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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month april 13, edition 000480, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com
- SANDHYA JAIN
- TAIT TRUSSELL
- PREMEN ADDY
- B RAMAN
- KONSTANTIN KOSACHEV
- NUSRAT ARA
- THE TIMES OF INDIA
- LET THE BEST BE CHOSEN
- THE STRENGTH OF FOUR -
- THE RESTRICTION MUST STAY -
- WAKE-UP CALL
- MEETING POINT
- THE JHAROO AND THE RAKE -
- SCRAPPING OVER SCRAPS
- SAFFRON LESSONS
- STARING AT THE VOID - SITARAM YECHURY
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- BETWEEN REGULATORS
- TRIBUNAL & TRIBALS
- THE ORIGINAL
- I KNOW MY RIGHTS - MIHIR S SHARMA
- THINK LOCAL - YOGINDER K. ALAGH
- CONCESSIONS TO REALITY - S. VIJAY KUMAR
- REVOLUTION FOR HIGHER - M R MADHAVAN
- MIND YOUR ZS AND QS
- YOUNG SUPERHEROES IN A HUT
- WHY IS AFRICA POOR?
- REGULATORY SPARRING
- POLICY SMOKESCREEN
- REGULATORY DOMAINS WILL OVERLAP - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
- THE ANARCHY OF EXCHANGE RATES - MEGHNAD DESAI
- COST OF EXPLORATION - RAJU KUMAR
- KYRGYZSTAN NEEDS REORIENTATION
- ISRAEL'S TRANSGRESSIONS
- FOR A REVIEW OF COUNTER-INSURGENCY DOCTRINE - PRAVEEN SWAMI
- MAURITIUS: DELICATE SOCIAL FABRIC - PRANAY GUPTE
- THAI SHADOW OVER THE ASEAN - P. S. SURYANARAYANA
- ROMEO AND JULIET GETS TWITTER TREATMENT - MAEV KENNEDY
- OUTFLANKING MAOISTS
- THE INDIA WAY
- RASULPUR: A PICTURE OF GOVERNMENT APATHY - RANJONA BANERJI
- HUSAIN & KHUSHBOO - R VAIDYANATHAN
- THE HEADLEY ACCESS ISSUE
- RUPEE ON THE RISE
- DEADLY WASTE
- STRATEGY TO COUNTER NAXALISM - BY MAJ-GEN PUSHPENDRA SINGH (RETD)
- TRAPPED IN MAYAJAAL - BY SUNIT DHAWAN
- EMPOWERING CHILDREN - BY GUNBIR SINGH
- MAYAWATI FEELS HEAT FROM CONGRESS - BY SATISH MISRA
- MUMBAI DIARY - SHIV KUMAR
- THIS WAS A DIFFERENT TIGER
- SHRUNK INDIA-US CANVAS
- NO WAY TO REGULATE
- WHO'S SAVING WHOM? - SATYAJIT DAS
- BLINDING TRANSPARENCY - A K BHATTACHARYA
- WHAT IS REGIONAL MEDIA? - VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR
- MONETARY POLICY - THE NEW NORMAL - SUMAN BERY
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- BEATLES' BENEDICTION
- WHICH REGULATORY STRUCTURE?
- ON STUDENT LOANS
- THINKING OF THE FUTURE & ITS CHALLENGES - SAUMITRA CHAUDHURI
- EQUITY SCHEME INFLOWS DIP IN FY10 DESPITE MARKET REBOUND
- BAKUL CHUGAN TONGIA
- EIGHT OF THE 10 BEST-PERFORMING CURRENCIES ARE FROM EMERGING MARKETS
- DOW CLOSES ABOVE 11,000 FOR FIRST TIME IN 18 MONTHS
- ANOTHER WAY IS TO HOLD ON - MUKUL SHARMA
- ULIP HOLDERS MUST FEEL PROTECTED'
- NBS WILL FORCE FERTILISER COMPANIES TO UNDERSTAND MARKET WELL: IFFCO CHIEF - PRABHA JAGANNATHAN
- RISE IN INPUT PRICES TO PUT PRESSURE ON MARGINS: TATA STEEL MD - RAKHI MAZUMDAR
- INDO-US TIES: THE VITAL SIGNS ARE GOOD
- PROFITS ON DEPOSITS - BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA
- BANKS: SMALL CAN BE DANGEROUS TOO - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- FIGHTING MAOISTS & MOSQUITOES - BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE
- SHEEPISH ALIENS - BY ROD LIDDLE
- CONQUER EGO, CONQUER DEATH - BY J.S. NEKI
- AIR-POWER? ARMY?
- PRISONER OF GENDER
- CENTRE DOESN'T HOLD
- MAYA, MALA & MEMORIALS - BY AJAY K MEHRA
- RADIATION ACCIDENT OR ATTACK? - RAJINDER PURI
- ROADS WITHOUT RULES - NIVEDITA GANGULI
- 100 YEARS AGO TODAY
- COURTLY SHIFT
- THE TELEGRAPH
- KING SIZE
- MAGIC OF HUMAN CAPITAL - DIPANKAR DASGUPTA
- DIGNITY IN DIVERSITY - MALVIKA SINGH
- SERIOUS LAPSE
- SIGNIFICANT STEP
- ARE MAOISTS ENEMIES? - BY SAEED NAQVI
- HOW TO BUILD ON THE START TREATY - BY WILLIAM J PERRY AND GEORGE SHULTZ
- THE BORED GENERATION - BY SUJATA RAJPAL
- EQUATING IRAN NUKES WITH HOLOCAUST HIGHLIGHTS ISRAEL'S ISOLATION
- THE HOLOCAUST WON'T PROTECT ISRAEL FOREVER - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
- OBAMA AND NETANYAHU CAN'T AFFORD TO DISAGREE - BY DAVID MAKOVSKY
- CORRUPTION ON THE HILL - BY KARNI ELDAD
- TEACHING A LESSON - BY EDNA ULLMANN-MARGALIT
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- A WRONG WAY AND A RIGHT WAY
- GAO ZHISHENG, HU JIA, LIU XIAOBO
- POLITICS 1, RULE OF LAW 0
- MAYOR BLOOMBERG'S ISLAND
- 'A DIFFERENT CREATURE' - BY BOB HERBERT
- WHAT WE LEARNED FROM H1N1'S FIRST YEAR - BY RICHARD P. WENZEL
I. THE NEWS
- NUCLEAR KNOTS
- CIVILIAN TOLL
- A CITY IN RUINS
- SIX HELLISH DAYS - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
- CHECKING THE INDUS - SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR
- CONSTITUTIONAL DECEPTION - ASIF EZDI
- ON RELEASING POVERTY NUMBERS - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
- GAPS IN OBAMA'S AFGHAN STRATEGY - DR MALEEHA LODHI
- THE 18TH AND AFTER - MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN
- NO RELIEF IN SIGHT FOR MASSES
- EXPLOITATION OF SUGARCANE GROWERS
- NEED TO CURB NGOS MAFIA
- VITAL ISSUES APPROVED IN JIFFY - DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
- DOOMSDAY IN PAKISTAN - SAEED QURESHI
- IS OBAMA BACK ON TRACK? - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- PAKISTAN AND FUTURE - SHAIMA SUMAYA
- RUNNING IN CIRCLES IN KYRGYZSTAN - ERIC MCGLINCHEY
- DIARRHOEA WORSENING
- QUALITY EDUCATION
- I'M JUST A PERSON !
- ENERGY CRISIS: WHERE IS THE ELECTRICITY? - FORREST COOKSON
- NEW POLARISATION IN BANGLADESH POLITICS - SHIMUL CHAUDHURY
- FACING THE AGED-CARE CHALLENGE
- THE IMPACT OF AN ANCIENT EVIL
- SCHOOLS INQUIRY MUST BE JUST THE START OF CLEAN-UP
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- TEACHERS FACE A SKILLS TEST
- A SMART TRAVEL CARD. OH REALLY?
- THAILAND'S YEARS OF PROTEST TAKE DEADLY TURN
- HULLS SHOULD BACK DOWN ON ADVISERS
- LABOUR: PROGRESS ON THE CHEAP
- IN PRAISE OF DAFFODILS
- THAILAND: COLOUR-CODED CHAOS
THE JAPAN TIMES
- SAFETY FAILURES AT NUCLEAR PLANT
- UPHOLD DEFENSE PRINCIPLES
- COULD ENVIRONMENTALISM REALLY BE COMMUNISM IN DISGUISE? - BY TAKAMITSU SAWA
- VOTE FOR CHANGE MAY BRING MORE OF THE SAME - BY TINA BURRETT
THE JAKARTA POST
- RETHINKING THE CURRENT FREE TRADE DEBATE IN INDONESIA
- P.M. ERZA KILLIAN
- A MOMENTUM FOR CIVIL SERVICE REFORM - CECEP EFFENDI
- ENSURE AFFORDABLE HOUSING
- MISHANDLING A MISHAP
- MISHANDLING A MISHAP
- OVERHEATING CONCERNS
- YOUTHS DIVERSIFY CHOICES FOR URBAN LIVING - BY WEI WEI & FU SHUANGQI (CHINA DAILY)
- DISARMAMENT AND CUTTING EMISSIONS - BY MAO YUSHI (CHINA DAILY)
- US WAKES FROM NUCLEAR ENERGY SLUMBER - BY DAVID KAN TING (CHINA DAILY)
- GUARD AGAINST ECONOMIC SPIES - BY OU CHENGZHONG (CHINA DAILY)
- WHO SHOULD BE THE FOREIGN MINISTER?
- ELECTION VICTORIES; AND NEW YEAR THOUGHTS
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- THE ETHICS OF REPORTING TRAGEDY - BY ALEXEI PANKIN
- OBAMA'S NUCLEAR DOCTRINE COULD BOOST RESET
- A PARODY IN 2 ACTS - BY ALEXANDER GOLTS
- ONLY HOPPING
- FADING GREENS
- ROAD ACCIDENTS IN NEPAL: FAILED GOVERNANCE INDICES - MUKTI RIJAL
- TOPICS: WOMEN AND MONEY - REKHA ACHARYA
HYPHENATING INDIA, PAKISTAN WON'T DO
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the ongoing Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, seems to have witnessed some plain speaking on the part of the former. Mr Singh appears to have made it clear to Mr Obama that Pakistan's approach to the issue of terrorism in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is further deteriorating the existing scenario. He has also made it known that Islamabad is in no mood to punish those responsible for masterminding the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai and that the anti-India activities of groups such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba continue unabated. He further stressed that unless these issues were speedily rectified, the entire security architecture of South Asia could be damaged beyond repair. Although Mr Obama heard out Mr Singh, what is surprising is that instead of promising to act on New Delhi's concerns, he stressed on the need to "reduce tensions" between India and Pakistan. In other words, in spite of Mr Singh telling Mr Obama that Pakistan is part of the problem, if not the problem, the Americans remain unimpressed and unwilling to accept the truth. What this essentially means is that Mr Obama is being led by the Pentagon which has been trying to push its twisted version of the so-called Af-Pak strategy and which revolves around putting pressure on India to pull-back troops from the border to humour the Pakistani Government and pander to the Pakistani Army. It is amusing that Mr Obama, who should have known better, has chosen to go along with the Pentagon despite overwhelming evidence of the help being extended by the ISI to the Taliban.
Mr Obama would do well to take the wax out of his ears. He must realise the folly in outsourcing the war on terrorism to Pakistan, which sponsors terror. What India is trying to tell him and the US President is clearly not paying attention or choosing not to is that influential sections of the Islamabad-Rawalpindi establishment are in no mood to put an end to jihadi terror in either Afghanistan, India or the neighbourhood. After all, jihadi sympathisers can't be expected to go after the very people they deem are an asset to achieve their strategic goals. By relying on the sponsors of terrorism, the Obama Administration has created a situation whereby Pakistan is playing ducks and drakes, doing precisely what it wishes to do with impunity. It is obvious to all that Pakistan has been selectively going after Taliban members who are of little or no importance while turning a blind eye to the activities of core jihadis. If the US continues to depend on Islamabad, things can only go from bad to worse.
In such circumstances, India cannot play along with America. Hyphenating Indian interests with those of Pakistan is an old American game. Hence, it would be appropriate on our part to read out the riot act to the Americans for a change: They are either with us, or against us. Mr Obama asking the Pakistani Prime Minister to act against the 26/11 masterminds or promising to look into India's request for access to Lashkar-e-Tayyeba activist David Coleman Headley is meaningless: In real terms, they amount to nothing. Had he meant well, he would have done more than pay lip service to India's mounting concerns. That he has chosen not to do so is indicative of how he views US-India relations.
WAS HE PART OF CPM TEAM VISITING GULF?
Kerala's octogenarian Marxist Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan lost no time in ordering an inquiry against IGP (Kannur) Tomin J Thachankery when he learned that the officer had visited Gulf countries without his knowledge while on a short leave. Mr Thachankery, known to be close to State CPI(M) secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, was touring the Gulf countries with a party team he was leading. When the Chief Minister ordered a probe by the ADGP (Intelligence), Mr Thachankery first said he was holidaying with his family in Kashmir but soon admitted that he had toured four Gulf countries in the past 10 days. However, he claimed he had not met any political leader there, but few are willing to believe him. Mr Thachankery, who is facing several vigilance probes, has been accused of amassing wealth beyond his means and the video-production facility his family runs in Kochi has faced allegations of piracy. Quite recently, he was in the centre of a controversy after he visited Bangalore to question terror man Thadiyantavide Nazeer without the Chief Minister's knowledge. There have been charges that Mr Thachankery is part of a CPI(M)-led team bent upon sabotaging the various inquiries into terror cases in order to protect Islamist leader Abdul Nasser Madani, who is known for his close proximity to the Marxists.
As per rule, senior police officials are required to inform the Chief Minister, Home Department, DGP and Chief Secretary while leaving the State. Mr Thachankery's explanation that he had informed the relevant authorities about the Gulf tour has failed to convince his own DGP. So when Mr Achuthanandan ordered a probe against him, even Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, known as his protector, did not find it easy to justify his act. There is no reason to believe that Mr Achuthanandan had ordered the inquiry against Mr Thachankery just because of the obvious irregularity. For the veteran Marxist, this is an occasion to resume his war against Mr Vijayan, whose neo-liberalist group in the CPI(M) had succeeded in getting him expelled from the Polit Bureau on the charge of gross indiscipline. He knows that Mr Vijayan would understand that a move initiated by the Chief Minister against the IGP is an act of war against him, considering the reported connections between the officer and the Marxist neo-liberalists. Also, the wind is in Mr Achuthanandan's favour to some extent as there is huge displeasure among several of the top party leaders towards Mr Vijayan and his team for going on a fund-raising tour to the Gulf after declaring a 'jail bharo' agitation on April 8. Latest reports say that action against the IGP is inevitable. But what remains to be seen is whether the octogenarian Chief Minister will, as usual, withdraw when pressure from the party intensifies.
Now that the scandal of the sex abuse of minor boys and girls and adult men and women in virtually every country with a church presence has touched the heart of the Vatican, singeing the present Pope himself for his alleged role in the protection of guilty priests, it may be appropriate to seek a review of the unique status the Roman Catholic Church enjoys at the United Nations. The Vatican slipped into the UN in the guise of the Holy See, the Government of the Roman Catholic Church, and sits on that august body as a Non-member State Permanent Observer.
The UN Secretary-General owes it to the international community to define the church as either a religion or a polity. If the Vatican is a state, it must end its presence as a religion in other countries; if it represents a faith denomination, it should participate in UN forums in exactly the same way as other religions and sects do as a non-governmental organisation. It must no longer be allowed the liberty to practice both religion and politics in other lands, particularly those with predominantly non-Christian populations.
Non-member State Permanent Observer status gives the Vatican some of the privileges of a state; it can speak and vote at UN conferences, a privilege denied to other religions and sects. As UN conferences operate on consensus, the power to disagree with an emerging consensus carries weight. It is pertinent that the Holy See was not invited to participate in the UN; it sought recognition as a state in international bodies; it got in though no vote was ever taken on its presence at the UN by the General Assembly.
The Holy See is definitionally a "non-territorial religious entity". It does not meet the legal criteria for statehood as defined by the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States: "The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) Government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states."
The Holy See does not meet these criteria as it does not have a 'permanent population', as it is the governing body of Catholics worldwide and not a territory; for this reason it does not possess a defined territory. As late as 1985, it had diplomatic relations with only 53 countries; America established diplomatic ties with the Holy See only in 1984, possibly as part of its geo-strategic thrust against the then Soviet Bloc.
Further, the Holy See is defined by the Church as the "supreme organ of Government" of the Roman Catholic Church, but a government of a religion cannot be considered a state. Moreover, most state functions within Vatican City are actually carried out by Italy, which provides the police force and punishes crimes committed within Vatican City and provides all the civic amenities.
It is pertinent that other states that are theocracies, such as the Islamic kingdoms and countries, satisfy the international criteria for recognition as states. The mere fact of designating a particular religion as the official religion of the state cannot take away its statehood. But the Holy See is the Government of a religion.
This is an oxymoron. Ironically, none of the major Western countries where the Catholic Church has a sizeable presence, such as Italy, Germany, Britain, France, America, all European countries, Australia, the South American and African nations, is a theocracy. In no country is the Catholic denomination the official state religion (Britain is Protestant). Yet, the dominant West, as part of its post-World War II geo-strategy to oppose and vanquish Soviet Russia and the Communist Bloc, cleverly carved out Vatican City from Rome, for use at an appropriate time. Conversion of the rest of the world to Christianity (intra-Christian fights could wait) remained a top but covert agenda.
The plot unwound slowly. The myth of the 'saint' of Kolkata's slums, Teresa, was created by journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, and her persona built up by sustained propaganda all over the world, though there was no matching social service output on the ground. Teresa is on a fast track to sainthood though her negligible social work has been exposed by Western journalists seeking accountability for the huge funds sent to India, and by writer Aroup Chatterjee (Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict). Sadly, it suited the Kolkata Communists to have this fake messiah in their midst, and nothing was done to expose the truth that Church leaders misuse foreign funds for conversion activities rather than genuine social work.
Poor converts neglected by Church authorities after being torn from their civilisational moorings are now fighting back, like the victims of sex abuse. The Poor Christian Liberation Movement is demanding full participation for Scheduled Caste converts, a 100-year moratorium on conversions, and use of the million dollar Western donations to improve the lives of the already converted.
Challenging the "increasing corruption in Church organisations", they have asked the UPA Government to ensure transparency in the working of Christian NGOs that misuse foreign aid received for the welfare of the poor and downtrodden. While Christian schools, colleges, hospitals and other bodies mint money, the community gets little benefit. Poor converts want all Church bodies to earmark at least 50 per cent of their income and profits for the uplift of the poor and downtrodden sections of the community.
Poor Christians are enraged at the Church's move to push the Government to include Scheduled Caste converts in the Hindu Scheduled Castes list, so that it does not have to cater to their social and economic uplift. The Church prefers to 'legalise' caste in Indian Christianity; but this is untenable as caste is not recognised under Canon Law.
Despite so many taints, the Holy See is mysteriously honoured at the UN as a quasi-governmental entity. Pope John Paul II described the role of the Holy See in the UN as "spiritual very different from that of the states, which are communities in the political and temporal sense". The UN must treat all religions and religious denominations equally. The Roman Catholic Church must participate in the UN as an NGO, just as the World Council of Churches (the apex Protestant body) does; it does not deserve its current privileged status.
The last time that US President Barack Obama's senior adviser and assistant Valerie Jarrett was in the news, her favored political recruit, Mr Anthony 'Van' Jones, was resigning his post as White House presidential adviser amid revelations of a radical background that included communist sympathies and his support for 9/11 Truther conspiracy. Now Ms Jarrett, widely viewed as Mr Obama's radical alter ego, has reemerged this time as a foreign policy guru.
As Mr Obama and Russian President Dimitri Medvedev signed a new nuclear arms treaty last week, Ms Jarrett sat observing nearby. That she has once again found herself in a position of influence is not surprising. Ms Jarrett proudly acknowledges her remarkable closeness to President Obama. "We have kind of a mind meld" is the way she put it in a New York Times magazine interview last summer.
Although neither elected, nor confirmed, nor even vetted, and without previous Washington experience, Ms Jarrett has been installed as senior adviser and assistant to the president for intergovernmental and public engagement. She also was given the recently created Office of Urban Affairs, even though we have a cabinet member who is Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Now it appears she is involved in our nation's foreign policy. Why else would she be in Prague for the preparations and signing of the arms treaty? Mr Obama has said, that she is trusted to speak for him, "particularly when dealing with delicate issues". Such as nuclear arms? If so, that should be cause for concern. Ms Jarrett's only experience in foreign affairs is the insignificant fact that she was born in Iran. She lived in London as a child before coming to the US.
But Ms Jarrett may already be exerting her influence on the President. On March 28, she appeared on a television show and talked about the forthcoming nuclear deal between the US and Russia. "The fact that the President and Russia are about to sign the START Treaty is a good sign," Ms Jarrett insisted. Just a few weeks later, the US promised not to use nuclear weapons against nations that do not have them, even if they attack the US first; a huge departure from existing US policy.
THE MAY 6 GENERAL ELECTION COULD THROW UP SOME SURPRISES. FOR ALL THEIR BLUSTER, THE TORIES MAY NOT WIN THE POLL AS WAS WIDELY PREDICTED TILL RECENTLY. LABOUR HAS CLAWED BACK INTO THE RECKONING AND SUDDENLY POLLSTERS ARE TALKING OF A PHOTO-FINISH EVEN A HUNG PARLIAMENT!
The die was cast. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown left 10 Downing Street for the short drive to Buckingham Palace and an audience with the Queen. Parliament was dissolved and the expected general election would be held on May 6, precisely a month after its announcement with the completion of the long Easter weekend break. Should New Labour return to office without a power-sharing deal in a hung chamber, the event might evoke a passing likeness to the Resurrection. Blasphemy perhaps but mercifully without a jihadi fatwa to rub salt into bleeding Tory hearts. But that is to look prematurely into a malfunctioning crystal ball, with political soothsayers in general agreement that the result will be too close to call, closer than it has been in living memory.
The dilemma likely to face the next regime in Whitehall was best explained by Mr Alan Greenspan, once the iconic head of America's Federal Reserve, to his Congressional interlocutors in 1995: The Fed, he said, could print all the money they desired but it couldn't guarantee purchasing power.
However, there is nothing here to place against the Boon and Mills romance of Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik and its comic Keystone Cop sequence. Their nuptials, less a midsummer night dream and more pre-monsoon delirium has still some mileage. The telephone as arbiter between fact and fiction coupled with a scrum of reporters and police was a leaven of black magic to preposterous black humour.
A worthier subject, if only just, was a televised BBC travel documentary in which the youthful explorer, one Simon Reeve, circumnavigates the Tropic of Cancer, including its Indian corridor stretching from Ahmedabad to Kolkata via Ujjain and the derelict Union Carbide site in Bhopal. The script, artful BBC-Foreign Office all the way, resonated the melancholic British establishment view of post-Raj India trembling on the brink of a Malthusian population crisis, racked by Hindu-Muslim riots, an impoverished countryside devoid of roads and infrastructure, and precariously reliant on monsoon rain in the absence of man-made irrigation. Through this Cancerian sliver was refracted the negative perception of an entire subcontinent.
A jolly Reeve, armed with rucksack and scarcely wet behind the ears, set the tone his with first native escort: The 2002 communal violence in Gujarat, what would Mahatma Gandhi have said? India, a space power, yet disfigured by poverty and slums again, what would the Mahatma have said? The browbeaten darkie padding alongside was visibly chastened as he mumbled and grinned defeat. He might have pointed to Brunel's wondrous Victorian engineering even as many an English working man, woman and child laboured from morn to night in satanic mills and coal pits, but such cheek might have brought instant dismissal.
To be fair, Reeve habitually referred to an Indian economic boom amid his excursions into Indian poverty and negligence, whose details were never less than clear and telling. However, his 'boom' was sound without flesh; for all one knew the man could have been talking of a river barrier in some harbour, or an implement to set a sail to the desired angle. But that is to misunderstand the purpose of the Reeve exercise which is to lower Indian self-esteem through sustained psychological warfare. It wouldn't do to have Pakistan down and India up. The order needn't be reversed that would be self-defeating in the glare of reality but a more levelling playing field would do very well, thank you. Until India was sufficiently house trained to play ball.
Returning to Simon Reeve's gloomy prognosis on the lack of Indian irrigation, the poor soul seemed unaware of the British media broadsides at the Sardar Sarovar Narmada project as a violation of the human rights of dispossessed farmers, whose land would be drowned by its waters. There was barely token recognition of due process that eventually guaranteed them satisfactory financial settlements every inch of the way.
One recalls an unintentionally hilarious report from The Independent's man in India at the time, Tim McGirk, describing his fraught crossing of the crocodile-infested Narmada in a "leaky rowing boat."If this wasn't enough, he "had to sleep in a hut on a floor of hardened mud and dung in the company of eight German feminists." Presumably he did his duty as the great Nelson expected of every Englishman before the battle of Trafalgar. There was no Maastricht exchange mechanism, no subprime crisis to impede McGirk's movements. Another Independent correspondent, describing the wild celebrations on Gujarat streets following the Supreme Court of India's sanction of the Narmada dam, likened it to Gandhi's civil disobedience campaigns of the 1920s and 30s. Peter Popham's experiment with truth, alas, was anything but truthful!
The larger picture was faithfully reproduced in the following warning from The Economist: "India risks fragmenting in ways that threaten its people but its neighbours too...(Unless the general election of June 1991) confirms India's unity, the Central Government will be tempted to use any means even martial law to keep the realm intact. And the less popular a Central Government feels at home the more it may be tempted to curry support by adventuring abroad...anxious neighbours remember India's wars with Pakistan and China..." The Independent's leader of August 15, 1989 ploughed a lonelier furrow with its title "From prig to bully in 42 years"
It could be that the harsh Indian sun is responsible for some of the White man's better known disorders such as Delhi-belly, but Christopher Thomas's affliction still baffles admirers of The Times, where following Rajiv Gandhi's funeral, he told how his ashes were destined for immersion near "Ahmedabad in the western State of Gujarat where the Ganges meets the Jammu." The good folk of Allahabad, in high dudgeon at the sacrilege, have never renewed their subscriptions.
In light of Britain's fading military power, the wisest diplomacy now would be for Britain to "help discreetly to explain the Chinese to the Indians, and vice-versa." This well-grilled counsel from Right-wing Tory Bruce Anderson was published recently in The Times (March 29). The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Finally, this Timesreport (April 2): "Britain has announced the creation of the world's largest marine nature reserve yesterday in the pristine waters surrounding the Chagos Islands, a cluster of islands in the Indian Ocean." British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, hailed "Its creation (as) a major step forward for protecting the oceans...throughout the world."
To do this Whitehall cleansed the islands of their human population and stubbornly opposes their return so that a US military base could be installed for the world's benefit. Should US marines land in Mumbai you'll know from where they have come.
TV MISLEADS ON UTILITY OF IAF AGAINST MAOISTS
There is a confusing debate in our electronic media about the pros and cons of using air power against the Maoist insurgents. The debate has been triggered by remarks made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister P Chidambaram about all options remaining open, including the use of air power. These comments were made after the Maoists succeeded in butchering 75 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force plus one member of the district police in a deadly ambush in the forests of Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh on April 6.
There are three concepts involved: Use of air power, use of air strikes and use of the Air Force in the operations against the insurgents. Air power is a wide term implying the use of air-borne assets such as aircraft, helicopters and armed or unarmed Drones (pilotless planes) for performing various operational tasks such as intelligence collection, electronic monitoring of ground signals, logistics, humanitarian relief and attacks on the ground positions of the insurgents.
Air strike is a restricted term meaning the use of air-borne assets only for the purpose of attacking the insurgents' ground positions.Use of the Air Force means using the air-borne assets of the Air Force.
In the history of India's counter-insurgency, we have used air strikes by the Air Force only once in 1966 when the Mizo National Front, in a surprise attack, overran practically the whole of Mizoram, including Aizawl, its capital. To dislodge the MNF insurgents from Aizawl, air strikes by the Air Force of a limited duration were ordered. Apart from that we have not used air strikes by the Air Force for dealing with any internal security situation. A basic principle followed by many countries is that one cannot resort to air strikes in one's own territory against one's own people.
Air strikes on one's own nationals tend to aggravate an insurgency situation by causing casualties of civilians, damaging the environment in forest areas and driving more people to join the ranks of the insurgents. They also attract the attention and criticism of international human rights organisations such as the Amnesty International and humanitarian relief organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
There are cases of some nations resorting to air strikes by their Air Force against their own nationals for dealing with an insurgency. Examples: Pakistan's use of its Air Force against the Baloch nationalists and the Pakistani Taliban, Russia's use of the Air Force against the Chechens and Sri Lanka's use of its Air Force against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. In Pakistan and Russia it has aggravated the insurgency problem. In Sri Lanka, the air strikes helped in crushing the insurgency, but it has been facing an embarrassing sequel in the form of international demands for an enquiry into the way it crushed the LTTE.
The use of air strikes by our Air Force against the Maoist positions on the ground would be inadvisable. It could brutalise our counter-insurgency operations. Over the years, India has made for itself a name as a role-model in its restrained counter-insurgency approach. We have dealt with serious situations without resorting to air strikes and the use of heavy artillery. We should not deviate from our exemplary record of the past in dealing with alienated sections of our population who have taken to arms against the state.
Use of air power without air strikes is permissible in counter-insurgency situations. We are already using air power for dealing with internal security situations. For special interventions for terminating a terrorist attack, we use aircraft under the control of the Aviation Research Centre, a civilian organisation, piloted by Air Force officers taken on deputation by the ARC. They go into action not on behalf of the Air Force, but on behalf of a civilian wing of the Government (the ARC). Similarly, even in Dantewada on April 6, we used air power for logistics and humanitarian purposes such as the evacuation of the injured.
Similarly, for years, we have been using the surveillance aircraft of the ARC for intelligence collection purposes while dealing with an insurgency through methods such as aerial photography, electronic monitoring of ground signals, etc. It is totally in order for us to continue to use air power for such purposes. It will be equally in order for us to undertake a post-mortem of the adequacy of the airpower available for use in counter-insurgency situations. If there are deficiencies, how to remove them?
There are two ways of removing the deficiencies augment the air power of para-military organisations such as the CRPF and the Border Security Force and supplement their air power by using the air-borne assets of the Air Force. After 1966, we have not used the air-borne assets controlled by the Air Force in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism situations. If we want to use the assets of the Air Force in future on a regular basis, procedural complications might arise because the assets of the Air Force were sanctioned and acquired for use against external adversaries and not for use in internal security situations. That is why the Air Force chief seems to have some reservations on this issue.
A correct solution, which will not prove controversial, will be to undertake a crash programme for augmenting the air power of the para-military forces and the ARC.
The writer, a former senior official with R&AW, is a noted security expert.
WILL MOSCOW APOLOGISE FOR THE KATYN MASSACRE OF POLISH SOLDIERS AND OFFICERS? THE ISSUE OF APOLOGISING FOR THE EVENTS OF 1956 IN HUNGARY AND 1968 IN CZECHOSLOVAKIA HAS BEEN SETTLED. WILL RUSSIA ACT ON KATYN, ASKS KONSTANTIN KOSACHEV
The Katyn massacre of Polish officers and other dramatic developments in Russian-Polish relations in 1939-1941 have occupied the attention of Russian lawmakers on more than one occasion.
These issues sometimes provoke outbursts of raw emotion a regular feature of Parliaments around the world and the Polish media naturally shine a spotlight on these outbursts. This kind of reporting overshadows the more numerous positive developments in the two countries' relations. Incidentally, it was the Congress of People's Deputies (Soviet Parliament) in 1990 that acknowledged the existence of secret protocols to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which paved the way for an open discussion of Katyn.
True, parliamentary resolutions are sometimes counterproductive. Last year, the Polish Parliament passed a resolution on the 1939-1941 events to mark the anniversary of the September 17, 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland. This resolution contained elements of an accusation of genocide, and my colleagues in the Duma demanded an equally harsh resolution in response. But I tried to persuade my colleagues that we needed to break this vicious circle of blame and recrimination. Ultimately, we limited ourselves to sending a letter to my Polish counterpart, the head of the Polish Parliament's committee on international affairs, which spelled out our position.
Russia's position by no means justifies the execution of Polish officers and intellectuals, which were among the prisoners of war killed in Katyn. However, one point bears mentioning. Judging by the historical documents, Joseph Stalin, who ordered the massacre, did not see the victims as officers, intellectuals or even Poles. Formally, they were equated to Soviet citizens, as Poland had "ceased to exist" as a state by the time they were captured, according to Stalin. They were taken prisoner on a territory that he considered part of the Soviet Union. Therefore, according to the cruel logic that Soviet officials had grown accustomed to, Stalin was free to do whatever he pleased with them.
This logic caused Russians no less suffering than Poles, and it would be unfair to assign collective guilt to present-day Russia or Russians for this tragedy.
Strong words like genocide a word that is overused these days certainly pay dividends from a political perspective. But dwelling on this martyr image can become counterproductive, both as it relates to a nation's historical memory and educating young children.
In the case of Russia and Poland, this rule takes a distinct diplomatic form. The issue of apologising for the events of 1956 in Hungary and 1968 in Czechoslovakia has been settled, largely due to wise and sober-minded politicians in both countries who chose not to exploit the issue for political gains.
Only the truth can lift grudges and encourage rapprochement between countries. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin seems to have found a good partner in Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and the two may be able resolve the issues that have accumulated over time. The Prime Ministers promised to open their national archives to each other in September 2009. The announcement was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the start of World War II. This was certainly an important step in the right direction, but let's not simplify the situation.
Although many documents on the Katyn massacre have been published, the debate over Stalin's true motives for executing the prisoners in February and March 1940 is far from settled. Why did Stalin suddenly put the issue before the Politburo for a formal go-ahead from his pocket Government and order the execution when an earlier plan called for the prisoners to be transported deep within Russia and for some prisoners to be let go? Will the release of a few remaining documents withheld by the Military Prosecutor's Office clarify the matter? Probably not, as the documents in question will not be found in the files of the Politburo or any other high Government body.
The writer is Chairman of the State Duma (Lower Chamber of the Russian Parliament) Committee on International Affairs, for RIA Novosti.
EARLY FLOWERING, SCANT SNOWFALL AND SWELLING OF RIVERS ARE SOME UNDESIRABLE CHANGES, WRITES NUSRAT ARA
After the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admitted to a major mistake in its 2007 report, which asserted the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, sceptics went on the offensive, using the admission as proof that climate change is a fabrication. Though the 2035 deadline may no longer be valid, global warming is surely having an effect on the ground. Lying in the lap of the Himalayas, Kashmir is one such place which is now feeling the impact.
While the West was in the grip of a harsh winter with unprecedented snowfall, the hilly regions of Kashmir was still waiting for its share of the season's snow. Now its absence virtually guarantees a drought in the coming summer.
"Unfortunately the people who are most impacted by climate change are those who are least responsible for it", says Mr Usmaan Ahmad, the Kashmir mission director Mercy Corps, an international organisation working at the community-level to overcome crises and engender sustainable positive change.
Kashmir's orchard owners were already nervous as their trees began to sprout buds well before time. An early flower means decreased production and a drought in summer would only worsen this bleak scenario. Just two decades ago, the Kashmir Valley would get heavy snowfall in early winter leaving a thick snow blanket which would cover the landscape until spring. Nowadays, snowfall is not only thin but also often late, implying that it will not stay for long.
Ghulam Mohiudin Bhat, a farmer in Pulwama district, has converted his paddy fields into apple orchards due to water scarcity. "We were facing water shortage for the last 10 to 15 years, so we switched to horticulture," he says. Like Bhat, his neighbour Ghulam Rasool Ganai also abandoned paddy farming for apple farming this year.
Kashmir, one of the three places in world, besides Iran and Spain, famous for its saffron witnessed a 40 per cent drop in its production. Some of the saffron farmers, who traditionally relied on rainwater, are now looking at irrigation measures to save their rare and labour-intensive crop.
Mr Shakil Romshoo, an assistant professor at the Geology and Geophysics department of the University of Kashmir, attributed the increase in average temperature to the burning of fossil fuels and inefficient use of biomass that darken the glaciers and make them soak up more sunlight. Jennifer L Morgan, Director of the Climate and Energy Program at the World Resources Institute in Washington DC, told a leading daily that glaciers will not disappear by 2035 but water shortage will pose to India's neighbours. Within India, too the falling groundwater is a source of concern while the demand for water is projected to double in the next 20 years.
Meanwhile, organisations like Mercy Corps have been involved with spreading awareness amongst farmers. Mr Ahmad says that local awareness will help the community survive the immediate future, the real solution lies in large-scale global coordination, which sadly the Copenhagen climate change summit fell short of. "There is no single solution for the problem of climate change", he says. According to him, it requires a multi-stakeholder approach wherein the community, educational and research institutions, the Government and private sector will need to sit together to find a way out. It is not the job of Government alone.
The time is now, to ponder, to mobilise, to act, not just for Kashmir and the region but the colossal Himalayas which for centuries symbolised the harmony in the environment.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
LET THE BEST BE CHOSEN
There is a chorus of voices asking for more foreign players in the playing XI of every IPL club than the mandated four per team. Not surprisingly the demand is strongest among foreign cricketers, some of whom have been warming the bench. They've got a point. Why should there be a cap on the number of foreign players when the IPL is meant to be a global league transcending national boundaries?
The argument in favour of capping the number of foreign players in the playing XI is to allow local talent to find space in the team. But we need to ask, if there is any need for such a protectionist policy? India is now a cricket powerhouse with plenty of talent available at all levels. Surely if they are good enough, they will be selected by IPL franchisees. And from next year there will be two more teams in the IPL looking for players.
If the fear is that we might end up with IPL teams consisting of only foreign players, that is misguided. Even if there weren't any cap on the number of foreign players, it would not make economic or cricketing sense to have a team full of outside cricketers. For one, IPL teams would cross their salary cap if they wanted to have a team only of foreign stars. So they would perforce have to choose local talent. Second, why would IPL teams want to have too many foreign players when the matches are being played in India? Not only would local players have a much better idea of the conditions, they would also help in branding the team.
At present, it is a travesty that players of the calibre of Tillakaratne, Dilshan or Kevin Pietersen have mostly been watching the games from the sidelines. IPL needs to change its rules so that the best players, irrespective of their nationality, get to play.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE STRENGTH OF FOUR
The BRIC summit, which will take place in Brazil on April 15-16, 2010, is a young forum that nevertheless has gained great international recognition from the outset. And this is no surprise, since its member countries comprise 26 per cent of the world's territory, 42 per cent of the world's population and 14.6 per cent of the world's GDP. In recent years, BRIC's share in global economic development has exceeded 50 per cent.
What place does Russia hold in this group of states?
Overcoming the impact of the global crisis, our country is following the path of comprehensive renovation at the same time. Our key objective is to achieve sustainable economic growth and an increase in the income of citizens on the basis of a diversified economy, modernised technologies and an innovative development model. We increasingly invest in further outer space exploration, energy efficiency improvement, development of nuclear and alternative energy, information, telecommunications and new medical technologies and drug development. We attach great importance to processing of minerals, which constitute Russia's riches, as well as agricultural production. I am convinced that our BRIC partners will find these Russian achievements useful.
For our part, we have been following with interest and appreciation the dynamic development of other alliance members. A combination of the relative competitive advantages of our countries is beneficial to all in many fields, and offers us unique incentives for cooperation. Many of such advantages have already been made use of.
Here is one example. At a recent meeting in Moscow our agriculture ministers have decided to establish a joint database to assess the state of food security in the BRIC countries and promote cooperation in the field of development and exchange of agricultural technologies. Such technologies are intended to reduce the negative climate impact on food security, and ensure adaptation of agricultural industry to climate change.
There are also wide opportunities for multilateral cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, aircraft engineering, exploration and use of outer space and nanotechnologies. Such cooperation can be enhanced through establishing financial interaction of the BRIC countries, in particular in the form of agreements on the use of national currencies in mutual trade.
In our view, joint economic security measures are also important, such as mutual information exchange on possible speculative attacks at currency, stock and commodity exchanges.
We appreciate the active and creative efforts of the Brazilian chairmanship that brought BRIC cooperation to a qualitatively new level. BRIC has recently held a number of very useful meetings of finance ministers, senior representatives on security issues and officials of development banks. What is especially important is that our cooperation is expanding due to involvement of business communities and civil society. Today, Brazil is hosting the meeting of representatives of commercial banks, as well as of the business forum and conference of scientific and research centres of the "quartet".
Since the first full-scale BRIC summit in Yekaterinburg (June 16, 2009), we have managed to make a good start in many areas of work that we have identified. Thus, our states are active in the Group of Twenty that has become the main mechanism for coordination of international efforts aimed at establishing a new system of global economic governance. Thanks to a common approach, we succeeded in the redistribution of 5 per cent of voting shares in the IMF and 3 per cent in the World Bank in favour of emerging and developing economies at the G-20 summit at Pittsburgh. We advocate the adoption of clear "rules of the game" that would ensure equitable participation for all G-20 members in its activities.
In addition, BRIC countries will be pushing for a successful accomplishment of the long-overdue reforms of the Bretton Woods system now underway. I believe we could also join our efforts to promote the development of the G-20 action programme in the post-crisis period and make our joint contribution to this work.
By strengthening the economic framework of the multipolar world, BRIC countries are objectively contributing to creating conditions for strengthening international security. We share an imperative that the international community should resolve conflicts through politico-diplomatic and legal means, rather than the use of military force. In our view, it is necessary to strengthen collective principles in international relations and to establish a just and democratic world order.
Russia, China, India and Brazil actively cooperate within the United Nations. The most notable example is co-sponsorship by these states of UN General Assembly resolutions on matters related to the prevention of placement of any kinds of weapons in outer space and non-use of force against outer space objects.
I am confident that cooperation among our countries has a great future. Although we are just at the beginning, the solid foundation of our dialogue in the BRIC format reliable and mutually beneficial partnerships allows us to count on the success of this promising forum for the benefit of our countries and peoples.
The writer is the president of Russia.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE RESTRICTION MUST STAY
The current rule that restricts the number of foreign cricketers in the playing XI must stay. This rule has more to do with commerce and less to do with parochial reasons. The IPL is after all the Indian premier league and the flavour of these teams ought to be Indian. An excess of non-Indians will lead to loss of its defining flavour.
Now, why must these teams have an Indian flavour to them? The IPL is an Indian tournament and Indian players see it as an opportunity to rub shoulders with international cricketers. Even the English county league restricts the number of foreign professionals a county team can play. Moreover, the idea of city-based teams is new to Indian cricket fans. Teams have been named after cities to help them build a support base. The concept of icon players has also been promoted for the purpose of branding. A Sachin Tendulkar as the icon player for Mumbai Indians is most likely to prod fans in the city to identify with the team. When the playing XI has sufficient local talent, the city identity gets reinforced. That makes it easier to build an emotional bond between fans and the team. For a new phenomenon like the IPL, the team brand has to be built quickly. Promoters have invested huge money in the teams and they've to recover the costs fast through gate money, telecast rights, advertising, and sale of merchandise. How can it be done if a large fan base is not available? One way to build a fan base is by emphasising the local factor.
A team of non-Indians drawn from various parts of the world is unlikely to have that extra dimension that'll attract fans. Let's be clear: our cricket-crazy crowds don't flock to stadiums or TV sets for cricket's aesthetics born out of sublime stroke play or crafty spin bowling, but to watch their favourite Indian cricketers.
Several persons at a Mayapuri scrapyard in Delhi fell ill after handling scrap containing a radioactive element, cobalt-60, used in medical equipment as well as in industry. Scientists aiding investigations into the matter are said to believe the radioactive isotope wasn't sourced from hospitals or industry, but from imported industrial waste. This suspected foreign source, however, hardly absolves buck-passing authorities of all responsibility. If anything, the shocking incident has exposed our lack of an overarching policy concerning security of radioactive and other hazardous substances. Incredibly, existing rules on management, handling and movement of biomedical and hazardous wastes don't include directions on radioactive materials. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board alone monitors radiological safety. While it may claim strict accounting and inventories, this won't help when mishaps occur save after the event through cancellation of licences.
We need a stringent regulatory regime making safekeeping of dangerous materials a concern of all authorities municipal, police, the political and scientific establishments more so given medical and industrial waste disposal is notoriously open to criminal uses. Scrapyards in particular need better oversight, and law enforcers should be armed with radiation detection equipment. If imported scrap is indeed the culprit, customs must be rapped. Port authorities and scrap dealers' bodies must ensure radiation screening for all incoming consignments. Laxity on container security can have grave consequences. It can facilitate smuggling of any lethal substance, including ingredients to make dirty bombs. Surely, in a terror-targeted country, foolproof checks are a must at sensitive points of entry in keeping with global practices. The Mayapuri episode serves as a wake-up call. Let's use the incident to put in place stringent measures against the smuggling or inappropriate disposal of harmful radioactive substances.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Coming as it did in the lead-up to the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, and sandwiched between meetings with other leaders, the bilateral discussion between US president Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was never going to be a game changer. But it has served its purpose well enough in a low-key manner, providing the two administrations a chance to compare notes. Issues of concern to both sides were brought up, clarifications made and strategic congruencies reaffirmed. High-profile summits and joint statements may make for good sound bites, but meetings such as this are essential for preventing drift in the Washington-New Delhi relationship.
