I sell. I sell condoms but I don't permit anyone using them here.
(Contributed by J P Singh Kaka, Bhopal)
THE MASTER MISFIT
SOMEHOW, HE MADE A MESS OF EVERY JOB HE GOT INTO.
BY D A SAIT
Job-seeking has never been more funny than in the case of a chap I used to know years ago. This fellow swam into my ken a few days ago while I was seated in a friend's shop talking to him. "My God, is it really you!" I exclaimed when he accosted me, for he had changed completely from the boy I used to know as MM (short for master misfit). "Fallen on evil days, sir," said this specimen from behind the forest of hair covering his face.
"The last time I saw you about five years ago," I reminisced, "you had got a job in a barber shop. Now to look at your forest of hair one would think Veerappan was hiding somewhere in it and you never saw a barber shop in your life." "That barber fired me the next day." "Why?"
"I nicked a customer's face while giving him a shave and followed it up with another cut. As the boss had warned me that for every cut I made five rupees would be cut from my wages I tried to cut my losses by joining the two cuts with the razor. As the customer was howling and the boss was attempting to murder me I had no option but to run for dear life."
When both my shop-keeper friend and I had finished splitting our sides with laughter I asked MM what he did after that. I realised that trying to become a barber was a mug's game (continued MM). So I got a job in a laundry shop. Everything went well for sometime, as I was still learning the ropes. Then the boss gave me a shirt to press.
When I burnt the shirt in one or two places the boss lost his shirt and came at me with raised fist. The next moment I was off like a jack rabbit, touching the ground only once in two minutes. If I had not bumped into a bullock-cart two miles from starting point I'd still be running.
"Now that I have run into you I hope my troubles would soon be over," he said. And mine would be about to start, unless I am damn careful, I told myself. "Let me be your cook," he offered. "No deal," I assured him. "You'd end up setting fire to my kitchen, if not the whole house. The only safe place for you would be in the middle of the Sahara desert."
"Or the Arabian Sea," suggested my shop-keeper friend. "All he'd need would be a brick tied round his neck before entering the sea." "No, on second thoughts, it would be cheaper to get him into a home for the destitute," said I, on the crest of a brain-wave.
And, thank God, that's where he is at the moment of going to press. As he is still there after one year without setting fire to the place, I am sure that he has at last found his niche.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
DIAL-UP LAW IN A BROADBAND WORLD
The Internet has given the government powerful 21st-century tools for invading people's privacy and monitoring their activities, but the main federal law governing online privacy is a 20th-century relic. Adopted in 1986, it has had trouble keeping up with technological advances and is now badly out of date.
Congress has not moved to fix this problem, but a surprising coalition of major technology companies and civil liberties advocates have produced a blueprint for updating the law and both houses of Congress are poised to hold hearings. Having lawmakers proclaim their concern and ask learned questions will not be enough. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act is long past due for an upgrade.
Privacy is central to American law. And in 1986, Congress applied that principle to electronic communications by setting limits on law enforcement access to Internet and wireless technologies. It was a laudable law at the time, but cellphones were still oddities, the Internet was mostly a way for academics and researchers to exchange data and the World Wide Web that is an everyday part of most Americans' lives did not exist.
The law is no longer comprehensive enough to cover the many kinds of intrusions made possible by the advances of the past 24 years. In the absence of strong federal law, the courts have been adrift on many important Internet privacy issues. The law is not clear on when search warrants are required for the government to read stored e-mail, what legal standards apply to GPS technology that tracks people's whereabouts in real time and other critical questions.
Digital Due Process a coalition that includes Google, Microsoft, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the American Civil Liberties Union recently proposed a good set of principles for addressing those issues. The coalition recommends that all private data not voluntarily made public, such as stored e-mail or private financial data, should be as protected as data in a person's home. To get it, the government should need a search warrant.
For locational data information about where a person has physically been, or currently is the coalition also recommends that a search warrant be required. That would clear up a murky area of the law in which courts have reached different conclusions about information obtained through GPS devices, cellphone towers and other technologies.
The coalition argues that when federal law authorizes a subpoena for customer data, it should be limited to information about a particular individual or individuals. This would prevent fishing expeditions, such as a request for data on everyone who visited a particular Web site on a given day.
The coalition's recommendations do not address other important Internet privacy issues that involve the ability of private companies to monitor and record their users' behavior. They also sidestep questions about how accessible data should be to private litigants, such as one company suing another. The recommendations do not include requirements that companies report on the personal data they are collecting and storing a kind of transparency that customers should be entitled to.
Despite that, the Digital Due Process has gotten this much-needed discussion off to a strong start and set the bar high for hearings by the Senate and House Judiciary Committees.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
TOO BROKEN TO FIX
The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general has affirmed what sheriffs, police chiefs, civil-rights lawyers and immigrant advocates have said for years: Outsourcing immigration enforcement to an ill-trained and poorly supervised assortment of state and local law enforcement agencies creates a lot of problems.
The program, commonly known as 287(g), deputizes local authorities as federal immigration agents so they can help Immigration and Customs Enforcement capture illegal immigrants who threaten the community or national security. A new report by the inspector general instead paints a portrait of 287(g) agencies as a motley posse of deputies who don't know Spanish, who don't know or care about the dangers of racial profiling and who operate well beyond the control of the federal agency that they are supposed to be working for.
It found the program lacks basic safeguards like data collection and reporting requirements to ensure that deputies don't violate civil rights. The report also found that fewer than 10 percent of its sample of captured offenders had committed serious "Level 1" crimes, and almost half had no connection at all to violence, drugs or property crimes.
The report reinforces what a leading police association and police chiefs, including William Bratton of Los Angeles, have argued strenuously that 287(g) undermines public safety. Police officers can't fight crimes when communities they serve fear and avoid them.
The program was barely used until anti-immigrant fervor became white-hot over the last decade. And while many police departments shun 287(g) as bad news, other jurisdictions signed on to satisfy the urge to get tough on illegal immigration. The inspector general listed 33 ways to improve the program, mainly by patching up oversight deficiencies and bolstering training. Immigration and Customs Enforcement mostly concurred, but rejected one critical recommendation: It doesn't want to collect data on encounters between 287(g) agencies and the public, to gauge the effect on civil liberties.
We are skeptical that the 287(g) program can ever be fixed. And we are sure that the returns are too low and the costs in abuses and undermining law enforcement are too high to make it worth trying. The Homeland Security Department should pull the plug on 287(g).
THE NEW YORK TIMES
TELLING ABOUT GAY WARRIORS AND ASKING FOR VOTES
BY FRANCIS X. CLINES
As the chief House whip fighting to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays serving in the military, Representative Patrick Murphy will never be dismissed as a naïve idealist.
Wearing his paratrooper lapel pin, the husky lawmaker beards colleagues to speak firsthand of his combat time in Iraq and Bosnia and the good men and women he saw drummed from service. He tells of his days teaching constitutional law at West Point, where eventually some cadets would privately inquire whether it would be best to out themselves and give up career hopes in such an intolerant military.
