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Friday, April 16, 2010

EDITORIAL 12.04.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month april 12, edition 000479, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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







































It is shocking that in the nation's capital city a scrap dealer, four of his employees and another person should be battling for their lives after handling radioactive waste in the form of Cobalt 60. Apparently, the radioactive waste possibly emanated from a hospital and was part of the scrap purchased by the dealer for recycling. Neither the dealer nor his staff was aware of the deadly material and unknowingly handled it without taking even the smallest precaution. The effect of that has manifested itself in the most gruesome manner. While nuclear experts have subsequently checked the premises and the market where the scrap shop is located and declared the place safe and free of radioactive contamination, it is anybody's guess as to how the six persons who are now under medical supervision will fare. However, some serious questions have come to the fore which require to be answered by authority. First, we need to know what is the source of the radioactive waste that found its way to the scrap dealer's shop. Was it carelessly dumped by a hospital along with its other waste? If so, then it is a telling comment on the lax controls that are followed more in the breach than in practice. The guilt hospital should be identified and exemplary punishment must be meted out to its administrators so that others are deterred from being indifferent towards such serious aspects of medical waste management. If the radioactive waste is sourced to a consignment of imported scrap, then there is cause for equal if not more concern. What that would imply is that there is no check on what is being imported into the country; worse, those in charge of verifying contents of containers being shipped to India would be guilty of being criminally callous about fulfilling their responsibility. The standard procedure adopted at ports in all countries is to check containers for hazardous material; this would be all the more true for containers used for shipping scrap. There is also the requirement to check containers for radioactive material. Are the laid down procedures followed at our ports? If not, shouldn't accountability be fixed?

The last aspect is about urban management. Local administrators and civic agencies responsible for monitoring trade in scrap and hazardous material are supposed to maintain a strict vigil. It is obvious that had there been a strict monitoring system in place then such an appalling incident would not have occurred. Are we then to assume that no such controls exist? Or that if they do, they are not implemented? There should be a full inquiry into the whole affair and responsibility must be fixed, heads must roll. India aspires to emerge as a world power. Delhi is being showcased as a 'world class city'. Which aspiring world power, which 'world class city', would allow radioactive waste to be dumped in this manner? More alarmingly, if radioactive waste can float around in this manner, undetected and uncontrolled by authority, then terrorists cannot be prevented from smuggling in and using a 'dirty bomb'. The significance of last week's incident cannot be over-stressed. Conversely, if authority tries to suppress the facts or chooses to ignore them with the intention of covering up the lapses of officials concerned, then it would be a pity and a shame. The Union Government must step in and ensure that something similar does not happen ever again.







With Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's United Peoples' Freedom Alliance winning a comfortable majority in the recently concluded parliamentary election — though short of the two-thirds majority it would have really liked — the country's leadership now has no more excuses to delay pushing through policies that would see a permanent solution to the Tamil issue. After convincingly winning the presidential election in January, and now with a more than acceptable parliamentary election result, Mr Rajapaksa could not have had it any better. It is just as well that the UPFA did not win a two-thirds majority. For, there were rumours doing the rounds in the corridors of power in Colombo that the President was seeking such a mandate in order to amend the Constitution and serve beyond the end of his tenure. On the other hand, Mr Rajapaksa does need that number to push through amendments that would enable devolution of power or, alternatively, an appropriate power-sharing arrangement with the Tamils, especially in the north of the country. But with the main Opposition United National Party promising support to any Government-sponsored amendment to the Constitution if it benefits the country as a whole, the UPFA's lack of two-thirds majority should not come in the way of solving Sri Lanka's long-standing ethno-political problem. Besides, such a solution should ideally come from a wide political spectrum rather than one political grouping.

It is absolutely essential that the ruling coalition now moves quickly to ensure rehabilitation of the Tamils, more than 200,000 of whom still remain internally displaced. This needs to be followed up with sufficient development of long-neglected Tamil pockets. The process had started with a lot of enthusiasm after the Government declared victory in the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May last year. But it slowed down considerably thereafter. Mr Rajapaksa should know that the military victory over the LTTE was only half the battle won. To completely uproot the poison tree of separatism, he needs to sincerely address Tamil grievances. Otherwise, it will only be a matter of time before those grievances come to be represented by another militant formation. This is something that no Sri Lankan, Tamil or Sinhalese, wants. After being ravaged by a civil war that lasted for a quarter of a century and claimed the lives of more than 80,000 people, the people of Sri Lanka now want peace and development. The other thing that Mr Rajapaksa needs to guard against is political arrogance. It is true that he has been instrumental in ridding his country of the LTTE menace. But it will be a great folly on his part to start thinking that this gives him absolute power. The last thing that the people of Sri Lanka want is an authoritarian leadership.







In God's Own Country, the angels seem to be propping up a farcical Government. In an RTI reply, the Kerala Government admitted that the annual speech that the Governor made this time at the beginning of the Budget session of the State Assembly under Article 176 of the Constitution was not approved formally by the State Cabinet, as is required by constitutional practice. Article 173(1) says that it is the Council of Ministers, with the Chief Minister at its head, that should "aid and advise" the Governor in his functions except in matters where he has a discretion under the Constitution, like appointing the Chief Minister. The Governor's speech to the Assembly, detailing the plans of the State Government, begins with the words "My Government", which means that the address has to be approved by the Council of Ministers. Thus, the Cabinet's approval of the text of the speech is absolutely necessary.

Kerala Governor RS Gavai, a former Union Home Secretary, addressed this year's first session of the State Assembly on February 24. The last State Cabinet meeting before the Assembly session began was held on February 17. The RTI application specifically asked as to what was the decision taken by the Cabinet at this meeting regarding the Governor's address to the State Assembly session. The official reply was: "No decision was taken." The State Government has admitted in writing that the Cabinet had appointed a sub-committee to draft the Governor's address at its meeting on February 10 and that after February 17 there was no meeting of the Cabinet. On being asked whether there was any meeting of the Cabinet that approved the speech to be sent to the Governor, the official reply was that "In the Cabinet minutes there is no mention of such action". It is, therefore, evident that the Governor's address containing all the important Government announcements did not receive a formal approval of the Cabinet.

These facts that newspapers in Kerala have brought out confirm earlier reports that the Governor's address on February 24 had not received formal approval of the Cabinet. Now it transpires that the Cabinet meeting that day was beset by differences and, therefore, the text of the speech was left to the Cabinet sub-committee to finalise. This sub-committee did meet after the Cabinet adjourned and finalised the draft. However, this does not fulfil the constitutional requirement.

The text has to be approved on record by the Cabinet as a whole. Since this did not happen, the entire debate in the Assembly on the address, therefore, becomes a farce. The enactment of this farce is just one of the many scams that are rocking the CPI(M)-led coalition Government in the State. Only recently there was yet another ridiculous incident within the State Government. Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, who has fallen out of favour with his Cabinet colleagues, was asked to get rid of his political secretary who had fallen fowl of party boss Pinarayi Vijayan. The replacement that the party boss suggested was not acceptable to the Chief Minister. The result, Mr Achuthanandan is without a political secretary.

The Chief Minister and the party boss have been slugging it out in public on almost every issue. The many somersaults of the State Government on the issue of encroachment on Government land in the tea gardens of the resort town of Munnar are revealing. Mr Achuthanandan announced the determination of his Government to get rid of the encroachments. But Mr Vijayan and his supporters threaten to attack anyone who dared to do that. The reason: The CPI(M) and its many friends are responsible for the encroachments in the area where the value of land has touched the sky. As a result, every officer designated to get the encroachments vacated seeks the first opportunity to get out.

The entire State Government is so infested with Marxist politics that several senior IAS and IPS officials have sought assignments at the Centre to escape the embarrassment they face in implementing the LDF Government's policies. This is because in Kerala it is not one Government that rules, and there are several centres of power. The Kerala High Court recently had two affidavits before it, both signed by secretaries of different departments and each contradicting the other. It had, therefore, to inquire which was the real affidavit of the Government.

This joke of a State Government goes on exposing its fault-lines almost every day. Mr Vijayan has been implicated in a corruption scandal worth hundreds of crores of rupees that allegedly occurred when he was the Power Minister during the previous avatar of the CPI(M)-led coalition Government. When the issue of whether the Cabinet should advise the Governor on sanctioning the prosecution of Mr Vijayan came up, Mr Achuthanandan was all for prosecution, but his Cabinet colleagues differed. Ultimately, the Governor took the decision to allow prosecution on his own. The State Government ended up spending crores of rupees to defend Mr Vijayan by going to the Supreme Court but failed.

Yet another farce is the CPI(M)'s agitation against price rise. The agitation is centred on Delhi and is directed against the UPA Government for promoting price rise. But right on the eve of this agitation, newspapers in Kerala exposed the fact that the State Government was making profits on the pulse stocks that had been supplied by the Centre. An embarrassed State Government had to reduce the price to the level that the central agencies were providing the stocks at.

That the CPI(M) in Kerala is merely seeking to divert the attention of the public from its own miserable performance in promoting this agitation against price rise became clear when Mr Vijayan, accompanied by three CPI(M) Ministers, announced an extended tour of the Gulf to collect donations for a party memorial of a former Chief Minister. It is ironical that the CPI(M)'s top bosses were happily touring the Gulf when the party's rank and file are agitating against the Centre.

The Marxists claim to be speaking for the poor. But the CPI(M) in Kerala is the richest political party in the State, owning properties worth over Rs 1,500 crore. Two huge scandals that rocked the CPI(M)-led Government were exposed just within the last three years wherein party bosses were found accepting crores of rupees from tainted sources originating in the Gulf. In one case, the party had to return the money to escape the consequences of accepting it in the first place.

While the Marxists are the self-proclaimed champions of secularism, they have no compunctions about sleeping with rabid communal outfits like Abdul Naseer Madani's PDP. Kerala, it seems, has become a stage for the theatre of the absurd.







The ambush and slaughter of 74 CRPF jawans and two policemen by Maoists deep inside the forests of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh was shocking indeed. In the backdrop of opinions that say the strength of the Maoists in the country has been grossly overstated, an attack of this magnitude where an entire platoon of paramilitary personnel was decimated, comes as a strong rejoinder that the authorities need to seriously reconsider their anti-Maoist strategies. Though the Union Home Minister has been seen strongly condemning the Maoist attacks, what is disturbing though is the fact that these protestations are merely rhetorical and never translate into convincing retaliatory actions.

Though the anti-Maoist task units have managed to penetrate deep into Maoist-dominated, a complete ignorance about the local terrain has always given the Left-wing extremists the upper hand. Thus, it is hardly surprising that Operation Green Hunt, launched to dislodge the Maoists, seems to have run into rough weather right at the outset. The protests by various human rights groups and sympathisers of the Maoists against the ongoing Government offensive have not helped matters either.

Playing on the fears of tribals, the Maoists have been able to enforce their writ in large swathes of the country's tribal belts. Also, the regular skirmishes that the extremists have with the local police have had an adverse effect on the morale of the latter. As a result, many police barracks and stations in the Maoist-affected areas have been simply abandoned. The Sildah episode in West Bengal just a few months ago is a lucid example of the apathy that has crept into country's internal security management. The frequent attacks on security personnel, the kidnappings and killings of Government officials, and the negotiations with the authorities for the release of their comrades, clearly exemplify that the Maoists have become a force to reckon with.

Evidently, the Maoist movement, more than terror threats from external agencies, has become a matter of great consternation. With the Maoists virtually waging a war on the country, can the Government afford to continue with the soft approach?







The Sania-Shoaib-Ayesha story came to an abrupt end with the Pakistani cricketer suddenly changing his tune, 'admitting' that he had married Ayesha by divorcing her under Islamic personal law. So what forced him to climb down from his high horse? There's more to the intriguing tale than meets the eye!

Wuhat made Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik admit that he had indeed married Ayesha Siddiqui? Muslim leaders in Hyderabad threatened a fatwa against Shoaib Malik and tennis star Sania Mirza if they did not follow Islamic traditions, and if the former did not divorce Ayesha Siddiqui and continued to throw mud on the Siddiqui family in public.

Ayesha had also handed over some stained clothes and linen to the police to support her claims. It is a tradition in some Muslim households to preserve the blood-stained sheets from the marriage night as proof of the bride's virginity for her parents-in-law.

Also, a corporate hospital had offered to provide the fluid samples collected while terminating Ayesha's pregnancy. Ayesha, who claims to have had a miscarriage, and was treated by Dr Fatima Poonawala, also handed over some more medical evidence to the police to support her case. It is the Muslim custom to bury the foetus or remains from a miscarriage as it is felt that the unborn child has a soul and will be waiting for its parents in heaven. Sometimes the hospital buries the remains on the parents' behalf. DNA tests could easily be carried out on the remains even if the sample is years old.

Shoaib knew about the miscarriage but was not unduly concerned, said Dr Babbar, the Siddiqui family friend. The Hyderabad police was to collect blood samples from Shoaib in a day or two to verify allegations that he had a physical relationship with Ayesha after a telephonic marriage. She also had evidence of Shoaib offering her a million dollars to keep quiet, which was part of the CD she had given to police.

Police had also got confirmatory evidence from several witnesses who had seen Shoaib and Ayesha together as husband and wife, including the maid, Lakshmi. They had also interviewed the Qazi who had conducted the telephonic nikaahfrom Ayesha's end while Shoaib was with another Qazi in a showroom in Sialkot.

There are witnesses to the relationship of Maha alias Ayesha Siddiqui in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where she worked as a school teacher, vice-principal and administrator for many years at Hala International School (formerly known as the School of Little Stars). She was also known as Maha Siddiqui there.

In March 2005 it was officially reported in Saudi Arabia that an Indian girl from Jeddah had married Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik, and as expected the love story involving them had caught everybody by surprise. His wife was mentioned as Ayesha (Maha Siddiqui) — a Hyderabadi girl brought up in Saudi Arabia, it was said. She worked as an administrator in a Jeddah school, and was doing an MBA at that time.

It was reported that later that year when Pakistan's cricket team tours India Shoaib would visit Hyderabad for a practice match and it would be an occasion where he will be meeting his parents-in-law along with the team. This he duly did and also handed over his man of the match trophy to his wife as a gift.

So Ayesha Siddiqui and Shoaib's wife is the same person as Maha, which was known to many students of Hala International School, Jeddah. This is why Shoaib said his brother-in-law Imran Zafar found out that a "fat and ugly lady" claiming to be wife of Shoaib was teaching a relative's kids in the school, after which he realised he had been duped by her sending the wrong photos and broke off all contact with her. But the fact remains Maha was overweight several years before she met Shoaib and he had married her willingly though he did casually ask her to lose weight.

Ayesha also clarified that she had never sent any photographs of hers or anybody else's to Shoaib through e-mail; they had in fact met in person for the first time in Sharjah in 2000 at the Holiday Inn hotel and after that began talking over the phone. This could be easily proven as she had no access to Internet in those days in Saudi Arabia and had got a dial-up internet connection much later and with great difficulty in the American compound where she lived. She started using Internet only in 2003, and the connection was not suitable for chatting. Photographs were exchanged by post.

Shoaib refuses to show the photographs he received from Ayesha because he claims Ayesha admitted she had sent him another girl's photographs and begged him not to release them as the girl was now married. He said he could not in good conscience destroy that girl's reputation even though Ayesha was destroying his and he may go to jail for it! His lawyer also claimed they would submit the photographs to the police in a sealed envelope to protect the woman's identity.

But in a shocking admission, a family friend of the Maliks, Ameen Shaikh told Times Now on Wednesday that the photo he had seen with Shoaib's father several years ago was indeed that of Ayesha now seen on TV, and his father claimed she had married the Pakistani cricketer in 2002.

However, Ameen Shaikh has admitted that the photo that was shown to him was that of a thinner version of Ayesha.

He said, "I am fairly sure, the girl was of Shoaib's choice. Shoaib and Ayesha had been friends from Dubai. His father had told me of their friendship several times. I am saddened by all the things that are happening to Ayesha. Now I've heard that he is planning to marry a tennis player. I don't understand what is happening."

"Shoaib's father told me that the nikaahwith Ayesha was done, just the rukhsat was left. And he even asked me to join in the celebrations, because I am family. Ayesha is telling the truth that she is married to him. His father told me they were married and that the girl's father was in a senior position in Saudi Arabia. I've seen her photo also, his father showed me the photo. I know it's the same girl. When I saw her on TV, the only difference was that she was thinner before," added Ameen.

There are conflicting reports on why Sania has stuck to Shoaib in spite of his admission of marriage to Ayesha.

Former Pakistan cricketer Sarfaraz Nawaz tore into Shoaib, alleging he is a dubious character. A Pakistani TV channel quoted him saying, "He was involved in match-fixing even in domestic cricket." He also alleged that Shoaib spent Rs 16 crore on Sania, supposedly buying her a flat, a car and expensive jewellery in dubai. The couple were seen in Dubai recently going on several shopping sprees, for their wedding presumably. And, so far, neither Shoaib nor any of his family members has denied the report aired on Samaa News.

"Shoaib is close to match fixers and the sattapeople in Dubai will never leave him alone and he is rolling in money," Sarfaraz claimed. "In Dubai he cannot be prosecuted for betting, etc. This man can sell his country, he has admitted on TV to fixing matches, why will he not sell out Sania. Perhaps she is in the know and this marriage is a business deal as both their careers are at a low point," he stated. "A lot of money is involved and people will soon know that Shoaib will be fixing tennis matches for Sania," Sarfaraz said. "And if she does not agree to his plans, he will give her talaq."

Sania's interest in settling down in Dubai is also the reason why she chose Shoaib over Sohrab Mirza, apart from the fact that she always liked him. When Ayesha, in one of her several telephonic interviews to news channels, wondered why Sania announced her wedding with Shoaib within weeks of breaking up with Hyderabad-based bakery owner's son, Sohrab Mirza, she posed a question that many people have been asking.

Referring to Sania's broken engagement Ayesha recently said on TV, "Sab ko pata hai kaun dhokhebaaz hai. Everybody is talking about how Sania cheated her fiancé and dropped him like a potato and only two months after that she is marrying someone else. I at least have the same person for the last 10 years. I do not want to get into her personal matter, but she has accused my family and said this and that about my family."

The Times of India reported: "Some leading Hyderabadi Muslims who are well-acquainted with the tennis star's family claim that Sania has been interested in Shoaib for over five years but had agreed to an engagement with Sohrab to please her family.

'The Adil Mirza (Sohrab's) family is very well respected in Hyderabad and the two families have known each other for long. Sania's parents were not too keen on her marrying Shoaib earlier as they were not particularly pleased with his background,' says a family friend.

Why was the engagement called off? While the Mirza camp has been claiming the two were 'incompatible', there is speculation that the break-up came because she was insistent on marrying Shoaib and he too stepped up the pressure after his career was under a cloud. The family apparently gave up its earlier opposition rationalising that Malik was, after all, a well-known personality.


Some family friends insist that Sania is completely smitten by Malik but others say that it's not a simple love affair. They say it is a 'strategic' move where both partners have a common destination — to live the good life in Dubai.

Sania, who crashed out of the Dubai Open earlier this year, has routinely been extended a warm welcome by the people and the Government there, which was glad to host a tennis star who had become a poster girl for their local community's young girls.

Therefore, when she decided to settle down in Dubai with Shoaib, it did not surprise many. It wasn't just neutral ground, but one that would leverage the careers of the two sportspersons, says another family acquaintance.

Sania has been slipping consistently in her World Tennis Associations rankings and Malik has been banned for a year by the Pakistan Cricket Board. On its part, Dubai is trying hard to turn into a sports destination and is in search of sports stars who can showcase the upcoming facilities in the city. 'Sania wanted to settle down in Dubai and wanted someone who could support that. A lot of World Tennis Associations tournaments like Dubai Open and Qatar Open are being held there and she gets appearance money for these tournaments,' says a sports analyst.

If she is based in Dubai, she will become a bigger star as there are hardly any sports personalities in Dubai, which is currently investing heavily in sports. There is also talk of a cricket league on the lines of Indian Premier League and this could possibly be a strong reason for Malik to be stationed in Dubai."

Have Sania and Shoaib quietly tied the knot at a private ceremony in Dubai? Speculation has swirled about the two already being husband and wife from the time Malik landed in Hyderabad. The five-star Taj Krishna has been booked only for a reception and not the nikaah. That had many wondering whether the wedding could well be over and Malik was here just for the reception.

Local community members say that Malik's stay in the Mirza house prior to the wedding and Sania sticking to the cricketer despite allegations against him do seem to suggest they are not just engaged but possibly a married couple.

"It is impractical to assume that the Mirzas and the Maliks did not expect trouble after making this announcement of an Indo-Pak marriage that too with a Pakistani national who had a Hyderabad connection. It is very likely that they possibly got married before going public with their wedding announcement," said a person close to the events, recalling how strongly the Siddiquis came out against Malik two years ago when he had denied his marriage with Ayesha.

The Siddiqui family also had been trying to find out if the nikaahwas held in Dubai. Those known to the family say Ayesha herself has been asking this question from the time she received a call from a friend telling her about Malik's nikaahwith Sania in Dubai.

Strangely, the main culprit in the story, Shoaib's brother-in-law Imran Zafar, who Ayesha claims influenced Shoaib that she was below average-looking and very plump (after he met her in Hyderabad in 2004) and therefore he should deny his marriage to her, seemed completely at sea after the Shoaib-Ayesha divorce announcement. He said he had slept through the night and had no idea about the negotiations going on all night and had been left completely in the dark by Shoaib and had just woken up to be informed by the media of the developments. It was he who was the main instigator of this drama, daring Ayesha to show her nikahnama to prove she had married Shoaib once the Shoaib-Sania wedding was announced and the media had come to him seeking clarification for Ayesha's status as Shoaib's wife, and had since then been the most vociferous defender of Shoaib's tall claims.

Ayesha Siddiqui also received support from across the border today. Shoaib's step-brother Tariq Malik came out in the open claiming he had evidence the former got married to Ayesha, Geo TV reported on Wednesday. Tariq claimed that the cricketer had a nikaah(marriage) with Ayesha on the phone and the marriage was performed by a Qazi with Shoaib on the phone at his close friend Abrar Shah's sports goods showroom. Abrar shah was supposedly a witness. Tariq claims Abrar had later seen the nikahnama as well.


Tariq also targeted Shoaib's brother-in-law Imran Zafar Malik and advised Indian tennis star Sania Mirza to stay away from him if she wanted healthy relations with the cricketer. Tariq also accused Shoaib's sister Ghazala Malik of issuing threats to him from Germany. He has even approached Sialkot police to share these damning revelations.

On the other hand, it is said that Ayesha agreed to a compromise out of concern for her father, who is a heart patient and whose health has taken a turn for the worse, and also because her sister is pregnant. She was also afraid of the media pressure to appear in public as she was very conscious of the fact that she had put on a lot of weight since her failed gastric bypass surgery and that Shoaib and Sania would make fun of her in public as she was considerably older than him. Muslim religious leaders have assured the Siddiqui family that they would help to find a good husband for Ayesha.







The game of life was poised at matchpoint for Sania Mirza a few months back, but at a crucial moment she threw it away. Just as the purported glue of matrimony would not keep Kramer with Kramer, Sania Mirza, it was decided, would not settle down with Sohrab Mirza.

Cut to 2007; the place: Jeddah. This Saudi city is no stranger to Hyderabadis, who play a significant role in its trade and commerce. Numerous families from the city of Charminar, including some of Sania's relatives now as rich as the Saudi potentates, have settled here.

The prospective groom for Sania in 2007 was another cricketer, a shy, self-effacing cricketer from an extremely modest background: The hopelessly out of form but once a match-winner, the redoubtable Irfan Pathan.

Interestingly, Sania's father, Imran Mirza, is known for his cricket connections. He played first class cricket in Bombay in his younger days and also happens to be the first cousin of former Pakistani skipper Asif Iqbal, besides being a close relative of another cricketer, Ghulam Mohammad.

This, perhaps, explains the Mirzas' zeal for their daughter's plans of walking down the aisle with a former Pakistani cricket captain who is right now looking like a battered ex-husband. And we are not even talking about the sundry other allegations surrounding him.

To hark back to Jeddah, both Sania and Irfan visited the city with a just couple of months separating them. Both found time to visit the local branch of the Delhi Public School and both religiously performed the umrah. Incidentally, Sania's bete-noire, Ayesha Siddiqui, was teaching in a Jeddah school then.

The story goes that the Mirzas were told — some time after Sania-Irfan's visit to Jeddah — that the two would make an ideal match, given their common sporting backgrounds and not inconsiderable fame and fortune. Given Irfan's hard work in rising from a poor muezzin's family would have made him a politically correct entrée into the Mirza fold.

The proposal was rejected by the Mirzas, who said Irfan's background did not make him the right — leave aside perfect — match that they had in mind for Sania. Certainly, Pathan's knowledge of English was modest compared to Sania's. But his Urdu diction and decent upbringing could not be faulted even by the Dakkani tehzeeb-conscious Hyderabadis. It's not known to this day whether Irfan was aware of the proposal, but the proposal was a favourite topic of discussion in social circles and weekend dinners.

It's moot whether similar factors weighed in when Sohrab Mirza's proposed marriage with Sania was called off a month back. Did Sania's parents feel that Sohrab was not the ideal double's partner for their daughter because his family — though friendly — was being conservative and open about curbing their daughter's freedom after marriage? Some would say it was not her parents but Sania herself who became more class conscious. In fact, people close to Imran Mirza, who were aware of his class-consciousness, were taken aback by his nod in favour of Sohrab. Mirza's friends felt that things wouldn't quite pan out between jet-setting Sania and a Hyderabad-bound non-entity husband.

It's ironical to note here that the allowedly 'progressive' and 'modern' Mirzas were at pains to project Sania as a normal, conservative Muslim 'behen' when the controversy over her on-court couture raised its head in 2005. A photo feature that same year following the brouhaha, in leading Indian newspapers, projected her — contrary to her lifestyle — as a traditional, goody-goody Muslim girl. Why did the Mirzas feel the need to project their daughter in this light when they were not bothered by her on-court turnout? Evidently, there is a day and time to don the conservative mantle.

Tailpiece: The Indian law relating to nationality is as strange as Shoaib's account of his first marriage. It does not allow a Pakistani groom to opt for Indian nationality though this is permitted for brides hailing from across the border.

The writer is the author of Muslims and Media Images published by OUP.









India, the world's fastest growing mobile phone market, is on its way to revolutionising its telecom sector. Auction of spectrum for 3G services is a first for the country, and the response last Friday didn't belie expectations. First day, first show saw 12 per cent higher bids than the fixed base price of Rs 3,500 crore. Nine bidders put on the table a total of Rs 12,000 crore, and that's already one-third the officially projected revenue haul of around Rs 35,000 crore. Cash inflow, it seems, may eventually exceed the government's target.

Though a very dynamic sector, telecom has yet long been dogged by controversies. Opacity and arbitrariness marked the now-stalled grant of 2G spectrum. The specially designed 3G sale model India's first online auction monitored by auctioneers and telecom authorities provides a welcome contrast. The multi-phase bidding process aims at boosting revenue, allowing for stage-by-stage price escalation based on surplus demand. It's also geared to avoiding cartelisation by bidders. With the world watching India handle one of its most exciting technological makeovers, the bar has rightly been set high on transparency. If our growth story is to remain credible globally, all remnants of a licence-permit approach to business have to be swept away.


The government's stakes are high. India's yawning fiscal deficit has to be trimmed to 5.5 per cent of GDP in 2010-11. Revenue from sale of 3G and, subsequently, broadband wireless access will come in handy. Fiscal consolidation plans are also to be buoyed by disinvestment proceeds, and a follow-on public offer in SAIL is the latest big news on that front. The government must continue mobilising resources through reform and modernisation which have multiplier effects on the economy. More so, since its social sector spending will increase with the upcoming food security law.

For consumers, 3G's high-end applications will take cellphone use to the next level. High-speed internet, video streaming, calling and conferencing, TV viewing, online movies and games, content download, data sharing and transfer: all of this and more can be facilitated on the 3G platform. Important social and economic benefits will accrue, when 3G-enabled mobile services are geared to health and literacy, dissemination of market information for, say, farmers or banking and other financial transactions. On their part, companies may expect good returns on investment, going by a TRAI report that 150 million cellphone users had subscribed to data and internet services by end-2009. That indicates the kind of demand out there. At the end of the day, however, 3G will be as transformative as its price tag allows it to be. It'll be good for everybody if competition among operators ensures affordability.







Meditation is deliberating on the thought process and bringing it to a focal point. Some go for total thoughtlessness. The other way is to focus between the eyebrows to see the light of Brahmn. Chanting of a mantra is another way to do meditation. Ramana Maharishi of Arunachalam said that one should search for self-identity by asking: "Who am I?" In meditation one should ask this question and with gradual evolution find calmness and peace.

The question really means, what is the source or origin of ego? To find the answers you need to be free of attitude. Give up the bhavana that you are the body related to name, profession, region, language and other such acquired identities. There is no need to have an attitude about your real nature. It exists as it always has. It is real. Some ask that does not the enquiry "who am I"? turn out, in the end, to be an empty question?

Self-enquiry is not done in vain. It is more than the repetition of a mantra. If the enquiry were a mere mental exercise, it would not be of much value. The very purpose of self-enquiry is to focus the entire mind at its source. It is not one eye searching for another eye. Neither is self-enquiry an empty formula, for it involves an intense activity of the entire mind to keep it steadily poised in pure self-awareness. Until one realises that state of pure being, the enquiry should continue. By gradual evolution in this state, it is possible for one to get permanently established in the state of self-awareness. The state of self-awareness is termed as sat-chit-anand or total bliss.

Be what you are. Lose your ego. You cannot run away from yourself. Maharishi said, reject all other thoughts and persist with the enquiry "who am I?" As per Maharishi's formula, if you keep raising the enquiry "who am I?" many thought waves will get to disappear with the enquiry.

Self-enquiry leads to knowledge of Self. One is aware of the Self even though the Self is not objectified. When you say you do not know the Self, it means absence of related knowledge because we are so accustomed to relative knowledge that we always look for same. Because of this the goal of Self- realisation appears to be distant.

Feel yourself dismantling the false i that is ego and establish yourself in the real i and the answer to the query of "Who am I?" becomes evident. To gauge progress on the journey of Self-realisation see the degree of absence of thoughts. Self-realisation itself does not admit to progress. The obstacles are thoughts. Progress is measured by the degree of removal of these obstacles.

With self-enquiry you go to the source of these thoughts and this enquiry removes that source of thought. This process will remove all doubts and finally peace will prevail. This way we will be able to say that Self-realisation is that which is peace. All that we need to do is to keep quiet. Peace is our real nature. By realising the Self you can easily call yourself divine. Ahambrahmnsmi or "I am Brahmn" can be felt in word and spirit. Those who realise the Self are called saints. The journey is not difficult; it is achievable. Just meditate on the question: "Who am I?" and you will eventually find the answer.







While Google's confrontation with the Chinese government grabbed attention, a judgement that could change the internet as we know it went under the radar. In an outrageous decision, an Italian court recently held three Google executives criminally responsible for a particularly tasteless video uploaded by some evidently troubled people who bullied a boy with Down's syndrome and filmed it. The decision's ridiculousness was compounded by the fact that the boys who committed the crime who Google helped the Italian police track down, incidentally received slaps on the wrist in the form of community service, unlike the executives, who got jail time. The decision is an ominous portent for the future of the internet.

The Italian court's verdict amounts to holding the Web giant responsible for content on its websites. It is in direct contradiction to US and EU safe harbour laws, which protect service providers from prosecution for content generated by users. Google maintains, rightly, that it is not a content creator it is merely a service provider, or an internet intermediary, that helps users find what they're looking for, or gives them a platform to post their content to. Videos uploaded on, say, YouTube are not created by Google, just as letters are not written by the post office. So, holding Google criminally liable for the content of a video is in essence the same as holding the postal department responsible for hate mail.

When alerted to something objectionable or in violation of copyright laws, Google will take down the offending file. But the sheer volume of content uploaded every minute means it is impossible to police each file as it is uploaded. Placing the burden of policing the contents of each video or document on the service provider means that the much-vaunted freedom of the internet is suddenly under threat, because what Italy wants Google and, by extension, other search engines and Web companies to do is to censor content, even before anyone complains about it.

If just one Italian court had passed this judgement, perhaps it wouldn't have been a big deal. Unfortunately, several other countries have given in to the temptation to make internet intermediaries liable for content accessed via their portals. In China, it's called 'self-discipline', and however much we pretend otherwise, what Italy and several other democratic countries want of it will take the internet closer to the Chinese vision than the raucous, ultra-free ideal we aspire to today. Google may have quit China over censorship, but the sad truth is that if it were to quit every country that imposed content controls, it wouldn't be left with much of a business.

Australia, for instance, is legislating to introduce an internet filter that will block all material deemed as 'refused classification', a term encompassing information that may "describe, depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults...". The government alleges the law targets child pornography, but such a wide-ranging blacklist would give Canberra the power to block all potentially contentious issues, such as abortion or euthanasia.

India's own IT Amendment Act, passed quickly in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attack, allows the government to block access to any website to protect 'national interest', which could lead to censorship. Executives of domestic and international Web companies can be held accountable for failing to uphold "public order, decency or morality", those vague clauses that could be extended to just about anything. It's cold comfort these wide-ranging powers have yet to be exercised. France and Britain are formulating legislation that would result in the internet connections of supposed copyright violators being cut off.

Some would have us believe the internet is not so much the greatest transformative tool to have emerged over the last couple of decades as a tool of Satan that facilitates terrorism, child pornography, piracy and other garden variety crimes like identity fraud, data theft and phishing scams. Yet it's humans who utilise tools for good and bad it's stupid to blame our foibles as a species on something that isn't even sentient. If anything, it's a tragedy that democratic countries are attempting to censor this forum. If Google and other companies are going to be held liable for content they help users access, it's not going to be feasible for them to offer us this platform any longer.

The Web has transformed our lives in ways we could not have imagined even a few years ago, and it continues to do so every day. Its power lies in the fact that in cyberspace, we're all free. Free to say things we can't otherwise, without anyone knowing it's us saying it. Internet has brought us closer together, helped spark political revolution and changed entire industries or made them irrelevant. It isn't surprising that we're still struggling to come to terms with the changes this new technology has wrought in society. But muzzling its best aspects and overreaching ourselves trying to control it aren't going to help.


The writer is a journalist.









The controversy over Karnataka high court chief justice P D Dinakaran, who is facing various allegations including land grabbing, has taken an unusual turn. After he refused to comply with the advice of the chief justice of India to go on leave until an impeachment inquiry was completed, he has been transferred to the Sikkim high court. This immediately raises two questions. One, if the CJI found him unfit to continue duties in Karnataka, why should there be a different yardstick for Sikkim? The Sikkim Bar Association has raised this issue and has decided to boycott Dinakaran if he is appointed to their high court. They have also rightly objected to Sikkim being treated as a punishment posting for judges. Indeed, this is not the first time that controversial judges have been transferred to Sikkim. On at least two occasions in the recent past 'tainted' judges had been transferred to Sikkim from other high courts.

The second, and more important, issue is how to deal with misdemeanours of judges in the higher courts. Impeachment is an extreme as well as cumbersome process. Not surprisingly, till date, impeachment motions against judges have proved to be non-starters. This makes it imperative to have provisions for less radical punishment for errant judges. The government has been sitting on a new legislation that is meant to supersede the Judges (Inquiry) Bill. The new legislation the Judicial Accountability and Standard Bill is expected to overhaul the process of appointment of judges and investigations into allegations of impropriety. There is a crying need to fine-tune the process of enquiring into misdemeanours by judges and to enforce disciplinary measures. Until that happens, we could face situations where errant judges go unpunished.







Hamid Mir is among Pakistan's best-known journalists. Co-founder and Islamabad bureau chief of Geo TV, Mir was recently in New Delhi to receive the SAARC Lifetime Achievement Award. Humra Quraishi spoke to Mir:

Do these writers' meets help to improve the relations in the subcontinent?