A few developments to emerge from the discussion are of particular interest. The first is the confirmation by Obama that he would make the required effort to see that an Indian team is given direct access to David Headley. This has subsequently been backed up by US officials who have said that the issue now is only of technicalities. If the US delivers on this, it could be a prime opportunity for India to gain first-hand, indisputable information about the extent of the involvement of serving officers in the Pakistani military and intelligence in anti-India terrorist activities. In the same vein, Obama's acceptance of Singh's concerns about the 26/11 perpetrators and the necessity of Islamabad taking action against them for dialogue to resume something the US president relayed later to Pakistan prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is an encouraging sign.
When it comes to India's role in Afghanistan, there seemed to be agreement as well with Singh making India's interest in and commitment to the reconstruction process clear, and Obama welcoming it. These congruencies are not set in stone, of course. It is naive to expect Washington or anyone else to make Indian concerns their top priority, as is implicit in knee-jerk reactions to every statement that might be perceived as being not entirely in consonance with Indian interests. But the purpose of such engagement is to make sure that Indian interests are accommodated as well. What this meeting seems to confirm is an overall compatibility between Indian and US strategic goals in the region, even if they differ at times on specific issues of tactics.
And the absence of those knee-jerk reactions both in the lead-up to these discussions and over the past few months in general has been perhaps the most encouraging development in Indo-US relationship. When it comes to a mutually beneficial working alliance, maturity is infinitely preferable to high-decibel theatrics.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE JHAROO AND THE RAKE
There have been four distinct stages in my 75-year association with the jharoo. First, the girlish impulse to emulate our sexy cleaning woman a long time ago. I once thought hers was a most exciting profession when, jharoo in hand, she cast come-hither glances at our platoon of domestics who would hover around while she executed her task with the grace of a dancer.
This fascination later gave way to despair and anger when, married and a young householder, i would find dust and scraps in every nook and cranny. A favourite stowaway place was under the only Mirzapuri carpet we owned, the pride of our railway colony bungalow. Needless to say, i was left to do the work since our cook made it clear that this was not his job. This was stage two of my jharoo story.
This lasted till i was well past middle age, lest you think senior bureaucrats' wives reign in their households. By now, our kids were married and one son was living abroad. You can imagine my surprise when my daughter-in-law, in response to my query about what she would like me to take for her, asked for a couple of jharoos! I protested: what would Air India staff think of me a senior official then of Doordarshan! But i had to yield to her insistence. That did it! On every trip thereafter these Indian brooms went across the continents to Moscow, to London...And, even in the bleakest years, when every package of ours was turned upside down by customs sleuths searching for any and everything resembling a weapon, the jharoo sailed through majestically! End of stage three.
Enter stage four. The era of Copenhagen: the dawn of the realisation about the impending death of our planet; the buzzwords of 'global warming'. Our beautiful earth's cover being systematically wiped out, the desertification of the greens, the drying up of water springs, choking cities, the slow poisoning of all life...Now, you may well ask where our humble jharoo fits into all this? Well, just ask your personal physician. Mine told me years ago to leave Delhi. Since it was not possible for me to comply, he warned me that if i wanted to save whatever little was left of my lungs, i should get rid of the jharoo and just vacuum everything, floors, carpets, curtains et al. No sweeping, no dusting, that's final.
So i got rid of my teary-eyed cleaning woman, and hugged my good old stack of jharoos goodbye. But what do i do on my morning walks? That's when regiments of safai karamcharis, armed with huge brooms, attack terra firma, like soldiers on a battlefield, throwing up enormous gusts of dust just to catch odd bits of paper and harmless dry leaves. In the process, they sound the death knell of the lungs of aged morning walkers.
It's time for some radical thinking. How about big city potentates municipalities, urban development and environment planners putting their heads together on this vital problem, and looking for a suitable and less dangerous weapon of mass destruction than the jharoo? For starters, i could suggest the rake. No, i do not mean the dissolute profligate, but the sturdy pole with a toothed bar like a huge comb at the end, which easily combs out leaves and garbage without disturbing Mother Earth. It's both earth and human-friendly.
PS: It is learnt that, at an environment summit, the jharoo and the rake were sitting side by side. The jharoo was to receive a lifetime's achievement award. Its impassioned address, widely reported in the world press, was given a standing ovation. In it, it bemoaned becoming the unwitting tool in man's inhumanity to the earth and fellow humans. That's how it had, sadly and unknowingly, contributed to wrecking the health of one kind, gentle lady who had so lovingly given it a home it could once call its own.
SCRAPPING OVER SCRAPS
The ungainly spat between the stock market and insurance watchdogs over selling mutual funds could have a happy fallout. The incident should drive home the point that India is in urgent need of a super financial regulator that can prevent things from falling between the cracks while papering over turf battles among statutory agencies. Regulation has historically followed financial innovation, often with disastrous consequences like the recent meltdown in the global credit market. The challenge for Indian policy makers is to shorten this lag, not to erect irrational fences. Mature capitalist systems offer fairly robust oversight templates. It makes sense to tweak them for local use rather than work up from first principles.
Two forces are driving the evolution of financial markets. One is the frenzied mutation of financial products as risk management becomes increasingly sophisticated. Esoteric instruments like derivatives cannot be governed by the playing rules of the 20th century. And two, the modern consumer prefers to shop at financial supermarkets rather than at individual vends for stock broking, insurance and loans. Most modern banks have seen the writing on the wall and reinvented themselves as department stores that cater to every financial need of their customers. The order by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) last year that mutual funds cannot charge an entry load merely shifted their distribution to insurance-linked plans which were more generous towards their agents. In any case, since banks own both fund houses and insurers, they make money from one arm or the other.
And in either case the investor pays. Call it entry load or agent commission, that money is not being used for the purpose you intended it. But financial service providers must realise such regulatory arbitrage is self-defeating. Indians saved Rs 36 of every Rs 100 they earned in 2007-08. Only
Rs 4 of this was invested in mutual funds and an even lower Rs 2 went into new life insurance premiums. Considering companies account for every three in four rupees parked in mutual funds, the recent scrap is over scraps. The bulk of India's savings is locked up in relatively unproductive physical assets like land and gold. Squabbles over who gets to pocket the easy money in financial investments will do little to arrest this trend. For a country that invests more than it saves, having funds stuck outside the financial system serves little purpose other than enriching foreign capital. The stand-off between the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority and Sebi is an opportunity to harmonise regulation and move to a regime that manages systemic risk better. It can remove the structural rigidities in the way we save and invest.
The BJP's know-your-party website is a great idea. Log on to learn the fine art of political management.
The new BJP chief Nitin Gadkari is a man of many parts: he has now revealed his tech-savvy avatar. The BJP website will now offer an online package of 12-16 lessons on the party's ideology which surfers can take a test on and get a certificate. What an idea, Nitinji!
We feel that this website has far more potential than Mr Gadkari realises. For example, we could have a portal devoted to deftness in demolition. In this surfers could be taught how to bring down a building, preferably an architectural monument in the shortest possible time with a skeleton squad. This could be put to use later in the real estate business. Next, we could have lessons on how to reinforce trucks to bear raths and mowing down detractors on the way. This will be a great boon to the automotive industry, even the army, if the Pakistanis get too antsy. We could have a few lessons on hairdressing from Sushma Swaraj who once threatened to shear off her tresses if Sonia Gandhi were to defeat her in an election. Sonia did win and Sushma did not go the Persis Khambatta way, but she certainly knows that it's hair today, gone tomorrow judging by the fate of the party.
Lessons in humility and hand-wringing can come from the patriarch L.K. Advani himself and diction tips can from Venkaiah Naidu. Physical exercise and stress management can be courtesy Mohan Bhagwat who could also give us animal care tips given his veterinarian background. Quite a star cast of resource providers. Now if only Mr Gadkari could include a lesson on how to secure votes and win elections.
STARING AT THE VOID
To tackle Maoism, we need to change our neo-liberal policies and invest in the tribal areas. Most important, we need to develop a strong political will, writes Sitaram Yechury.
The outrageous massacre at Dantewada has shocked the nation. Since the 2009 general elections, Maoist violence has claimed 993 lives, of which 340 are security personnel. The question of restoring peace and enforcing the writ of civil administration in areas of Maoist violence remains non-negotiable. While law and order needs to be restored, political patronage given for petty electoral or other considerations must be also stopped. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself has stated that Maoist violence poses "the gravest threat to India's internal security". Yet, there are members in his Cabinet who continue to use Maoist violence as a means to further their electoral prospects in West Bengal. Dantewada has chillingly demonstrated that such political patronage is disastrous for the country.
Such violence cannot be tackled by seeking to apportion blame or scoring political points. Home minister's P. Chidambaram's pursuit of 'where the buck stops' will only add grist to the Maoist mill. Likewise barbs against the CPI(M) in seeking to equate anarchism with revolutionary activities in the name of Left extremism does not strengthen this effort. Since the last general elections, more than 200 CPI(M) cadres have been victims of Maoist violence in West Bengal alone.
The Marxists remain in the forefront of the political struggle against Maoism. It needs to be underlined that anarchism is the very antithesis of Marxism and mindless militancy negates and often regresses the fundamental tenets of revolutionary activity.
Let's recapitulate the historical roots of the emergence of Left extremism. After a prolonged ideological debate within the Indian communist movement, the CPI(M) was formed in 1964. Immediately, the mass anger against the policies of the then ruling governments saw the establishment of a united front government in the state in 1967. This further unleashed popular struggles on the question of land reforms. The peasants movement organised in Naxalbari was elevated as a struggle and it aimed at capturing State power by certain sections who went on to form the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in May 1969.
Based on an erroneous understanding that the Indian ruling classes were a "comprador bourgeoisie" (agents of imperialism) and, hence, did not possess a social force or a mass following domestically, it was, therefore, thought that it was only a matter of time that they would be overthrown. There was, hence, no necessity to mobilise the people and organise a mass revolutionary party. The people, it was presumed, were ready for a revolution. The need of the hour was to arm the people and, hence, emerged the slogan "People's War". This slogan was accompanied by its twin of "annihilation" of class enemies.
Within a period of five years, however, the naxalite movement split into innumerable small groups, a process of disintegration that went on for a few decades. While one group the CPI(ML) chose to abandon this understanding to return to mainstream democratic politics by contesting elections, two others the People's War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in areas of Jharkhand and Bihar continued with their anarchic violent activity. These two, who were at ideological loggerheads once, came together on September 21, 2004, to form the new party the CPI(Maoist). Since then there has been a major upsurge of anarchic violence that has claimed many innocent lives.
Apart from such reprehensible violent activity, there is a serious ideological problem as well. While expressly appropriating "Maoism", they seek to replicate the pre-revolutionary Chinese experience in modern India. By doing so, they negate Mao himself who, once, said a party which cannot analyse the situation evolving in its own country and emulates experiences of another country without analysis is a "hotchpotch".
In fact, the Chinese Communist Party never uses the word Maoism. They consistently use the term 'Mao Zedong Thought' which, they define, as "the integration of the universal principles of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practise of the Chinese Revolution".
Social transformation in India, thus, can only be on the basis of the concrete analysis of the conditions that exist in India. It can neither replicate the Russian or the Chinese or for that matter any other experience in the world.
The CPI(M), in concrete Indian conditions, works for transcending the existing system of capitalism and the establishment of a people's democracy. This, it seeks, by developing a powerful mass revolutionary movement, combining parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggles of the working people. While it seeks this transformation through peaceful means, it is also conscious of the fact that never in history have the ruling classes voluntarily relinquished their power. The violent means that they may adopt to defy the people's will shall, therefore, be also met.
Further, the conditions that provide a fertile ground for the Maoists to operate must be seriously addressed. In all areas where the Maoists are now active, the neo-liberal policies have led to indiscriminate privatisation of mining of rich mineral resources. This has led to economic miseries for the tribal population there. Unless such policies are reversed and the issues of improving the livelihood of these hapless tribals are addressed, Maoist violence cannot be stopped. The time has come to rise above scoring political points and unite in a multi-pronged approach to combat such mindless militancy. This must include the required law and order measures, strong political will and necessary programmes to eliminate backwardness in these areas.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
At the centre of the turf war between markets regulator Sebi and insurance regulator IRDA are financial products known as unit linked insurance plans (ULIPs). Unlike other products offered by insurance firms, ULIPs are essentially the equivalent of mutual funds (plus the insurance component), in the sense that the money committed by the consumer of the product is invested into equities markets, and not into safer avenues like government bonds. Sebi argues that since there is a large equities component in these, it has the right to regulate them. IRDA claims that since ULIPs are offered by insurance companies and have an insurance component (even if as little as 1 per cent), it alone has the right to regulate them.
The first way to view the IRDA/ Sebi difficulties with ULIPs is the question of consumer protection. Sebi has in the recent past clamped down on commission charged by agents for mutual funds products. So agents have a perverse incentive to sell only ULIPs because they still get a huge commission from the former. The existing arrangements clearly favour the interests of the salesperson and the insurance company. The second way to view the IRDA/ Sebi difficulty is to focus on legal issues. Courts are going to have to rule on whether products which have a 1 per cent insurance component should be exempt from Sebi rules about fund management products. Sebi has done well to pose this question in the public domain.
The third dimension is, how should the laws on regulation of fund management and insurance be structured? How should inter-agency coordination be achieved, since India is still a few years away from a single regulator with unified supervision of all financial firms? The IRDA/ Sebi complexities are only a harbinger of what the future holds, given a messy collision between the sophisticated financial system of a $1.5 trillion economy and laws drafted decades ago. In his Budget speech, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced the Financial Stability Development Council (a new effort on improving coordination) and the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission (a new effort on translating recent expert committee reports into drafts of new and revised laws). Better coordination between regulators and an updated legal framework for the financial sector will help minimise disputes like this one.
TRIBUNAL & TRIBALS
From the grandiosely self-titled Independent People's Tribunal held in New Delhi, one might have come away curiously (and disturbingly) enlightened: that Operation Green Hunt is reminiscent of the McCarthy-era anti-communist witch hunts, or even the Vietnam War. (Where's the napalm, one might ask.) It's a war on the environment; a colonial persecution of marginalised peoples. The "consumerist" middle class is now "a grave threat to national security". While the gamut of "activist" dislike for the state may appear to turn all logic on its head, it's necessary to engage with this discourse to show where, and how, it misreads and misrepresents.
That India's tribal communities are a national asset, uniquely enriching our "human biodiversity", was never contested. That's why their welfare must be disengaged from the Maoists and those same old activists allegedly crusading in their behalf. The latter, who claim to represent the marginalised, indulge in their own marginalisation in omitting reference to Maoist violence or merely paying it lip service. They collate the facts that the "red corridor" overlaps not just some of the least developed districts but also some of the richest in natural and mineral wealth in arguing that Maoists are Robin Hoods providing the abject what the state doesn't. Unsurprisingly, Maoists grew in influence where the state was the least visible. But Maoist activity has been a tale of obstructing the rule of law and development, destroying infrastructure, arson, extortion, kidnappings and executions, culminating in last week's massacre of 76 security personnel.
In taking the anti-statist argument further, the "tribunal" also recommended replacing our development model "exploitative", "not suitable for the country" by a "participatory" one, emphasising "agriculture and the rural sector". Well, India has faulted in failing to take development to tribals, not in imposing development. Nor is it feasible to deprive the economy of resources it needs. Whoever extends the Avatar logic to preserving tribals in their "pristine" state, depriving them of the benefits of economic development, cannot be their friend. Leaving tribals "alone" is too romantic a notion that dangerously connives with Maoist bloodlust, which aims to ultimately overthrow the democratic state ironically it is only a democratic state that allows the freedom of speech on display here. Restoring civil administration can initiate development and uplift the tribals Maoists oppose that uplift since it's their ticket to redundancy.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
That news of an inscribed first edition of The Jungle Book has created so much buzz is a reminder of the enduring thrill of rediscovering Rudyard Kipling and his work. The copy recently discovered by librarians in Cambridgeshire bears the inscription: "This book belongs to Josephine Kipling for whom it was written by her father, May 1894." Josephine died five years later at the age of six, and for Kipling's readers the inscription deepens an understanding of the deep family attachments that informed his work. His father, John Lockwood Kipling, participated in early editions of The Jungle Book and of Kim as an illustrator.
The biographical sketches are in fact not mere asides in reading Kipling. Even in his lifetime (he was born in 1865 and died in 1936, neatly overlapping with the dominant phase of the British Empire) and especially after India's Independence he was at the heart of a bitterly polarised post-colonial culture war. For his enthralled readers, however, it was by tracing his fidelity to experience and history that a more complicated and enormously inclusive middle ground was found. Kipling's may have been a remembered India but his reporter's discipline and personal experience informed these two books to a degree that continues to amaze.
In fact, biographical and literary investigation by Kipling scholars has invested the books with an openness that accommodates parallel readings. As Peter Hopkirk found when he set off on the Kim trail for his travelogue Quest for Kim: in Search of Kipling's Great Game, even a casual tour of Saharanpur could give the informed visitor a clue or two about which house exactly may have hosted a key development in the book. This is perhaps why every so often there's a clamour for publication of Kipling's books with the original illustrations.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
I KNOW MY RIGHTS
MIHIR S SHARMA
Two things happened as the tumultuous summer of 1789 turned into fall. In August, in Paris, the National Assembly ratified the last article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, that every male citizen was entitled to "liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression". In September, in New York, the first US Congress adopted the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the American constitution, which famously protect speech and religion from an interventionist government. However did we get from those rights, the first attempts to formalise the things a state could not do to its subjects, to today, when the world's largest democracy is busy legislating for its people "rights" that formalise things a state must do for its subjects?
The Four Rights that millennial India has promised its people to information, to food, to education, and to (rural) employment aren't just remarkably ambitious for a state that has never impressed with its efficiency. They also represent a shift in how we think about governance, one that it is easy to miss if one examines each law separately, or even thinks of each branch of government individually.
You might think that the expansion of what it means to have rights and what rights people can sensibly be said to have is a very special Congress-under-
Sonia phenomenon, the sort of thing that a National Advisory Council stuffed with left-leaning NGO types would come up with. So persuasive is that story on some level that it is entirely too easy to forget that the original constitutional amendment that made free and compulsory education a fundamental right was passed in December 2002, when the NDA was very firmly ensconced in power.
Nor is it a sudden, local phenomenon, unique to India. In actual fact, the slow two-century shift from the narrow, classical liberal conception of the rights of man always of men, usually of the right sort of men as something basic and inviolate, to the hopeful khichdi that are rights today, happy aspirational statements, is one of the modern world's great, under-told stories, the turning point of which is certainly Eleanor Roosevelt pushing the freshly-born United Nations into ratifying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which, startlingly for the times, included the right to education and health, and became possibly the most influential document of the 20th century, judging by the number of new constitutions that would view it as source material.
But the spread of the idea of economic and social rights that can be acted upon in a court of law an even more radical departure has been a gradual victory, over the past two decades, for an odd coalition of NGOs, hard-headed economists, technocrats, and activist judges. They needed to overturn not just legal and political status quo, but also the academic consensus an approach led by Amartya Sen, who refined individual rights as access to "capabilities", which helped him bring together his two interests, theories of justice and rights, and development economics.
This process known as constitutionalisation has been written about at length, but little of that work has informed public policy here. What two decades of research has revealed is that there are broad patterns to where and how constitutionalisation comes about, and what effects it has. First, while the broad patterns of thinking caused people to start viewing constitutionalising economic and social rights as a solution leached across borders as such ideas do, carried by academics on exchange, transnational NGOs, and the occasional influential op-ed, it only becomes viewed as a usable and effective strategy in certain places, a small subset of countries; in most, it remains merely a persuasive idea, a possible future weapon.
The countries where rights-based strategies work politically share certain features. First, they tend to be ethnically, linguistically, or economically very fragmented, making their politics consequently messy. This usually forces reformist or revolutionary policy change in those societies to be carried out by stealth or by "depoliticisation", either through putting in "apolitical" technocrats, or by claiming the IMF made you do it, or by bumping things over to the judicial branch. Second, there is usually a shared middle-class disdain for the political process and the murkiness with which policy is formed; and a corresponding, commonly-held respect for the probity, the efficiency, and most of all the approachability of judges. (Notably, it does not require that self-declared "civil society" in those countries be well-developed.) Third, the state machinery should be already large, but underperforming.
And fourth, the executive and legislature should be willing to cede ground to the judiciary they should be complicit in their loss of power.
India definitely exhibits these four characteristics. So do some other countries: Israel, Brazil, South Africa, for example, and all these have paralleled India's development of a rights-based policy environment. In each of those, interestingly, the short- and medium-term impact of allowing judges to intervene on questions such as education and health was far from egalitarian, clearly benefiting the litigating middle class rather than the poor. But they also helped make those who carry out policy more accountable to all those who frame it. Most interestingly, assigning rights that the government had no chance of actually enforcing through state machinery forced it to start devolving some of its functions to the private sector. Fears of a govrnment takeover of private education in India, therefore, might be as overblown as hopes that these new rights will significantly expand the state's accountability to its poorest citizens.
How, thus, should we respond to this blizzard of new rights? With despair, as an admission of political hopelessness, a last attempt to get round failures in governance? Should we view it as an attempt by a modernising middle class to salve its conscience, a set of entitlements on paper that will inevitably serve only those that already have access to courts? Or can we claim that it will substantively change how accountable India's government will be to its citizens? Indeed, all those could be true. But, perhaps, the most concern should be felt at the dilution of the ideal of the inviolable, enforceable right, won in a time of riot and war, with the air of Europe and America heavy with musket smoke and inflammatory ideas.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
YOGINDER K. ALAGH
At one level, concern for the environment shows up in concrete ways: stopping a project which would defile land, water or air; pushing a benign product or strategy; meeting food and energy needs in a sustainable manner; lobbying for sustainable outcomes and so on. At another level, it is a business of passion and contestation. The first is straightforward in the choices it presents; the second is more influential for it is for the minds of men. At a more practical level, environmental choices are systemic. There is something missing in the strategy of first polluting and then ameliorating. For the Hague Declaration before Rio, some of us argued that a design of development which is not unsustainable is a better strategy. So you cannot miss the forest for the trees.
Land degradation comes from people plundering nature, water degradation from closing natural drains and not building new ones. We later argued that problems arise when communities are out of sync with resources since holistic answers lie there. In a lot of discussions now we are genuinely missing the larger picture since policy-making at a local area or social scale is at a discount. Having set up legally powerful mechanisms at the project level, we don't really ask why the wrong economic and livelihood decision was made in the first place, until it is too late. So the ore mine has already built the conveyor belt in the forest and we will find a way to live with it. The big failures have been in agro-climatic planning which the Planning Commission underlined in the Eleventh Plan and in fact built projects around it, but it was not done at the field level. Neither did the water strategies work or those of small towns. It's unfair to make too much of these failures, for in everything there are success stories and best practices, but the momentum is not enough for these local stories to succeed.
Meanwhile, there is a refreshing change. India did original thinking in Copenhagen and made its point, which put simply is: this is my problem, I will solve it and don't push me around. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh's opposition to Bt brinjal might be controversial, but on the IPCC he is taking a brave and lonely stand. The first time somebody classified India unfairly in the development literature, it was in a derogatory sense and we were young and very angry. We hit back with facts, but discovered that it mattered only to an extent. The experience continues. They were wrong in saying India would not feed itself and we did so in our own way. Now economist Jeffrey Sachs says
Sahelian Africa should follow India's food strategy in the '70s. They said we were wrong in our measured approach to liberalisation and globalisation. Ten years after we were growing fast, they finally admitted it. Now we are among the few bouncing out of the global recession.
This column said that the global poverty numbers and reversing India's relative positions are a no go. Now microeconomist Angus Deaton has demolished that global exercise. There are many more. Jairam Ramesh makes the point that there are obvious errors in some of the IPCC's posturing. But it is a pressure group and, in the main, it was making valid points in a difficult area and creating a new space for contestation. A lot of policy is made in that no-man's land where thinking is done around known facts; there is also the surmise that this will be done by scientists with a larger perspective. Measures suggested for transparency, geographical search for experts and bringing in younger persons are well taken. Ramesh makes it a point to give scientific markers all along. This is important since a lot of the attacks come from conservative think tanks for whom the world never changes. They created and got an opportunity to hit back at the IPCC.
The national and global perspectives seem fun and games. The real problem is that there seem few champions for local solutions. Until then, sustainability will be a merry-go-round in world capitals.
The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
CONCESSIONS TO REALITY
S. VIJAY KUMAR
Most of India's minerals are located in India's peninsular region, 5,70,000 sq km that is a storehouse of diverse minerals. However, the recent history of mining in India is the story mainly of iron (for steel), bauxite (for aluminium) and limestone (for cement) relatively easy minerals to locate and extract. Therefore it is feasible, indeed advantageous, for the steel, or aluminium, or cement maker to acquire a "captive" mine, set up a plant nearby and use the ore to produce metal or other produce in an integrated operation.
We have now reached a stage where on the one hand these low-hanging fruit have been exploited. On the other hand, the imperatives of sustained economic growth too require us to locate deeper deposits: of minerals such as copper and other base metals, as well as platinum and similar precious and strategic metals.
But all this means a paradigm shift. Because it will no longer be the metal-producing mining company who will conduct a simple prospecting survey to locate deposits close to the surface. It will have to be specialised high-risk high-return exploration companies, possessing or acquiring sophisticated but high-cost technologies, and having a huge appetite for risk who will have to be tasked with looking for deeper deposits.
The Planning Commission set up a committee in 2005 under Anwar-ul-Hoda, which found that worldwide new deposits are mainly located by specialised exploration companies. Attracting such exploration companies (and the technology they bring), however, requires the concession system to possess two main characteristics, particularly since venture capital will be involved: first, transparency and quickness in decision-making; and second, easy transferability of the data they generate, as well as the rights and liabilities of the concession at the value they discover to another company, that will do the actual mining and value addition.
The process of making legislative changes to the concession framework in India will, therefore, need to focus specifically on these two aspects. At the same time, an analogy with either the coal sector or the oil sector for purposes of concession management will be highly misplaced.
Not only is the geological provenance of coal well known, relatively compact and limited, but technology required to locate such deposits is of a much lower order than for deep-seated mineralisation of base and precious metals. Oil too is different: it is a migrating mineral trapped between structural boundaries below the earth's surface. Thus high-tech geophysics will be required to locate potential areas but, unlike base or precious metals, the area of occurrence is relatively large.
The mechanics of a concession management system which will attract high technology that can locate deep-seated mineralisation in the non-coal, non-oil sectors are therefore complex.
First of all, forming compact blocks and allocating or auctioning them like coal for mining will not work; because, unlike coal, the location of narrow, deep-seated deposits of minerals is not well known, unless some general exploration has already established it. Nor will the oil method forming large blocks and auctioning them for reconnaissance and prospecting necessarily work either, since, unlike oil, the actual area of occurrence will be very small in the case of deep-seated metallic minerals. Most important, while oil is a single mineral, here specific groups of associated minerals are involved, each requiring different specific technologies at some point of the exploration process.
Therefore we need to consider a multipronged strategy. Where the ore body has been sufficiently delineated through prospecting and detailed exploration, mining rights can be directly auctioned. However, in areas where the extent of the deposits, as well as their extractability, require further detailed exploration, prospecting rights of a relatively larger area can be auctioned though the valuations in such a case are likely to factor in the risk and uncertainty. In areas where mineral occurrence is merely detected because of regional level geological surveys but its extent and remains unknown blocking off an area (small or large) for granting a concession may be premature. It is probably better in such cases if the risk and reward are left open-ended.
Finally, in areas where mineral occurrence is only thought to be possible, creating even large blocks and hoping for bids might not work, since the data is too insufficient to make any kind of valuation.
Any new legislative framework must, therefore, take into account objective reality: an exploration company may spend huge sums in exploring, say, nine empty prospects before it finds one promising prospect. Such a company must have a reasonable chance to recover its cost of exploration on the failed prospects from the successful one. If this macro picture is lost, and only prospect-level transactions are factored into the framework, the paradigm shift will not be achieved, and the sector will continue on the low-risk low-return trajectory of mining mainly iron ore, bauxite and limestone.
The writer is Special Secretary in the Ministry of Mines. The views expressed here are personal
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
REVOLUTION FOR HIGHER
M R MADHAVAN
The higher education sector could see a major change, if all the initiatives planned by the HRD ministry are carried through. Currently, there are three types of institutions that may grant degrees: central and state universities and private universities. While central and state universities are established by Parliament and state legislatures, private universities may either be established by law or be granted a "deemed university" status by the Universities Grants Commission (UGC). The UGC is the main regulator of the sector but specialised disciplines have their own regulators such as AICTE for technical and management colleges, the Indian Medical Council for doctors and the Bar Council for lawyers. The new system will replace the regulatory structure with a single regulator, except for agricultural and medical colleges.
The most important bill is perhaps the one that establishes a regulator for all higher education institutions, whether under central or state governments or private management. The bill has been posted on the ministry's website for public feedback; it envisages a national commission for higher education and research that shall take measures to promote the autonomy of higher educational institutions, facilitate access to all, and provide for holistic growth of education and research in a competitive global environment. Ironically, the same clause of the bill that tasks the commission with promoting autonomy also requires it to develop a national curriculum framework, specify requirements of academic degree and diploma in all fields, develop a framework code of good practices, and maintain a national registry of persons who are eligible to be appointed as vice-chancellors of universities.
Interestingly, even private universities may appoint only persons from this registry to head the university. The bill also envisages a collegium that will advise the commission. The collegium will consist of core fellows (Nobel prize, Fields medal, Jnanpith awardees, national research professors and members of international academies) and co-opted fellows (one from each state chosen from a panel of five persons recommended by the state government). The functions of the collegium include recommending names for the registry of vice-chancellors as well as recommend names for the selection of the chairperson and members of the collegium.
There are several issues relating to this bill that need to be resolved. First, whether the Constitution permits Parliament to enact this law, given that "universities" are under the state list with the exception of central universities and institutes of national importance. Second, whether it is a good idea to centralise a list of eligible persons as vice-chancellors (for an analogy, imagine that Sebi maintained a list of persons who may be appointed as CEOs of all listed companies). This list is determined by a collegium of persons, who in turn are selected from among nominees of state governments; a sure recipe for political maneuvering ahead of selection of vice-chancellors. Third, whether steps such as a curriculum framework and eligibility for degrees impede autonomous functioning.
The foreign universities bill has seen some discussion in the media, though the bill has not been made public. The main objectives are to permit the entry of foreign universities and regulate their functioning. It would be interesting to see whether the regulatory requirements are lighter than those envisaged for domestic universities. Also, whether they need to provide for reservations for SC/ST/OBC students, whether there would be any cap on faculty salaries to deter poaching from Indian institutions, and whether they can make any surplus and repatriate that amount.
Nine more bills related to higher education are listed for introduction this session. These include (a) setting up accreditation agencies, which will rate institutions on educational parameters (similar to credit rating agencies in financial markets); (b) a bill that establishes educational tribunals; (c) a bill to regulate fees and admissions to colleges and ban capitation fees; (d) setting up 14 innovation universities; (e) amending the recent Act that provided for reservation for OBCs in central universities, IIsT, IIMs etc.; (f) setting up eight new IITs; (g) amending the National Institutes of Technology Act; (h) a new Act to regulate the profession of engineering; and (i) a new Act to provide statutory powers to the Distance Education Council. None of these is in the public domain.
Education, whether elementary, secondary or university, is too important to be left to educationists and bureaucrats within the HRD ministry. The ministry should place all the bills in the public domain for widespread discussion. Parliament's standing committee should also examine each individual bill as well as the way these bills together regulate the sector. The need is to create a regulatory environment that promotes education and research, and enables the next generation of Indians to compete globally in a knowledge economy.
The writer is at PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
MIND YOUR ZS AND QS
What's a word? Scrabble has been bound up in that existential question since the game exploded into prominence more than a half-century ago.
The rules on the inside cover of the box, written by the game's inventor, Alfred Butts, and its first marketer, James Brunot, are explicit: "Any words found in a standard dictionary are permitted except those capitalised, those designated as foreign words, abbreviations and words requiring apostrophes or hyphens."
The interpretation of those rules, however, has been anything but simple. This past week, outrage sounded worldwide after reports, which proved untrue, that Scrabble would permit the use of proper nouns. The linguistic dust-up was only the latest in the game's history.
WHICH DICTIONARY? When Scrabble took off in the 1950s, disputes arose over whether words like "ma" and "pa" were permissible. Mr. Brunot declined requests to endorse a dictionary. "It's only a game," he told Life magazine in 1953.
Two early enthusiasts, Jacob Orleans and Edmund Jacobson, tore a Funk & Wagnalls dictionary in half and compiled a list of 30,000 words they found useful for Scrabble. By the 1970s, Funk & Wagnalls was the de facto word source for competitive play.
But that book included foreign words like "ja" and "nyet," and it was clunky; common words were hidden in long lists starting with "un" or "re." In 1978, the first Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, compiled from five standard college dictionaries, was published. It resolved countless disputes, but created others.
THE NO-NO LIST. In 1993, a Virginia woman was horrified to find "jew" in the O.S.P.D., defined as "to bargain with an offensive term." Her complaints led Hasbro, Scrabble's North American owner, and Merriam-Webster, publisher of the players dictionary, to delete several dozen words, among them "jesuit," "libber" and "fart."
Competitive Scrabblers revolted on the board, words are devoid of meaning and a compromise was reached. The expurgated OSPD would be for home and school play. Club and tournament play would use a book listing every word, including the "dirty" ones, sans definitions. (One Scrabbler sells a laminated bookmark of the banned words. It's called the Poo List, after one of them.)
THE SCHISM. While Scrabble in North America is governed by the Official Club and Tournament World List, or OWL, the rest of world uses a more expansive list, Collins Scrabble Words, a combination of the OWL and Britain's Collins English Dictionary. For decades, American and Canadian players competing abroad have had to learn thousands of additional words and forget them while at home.
Advocates love the international game's lexical inclusiveness and enhanced scoring potential (more words equals more chances for points). Opponents resent having to learn hundreds of new words to keep playing at a basic level. In a referendum, North American players rejected the international lexicon. Today, a few American tournaments include an international-words division.
CLEANSING THE BOOK. While some players support a bigger lexicon, others want a cleaner one. "Typical Scrabble enthusiasts are good spellers who find implausibilities on nearly every page of the OSPD," says Dan Pratt of Russett, Md., a retired mathematician and linguist who hopes to publish a revised word list to compete with the existing one. His reasoning: The initial OSPD relied on several standard college dictionaries dating to as early as 1963. It has been updated three times, most recently in 2006, resulting in the addition of thousands of words. Only a handful, however, have been removed. So Scrabble allows many words that can't be found in any 21st-century American college dictionary.
Words cited by Mr. Pratt include "al" (defined in the OSPD as an East Indian tree), "oxid" (an alternate spelling of "oxide") and "toadless" (having no toads). He even noted that one word, "knesset" (the Israeli parliament), is listed in all the dictionaries used to update the OSPD except one as, yes, a proper noun.
Fatsis is the author of 'Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players.'
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
YOUNG SUPERHEROES IN A HUT
WHY IS AFRICA POOR?
Is it a legacy of colonial exploitation? Tropical diseases and parasites? Or is it that local mammals, like the zebra and the African elephant, were difficult to domesticate and harness in agriculture?
There's truth in each of these explanations. But a visit to Zimbabwe highlights perhaps the main reason: bad governance. The tyrannical, incompetent and corrupt rule of Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, has turned one of Africa's most advanced countries into a shambles.
In a village less than a day's drive from Victoria Falls, I stumbled across a hut that to me captured the country's heartbreak and also its resilience and hope. The only people living in the hut are five children, orphans from two families. The kids, ages 8 to 17, moved in together after their four parents died of AIDS and other causes.
The head of the household is the oldest boy, Abel, a gangly 10th grader with a perpetual grin. He has been in charge since he was 15.
At one time, the two families reflected Zimbabwe's relative prosperity. One mother was a businesswoman who traveled abroad regularly. A solar panel that she brought back from Zambia lies in the courtyard. One of the fathers was a soccer coach who named his son Diego Maradona. Diego may have inherited some of his father's talent, but he has no soccer ball and no soccer shoes indeed, no shoes at all. And here, as in much of Zimbabwe, a once-impressive system of schools and clinics has pretty much collapsed, along with tourism, agricultural production and the economy itself.
The household stirs to life each morning when Abel rises at 4 and sets off barefoot on a nine-mile hike to the nearest high school. He has no watch or clock, so he judges the time from the sun, knowing that it will take three hours to get to school.
Abel and the other children have no money to pay school fees or buy notebooks. But the teachers allow them to attend class anyway, because they are brilliant students who earn top grades. They're a reminder that talent is universal, although opportunity is not.
After Abel leaves for school, responsibility shifts to Diego Maradona, who is 11. He wakes the three younger children, feeds them cold cornmeal mush left over from the previous night's dinner, and walks with them to the elementary school they all attend a few miles away.
When Diego and the younger children return in the afternoon, they gather firewood, fetch water, tend the chickens and sometimes search for edible wild plants. Abel returns by about 7 p.m. and cooks more cornmeal mush for dinner. He dispenses orders and affection, nurses the younger ones when they are sick, comforts them when they miss their parents, spanks them when they are naughty, coaches them with their schoolwork, begs food from neighbors, fixes the thatch roof when it leaks, and rules the household with tenderness and efficiency.
Abel's goal is to graduate from high school and become a policeman, because the job will provide a steady salary to support his siblings. He does not know how he will come up with the modest fees to take graduation exams. I asked Abel what he dreams of. "A bicycle," he said. Then he would be able to get home from school more quickly and manage the household better.
"Life was a lot better when I was younger," he said, a bit wistfully. "From what my parents used to tell me, life was a lot better under white rule. There was a lot more food and clothes, and you could afford to buy things." But Abel insisted that he was optimistic that life would eventually get better again.
Westerners sometimes think that Africa's problem is a lack of initiative or hard work. Nobody could think that after talking to Abel and Diego Maradona or so many other Zimbabweans who display a resilience and courage that left me inspired.
I found Zimbabwean superheroes like Abel often in my week of surreptitious reporting in Zimbabwe. (Mr. Mugabe subjects journalists to imprisonment, so it seemed best not to advertise my presence.) Parents sacrifice meals to keep their children in wretched schools (one teacher showed me his two textbooks for a class of 50). And a growing number of Zimbabweans risk crocodiles, drowning and violence to sneak into South Africa in search of work.
So Zimbabwe's tragedy isn't its people, but its leader. Likewise, Africa's failure has been, above all, one of leadership. It is telling that Africa's greatest success story, Botswana, is adjacent to one of its greatest failures, Zimbabwe. The difference is that for decades Botswana has been exceptionally well and honestly managed, and Zimbabwe pillaged.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has called a temporary truce in the raging battle between Sebi and Irda by announcing that Ulips will be regulated by Irda for the time being until the courts make a final and binding call. But this cannot hide a number of troublesome issues that have arisen from the unseemly battle fought in the public domain. The obvious question to ask is why Sebi chose to claim regulatory domain at this point in time when it could have done so many years earlier? Yet the delay in Sebi asserting its regulatory authority cannot be used as an argument against it asserting legitimate authority. Indeed, since Ulips do have a significant equities component, Sebi, as the market regulator, does have the right to regulate them. Sebi would also be right to be concerned about a level-playing field in financial products. After all, the markets regulator has come down heavily on agents charging commission for mutual fund products. This is in the retail investors' interest. But now it is not in the interest of agents to sell mutual fund productsinstead they are completely biased into pushing Ulips (which are not dissimilar to mutual funds), which still guarantee them a big commission. This kind of one-sided salesmanship is not in the interest of the retail investor.
Irda, on the other hand, would like to claim exclusive domain over all products with an insurance component and issued by insurance companies. But there is no fundamental need for any regulator to have exclusive domain over a particular product or firm. There will be times when firms and financial products will be regulated by multiple regulators, especially because there are very few completely exclusive domains in modern finance. In fact, it is this overlap of domains that has governments around the world thinking about the need for more inter-regulatory coordination. This is the thinking that guided the announcement of the FSDC in the FM's Budget speech. It is also the kind of thinking that led to the setting up of the HLCC. The failure of the HLCC to perform its inter-regulatory role has clearly been exposed by this battle. Surely, HLCC should be able to broker a solution, rather than the entire matter being dragged to courts. The Sebi-Irda battle may just be what the fledgling FSDC needed to bolster its case. The other, deeper problem is that many of India's financial sector laws are old and outdated, and simply out of sync with modern market and regulator conditions. The FSLRC, also promised in the Budget speech, needs to do the urgent task of reforming India's financial sector laws so that disputes such as these don't arise in the first place.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
The government has decided that foreigners should not make cigarettes in Indiathe government banned FDI in cigarettes last week. This sounds like a nice thingit sounds like we are doing all we can to prevent smoking, lung cancer, improve public health, etc. Yet, this is merely one more element of protectionism and it is wrong. The basic logic at work is simple. There is a certain set of rules in India governing cigarettes. This includes a warning printed on the box, high levels of taxation, etc. Under these rules, domestic companies are operating in the market, producing cigarettes and making profits. The rules do not prevent one more domestic firm from going into this business. From the viewpoint of public health, these firms are doing all they can to produce more cigarettes and kill more smokers. Nothing changes with respect to public health when foreign firms make cigarettes in India. All that changes is the domestic competitive dynamics. Indian companies come under more competitive pressure. The profits of Indian producers of cigarettes and beedis get adversely affected since there is more competition. But nothing changes at all on public health.
To make another analogy, suppose India felt that the sale of high-fat food was killing people. Would this support blocking McDonald's from operating in India? A better strategy is to think about these problemswhether smoking or fatis how government regulation can influence the behaviour of firms and consumers, without bringing protectionism into the picture. Whether it is a corner store chinese food shop, or it is a McDonald's, the identity of the owner does not change anything about the extent to which fat is eaten and kills people. The government must set up sound health/safety/environment regulation, but in doing this, there is no role for the often instinctive Indian government recourse to curbing the activities of foreign firms. Instead, we need to rise to a non-protectionist approach, where India is fully open to foreign goods and foreign firms, as long as they obey the same rules. The government must do nothing that interferes with competitive conditions and stop playing into the hands of domestic firms who are only too happy to harness xenophobia to reduce competition.
REGULATORY DOMAINS WILL OVERLAP
In a span of four days, the rules for the Indian financial sector have been challenged so radically that there are no comparable episodes to benchmark them against. The one thing it has made clear is why it is necessary to have principle-based regulations to drive efficiency in the financial sector, instead of the archaic rule-based ones.
On the face of it, there is absolutely no doubt that the Sebi order of April 9 has not questioned Irda's right to police the insurance sector. It has simply said if any insurance company wants to run an equity-based product, it has to get a certificate of approval from the market regulator. But since 80% of the premium for the life insurance sector is based on these products, the market regulator will call the shots for the most sizeable part of the insurance sector. If the order is upheld by the Securities Appellate Tribunal, the Irda domain could be clipped substantially. Interestingly, none of the affected insurance companies had approached the tribunal until Monday evening; may be because they were sure the Sebi position will hold. This is, therefore, a principle-based position. Equity markets are the domain of Sebi.
What Irda has battled for is a rule-based position that says insurance companies must be regulated by it, regardless of the type of activity they perform. Taken to its logical end, even banking activities of these companies must, therefore, fall within Irda's domain. Obviously that does not happen, which demonstrates how flexible a principle-based governance structure is. Thus, the government has taken the correct step of asking the two organisations to approach the court. Without pre-judging the issue, it can be safely said the moot point will be that of principles versus rules.
Given the scale of the tussle and the stakes involved in this regulatory turf battle, it shows why rules written in to protect turf have to be junked in favour of those that allow for development of the sector; this needs the sharing of inter-regulatory space.
In other words, if an almost venerable product like Ulip can run foul of water tight regulatory compartments, what are the chances for newer products to flourish. The problems are not restricted to the middle class. A very down market product, which is a brand new innovation for financial inclusionthe banking correspondent model based on the telecom spacecan also fall in the same trap. Already there are murmurs whether it is something that RBI should monitor or the telecom regulator.
It is not surprising that the manifestation of the same trouble has invaded the real economy, too, in India. There are two battles going on among the regulators in this sphere. The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission and the Forwards Market Commission, the regulator for commodity markets, are fighting in court about who will run the business of electricity trading in India. The electricity regulator says all electricity related affairs are its domain, whereas the FMC has argued that commodity trade of any sort has to run as per its rules. The Competition Commission is fighting an equally messy battle with more than one regulator. This is about which of them will have the right to decide whether a merger or an acquisition is anti-competitive.
At one level, as the government frees itself from the responsibility to run a sector and hands over the role to regulators, turf issues will spring up. Since a regulator is a referee, it must be clear on the rules before running the game. A government ministry, on the other hand, often works out the preparatory work before the game and can live with the contradictions.
Yet, despite this caveat, there are too many regulatory hurdles creeping up for the good of the different sectors. The problem is not that they have emerged, but they have persisted for too long. Companies, investors and others are often not bothered why they have arisen. But they are sure concerned about how long the differences have persisted.
The Sebi-Irda spat, too, has not grown overnight. The first time the issue reached the high level committee on coordination of capital markets was in 2005. Since no subject reaches the committee chaired by the RBI governor unless it is already a first class dispute, the Ulip spat, too, must have simmered for a long time. Five years later we are still working out a resolution.
For the financial sector this means trouble with a capital T. Financial sector entities must innovate to beat the competition. The Ulips developed as fine investment vehicles that merged the efficiency of the equity market with the benefit of the insurance cover. The investors liked it, which is why there are so many of them and also why no insurance company or mutual fund will do without them. But if the financial sector regulators take so much time to decide on new products, it is troubling news. As the financial sector develops, one can bet that companies will come out with new products that will merge the efficiencies of different markets. We can either put in a blanket rule that says entities regulated by one regulator will not be allowed to peek into the neighbourhood or allow development of principle-based regulations.