"I told them, 'No, you become an officer and do what you need to do,' " the Pennsylvania Democrat related emphatically as he made his home district rounds this week. "We don't need them to be sacrificial lambs."
Help is on the way, the former Capt. Murphy tells gay and lesbian soldiers. The Obama administration has
begun ratcheting back a policy that let accusers operate oath-free from the shadows to help drive more than 13,000 from the services in the 17 years since the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was enacted by Congress in a frenzied battle of the culture war.
And in gathering votes for its repeal, Mr. Murphy has upped the co-sponsor tally by 40 in the past year to 191 and counting (including two Republicans). He gained a dozen new supporters last month when the ranking Pentagon brass endorsed repeal with the strong support of retired Gen. Colin Powell.
"That was very significant," said Mr. Murphy, who is predicting he'll have the needed 216-vote majority in time to add repeal onto the huge defense authorization bill when it comes up next month. He is already conferring on strategy with Joseph Lieberman, the Senate's repeal leader. Over in that chamber, the 60-vote filibuster barrier could be turned back onto opponents as the minimum they would need to strike repeal from the defense bill.
In contrast to the political bombast of the culture wars, Representative Murphy's appeal in working for the support of his colleagues is rich in detail on how the issue plays out in the military at what are called Chapter 15 hearings.
"Imagine, we have thousands of administrative hearings just to determine whether or not someone is gay or straight," he said, "when these good soldiers should be focused on missions like killing Osama bin Laden."
One of his accused buddies in a Chapter 15 had to offer a privacy-shredding defense in which he called forth an inamorata from his unit. "She testified that, yes, they slept together, and, yes, he's not gay," said Mr. Murphy, with that only-in-the-Army shrug of a true veteran.
Above his paratrooper pin, it helps that Mr. Murphy bears the face of an altar boy. When fellow Irish Catholics ask how a family man like himself with two children can take the lead for gays and lesbians, his sales pitch will mention that he was Altar Boy of the Month in 1987 back in his hometown parish.
Other doubters, including House members worried about being demagogued, ask why this issue is being pushed now, with so much on the national agenda. He says national defense and plain justice demand it: "Now is the exact time to do it. We desegregated the military during the Korean War when half the nation was still racially segregated."
When Mr. Murphy talks about how the Army should be dealing with this issue, he likes to tell the story of a goldbrick who wanted to "tell" so he could shirk his duties. "This guy didn't want to deploy to Bosnia in '98, and so he announced to me that he was gay," Mr. Murphy recalled. "I said, 'That's great, but have a good time deploying with the First Armored Division on behalf of our country.' "
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE HUMBLE HOUND
BY DAVID BROOKS
Some leaders are boardroom lions. They are superconfident, forceful and charismatic. They call for relentless transformational change.
The Times's Sunday Business section this week had an interview with Andrew Cosslett, the chief executive of InterContinental Hotels Group, who seems to fit this general model. "I've always been very positive and confident," he told Adam Bryant in the Corner Office column. "I can talk about changing things for the better, even if I don't know what it is we're going to change. I'll just say we're going over there somewhere. And I don't quite know what that looks like, but it's going to be fantastic."
Cosslett went on to talk about the skills that have helped him succeed: "I'm very sensitive to how people are thinking and feeling at any given moment. That's really helpful in business, because you pick things up very fast." He added, "I've always had a slightly maverick side that actually stood me in great stead."
We can all point to successful leaders who display this kind of self-confidence. It's the sort of self-assurance that nearly every politician tries to present.
Yet much research suggests that extremely self-confident leaders can also be risky. Cosslett's record is good, but charismatic C.E.O.'s often produce volatile company performances. These leaders swing for the home run and sometimes end up striking out. They make more daring acquisitions, shift into new fields and abruptly change strategies.
Jim Collins, the author of "Good to Great" and "How the Mighty Fall," celebrates a different sort of leader. He's found that many of the reliably successful leaders combine "extreme personal humility with intense professional will."
Alongside the boardroom lion model of leadership, you can imagine a humble hound model. The humble hound leader thinks less about her mental strengths than about her weaknesses. She knows her performance slips when she has to handle more than one problem at a time, so she turns off her phone and e-mail while making decisions. She knows she has a bias for caution, so she writes a memo advocating the more daring option before writing another advocating the most safe. She knows she is bad at prediction, so she follows Peter Drucker's old advice: After each decision, she writes a memo about what she expects to happen. Nine months later, she'll read it to discover how far off she was.
In short, she spends a lot of time on metacognition thinking about her thinking and then building external scaffolding devices to compensate for her weaknesses.
She believes we only progress through a series of regulated errors. Every move is a partial failure, to be corrected by the next one. Even walking involves shifting your weight off-balance and then compensating with the next step.
She knows the world is too complex and irregular to be known, so life is about navigating uncertainty. She understands she is too quick to grasp at pseudo-objective models and confident projections that give the illusion of control. She has to remember George Eliot's image that life is like playing chess with chessmen who each have thoughts and feelings and motives of their own. It is complex beyond reckoning.
She spends more time seeing than analyzing. Analytic skills differ modestly from person to person, but perceptual skills vary enormously. Anybody can analyze, but the valuable people can pick out the impermanent but crucial elements of a moment or effectively grasp a context. This sort of perception takes modesty; strong personalities distort the information field around them. This sort of understanding also takes patience. As the Japanese say, don't just study a topic. Get used to it. Live in it for a while.
Because of her limitations, she tries to construct thinking teams. In one study, groups and individuals were given a complicated card game called the Wason selection task. Seventy-five percent of the groups solved it, but only 14 percent of individuals did.
She tries not to fall for the seductions that Collins says mark failing organizations: the belief that one magic move will change everything; the faith in perpetual restructuring; the tendency to replace questions with statements at meetings.
In the journal In Character, the Washington Post theater critic Peter J. Marks has an essay on the ethos of the stagehands who work behind the scenes. Being out when the applause is ringing doesn't feel important to them. The important things are the communal work, the contribution to the whole production and the esprit de corps. The humble hound is a stagehand who happens to give more public presentations than most.
If this leadership style were more widely admired, the country could have spared itself a ton of grief.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
LEARNING FROM GREECE
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
The debt crisis in Greece is approaching the point of no return. As prospects for a rescue plan seem to be fading, largely thanks to German obduracy, nervous investors have driven interest rates on Greek government bonds sky-high, sharply raising the country's borrowing costs. This will push Greece even deeper into debt, further undermining confidence. At this point it's hard to see how the nation can escape from this death spiral into default.
It's a terrible story, and clearly an object lesson for the rest of us. But an object lesson in what, exactly?
Yes, Greece is paying the price for past fiscal irresponsibility. Yet that's by no means the whole story. The Greek tragedy also illustrates the extreme danger posed by a deflationary monetary policy. And that's a lesson one hopes American policy makers will take to heart.