Such meets do get writers and poets together and help in bringing about a better understanding between them. But, then, though these types of events are going on for several years but we, India and Pakistan, are still at point zero. But these efforts must continue. Also, i believe we ought to invite Iran and Burma to be part of SAARC because if we go into history, we have a lot in common with these two countries. And these SAARC meets focus only on India and Pakistan. What about developments in Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh?

You visit Afghanistan regularly. What is the situation of Indians and Pakistanis living there?

The fact is Indians and Pakistanis are working together and doing so smoothly. For instance, if the owner of a restaurant is an Indian, his employees and cooks will be Pakistanis and it works out rather well. There was this recent incident which for some reason went unreported in the media. The Taliban kidnapped an Indian engineer, working for a construction company in Afghanistan. He was released when the Pakistani cashier, also working in that company, contacted his kidnappers and pleaded with them that all construction work had come to a standstill and employees could be out of work because of the engineer's kidnapping, so he should be released. It worked. The engineer was freed and without paying any ransom. So people-to-people bonding is there and it's time the governments of India and Pakistan realise this. These days Indian movies and Pakistani music are very popular in Afghanistan. India's Shah Rukh Khan and our Pashtun singer Rahim Shah are in their hearts.

We hear a lot about good Taliban and bad Taliban. What's your take?

Talibans are Talibans and it's a myth that they are fighting for Islam. They are fighting for the liberation of their home country, for the liberation of Afghanistan. And in the last 10 years, their lifestyles have undergone a massive change. Many use computers and other modern technologies. So changes are taking place.

What about the recent bomb attacks in Afghanistan where Indians and Pakistanis were targeted?

All that's part of the ongoing proxy war. Both India and Pakistan follow the US policy in Afghanistan. It's time they have or follow their own policy. Don't overlook the large numbers of Pakistanis and Indians living and working there, roughly put about a minimum of 60,000 Pakistanis and a minimum of 8,000 Indians. Most of them work together in joint ventures. I travel there often and i feel more secure in Afghanistan than in Pakistan.

Do you think peace can prevail in the subcontinent?

I feel that today though liberals are in a majority, they are divided. But extremist groups are in a minority, but they're well organised. Interestingly, some Pakistani politicians had used the slogan, Peace with India, as part of their electioneering campaigns and had won the election. I feel that both India and Pakistan should begin with Afghanistan and work together there








The 47 heads of state who will assemble in Washington next week for the world's first Nuclear Security Summit should focus like a laser beam on the biggest potential threat to civilisation.


Psychologically, it is almost impossible to imagine terrorists exploding a nuclear bomb that devastates the heart of Moscow or Mumbai, New York or Cairo. Analytically, however, there's only one difference between al Qaeda's 9/11 attack that extinguished the lives of 3,000 people in New York, or the 26/11 attack that killed nearly 200 in Mumbai, and a nuclear Mumbai or 9/11 that could kill hundreds of thousands in a single blow. That difference is terrorists getting a nuclear bomb.


No one who has examined the evidence has any doubt that terrorist groups — including al Qaeda, Chechen separatists and Lashkar-e-Toiba — have shown serious interest and undertaken substantial efforts to acquire material and equipment for this purpose. The highly enriched uranium required to make an elementary nuclear bomb could be hidden inside a football.


The big insight that motivates the summit is that the leaders assembled there have in their power the ways and means to successfully prevent nuclear terrorism. The key to success is to deny terrorists the means to achieve their deadliest aspirations.


Fortunately, physics provides a syllogism that says: no fissile material, no mushroom cloud, no nuclear terrorism.


All that the members of the international community have to do to prevent this ultimate catastrophe is to lock up all nuclear weapons and materials as securely as gold in Fort Knox or treasures in the Kremlin armoury. This is a big "all" — but it consists of actions we know how to take and can afford. Other powerful radioactive sources should be equally protected.


How can this be done? The leaders who convene will address an issue the international community has so far been dragging its feet on — implementing the obligation states have already committed themselves to in UN Security Council Resolution 1540, to adopt "effective, appropriate measures to secure all nuclear materials."


In confronting this challenge, those assembled can apply many of the lessons learned by the United States and Russia over the past 18 years in their cooperative threat-reduction programme, as well as the best practices and technologies developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.


The bottom line by which the summit should be scored is whether as a result of this effort, states take specific actions, including the allocation of resources to make the world safer from a nuclear explosion by an extremist group.


A number of states will announce actions that they have already taken in preparation for the summit. Others, we hope, will make unambiguous commitments to take observable actions. We trust these actions will be supported by every state, reflecting a global recognition that a nuclear explosion anywhere is a nuclear explosion everywhere.

This Nuclear Security Summit focuses on the most urgent dimension of nuclear danger. But this is only one part of a larger, more complex agenda. The "New START" arms control agreement between the United States and Russia takes another step on the path to eliminating all nuclear arsenals. Next month, the Nonproliferation Review Conference will provide a further opportunity for international cooperation in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.


To address the array of nuclear threats and specifically the spectre of a nuclear bomb exploding in one of our cities with consequences that will fundamentally change our lives and our world, the supreme requirement is for meaningful, sustained international cooperation.


We applaud the leaders for their initiative in focusing on this grave challenge. Still, as with many international summits that have gone before, we will withhold judgment until we see what leaders actually do measured in terms of the challenge we face.


Mohamed ElBaradei was director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1997 to November 2009. Graham Allison is director of Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Centre and author of 'Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe.' Ernesto Zedillo is director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalisation and former president of Mexico.








Maoism did not succeed in China, and poverty among the Chinese started getting alleviated only after Maoist doctrines were repudiated by Deng Xiaoping. India was a poverty-ridden nation of around 350 million at the time of Independence and now there are 1.2 billion Indians of whom even according to conservative estimates 62.73 per cent (more than 700 millions) are above poverty level. This has been achieved under democratic rule with all its corruption and misgovernance. While in China under Mao, 30 million people died of starvation, that kind of catastrophe has not happened in India in spite of malnutrition amongst significant sections of the population. India has started growing at seven-eight per cent in this decade and the rate is expected to accelerate further. With such a growth rate it should be possible to attempt an inclusive programme of development with the right to education and right to food for all. That cannot, however, be done overnight. It will take time as it is taking in China and took in other countries which have alleviated poverty. Today the contribution of agriculture to the GDP is less than the services and industries sectors, though 60 per cent of the population is engaged in the agricultural sector. Poverty cannot be eliminated and inclusive development cannot take place unless people move out of rural areas and contribute to income generation in the industry and services sectors. Land is required for industrialisation and development of natural resources such as mining of minerals and for infrastructural development like highways and dams. While there has to be a balance in ecological terms, the present status quo cannot be maintained even as our population grows and its standard of living needs to be raised. Nor can exploitation of mineral wealth be neglected even while paying due attention to environmental considerations.


After the ideology catastrophically failed in China and Cambodia, the practitioners of the cult are now attempting to wage war against Indian democracy. The fellow Maoists in Nepal have entered mainstream democratic politics. The Maoists are mostly active in areas where both human and economic development have fallen behind the Indian average. Instead of using the democratic means available to fight corruption and misgovernance, they have made poverty their constituency, not to alleviate it but to sustain it so that they can practice and propagate their violent cult. In many respects these cultists of political extremism are analogues of the religious extremist cultists, the Wahabi Taliban. Both oppose modernisation, human and economic development, democracy, rule of law, individual human rights and have non-representative, authoritarian, self-perpetuating leaderships.


No doubt political and bureaucratic corruption and misgovernance are widespread all over India. Yet the achievement of building a nation and economy of 700 million people above the poverty line without violence in 60 years is an unparalleled one in history. Maoists dream of capturing power in the next 40 years. During this interim period will their strategy of armed struggle raise more people above the poverty line or plunge more people below it because of their hindrance to the economic and human development of the Indian state? Neither the Chinese nor the Cambodians or the Russians who all experienced Maoist egalitarianism would today opt for it. As Winston Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government till you try others. Nothing will be more dangerous for the practioners of the Maoist cult than alleviation of poverty. That will deprive them of their cannon fodder. As the poverty alleviation and development programmes speed up, so does Maoist armed resistance to block them. Ineffective state governments cannot acquire land speedily enough for highway development or implement primary education programmes. Nor can they effectively prevent extortion by Maoists. There is a correlation between the misgovernance, lack of progress in literacy programmes, intense casteism in politics and prevalence of Maoism. Sections of the population which have been newly empowered in democratic politics are often the most oppressive in dealing with populations in the lower rungs of the caste hierarchy. This factor has been exploited by the Maoists for their violent ideology.

Building an India of 1.2 billion people free from poverty, pluralistic, multicultural, multilingual, multireligious and multiethnic and democratic would, in the words of Tamil poet Subramanya Bharathi — visualized in the first decades of 20th century —, constitute the creation of an unrivalled polity and a novelty for the entire world. The rise and development of India and its poverty alleviation are taking place, unlike in the case of all other great powers, not before it became democratic but after it has done so. It should have been obvious to our leadership that this process could not be sustained totally free of resistance, both internal and external. And therefore this great experiment in human endeavour must be securely guarded during the period of its growth and development. Misgovernance and political and bureaucratic corruption are two major challenges in building a nation state. It is not going to be easy to overcome these two challenges overnight when they are further exacerbated by the casteist problems arising out of very rapid empowerment of hitherto disadvantaged sections of the population. Yet another complicating problem is the first past the post system of elections which has made vote bank politics and criminalisation in politics rampant.


The result is 200 districts being affected by the Maoist cult and its violence. Therefore the war against Maoism is likely to be a long one. The main battlefield will be the poverty alleviation programme which in turn calls for rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of these areas. The right to education and right to food will be the two major pincers in this campaign. One has to anticipate stiff resistance for such poverty alleviation efforts from the Maoists. One cannot rule out their receiving outside support from nations which would like to see India break up or Indian growth and development slow down. Industrialisation and development of these areas cannot be successfully implemented, welfare programmes enforced, unless the areas are brought under effective control of the Indian republic. That needs a well trained, well armed and well equipped combat-ready civilian force totally dedicated to that purpose.


As far as possible such a force should be raised from the areas themselves. So should the security forces to guard the industrial installations and infrastructural assets. The raising of such a force and the development programmes with consequent poverty alleviation should form the grand strategy for this protracted war against the Maoists. This is not the task of a single ministry nor that of a single service. This is the appropriate task of the National Security Council. Will it rise to the challenge?


The writer is a senior defence analyst








After many months of staying away from currency intervention, the RBI made headlines last week when it returned to the foreign exchange market to prevent rupee appreciation. The consequences of foreign exchange intervention by the RBI will create difficulties for monetary policy, especially because inflation is high, the government borrowing programme is large, and growth is in a recovery phase. In a recent speech Manmohan Singh said that the RBI should focus on inflation control. In policy action terms this requires it to stay away from currency markets.


Last month the RBI raised interest rates in response to higher inflation. The clamour for doing something about inflation had been rising, especially with Parliament in session. The RBI responded with a hike in policy rates. The increase was small enough not to cause damage to the recovery, yet big enough to satisfy public opinion.


One way through which monetary tightening helps curb inflation is because higher interest rates attract capital and help strengthen the currency. In India, the exchange rate is the strongest channel through which higher interest rates help control inflation. A stronger rupee makes the price of tradables lower. Had the rupee not appreciated in the last few months, the higher inflation observed in global commodity prices would have resulted in much higher input prices for manufacturing. The strengthening rupee meant that the rupee value of commodity imports rose slowly. If, in addition to the food price rise, Indian manufacturing had seen input prices rising at seven per cent, the global commodity price inflation rate, WPI inflation would have been worse.


In the coming months even if food prices stabilise, there is a risk that inflation could still go up. There could be two main channels through we could see cost push inflation. Dearness allowances, salaries and annual wage negotiations are normally linked to the consumer price index, which stood at 14.86 per cent in February 2010. This could result in higher cost of production as labour in manufacturing could become more expensive. The second risk is of further increase in global commodity prices. As the US recovery gains strength, and world demand picks up, this could mean higher input prices for manufacturing.


When a central bank raises interest rates in an inflationary environment, then allowing the exchange rate to appreciate is part of the policy package to control inflation. This is what was happening until recently as the RBI was slowly moving away from easy monetary policy. Tighter monetary policy in India compared to the US where rates are still very low helped to increase the flow of capital to India, strengthen the rupee and thus control imported inflation.


If the RBI were to prevent appreciation, it would lose one important channel through which inflation can be controlled. Not just that, buying dollars adds liquidity to the system, which is inflationary, and RBI will have to find ways to curb this increase in liquidity. It could do so by selling more government bonds and raising the cash reserve ratio. The former is difficult given the already massive government borrowing programme. The latter might aim to sterilise the intervention, but since it would appear to be monetary tightening by the RBI in response to fears of inflation, it could hurt the recovery in credit growth.


The overall regime would muddle along. There is likely to be some rupee appreciation, some increase in liquidity, some sales of government bonds for sterilisation (MSS), and some increase in CRR and interest rates. In the lack of clarity about the objective of monetary policy, there will be knee-jerk reactions and policy uncertainty. When the opposition screams on inflation, there may be rate hikes. These could continue till there is significant rupee strengthening. The RBI could then respond to exporters' interests by intervening. When sterilising its intervention through sales of bonds becomes too hard, the RBI would raise the CRR or interest rates. Firms would scream about higher interest rates making credit more expensive.


Tired of making exporters, firms and the aam aadmi unhappy, the government could try to put some capital controls in place. Capital controls often change the channel through which money flows in, but do little to prevent currency appreciation in the longer run. The RBI will have a difficult job trying to manage all these demands. We have seen this story play out before, from 2004 to 2007. But given the already high inflation, it is likely to be worse this time. Two more factors that will make RBI's job more difficult are the larger interest differential with the US and advanced economies and India's larger level of integration with international financial markets compared to a few years ago.


How can we avoid the above policy difficulties? While one can argue about the benefits of export growth, let us for the moment accept that promoting exports is part of government policy. In the present stage of world trade recovery when export demand is rising rapidly after the disruption caused by the global financial crisis, the impact of a stronger rupee will be mild. Even in the past, the response of export demand to changes in the rupee exchange rate has been small. Today the effect of rising world trade would far outweigh the effect of a stronger currency. The effect of rupee appreciation could, at worst, be slower growth, rather than a decline in exports. Jobs in the export sector are expected to grow even when the rupee is appreciating. In this environment, the RBI should focus on inflation control (which would include allowing rupee appreciation).


The policy of promoting exports should be addressed through a separate subsidy policy. Subsidies through various channels acceptable under the WTO can be given. This would be transparent and not prevent monetary policy from focussing on controlling inflation. If the political consensus is to support exports, they should be supported through transparent subsidies instead of through imposing costs on all households and firms. Preventing rupee appreciation to promote exports must be avoided.


The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi








Maoism did not succeed in China, and poverty among the Chinese started getting alleviated only after Maoist doctrines were repudiated by Deng Xiaoping. India was a poverty-ridden nation of around 350 million at the time of Independence and now there are 1.2 billion Indians of whom even according to conservative estimates 62.73 per cent (more than 700 millions) are above poverty level. This has been achieved under democratic rule with all its corruption and misgovernance. While in China under Mao, 30 million people died of starvation, that kind of catastrophe has not happened in India in spite of malnutrition amongst significant sections of the population. India has started growing at seven-eight per cent in this decade and the rate is expected to accelerate further. With such a growth rate it should be possible to attempt an inclusive programme of development with the right to education and right to food for all. That cannot, however, be done overnight. It will take time as it is taking in China and took in other countries which have alleviated poverty. Today the contribution of agriculture to the GDP is less than the services and industries sectors, though 60 per cent of the population is engaged in the agricultural sector. Poverty cannot be eliminated and inclusive development cannot take place unless people move out of rural areas and contribute to income generation in the industry and services sectors. Land is required for industrialisation and development of natural resources such as mining of minerals and for infrastructural development like highways and dams. While there has to be a balance in ecological terms, the present status quo cannot be maintained even as our population grows and its standard of living needs to be raised. Nor can exploitation of mineral wealth be neglected even while paying due attention to environmental considerations.


After the ideology catastrophically failed in China and Cambodia, the practitioners of the cult are now attempting to wage war against Indian democracy. The fellow Maoists in Nepal have entered mainstream democratic politics. The Maoists are mostly active in areas where both human and economic development have fallen behind the Indian average. Instead of using the democratic means available to fight corruption and misgovernance, they have made poverty their constituency, not to alleviate it but to sustain it so that they can practice and propagate their violent cult. In many respects these cultists of political extremism are analogues of the religious extremist cultists, the Wahabi Taliban. Both oppose modernisation, human and economic development, democracy, rule of law, individual human rights and have non-representative, authoritarian, self-perpetuating leaderships.


No doubt political and bureaucratic corruption and misgovernance are widespread all over India. Yet the achievement of building a nation and economy of 700 million people above the poverty line without violence in 60 years is an unparalleled one in history. Maoists dream of capturing power in the next 40 years. During this interim period will their strategy of armed struggle raise more people above the poverty line or plunge more people below it because of their hindrance to the economic and human development of the Indian state? Neither the Chinese nor the Cambodians or the Russians who all experienced Maoist egalitarianism would today opt for it. As Winston Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government till you try others. Nothing will be more dangerous for the practioners of the Maoist cult than alleviation of poverty. That will deprive them of their cannon fodder. As the poverty alleviation and development programmes speed up, so does Maoist armed resistance to block them. Ineffective state governments cannot acquire land speedily enough for highway development or implement primary education programmes. Nor can they effectively prevent extortion by Maoists. There is a correlation between the misgovernance, lack of progress in literacy programmes, intense casteism in politics and prevalence of Maoism. Sections of the population which have been newly empowered in democratic politics are often the most oppressive in dealing with populations in the lower rungs of the caste hierarchy. This factor has been exploited by the Maoists for their violent ideology.

Building an India of 1.2 billion people free from poverty, pluralistic, multicultural, multilingual, multireligious and multiethnic and democratic would, in the words of Tamil poet Subramanya Bharathi — visualized in the first decades of 20th century —, constitute the creation of an unrivalled polity and a novelty for the entire world. The rise and development of India and its poverty alleviation are taking place, unlike in the case of all other great powers, not before it became democratic but after it has done so. It should have been obvious to our leadership that this process could not be sustained totally free of resistance, both internal and external. And therefore this great experiment in human endeavour must be securely guarded during the period of its growth and development. Misgovernance and political and bureaucratic corruption are two major challenges in building a nation state. It is not going to be easy to overcome these two challenges overnight when they are further exacerbated by the casteist problems arising out of very rapid empowerment of hitherto disadvantaged sections of the population. Yet another complicating problem is the first past the post system of elections which has made vote bank politics and criminalisation in politics rampant.


The result is 200 districts being affected by the Maoist cult and its violence. Therefore the war against Maoism is likely to be a long one. The main battlefield will be the poverty alleviation programme which in turn calls for rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of these areas. The right to education and right to food will be the two major pincers in this campaign. One has to anticipate stiff resistance for such poverty alleviation efforts from the Maoists. One cannot rule out their receiving outside support from nations which would like to see India break up or Indian growth and development slow down. Industrialisation and development of these areas cannot be successfully implemented, welfare programmes enforced, unless the areas are brought under effective control of the Indian republic. That needs a well trained, well armed and well equipped combat-ready civilian force totally dedicated to that purpose.


As far as possible such a force should be raised from the areas themselves. So should the security forces to guard the industrial installations and infrastructural assets. The raising of such a force and the development programmes with consequent poverty alleviation should form the grand strategy for this protracted war against the Maoists. This is not the task of a single ministry nor that of a single service. This is the appropriate task of the National Security Council. Will it rise to the challenge?


The writer is a senior defence analyst







Are earthquakes becoming more frequent? This is a question that every seismologist is used to. I was asked it 30 years ago. Thanks to large quakes in Haiti and Chile — not to mention seven-plus magnitude quakes in Indonesia and Baja California over the past week — I've been asked it a lot lately. And the answer is no. You would think this would be good news, but sometimes people seem faintly disappointed when they hear it. It's as if a dose of disaster makes life more interesting.


It's true that more earthquakes are recorded than used to be the case, but that's simply because there are more monitoring stations that are able to pick up minor earthquakes that once went undetected. If we compare the average global rates of large earthquakes, we find that these are stable as far back as we can trace them. On average, we record an earthquake with a magnitude over six every three days or so, and over seven at least once a month.


Why then, does it sometimes seem they are more common occurrences? There are two reasons for this. First, people notice it when earthquakes happen in populated places. A big earthquake in California is news; a big earthquake in the Southern Ocean is noticed only by seismologists. So a run of earthquakes that by chance hit populated places makes it look as though the rate has increased, even if it hasn't.


The classic case of this was in 1976. That year, there were a number of high-casualty earthquakes — including a 7.5 magnitude quake in Tangshan, China, that killed more than a quarter of a million people — prompting a lot of news media questions about the increasing frequency of earthquakes. But, in the end, 1976 turned out to have a relatively low number of quakes. It was just that an abnormal number hit populated areas.


The second reason is that in any semi-random process, you get clustering. Throw enough dice, and sometimes you'll get several sixes in a row. People notice the clusters; they don't notice the gaps in between. No one ever asks me during the quiet periods if earthquakes are becoming less frequent. Also, people tend to have short memories; they notice the current cluster, but don't remember the previous one.


Basic geology explains why the number of earthquakes remains relatively constant. Quakes release a lot of energy, and that energy has to come from somewhere. Ultimately, the source of it is heat released by the steady decay of radioactive material deep inside the earth. For a real long-term increase in earthquake activity, there would have to be an increase in that energy supply, and it's hard to see how that could happen.


One problem that we do have to face is that our exposure to earthquakes is increasing. As the world becomes more populated and cities grow ever bigger, the potential for quakes to become disasters rises. Tehran, for instance, has been destroyed by earthquakes several times, but it was still quite small at the time of its last damaging quake, in 1830. Now the city is home to millions, and when the next major quake hits, the results will be catastrophic.


Unless we devote more effort to protecting communities, the number of earthquake disasters will grow, even if the number of earthquakes stays the same.


The writer is a seismologist with the British Geological Survey.








Setting up committees, commissions and working groups to look into policy issues often serves little purpose other than facilitating delays in the government's decision-making process. Still, the setting up of three working groups—on agriculture production, consumer affairs and the food and public distribution system—by the core group of central ministers and state chief ministers to combat the problem of food inflation may yet be useful. Aimed at taking an in-depth view on a host of issues troubling agriculture today, the working groups represent one of the first substantial efforts to rope in the states that have a major role in implementing polices in the agriculture sector. Co-opting chief ministers from different political groupings and even persuading one of them to chair a group indicates that the government realises the sensitivity of the issues and the large stakes involved. The earlier success of the empowered committee of state finance ministers in introducing state VAT also gives us cause for being optimistic about the latest grouping. There is no reason why India, which is endowed with the second largest arable land resources and the full spectrum of global climates, should not emerge as a most efficient agriculture economy instead of leading a hand-to-mouth existence with a disproportionately large part of the population dependent on subsistence agriculture and output fluctuating widely with recurring droughts and floods.


The crux of the issue in the agriculture sector is subvention of price signals in both the input and output markets by the government, in futile efforts to simultaneously boost farm incomes and hold down food prices. This excess of government intervention in agriculture markets has caused large inefficiencies, which have pushed up the subsidy burden that, in turn, has reduced the availability of resources for improving productivity. Domination of the supply chains by a host of intermediaries has further complicated issues. Resolving these problems will require that the government completely free production and trade in agriculture products, including in important crops like sugarcane and cotton. It must also help popularise modern production and distribution formats like contract farming and large retail chains, including those of foreign investors. Market pricing of inputs like fertilisers, power and irrigation services and better access to domestic and international markets by building extensive roads and storage infrastructure as well as commodity trading would help improve efficiencies and provide incentives for increasing output to meet the growing demand. Persuading all states to fall in line will be a difficult task. But that is the only way forward.







Financial results for the quarter ended March this year would start trickling in from this week and the consensus seems to suggest that it will be the strongest quarter after the global economic crisis, both sequentially and on a yearly basis. The results will be keenly analysed by domestic and foreign investors for cues on the broad direction of India Inc's growth story. Analysts reckon that except telecom, all other sectors will report positive results and auto, metals, cement and capital goods will dominate the growth on the profit front. Sector-wise, the ongoing economic recovery has helped the auto sector as companies have been reporting stellar topline growth. But the increase in raw material costs like steel may slightly dampen margins of companies in the sector. The uptick in global economic recovery is seen from India's IT software exports, which are showing positive traction, and the markets will take cues from the full year guidance by Infosys Technologies on April 13. The metals sector has seen strong rise in product realisation and price; the capital goods industry has seen strong growth momentum with relatively smooth financial closure of several projects.


Among the laggards, the telecom sector, which has been reeling under competitive pressures, will continue to post subdued performance because of intense competition and price wars. Companies have reduced tariffs and the 3G auction will result in cash outflow. All these will remain an overhang on telecom stocks in the near term and these would continue to under-perform the broader market. For banks, the 10-year benchmark yield has climbed up 24 bps and the hardening of yields will lead to lower treasury gains during the quarter. Lower treasury gains and higher non-performing assets provisions will impact the performance of several banks. On oil and gas, the average crude oil prices during the quarter were higher by 3.6% and with rising under-recoveries, the fate of oil marketing companies will depend on the subsidy policy of the government. With crude prices expected to gradually inch up, the government will have to take a call on the long-pending issue of price decontrol and the recommendations of the Kirit Parekh Committee must be looked into. Going ahead, the interest rate cycle, uncertainty of monsoons and the spiralling commodity prices may dent operating margins of companies in the next few quarters. Though a part of the inflationary pressure is expected to be passed on to the end-consumer, it will have to be done cautiously, taking into account the demand-supply situation and the overall dynamics of the domestic economy.








Last month, Bangalore-based Strides Arcolab became the latest pharma company to be unwittingly tainted by the spurious drug menace. The company was alerted that a few shops in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka were selling expired goods meant for destruction. The product in question was 'Renerve' soft gel capsules, which were being sold in strips of 10, even though the company had changed the packaging to strips of 15 in 2009. On closer observation, the expiry dates on the wrappers of the 10-capsule strips had been tampered with.


Strides's complaint to the drug control authorities of these states blew the lid off yet another spurious drug network, reportedly involving big brands of 13-14 pharma companies. Theories abound. One is that expired stock meant for destruction instead passed through a chain of contacts who fixed false expiry labels and brought it back into the market.


Spotting the tampered products was easy in the case of Renerve because of the packaging change. But spurious drug operatives seldom slip up so badly. Catching the counterfeiters is almost impossible as no packaging will remain 100% tamperproof for long. The alternative is tamper-evident packaging. But the reality is that lawbreakers catch up very fast and are able to replicate technologies with ease. They have reportedly been able to find ways to even copy bar-coding. Holographic labels and embossing are being seen as alternatives, but these technologies cannot be used for some products, as cost is also an important issue to be considered. Observers also point out that pharma companies need to check the antecedents of the contract staff involved in transportation, as the supply chain in India is compromised at almost every link. Is this practical and doable, given India's geographic spread? No.


Also, there are no sustained efforts to join forces with the authorities to educate consumers and enlist their help. Companies like Strides will continue to suffer some loss of reputation thanks to such incidents, even though it was their complaint that alerted the authorities in the first place. So, it is in their interest to take the first step forward in this regard. Industry sources also point out that there are no regulations in Indian drug laws laying out clear SOPs for the destruction of returned and expired drugs, nor about the distribution chain to be maintained in such cases. Clearly, this battle needs to be fought on as many fronts as possible.






It's completely in keeping with their very nature that the most consequential legislations ride into existence only on the back of the stormiest of debates. Those who see the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (the Act) as a momentous event in Indian history should not be disheartened by all the questions being thrown at it.


How will the Centre and the states share its financial burden? If all children are automatically promoted to the next standard from ages 6-14, what will ensure that they have received meaningful instruction in the interim? For private schools mandated to take in 25% students from economically weaker sections, how will the integration between paying and non-paying students be worked out? Will the integration plans be fair to parents who scrimp and sacrifice to get their children into a 'good' school? In categorising all such parties as 'privileged', let's not forget that they are shelling out many 100% what their parents had spent to get them the same education 20-30 years ago.


Yet, with the Act, India has signed the pledges that more than 130 countries already commit to their children. The Act provides a bedrock for the equity principle that is not only already enshrined in the Constitution but also intimately intertwined with the idea of India in the 21st century. The lesson to be learnt from looking at the best school performers—by different yardsticks—around the world is that no solution comes without a catch. Commitment to ambition, therefore, appears to be an achievement on its own. Every movement to reform brings benefits, with no benefit having absolute value.


Let's begin with South Korea, which has achieved the world's highest high school graduation rate of 96%. Here is the catch though, that the productivity of the average South Korean is only 40% that of an American worker. Critics say that it is the system's focus on 'getting ahead' via exams that lets down its apostles in the long run. A common saying in the country is, "Sleep 5 hours and fail. Sleep 4 hours and pass." Around 80% schools reportedly employ corporeal punishment. Parents here spend four times on private education than in any other major economy. The Indian Act bans tuitions and physical punishment. Such catches aside, by its very strictness, the South Korean system has delivered huge income gains since it was revamped in the seventies.


Next, let's consider Finland which repeatedly appears at the top of OECD rankings. Its system boasts a) parental income as a much lesser influence on earnings than say in the UK or the US and b) much narrower gaps between the highest scoring and the least scoring students. Most analysts put this down to the fact that Finns make extraordinary investments in educating educators—only around 10% applicants are accepted for teacher training. The successful few are trained to teach for around five years. Teacher salaries are high. This is the case in South Korea too, where an average teacher with 15 years experience takes home an impressive 221% of the country's GDP per capita (as compared to 96% in the US).


Given the Indian Act's marked overlap in goals (equity) with the Finnish system, the key conundrum is how to make teacher recruitment and training more rigorous. Fixing of minimum salary benchmarks (granted that funding remains a question) appears a step in the right direction. But accountability is the big challenge. As with many other provisions of the Act, such accountability is vested with local authorities (which are also mandated to give a certificate of recognition to all schools). These are not yet in place in most cases.


Finally, consider the US. Its universities retain global pre-eminence but schools continue to make news for the wrong reasons. High school performance lags South Korea and Finland by a long mile. Thanks in large part to legislation and other government interventions (many of them being driven by equity principles like racial parity) at the school level, college enrollment of Americans in the 18-24 age group rose from 2% at the beginning of the 20th century to 60% at its end. Still, public consensus remains a dream. 'No Child Left Behind' was George Bush's signature domestic policy and it promised 100% reading and math proficiency by 2014. Barack Obama's professed goal is to make all American students 'college ready' by 2020. Notwithstanding many overhauls and government dollars, neither goal is likely to be achieved. Yet, experiments proliferate. Many of them are promising. Teacher compensation, charter schools, curriculum modifications et al—everything is being rewritten in on country corner or another.


The simple lesson from all this globetrotting is that the best way to educate a nation remains an open question. As long as in the implementation of the new Act, we don't discourage competition—between schools, between students—we can trust that it will yield productive experiments.








Sebi has said that the products sold by many insurance companies require compliance with Sebi rules. It now insists that insurance companies must comply with these rules. The unstated follow-on action is that if the sellers of these products fail to comply with these rules, Sebi would impose penalties upon them based on the powers conferred on it under the Sebi Act.


The first simplistic response that is encountered is, if insurance companies were selling ULIPs for so many years, how could something change today? But even if something has been done for years, that does not change the fact that it is illegal. We may criticise Sebi for not having undertaken such an enforcement action in prior years. But this does not change the legal situation today.


The Irda chairman was quoted in a newspaper as saying: "The Sebi order is anti-policy holders. So, I am directing the 14 insurance companies to continue selling ULIP products, notwithstanding the Sebi order". However, the issue is not whether the Sebi order hurts policyholders or not. The question is one of rule of law. The Sebi order, signed by Prashant Saran, is a well drafted and reasoned argument. It impinges upon certain insurance companies (and not Irda). These insurance companies have a high speed and high quality appeals mechanism—the Securities Appellate Tribunal. If they believe that Sebi is wrong on questions of law, they should appeal at SAT.


The third theme one encounters is the notion that insurance companies are somehow the fiefdom of Irda. This feudal notion is again inconsistent with the rule of law. Insurance companies have to comply with the Insurance Act (1938) and the Irda Act (1999), and they also have to comply with every other law of the land, including the SC(R)A and the Sebi Act.


The single point that we should emphasise through this episode is rule of law. All of us must aspire to have an India which has a rule of law. The letter of the law must drive the behaviour of every government agency. Government agencies must act in the public domain with full reasoning—as has been done by Sebi in the order which shows the full rationale of what is being done, and was immediately posted on the Sebi website. And it should be possible to appeal the order in an environment where the judges are competent and the appeals process gets handled swiftly.


The second order issue that needs to be addressed is: Does it make sense for the laws to be constructed in the present fashion? Should we have this combination of the Insurance Act, the Irda Act, the Sebi Act and the SC(R) Act that imply that the production of ULIPs requires compliance with both Sebi and Irda rules? This is a good question and merits a deeper examination.


Financial laws in India are a ramshackle mess and urgently require a comprehensive rewrite. The broad economic thinking for rewriting these laws has been done through three expert committee reports in the last three years—the Percy Mistry report (on Bombay as an international financial centre), the Raghuram Rajan report (which focused on domestic aspects of finance) and the Jahangir Aziz report (which focused on debt management). In order to implement these plans for rewriting the laws, the budget speech this year announced the creation of the Financial Sector Law Reforms Commission (FSLRC) that should rewrite a host of these laws into a small, modern, internally consistent set.


Even if the work of FSLRC goes well, putting these new laws into place will take a few years. Even after these laws are in place, a modern financial system inevitably involves a constant struggle in handling products and activities of financial firms which have either no regulation or are covered by overlapping laws. The way to handle this in a more graceful fashion is to have better inter-regulatory coordination.


The budget announcement of the Financial Stability and Development Council, which will foster better inter-regulatory coordination, is key to improving the handling of these kinds of issues in the future. Conflicts such as these are best resolved internally. In recent years, two interesting inter-regulatory matters have worked out well: the launch of exchange traded funds on gold (which required cooperation of RBI, Sebi and FMC) and the launch of currency futures (which required cooperation between RBI and FMC). Yet, the existing method of regulatory coordination— the HLCC—has not been strong enough to solve myriad other such problems. The FSDC must be quickly put into place so as to play a strong role in identifying and resolving these inevitable frictions that will arise as finance becomes more sophisticated and the laws are constantly out of touch.


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








Reform of the healthcare system is a major priority for governments virtually everywhere. The approval given by the Union Cabinet for the Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Bill, 2010, comes at the appropriate moment. Several expert committees have pointed out the parlous state of healthcare in India, which results in impoverishing expenditures for millions of households. Shockingly, only 10 per cent of Indians are estimated to have any form of financial cover for health. Moreover, about 70 per cent of health spending, as estimated by the 60th round of the National Sample Survey, is out-of-pocket. While the important questions of equity and access need to be addressed with higher spending, a key measure that can bring about change in the provision of care is the recognition of the patient's rights. The rights of patients are recognised by the World Health Organisation as a part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the state and the physician are both obliged to respect them. What will make these rights actionable is a regulatory framework that is genuinely empowering. Any new law must contain unambiguous provisions for patients to be informed, in a standardised, written format. That would include the treatment choice for their condition, the risks and costs involved, as well as the alternatives. In the case of medical procedures, the experience of the doctor and the outcomes at the hospital should also be documented for the patient's benefit.