This is not a pessimistic scenario. Already we have examples where this has begun to happen. The coordination
shown by the Sebi and RBI to roll out the exchange traded derivatives or the currency futures market, where the FMC also has got in the act, shows this is eminently possible.
THE ANARCHY OF EXCHANGE RATES
When I was a student in the 1950s, exchange rates were not a topic of debate. The IMF and the Bretton Woods system had fixed the exchange rates of each country in relation to the dollar, which, in turn, was pegged to gold at $35 per ounce. There was a solitary article by Milton Friedman advocating flexible exchange rates but we were assured that was impossible and in any case will never work. India devalued twice in that regimein 1949 when the UK did and then again in 1966 just before the UK did.
Today, 40 years since the collapse of the Bretton Woods regime, exchange rates are variable, if not totally flexible. Countries do not leave their exchange rates to be determined by the market as Friedman wanted but indulge in dirty floating or even diplomatic floating. Of course, exporters prefer low exchange rates and complain when the exchange rate strengthens; politicians don't mind but feel humiliated if they have to devalue under pressure.
China has now got to a stage where its RMB is seriously undervalued. Its gigantic foreign exchange reserves worth some $2 trillion put a lot of pressure on the RMB. The capital inflow caused by the undervalued RMB and the resulting balance of a trade surplus create a problem for monetary policy since if the money is not sterilised it will cause inflation. China is in the grip of an asset bubble in real estate and drastic policy measures have had to be adopted to control the rampant growth of credit.
China should unpeg the RMB and allow it to float against the dollar. But it won't, just because the US would like that move. Of course, China is sovereign and, therefore, need not take any notice of the US, which, after all, is a debtor country vis-à-vis China. US policymakers are getting impatient and want to declare China a currency manipulator. (The US Congress has still not realised that the US is not top dog any more when it comes to financial matters.) An ugly protectionist war looms.
Fixing the exchange rate removes one instrument of policy. As a consequence, one goal of policy cannot be achieved. Thus, by fixing the exchange rate, a country loses control over inflation. It is in China's own interest to unpeg its currency but its amour propre stands in its way. Political sovereignty most often leads to self-abuse in the economic sphere. So, it will be some time before China does its diplomatic pirouette and runs a sensible exchange rate policy.
The EU has also got into trouble regarding Eurozone. Here again, countries of uneven economic strengths and traditions of fiscal discipline have signed up to a fixed exchange rate regime with a tough central bank that has a mandate to control inflation as its sole objective. There is neither a fiscal authority at the centre that can bail out countries in trouble and nor can or will the central bank. Greece has now got into a severe problem. For years it falsified its national accounts and hid its precarious debt position. With the financial crisis, this has become transparent. Greece needs urgent help to meet its debt obligations and the Eurozone countries, especially Germany, are unwilling to bail it out. (Imagine if in India every state had to balance its budget with no help from RBI and no Planning Commission grants were available.)
The Eurozone was proud of its low inflation record and did not think it would get into trouble. Strict limits are prescribed on a budget deficit of 3% or less, and even during the crisis the deficit was allowed to go up only with a strict promise to return to balance.
Greece cannot comply with the conditions imposed. It is paying 4% points above what Germany pays for its borrowing. Everyone knows that sooner or later it will have to go to the IMF for a loan or drop out of the Eurozone, that is, go back to its old currency, drachma, massively devalued.
But the political amour propre of Merkel and Sarkozy can neither contemplate the IMF muscling in on the Eurozone nor the exit of Greece from it. So the stalemate continues as we painfully watch the irrationalities of politicians at war with those of market speculators. We know who will make money in this battle and who will lose face. It just takes time.
The fault is with lack of proper international financial architecture. The IMF should be like a global central bank and should have the power to advise and help. It should be able to reassure countries about protection from massive speculative capital outflows. But one year after the London G20, we still await serious action on an improved SDR or some mechanism whereby financial imbalances can be sorted out. But the world is insufficiently globalised for that to happen. More misery will visit many countries before we learn the wisdom of rational economic policy rather than power politics.
The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer
COST OF EXPLORATION
The oil exploration and production (E&P) industry is highly capital intensive and has a long gestation period. To encourage E&P activities, most countries, including India, provided for a special accounting and tax regime with the objective of attracting investments. E&P companies outsource to oilfield service (OFS) contractors. Typically, OFS contractors work on seismic data processing, provision of drilling rigs, floating production storage and offloading vessels and so on. Such services are closely connected with the overall E&P value chain making them an integral part of the process.
To simplify tax provisions for the OFS industry, the government introduced Section 44BB in the Indian Income Tax law for non-resident OFS contractors. Under this, 10% of the gross receipts of the non-resident are deemed its taxable income (resulting in an effective tax of 4.223%) and the non-resident is not required to maintain any books of accounts in India. Revenue authorities have contested the applicability of Section 44BB to OFS contractors, alleging that these are 'technical' services and, therefore, should not get the benefit of presumptive taxation. However, the courts have been taking an almost consistent view that if the services (irrespective of their nature) are in connection with E&P activities, the income of the non-resident should be computed in accordance with Section 44BB.
The Budget 2010 seeks to withdraw this regime for companies providing 'technical services', even if services are in connection with E&P. This amendment may also increase the overall project cost since service providers will be inclined to pass on the additional tax cost to upstream companies. Given that the Indian hydrocarbon reserves are largely under-developed and require foreign technology and expertise, the proposed amendment by the Budget will have a negative impact on the development of the sector.
The author is senior manager, oil & gas, EY. Taranpreet Singh, manager, oil & gas, EY, has also contributed to this article
KYRGYZSTAN NEEDS REORIENTATION
The popular uprising that overthrew President Kurmanbek Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan was sudden and unexpected. In the capital, Bishkek, dozens of people were killed and hundreds injured in a violent governmental attempt to quell the revolt. In the provincial towns of Naryn and Tokmak, protesters seized government buildings, and in Talas thousands assembled in the main square after attacking the regional government headquarters. In Bishkek, parliament was ransacked, central government buildings were set ablaze, and hotels and shopping complexes looted. The immediate cause of the uprising was the jacking up of the fuel, water, and gas prices. But resentment had been building for a long time. The government of Mr. Bakiyev, who was elected in 2005 after the so-called tulip revolution, had become increasingly corrupt, nepotistic, and repressive. Significantly, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took the lead in signalling support to the leader of the interim government, Roza Otunbayeva, by assuring her of cooperation.
Kyrgyzstan faces enormous problems. Mr. Bakiyev has been running nothing less than a kleptocracy, in which he and his family have done the plundering. In fact, Ms Otunbayeva says the government has only $80 million left. As the Kyrgyz economy crashed in the global recession, between a third and a half of its five million population descended into poverty. The political problems, for their part, are daunting. Russia, the United States, and China have an intense interest in the country and the region. Russia has offered aid in the current crisis but is justifiably disturbed over the U.S. airbase at Manas, which was established in 2001 and remains a major transit point for troops and matériel on their way to Afghanistan. The U.S. rents Manas for $60 million a year and has further plans to set up a military training centre in the south of Kyrgyzstan. Moscow has been less than pleased with Mr. Bakiyev for playing the two nuclear superpowers off against each another; he acceded to Russian demands to evict the U.S. in return for loans, but then allowed the base to remain when the Obama administration offered a higher rent. It is significant that Ms Otunbayeva, a former senior Kyrgyz diplomat, has promised elections within six months, though she has said existing commitments will be respected. Kyrgyzstan's leaders would do well to recognise that their country's interests would be best served by maintaining good neighbourly relations, above all with Russia and not by embarking on an adventurist course through cosying up to a distant power that has its own agenda for the region.
As irony would have it, the international year of rapprochement of cultures began with violent protests around two cultural sites, and Israel is the transgressor. The Tomb of the Patriarchs, also known as the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron, and Rachel's Tomb, known as Masjid Bilal in Bethlehem, are heritage structures of importance to Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. Notwithstanding the universally accepted interfaith character of these sites and their location in occupied Palestinian territory, Israel recently included them in its national heritage list, designating them for renovation as Jewish heritage sites. This cannot pass as a benign attempt to conserve old buildings. Neither is it an isolated incident. Earlier, affected Palestinian families appealed to the United Nations to stop Israel and a Jewish organisation from constructing a museum over an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem. Organised Judaisation of ancient sites is a plan to deny Palestinians their share of the past, thus prejudicing their future. The usurpation of two sites is an act of provocation and the U.N. has properly expressed its concern. Conservation, as UNECO advocates, should aim at building peace, not creating conflict.
These lawless acts severely undermine UNESCO's ongoing collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of the Palestinian Authority and civil society groups to protect and preserve the cultural heritage sites in the West Bank. They deny Palestinians opportunities to build their capacity in heritage management. These actions also spotlight the limitations of the relevant international conventions and laws. The widely adopted Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998) deal primarily with damage to monuments caused by inter-state wars and occupation. It was only in 1999 that UNESCO, realising the complexities of sponsored violence, introduced the second protocol to the Hague convention to include damage caused by internal conflict. However, the focus is on the interpretation of issues such as the notion of military necessity, movable properties, and sanctions for breaches. What is happening in Israel cannot be framed within the narrow definitions since the monuments are not physically damaged. Threats to memories and possible erasure of evidence of multiple claims are equally serious. It is time to reframe the conventions and provide firm protection to the past of vulnerable groups. Israel must desist from appropriating inter-faith heritage sites and robbing Palestinians of what belongs to them by right.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
FOR A REVIEW OF COUNTER-INSURGENCY DOCTRINE
KEY TO INDIA'S FAILURE IN COMBATING MAOIST INSURGENCY IS AN AHISTORICAL, ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL SECURITY DOCTRINE.
Eric Hobsbawm wrote: "There is nothing in the purely military pages of Mao, Nguyen Giap, Che Guevara or other manuals of guerrilla warfare which a traditional guerrillero or band leader would regard as other than simple common sense."
Last week, after the massacre of 76 police personnel in Dantewada, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram urged Indians to "remain calm, keep your nerve, and do not stray from the carefully chosen course that we have adopted since November 2009."
The last of those recommendations may prove profoundly misguided. Few of the strategists charged with executing the Minister's ambitious counter-Maoist offensive appear to have grasped its doctrinal and tactical demands. Premised on the belief that counter-insurgency campaigns must be population-centric in other words, dominate territories and thus deny insurgents contact with the population the strategic foundation of India's war against Maoist insurgents is flawed. The bottom line is this: Indian forces are losing. Last year, 312 security personnel were killed to 294 Maoists. This year, too, the figures are grim.
For centuries, insurgents have known that a superior force can be defeated. Napoleon Bonaparte believed that his 1808 occupation of Spain would be a "military promenade." Instead, France found itself bogged down by a protracted guerrilla struggle that lasted six years and compelled to commit three-fifths of its imperial army. Irish insurgents who fought the British in 1848 were taught to "decompose the science and system of war." "The force of England," advised the radical James Lalor, "is entrenched and fortified. You must draw it out of position; break up its mass; break its trained line of march and manoeuvre; its equal step and serried array."
Much of this would have been familiar to peasant rebels and bandits in India. Back in 1813, Kallua Gujjar led a successful series of raids targeting moneylenders, travellers and police posts in the Saharanpur-Dehra Dun belt. His 1,000-strong irregular force was, on one occasion, able to loot a group of some 200 police personnel. Bhil insurgents staged a series of revolt between 1820 and 1860 driven, among other things, by the large-scale expropriation of Adivasi land by the state and growing exploitation by moneylenders. Despite the use of irregular formations like James Outram's Bhil Corps and a policy of pacification that involved pushing the Adivasis to become settled farmers, the Bhil raids continued for decades.
Major-General Akbar Khan, who commanded the Pakistani irregular offensive directed at Srinagar in 1947, described the tactical mindset of such irregular warriors in his memoirs: "One Mahsud tribesman aptly described to me their tactics as being like that of the hawk. The hawk flies high in the sky, out of danger; he flies round and round until he sees his prey and then he swoops down on it for one mighty strike and when he has got his prey, he does not wait around, he flies off at once to some far off quiet place where he can enjoy what he has got."
Key to India's failure in combating Maoist insurgency is an ahistorical, one-size-fits-all security doctrine. In essence, state responses have consisted of pumping in forces for conventional, ground-holding operations in the hope of displacing guerrilla forces; maintaining high force levels over sustained periods of time; and, using this military presence to push forward with developmental and political initiatives to deprive insurgents of their political legitimacy.
Indian counter-insurgency tactics and strategy, Vijendra Singh Jafa notes, "have remained fundamentally conservative and traditional, influenced substantially by accounts of British experiences." Drawing on the British campaign against the Malayan Communist Party, Indian strategists believe that successful counter-insurgency campaigns must focus on winning popular support. New work, like that of historian Karl Hack, has shown that the back of the Malayan insurgency was, in fact, broken long before Britain set about winning hearts and minds. Little of this revisionist literature, though, has been studied seriously in Indian military academies.
Despite plenty of evidence that population-centric strategies do not work witness the durability of insurgencies in the northeast and Jammu and Kashmir the doctrine has never been reappraised.
The former Punjab Director-General of Police, K.P.S. Gill's signal contribution was demonstrating that alternatives to population-centric counter-insurgency could succeed. Instead of engaging in protracted, large-force operations, Mr. Gill focussed on offensive operations targeting the leadership and cadre of Khalistan terrorists. In effect, unconventional war-fighting methods were used to defeat unconventional war-fighting methods. Evidence that such tactics work has piled up. In Jammu and Kashmir, the Special Operations Group succeeded in decimating the leadership of the Hizb ul-Mujahideen. Andhra Pradesh's Greyhounds destroyed a once-powerful Maoist insurgency. Tripura defeated an intractable tribal insurgency.
In a thoughtful 1988 paper for the United States Air Force Airpower Research Institute, Dennis Drew noted that counter-insurgency operations called for an upturning of military thinking. Military professionals, he wrote, believe "that the basic military objective in war is to conduct operations that lead to the destruction of the enemy's centre of gravity." India's policy of pumping company-sized formations into the Maoist heartland, and attempting to dominate the territory around them, is one manifestation of this thinking. The problem is successful insurgents have no fixed centre of gravity no bases that conventional forces may overwhelm.
Population-centred counter-insurgency has received renewed legitimacy from the apparent success of the U.S. troop surge in Iraq, which was marketed as having subdued a growing insurgency. But, as scholar and soldier Gian Gentile has pointed out, the notion that the reduction of insurgent violence in Iraq was "primarily the result of American military action is hubris run amok." In fact, Gentile argued, a "combination of brutal attacks by Shia militia in conjunction with the actions of the Iraqi Shia government and the continuing persecution by the al-Qaeda against the Sunni community convinced the insurgents that they could no longer counter all these forces and it was to their advantage to cut a deal with the Americans."
For many in the Indian intelligentsia, the defeat of insurgents is an inevitability: part, as it were, of the manifest destiny of the state. Last week, Shekhar Gupta, editor of Indian Express, offered a ringing endorsement of this received wisdom, arguing that insurgencies "follow a pattern pretty much like a bell curve," "The graph of violence," he argued, "rises in the initial period, producing more and more casualties on both sides. But at some stage the rebels come to the realisation that the state and its people are too strong and resolute to be ever defeated, no matter what the score, in a particular day's battle in a long war. That is the point of inflexion when rebels see reason. There is no reason why the Maoist insurgency will not follow that same pattern."
But will it? Back in 1954, when India first committed troops to battling Naga insurgents, just one State was hit by insurgency. Now, 265 of 625 districts are affected by one form or the other of chronic conflict a figure that excludes areas with unacceptably high levels of organised crime, as well as cities periodically targeted by jihadist violence. It is far from clear if the resources exist to address the problem. Italy has 559 police officers for every 1,00,000 citizens; Bihar has 60, Orissa 97, Chhattisgarh 128 and Jharkhand 136. Even the Army, despite its apparently enormous size, will be stretched if it is committed to internal security duties. The United States has one soldier for every 186 citizens; India has one for 866.
Worse, it is far from clear if the Indian state has the capacity needed for rapid, transformative projects. The U.S., figures compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management's Ajai Sahni show, has 889 federal employees, and 6,314 state and local employees for every 1,00,000 citizens. India's Union government has 295 and if one excludes railway employees, 171. Chhattisgarh has 1,067 government employees per 1,00,000 population; Bihar, a pathetic 472.
Even if forces are found to saturate the ground, experience shows, development will not necessarily follow. In both Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast, state spending has yielded only limited results. Funds have often been siphoned off by local contractors and politicians and, worse, preyed on by insurgents. In effect, the injection of cash into troubled regions has subsidised insurgency.
Learning from its own success stories, India needs to fight insurgencies in smarter, leaner ways. Like Andhra Pradesh, States must invest in training facilities that meet their particular needs; expand intelligence capabilities; and use technology effectively. Instead of focussing on simply expanding the size of Central forces, the Union government must understand the need for them to be properly trained and equipped. Soldiers without skills have only one fate: defeat.
In time, it is true, Indian forces may succeed in wearing down the Maoist insurgency, albeit at a horrible cost of lives but there are reasons to worry that they may not. India's strategic strengths are manifest. But as the work of military scholar Ivan Arreguin-Toft teaches us, the weak do sometimes win. Instead of despatching ever-greater numbers of men to support those already flailing in the face of insurgent fire, a dispassionate review of both doctrine and tactics is needed.
MAURITIUS: DELICATE SOCIAL FABRIC
WHEN THE POLITICS OF ELECTIONEERING IS CONVERTED INTO THE POLITICS OF ETHNIC VITRIOL, THAT CREATES A DANGEROUS PRECEDENT.
Take away the stunning greenery and jagged mountains from Mauritius, take away the rolling pastures, take away the vast sugarcane plantations, and take away the bustling hamlets with their narrow twisting roads and one could be forgiven for feeling that this is Dubai-in-the-Indian-Ocean, a clean place where waves wash gently on the shores and enterprise is encouraged.
Both entities have populations of about 1.5 million each, heavily dominated by people of South Asian origin. Whereas in Dubai, the nationals the Emiratis constitute a fraction of the demography, in Mauritius it is the original French settlers known locally as the Francos who are in a distinct minority. Yet it is they who own significant property, including the plantations, and it is they who dominate the economy.
One would think that such economic domination translated into political power. Not so. In Mauritius, an island-state that gained independence from the British 42 years ago, it is the Hindu majority descendants of indentured labourers brought across by the British scores of years ago that has a lock on government and the bureaucracy. The minority Muslims, Christians and Creoles have little say in the way Mauritius is run, although there's general agreement that the government of Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam has been clean but that it needs to be even more sensitive to the needs of various ethnic communities.
The 65-year-old prime minister who heads the Mauritius Labour Party is now running for a second five-year term. A physician and a lawyer, Ramgoolam is the son of the country's founding father, the late Dr. Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. A canny politician, he understood that his party needed key allies in order to secure victory in the country's 20 constituencies in the May 5 election. So he's brought in former political opponents into his election alliance, the Mouvement Socialiste Militant and the Parti Mauricien Social Democrate. "This alliance represents stability at this juncture," Dr. Ramgoolam said the other day, promising a vigorous but civil election campaign.
But the election campaign has already turned raucous. And it's only a part of the drama roiling Mauritius. Because some of Prime Minister Ramgoolam's close friends happen to be Muslims including Deputy Prime Minister Rashid Beebeejaun some publications backed by Franco interests have escalated attacks on those friends' business interests. A former wire-service writer has been imported from France to lend ferocity to local journalism; leading financial officials in the French-influenced private sector have engaged in innuendo about some Muslim entrepreneurs, particularly those with multinational operations.
Moreover, blogs inspired by entrenched interests seem to be having a field day, spiritedly raising the spectre of a Mauritius dominated by an alliance of Hindus and Muslims; in particular, attacks against a multinational businessman, Dawood A. Rawat, are being escalated despite the fact that Mr. Rawat's company, the British-American Group, has created more than 5,000 jobs locally.
All this could ordinarily be dismissed as being part of the hurly burly of politics. But the social fabric of Mauritius is very delicate indeed, and when the politics of electioneering is converted into the politics of ethnic vitriol, that creates a dangerous precedent. It is not that this island which sits atop a volcano is about to erupt and spew political lava. But the current spate of attacks poisons the atmosphere in a way that would make governance difficult for Prime Minister Ramgoolam in his second term. Dr. Ramgoolam has coined a new mantra for governance: "Unity, Equality, Modernity."
Model for multi-cultural amity
It is never prudent to predict the outcome of elections, but Dr. Ramgoolam appears to be headed toward a second term as prime minister. That would also give him a second chance to act as a social emollient, hopefully persuading the attack dogs of Mauritius that their personal assaults and political biting isn't in the national interest that, in the final analysis, Mauritius simply deserves better because it can serve as a model for multi-cultural amity in a world fraught with ethnic hatred.
( Pranay Gupte, a U.S. national, is a veteran journalist whose forthcoming book is about India and the Middle East.)
THAI SHADOW OVER THE ASEAN
NEW PROPOSALS OF EAST ASIAN HARMONY MUST BE STUDIED IN THE CONTEXT OF THE GROWING IMPORTANCE OF GROUP OF 20 MAJOR AND EMERGING NATIONS AND NOT JUST IN THE LIGHT OF GROUND REALITIES WITHIN THE ASSOCIATION OF SOUTH EAST ASIAN NATIONS.
P. S. SURYANARAYANA
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is dismayed at the ferocity of the latest clashes between Thailand's security forces, including soldiers, and the anti-government protesters in Bangkok. Thailand is a founding member of the ASEAN.
The Thai authorities and protesters are still coming to terms with the murky political meaning of Saturday's clashes, the worst since the 1992 riots in Bangkok against the country's military powers. As at the start of the current month-long crisis, the issue still remains a simple but profound choice between a really representative order and a system with considerable political space for the military establishment.
For the 10-member ASEAN, which aspires to stay as the prime mover for ensuring inter-state harmony in East Asia, the latest Thai crisis could not have occurred at a more awkward moment. Already, the association has been in a state of embarrassment over the political scene in the military-ruled Myanmar, another member-state. Having promised a "democracy-restoring general election," the Myanmar junta, known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), recently crafted the relevant poll laws in such a manner as to dissuade the dissident National League for Democracy from thinking of contesting. A level-playing poll arena is something that the SPDC is not prepared to extend to those wishing to participate in the promised transition to democracy.
Until recently, major ASEAN powers did not feel compelled to bracket Thailand with Myanmar as being equally burdensome to the association. For a number of years now, the ASEAN leaders, excluding the SPDC minions but including the Thai politicians, have felt frustrated over the Myanmar junta's hostility to the idea of democracy as widely understood. In contrast, Thailand's fellow-members in the ASEAN did not, until recently, feel the need to see the association's collective future under the prism of Thailand's unabated political crisis since the 2006 military coup there.
Nearly three years ago, when Thailand took up the ASEAN's rotating Chair, the other members even expressed confidence that Bangkok, with its tradition of statecraft, could be trusted to lead well. However, Thailand's now-completed role as the ASEAN Chair belied such expectations, with the prolonged political crisis in Bangkok being a major contributory factor. And, the latest mood in the collective ASEAN forum over Thailand is one of deep dismay laced with a degree of plain-speak criticism.
Responding to media queries on the political clashes and killings in Bangkok on April 10, the Singapore Foreign Ministry took a decisive stand. Singapore said: "If the situation [in Bangkok] is unresolved, it will have serious implications for Thailand's future and the future of the ASEAN. Singapore hopes that all Thais, whatever their political views, will place the interests of the country first and reach a durable compromise that will enable Thailand to return to normality as soon as possible. This is important not just for the Thai people but also for the ASEAN as a community. The ASEAN cannot progress if one of its most important members remains mired in political instability." Singapore's views echo the sentiments of several other ASEAN players as well.
Such forthright comments, even as an advice of goodwill, are rare within the ASEAN bloc. This should reflect the extent of the ASEAN's collective concerns over its future role in East Asia at this sensitive time.
Some critical factors for political stability in East Asia are the continuing rise of China as a potential superpower, the hint of a changing axis of focus in America's foreign policy under President Obama, and his new nuclear-posture deal with Russia ahead of the ongoing nuclear security summit he is hosting.
Unsurprisingly in these circumstances, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has now proposed the idea of an informal ASEAN+8 grouping. The idea is that such a new group could gather on the margins of the summit meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum whenever they are held in the Asian continent. The eight countries, as the ASEAN's dialogue partners in this proposed process, will be, in alphabetical order: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea (South Korea), Russia, and the United States. Of these eight, only Russia and the U.S. are currently not members of the East Asia Summit (EAS), a group convened by the ASEAN for summit-level meetings every year.
Singapore's proposal will be studied by the ASEAN Foreign Ministers who are expected to assess the relative merits of two other initiatives, one each by Japan and Australia, as well. The Japanese idea of an East Asian Community is also aimed at creating an EAS-Plus forum, with no finality yet about the possible new members and the logistics of a larger dialogue. Another proposal doing the rounds is Australia's push for an Asia Pacific Community. Here too, Canberra has left the clarity on all relevant issues to be decided through wide-ranging consultations among the major powers with a direct stake in the stability and progress of the EAS region.
Each of these three proposals does provide India with some political and economic space, whatever the extent, in East Asia. New Delhi's interactions with Beijing and Tokyo on some parallel or overlapping tracks are nothing particularly new. Of some relative novelty, though, is the increasing intensity of the dialogue between New Delhi and Seoul. This was exemplified most recently by the Foreign Policy and Security Dialogue, which India's Secretary (East), Latha Reddy, held in Seoul. The objective was to inject greater substance to the bilateral "strategic partnership."
The comparative equations among the EAS powers and their individual levels of comfort in their collective and independent interactions with the U.S. will become evident during the ongoing nuclear security summit in Washington. As Japanese official Kazuo Kodama notes, counter-terror measures in the nuclear domain rather than the U.S. nuclear umbrellas for its allies drives the interactive agenda of this summit.
About the bigger global picture, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has said, in response to a question from this correspondent in Singapore, that the equation between the U.S. and China, as an informal Group of Two, will be crucial within the G-20 framework of dialogue among the major and emerging powers. Given such thinking, the new proposals of East Asian harmony must be studied in the G-20 context as well, not just the ASEAN ground realities.
ROMEO AND JULIET GETS TWITTER TREATMENT
ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY RETELLING BARD'S ROMEO AND JULIET WITH CAST OF SIX OVER FIVE WEEKS AND 4,000 TWEETS.
But soft! What tweet through yonder iPhone breaks? It is the east, and @julietcap16 is the sun.
Actually, Juliet Capulet is probably offline at the moment: being only 16, she has to go to school even on her birthday, where to her indignation Twitter is banned. She'll be back. And there's a big party planned for the night that could change all their lives: does any of this sound at all familiar? The Royal Shakespeare Company on Monday joined with the cross-platform production firm Mudlark and TV station Channel 4's digital investment fund, 4iP, to launch Such Tweet Sorrow, a drama in real time and 4,000 tweets, very roughly based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
The Bard of Avon's 1597 tragedy of flirty, street-fighting teenagers disastrously caught up in the double trauma of real love and their parents' murderous small-town rivalries is already one of the most adapted of his works. It has been continuously reinvented as an opera, a ballet, a musical, a lesbian love story, a geriatric love story and even an ice show.
This time, Juliet is the daughter of a successful property developer. Her mother died in a car driven by the artist Montague; her father will no longer tolerate any of his works in the house, much less his son. Her brother Tybalt is well on his way to being expelled from his latest boarding school, and their older sister Jess, nicknamed Nurse, keeps well out of the way of their new stepmother.
Juliet "Totally haven't introduced myself yet! My name is Juliet. I'm 15 and SO proud to be a Capulet!" was how the actor Charlotte Wakefield announced herself on Saturday spends quite a lot of her time in her room, and has helpfully posted a video of it on YouTube, lingering on a photograph of her late mother.
Such Tweet Sorrow is being improvised by a cast of six RSC actors from a story grid, taking in audience responses and real events, with author Tim Wright helping out Shakespeare. He said he would have to find a way of working the election into the narrative.
Are we ready to really take on the Maoist challenge? Do we know who we are fighting, and what their capabilities are? There is a gap between intelligence estimates of their strength and the actual number of cadres they have and the weapons they own.
There is a tendency to exaggerate their strength on both counts, and this is done both by the government as well as civil society groups which support the rebels' political philosophy, if not their violent methods.
In tackling the Maoists, we need to avoid the trap of either demonising or romanticising them too much. The actual number of armed Maoists cannot ever exceed more than a few thousand in any theatre of operation. A larger fighting force would be conspicuous in terms of its sheer presence.
The Maoists, true to their guerrilla tactics, are operating rather effectively with smaller numbers.
The issue of the arms and ammunition they possess is more complicated.
An Intelligence Bureau (IB) report published by DNA suggests that the Maoists are readying themselves for possible attacks from the air. As guerillas, this should not be surprising. It is their job to adapt to changing conditions. But this does not make them invulnerable or invincible.
The report based on information obtained from captured Maoists implies that the rebels are expecting helicopters to be used to land troops as well as to launch fire.
Perhaps this is not the whole story. It should not come as a surprise if the Maoists were to be in possession of anti-aircraft guns and even Stinger missiles that the Afghan mujahideen had used first against the Soviets in the 1980s and then against the Americans more than a decade later.
Intelligence agencies will also have to trace the arms trail of the Maoists. The money to buy arms is obtained by threatening local landlords and traders. This tap needs to be closed. And once the arms channel is identified, the task of outflanking the rebels becomes easier.
It would be a folly to think that it is greater firepower alone that will overwhelm the Maoists. It is superior strategy, including precise intelligence, that will ensure victory.
THE INDIA WAY
IT WOULD SEEM THAT INDIAN MANAGERS WILL AT LAST GET DUE RECOGNITION ABROAD WITH THE RELEASE OF WHARTON BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR MICHAEL USEEM'S THE INDIA WAY: HOW INDIA'S TOP BUSINESS LEADERS ARE REVOLUTIONIZING MANAGEMENT.
The book, co-authored by Peter Cappelli, Harbir Singh and Jitendra Singh, brings several aspects of Indian management styles to the notice of the western reader.
In an interview to this paper, Useem has identified several aspects of what he considers to be the unique elements of the Indian way of doing things.
One of them is 'jugaad,' which essentially has negative connotations in the Indian context, since it means a "makeshift" solution. But the American professor sees it as a virtue where Indians are able to get things done with limited resources.
There is an element of truth here, but is it entirely a good thing? In most cases, 'jugaad' connotes subversion and circumvention and this may be a necessary part of survival in an economy where the system often works against you.
However, there is a big difference between somehow managing to do things, and striving for excellence.
As opposed to the 'jugaad', there is the Japanese way of meticulous effort and attention to detail, as represented by the Toyota production system. Toyota may be temporarily discredited due to some egregious errors, but for the last few decades, customers swore by Toyota quality.
That the Americans are looking to the Indian way is as much a tribute to the Americans as it is to the Indians.
When in trouble, the Americans are always searching for alternate models and it does not matter where it comes from.
They turned to the Japanese when Japan gained an upper hand in manufacturing, and they are now turning to India to manage things in times of constraint.
Perhaps the real lesson could be that in a world of limited resources, there is need to manage with less rather than with more. Many automobile companies have been mesmerised by the Nano's frugal engineering.
The other virtue that Useem detects in the Indian corporate culture is the desire to reach out to a larger number of people, and make things accessible to them, as in the case of keeping the prices of mobile phones and cars reasonably low.
It is shrewd business strategy rather than altruism, as there's a fortune at the bottom of the pyramid where volumes count for more than margins.
The Americans will draw their own lessons from the Indian experience, but Indians will have to guard against accepting those conclusions uncritically. We have to evolve our own criteria of success and excellence.
RASULPUR: A PICTURE OF GOVERNMENT APATHY
Behavioural psychologists apparently call it schizoid withdrawal when a problem is so big, you just pretend it does not exist.
One half of India has reached this state about the other half the problem of poverty has become so enormous and seemingly unsolvable that it is best ignored.
How much easier to concentrate on trees, AIDS, cancer, school children being taken for walks, disabilities and sexual preferences than what is staring us in the face: at least 30% of our massive population has nothing. No money, no food, no basic amenities, no education, no health care and no opportunities.
The current hysteria over the Maoist menace seems to have as its catalyst the unfortunate death of 76 CRPF policemen.
But the problem has existed for decades in all its various forms the neglect of tribals, the lack of development in so many areas, the growing influence of Maoist ideologues who choose violence to overthrow an oppressive state, corruption on all sides and finally, a breakdown of law and order and a collapse of state control.
Not that those areas free of Maoist control have it easy.
Last week I visited Rasulpur, a small village in Uttarakhand on the border of the Rajaji National Park, the northern-most home of the Asian elephant.
This village is composed mainly of below the poverty line Dalits and OBCs who had depended largely on the forest for subsistence.
The forest is now closed to them. My father volunteers for an NGO called The Friends of the Doon (FOD), which is trying to give them options. If the model works, it will be applied to the other 60-odd villages along the border of the forest.
Some villagers own a couple of cattle each, which were sent into the forest to graze. It was this activity that is chiefly responsible for the destruction of ground cover in the forest.
Moreover, the villagers, either for the cattle or for fuel, have lopped off lower branches of the trees. This has changed the appearance of the trees along the periphery so as to make them unrecognisable.
FOD has started by giving villages gobar-gas plants for cooking fuel, so that they can use the dung from their own cattle and do not have to either cut trees or forage for fuel.
It has also introduced stall feeding for cattle, so that they do not have to be sent into the forest. This keeps the cattle healthier and increases milk yield.
There is no regular electricity in the village, so solar lamps and lanterns are being introduced. Toilets or latrines, which are non-existent, are being built.
Medical camps for humans and animals are organised. Young people are being sent for training in various fields so that they are no longer dependent on meagre cattle or land resources. It is all a slow, laborious process.
This is not charity after all and empowerment and can only work if the villagers are involved.
But where, one might ask, is the government.
Once, the water department set up a plant, now largely defunct.
The primary school has two classrooms for five classes, a dusty playground which serves as a classroom for the anganwadi children and two non-functional toilets.
The secondary school has a smaller building, no doors, windows, playground or toilets, functional or otherwise, and one teacher, for classes 6 to 8.
The mid-day meals are cooked in open-air and the food served under trees. There is no primary health care centre. There is no serviceable road and an erratic bus service.
There is a panchayat but may not truly represent the most needy. Some families are entitled to homes under the Indira Awaz Yojana, but many are incomplete.
There is, in short, no government to speak of. Like so many villages in India, it has fallen below the radar.
Corruption is rampant and yet, oddly, there is hope.
The younger people want to move out and are questioning old customs, says Bharat Sharma who works for FOD and has seen change slowly come about.
Yet, there are no Naxals. The Rasulpurs of India also need our attention.
HUSAIN & KHUSHBOO
Two rebels without a pause and two different resolves and results. That is the saga of MF Husain and actress Khushboo.
When Husain asked for and got the citizenship of Qatar an honorary citizenship is only conferred there was furore among left liberals. The usual suspects on TV studios were aghast and upset.
There was no discussion on the "rule of law" or the "law taking its own course".
The number of cases against him was quoted as 900. Our left liberals are mathematically challenged since most of them come from the social science stream.
People who think that Picasso is a new type of Italian dish and Munch is a special potato wafer were aghast at the damage done to the great Indian artist. They screamed at the TV cameras, crying that the shamed India must listen to them!
First the facts. The controversy pertaining to his paintings of the seventies became prominent in 1996 and he went into voluntary exile in 2006.
From 2006 he has been a non-resident Indian and in 2010 he has decided to surrender his Indian passport to become a citizen of Qatar which is well known for few major supermarkets and a couple of five-star hotels and desert sand.
There were seven cases in all against him, and of them four were quashed by the Delhi high court in May, 2008 (Husain did not appear in person) by justice Sanjay Kishen Kaul.
The Supreme Court upheld the same in September, 2008. The court also rejected the complainant's argument to summon Husain, who then hailed the verdict as a great gift.
He said, "The Supreme Court has shown that it is supreme what a great gift".
The remaining three cases are pending in the Patiala House court. And recently the Supreme Court rejected a petition to direct the government to close these cases, since they were private cases and hence did not have the powers to ask the government to close them.
In the last hundred years I have not heard of any artist of any hue in India being put in jail or beheaded for any of his actions.
Then what could be his reason to leave India? He has been tax assessed as an NRI for the last four years hopefully our tax department is doing its task.
He himself has mentioned in his interviews that "commercial considerations" and "tax issues" did play a role in his decisions.
It is not a top secret that major art investors are also investors through tax havens. The financial crunch in 2008 hit the art market also and it became important to sell abroad even though much of Husain's work is in India.
There is also another aspect to it: Was there a track two dialogue with our finance ministry regarding his taxation?
This question has not been asked to him or to our finance minister. Husain is a multi-millionaire. At his age he needs to partition his wealth among his extended family and protect his commercial interests by increasing the price of his products. But he ends up as a fugitive from law. By taking foreign citizenship he cannot be excluded from our legal processes since that will be a dangerous trend.
Let us turn to Khushboo, nee Naggarth Khan.
The Tamil actress gave an interview in 2005 mentioning that men cannot expect their brides to be virgins and also suggested that girls should take protective measures for pre-marital sex.
Her views upset many Tamil groups, including two political parties Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) and there were agitations, and even dharnas, before her house.
Soon, the PMK's legal and women's wing functionaries began to file criminal complaints against Khushboo in their respective area magistrate courts, and these were backed by the VCK.
As many as 22 criminal complaints were filed, on the ground that the actor sought to 'defame' Tamil womanhood and chastity.
She did not get support from her colleagues, except for a few like Suhasini Mani Ratnam.
No Qatar for her. Just grit and tenacity.
Having to respond to summons from 22 courts in different parts of Tamil Nadu is sufficient to drive anyone nuts.
She quickly moved the Madras high court urging that all the criminal complaints against her be quashed. The high court rejected her plea but directed that all the 22 complaints against Khushboo be transferred to the chief metropolitan magistrate in Chennai to facilitate speedy disposal.
In 2008, Khushboo appealed against the high court's order in the Supreme Court, where the case is now on.
Initially, at the time of the admission of her appeal the Supreme Court had frowned on her interview (January, 2010) but later (March, 2010) made some off-the-cuff observations on pre-marital sex being acceptable.
Husain could easily have followed Khushboo in facing the cases. The fact that he did not do so means there is
more to it than meets the eye.
(Views expressed are personal)
THE HEADLEY ACCESS ISSUE
INDIA DOING WELL TO PRESS ON
It is heartening that India has been pursuing doggedly the issue of the US allowing New Delhi access to 26/11 mastermind David Coleman Headley, despite the Americans citing procedural problems. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discussed the issue extensively with President Barack Obama in Washington DC on Sunday on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit called by the US. Dr Singh made use of the opportunity to bring to bear on the US leader that while the plotters of the Mumbai massacre were roaming freely in Pakistan, the US was reluctant to even give permission to Indian officials to interrogate Headley, now in US custody. This is no way to fight terrorism, which has emerged as the most serious threat to world peace.
That President Obama is "fully supportive" of India's request for access to Headley or that he is "sensitive to India's need to question" the Pakistan-born US citizen involved in the 26/11 Mumbai mayhem cannot fully satisfy India. The US must work through its legal system quickly and find a way to accede to India's demand to question Headley directly. Headley has pleaded guilty in a Chicago court. The Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty signed by India and the US in 2001 and revised in 2005 has sufficient provisions to help sort out the matter relating to him. India understands the US problem, as Headley revelations can be embarrassing for the Obama administration. This, however, must not prevent the truth from coming out, as Headley's answers can help smash the terrorist network he has been associated with - the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba.
India also has reason to be sensitive to the need to protect its interests while the US re-draws the strategic roadmap for the Af-Pak region. While Washington wants New Delhi to scale down its development-related activities in Afghanistan, the US has no qualms about providing military and other kinds of assistance to Pakistan despite the fears raised by India about its misuse against this country. As Dr Manmohan Singh has made it clear, India will never agree to sacrifice its security and strategic interests in view of the discriminatory US scheme of things for the Af-Pak region.
RUPEE ON THE RISE
EXPORTERS FEEL THE HEAT
With the rupee touching a 19-month high of 44.18 against the dollar on Monday, exporters' worries are understandable. But the demand of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) to fix the exchange rate of 47.5 to a dollar is untenable. China has not allowed its currency, yuan, to appreciate against the dollar and that has lifted its exports. But it is under severe pressure from various countries, particularly the US, for the currency freeze. A stronger yuan could help China control inflation and the building of asset bubbles.
The rupee has gained up to 11 per cent against the euro so far in 2010. This has particulalry impacted the export of IT and textile products to the European Union, which accounts for 20 per cent of India's export earnings and 14 per cent of the import payments. Seventy per cent of India's exports, however, are in dollars and the weakening of the dollar has a major bearing on exports. It is no relief that the dollar has depreciated against all major currencies. This is because there is a huge supply in the US currency, thanks to the trillion-dollar stimulus. The US currency, available at almost zero interest rate, is flooding the emerging markets, where the equity, commodity and real estate prices are hotting up. India has got $4.1 billion in three months. Inflation is rising everywhere at an alarming rates and the worried central banks have started tightening monetary policies.
The strengthening of the rupee has its benefits too. It has insulated India from the heat of the rising oil prices. India's dependence on imported oil is a massive 70 per cent. Besides, Indians going abroad for study or travel stand to gain. The rupee may harden further as the current bidding for the third-generation spectrum is expected to attract more dollars. The exporters, who have benefited from global recovery, can resort to hedging, cost-cutting and innovation to cope with the tough times. Given the government's tight financial position, they are unlikely to get any sops.
INDIA A DANGEROUS DUMPING GROUND
That hazardous waste has been finding its way into India has long been known and its consequences feared. Ships containing toxic materials have been coming into ports like Alang for decades. A lot of hue and cry is made but things continue as usual. However, this threat has acquired a far more sinister dimension with the discovery that even radioactive waste material has been coming into India. All indications are that cobalt-60, the radio isotope found at a scrap dealer's shop in West Delhi a few days ago, was of foreign origin. That not only shows how blasé India is about this grave threat, but also highlights a serious lapse by customs authorities. As a result of this, five persons are battling for their lives. Since those handling such material hardly take any precautions, lives of many more may be at risk.
Equally dangerous is the iron scrap which comes into the country from war-ravaged areas. There have been huge explosions in Kota and several other places while melting, processing or transporting such scrap. Many a time, cluster bombs and even depleted uranium weapons are found in the scrap coming from Iraq. Even ships being dismantled in Gujarat ports have asbestos posing a serious threat to health and lives of workers. There are many laws against such imports but the implementation is scandalously lax. Then we have hazardous waste of our own, coming from army firing ranges.
The tragedy is that we also receive thousands of tonnes of toxic e-waste every month. Used computer parts, including the obsolete cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors, with hazardous presence of lead, pour in from South Asia, Finland and West Asia. Developed countries, where there are stringent norms for handling hazardous waste, push these into India not only because labour is cheap here but also because enforcement of norms is virtually non-existent. At least the discovery of radioactive material should make the authorities sit up and take corrective measures.
STRATEGY TO COUNTER NAXALISM
TIME TO GO IN FOR TOUGH MEASURES
BY MAJ-GEN PUSHPENDRA SINGH (RETD)
What happened on April 6 at Dantewada was the most daring and the biggest single-strike massacre by naxalites during the past 50 years. In October 2006, Jaswinder Singh, DIG, Anti-Naxal Operations, Orissa, was killed in a blast caused by naxalites. Immediately the state government nominated a successor, who equally promptly reported sick. The next nominee too evaded the posting and so on.
In fact, comfort-loving IPS officers routinely refuse postings to naxalite-infested areas. Hence, the leadership passes to support-cadre officers of the state armed police. On February 15 this year, naxalites hit an Eastern Frontier Rifle (EFR) camp at Silda, West Bengal, killed 24 of the 51 jawans there and decamped with all the weapons and ammunition. A senior EFR officer "explained" that the jawans were taken completely by surprise, being busy in the langar or "whiling away their time". These incidents highlight the glaring deficiencies in the police leadership and professionalism. While the naxalites have demonstrated their ability to increase hit and run strikes and attack company-strength targets, the police has displayed inexplicable incapacity to learn from blood-soaked experience.
Feeding on alienation caused by socio-economic deprivation and police atrocities, naxalism afflicts some 230 of our 610 districts. Despite Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram stating that "we do not make war on our own people", the ground reality is vastly different with the police brutalising the hapless tribal people. Therefore, any successful counter-naxalite strategy needs to address the root cause of the problem.
Naxalism was launched as a movement by Majumdar and Sanyal in Kolkata in 1967. Rejecting the communists' embrace of parliamentary democracy, naxalism holds that communist goals can only be attained through a violent class struggle, as is believed by the adherents of classic Marxism-Leninism. After a brief success among radical Kolkata students, they were driven from the city into rural Naxalbari. However, soon the violent movement splintered into 30-odd groups. The Nagi-Reddy group established a strong base in the jungles of Andhra Pradesh and Satyanarayan Singh set up another powerful base in Bihar.
As these groups jostled for dominance, the administrations of the affected states became somnolent. However, since the late 1990s the police intelligence network has been warning of impending unity among the naxalites, resulting in their gaining greater strength. These were taken seriously only when in 2000 they brazenly annihilated several police posts and seized large booties of arms and ammunition. By the time the governments of Bihar and MP woke up to the emerging ugly reality, the factions had already united.