The key thing to understand about Greece's predicament is that it's not just a matter of excessive debt. Greece's public debt, at 113 percent of G.D.P., is indeed high, but other countries have dealt with similar levels of debt without crisis. For example, in 1946, the United States, having just emerged from World War II, had federal debt equal to 122 percent of G.D.P. Yet investors were relaxed, and rightly so: Over the next decade the ratio of U.S. debt to G.D.P. was cut nearly in half, easing any concerns people might have had about our ability to pay what we owed. And debt as a percentage of G.D.P. continued to fall in the decades that followed, hitting a low of 33 percent in 1981.
So how did the U.S. government manage to pay off its wartime debt? Actually, it didn't. At the end of 1946, the federal government owed $271 billion; by the end of 1956 that figure had risen slightly, to $274 billion. The ratio of debt to G.D.P. fell not because debt went down, but because G.D.P. went up, roughly doubling in dollar terms over the course of a decade. The rise in G.D.P. in dollar terms was almost equally the result of economic growth and inflation, with both real G.D.P. and the overall level of prices rising about 40 percent from 1946 to 1956.
Unfortunately, Greece can't expect a similar performance. Why? Because of the euro.
Until recently, being a member of the euro zone seemed like a good thing for Greece, bringing with it cheap loans and large inflows of capital. But those capital inflows also led to inflation and when the music stopped, Greece found itself with costs and prices way out of line with Europe's big economies. Over time, Greek prices will have to come back down. And that means that unlike postwar America, which inflated away part of its debt, Greece will see its debt burden worsened by deflation.
That's not all. Deflation is a painful process, which invariably takes a toll on growth and employment. So Greece won't grow its way out of debt. On the contrary, it will have to deal with its debt in the face of an economy that's stagnant at best.
So the only way Greece could tame its debt problem would be with savage spending cuts and tax increases, measures that would themselves worsen the unemployment rate. No wonder, then, that bond markets are losing confidence, and pushing the situation to the brink.
What can be done? The hope was that other European countries would strike a deal, guaranteeing Greek debt in return for a commitment to harsh fiscal austerity. That might have worked. But without German support, such a deal won't happen.
Greece could alleviate some of its problems by leaving the euro, and devaluing. But it's hard to see how Greece could do that without triggering a catastrophic run on its banking system. Indeed, worried depositors have already begun pulling cash out of Greek banks. There are no good answers here actually, no nonterrible answers.
But what are the lessons for America? Of course, we should be fiscally responsible. What that means, however, is taking on the big long-term issues, above all health costs not grandstanding and penny-pinching over short-term spending to help a distressed economy.
Equally important, however, we need to steer clear of deflation, or even excessively low inflation. Unlike Greece, we're not stuck with someone else's currency. But as Japan has demonstrated, even countries with their own currencies can get stuck in a deflationary trap.
What worries me most about the U.S. situation right now is the rising clamor from inflation hawks, who want the Fed to raise rates (and the federal government to pull back from stimulus) even though employment has barely started to recover. If they get their way, they'll perpetuate mass unemployment. But that's not all. America's public debt will be manageable if we eventually return to vigorous growth and moderate inflation. But if the tight-money people prevail, that won't happen and all bets will be off.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
OBAMA'S NUCLEAR MODESTY
BY PETER D. FEAVER
PRESIDENT OBAMA'S new policy on the use of atomic weapons, called the Nuclear Posture Review, has brought to the public eye a longstanding debate over what's known as "declaratory doctrine": what the United States government is willing to say publicly and in advance about the conditions under which it will use its nuclear arsenal. A calm reading of the document shows that the changes in terms of doctrine aren't nearly as epochal as the White House would have us believe or its critics would have us fear.
The administration claims this new declaration will create strong incentives for states to eschew nuclear weapons. Critics, many of them my fellow Republicans, claim it substantially weakens America's deterrence against attacks with non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction. My view is that the new policy buys a trivial new incentive at the cost of a modest loss in deterrence. Reasonable people can disagree as to whether the bargain is worth it, but it is a bargain on the margins.
This is the key sentence from the posture review: "The United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations."
This apparently walks back from a Bush-era declaration that underscored the possibility that the United States might use nuclear weapons if it suffered a chemical or biological attack. Instead, the Obama administration is saying it will respond to chemical or biological assaults only with "a devastating conventional military response."
The administration's defenders have promoted this as a bold step in fulfilling the president's commitment to reducing the role of nuclear weapons in national security strategy. Critics see it as a reckless act of self-constraint. But there is less here than meets the eye.
First, under the declaration, America still threatens to use nuclear weapons against nuclear states that are party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty read: Russia and China if they hit us with a nuclear weapon or with a chemical, biological or cyber-attack.
Second, the United States leaves open the possibility that it will use nuclear weapons against "non-state actors" (think Al Qaeda) who seek weapons of mass destruction. Since non-state actors reside within actual nations, this means that our strike might hit the territory of those states offering a safe haven, regardless of their status under the nonproliferation treaty.
Third, the new doctrine clearly implies that the United States reserves the right to threaten to use nuclear weapons against states that are not party to the nonproliferation treaty. And, of course, it explicitly states that the no-nukes assurance does not apply to states that are in violation of the treaty, a list that includes Iran, North Korea and Syria.
Crucially, since the new policy does not delineate what it means for states to be "in compliance" with the nonproliferation treaty, the United States has a major loophole. Presumably, the Obama administration will not take a potential target's word on whether it is meeting the obligations after all, Iran claims to be in compliance with the treaty, while the Nuclear Posture Review explicitly notes that it is not.
Some worry that for the purposes of this doctrine the Obama administration would be limited by the provisions of the nonproliferation treaty designating the United Nations Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency as the arbiters of who is in compliance. If so, that would seem to tie Washington's hands. But the new doctrine, in fact, is coy on this point. I suspect the White House intends to do what every previous administration has done: reserve the right to determine for itself what constitutes compliance when making security decisions.
Thus the most controversial part of the new policy boils down to this: we will not threaten to use nuclear weapons against a state that launches a non-nuclear attack against us unless we deem it to be in violation of Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations.
And the Obama administration even gave itself an escape clause from that limited rule. "Given the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of bio-technology development," the new policy reads, "the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat."
It's a rather dense clause, but in explaining it, White House officials drew a distinction between non-nuclear threats that they view as only "crippling" and potential threats that might be "devastating." They made clear that the administration reserves the right to determine which sorts of attacks might cross that line into "devastating," and thus warrant a nuclear response.
So, is the entire declaratory doctrine a meaningless exercise in rhetoric? Not entirely. For one, it does weaken our deterrence ability slightly. Deterrence depends on an adversary fearing that we will respond in a devastating way to an attack. Policy makers like to think of our nuclear deterrence strategy as an "umbrella," one that includes scenarios that the adversary is certain will engender our nuclear response, and others in which it believes that the chances of retaliation are too high to risk.
If adversaries believe what is stated in the new Obama doctrine, the umbrella is a bit smaller, with fewer scenarios in both the "certain" and the "likely enough" categories. Thus, when it comes to strategic ambiguity, the critics have a point. (Paradoxically, the more our adversaries buy into the administration's spin that this is a drastic change, the stronger the critics' point. If adversaries stick to a lawyerly reading of the text, the critique loses force.)