The informative model of patient rights, widely adopted in the developed world, can be readily applied in all settings where the care sought is elective. In emergencies, a system where the doctor unilaterally makes a choice in the best interests of the patient, who is unable to participate, would seem appropriate. The importance of a statute that empowers patients cannot be overemphasised, against the background of rising, out-of-pocket costs. The emphasis on costly health insurance plans operated by for-profit companies to cover catastrophic expenditure necessarily requires that patients are made part of the equation when costs are determined. They have no scope to participate now because hospitals and insurance administrators decide, through an opaque system, the treatment protocol and expenditure. Obviously, in such a system, informed consent by the patient is ruled out. Potentially, patients can benefit if the accreditation process launched by the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers goes about its task sincerely. The ability to assert the patient's rights will, however, depend on total transparency in public and private healthcare institutions, rigorous benchmarking of treatment, cost control, and good regulatory oversight.







The Reserve Bank of India's directive to scheduled commercial banks to pay interest on the daily balances in savings bank accounts is significant for banks as well as their depositors. The new method, which came into effect on April 1, 2010, has replaced the age-old practice of banks computing interest on the minimum balance in individual savings bank accounts between the 10th and the last working day of a month. The savings bank deposit rate, which is set at 3.5 per cent, is one of the few administered interest rates remaining in the Indian financial sector. Unlike in the case of fixed deposits where banks have the freedom to vary the rates depending on the tenure or the deposit amount, the savings deposit rate specified by the RBI has to be applied uniformly. The obligation to compute interest on the daily balances means the banks will bear a higher burden. Its magnitude will depend on various factors such as the mix of savings bank accounts. For instance, the burden will normally be much more for banks that have a higher proportion of accounts of salary earners. In the past, the 'peak' balances after salary credits during the beginning of the month did not count. Typically, a salary earner would have drawn down his account balance by the 10th of the month. On the other hand, banks may not have to pay more on accounts whose balances do not change frequently during the month.


The average level of demand deposits, comprising current and savings account balances, has remained around 33 per cent of all deposits, with savings deposits alone accounting for 22 per cent. With the promise of interest on daily balances, account-holders might be less tempted to invest in fixed deposits unless the interest differential is high.Without computerisation, banks would have found it very difficult to switch over to the new system of calculating interest on daily balances in the savings deposit accounts. Further technology application will blur the distinction between the demand and time deposits. Already, many banks are offering hybrid accounts combining the liquidity of a savings account with the higher yield of fixed deposits. That is made possible by automatically transferring balances above a certain minimum level to a term deposit account. It would have been unthinkable for a bank to take on such tasks in the pre-computerisation era. Even as savings bank depositors gain by earning an effective interest rate that matches the promised rate, banks will seek ways of reducing transaction costs by leveraging technology.










The Nuclear Security Summit of world leaders in Washington today and tomorrow is a follow-up of the promise United States President Barack Obama made last year in his Prague speech. He said "… We must also build on our efforts to break up black markets, detect and intercept [nuclear] materials in transit, and use financial tools to disrupt this dangerous trade … And we should start by having a Global Summit on Nuclear Security that the United States will host within the next year."


Although the stated focus of the summit is to secure nuclear materials around the world, the conference has a much broader significance. For one thing, the summit marks the restoration of Mr. Obama's arms control initiatives set in motion last year. Until recently, it looked as if these initiatives had been derailed by the Obama administration's preoccupation with domestic issues such as healthcare and the economy. But with the healthcare bill having been passed, the extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia negotiated and the new, less belligerent Nuclear Posture review announced, the prospects of making further progress on disarmament and arms control seem brighter now.


Aside from this, the actual discussions taking place on the two days will cover a much wider range of issues than nuclear material security. With so many heads of important nations attending it, there will no doubt be the usual hum of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the main conference dealing with a variety of regional issues and perspectives. India, in particular, will be involved in many of these private discussions.


We will return later to these larger issues that may come up in the summit, but the main agenda, that of securing nuclear materials, is important enough in its own right. Because of their somewhat technical and specialised nature, public awareness of the dangers posed by unsecured nuclear materials is much less than it deserves to be.


What are these nuclear materials and what makes their security so vital as to warrant such a high level summit of about 40 nations? The term 'nuclear materials' (also known as fissile materials) refers to the substances which, by undergoing rapid nuclear fission, provide the explosive energy of nuclear weapons. There are very few such substances. They are mainly plutonium and two isotopes of uranium, U-235 and U-233.


Although a nuclear weapon has several sophisticated components in it, the most difficult to get hold of is its fissile material core. That is because plutonium is not available in nature, nor are large quantities of those two isotopes of uranium. Natural uranium mined from under the ground is predominantly U-238, a non-fissile material, and contains less than 1 per cent of U-235 and even smaller traces of U-233.


Therefore, in order to be used as nuclear weapon fuel, natural uranium has to be "enriched" in its U-235 content by removing most of the unwanted U-238 from it. This process of converting natural uranium into "Highly Enriched uranium" (HEU) is done in giant centrifuge plants (of A.Q. Khan fame). In the case of plutonium, it has to be entirely produced artificially by reprocessing the spent fuel of reactors. Both uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing involve very advanced, expensive and painstaking technology.


As a result, getting hold of weapon-usable fissile materials is the single biggest impediment to non-nuclear nations embarking on a nuclear weapon programme and to non-state actors producing a weapon illicitly. It is therefore obvious, especially when the danger of nuclear terrorism is no more a paranoid obsession but a possible reality, that all the fissile materials produced for weapon purposes and submarine fuel, as well as for certain research reactors by different nations should be very strictly accounted for and secured. This also includes material released from weapons dismantled in the arms reduction process.


According to the latest figures given by the International Panel on Fissile Materials the world has accumulated, in the 60 years since the birth of the nuclear age, a huge stock of such materials. There are altogether over 1,670 tonnes of HEU. Of this over 95 per cent is in the U.S. and Russia. The worldwide stock of separated weapon usable plutonium is about 500 tonnes, of which again Russia and the U.S. have the largest amounts. The U.S. has 92 tonnes, Russia 140-190 and the bulk of the rest is in the U.K., France and Japan. (More details of these stocks, their location and various other aspects of FM are available at the website


That these are very large amounts can be appreciated by noting that it takes only about 5 kg of plutonium or about 25-40 kg of HEU to make a typical Hiroshima-Nagasaki level weapon. You can hold that much plutonium in your palm. Thus all that terrorists have to do is to pilfer a tiny fraction of the hundreds of tonnes spread around the globe to threaten a disaster far worse than 9/11 or any other terrorist attack thus far.


The goal of global nuclear disarmament provides another motivation for ridding the world of fissile materials. A serious conceptual problem often raised about universal disarmament is that even if you succeed in eliminating all nuclear weapons on earth, you cannot eliminate man's knowledge of the science behind it. That genie is out of the bottle for good. What is to prevent some groups from starting to produce these weapons all over again? Is a nuclear weapon-free world a robust and stable concept? Clearly one prerequisite for preventing illicit building of nuclear weapons is to gather, fully secure and eventually eliminate all weapon-usable fissile materials.


On the same day as the Obama summit of world leaders, and parallel to it, there will also be a non-governmental summit at Washington (on Monday) in which dozens of experts from around the world are expected to participate. We will discuss at a more technical and operational level, ways of initiating multinational efforts to make the vision of securing all vulnerable materials worldwide in four years closer to reality. Our recommendations will be conveyed to the political leadership at the summit.


Rise to the occasion


Let us return to the larger implications of the summit, particularly for India. That the Indian leadership at the highest level has been invited to be a participant on an equal footing with the "official" P5 nuclear powers is an indicator of its increasing acceptability at the nuclear high table. As a country which has vehemently (and rightly) complained in the past of the discriminatory nature of NPT and other such regimes India should, now that a non-discriminatory gathering has been called, rise to the occasion and behave as an active partner in international efforts to reduce nuclear dangers. It must adopt a statesmanlike posture, as befits a responsible nuclear power, confident of taking initiatives in this regard.


The time has come for us to regain some of our stature as crusaders for nuclear disarmament. In the old Nehruvian days, we were leading proponents of nuclear disarmament at various international forums. But our efforts lacked bite, in part because we ourselves had no nuclear arsenals to give up at that time. The situation is quite different now.


Reports that India may be willing to set up an international centre on nuclear security, if true, are welcome. But it must be remembered that nuclear security is different from the security of VIPs, bank vaults or even conventional military installations, with which we are more familiar. Apart from the normal security apparatus of walls, fences, armed guards and so on, protecting nuclear materials requires familiarity with the latest technical information on fissile material detectors, and the special properties of these highly radioactive materials, even a handful of which may be sufficient to make a full-fledged nuclear weapon. There is a fair amount of information on this among expert groups both within India and abroad.


If the proposed centre on nuclear security is to be of truly high international quality, our government will do well to involve in its formation and functioning not just the expertise within government agencies, but also non-governmental experts with a high international reputation. The "daddy knows best" policy of government technocrats has cost us enough already.


( R. Rajaraman is Co-Chair, International Panel on Fissile Materials and Emeritus Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)







As the Roman Catholic Church continued to battle a sexual abuse crisis, Pope Benedict XVI spent Friday evening watching a movie. And not just any movie: a biopic about wartime Pope Pius XII, one of the most contentious figures to haunt his five-year-old papacy.


Many Italian Jews say Pope Pius XII did not do enough to help stop the deportation of Jews during the Holocaust. The Pope has said that Pope Pius XII worked "secretly and silently" to help save Jews.


In an official statement released by the Vatican on Saturday, the Pope praised the movie, Under the Roman Sky, as "useful and stimulating." He said it could help younger generations understand a chapter of history they had not witnessed, adding that Pope Pius XII "knew how to orient the church toward the horizon of the third millennium."


The screening, at the Pope's summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome, where the Pope has been resting since Easter, comes as the Vatican continues to respond to criticism that it did not act swiftly to remove priests who were paedophiles from its ranks. But the screening also comes amid a complex subplot in the sexual abuse crisis in which defenders of the Pope have sought to associate him with Pope Pius XII and have likened criticism of the Vatican's handling of the sexual abuse crisis to anti-Semitism.


On Good Friday, the preacher of the papal household, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, delivered a sermon in St. Peter's Square, citing a letter that he said was from a Jewish friend who had compared what he called "the violent and concentric attacks against the church" to anti-Semitism, angering both victims and Jewish groups.


In an interview last week, the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, denounced what he called "unjust attacks" on the Pope and compared criticism of the church for its handling of sexual abuse to "the offensive against Pius XII for his actions during the last World War."


 New York Times News Service






Free and compulsory elementary education for all children in the age group of 6-14 has at long last become a legal reality with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE), being made enforceable from April 1, 2010. What could have been easily done 60 years ago with massive support from a newly liberated nation and a brand new Constitution has been enacted with much fanfare but little preparation. For implementation, the RTE depends predominantly on the States, many of which are not in a comfortable position, financially and administratively. Anyway, better late than never. The Act is expected immediately to benefit about 9.2 million children in the age group of 6-14 who have never been to school or have dropped out for various reasons.


The Statement of objects and reasons of the Act explains: "The crucial role of universal elementary education for strengthening the social fabric of democracy through provision of equal opportunities to all has been accepted since inception of our Republic. The Directive Principles of State Policy enumerated in our Constitution has laid down that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children up to the age of 14 years. Over the years there has been significant spatial and numerical expansion of elementary schools in the country, yet the goal of universal elementary education continues to elude us. The number of children, particularly children from disadvantaged groups and weaker sections, who drop out of school before completing elementary education, remains very large. Moreover, the quality of learning achievement is not always entirely satisfactory even in the case of children, who complete elementary education."



The Act draws its strength from Article 21A of the Constitution, which was inserted by the Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002. The inserted Article provides for free and compulsory education to all children in the 6-14 age group, as a Fundamental Right in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.

As for the funds to implement the massive scheme, the Centre and the States would share the burden in the ratio of 55:45. The Finance Commission has provided Rs. 25,000 crore for the States in the current financial year (2010-2011) to implement the Act. The Centre has an allocation of Rs 15,000 crore for its part. The Act provides for the participation of private educational institutions under this scheme: they have been instructed to reserve 25 per cent of the seats available with them for the weaker sections of society. The task of identifying dropouts and out-of-school children aged six and above and getting them admitted has been left to school managing committees. They have also been asked to give girls left out in the cold, special training in subjects.

The States are also expected to undertake the challenging task of improving and increasing infrastructure facilities to meet the expanding needs. Recruitment of qualified and dedicated teachers for these institutions has been left with the schools. The Act is also expected to take care of aspiring physically challenged people.



Enrolment is the relatively easy part. But how will the institutions involved in this gigantic foundational project ensure that all the children admitted in the schools are retained until they complete their studies? Apart from a possible repeat of large-scale dropout of students, there is this widely heard complaint: the education offered in most schools is of poor and substandard quality. "The right to education," Kapil Sibal, Union Minister for Human Resource Development, wrote in The Hindu (April 1, 2010), "goes beyond free and compulsory education to include quality education for all. Quality is an integral part of the right to education. If the education process lacks quality, children are being denied their right."


Poverty and the consequential need to support parents in the earning process is often cited as the major cause for dropouts from school. But some recent studies indicate that there are also other factors that force boys and girls, particularly Dalits, to leave schools abruptly. Discrimination by caste Hindu teachers and fellow-students; the open practice of the constitutionally outlawed untouchability; confrontationist attitudes of caste Hindu students; denial of access to drinking water and other facilities; refusal of opportunities to participate in the cultural, sports, and other social programmes of the schools; the reluctance of teachers to help Dalit students in studies while doing it willingly for students from other social groups; the segregation of Dalits in the midday meal arrangements in schools; and the humiliation inflicted on Dalit boys and girls in the classrooms have been identified by researchers in States such as Rajasthan as reasons for Dalit children dropping out of school. The mental torture inflicted often drives these children out of school, the studies have found.



As for quality education, nothing much has been done by most governments and school managements in government schools, especially in rural India. Despite frequent talk of "inclusive growth," "inclusive education," and "inclusive society," no big, countrywide initiative has been taken in this direction. Unfortunately, even "equitable standard" education has been taken to mean "common syllabi" for all schools. What socially disadvantaged students ask for, and desperately need, is "equal opportunity" - not a "common syllabus." If RTE is to become a success story, the central and State governments must address these issues with more seriousness so that equitable standard education can be provided in a hate-free, congenial, and progressive learning atmosphere in schools across the country. In implementing something as gigantic and socially, financially, and pedagogically challenging as the RTE, it is vital to set up systems to monitor performance and measure results and to ensure transparency. Monitoring committees must necessarily be made up of representatives drawn from all social strata and sections of the community.


Quite obviously, the role of the press and other news media in reporting, analysing, and commenting on the issues raised by the RTE, and on how the governments, schools, and communities across India go about implementing it, will be crucial. Here is a great opportunity for the media to show, while doing their professional job, that they can contribute pro-actively to agenda-building and overcoming national deficits accumulated over decades of neglect of the well-being of India's children.








 "Let the politics of the 21st century be politics for progress and development," says Nitin Gadkari, the Bharatiya Janata Party's 52-year-old president, adding that he regards politics as an instrument of socio-economic reform. Further, "good governance is one of the essential pre-requisites … we are studying how we can increase the process of development in all fields of society by good governance in all the States where we are ruling. The second thing is the training programme for our workers. We have started it. This year our target is getting 10,000 trained workers." The BJP president blames "the wrong economic policies and bad governance of the UPA" for the high rate of inflation and the sharp rise in the prices of essential commodities. He also criticises it for neglecting agriculture and rural India.


During his first visit to Chennai as party president, Mr. Gadkari came to the headquarters of The Hindu Group of publications and had an interaction with its journalists on Saturday, April 10. The issues covered in the on-the-record part of the 45-minute session included inflation, the steep rise in the prices of essential commodities, futures and forward trading in these commodities, the Women's Reservation Bill and the one-third quota for women in party posts, the naxalite challenge, and Ayodhya.


Excerpts from Mr. Gadkari's opening remarks and answers to our questions:


Opening remarks


As the BJP president, my first priority is that politics is an instrument of socio-economic reform. When I was a student, I decided to work in politics for doing something for the country, for society, and for the poor. In my whole life, I have been working on this principle. Fortunately, I had a good experience with infrastructure. As Minister [for Public Works in Maharashtra during 1995-1999], I had a track record of constructing the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and flyovers in Mumbai. The Worli-Bandra Sea Link [connecting the western suburbs of Mumbai with the city] was also started by me. With Rs. 5 crore equity, I completed works of Rs. 8,000 crore. I am the only politician in the country to raise Rs. 4,000 crore from the capital market. And all my projects are economically viable. This experience stands me in good stead when I look for helpful ideas about development.


I feel that industry and agriculture are important. For industrial development, we need water, power, transport, and communication. For agriculture, we need water, power, seed and fertilizer. At the same time, irrigation is important. Unfortunately, after 1947, agriculture and the rural field have suffered neglect. Presently, the problems that we are facing are because of the neglect of agriculture and the rural areas.


After completing my tenure as Minister, I started to work in rural areas. I am not a corporate man or an industrialist. I am very much interested in biodiesel, ethanol, bio-fertilizer, bio-methanisation, solar energy, and power. My philosophy is that people have faith in two things — government and god. But here is the third thing — you can be an architect of your socio-economic life. I had started with my BJP friends and friends from Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad a cooperative departmental stores called Purti. Now we have attained a turnover of Rs 35 crore. Because of interference from the government, we selected the model of a public limited company. We have three sugar factories. I am generating power from biomass — 24.5 megawatt from bagasse and eight MW from rice husk. My vision was diversification of agriculture to power and energy sector.


My dream has been to get ethanol — a green fuel — and the know-how to make our engines run 100 per cent on the basis of ethanol. That is my preoccupation now. Basically I am working in biofuel. Because of distillery, we have got a biomethanisation plant. We are generating biomass from sugarcane. The main product is power; the byproducts are sugar, ethanol, and bio-fertilizer. I am very much interested in that development.


I feel that the 21st century is an important century in which, along with nationalist feelings and mode of thought, we need development and progress in all sectors of society. The BJP is the party that is devoted to developing all fields of society, with particular emphasis on agriculture and the rural sector.


Good governance is one of the essential pre-requisites. We have a good governance cell [in the BJP] and we have appointed Manohar Parikkar, ex-Chief Minister of Goa, for that position. We have nine States where we are the ruling party. We are making a syllabus, studying all schemes of all governments, including those of the Left and Tamil Nadu. We are studying how we can increase the process of development in all fields of society by good governance in all the States where we are ruling.


The second thing is the training programme for our workers. We have started it. This year our target is getting 10,000 trained workers.


As for Tamil Nadu's development, water is an important issue. The river connectivity project is one of the important projects for our country. From the Cauvery, you can get only about 800 TMC [thousand million cubic feet] of water. But by connectivity of rivers, you can get more than 4,000 TMC of water. Now, in Gujarat, which is a BJP-ruled State, we have a 20 per cent increase in the water table. Because of Narmada, the agricultural growth rate is 14 per cent in Gujarat. The Indian average is minus 0.2 per cent.


Now, as far as the party is concerned, we have a lot of political plans. I personally feel that price rise and inflation are related to the wrong economic policies and bad governance of the UPA [United Progressive Alliance]. That is my honest feeling. I am not talking politically.


As you can see, we exported sugar at Rs. 12.5 per kg to other countries. One-and-a-half years ago, the government gave Rs. 1.7 as export subsidy and transport subsidy. Now we are importing sugar at Rs. 28 to Rs. 35 per kg! We have purchased from abroad red wheat at Rs. 19 per kg. But the government is giving Rs. 9.5 to farmers. In essential commodities, there is a turnover of Rs. 4,50,000 crore but the delivery is of Rs. 4,500 crore. There is 99.24 per cent speculation and manipulation. In 2004, the government added essential commodities in the commodity exchange. The beneficiaries are manipulators, speculators, multinational corporates, and black marketers. The farmers are not getting good prices.


In Haryana and Punjab, the government is getting wheat from farmers at Rs. 11.5 a kg. You watch, after one month, the retail price will go to Rs. 26! Why should the government allow speculation? Why did they add essential commodities in the commodities exchange?


The country's agricultural sector needs cold storage, pre-cooling plants, and godowns. As far as my information and statistics go, we have only one-third capacity of godowns for our foodgrains. The government has never given priority to pre-cooling plants, cold storage, and the agro-processing industry.


Irrigation is a subject in the State List. Atal Bihari Vajpayee appointed a committee under my chairmanship for the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, which was prepared by me for Rs. 60,000 crore. I was the main advisor for the four-laning of national highways. At that time, the question arose about village connectivity, which is a State subject. I told Vajpayeeji that because of this lack of connectivity, a lot of people in rural India were facing problems for many years. He took a bold decision: the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana would be financed 100 per cent from the Central government and it would be a scheme of Rs. 60,000 crore.


We need to add irrigation to the Concurrent List. We need a scheme by which States and the central government contribute 50 per cent each. This can double irrigation capacity, which is going to solve the problems of the agricultural and rural sectors. Our sincere emphasis is on development of agriculture and rural India. We are trying our level best in our State — Bihar — where the GDP growth rate was minus 0.5 per cent. Now, in Bihar, it is 11 per cent. In all BJP-ruled States, we have got good GDP growth. Today, we are preparing a plan to increase it. How can we increase employment potential, how can we eradicate poverty, and how can we increase GDP and per capita income in the States — that is our preoccupation.


Let the politics of the 21st century be politics for progress and development. I feel that politics is an instrument of socio-economic reform. I am not selecting politics as my career. I am a worker of the BJP, inspired and motivated from my Vidyarthi Parishad days. I want to do something for the country and for society. I am a small worker of the party. I started my work by pasting posters and writing on the walls. Still, I am working at the ward committee level. It is possible only in the BJP, that a small worker like me can become the president, the highest post. In other parties, it is unthinkable. Even Manmohan Singhji can't think of becoming president of the Congress party. That is a post meant for the Family. Definitely, our party is a party with a difference.


Any rethinking within the BJP on the Women's Reservation Bill?

Not at all. As far as supporting the Bill is concerned, there is no problem. When the party's policy is for the Bill, everyone has to come with me. We will not allow any MP to take any role against the party's policy.


But many parties have some reservations. Particularly, on the incident in the Rajya Sabha of eviction of members by marshals, there was unrest among members of all parties. That was not good for democracy. But as far as our principle is concerned, we have supported the Bill. That is our official viewpoint.


On implementing a one-third quota for women in party posts

We have 33 per cent women office-bearers. We have decided to give 33 per cent of posts to women. We have got qualified people. We have a lot of women workers. Their contribution is enormous. They have calibre. We need to encourage them. I select people who are ready to work for the party.


On food inflation and price rise

In Haryana and Punjab, wheat farmers are getting Rs. 11- Rs. 12 per kg. Two months ago, in the retail market, the price was Rs. 24 to Rs 26 per kg. Only related to sugarcane, in Maharashtra, we are giving Rs. 2,000 per tonne. Even in Tamil Nadu, the price is probably Rs. 2000 per tonne. But in the case of other essential commodities, when agriculturists produce grains, the price is less. Afterwards, futures and forward trading increase the value but farmers get a very meagre price. At the same time, consumers have to pay two times higher. This is in 80 to 90 per cent of the cases.


My party's opinion is that essential commodities should be eliminated from [the ambit of] futures and forward trading. [Union Petroleum Minister] Murli Deora has said that for crude oil purposes, this futures and forward trading has increased the value of crude oil in such a way that it creates a lot of problems for many countries. So he opposes it. We have to study this matter in depth. If this commodity exchange, particularly futures and forward trading, is going to be helpful only to the people who have got money power, is it good for society? Because of this speculation and manipulation, the common man — the farmer, the journalist, the teacher, and the professor — is paying a heavy price. It is not in the interests of the poor.


On the Maoist challenge

The way in which the Maoist movement has spread from Pashupathi to Tirupati shows the wrong polices of the UPA government. In the Andhra Pradesh election, the Congress party made an agreement with naxalites and their sympathisers. For political purposes, they take help from naxalites. We feel that this is a very, very problematic issue. It is against the nation. As far as the government is concerned, we give full support for the government to fight terrorism. We will fight against all types of terrorist elements.


There is an impression that your former ally, the Trinamool Congress, is hand in glove with Maoists in areas like Nandigram.

We are not concerned about Trinamool. I do not know what type of policy they pursue. But we do not compromise with national interests, whether we are in power or not.

In Assam, political parties are inviting foreigners to come into the country and they are given voting rights — this type of politics, we oppose.


Why should the BJP not drop the Ayodhya issue when it is focusing on development?

As far as the Ram Mandir issue is concerned, I have already, in my presidential address in Indore, declared my policy. We feel that this is the issue of our asmita. We have got only one place where Ram was born. So this concerns the faith of crores of people. We feel that we should have Ram Mandir. We will not deviate from this issue.









Sebi's order banning 14 insurance companies from selling unit-linked insurance plans (Ulips) can be seen as an escalation of the turf war between insurance regular Irda and the stock market regulator. Ulips are the hottest-selling products of insurance companies, but they are less about offering insurance and more like mutual funds. The latter clearly falls under the ambit of Sebi, but Ulips have always been regulated by Irda. So how is one to interpret Sebi's sudden decision to jump in and take on a fellow regulator on the issue? The answer surely will be in Delhi, for it is inconceivable that Sebi would have moved in the matter without a wink and a nod from someone high up in the finance ministry.


Three issues lie at the heart of the matter. One, insurance companies sell Ulips because they can couch it as an investment product, which customers are more willing to buy. Two, insurance products are sold by agents who swallow a huge amount of the first two years' premiums as commissions. The customer would thus have been better off buying a mutual fund where entry loads are now zero. Three, the bundling of insurance with investment makes the product opaque, being neither fish nor fowl. The net result is that the customer is cheated, but doesn't often know it.


This is the reason why the Swarup committee on insurance awareness and protection called for the complete elimination of commissions in selling insurance by 2011. It wanted commissions on first year premiums to be cut to 15% (from the current 40%) immediately, and further to 15% and 7% by April, 2011. Thanks to huge resistance from insurance companies and agents, none of this has happened. One can question the logic of eliminating all commissions when Indians are still grossly underinsured, but there is no doubt that excessive commissions in the first two years of a policy ensure mis-selling on a large scale. No agent finds it worth his while to sell pure insurance products. The gravy is in Ulips.


Sebi's move should, therefore, be seen as an opportunity to relook at the whole issue and sort it out once and for all. The customer needs to know what he is buying, and mixing it all up in a hybrid product that is regulated by two different bodies is not helpful.








Mumbai: Upending normal diplomacy, president Barack Obama has been soft on rivals and potential enemies but tough on friends and allies. Efforts to reach out to China, Iran and North Korea have produced little by way of results. Meanwhile, Britain has been slighted serially and commentators are pronouncing the death of the special relationship. Israel is feeling the sting of US ire. And India is not as high on Washington's radar as during the Bush years.


India is Washington's most important potential partner in Asia. Current US security preoccupations are in the region in which India is the natural hegemon. As the most powerful hegemon itself that dominates the Americas, it is puzzling that Washington fails to see the parallel with respect to the responsibility, role and also the jealousies and resentments in India's neighbourhood.


India's national interests dovetail with US security challenges: containing Islamist fundamentalism, defeating terrorism, stabilising Pakistan by nurturing the fragile roots of secularism and democracy, securing Afghanistan, preventing the domination of Asia by China, and preventing nuclear proliferation.


On most global challenges, India's cooperation is critical to making meaningful progress, but Washington seems indifferent to and irritated by India's legitimate interests and world view. On the Doha round, how many American policymakers know that almost two lakh Indian farmers committed suicide in the 12 years from 1997 to 2008? One reason is the vicious debt trap caused by the removal of quantitative restrictions under the WTO regime that has left the country's small and marginal farmers with no access to crop insurance, exposed to the volatility of international markets and prices. On climate change, should Indians accept a permanently lower standard of living than Americans by abandoning the benchmark of per capita emissions?


The US was previously permissive of Chinese complicity in Pakistan's nuclearisation and of Pakistan nurturing terrorism as an instrument of state policy. The anti-Taliban alliance in Afghanistan was kept alive, among others, by India whose role — it is among the largest donors to reconstruction in Afghanistan, focussing on building roads, schools, hospitals and a new parliament — is welcomed by many Afghans who are suspicious of Pakistan's involvement. In a poll of Afghans for the BBC, the American Broadcasting Corporation, and the German broadcasting company ARD, India was the most favourably viewed country with 71%, the US third with 51%, and Pakistan last with 2%.


Efforts to compartmentalise the terror threat to western interests from that to India are false in principle and contradicted in practice by an intricate network of jihadists who work together against Christians, Hindus and Jews. Any government of Pakistan has a vested interest in preserving a friendly Islamist faction based in Afghanistan as a counter to India's role and as a lever to prise more US aid. Convincing Washington to pressure India on Kashmir would be a bonus. Success on this would not end Pakistan's self-serving half-heartedness in cooperating with the US or the threat of Islamist insurgency in Afghanistan.


The US search for accommodation with China is understandable. But does it help Washington's relations with Beijing to adopt a stance of neutrality on India's north-eastern provinces? Does it advance US non-proliferation interests to remain quiet on China's supply of designs and material to Pakistan which then found their way to Libya, Iran and North Korea?


Fareed Zakaria notes that in southern Asia, the prize for the US is India, the booby prize is Afghanistan. Indians miss being romanced by Bush and, like many Americans, would welcome signs of passion in Obama.







One of the big incongruities we inherited from the raj is the system of pointless official transfers. The original idea in transferring an individual from place A to B, or from post X to Y, was one of the following: a) the officer (or judge, or policeman) needs wider exposure to differentresponsibilities in different geographies; b) there is a vacancy that needs to be filled; or c) he is fit to be promoted or needs as bigger challenge. In the private sector, transfers happen for these reasons and they work quite well.


But when you work for the government, especially in idiosyncratic India, there are other, more dubious, reasons, why you may get transferred. You may be moved because you did a bad job and need to be punished, or you may be shifted (or is it shafted?) for doing too good a job, angering a powerful vested interest in the process.

It is not clear in what category we should put the government's decision to shift Karnataka chief justice Paul Dinakaran's forced transfer to the Sikkim high court. It's embarrassing, since another judge, Jammu & Kashmir's chief justice Barin Ghosh, has already been transferred to Sikkim. Lawyers in this tiny mountain state are up in arms, and not because they will now have two senior chief justices to contend with in a state that has all of 300-and-odd cases pending. The point is justice Dinakaran is under a cloud for allegedly amassing properties beyond the legal ceiling when he was not a judge. This is the reason why the judges' collegium could not push through his elevation to the highest court.


It makes no sense to transfer a chief justice from one court to another when the original purpose of the transfer is meant to be a negative signal. If Dinakaran is not good enough to preside over the Karnataka high court, he is not good enough for the Sikkim high court. The Sikkimese are rightly angry about being given a hand-me-down judge just because he is not wanted elsewhere.


The best way to handle such issues is to tell a judge to go on leave — paid or unpaid — and wait for his name to be cleared through a formal investigation into his affairs. This would be both fair to him and the office he holds. If he comes out with a clean chit, his stature stands enhanced. If he doesn't, there is no need to burden the Sikkim high court with his presence. Let us not treat the Sikkimese with this kind of disdain.










The unending and curious saga of Justice P.D. Dinakaran, accused of acquiring disproportionate wealth and misusing his office, continues to strain the credibility of the judiciary. The Supreme Court's failure to deal with corruption in the higher judiciary has been telling enough in the past. It now appears equally helpless in dealing with Justice Dinakaran's defiance. His refusal to proceed on leave, despite the Supreme Court collegium's advice to this effect, has exposed how little the apex court can do in these cases. For all practical purposes, the Karnataka High Court is without a Chief Justice since December last year, when the Rajya Sabha accepted a motion to impeach the controversial Chief Justice of the High Court at Bengaluru. While he was restrained from discharging his judicial duties, even his administrative decisions were quashed by the High Court last month. Under these circumstances, when the CJ's position has become so untenable that he has ceased to function, the government should have no difficulty in accepting the collegium's suggestion to appoint an Acting Chief Justice under Article 223 of the Indian Constitution.


However, the reported recommendation of the collegium to transfer Justice Dinakaran to Sikkim or some other state is unfortunate. The Bar Association in Sikkim has already reacted sharply to the speculation and decided to boycott the swearing-in function in case Justice Dinakaran is shifted to the state. Sikkim is not a dumping ground, says an angry communication from the Bar Association to the Chief Justice of India. It thus appears likely that the beleaguered CJ would face the same kind of resistance from lawyers at Gangtok as he faced in Bengaluru. It is not just impractical to expect him to function effectively in another High Court but it would also be unfair to him and to the litigants.


It is equally unfortunate that charges against the Chief Justice of a High Court, which first surfaced nearly eight months ago, have been allowed to linger for such a long time. Surely, the government and the apex court have the wherewithal to conduct a swift inquiry and put an end to the sordid controversy. Justice Dinakaran should get the opportunity to clear his name but till he does so, he will find it tough to function in any state, big or small.








As if Jammu and Kashmir did not have enough problems to handle, the state assembly has added one more by adopting the Bill banning inter-district recruitment for government jobs. The new law is bound to promote divisive feelings on the basis of districts in a state where people have already been nursing ill will against one another on regional and other considerations. Any legislative measure that will lead to the rejection of a job applicant because of his district identity cannot be in the long-term interest of the state. The controversial Bill, a brainchild of the ruling National Conference and the Congress, has the support of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) also, but it is against the provision of 8 per cent reservation for the Scheduled Castes as provided in the new legislation. The BJP, which has its following confined to the Jammu region, is opposed to the law. The way the political parties have reacted to the Bill shows that they are mainly bothered about their vote banks.


This is indeed like a case of paving the way to hell with good intentions. The Bill apparently is aimed at helping the districts which have been hit hard by militancy. In the absence of a provision for recruiting people for government jobs from the districts where vacancies exist or arise, those living in the unfortunate areas would find it difficult to compete because of poor education facilities there. The new law, as the flawed argument goes, was necessary to help the militancy-affected districts, mostly in the Kashmir valley.


However, this is a remedy worse than the disease. It would lead to more chaos in the state. At present, the state has 22 districts — 10 in the valley, 10 in the Jammu region and two in Ladakh. But in future the number of the districts may go up with an increase in population and owing to other reasons, as it has been happening in the past. How will the authorities handle the situation then? There may be the demand then for a reallocation of government employees, which will amount to opening a Pandora's box. The new law may also influence the recruitment pattern in the private sector. No problem can be solved by adopting a narrow-minded approach.








True to expectations, the United People's Freedom Alliance led by President Mahinda Rajapakse has won a comfortable mandate in the Sri Lankan parliamentary elections. With the opposition fragmented and divided, the UPFA's victory is, however, not an unalloyed endorsement of Rajapakse's style and substance of governance. If anything, it is a reflection of the lack of a viable alternative in the eyes of the people. The Opposition's back was broken when the defeated candidate in the January presidential election, retired General Sanath Fonseka, was put behind bars and now awaits a controversial court martial. That hit the Opposition's morale and caused division in its ranks. Far from the 74 per cent turnout for the Presidential contest, only 50 to 55 per cent of voters participated in the parliamentary election, according to an early estimate by the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence in Colombo. Usually 65 to 75 per cent come out, the group noted. This was a reflection on the lack of enthusiasm of voters in this election.


Significantly, the ruling UPFA coalition had campaigned for greater power so as to give priority to economic growth over political reconciliation in the wake of the end of the civil war. This victory could well mean moving away from the politics of conciliation towards a more authoritarian system of governance of which there are signs already. President Rajapakse must appreciate that in the first parliamentary vote since the defeat of the rebel Tamil Tigers, the Tamil community did not cast their lot with hard-line nationalist candidates. Rather, Tamil voters backed a party that once was seen as the proxy for the Tigers but has since adopted a plank of autonomy within the Sri Lankan state. Voters did not follow a splinter group that had kept alive the demand for independence.


It would indeed be prudent for President Rajapakse not to move away from the healing process. The ethnic Tamils need to be emotionally integrated into the country's mainstream if Sri Lanka is to enjoy peace on a durable basis. Economic development and reconciliation can indeed go hand in hand.