Then in 2001, these states were reorganised, leading to the formation of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The new states were the most naxal-afflicted areas whereas the parent states retained all the anti-naxal information. This took the anti-naxal drive back by a decade, leaving the insurgents firmly in control of a forest corridor, spanning North AP, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and W. Bengal. Later, some areas were seized by them in Bihar and UP, connecting the red sickle with Maoist-dominated Nepal and linking it with Bangladesh. This ensured increased foreign support for the naxalites.
What enabled the naxalites to achieve such success? The truth is ruthless exploitation of tribal populations by rapacious forest contractors and mining mafias, abetted by a corrupt politician-babu nexus. Inept, desk-bound district administrations and brutal police repression complete the picture. Helpless tribals, thus exploited by human hyenas, have no basic amenities. They are deprived of all that is required for leading a dignified life even by rural India's extremely standards.
The naxalite masterminds exploit the administration's unhelpful attitude towards the tribal people to fan their anger and use them to launch attacks against what they call state-oppressors. They replace an indifferent administration with ruthless governance, savage justice and enforced compliance. The tribals, caught thus in a cleft stick, prefer to side with the naxalites as a lesser evil compared to the khaki-clad symbols of non-governance.
Here is a five-fold strategy to successfully countering the naxalite menace:
One, there is need for a comprehensive police reform, specially concerning the training and motivation of the state police personnel and the central paramilitary forces. This must include civilising the police dealings with hapless citizens instead of remaining the lathi-wielding henchmen of unscrupulous politicians.
The Centre should provide incentives to the states to implement the September 2006 Supreme Court judgement on police reforms. The forces engaged in counter-naxalism operations must get the latest weapons, equipment and communication gadgets. Lateral induction of Army officers and JCOs at various command levels can bolster the morale of those assigned the task of fighting the naxalites. If air power is envisaged, we must ensure that the naxalites have no idea of it.
Two, carve out and then defend the "island sanctuaries" comprising a cluster of villages and hamlets within the naxalite-held areas. Using these as bases, we should launch operations to disrupt their logistics and transit corridors. Operations should include penetrating "abuj marh", the deep-jungle sanctuary where naxalites train and manufacture their weapons.
A Chinese think-tank has advocated dismembering India by stoking internal fires. Thus, the naxalites may be getting material support from Chinese surrogates in Nepal and Bangladesh even as their tie-up with the LTTE has withered. Such linkages must be exposed, using covert means, if need be.
Three, the secured "islands" must immediately become the focus of purposeful development to win back the populace. File-pushing, office-bound approaches cannot work. It is vital to have fearless administrators who will verify the facts and the progress made at the ground level, and provide people-centric administrations. In addition to basic health-care and education, tribals must be unshackled from exploitation, provided avenues to earn their livelihood, taught skills for value-addition of the traditional produce and, above all, have their dignity restored.
Motivated NGOs may be coopted to boost the states' efforts. Concurrently, establishing responsive justice mechanisms is vital. Subsequent phases should seek to expand these "islands" until a pro-administration wave of goodwill is generated, ending the naxalites' influence in the affected districts.
Four, creation of a joint intelligence set-up among the affected states is vital. This should aim at revamping HUMINT and facilitate operations to penetrate and decapitate naxalite organisations. Central intelligence agencies should supplement these efforts while also focusing on cutting off foreign support through overt and covert means. Additionally, intelligence agencies must anticipate the naxalites' next escalation move in semi-urban and urban areas.
Five, the naxalites can easily undo any success achieved by taking hostages, as they did in the case of IPS officer Attindranath Datta, who was exchanged for 22 arrested naxalites. We are an emotionally-charged people and our "leaders" are all too susceptible to media-driven emotional frenzy, which precipitates such swaps. Therefore, a stringent law is needed to prohibit capitulating to terrorists' demands. Such actions should be declared anti-national, attracting heavy penalties, including disqualification from contesting elections.
The naxalite menace be successfully defeated only when the nation is prepared to take tough measures.
The writer has served as General Officer Commanding in the area comprising Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Eastern UP.
TRAPPED IN MAYAJAAL
BY SUNIT DHAWAN
I largely lost contact with Sachin years ago. After having spent a considerable time together during our school and college days, life decided to put us on different paths.
Like most youngsters of today's era, my friend was infatuated by the glitz and glamour of the rich world. He began his pursuit for fame and money-power after acquiring a professional degree in business administration.
Sachin went to Mumbai, the country's fashion capital, where he initially dabbled in modelling. I don't know what went wrong (as I never asked), but after some time, he chucked the profession and joined some multinational company.
Though Sachin and I lived in different cities, we remained in touch (though sparingly) as we belonged to the same town and our parents were family friends. At times, he told me that he had been reading my write-ups.
When I heard that Sachin had undergone angioplasty (a medical procedure to cure blocked blood-vessels of the heart), I was shocked. True, such lifestyle-related disorders have become quite common these days. But then, Sachin happens to be in his early 30s and till the last time I saw him a couple of years ago, he used to be a cheerful, lanky guy with an athletic build.
I talked to his mother, who told me that lately, he had been under tremendous pressure of work. He was also sent to the US by his company in the recent past.
As it turned out to be, it was a typical case of a youth being lured by the attractive pay packets and perks of MNCs and ending up paying with his health.
This reminded me of Shankar, another money-oriented friend of mine. It so happened that Naveen, another classmate of ours, who is now an Assistant Professor, recently invited me for a guest lecture at his institution.
While we were having lunch after the lecture, Naveen mentioned that Shankar was also posted in the same city. We called him up and a get-together of old friends was instantly fixed.
It turned out to be a memorable evening for all of us. We had a whale of a time together and chatted till late in the night.
Next day, I felt like meeting Shankar before leaving the city. So, Naveen took me to Shankar's posh office, where he was in a commanding position. He appeared before us, but looked altogether different from the person who was with us the previous evening.
Visibly under work-pressure, Shankar came out of the office to see us off.
During our brief chat in front of his office, I couldn't help remarking: "You have changed a lot, brother. Remember the university days, when we talked and laughed endlessly. It's good to see the progress you have made in your career, but you've become so serious "
So astonishing was his reply that I have not been able to forget it to this day. "Aisi koi baat nahi, yaar abhi kal hansey to thhey " muttered my one-time friend, whom life had turned into a money-making machine.
GENNEXT NEEDS OUR ATTENTION
BY GUNBIR SINGH
Punjab has made no effort to rekindle the present in an effort to ensure a better future for its children. A look at the syllabi of the state education board, a review of the standard of education, the content and the method of teaching can be revealing. The state government is now making the right noises and encouraging private companies to lend a hand, but a generation has already been lost.
In the border areas, where drug addiction is rampant, youth have not been enabled by the education system and are frustrated when they leave the confines of their home to look for jobs.
One can state with conviction that 90 per cent of the products of our present education system are not fluent in the English language, lack adequate computing skills and do not have the confidence to stand for a professional job interview. In fact, a similar majority is not even enabled to write a proper resume.
And yet the educators and the managements of institutions pat their own backs and boast their achievements, which are measured in terms of degrees distributed and students getting pass marks (regardless of the methodology or the ultimate end).
The pressure to pass an examination has set in motion an incredible malaise of connection and corruption. Scores of schools have set up systems of orchestrated moves wherein brighter students are set aside with teachers for reference and help. Cheating is rampant in examination centres, refresher books are provided and short-cuts are used to ensure so-called success.
Cracking the exam is a business today. Passing the test means familial effort to scout for favourable examiners, paper checkers and paper replacement clerks in case all the above fail to deliver. Tacit assistance is provided by overzealous teachers and institutions whose trumped-up reputations are at stake. But are we doing service to our progeny? What are we nurturing and churning out?
This is not to say that there are no oases of enlightenment. Some institutions make it their business to go beyond the curriculum and focus on personality development. But these are exceptions to the rule.
Step out in rural Punjab, and the state of education is worse than that in cities. Schools exist only in name. While the nation rues that only 12 out of 100 school kids go to college, here 48 per cent drop out from the school itself.
Kids do not want to study in the given environment, and teachers do not teach. Many even employ proxies to teach in their place at half the wages. The woeful infrastructure and quality of educators do not inspire learning. Kids head to cities instead, into the world beyond for more exposure, much too soon. Some survive and cope, most just subsist and survive.
It is indeed shocking that an agrarian state like Punjab has hardly a couple of institutions that dwell in research in agriculture and dairy farming. A state that has ushered in the green and white revolutions and contributes in large measure to the national food security does little to showcase model farming techniques and new technology.
We should be dictating latest farming practices to the world. Instead we compete, at best, only with our neighbour. Practical education to the progressive farming youth and the community at large is woeful, to say the least.
The world is indeed a global village. Manpower is a global resource. India has the largest pool of youth available to the aging western world. With 75 per cent of our population poised to be under 25 years of age, we will be the youngest nation and can be at the prime of performance. But the benefits will accrue to the educated and/or the enabled.
It is time that we realise that all are not equal. Some will be able to study up to junior school, some till senior school, and a few will graduate. Fewer still will specialise further. It is for us to enable all. It is for us to test for aptitude, counsel parents and their wards, rather than let peer pressure or parental influence lead into unsuited fields and levels of study.
Recognising potential and embracing failure will help in correcting direction. Training those who cannot study further in vocations that complement their aptitudes is needed.
The DNA for farming is a real asset that must be explored and trained further. Being an electrician and a plumber can be as noble a profession as an IT data processor or an accountant. The sea change has got to be made. The starting point perhaps is to change the mindset. Educating the educators. Forsaking rote for personality development. To impart social skills, enhance mental prowess and embrace the arts and crafts as well.
In the Right to Education Act, a huge step has been taken. In the visionary and go-getting Minister of Education, Kapil Sibal, one finds rays of hope. The need is to take on this agenda as a mission in Punjab, and instill the urge to excel in educators, the education system and the taught. It is easier said than done. But beginnings need to be made now rather than never. We owe it to our children. Punjab's GenNext especially needs our attention right now.
MAYAWATI FEELS HEAT FROM CONGRESS
BY SATISH MISRA
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has indeed travelled far in the last 25 years and has emerged after the Congress and the BJP the third largest national party with a vote percentage of roughly 10.
On May 13 this year Ms Maywati will complete three years in office as the Chief Minister and from all available accounts, she may complete the full term if she decides to do so. She has the absolute majority which she won on the plank of 'Sarvjan'. But there are serious doubts on her journey to Delhi.
Though the elections for the Assembly are due in May, 2012, Ms Mayawati, for tactical reasons, may like to test the BSP's acceptability among the electorate in UP and also with the objective of springing a surprise on her political rivals like the Congress.
While the BSP got an absolute majority and subsequently went on to win the majority of the Lok Sabha and Assembly by-elections, its performance in the 2009 general elections left much to desire. Since its inception in 1984, the BSP had been gaining strength and it was often speculated as when the BSP would capture political power in Delhi.
After the setback in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the BSP supremo was initially trying to figure out what went wrong. Since then she has been busy recasting her strategy and has revised much of the 2007 Assembly approach and political path. She realised that her core Dalit constituency was drifting away from her. Dalits, particularly those not belonging to her own caste, were moving towards the Congress, whose young leader Rahul Gandhi is wooing them with mission and determination.
In her wisdom, Ms Mayawati has apparently decided that she should retain her core constituency hoping that everything else would fall in place. Now, she is working towards it. The BSP celebrated its 25 years with a massive rally on March 15 in Lucknow where its leader Ms Mayawati was felicitated with a garland made of currency notes of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 denomination. It created a controversy and she remained in media focus for some time.
She also declared that her one-time trouble shooter, architect of the Brahmin-Dalit alliance and often projected as number two in the party hierarchy, Satish Chandra Mishra, does not enjoy her confidence as in the past. The so-called demotion of Mishra is essentially meant for the consumption of her core Dalit constituency. He continues to enjoy her confidence as he continues to act her confidante and consultant on money matters.
Now the big issue is whether her strategy of concentrating on her core constituency is enough to re-emerge as the principal player, rather the most important political player in the biggest state. Will she be able to retain absolute power in the next Assembly elections in 2012 or whenever she decides to hold them? This is the crucial question confronting the discerning analysts and experts.
Undoubtedly, in coming months and years Ms Mayawati will try to convince the electorate that she means business and try to deliver on the governance front, but popular perceptions have their own dynamics. She has embarked upon the confrontationist course which paid her rich dividends in the past.
On April 14 Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi is flagging off 14 simultaneous yatras which will cover the entire state and carry the message of the Congress and the UPA's achievement and mark the 20 years which the state of Uttar Pradesh has existed without Congress rule. These yatras will conclude in Allahabad on November 15 on Pandit Nehru's birthday and are aimed at mobilising the party machinery.
On the same day, she has asked her party workers and leaders to hold protest rallies against women reservation in Parliament and state legislatures.
From her behaviour, statements and pronouncements, it is evident that Mayawati is treating the Congress as her main political adversary and she is leaving nothing to chance to counter the GOP's political advances. The coming months will decide the contours of the battle and who wins the people's confidence will be determined by Ms Mayawati's acts of commission and omission.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation
A BEAUTIFUL ENEMY
Fatima Bhutto in Mumbai to launch her book, Songs of Blood and Sword, received a red carpet welcome with celebrities and journalists alike eating out of her hands. Draped in a sari and a bindi to match, the GenNext from the Bhutto clan played to the gallery recollecting how her grandmother always wore a sari at home, the mullahs' objection to the 'Hindu' attire non-withstanding.
Old-timers couldn't but help recall earlier attempts at rapprochement by Fatima's aunt (and bitter foe) Benazir and then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The 'My Mother and Your Father' moment that falsely promised new beginnings. Benazir's infamous rabble-rousing Jag-Jag-Mo-Mo-Han-Han diatribe calling for dismemberment of the former J&K Governor made famous by the old Newstrack videos that marked the worst phase of militancy.
So the question put to young Fatima was not totally unexpected. Has she met Rahul Gandhi? "No," was the response. "It is not like we have a club where we all hang out on Tuesdays," Bhutto remarked before moving on.
Mum is the word
For once, Mumbai's publicity-hungry policemen went on silent mode and stayed that way for three long months. The thankless job they had on hand was to dispose of the remains of the nine terrorists from Pakistan who ran amok in the city on November 26, 2008. The bodies stayed in the morgue of the J.J. Hospital for nearly two years with Muslim organisations in the city refusing to let the terrorists be buried in the community's cemetery.
Maharashtra's Home Minister R.R. Patil admitted that international norms governing the disposal of the remains of dead terrorists were given the go-by. So were the bodies of the terrorists simply dumped in unmarked graves or were their remains cremated in the electric crematoria which form part of the disposal facilities? Not even Patil is telling.
Shiv Sena boss Uddhav Thackeray, who is locked in a bitter battle with cousin Raj and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, can still count on the A-listers of Maharashtrian society many of whom are reluctant to switch over to the start-up. The latest to reiterate support for the Shiv Sena is Lata Mangeshkar, who has never bothered to hide her support to party supremo Bal Thackeray. A regular at Shiv Sena functions before going into semi-retirement, Mangeshkar will be putting up an appearance at the Maharashtra Day function being organised by the party at the famous Shivaji Park grounds. Mangeshkar will sing a song composed to honour the 105 martyrs who lost their lives demanding that Mumbai be part of Maharashtra when Gujarat was carved out of the then undivided Bombay State.
Last year, Mangeshkar kept quiet when Bal Thackeray attacked Sachin Tendulkar for claiming to be an Indian first. Even Asha Bhosale, the younger of the Mangeshkar sisters, chided the Thackerays by attributing her success to hard work rather than to her Marathi lineage. But Lata maintained a stony silence.
THIS WAS A DIFFERENT TIGER
NO MATTER HOW HIGH WOODS MAY HAVE FINISHED IN HIS COMEBACK TOURNAMENT AT AUGUSTA, THE TURMOIL IN HIS PRIVATE LIFE WAS CLEARLY IMPINGING ON HIS GOLF
It was said, even before his infidelity had launched a thousand heckles and million internet jokes, that there were two Tiger Woodses. One lived on the golf course, the other in the 'real' world, and a meeting between them rarely happened in full public view.
Leading golf writer Ron Sirak chronicled one such encounter a decade ago. He wrote that Woods was walking down the fairway after a perfect drive stoical, almost gruff, blanking out every extraneous movement, his eyes only on the flag looming in the distance when a little boy shouted from the corner: "Hey Tiger!"
Inadvertently, his expression softened, and the tense corners of his mouth broke into a smile as he waved at the kid. For just a moment, one alter ego changed places with the other.
But on Sunday night, in the final round of the Augusta Masters (his comeback tournament after months of turmoil, apologies, admonishments and rehab) Tiger was, for once, unable to keep the two Woodses apart. And it didn't help either one even though he finished in fourth place.
Golf, like Test cricket, is a game of patience, endurance and skill that runs over several days. In the course of a tournament, a player walks 72 holes, and hits 280-odd strokes, any one of which can bring him crashing down. Champions excel not because they're more capable, but because they're more courageous without being too cavalier. Being able to hit any shot in the book is not the mark of a winner such golfers are a dime a dozen.
The greats simply hit the right shots more often.
This was illustrated perfectly in Tiger's bizarre round in the wee hours of Monday. Those who watched it will know that his game was unconvincing, reckless and out of control, and that the selfprofessed turmoil in his life was clearly impinging on his golf as well.
Tiger shot a three-under 69 that may have, on another day, even been good enough to win the tournament. But it was made up of six pars, five bogeys, four birdies and two eagles a combination of some sublime approach shots from the unlikeliest of places and some ridiculous misses from incredibly straight-forward situations. His perceptive eye, which always picked out what was needed when, was not as discerning as usual.
That Tiger still managed to make it to the top five is a tribute to his genius. Any other player would have either missed the cut, or imploded spectacularly to finish outside the top 50. But no matter how good the result looks on paper, no one the heckler, the ardent fan desperate for him to bounce back, the former champion sitting in the commentary box, and even Tiger himself was convinced by what he saw.
The problem was never more apparent than on the 14th hole, where he knocked the ball on the green in two strokes, missed the eight-foot birdie putt, and then missed par as well. It was clear that Tiger was playing from memory, both cocksure and circumspect at the same time.
He wasn't being able to ignore the taunts whether they were about 'Bootyism' or that fact that he shouted "God, Tiger. Jesus Christ!" instead of "Buddha" after missing his tee shot on the 13th. The sunglasses, which he wore for the first time, didn't help him hide. He was too aware that he, and not his game, was on display.
Tiger announced after the Masters that he would take another break from the game. "I finished fourth. Not what I wanted. I wanted to win this tournament, but as the week wore on I kept hitting the ball worse," he said. But where he finished wasn't the issue. The problem was simply that one Tiger Woods was not being able to separate himself from the other.
He had vowed to be more human on the golf course on his return but, in the final analysis, it was Tiger's golf itself that seemed human.
SHRUNK INDIA-US CANVAS
THE DRIFT CONTINUES IN BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP
It is a measure of the continuing drift and listlessness in the India-United States relationship that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spent an entire 36 hours more than he had originally planned in Washington DC for a 50-minute conversation with US President Barack Obama on terrorism and related issues. Apart from the usual spin about how the two get on famously, the official briefing suggested nothing substantial was achieved. It is, therefore, not clear why the meeting was arranged at all. If it was the case that both sides wanted to be seen conversing with each other a day before the presidents of the US and China were to meet, then the differing agenda of the two conversations should say it all. President Obama talks business and the world with President Hu Jintao and terrorism and the region with India. It is not clear why the prime minister had to step in on the bilateral conversation between India and the US on the David Headley case, and even less clear how exactly the US plans to walk the talk on its stated concerns about Pakistan's efforts post-26/11. On the Headley case, the matter should have been left for officials to handle, once the Indian home minister had taken it up at the political level. The narrow framework of the Obama-Singh dialogue, as spelt out by official spokespersons, restricted to issues like terrorism and the situation in Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak), shows that the bilateral relationship in the Obama presidency is still being painted on a smaller canvas than was the case with President George Bush.
Apart from the fact that there seems to be no meeting of minds between India and the US on the AfPak issue, nor indeed on the nature of the threat of terrorism India faces, the more disconcerting aspect of the Singh-Obama meeting is that the two countries are back to discussing nothing more than Pakistan. This is how the Pakistanis and the Chinese would like to see India-US relations and that is how President Obama seems to view it too. Prime Minister Singh's attempt to widen the canvas of the conversation, which succeeded during the Bush presidency, no longer seems to find many takers in Washington DC. Indian diplomacy, for its part, has also not risen to the challenge. There does not seem to be any meaningful conversation between the two governments on other issues. None of this is, of course, news. The signals from Washington DC have been clear for some time now. India and the US are not on the same page as far as President Obama is concerned. Till this changes, one should not expect more from such bilateral meetings. While such conversation between heads of government is useful and India should certainly keep the US constantly engaged in wide-ranging conversation, it is not clear what exactly the prime minister has achieved by spending an extra day in Washington DC. And, if he has achieved something, then the message has been poorly communicated.
NO WAY TO REGULATE
SWEEPING POWERS SHOULD BE USED ONLY IN EXTREME SITUATIONS
Financial sector regulators are usually armed with draconian powers so that they can deal effectively and quickly with crisis situations, and because they have to protect the interests of millions of retail customers who depend on the safety and reliability of the financial system. Such sweeping powers should be used carefully, and with restraint. The stock market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), has failed on this elementary count. Its order on Friday evening, asking over a dozen private insurance companies to instantly put a stop to the bulk of their business, relating to the selling of unit-linked insurance plans (Ulips), was a hasty and thoughtless act, unworthy of a serious regulator in a market economy. It created a crisis where there was none, it introduced financial uncertainty where there was none, and through its unilateral action, it has provoked direct conflict with another regulator when civil dialogue should have been the preferred option for resolving differences. In the process, it forced the insurance regulator, Irda, to issue a conflicting order that correctly sought to reassure nervous policyholders and investors. Insurance companies got needlessly caught in a conflict between regulators. Sebi may well have a valid claim on turf, but then again it may not. Either way, is this any way for a regulator to handle a dispute over turf?
Besides, why were some companies picked out for peremptory action, and others left out a selectiveness that suggests arbitrariness? It has been reported that investigations into the latter group of companies is continuing. But since the turf battle revolves around interpretation of the law, where is there the question of any investigation? Indeed, it is Sebi that created the problem in the first place by scrapping last year the front-loading of embedded commissions on mutual fund schemes, without simultaneously addressing the issue of such commissions in all insurance policies (including Ulips). Having created an imbalance of incentives, it seems to have decided to address the problem through peremptory action.
The failure is not Sebi's alone. The finance ministry and the high-level coordination committee (HLCC) are equally to blame for sitting idly by while the two regulators were putting forward their different perspectives on who should regulate Ulips and the insurance companies that issued them. The finance ministry has now claimed that it is not interfering in the functioning of independent regulators by asking them to, in fact, settle the issue of their individual jurisdiction in a court of law, but greater clarity on the part of the executive on regulatory turf would have avoided getting courts involved in this matter. Some observers see in the finance ministry's response a devious strategy to make a case in favour of the proposed financial stability and development council (FSDC). It is curious that the ministry did not have even a concept paper on the subject at the time this Budget promise was made; nor has the finance minister chosen to act on the other major recommendations of the Raghuram Rajan Committee. While recognising that opinion on the wisdom of an FSDC is divided, it is important to note that there is nothing that an FSDC without over-arching powers could have done to prevent an inter-regulatory scrap that the finance ministry or the HLCC could not have done; hopefully, it is no one's case that the FSDC should, in fact, have over-arching powers.
WHO'S SAVING WHOM?
THE GREECE PACKAGE IS AIMED AT RESCUING FOREIGN INVESTORS AND DELAYS THE INEVITABLE "ROLLING CRISIS" IN THAT COUNTRY
The language was reminiscent of the start of the sub-prime mortgage problems. The problem is "small" and "contained". Despite the "solution" announced by the European Union (EU), the problems of Greece have worsened. Greek borrowing costs have sharply increased. Greece now must pay around 4 percentage points more per annum for its debt than Germany, the most creditworthy EU borrower, that's if anyone lends to it. This is a rise of over 1 percentage point over the last few days and roughly a doubling of the margin since January.
Greece's immediate problem is one of liquidity it must find cash to roll over the existing debt. Greece needs around ¤50 billion in 2010, of which around half is needed by June. With characteristic insouciance, Greek officials assured creditors that they were fine till end April 2010! Unfortunately, the Greek problems run far deeper. Beyond 2010, it needs to refinance borrowings of around 7-12 per cent of its GDP (around ¤16-28 billion) each year till 2014. There are significant maturing borrowings in 2011 and 2012. In addition, Greece is currently running a budget deficit of over 12 per cent which needs financing. Greece's total borrowing, currently around ¤270 billion (113 per cent of GDP), is forecast to increase to ¤340 billion(150 per cent of GDP) by 2014.
The country's problems were inevitable since, like many of the economically weaker EU members, it fudged the numbers to meet the qualifications for entry into the Euro Zone. An example of this is the use of derivative transactions with Goldman Sachs to disguise the level of its real borrowing. Membership of the euro also reduced its ability to manage its economy. It lost the ability to use its currency, via devaluations, to improve competitiveness and stimulate exports. It also lost the ability to set interest rates (now set by the European Central Bank). Besides, it cannot print its own currency to fund sovereign borrowing.
Greece also has low levels of domestic saving and is heavily dependent on international capital flows.
Pouring olive oil on troubled finances After protracted and acrimonious negotiations, the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced a "bailout" package. In reality, the package was highly conditional and did not address core issues. The ¤45 billion package (up from the original ¤22 billion) falls short of the ¤50-75 billion that Greece needs at a minimum. All the money will be provided at market rates, rather than on concessional terms. The aid requires "unanimous" agreement amongst the EU members. The entire package requires IMF participation, which limits the amount of any bailout package and also makes it conditional on Greece to meet IMF's stringent economic prescriptions. Germany's support was also conditional on enacting changes in the EU framework to tighten control over future bailouts of this type.
The position is exacerbated by Greece's indifferent attitude towards its current problems. For much of this year, the Greek government insisted that it did not need and had not asked for any help.
Temporary emergency funding may help meet immediate liquidity needs but it does not solve fundamental problems of excessive debt and a weak economy. Greece must cut government expenditure and raise taxes to reduce its stock of debt. But the suggested austerity measures will put the economy into a severe recession, making it difficult to reduce the budget deficit.
Greece has limited opportunity to grow or inflate itself out of the problem. Without the ability to devalue the currency, it cannot address its fundamental lack of competitiveness quickly. The narrow economic base, primarily agriculture, tourism and construction, further limits options.
Greece's level of indebtedness may already be too high. Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart in their survey of financial crises titled "This Time It's Different", argue that once the debt of a country goes above 60-90 per cent of GDP, it acts to restrain growth. Greece's high levels of debt mean that interest payment now totals around 5 per cent of GDP and is scheduled to rise to over 8 per cent of GDP. Rising interest costs will only worsen this problem.
High levels of sovereign debt are sustainable where three conditions are met. First, the debt is denominated in the country's own currency. It helps if the currency is also a major reserve currency, an advantage enjoyed by the US dollar. Second, there is a large domestic saving pool to finance the borrowing, such as the one that exists in Japan. Finally, the country possesses a sound and sustainable economic and industrial base. Greece does not meet any of the above criteria.
There are no more easy solutions to Greece's problems. Deep spending cuts, higher taxes and structural reforms will curtail growth. If Greece is unable to finance its debt or elects to default and exit the euro, it will become isolated and enter a period of forced economic and financial decline.
Ironically, the optimal course of action for Greece may be to withdraw from the euro, default on its debt (by re-denominating it in a re-introduced Drachma) and then undertake a programme of necessary structural reform. Lenders to Greece would take significant writedowns on their debt, reducing its debt burden and giving it a chance to emerge as a sustainable economy. The current debate misses the fact that the "bailouts" are mainly about rescuing foreign investors. These investors were imprudent in their willingness to lend excessively to Greece, assuming "implicit" EU support, and are now seeking others to bail them out of their folly.
Such default would not affect the euro. Many countries have defaulted on their US dollar obligation without any effect on the currency. The chance of a clean and logical solution is minimal as the EU may mistakenly try to defer the inevitable. Greece may face a future of a "rolling crises" and stopgap measures, much like Argentina from 1999 until its eventual default in 2002.
Greece highlights a few new and old truths about the global financial crisis. The level of global debt has not been addressed. Sovereign debt was substituted for private sector debt. As trillions of dollars of private and government debt matures and must be refinanced, the next stage of the process of de-leveraging will play out. The problems of contagion in highly inter-connected economic and financial systems have not abated.
As at June 2009, Greece owed $276 billion to international banks, of which around $254 billion was owed to European banks with French, Swiss and German banks having significant exposures. What happens in Greece is unlikely to stay in Greece, thus creating new problems for the fragile global banking.
Greece's problems have also drawn attention to the looming financing problems of other sovereigns. In a world with significant reduced liquidity, the strain of funding these requirements is likely to restrain global growth prospects. The EU bailout of Greece would require the participation of Spain, Portugal and Ireland (the other three members of the debt-laden PIGS, which also includes Germany), further straining their finances. The bailout would merely transfer the problem from the "weak" economies to the "stronger" European countries. What an irony, the EU attempts to ensure "financial stability"; the bailout increases the risk of longer-term "financial instability".
Iceland's problems brought forth creative headline "Iceland erupts", "Iceland melts" and "Geyser crisis". The common refrain this time has been about the "Greek tragedy". The term describes a specific form of drama based on human suffering, rather than anything Athenian. But it seems this Greek tragedy is coming soon to a location near you in the new phase of the global financial crisis.
Satyajit Das is the author of Traders, Guns & Money: Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives
SINCE FEW READ DISCUSSION PAPERS OR PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE REPORTS ON BUDGETS, THIS DOESN'T HELP POLICYMAKING
A K BHATTACHARYA
Until a few years ago, the Indian Parliament would subject the Union Budget to comprehensive scrutiny by discussing its various provisions in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The discussion would cover not just the broad fiscal proposals outlined by the finance minister but also the many expenditure programmes different central ministries would plan to implement during the year.
True, Parliament could not complete the discussion on the expenditure demands made by many central ministries due to shortage of time. It would impose the customary "guillotine" before putting the entire Budget to vote a day or two before the end of the Budget session in May. However, the satisfaction then was that at least some discussion over the Budget's key expenditure proposals took place on the floor of either of the Houses of Parliament.
The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government (1998-2004) brought about a significant change in that process. The logic of that change was understandable though it left many purists dissatisfied. The argument was that the prevailing system could never ensure conclusion of the discussion on all the expenditure proposals of different ministries before the passing of the Budget. Thus, the exercise remained incomplete. An alternative system, therefore, was put in place by referring the key expenditure proposals of ministries to different standing committees of Parliament. These committees would study the proposals and submit their report to Parliament, which then would evaluate the recommendations and take a final view.
Since then all governments have been following the system of standing committees examining expenditure proposals of central ministries. There is now less debate on the Budget proposals on the floor of the two Houses. If you want to know how different Parliamentary committees have evaluated the key expenditure proposals of central ministries, all that you need to do is to consult these committee reports that are dutifully submitted to Parliament.
It is, however, a pity that most of these reports gather dust in the cupboards of the Parliament House. Worse, the government ignores the many recommendations these reports make and there is nothing in the system to ensure that such Parliamentary oversight actually results in corrective action on the ground.
The new system, to be sure, suits the finance ministry in particular and the government in general. The Union Budget now has expenditure proposals worth more than Rs 11 lakh crore or a little less than one-sixth of India's gross domestic product. Expenditure proposals of this size surely should receive some serious Parliamentary scrutiny before their approval for implementation. The system of standing committees of Parliament examining these proposals may have harmed the process of scrutiny in two ways. One, the reports of these committees rarely get highlighted or debated in Parliament. Two, because the committees do the initial job of scrutinising the proposals, whatever attention members of Parliament would have otherwise paid in the earlier system also goes missing.
The system of Parliamentary standing committees scrutinising Budget expenditure proposals is something similar to the recent practice of the finance ministry issuing discussion papers on any fresh proposal it wants implemented. Like the standing committees, there are apparent advantages of getting a policy proposal discussed and debated after making public a discussion paper on the issue.
However, the disadvantages are quite serious and outweigh the advantages. Just as the system of standing committees takes away the direct responsibility of members of Parliament to vet expenditure proposals, discussion papers do not always elicit the kind of critical review that proposals should ideally receive before they become a policy of the government. Because government officials are under the notion that once a discussion paper goes through the fire of public scrutiny, they can accept the proposals contained therein as policy without any problems. Little attention is paid to the fact that in India a discussion paper, even after remaining in the public domain for weeks, may not get evaluated properly from all possible angles. Either some proposals in a discussion paper may become a victim of lobby groups, or some proposals that indeed suffer from loopholes fail to receive any feedback and, therefore, run the danger of being accepted as policy.
Discussion papers, like Parliamentary standing committees, can serve a very limited purpose. Just as standing committees cannot supplant serious Parliamentary scrutiny of Budget proposals by members of the lower and upper Houses, discussion papers cannot be a substitute for reasoned assessment of policy proposals by the government, based on its interaction with and feedback from all relevant stakeholders including industry, trade and people.
At present, the finance ministry is grappling with two discussion papers and will soon have to wrestle with one more. The discussion papers on the introduction of the goods and services tax and the direct taxes code have established beyond doubt that while these documents can be the starting point of any policy discussion, they cannot do away with the need for the government's justification for policy change and its own vision on crucial policy issues. The same should hold true for the proposed discussion paper on the setting up of a financial stability and development council.
WHAT IS REGIONAL MEDIA?
Blackstone, a private equity fund, recently paid Rs 225 crore for an undisclosed stake in the Rs 846 crore Jagran Prakashan, the publishers of Hindi daily Dainik Jagran. The deal is being used as an example of how "regional media" has a lot of potential.
It may seem like a ridiculous question, but what really is "regional media"? Is Dainik Jagran, with 54.6 million readers, a "regional" daily? It talks to a potential audience of 500 million people, roughly five times more than the audience that the "national" The Times of India (English) talks to.
Is Sun Network a regional broadcaster? Its share of audience as a network on most days is equal to or more than that of Zee Entertainment or Star India, which are called "national networks". Sun makes a bulk of its money from its clutch of 24 channels in the four South Indian languages, while Star and Zee make it largely from Hindi language channels.
Now that Star and Zee have about half a dozen channels in Indian languages other than Hindi, what are they? National broadcasters with a regional footprint?
The Andhra film industry makes more Telugu films than Mumbai does every year, so is it "regional" or "national"?
The fact is that in India, language media has always been bigger than English in terms of audience size. Going by the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) 2008 data, the top-four Hindi dailies have more than thrice the number of readers of The Times of India, the largest-selling English daily. However, in terms of perceptions of purchasing power, the non-English media has lagged behind.
Typically, even top Indian language brands cannot charge more than, say, one-third the ad rate of an English language publication. While the ratios may vary, the story is true for news television as well. (For some reason though, the rate differential does not apply to entertainment TV.)
This, however, is not about Hindi versus English or North versus South, or small-town India versus metros. This is about the "Indian" market and recognising that heterogeneity is genetic to us. It is built into the soul, the body and the mind of the Indian consumer. Most Indians know two or more languages English, their mother tongue and usually Hindi or the language of the state they live in. We eat almost every variety of Indian food, either at home or outside. Most homes in the North would do an idli/dosa kind of meal, just like many in the South would eat parathas. Pongal, Parsi New Year or Gudi Padva, all mean the New Year, around the same time of the year. We live, eat and breathe in a multilingual, multi-cultural ethos.
Indians have had multiple personality syndrome for centuries. Heterogeneity defines this market. Yet, investors, marketers and even the media find it difficult to deal with it. In an recent interview with me, Santosh Desai, CEO of Future Brands and one of the best observers of Indian consumers, said that heterogeneity is very "reluctantly acknowledged" in most Indian companies. If a company does well in a particular state, then it would start crafting a strategy for that state or region. This reluctance to look to acknowledge heterogeneity is true for the media as well.
That is strange. Because as regular people, we lead what would seem like socially schizophrenic lives. Yet, when we become marketers or investors, we are not able to see the same trait in the markets we work in. Every time a foreign investor, who probably gets the point better than most of the Indian media, puts money into a language paper or TV firm, there is a sense of wonder.
Maybe it is just a manifestation of our ignorance. There exists, as any language media owner will tell you, a Delhi-Mumbai corridor of power which cannot see beyond English and these two markets. So, every time it is confronted with the fact that other markets exist, there is wonder.
Just for fun, we could declare that Mumbai and Delhi are suburbs of each other and consist of one single market joined by its imperviousness to the rest of India. Let us celebrate the emergence of the first truly homogeneous market in India.
MONETARY POLICY - THE NEW NORMAL
SUBBARAO'S ANNUAL STATEMENT WILL BE OF UNUSUAL INTEREST THIS YEAR
In exactly one week, on April 20, Dr D Subbarao, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor, will present his Annual Statement of Monetary Policy for the fiscal year which has just begun.
By long-established convention, this statement follows the finance minister's Budget speech by about six weeks so as to ensure coordination between fiscal and monetary policy. This arrangement accurately captures the political and institutional reality of India. Fiscal policy leads, while the central bank is a respected technical agent of the finance ministry and enjoys the autonomy and latitude that its professionalism warrants. This institutional arrangement is widely seen to have served the country well, and is unlikely to change soon, despite the demands from some of my fellow columnists in this newspaper for granting RBI greater autonomy and thereby enhanced accountability.
The RBI governor's annual statement will be of unusual interest this year for at least three reasons. The first is, of course, the political prominence of the inflation numbers, which have turned into a major political headache for the ruling coalition. The second is the opportunity the statement provides for this governor to firmly put his own stamp on the medium-term, post-crisis monetary and financial framework. The third is the increasing global interest and attention being paid to India's macroeconomic policies, symbolised by last week's visit to India by US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
At his interactive session with economists and journalists last week, the RBI governor made plain the reasons for the monetary policy actions the central bank felt compelled to take in late March, five weeks ahead of the scheduled monetary policy statement. These were, briefly, that annual headline inflation was outside the announced comfort zone, that inflationary pressures had moved from primary articles to manufacturing, that asset markets were again buoyant, and that the economic recovery was well established, as reflected in record growth in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP). Left unsaid, but no doubt important, was the need for the central bank, the guardian of price stability, to be seen to be doing something at a time when Parliament was in an uproar on the issue of prices.
Opinion among those present was sharply, and in my judgment fairly evenly, divided between inflation hawks and doves. The hawks (both those in the room, and more widely in the international press) were concerned that RBI was falling "behind the curve", that the "genie was out of the bottle".
My own view is more cautious. While I am part of an unfashionable minority, I remain persuaded that RBI's best contribution to long-term equitable growth is through the vigilant and relentless pursuit of low, well-anchored medium-term inflation expectations.
Yet, the art and skill of monetary management is not to react to the past but to look into the future and to persuade other economic (and political) actors of the plausibility of your view. It is here where the difficult judgments currently need to be made on whether the economy is indeed "overheating", and whether a decisive shift has been made from supply-led to demand-driven inflation. It will accordingly be interesting to read both the "Macroeconomic Review" that precedes the statement and the governor's statement itself, to see how convincingly this case is made in those documents, and what evidence is presented.
There are several issues here. First, one needs to remind oneself that the world economy remains extremely sluggish outside Asia. Seasoned forecasters, such as those on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve (whose Vice-Chairman Donald Kohn accompanied Geithner last week), still do not believe that inflation is a serious concern for the global economy, given the massive, excess physical and human capacity. The Greek tragedy is still playing itself out with the potential for additional shocks to European banks which hold that country's debt. It is also worth pointing out that many of the same international experts and institutions now urging monetary tightening were also making the same arguments in July and August of 2008, right before the Lehman collapse, and they were emphatically wrong. On the basis of the Indian economic data available so far, while there is every case for monetary policy to move to whatever RBI considers to be a neutral monetary policy stance, it is too early to judge that the economy is overheating.
Second, in his Budget speech, the finance minister has taken a courageous and correct step in committing to fiscal consolidation despite the remaining uncertainties in both domestic and global economies. The finance minister's stance was endorsed by the prime minister in his remarks at the central bank's platinum jubilee celebrations in Mumbai last month.
Balance of payments trends (analysed recently in this newspaper by Shankar Acharya), coupled with sluggish OECD growth and rising commodity prices, make it highly unlikely that net exports will be a strong element on the demand side. Thus the desired recovery to 9 per cent growth depends crucially on private capital formation (both fixed and inventory) and personal final consumption. We will see what the final quarter's GDP numbers tell us. Last quarter's numbers did not point unequivocally to a rebound in either of these two components of final demand. Accordingly, my strong preference would be to wait till the recovery in private investment is more firmly established.
Finally, there is the controversial issue of the role that the nominal exchange rate should play in the monetary policy framework of the "new normal" that lies ahead of RBI. Several influential contributors to these pages, including Shankar Acharya, A V Rajwade and Surjit Bhalla, are clearly and forcefully of the view that a full growth recovery cannot take place in the absence of a "competitive" exchange rate. To my understanding, they differ only in their belief in the usefulness of capital controls as an additional instrument over and above the kind of sterilised intervention RBI has practised in the past.
My own position on this has not changed: a fast-growing economy like India can expect to encounter appreciation of the real exchange rate, and guided nominal appreciation is an efficient mechanism to achieve this real appreciation with the least collateral distortion. Of course, greater flexibility by the Chinese on their exchange rate would make this politically much easier for our authorities.
The author is director-general, NCAER. Views expressed are personal
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
Yesterday , all their troubles seemed so far away; now that it looks as though they're here to stay... the Vatican has discovered it believes in the Beatles.
John Lennon imagined there's no heaven, but if his spirit is indeed around in the ether-after if not the ever-after , it will surely be squirming at the Catholic Church's suo motu forgiveness of their excesses in the L'Osservatore Romano.
The Vatican's official newspaper observed last week that the Beatles "took drugs, lived life to excess... even said they were bigger than Jesus and put out mysterious messages that were possibly even Satanic," but reasoned that they "may not have been the best example for the youth... but they were by no means the worst. Their beautiful melodies changed music and continue to give pleasure."
This benediction comes weeks after their record, Revolver was included in the Vatican's list of 10 'approved' pop albums, along with Carlos Santana, Pink Floyd, U2, Michael Jackson and others. Less than two years ago the Church even forgave John Lennon for his heretical 1966 pronouncement that "Christianity will go... We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first, rock 'n' roll or Christianity." Of course both are still around, so Lennon's prophetic talents have not been proved.
Despite this entente, traditionalists need not fear that packed churches will soon reverberate to the strains of 'All you need is love' , as uncomfortable questions may then arise about the original gospel according to John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Still, time has mellowed the Beatles too. Lennon told a magazine that he was a 'most religious fellow' not long before his death, Harrison became a Hare- (Rama Hare Krishna)-son , Starr recently revealed that "God is in my life" , and McCartney, a nonpractising Roman Catholic, has never been a vocal critic. Now with the Vatican crooning 'Love me, do," the Fab Four may as well 'Give Peace a Chance' too.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WHICH REGULATORY STRUCTURE?
The one thing that stands out the most in the current public spat between the markets regulator, Sebi, and the insurance regulator, Irda, is the failure of the High Level Coordination Committee (HLCC) on the financial sector, presided over by the Reserve Bank with informal inputs from the finance ministry.
The HLCC has engaged with the regulatory fuzziness of mutual-fund-like insurance products Ulips , without resolution, true, but also without outbursts of regulatory unilateralism. The main difference, this time around, would seem to be the indifference of the finance ministry.
The ministry, after having proposed a Financial Stability and Development Council, is content to let such a public flap between regulators create pressure to move on from the existing arrangement for coordination among regulators. This is silly. Let us keep the HLCC going for the time being, till our markets, their regulators and Parliament, to which independent regulators should ultimately be responsible , gain experience, expertise and maturity.
The council proposed by the finance ministry is complex , cumbersome. The central question in rearranging the regulatory structure for finance is the role of the Reserve Bank. Should its monetary-policy-setting role be separated from its other roles as regulator of banks and other financial institutions, and debt manager for the government?
In a recent article in the Economic and Political Weekly, former RBI governor Y V Reddy suggests that these bundled functions in the premier finance regulator helped India stave off a crisis during the post-Lehman phase. Global experience shows that no particular structure by itself can guarantee sound regulation.
Conversely , the fact that India's regulation on global financial integration, leverage, compensation, asset prices , the quality of assets securitised and sold off proved relatively sound does not mean that our regulatory structure was or is perfect.
That said, the bundling of RBI functions has allowed knowledge of the sector as a whole to seep through the regulatory mindset. Until financial and market literacy deepens and spreads, that might well be the only way to achieve this vital end.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ON STUDENT LOANS
The government has done well to extend the tax break for interest paid on education loans to all streams including vocational courses. More should follow to make student loans cheap, plentiful and easily available.
The present requirement of physical collateral for loans above Rs 4 lakh must go, and the onus is on the government. Unlike in the past, information technology , the unique identity programme in particular, can be deployed to track any borrower and realise loan repayment .
In the evolving policy environment, private rather than public investment will meet the emerging huge demand-supply gap in education investment. The cost of education would go up. The only way to stop education becoming an elite privilege, in such a scenario, is to ramp up the supply of scholarships, grants and cheap student loans. Innovative financing models like securitisation of loans should be explored in India.
In the US, student-loan asset-backed securities (SLABS) have proved quite successful. Securitisation frees up lenders' capital and allows them to give more student loans. The government not just facilitates but also directly provides student loans in the US. The model is worth exploring here. An Education Finance Corporation is a workable idea in this country with huge growth potential, where the bulk of the population is young, and need education.