In the final analysis, what may be most important about the new doctrine is the light it shines on the assumptions and strategic logic that motivate the national security thinking of the Obama administration. The administration clearly believes that announcing new limits on our nuclear posture will be a strong reason for rogue states to become compliant. This seems hopelessly idealistic: we've given Iran and North Korea plenty of stronger incentives, with no progress.
Nonetheless, all the loopholes the administration has built into the new declaration seem a tacit acknowledgment that it understands that such idealism is not a reliable guarantor of American national security. President Obama may be willing to oversell his new doctrine for symbolic value, but a careful reading of the policy shows that he is duly wary of selling out the national security of the United States.
Peter D. Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke, was on the National Security Council staff under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
JUST LIKE IKE (ON DETERRENCE)
BY CAMPBELL CRAIG
Aberystwyth , Wales
IN the spring of 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made a sweeping change in the American approach to nuclear war. Henceforth, the United States would rule out waging nuclear war against non-nuclear states. It would eliminate the "ambiguity" of previous strategies, drawing a stark line between conventional and nuclear wars. And the primary role of nuclear weapons would henceforth be to deter nuclear war: to indicate to American adversaries (namely, the Soviet Union) that any attack would engender overwhelming retaliation and hence amount to national suicide.
Many critics attacked the move for appearing to rule out any kind of war nuclear or conventional with the Soviet Union. How could the United States then stand up to the Russians? But mutual assured destruction became America's de facto policy for the rest of the cold war, which ended when the Russians gave up.
Eisenhower had no grand objective in installing this policy. Rather, he had become worried by a growing clamor emanating from the Pentagon, supported by "wizard of Armageddon" intellectuals like Henry Kissinger and Democrats keen on retaking the White House, that the United States could wage, and win, a "limited" nuclear war. That notion had to be nipped in the bud, so that if there were a showdown with Moscow no one would be tempted to actually use one of those bombs. If that happened, Eisenhower firmly believed, the war would inexorably escalate into a thermonuclear holocaust.
On Monday, President Obama announced, in his Nuclear Posture Review, a new American approach to nuclear war that comes right out of Eisenhower's playbook. And, indeed, Mr. Obama quickly came under criticism from those who have argued that new American technologies, together with the diminished capacity of traditional adversaries, have now made nuclear war winnable.
These critics also assert, just as their predecessors did in the 1950s, that limits on the use of atomic weapons somehow make a nuclear war more likely. "By further unilaterally limiting the circumstances in which the U.S. would use nuclear weapons to protect itself and its allies," warned John Bolton, the former United Nations ambassador, "the Obama administration is in fact increasing international instability and the risks of future conflicts."
Like Eisenhower, Mr. Obama rejects this claim, realizing that an "ambiguous" approach to nuclear weapons will make nuclear war more thinkable. Yet in the long run, Mr. Obama wants to do Eisenhower one better: his aim is to abolish nuclear weapons. He knows that only the United States, the world's pre-eminent power, could bring about and enforce total nonproliferation. If the rest of the world is going to trust America to supervise a nuclear-free world, it hardly needs to be said that the United States must forgo using its vast nuclear arsenal for any political or military purpose save basic deterrence. Mr. Obama's new nuclear posture and his recent arms control deal with Russia indicate not only that he understands this fact, but also that he, like Eisenhower, is willing to accept political risk in exchange for nuclear peace.
Campbell Craig, a professor of international politics at Aberystwyth University, is the co-author of "America's Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity."
I. THE NEWS
Two allies of the PPP have sought more political autonomy for the provinces than that envisaged under the 18th Amendment Bill. The demand from the ANP and the MQM which have acknowledged that things will be far better now that the provisions of the bill have been passed by parliament is certain to raise eyebrows, notably in Punjab. Traditionally, greater autonomy has been opposed in the majority province for the other federating units on the basis that this would weaken the union. There is a need to drive home the recognition that just the opposite is true. As the ANP chief noted before parliament, greater provincial autonomy should have been ushered in decades ago, indeed well before the 1973 Constitution. Had this happened, we may have avoided the crisis of Federation we face now, with currents of distress running through all three minority provinces. They are of course most acute in Balochistan, where we see periodic violence that takes not only the form of nationalist uprising but also manifests itself in ethnic killings and kidnappings.
The tensions that give rise to this have expanded in recent years. The fact is that our nation constitutes many diverse people. They have different languages, different cultures and different modes of life. To build a bond between them we need to acknowledge first that they are all equal. We must also learn to celebrate differences rather than force uniformity on everyone. But beyond these basics, there is something else that is of far greater importance. People everywhere must have a greater say over the making of decisions about their future. This can play a huge role in creating a stronger whole and giving people everywhere the right to play a part in building a future for themselves. In this context, the points raised by allies and indeed also by other parties need to be taken note of. The passage of the 18th Amendment Bill goes a significant way towards correcting ills and granting the smaller provinces the enhanced autonomy they seek. But the PPP should also keep in mind the need to keep up the process of consensus-building it has begun. There is no harm in granting greater autonomy. This has indeed been discussed at many junctures in the history of Pakistan. What we should endeavour to establish is a union of people who are happy to live together and who are equal stakeholders in the future of their nation. Only then will we have the collective energy required to move our country forward along the road to a productive and stable future.
I. THE NEWS
GOING 'DOWN THE DRAIN'
BY AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
Water is the pre-eminent political issue in Pakistan. Nothing else compares in complexity. It affects life, society, politics, the economy, food security, our foreign policy, and even has security repercussions. Yet, most of the time you speak to someone about it, the debate is littered with non-sequiturs. India, apparently, is "stealing" water and the water table in Lahore is falling rapidly. There needs to be clarity, forgive the pun, in our analysis of water.
Pakistan's water resource, the Indus Basin, consists primarily of glacial melt and, a far, far, second, rainwater. Over 90 per cent of our water resource is employed in irrigation. Less than five per cent is employed for domestic purposes--that is, drinking and sanitation. Even less is employed in industrial processes.
Before Partition, the governments of Sindh (then Sind) and Punjab agreed to share the waters of the Indus and the rivers of Punjab. This is known as the Sind-Punjab Water Agreement of 1945. In a sentence (so please forgive any inaccuracy), the agreement set out that the waters of the Indus were to be used, primarily, by Sindh and that the waters of the rivers of Punjab would be used, primarily, by Punjab.
At Partition, the Sind-Punjab Water Agreement seems to have fallen by the wayside, presumably because Partition was the basis of a fresh new history. And if it wasn't for that reason, then the effect that Partition had on the Indus Basin it made India the upper riparian must have been enough of a distraction to water managers in Pakistan. It's interesting how few have commented on the arbitrary nature of the political line Cyril Radcliffe drew through the middle of one of the oldest fluvial civilisations on the planet.