YET another phase commences in the volatile US-Pakistan relationship which has gone through such wild swings as few other nations have witnessed.


From a surrogate state, which Richard Nixon sought to shield despite its savage onslaughts on the former East Pakistan populace, to a steep decline in ties during the second Bill Clinton presidency, marked a drastic rearrangement in their relationship. Simultaneously, Washington rapidly upgraded its ties with India just as it frowned on Pakistan as a veritable "failed state". This was reflected in the last Clinton visit to the subcontinent — five days of a warm presidential State visit to India as against a five-hour stopover in Pakistan.


In between was another chapter, the Zia-ul-Haq phase, which coincided with the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. General Zia was able to rescue Pakistan from a drift towards economic insolvency by willingness to pull the American chestnuts out of the fire in Afghanistan. Claiming the status of a frontline state, General Zia sought suitable rewards — "aid", weapons and a pro-Pakistan tilt vis-a-vis India. A shrewd bargainer, he described the early American aid offers as "peanuts" and pulled off handsome bounties from the United States, plus huge undisclosed benefits as a bonus.


Pakistan's A.Q. Khan nuclear chapter was a product of this phase of US-Pakistan relations. But for Washington turning a blind eye to a hefty clandestine buildup of the Kahuta centrifuge plant, there was little possibility of Pakistan acquiring its limited nuclear weapon status.


Now opens a new phase of US-Pakistan relations. The "Strategic Partnership" meeting in Washington in March was a high water-mark of the new phase. What are the factors at work that have brought about this turnaround?


America's war with Al-Qaeda and their Taliban allies — now a virtual obsession with the US — drives the US policy makers to resurrect their drooping friendship with Pakistan. The war with the Taliban in Afghanistan is heavily dependent on Pakistan's collaboration. Add to that the role that Pakistan as a moderate Islamic state can play in the American quest to mend fences with the Muslim world, now badly mauled by a string of developments — from Palestine to the fight with Islamic extremism worldwide. While these are the twin facets that primarily drive American policy makers to resurrect relationship with Pakistan, Washington would also, for the sake of old time relations, not like Pakistan to go under and become a "failed state".


On the other hand, propelling Pakistani policy makers — both the civilian government and the Army — is, above all, the economic factor. Insolvency stared Pakistan in the face as early as 2006; and when the IMF loan, which served as a stopgap arrangement, was consumed, the Pakistan government (and the Army) had no other option. It is this that forced Gen Ashfaq Kayani to bend low for American help, and launch an all-out war on the Taliban in Waziristan. The rivalry with India is a second factor moulding Pakistan's policies. It is widely recognised that Pakistan has lost the race with India — support from the US alone may possibly retrieve their lost cause, partially.


There is some commonality in this phase of US-Pakistan "partnership" with the earlier Zia-ul-Haq manoeuvres. Ironically, the Taliban and Afghanistan provide a common background. It was to rescue Afghanistan from the Soviet Union that General Zia offered Pakistani services for suitable rewards. The Taliban was built up as a joint endeavour — American arms and money, and the Pakistan Army leadership came together to create this Frankenstein. Now, in a turnaround, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have become America's principal enemy, and Pakistan is offering help in dealing with the Taliban in Afghanistan, provided Islamabad gets suitable rewards.


The Taliban, now being the principal adversary of the US in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army with its long relationship with the Pentagon is willing to offer its services in this confrontation, in lieu of a matching reward. "Aid", hard cash, is, of course, the first, and most urgent requisite to meet the economic crunch Pakistan faces. Besides financial aid, Pakistan hopes to get advanced military equipment from Washington as a gift. Although this equipment — from Predator drones, unmanned aircraft, to surveillance equipment, etc. — is being sought in the name of fighting the Taliban, Islamabad is sure that this will upgrade its strength vis-a-vis India too. "There are no guns that fire only in one direction" — this edict is Islamabad's philosophy too.


At the beginning of 2007, Pakistan obtained IMF loans to survive. When the IMF loan was exhausted, it had no way but to turn to the US, its old friend, to stave off a calamity. There was no money for the Pakistan Army itself, and so it offered to launch an onslaught on the Taliban in Waziristan — bordering Afghanistan — to help close the porous border with Afghanistan on the understanding that this war will be paid for. The Pakistan Army has performed in Waziristan; the Pakistan Taliban has been badly mauled. Though overtly complaining against civilian casualties from American drone strikes in the Taliban heartlands, the Pakistan regime — no less the Army — has quietly surrendered a bit of sovereign rights — allowing American planes to slash Taliban targets inside Pakistani territory.


Now, Islamabad seeks matching rewards. The $7.5 billion offered by the US in three tranches to stave off the Pakistani economic crisis after the IMF aid was exhausted was the first step. This money will soon be gobbled up. So, the Pakistan Army is putting up a $ 35 billion bill for its heroics against the Pakistan Taliban. It wants ample rewards for the blood of 2500 Pakistan soldiers in this fight against the Taliban. That forms the basis of the "US-Pak Strategic Dialogue" — a new phase in US-Pakistan relationship.


There are a few peculiarities of this partnership. Taking a leaf from the experience of the Zia days, Pakistan is striking a hard bargain and is a bit reckless in staking claims — as with the bills of some $35 billion. Even if half the money comes, Pakistan will carry the day. The same applies to the demand for a civil nuclear deal. Nuclear claims can only push up Pakistan's status, and even if the deal does not come about, nothing will be lost. Pakistani leaders are aware that past proliferation sins are still rankling the Americans. And so, the US has in polite language told them that an India-type nuclear deal is not possible. The Pakistani leaders, however, have a way of niggling and hope something will be gained by their nuclear posture. Say, a nuclear power station with American or Canadian technology — financed by Washington.


The other important aspect, besides a big aid package, in Islamabad's "wish-list" — advanced military equipment, including unmanned spacecraft, Predator drones, surveillance equipment — is claimed to be needed in the war on the Taliban in the Wazirstan border with Afghanistan, but could easily be diverted against India.


On the US side, too, there is a "trust deficit", and so the Americans have told their Pakistan friends that accountability — of the way Pakistan spends the money and uses the military equipment — has to be in place. American audit will have the final say, and this the Pakistanis do not like. There is a dispute pending on the second tranche, worth about $ 2 billion because the American audit disputes the expenses incurred by the Pakistan side on this account. Hopefully, Islamabad thinks the Americans will not be too hard on their demand for "audit" of the way the money is spent.


Here the commonalities with the Zia phase end. There are political hurdles in the way of this "strategic alliance" which are difficult to negotiate. One relates to Pakistan's standing in Afghanistan once the Americans quit that country. There is mounting pressure against the Indian role in Afghanistan's affairs too. The second political hurdle is in relation to India. While it is the Indian demand that Washington obtains compliance from Pakistan against Pakistan-based terrorist organisations, Islamabad seeks US help in resolving the Kashmir dispute in a way favourable to it.


New Delhi is exercised over several facets of the US-Pakistan "strategic relationship". The Pakistani "wish-list", of course, worries India a lot, understandably. The Predator drones in particular, since these will alter the Indo-Pak military balance. India is also concerned about the political space that Washington yields in Afghanistan. Above all, India seeks American pressure on Pakistan to ensure squeezing out of terrorist outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba.








The colleague from Delhi had just returned from the Constitution Club and he could barely hide his resentment. " Imagine, this man had not a single word of condemnation for the dastardly ambush of the CRPF men in Chhattisgarh," he said over the phone.


He was outraged by a speaker justifying the ambush. Even a dog bites back when trampled upon, declared Dr B.D. Sharma, who is not the only jhola wallah to hold such views.


Though pushing 80, this remarkable man, who has authored four or more books on mathematics, continues to travel extensively, often in crowded sleeper coaches or riding pillion on a motorcycle, across the length and breadth of the country, mostly speaking out against government policies.


Always clad in a khadi dhoti and kurta, with a light blanket slung over his shoulders in winter, the retired IAS officer is a familiar figure in the cow belt.


He has always been a maverick and a rebel. Two of his decisions , when he was the Bastar DC, continue to be recalled by old-timers.


When a famine struck vast parts of Madhya Pradesh, he shot off an SOS to Bhopal, urging the state government to declare Bastar as famine-affected. The notification would allow the administration to step up relief work and distribute foodgrains free to the people.


But wheels of the government moved slowly and the proposal was lost somewhere in red-tape. The increasingly impatient DC shot off reminders. But eventually tired over the delay, he ordered godowns of the Food Corporation of India be thrown open and people allowed to take away the foodgrains.


"I could not let people starve," he later explained. " As the DC, I only did what the government should have done in any case." The FCI was not amused though and an FIR was lodged against the officer. But he remained unfazed.


" Arrest me if you want, but as long as I am the DC, people will get the foodgrains locked in the FCI godowns," he is said to have told his seniors.


He is said to have discovered that teachers in government schools in Bastar remained mostly absent. They would surface in the last week of every month to collect their salary and disappear for the rest of the month. Most of them had left their families behind and found it difficult to stay alone.


The DC came up with a unique solution. Appoint the spouse of the teacher also in the same school, he ordered, and pay them half the salary received by government teachers. That would prompt the teachers to bring their family over to Bastar and would take care of both absenteeism and the trend of teachers seducing tribal women and later abandoning them.


The proposal, as expected, was not approved. The finance department took serious objection to it and frostily ruled that no appointment could be made without fulfilling minimum qualifications.

"Every woman is a born teacher. We don't have to look into their academic qualification," read the reply from Bastar.








Soon after assuming charge on March 31, the new Army Chief, Gen VK Singh, highlighted his main tasks. One of these was to be ready for a two-front war, presumably implying Pakistan and China as the adversaries acting in concert. Another was the counter terrorism task in Jammu and Kashmir and in the North-East.


In regard to the Maoist insurgency, rated by the Prime Minister as the most serious of all threats facing the country, his position was that the Army would not like to be involved in such issues which were, essentially "law and order" problems. This stand, both logical and understandable, stems from the very ethos and training of the armed forces which prepare, indeed, equip them to deal with external aggression.


However, paradigms of national security have undergone changes in recent years which require that the theme of "we are there to safeguard the nation from external aggression" be revisited. The first and foremost duty of a nation's armed forces is to safeguard its territorial integrity and sovereignty.


With increasing insurgency in the North-East and later in Jammu and Kashmir, counter-insurgency got added to the responsibility of the Army and its numbers increased progressively, presently standing at about 1.3 million.


The Army did not go into counter-insurgency readily but preferred that this role be taken by the para-military. In any event, it was hard put even to cope with the two nation state adversaries. Thus were born forces such as the Assam Rifles, the Border Security Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police et al.


By 1978 need was felt for a similar force to cope with needs of security in the coastal areas and the Coast Guard was born. Later, in the mid-1990s came the Rashtriya Rifles. Not all of them were of the same genre.


Over the last several years, these para -military forces have also grown considerably as internal security has acquired an increasing dimension in the country's concerns.


Until recently, the Navy and the Air Force remained aloof from anything other than the nation state adversary, considering all else as diverting them from their primary duty. In any event, there was no requirement.


The terrorist attack in Mumbai on 26/11 changed all that. A daring attack was mounted from the sea in which the terrorists traversed through more than 500 kilometers of India's water space unhindered and unchallenged.


Whatever structure existed to safeguard the coast in the form of the para-military Coast Guard and State Marine Police forces proved grossly inadequate and the Navy, as the manifestation of the nation's sea power, was, understandably, called to question by the people.


New arrangements have now been made in which the Navy will bear ultimate responsibility. Much more remains to be done but "the buck stops here" principle has been established which requires the Navy to respond to situations not arising from threats from nation state adversaries. The same is true of its involvement in anti-piracy operations.


Let us go back to the Army. Assuming that the Maoist insurgency strengthens, will it jeopardise India's integrity, is the question that might be asked. And, if that is so, can the Army just sit in barracks and do nothing, is the logical corollary. Since, the main threats are from within, and not from without, to safeguard the integrity and sovereignty of the country against them must be the duty and responsibility of the Army.


Undoubtedly, such duty is a horribly unpleasant one and should be undertaken only as the last resort, but if it comes to the crunch, we cannot shy away from it on the argument that the armed forces only fight external aggression.


Only recently, there has been ongoing action by an equally professionally competent Army in a neighbouring country targeting some of its own people, misguided or fanatic or whatever. And, if the Pakistan Army is not a force which merits emulation, one can cite the part played by the British Army in quelling the IRA insurgency in Ireland not so long ago.


Anyone who has been in uniform can understand the great aversion that the military would have to such scenarios but in these times, it does not help to shy away from what might well have to be done some day. To do it sooner rather than later, when the costs may be higher, would seem the right approach. Already, we appear to be nearing the stage when the moment of reckoning may not be far away.


The recent decimation of nearly a company of the CRPF in the jungles of Chhattisgarh shows that even the para-military response may not yield the desired result. The incident itself might be an isolated one but it portends a disturbing future. The sovereignty of the nation state is under serious challenge and this affront has to be met with the fullest power that can be brought to bear.


So, even as cognizance must be taken of the Home Minister's assessment that the police and para-military forces can deal with the Maoists quite effectively, and one hopes that he is proved right, it will be wise for the country to start preparing itself for the military option.


It is not something that can be done in a day as considerable mental adjustment will be needed, not just in the military but equally in the citizenry. In short, we are at the crossroads when a new paradigm in the security of the nation has taken root in which the armed forces may well have to become involved.


Routine answers, as put forward in the past, may not pass the ultimate test that the armed forces must face, that their first and foremost duty is to safeguard the nation's integrity and sovereignty from whoever and whenever. The bull must be taken by the horns.


The writer is a former Director General, Defence Planning Staff








Economists in general are interested in the economic benefits of crop production. Their interest in rural ecology is negligible. In Punjab a dramatic transformation has taken place in the cropping pattern.


Mixed farming has given way to the monoculture (wheat-paddy cycle). The area under the wheat-rice cycle went up from 46 per cent in 1960-61 to 77 per cent in 2007-08 of the total cropped area in Punjab.


Government policies in the early stages of the Green Revolution were responsible for the shift in the cropping pattern. The availability of HYV seeds only for a few crops, the availability of proper marketing, including the minimum support price and procurement price mechanism for selected crops, played a positive role in promoting an unsustainable cropping pattern.


The Western vision of agricultural development and commercialisation of agricultural activities have also played a role in changing the thinking of Punjabi farmers. As a result, the state has lost some of its traditional crops, which were not only helpful in balancing the consumption pattern of farming households but also in maintaining the soil fertility.


The decline in the area under pulses and coarse grains and the increase in the area under hybrid wheat and paddy have had a serious impact on the fertility of soil. The removal of pulses from the cropping pattern removes a major source of free nitrogen for the soil.


The new varieties of wheat and paddy need much more irrigation in comparison to the desi varieties. It is one of the major reason that the area under artificial irrigation (tubewells and wells) has increased very sharply.


The groundwater in Punjab is being overdrawn to such an extent that the water table has fallen to the levels that make pumping difficult and too costly. Small farmers with little resources are the worst affected. The depletion of groundwater is forcing farmers to replace the traditional pump sets by expensive submersible pump sets.


Poor water management is also leading to land degradation in irrigated areas. Due to the unplanned canal irrigation system and an inadequate drainage system, the south-western districts of the state face water-logging and resultant soil salinity. Waterlogging in these districts not only affects agriculture production but also harms trees, roads, buildings and infrastructure.


Additional problems arise from an injudicious use of fertilisers and pesticides. Punjab, with a geographical area of just 1.5 per cent, accounts for 8 per cent of the total fertilizer consumption in the country. This has turned soil acidic and alkaline in different parts of the state. The excessive use of chemicals not only affects the health of soil but also of humans and animals. It is a major reason behind the increase in cancer cases in Punjab. The burning of agricultural wastage and excessive use of machinery are adding to environmental pollution.


The heavy input-based agriculture is affecting each and every farmer and the environment adversely – be it the cropping pattern, access to groundwater, cost of cultivation or soil fertility.


Now is the time to rethink about Punjab's model of agricultural growth. There is an urgent need to substitute the unsustainable method of cultivation with a sustainable and environment-friendly method.

The green agriculture, which involves integrated pest management and nutrient supply, should be promoted for the ever-Green Revolution. It is necessary for maintaining the productivity of our soil and save our natural resources. Creating awareness among farmers is necessary to promote organic farming in the state.


The writer is a lecturer in economics at Asbasjs Memorial College, Bela, Ropar (Punjab)








Delhi got a little nervous when Sania Mirza's forthcoming marriage to Shoaib Mirza opened a debate on the ethics of cross-border weddings. But we already have had some rather sensitive cross-border marriages in India which have worked well till now.


Just a few months ago JKLF Chairman Yasin Malik married a Pakistani painter, Mashal. Mashal was given a rousing reception on her maiden visit to Kashmir last year. Sania is our national pride and she fortunately will remain so even after her marriage to the former cricket Captain of Pakistan. Fortunately, despite TV hysteria, no official "Delhi statements" on the matter ensured there were no red faces at the end.


And now that the Shoaib row has been amicably settled, Delhi will await, with the rest of the country, the hullabaloo around the nuptials in mid-April.


Creamy layer at a wedding

Diplomat-turned-author Pavan Varma, who is nowadays our Ambassador in Bhutan, was in the capital with his whole family. His young lawyer son was getting married.


The sangeet and the mehendi were quiet family affairs that saw the family dance till the wee hours of the morning. But the reception at Motilal Nehru Marg had a heady mix of politicians, media personalities and artists. Sheila Dikshit and her family quietly savored the delicious Hyderabadi food while Anand Sharma met up with some old friends.


Nalini Singh, Vinod Dua and other media heads were busy chatting about the future of the nation. Sonal Mansingh, Satish Gujral and Jatin Das mixed and mingled with the crowds. Arun Jaitley walked in with wife Dolly, who is nowadays a great advocate of the women's Bill.


Vice-President Hamid Ansari is a former diplomat, so was very much at ease in this homely crowd. Pavan has authored very many well-received books. He has translated former Prime Minister Vajpayee's Hindi poems into English too.


He and his two beautiful daughters along with his elegant wife Renu were excellent hosts at a do that had Delhi's creamy layer in attendance.


A glittering show

The Rashtrapati Bhawan's usually staid Ashoka Hall for a change was lit up by Bollywood stars. Trooping in to receive the prestigious national awards, they glittered amongst the usual VVIPs. There was the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and several politicians, but the one who stole the show was Kareena Kapoor watching beau Saif get his award and, of course, Rekha.


Kareena was over the moon and clapping all the way wearing a saree and ethnic jewellery as her boyfriend, Saif Ali Khan Pataudi, walked up to the President to receive his award. Speaking later, he said endearingly that he would cease to be a naughty boy and instead "strive to be a more responsible citizen". The ever-young Rekha was the cynosure of all eyes as she elegantly received her award. The controversial awardee, Sant Chatwal, for obvious reasons, did not get the same reception as the other awardees. This was a unique mix of glamour and politicians. It was very apparent that Chatwal was a misfit in this gathering. Given his track record, one does not need to wonder why.








A disinformation campaign of sorts has been unleashed by some in Pakistan and their fellow travellers in the West, especially in the United States, on the issue of river water sharing between India and Pakistan. Disputes between riparian states on river water sharing are frequent and routine, and nothing sinister need be read into them. There have been more inter-state arguments within India on river water sharing than there have been between India and its neighbours.

 Further, the fact remains that India and Pakistan have had a remarkably dispute-free implementation of their bilateral accord, the Indus Waters Treaty. Whenever disputes became intractable both countries found a way of resolving them. Recall, for example, the manner in which President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh resolved the dispute over the Baglihar Dam project on river Chenab. A neutral expert was appointed and his verdict was accepted by both sides.

What is important to note is that the neutral expert's view was not very different from India's. Having lost the argument on Baglihar, a new one has been manufactured on Kishenganga and many self-appointed western experts have filled columns of newspapers with their criticism of India. It was, therefore, brave of Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to remind all concerned that wastage of water within Pakistan was as important an issue as its concern about Indian pilferage. In considering Pakistan's charges two facts must be kept in mind. First, under the Indus Water Treaty Pakistan gets 80 per cent of the waters flowing down the river. There is no evidence, apart from sporadic occurrences, of the actual flow being less than the agreed share. Second, while all the water due to Pakistan enters its territory, very little trickles out into the Arabian Sea. The rivers run dry when they leave the Punjab province of Pakistan and enter the Sind province, contributing to the latter's desertification.

The real problem is that Pakistan's water management system is in utter disarray. Its reservoirs are filled up with sediments and the extensive canal system, built mostly in the pre-Independence era, is aging and requires renovation and repairs. As for the hydro-electric project on river Kishenganga (known as Neelum in Pakistan), Pakistan's objections were addressed by India years ago when the project was reconfigured and its engineering designs changed. In its present form, it is virtually a run-of-the-river project, as permitted by the terms of the treaty. Critics of the project overlook the provisions of the Indus waters treaty which allow India to build water storages aggregating to 3.6 million acre feet (MAF) on the three west-flowing rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab) in Jammu and Kashmir, apart from 0.75 MAF of storage for flood moderation and 1.25 MAF for non-consumptive uses, including hydel power production. Much of this entitlement is unutilised so far.

The Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan has set the record straight in a public lecture in Karachi last week. This should set at rest avoidable fears in Pakistan of a 'water war'. Needless to add, having been generous at the time of drafting the Indus Treaty, India can ill afford any further sacrifice of her entitlement to these waters, especially when the real beneficiaries will be the people of Kashmir.






The central government has set the stage for a further tightening of monetary policy by the central bank and has, very correctly, reached out to state governments to become active partners in the battle against inflation. New Delhi believes the economy is over-heating and views the renewed surge in food prices as a symptom of that process. It is now clear that next week the Reserve Bank of India will be expected to raise policy rates and hike cash reserve ratio (CRR).

 The RBI's already stated view that the economy faced the danger of commodity specific inflation becoming generalised inflation is now the accepted view of all macroeconomic authorities. By creating three working groups focused on supply side management of the price situation, with two of those chaired by state chief ministers, the government has also signalled that it intends to address the price problem from both the demand and supply side. Getting prices right is vital to the sustainability of the growth process. It is also clear that apart from getting monetary policy right, the government is also focused on getting the fiscal policy right. The decision to move ahead with public sector disinvestment and 3G auctions shows urgency in garnering fiscal resources for the government. The Delhi government has also given a lead to other state governments by hiking state levies to show the way towards fiscal adjustment by all governments.

At a time when many commentators were beginning to lose hope, assuming that the United Progressive Alliance government was going down the slippery slope of populism and needlessly spending its way out of a heightened sense of public dissatisfaction with the government, these resolute steps give the impression of renewed seriousness in governance. This ought to be welcomed. This newspaper has repeatedly made the point that 2010 is the year of fiscal consolidation and economic turnaround for India. This is the year for some tough decisions on improved economic governance and forward-looking economic reforms. Even though three precious months of the calendar year have been wasted, it is still not too late to get economic policy right, so that the country is better prepared for the future.

Along with this renewed attention to economic policy, the government must also pay equal attention to internal security and governance reform. The prime minister and Union home minister should work with a group of experienced chief ministers to initiate reform of the police and paramilitary forces and of state and district administrations. There has been far too much focus in the recent past on giving 'rights' (like the right to information, the right to employment and the right to education) and not enough attention being paid to 'duties' (duty to govern honestly, efficiently and transparently). Even if people are empowered to assert their rights, governments cannot deliver if they are not reformed, re-engineered and re-empowered to perform their duties. Governments are duty-bound to provide good governance that in turn can help address the economic and social needs of the people.









The world wants India to do well, our challenge is at home. That is an oft stated, and valid, observation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This week, as he travels to Washington DC and Brasilia, he would probably recall his words with concern. So much to do at home, and yet so much time away from it at pointless talkfests. As Dr Singh himself used to joke, summitry is often tourism at public expense! The Obama nuclear summit and the Lula BRIC summit are, in fact, good examples of it. The prime minister's real work in this second term, and he knows this, is at home.

In his first term, Dr Singh has done enough to "create an external environment conducive to India's long-term economic development". The time has come to create an internal environment that is equally conducive. Addressing the AICC session on 21 August 2004, the prime minister said, "The challenge for economic reform today is to breathe new life into government so that it can play a positive role where it must." It is an agenda waiting to be addressed.

The reminder comes to us, if such reminders are needed at all, not just from the forests of Chhattisgarh, but from places closer to the world of the Business Standard reader. Like Chikkatpally in filmmaker Shyam Benegal's latest oeuvre Well Done, Abba! Mr Benegal's protagonist, Arman Ali, is part of our daily lives. He is the aam admi waiting, no longer just for the "inclusive growth" that he in fact sees happening around him, but for good, at least better, governance.

Mr Benegal has crafted an engaging and entertaining political satire that reminds us, if such reminding is needed, of the challenge of governance at home and the distance Bharat is yet to cover to enable India make her tryst with destiny.

The real challenge today for India, and for the prime minister, is now at home — both on the economic and national security fronts. Ensuring high economic growth that is fiscally sustainable, generates employment, with moderate inflation and stable exchange rates is a key challenge for 2010-11. While one can make speeches about double digit growth, one need not be obsessed about it. If an average of 8.0 per cent growth, which, of course, means 10 per cent and more in some parts of the country, creates enough job opportunities in manufacturing and infrastructure, the "rough edges of poverty" will get blunted.

However, this growth process will have to be fiscally sustainable. "Money does not grow on trees" is one of Dr Singh's favourite idioms. India has to keep its debt and deficit levels under check and not allow growthmanship to put at risk fiscal and external economic stability. Any overheating of the economy, unleashing of inflationary pressures and balance of payments instability should be avoided, just as any slowing down of manufacturing and export growth should be seriously addressed.

No one knows all this better than the prime minister himself and the Union finance minister. The task before them is to ensure that their government and party understand the serious national security implications for India of not ensuring the financial and fiscal sustainability of the growth process.

The second, and perhaps at this point in time an equally if not more important challenge, is that of internal security. The massacre of security forces in Chhattisgarh by a band of Maoists is as dramatic a challenge to India's internal security as the 26/11 attack in Mumbai was. The death toll is different, the scale and visibility of the events are different and the social class of the victims are different (which is why the Dantewada massacre competed with Sania Mirza's marriage for television time!)

Make no mistake, India's biggest national security challenge is at home. This is not to deny the external factor, especially to jehadi terrorism (and undoubtedly in the 26/11 attack). Even Maoist extremists may be getting some external support, as indeed some of the other insurgent groups are. But the roots of the problem are at home, and so are the solutions to it.

The solution is part administrative and part political. The prime minister must provide leadership to inspire a new effort at administrative and governance reform. India desperately needs police reform and there is no lack of ideas. Home Minister P Chidambaram will go down in history if he can initiate major police and civil administration reform. Mr Chidambaram is a reluctant home minister. He may be happier getting his previous job back, but the era of finance ministers making history is over. Mr Chidambaram is today the best man for the job of home minister and he must bring all his energies and sharp intellect to focus on the long overdue reform of India's police and internal security system.

Much of the hard and difficult work in police reform has to be done at the state level. However, given the politicisation of civilian and police administration in most states, and rampant corruption, one cannot expect much initiative to come from the states, especially those worst affected by insurgency. The Centre has no option other than to step in and push for reform and modernisation of the internal security apparatus. The focus of such reform has to be on professionalism in police and paramilitary forces and on making the best use of available resources (some ideas have been put forward by the Kargil Review Committee, the Julio Ribeiro Committee and so on).

There is far too much global summitry these days when the peaks that need climbing are at home. What can BRICs and BASIC do for India if India will not address the basics, building itself up brick by brick?








Animal spirits have always haunted the world of finance. Searching for a long-term stable state in the world of finance has, therefore, proved to be an illusory and a daring exercise. Since the last decade of the 20th century, we have had bubbles, currency crises and sovereign defaults leading to one global financial crisis after another every four and a half years, suggesting that financial stability is a myth. It's like looking for a zero-entropy state in a non-isolated system. Shortly after the financial crisis in Asia, the G7 countries formed the Financial Stability Forum, based on an idea advanced by Gordon Brown and articulated in a report for the G7 finance ministers. The forum brought together regulators, central banks, finance ministers and international institutions to look at how the financial stability issues should be resolved1. It wasn't much help as subsequent events have shown. This being the case, one may question the rationale of including the words "financial stability" in the Financial Stability and Development Council announced by the government in the recent Budget. It may haunt the working of the council in the long run.

 The policy announcement of the setting up of this apex-level council — this is especially related to changes in an established regulatory architecture or policy for the first time — is bound to be greeted with sagacious debates, divergent views, a mélange of informed and uninformed opinion and a potpourri of proffered advices. Though the finance minister did mention in his speech, that the establishment of the council is "without prejudice to the autonomy of regulators", there were apprehensions among the existing statutory regulators about the nature of the new beast. The overwhelmingly ambitious objectives sculpted for the council, couched in very general catch-all phrases such as "monitoring macro prudential supervision of the economy"; "(supervising the) functioning of large financial conglomerates"; "address(ing) inter-regulatory coordination issues"; "focus(ing) on financial literacy and financial inclusion" further exacerbated the apprehensions.

In the regulatory divinity, there is an unsaid but widely practised (and accepted) hierarchy, in which the central bank sits at the highest level and all other regulators are the children of lesser gods. A change in the regulatory architecture which could disturb that established hierarchy would be unsettling. No wonder, the finance minister was reported to have assured the Reserve Bank of India Board that the council was not intended to be a "super regulator" and it would "achieve its mandate without undermining the autonomy of the regulators". This assurance adds to the confusion because many of the objectives set out for the council are already those that are performed by one statutory regulator or the other.

One is reminded of the times when the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) was set up in 1988 as a non-statutory body with ambitious objectives but without powers under a government notification on April 12, 1988, following the announcement made by then prime minster and finance minister Rajiv Gandhi. It is quite another matter that Sebi came to be feared and respected by the market even when it had no powers, owing to the astuteness and brilliance of the then chairman G V Ramakrishna. But, it was clear that the objectives for which Sebi was set up overlapped seriously with the powers then exercised by the Ministry of Finance, and it took four years and the onset of the economic reforms for the government to promulgate an ordinance on January 30, 1992, to establish Sebi as a statutory body and to enact the Sebi Act in April 1992.

The lessons from the Sebi experience that are relevant for the council are:


·  If the council is to play a meaningful role and fulfil all the objectives intended in the Budget, it needs to be armed with statutory powers from the beginning. 

·  It would be a superfluous exercise if the council did exactly the same work as does the High Level Co-ordination Committee on Financial Markets (HLCCFM), which was set up in 1992 following consultation between the then RBI Governor, the finance secretary and the chairman of Sebi. The government need not have made a Budget announcement for this purpose. 

·  There needs to be a clarity of objective and purpose, and a clear distinction between the powers and functions of different regulators, especially vis a vis the central bank; otherwise self-debilitating turf battles among the regulators are bound to ensue — this can make the council a sick child, with expectations it cannot fulfil. 

·  Although Sebi was given a statutory status on 1992, full powers were granted to it in a phased manner; gradualism and the demonstration of good work by Sebi helped it gain acceptance. 

·  This implies that there will be a need to tone down the ambitious objectives which have been laid out the for council; the Sebi Act of 1992 was, in fact, a watered-down version of the first few drafts of the Sebi Act. 

·  Among the stated objectives of the council, there are two which are important to look at. One, the supervision of large financial conglomerates which in RBI parlance are called Systemically Important Financial Institutions; this supervision itself would require a mammoth effort and involve a lot more work than just examining consolidate balance sheets. Two, regulatory coordination to avoid issues like the unit-linked insurance plan (ULIP), which are likely to crop up as our financial markets become more complicated. If the council would have fulfilled its objectives, it could concentrate on these activities in the first phase.

In addition, the council could address some of the regulatory gaps. At present, there are two glaring ones. The first is the administration of the Companies Act which still rests with a ministry. It is perhaps the only major instance where the government is retaining a policy, regulatory and a judicial role. In all other cases, these powers now rest with the sector regulator. While administering the Companies Act, the government also regulates the accounting profession as the the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) reports to the government. Both these should now rest with Sebi which has proved itself for nearly two decades. Maybe the current practices are the long-standing ones; but so was the Office of the Controller of Capital Issues and so was our licensing policy.

The idea of the council is laudable but much depends on the execution. But the question is: Would the council effectively become an instrument for the government to retain overall control over the regulatory architecture? The government has that power in any case. It does not need a Budget announcement only to enable this. Today, the age of innocence is lost. The financial markets are far more integrated and international in nature with massive inflows of funds than they were when Sebi was set up. Our financial policies need to be dynamically synchronised with these changes.

The author is former executive director of Sebi and is currently associated with the IFC's Global Corporate Governance Forum of the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank Views expressed are personal


The Objectives of International Financial Regulation by Howard Davies and David Green









I was disappointed with the contents of the Financial Stability Report released by the Reserve Bank of India in so far as the comments on the exchange rate are concerned. Most of the crises in the developing/emerging markets during the last two decades have had their root in the appreciation of the exchange rate in real terms. This was the case in Mexico (1994-95), east Asia (1997-98), Brazil (1998), Argentina (2002) and, more recently, several east and central European countries and Iceland. In most of these cases, the common features were:


·  Capital inflows were well in excess of the deficit on current account, leading to an appreciation of the exchange rate, increasingly rendering the domestic economy uncompetitive in the global market. 


·  The policymakers tolerated the appreciation for various reasons, including inflation control and the confidence that capital flows would continue. A liberal capital account regime allowed residents with no natural hedges to borrow foreign currencies carrying lower interest rates (real estate in Bangkok, housing finance in east Europe and Iceland etc.). 

·  The current account deficit reached levels where the foreign lenders/investors lost confidence in the sustainability of the exchange rate, or for other reasons, reversed the capital flows — and residents, too, transferred capital outside the country. 

·  The result: a balance of payments crisis inflicting huge miseries on those who were relatively worse off.

Given this history, as far as financial stability in India is concerned, one would have liked a deeper analysis of the issues involved and why policymakers believe that we need not be concerned. In the February conference hosted by RBI, Deputy Governor Shyamala Gopinath explicitly acknowledged that "Capital flows are a risk ... also for financial stability" (Business Standard, February 13). Yet, there is only a passing reference to the issue in paragraph 22 of the "Overview and Assessment".

In constructing the financial stress indicator (FSI) in the Indian context, the report has used two variables — namely exchange market pressure (EMP), and the volatility of the dollar-rupee exchange rate. One has questions about the use of both. As for EMP, defined as "the sum of exchange rate depreciation and reserve outflows (scaled by base money)", it "summarises the flow excess supply of money in a managed exchange rate regime (emphasis mine)." Does the use of this variable imply that we manage the exchange rate? The RBI has always been very coy in admitting this, saying that it intervenes only to curb volatility. Exchange rate volatility is an accepted measure of market risk. However, one is not convinced of its use as a measure of the exchange rate risk to financial stability. In my view, the latter arises from the level, as distinct from volatility of the exchange rate, and its reflection in the real effective exchange rate and the current account balance. To take an extreme example, if the dollar depreciates 10 paisa every day for a year, volatility of the exchange rate change is zero. On the other hand, a dollar-rupee rate of Rs 20 in a year's time would surely cause a major crisis: indeed, a crisis would occur well before that level is reached.

And, in our case, the rate is reaching worrying levels. The FSB discussion of the exchange rate (paragraph 4.14) starts with the rate in October 2007. To my mind, a more reasonable starting point should be March 2007, i.e., before RBI suspended intervention. Since then, in terms of the RBI's real effective exchange rate (REER) index, supplemented by my estimates, the rupee has appreciated by 9 per cent over the next three years and 25 per cent in the last 12 months alone! This appreciation would surely start widening the trade deficit (10 per cent of GDP) and current account deficit of 6-7 per cent of GDP, net of remittances: the latter are more in the nature of irrevocable capital transfers, though accounting convention classifies them in the current account. Complacency about the exchange rate because of the easy financeability of the true deficit through inward remittances and other capital flows is not only not conducive to growth but can also be risky.