Private companies should also expand endowments and scholarships to build a rich talent-pool . Human capital is the primary engine of economic growth, and building it is far more important than building physical infrastructure.
In developed countries, returns to human capital outweigh all other factors in economic growth. We must, therefore, invest more in education and human resource development at all levels. No talented student should miss pursuing higher education simply because he or she cannot afford the cost. Vastly expanding and cheapening education loan availability are key components of reforming education.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THINKING OF THE FUTURE & ITS CHALLENGES
Today , at the start of the second decade of the 21st Century, we are approaching momentous changes in the global economic and hence political power structure.
The resurgence of post-colonial Asia may be dated to the mid-1960 s with industrialisation and export-led growth in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore . The 1980s saw the rise of the 'miracle economies' of South-East Asia Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia which combined export-led growth with liberalisation of domestic economies.
The nineties were actually a setback for emerging economies in general, and Asia in particular. The Asian Currency Crisis severely hurt the 'miracle economies' of S-E Asia as well as East Asia. Growth slowed in China, as well as in India, albeit for different reasons. The large burden of non-performing bank loans and fiscal deficits in many Asian economies, including ours, seemingly suggested that a pause button of indeterminate length had been pressed in the resurgence of Asia.
There were also important developments in the West. The end of the Cold War seemed to promise a 'growth dividend' . The successful liberalisation of the US economy in the 1980s coupled with enormous technological innovation in the nineties the PC, enhanced computer capability, internet and telecommunications , and biotechnology and the long economic boom, made the US the brightest star in the firmament.
Europe too did well. There was enthusiasm going into the new common currency. With Eastern Europe set to enter the common market, expectations were of many years of expansion. The only Asian developed country, Japan was in crisis. Latin America ran into difficulties by the end of the decade, after having done well in the beginning. Russia defaulted in 1998, Brazil followed in 1999 and Argentina in 2001. To sum up, at the turn of the century, the West seemed to have recovered much of the lost ground while Asia appeared to have ceded a lot of its gains.
However, if some had feared that Asia was done in, that inference was misplaced . For one, there was no 'growth dividend' . The US after going into a recession , in what seemed to be the tail end of a normal business cycle in 2001, did not come back as strongly as expected, despite extraordinarily easy monetary and also fiscal policy.
The boom in the middle of the decade in the US, as we can now see, was a product of excessive and ill-judged leverage that finally led to the global crisis. Europe too, while it did benefit from the splurge in global liquidity especially that going to East and Central Europe, however , made slow progress otherwise. On the other hand, Asian economies accelerated . While every country barring Zimbabwe and North Korea benefited from the global boom of 200207 , Asia did particularly well, especially its two largest economies India and China.
The global crisis of 2008-09 marks a watershed. It has left the advanced economies of the US and EU with deep wounds, the healing of which will take time. The US is running the largest budget deficits since World War II and its monetary policy is bravely trying to cope. The eurozone though affected less by the crisis, is labouring under many problems : The debt splurge by many of its smaller members, doubts about the future of the euro, the large fiscal burden in all member nations despite high rates of taxation. Finally, there is the struggle to re-establish national competitiveness while living in a monetary straitjacket.
ON THE other hand, Asian economies , particularly, India, China, Indonesia , Malaysia, as also South Korea and others have shown signs of rapid recovery from the global crisis. In 2009 India and China had growth of 7.2% and 8.7% respectively and likely to higher in 2010. South Korea narrowly escaped contraction in 2009 and may grow by 4.7% in 2010.
Japan too has done better than expected, likely to grow by 2.4% in 2010, partly due to her trade and investment relationships with the rest of Asia. In other words post-crisis , as the decade of the 2010s opens, Asian economies have rebounded and to some extent, so too some emerging economies in Latin America and Africa while western economies recuperate from the crisis and their other structural problems.
Alittle recapitulation is useful.
In 1990, the US and eurozone had a GDP of $5.8 and $5.5 trillion respectively, while China and India were at about $0.3 trillion. This was a huge gap. It narrowed a bit by 2000 but was still very large. In 2010, the US and eurozone will have GDP of $15 trillion each. China will have one of $5.5 trillion , while India of $1.5 trillion. The gap has clearly narrowed.
But what may happen in the next 10 years is truly remarkable . By 2020, China with a $15S 18 trillion GDP may be as large as the eurozone and not too far behind the US. India too should have been able to expand its economic product to about $6 trillion onethird that of the eurozone.
A transformation of this order has never happened so fast. Nor has it happened without war. However the potential shift in the economic centre of gravity in the decade of 2010s is likely to happen in the absence of war.
The great military strategist Clausewitz famously observed that war is a continuation of politics by other means. In the absence of war, and in the face of a fundamental shift in economic power, political contention has to transcend into other forms of vigorous competition , the resolution of which is though dialogue and negotiation.
This process will reflect in the interaction between the four principal players (US, EU, China & India), as they seek to defend their own interests, as also as to advance them further, which as often as not, may not be in the interest of one or more of the other parties concerned . This will be the defining challenge for the rising economic powers of Asia in this decade and in the next.
However, we must remember that Western societies have over the past centuries built an enormous reservoir of intellectual and cultural capital, as well as sophisticated institutional arrangements. Call it the super-structure , if you will.
(The author is member, Planning Commission)
Therefore, to sustain and consolidate our economic gains in this context we must make that big extra effort to build our own intellectual capital, especially so in the field of science and technology, as well as appropriate institutions.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
EQUITY SCHEME INFLOWS DIP IN FY10 DESPITE MARKET REBOUND
BAKUL CHUGAN TONGIA
Benchmark equity indices more than doubled in the past financial year. But that has brought little cheer to asset management companies (AMCs), as inflows into their equity schemes halved during the same period.
Diversified equity schemes of fund houses clocked net sales of Rs 595 crore in 2009-10, the lowest collection in three years. Similar is the case with equity-linked savings scheme (ELSS), which netted Rs 1,554 crore.
Industry officials blame a combination of volatility in the equity market and the abolition of entry loads as the main reasons for the sharp drop in collections. Until August last year, mutual funds were charging investors a 2.5% fee known in market parlance as entry load at the time of buying units of equity schemes. This fee was then paid to distributors who sold the scheme to investors. As the load being done away with, distributors redirected their efforts to selling products that earned a better commission.
Nearly 80% of the net collections poured in during the past three months of the financial year. In diversified equity schemes, about Rs 478 crore has been collected during the past quarter of the financial year, and in ELSS, the past quarter alone accounted for about Rs 1,244 crore. According to A Balasubramanian, CEO, Birla Sun Life Asset Management, there is a lot of money on the sidelines waiting to flow into equities.
"The conviction to put money into equities will get stronger with corrections," he says.
"Investors are probably waiting for a correction to invest in equities. Just like in January and February (2010), when inflows rose immediately after the correction."
There has been an increase in the number of investors putting money into ELSS, as it helps save on income tax. However, the amount has fallen sharply, compared to the past couple of years.
Against the total collections of Rs 1,554 crore in the past financial year, the ELSS category had clocked about Rs 3,000 crore in 2008-09 and more than Rs 6,000 crore in 2007-08.
However, if one were to compare the net sales into the ELSS category of funds for the January-March quarter alone, which usually clocks in the largest percentage of net sales for the year, the quarterly sales at Rs 1,244 crore have been marginally higher than the Rs 1,134 crore collected during the same period in 2008-09.
"There has been an improvement in ELSS sales and we have added about 1,20,000 new retail investors into this category of funds," says Mr Balasubramanian.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
EIGHT OF THE 10 BEST-PERFORMING CURRENCIES ARE FROM EMERGING MARKETS
NEW YORK: TRADERS in currency options are showing that emerging economies have become safer relative to developed nations than at any time in almost two years.
Three-month implied volatility for the seven biggest developing country currencies fell to 10% in March compared with 11.4% for industrialised nations, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co indexes. The gap is the widest since July 2008. So far this year, eight of the 10 best-performing currencies are from emerging markets.
The record US budget deficit, Europe's bailout of Greece and the prospect of a hung parliament in the UK are increasing the risk of losses in dollars, euros and pounds. In developing markets, the deficit fell to one-third the level of advanced nations this year and the economies are growing twice as fast as the US, the International Monetary Fund says.
"The global perception of risk is changing," said Jerome Booth, who helps manage $32 billion in emerging-market assets as the head of research at Ashmore Investment Management in London. "Where you want to be is non-leveraged places, and that means anything in emerging-markets. This is a start of a trend. The rally in emerging-markets has barely started yet."
That's a switch from three years ago, when record-low volatility was fuelled by investors underestimating the risks of leverage. Now, volatility is declining in developing markets as countries from China to Brazil lead the global recovery, while swelling budget deficits in the UK and US will weaken those nations' currencies, Booth said.
Emerging-market currencies were mixed as of 9:37 am in London. Russia's ruble rose 0.9% against the dollar to its strongest level in more than four months, while Hungary's forint appreciated 0.7% versus the euro. The Thai baht weakened 0.3% against the dollar after a clash between soldiers and protesters left as many as 21% people dead.
The MSCI Emerging Markets Index of shares slipped 0.1%. The extra yield investors demand to own emerging-market debt over US Treasuries declined six basis points, the most in a week, to 2.36 percentage points, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co's EMBI+ Index.
China's imports surged 66% in March from a year earlier, causing the country's first trade deficit since 2004. The increase in imports helps the global economic recovery, Huang Guohua, the head of the customs bureau's statistics department, said on April 9.
The Turkish lira has climbed 6.8% against the euro this year through April 9, reaching the strongest intra-day level since December 2008. Gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 6% in the fourth quarter of 2009, lagging behind only China among the Group of 20 nations. Goldman Sachs Group forecasts the expansion may help Turkey's $620-billion economy overtake Germany to become the third-biggest in Europe by 2050.
In the UK, the pound is down 4.6% versus the dollar this year and has fallen against 14 of 16 most-traded currencies, including an 11% drop against the Mexican peso. National elections are raising the prospect that UK voters may fail to elect a governing majority for the first time since 1974. A weakened government may struggle to enact budget cuts with the nation's debt set to almost double. Bloomberg
The euro has lost 12% versus the Mexican peso this year as Europe weighed options to help Greece avoid default on its debt. European governments offered Greece a rescue package worth as much as E45 billion ($61 billion) on Sunday at below-market interest rates.
"Investors had a bit of a blasi attitude prior to the Greek situation," said Robert Stewart, who oversees $74 billion as the head of currencies at JPMorgan Asset Management in London. "Investors are slowly awakening to the reality."
Three decades ago, emerging-market currencies fluctuated the most amid debt crises and hyper-inflation. Mexico defaulted in 1982 while the Asian financial crisis that started in 1997 wiped out one third of the region's economy.
The implied volatility for the lira is below that of the pound by the most since 2000. The lira was forecast to fluctuate at an annual rate of 10.6% in the next three months, as of March 30, 2.7 percentage points less than the pound, data compiled by Bloomberg show. "Dropping volatility says: 'Buy, buy, buy'," said Sebastien Galy, a currency strategist at BNP Paribas SA in New York.
Now it's developed countries that are dealing with the biggest debt. The administration of President Barack Obama predicts its budget deficit will swell to a record $1.6 trillion in the fiscal ending September 30. Moody's Investors Service forecasts that the US will spend more on debt service as a percentage of revenue this year than any other top-rated country except the UK.
Emerging nations are moving in the opposite direction. The budget deficit for developing countries will fall to 2.8% of their economies this year, from 4% in 2009, according to an IMF report in November. Industrialised governments' budget gap will decline to 8.1% from 8.9%, the Washington-based fund said.
Developing nations reduced their foreign debt to 26% of GDP last year from 41% in 1999, while advanced nations' debt may surge to 106.7% of GDP this year from 78.2% in 2007, according to IMF data.
In July 2007, the JPMorgan Emerging Market Volatility Index fell to a record low of 5.8% as central banks made their interest-rate and currency moves more predictable. When credit markets froze later that year, the index began rising and hit a record 35.8% in October 2008, one month after Lehman Brothers Holdings collapsed. The JPMorgan G-7 Volatility Index, including the euro, the pound and the yen, reached 26.6%.
Emerging-market volatility is falling again as the Mexican peso and the Malaysian ringgit gained 7.4% versus the dollar this year, the best performers in the world after the Costa Rican colon.
Mexico's government forecasts it will keep the budget deficit at 2.8% of GDP this year after lowering spending and increasing taxes even as the economy shrank 6.5% in 2009 in its worst recession since 1932.
The implied volatility of the Mexican peso was 1.39 percentage points below that of the euro as of April 1, the most since October 2008, according to Bloomberg data.
Exports from Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan are growing to feed demand in China, which is leading the global economic recovery. Overseas shipments from Malaysia rose 18.4% in February from a year earlier. The central bank has raised its growth forecast for Southeast Asia's third-largest economy, predicting an expansion of as much as 5.5% this year, the fastest since 2007. Korea exports climbed 35.1% in March from a year earlier, while Taiwan's surged 50.1%.
Investors may be overlooking the risks of developing-nations, said Harald Hild, a money manager at Quaesta Capital Optivest in Switzerland, which oversees about $1 billion. The South African rand, the Colombian peso and the Brazilian real have increased more than 20% in the past year against the dollar, making their exports more expensive. These countries are also "highly dependent" on the US and may falter should America's economic recovery stumble, he said.
"It's really amazing how strong the risk appetite is for emerging-market currencies," said Hild, who has traded currency options for 16 years. "I'm not sure how long this will hold."
Countries from Chile to China may lure $722 billion in overseas investment this year, 66% more than in 2009, the Washington-based Institute of International Finance said in January. Developing-nation bond funds attracted $7 billion this year, pushing assets under management to a record $74.7 billion, according to Cambridge, Massachusetts-based research company EPFR Global.
Falling volatility is making emerging-market currencies more attractive, especially to investors in carry trades, said Thanos Papasavvas, head of currency management at Investec Asset Management in London. In such trades, investors borrow in countries with low interest rates to buy financial assets in those with higher yields.
"You'll see the appreciation of emerging-market currencies versus developed-market currencies as a long-term, strategic trend," said JPMorgan's Stewart. "Investors will allocate more to emerging markets."
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DOW CLOSES ABOVE 11,000 FOR FIRST TIME IN 18 MONTHS
NEW YORK: US stocks edged higher on Monday ahead of the unofficial kickoff of the corporate earnings season, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing above 11,000 for the first time in 18 months.
The blue-chip Dow gained 10.05 points, a fractional 0.09 percent, to hit 11,007.40 at the market close.
The last time the bellwether index closed above the psychologically significant 11,000 threshold was on September 26, 2008, days after the collapse of Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers triggered a global financial meltdown that led to global recession.
The Dow briefly crossed the 11,000-level in intraday trade Friday for the first time since September 29, 2008.
The tech-rich Nasdaq composite added 3.82 points (0.16 percent) at 2,457.87 and the broad-market Standard & Poor's 500 index points climbed 2.17 (0.18 percent) to a provisional 1,196.54.
Market action was "rather quiet and trading volume has been moderate," Briefing.com analysts said.
"The lack of interest among investors comes amid the primary question of whether stocks can continue their upward trend into earnings season, especially if results prove upbeat and profit takers decide to step in."
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ANOTHER WAY IS TO HOLD ON
Much has been written about letting go. How its self-purging and cathartic qualities can release us from the coils of bondage, attachment and suffering. And how we only imagine that things are really ours when, in fact, our friends, lovers, spouses and children are not because they belong only to themselves.
Also, how possessive and controlling friendships and relationships can be as harmful as outright neglect. Unfortunately , it all started many hundreds of years ago with a slightly chicken-soupy Chinese proverb that tries unfairly to smack of Zen: If you love something set it free; if it comes back to you it's yours, if it doesn't it never was.
Firstly, it often proves nothing of the kind. What if you decide to check out your pet cat's take on you and leave it in the outskirts on the other side of town and it manages to find its way back (cats can frequently do this)? Not only is it a ghastly experiment to perform on a bewildered animal but are you going to repeat it every time the ownership blues descend? Secondly, it can often be tragic.
Try suddenly setting your lover free one day and he or she will in all probability end up wondering what the hell you're trying to achieve and, believing you're nuts, may move away from what could have been fruitful or rewarding. How long will you wait for the person to return? Till you're with a permanent someone else?
Thirdly, with some people it just doesn't work.
Writer Allison Wilcox says letting go begins with the cutting of the umbilical cord and ends when you hand over the keys of your car. Maybe, but it doesn't work in reverse. Parents, for instance, never believe they can be set free. For them, the question of coming back simply doesn't arise.
Okay, so maybe there's a far more refined metaphor operating here. But, isn't it still too drastic an action to take just to be certain about something ? As the social philosopher Erich Fromm, author of Escape From Freedom puts it, "The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning" something the Buddha too realised many years earlier when he evolved to the Middle Way that rejected disassociation and, instead, meant remaining involved with others.
Could it be time then to overhaul the tacky saw and replace it with something in the same spirit? Like for instance: If you love something, hold on to it; if it remains with you it's yours, if it sets itself free it never was.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ULIP HOLDERS MUST FEEL PROTECTED'
SAM Ghosh, group chief executive officer of Reliance Capital, says the charge of non-transparency against Unit-linked Insurance Plans, or Ulips, is untrue. Even as Sebi and Irda approach the courts to settle their differences on regulation of investment products sold as insurance, Mr Ghosh told ET NOW that the most important thing right now is for regulators to communicate to policyholders that their investments are safe.
Is it just a turf war between the markets regulator and the insurance-industry regulator?
I don't want to get into whether it is a turf war between the two regulators. There is large legacy of policy holders, both for LIC as well as the private sector insurers. I think the most important thing for us is to see to it that the customer feels comfortable and protected.
Is there any merit to the mutual fund industry's charge that these products are less than transparent about their benefits and their costs?
Unit-linked products have been in place all over the world in the life insurance industry. In India, regulators have taken additional steps to ensure that there is not only transparency, but that the customer also has to sign every sales declaration, which will show what kind of returns the customer can expect. The customer knows exactly what charges have been built into the product.
How important to you is a speedy resolution of this controversy?
If you look at Ulips, it's a substantial potion of our business over 80% or so. If regulators take a fresh look at these products and if there are some changes then companies will automatically take heed of those changes and be able to come out with new products. If you look at January 1, 2010, when charges were brought down, all companies re-filed all their products and business improved.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NBS WILL FORCE FERTILISER COMPANIES TO UNDERSTAND MARKET WELL: IFFCO CHIEF
Not too long ago Iffco was on the verge of sickness huge wage bills, old plants and low morale of workers. Today, the cooperative is the largest fertiliser producer in the world. Iffco managing director U S Awasthi, who scripted this turnaround, has also clinched hard bargains globally, setting a trend for Indian companies. He criticised private players for not rising up to the challenge of the changing world market in an interview with ET. Excerpts:
Has the fertiliser pricing regime entered a brave new world under the nutrient-based subsidy (NBS)?
Only the weak and the cowardly will run down the new nutrient-based scheme for fertiliser subsidy. Everybody's buying under the new scheme. It has already resulted in increased availability of fertilisers. The government's decision to pay a fixed unit subsidy on each nutrient to companies has improved the bargaining power of Indian importers by throwing up new benchmarks and placing a virtual cap on world prices. So, your managerial expertise has to come into play.
Now, you have to anticipate your customer's preferences, your competition's moves; you're on your toes. There is no question of disincentive to companies for production of innovative products. The private sector in this country lives in a protected cocoon. It's a sham. The NBS will force fertiliser companies to understand the market well. It's a forward-looking policy. If companies apply their mind, they will find the incentives they need in the market.
So, is it the end of inflated subsidy bills and supply shortages?
The NBS is the start of a momentous changes. The government has a blueprint for deregulation of the sector. Changes will lead to greater opening up. They will bring in an environment of greater competition. The focus will be on the farmers. The new regime will also bring in soil laboratories countrywide. I want more cooperatives to come into cold storage, agro processing and soil laboratories. These will entail many jobs. We will construct a stronger business model, which have distinctive business ethics.
India is among the world's largest fertiliser consumers. But it failed miserably to call the shots in the global market?
Iffco showed it's possible to call the shots on prices through market savvyness. We brought down DAP price from $570 per tonne to around $500 per tonne in our million-tonne deal with FOSAGRO of Russia. In 2008, DAP prices ruled around $1,200 a tonne. Our price deal up to March 2011 has saved the government Rs 5,400 crore in fertiliser subsidy and capped world prices at that benchmark. This is how business should be done in our country. As big consumers, we should also be fair in deals as we need sustained suppliers and allies.
Didn't China get a better price deal for potash?
Our price of $370 per tonne is well below the $460 price negotiated last June for supply up to March 2010 (26% below the then benchmark). There was scepticism about our price deal but we first established that we could break a strong potash world cartel. Now, under the NBS, all companies have to drive a hard bargain. China may have clinched potash supply at $350 per tonne, lower than our price of $370 per tonne for a whole year. But China is not a sustained buyer. They have ample supplies of phosphate and potash. We had to adopt a different strategy. With our landmark deals, we managed to cut down shortages in the country by 10-15%.
The changing market environment calls for new plans, ideas and projects. How does Iffco view itself in this context?
Today, we are entrepreneurs, willing to face more challenges. Our Vision 2015 is bigger, more ambitious. Our plans have now expanded to manufacturing potash, having own gas and getting into the cold storage business. Vision 2015 is also more environmentally benign. Iffco will tap into non-fossil fuel power sources such as wind and solar power. We're currently doing a cost-benefit analysis to enter rural power supply. We already have our Chhattisgarh power plant. We joined hands with Americas Petrogas (Canadian) for potash imports and, gas and oil exploration sectors and a potash plant in Peru. We're also planning new things like a stand-alone ammonia plant. By 2015, we will sell at least 15 million tonnes of fertilisers.
Apart from Amul and Iffco, there are no other super successful cooperatives in this country...
Today, Iffco is into M&As, expansion and diversifications. In the late 70s and early 80s, strengthening the coop system was a mission. Cooperatives need a leader with vision to give them strength. The government was breaking down monolithic institutions. The Cooperative Agro Group was formed by leaders of the movement in the 70s to promote new cooperatives. Iffco gave birth to Kribhco, Kribhco to other coops and so on. But after the exit of our legendary managing director Paul Pothen, Iffco and Kribhco drifted apart. In 1993, as MD of Iffco, I couldn't get the Coop Agro Group to go forward. Iffco charted its own path forward then. For seven years between 1986 and 1993, we saw no expansion. We saw huge wage bills, our plants were old, the morale of workers was low, we had all the ingredients of sickness.
And the road you charted for consolidation...
Our board decided to engage an outside consultant to make a blueprint of what we could do. I asked for an internal report within 90 days. The board stood by me. There was new morale. We had galvanised our workers and launched an expansion plan. We are borrowing earlier at high rates of 25%, but we charted capacity expansion plans within our budget. The Aonla plant was commissioned in 1988 at an investment of Rs 651.6 crore and expanded into phase II in 1996 at Rs 954.7 crore investment. Kalol, Phulpur, Kandla and Hazira followed. In 2010, we are a world-class organisation with interests in power, insurance and rural telephony.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
RISE IN INPUT PRICES TO PUT PRESSURE ON MARGINS: TATA STEEL MD
WHILE Tata Steel is expecting a 10% demand growth in India during FY11, the company is worried about increasing raw material prices this year that is likely to hit its production costs, particularly, for Corus in Europe. For most steel companies, depending on their raw material security, working capital needs are also likely to shoot up. In the domestic market, Tata Steel says inflation remains a worry. The company's MD, HM Nerurkar, spoke to ET.
What is Tata Steel's production target next year?
We have already achieved a 6.8 MT capacity in Jamshedpur. We expect to go up to 7.1 MT in 2010-11, which is 0.3 MT above rated capacity. Our saleable steel target is 7 MT and we hope to do 6.61 MT in sales in FY11.
To what extent is the company affected by the rising raw material prices?
A change in annual price contracts into quarterly pacts and a 80-90% hike in iron ore and coal prices will lead to a cost increase of $120-140 per tonne on account of higher raw material expenses and freight charges during Q1 this year. This will raise working capital requirement significantly and put pressure on margins. The jump in input costs will affect our European operations where we are 100% dependent on market coal and iron ore. We have thus decided to re-negotiate raw material prices with global suppliers.
In India, we have a captive iron ore base but we purchase 55% of our annual coal requirement from the market. Tata Steel produces 7 MT in India and another 17 MT in Europe. In Europe, auto companies have written to the European Commission on the input price hike.
Tata Steel formed a JV with NMDC recently. Have you made any progress ?
We have formed three working groups. We hope to come up with a concrete project proposal in the next 3-6 weeks.
Tata Steel's project in Orissa has been dogged by land delays and protests, like most other large steel projects. When do you think you can start work in Orissa?
We have been facing a difficulty in Orissa for the past three years, where we hope to start something this year. Till we start, we do not want to say anything. We have moved some 800 families and we would like to complete the rest of the rehabilitation job. Are you worried about the Maoists problem affecting your operations?
In the short term, it is a worry and we wonder about the safety of our people and our associates in affected areas. But we are perhaps seeing the worst. In the long term, the situation should improve since the government is now taking the right action, in terms of education, food, shelter etc. We have also been investing in community development for more than 100 years. We hope not to suffer.
Environment concerns are now a big issue. What is Tata Steel's carbon footprint? What is the company's
Tata Steel has a carbon footprint of 2.25 tonne per tonne of steel. We have set a target of achieving 2.05 tonne per tonne of steel post expansion at Jamshedpur. We are focusing our R&D efforts on this. Global carbon emissions level in the steel sector are at 1.8 tonne per tonne of steel.
INDO-US TIES: THE VITAL SIGNS ARE GOOD
The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, had an elaborate state visit to the United States in November last year, and yet he saw the need for a bilateral conversation with the President, Mr Barack Obama, on the eve of the Nuclear Security Summit he has gone to Washington to attend. This is a sign of a healthy relationship, although irritants tend to surface in the relationship of most countries with the United States. The reason is that America is constantly having to juggle too many balls, especially in dealing with neighbours in a region that do not get on too well with one another, as in the India-Pakistan case. In matters of worldwide significance, too, many countries, including India, have trouble with the US since on many issues the perspectives of a superpower differ with those of almost any other country. This is on account of the fact that for a country like America all politics are macro, aggregated politics. Nevertheless, the meeting went off nicely. In Washington, both sides described the interaction as "positive and constructive". This suggests an absence of acrimony and contentiousness and future plans to sail together on a range of issues of mutual concern as well as those possessing a global dimension. In New Delhi a US embassy press release noted that the two leaders had "vowed" to continue to "strengthen their robust relationship" and looked forward to the upcoming India-US strategic dialogue in June as the next step in that process. That, of course, will be an occasion to spruce up bilateral ties and find the right orientation for India to engage the US on broad international matters. It is fairly clear that issues concerning our region drove Dr Singh's 50-minute dialogue with Mr Obama on Sunday night in Washington, and the situation in Afghanistan came into special focus. The US embassy release made it a point to state that President Obama welcomed the humanitarian and development assistance that India continues to provide Afghanistan. This at least makes clear at least for now that Washington is not about to endorse the Pakistani agenda of either eliminating India's role and presence in Afghanistan or minimising it to the level of the notional. Equally, however, this formulation suggests that America does not foresee for India any role other than providing development assistance to Afghanistan. This might disappoint the advocates of overt military deployment in Afghanistan. In all fairness, however, aiming for a military presence in that country when the US and Nato forces are engaged, and complex political scenarios are up for discussion among multiple actors, does not speak of far-sightedness. This is the heart of the matter, however. The Indian side has sought to convey to the media that a purpose of the meeting was for the Prime Minister to convey to the US leader that India would define its own role in Afghanistan and the region. India has apparently also made it plain to the US that Pakistan's constant grumbling about Indian presence circumscribing its own legitimate interests in Kabul a viewpoint which finds sympathy in some Western quarters impresses few in New Delhi. If these points have indeed been made while preserving the integrity of India's bilateral relations with the US, this country has come a long way in its recent diplomatic practice.
PROFITS ON DEPOSITS
BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA
If you have a savings bank account, have you checked your passbook recently? If the answer to this question is "no", then do so, for you may be in for a pleasant surprise. You will find that your interest income will soon be going up even if the extra amount that you would now be earning will get credited to your account only at the end of the month. By the end of April, you would notice that the actual amount you have earned by way of interest income on the deposits in your savings bank account would have risen fairly substantially by a proportion that could vary from a low of 16 per cent to 50 per cent to as high as 200 per cent in certain cases.
For this unexpected bonanza, millions of ordinary citizens who have kept their money in savings bank accounts should be especially grateful to two not-so-well-known financial consultants based in Indore, Mr Mahesh Natani and Mr Ajit Kumar Jain. While the country's Central bank and apex monetary authority, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), initially sought to dismiss the complaints made by these two individuals and even sought to derogatorily describe them as "laymen" without any "expertise" in the complex subject of interest rate calculation, the RBI had to eventually bite the dust and eat humble pie by "voluntarily" agreeing to precisely what these two men had demanded in a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed in the Madhya Pradesh high court.
The story begins on March 22, 2007, when Mr Natani wrote to the finance minister and the RBI Governor complaining about the blatantly "unfair" method used by banks in the country to calculate the interest on deposits in savings accounts by deploying a 69-year-old system wherein the interest rate was computed on the minimum balance that was maintained in an account between the 10th day and the last day of a calendar month. For example, if a person deposits, say, Rs 50,000 on January 1 and withdraws Rs 45,000 on January 28, the interest rate would be calculated on Rs 5,000 although the bank would have been able to utilise Rs 45,000 for a period of 28 days and earned handsome returns by loaning the amount at relatively much higher interest rates.
Similar double standards were applied by banks while computing the interest on fixed deposits and loan accounts banks would calculate the interest on fixed deposits on a quarterly basis while interest rates would be applied on all loan accounts on a monthly basis. Clearly, such practices were discriminatory as far as depositor is concerned, which is exactly what Mr Natani and his friend Mr Jain had pointed out. The RBI referred the subject to the Indian Banks' Association (IBA) the body that represents all scheduled commercial banks in the country that justified this unfair practice on the specious plea that payment of interest on a daily basis would be feasible only when all bank branches were computerised.
The RBI's initial response was peculiar to say the least. It argued that "most transactions in savings bank accounts take place during the first 10 days of the month and thereafter, transactions become less frequent and balances remain stable" without mentioning how the RBI had arrived at such a conclusion. Thereafter, the RBI claimed that a "savings account, like a current account, provides the convenience of easy withdrawals, writing/collection of cheques and other payment facilities" and further that "while no interest is paid on current account (savings), interest is paid on savings bank accounts mainly to encourage savings and banking habits among the public" and, hence, "interest on savings bank accounts is generally kept low (3.5 per cent per annum at present) and paid on stable balances".
Unimpressed with such arguments, Mr Natani and Mr Jain moved the Madhya Pradesh high court which issued a notice to the RBI on April 16, 2008. In August, the RBI replied to the notice justifying its practices of computing interest rates to which the petitioners filed a counter-reply in October. Soon thereafter, the RBI presumably realised that it was trying to defend the indefensible. On April 21, 2009, in its annual monetary and credit policy statement, the RBI directed all scheduled commercial banks to start calculating interest on deposits in savings banks on a daily basis, with effect from April 1, 2010. In this respect too, the RBI dilly-dallied a bit. First it was proposed that the interest would be deposited half-yearly even if it was calculated on a daily basis. The period was then reduced to a quarter and finally, every month.
Banks are naturally unhappy. Banks had actually been paying an annual effective rate of interest on savings bank accounts that varied between 2.90 per cent and 2.95 per cent in most cases but are now having to pay exactly 3.5 per cent. The total additional financial burden on all banks put together will work out to an estimated Rs 8,000 crores during the current financial year, of which the burden on the country's largest bank, the State Bank of India, alone would be around Rs 1,200 crores. These are the amounts that would henceforth go straight into the coffers of savings bank account holders.
On February 11, the lobby of bankers led by the current IBA head M.V. Nair, who happens to be the chairman and managing director of Union Bank of India, argued before the RBI's deputy governor Usha Thorat that the RBI should reduce the interest rates applicable to deposits in savings bank accounts to protect their profit margins. Mr Nair pointed out that for banks, their cost of deposits would go up by around 80 basis points (or 0.8 per cent) on account of the new system of calculating the interest rate. Mr Natani says banks are all waiting for the end of April to ascertain the exact financial burden on them.
The bankers' lobby has become active on the eve of the presentation of the forthcoming credit and monetary policy statement of the RBI on April 20. Having initially resisted the move towards calculating interest rates on a daily basis as is the norm in many countries across the globe, especially developed nations before "voluntarily" acceding to the new method of computing the interest rate, the RBI should now not succumb to pressures exerted on it by bank managements and uphold the "interest" (pun intended) of millions of small depositors who have parked their hard-earned savings in banks.
- Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator
BANKS: SMALL CAN BE DANGEROUS TOO
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
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 realise 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 CEO'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 behaviour by many small banks can do as much damage as misbehaviour 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 non-bank "mortgage originators" responsible for many of the worst subprime abuses that will step in and fill the gap.
FIGHTING MAOISTS & MOSQUITOES
BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE
At a time when Sania Mirza, Shoaib Malik and Maoists are competing for eyeballs, what chance does a story about malaria stand? But despite the heavy odds against it, malaria hit the headlines recently with a twist in the tale: Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) men deployed in the dense jungles of Chhattisgarh to flush out Maoists are up against another deadly enemy mosquitoes. Many security men are falling prey to malaria, and have had to proceed on sick leave. The non-availability of medical facilities have made matters worse.
Malaria in India is a governance issue. The worst-affected areas and most of the deaths are where the health facilities are scant or non-existent, where there is hardly a semblance of the state. Many of the things which need to be done to fight malaria in the tribal belt are also critical to success in the battle against Maoists. To fight Maoists, security forces would need allies. Such allies would necessarily have to include tribal communities who have myriad justifiable grievances against the Indian state as anybody who has ever visited a tribal settlement in the rural interior knows. Today, when Maoists are seen as the biggest internal security threat facing the country, and the government has announced plans for a massive anti-Maoist offensive, it is vital that tribal communities get to see a benign image of the state as well. That is unlikely to happen if the only sign of the state they see is a uniformed man wielding a gun.
In February this year, there was another report pointing out that more than 100 policemen fighting Maoists in the state of Jharkhand have died of malaria in the past two years. Sadly, the grim realities confronting the paramilitary forces is the stuff of everyday life for those who inhabit these vast swathes of forested, mineral-rich, infrastructure-poor land. Malaria does not make news in tribal districts because it is so common. Tribals make up eight per cent of India's population but contribute about 30 per cent of India's total malaria caseload. Tribal communities also bear a disproportionate burden of malaria deaths in the country.
Why is this so? Three years ago, while researching an article about a cholera outbreak in three tribal-dominated districts in Orissa, one of India's poorest states, I discovered some uncomfortable truths. More than 150 people had died of cholera in these districts because they did not have access to safe drinking water. Many villages did not have a functioning hand pump and residents had been forced to drink water from streams and rivers, the same water sources they used for bathing, cleaning and washing clothes. The scarcity of doctors and a weak local health system added to the death toll. Similar factors worked in the case of malaria. A senior official of the Regional Medical Research Centre for Tribals in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, told me that the government had put in place special regimens for malaria control in tribal areas because these regions are often inaccessible and forested. But, unfortunately, malaria programmes did not have the desired impact in tribal areas because of a shortage of manpower: 30-40 per cent of the fieldworkers' posts typically remain vacant and posts for medical officers stay unfilled.
The Maoist massacre of 76 CRPF jawans in Chhattisgarh is uppermost in every mind. But the continued suffering of the ordinary tribal caught in the crossfire between Maoist insurgents and government forces is no less poignant. Many innocents have died. Many more are suffering. Apart from healthcare, the other area which graphically illustrates the impact of the conflict on tribal communities is education.
In a 103-page report (Sabotaged Schooling: Naxalite Attacks and Police Occupation of Schools in India's Bihar and Jharkhand States) last December, Human Rights Watch detailed how the Maoists, or Naxalites, are targeting and blowing up state-run schools. The report also pointed out that simultaneously, security forces were disrupting education for long periods by occupying schools as part of anti-Naxalite operations. The report was based on visits to 22 schools in Bihar and Jharkhand, and interviews with over 130 people. The losers the students.
Last week in Delhi, at one of the sessions during the Independent People's Tribunal on Land Acquisition, Resource Grab & Operation Green Hunt, one heard from the affected people directly. Montu Singh and Gajen Singh, two tribal activists from the non-government organisation (NGO) Bhumija Kalyan Samity in West Bengal's West Midnapore district, spoke about the misery of villagers whose lives are being torn apart by the conflict. Classes were suspended in many schools in the conflict-scarred Lalgarh area between June and December 2009 because security forces needed to camp in the premises. Students and teachers began agitating. A public interest litigation was filed by Samity, seeking the Kolkata high court's intervention in resumption of normal functioning of schools in the district. The forces had to eventually vacate the school buildings, following a court order. But many students, especially in senior classes, suffered because they could not appear for examinations. Montu and Gajen said even primary health centres in the area were being used as camps by security forces.
There are many inspirational examples of what can be achieved even in this difficult terrain given will power. Even in the conflict-affected areas of Chhattisgarh today, NGOs are running mobile medical clinics, providing malaria treatment and even hospital services.
Today, tribals in the conflict-scarred areas live in abject fear, dreading displacement and an uncertain future. They need more than promises of a shiny future. The government's fight against Maoists will only be strengthened by action on the ground which includes dialogue with local people and measures that assure tribal communities that tomorrow will be better than today.
- Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at email@example.com 
BY ROD LIDDLE
Alien life-forms have been cutting holes in sheep in Shropshire with highly powered lasers and strange glowing balls of light. According to a local farmer, reported by an oddly credulous chap from the Daily Telegraph, there is a "corridor" of 50 miles stretching from Shrewsbury towards the Powys border where UFOs (unidentified flying objects) arrive quite regularly and do weird stuff with sheep.
The farmer insists that sheep have been found with perfectly circular burn holes on their foreheads, and sometimes their brains dissected. Also he has seen the UFOs and pronounced them "frightening". I agree with him. Most of the UFOs I have seen have been frightening, especially those which turn up just after there's been a lock in at the local pub. They can be really scary bastards, swooping down with multi-coloured lights and erasing my memory and sometimes removing my trousers.
I wish the alien-sheep stuff were true. It's not that I wish sheep to have holes drilled in their heads, just that the revelation that UFOs really were speeding up and down the A5 with ovine mischief on their minds would distract me from the witless undebates of the general election campaign, the lies and elisions and smarm. But it's not true, is it? You imagine you are the boss of the Intergalactic Space Agency (ISA) based on the methane-rich Planet Thrang, some 6,500 light years distant from earth on the edge of the Crab Nebula, and you have to explain to your politicians how this year's budget is to be spent. What's it to be, the ministers ask: Terraforming barren asteroids in the Kuiper Belt?
Making contact with those incredibly intelligent life forms inhabiting a solar system in Andromeda?
"Nope, sorry. We thought we'd go to Oswestry and mess around with some sheep".
Huge intake of breath from the politicians. "What, again?"
That, I think, would be William of Occam's response to the worried Salopian farmer: it's not likely, mate, is it? Why would you travel all that way, at such expense, and confine yourself to sheep-worrying near Market Drayton? And it was as I came to this disappointing conclusion that a bell rang at the back of my mind and I suddenly started thinking about homosexuals.
British politician Chris Grayling's (Conservative member of Parliament and the shadow home secretary) debacle has probably set the tone for the election debate, a fugue of stupidity and pettiness against a backdrop of perpetual, hysterical shrieking from the metropolitan libtard Left. Grayling said he thought that while hotels should be compelled to accept same-sex partners as guests sharing rooms, people who ran tiny bed and breakfast establishments in their own homes were probably within their moral rights even if bigoted and misguided to refuse to allow same-sex partners to share beds. Cue, immediately, the outraged intolerance of the Left; the screaming for Grayling to be denounced, or sacked, or both; and the insistence that it just goes to show that the Conservative Party is every bit as neo-Nazi and vile as it ever was, despite a cosmetic makeover.
How did we get to this position, where the most moderately expressed sentiment that people should be allowed to apply the rules that they like in their own homes should be subjected to a torrent of bile?
As it happens, I disagree with Grayling, but only by the slenderest of margins; and the point at issue is an interesting one and worthy of debate. But debate is not allowed; it has been removed beyond an area within which debate is allowed to take place.
That's what happens when you transgress the sensibilities of this minuscule but very noisy sliver of the population. Grayling was misrepresented and denounced and the odium was so disproportionate that it became, in the end, rather funny (although probably not if you're Chris Grayling).
A similar screed of bile was directed at the BBC Today programme editor Ceri Thomas when he tried to explain, honestly and painstakingly, why there were more men than women presenting his excellent programme, and how he both expected and hoped that very soon there would be more women doing so. Misrepresented and then the misrepresentations, bouncing back and forth between embittered Guardian columnists and the maniacally obsessive halfwits in blogsville, became a sort of fact, so that in the end, like Grayling, Thomas was vilified for something he hadn't actually said.
This is what happens these days, almost all the time: a strangling of debate, a crushing of nuance, a removal of context, the twisting of an argument to almost the opposite of what it originally was. Chris Grayling said he did not approve of bed and breakfast owners discriminating against gay couples; Ceri Thomas said he hoped there would soon be more women presenters on the Today programme and there weren't enough at present. But in either case, that's not what you read in your newspapers. It is for this reason, I suspect, that the general election in England will feature no real debate at all, just a recitation of bland idiocies with which nobody could possibly disagree. Nobody wants to be hung out to dry for saying something with which someone else might disagree.
Incidentally, why would homosexuals wish to seek out bed and breakfasts run by bigots? It is rather like travelling from Planet Thrang to burn holes in sheep in Oswestry. Why would they wish to stay somewhere they were not wanted, when there are so many other establishments they could quite happily patronise? If as a society we are to be tolerant of homosexuals who wish to stay in a bed together, much as we are now tolerant of unmarried couples who might wish to share a bed together, should we not also be tolerant of people whose antediluvian religious views indispose them to such arrangements? And why as has been suggested by those of more moderate colours should they be forced to give up their bed and breakfast establishments and move into some other form of occupation? This seems to me a reasonable debate to have a subtle and complex debate, in the end. But we will not be allowed to have it.
CONQUER EGO, CONQUER DEATH
BY J.S. NEKI
A great existential truth is the certainty and inevitability of death. This frail body is destined to be overtaken by age. Youth comes, but soon departs; when senility descends, it never departs only its victim does. Guru Tegh Bahadur observed, "One might become anxious should something unexpected happen. But on the worldly pathway, nothing is stable or permanent".
Yet, we live in this world ignoring the transience of life. We want to live it the way our whims dictate. Even the thought of leaving the world in which we have invested our desires, plans and programmes becomes a dread for us.
There are cultural nuances that determine the intensity of this apprehension. Someone has said, "Life is for the European a career, for the American a hazard, and for the Indian a holiday". In the Semitic cultures, one's soul after death is believed to wander around in the dark space until the Day of Reckoning. That is a highly despairing and frightening prospect. In oriental cultures that subscribe to the theory of reincarnation, death is at once the beginning of a new life. So the dread is not always as intense.
The Sikh view is somewhat different. It holds that at death, the body which is but dust, returns to dust; that which speaks therein is breath and that returns to wind. Then the question arises: "Who, in reality, dies?" Guru Nanak tells us:
What perish are man's sensorium,
His discords and his ego.
That in him, which observes all, perishes not.
And adds elsewhere:
Don't think, I have died only the demon within me has. The One who pervades all, does not die.
Guru Arjan Dev, in fact, believes that since atma (the soul) is imperishable, no one really dies, no one, really, can die.
Noone dies; none is capable of dying.
The soul dies not, it is imperishable.
That what you believe dies, does not even exist.
In the Gurus' point of view, not only is life a play, even death is a play. Isn't watching a good play until its final drop-scene, simply enjoyable? Should it not be so for life, inclusive of its exit? Where then is room for mourning? Guru Amar Das asks:
For whom should we mourn, O Baba? This world is but a play!
The mourner is therefore reminded:
The one who now laments will also arise and depart.
When he himself was about to depart from this world, Guru Amar Das summoned his family and, as reported by his nephew Baba Sunder in his famous "dirge", addressed them in the following words:
O my children, siblings and family, reflect in your mind:
The pre-ordained death warrant cannot be avoided, the Guru is going to be with his Lord.
And then, the Guru, in his own sweet will, sat up and further addressed his kin:
Let no one weep for me after I am gone. That would not please me at all.
Such a placid departure can be the outcome only of an insightfully lived life.
What, then, is insightfully lived life? Not the one that begun crying, endured complaining and concluded in disappointment. The aim of insightful life is to be aware joyfully, serenely and divinely. It does not hanker after life.
Hankering after life also subsumes hankering after commodities. Isn't that simply a vain aspiration?
This weeping is all in vain; the world ignores the Lord, and weeps for maya.
Not distinguishing between good and evil, one wastes away this life in vain.
Such evils as ostentatiousness, greed, pride, dishonesty and nepotism sprout from hankering after things. This enhances our bondage to worldliness and pushes the chances for our liberation further and further away from us. It is such hankering that also creates restlessness and generates fear of death. It takes away peace from life and dignity from death.
Those who do not cling to life and care not for its commodities remain spiritually blissful. They not only live a blessed life, but also earn a blessed death. Guru Nanak said:
The death of heroes is hallowed, and it is approved by God.
One might ask, who are the heroes referred to here? Guru Amar Das informs us:
He alone is a brave warrior, a hero,
Who conquers and subdues his vicious inner ego.