The problems of managing the waters of the Indus Basin were settled in 1960 when the World Bank got India and Pakistan to sign the Indus Water Treaty. Basically, the treaty states that India will have control over the waters of the three eastern rivers of the Indus Basin (the Ravi, the Sutlej and the Beas) and that Pakistan will have control over the waters of the three western rivers (the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum). However, the treaty does stipulate that India may use the waters of the western rivers for, domestic consumption, non-consumptive purposes, limited agricultural and for hydroelectric purposes.
Because of the treaty, the Government of Pakistan augmented the irrigation network in Punjab in order to compensate for the loss of water from the eastern rivers. A vast network of dams, barrages and irrigation canals were built to provide the waters of the eastern rivers to the areas where the western rivers used to irrigate the fertile land of Punjab. The augmentation of the irrigation network under the Indus Water Treaty was also against the terms of the Sind-Punjab Water Agreement.
The treaty was executed when Ayub Khan's One Unit experiment was in place. There was no province of Sindh at the time and no voice representing the people of that province. Sindhis have good reason to dislike the Indus Water Treaty. Why were we not consulted, they say, about the unilateral decision to divert the waters of the Indus to the fields of Punjab. It's interesting that few have commented on this inherent tension on the Pakistani side of the Indus Water Treaty.
The Indus Water Treaty sets up the office of the Permanent Indus Commission. India and Pakistan both have the permanent post of Commissioner of Indus Waters, whose job it is to be "the representative of his Government for all matters arising out of this Treaty, and will serve as the regular channel of communication on all matters relating to the implementation of the Treaty. . . ." This includes furnishing and exchanging information or data relating to the flow of the rivers.
What is interesting is that, other than the 10 days India took the waters of the Chenab to fill the reservoir for the Baglihar Dam, Pakistan's Permanent Commissioner of Indus Waters has never said that India has consumed the waters of the western rivers in a manner that violates the Indus Water Treaty. Also, historical data of flows of the western rivers will show anyone that, other than seasonal and other naturally occurring variations, the Indus Water Treaty and India's exercise of rights under it have not affected the amount of water Pakistan gets.
At the same time, we are also told that Pakistan's water resources are falling fast. This is true (we've gone from 5,000 cubic feet of water per person per year to less than 1,500, and it is expected that we will fall to "water-scarce" levels in the near future), but it has to be seen in context. The water resource is not falling because of the Indus Water Treaty. It's falling because of our phenomenal population growth. If you double the people of Pakistan, you're halving the per-capita water resource. So the water scarcity issue has more to do with the way we breed than with India or the Indus Water Treaty.
The real story of water scarcity in Pakistan actually comes from how we deal with and manage our water resources. The apportionment of our water resource is determined by the Apportionment Accord signed by the four provinces in 1991 and by the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) set up to implement the Accord. Each province also has an irrigation department to manage the irrigation network in place.
Over and above seepage of water because of un-lined canals and evaporation, water resources are simply "stolen." Rumour is that some 40 per cent of the water used in irrigation goes to waste or is stolen. The question then is: How come, if there's a water shortage, no one is asking questions of IRSA or the irrigation departments as to what exactly is happening to the water resource in Pakistan? How come no one is asking questions about the water-intensive flood-irrigation techniques used so prevalently? How come no one is asking questions about the manner in which water is priced in Pakistan?
Which brings us to domestic consumption (drinking water and water for sanitation purposes). Many areas fed by canal water use this water for their domestic needs. Some urban areas (like Lahore) use their groundwater resources. Some urban areas (like Islamabad) rely on man-made water reservoirs. But the state of urban water resources is alarming: Karachiites haven't had adequate water resources for years, and the city is now under the control of various water-tanker mafias; Islamabad, because of rampant and unplanned urbanisation, has turned its water reservoirs into poison by using them for sewage and sanitation disposal; Quetta is out of water (will it go the way of Fatehpur Sikri?); Faisalabad's groundwater is turning brackish; and Lahore's water table has fallen to over 700 feet and scarcity is looming around the corner; in Kasur, the tanneries have poisoned the water table and water-related physical deformities (and other ailments) are rampant. In other words, most of our major urban areas are suffering from, or are beginning to suffer from, water-scarcity and water-quality issues.
In these circumstances, how come no one is asking questions of the urban elite who continue to maintain large lawns or who continue to have their fleet of automobiles washed in precious drinking water? How come no one is asking questions of the many tens of thousands of mosques where drinking water is used, religiously and untrammelled, five times a day for the purposes of wuzu (ablution)? How come there are no water-use legislations?
The pre-eminent political issue of water seems to be more about our own habits and our abuse and disregard of an existential and rapidly depleting resource. Yesterday, a newspaper reported that the irrigation department of the Government of Punjab has accused the Rangers and the army of theft of water from the canals in the Bahawlapur and Lahore Zones. How come no one is asking questions and how come, given these circumstances, there are people openly accusing India of being responsible for our water-related issues?
The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
RIVER CROSSINGS -- AND OTHER MATTERS
BY AYAZ AMIR
With the passage of the 18th Amendment we will have crossed a river. But anyone thinking that there will be no more to cross should recall Munir Niazi's haunting lines, so applicable to our condition: "Ik aur darya ka saamna tha Munir mujh ko, mein eik darya kay paar utra to mein ne dekha " (As soon as I had crossed one river, I was confronted by another one -- a most imperfect translation, but I hope the meaning is reasonably clear).
A constitution is just a framework within which to carry out the business of government. It is not even a roadmap. It just sets down a few signposts, that is all. But how its spirit is to be made flesh depends upon the genius or wisdom of the set of persons entrusted with the task of governance.
We celebrated the passage of the 1973 Constitution, little foreseeing that only a few years later a tinpot dictator, the army's divisions behind him, would be trampling it underfoot. I was there as a spectator in the galleries when the Constitution was passed. The then law minister said that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had fulfilled his pledge to God and man, at which Ahmed Raza Kasuri, the spoiler in that assembly and for that reason Bhutto's bete noire, laughed loudly in derision. Article Six of the Constitution said that subversion of the Constitution would be high treason. That stricture never prevented Zia's coup.
We are celebrating the passage of the 18th Amendment, and doing it all the more frantically because we seem to feel -- although I think this is a misplaced feeling -- that in our collective life there is very little to celebrate. But the cleansing of the Constitution will not by itself bring salvation any closer. By itself it will work no miracles, neither curb inflation nor stabilise the economy. Nor bring calm to the restive landscape of Balochistan. For those outcomes some other therapy is required.
To stretch the Munir Niazi simile a bit further, even as we have managed one river-crossing, we are seeing the hazy outlines of another river ahead of us in the shape of the growing tussle between the government and the Supreme Court over the question of the Swiss cases -- relating to the allegations that President Asif Zardari, when Benazir Bhutto was prime minister from 1988-90, received kickbacks in government deals and the money so received is parked in Swiss bank accounts.
The Supreme Court seems determined to have those cases reopened in Swiss courts. The government seems equally determined to resist these moves. How this tussle plays out we do not know. What is certain is that the political situation will remain unsettled as long as this problem remains.