On the issue of managing the exchange rate in the face of capital inflows, the RBI Governor has described the dilemma as follows: "If central banks do not intervene in the foreign exchange market, they incur the cost of currency appreciation unrelated to fundamentals. If they intervene in the forex market to prevent appreciation, they will have additional systemic liquidity and potential inflationary pressures to contend with. If they sterilise the resultant liquidity, they run the risk of pushing up interest rates, which will hurt growth prospects." While it is good to see an explicit acknowledgement that higher interest rates hurt growth, and while one agrees with the first two points, the third one about the rise in interest rates is debatable. In fact, if sterilisation is limited to rupees pumped in the market by intervention, liquidity and hence interest rates should remain where they were before the intervention. In other words, sterilisation by itself does not lead to a rise in interest rates from levels existing before the intervention.  









While investors continue to lap up power sector projects, what's difficult to explain is how they hope things will pan out. Losses of electricity boards and other power utilities owned by state governments were budgeted at Rs 27,317 crore in 2008-09, and according to the 13th Finance Commission's estimates, these are likely to balloon to Rs 68,643 crore this year, and to Rs 116,089 crore in 2014-15. Coincidentally, the Finance Commission's estimate of the additional amount that states need to invest in future generation/transmission/distribution is around the same amount as the losses — Rs 75,880 crore in 2010-11, going up to Rs 115,637 crore in 2014-15.

How the states are going to finance this is anyone's guess since, by March 2008, the states had invested Rs 71,268 crore as equity in these utilities, were owed Rs 70,652 crore by them and had also guaranteed Rs 88,385 crore of their loans — these guarantees allowed the electricity boards to borrow money in order to pay for daily purchases of electricity. So how those investing in new power plants hope to get paid makes the mind boggle — possibly, all investors are convinced the central government will come out with yet another SEB loan write-off scheme.

(losses of state T&D utilities, Rs crore)



Financing needs
of power sector







2007-08 (BE)



2008-09 (RE)



2010-11 (Proj)



2011-12 (Proj)



2012-13 (Proj)



2013-14  (Proj)



2014-15  (Proj)



*As of 31/3/2008, state governments had an equity of 
Rs 71,268 cr in these utilities, outstanding loans of 
Rs 70,652 cr and Rs 88,385 cr of outstanding guarantees
Proj. assume 2008 tariffs, but large reductions in T&D losses
Source: 13th Finance Commission

But how did, the obvious question is, losses rise so rapidly, from a budgeted Rs 27,317 crore in 2008-09 to a projected Rs 68,643 crore in 2010-11? Some part, it is obvious, is due to the rise in electricity consumption and costs, but this can't explain a more than doubling. It is difficult to prove a one-on-one correlation, but my guess is power trading is responsible for a large part of this — with rates that can go as high as Rs 7-8 per unit, this has sky-rocketed in recent times. Around 15 billion units of power, or 2.4 per cent of the total produced, was traded in 2006-07. This shot up to around 64 billion units in 2009-10 (based on data till December), which is around 9.5 per cent of all electricity produced. At an average price of Rs 5 a unit, that's Rs 32,000 crore of revenues — so, under a tenth of the electricity sold in the country costs more than a fifth of the total revenues from all sales.

While it is desirable that customers pay for the electricity they consume, it cannot be anyone's case they be asked to pay for profiteering by traders. But where's the profiteering the pro-trade lobby will argue. The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) has a ceiling on trading margins of 4-7 paise and the Supreme Court upheld the CERC's ruling a few weeks ago. This is true, but neither the CERC ruling nor the Court judgment has the power to change things materially, indeed the CERC has actually gone and made it easier for traders to hike prices artificially.

A good way to see how trading margins get hiked dramatically is to study what happens in Orissa (see The Orissa government trading company Gridco buys power from either government-owned or private power plants there at a price that's anywhere between Rs 1.5 and Rs 2 per unit. It then sells this to another trading company (Power Trading Corporation, for instance) at Rs 5 per unit within the boundaries of Orissa. PTC, in turn, takes this power across Orissa's border and then sells it to, say, the Rajasthan SEB, at Rs 5.04. Since CERC guidelines apply only to transactions across states (inter-state) and not to those within the state (intra-state), it is pretty easy to circumvent the law.

The problem, and this is why the CERC needs to review its own guidelines, is that the original regulations made under the Electricity Act banned a trader from selling electricity to another trader (so, Gridco could not sell to PTC). So, despite the inter-state and intra-state issue, CERC could, if it liked, prevent PTC from buying from Gridco. Once CERC changed the law to allow such sales, however, it could no longer do this. Also, there are enough court rulings which say that even if a sale takes place within a state but it is meant for inter-state consumption, it has to be treated as an inter-state transaction. The ball is once again in the CERC's court — it can prevent the power sector from hurtling into disaster. Or it can let it.







Rumours are rife that Britain's eligible but balding prince charming, William, may soon be affianced to his longtime girlfriend Kate Middleton, of solid middle class stock.

Britain should heave a sigh of relief that 109 years after the death of Queen Victoria — dubbed the 'grandmother of Europe' by virtue of marrying off eight of her nine children into European ruling houses and spreading the haemophilia gene among them — royals are turning resolutely to commoners. About time too.

As if the rising tide of republicanism was not worrisome enough, the family trees of Europe's bluebloods were so intertwined at the beginning of the 20th century, that it was difficult to determine exact relationships: they were all cousins to begin with. Now, nearly all the royal families of Europe have admitted commoners into their rarefied ranks.

Victoria , Crown Princess of Sweden (whose mother, Queen Silvia is a non-titled German), who is set to marry her gym-owner fiance in June, is merely the latest in a long list.

Crown Prince Haakon of neighbouring Norway is married to Mette-Marit , former waitress and single mother, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark wed an Australian executive Mary Donaldson, the Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander is married to Maxima, a former Argentinian banker while Spain's Crown Prince Felipe's wife, former TV journalist Princess Letizia, is the grand-daughter of a taxi driver .

Royal siblings who are not heirs-apparent have been even more adventurous in their choice of spouses, notably Princess Stephanie of Monaco who counts a bodyguard and a circus acrobat among her ex-husbands .

The Prince of Wales has also married 'commoners' twice (albeit rather upper crust ones), as indeed have his brothers and sister.

Prince William's engagement to his college sweetheart, however, may be what the House of Windsor needs to safeguard its turf if and when the House of Lords turns totally plebeian — a 2010 election promise from Gordon Brown.








A number of welcome reform measures to boost manufacture are proposed in a recent discussion paper of the department of industrial promotion and policy, including prompt streamlining of the mountain of paperwork required to start and operate production units.

The plan to increase the share of manufacturing in GDP to 25% by 2022 — from just over 15% today — is commendable , especially as the policy intention is to do so by bridging the infrastructure deficit and boost training and job skills.

But the whole purpose of reform is defeated when the policy purpose is merely to establish favoured enclaves , labelled National Manufacturing and Investment Zones. It is likely to increase policy distortion, incentivise 'directly unproductive profit-seeking' or give-and-take to bend the rules in plainspeak, and yet may fail to address key issues like reasonable pay, benefits and stakeholder rights for labour.

The paper does emphasise the need for a flexible labour market in the proposed zones. Also reiterated is the need for compensation as per the letter of the law, in the case of job loss: the equivalent of 15 days' average pay for every completed year on the rolls. But given the fact that minimum wage legislation is enforced more in the breach, and there's no real business culture of labour participation in industrial decision-making , the exit policy outlined is unlikely to amount to much.

However, the idea of speedy connectivity and attendant provision of infrastructure in the proposed manufacturing zones is unexceptionable. The new zones would have both 'processing' and 'non-processing' areas, which may include one or more special economic zones. Proper planning and follow-through for new cityscapes and urban renewal would pay rich dividends, given the massive investment backlog.

Also notable is the move to treat expenditure on training and reskilling at par with investment in R&D . Common forms for filing of statutory obligations , instead of as many as 100 separate filings for industrial units, makes perfect sense. However, the 4% interest subsidy proposed for the zones makes no sense.







A number of welcome reform measures to boost manufacture are proposed in a recent discussion paper of the department of industrial promotion and policy, including prompt streamlining of the mountain of paperwork required to start and operate production units.

The plan to increase the share of manufacturing in GDP to 25% by 2022 — from just over 15% today — is commendable , especially as the policy intention is to do so by bridging the infrastructure deficit and boost training and job skills.

But the whole purpose of reform is defeated when the policy purpose is merely to establish favoured enclaves , labelled National Manufacturing and Investment Zones. It is likely to increase policy distortion, incentivise 'directly unproductive profit-seeking' or give-and-take to bend the rules in plainspeak, and yet may fail to address key issues like reasonable pay, benefits and stakeholder rights for labour.

The paper does emphasise the need for a flexible labour market in the proposed zones. Also reiterated is the need for compensation as per the letter of the law, in the case of job loss: the equivalent of 15 days' average pay for every completed year on the rolls. But given the fact that minimum wage legislation is enforced more in the breach, and there's no real business culture of labour participation in industrial decision-making , the exit policy outlined is unlikely to amount to much.

However, the idea of speedy connectivity and attendant provision of infrastructure in the proposed manufacturing zones is unexceptionable. The new zones would have both 'processing' and 'non-processing' areas, which may include one or more special economic zones. Proper planning and follow-through for new cityscapes and urban renewal would pay rich dividends, given the massive investment backlog.

Also notable is the move to treat expenditure on training and reskilling at par with investment in R&D . Common forms for filing of statutory obligations , instead of as many as 100 separate filings for industrial units, makes perfect sense. However, the 4% interest subsidy proposed for the zones makes no sense.







Once again, ideology has triumphed over common sense at a meeting of the board of trustees of the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation. The board has deferred a decision on the rate of interest the Fund should pay this fiscal, because it needs time to try and wangle a subsidy from the government to pay a rate at least a tad higher than the 8.5% the Fund would be able to manage on its own.

The finance ministry should not give a single paisa of subsidy. Quite apart from the existence of crores of people in the country who deserve a subsidy much more than organised sector workers, a strong reason why the EPFO trustees deserve no sympathy is that their inability to generate a decent return is entirely their own doing.

They refuse to deploy any of the Fund's Rs 233,000 odd crore in stocks or private sector debt. With this kind of a corpus to invest (the associated pension fund and depositlinked insurance schemes have additional sums to invest ), the Fund is well placed to diversify its portfolio across the risk-reward spectrum to generate high returns while maintaining safety. But only if the trustees allowed this.

Trade union representatives on the board distrust private companies and the 'market' in general. This exercise of ideology is paraded as protecting the workers' interests. There could be nothing more ludicrous. If the Fund were to invest a portion of its corpus in stocks and private corporate debt, it would reap higher returns.
The only way to make the EPFO see reason is to offer competition.

The New Pension System already manages the pension funds of civil servants who joined service in 2004 and later, and of individual volunteer members. It would be a simple matter for the government to amend the EPF Act to allow workers to either stick to the EPFO or to take their provident fund account to the NPS.

If they choose the latter, their employers' contribution too would go the NPS, which provides a regulated institutional framework for professional pension funds to manage workers' retirement savings and generate superior savings. Give workers the option, and watch EPFO embrace sense, double quick.







ITC's e-Choupal network has reached out to over four million farmers growing a range of crops such as soyabean, coffee, wheat, rice and pulses in over 40,000 villages through 6,500 kiosks across 10 states including Madhya Pradesh , Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

When the government reimposed restrictions on commodity sourcing to tackle wholesale price inflation in 2006-07 , ITC chief executive (agribusiness ) S Sivakumar — the man who scripted the e-Choupal model of business — began exploring various options to insulate farmers using the e-Choupal model from the risks of reversal in the government's agri reforms.

The company is now in the process of rolling out e-Choupal's Version 3.0. The new version will help ITC discover new anchor businesses to insulate its existing e-Choupal model from risks of reversal in government's agri reforms. It will also deepen the company's relationship with individual farmers and, thus, create more value itself, for the farmer and the network partners. The company hopes to launch the full version of e-Choupal 3.0 by 2012.

So, will the new version further improve afarmer's life? Sivakumar is confident it would . "Under the new version, ITC plans to offer personalised crop management advisory services to individual farmers, integrating mobile phones into the digital and physical network of e-Choupal ."

It will enable a farmer to provide information on the type of soil, crop variety, the date of sowing and details about crop condition on an ongoing basis to the company. Subsequently, this data will be processed to give farmers specific advice.

Integration of mobile phones with sophisticated analytics will not only enable personalised solutions but also reduce costs. But all this will require a fair amount of experimenting . The necessary hardware-cum-software prototypes are being developed by Nokia and ITC Infotech. Though Nokia Life Tools for agriculture is in the marketplace, the two-way mobile application and its full operationalisation will take some time.

ITC obviously plans to leverage the inputs it will get from millions of our farmers. The data generated will be of immense value to companies selling farm inputs as well as to financial services firms and consumer goods companies. "If we offer this data and other processed information to enterprises in the agriculture value chain at a price, it will reduce the cost of this service to the farmer," Mr Sivakumar explains.

These firms can, in turn, personalise their own offers. It could be a farm demonstration specially designed for afarmer or an insurance package relevant to a crop in different agro-climatic conditions. Such personalised services will add a second anchor business to e-Choupal , keeping intact its core philosophy of complementing the farmer's good with the company's good.

What more can Version 3.0 offer? It will provide services to rural youth preferring urban jobs to agriculture and farm labour following semi-urbanisation of some of the top-tier villages. e-Choupals can be used as centres for information on job vacancies and eventually, for providing skills that help increase the employability of rural youth. "We are gearing up e-Choupals as rural employment exchanges, which will connect the rural youth with jobs. This will be a new anchor business with a clear revenue model."

ITC's e-Choupal in alliance with Monster India — an online career and recruitment firm — recently launched web portal Rozgarduniya .com to enable job seekers in rural areas to apply for jobs through e-Choupals . In the first month, over 1,200 job openings from 52 companies were made available through this channel.

Once this stabilises, ITC plans to further integrate backward in the people supply chain. It is exploring the skills training business in partnership with appropriate firms to deliver these services over the next few months . Through all these initiatives, ITC is hoping to morph e-Choupal into an all-weather venture — relatively derisked from regulatory flip-flops and even market swings.

Will the new version bring in some benefits to ITC? "By personalising its relationship under e-Choupal's Version 3.0, we can increase our reach from four million farmers to 20 million within the existing network area itself. Once personalised, each farmer's family will come into the e-Choupal network as either a consumer or a contributor of some sort," Sivakumar adds. That will give ITC an additional reach of 16 million.








It is well accepted that pursuit of excellence would enable one to become truly indifferent to all the unworthy and the shallow. But then, in reality, it is not given to everyone to be wholeheartedly devoted to arts, music, sports, science or entrepreneurship . Most, actually, have to simply put up with demands of sheer livelihood.

Applied to such persons, what would be the relevance of Patanjali's injunction (Sutra: 1,33) on cultivating affinity (maîtri ) to the pleasant, compassion (karuna ) to the deprived and delight (muditha ) in the sublime , which process would also bring about that needed true indifference (upekshana) to the unworthy ? The answer could be found in certain inspiring lines of William Wordsworth.

Patanjali's concept of maîtri also finds expression in Wordsworth's narration on how he used to "come along these hills; when life a roe/I bounded over the mountains, by the sides/Of the deep rivers, and the lovely streams,/Wherever nature led... ". He also reveals how, in solitude , his mind "dances with the daffodils" .

In his The Solitary Reaper , he oozes karuna, as he pictures the "highland lass, reaping and singing by herself" those songs which perhaps depict "some natural sorrow, loss or pain/That has been and may be again" .
Maîtri and karuna are, actually , the forerunners to that muditha .

If you cannot be a great artiste , singer, scientist or entrepreneur, take delight in the expressions and creations of great achievers, even if these be just vicarious indulgences. Satsang , social work, showering karuna on the deserving, joyfully striding, jogging or hiking and, as Wordsworth would prescribe, absorbing nature's bounties — these are available to all, irrespective of age, status or any special talents.

Such involvements would generate that needed muditha , which, as the poet notes, "can so inform/The mind within us, so impress/With quietness and beauty, and so feed/With lofty thoughts" , leading finally to acquisition of that ultimate upekshanaand imperviousness to what he terms as "evil tongues, rash judgments, sneers of selfish men and greetings where no kindness is and all the intercourse of daily life" .

This supreme state, wherein "all which we behold is full of blessings" is, after all, attainable by everyone, including those who are in the thick of mere routine living. Seers, as Wordsworth , have shown the way!







It is better to err on the side of daring than the side of caution, noted the futurologist , anticipating scenarios and events. That was then, in economically more predictable, less uncertain times, globally .

Fast forward to the here and now: the post-financial crisis world, and it's clear that apanoply of risks do need to be factored into policy design. Consider, for instance, monetary policy formulation going forward, against the backdrop of hardening prices, an appreciating rupee and a huge governmental borrowing requirement in the first half. The Reserve Bank of India needs to send the right signals no doubt that it is sufficiently focused on the rising trend in prices.


However, the central bank also needs to take into account the fact that 'core' read non-food inflation remains in the low single digits going by the 52-week average figure. The prices of food articles have shot up of course, and what's called for is proactive policy and sustained supply-side measures to dampen segmental prices.

The latest estimates of the wholesale price index, for the week ending March 27, suggest that prices of non-food articles have risen by 11.6% year-on-year . But given that the increase is on a rather low base, it would make policy sense to go by average figures over a period of time rather than relying entirely on pointto-point estimates. And the conventional rule is that core inflation is much affected by central bank policy rates, reserve ratios and other attendant monetary policy stance.

Meanwhile, it is notable that the RBI has invited opinion on the report of its expert group on asset price monitoring system. It's a direct fallout of the financial crisis abroad, wherein the conjuction of buoyant real estate prices and low consumer price inflation led to massive over-investment in housing, along with large-scale securitisation of mortgage receivables. And when the housing price bubble burst in the US, it meant quite unexpected economic gridlock.

It is now seen as conventional wisdom to keep tab of real estate prices, along with the general trend in prices, for the monetary authority to indicate interest rates and the cost of funds.
The RBI panel has now called for tracking both the sale and resale price index as well as the rent index of real estate prices, on a regular basis.

It wants housing data to be regularly collected from several top centres pan-India with the real estate price index complied on a quarterly basis, which is unexceptionable. But note that it is the 'non-recourse' nature of housing mortgages in the US — basically, borrower not personally liable — that incentivised massive loan defaults, and widespread securitisation did lead to a real crisis.

It was clearly a mature-markets phenomenon ; anyway what's required is a multiple indicators approach in designing monetary policy. We, meanwhile, continue to use the index of wholesale prices for policy purposes here. But the WPI can have an inflationary bias, in that logistical supply chain cost reductions by way of efficiency improvements and the like in consumer or retail prices would not quite be factored in.

Hence the need for a proper, composite consumer price index, and not multiple, income-based consumer price indices as we have at present. In parallel, we clearly need an index of services output and certainly an index of price rise in services, to keep overall tab on prices economywide.

The point is that all and sundry monetary policy decisions must be based on some idea of how decisions and policy indications will affect real world aggregates, and also change expectations, for example on prices , and which in turn can mean a virtuous cycle. After all, policymakers do need to carry out formulations within the framework of a model.

As the mavens emphasise, economics may not be a precise science, but it ought, nevertheless, to be conducted according to principles of 'cause and effect.' Further, the central bank must use the few instruments at its command to convince the market — increasingly large in select financial segments — of the intention and need to achieve stated policy objectives.

The RBI needs to step in and manage further appreciation of the rupee, vis-a-vis the dollar. It is okay that the rupee-dollar exchange rate has dropped from 52 to 44 plus, but further hardening of the domestic currency seems unadvisable. It would hurt exports and have distortionary repercussions across the board.

Hence the need for the central bank to absorb dollar inflows. But buying up the greenback would shore up liquidity in the system. Which is why the RBI would need to hike the cash reserve ratio by yet a tad more, by 25 basis points, to touch 6%.

As for policy rates, its surprise increase by 25 basis points in March of both the repo rate — to 5% — the rate at which the RBI provides liquidity , and the reverse repo rate–to 3.5% — the rate at which it accepts deposits, seem quite enough for now. And especially so with a large government borrowing from the market lined up, and credit offtake beginning , after a period of slack, to gather momentum . The RBI's proactivity on policy needs to reflect economy-specific circumstances.

The Reserve Bank needs to step in and manage further appreciation of the rupee, vis-a-vis the dollar The central bank needs to hike the cash reserve ratio by yet a tad more, by 25 basis points, to touch 6% The repo rate of 5% and the reverse repo rate of 3.5%, as the RBI's policy rates, seem quite enough for now.







How are you looking at demand picking up in the IT space right now?

Overall we do see demand picking up from the levels where it was in last year or the second half of 2008 but it is still very selective spending.

There is spending in certain areas where the banks are focussing. For instance, you will not see the kind of aggressive spend on transformation programmes or the spending in the capital market space but in retail banking, sort of the core traditional businesses of banks and in risk management and compliance, there is a level of spending. Spending on IT services is the largest component of spending in technology. There is a recovery or there is a pickup in IT services but it is not a complete bounce back. Banks are still focused on cost effective solutions, two critical areas for them.

You did mention retail banking. What in your view is the scenario for the global retail banking sector?

Retail banking has really picked back up again in the past one year and that's for a couple of reasons. There is a lot of interest that government has in making sure that lending for instance to small business and to individuals comes back up.

There has been a realisation in the large banks that there need to be sort of renewed focus on the consumer. Retail banking is a source of very stable revenues. It is an important place for banks to be in, so because of these two factors, retail banking has enjoyed an up thrust in the past 12 months but beyond this, we believe that there is a structural change in retail banking.


There is a huge amount of interest from the non-traditional players like there is a huge amount of interest in the UK for instance from retailers like a Tesco in expanding into the retail banking space.

In the future, we expect a lot of interest for instance from telecom companies, the use of smart phones not only as payment devices but also as let's say using your mobile phone as your primary checking or saving account. We feel that retail banking will remain a key focus area for the next several years for banks.

Your view on whether or not banking and financial sector players have started spending on IT again. There are isolated cases, yes but as a trend, have these companies or have these sectoral people started spending on IT?

Well, yes and no. While the spending levels have increased from what they were in late 2008 and 2009, there has obviously been a bit of a bounce back but that is in the sort of free spending that you saw in earlier years. Banks have become extremely selective about the areas that they are spending, so for instance we see a lot of spending in the areas of risk management and compliance. We see spending in consumer and retail banking as we were talking about earlier. We see a huge initiative and a huge amount of spend in the payments and card space but spending overall is while it is picking up, it is not close to as high or as robust as it was before the crisis. It is a recovery, yes but a cautious recovery.







Mohit Jorhi, Global Head of Sales - Banking and Capital Markets Practice, Infosys says that banking and financial sector players are selective on IT spending. Here are excerpts

How are you looking at demand picking up in the IT space right now?

Overall and again this is my opinion in the financial services space, we do see demand picking up from the levels where it was in last year or the second half of 2008 but it is still very selective spending. There is spending in certain areas where the banks are focussing. For instance, you will not see the kind of aggressive spend on transformation programmes or the spending in the capital market space but in retail banking, sort of the core traditional businesses of banks and in risk management and compliance, there is a level of spending. Obviously spending on IT services is the largest component of spending in technology, I mean hardware is still a smaller component, the largest portion is spend on services. There is a recovery or there is a pickup in IT services but it is not a complete bounce back. Banks are still focused on cost effective solutions, two critical areas for them.

Sure. You did mention retail banking. What in your view is the scenario for the global retail banking sector?

I believe that retail banking has really picked back up again in the past one year and that's for a couple of reasons. SMEs have been putting a lot of pressure on banks and obviously there is a lot of interest that governments has in making sure that lending for instance to small business and to individuals comes back up. I also think that there has been a realisation in the large banks that there needs to be sort of a renewed focus on the consumer. Retail banking is a source of very stable revenues. It is an important place for banks to be in, so because of these two factors, retail banking has enjoyed an up thrust in the past 12 months but beyond this, we also believe that there is a structural change in retail banking. There is a huge amount of interest from the non-traditional players like there is a huge amount of interest in the UK for instance from retailers like a Tesco in expanding into the retail banking space. In the future, we expect a lot of interest for instance from telecom companies, the use of smart phones for instance not only as payment devices but also as let's say using your mobile phone as your primary checking or saving account. So given sort of the changes in technology that are happening, they are promoting this kind of interest or expansion of retail banking given the interest in the banks themselves in expanding in this sphere and retail banking as a focus and given the advances in retailing, we feel that retail banking will remain a key focus area for the next several years for banks.

I just wanted your view on whether or not banking and financial sector players has started spending on IT again. There are isolated cases, yes but as a trend, have these companies or have these sectoral people started spending on IT?

Well, yes and no. While the spending levels have increased from what they were in late 2008 and 2009, there has obviously been a bit of a bounce back but that is in the sort of free spending that you saw in earlier years. Banks have become extremely selective about the areas that they are spending, so for instance we see a lot of spending in the areas of risk management and compliance. We see spending in consumer and retail banking as we were talking about earlier. We see a huge initiative and a huge amount of spend in the payments and card space but spending overall is while it is picking up, it is not close to as high or as robust as it was before the crisis. It is a recovery, yes but a cautious recovery.








United Bank of India or UBI had to wait for its initial public offering (UBI) for several years. But when it finally hit the market to raise Rs 330 crore in the last week of February 2010, it became a runaway success with an oversubscription of 33%. In his first interview after taking over as UBI's chairman and manging director, Bhaskar Sen spoke to ET's Atmadip Ray on the bank's growth strategies for the future. Excerpts:

UBI is essentially known as an eastern region bank. Would you like to change the perception, especially after the successful public offer? Or would you consolidate and leverage your presence in the eastern sector?

Bhaskar Sen : The perception can't be changed immediately. Around 82% of our branches are in the East and North East. We have started opening more branches outside.

We plan to open 70 branches in 2010-11 and out of that, 38 will be outside the East and North East. Having said that, I think, nothing is wrong if we remain primarily based in the eastern part of the country. It's only that we need to leverage our strength more and with technological advancement, it's possible.

How do you perceive UBI's competitive advantage?

Bhaskar Sen: The competitive advantage lies mostly on the resources side. We have a sizeable access to current and savings bank deposits. The existing network of branches contribute significantly to our low-cost deposits. We expect the current and savings account, or CASA, ratio to be over 37% of total deposits.

What will be your strategy for the bank — improvement of profitability or balance-sheet growth?

Bhaskar Sen: We have to take a long-term view and so, we need to focus on profitability. Balance sheet growth in the short term does not help. To improve profit numbers, asset selection and pricing of assets will be key. We will be more careful in capital allocation too. There will be lending growth, no doubt, but always at a reasonable yield.

In terms of business verticals, which will be UBI's focus areas, going forward?

Bhaskar Sen: Historically, UBI is known for its strength in agriculture-related business. Incidentally, our agricultural loan portfolio has shrunk to 13% of total loans, which is below the regulatory stipulation of 18%. We will have already taken a few steps to correct this.

To start with, we will recruit agricultural field officers in rural branches to create awareness of our products and expedite loan delivery. We have found that the existing employees in the rural branches keep busy with routine work. So, they need support to increase farm loan disbursement. Secondly, we have not kept pace with retail banking growth in the industry. Our retail loans portfolio is just around 12% of the overall loan portfolio. In other banks, the ratio is over 20%. So, we have a huge opportunity in the retail space.

Talking of retail, which are the segments that hit your mind first?

Bhaskar Sen: Housing and car. Housing is a basic necessity and will continue to give banks business for many more years. The demand for housing loans will continue to grow. Thinking of the car segment, it's the increasing purchasing power of middle class families that has been driving sales. Demand is seen especially in the small-car category. Naturally, there is huge opportunity for banks to lend.

You spoke about recruiting agriculture field officers. What is your broad HR plan?

Bhaskar Sen: Our board has approved recruitment of 150 agriculture field officers. Overall, we may have to hire 800-900 people in 2010-11. We will flesh out the plan soon. Last fiscal, we hired some 900 people. In our bank, the average age of employees is 50 and we are looking to reduce the employee age profile with new recruits.

How do you plan to improve customer service in your bank?

Bhaskar Sen: We have a unique relationship with our customers... they continue to bank with us despite our shortcomings in certain cases. At times, footfalls are too high in some branches. This adversely affects the quality of our services. To address this issue, we are offering alternate delivery channels to reduce the number of visit per day. One of such delivery channels is the ATM.

We have started monitoring ATMs from our central office to improve the facility. Interestingly, our ATMs in the rural areas are used more than in urban areas. The overall ATM base is still low. We need to increase this. Then, internet banking is the other way to attract younger customers. In fact, corporate clients are also using internet banking quite frequently.

What are the growth numbers you are looking at for 2010-11?

Bhaskar Sen: Our target is to grow lending by 23% and deposit mobilisation by 25% year-on-year. Our business stood at around Rs 1.09 lakh crore at December 2009. Our net interest margin was 2.07%. We expect to improve it significantly in 2010-11, by improvements in pricing.








For several years NHPC has been driving government's initiative to harness the country's hydro power potential. In the last one year, the company added over 1000 mw of generation capacity or 20% of its current total installed capacity. It completed an IPO recently and is now eyeing to expand its overseas presence. Chairman and managing director S K Garg spoke to the Subhash Narayan. Excerpts:

Hydro power is increasingly becoming an important source of power generation. What kind of potential do we have?

S K Garg : India is endowed with abundant hydropower potential of about 149 gw (giga watts), of which only 25% has been developed so far. The remaining untapped potential provides ample opportunities to hydropower developers. NHPC is executing 11 projects with an aggregate capacity of 4622 mw that will enable it to become 9500 mw-plus company by 2013.

After that we have set a target to commission 12 projects with aggregate installed capacity of 5322 mw during XI plan (2007-12). NHPC is presently operating 13 hydro power stations with a total installed capacity of 5175 mw. We are pursuing clearances from the government for projects of about 10,000 mw capacities. Out of this, seven projects with aggregate capacity of 6315 mw are planned to be implemented by NHPC on its own.

NHPC is going beyond hydro electric power, into thermal and renewable energy. What is the progress on that front?

S K Garg: NHPC will not enter into thermal power generation. This initiative will be carried out by our subsidiary NHDC — joint venture between NHPC and the Madhya Pradesh government. This company will set up a 1320 mw Revapur thermal power project in Khandwa district. Another thermal power project of 1320 mw at Shahpura in Jabalpur district has also been offered to NHDC. Besides, NHDC has also been allocated site in the state for 100 mw wind power project in the Kukru Region of district Betul.

NHPC has been entrusted with the development of 3.75 mw Durgaduani Mini Tidal Power Project in West Bengal which is the first tidal power project to be executed in India.

Is NHPC contemplating overseas expansion of its operations?

S K Garg: Our expertise is being utilised in the area of hydropower development in countries like Bhutan, Myanmar and Tajikistan. The ministry of power has worked out an action plan for hydropower development of 10000 mw in Bhutan by 2020. In line with the announcement, NHPC has signed agreements with the government of Bhutan for preparation of detailed project reports of Chamkharchhu-I (670 mw) and Kuri Gongri (1800 mw) HE projects in Bhutan.

The DPRs for both the projects will be submitted by December 2011. We have submitted the DPR for 720 mw Mangdechhu hydro power project to the Bhutanese government two months ahead of schedule. We have recently signed agreement with the department of energy there for providing engineering and consultancy services relating to pre-construction activities of the 720 mw Mangdechhu hydroelectric project.

NHPC has been entrusted with additional investigations and preparation of updated DPRs for 1200 mw Tamanthi and 642 mw Shwezaye hydroelectric projects in Myanmar, as consultancy assignments. Earlier, NHPC was assigned the task of reviewing the feasibility reports of these projects prepared by other consultants.

How is your engagement with the Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) progressing?

S K Garg: The company has been entrusted with rural electrification works under Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) – the flagship programme of the central government. The works are spread over 27 districts of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu & Kashmir, Orissa and West Bengal which covers electrification of 31,909 villages and providing service connections to 20.8 lakh BPL households at a cost of about Rs 2,450 crore.

What has been your contribution to the area of clean development mechanism (CDM)?

S K Garg: NHPC is in the process of securing benefits from its hydropower projects under the clean development mechanism scheme pursuant to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). For the first time in the history of power sector, PSUs, NHPC's two medium-sized hydroelectric Projects — 45 mw Nimoo Bazgo and 44 mw Chutak projects located in Leh and Kargil sectors of Jammu & Kashmir — have been registered for certified emission reduction (CERs) by CDM executive board of UNFCCC. This provides avenues for additional CDM revenues worth about Rs 17 crore per annum to NHPC.

Land acquisition and rehabilitation and environmental clearance have become a big issue in projects. How is NHPC managing these?

S K Garg: NHPC has given paramount importance to execute and operate its projects in an environment-friendly and socially responsive manner. The company conducts comprehensive environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies on the basis of which environment management plans (EMP) are prepared to address the concerns of environment conservation.

The company also takes initiatives for betterment of the project affected families and local community in and around its projects and power stations through its CSR plans. The company's resettlement and rehabilitation policy provides for additional benefits over and above those provided in the national rehabilitation and resettlement policy-2007.

How will competition affect NHPC?

S K Garg: As per the potential assessed by CEA, the hydropower potential of the country is 1, 48,701 mw, out of which only about 37,000 mw has been developed so far. The balance, approximately 75% of the total potential, still remains to be tapped. NHPC will continue to remain the number one in hydro power development irrespective of competitions in the hydro power sector.








KFC, one of the world's largest fastfood chains with 16,500 stores in 80 countries, has not made much ground in India. But the US food retailer, which came to India in 1995, is now expanding at a rapid pace in the country. The company wants to have a KFC within 3 km radius in every major locality in the country, says Unnat Varma , director marketing-KFC, Yum! Restaurants India. KFC will have 500 outlets in the country by 2015, up from 74 now, he told ET in an interview. Excerpts:

KFC has had a rather slow start in India before picking up pace of late. Have you set any target for the country?

We feel that what has happened in the last 70 years can now happen in the next ten years. The potential of the brand is such that we are the fastest growing retailers in the world. The KFC brand gets roughly 45% of the parent company's global turnover and a large part of this is now coming from China and the other international markets. As a company, we still believe that the growth is about to start in India and China for us. Four years back we had ten stores in India. Today, our store count is 74. We will reach 120 stores by the end of this year and by 2015, India will have 500 KFC stores. We are very excited about the way our brand has been accepted in India.

We believe that we should have a KFC within three km radius of every major locality and are moving towards that larger objective. The eating out market in India, according to Euromonitor estimates is worth $64 billion, which includes unbranded food outlets, street food, mom and pop stores, bakeries et al. branded chains among this command hardly 2% market share and this category is growing at about 10%. Within them, branded players are growing at 20% and I can say that KFC is growing at 70%.

How do you see your brand's image of a hardcore non-vegetarian brand changing in India where 35% of the urban population is vegetarian?

Yes 35% of India is vegetarian. But if you break this down, vegetarians are particularly concentrated in the north and west. Rajasthan and Gujarat have 95% plus vegetarian population. When you come to Delhi and Punjab, it becomes about 50% and in South, merely 2-3% people are vegetarians. Kerala has less than 1% vegetarians.

But the point is that we stand for great taste. That taste we give mainly through chicken, but that does not stop us from also serving good vegetarian food. So if there is a country that needs tweaking of our menu, we are happy to do so. The thumb rule that we follow is that 70-80% of our menu is global, while the rest 20-30% reflects local consumers' preferences.

As far as India is concerned, we do have a vegetarian menu that we are happy with, but not excited about. Going forward, we want to make KFC the preferred choice for vegetarians also. Chicken remains the core of our brand but we also want to be an inclusive brand, which means that we provide something for everyone.