"Conquering the ego is conquering the whole world", said Guru Nanak. This, then, is the requirement for a heroic spiritual life.
We all think man fears death. But, in reality, he fears himself. The remorses and repentances of life haunt him. One who has no remorse, nor any ground for repentance, has no reason to fear death. Death, the most dreaded evil for many, is not so for those who are spiritually illumined. For them it is of little concern.
Only right living can prepare us for safe or even joyous dying. Let us, then, be of good cheer about death and know this that no evil can happen to a good man either in life or after death. Death, be assured, is no evil. It is impossible that a thing so natural, so necessary, and so universal should ever have been designed by our Creator as an evil to mankind.
Let us conclude with these lines from Kabir:
People say it is good to live forever,
but without dying, there is no life.
So, what wisdom should I preach?
Everything worldly is perishing right in front of me!
J.S. Neki, a psychiatrist of international repute, was director of PGIMER, Chandigarh. He also received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his contribution to Punjabi verse. Currently he is Professor of Eminence in Religious Studies at Punjabi University, Patiala.
GET PROFESSIONAL, NOT EMOTIONAL
INEVITABLY passions run high after massacres like Dantewada. Yet never is cool thinking more necessary than immediately after a reverse. Hence the urgent need to abandon talk of "re-visiting" policy on employment of air-power, or "keeping all options open". Professional evaluation of the Naxal counter-offensive and reworking the operational paradigm is what the situation dictates. Why this suggestion to use air-power, presumably assault helicopters, what targets will they engage? Naxals are adept at "shoot and scoot" tactics, they just melt into the jungle. Even detecting them is not simple. So too deploying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles; maybe they could gather some intelligence but what systems are in place on the ground to immediately and effectively act on that? Is anybody advocating the type of UAV-missile strikes the US has been favouring in Afghanistan? In the absence of perfect intelligence the risk of collateral damage from air-delivered weaponry is unacceptably high. As the IAF chief has explained his force does not possess "limited lethality" munitions: it is trained and equipped to battle external aggression. The army too is reluctant to get sucked into another counter-insurgency assignment, it has enough on its hands (burnt fingers included) in J&K and the North-east. Internal security duties divert its focus, dilute its capability to take on the real enemy: note the initial "soft" response to the Kargil intruders, they were presumed to be militants. In philosophical terms using military force to quell internal troubles is not just an admission of failure, it risks depleting the "army" of its greatest strength ~ the unstinted support of every Indian behind every bullet it fires. As details emerge of the slaughter in Chhattisgarh the several goof-ups in the operations are being exposed, they must be rectified. While the army's experience and expertise can be tapped, tackling Naxals must remain a police/paramilitary mission. Politicians have to rise above the temptation to use the military to "send out a message." Rather they must ensure police reform and upgrade; in fact that should have been done before the offensive was launched.
There is another example of emotion taking over, perhaps a positive one. A compensation package (not that money replaces life) of Rs 38 lakh has been announced for the Dantewada martyrs ~ will a similar amount be provided to all members of the security forces who die in harness? Surely there should be no discriminating among the dead.
PRISONER OF GENDER
INDIA'S DISMAL REALITY DOCUMENTED
While the Women's Reservation Bill is expected to hit the bumps in the Lok Sabha, the reality is ever so alarming. Empowerment and adequate representation may remain subjects of fashionable discourse among the social glitterati for a long while yet. India has been posited in the bottom rungs of the Gender Gap Index Report 2009, a critical document prepared by the World Economic Forum. The year is at once significant and ironical. A couple of months before the political grandstanding that marked the passage of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, the country had slid down by one slot from the position it had attained in 2008. It has scored only in the decidedly political parameter of "years with female head". At the No. 4 slot, the country owes it to the Indira Gandhi dispensation and, if to a far, far lesser degree, to Pratibha Patil's presidency. Not to put too fine a point on it, it ranks among the worst in the segments that are close to the bone. The reality leaves little or no scope for pretentious cant, still less for the misplaced bonhomie of the Brinda Karat-Sushma Swaraj variety. A woman President, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Foreign Secretary and a couple of chief ministers are essentially individual success stories. Their achievements can scarcely mirror the overwhelming backwardness that is the subtext of this report of global interest.
Despite the existence of a union ministry that is expected to take care of both, the development of the woman has been no less distressing than that of the child. India would appear to have stumbled on all the vital parameters ~ economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment and health and survival. In other words, the Gender Gap Index Report has covered the fundamentals of existence. Equally fundamental must be the disconnect when one reflects that tiny Iceland is head and shoulders above an emergent global power that boasts its rising GDP graph. So it is that Iceland occupies the top pedestal while the dominance of Finland and Sweden has been reaffirmed. Still more embarrassing for the Indian establishment and the political class must be the finding that South Africa and Lesotho have been included in the Top Ten for having made dramatic progress in closing the gender gap. India has been placed at 114 among 134 countries, confirming the hollowness of the quota regime.
CENTRE DOESN'T HOLD
THE ANARCHY IN KYRGYZTAN
THE raging turmoil in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyztan is no routine flare-up in a particularly volatile part of Central Asia. It is not often that the State authority can be shaken to its foundations in a couple of hours. So it was in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek last week. The Tulip Revolution of 2005, that witnessed the ouster of the perestroika leader, has acquired a still more sinister twist. And the simultaneous fleeing of the President, the resignation of the Prime Minister and the shooting of the interior minister are testament to the deepening instability. The collapse of the central authority and the stand-off between the troops and the demonstrators, in which more than a hundred were killed, illustrates that the transition in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union remains ever so perilous. That instability has plagued much of Central Asia for the past two decades. This must be the nagging dilemma for Russia as it opens a new chapter in its relations with America, with the signing of the treaty on nuclear cuts in Prague. Small wonder why the developments in Kyrgyztan are being watched closely by both America and Russia not least because both have military installations in that country. Substantial must be the threat to the US supply line in neighbouring Afghanistan. Amidst the overwhelming anarchy, it is still not definite whether President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has also resigned with his Prime Minister. The people's violence is essentially in protest against what they call his "misrule". The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon's recent visit to Kyrgyztan and his appeal to the President to do more to protect human rights was indication enough of the brewing turmoil. Having assumed power after the Tulip Revolution, the current unrest marks an extraordinary turnaround in Bakiyev's fortunes. In 2005, he had promised a new era of democratic and transparent governance. Five years later, he has proved no better than his predecessor, Askar Akayev, who was ousted for corruption and nepotism. The disenchantment against the President is almost total, prompting the UN Secretary-General and the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, to appeal for restraint. The latter has even been swift to deny Moscow's involvement. Thereby hangs a tale? The scenario is fuzzy as the focus shifts to the pact to terminate the legacy of the Cold War.
MAYA, MALA & MEMORIALS
FISCAL GRANDSTANDING FOR AN INDIVIDUAL'S AGENDA
BY AJAY K MEHRA
MAYAWATI continues to remain the maya (delusion) of contemporary Indian and Dalit politics. She has erected memorials of BSP icons surrounded with 'white elephants' (pun intended), she has sanctioned malas costing millions (snake garlands made of currency notes), she has raised a special 'force' to guard the memorials without the governor's sanction, and she has placed the entire burden of the Right to Education Act on the Centre for lack of funds.
Indeed, she has redefined the social and political discourse relating as much to the Dalits and their politics as politics in general in the past three decades. She has surpassed the agenda of Kanshi Ram. She has positioned herself critically on the power podium of Uttar Pradesh, the critical Hindi heartland state with 21.15 per cent Scheduled Castes (2001 census), the third largest Dalit population in the country. She has wangled the UP chief minister's position thrice in coalition with the BJP and the SP before she eventually managed to secure absolute majority for her party to form the government in 2007.
Her assertions were no less shrill in her earlier dispensations; they have acquired a sharper belligerence since 2007. Having started as DS-4 (Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti) in 1984 in a tiny room in Delhi's Karol Bagh, the BSP has grown as a party and political force to reckon with. Aside from its electoral conquest of UP with the new slogan of sarvajan (all inclusive), the BSP also completed a decade as a recognised 'national party' in accordance with the rules of the Election Commission.
THERE are four aspects of her assertive politics, as evident over the past two decades. First, in the initial years of formation and organisation of and mobilisation for the BSP, it was marked by aggressive slogans. Kanshi Ram and Mayawati positioned themselves to represent the bahujan, the majority underprivileged and marginalised (Dalits, Adivasis, et al) and the numerical (religious) minorities, but together forming the majority vis-à-vis the upper castes who have ruled this country since independence.
The strategy was to wean the Dalits away from the symbolic politics of the Congress and impress upon them that a party of their own with a leadership from amongst them could help them attain both dignity and rights. Thus the slogans were assertions of rights and aspirations ~ tilak, taraju aur talwar; inko maro jootey chaar, brahmin, bania, thakur chor; baqi sub DS4, vote hamara raj tumhara, nahin chalega, nahin chalega and vote se lenge PM, CM; aarakshan se SP, DM.
Second, the BSP became critically positioned in the electoral scene of UP since 1993 assembly election when it secured 67 seats in a 422-member house. On 3 June 1995, she became chief minister in coalition with the BJP, an arrangement that lasted only for four months. Her second term in office, this time in coalition with the SP, in March 1997 ran only for six months. Her third term was again with the BJP in 2002-03 for a duration of 15 months. On each of these occasions, she kept the coalition partners on tenterhooks, did not honour any of the coalition arrangements and attempted to consolidate herself.
Despite her trenchant criticism of the Manuvadi leaders and parties, she had some opportunistic alibi for an alliance with the same set of Manuvadis. Realising the limitations of the 21 per cent vote-bank, which was not consolidated, and several claims to the minority votes, she successfully invented the sarvajan social coalition in 2007 and the rest is history.
Symbols are significant in Indian politics. The independence movement has a momentous iconic value. B.R. Ambedkar, the first mainstream rebel, occupies a prominent slot in Dalit politics. No wonder, he, not Kanshi Ram is more prominent on the BSP website. The BSP has several local icons too. Aside from using the names of Gautam Buddha, his mother Mahamaya (because of the politics of neo-Buddhism initiated by Ambedkar), Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule and so on, the party needs to push the names of its own leaders, pre-eminently Kanshi Ram and Mayawati.
Mayawati has used both these names across UP - in Lucknow and Noida ~ in sprawling 'elephantine memorials' with several of their statues costing millions.
There are three more symbols used by most parties from public podiums ~ crowns (symbols of power), swords/maces (symbols of force), and currency note garlands (symbols of pelf). Mayawati, supposedly the only politician who has attempted to change the discourse of power in the last couple of decades, has used each of these three along with the politics of iconisation (with a vengeance) to perpetuate herself and her party.
Pelf and power
SHE has also projected her personal acquisition of wealth through her politics as the symbol of her community's right to prosperity and rise to power, which appears to have been accepted so far, though she does realise its fickleness. While her orchestrated acceptance of the malas, consisting literally of millions of rupees, could be inventing a new icon of pelf and power, its aggressive defence shows that she is not quite confident that it is an alternative medium of politics.
However, she has kept splashing the political billboard with two other controversies. First, she wants a special security force to guard her memorials and has decided to go ahead with it despite gubernatorial reservations.
Second, she has asked the Union government to foot the bill for the RTE as the state government does not have money. Both expose her myopic (or 'Mayopic') politics.
Uttar Pradesh had over 200,000 sanctioned posts in the police in December 2008. Mayawati has not made any effort to fill the vacancies; instead she wants a new force to protect monuments, masquerading as her own memorials. It is no one's case that she can find over Rs 400 crore for such memorials ~ a waste of space and resources ~ but not for education. For her, a better brand of alternative politics would be be to start Mayawati Vidyalayas to educate millions of children.
The writer is Director, Centre for Public Affairs, Noida
RADIATION ACCIDENT OR ATTACK?
UNION HOME MINISTER P CHIDAMBARAM'S CUP OF WOE IS OVERFLOWING. THE TERRORISTS FIGHTING THEIR WAR NEED NOT BE RESTRICTED TO BOMBS AND GUNS, SAYS RAJINDER PURI
A metal piece in a scrap market in Delhi was radioactive. It hospitalised half a dozen scrap workers who are battling for life. Experts identified the substance emitting radiation from the metal as Cobalt-60. This is used by hospitals for cancer therapy. It is also used by terrorists for making crude dirty bombs. In 2002-2003, there was threat of dirty bombs being used in the USA and the UK. Dirty bombs using Cobalt-60 can spread radiation, death and panic in crowded areas. Dirty bombs have been described not as weapons of mass destruction, but as weapons of mass disruption.
On January 30, 2003, BBC-2, at the time when London was under threat of such a bomb, reported: The dirty bomb is sometimes called the "poor man's nuclear weapon". But whereas the aim of a nuclear bomb is instant and outright destruction, a dirty bomb would have an entirely different effect. It would wreak panic in built-up areas, see large areas contaminated and closed off and result in long-term illnesses such as cancer, caused by the dispersed radioactive material attacking living cells.
The attempts by terrorists to explode dirty bombs in the US and the UK did not succeed. But would terrorists need to explode a dirty bomb in India? Would not spreading radiation through radioactive metal left in stray places be much easier? There has not been a similar radiation accident in India earlier. The police are investigating how the contaminated piece of metal reached the scrap market to spread panic in the city. The scrap market had to be cordoned off for considerable time.
The police told the media that the radioactive metal was acquired by the victim scrap dealer through an agent and it probably came from abroad. One must suspend judgment till the police probe is complete. It may have been a pure accident. But consider how easily it can be replicated in the future as an attack! In the war against terror, one more window of opportunity has been opened for the enemy. Home Minister Chidambaram's cup of woe is overflowing. The terrorists fighting their war need not be restricted to bombs and guns. They can attack with radioactive substances too.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist
ROADS WITHOUT RULES
A recent report on a couple in the city being beaten up for protesting against rash driving drew my attention. The middle-aged man and his wife were almost knocked down by a bus that had swerved dangerously close to the kerb where they were standing in order to overtake another vehicle. The infuriated man followed the bus after hailing a taxi and sought out its driver. When challenged, the driver beat up the couple mercilessly.
Such incidents don't seem to raise eyebrows anymore. Hardly anyone remembers the messages on road safety that are constantly aired on television, let alone implement them. People have scant regard for road safety rules.
Moreover, those who flout norms are seldom caught and punished.
My husband and I were on our way home from the airport the other day when it hit me yet again how selfish people on the roads are. I noticed that only two drivers had made use of their indicators. In the UK, not using indicators is a serious offence and a common reason for failing the practical driving test. In fact, I fell prey to this rule once when the indicator turned itself off while I was parking next to the kerb during my test. A slight movement of the steering wheel often results in the indicator turning itself off. My examiner, a stern-faced lady, wasted no time in failing me.
I also noticed with amusement several signboards on the roads in Kolkata urging people to maintain lane discipline and reduce speed. The less said about lane discipline the better. Cars wanting to turn right are often stationed in the left lane. Why don't drivers understand that honking impatiently won't solve problems in a jiffy.
A few days ago, we hired a driver for the day. I wondered what my instructor back in the UK would have made of him. For starters, he made scant use of the mirrors. But then, hardly anyone does. He sped through busy roads and braked harshly at traffic lights, almost throwing us off our seats every time the lights turned red. "Progressive braking", which my instructor harps on, seemed to be an alien concept for him. He also seemed to delight in overtaking trucks on the two-lane highway. Many a time, he emerged from the back of a huge truck onto the path of oncoming traffic. Once, he almost dashed into a lorry but he managed to steer quickly and revert to the correct lane at the last minute.
Another time, we were in a car and our suitcases were piled high, blocking the back window. When we pointed this fact out to the driver, he made light of the situation and said there was no real need to look out of the back window.
I wish our drivers and pedestrians would learn a thing or two from their counterparts in other countries. Of course, my short piece on driving in India may irk many of my countrymen who will label me a sucker for all things western. All I can tell them is I believe in road safety rules. Is there any harm in that?
100 YEARS AGO TODAY
CALCUTTA SHOP RAIDED
A GUN-MAKER ARRESTED
Another police search under Section 191 of the Arms Act was conducted in a gun-maker's shop at Kalighat Bridge Road in the Alipore section of the town on the 6th instant.
It would appear that the owner of the shop, a Bengali Mahomedan named Nur Khan, had carried on a business of manufacturing and selling arms and ammunition for the past 20 years or so under a license. A few months ago, he was suspected of having carried on illicit traffic by selling arms to unauthorised persons, and consequently the license was withdrawn, the entire store of arms and ammunition being taken charge of by the police. The shop has since been locked up by the owner, who intended to open a boot business. Information, however, reached Alipore Thana that Nur Khan had been seen loitering about the shop in a suspicious manner. Inspector Hartley with Lieutenant Woodhouse, Deputy Commissioner of Police, hastened to the spot with a posse of policemen and placed the man under arrest, after which the Police instituted a thorough search of the premises. As a result, six muzzle-loading guns, several gun caps, a quantity of gunpowder, and a dagger, were recovered.
A sum of Rs 8 lakhs has been sanctioned by the Maharaja of Mysore to meet the expenses in connection with the marriage of his brother the Yuvaraj. The festivities are to be conducted on a grand scale and special invitations will be issued to the Rulers of Native States, throughout India and to the many European friends of His Highness.
A daughter's claim on her father's property has always been a contentious issue in India. And if she has already taken her stridhan at the time of marriage, is it fair that she should share her father's property equally with her brothers? The question had been settled with the Indian Succession Act that accords equal succession rights to daughters and sons. Yet the civil laws have never sat easily in a country in which numerous religious communities, sects, sub-sects and tribal groups tend to take recourse to their respective personal laws. This underlying conflict between civil and communitarian laws is the source from which the recent challenge to a 1986 Supreme Court judgment on the disposal of property springs. In response to a case brought by a Syrian Christian woman, the Supreme Court had ruled that the Indian Succession Act would apply to Christians in the Travancore and Cochin regions, that is, an extensive area in south and central Kerala. The Christians in these areas were earlier governed by the Travancore Christian Succession Act and the Cochin Christian Succession Act that did not give sons and daughters the same right to their father's property.
This is just one small example of the numerous incidents in which communitarian law comes into conflict with the civil law. By their very nature of being community-specific, personal laws clash with the secular principles of justice enshrined in the civil law code. Although it is the State's duty to ensure that the civil law governs all, politicians are chary of alienating different communities hence losing votes by insisting on it. As a result, discrete instances of conflict come to the courts, and in each separate case, the courts assert the primacy of the civil law. The Supreme Court's 1986 judgment, for example, seems to refer to only two laws in Travancore and Cochin to remain within the case's terms of reference. But in principle it is actually asserting the primacy of the civil law over all personal or community-based laws. It is as if the shift to a single principle of justice from its various community-driven conceptions is happening bit by bit, case by case. The court is, in a way, filling a vacuum left by the State. The changeover from personal laws to the civil is inevitable, but with a hesitant State, the court has to run the risk of looking too active in order to carry out the State's task.
The parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka are over and have produced an utterly predictable result. With President Mahinda Rajapaksa's principal political adversary, Sarath Fonseka, firmly behind bars and the opposition in complete disarray, the general elections held out no special surprise either for the voters or the watchers of the political scene in Sri Lanka. The voter apathy was evident in the low turnout a mere 55 per cent compared to 74 per cent and above during the presidential polls. It can be construed that a sizeable percentage of the absentee voters were Sinhalese because there has been no major variation in the voting pattern of the population in the north and the east, where the voting percentage has dropped further from a dismal 20 per cent (it was slightly higher for the east in January). It is significant that together with the predominantly Tamil people of these regions, a largish percentage of the Sinhalese too now think that it is futile to exercise their franchise under the given circumstances, which are not too different from those which existed prior to the defeat of the Tamil rebels. The country continues to be under the state of emergency and there is no major improvement on the front of either civil or political rights.
But far from being humbled by the voter disinterest, the United People's Freedom Alliance is feeling emboldened by the polling exercise which has given it another decisive victory. The results, delayed by the repoll in two constituencies, may fall short of the two-thirds majority which the UPFA had been gunning for, but the victory is enough to convince the Rajapaksa administration that it has the popular mandate to tinker with the constitution in order to perpetuate its rule for a time way beyond 2017. In the next few months, there is no doubt that the government will concentrate its efforts on making this ambition possible. It will also try to concentrate on the economic alchemy that will support its political experiments for it cannot afford to have the entire nation at its back for failing on the economic front too. Together, all this may see the question of political settlement for the Tamil minorities being pushed to the sidelines. Of course, provincial elections will be held in the north. But like the elections in the east, they may not do anything to further "reconciliation" or democratic choice in Sri Lanka.
MAGIC OF HUMAN CAPITAL
THE GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO REFLECT ON ITS EDUCATION STRATEGY
In his critical evaluation of the recently announced measures to ensure the implementation of the universal Right to Education Act, Sukanta Chaudhuri (The Telegraph, April 1, 2010) has drawn our attention to a unique feature of knowledge or education, a feature that stands in the way of viewing it as a marketable commodity. As Chaudhuri puts it, "We are treating knowledge as a commodity and not as infrastructure, as buying a car rather than building a road." One can build endlessly many shops to sell cars, in other words, but shops selling extended roadway networks are non-existent.
It is common practice for economists to trace the source of economic growth to capital accumulation. However, since the mid-1980s, research in growth economics has been driven by a major concern. What is the nature of the growth inducing capital itself? There have been a number of answers to the question and, without exception, they have all been concerned with drawing a clear distinction between private and public capital, or the car and the road, to use Chaudhuri's example.
The need to develop public capital, or infrastructure, in tandem with private capital, is best understood with reference to an elementary example. Suppose a popular bakery, in response to an increasing demand for its products, expands the scale of its operations. It can buy larger ovens, employ more workers and so on. There are, however, certain means of production that are largely beyond the power of the bakery to increase simultaneously with its use of labour and equipment. An important example could be electricity. If there is a shortage of power supply to the area where the bakery operates, a mere rise in labour and ovens will not help the bakery grow. (Clearly, the baker can install a generator to meet his demand for power, but it is an inefficient technology for producing electricity.)
Similarly, if the mill that supplies flour to the bakery is located some distance away and the two are connected by roads that are too narrow for a medium-sized truck to negotiate, then the mill may not be able to supply to the bakery its increased demand for flour at one go. The delay will force the baker to turn away his customers.
Electricity, roadways, ports and so on are, strictly speaking, stocks of capital too. However, the distinction between the services they produce and the ones produced by the baker's oven lies in the fact that, under normal circumstances, a given power plant or a road caters to the needs of several private organizations at the same time. As opposed to this, the baker's oven serves the baker's interest alone.
Extrapolating from here, most micro units constituting the macro system must grow for the gross domestic product to register a positive growth rate. But, for the GDP growth rate to be sustained, the micro units will be collectively dependent on macro infrastructure. A single piece of infrastructure must be endowed with a capacity that is large enough to handle the growing needs of (possibly a growing number of) firms. As a result, a sine qua non for the emergence of a meaningful growth path is a large-sized infrastructure. Sustained growth requires expanding airports, railway connectivity, irrigation facilities, communication networks and a host of other utilities.
It is in this connection that modern growth theory identifies human capital or an educated labour force to be a rather potent form of infrastructure. Before analyzing the reasons underlying the potency, let us study a table of figures.
The telltale figures leave little doubt that education, or more generally, knowledge, has a significant impact on the economic performance of a country. (It would be incorrect to conclude that the figures for Turkey and Sri Lanka tell a different story. The fact that Sri Lanka lags behind Turkey, notwithstanding its higher literacy rate, is easily explained by the negative impact of terrorist activities.)
What is the common link between electricity, roadway infrastructure and so on, and knowledge? This question is best answered by referring to the works of new growth theorists like Paul Romer (1986, 1990) and the Nobel laureate, Robert E. Lucas (1988). It was Romer in particular who suggested a conceptual separation between a produced commodity and the abstract design underlying the produce. It is the design that constitutes knowledge and a single design is freely replicated to produce as many pieces of the concrete good as one pleases, be they toothbrushes, power plants or automobile engines. A single road caters to thousands of cars. A single design for an aircraft engenders the arrival of whole fleets of airplanes. However, unlike the road, the design is not subject to congestion problems. There are a maximum number of cars a road can handle, but the number of airplanes that are producible on the basis of a single design is literally endless.
Thus, knowledge is infrastructure because, like a single power plant, it serves many customers. Moreover its enormous potential is demonstrated by noting that there is no conceptual upper limit on the number of students that can consume a single body of knowledge. Given one piece of knowledge, unlike a slice of cake, the amount available per student is a constant independent of the number of students. Knowledge, concretized as human capital, multiplies with the number of users, whereas a roadway, even if freely usable, subdivides with a growth in cars.
There is a second important reason why knowledge resembles infrastructure. A national highway causes externalities by helping hotels and other commercial enterprises come up along its border. Knowledge too gives rise to an externality in the form of an improved social fabric surrounding an economy. However, its externality is not restricted to this fact alone. To own a Nano, one needs to purchase the car. Once the car is possessed, however, a researcher has free access to the abstract design underlying its engine to produce a new competing design. In other words, old knowledge is a free input for the production of new knowledge. This is a form of externality that is peculiar to knowledge alone.
Both television shows as well as knowledge are classic examples of what economic theory describes as public goods. A pure public good is a commodity that is non-rival as well as non-excludable. A non-rival good is one which any number of persons can enjoy simultaneously without reducing its availability as in the case of a private good like petroleum. By contrast, a non-excludable commodity is illustrated by the difference between Doordarshan and a pay-TV channel. Private broadcasts exclude those who do not pay for the service. Doordarshan on the other hand is non-excludable.
Quite obviously, leaving the propagation of knowledge to private hands or foreign universities amounts to stultifying its growth potential, for commercial ventures will necessarily exclude learners, thus divesting knowledge of its most important technological property, unlimited reproducibility. To realize the full potential of knowledge, it has to resemble a Doordarshan broadcast, which can be viewed without paying anything more than the price of a TV set. To use Chaudhuri's analogy, market-driven knowledge may serve the needs of "magpies" in search of "shiny bric-a-brac". It does not help India harness "the greater part of its potential workforce" in the interest of overall economic development. Keeping a potentially trainable worker unskilled amounts to sinking further in the vicious circle of poverty.
Unless the government sits up and thinks more clearly about an education strategy, the much hyped education act may turn into a stillborn babe.
The author is former professor of economics, Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta
DIGNITY IN DIVERSITY
Ever since the women's reservation bill won the vote in the Rajya Sabha, the most unlikely of men within the high offices of the Congress have been vociferously arguing against the bill, referring to it as 'defective'. One minister went to the extent of saying that rotation of reserved constituencies could finally end up bringing close to 400 women parliamentarians. How wonderful that after 60-odd years of close to 500 men dominating our democracy, the roles could be reversed for the next 60 years. The Congress seems to be finding one explanation or another for derailing this bill from being placed for vote in the Lok Sabha despite adequate numbers supporting it. This is shameful. Will Sonia Gandhi pull the whip at the last moment or will she succumb to the soft-peddling of her party colleagues?
Whether perfect or not, the bill needs to be pushed through and instituted as an act. In time, it can be adjusted to meet changing conditions, and correctives can be introduced through experience on the ground rather than be delayed by insecure males pontificating on its merits and demerits. As for the other two crucial legislations Right to Education and food security both need to be fine-tuned and workable delivery systems need to be put in place. For this to be effective, administrative restructuring has to happen according to the reforms suggested by the Moily committee. Members of civil society need to partner their government counterparts and work together for transparent delivery of goods and services.
Here is an opportunity after 63 years to relook at, and reinvent, processes that empower Indians across all strata, in a concerted effort to make this nation a force to contend with, so that its phenomenal human resource adds value and takes an inclusive rate of growth to new heights. These potential acts could be used to showcase a fresh mechanism that will benefit those who have been exploited and neglected by the State till now.
This challenge is at the top of Sonia Gandhi's agenda for India 2010. The determination of the Congress president to put hitherto-failed policies on the front-burner, and put pressure on the United Progressive Alliance government to actively address the existing problems, is amply clear. Will the government get its act together and start cleansing the system and the delivery process, making administrators down the line accountable?
Sonia Gandhi has understood, better than many of her colleagues, what the priorities must be for India and Bharat to grow and share equally, to ensure dignity of life and living. She has engaged with people who are committed to finding alternative solutions to rescue the India that lives below the poverty line. Ironically, more people are being added to the umbrella of BPL as privileged India develops and consumes more and more. Our planners need to rethink the economic structures and parameters within which they expect India to change and grow.
Empowerment brings responsibility and with those two ingredients in place, society feels secure and comfortable. It allows people to get on with their lives. Affirmative action is a positive sentiment but, in India, opportunist politics has abused what it stands for. Factional parties, regional satraps, divisive ideologies have come together to discredit political operations. Unwarranted behaviour in legislative assemblies and Parliament, crass lobbying and posturing, have presented Indian democracy as immature and untrustworthy, an unwieldy institution that needs restructuring. We need to look at the mechanics carefully and make urgent correctives, starting with whether first-to-the-post makes electoral sense in a complex and plural country such as ours.
"WARNINGS ABOUT RADIOAC-TIVE MATERIAL WERE IGNORED."
The incident in which six persons in Delhi a scrap dealer and his employees were affected by cobalt radiation exposes the problem of radioactive contamination which can seriously damage health and even cause deaths. The men who handled a sealed lead scrap, which had landed in their shop as hospital waste, are now fighting for their lives. The scrap is considered to have contained cobalt-60, a highly radioactive material used for medical and industrial purposes. It is ironical that the incident happened just before a world summit on nuclear security. Cobalt radiation is not as dangerous as that from high-end nuclear material but it belongs to the same class. There have been many warnings about the shoddy use of radioactive material. The Delhi incident may have been the most serious one to occur in India to date.
The source of the dangerous scrap has not yet been identified. It is mandatory to track the movements of the cobalt-60 isotope but in practice this is not done properly. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has the responsibility for tracking and holding inspections. Failure in doing this leads to the material landing in the scrap market or elsewhere. Less dangerous radioactive and electronic waste enters scrap shops and other places through discarded parts of many gadgets and equipment. Toxic emissions from substances like lead, mercury and cadmium pollute the environment and cause damage to human health. There is no general awareness about the danger posed by them. There is no expertise either in most places to handle and recycle them. The laws about disposal of electronic waste are inadequate in India. Many other countries have strict legislation and handling practices. Waste from such countries also land illegally in India.
What has happened in Delhi is more serious than contamination caused by electronic waste. It is necessary to investigate and find out the source of the material and take strict action against those who disposed of it and those who failed to track its course. And if it was brought illegally into the country, it shows that the system to check and prevent the import of dangerous material was not working well. It is more important to strengthen the regulatory regime so that such incidents do not occur again. The extensive use of cobalt-60 makes surveillance difficult but there cannot be excuses like shortage of manpower and facilities in matters concerning life and health.
"PASSAGE OF AMENDMENTS IS ONLY A FIRST STEP."
Pakistan has taken a major step towards strengthening democracy with the National Assembly approving over 100 constitutional amendments which are aimed at restoring a parliamentary system of governance. Prime Minister Gilani has declared that parliament is now supreme after the amendments, proposed by a parliamentary committee, were voted clause by clause last Thursday. The vote restores the original constitution of 1973, which was violated and trampled upon by successive military dictators. The amendments shift a number of key powers from the president to parliament, enhance provincial autonomy and change the procedure for appointing judges, thus giving judiciary its rightful and independent place in the constitutional scheme. The president will not henceforth have the power to dissolve parliament and appoint services chiefs. All major political parties came together to support the amendments. This was in itself a major achievement in Pakistan's fractious politics. Though President Zardari did not extend full co-operation to the reform efforts for obvious reasons, he could only fall in line, in the face of the combined will of all parties.
The passage of the amendments is only a first step. The major challenge is to make the constitution work. Military chiefs in Pakistan have not been bound by the constitution and the laws, and have subverted them whenever they wanted to seize power. The responsibility to protect the constitution rests with the people and the political parties. Dictators have always found it easy to manipulate political parties and thrive on their rivalries and hunger for power. The resilience of a parliamentary democracy rests on commitment to the rule law, clear division of powers among different organs of the state and the strength of civil society and its organisations. The superstructure of a democratic civil society is still weak and undeveloped in Pakistan. It takes time to nurture institutions that can support and protect the system from shocks and assaults.
The provisions about an Islamic state inserted by former President Zia-ul-Huq in the constitution have not been touched. There is a strong view within Pakistan that another exercise is needed to abolish these clauses and bring in some more changes. This is bound to take time. However, whatever has been achieved is creditable and Pakistan can be proud of reclaiming democratic credentials, which had been considered lost.
ARE MAOISTS ENEMIES?
THE HOME MINISTER IS NOT AVERSE TO USING THE AIR FORCE, BUT WHAT WILL IT DO OVER DENSE FOREST? FLY LOW AND BE SHOT OR DROP NAPALM?
BY SAEED NAQVI
If you keep your ears close to the ground in Maoist terrains, the buzz could well be about impending engagements with the security forces along the Chhattisgarh-Orissa fault line.
For that very reason, prep emptive action by Maoists could well take place in a different, unexpected location to scatter the forces and leave them flat-footed.
There is symbolic consistency in the fact the Maoists and the security forces are playing out these bloodiest of chess games in an area which for centuries has been called 'Abujhmarh' by the native tribals. Abujh means an 'insoluble puzzle.' If you have ever risked negotiating (with the help of a paid guide) the warren-like maze called 'bhool-bhullaiyan' above the ceiling of Lucknow's Asif-ud-Daulah Imambara, you would have a vague idea of the stunning accuracy of the ancient nomenclature Abujhmarh.
Unfortunately for the armed forces, the effects of climate change on dense forest cover also appears to favour the Maoists. Normally, the trees would be bereft of leaves about this time, opening up the line of vision into the land which heaves, dips and flattens intermittently.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been cautious: "As of now, we have taken no view on this (use of air power)." Indian Air Force Chief P V Naik said in Ahmedabad: "The military air force, army and navy are trained to inflict maximum lethality. They are not trained for limited lethality. The weapons we have are meant for the enemy across the border."
According to reports, Home Minister P Chidambaram suggested that even though there is no proposal to use the army against the Maoists at present, "the Centre may revisit the mandate of not using the air force." What will the air force do over dense forest? Fly low and be shot or drop Napalm?
In an environment of rapid communication, official statements find traction with lightning speed by word of mouth or through the CP(ML) mouthpiece 'Pratirodh ka swar', which means notes of resistance. Once a message has gone out, it is difficult to retract.
For example Manmohan Singh's statement of June 18, 2009, is cast in stone as far as the Maoists are concerned. "If Left extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural resources, the climate for foreign investment will be affected."
Patil vs PC
In Maoist discourse this statement is dissected in the following way: "The prime minister's anxiety is not that the nation will suffer because of extremism in resource rich areas but rather that foreign investment will be adversely affected. Resource rich areas seeking foreign investment implies sale of raw materials."
Then comes the table thumping punchline: "No country in the world has flourished selling raw materials overseas."
Strangely, in Maoist circles there is near nostalgia for Shivraj Patil. Unlike Chidambaram who described naxalites as the "biggest threat to the nation's security", Patil tended to tone down the exaggerations.
The lay person's tendency to see Maoists as some sort of a dark, monstrous presence, lurking in the jungles, is because CP(ML) has not received informed media attention. The media has focused largely on political parties in occupation of parliamentary space.
Little wonder, the UPA leadership is fidgeting uncomfortably. On the Maoist side, there is deep commitment which cannot be ignored. What they are committed to maybe ghoulish and wrong but surely the only way to gauge the sources of their monstrosity (if that is what you insist it is) is to engage with them in a dialogue at some level.
Chidambaram says that dialogue is only possible if Maoists abjure violence. They turn around and say the state must abjure violence too. "In fact the state's quest is for a monopoly of violence", says the editorial in 'Resistance'. And yet, when general secretary of the Marxist Leninist Party, M Laxman Rao (alias Ganapathy) says: "We have repeatedly communicated to the government" a basis for talks, it becomes clear that the state is in contact.
It is from the substance of these 'contacts' that the Maoists conclude that the state is seeking a military solution. Or, that the state is only willing to offer a 'better deal' if the adivasis allow industry to move in. "The government is not willing to negotiate a new policy", say Maoists spokesmen. "They wish to be in a position from where they can improve their offer to us from 20 kg of 'atta' to 30 kg of 'atta'." Why has the term land reforms disappeared from all discourse?
The prime minister is a great supporter of private property. Why can't the adivasis have private property. Then you can strike a deal with them on whether or not they wish to part with land they have been in occupation of for thousands of years.
Rahul Gandhi, with his eyes set on UP, may be interested in the Maoist Mayawati battlelines. Just visit Kausambi, the district carved out of Allahabad and which lies between Ganga and Jamuna. The sand mafia with a monopoly of the riverbed, is led by Kapil Muni Karvaria and Girish Pasi, both BSP leaders.
A movement of poor people on the riverbed, organised by the All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha, has been banned. Leaders have been booked under the Gangster Act because they would not allow machines to be used to dredge sand illegally and which take work away from the labourers. United Provinces Special Powers Act of 1932 is being invoked.
HOW TO BUILD ON THE START TREATY
WE NEED TO BUILD ON THE SUCCESS OF THE START TREATY THAT LEADS TO SIGNIFICANTLY GREATER ARMS REDUCTIONS.
BY WILLIAM J PERRY AND GEORGE SHULTZ
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.
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.
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.
THE BORED GENERATION
OUR CHILDREN ARE MISSING OUT ON THE REAL CHILDHOOD.
BY SUJATA RAJPAL
"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.
EQUATING IRAN NUKES WITH HOLOCAUST HIGHLIGHTS ISRAEL'S ISOLATION
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the official ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday to warn about the Iranian threat. "The world gradually accepts Iran's statements of destruction against Israel and we still do not see the necessary international determination to stop Iran from arming," Netanyahu said, calling on "all enlightened countries" to strongly condemn Iran and act with "genuine determination" to prevent it from building nuclear weapons.
This is not the first time Netanyahu has equated the Iranian threat with the Jewish Holocaust in Europe. The comparison is mistaken and damaging. Independent and sovereign Israel is not weak like the Jewish communities in Poland, Hungary or Germany, which could not defend themselves against the murderous Nazis and their collaborators. Israel can protect itself against those who threaten its existence and security, as it has done in the past when the international community played down the severity of a threat.
In his warnings about a pending Holocaust, Netanyahu is sending out a problematic message to young Israelis considering building their future in their country. Most Jews who were saved from the Holocaust left Europe before World War II and found a safe haven in America or Mandatory Palestine. Is Netanyahu suggesting that Israelis do the same - escape Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats by fleeing overseas?
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The prime minister's declarations will tie his hands when it's time to decide on which policy to pursue against Iran and its threats. If Israel is facing a Holocaust, it must act in every way possible to prevent it and even go to war if the international community disappoints us in its efforts to use diplomacy to stop Iran's nuclear program. Maybe Netanyahu believes that his warnings will push Western countries to act, but the political logic behind this is dubious.
If Netanyahu wanted to encourage world leaders to act against Iran, he should have taken part in the nuclear conference in Washington this week and voiced his poignant warnings directly to his counterparts. But Netanyahu was concerned about criticism of Israel's nuclear capability, so he opted to stay home and speak from Yad Vashem's safe podium. He thus missed out on a chance to join the international effort, which only highlights Israel's growing isolation.
THE HOLOCAUST WON'T PROTECT ISRAEL FOREVER
BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
"I am Hanna Weiss, a native of Italy, No. A5377. I left Auschwitz alive. I feel that I triumphed. I have had a full, rich life. Every day that a person lives is a holiday."
This statement by a survivor summed up the most important week in the Jewish-Israeli calendar, the week between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day for Israel's fallen soldiers, the week that epitomizes the Zionist revolution, from Holocaust to resurrection.
It's true that it was not the 6 million victims who established the state, but they have supplied it with a flak jacket over the years. The thousands who paid the price of independence with their lives, those we commemorate next week, should be included with the 6 million.
The 6 million were the reason for the UN General Assembly's partition resolution of November 1947. Were it not for them, the required majority would not have been reached. It was only the onerous guilt feelings of the nations of the world, who did nothing to stop the so-called Final Solution while it was being implemented, that tipped the scales. On November 30, 1947, Haaretz ran a special front-page editorial that said, "The nations of the world have resolved to redress the injustice of 2,000 years ... the aspiration of a persecuted people, one that has known suffering and has undergone a Holocaust, is about to be realized."
If it were not for these guilt feelings, the Czechoslovaks would not have shipped us weapons during the War of Independence, the Germans would not have stood by our side in all circumstances and situations, and the Americans would not have supplied us with money and warplanes year after year. So it is right to connect Holocaust Day with Memorial Day. They are both the basis for Independence Day.
The world feels guilty because the murder of Europe's Jews was unprecedented in the annals of humankind. There has been no shortage of atrocities throughout history, but a preplanned liquidation according to a well-thought-out program aimed at wiping an entire nation off the earth - that had not yet occurred.
The countries of the West also feel guilty because they did not agree to open their gates to refugees from Germany and Austria before World War II. They also refrained from intervening in 1942, when the acts of annihilation were already known. They did not bomb, even once, the railroad lines leading to the gas chambers and crematoria or the death camp itself, although there were thousands of air raids and tens of thousands of bombs dropped near Auschwitz while the Nazi death machine was killing and burning the bodies of 12,000 Jews each day.
The cruel truth is that no one really cared. Hundreds of years of anti-Jewish propaganda, persecution, pogroms and expulsions prepared the ground for the hatred.
The conclusion must therefore be unequivocal: In our cynical and cruel world, we must continue trying to strengthen the Israel Defense Forces, regardless of our political outlooks. The world must know: Never again. Never again will Jewish blood be spilled with impunity, not here and not in any other corner of the globe.
And even in our cynical and cruel world, we must not ignore the rule of evil. It was evil that murdered 6 million Jews and set the whole of Europe alight (the Soviet Union alone sacrificed 27 million people in the war against Germany). And this evil has not ceased to exist.
But strengthening the IDF does not depend upon us alone. It depends on this country's status, which in turn depends on the nations of the world and public opinion. Sixty-five years after the horrors of the Holocaust became clear, more and more voices in Europe say to Israel: No more. Guilt feelings as well have their limits. From now on we'll treat you like a normal country. You will be judged by your deeds, for better or worse.
And indeed, the latest reports reveal that the number of anti-Semitic incidents rose sharply in 2009. This is a new kind of anti-Semitism that combines the ancient hatred with strong opposition to the occupation. In other words, time is working against us. Support for Israel and for bolstering the power of the IDF can no longer be taken for granted. The world's guilt feelings are gradually becoming dulled, making it possible for the global criticism of the occupation of Palestinian territories to strengthen.
And because in the West it is public opinion that ultimately determines how governments act, we must reach an agreement that will get us out of those territories and make Israel a moral and just country once again.
This is because the Holocaust flak jacket won't last forever. It is cracking as we watch, and soon it will no longer be able to protect us.
OBAMA AND NETANYAHU CAN'T AFFORD TO DISAGREE
BY DAVID MAKOVSKY
It is widely known that the poor relationship between U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands at the center of U.S.-Israeli tension.
Yet, it is hard to be hopeful for a variety of reasons. They relate to differences of outlook between them in three key areas: the relationship between vision and trust, different attitudes toward timing and different approaches to the nexus between policy and politics.
First, there is a paradox between vision and trust. For cerebral Obama, who does not bond with foreign leaders instinctively, the one way to build trust is to share a common strategic vision.
This is not unique to the U.S. president. The history of American-Israeli relations illustrates that when the United States and Israel agree on a common strategic vision, as they did during the period of Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, Washington is less focused on where they differ.
The corollary is when they don't share a common direction, the United States is hard-nosed on the differences, as it was during when George Bush Sr. was opposite Yitzhak Shamir.
Therefore, Netanyahu needs to share with Obama how he envisions a two-state solution, and a plausible strategy to attain it. Obama feels he has this with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, even if Israelis remain skeptical.
Some believe Netanyahu does not have that vision, and that this is the main problem. However, it is also possible that given how politically explosive these issues are in Israel, Netanyahu fears misplaced trust could leak and be exploited by rivals at home.
So if the absence of a shared vision has contributed to a lack of trust, the absence of trust also contributes to a lack of shared vision.
A second set of issues are differences between the two over urgency, and cannot be divorced from the issue of a shared vision. Despite recent comments by U.S. armed forces head Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, senior Administration sources sharply deny Obama only sees the issue of Israel through the prism of how it impacts American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
While the Palestinian issue is evocative in the region, there are over a dozen factors driving anti-Americanism in the region. Even if the Palestinian issue was solved, virtually all the layers of anti-Americanism would remain.
Rather, it is unclear if time is on Israel's side. Obama believes he has Israel's best interests at heart because he views the two-state solution as an answer to Israel's demographic challenges. Moreover, Obama sees Hamas rejectionism waiting in the wings in the West Bank in the event the current PA leadership is defeated due to the failure of peace. Finally, while it is hard to find any shred of evidence that the Arab regimes will take any steps against Iran based on progress toward peace, Obama believes movement in the peace process could only be helpful in creating a regional public environment against the regime in Tehran.
A third profound difference in outlooks between Obama and Netanyahu is how they view the relationship between politics and policy.
It seems to be hard for Obama to believe that Netanyahu has domestic political constraints when he has the option of putting forward a set of policies regarding a two-state solution that would enable opposition leader Tzipi Livni to join his government. In other words, Obama sees these constraints by Netanyahu as self-imposed.
Obama believes he knows what it is to act against his own base. He has done so by dispatching 100,000 troops to Afghanistan and staging strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.