As a nation we seem to have a knack for manufacturing crises. No sooner is one behind us, than another emerges on the horizon. This is a form of masochism, a hidden desire perhaps for self-inflicted pain. One aspect of this condition is that we can never leave the past behind us. We are forever fighting yesterday's battles. The capacity for moving on, for stepping into the future, we seem not to have acquired.
But the good thing about the 18th Amendment is that it signals an end to the era of excuses. Since the Feb 2008 elections we have already wasted two years in judicial and political wars. When Justice Chaudhry and his colleagues were in the wilderness, we argued they had to be restored if Pakistan was to move forward. They were restored, after a good deal of needless delay, but another cry was immediately raised: that Musharraf's 17th Amendment -- validating his takeover and giving him extensive powers -- had to be repealed before anything else was possible.
With the 18th Amendment's passage the excuses stand exhausted. Government has to deliver if public anger is to be assuaged and disillusionment arrested.
When the Constitutional Reforms Committee began working nine months ago the accepted wisdom was that the committee was just a ruse because Zardari would never give away his powers. The sceptics have been proved wrong. Zardari has shed whatever formal power he had, relating mostly to key appointments and the power to dismiss the National Assembly, not just willingly but almost cheerfully. He will now be a figurehead, like Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry or Rafiq Tarar. As PPP head he will still exercise power, but from the sidelines and indirectly.
Formal authority now rests in the prime minister's office, with all the levers of power in Yousuf Raza Gilani's hands. Left with no excuses, his real test begins now. His government's performance over the last two years has been dismal. Can he take charge and reverse the course of events? This is the challenge before him.
The political system could do with a slight shock. The cabinet is too large and unwieldy, with not a few ministers carrying a reputation either for corruption or inadequacy. The cabinet could do with a trim. The 18th Amendment stipulates that from the next elections the number of ministers, at the centre or in the provinces, shall be no more than 11 per cent of the total membership of the respective assemblies. Why wait until then? This process can begin now, bringing some kudos to the prime minister.
The Swiss cases are clouding the atmosphere. On the one hand we have a relentless Supreme Court, on the other a government beginning to dig in its heels. This has all the makings of a showdown, with unforeseeable consequences. At least we can console ourselves with the thought that it never gets dull in Pakistan.
The December and March brigades though have been proved wrong. They were not sure how precisely it would happen. But with prophetic certainty they were predicting his ouster or downfall. That hasn't come to pass, leaving the soothsayers in a state of some alarm and confusion. But we can be sure we will soon be hearing about another deadline.
Tailpiece: President Zardari's financial exploits are the stuff of legend. But not much is known about the financial success of a few men, little better than carpetbaggers, and some lucky women, who were objects of Pervez Musharraf's largesse. Some are almost rags-to-riches stories, the heroes or heroines arriving in the capital in relatively modest circumstances but making it big simply because they caught the general's fancy, or were the apples of his roving eye. Ladies once part of Yahya Khan's court are part of our historical folklore. But the full story is yet to be told of the ladies who cut a figure in Musharraf's court, and profited greatly from the association.
Tailpiece Two: Is there something in the air of Chakwal which induces a certain sense of bravado? The famous DSP of Lahore who became an instant media sensation when he went public with some of his grievances against his superiors, Imran Babar Jameel, is from Chakwal. He is an MA in Eng Lit, which may explain some of his erratic behaviour. More unusual still is his pursuit of a doctorate in some subject. Not many policemen would be caught doing such a thing. DSP Imran's father (I won't name him) is a well-known poet and man of letters. With such a father, and a background in English literature, anyone could be forgiven for behaving in an odd manner. And odd the DSP did appear at times, almost like a character out of one of the Falstaff plays. It would be a pity if such talent was allowed to go to waste. The Punjab police have a poor public relations setup, not quite in keeping with the times. Given DSP Imran's instant rapport with the media, the inspector-general of the Punjab police, who is not without a sense of humour, could consider making use of his services in this field.
The director-general of the Punjab Rangers who had a traffic policeman picked up and taught a lesson for having the temerity to ask his son not to park his car in a no-parking zone is also -- you've guessed it -- from Chakwal. When I mentioned the incident to some people from his village (Mangwal), they just laughed and said it was entirely in character. The major-general is known for his swashbuckling manner. Pity the traffic warden knew nothing about it.
I. THE NEWS
SANITISING THE CONSTITUTION
BY DR SANIA NISHTAR
The 18th Amendment Bill is being widely hailed for the repeal of some of the distortions introduced in the Constitution under military rule and for returning the parliamentary form of democracy closer to its truer shade in Pakistan. A multi-partisan consultative process has enabled a consensus over a set of provisions amongst political actors, who came to the negotiating table with diverse ideologies and motivations. However, significant as it may be, the amendment is not a panacea for the country's ailing governance. Follow-up actions are critical for transformation of the style of governance. I have flagged six points in this regard.
First, with the 18th Amendment, the pendulum of power will move from the presidency to the prime minister, as it should be in a parliamentary system of government. However, institutional checks on the prime minister's powers need to be ensured. As "fusion of powers" is characteristic of parliamentary systems--in the sense that the executive, which consists of the prime minister and the cabinet, are drawn from the legislature--the need for institutional checks and balances becomes all the more important.
We must also recall the generic weaknesses of the parliamentary form of government. The parliamentary system runs best in a two party-system. However, when no party commands an absolute majority and when coalitions are formed--as is presently the case in Pakistan--governments are seen fire-fighting most of the time. Lack of the needed far-sighted and consistent stance on many policies is, therefore, not just a limitation of capacity within Pakistan's system and short-sighted motivations of its policymakers, but also a limitation of its parliamentary system--a weakness the pendulum swing cannot address.
There are many dire imperatives for ensuring consistency in policy direction in Pakistan, particularly from a national security standpoint--a point I attempted to highlight in these columns on April 3. Now that the Sword of Damocles no longer hangs over parliament, it should turn its attention to these substantive issues and the constraints implicit in party antagonisms and tenuous coalitions. It is imperative to create space for a working relationship within the current political and democratic dispensation that can work in the interest of the state and its people.
Secondly, the government appears to accord high priority to provincial autonomy on its agenda. After pronouncing the Balochistan package, carving Gilgit-Baltistan as a separate province and negotiating the National Finance Commission Award, the 18th Amendment Bill has abolished the Concurrent List and has revitalised the Council of Common Interests.
The government uses the jargon "participatory federalism" for its policy stance in this area. There is no denying that provincial autonomy can be the foundation of a strong federation and the government's policy is, in principle, the correct stance. However, attention should be paid to reservations being mooted with regard to the implications of this for governance at the provincial level, in view of their limited capacity, at least in two of the provinces.