We have segmented vegetarians into two types— the non sensitive ones, who do not mind eating at a place that also serves chicken, as long as they get good, tasteful vegetarian fare; and the sensitive ones who will not even enter a restaurant that serves chicken.

As a brand we are targeting the non sensitive vegetarians, who we believe are half of the vegetarian population. So about 85% of India's population can enter KFC restaurants and they are our target. We want to have vegetarian options throughout our range of menu in 3-4 years' time.

The KFC brand has seen controversy in the form of protests by NGOs in India. How big a task is it for you as a brand manager, to keep KFC in consumers' good books?

As we see things now, India overall has changed. There was a time when cross sections of India were a little anti-FDI. It happened when the economy opened up initially. But later everyone saw what local employment it has generated. As we speak, Yum! International employs about 7,000 people. We will employ 50,000 people as a company in the next five years. Of these, the KFC brand per se employs 3,000 people currently and would employ 25,000 people in the next five years. At the same time, a lot of people are indirectly benefiting from us. Our suppliers, the entire network, packaging people and so on.

We are very clear about where we stand. We work with the most reputed suppliers, we have the best global processes that we diligently follow. We are very conscious of what we do. And as a brand gets bigger and more recognized, organizations will try and associate with it in right and wrong ways.

What are the challenges of working in the food retail business?

It is an exciting field to work in. There are some interesting trends that it throws up. For example, the chicken bucket is one of our most popular products but it serves different purposes for different consumers. A working mother sees it giving nutrition to her kids while youth see it as a filling quick energy option. That's the beauty of working in the foods space.








Rising inflation is a key risk for Indian equities, as it may force the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to raise rates much more aggressively than what's required, says Ramit Bhasin, MD & head-markets, Royal Bank of Scotland. In an interview with Deeptha Rajkumar, Mr Bhasin says that equity markets globally are poised for a 3-5% correction, after the recent run-up. Excerpts:

How do you see Greece's debt problems affecting foreign fund flows into emerging markets like India?

Ramit Bhasin : There still seems to be a lot of nervousness around Greece, but more so in Europe than in India. Since last March, fund flows into India have been enormous. I think, they will slow down, not because of Greece, but because they need to normalise. Equity markets around the world have had a huge run and are at the higher end of their short-term trading range. I expect a small correction of 3-5% in coming months.

Indian shares are currently at a 2-year high? What are the key risks you feel could stall this momentum?

Ramit Bhasin: India is moving from a $1-trillion economy to a $2.5-trillion economy. We are bullish on India. The growth, unless there is some extraordinary event, will continue and India will grow in the 7-9% range for the next decade. The biggest risk, which could counter the growth momentum, would be inflation.

If it was to become more widespread, it may force RBI to raise rates much more aggressively than is required. Markets and valuations over short periods of time will react to such moves by RBI. Leave short-term movements to traders, long-term investors should remain committed to the India growth story.

With a high probability of interest rates rising, what is the kind of portfolio that foreign institutional investors are looking at?

Ramit Bhasin : With 1-year overnight index swaps (OIS) rates trading at 5%, we think, quite a bit of RBI policy moves are priced in. We expect RBI to normalise rates gradually. We think that the inflation numbers will start to trend down over the next few months. We have seen a lot of interest from FIIs in the India debt paper and yields in India look very attractive.

On the equity side, there had been a lot of renewed interest in the banking sector over the past month. In the near term, we think, the sector is fairly valued. But over the long term, it still appears to be a great story and a low Beta way of participating in the India growth story. Real estate and telecom look to be the least-preferred sectors. But even there, we are starting to see value players come in at slightly lower levels.

The Sensex had a good run so far in 2010. Do you expect a correction anytime soon?

Ramit Bhasin: Yes. 18000-18500 would be a good place for the market to pause. We would look to take profits around these levels. In the short term, it would be healthy for the market to consolidate in a 16800-18800 range. This works out to 15-17 on a 1-year forward P/E basis, which is its historical average. We think that the India growth story is intact for the next few years. And we think that the market can deliver 15% plus returns over the next five years.

What are the ramifications for India if China revalues the yuan?

Ramit Bhasin: Quite a bit of the yuan revaluation is already built into current prices. It's a very crowded trade. We are advising our clients to opportunistically take advantage of a knee-jerk price movement in the rupee
(appreciation) on the news of the yuan revaluation. Over the long-term, we are quite bullish on the rupee. We think, the rupee will continue to appreciate, but at a gradual pace of (3-4% a year) over the next few years. Our year-end target on the rupee would be around 43.50.

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

Ramit Bhasin: The risk-reward premium has definitely narrowed from last year, but it is still elevated. I expect small tremors in the market this year and next, as we globally repair balance sheets. In 2009, the appetite for risk was relatively weak and asset prices were recovering from a sharp downturn. Investors were rewarded significantly for the incremental risk they took.

Now, with asset prices having recovered sharply across various markets, investors may have to take on more risk to earn the same reward. Recent data globally suggest that economic growth is broadening out, but pessimists will see potential for the expansion to be derailed or a double-dip recession. I do believe that the biggest opportunity lies in the global growth story and India will be a major beneficiary of this growth rebound.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



The outcomes of high-profile diplomatic initiatives, such as the Nuclear Security Summit called by the US President, Mr Barack Obama, in Washington this week which the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, is to attend, can be uncertain. The reason is that the politics of countries gets in the way. Also, sometimes such events are driven by domestic political compulsions of hosts. That was said of the London conference on Afghanistan at the end of January and is being said now of the forthcoming nuclear summit. President Obama's falling stock at home may have improved after the passage of the health care reform bill, but he still needs to shore up his standing before the mid-term election in the US. The two-day affair in Washington is meant to focus energies on how to prevent nuclear bombs — and materials to make them — falling into the wrong hands. But it is far from clear if concrete steps to push the goal can be easily implemented. The goal, after all, has been with the world since September 11, 2001 when America was attacked by terrorists. It acquired an urgency after the 2004 confession of A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb, that he had been leaking nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Khan's career was built on subterfuge and the theft of nuclear materials from the Netherlands. The Americans were in the know of his nefarious activities that would help establish Pakistan as a state with nuclear weapons. Washington's mysterious silence then begged the question of American seriousness in tackling the clandestine transfer of nuclear materials which the nuclear summit is to discuss. Nevertheless, knowledge about A.Q. Khan's activities did produce UN Security Council Resolution 1540 on preventing bombs or fissile materials falling into the hands of non-state actors. Not much was heard about this resolution in the intervening years, and we now suddenly have the nuclear summit upon us. Mr Obama has prepared well for the event. Last week he signed the renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia under which both sides will cut their deployed nuclear warheads by 30 per cent in seven years. He also changed the US nuclear doctrine to not attacking with nuclear weapons a country that did not possess the atom bomb. Further, the US leader has re-asserted his belief in a world free of nuclear weapons. That, alas, is the icing on the cake loved by all but wanted by none in the US and Europe. Washington, we know, cannot live up to this high aim. As if to mock President Obama just on this point, Iran has decided to call an international meet of 60 countries in Tehran coming Saturday, just four days after the Washington jamboree, with the slogan of nuclear weapons for no one. Iran's new approach (which is inconsistent with its position as a NPT signatory) has been India's traditional stance, which it is expected to reiterate in Washington even as it supports the legitimate concern of the international community about the spread of nuclear weapons and materials to unauthorised hands if sufficient care is not taken. But New Delhi would do well not to pussyfoot (even as the Americans will, except in the matter of Iran), and to spell out its anxieties in concrete terms. These must take in the general climate of terrorism and instability in Pakistan, and the possibility of non-state actors there gaining access to fissile materials, if not to bombs.






This has been a remarkable time for the Obama administration. After a year of intense internal debate, it issued a new nuclear strategy. And after a year of intense negotiations with the Russians, the US President, Mr Barack Obama, signed the New Start treaty with the President, Mr Dmitri Medvedev in Prague. Today, the President will host the leaders of more than 40 nations in a nuclear security summit meeting whose goal is to find ways of gaining control of the loose fissile material around the globe.

New Start is the first tangible product of the administration's promise to "press the reset button" on United States-Russian relations. The new treaty is welcome. But as a disarmament measure, it is a modest step, entailing a reduction of only 30 per cent from the former limit — and some of that reduction is accomplished by the way the warheads are counted, not by their destruction. Perhaps the treaty's greatest accomplishment is that the negotiations leading up to its signing re-engaged Americans and Russians in a serious discussion of how to reduce nuclear dangers.

So what should come next? We look forward to a follow-on treaty that builds on the success of the previous Start treaties and leads to significantly greater arms reductions — including reductions in tactical nuclear weapons and reductions that require weapons be dismantled and not simply put in reserve.

But our discussions with Russian colleagues, including senior government officials, suggest that such a next step would be very difficult for them. Part of the reason for their reluctance to accept further reductions is that Russia considers itself to be encircled by hostile forces in Europe and in Asia. Another part results from the significant asymmetry between United States and Russian conventional military forces. For these reasons, we believe that the next round of negotiations with Russia should not focus solely on nuclear disarmament issues. These talks should encompass missile defence, Russia's relations with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, North Korea, Iran and Asian security issues.

Let's begin with missile defence. Future arms talks should make a serious exploration of a joint United States-Russia programme that would provide a bulwark against Iranian missiles. We should also consider situating parts of the joint system in Russia, which in many ways offers an ideal strategic location for these defenses.

Such an effort would not only improve US security, it would also further cooperation in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat, including the imposition of consequential sanctions when appropriate.

Nato is a similarly complicated issue. After the Cold War ended, Russia was invited to Nato meetings with the idea that the country would eventually become an integral part of European security discussions. The idea was good, but the execution failed. Nato has acted as if Russia's role is that of an observer with no say in decisions; Russia has acted as if it should have veto power.

Neither outlook is viable. But if Nato moves from consensus decisions to super-majority decisions in its governing structure, as has been considered, it would be possible to include Russia's vote as an effective way of resolving European security issues of common interest.

The Russians are also eager to revisit the two landmark Cold War treaties. The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty enabled Nato and Warsaw Pact nations to make significant reductions in conventional armaments and to limit conventional deployments. Today, there is still a need for limiting conventional arms, but the features of that treaty pertaining to the old Warsaw Pact are clearly outdated. Making those provisions relevant to today's world should be a goal of new talks.

Similarly, the 1987 treaty that eliminated American and Soviet intermediate-range ballistic missiles was a crucially important pact that helped to defuse Cold War tensions. But today Russia has neighbours that have such missiles directed at its borders; for understandable reasons, it wants to renegotiate aspects of this treaty.

Future arms reductions with Russia are eminently possible. But they are unlikely to be achieved unless the United States is willing to address points of Russian concern. Given all that is at stake, we believe comprehensive discussions are a necessity as we work our way toward ever more significant nuclear disarmament.

- William J. Perry, a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, was US secretary of defence from 1994 to 1997. George P. Shultz, US secretary of state from 1982 to 1989, is a distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution.






The day the Maoists struck mercilessly at a convoy of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans was a heartrending day for our democracy. Rarely has there been a time more stark or poignant for those of us who follow the news and care about our polity. Numb with shock and horror, the media and other public discussions that followed the attack were an eye-opener. There were those of us who were appalled and outraged that a banned outfit had embarked upon violence and vowed to overthrow the lawfully-established governments at the state and Centre and had hurt us at the deepest level by attacking the very jawans who had risked their lives to protect their fellow countrymen. How are these people any better than terrorists, or enemies of the state and country? What wrong had those brave and innocent jawans ever done? How are we ever going to repay the sacrifice of those bravehearts? How are we ever going to look their bereft families in the eye?

We have in our midst apologists for these murderous Maoists. We have amongst us those who condemn the "violence" in a ritualistic way, and then talk about tribal rights. Let me straightaway put forth my very strong views that particularly after the Dantewada massacre, tribal rights and Maoists should never be spoken about in the same breath. In fact, the Maoists admittedly terrorise the very tribals whose cause they claim to represent. If they were actually interested in protecting tribals they would be hard put to explain why they target infrastructure that has been painstakingly built up in tribal areas? Why do they target schools where tribal children study and hospitals where tribals receive treatment? And what exactly have Maoists done for tribals till date? What indeed have the apologists done for tribals till date?

There can be no doubt that securing tribal rights is absolutely vital if our democracy is to be truly inclusive. The land belonging to tribals, their security and livelihood all have to be carefully preserved while at the same time ensuring that the forests are not taken over in an irresponsible manner. At the same time everybody agrees that schools, higher education, hospitals and employment all have to be developed in tribal areas and that successive governments have to prioritise the needs of these sections of society. However, all this has absolutely nothing to do with the outrage which is being perpetrated by the Maoists today, and the apologists for the Maoists, who seek to link their depredation and violence with tribal welfare, are doing grave injustice to our country. It is of paramount importance for both policymakers and civil society to understand that tribal rights are no more than a false fig leaf, which the Maoists use to hide their other nefarious and anti-national agenda.

Thus the Maoists are spearheading a violent uprising against our own government for their own ends, which have little to do with tribals or anything remotely legal or justified. This is a fundamental reality that has to be the basic underpinning of any discussion regarding the Maoists. That said, it is a matter of some shock and concern to me when some people refer to the Maoists as "our people". In the last few days, I have heard several times Maoists being referred to as "our people" in a bid to distinguish — and possibly lay the ground for extenuating circumstance — Maoists being differentiated from "the enemy across the border". Well, to my mind, the difference is purely a technical one and irrelevant in the face of the fact that it is innocent lives which are being targeted and lost. When the person being massacred is a CRPF jawan it seems to be no more than hairsplitting to identify the perpetrator as being one who is from across the border or one who is a home-grown Maoist. Does it really make a difference? Is not the priority to stop the violence with a firm hand?

In this context, police reforms are absolutely vital. The foremost concern at this point is to ensure that our police forces are well-trained and well-equipped with intelligence gathering, pooling and sharing also being vital cogs in the security machine. The UPA government has always given great importance to police modernisation. It was interesting to see a Comptroller and Auditor General audit of performance of various states in the context of police modernisation. It shows that sometimes the release of funds from the Centre fell short and in many cases the states did not contribute their share. West Bengal, for instance, did not release any funds at all for this purpose during the period under review (2000-2007). Further, even where funds were available states often did not use or utilise the funds for police modernisation. During the reviewed period, 2000-2007, Kerala and Arunachal Pradesh had the highest utilisation at 87 per cent and 83 per cent respectively, while Manipur and West Bengal performed poorly with the lowest utilisation at 28 per cent.

These are merely a couple of issues that are being highlighted in a very complex process. The battle against the Maoist menace is very complicated and has to be fought at several levels. Above all, there has to be resolute political will and total unity of political intent across the board. Thereafter, that intent needs to be translated into concrete action on the ground with the putting in place of a proper strategy ensuring competent training of our security forces supplying them with modern and sophisticated equipment, galvanising of our intelligence network and ensuring synergy and sharing of information between state and Centre. This is not a political or an ideological issue. This is a national challenge upon the success of which lies the security and survival of our democratic polity. And therefore, this is not a challenge that we can afford to lose.

_ Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this column are her own.






The press statements issued in English by the information department in Uttar Pradesh would make William Shakespeare turn in his grave.

These statements are first written in Hindi and after they are cleared by top officials, the English translations are prepared. Apparently, babus are too busy to scrutinise the translated versions. The statements are, therefore, full of howlers.

For instance, in the Hindi version of a press statement, Chief Minister Mayawati said she would take on the Centre "aade haath" — a common phrase in Uttar Pradesh for confrontation. This appeared as "taking on the Centre with the left hand" in the English version.

But what took the cake was the chief minister's comment about the impact of rising prices on the aam aadmi. In the English statement, this appeared as "the impact of rising prices on the mango people"!

A cuppa for Meira

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, not known to be a politician who strays into unknown terrain, raised many eyebrows during her ongoing tour of Sasaram, her constituency in western Bihar.

Ms Kumar, the daughter of legendary dalit leader Babu Jagjivan Ram, got out of her car when her cavalcade slowed down on a road in Bhabua, and walked straight to a roadside tea stall. "Kaa ho, humra ke chai deba?" (Hello, will you serve me tea?) she asked Rajendra, the astounded stall owner.

She sat on a broken chair and sipped a cup of "VIP tea" prepared specially for her. She also asked Rajendra about local problems and got an earful about the Nitish Kumar government's deficiencies. The tea stall owner humbly refused to accept Rs 500 that the Speaker offered him for the tea.

As she left, her aides were heard murmuring that the former bureaucrat had become a mature politician who knew the tricks of the trade.

A hypocritical oath

A few months ago, a group of doctors in Rajasthan's Shekhawati region took a solemn pledge with Ganga jal in their cupped palms not to get involved in sex determination tests and female foeticide. The oath-taking with the sacred water received much media publicity.

The Shekhawati region is known for its declining sex ratio and this had forced the authorities to persuade the doctors to take an additional oath apart from the Hippocratic Oath.

However, when the administration undertook a sting operation on 15 hospitals in Sikar last week by sending pregnant women, it became clear that Ganga jal had had no effect on at least two doctors, who were still taking money and abetting female foeticide.

The police arrested both doctors and seized their sonography machines. Local politicians came out in support of the doctors because of caste equations but the administration made a full-proof case.

A wag added that the doctors had perhaps followed up the Hippocratic Oath with a hypocritical one.

The art of photo-ops

Bhubaneswar mayor Ananta Narayan Jena is certainly a new-age politician — both in appearance and intelligence. The suave, jeans-clad, media-savvy politician also knows how to steal the show.

This became clear during the recent visit of American ambassador Timothy J. Roemer to the city's Gyana Nagar slum. The mayor tried his best to ensure that he was present along with the diplomat in each shot taken by television crews and photo-journalists.

To ensure maximum publicity, the mayor even called the mediapersons to adjacent Bindu Sagar, a holy pond near Lingaraj temple, and gave some extra photo-ops with Mr Roemer by keeping him engaged in talks on drinking water and sanitation.

"It's always great to be with the mayor of a city", an impressed Mr Roemer said. Maybe he learnt a lesson or two on being in the limelight with Mr Jena.

Hood, wink, Gadkari

The attempt by Assam's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders to arrange an interaction between their newly-appointed party president, Nitin Gadkari, and leading businessmen and intellectuals turned out to be a damp squib. But Mr Gadkari didn't get to know that.

Rival party leaders who wanted to take credit for the meeting kept their lists of invitees secret. In the end, the businessmen who came to the hotel where the function was to take place were not recognised or received by anyone. Miffed, they went to the restaurant, had tea and returned home.

Seeing the poor turnout, BJP leaders did some quick thinking and asked party leaders to occupy the seats.

Since most of the party leaders run some business or the other, they were introduced in that guise to Mr Gadkari. For instance, BJP leader Rajkumar Sharma was introduced as a chartered accountant.

Mr Gadkari, who was on his first visit to Assam, was not familiar with the faces of party leaders and went back feeling happy at the good show by his team in Assam.







There was a time when every Hindu used to wear a vibhooti (holy ash) mark on his forehead before prayers.


As per our texts, to obtain quality vibhooti, you must first collect dung of a cow that eats only grass. Burn it in husk on the Shivaratri day and take the ash. Wash it in water, dry it again and offer it to Lord Shiva. This vibhooti should then be kept in a clean and holy place.


According to Hindu beliefs, wearing holy ash pleases Lord Shiva. One is supposed to apply marks of vibhooti on the forehead, on the neck, on the shoulders and on the elbows.


Apart from theological reasons, wearing vibhooti all over the body has practical health benefits too. If vibhooti is applied on the forehead, it absorbs the moisture there. It gives relief to a person suffering from fever as the temperature gets reduced.


If it is put on the hind neck, again it absorbs the moisture and prevents aches. Ears are also important. Around 72,000 nerves join together there. Accretion of fat or swelling is possible to occur in each nerve. This in turn, leads to arthritis. But traditional practitioners believe that the presence of holy ash reduces this possibility.


There is another kind of holy ash that is left behind after medicinal plants along with cow's ghee are put in the homa fire. This is also of great medicinal value.


Vibhooti is termed "Bhasmam" in Sanskrit. "Bhasati yat tat Bhasma" (that which shines in glory is Bhasmam) is the definition given to it in Brahma Purna. Saiva Purana hails it as "Bhasma Kalmasha Bhakshanat" (Bhasmam is called so because it eats up sins). "Bhakshanat Sarvapaapaanaam Bhasmeti Purikeerthitham" (Since it eats up all sins, it is praised as Bhasmam).


Another tradition relates to Lord Shiva's association with the leaf of the crataeva tree. The leaf is considered one of the favourites of the Lord. Hence it is given prominent place in Shiva temples.


The prickles of this tree represent Shakti, the Mother Goddess, the branches represent the Vedas and the roots symbolise Rudra, the Lord Himself. Each petal of crataeva is turned to three. They represent the three gunaas. The devotees of Lord Shiva take them to be the three eyes of their deity. Most devotees consider crataeva as a holy tree that can cure all sins of a lifetime.


As per the belief, one should not pluck the crataeva leaf on new moon and full moon days. All parts of the tree have medicinal value. Agricultural universities in the West are now nurturing crataeva because of its medicinal value, as per a report that appeared in a science magazine recently.


Rheumatism, phlegm, vomiting, tuberculosis, diarrhoea and such ailments can be cured using crataeva. In the treatment of diabetes also crataeva has a unique role.


Ayurveda doctors point out that the oil boiled in the juice of the leaf can cure ear pain, and remove pus which forms in an infected ear.


The changes in the nature on the full moon and new moon days can affect the tree also. That is why there is restriction in plucking its leaves on these days.


The importance given to holy ash and crataeva make it evident that the religious practices prescribed by our great tradition focuses on maintaining a system that safeguards both physical and spiritual wellness.


— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the author of Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals. He has also written books on the Vedas and Upanishads. The author can be reached at [1].







APR 12 2010

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in Washington for the Nuclear Security Summit, hosted by US President Barack Obama on April 12-13. In all 47 heads of government/state are to attend, including President Hu of China. On April 5, 2009 in Prague, Mr Obama had announced a new international effort "to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years". He dreamt of a nuclear-weapon-free world, perhaps not in his lifetime.

Distracted by the economic meltdown and later his healthcare legislation, Mr Obama's disarmament and non-proliferation agenda slowed to a crawl. The outer limit was the five-yearly Review Conference for the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in May next. He needed the high moral ground as the treaty is under attack externally by Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and internally by a core group of signatories protesting that the nuclear weapon states (NWS) have not moved towards abolishing nuclear weapons, as they are enjoined by Article VI, while saddling the non-nuclear weapon states with onerous safeguards for civil nuclear cooperation under Article IV. This bargain was reiterated in 1995 when the NPT was indefinitely extended. The 2000 review conference drew up a 13-point to-do list for the five NWS. The 2010 review is thus expected to be stormy.

Mr Obama set about renegotiating the Strategic Arms Treaty (START) with Russia and declaring his administration's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), i.e. the role of nuclear weapons in US security. Both tasks have been done, albeit belatedly. He flew to Prague to sign the START II and is now back to host the summit in Washington.

The finalisation of START is seen as a success, considering George W. Bush had alienated Russia over the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's expansion and missile defence. The critics see the reductions as cosmetic. The proposed limit of 1,550 is marginally below the older Moscow Treaty limits. There is also the peculiar arithmetic where a bomber is counted as one weapon when it can carry multiple.

The NPR is eliciting much debate. Critics allege it is repackaging paraded as innovation. The end of the Cold War and the 9/11 terrorist attack on the US mainland had coloured the US' threat perception. A conditional no-first-use of nuclear weapons is at the heart of the declaration. The following are interesting points that will resonate for weeks to come.

Firstly, it is averred that no "substantial further" reductions are possible unless the Russians concur. This suits India, as to obtain "Global Zero" the two big possessors, i.e. the US and Russia, must make significant reductions to build pressure on China. The Indian cuts would follow the Chinese ones, as perhaps would the Pakistani ones follow ours. The big two have 95 per cent of the existing stockpiles. News leaks indicate US pressure on India and Pakistan to cap or reduce their arsenals. This needs to be rejected.

Secondly, China is alleged to lack transparency in its quantitative and qualitative modernisation of its nuclear arsenal, causing concern to the US and China's neighbours, besides casting a question over its strategic intentions. It is emphasised that Russia and the US are no longer adversaries, though Russian modernisation of weaponry is also a challenge. Unwittingly, an Indian concern is being reflected, which Mr Bush seemed to understand but Mr Obama is oblivious to.

Lastly, de-alerting is rejected, leaving the salience of nuclear weapons intact. Technological or geo-political surprises can force a policy reversal. While new nuclear warhead designs are ruled out there is silence on a new bomber.

It is against this background that the world leaders will discuss nuclear security. Some structures India is already a party to, i.e. the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), kicked off by Mr Bush and Mr Vladimir Putin in 2006. The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) is another one that India may soon join, though it has, in the past, apprehended suspect vessels.

No other Indian Prime Minister has been to Washington as often as Dr Singh. While the focus this time is on issues of nuclear security, the Indo-US civil nuclear deal permeates the air. The reprocessing agreement is final, albeit without the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology (ENR) technology despite Dr Singh's assurance to Parliament. Dr Singh also goes empty-handed, the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill has been thwarted by political opposition and public concern.

Mr Bush's nuclear exceptionalism for India has few takers in the Obama administration. The non-proliferation ayatollahs are whittling down perceived Indian gains from the Indo-US civil nuclear deal. The danger is that the NPT review conference in May could further polarise positions. The Washington summit, with the Israeli Prime Minister skipping it, is really a formality. Dr Singh's chat with Mr Obama on Sunday evening will retrace the usual contours of India-Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. The radiological incident in Delhi will highlight the ticking bomb in India. India needs to be bold and proactive in Washington. While the NPT is unlikely to be amended for Indian admission, Indian participation in this or other conferences will lock it into an emerging nuclear architecture. What is, however, doubtful is the desire of the US to de-hyphenate India from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and let it find its own international level.

The author is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry








It is not common for men in power to utter dark truths. Men in charge of money in particular tend not to look beyond their nose. But a speech in an obscure corner of Texas gave Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the United States of America Federal Reserve, a chance to look into the future, and what he saw was daunting. He told the Dallas Regional Chamber that the US population was ageing; the costs of sustaining it and keeping it in good health after retirement were mounting. As it aged, the proportion of the population in the workforce would decline; an increasing number of old people would have to be fed by a shrinking number of people at work. If the US was to avoid rising fiscal deficits, it had to choose between less generous provision for pensions and healthcare, higher taxes, or a combination of the two. He saw that reducing the fiscal deficit soon was impracticable; but a reduction in the longer run would bring down interest rates, move funds from financing the deficit to productive investment, and raise growth.


That is compelling logic; it does not stop at the US borders. It is to be wondered why it has not occurred to those who make economic policies in India. For they habitually run enormous fiscal deficits. Last year, the Central government by itself ran a fiscal deficit of 6.5 per cent of the gross domestic product. State governments are tardy in releasing their shameful figures; but when they do, they will be seen to have run another nine per cent deficit, taking the total fiscal deficit to almost a sixth of the GDP. Such a high deficit might have been defensible if the excess expenditure had funded productive investments in roads, bridges and power stations. But it mostly financed government consumption such as salaries, doles and pensions. If Mr Bernanke is worried, his Indian counterpart, D. Subbarao, should be worried to death. But worry is the last thing he seems to do; the smile never fades from his face.


The reason why the dire vision of what is coming does not faze Indians can only be that they have been indoctrinated by the rosy view of their future. A string of amateur astrologers has predicted that the 21st century will be the century of India and China. Their strong growth performance is projected into the future, and lead to their dominating the world economy. None of them, however, ever mentions that the rosy predictions are predicated on responsible steering of the economy; and that is one thing that India's helmsmen are incapable of. For they live from election to election. The finance minister made some noises about reducing the fiscal deficit in his last budget. But that is because the next election is four years away. The closer it comes, the more myopic his vision will become.








Katyn remains bizarrely prone to tragedy. In 1940, the Soviet secret police executed 20,000 Polish officers, captured during the Red Army's invasion of Poland, in that cursed place. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, recently accepted his nation's role behind the killings, although he has stopped short of offering an apology. Given Mr Putin's record as an ex-KGB man and his avowed admiration for Josef Stalin, no one had expected him to do any better. But even as the first stirrings of understanding between Russia and Poland were taking shape, the latter's top political order has been wiped off at one go. It is painfully ironic that the aircrash that killed the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, along with his high-profile retinue, took place as the party was bound for Katyn to attend a mass in honour of the victims of the massacre. The list of those killed in the accident includes the crème de la crème of intellectuals who also played crucial roles in the European Union (which Poland joined in 2004) — so the upheavals would be all the more seismic.


Although mysterious security snags — an outdated aircraft, landing in bad weather and careless pilots — have been cited to explain the disaster, the Polish people would find it difficult to live down the shock. It is also possible that Poland's relations with Russia will take a beating. The latter may have nothing to do with the present crisis, but the fact that it took place on Russian soil could trigger intense bitterness. In a situation such as this, people tend to clutch on to the irrational to rationalize their grief. Kaczynski being an iconic figure of Polish nationalism, his death will naturally upset his followers. The late president was not exactly a progressive, given his archaic views on women's and gay rights, but he did command popular respect for his pugnacious stand against Russia. He not only integrated Poland into Europe but also brought it closer to the United States of America, much to Russia's envy. It would be difficult to find someone who can live up to his legacy.









Whether because the West's recovery from recession may be more fragile and may last longer than expected, or because Barack Obama's policies towards Islam, Palestine, Iran and AfPak are foundering, or a Dick Cheney mindset is returning to the American forefront, the acrimony between the West and China seems to be growing sharper and more frequently expressed. Washington blames China for opposition to additional sanctions against Iran and for obstructing a more ambitious conclusion at the Copenhagen climate change conference. Google, which is backed by the United States of America and is set to leave China in April, has accused China of censorship and cyber attacks, while the American Chamber of Commerce in China finds that 38 per cent of its members feel unwelcome.


The US has criticized China for mercantilism and currency exchange manipulation, saying the yuan is undervalued by 20-40 per cent. But China has a huge trade surplus of $450 billion this year and reserves of $2.4 trillion, including a large proportion of US debt. Washington is acutely conscious of China's clout as creditor, with an economy that grew at nearly nine per cent in 2009 and budget deficit at only 2.2 per cent of the gross domestic product despite a big stimulus package. So the US does not dare apply a surcharge on imports from China as was the case with Japan and Germany in the 1970s. China has recently unloaded some $34 billion in US securities, a move that has political significance in both countries and has caused concern in America, since Sino-US interdependence is at an all-time peak, with global politics and economy increasingly reliant on cooperative Sino-US relations.


Ties between Australia and China have soured with China warning Australia against politicizing and interfering in its trial, which was partly behind closed doors, of four Rio Tinto executives for corruption and spying. But China is Australia's chief trading partner, a vital customer for Rio Tinto, and Rio Tinto has just signed a three billion dollar joint venture for iron ore in Guinea with Chinalco of China. Therefore, like the US, Australia finds that its reprisal options are highly constrained.


There has been a surge in cyber attacks originating in China that have significantly increased over the past year; US Congress and government agencies reported 1.6 billion attacks every month. The software security firm, McAfee, has raised fears of mass Chinese cyber attacks in future, during which India will be especially vulnerable, not only because of its "lowest rate of security measures" but also because it can be used as a gateway to cripple services in the industrialized world, particularly in the US, from where 85 per cent of Indian software revenues are derived. Security is expensive, and being low-cost outsourcing providers, Indian companies cut costs on security to remain competitive.


China's relations with exiled Tibetans, never cordial, have come under greater stress. The Chinese-selected Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu has been appointed to the Political Consultative Conference while the Dalai Lama-recognized divine Gedhun Nyima remains anonymous in Tibet. The Tibetans in exile have responded sharply to Beijing claiming the right to approve any reincarnation of living Buddhas or lamas, asserting that this was an internal matter for the Tibetan people and will take place according to traditional procedure — though the Dalai Lama himself has offered several alternatives to the traditional religious rituals and divinations; there could be an election, or his appointment, even of a woman, as successor. He has further incensed Beijing by claiming that the Chinese are trying to annihilate Buddhism, that there is a serious problem in Tibet, and expressing sympathy for the people of 'East Turkestan', the name given to Xinjiang by Uighur separatists.

The Chinese, on their part, have hit back, professing that they are the injured party. They strongly object to the latest US $6.4 billion arms sales to Taiwan and threaten action against the exporting companies. They condemn Obama's meeting the Dalai Lama as interference in their internal affairs. They accuse Google of spying and thwarting China's indigenous technology. As for Copenhagen, the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, suggests he was humiliated by not being invited to a meeting with European Union leaders and Obama. Beijing says exchange rates have little to do with imbalances, Chinese surpluses soared even when the yuan appreciated 20 per cent between 2005 and 2008, and the present fixed rate of 6.8 to the dollar is an important ingredient for stability. On Iran, China states that it supports the non-proliferation treaty and is opposed to any nuclear weaponization, but that the proposed sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard, shipping, banking and insurance may force Teheran into a position of no retreat, and Iran deserved to be treated as an equal rather than be subject to threats. Beijing gratuitously advises Washington that the rhetoric of Obama's speech to Muslims in 2009 must be translated into concrete actions since Arab enthusiasm has cooled, and the Israel-Palestine issue lies neglected.


Demonstrations of belligerence by authors belonging to the Chinese military are grist to observers who see menace in Chinese intentions. Perhaps to gauge military opinion, test public reaction, or reflect concern over North Korea's nuclear testing, a number of serving and retired officers have recently been permitted to recommend an assertive policy beyond their country's borders. Three army officers have urged the selling of US debt, increase in defence spending and expanding of deployments of forces. Another calls for China to abandon modesty and displace the US as a global champion: "We need a military rise as well as an economic rise and the strongest military force to deter the USA." A general's observation that "competition has shifted towards space" underscores the fact that China's space programme is military-dominated. Chinese academics echo such sentiments, noting that national interests extend across borders, and it was necessary to enhance the ability to protect them, including by a blue-water navy with carriers and overseas bases.


China has widened its anti-piracy effort in the Red Sea by offering to escort United Nations food shipments to Somalia, which necessitates more than the three vessels there, the first time in centuries that the Chinese navy has operated beyond home waters. A retired admiral opines that growth in submarines operated by countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations could pose a threat — although China has the world's biggest submarine development programme — and advocates a naval base in the Middle East. An air force colonel also urges overseas bases for China to shoulder its international responsibilities, to provide support facilities for China's economic interests, ship escorts, and disaster relief in the interests of, needless to say, world peace. A prototype base could be started on Mischief Reef in the South China Sea, and other ports where China enjoys friendly relations in Asia, East Africa and the Indian Ocean: Gwadar, Hambantota and Chittagong, which are among those envisaged as 'access points' or 'friendly locations' to support long-range naval deployment. The same air force officer writes that China is surrounded by hostile nations, predicts war in 10-20 years and identifies the enemy: "If the US can light a fire in China's backyard, we can also light a fire in their backyard."

The Chinese authorities wish to contain the mounting international concern and have no desire to jeopardize ties with their key trading partner and the biggest military and economic power, the US. Till some years ago, the Chinese were adamant that they desired "no places and no bases"; the 1995, 1998 and 2000 white papers restated that China did not seek military expansion, military bases, or stationing troops abroad. Now 'places' to handle the needs of non-war military operations without pre-positioned munitions and a large-scale military presence are apparently seen as potential assets, enabling China to project power without alarming the US, India or Japan, and making it more acceptable for host countries.


China's rise implies it is more self-confident, assertive, and as a global player, bound to come into conflict with strategic interests led by the US. As China's trade minister bluntly told The Washington Post, "America is the one that needs to adjust." Washington has come to acknowledge that China is no new version of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but a far more formidable adversary. If Copenhagen is any guide, there will be greater pressures on China, but Beijing will insist on reciprocal satisfaction and its leverage will apply to the extent that the world community is prepared to accept more strident and demanding Chinese behaviour.