Of course, Netanyahu sees it differently, especially given that the Israeli system is not presidential. He sees Obama not giving him political credit as a Likud leader for declaring support for a two-state solution or lifting most West Bank checkpoints.
Given the conceptual divide outlined above, it is hard to be overly optimistic about the basis of a new relationship. Yet neither leader has the luxury of disengagement. Obama and Netanyahu have to find common ground in addressing the massive challenge of Iran's nuclear weapon program, or else the consequences could be disastrous.
Moreover, even some European and Arab diplomats - almost all of whom have traditionally favored pressure on Israel - admit that such friction at the top of U.S.-Israel relations will not translate into progress for peace. They say an insecure Israel will not take risks for peace.
Trust needs to be built, and not as a favor to either leader, but because it is a necessity for anyone who wants to see a more stable Middle East.
The writer directs the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
CORRUPTION ON THE HILL
BY KARNI ELDAD
When I was little, my grandfather used to take me to see the miniature model of the Second Temple in the Holyland hotel in Jerusalem. Enclosure within enclosure, with the temple in the middle. A tall, impressive structure. It was easy to imagine the priests toiling over the sacrifices and the Levites standing and chanting, the excited crowd coming to the house of the Lord.
I, too, was excited. Maybe because I was a girl and the Temple expanded in my imagination to huge dimensions. Or maybe because I was caught up in my grandfather's excitement. The Temple. A huge project, architecture at its best, raising the spirit of those entering its gates.
Now five towers, hundreds of meters tall, protrude where my childhood memories used to be. There is no model. The forest beside it has disappeared. The hotel has vanished. An ugly project has appeared instead of the magic that was there. A long corridor, as high as the towers, connects the monsters.
Protruding balconies. A stone mass. Perhaps it's a matter of taste and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, etc., but there is no doubt these ugly buildings have no connection to Jerusalem in general or the hill they have defaced in particular.
On Jerusalem's Agrippas Street stands "the cursed building." It was called so after some curse a cabalist rabbi put on the building, which hid the sun from his yeshiva's yard. For years it was rumored that its tenants die prematurely and their businesses fail for no apparent reason. Cursed, people said. Years went by, and the building is still there, its tenants are living and its businesses are thriving.
The curses have moved to the Holyland project. Nobody can see that ugliness without cursing, or at least slamming it roundly. It's hard to remain indifferent.
It is difficult to carry out a project in Jerusalem. Political and aesthetic considerations influence committees and officials, who delay new projects for a long time. But wonder of wonders - such a monster arose without anyone being able to stop it. This architectural unsightliness makes it clear that it could not have been built by a good-looking man. Not that I care what that entrepreneur-cum-contractor-cum-investor looks like. I'm not talking about external looks, but internal beauty.
There are many kinds of crimes, including violent ones. Corruption is ugly. It most often lurks in a white-collar guise, hiding behind mannerisms. Corruption is the crime of the strong who want to be stronger, richer, more influential. Corruption is slippery, implied. Envelopes filled with dollars. One hand washing the other. Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. A closed clique.
Corruption has two faces. If you're corrupt and well connected, you become rich and get involved. If you're not corrupt, you're out. It's hard to be honest in a corrupt world, where the corrupt hold the sources of power. "How is the faithful city become a harlot! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers ... Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; every one loveth bribes, and followeth after rewards."
The cry of the prophet Isaiah on the eve of the Temple's destruction echoes in the hills of Jerusalem. One temple after another lies in ruins and the city's leaders are still rebellious and companions of thieves.
The severance from this ugly corruption is a painful process. "And I will ... purge away thy dross," i.e., I will separate your alloy keeping only the pure metal. This separation cannot be done gently, it is done by fire. And after the fire, I promise you, it will be okay. "I will restore thy judges as the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning; afterward thou shalt be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city" (Isaiah 1).
We've had enough of our ministers and leaders. We are ready for the fire to come and clean up speedily in our times. Amen.
TEACHING A LESSON
BY EDNA ULLMANN-MARGALIT
The High Court of Justice issued a drastic ruling last week on the issue of contempt of court. In its decision, the court fined the ultra-Orthodox Independent Education Center school network NIS 5,000 a day for every day it continues to violate the eight-month-old court order regarding the Beit Yaakov school in Immanuel.
The school has been accused of discrimination for separating Sephardi and Ashkenazi students. It blatantly violated not only the law, but also the basic norms of proper conduct in a society that respects the values of human dignity and equality. The educational establishment is trying to deny the facts and reject these values, instead of admitting them shamefacedly and amending its ways.
In its ruling last summer, the High Court rejected the Independent Education Center's argument that the girls were separated due to religious and cultural differences, and not due to their ethnic origins. It condemned this as "camouflaged discrimination." Self-righteous arguments in the name of cultural pluralism and communal autonomy in a multicultural society cannot justify humiliating discrimination based on ethnic background.
Most of the girls at the Immanuel school are Sephardi. About two years ago, a sort of Hasidic subsidiary school was created, the vast majority of whose students are Ashkenazi. The two schools occupy different floors of the same building, and to make the distinction more apparent, the Hasidic Ashkenazi branch started the academic year a few days before the rest of the school. The two schools also have different schedules, different recess times and different entrances. A drywall partition was put up to separate the two parts of the school, and the schoolyard was draped with canvas to divide the students. Students in each half of the school were given their own school uniforms, and even the teachers' lounge was divided.
This case comes against the backdrop of years of blatant admissions discrimination against Mizrahi girls by ultra-Orthodox Beit Yaakov girls' schools in Jerusalem. There is no escaping the painful conclusion that members of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi community, some of whom have demonstrated racist thought and conduct toward the Arabs, have fallen victim to that same behavior on the part of a significant portion of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox public.
Because the school in Immanuel is part of the so-called "recognized, unofficial" sector of state education, it is funded almost entirely by taxpayers. The humiliation of the Sephardi students the court cited is therefore taking place in the name of the public at large, and with public funds.
Individuals found to be in contempt of court can be dealt painful sanctions, from fines to imprisonment. From past experience, however, it is clear that when it comes to a community that does not accept the authority - legal or moral - of the Supreme Court, the matter is difficult to enforce. The High Court was therefore right in fining the Independent Education Center network itself, rather than the parents. Firmness is required here. Only real financial harm can bring about law enforcement. In light of the circuitous manner in which the ultra-Orthodox school systems have obtained funds from state coffers, the state comptroller should get into the picture. He should make sure that taxes paid by law-abiding, working citizens who meet civic norms of respect and equality not be given to the leaders of an education system engaged in discrimination and humiliation - until this distortion is rectified.
The writer is a lecturer on law and education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
A WRONG WAY AND A RIGHT WAY
While Congress was on spring break the past two weeks, federal unemployment benefits expired for an estimated 200,000 jobless Americans. Each day, another 30,000 join the ranks of those who are both out of work and out of benefits. It did not have to come to this.
The House and Senate have passed bills that would extend benefits for many months. When time ran out to reconcile the bills before the break, the House passed a one-month extension to keep benefits flowing. Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican of Oklahoma, stopped that in its tracks, insisting that any additional benefits be paid for with offsetting budget cuts.
It was the second time this year that a Republican senator ignored the harsh realities of joblessness, holding up unemployment checks to make a point about the deficit.
Never mind that so many Americans need the help to hold on to their homes or keep their families fed. Never mind that the economy needs the spending to counter what would otherwise be a devastating slump in consumer demand and more joblessness as a result.
On Monday, the Senate overcame a procedural hurdle in moving the one-month extension forward, upping the chances for passage this week. Leaders in both parties must not tolerate further delays. Jobless workers can't wait. And the calendar must be cleared so that lawmakers can complete work on more comprehensive job measures including aid to states and small businesses and money for infrastructure spending.
To do that, they must counter the posturing with facts: With unemployment at 9.7 percent and the average jobless episode lasting a record 31 weeks getting help to unemployed Americans and creating more jobs is the top priority right now.
Emergency help like unemployment benefits or aid to the states should not be offset with budget cuts, because that would reduce the economic boost that such measures are intended to provide. Congress's sensible pay-as-you-go rules sensibly do not apply to emergency spending.
Those rules do apply to nonemergency spending like the recently passed health care reform or long-term job creation efforts. It is time for lawmakers to stop posturing on the deficit and start coming up with economically sound ways to offset the cost of new programs.
We have two good places to start. Congress could raise $28 billion over the next decade just by closing the loophole that allows wealthy private equity and hedge fund managers to pay a lower rate of tax than most other Americans. It could be enacted immediately without harming the economic recovery. The people to whom it would apply would not be hard pressed even if their taxes rose.
Another good area for savings is President Obama's proposal to bring the enforcement powers of the Labor Department and the Internal Revenue Service to bear on employers who evade taxes when they misclassify employees as independent contractors. That would raise $7 billion over 10 years.
Unless something is done to address the deficit, the American economy will be hobbled for generations to come. But denying benefits to the unemployed is the wrong place to start. The good news is that there are a lot of other ways to save money and raise revenues. We are waiting for members of Congress to come up with their own sensible ideas.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
GAO ZHISHENG, HU JIA, LIU XIAOBO
Washington and Beijing are, rightly, eager to lower tensions. After President Obama met President Hu Jintao of China at the White House on Monday, officials said they had agreed to work together to come up with new sanctions on Iran. That is good news.
Mr. Obama also must squarely acknowledge and protest the Chinese leadership's continuing, ruthless stifling of any serious political dissent. That is bad news for China and the world.
The most recent reminder came when Gao Zhisheng, a crusading human rights lawyer, resurfaced last month. For more than a year, he had disappeared into the clutches of the government security network and many people had feared that he was dead.
Mr. Gao was a dynamic advocate, pushing constitutional reform and representing controversial cases like the Falun Gong spiritual movement. But in a sometimes tearful interview with The Associated Press last week, he announced that he would abandon activism in hopes of being able to reunite with his family. "I don't have the capacity to persevere," he said.
Mr. Gao refused to discuss his ordeal, but we have no reason not to assume the worst. He was jailed on two previous occasions, and he later described his brutal torture by police, including electric shocks to his genitals.
This latest disappearance has been devastating for Mr. Gao and his family, which had been under constant police surveillance for years. Press reports said that his teenage daughter had tried to commit suicide. His wife and children escaped to the United States last year.
Chinese authorities also are doing their best to break two other men of conscience who are still being held. On Monday, family members said the government had rejected a request for a medical parole for Hu Jia, who has shown signs of possible liver cancer. He gained prominence fighting to protect AIDS patients, environmental causes and democratic rights before being charged two years ago with subverting state power.
In February, a Beijing appeals court upheld an 11-year sentence for Liu Xiaobo, who was convicted of subversion for helping organize the Charter 08 manifesto that called for sweeping political reforms.
Mr. Hu and Mr. Liu should be released from jail now. Mr. Gao should be permitted to reunite with his family. Perhaps Mr. Gao can one day again take up the struggle for human rights and justice. He certainly does not have to apologize for "disappointing" his supporters as he did during his interview. Nothing Beijing's autocrats may say or do can take away his legacy of courage in the face of repression.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
POLITICS 1, RULE OF LAW 0
The struggle between President Obama and Republicans on Capitol Hill has claimed a fresh victim Dawn Johnsen. She was Mr. Obama's choice to lead the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. Ms. Johnsen withdrew her nomination after more than a year. It was clear that the White House was not going to fight to save her from Republicans who were refusing to allow a vote on her confirmation.
Ms. Johnsen's problem was not that she lacked strong qualifications to be the legal adviser to the executive branch, informing the White House about what the law requires and what it prohibits. She was the ideal candidate to re-establish the Office of Legal Counsel as a source of scrupulous legal analysis after its complicity in some of the worst excesses of the Bush years.
Ms. Johnsen, a law professor at Indiana University, spent five years in the office under President Bill Clinton, including a period as the acting chief. When word leaked several years ago of a memo that gave the green light to torture, she joined in a statement of principles signed by more than a dozen former lawyers from the office. In the best tradition of the Office of Legal Counsel and the legal profession, it called for more transparency and greater respect for Congress and the courts.
Despite Ms. Johnsen's stellar credentials and the backing of Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican of Indiana, other Republicans tried to turn her commitment to the rule of law into a phony debate about her commitment to fighting terrorism. Her critics also complained that, early in her career, she worked for an abortion-rights advocacy group, though her views in that sphere are well within the mainstream.
The White House let Ms. Johnsen twist in the wind for more than a year and then chose to abandon her nomination rather than get into a battle over an appointment just before Mr. Obama makes his second nomination to the Supreme Court.
Ms. Johnsen's withdrawal comes amid an effort by Liz Cheney, the former vice president's daughter, and others on the far right to smear lawyers in the Obama Justice Department who previously did work for detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. That campaign, and the ill treatment of Ms. Johnsen, send a chilling message to lawyers and others who might be willing to do government service: don't stand on principle and certainly don't speak out in public.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MAYOR BLOOMBERG'S ISLAND
Unable to carry its share of the costs, the New York State government has ceded responsibility for revitalizing Governors Island to New York City which is exactly where the responsibility belongs.
It is now up to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his planners to develop the 172-acre treasure in New York Harbor in a way that benefits the city without crippling its finances.
Under the agreement, announced on Sunday, the city will convert nearly half the island about 87 acres into a public park. The plan, which has evolved somewhat from the original design chosen by the city and state three years ago, would now include the restoration of historic structures, a new high school and, eventually, commercial ventures.
The agreement also means that the city, now struggling with a $5 billion budget deficit, will have to spend $200 million to demolish rundown (but not historic) buildings and convert those areas into park space and walkways. It would then have to maintain the island for public use.
A short boat ride from Lower Manhattan, Governors Island was virtually off limits until about five years ago. It has since become a favorite of summer visitors who can take a free ferry ride over, rent bicycles, tour the forts and enjoy spectacular views of the harbor, the Statue of Liberty and the downtown skyline. Last summer, more than 275,000 people visited the site.
The project adds one more piece to Mayor Bloomberg's grand plan to connect the city and its residents to its once-industrial waterfront. Mr. Bloomberg inherited several promising projects, including the Hudson River Park, but during his tenure both Brooklyn Bridge Park and a bicycle path around Manhattan have begun to take shape. The revival of Coney Island is on track as well.
If Mr. Bloomberg can move these projects to a conclusion, he will have helped create a vastly more livable New York City
THE NEW YORK TIMES
'A DIFFERENT CREATURE'
BY BOB HERBERT
Nancy Pelosi, at lunch, was making the point that this latest recession was not a typical cyclical downturn.
"This is a different creature," she said, "and it demands that we see it in a different way."
The evidence is stark. More than 44 percent of unemployed Americans have been out of work for six months or longer, the highest rate since World War II. Perhaps more chilling is a new analysis by the Pew Economic Policy Group that found that nearly a quarter of the nation's 15 million unemployed workers have been jobless for a year or more.
Everything in Washington is a heavy lift. The successful struggle to pass last year's stimulus package fended off an even worse economic disaster, and the Democrats have managed to enact their health care initiative. But the biggest threat to the health of the economy corrosive, intractable, demoralizing unemployment is still with us. And the deficit zealots, growing in strength, would do nothing to counter this scourge.
Ms. Pelosi acknowledged that "there is always a calibration" between concerns about deficit reduction and the spending that is necessary to substantially reduce unemployment. But she believes there are several fronts on which Congress and the Obama administration can in fact, must still move forward: on infrastructure and green energy initiatives, for example, and assistance to states hobbled with fiscal crises of their own.
The crippling nature of the joblessness that has moved through the society like a devastating virus has gotten neither the attention nor the response that it warrants. One of the more striking findings of the Pew study was that a college education has not been much of a defense against long-term unemployment.
"Twenty-one percent of unemployed workers with a bachelor's degree have been without work for a year or longer," the report found, "compared to 27 percent of unemployed high school graduates and 23 percent of unemployed high school dropouts."
Whole segments of the U.S. population are being left behind, even as economists are touting modest improvements in some categories of economic data, like the creation of 162,000 jobs in March. Jobless workers who are 55 or older are having a brutal time of it. Thirty percent have been jobless for a year or more.
Blue-collar workers are suffering through a crisis characterized as a "depression" by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. Blue-collar job losses during the so-called Great Recession surpassed 5.5 million, and many of those jobs will never be seen again. This disastrous situation will not be corrected, as analysts at the center have noted, "by a modest recovery of the U.S. economy over the next few years."
We need to pay less attention to the Tea Party yahoos and more attention to the very real suffering of individuals and families trapped in an employment crisis that is unprecedented in the post-Depression era. I've been in inner-city neighborhoods where residents will tell you that hardly anyone at all is working at a regular job.
The recession only worsened an employment picture that was already bleak. In a speech at the Harvard Kennedy School last week, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. President Richard Trumka spoke movingly about Americans "trying to hold on to a good job in a grim game of musical chairs where every time the music stopped, there were fewer good jobs and more people trying to get and keep one."
More than eight million jobs vanished during the recession, a period during which three million new jobs would have been needed to keep up with the growth of the population. "That's 11 million missing jobs," said Mr. Trumka.
Right now there is no plan that can even remotely be expected to result in job creation strong enough to rescue the hard-core groups being left behind. These include: long-term unemployed workers who are older; blue-collar workers of all ages; and younger people in the big cities, in the rust belt and in rural areas who are jobless and not well educated.
It is not possible to put together a thriving, self-sustaining economy while so many are being left out. As Mr. Trumka noted, "President Obama's economic recovery program has done a lot of good for working people creating or saving more than two million jobs. But the reality is that two million jobs is just 18 percent of the hole in our labor market."
Ms. Pelosi spoke about "jobs creation" with a tone of urgency and commitment and seemed undeterred by the fact that a big new jobs bill seems hardly feasible in the current political environment.
"You can do smaller pieces," she said. "You can break the task up into segments, into discreet pieces of legislation. If size is a problem, we should not let it be an obstacle."
David Brooks is off today.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM H1N1'S FIRST YEAR
BY RICHARD P. WENZEL
ONE year ago today, a government worker in Oaxaca, Mexico, became the first person to die of swine flu. At the bedsides of other men and women struggling to stay alive in Mexican critical care units, we clinicians noticed early on that this novel H1N1 flu virus diverged from influenza's usual pattern of activity in striking ways. It began in the Northern Hemisphere, not in Asia, and in mid-spring, not late fall or winter. It also had a worrying predilection for children and young adults, not the elderly and newborns.
In the months after those first deaths, the virus ignited a global pandemic. While the epidemic never became as deadly as we initially feared, it was not as mild as some experts now believe. What's more, it exposed some serious shortcomings in the world's public health response.
Those who now describe the pandemic as mild base their conclusion primarily on what, at first, seems like a mortality rate in the United States similar to those seen after seasonal influenza. But my colleagues in developing countries would strongly object.
Though we lack reliable death rates from country to country, certainly no one who helped care for the large
number of critically ill patients in Mexico could conclude that the flu in the United States was as severe as in
developing countries that lacked our resources.
Here, the vaccine arrived later than estimated, and only about 80 million Americans received it not nearly
enough, but a far higher proportion of the population than in many developing countries. In fact, only 26 of 94 poor countries in need of the protective H1N1 vaccine have even received it so far.
We also cannot count as mild any virus that was so devastating for young adults, along with pregnant women, obese patients and minorities.
Worse yet, this virus made itself particularly hard for clinicians to identify. Whereas doctors associate fever and cough with outbreaks of influenza, one-third of patients admitted to hospitals and up to half of infected outpatients in this pandemic had no fever, yet they were infectious.
And because it is likely that only patients with fever were tested for the presence of the virus, we greatly underestimated the number of people infected. A telling report from Britain showed that when children were tested in cross sectional surveys after the first wave of infection, one in three had antibodies to the virus, meaning that they had been infected this was 10 times more people than estimated from clinical surveillance.
H1N1 posed huge infection-control problems, especially in hospitals. This was because it was found not only on
hard surfaces in the environment, which is common to all influenza strains, but in the stool of patients, a feature
of avian influenza.
Public health groups emphasized the necessity of frequent hand-washing, which surely helped reduce transmission. But those groups also disagreed on other preventatives: for instance, the World Health Organization and Society for Health Care Epidemiologists of America recommended the relatively inexpensive surgical mask, whereas the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention argued for the N-95 respirator mask.
In our own country, the virus struck at a time when Americans seemed particularly skeptical about our government and large institutions. The C.D.C. faced an uphill battle to characterize the trajectory of the pandemic, to define its impact, to offer suggestions and to convince a wary public to get vaccinated.
At times, health officials erred in their recommendations. C.D.C. authorities often said that ill children and adults could go back to school or work 24 hours after their fever disappeared even though young children are contagious for up to three weeks and adults for 5 to 7 days.
It is not an easy task, but our public health authorities need to become clearer about the lexicon of uncertainty what they know and don't know about a pandemic. They also need to be transparent about how they devise their recommendations, which often have to balance between infection control and the daily activities of offices and schools. And we need to identify which social distancing techniques truly help control pandemics for example, does the closing of schools and malls minimize the spread of viruses from infected children to adults?
One year after its appearance, we continue to have many unanswered questions about the virus. Will the novel H1N1 agent become a persistent seasonal virus? Can we produce vaccine more quickly by moving to a cell-based rather than egg-based method? Can we possibly identify the Holy Grail of influenza vaccination, finding a virus target common to all influenza A strains so that we can administer a single vaccination at 10-year intervals?
Even as we work to solve these enigmas, we can try to prepare better for future pandemics. First, we need to approach disease control not as individual nations, but as a global community. In this, Mexico has already set an excellent example. Only 10 days passed between Mexican health authorities' recognition of a possible new epidemic and their announcement of it, a sharp contrast to the many months in 2003 between the outbreak of SARS in China and its public declaration.
Mexico's transparency was a policy decision made with full recognition of the unfavorable economic consequences from H1N1, now estimated to have cost almost 1 percent of the gross domestic product. Thanks to that decision, we had an edge in fighting this virus. We should find ways to financially reward early reporting of novel infectious agents, while doing a better job of sharing resources and agreeing on common containment strategies.
Second, we should rely not just on governments for reporting but on the cooperative efforts of international health organizations as well. These groups should set up better sentinel reporting systems in places where new swine or avian variants are most likely to occur wherever people and pigs or birds live closely together so that they can identify new virus progeny quickly.
Eventually, we'll also need to encourage farmers in developing countries to follow agricultural and safety practices that make it less likely that viruses will jump species.One predicts influenza at his own peril, but it is likely that H1N1 will continue to cause sporadic cases. In some highly susceptible, unvaccinated populations it may even produce local outbreaks.
But the struggle between people and pathogens is a part of life itself. We cannot continue to be surprised every
time a new virus emerges. Instead, we must use the lessons we've learned during the year since H1N1 arrived to
develop more effective public health responses.Richard P. Wenzel is a professor of internal medicine and a specialist in infectious diseases at Virginia Commonwealth University.
I. THE NEWS
A complex ganglion of threads relating to matters nuclear has emerged in Washington. Forty-seven world leaders (excluding North Korea, Iran and Syria) have gathered to discuss nuclear security. They do so against a backdrop of the recently issued 22,000-word Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) which sets out to redefine America's stance vis-a-vis the use of nuclear weapons and mechanisms of non-proliferation. Before the conference is underway India has been busy on the sidelines, talking up its concern over American military support for us as well as our growing stature in Afghanistan and the ever-present worry of our nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands. President Obama has dealt with the latter by saying that he is satisfied with our security arrangements, and as for the other two issues India needs to feel the wind of real-politik and understand that America has decided, belatedly, to see Pakistan as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. By viewing Pakistan as an ally rather than a grudging collaborator, the level of perceived threat posed by ourselves is reduced and tensions have the potential to abate. The key clause in the NPR that indicates that we may in future see cooperation and support from the US in developing civil nuclear assets reads "We support expanding access to the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology, but this must be done in a way that does not promote proliferation of nuclear weapons capabilities."
Our opponents and it is not just India would not wish us to be recognised as a responsible nuclear state and will fight to ensure we are denied that recognition. Hitherto it has very much suited India for us to be seen as part of the problem and not a part of the solution; and the postural adjustments that are now proposed take us closer to the inner circle and civilian nuclear assistance. It is one thing to proclaim responsibility, another to demonstrate it. America would not have shifted position on a matter as fundamental as nuclear security unless it was satisfied that we were walking the walk and not just talking the talk. American diplomats, post to the recent bilateral strategic talks, commented that for the first time they felt that Pakistan was 'playing it straight' which is something of a backhanded compliment but welcome nonetheless. There are still legitimate concerns about the determination of groups like Lashkar-i-Taiba to obtain a 'dirty bomb' and if we are to foster the emerging sense of alliance then we have to demonstrate that those concerns are being addressed effectively by ourselves. All clubs have a membership fee. The civilian nuclear club that we wish membership of charges a fee we can afford, but will we, in the end, choose to pay it?
I. THE NEWS
The military action against militants continues in Orakzai Agency and other parts in the north. Latest reports speak of a high civilian toll as a result of bombing in the Orakzai area. Local people are distressed; tribesmen have spoken out against the action. The lack of adequate medical facilities in the area makes the situation worse with the injured having to be shifted to hospitals in Peshawar. Closed roads and the lack of transport have added to the perils. The question of civilian casualties is one that has plagued the war on terror from the very start. It is still to be adequately addressed. Indeed, in Bajaur, South Waziristan, Swat and elsewhere local people caught up in the conflict complain that too little has been done for them. These complaints need to be taken very seriously. The state must establish itself as an ally in the eyes of the people. It can do so only by making an effort to improve the quality of lives people lead. Schools must be repaired, hospitals established and farmers offered help with re-establishing their means of livelihood. Indeed it was the failure over the past years to guarantee people some access to basic needs which allowed the militants to gain so strong a hold in the first place. The conviction that the state cared little for them built support for the Taliban.
It is true that in any situation of conflict, suffering cannot entirely be avoided. But there is a desperate need to minimize it for ordinary people and to offer them the protection that is their right to receive from the state. Gaining goodwill is vital. The NWFP government needs to take the lead in this. The military has done its job by going all out to hunt down the militants. The government must now move faster to rebuild ravaged areas and, where necessary, to protect people still at risk. Evacuations need to be considered. Despite repeated calls from human rights bodies these have not taken place. The need for secrecy in the conduct of military operations has been cited as one reason for this. But there are ways round this issue. Moving people away from villages will give very little away and will show a respect for human life, demonstrating that the government does not consider people pawns that can casually be sacrificed in battles.
I. THE NEWS
A CITY IN RUINS
A report states the ancient city of Bhanbore, where the Sassi-Pannu legend so integral to Sindhi culture is based, faces ruin as a result of sea intrusion. The city, located around 50 kilometres from Karachi, is also associated with Mohammad Bin Qasim and his landing in Sindh. Indeed, beyond Bhanbore, rising sea levels threaten other coastal areas in Sindh and are the result of declining water flows in the Indus and its tributaries. This is a matter that must be addressed. The issue of water reaching the delta areas of the Indus is not new. The protests against dams upstream of the river are linked to this problem which has had an adverse impact on farming across the area. At the same time it is also important that history be preserved. The risk that Bhanbore faces needs to be taken heed of. A nation that loses its history is, in many ways, in danger of losing its identity and all that it stands for.
NGOs concerned with the environment and culture have already taken up the issue. It is time now for the government to do so as well and take whatever measures are required to save the city. In the past dykes such as those which wall off the sea in Holland have been suggested as one possible answer to the problem. The matter may seem a trivial one. But it should not be ignored. Experts need to be called in to suggest solutions and ensure that a site which has so much significance is not washed away forever as a result of neglect.
I. THE NEWS
SIX HELLISH DAYS
Tragedies continue to occur in parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the new name of an unfortunate province that has suffered the most as a result of 'strategic' policies formulated and pursued by men in uniform. One tragedy struck Timergara in Dir Lower district where 55 workers of the ruling Awami National Party celebrating the renaming of their province were killed in the April 5 suicide bombing, and the other hit Khyber Agency's Tirah valley where bombardment by Pakistan Air Force jet-fighters on April 10 caused the death of 63 civilians.
The death toll in the two incidents was almost equal and those who died had done nothing against the ones who dispatched them to a violent end. Almost 100 people were injured in the Timergara blast, some maimed for life and others forced to depend on charity and government handouts to survive. Around 80 people wounded in the Tirah incident were brought to hospitals in Peshawar by relatives and friends with great difficulty after walking through mountains and driving on unpaved roads. As usual, there was no government support to transport or airlift the injured and the dying to Peshawar hospitals. The Timergara injured were luckier, if one can use this term, as the ANP-led provincial government ensured that most of them were flown in military helicopters to Peshawar to save lives.
Apart from the Timergara and Tirah tragedies, there was also the coordinated attack on the US consulate general in Peshawar. It was after a while that Peshawar experienced an act of terrorism and its inhabitants and defenders were reminded that their city still wasn't safe. The attack happened on the same day as the Timergara bombing, showing the capabilities of the militants in striking at two-far away locations in different parts of the province. At least three suicide bombers stormed their target but failed to enter the heavily-guarded consulate premises. The death toll was eight, among them brave private security guards who are mostly hired at low salaries by mushrooming firms throughout Pakistan and required to work for long hours.
The US consulate general was an obvious target for the militants and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was quick to claim responsibility for the attack. One was surprised that it wasn't attacked earlier, though it was apparent that the tight security put in place at the consulate and its location in the fortified Peshawar Cantonment area was the major reason for deterring the militants. The layers of security came at a cost as the Hospital Road, once a busy thoroughfare where the consulate is located, has been closed to the public for years. There has been much talk and no action to shift the consulate to a more secure place or set aside an enclave for the few diplomatic missions operating in Peshawar. The US consulate in Peshawar neither issues visas nor does it perform any other useful work and one wonders if it won't be a good idea to close it until the situation becomes normal. This would deprive the militants of a tempting target and ease the burden on the over-worked and tense law-enforcement agencies protecting the citizens of Peshawar.
The TTP and its Swat chapter added one more crime to their bloody resume by claiming responsibility for the Timergara suicide bombing. There was no justification for the collective punishment inflicted on ordinary ANP workers innocently celebrating the renaming of NWFP. No doubt the militants and the ANP are sworn enemies, but certain values like sparing the innocent must be kept in mind while seeking revenge. It was a sin causing death and destruction on such a scale against political workers and sowing the seeds of blood-feuds that would continue for generations. Questions are being asked about the futility of holding such an event with inadequate security in an area that isn't an ANP stronghold and where Taliban militants had only recently been flushed out after a tough military operation. In fact, the previous day an officially-sanctioned and protected ANP rally had been staged in Dir Lower under the leadership of provincial minister Hidayatullah Khan to rejoice over Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and there was no need to organize a similar event.
The ANP leadership needs to review its decision to celebrate the renaming at a time when the province is bleeding due to militancy and military operations and where around a million people remain displaced from their homes. There is no doubt that the renaming of the province has corrected a historical wrong and given an identity to its majority Pakhtun population. But celebrations ought to be tempered by the realization about the grave ground realities prevailing in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Public displays of joys through fireworks, dancing and drum-beating appear out of a place and even provocative to opponents of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in these times of sorrow. Most people are in no mood to celebrate something that won't end their suffering caused by insecurity, lawlessness, price hike, joblessness and electricity breakdowns.
The Tirah tragedy was avoidable. As has been its method, the military initially claimed killing 35 militants in the bombing in Sra Vella village inhabited by the largely pro-government Kukikhel Afridi sub-tribe. Even when reports emerged that all or most of the 63 people slain in the bombardment were civilians, the military authorities kept quiet. In fact, the military has refused to concede civilian casualties, or 'collateral damage' in all its offensives todate in Swat and rest of Malakand division and in the tribal areas. Admitting the loss of civilian lives in misdirected aerial strikes, artillery shelling and raids and apologizing for the 'collateral damage' won't do any harm to the image of the military as the people understand that such incidents do happen in battle. In fact, this could reduce the pain of the bereaved families because the usual practice of referring to their loved ones as 'militants' or 'miscreants' invariably contributes to their agony.
The Khyber Agency administration is now required to do damage control and lessen the pain of the families that lost 63 members and are tending to the scores of others who sustained injuries. The political agent of Khyber Agency convened a jirga of the Kukikhel tribal elders on April 12, offered apology for the civilian deaths and announced Rs10 million as compensation for the innocent among those killed and injured in Tirah. However, federal minister for environment, Hamidullah Jan Afridi, who belongs to Khyber Agency, wants the Pakistan Air Force to tender an apology for the deaths of innocent people and is seeking accountability of those responsible for the tragedy.
The irony of the situation is that three sons of late Hameed Khan, whose three-storey house was bombed by the jet-fighters in Sra Vella in the first strike, are reportedly serving in Pakistan's security forces. They were on duty when their house was bombed and five to six of their family members including women and children were killed. The second bombing raid was far more devastating as rescuers who had rushed to retrieve bodies and recover the injured were attacked. Militants by now know that there could be a second strike and, therefore, avoid congregating at the site of an earlier aerial raid. Unassuming civilians often become victim of such attacks. Besides, aerial bombardment invariably causes 'collateral damage' and more so in an area as inaccessible and closed as Tirah valley where the government presence is non-existent and intelligence-gathering is difficult. As someone remarked, the drones with laser-guided missiles are far more on target in remote places than jet-fighters and gunship-helicopters.
The military needs to improve intelligence-gathering to undertake targetted raids to avoid tragic happenings. Undoubtedly, Taliban militants and those aligned to Lashkar-i-Islam, Ansarul Islam and other groups are based in Tirah valley and it may not be easy to differentiate friends from foes due to inadequate intelligence. But not bombing should be the preferred option than unleashing airpower in case of insufficient or faulty intelligence. The Tirah tragedy could likely provoke members of the bereaved families to turn to militancy and seek revenge. And Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa would continue to suffer tragedies perpetrated by the militants and, at times, inadvertently at the hands of the military.
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
CHECKING THE INDUS
SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR
Politicians and Islamic outfits in Pakistan accuse India of stealing upstream Indus system waters, threatening Pakistan's very existence. More sober Pakistanis complain that numerous new Indian projects on the Jhelum and Chenab will create substantial live storage even in run-of-the-river hydel dams. This will enable India to drastically reduce flows to Pakistan during the crucial sowing season, something that actually happened for a couple of days when the Baglihar reservoir was filled by India after dam completion
India accuses Pakistan of hysteria, saying there is really no issue since India has always observed the Indus Waters Treaty dividing the waters of the Indus and Punjab rivers between the two countries. Pakistan may suffer from water scarcity but so does India.
Inter-state fights over water in India are humungous -- Punjab vs Haryana, Karnataka vs Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh vs Maharashtra. Water raises passions, and farmers in all states claim they are being robbed of water, without going into the rather complex facts. Pakistan is no different, say Indian experts, so let's shrug aside Pakistani rhetoric.
What this debate misses is that dam-based canal irrigation is an obsolete, wasteful 19th century technology that cannot meet 21st century needs. It must be replaced by sprinkler and drip irrigation, distributed through pressurised plastic pipes. This approach has enabled Israel to irrigate the desert. It can enable India and Pakistan to triple the irrigated area with their existing water resources, escaping water scarcity. Drip and sprinkler irrigation systems are expensive. They use a lot of power for pumping. But they greatly improve yields too. Israel's agriculture is highly competitive.
Canals are hugely wasteful of both land and water, something well-captured in Tushaar Shah's book 'Taming the Anarchy'. Up to 7 per cent of the command area of a conventional irrigation project is taken up by canals, and this no longer makes sense when land is worth lakhs per acre. In the Narmada command area, farmers have refused to give up their land to build distributaries from the main Narmada canal, so only a small portion of the irrigation potential is actually used today.
Traditionally, the South Asian farmers have levelled their land and flooded it with irrigation water. Rice is typically grown in standing water. This entails enormous water losses through evaporation in canals and flooded fields. This mattered little in the 19th century when land and water were relatively abundant. It matters hugely today. Piped water greatly economises the use of both land and water.
Instead of canals, we can transport water through underground pipes that leave the land above free for cultivation. Indeed, the downhill flow of water through massive pipes can run turbines, generating electricity for pumping the water to the surface where required.
The canal system makes farmers prisoners of the water releases decided by canal headquarters. If canal water is released to a village section say once a month, farmers can grow only those crops suited to this irrigation schedule. This was acceptable in the 19th century when farms were large and grew the same crop, and technology and markets for unconventional crops were scarce.
But today farmers want to diversify into a wide diversity of crops, and for this they need water on demand. This is why they have gone in a huge way for tube well irrigation. This gives them water on demand, enabling them to grow what they like. India's green revolution was based overwhelmingly on tube well irrigation: the Bhakra Dam contributed hardly anything to it, save that Bhakra canal waters leaked into the ground and helped recharge underground aquifers. The same was true of the green revolution in Pakistan too.
This does not cease to make water an emotive issue. Punjab and Haryana fight bitterly over canal water although 80 per cent of their irrigation is based on tube wells. Punjab has refused to let the Sutlej-Yamuna Link be completed. Yet not even this has saved the state from water scarcity, since excessive tube well pumping is emptying aquifers. The same thing is happening in Punjab.
Gujarat has shown the way out of this water crisis. It has gone in a big way for drip and sprinkler irrigation. It has been rewarded with an astounding agricultural growth rate of 9 per cent despite being a semi-arid state. Jain Irrigation has become one of the biggest producers of drip and sprinkler equipment in the world, and other corporate rivals are coming up fast.
Like Gujarat, India and Pakistan need to replace canal-based irrigation with pipe-based irrigation. India has world-class technology and equipment that it can share with Pakistan. Such co-operation cannot end controversies over Indus water sharing. But it can take the sting out of them.
The writer is consulting editor for the Economic Times. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
As more and more details of the Constitution Amendment Bill come under public scrutiny, it is becoming clear why there is such a headlong rush in getting it passed by parliament. To quote Shakespeare, "Though this be madness, yet there is method in it." Or a piece of constitutional sleight of hand.
The main avowed purposes of the bill are four: (1) to restore a true parliamentary system of government; (2) to empower the parliament; (3) to depoliticise appointments to the superior judiciary; and (4) to give greater autonomy to the provinces. Even a cursory examination of the text of the bill shows that it will fail to achieve the first three, while the fourth object more powers to the provinces, which is highly desirable in itself , is needlessly being accompanied by a quite unnecessary and potentially dangerous weakening of the federal government and legislature, which none of the provinces has demanded.
The main achievement of the bill touted by its authors is that it will restore parliamentary democracy. But that is true only in a formal sense. The new Article 91 declares the prime minister to be the "chief executive" of the federation incidentally, a bizarre use of a term which is usually reserved for the corporate world but the substance of power will remain with Zardari.
Anyone who thinks the appointment of the army chief or cabinet ministers will now be in the hands of Gilani should wake up. The locus of power will remain in the Presidency and will not move to the to the Prime Minister's House.
That is not only because Gilani knows his place. It is also because the constitutional amendment fails to spell out, as it should have, that the president will stay out of party politics after his election. In all established parliamentary democracies with an elected head of state, bar none, he is either a non-political figure or severs his political links after assuming office. This is also implicit in Article 41, which states that the president represents the unity of the republic. He obviously cannot perform this role if he is identified with a particular political party.
All previous elected presidents of Pakistan under the 1973 Constitution have kept out of active politics. But Zardari has no such intention, and will stay as the party leader and the de facto executive head of the country after the passage of the amendment bill.
Besides, the amended Article 63A on the disqualification of defecting members of parliament will virtually give future party heads dictatorial powers over MNAs and senators. The party head will not be required to be an elected member of parliament. He need not even be living in the country. Besides, there will be no constitutional requirement that he should have been elected to the party leadership. All this is clearly designed to give Zardari and the next generation of the family represented by Bilawal Zardari a permanent hold over the PPP, and through it over the political destinies of the country.
Since other major parties of the country the PML-N, the PML-Q, the ANP, the MQM and the JUI-F are also treated by their leaders as personal fiefdoms, they too have supported the amendment to Article 63A, authorising the party head, in place of the parliamentary leader, to declare that an elected member of the party has defected and therefore disqualified himself from continuing his membership of the parliament. The personality cult in the MQM reached its height when a few months ago the birthday of the daughter of the Quaid was celebrated in the country and abroad with a spontaneous outburst of joy. This would have made even Stalin blush. Even he did not order party festivities to celebrate the birthdays of his children.
Dynastic politics will receive a boost also from the proposed deletion of Article 17(4), which presently makes intra-party election of party leaders mandatory. The PML-N's Ahsan Iqbal has tried to justify it by pointing out that it was inserted under the Legal Framework Order by the-then military dictator, and that since the Political Parties Act already provides for intra-party elections, a constitutional provision to that effect was unnecessary.
Will he please explain why some other provisions of the LFO (like lowering of the voters' age and increase in the size of the assemblies) have been retained? Also, why has it not been found necessary to delete also as well the provision in Article 51 (6) (a) that members of the National Assembly shall be elected by direct vote? Doesn't the Representation of the People Act also provide for direct elections?
The reason why intra-party elections must remain mandatory under the Constitution is that an ordinary law can always be changed by the government in power through a simple majority of votes in parliament, or even through an ordinance, while a constitutional guarantee can only be withdrawn with the approval of two-thirds majorities in both houses. Moreover, a guarantee given under Article 17 can be invoked before a High Court or the Supreme Court under their original jurisdiction.
As regards the legislative supremacy of the parliament, or the much-touted "parliamentary sovereignty," there is no bigger threat to it than the misuse of the government's ordinance-making power which short-circuits the process of parliamentary and public scrutiny before a law is approved. Yet, instead of limiting this power, the 18th Amendment actually enhances it, so that in future the maximum life of an ordinance will be not four months but almost one year. All that a government would need is resolutions in the two houses of parliament. It is a devastating commentary on our parliament that it is abdicating to the government its primary function, which is to pass laws.
The abolition of the concurrent list, which is being sold as a major step to increased provincial autonomy, is the most harmful of the proposed amendments. To his credit, S. M. Zafar, a senior and experienced member of the Constitutional Reform Committee, has been arguing forcefully for the retention of the list. But his carefully reasoned arguments have largely fallen on deaf ears because in the Charter of Democracy the PPP PML-N and the PPP PML-N made a commitment to abolish the list and are now unwilling to "re-open" this issue.
An In his article of April 11, by Babar Sattar which appeared in this paper on 11 April defends this step on the ground that it would will give the provinces greater power to legislate for themselves in matters of civil and criminal law. This argument is based on the popular misconception that the provinces cannot do so at present. The fact is that they already have this power under the concurrent list. What the abolition of this list would do is to take away the power of the federal parliament to legislate on these matters when country-wide uniformity is needed. All that needs to be done to strengthen provincial autonomy is to lay down that a provincial law would prevail over a federal law if the provincial assembly passes it with a qualified majority, such as a majority of its total membership.
Another point made by Babar Sattar in support of the abolition of the concurrent list is that, after it is adopted, a progressive provincial assembly, such as that of Sindh, would will be able to amend an obnoxious federal law like the Hudood Ordinance or abolish the death penalty. This too is based on a misreading of the 18th Amendment, because under the proposed Article 142 (b), criminal law will remain a concurrent subject, and under Article 145, a provincial law which is repugnant to a federal law will be void.
All these issues need to be thoroughly debated in parliament and the public. This debate is being stifled by the mad rush to pass the bill in a matter of a few days. If this is not stopped, the country will be landed with a plethora of serious political and constitutional difficulties.
The writer is a former member of the Foreign Service. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
ON RELEASING POVERTY NUMBERS
DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
Statistics speak all languages, affect all policies, and touch all aspects of people's lives. It is difficult to overemphasise how critical statistics are for policymakers in guiding their work, assessing the impact of their policies and changing direction when needed. If the authorities have access to better statistics, their efforts to fight poverty and promote better life for the people would be more effective. The case in hand is poverty statistics, which have not been released by the government for over one year.
The Center for Poverty Reduction and Social Policy Development (CPRSPD) of the Planning Commission has estimated the extent of poverty in Pakistan by using the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey, commonly known as the PSLM Survey, for the year 2007-08. The CPRSPD found a sharp decline in nation-wide poverty in 2007-08 over 2005-06. It found that the number of people living below the poverty line declined from 22.3 per cent in 2005-06 to 17.2 per cent in 2007-08. Rural and urban poverty also registered declines from 27 to 20.6 per cent and 13.1 to 10.1 per cent, respectively during the period. These results were also validated by the World Bank experts, Mr Nobu Yoshida and Tomayuki Sho, especially flown from the World Bank headquarters at the request of the government of Pakistan. These two experts conducted their validation exercise and presented their results to the Planning Commission on May 29, 2009.The World Bank experts recommended that the government should release these numbers because these are credible.
Despite the World Bank's recommendation, the government has not yet released the poverty numbers. Why is it so reluctant in releasing the poverty numbers? To answer this question, I will have to remind the readers that immediately after taking charge of the state of affairs the present government had formed a Panel of Economists headed by Dr Hafiz Pasha in April 2008. The panel found that 35-40 per cent of the population was living below the poverty line in 2007-08 up from 22.3 per cent in 2005-06.
It is important to note that when the panel was working on poverty estimates, the PSLM Survey data for 2007-08 was not available. They estimated the numbers using some methodology which was never revealed by them. It is now exceedingly clear that the estimates were based on flawed methodology. I had objected to the use of such methodology because I was then associated with the ministry of finance. The visiting World Bank team at that time was also of the same opinion.
The political leadership, unaware of the technical details, took the estimates of the panel seriously and everybody, including the president, the prime minister, and the cabinet ministers started mentioning the numbers within and outside the country. Even the same numbers as estimated by the panel appeared in the document of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FODP) meeting held in Tokyo last year.