The cost of making drastic changes in the functioning of the state without appropriate analysis and evidence has already been evidenced in the devolution debacle. Drastic changes in federal-provincial relationships can be exploited by entities that are not bona fide with an adverse fallout on the functioning of provincial administrations, at a time when terror, ethnic strife and ideological differences have been whipped up to unprecedented levels. In some provinces, the risk related to blurring of the difference between autonomy and mutiny cannot be ignored anymore. The impact of waning federal oversight on collusive behaviours in the provinces also merits careful analysis. The government must, therefore, develop a phased, incremental and prudent approach towards provincial autonomy.
Additionally, abolition of the Concurrent List in toto will limit opportunities for legislation of a normative nature--particularly norms which relate to the fundamental ethos of the federation. Similarly, domestic legislation as a follow-up to international commitments need not be a provincial prerogative, where capacity constraints can cause delays and duplications would be inevitable. The Charter of Child Rights Bill, which is currently in the pipeline, illustrates both the cases. Overdue for ten-years, the domestic legislation as a follow-up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is both normative in nature and in compliance with an international norm; it can be federally enacted and have the same meaning for each of the provinces.
Thirdly, the 18th Amendment Bill attempts to address some of the processes that have the potential to make governance "participatory" and "efficient." The former is evident in the stipulated procedures for appointment of superior court judges and the chief election commissioner and the latter in the provisions, which limit the size of the cabinet and the number of advisors. Whilst these changes are welcome, there are many other things that need to be initialized as a follow-up to improve governance. The civil service reform agenda awaits implementation. The accountability law, the pulse of good governance, is on the backburner; the competition commission law is on hold; the National Anti-corruption Strategy has remained shelved; opportunities to use e-governance to promote transparency in governance remain untapped; conflict of interest within policymaking ranks continues to be pervasive and administrative norms within the bureaucracy have been unchanged.
Fourthly, the bill introduces free and compulsory education up to the age of 16 years. This is a significant step towards recognising the right of a child to education. But this has implications for resource allocations and institutional frameworks. The government currently does not have the structures to enable that. With education predominantly in the hands of the private sector, a quantum shift is needed on the policy stance towards "purchasing services" from the private sector. This has implications, in turn, for the regulatory capacity of the government with resource requirements being a corollary. However, health has not been regarded as a right.
In the fifth place, it is unfortunate that the move of renaming NWFP is inadvertently sowing the seeds of discord in the province with calls for the creation of another province echoing loud even before the bill is debated.
Finally, in relation to high treason, the expanded definitions will hopefully block ad hoc adventurism in the future. I wish there could also be constitutional mechanisms to label those that sacrifice vital interests of the state on the altars of personal interests as committing high treason as well.
The bill is indeed an achievement in terms of having sanitised the Constitution; but as far as governance is concerned, there is a long way to go.
The writer is founding president of the NGO think-tank, Heartfile. Email: sania@ heartfile.org
I. THE NEWS
WHAT ABOUT GOVERNANCE?
BY DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
A state with a good constitution is merely a state with a workable document which provides hope for the fulfilment of the legitimate aspirations of its people. The constitution has no power to eradicate ignorance, poverty, disease, hunger, and though it provides legal means to ensure a corruption-free polity, it is not a guarantee against corruption.
Ultimately, it is the people of a country whose aggregate state constitutes markers by which a nation is measured. The standard markers are education, health and income levels. None of these can be changed by an act of parliament; they need deliberate decisions implemented with diligence. They also need long- and short-term strategic plans, and consistent efforts to implement them.
If one can breathe a sigh of relief at certain signs of maturity shown by Pakistani politicians in dealing with the complex and often emotional issues in the constitutional package, there is little hope of good governance without the emergence of a new leadership.
The only candidates on the horizon are the children of the present political leaders, and one shudders at the prospects of this unfortunate country when they take control of the country. And since there is no hope of any change in the makeup of the present political parties--person-centred as they are--there is ultimately no hope of any change in the mode of governance.
The present mode of governance was left behind by the British colonisers and it is heavily entrenched in a bureaucracy which ensures continuity of state policies and a certain degree of order, but which cannot overhaul the ailing educational, industrial and social sectors of the country. As a result, all that happens day after day in the country is the continuity of a sluggish pace of decay, often shocked by waves of violence.
That this sluggish pace is a blessings of sorts is beyond any doubt, for without this structure, Pakistan would have dissolved by now, or turned into an African country marred by deep scars and utter lack of hope. Even with the recent dangerous loosening of the grip of the state on the affairs of the country, one can only be thankful for a certain degree of residual resilience of the operational mechanism which keep this country functioning: educational institutional have millions of young men and women working towards some sort of higher education, courts do operate, police and paramilitary personnel do go out on the road and there is a certain degree of basic understanding among the masses about the rule of law.
But none of this is sufficient to stop the great slide into lower and lower levels of poverty and dangerous uprooting of the new generation from the ways of living of their forefathers. And this is where good governance, not just a good constitution, becomes extremely relevant to the state. The restoration of balance of power between the presidency and the prime minister, as well as the recent victory of the judiciary to achieve a certain level of independence, are indeed good signs for the country. But without a new level of good governance, these will slide back into the old mould.
Good governance requires vision, commitment, consistency and a certain degree of professional competence. Pakistan's political leadership is not known for these qualities. But with the recent encouraging signs, one hopes that a certain space has been created for professional leadership to emerge in various sectors, including education, social development, and most of areas of essential needs: health, energy, transportation, and city management.
There is no miracle cure for overgrown, unmanageable cities, power shortage and energy crisis, the depleting water resources, but one hopes that professional handling of certain other basic problems can at least provide some relief. Through good governance, one can raise the level of understanding about basic health and hygiene, educate the masses about simple things such as how to drive on the roads now chocking with traffic.
Good governance can alleviate certain problems by finding effective and workable solutions for certain basic problems of Pakistan which do not even require money: find a way to actually teach people how to drive within the white lines of a traffic lane, not to throw garbage on the road, use a handkerchief when blowing their noses and hundreds of other mundane things which plague our public sector.
The Malaysian leadership has achieved remarkable things simply by teaching such things to their people, and although there are numerous problems faced by that country, at least there is a higher level of civil life.
The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
SNIPPETS OF RIGHT AND WRONG
BY SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
There is never a dull moment in the land of the pure. If the ups and downs of the apex Pakistani institutions were not enough, Azad Kashmir has decided to provide more entertainment.
We now have two chief justices there, holding court in different cities. The lawyer bodies, that have become arbiters of legitimacy among judges and courts, are divided. Processions and counter-processions are taking place and it is not clear yet which faction's street power will determine the final outcome.
The president of AJK and the prime minister are major players in this theatre of the absurd. One goes on vacation and the other strikes, sending the CJ to a peculiar hellhole called non-functional.
The vacationer returns and declares everything null, and since no one understands this, void too. This does not make it any easier. Fist-fights erupt in the streets; mostly black coats hitting each other. Boxing must be core curriculum in law schools. They seem adept at beating up the police, judges and the media.
Talking of the media taking it on the chin, the doctors of Jinnah Hospital too did a good job. It is heartening to know that the delicate hands that hold the scalpel are tough enough to smash noses. And break up cameras. This did not satisfy the docs though. They are now on strike.