Indian analysts are equally divided between viewing rising China as a dove and a dragon. Relations between the two neighbours, both major economic and nuclear powers with differing political and cultural traditions, are unlikely to be uninterruptedly calm, and it is reasonable to expect periods of a costly state of tension. These will need to be acceptably contained, and will give India's diplomats, theoreticians and military planners some continuous intellectual exercise.


The author is former foreign secretary of India








I make this comparison only on the clear understanding that I am not referring to any specific mother-in-law of mine, past or present. That said, I must admit that the British government's creation of the world's largest marine reserve around the Chagos Islands incites in me the same conflict of emotions that I would feel if I saw my mother-in-law drive off a cliff in my new car.


On the one hand, the creation of a 545,000-sq-km protection zone around the world's largest living coral structure, the Great Chagos Bank, is a good thing. It is one of the world's richest ecosystems, with 220 coral species and more than 1,000 species of reef fish. On the other hand, the British government's motives are deeply suspect. It has spent the last decade erecting legal obstacles to the return of the original inhabitants of the islands, the "Chagossians", whom it expelled from their homes 40 years ago in order to provide the United States of America with a secure base in the middle of the Indian Ocean.The British foreign office insists that they're trying to save the fish. But since the Chagossians' appeal to the European Court of Human Rights will be decided in the next couple of months and they are likely to win it, the foreign office would be digging another line of defence against the return of the Chagossians at this point.


The 2,500 people of the Chagos Islands were evicted from their homes in 1967-71 so that the US air force could have a strategic base on the main island, Diego Garcia, that was unencumbered by any inconvenient natives. Most of the inhabitants were dumped without resources 1,900 km away in Mauritius, which maintains a claim on the Chagos Islands. In exile, some of the Chagossians got an education, understood what had been done to them, and started demanding to be allowed back. In 2000, a British court declared that the expulsion had been unlawful and ordered the British government to let the islanders go home. But then 9/11 came along and made Diego Garcia an important US base again.



The US still didn't want the original inhabitants back for "security reasons", and the foreign office always tries to keep the Americans happy. So the British government issued an "order in council" in 2004 to block the islanders' return on security grounds. The foreign office has fought for a decade to deny the islanders their rights because the US doesn't want any natives cluttering up the archipelago. But it cannot control the European Court of Human Rights, so how can it go on doing what Washington wants when that court tells it to let the Chagossians go home?


They are always two steps ahead at the foreign office. Make the whole Chagos archipelago a "protected marine area", and you can postpone the return of the Chagossians forever by bringing up an endless series of environmental objections to their return. William Marsden, chairman of the Chagos Conservation Trust, was positively lyrical about the PMA. "Today's decision by the British government is inspirational," he said. "It will protect a treasure trove of tropical, marine wildlife for posterity and create a safe haven for breeding fish stocks for the benefit of people in the region."So it will, but it will also enable the British government to keep the Americans happy and the Chagossians in exile for a long time to come. The CCT has taken the lead in this initiative. Marsden is the former Director Americas and Overseas Territories at the foreign office. Its founder, Commander John Topp, was previously the "British Representative" — the senior British officer at what is really a US military base on Diego Garcia. Mind you, it's probably just coincidence.



******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD





The setting up of three working groups of chief ministers, by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to suggest ways to curb rising food prices, shows the seriousness of the price situation. The prime minister had last month advised the country not to panic, and claimed that the government had taken all possible measures to check the price rise. He had even rationalised the problem by attributing it to drought and rising global prices.

But that was poor consolation, and the still rising prices seem to have prodded the government to look for more proactive measures. But the working groups formed by the existing core committee of chief ministers will take time to report back to it. Committees have been formed in the past also, with little impact. Two months ago a chief ministers' committee was constituted to reform the public distribution system (PDS). They are not substitutes for hard and effective action on the ground.

No substantive action was taken in the last few months of relentless price rise to curb speculation, hoarding, black-marketing and other illegal practices. Speculation takes the form of future trading too. In an ideal market, futures trading is a tool for price discovery and stability but in a distorted and irregular market like India's it can be pernicious. The government has often failed to correctly assess the food production outlook and price trends in the country. The result was delayed decisions which exacerbated the situation. The dillydallying on sugar last year even led to a steep hike in international sugar prices which made imports costly. Co-ordination of actions between various ministries has also been lacking. There is always talk about strengthening the PDS and improving delivery and targeting. But the system is still creaky in most places.

The states also have to share the blame because they shift the entire responsibility to keep prices in check to the Centre. Even the core committee meeting in Delhi on Thursday was used for finger-pointing. The high level of food stocks is considered to be a cushion but its moderating effect has not been in evidence. With about 40 million tonnes in the warehouses and an expected good rabi crop to back it up, the stocks could have been used for effective market intervention. This was not done. With the committees asked to give their reports in two months, there does not seem to be any prospect of immediate relief to the common man.








Efforts by India and China to deal with urban squalor and slums seem to be bearing fruit. The latest UN-Habitat report, 'State of the World Cities 2010/2011: Bridging the Urban Divide', has commended them for improving living conditions of millions of urban people living in slums. The report has pointed out that the proportion of people living in slum conditions has dropped from 41.5 per cent in 1990 to 28.1 per cent in 2010 in India and from 37.3 per cent in 2000 to 28.2 per cent in 2010 in China. Almost 60 million people have moved out of slum like conditions in India. This is heartening. However, the situation globally and in these countries in terms of absolute numbers is far from satisfactory. The report points out that the absolute number of slum dwellers in the world increased from 776.7 million to about 827.6 million in the 2000-2010 period. It warns that unless drastic measures are adopted, the world slum population could grow by six million each year to touch a total of 889 million by 2020.


Slum populations are growing because migration from cities is happening at a very high rate. The agrarian crisis in rural India today is forcing millions to move to cities in the hope of finding jobs. But these do not exist. They end up in slums, adding pressure to their already fragile infrastructure. If the problem of growing slum populations should be addressed, we need to tackle the agrarian crisis.

Urban authorities have often tackled the problem of slums by simply demolishing them. In the name of ridding cities of these 'eyesores', slum residents are chased out to the city's outskirts and the land on which the slum once stood is grabbed by real estate developers. Removal of slums in this manner is inhumane as it triggers homelessness and other problems. Relocation of people who are already poor deals a severe blow to their economic security. Instead civic authorities should improve the condition in the slums and make them more liveable. This can be done by improving water supply and drainage in slums. Better sanitation and water will improve us tackle an array of issues such as public health. Gastroenteritis, malaria and a whole host of diseases that visit our cities during summer and when the rains come can be avoided. The frequency of riots, which often break out in slums over scarce resources like water, can be reduced too.








P Chidambaram first tried out the resignation route to heroism when he was in P V Narasimha Rao's Cabinet. Rao, a bit like his protégé Manmohan Singh, was a prime minister wrought by fate; he had, in fact, retired because of a heart condition and sent his impressive library to Hyderabad, where he intended to spend his time. He did not contest the elections for the 1991 parliament that made him prime minister. The younger Congress leaders, consequently, tended to underestimate him. Rao surprised the political class, and shocked the victim, by accepting Chidambaram's resignation. The scar never quite healed; Chidambaram eventually started his own party, and was brought back into the Congress mainstream only by Sonia Gandhi.

Chidambaram, despite the consistent colour of his dark hair, is older and wiser now. He knew there was no chance that Manmohan Singh would accept his pro forma offer to resign over the Dantewada bungle, largely because the prime minister believes in what his home minister is doing. The resignation gesture was not an immediate response. His first reaction was to test whether an alibi — that this was a 'joint' operation, meaning that the state government was equally culpable — would work. It did not, because there are too many retired and respected police officers and security experts ready to explain and reveal precisely what happened.

The surprise of the week was surely not the endorsement Chidambaram received from his prime minister, but the warm support he got from the BJP. There have been some cross-party surprises of late. Publicly, the Congress made a colossal fuss when Amitabh Bachchan was condemned as evil because he was seen with Narendra Modi. Away from the limelight, the prime minister endorsed Modi as head of the working group on consumer affairs at a chief ministers' meeting. Then Goa's Congress Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, after this CMs' conference, told the world that Narendra Modi was his best friend and he would happily visit Gujarat if invited. Kamat could not have been unaware that his counterpart in Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan, was castigated, at the instigation of Delhi, for what might be called 'third-degree contact' with Modi, because he had been civil to Amitabh who had been civil to Modi. Such 'first-degree' proximity should be sufficient reason, by publicly declared standards, to remove Kamat, but he is clearly unconcerned. Does he know something that we do not? Politicians do not risk their gaddi very easily. Is Congress trying to finesse the new, emerging Opposition unity in parliament, which threatens the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha, by being nice to the pre-eminent lightning rod in the BJP? In the absence of answers, we can at least ask questions.

Ideologically same

The BJP's support for Chidambaram, however, is based on ideological strategy rather than tactical requirements. The BJP has never been dubious about its aversion to democratic Marxists, and complete hostility to violent Maoists. The BJP considers Chidambaram the perfect 'senapati' in the war against Maoists, because the home minister shares its uncomplicated view of Maoists as nothing but cowards and criminals who deserve complete elimination. This is a conviction shared by the prime minister, who has described naxalites as the greatest threat to India.

Other politicians might hedge: Nitish Kumar believes that Maoists cannot be defeated only by force, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya is certain that this cannot be treated as just a law and order matter, and Mani Shankar Aiyar, who heads the committee organising the Congress' 125th anniversary, is certain that a one-eye policy focusing only on security will be counterproductive. But Chidambaram is a one-eyed man when it comes to Maoists; after all, you cannot take aim with a gun if both your eyes are open.

The Congress has, for the moment, officially rallied around Chidambaram, but there is very clearly a major internal debate that is seeping out of the confines of inner-party curtains. Dantewada might, paradoxically, strengthen a hawkish home minister, but it is not going to extinguish the two-eyed view of an admittedly difficult problem.

There is as much uncertainty in the Congress about the contours and consequences of a caste war as there is about a class war. The Congress was splintered during the heated arguments over the Mandal Commission in 1990, and its confusion lost the party UP and Bihar. There is always a price to be paid for irresolution. A strong section of the party is in harmony with the BJP over Maoists, just as many Congressmen agreed with V P Singh on Mandal. The left has been weakened within the Congress by the domination of Rao and Manmohan Singh in the last two Congress governments, but it has not disappeared.

Scratch Pranab Mukherjee and A K Antony and you will find Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi in their blood. Sonia Gandhi has already indicated that she is not going to abandon the Congress left, but remains palpably unsure about the extent to which she can rehabilitate it.

A general purpose warning to Congress cabinet ministers: think thrice before offering to resign. You never know when it might be accepted.









This has been a remarkable time for the Obama administration. After a year of intense internal debate, it issued a new nuclear strategy. And after a year of intense negotiations with the Russians, Obama signed the New Start treaty with President Dmitri Medvedev in Prague. This week, the president will host the leaders of more than 40 nations in a nuclear security summit meeting whose goal is to find ways of gaining control of the loose fissile material around the globe.

New Start is the first tangible product of the administration's promise to 'press the reset button' on US-Russian relations. The new treaty is welcome. But as a disarmament measure, it is a modest step, entailing a reduction of only 30 per cent from the former limit — and some of that reduction is accomplished by the way the warheads are counted, not by their destruction. Perhaps the treaty's greatest accomplishment is that the negotiations leading up to its signing re-engaged Americans and Russians in a serious discussion of how to reduce nuclear dangers.

Follow-on treaty

So what should come next? We look forward to a follow-on treaty that builds on the success of the previous Start treaties and leads to significantly greater arms reductions — including reductions in tactical nuclear weapons and reductions that require weapons be dismantled and not simply put in reserve.

But our discussions with Russian colleagues, including senior government officials, suggest that such a next step would be very difficult for them. Part of the reason for their reluctance to accept further reductions is that Russia considers itself to be encircled by hostile forces in Europe and in Asia. Another part results from the significant asymmetry between United States and Russian conventional military forces. For these reasons, we believe that the next round of negotiations with Russia should not focus solely on nuclear disarmament issues.

These talks should encompass missile defence, Russia's relations with Nato, the conventional armed forces in Europe treaty, the Intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty, North Korea, Iran and Asian security issues.

Let's begin with missile defence. Future arms talks should make a serious exploration of a joint United States-Russia programme that would provide a bulwark against Iranian missiles. We should also consider situating parts of the joint system in Russia, which in many ways offers an ideal strategic location for these defences. Such an effort would not only improve our security, it would also further cooperation in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat, including the imposition of consequential sanctions when appropriate.
Nato is a similarly complicated issue. After the cold war ended, Russia was invited to Nato meetings with the idea that the country would eventually become an integral part of European security discussions. The idea was good, but the execution failed. Nato has acted as if Russia's role is that of an observer with no say in decisions; Russia has acted as if it should have veto power.

Common interest

Neither outlook is viable. But if Nato moves from consensus decisions to super-majority decisions in its governing structure, as has been considered, it would be possible to include Russia's vote as an effective way of resolving European security issues of common interest.

The Russians are also eager to revisit the two landmark cold war treaties. The conventional armed forces in Europe treaty enabled Nato and Warsaw Pact nations to make significant reductions in conventional armaments and to limit conventional deployments. Today, there is still a need for limiting conventional arms, but the features of that treaty pertaining to the old Warsaw Pact are clearly outdated. Making those provisions relevant to today's world should be a goal of new talks.

Similarly, the 1987 treaty that eliminated American and Soviet intermediate-range ballistic missiles was a crucially important pact that helped to defuse cold war tensions. But today Russia has neighbours that have such missiles directed at its borders;for understandable reasons, it wants to renegotiate aspects of this treaty.

Future arms reductions with Russia are eminently possible. But they are unlikely to be achieved unless the United States is willing to address points of Russian concern. Given all that is at stake, we believe comprehensive discussions are a necessity as we work our way toward ever more significant nuclear disarmament.









"Mom, I am bored." How many times in a day do you hear this? May be countless times. This is more so during holidays. Two months' summer holidays is a distressing period for parents — especially working mothers. How to keep their children occupied productively or unproductively is the prime concern for the mothers. The new generation is a bored generation. Even with 24x7 TV channels, computers, play stations, X-boxes and summer camps the children are bored to the core. Can electronic world ever be a match to the real humble unadulterated and unhindered fun?

Many summers ago, our holidays were truly enjoyable and an absolute stress buster. Even without TV and computers, we had our hands full and there was never a dull moment. The plans for the next summer holidays were framed even before the current holidays ended. We either visited our grandparents or a truck full of cousins and aunts visited us.

The curtains drawn to escape from bright scorching sun, it was non-stop chit chat, a game of ludo, snakes & ladder or marbles in the backyard. We were oblivious to the word boredom. The evening hours were reserved for cricket in the street and hide and seek in the court yard. In between shots, we showed up to snack on deep fried bhajiya and freshly made jalebi. The host was never hassled on how to entertain the guests and from where to order pizza for them (as there were no pizzas then and eating out was an exception and not routine).

Lack of space and no attached bath never bothered the host. Post dinner time was even more fun. Lolling over the long rail of mattresses on the floor; we enjoyed the small pleasures of childhood. Our working mother never felt that the guests overstayed, even two months' stay was less.

Now cousins are too pre-occupied to visit family and even the host is busy ferrying children from one summer camp to another. "If cousins come, who will look after them during the day? They will get bored and cooking meals for four extra people, sorry where is the time?" I wonder how such formalities originated between first cousins?
However it originated, in our greed to grab too much from life, our children are missing out on the real childhood.






******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




After 9/11, the world was forced to contemplate an even more terrifying nightmare: the possibility that terrorists could buy or steal a nuclear weapon. Far too little has been done since to head that off.


The vulnerabilities run from thousands of poorly secured short-range nuclear weapons in Russia to poorly guarded nuclear reactors or fuel storage sites in far too many states. There are no mandatory, international security standards for nuclear facilities or for hospitals whose radioactive waste could be used in dirty bombs.


On Monday, President Obama holds a summit meeting in Washington to address these dangers. His very ambitious target is to secure all weapons-useable nuclear material within four years.


The president and his aides worked hard to get 46 other countries to attend. (Iran, North Korea and Syria were not invited; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel pulled out, but his deputy will be there.) They will have to work even harder to get key participants — Pakistan and India are suspicious of any perceived interference and determined to expand their nuclear programs — to commit to serious actions.


Feel-good communiqués will not be enough. The meeting needs to produce concrete deadlines, working groups and future meetings to measure progress.


Beyond the 20,000-plus nuclear weapons in the Russian and American arsenals, experts estimate that worldwide there are roughly 2,100 tons of material that altogether could be used to make some 120,000 bombs. A bomb's worth can fit in a suitcase. Most of that material is held by the United States and Russia, but there are also stocks in other weapons states and in countries with civilian power programs.


After the cold war, America was rightly focused on the dangers of loose nukes in the former Soviet Union. Since 1992, Washington has used the Nunn-Lugar program to secure sites in Russia and remove fissile material from former Soviet republics. The effort has broadened over the years. Recently, Chile's last batch of highly enriched uranium from two research reactors was moved to America. There is still much work to be done.


After 9/11, the United Nations Security Council ordered all states to lock up vulnerable material, but left countries to come up with their own plans. There are no mechanisms to verify their actions or punish scofflaws.


This summit meeting must do better. The Obama administration says that mandatory measures are still not feasible. We think it is too early to give up. Here are some other important steps for the conference to take:


¶An agreement to minimum security standards for all nuclear reactors, fuel plants and storage facilities. And a plan to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency's powers so it can monitor nuclear security.


¶An agreement to minimum security standards for hospitals and labs that work with radiological material.


¶A plan to ensure that growing interest in nuclear energy does not add to the stores of vulnerable material.


¶A firm plan from the United States and Russia to consolidate and eliminate their excess stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and plutonium. They could bolster their credibility if they quickly began new negotiations to eliminate all of their short-range nuclear weapons.


¶A commitment by all participants to ratify and implement the 2005 Nuclear Terrorism Convention that requires states to criminalize unlawful use or possession of nuclear material or damage to nuclear facilities. (America is among scores of nations that haven't ratified.)


¶An agreement that there is more than enough weapons-usable material in the world — and a commitment to finally negotiate an international ban on its production. Mr. Obama should use the meeting to press key holdouts — Pakistan is the main problem, but China and India are not enthusiastic — to change their minds.


The only way to prevent nuclear terrorism is to keep all nuclear materials under strict control. That will take strong and consistent leadership by Mr. Obama and like-minded leaders, beginning with strong commitments at this week's summit meeting.





A sloppily written law passed by Congress 15 years ago has cost the country several billion dollars in lost oil royalties in the Gulf of Mexico and threatens to cost the country billions more. Representative Edward Markey has been trying, without success, to fix the law. He argues that the profit-rich oil companies are absconding with money that rightly belongs to American taxpayers.


The Massachusetts Democrat is submitting a new bill to right this wrong. It smartly seeks to leverage President Obama's promise to open up selected coastal waters to offshore exploration by insisting that these oil companies start paying royalties on all of their existing leases before receiving any new leases.


To encourage deepwater exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, a 1995 law offered generous incentives in the form of relief from royalties, then roughly 12 percent of the per-barrel price. The law was seen as a useful way to increase domestic production and reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil.


Prices were low at the time, so the law contained a threshold of $28 per barrel (in 1994 dollars) beyond which royalties would resume. But this applied only to already signed leases. There was no clear language in the bill specifying price thresholds for new leases signed from 1996 to 2000. Some legislators involved in drafting the bill said later that they simply assumed that the $28 threshold would apply to both old and new leases.


But in 2007 — by which time oil had risen above $70 a barrel — a federal judge said in effect that Congressional intent wasn't enough, and that companies with leases signed between 1996 and 2000 did not have to pay.


A lot of money has already been lost. Bizarrely, several weeks ago the government began refunding about $2 billion in royalties to companies that had paid up. Future losses could be immense. About 70 of the no-royalty-no-threshold leases are already productive, with more to come. The Government Accountability Office has estimated that lost royalties could run as high as $53 billion over the next 25 years, depending on prices.


This is unconscionable — and unnecessary.


The oil companies, already richly subsidized in other ways, are generating plenty of money for new exploration. As Mr. Markey put it, "when the price of oil is above $80 per barrel, subsidizing oil companies to drill through royalty-free drilling is like subsidizing fish to swim — you don't need to do it."






Law school clinics give students real-world experience in advocacy and provide underserved communities with legal representation. Increasingly, they are being attacked by business interests, which are often the targets of clinic lawsuits.


Maryland's lawmakers have been wrestling over a bill that threatened the funding of the University of Maryland's law clinic if it did not provide more information about its clients. The clinic has come under assault after filing an environmental lawsuit against Perdue, a powerful force in the state, charging that chicken waste from farmers who contract with the company is polluting Chesapeake Bay. Similar campaigns are being waged across the country, as Ian Urbina reported in The Times recently


In Louisiana, the powerful chemical industry is unhappy with the Tulane Law School clinic, which has sued to increase air quality enforcement in the state. The State Legislature is considering barring clinics that receive public money from suing companies or government agencies for money damages, unless the Legislature gives them an exemption. In New Jersey, a real estate developer sued a state-financed law school clinic at Rutgers University seeking its internal documents, after the clinic sued to stop the developer's planned strip mall.


Attacks like these are a direct interference with law schools' freedom to decide how to educate students. Jamin Raskin, a law professor at American University and a Maryland state senator, compared it to "going into somebody's class and trying to change their syllabus."


Extracting information from clinics about the people they serve and the work they do also threatens the clinics' professional relationships with their clients.


The president of the American Bar Association, Carolyn Lamm, urged "those who would undermine clinical law school programs to step back and remember that the rule of law cannot survive if pressure prevents lawyers from fulfilling their responsibilities to their clients."


Law school clinics often provide the only legal assistance available to poor people. Some powerful interests may not like that, but it is critically important work.






Left to nature, the element temporarily called "ununseptium" for its place on the periodic table of the elements — Latin, roughly, for "117-ness" — would never have materialized. But then along came a team of scientists working at the Dubna cyclotron, north of Moscow. According to a paper recently accepted for publication by the journal Physical Review Letters, they have been able to create six atoms of ununseptium by colliding isotopes of calcium (20 on the periodic table) and berkelium (97), which exists only in minute quantities.


Add the protons, which is what gives elements their atomic number, and you get 117, never mind how hard it is to do the addition in real life.


In a sense, these scientists are continuing the work of the Big Bang and subsequent supernovas — the crucibles in which the naturally occurring elements were formed. The first 92 elements, ending with uranium, are stable enough to build a universe upon. The elements discovered since then have, for the most part, had shorter and shorter lives, often measured in milliseconds.


As scientists push into this new region of the periodic table they are discovering elemental lifetimes that last longer and longer, raising questions about the number of elements — with still to be imagined uses — it may be possible to create and work with someday.


As for the element currently known as ununseptium, it is up to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, which oversees the periodic table of the elements, to confirm the discovery and give ununseptium a permanent name. There will be no rush. Element 112 was first observed in 1996 but was given its new name — copernicium — only this past February.







As we look for ways to prevent future financial crises, many questions should be asked. Here's one you may not have heard: What's the matter with Georgia?


I'm not sure how many people know that Georgia leads the nation in bank failures, accounting for 37 of the 206 banks seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation since the beginning of 2008. These bank failures are a symptom of deeper problems: arguably, no other state has suffered as badly from banks gone wild.


To appreciate Georgia's specialness, you need to realize that the housing bubble was a geographically uneven affair. Basically, prices rose sharply only where zoning restrictions and other factors limited the construction of new houses. In the rest of the country — what I once dubbed Flatland — permissive zoning and abundant land make it easy to increase the housing supply, a situation that prevented big price increases and therefore prevented a serious bubble.


Most of the post-bubble hangover is concentrated in states where home prices soared, then fell back to earth, leaving many homeowners with negative equity — houses worth less than their mortgages. It's no accident that Florida, Nevada and Arizona lead the nation in both negative equity and mortgage delinquencies; prices more than doubled in Miami, Las Vegas and Phoenix, and have subsequently suffered some of the biggest declines.


But not all of Flatland has gotten off lightly. In particular, there's a sharp contrast between the two biggest Flatland states, Texas — which avoided the worst — and Georgia, which didn't.


This contrast can't be explained by the geography of the two states' major cities. Like Dallas or Houston, Atlanta is a sprawling metropolis facing few limits on expansion. And like other Flatland cities, Atlanta never saw much of a housing price surge.


Yet Texas has managed to avoid severe stress to either its housing market or its banking system, while Georgia is suffering severe post-bubble trauma. The share of mortgages with delinquent payments is higher in Georgia than in California; the percentage of Georgia homeowners with negative equity is well above the national average. And Georgia leads the nation in bank failures.


So what's the matter with Georgia? As I said, banks went wild, in a scene strongly reminiscent of the savings-and-loan excesses of the 1980s. High-flying bank executives aggressively expanded lending — and paid themselves lavishly — while relying heavily on "hot money" raised from outside investors rather than on their own depositors.


It was fun while it lasted. Then the music stopped.


Why didn't the same thing happen in Texas? The most likely answer, surprisingly, is that Texas had strong consumer-protection regulation. In particular, Texas law made it difficult for homeowners to treat their homes as piggybanks, extracting cash by increasing the size of their mortgages. Georgia lacked any similar protections (and the Bush administration blocked the state's efforts to restrict subprime lending directly). And Georgia suffered from the difference.


What's striking about the contrast between the Texas story and Georgia's debacle is that it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the issues that have dominated debates about banking reform. For example, many observers have blamed complex financial derivatives for the crisis. But Georgia banks blew themselves up with old-fashioned loans gone bad.


And for all the concern about banks that are too big to fail, Georgia suffered, if anything, from a proliferation of small banks. Actually, the worst offenders in the lending spree tended to be relatively small start-ups that attracted customers by playing to a specific community. Thus Georgian Bank, founded in 2001, catered to the state's elite, some of whom were entertained on the C.E.O.'s yacht and private jet. Meanwhile, Integrity Bank, founded in 2000, played up its "faith based" business model — it was featured in a 2005 Time magazine article titled "Praying for Profits." Both banks have now gone bust.


So what's the moral of this story? As I see it, it's a caution against silver-bullet views of reform, the idea that cracking down on just one thing — in particular, breaking up big banks — will solve our problems. The case of Georgia shows that bad behavior by many small banks can do as much damage as misbehavior by a few financial giants.


And the contrast between Texas and Georgia suggests that consumer protection is an essential element of reform. By all means, let's limit the power of the big banks. But if we don't also protect consumers from predatory lending, there are plenty of smaller players — both small banks and the nonbank "mortgage originators" responsible for many of the worst subprime abuses — that will step in and fill the gap.







The world didn't always agree with Pope John Paul II, but it always seemed to love him. Handsome and charismatic, with an actor's flair and a statesman's confidence, he transformed the papacy from an Italian anachronism into a globe-trotting phenomenon. His authority stabilized a reeling church; his personal holiness inspired a generation of young Catholics. "Santo subito!" the Roman crowds chanted as he lay dying. Sainthood now!


They will not chant for Benedict XVI. The former Joseph Ratzinger was always going to be a harder pontiff for the world to love: more introverted than his predecessor, less political and peripatetic, with the crags and wrinkles of a sinister great-uncle. While the last pope held court with presidents and rock stars, Cardinal Ratzinger was minding the store in Rome, jousting with liberal theologians and being caricatured as "God's Rottweiler." His reward was supposed to be retirement, and a return to scholarly pursuits. Instead, he was summoned to Peter's chair — and, it seems, to disaster.


The drip, drip, drip of sex abuse cases from Benedict's past started a month ago with a serious incident: a pedophile priest who was returned to ministry in Munich by then-Archbishop Ratzinger's subordinates, and perhaps with his knowledge.


The more recent smoking guns, though, offer more smoke than fire. The pope is now being criticized not for enabling crimes or covering them up, but because in the 1980s and 1990s the Vatican's bureaucracy moved slowly on requests to formally laicize abusive priests after they had already been removed from ministry.


But the smoke is damaging enough. "The Failed Papacy of Benedict XVI," ran a recent headline in Der Spiegel, the newsmagazine of the pope's native Germany. If you judge a pontiff on his ability to do outreach, whether to lukewarm believers or the secular world, this is probably accurate. Amid the latest wave of scandal, Catholicism needed the magnetic John Paul, master of bold gestures and moving acts of penance. Instead, the church is stuck with Benedict, bookish and defensive and unequal to the task.


But there's another story to be told about John Paul II and his besieged successor. The last pope was a great man, but he was also a weak administrator, a poor delegator, and sometimes a dreadful judge of character.


The church's dilatory response to the sex abuse scandals was a testament to these weaknesses. So was John Paul's friendship with the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The last pope loved him and defended him. But we know now that Father Maciel was a sexually voracious sociopath. And thanks to a recent exposé by The National Catholic Reporter's Jason Berry, we know the secret of Maciel's Vatican success: He was an extraordinary fund-raiser, and those funds often flowed to members of John Paul's inner circle.


Only one churchman comes out of Berry's story looking good: Joseph Ratzinger. Berry recounts how Ratzinger lectured to a group of Legionary priests, and was subsequently handed an envelope of money "for his charitable use." The cardinal "was tough as nails in a very cordial way," a witness said, and turned the money down.


This isn't an isolated case. In the 1990s, it was Ratzinger who pushed for a full investigation of Hans Hermann Groer, the Vienna cardinal accused of pedophilia, only to have his efforts blocked in the Vatican. It was Ratzinger who persuaded John Paul, in 2001, to centralize the church's haphazard system for handling sex abuse allegations in his office. It was Ratzinger who re-opened the long-dormant investigation into Maciel's conduct in 2004, just days after John Paul II had honored the Legionaries in a Vatican ceremony. It was Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, who banished Maciel to a monastery and ordered a comprehensive inquiry into his order.


So the high-flying John Paul let scandals spread beneath his feet, and the uncharismatic Ratzinger was left to clean them up. This pattern extends to other fraught issues that the last pope tended to avoid — the debasement of the Catholic liturgy, or the rise of Islam in once-Christian Europe. And it extends to the caliber of the church's bishops, where Benedict's appointments are widely viewed as an improvement over the choices John Paul made. It isn't a coincidence that some of the most forthright ecclesiastical responses to the abuse scandal have come from friends and protégés of the current pope.


Has Benedict done enough to clean house and show contrition? Alas, no. Has his Vatican responded to the latest swirl of scandal with retrenchment, resentment, and an un-Christian dose of self-pity? Absolutely. Can this pontiff regain the kind of trust and admiration, for himself and for his office, that John Paul II enjoyed? Not a chance.


But as unlikely as it seems today, Benedict may yet deserve to be remembered as the better pope.







Port-au-Prince, Haiti

THE image came to Jerry Rosembert as he and his father wandered the dust-clouded streets downtown, where they lived, toward the Champs de Mars.


In the hours after the earthquake struck on Jan. 12, thousands of his shocked countrymen had congregated in the giant plaza, weeping and crying out for Jesus. Jerry, a 25-year-old graffiti artist, knew what to do: with a can of spray paint, he turned a map of Haiti into a person who cried and held his hands skyward in prayer. Jerry didn't sleep that night, and after dawn broke the next day, he sprayed five more crying Haitis in a neighborhood called Bois Verna. Soon after, the symbols appeared all over town.


For more than a year before the quake, Jerry had been spray-painting the city with strange, sharp images. His paintings stood out; until then, most Port-au-Prince graffiti shilled for politicians hardly anyone cared about. But Jerry believed that graffiti shouldn't exist for writing "down with" or "vote for."


On Avenue John Brown last year, he showed me a man turned upside down on a stone wall. "It's called Tèt

Anba," Jerry told me, referring to a Creole idiom that means, literally, "head below." It connotes something that's topsy-turvy or absurdly mixed up. "Just like Haiti," Jerry said. He laughed, but he wasn't kidding.


On Avenue Christophe, he had depicted two men with raised forks who fought over a roast chicken and, a little farther down the street, a long line of patients who languished in front of an imperious receptionist, busy with her nails. One man spoke into his hand and bit a cement block, as though he had a cellphone and something to eat.


Near a corner where prostitutes plied their trade, Jerry painted a woman torn between a john and her child. A goggle-eyed man slipped a rope around his neck. All over town, faces of beautiful young women and old men simply wept.


Much of Jerry's pre-quake work has survived, and these days it has an awful poignancy. In the camps, the homeless are indeed scrumming over food. In the hospitals, patients wait days to be seen. Young women are forced to trade sex for food or shelter. With no visible end to the crisis, some Haitians have surrendered their last asset: faith in the future.


The other day, a Haitian friend told Jerry that he was a prophet, that he must have sensed the hell that would befall his country. "Maybe I did," Jerry said to me later. "But really, those things I painted — the suffering, the poverty, the misery — that all existed before the earthquake. Now things are just worse."


Since that first painting of Haiti's tears and prayers, he's sprayed about 20 of them all over Port-au-Prince — the most recent a few nights ago — and the image has become iconic. Jerry admits that it's not as witty or sophisticated as his pre-earthquake work, but perhaps that's as it should be, he says. It might be too soon for cleverness.


Pooja Bhatia is a fellow at the Institute of Current World Affairs.







Delmas, Haiti

AT 8 o'clock on Easter morning, the preacher at the Reformed Baptist church near my house was back to exhorting the young people not to have sex before marriage. He no longer brandishes the earthquake as proof that some malevolent God is angry with Haiti for its sins.


On Monday morning, school was supposed to have started again. But it was a very timid reopening. After all, most schools are still covered with debris. And most parents are afraid to let their children go inside.


Three months after the earthquake, some of the customary cadence of life has returned. People still argue and laugh, they still fight and kiss under the trees. Babies still cry in the middle of the night. But the neighborhood has changed. We fervently wish that the precarious tents and other reminders of the catastrophe would disappear, yet we remain aware that to go forward we must rebuild with that infamous Tuesday in mind.


Since Jan. 12, I have had the opportunity to go to the seashore. Standing barefoot on the sand, I let the gentle

waves remind me of life's magnificence, trying not to visualize the destroyed places and lives behind me. I hold on to the sheer majesty of the sea. I hold on to my hopes.


Sometimes, it is not easy.


The international donors' conference for Haiti has just ended; the sponsors have pledged billions of dollars. But some basic facts remind us to be cautious. Not all pledges will materialize into donations, some of the money will be paid to the firms and personnel in the donor countries, and the money that does make it here may not reach the people who need it. We stand at the beginning of a very long road.


We are already looking ahead. A principal whose private school has collapsed is working two days a week with some youngsters from the neighborhood, and I sometimes hear their little voices chatting and repeating children's songs in Creole.


A friend is finally well enough to return to her house. She can now say her brother's name without tears. He did not come out alive from the rubble.


The teenage girl who was sent to Florida for surgery on her badly injured face has had the last of her operations, and her jaw is back in place. "She looks like herself again now," says her mother. The woman, so young to have a 15-year-old child, holds her 4-month-old on her hip. Her emaciated features shift beautifully as she speaks, and I smile with her.


We welcome tidbits of good news one day at a time, one life at a time. They are flashes of light in a landscape that reminds us of life's brevity. They help us realize that this is not a nightmare, and we have no choice but to wake up and face the day.


Évelyne Trouillot is a novelist whose short stories have appeared in the collection "Words Without Borders."







Carrefour, Haiti


ON the corner of Mon Repos 46 and Rue Concorde in this seaside hamlet, the epicenter of the earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left 1.3 million homeless, sits the only house I own.


Low-slung and lavishly shaded by giant almond trees, it is the house my father built and lived in for more than 40 years. He never got around to finishing the second floor, which was useful when I was a boy playing hide-and-seek with my pals. We escaped one another by hopping from our roof to other roofs or to the high branches of the almond trees, and scampering on to nearby mango trees.


My father, widely admired for the affable way he wore single-fatherhood, lorded over the block from a perch at our red wrought-iron gate, observing all. The foot traffic at our intersection featured, in the mornings, parades of women with giant bundles or buckets on their heads and, at night, rah-rahs — Haiti's roving, carnivalesque bands.