In this, they have a point. Patients die in hospitals. Sometimes it is indeed the fault of the doctors. Cases of malpractice happen even in the best medical systems. But, this is true of only a very few cases. In general, the doctors are doing their best and yet people die. For the families to become raucous or hold media trials is just not on.
What we need are malpractice tribunals perhaps one for every division. These should have only doctors as members. If people have a complaint, they should lodge it before this body. Let the doctors' peers adjudicate, within a short timeframe, whether any wrong has been done. They can also prescribe punishment and remedies. This business of shouting, screaming and breaking things up must end.
It will not because our moral centre has fallen apart. It is understandable if the poor and dispossessed come out and vent their anger and frustration. The state and society are giving them very little. But, when those who have a lot and are educated to boot behave like hoodlums there is absolutely no excuse.
We all had teachers we did not like. But, did the thought of beating them up ever cross our mind? It may have in some cases but only as a fantasy. Now students think nothing of physically assaulting teachers.
The Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba (IJT) has been going berserk in the Punjab University for a long time. They have made physical intimidation a normal part of their operating procedures. The sad part is that no one has ever seriously held it to account.
They beat up Imran Khan when he visited, and have beaten up teachers before. They also routinely thrash other students. Now they have put in hospital the person designated to maintain order in the university. The Punjab government has declared its intent to arrest and punish them. Let us see if it walks the talk.
There must be some reason why the educated in this country don't care about law, rules or discipline. Is it cynicism because we have had either illegal rulers such as Musharraf or those that are legitimate but accused of serious criminality? Does this create a mindset where people think that they need not be bothered about law when the rulers are not?
Take the happenings at the presidential lodge in Naudero. The PPP Central Executive Committee took a firm decision that Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's grave will not be desecrated by the opening of the Swiss cases. Now I admit to being a little slow, but what the Swiss cases have to do with the Bhutto's grave is beyond me.
The law minister of the land, who by designation is the chief law officer of the country, has publicly declared his intent not to implement the Supreme Court decision in the NRO case. His dramatic words were 'over my dead body'.
And the president makes it a point to mention him, and the other upholder of law, Rehman Malik, in his address to the joint session of parliament. Raza Rabbani, who by any reckoning should be the pride of the PPP, came a poor third in this particular order of merit.
It almost seems redundant to repeat that our chief law officer has a fake doctoral degree, is accused of taking money to get the Harris Steel case settled and now a party MNA is levelling serious allegations against him. The deeds of the other presidential hero, Rehman Malik, are legendry in the annals of the FIA.
It is this kind of atmosphere that breeds cynicism. People start to believe that crime pays and there is no retribution. As I have said before, the good ones not only start to feel like idiots but are described as such by their friends and family.
Is a return journey to morality and lawful governance possible? It is almost a cliché to say this but good and clean leadership can set the tone for it. If a leader believes in the integrity of his decisions and is ready to be accountable, it has a cascading effect down the line.
The next question should be, how will this come about? To this, there are no easy answers. An oft-repeated response is that if democracy stays long enough a better crop of leadership will emerge. But will it? The people keep electing unsavoury characters again and again.
The correct answer has to lie in building institutions. That is why it is so important that the Supreme Court decisions should be implemented. It is the final legal arbiter in the land and no one has a right to sit in judgment over its decisions.
It may give good decisions or bad decisions. I personally have reservations about some of its judgments. But, the only legal remedy is a review before the same court. The option of non-implementation is not there.
The word democracy is used a lot these days. If any government or individual decides to flout the Supreme Court decision because he has the state power to do so, it is a tremendous disservice to democracy.
In fact it amounts to eroding its foundation because without the rule of law there can be no democracy. And this in practice means implementing what the courts decide.
We are entering another difficult period. The dreaded clash of institutions looms again. One or the other will have to back down. Either the court reviews its decision or the government implements it. There is no half way house.
I. THE NEWS
BY HARRIS KHALIQUE
Left, it seems, is regaining consciousness. At the end of the first decade of the 21st century scattered political groups and parties that in the past subscribed to various hues of socialist ideology are making their presence felt by trying to create wider alliances among themselves and aspiring to merge into one big political entity. One has been writing on the subject for some time and just recently, a national newspaper has published a number of articles on the possibilities for and challenges to Left politics in Pakistan. From the recent past, we mustn't forget the untiring efforts of progressive writers and publishers including Late Hasan Abid, Wahid Bashir, Rahat Saeed, Amir Riaz, Muslim Shamim, Tufail Abbas, Zahida Hina, Wajahat Masood, Dr Jafar Ahmed, Ayub Malik, Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan, Dr Shah Mohammed Marri and some others like them who kept the flame burning during the 1980s and 90s through their magazines and other publications when there was practically nothing happening for the Left in the real political world. Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences was one of the few institutions which held us all together on a wider scale by organising meaningful and well-represented meetings of enlightened and progressive individuals from across Pakistan and abroad.
When it comes to organising political workers and whatever was left of the left-wing leadership on a mass scale, key members of the Inqilabi Jamhoori Workers Committee, Dr Hassan Nasir, Taj Marri, Mirza Maqsood, Ramzan Memon and Farhat Parveen deserve a lot of praise for triggering the process of creating a new, viable and modern national political party in December 2005. They were joined by the stalwarts of erstwhile Qaumi Mahaz-e-Azadi and the National Workers Party led by veteran politicians Mairaj Mohamed Khan and Abid Hasan Manto, respectively. A simultaneous effort was underway in Peshawar where Pakhtunkhwa Democratic Forum was established by Fazle Raziq, Anwar Durrani and Advocate Shahab Khattak. A little later, Prof Jameel Umar and Shazia Khan embarked on the same journey from Lahore and put in a lot of effort to bring everyone together. The scribe was a part of a group established in 2006 by Ashfaque Saleem Mirza, Rao Tariq Latif, Rana Shafique, Marvi Sirmed and Zeeshan Noel Christopher, which focused more on reaching out to new people besides old comrades.
The challenge of creating a country-wide political party is huge due to various reasons. One, the country is deeply fragmented on provincial and ethnic lines and hence, doing inclusive politics has become an uphill task. Two, left-wing groups and individuals have meagre resources to operate and run for elections if they are serious in doing parliamentary politics. Three, people who want everyone to join hands are all well-meaning and come from the broader Left but have serious past differences, based on both personalities and schools of thought, which they find hard to overcome in practical terms. This resulted in people coming together but then falling out on minor issues even during the current effort which began in 2005. Four, while they are clear on what is wrong in the economy they have insufficient understanding of how to put it right.
However, while one would reject creating another old boys' club in the name of the Left, one would also discard Mushir Anwar's proposal in one of his articles that the Left should join mainstream parties to influence their policies. What we need is a New Left that needs to build its knowledge and reach out to people through creating a popular political force.
The writer is a poet and advises national and international institutions on governance and public policy issues. Email: harris @spopk.org
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