I didn't expect any festivities when I finally visited my house the other day. I hadn't seen it myself in 24 years. The drive from Port-au-Prince was a painful bumper-car ride over mangled roads. The buildings I passed looked like cakes crushed by a giant's boots. Haitians hurriedly jay-walked, daring drivers to hit them, slowing traffic to a crawl. Small signs of normal life stood out: girls riding bikes; a man holding the small of his girlfriend's back as they crossed the street; hairy black pigs grazing on the side of the roads; the fiery noon sun.


Still, Haitians are not yet on terra firma. If the first month was one of unalloyed grief and the second a post-traumatic daze, now twitchy has become the new normal. "People either have nothing to do or they work to exhaustion," a 25-year-old colleague told me. "All we know is that life is short. Everything can end in 35 seconds."

The good thing is that people are less sad, she said: "Sometimes they smile. Sometimes they even laugh."

At my house, a stranger greeted me. He looked far younger than I, but is probably 10 years older. "I live here," he said.

"I live here too," I said.


"Dimitry, is that you?"


We hugged. It was the guy who took care of the house and my father before he died in 2004. Inside, the house was, shockingly, as I last saw it. A photo of two of my nieces as toddlers hung over the dining room table. My bedroom walls were still sky-blue. My desk was in its corner.


Then I saw the large crack running across the living room walls and snaking up the stairwell. The house was not safe. The reunion with my childhood chums would have to be outside.


Still, part of me was happy; the house, like the country, was damaged but still standing. That counts for something. Dimitry Elias Léger, a former staff writer for Fortune magazine, is a consultant to the United Nations in Haiti.








The prime minister, who we all saw a few days ago basking in the glory that is the 18th Amendment, has chosen to be advised on livestock by a man known for talents that may be the envy of all those who want to make it big in this land of wonders by sheer force of character. Mr Jamshed Dasti, a former member of the National Assembly, possesses character in abundance, as is evident in some sterling qualities he recently displayed to the amazement of us lesser mortals. His immense talent for forgery and lying through his teeth came into the limelight when the Supreme Court discovered to its, no doubt anti-democratic, dismay that Mr Dasti, at some point during his illustrious rise to fame and shame, had managed to get an MA Islamiat degree forged with flying colours. The court, during the proceedings of the case, was first held spellbound and then was enthralled by the fabulous failure of Mr Dasti to answer questions regarding Islam and the Holy Quran that would not take school-going kids a minute to answer. But the court being conservative and right-wing, and blinded by its hatred for men in parliament, simply failed to appreciate this unorthodox novelty of a politician and forced him to resign from his seat in parliament. Dasti's endeavours to acquire a fake degree in Islamiat had endowed him with an acute Islamic sense. His contribution to the debate on religion and gender had been grand in his scholarly and eloquent comments that the passing of the Women's Rights Bill by parliament amounted to insulting Islam. He had sought to defend our moral sensibilities against that feminist onslaught by proclaiming the "Rights of Men". The court brought disgrace upon itself by prosecuting and persecuting this genius and exposing him as a charlatan.

But how can such immensity of talent remain un-rewarded, particularly under the present political setup? Prime Minister Gilani of the Parliament-is-Supreme fame was destined for the honour of redeeming the sins committed against this noble son of democracy. One of his very first, and supreme, deeds after he became a 'prime minister with powers' following the passage of the 18th Amendment, has been to reward Dasti for the laurels he has won for democracy, by appointing him adviser on livestock, making him richer in perks, privilege and power than he previously was. The word is that a brother of Mr Gilani's may now be fielded from the constituency where Dasti was supposed to contest the coming by-elections. This may not be liked by certain myopic creatures of the media who would gladly have Mr Dasti sent to prison, who see sick symbolism in the rise of this man suggesting how PM Gilani of the supreme parliament might deal with matters in the future, who would like to remind the PM that his government, from the 'very top' to the bottom, appears so mired in corruption and nepotism as to render the 'Revenge of Democracy' phrase excruciatingly painful; that his government has gained more-than-enough notoriety as one that values thieves and crooks and protects criminals from justice — criminals of the sort whose presence is an affront to democracy and decency anywhere; that all this is linked in the consciousness of the people with their life becoming more and more miserable; that criminality being so openly and obscenely rewarded for loyalty sends out a dark and evil message, that men like Dasti advising on livestock only reveal the reality of the piling up of the 'morally dead-stock' in our political sphere; that this is what has always led to the sword of the false saviour being hailed by the very people our political parties have always claimed to represent and have always betrayed.

All this and much more nonsense may be uttered by these fools. But they are devoid of the vision and intuition that Mr Gilani, being of an order of the Sufi mystics, is blessed with. His indepth understanding of the Sufi attitude towards those who trample decency and morality for worldly gains and Mr Dasti's deep insight into what Islam has to say about the corrupt and the uncouth, coupled with the democratic aspirations of both, must have helped this feat of wisdom and foresight to come about. Those human rights and civil society activists who have been greatly disturbed by the 'targeting of politicians by the judiciary' have every reason to celebrate the comeback of one equipped with all the right credentials and representing the best that the democratic tradition has to offer in terms of commitment to political ideals and rights- and gender-consciousness. He deserves their respect all the more because, in the days of the supreme parliament and with the help of its supreme leader, a democrat has managed to not only survive the judicial attack on his unblemished character but will now be grazing in greener pastures.






The US security firm, Dyncorp, seen with suspicion at home as well as overseas, is set to remain in Pakistan. The firm was also involved in controversy after its shady attempt to enter security business here. The official US line is that Dyncorp is engaged in anti-narcotics operations. Few are convinced. There seems little doubt that counter-insurgency is the real aim. The entire matter is one the Pakistan government needs to take a long, hard look at. It has already tried – and failed – to hide the fact that US security firms are indeed operating on its soil. This does nothing to enhance credibility. What is more, it does do a great deal to bolster the view that Pakistan lacks sovereignty and the ability to make decisions on its own.

It is uncertain what benefits the presence of US firms brings Islamabad. But certainly in terms of image and standing in the eyes of the people they inflict a great deal of harm. Pakistan's interests may be better served by putting in place an internal security force capable of carrying out operations of various kinds. The assistance of allies in the west can be used for this in terms of offering equipment, support and training. We already have an elaborate security network consisting of a variety of services. There is no reason why their skills cannot be bolstered. In the longer run, this would serve a far more useful purpose than allowing US firms to operate within the country and adding to public perceptions against Washington and its actions in other countries.













There are two types of arguments against the abolition of the concurrent list. The first one is an extension of the lingering post-colonial paternalism and related obsession with control. A charming yet unpersuasive Kashmala Tariq vociferously implored the National Assembly to retain the concurrent list and save the uniformity of laws across provinces. The 18th Amendment already includes a provision enabling the Council of Common Interests to formulate laws in the realm of criminal procedure and evidence. Will all hell break loose merely because provinces promulgate different laws in other areas? Homogeneity as an overarching concept within the field of law is overrated anyways. What is essential for the rule of law in a federation is not uniformity, but legal certainty.

The United States has 50 different states and 50 sets of laws and yet it manages to survive as a country and speak with one voice on important matters. The provinces of Pakistan already have different laws in various areas. For example, all the four provinces have their own rent restriction laws, along with Islamabad and the cantonments. The Supreme Court recently decided that upon expiry of a rent agreement the contractual tenancy doesn't automatically transform itself into statutory tenancy under the Islamabad Rent Restriction Ordinance, which is the case under provincial rent law. Such differences do not engender chaos so long as there is legal certainty and people have the ability to order their affairs accordingly.

The ability of provinces to formulate their own laws might be a blessing that could enable some provinces to take a lead in incorporating progressive legislation. Two-thirds of the countries of the world have banned the death penalty and yet there isn't even a debate in Pakistan over the pros and cons of retaining capital punishment. Many in this country believe that Ziaul Haq's Hudood laws are abhorrent and need to be scrapped. Yet simultaneously building such social consensus across all the four provinces will be hard. But the possibility of a province such as Sindh taking the lead in grabbing our religious bigots by the horns is much higher.

The end of the concurrent list could also encourage provinces to introduce progressive commercial laws to attract business. For example, the state of Delaware in the US is a jurisdiction of choice for businesses due to its commercial jurisprudence. Pakistan's provinces could similarly engage in healthy competition to emerge as the preferred territory for commercial activity.

The second argument against the abolition of the concurrent list – that neither the government nor any political party has done any homework on the impact of this huge change – is more logical and convincing. This is why the role, authority and composition of the Implementation Commission are crucial. Completing this transition within a span of one year is an ambitious target to start with. And the oversight commission should thus be equipped with ample authority as well as legal and administrative expertise to accomplish the needful.

The 18th Amendment is also commendable for strengthening the independence of the judiciary by introducing a consultative, thorough and transparent mechanism for judicial appointments. While the composition of the judicial commission gives serving judges a dominant say in selecting future judges, the process will ensure that no one individual or institution has arbitrary authority to determine who gets to wear the robes in Pakistan. Some lawyers do not want a representative of the bar council to serve on the commission for they hold bar council politics in low esteem. Others do not want the law minister or the attorney general to have any say, to exclude the ruling government from the process. Still others are averse to parliamentarians having any role in the matter. And we have all suffered poor choices of successive chief justices since they have had an exclusive authority to pick judges.

Notwithstanding the hangover of the lawyers' movement and uber-enthusiastic bar leaders eager to grab a seat on the negotiation table in all political matters (yet completely unwilling to discipline and reform the bar itself), and the various writ petitions that are likely to be filed challenging the 18th Amendment, the new Article 175A is a major improvement over the existing mechanism for judicial appointments. Further, the legitimate creation of the Islamabad High Court is an extremely welcome step. There was no logical reason to continue to treat the federal capital as part of Punjab. And an effective and efficient high court in the capital comprising the most able judges from all four provinces and Islamabad will not only address the issue of inordinate delays in resolution of legal issues emanating from Islamabad but will also help develop specialised jurisprudence in regulatory and government-related matters.

The merit of erasing 58(2)(b) and transferring the president's discretionary authority to make key executive appointments to the prime minister hardly needs any elaboration. The office of the president has traditionally played second fiddle to the khaki leadership controlling levers of powers from behind the curtain. While not relevant in the present scenario, given the identity of our president and the prime minister, this structural change will strengthen the office of the prime minister, parliament as well as democracy in the medium to long term. But Zardari-haters should take pause, as this transfer of authority will hardly dilute the power he presently exercises. We must remember that Mr Zardari's power springs not from the Constitution but his position as party head in a political culture largely defined by autocratic tendencies of party leaders and sycophancy of party members.

Just as Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain will continue to enjoy whimsical authority to dictate all party decisions until democracy begins to permeate through political parties as well, let us be clear that Mr Zardari will have his handprints on all government decisions while the PPP is in power. Further, the end of 58(2)(b) will not fix our civil-military imbalance overnight and neither will the augmented treason clause alone stop wannabe dictators in their tracks. These changes are incremental steps that will fortify the national consensus against praetorianism. But in the ultimate resort it will be (i) continuity of the political process and democracy, (ii) performing civilian governments that become conduits for transmitting the fruits of democracy to ordinary citizens, and (iii) dexterous baby steps in reclaiming the political and economic turf that the military has annexed to itself, that will prevent military intervention in politics.

The 18th Amendment squarely addresses the centre-province divide and indirectly helps fix lopsided civil-military structures. But it doesn't touch upon the problem of religious obscurantism. While the name of Ziaul Haq has been deleted and provisions of Article 62 and 63 have been rationalised, the requirement that parliamentarians must be 'sadiq and ameen' has been retained. It appears that as a nation we are still not prepared to dispassionately debate the role of religion within our state and society or the need to exclude moral judgments and claims of religious righteousness from the domain of law. And this is what highlights the limits of constitutional texts.

The 18th Amendment deserves to be applauded for it improves the legal framework upon which the socio-economic contract between the citizen and the state is founded. But let us also remember that the Constitution is ultimately a text, and no text is self-executing. It is for our executive, our legislature, our judiciary and each one of us to ensure that the rights promised by our Constitution are protected and defended, and enjoyed by all citizens. There always remain gaps between principles and their practice. But this cannot be an argument to demonise principles themselves. Let us celebrate the improvement in the theory of our fundamental law, with the resolve to take meaningful measures and make its promises come true.

The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad. Email:






The last decade has been a particularly compelling one for many self-conscious Muslims with regard to the moderate vs radical Islam debate. Through the process, in varying degrees and capacities, a body of self-acclaimed 'moderate' scholars, students and vague academics have gained relevance and even, international fame. There are those with iconic status, such as Talal Asad and Mahmood Mamdani, who lend legitimacy to western critical reasoning since they defend Islam against western attacks while located in the West. Then there are small-time careerists such as Irshad Manji and a spectrum of rainbow Muslims who have been well-received by Europe and the US from Muslim countries and are speckled all over new-founded Islamic departments within Western academia and media. Several of these experts and scholars are often rejected (if they're lucky, persecuted) by their countries of origin - often not by their governments but by obscure political opportunist forces. This tends to make them subversive and academically sexy to western academia.

Often, such scholars have been largely irrelevant and ignored within their societies of origin. This is because in Muslim-majority countries the audiences tend to be less interested in academic debates and more interested in piety, ritual and political delivery of religion. Also, in Muslim societies there is such tremendous competition between religious discourses that unless it's a sensationalist blasphemous case purported by some opportunist, it is unlikely to deserve monopolistic attention. In other words, as in all disciplines and with all other persuasions of faith, the higher academic debates elude the common people while the political ones gain attention. It is due to the political relevance of Islamic scholars that conflict erupts in Muslim-majority countries, not their academic differences.

On the other hand, the scholarship that Muslim academics produce in the West often attempts to disown radical Islamists or militant expressions of Islamic belief and seeks recognition, even romanticisation, of the subjectivity of the Moderate Muslim. This serves the political purpose of western governments because the current globalised economy and spurts of terrorism demand that politics stay more centrist, blunted, accommodative and 'safe' - for capital, not necessarily for people. In this environment, the rhetoric of moderation and tolerance requires that we must purge ourselves of every shade of non-moderate Muslim, ie, both the radical and the secular. This has served as a popular political ploy for leaders, both in Western countries but also in Muslim-majority ones.

What is the relevance of such projects? On the one hand, there is no denying the importance of research, analysis, debate and disagreement on any topic that lends itself to enhancing knowledge and ideas. However, it is when academia begins to engage with the political, that the application of such research comes up for discussion.

In an effort to buffer radical Islamic sentiment, moderate scholarship attempts to build an alternative body of Islamic history and social norms derived through an academic rather than political process. The trouble with sapping out the politics from history is that it becomes rather dull, pedantic and does not lend itself to the current (modern) political context. So moderate scholars are split on this point; some suggest aligning Islamic history to the current context and projected future, while the revivalists tend to reject modernity and western universalism and are drawn to a newly constructed, "culturally appropriate" alternative body of norms and laws for Muslims. This latter proposal preoccupies western governments and societies, where war has become unpopular and economically draining.

It also finds resonance in a new generation of young Muslims who have witnessed the surge of anti-Muslim sentiment expressed by way of irreverent cartoons, banning of veils and minarets in Europe. The careerist Muslim scholars all around the world gained most in this period by using this as evidence of the racism, Islamophobia and anti-liberal humanism that preoccupies western politics and inflicts 'moral injury' to Muslims globally. This made it opportune for troubled leaders to construct the idea of an alternative, soft, Sufi Islam. It didn't matter that this makes absolutely no policy sense and is simply a re-packaged way of suggesting the state remain secular without actually saying so. Politically it has more serious repercussions.

The trouble with such theory is that it gives a cover for intervention under a more subtle guise. Republican-sponsored Islamophobia has given way in the US to a liberal Democrat sentiment, seemingly prone to giving up on defeating radical Islam by aggression. Instead, the current administration seeks to pursue a policy that concedes to appeasing Muslim (male) sentiments by funding projects that enable Muslims to develop themselves through 'Islamically appropriate' rights. This would mean not confronting, disrupting or challenging existing patriarchal cultures or social practices or getting into the troubling debate of whether they are religious or cultural or both. What was earlier the hypocritical, sudden feminist concern for Muslim women by the Bush administration has now become an equally self-serving political approach by the Obama regime that wishes to graft a presumed (moderate) Muslim identity on people in Muslim-majority countries. This would suggest that development and relief should be carried out, to use an example, by Islamic Relief rather than Red Cross; or projects should assist Muslim women who can stay at home in veils and do home-based work rather than changing the nature of the market to allow women equal and free access; or, to form 'peace jirgas' to resolve intra-Muslim conflict; or fund and arm 'culturally relevant' lashkar forces to defend real Muslims against the spurious ones.

It's one thing to respect religious sentiment but another to disregard the multiplicity of internal cultural dynamics and struggles between competing political identities within Muslim societies. Such a recognition would mean no intervention, including not funding 'culturally appropriate' projects nor patronizing any religious persuasion (moderate or not). Instead, maybe the only criteria for foreign assistance should be towards supporting democratic civilian efforts rather than dictatorial and/or military ones.

Interestingly, those who admire western-based Muslim scholars who make careers of promoting moderate Islam, do not accuse such intellectuals of being influenced by western rationality or modernity. Ironically, however, feminists and human rights activists who have spent their lives in their home countries struggling for specific political rights, including equality for women and secular rights in Muslim majority countries, are often dismissed as 'un-authentic', 'westernised', misguided agents of secularism, even liberal fundamentalists.

In the final analysis, the only purpose moderate Islamists (those who make a career of promoting moderate Islam) have served is to have created a wider wedge between the problematic and often, false binaries of the traditional and modern, appropriate and inappropriate cultural and/or Islamic practices. They serve the political purpose of a feel-good strategic use of religion that accommodates some merger of what are considered, western rationality and eastern conservatism. But ultimately, they are the fence-sitters who have enabled the strategic use of Islam to further pragmatic political goals without substantively making any deep, meaningful change. If anything, moderate Islamists serve as buffers that may seem more acceptable than radical ones but in the process they maintain the worst kind of patriarchal and social conservatism because they endorse slow, gradual and limited progress that does not contest the broader, entrenched and unequal status quo.

The writer is an independent researcher based in Karachi. Email:







The reconstitution of the National Advisory Council under Sonia Gandhi, announced by India's United Progressive Alliance government, is good news. The original NAC died prematurely because Gandhi quit it in the wake of the office-of-profit controversy. Members of parliament cannot ordinarily hold a remunerative office.

The law has now been amended to free the NAC of this constraint. The new NAC must advise the UPA on bringing about inclusive growth. The UPA had promised this before the 2004 elections and reiterated it in 2009.

The UPA has manifestly betrayed the promise. Over the past five years, poverty ratios have remained extremely high despite rapid GDP growth; 77 per cent of Indians survive on Rs20 or less a day. While the top 10 per cent earn First World annual incomes such as Rs5 crores, the wretched of the earth must make do with Rs7,000 a year.

Regional and sectoral disparities have grown alarmingly as growth has become skewed and small-holder agriculture has become unviable. This drove 1.99 lakh farmers to suicide between 1997 and 2008. This staggering number is unprecedented in world history. Farmers' suicides have spread from Vidarbha and Andhra even to prosperous Punjab, India's agriculturally most developed state.


An additional 100 million people have been driven into poverty by two decades of "free-market" or neoliberal policies. India's Human Development Index rank has slipped from 121 in 1991 to 134.

The UPA was expected to introduce a semblance of equity in the growth process. Instead, it has veered rightwards and given tax-breaks to the rich, while leaving the poor to cope with 18 per cent food inflation.

The UPA has failed to provide nutritional security and public healthcare. The healthcare system's failure enormously burdens even the not-so-poor and forces them to go to quacks or die from denial of treatment.

The new NAC must urgently address these two issues, just as its predecessor concentrated on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and Right to Information. It must soon pay attention to other issues like safe drinking-water provision, agrarian infrastructure, education and climate change.

A Food Security Act is urgently required to improve nutrition levels among the masses. Hunger in India has horrifying dimensions. In the Global Hunger Index of the International Food Policy Research Institute, India ranks 65 (of 88 nations). Pakistan's rank is 58.

Despite two decades of rapid GDP growth, India scores worse than its neighbours, barring Bangladesh, and also worse than over 20 Sub-Saharan African countries which have experienced economic collapse, civil war, famine and genocides during the past quarter-century.

None of the 17 major Indian states surveyed falls in the "low" or "moderate" hunger category. Twelve states fall in the "alarming" category, and one — Madhya Pradesh —in the "extremely alarming" category. Four states — Punjab, Haryana, Kerala and Assam — fall in the "serious" category. On a global scale, India's best-performing state, Punjab, ranks 34th.

This is corroborated by India's National Family Health Survey finding that 48 per cent of Indian children are undernourished. More than half of India's lactating mothers are anaemic.

Food grains availability in India has decreased from 200 kg per person a year at the beginning of the 20th century to under 170 kg. As a result, 33 per cent of Indian adults have a body-mass index (weight in kilogrammes divided by the square of height in metres) less than 18.5. (The normal range is 18.5 to 25. People under 18.5 are malnourished, those above 25 obese.)

In half the districts of India, especially those with a large Dalit or tribal population, more than half the people have a BMI under 18.5. By World Health Organisation norms, these areas are in a permanent state of famine.

This famine must be combated through an extensive, reliable public food distribution system. The Food Security Act is meant to do just that. Sonia Gandhi proposed in June 2009 that the Act ensure a monthly household entitlement of 35kg of cereals at Rs3 per kg and especially focus on vulnerable groups such as single women, the elderly, the disabled, etc.

The UPA referred the proposal to an Empowered Group of Ministers, which has diluted it beyond recognition. It redefines food security as something less than nutritional security. It recommends a monthly quota of 25kg of rice/wheat per poor family without fixing the price, which will be announced separately by the government.

This neither recognises the Right to Food, nor creates adequate entitlements for all, as recommended by the Kolkata Group chaired by Amartya Sen. It also falls way below the recommendations of a committee appointed by the Supreme Court, chaired by Justice DP Wadhwa, for 35kg of grains for those who earn less than Rs100 a day.

If the Wadhwa Committee's report is adopted, the number of families treated as Below Poverty Line (BPL) would rise to 200 million, in place of the 105 million estimated by the states and the 92.5 million by another official committee.

The EGoM's draft is minimalist, reneges on the promise of nutritional security, and perpetuates today's collapsing PDS which supposedly only targets BPL families. Estimates of their number vary from 28 to 50 per cent of the population. These estimates are based on convoluted methods and are unreliable.

The more reliable National Sample Survey (2004-05) found that only one-half of the poorest households had a BPL card. Worse, many non-poor people use influence to illegally procure a BPL card and corner PDS grain.

There's a radical solution to the BPL problem: universalise the PDS and not target it at the poor, because targeting is always fraught with exclusion and corruption. It would also mean treating the Right to Food as a fundamental right of all citizens, being part of the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Targeting the PDS is arbitrary, exclusionary, divisive, corruption-prone and creates competition among the poor. Universalisation would generate pressure for the PDS to perform well for all, as it has done in Tamil Nadu.

A universal PDS will naturally raise the food subsidy bill. The most generous estimate, based on the Wadhwa report, is that another Rs82,000 crores would be needed over the current allocation of Rs35,800 crores.

This is puny compared to the Rs5,40,268 crores of revenue forgone this year by the government through subsidies and exemptions for the rich. It is also one-half of India's military spending. Surely, India can limit its ballooning military expenditure — which has tripled in dollar terms since the 1998 nuclear tests — to provide its poor minimal food security.

The UPA must not proceed with the EGoM-recommended Food (In)Security Act. The NAC should radically revise it along the lines suggested above while universalising the PDS. There is no other way the poor, who are excluded from the food market by high prices, can receive adequate and safe nutrition and thus develop their minimal potential as human beings.

South Asian states owe this to their underprivileged citizens, who are victims of structural, deep-rooted poverty and entrenched inequalities for which they aren't even remotely responsible. The Indian state has failed its poor for 60 years. It's time it redeemed its promises just when its revenues are almost three times higher than six years ago.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email:







Despite the goodies in the new constitutional amendment, there is a stench of doubt in the air on several counts. Provincial autonomy is good and should have been adopted in some shape and form much earlier. But there is a new element of blunt and open anti-Pakistan positions by some political parties and players that has been introduced to the equation and which poisons the whole concept. Many of our detractors outside Pakistan are counting on language-based polarization and conflict in our country. We created this problem by our own mismanagement but now foreign powers meddle in our homeland through this door and most Pakistanis are aware of this. Many of those detractors have invested in this potential conflict over the past years, exploiting our own blunders and mistakes. But now is not the time to squabble over who to blame. The nation, our intelligentsia and the media need to pose hard questions and introduce clarity at a time when it is obvious that those who should have been doing this – parties and politicians – are generally failing this duty.

It is alarming to note that we have political elements that have reached the corridors of power that have a very dim view of Pakistan as a nation. We have a major party whose chief is on record as having said Pakistan's rise was a mistake, and he never retracted. Another party senior stunned the country last year when he said his party was mulling a declaration of secession after the assassination of our former prime minister, seceding on linguistic lines. A third party senior says his party opposed Pakistan's independence and won't repent despite being in power now and ruling an important province. Let me be clear that no one has the right to question anyone's patriotism and intentions. But there is a disturbing pattern here and it cannot be ignored.


In the presence of such a mindset, Pakistan needs a solution that goes beyond just provincial autonomy. We have a bigger problem at hand. Some pundits will say the new provisions in the Eighth Amendment will help reduce these concerns. But that's a pipedream. The situation is so dire now that we are witnessing more calls for language-based provinces. One party in the ruling coalition has proposed the Lebanese formula of a rotation of power from each linguistic group, or province. Why borrow from the failed example of Lebanon and introduce 'Lebanonization'? Pakistan has cultural diversity but hardly an ethnic one. Yet we stand today at a point where some political parties are whipping up frictions because these parties and politicians are unable to offer anything else to the voters. On the question of Pakhtunkhwa, for example, the ANP is claiming the move has finally given Pakistani Pashtuns identity after 63 years. This couldn't be farther from the truth because Pakistani Pashtuns are an integral and influential part of the Pakistani civil and military power structures. But the party's claim went unchallenged and has the potential to galvanize the wrong sentiments in a general environment of despondency in the country.

The new constitutional amendment and the new push for provincial autonomy would have been enough ten or fifteen years ago but not today. What Pakistan needs today is drastic change based on vision and commitment to a strong and prosperous Pakistan. Our decision makers need to think bold. Any solution that rests on weakening a strong federal Pakistani state must not be entertained. The interests of Pakistan and Pakistanis must come before the interests of regional and local parties and politicians. This solution is imperative for strengthening Pakistani identity and nationalism.

Pakistan needs to rearrange all provinces on administrative lines. This will break the push to 'ethnicize' and balkanize politics. Give Pakistanis smaller administrative provinces with directly elected governors and local parliaments. This will get Pakistanis busy in the real issues: roads, schools, and services. It will break the hold of political monopolies and help the rise of fresh political blood, one that is not dependent on cartels or sectarian and linguistic politics. A strong federal government can follow up by injecting money and actively solicit foreign investment into all parts of Pakistan, especially in Sindh, Balochistan and the tribal belt, areas that have been neglected not just by Islamabad but also by those very politicians of the old order who claim today to be champions of provincial rights.


This solution does not serve the narrow interests of most existing political parties but it serves the interests of Pakistanis. We need statesmen at this stage, not the old-order politicians, to step forward and lead the change.

The writer works for Geo television.Email:







The writer is a former member of the Foreign Service of Pakistan

The orgy of self-congratulation accompanying the "consensus" on the Constitution (18th Amendment) Bill cannot obscure the fact that the country is about to be launched recklessly on yet another voyage in uncharted waters in its "chequered constitutional history," to borrow the words from the report of the Rabbani Committee. The haste with which the draft law is being rushed through parliament is deeply disturbing. Normally, an ordinary bill takes several months before completing the various stages of the legislative process, allowing sufficient time for public discussion.

This is no run-of-the-mill bill. It will amend nearly one-third of the articles of the Constitution and substantially alter the way the country is governed. It was prepared behind closed doors and the public debate on it has hardly begun. Yet, the intention is to have it passed within a few days of its presentation, only because it suits the murky schemes of some of its principal authors.

After 77 meetings and hundreds of hours of hard labour – during which the members of the Constitutional Reform Committee feasted almost daily in five-star luxury at public expense, spending millions of rupees of taxpayers' money – they have produced a legal text which is hardly likely to bring the nation nearer to the avowed goal of true parliamentary democracy, empowerment of parliament or greater political stability.

Unnoticed by many, the drafters have quietly deleted a famous clause in the old Article 63 on disqualifications for holders of elective office. Under the amended text of this Article, a person who has been sentenced to imprisonment as an absconder will no longer be disqualified. There are no prizes for guessing who the beneficiary of this amendment is intended to be.

The most harmful of the proposed amendments is the deletion of the concurrent list. This step is being taken in the name of provincial autonomy. Yet, the fact is that it will not give the provinces any additional powers. What it will do is to take away from the federation many powers that a modern state needs; virtually put an end to the single legal space that the country has had so far and which has benefited all provinces; and make inter-provincial coordination and harmonisation very difficult in a number of matters that can best be regulated at the federal level.

It has been argued by some that the abolition of the concurrent list will result in a substantial downsizing of the federal government. This is highly questionable. At best, three to four ministries – environment, population planning, labour, culture and tourism – will go.

Mercifully, the committee finally conceded, belatedly but only partially, that a blanket abolition of the concurrent list will have negative consequences. It has therefore introduced a mini concurrent list through the proposed addition of a new clause to Article 142, saying that both parliament and the Provincial Assemblies will have the power to make laws on criminal law, criminal procedure and evidence.

Besides reinstating these three subjects to the concurrent sphere, the committee has transferred three items on the present concurrent list to the federal list – boilers (though only in the nuclear power industry), electricity and the legal, medical and other professions – and added a new item to the federal list: namely, international treaties and international arbitration.

These changes were made at a meeting of the committee on March 19 after the negative effects of a wholesale abolition of the concurrent list had been brought home to two of its leading members at a televised public discussion a few days earlier. That is good as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Having accepted in principle that a concurrent list in some form is indispensable, the committee should have carried out a careful and dispassionate examination of each item on the list. If criminal law and criminal procedure are to be kept in that list, why not civil procedure and such branches of civil law as the Muslim law on marriage and inheritance, for instance? Otherwise, a marriage between persons from two different provinces would raise issues of conflict of laws. Similarly, it borders on the absurd that while environmental issues are now being tackled at the global level, the committee wants to transfer the subject exclusively to the provinces.

The members of the committee evidently lacked the capacity to fully comprehend these issues. Before taking these decisions, they should have invited inputs from the federal ministries and provincial governments concerned. At this late stage, when the National Assembly has already approved the bill with lightening speed, only the Senate can, as it should, review the matter. It should refer it back to the committee for reconsideration. Better still, the two Houses should constitute another committee for the purpose.

To argue for the retention of the concurrent list does not signify opposition to provincial autonomy. The demand for empowering the provinces is unexceptionable. It can best be accommodated by giving the provinces the power to pass by absolute majority a law which prevails over the federal law. At the same time, the federal legislature should have the possibility, which it should use very sparingly, of overriding such a provincial law, but only if there is a very large majority for it in the Senate.

The abolition of the concurrent list is the most important, but not the only, part of the constitutional package that needs to be reconsidered. At least two other aspects also deserve serious attention if we are to ensure the smooth functioning of the parliamentary system and the legislative supremacy of parliament.

First, it must be ensured that the president will be above party politics. This is the essence of parliamentary democracy. But the signals from recent PPP meetings at Larkana are that Zardari has no intention of relinquishing power even after the passage of the amendment bill and will continue to call the shots as party chairman. In established parliamentary democracies, there are time-honoured conventions that the head of state stays out of politics. In Pakistan, where we have failed to establish such norms because of the repeated interruption of the democratic process, we will have to stipulate this clearly in the Constitution. In addition, it must be laid down in the Constitution that before a president takes the oath of office, he will renounce party membership.

The president's neutrality is particularly important because he names the caretaker government before an election. Although he will in future have to consult the outgoing prime minister and opposition leader, the president will not be bound by their advice. A partisan president could therefore name someone like Taseer as caretaker prime minister, something that would be guaranteed to undermine the credibility of the electoral process.

Second, it is essential, in order to ensure the legislative supremacy of parliament, that the ordinance-making power of the government should be abolished, except when the National or Provincial Assemblies stand dissolved. Ordinances are bad laws because they short-circuit prior parliamentary and public scrutiny.


But instead of curtailing the ordinance-making power of the government or putting an end to the practice of repeatedly reissuing expired ordinances, the amendment bill has actually enhanced this power by stipulating that the life of a federal ordinance may be extended by up to a year through simple resolutions of the two houses. This is tantamount to an abdication of the legislative supremacy of parliament.

One last thing. This will be the 16th (not 18th) Amendment Act. Two amendment bills were never passed. So they should not be counted. It is amazing that our legal draftsmen and committee members never noticed this.

There are also several grammatical errors in the bill that need to be corrected.

The committee on constitutional reform was formed to scrap the 17th Amendment. But it seems that our public representatives are determined also to throw out the baby with the bath water.








You don't come across many Indians in Pakistan. In fact thinking back over my years here, I don't think that before last Wednesday I had met any. As in none. In almost 17 years. I suppose there may have been Indians at various diplomatic events I have attended, but I never got introduced, and I had lived in an Indian-free environment —until suddenly I was having breakfast with one. There she was. Coffee and croissants, and smiling at me and asking how I was doing. There were others as well. Seemed perfectly ordinary. Full complement of limbs and digits. None of them wearing RAW t-shirts, toting weaponry or waving a sheaf of conspiracy theories.

They seemed suspiciously normal, but I wasn't fooled — not for a moment. I saw through the camouflage to the secret agenda beneath, the hidden hands working in the half light, the subtle nuancing of phrase and intonation, all designed to bring the state crashing down around our ears and usher in a….well, I wasn't quite sure what it was going to usher in, but you could bet your last rupee it was going to be bad news for us Pakis.

They were pretty damn good at it, these Indians. Had a whole roomful of people foxed for a couple of hours while a TV channel (probably run by the CIA and Mossad) filmed the whole thing for presentation as evidence at later treason trials. Come lunchtime and they were still at it. Outgoing and friendly, talking apparent sense (in order to cunningly mask the mind-games beneath), and some of them eating what looked suspiciously like…errr…meat.

Obviously, they were doing this to lull us into a false sense of security and they were getting ready to pounce, so we had to be ultra-aware and careful not to betray any state secrets or give the slightest intimation that in truth we were having a rather jolly time with a bunch of engaging and intelligent people who were as curious about us as we were about them.

Yes, Dear Reader, the Indians were in town. And if the spirit of the day that I spent with them could be translated into diplomatic momentum, an awful lot of people would be considerably happier. They were here as a part of the "Aman ki Asha" initiative run jointly by the Times of India and the Jang Group and it was a chance for us media types from either side of the border to indulge in a little gentle exploration. Nobody got angry with anybody else. People politely listened to one another. We exchanged our mutual misperceptions and admitted that we knew rather less about one another than we liked to think that we did. The Sania/Shoaib issue hardly got a mention, and when it did, it was in terms of…"do we really need to go there?" And by the end of the day, with a pocket full of business cards and honest and heartfelt invitations, I wandered home wondering what we could do next.

More of the same would seem to be a good idea. This kind of informal diplomacy – conducted with the knowledge and cooperation of the state on both sides – may be a way forwards. The group I met were all in the communication business, the shapers of ideas and opinions. Within our keyboards lie the images that mould prejudice or acceptance, dialogue or drumbeats. We can change things but we have to want to, and these people seemed willing to do that. Ah, yes, you say – but did they have a tail and horns? No, they didn't — but I did look closely, just to be sure.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:




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