The political leadership had no reason to distrust the professional skills of the economists in the panel. However, their only fault was that they could not realise that some members of the panel were positioning themselves to get lucrative assignments and some retired "experts" were trying to secure their jobs in the government.
How could the government release the poverty numbers of the CPRSPD? How could it comply with the recommendations of the World Bank to release the numbers? The CPRSPD found a sharp decline in poverty, which was validated by the World Bank. The panel under the leadership of Dr Hafiz Pasha on the other hand found a sharp increase in poverty. This is a real embarrassment for the government. How could it tell the world in general and people of Pakistan in particular that poverty numbers which they were propagating were wrong and based on flawed methodology? I have all the sympathy with the political leadership.
The question generally being raised by some stubborn "experts" that the poverty numbers estimated by the CPRSPD and validated by the World Bank do not represent the current ground reality. How could this be the representative of the current ground reality when the survey itself was conducted from July 2007 to June 2008? The current ground reality will be reflected when the PSLM survey for 2010-11, if at all, will be conducted.
Not releasing the numbers has wide-ranging consequences. First, the benchmark for the poverty numbers is five years old (2005-06). Second, the next PSLM survey which was to be conducted in 2009-10 has been delayed. Third, the government is trying to conduct a fresh survey which is not in line with the PSLM methodology. This is tantamount to moving the goalpost and destroying the poverty numbers.
My appeal to the newly-appointed advisor to the prime minister on finance, Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh is to release the 2007-08 poverty estimates. I also suggest that we should not conduct any poverty survey which will be a substitute for the PSLM survey. Similarly, do not change the goalpost even if we do not like the numbers, lest we will never be able to know as to what is happening on the poverty front.
Poverty may have increased in Pakistan after 2007-08. The global economic crisis in 2008 has brought miseries for the people of Asia-Pacific region. More than 26 million people could lose jobs by the end of 2010; and millions who took decades to work their way out of poverty have slipped back in it. Pakistan is part of the region and is no exception. Rise in poverty is a global phenomenon and we should not be apologetic on this count. The panel has not only embarrassed the government but has also brought a bad name for the country. It is in the interest of Dr Shaikh and in the interest of the country that such "experts" are kept outside the Q-block.
The writer is director general and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: ah email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
GAPS IN OBAMA'S AFGHAN STRATEGY
DR MALEEHA LODHI
The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.
US officials have repeatedly said that military action alone will not stabilise Afghanistan. This was what the administration's policy review concluded last year, even though President Barack Obama chose to accompany this acknowledgement by sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, more than doubling US military forces there.
Now, with relations between the Obama administration and the Karzai government sinking to a new low, questions are raised afresh about Washington's approach especially if there is a viable political track to synchronise with the military offensives unfolding in Afghanistan. Whatever political strategy the US has seems to be in disarray.
At the heart of strained ties with Kabul lies Washington's frustration with the Karzai administration's lack of capacity to govern and reform. This has renewed doubts about the ultimate fate of the US-led mission.
The ongoing Kabul-Washington tensions are not about to prompt the US to abandon Karzai. What is being abandoned for now is the approach of putting public pressure on him, as this is deemed to be counterproductive. At this juncture Karzai is the only option for Washington, which chose him, in the first place.
Even so, the US view of the Afghan president as ineffective and unreliable complicates the challenge as the Afghan endgame approaches. American officials have long acknowledged that their strategy rests on the Afghan government's ability to take the lead so that the US can gradually withdraw from Afghanistan. Testy relations between the two countries obviously hinder movement towards accomplishing this objective.
Relations between President Karzai and the Obama administration never really warmed. Candidate Obama made no secret during the campaign that he regarded Karzai as a problematic partner. When Senator Joseph Biden later to be vice president walked out of a dinner with Karzai in Kabul after a row over corruption in February 2008, this suggested turbulence ahead.
The current rift has come on the eve of what American officials see as a decisive military campaign in Kandahar aimed at reversing the Taliban's momentum and forcing them to the negotiating table, so as to pave the way for starting to pull troops out in July 2011. But if there is no credible administration to take over, this raises the question whether Washington is pursuing only tactical objectives secure areas in the planned offensive in Kandahar with no credible game plan for what happens after.
The latest flare-up in relations between Washington and Kabul seems in large part to be the consequence of the fraud-stricken presidential election last August. Allegations of fraud threw Afghanistan into political ferment, which in turn forced the Obama administration to delay its policy review. It was not until December 2009 that the new strategy was announced.
A confidential cable from the US envoy in Kabul, Karl Ikenberry, that was leaked last November, warned that any decision to send more troops needed to be carefully weighed as Karzai was "not an adequate strategic partner."
Since then, Washington has frequently and publicly called on Karzai to clean up his act, making it plain that US goals in Afghanistan would be in jeopardy if he didn't address the weaknesses in his administration. From issues of corruption to the composition of the election watchdog commission that exposed the fraud in last year's election, disagreements between Kabul and Washington seemed to multiply. By hosting the Iranian president, Karzai added to the issues of contention with the US.
President Obama's fleeting visit to Afghanistan last month his first since his entering the White House only deepened the rift. Days after Washington again publicly critiqued his performance, Karzai lashed out at his Western critics. In a number of speeches he denounced the foreign involvement in Afghanistan and accused the United Nations and Western embassies of orchestrating last year's election fraud. "Foreigners," he said, wanted a "puppet government."
In remarks to members of parliament Karzai said that if foreign meddling in his government did not cease, the Taliban would become a legitimate resistance movement that he might even join.
This prompted a sharp response from Washington that described Karzai's comments as "troubling" and "untruthful." Even as efforts got underway to defuse tensions including a phone call by Karzai to US secretary of state Hillary Clinton Karzai continued to make blistering statements.
Did this outburst of tantrums and pique over his public humiliation by Washington reflect a pattern of erratic behaviour? Or was it a calculated move to play to nationalist sentiment to make himself more legitimate and acceptable to the Taliban as he pursues "reconciliation" with the insurgents? Perhaps it was a combination of all of the above.
Some American officials suggest that Karzai's annoyance was also prompted by the warming in US-Pakistan ties. The attention given to Pakistan in the strategic dialogue last month appeared to have rattled him.
Both Kabul and Washington are now engaged in trying to mend the rift. But the trouble-prone relationship exposes a strategic flaw in the Obama plan: the lack of a credible partner that can provide effective governance.
This refocuses attention on the assumptions on which the US-led mission in Afghanistan continues to rest. All the three key premises of US strategy fashioned after protracted reviews in 2009 are open to question. One, that the surge-enabled military offensive will be able to subdue the Taliban; two, that once that happens, it will be possible to transfer control to Afghan governance structures; and, three, security responsibilities will be gradually handed over to a national army which would by then have been sufficiently built up.
As far as the first premise is concerned, it is not at all certain whether the planned assaults will be able to decisively inflict military reversals on the Taliban. Very likely the Taliban will "melt away" and wait out foreign forces until Western patience is exhausted. This scenario will make eventual talks with the insurgents even more difficult.
Even if the military campaign enables coalition forces to "take and hold" territory, how will this be sustained if assumption two doesn't kick in: a credible administration that is able to win local confidence and create an environment of effective governance that is inhospitable to the return of the Taliban?
The third assumption rests on the plan to build the Afghan National Army (ANA) to a point where it can begin to assume security functions and hold its own against the Taliban. This is hardly a feasible objective within the timeframe set--i.e., by July 2011, when these responsibilities will begin to be transferred.
It has taken eight years to establish a force of 90,000, of which not one unit is capable of undertaking combat on its own. Problems of desertion, lack of literacy, and inadequate Pakhtun representation have yet to be addressed. They are unlikely to be resolved to achieve the target of 134,000 by the end of this year under the American plan.
All this suggests that the US-led mission is still gambling on military gains aimed at strengthening Washington's bargaining position in the face of lengthening odds but a shortening time frame. If there is a disconnect between military action and political strategy and different elements of the US approach are not aligned in terms of timeframe, resources and capacity, it is hard to see how the stated objectives can be achieved.
American officials continue to believe that once the military offensive changes the reality on the ground, this will bring a weakened Taliban to the negotiating table. Talks with the insurgents for a political solution will therefore have to wait for this to happen.
But can a plan with so many gaps produce this outcome? Moreover the chances of negotiating a settlement are likely to be better if pursued earlier rather than later. Instead of pursuing more tactical objectives by the coming military assault, it makes greater sense to seek a political resolution of the war now, rather than risk having to confront a far messier situation down the road.
I. THE NEWS
THE 18TH AND AFTER
MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN
The successful passage of the 18th Amendment in the National Assembly has proved that our politicians of different shades can work together if the goal is political stability and national harmony. It was a considerable achievement considering the fact that the PPP, the largest party in the National Assembly, with 124 members, faces a shortfall of 50 votes to command even a simple majority. However, for ordinary legislation "'all decisions of the National Assembly shall be taken by the majority of the members present and voting'." According to this proviso the government needs only one-fourth of the total membership (86 MNAs) to carry out the legislative business. A number less than 86 would invite a quorum objection, obliging the Speaker to suspend the proceedings.
The number of votes required for the passage of a constitutional amendment is considerably higher. It has to be passed by the "'votes of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of the House'." Thus, the minimum requirement for the a successful passage would be 228 votes in the National Assembly NA and 67 votes in the Senate. It is for good reason that the procedure for amending the Constitution has been made relatively difficult. The Constitution, 73 is the basic document of the state, was made promulgated by an elected assembly with the consensus of the provinces. Therefore, it becomes essential for the sake of provincial harmony that constitutional bills are backed by provincial consensus. The Special Committee had representation from all the provinces. The constitutional package that it recommended to the National Assembly NA had the consensus of all the provinces.
The military dictators, Zia and Musharraf, made fun of the Constitution 1973 by amending it at will. Zia had publicly said that he considered the constitution a piece of paper, which he could throw away at his own sweet will. They both had disfigured the Constitution 73 beyond recognition. It was the promise of the PPP and other political parties that they will restore the Constitution to its original form. Once the Senate passes this bill, this promise will stand fulfilled. The stinking amendments made by Zia and Musharraf will stand repealed, bringing back the fragrance of Constitution 73.
For the successful passage of the constitutional amendment in the NA National Assembly, the government needed 228 votes, which it collected with apparent ease. In the Senate the government might face difficulties in securing two-thirds votes of the total number of votes, which comes to 66 votes. However, no party in the Senate is in a position to block the amendment. Moreover, the senators will vote for the amendments as their party colleagues have done in the National Assembly.
The issue of provincial autonomy often crops up, giving rise to acrimony between Islamabad and the provinces and Islamabad. The present government has given serious thought for to the solution of this recurring problem. The removal of the Concurrent Legislative List is the first tangible step towards provincial autonomy. It gives the provinces exclusive right to legislate on 47 subjects enumerated in the Concurrent List. It does reduce the number of subjects from the federal jurisdiction.
But the Centre is still left with the Federal Legislative List of 67 subjects, which include taxes and duties of various kinds. It also includes fearful subject like "'migration from or into, or settlement in, a province or the Federal Capital'." It gives federal government the constitutional right to control the movement of the population within the country. For instance, it could make laws to organise and control the migration of people to the overcrowded cities.
By restoring the Constitution Pakistan has taken an important step forwards to national cohesion. It bodes well for democracy if the Constitution is applied in letter and spirit.
Email: mirjrahman@hotmail .com
NO RELIEF IN SIGHT FOR MASSES
THERE seems to be no end in sight to the miseries of the people, who are now violently protesting against phenomenal price-hike and unprecedented power outages. Instead, their difficulties are likely to mount in coming days and weeks as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is reported to have conveyed to the country that it will get no exemption on account of implementation of the dreaded Value Added Tax (VAT) from July this year and another hike in the tariff of electricity from April 1.
Former Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin has claimed that all issues had been sorted out with the IMF but problems cropped up due to less rains resulting in more reduction in power generation. He has also claimed that Pakistan can go to the open market if there is delay in disbursement of the funds committed under Kerry-Lugar Bill and by FoDP. The former Minister might have reasons to say so but there are all indications that the country's economic policy is badly flawed and there is no improvement in the situation even after compliance of most of the conditions imposed by the IMF during the last two years. While these conditionalities have added more burden on the common man yet the economy is now showing any signs of recovery. There has been a massive cut in developmental expenditure and even releases meant for payment of salaries and allowances to the Government employees are being delayed to keep the budgetary deficit within the limit given by the Fund but the situation is worsening and still the Government is asking the IMF for a waiver. The Government is also seeking waiver on account of VAT implementation fearing that the move could trigger serious trouble because of its obvious repercussions. It appears that the Govt will have to impose the VAT, be it from July this year or next year and the net result would be multiplication of tax burden on the poor. Instead the Government should bring those sectors under the tax net that have been enjoying unnecessary exemptions and eating up precious resources of the country side by side taking action against non-filers and under filers. All this once again confirms that IMF prescription not only plays havoc with the consumers but also the economy of the country. It is also a fact that the country is spending huge amounts on account of war on terror and international community despite pledges is not delivering. The Government should therefore start paying attention to the serious economic conditions and curtail its non-development expenditure.
EXPLOITATION OF SUGARCANE GROWERS
TILLERS of the land have always suffered at the hands of powerful obbies and cartels as they never got due return for their produce. It is the turn of sugarcane growers now who are complaining that sugar mills owners are not paying them for their crop and they have gone bankrupt.
At the beginning of the crushing season, there were reports that this year the sugarcane crop would be much less and the country would have a shortfall of around one million tons of sugar. In view of high domestic and international prices, millers grabbed sugarcane from the farmers on deferred payment basis on the presumption that prices would further go up. During the past one-year, they earned windfall profit of billions of rupees by exploiting the consumers and defying the orders of the Government and even the superior judiciary and raised the price of the commodity from Rs 45 to Rs 70 pkg. The sugarcane growers are now running from pillar to post for cashing their Payment Receipts issued by the mills in lieu of sugarcane supplied by them as they have to make payments to Agriculture and other banks. The cartel of Pakistan Sugar Mills Association which exploited the consumers during the past one-year continues to charge higher rates and the price of local sugar in the market is around Rs 3,000 per 50 kg bag while international sugar prices have come down from $ 850 to $ 550 C&F Karachi. Sensing that it will not be earning the anticipated profit, the Association has started a well orchestrated campaign against the import of cheap sugar and is demanding imposition of 35% regulatory duty so that it continues to exploit the poor masses. We would urge the Provincial and Federal Governments to come to the rescue of the poor farmers and arrange clearance of their payments at the earliest otherwise they would stop cultivating the crop. In no case the Government should surrender to the sugar lobby and allow the private sector to import sugar and let there be open competition so that the masses who are already suffering due to high inflation could get some relief.
NEED TO CURB NGOS MAFIA
PROMINENT intellectuals and analysts have demanded of the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take suo motu notice of the report that the video featuring flogging of a woman in Swat allegedly by Taliban before operation in the area was an act engineered by a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) funded by a foreign country. The objective was to malign Pakistan, Islam and Taliban and a bid to build up public opinion against Taliban for creating necessary justification for action against them.
The way the video was publicised brought harassment and disrepute to the fair name of Pakistan. Doubts were expressed even during those days that the video was not genuine and in fact, some spokesmen of Taliban did deny any such happening but these reports were not given any weight because of the bias against Taliban and in the backdrop of the overall environment that prevailed in the country during those days. However, the conspiracy stands exposed now and even government high-ups acknowledge that the video was fake and that the said NGO paid half a million rupees to those who 'performed' in the malicious drama. There are a number of NGOs that are busy in social welfare works and contribute a lot towards poverty alleviation and promotion of health and educational facilities. However, there have been persistent reports that some of them are engaged in dubious activities and even involved in acts of terrorism and sabotage. The Swat incident proves that beyond any doubt and calls for thorough verification of all NGOs and their activities. Action should be taken against all those who are in anyway involved in anti-state activities. As for this particular case, we support the demand that the worthy Chief Justice may take notice of the incident so that the culprits are brought to book.
VITAL ISSUES APPROVED IN JIFFY
DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
No article this week can or should ignore the history making Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. A Constitution is a kind of sacred document which lays down the rules for the conduct of the State and vital matters affecting its citizens It determines the character of the State-democratic or authoritarian, and so o so forth. It deals with the vital issues of the country and nature, duties and responsibilities of the state.- in nut shell. Constitution has to be a result of deep deliberations so that the document can stand of test of time in a nation's up and down. The wisdom of the framers of the Constitution is judged by its longevity and in meeting the demands of future situations.
There are two kinds of Constitutions, of democratic States, run on majority rule, and of one party authoritarian States. A democratic Constitution is for all citizens, an authoritarian Constitution to grant powers to the Party. There is no such thing as truth, independence, law and justice. The Party interests are supreme truth is whatever the interest of the party, justice is what is in the interest of the Party. Then a Party is its custodian. In a democratic society the custodian of the Constitution are Courts and the people not a party. The Custodians of the Constitution are the people. Period. People of all shades of opinion and not of one opinion. Let therefore no Party claim that 'we' gave the 1973 Constitution, 'we' gave the Eighteenth Amendment, 'we' are its Custodians unless of course it claims to be a totalitarian party- Rulers should learn some humility and stop trumpeting credit for their party when it is the result of effort of all parties. Indeed the Eighteenth Amendment was a historic event and much of it is praise worthy, such as restoring the legislative supremacy of Parliament and doing away with Article 58.( 2 b) of the Constitution. True much of it is praise worthy but there are some unfortunate negative elements in it it was passed in a way no democratic Constitution of any country worth mentioning was passed- deliberated in secrecy and passed in a jiffy, just in two days, by a yes and no voice vote. This is not how a Constitution supposedly a durable document is approved. It could be called unjustified haste. No three readings, no debate, no second look at the draft of the new provisions.
Not befitting the dignity a Constitution commands. Because of this haste, it is possible that some of its provisions may create problems in the long run, more important of it are provincialization, deleting the concurrent list, deleting the requirement of periodic elections in the Party, naming the NWFP as Pakhtunkhwa with feeble Khyber prefixed to its name. One fears that the Provincialization will not lead to a provincial autonomy which dismembered Yugoslavia. I wish that my fears would be proved wrong. I fear unbridled provincialism having witnessed its disastrous results on Yugoslavia "Pakhtunkhwa" might lead to increased ethnicity We are seeing Hazara reacting strongly on this ethnic nomenclature. It can have repercussions for demand of making such provinces in Balochistan, Punjab, Karachi, and other ethnic communities. Asif Ezdi has written on some worrisome implications of new provisions and those fears are not unfounded. The validity of these forebodings will become manifest in time to come. A historic document needed to have been accorded more open discussions and more debate on the new provisions. Even in the Communist system where no open debate was permitted in the Assemblies, the proposed new important laws were placed in the local party offices at the "agitpunkt" (?) agitation point- for eliciting public reaction.
Why the mandatory requirement stipulated in the 1073 Constitution of having Party elections in all political parties have been deleted by the Eighteenth Amendment. ? It will perpetuate family controls of the Party. The curse of Pakistan politics is presence of family monopoly and waderaism. Because MQM stands against these two malaise, although faces in its top leadership have remained on the scene, it is said to be gaining popularity in the wadera and family controlled areas It is unfortunate that Nawaz Sharif did not voice objections to the proposed Constitution. He appeared briefly on the scene and then chose to go along with the draft. He seemed to have given new meaning in the political dictionary to politics of reconciliation . This has affected his leadership to some extent. Only future will be a judge whether the weak points in the Eighteenth Amendment will cause worry or not. It now depends on how they are implemented. Constitutional practices are also part of Constitution.
The mysterious appearance of Dr Aafia Siddiqi's daughter on the doors of her sister in Karachi was a shadow play. She speaks only English, with what accent, British or American, not any Urdu. So she has been in an English speaking environment. Her return to Pakistan is a trick to defuse the public anger on America's insulting treatment to Aafia, but the only way America can white wash its image of a tormentor of captive frail Muslim lady is by freeing her from the torture center of American jail. Aafia's sister's ignoring to look deeper into putting Maryam on her door reminds me of the Urdu couplet: Wipe out the perspiration from your forehead, Neither we understood from where you are coming, Nor we will ask from where have you been. (pasina ponch-hey apni jibin say, Na ham samjhe na ap aye kahin say.)
She was very obliging in not pursuing the query further. Because as is in Urdu poetry: Asking questions was intended to put me to embarrassment; because it is known what happened and why it happened. (Pursishey ahwal se maqsad tha ruswai meri, Because it was known what happened and why). While ignorance was bliss another case where our leaders and people are going berserk is the marriage of Shoaib-Sania. Perhaps they know not what is the mood in India of the Indian Muslims. Sorry, let me say just this much I know better.
DOOMSDAY IN PAKISTAN
COLUMN FROM DALLAS
In 21st century, a country called Pakistan is slipping back to dark ages. In Pakistan, the electricity that runs every household, every industrial unit, moves agricultural implements; is a dire need for schools, hospitals, street lights, commercial enterprises, offices, bazaars, railways and which is an indispensable lifeline for a society goes off for as long as 20 hours a day. Is it possible to calculate the depth and level of harmful impact on the lives of the people of Pakistan? Disastrous is too slim an adjective to describe the horrendous spectacle with which the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is awash. Let us content ourselves by paralleling it with the euphemism of the scriptural "Doomsday" when the whole humanity would be running helter and skelter in a complete state of frenzy and in a climate that would be unbearably hot because the Sun, according to dogma, "would be as close to the earth as the length of a lance."
So the panicked, frantic, devil stricken people of Pakistan are raking, agitating, rallying, clamoring, blockading, protesting and finally finding nowhere to go. These crazy segments of humanity are outraged against damning spells of power shut downs, technically termed as load shedding, as if the electric power is in excess and its overload is being off-loaded. The callous indifference shown by the hypocritical, liars, thieves, inside traders, money grabbers, sitting in high offices at public expense, of the miseries of the grief stricken Pakistanis caused, is devastating and mind boggling. The People are turning mentally infirm because of the darkness, because their children are unable to prepare for examination, because of the silent fans in sizzling summer, because their patients cannot be operated upon and because their water pumps do not function. One is reminded of the storming of the Bastille prison a symbol of royal tyranny, on 14th July 1789. This momentous event turned out to be the flashpoint for the French Revolution, and it subsequently became an icon of the French Republic. Thereafter, fired with the spirit of liberty and change the ordinary citizens of Paris attacked the elitist classes, the wealthy landlords and members of aristocracy paving way for the blissful French Revolution. Those who pioneered this historic change were ordinary, impoverished, dispossessed people, driven to rebellion by the ruthless and unbearable exploitation of the royalty, the feudal and aristocratic classes.
The 18th amendment is passed. The question is relevant and pertinent: what about the people's problems that are devouring their lives and pushing them back to dark ages? I don't pretend to be a messenger of doom and willfully paint a bleak picture of my country of origin. But no one even an imbecile or cynic can overlook the frightening state of affairs fast deteriorating in Pakistan. The Law is infringed with immunity, the courts are ridiculed, monstrous lies and fabrications are splashed by the leaders to bamboozle the citizens already innervated by the appalling civic utilities and poor social amenities. All the state run enterprises are ramshackle, primitive and in huge losses. During the past several years and even now national assets are being sold like peanuts. The magnificent word good governance is heard in Pakistan but practiced overseas in heathen and unislamic polities.
The Minister of Law and Parliamentary Affairs aggressively saber rattles against all those who talk of respect for law and propriety and decency. He is positioning himself like Genghis Khan, ambushing all those who dare come in front of his bullish head-on forays. He is aggressive, violent, and vituperative and a slur for the sublime virtue of law of which he is a minister. His freakish and bellicose behavior has forced quite a few senior bureaucrats including the auditor general and his secretary to resign. And still the president showers accolades on him for facilitating the 18th amendment. Should someone have the courage including the prime minister and the president, to look into the accusations against him for taking hefty bribe from felonious businessmen? The Supreme Court orders are being flagrantly flouted by the government and particularly by the law minister. He is reported to be turning hostile and vindictive against all those who refuse to become party with him in his delaying and dodging, machinations in regard to complying with the apex courts' directives. Instead of bucking up the real architect of the 18 amendment, Mian Raza Rabbani, who burnt the midnight oil, the flamboyant president throws the credit for this magnificent feat in the lap of the law minister, who has been rather posed as an irritant during the formative stage of the 18th amendment draft.
We can see the mockingbird Minister of Water and Power sitting close to the prime minister in the National Assembly on the memorable day of passing the 18th amendment bill in that he is feigning spurious and conspiratorial smile while talking to a bird of his flock. Flatly and unabashedly reneging from his past myriad phony deadlines of ending power load shedding, he now claims he would never make such false promise. Close on the heels of the scandals engulfing the rental power generating units another colossal gas purchase scandal is doing rounds in Pakistan. This time the kickback is guessed to be around one billion dollars. The trick is that first, an artificial shortage of food items and utility services is created by the factory owners and stockholders who are also holding ministerial posts and later the prices are arbitrarily raised. To escape starvation, the people forget the price hike and buy at the artificially contrived prices. In Pakistan, how easy it is for the powerful thugs to make huge profits. In his speech on the death anniversary of the founder of the PPP at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, president Zardari, in a regal spirit, has arrogated to himself the royal prerogative of making any one a king or a beggar. Such is the height of arrogance and morbid drunkenness of power that an elected head of state who should be as humble as a saint, is casting himself into the role of a dynastic monarch. When PPP came into power, majority in Pakistan were happy and jubilant. The people of Pakistan pinned great hopes in PPP to revolutionize and reconstruct Pakistan as was done by ZA Bhutto after the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971. But the people forgot that Zardari is made of a different stuff. He is a kind of a drawing room manipulator who jumped into the power band wagon because his wife and co chairperson of PPP died and that she in her will, appointed Zardari to be her successor. Now old habits die hard. Zardari' penchant with increasing his wealth and favoring his friends and kith made him oblivious of the gigantic challenges of nation building.
The PPP, contrary to its élan and promises protected the status quo, gave a huge cabinet to the nation, and dithered on implementing the agreements made with other parties, restored the judges unwillingly and under the public pressure and demonstrated no inclination to investigate Benazir's assassination. But what outraged people and other poltical parties is that while no economic charter and social contract is unfurled, the PPP rank and file indulge in rank nepotism and its ministers have earned the dubious distinction of being corrupt. The party on the whole was thrown into a vortex of sleazy scandals of misuse of power, profiteering and bribes. President Zardari kept his eyes shut to the allegations of malpractices against his ministers. Instead of a clean and efficient governance, the party in power remained locked in legal and constitutional battles. It fell back upon adhocism and short term measures to resolve such fundamental issues as provision of flour, water, electricity, law and order, education, health, and eradication of poverty, hunger and disease. The PPP as a major coalition partner suffers from trust deficit of the people because it failed to deliver its mandate of a socio-economic and civic revolution and turning Pakistan into an egalitarian society.
President Zardari wasted the golden opportunity of refurbishing his tainted image of a corrupt person. On the contrary he has further tarnished it. The 18th amendment though is a good threshold for parliamentary democracy, yet it came very late and at a time when power outrages have robbed the people of their peace of mind and when eking out two square meals has become a tall order for a common man
IS OBAMA BACK ON TRACK?
NEWS & VIEWS
In his speeches during presidential elections, Barack Obama had promised that in the event he was elected he would change his predecessor George W Bush's policies that had isolated America. He had expressed his desire to bring peace to the war-ravaged regions including Kashmir and Palestine and vowed to adopt policies that would have a soothing effect on Muslim fraternity. Within weeks after resuming his office, President Obama in a letter to OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu had said that he would work to improve relations with the group. He had thanked the OIC, which represents 1.5 billion Muslims in 57 countries, for congratulating him on his inauguration on Jan. 20. After facing resistance from neo-cons, he seems to be back on the track now. According to the US counter-terrorism advisors, religious terms such as "Islamic extremism" will be removed from the central document outlining the US national security strategy. The document is being rewritten emphasizing that the United States does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terror.
In an open letter published in major US newspapers on Jan. 21, the OIC had urged President Obama to work for a "shared" peace in the world rather than one that is "imposed." There was some skepticism about President Obama's taking practical steps to ensure that his ideas are translated into action, but slowly and steadily a change in the policy seems to be in the offing. There is a perception that shift away from terrorism has been building for a year, since Obama went to Cairo, Egypt, and promised a "new beginning" in the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. The White House believes the previous administration based that relationship entirely on fighting terror and winning the war of ideas. Last year, addressing the Turkish parliament on the final leg of his tour of Europe, President Barack Obama had declared that the United States was not, and never will be, at war with Islam. Unfortunately, his predecessor former president George W Bush was a loose cannon and used derogatory remarks against Muslims.
In an effort to undo the damage caused by his predecessor former president Bush who after 9/11 events had referred to the crusades the war between Islam and Christianity. He had set aside all his inhibitions to malign Muslims and Islam, using terms like 'a radical Islamic empire', 'Islamic radicalism' and Islamo-fascism. His many other statements were reflective of fundamentalist Bush's true feelings of vengeance. He had drawn parallelism between Islam, communism and fascism. He had conveniently forgotten that during the Cold War era, almost all the Muslim countries were in the western camp and supported the US and its allies. Pakistan had become frontline state after the former USSR invaded Afghanistan and was instrumental in pushing Soviets out of Afghanistan. And even today, Pakistan is a frontline state in war on terror. But there is a redeeming feature that the present US administration has admitted, though belatedly, Pakistan's prodigious role in war on terror. And America has to some extent addressed Pakistan's concerns vis-à-vis Indian role in Afghanistan to the detriment of Pakistan.
As stated earlier, the United States and the West acknowledged Pakistan's role in war on terror and accepted the eidetic reality that without Pakistan's cooperation they could neither win the war nor could they have an honourable exit from Afghanistan. Earlier, they have been pampering India because they wanted to see it as a countervailing force against China. They also wish to benefit from India's huge allocations for buying military equipment and nuclear-related materials. But, since London Conference on Afghanistan, India is annoyed with Obama administration because the latter was not willing to do India's bidding to push Pakistan against the wall. India had a good time vis-a-vis American support from Bill Clinton era to Bush senior and George W Bush era, but Obama administration is not inclined to give India a carte blanche in the region to protect its interests. President Obama's pragmatic approach would improve America's image, and it is hoped that he will not fall a prey to the machinations of neocons and enemies of Islam.
Barack Obama had given hope to the world that he would help resolve the long-standing issues between the belligerent nations and also review the US policy towards Iran, Cuba and North Korea. Though there was not reason to disbelieve President Obama but the analysts and commentators were skeptical if he would be able to control the corporate capital and neocons that were well-entrenched in the Republican and Democratic parties. And Israeli lobbies are hindering the resolution of Palestinian issue.
In fact, during the last six decades a dozen US presidents during their tenures had vowed to resolve the Palestinian issue but failed to get United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions and other agreements on establishment of Palestinian state implemented due to Israel's intransigence. Same was the case with Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan where the former has refused to implement UNSC resolutions and Kashmiris are suffering at the hands of Indian army and agencies for the last six decades. President Obama within three months after resuming his office had appointed George Mitchell as special US envoy for the region who met Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on amid warnings that peace talks will remain stagnant unless Israel's new government commits to a two-state solution. Palestinian leaders have been urging the administration of US President Barack Obama to act as an "even-handed" broker. Mitchell emerged from the talks reiterating "the two-state solution is the only solution" and that "a comprehensive peace in the region is in the US national interest." Mitchell had said the 2002 Arab peace initiative - under which Arab states would normalise relations with Israel in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza - should be the basis of peace talks. But Israel has the history of defying international community and is still adamant to ignore the calls for end to settlements in West Bank and Jerusalem stalling the peace process.
During previous administration, Condaleeza Rice frequented the region to resolve the issue but no headway could be made, as Israel had been pushing for a vaguely worded document while the Palestinians wanted a detailed outline, complete with a timetable for establishing a Palestinian state. Palestinians have, indeed, undergone the longest ordeal in the annals of history, and despite various UN resolutions and accords there seems to be no end in sight to the sufferings as a result of atrocities perpetrated on them by Israeli forces. It all started on 14th May 1948 when the UN, the successor to the League of Nations, implemented the 1947 UN Partition Plan and established the state of Israel. With backing of the West, Israel continued usurping the Palestinian land, and balked at UN resolutions giving the Palestinians the right to have an independent state. President Barack Obama has been able to convince Americans that withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan is in the interest of America. Similarly, he could convince Americans that implementation of two-State solution and establishment of independent and sovereign state would bring peace in the region.
PAKISTAN AND FUTURE
Give credit where credit is due. It has taken President Zardari two years but he has restored the 1973 Constitution. Over the years Pakistan had become where the President had centralized powers and he was a consequence of the majoritarian system fused into Parliament. He had veto powers to negate any step Parliament took, not to mention he could even dissolve Parliament. Pakistan was a country in which more Ordinances were passed than Acts of Parliament. Now the President has bestowed the powers back to Parliament and now parliament is Sovereign. There will be consultation on important matters, and if the amendments are acted upon Pakistan will for example not pass budgets without proper consultation. The country will have a strong bicameral legislature. Now an elected Parliament has the authority and responsibility to act on behalf of the people.
President Zardari deserves special credit for taking the country forward and liberating it from old vices that were not allowing the country to evolve. Power is best used when put in the hands of the people and people who the masses trust. Now it is time for Parliament to take action. The person who needs to be quoted here is Frank O'Dea who believes that success depends on three words "Hope, Vision and Action." Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on Friday said the consensus on the 18th amendment was the dividend of the policy of reconciliation of the government. He paid tribute to the people of Pakistan, the members of Parliament and the Parliamentary Committee for achieving this consensus. He also hoped that the Senate would follow the National Assembly in swift and unanimous passage of the 18th amendment that empowers the Prime Minister and restores the balance between state institutions. He stated that not a single MNA opposed the amendment and said the consensus of 442 parliamentarians - 342 of the National Assembly and hopefully 100 of the Senate, was something unprecedented that spoke volumes of the policy of reconciliation that was successfully being pursued by the present Government.
He urged for a policy of reconciliation that will lead to economic and political stability and it is the need of the hour as the country was passing through a critical juncture. He praised the army for supporting democracy, while remaining in the ambit of constitution. He further said that all state institutions continue to work within their respective spheres Pakistan would continue to prosper progress and gain stability. Yet, Gilani also stated in Parliament that coming to terms with his and Parliament's new found powers was something new and unexpected for him. What must be stated here that this is the first ray of hope for the Pakistani people. So we have "Hope". The second stage is "Vision". What should be the vision for Pakistan? Pakistanis should collectively change their attitude to "Yes, we can." We shall ensure a bicameral legislature that appreciates tracheotomy of the powers. A Pakistan where people speak and their words are listened to and acted upon. A Pakistan where people have quality life style. A Pakistan where the disease of unemployment which drives individuals and nations senseless does not exist. There should be employment for all. Rather an act should be passed by Parliament "Employment for All."
A Pakistan where people have access to both basic and tertiary education. A Pakistan which has a significant education budget, where children's rights are protected, where there is transparency and accountability. An example can be seen in the UK where the Daily Telegraph exposed various politicians for misrepresenting their expenses and assets and how they covered up the misuse of government funds. We should have such transparency where everyone is accountable and people have the position to influence accountability where they see fit. Pakistan should after the recent amendment move from probable military rule to civil rule. The list of "an Ideal Pakistan" moves on and on. The Vision of 17 crore Pakistanis if brought into action can create a Pakistan, in fact a State the world has never seen before. Pakistanis should feel hope, because without hope there is no vision. You can get rid of all vices, weaknesses and evil with hope. We should feel hope for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our country. Hopelessness creates darkness, ends creativity, turns the mind towards negative ideas and finally it ends vision. Hope is fundamental and it permeates through borders. Pakistanis should make mission and vision statements for themselves and their country. We should be able to put our feet up as a nation that our condition is better than it was yesterday. The Holy Prophet should be quoted here, "If your tomorrow is not better than your yesterday, then you are indeed a loser."
The present government has put their house in order. Now they must accept, face and defeat the challenges and this responsibility should go hand in hand with the nation. The government should have faith and confidence. We should stop looking left and right and face our problems as if we are the only ones entrusted to solve them. Our leadership style should be "Idea generation". We should be innovative and take risks with new ideas and approaches to governance. If the government becomes overwhelmed then the nation should lift its spirits. We should generate our own revenue and be a vibrant, multi-tasking nation with visionary leaders.
Our country should stop looking at India, China, US, UK and UAE and realize that there is a whole world out there. This country has so much potential. It can be "the nation of the pure", whiter than white and greener than green. Just have hope, have a vision, if nothing is becoming in the short-run, do not despair and persevere. With the Grace of Allah, Pakistan will persevere. The prayer that comes out, "O' Allah give this nation guidance". Because it is guidance this nation is lacking collectively.
RUNNING IN CIRCLES IN KYRGYZSTAN
Whenever I am in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, I wake early and run in the central stadium. I enjoy it for two reasons: first, it's one of the few places where I can exercise without Bishkek's feral dogs attacking my ankles, and, second, that I actually run on the track provides endless amusement for the gaggle of Kyrgyz politicians I lap as they amble and shoot the breeze. Some of my stadium acquaintances hold positions of power. Others do not. This week, those on the in and those on the out swapped places. I'm certain, though, that it will be the same gaggle at the track next week, negotiating ever-changing alliances while the rest of Bishkek sleeps.
For those unfamiliar with Kyrgyz politics, it must appear strange that Roza Otunbayeva, who emerged from this week's coup as the nation's interim leader, was foreign minister for both Kyrgyzstan's first president, Askar Akayev, and for the man who ousted Mr. Akayev, Kurmanbek Bakiyev (who himself was forced to flee Bishkek on Wednesday). Stranger still is that after each stint Ms. Otunbayeva subsequently joined the "opposition" and played a central role in the downfall of her boss. As my experience at the stadium shows, however, concepts like opposition and political parties prove an uncomfortable fit with Kyrgyz politics. The press would do well to drop these terms and begin to analyse the political dynamic for what it actually is a handful of political elite going in circles rather than in terms suggestive of what we hope Kyrgyzstan can become, a competitive democracy.
Let me be clear: What happened last week was not a revolution it was a hijacking. Being president of Kyrgyzstan shares much in common with being captain of a plane. The president needs a few people to help him rule, say a first officer and a navigator. Should one of these assistants prove problematic, the president can replace him with someone from the passenger cabin. The challenge, though, is that the passenger cabin is small. Eventually, the president must re-use the same people he previously fired or he must fly solo. At the same time, he remains vulnerable to passengers banding together, as they did this week, and tossing him from the plane. The differences trace back to the 1980s, when the Kazakh, Uzbek and Kyrgyz political elites were all rocked by riots during Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika reforms. Moscow directly intervened to restore political order during riots in Kazakhstan in 1986 and Uzbekistan in 1989. In February 1990, however, Mr. Gorbachev decreed an end to the Communist Party's monopoly on power and effectively told leaders in the Soviet republics that their problems were, well, their problems.
So when riots came to the Kyrgyz Republic in June 1990, no steady outside hand followed to restore order to Bishkek's bickering party elite. And while the Kazakh and Uzbek presidents entered the post-Soviet period with a united, albeit renamed single party, Kyrgyzstan's new president, Askar Akayev, had to scramble to put together a piecemeal political system, which has never matured. The United States and Russia provide hundreds of millions in aid to Kyrgyzstan each year, largely in exchange for the use of air bases, but the money has done little to stabilise the country or promote democracy. In fact, Russia's desire to see the Americans evicted created a military bidding war, the spoils of which only fuelled Kyrgyzstan's political chaos.
Kyrgyzstan is a failed state that needs a couple of steady outside hands to help it succeed. When President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia visits Washington next week, President Obama needs to convince him that the United States has no interest in remaking the political status quo in Central Asia. This means affirming what Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister and de facto leader, has already stated: that President Bakiyev now in hiding in southern Kyrgyzstan must resign and that we recognise Ms. Otunbayeva's interim government as the legitimate authority.
Kyrgyzstan is in Russia's backyard, and the fact that we depend on our air base there for our Afghan war doesn't change that. Presenting a united front with Russia, however, would help Washington keep its air base and avoid another bidding war. It would also provide some political equilibrium that might keep those now on the outs in Bishkek from hijacking the Kyrgyz State again. The New York Times
Diarrhoea sucks out water, salt, zinc and other minerals from the body. Therefore, Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) is the only answer to this disease that leaves the body completely dehydrated. But these days, the victims have also to cope with the unrelenting heat especially during load shedding. Normally diarrhoea can be treated with ORS and clean water. Although the government has deployed its troops to ensure pure drinking water to everyone, many people seem to have slipped through this social safety net. Scientists at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease and Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) said they are now getting an average of 900 child patients a day, most of them from the slum areas where safe drinking water is a rare commodity. Dr M Shahadat Hossain, a scientist at the centre said, impure water and scorching heat are responsible for the rise in the number of diarrhoeal patients.
It is now more than 30 years since the International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) invented ORS. Since then the Center, Government and other groups have been working untiringly to educate Bangladeshi mothers on prevention and treatment of diarrhoea. We recall how BRAC carried this message to every household in the country; yet today, to our horror, more than a lakh of children die from diarrhoea each year due to a shortage of this essential oral saline. When one suffers from diarrhoea, one must be given increased fluids along with oral re-hydration salts. Fortunately, ICDDR,B treats its patients with its own solution, but they are helpless before the heat which show no signs of relenting.
Health and Family Welfare Minister Dr A F M Ruhal Huq is so concerned at the situation that he visited the ICDDR,B to see for himself the condition of the ailing patients. He told newsmen that people should not make any delay in reaching a hospital and instead of braving traffic jams should go first to their nearby hospitals. He said the government has already set up a diarrhoea unit at Mirpur and if necessary another would be set up in the Kamalapur area. He also suggested people should drink boiled water to avert water borne diseases.
The issue of quality education has been raised by no less a person than the President of the Republic, Zillur Rahman. "Many of our citizens go for jobs abroad and if they are not adequately qualified they will not get those jobs," he told the convocation of a private university in the city. He also asked educationists not to commercialize education. The president's speech is a judicious input to the national education policy discussion and comes at a time when the government is undertaking a comprehensive program to overhaul the system.
For too long our education system has been the proxy battlefield of conflicting political ideologies. Consequently, the curriculum and even the testing methods saw major paradigm shifts. This lack of consistency itself, poses a serious challenge to the quality of education imparted, as students have to unlearn a lot and relearn in an altogether different perspective. Other developing countries like India, China and Malaysia that have hugely benefited from quality human resources did not engage in much of an experiment with their education system nor did they change much in the way of curriculum. Instead, they have built up institutions of academic excellence, which they later replicated, nationally. This is paying rich dividends and ensuring the steady supply of quality manpower that is critical to the fast-track progress of these nations.
We are, unfortunately, mired in too many political controversies and have paid scant attention to the quality of services rendered and the inputs that go with it. This must change. The "best and the brightest" minds need to be attracted to teaching and at all levels, particularly at the primary stage; otherwise, it is impossible to expect excellence at other grades. If we are not ready for that kind of rigor and persistence, we will lag behind, forever.
I'M JUST A PERSON !
This morning an incident took place, which made me realize I was human: I reacted angrily with someone I was close to and told her off: Later while I was sitting in my terrace garden sipping my coffee, I realized I hade acted out of sheer tiredness and that what I had done was wrong. I felt sorry and remembered an episode related by Hanoch McCarty for such as we who are made to realize we are human:
"Alone in the wheel of light at the dining room table, surrounded by an otherwise darkened house, I sat in tears. Finally, I'd succeeded in getting both kids to bed. A relatively new single parent, I had to be both Mommy and Daddy to my two little children and was determined to give them as normal and stable a home life as possible. I put on a happy face for them. This nightly ritual was just as it had always been with the exception that their mother was now missing. I had done it again: another night successfully concluded.
Sitting at the dining room table, I slumped in my chair, aware that this was the first time since I came home from work that I'd been able to just sit down.
Then it all crowded in on me: the fatigue, the weight of the responsibility, the worry about payments I wasn't sure I could pay that month and all the endless details of running a house. Only a short time before, I'd been married and had a partner to share these chores, these bills. Now she was gone and I only had myself, and loneliness! I felt as thought I were at the bottom of a great sea of loneliness. It all came together and I was at once lost, overwhelmed. Unexpected, convulsive sobs overtook me and I sat there, silently sobbing.
Just then, a pair of little arms went around my middle and a little face peered up at me. I looked down into my five-year-old son's sympathetic face.
I was embarrassed to be seen crying by my son. "I'm sorry, I didn't know you were still awake." I said, I don't know why it is we apologize when we cry. "I didn't mean to cry. I'm sorry. I'm just a little sad tonight."
"It's okay, Daddy. It's okay to cry," said my son, "You're just a person!"
I can't express how happy he made me, this little boy, who in the wisdom of innocence gave me permission to cry. He seemed to be saying that I didn't have to always be strong, that it was occasionally possible to allow myself to feel weak and let out my feelings.
He crept into my lap and we hugged and talked for a while, and I took him back up to his bed and tucked him in. Somehow, it was possible for me to get to sleep that night too. Thank you, my son for making me realize that I was just 'a person' ..!"
ENERGY CRISIS: WHERE IS THE ELECTRICITY?
Everyday the people of Bangladesh suffer from the failure of the Government to deliver electricity. The situation in March 2010 is painful: long outages disrupting the life of persons in the city, limiting services at hospitals, preventing factories from producing, and destroying electrical equipment which is not designed to deal with frequent power outages. The lack of electricity results in the water pumps not operating for long periods reducing the supply of water to the city. The water shortage is leading to higher rates of diarrhoeal disease consequent on the lower water quality. The cost of the shortfall in the provision of electricity is extracting a terrible cost from the society. In the next two years there is unlikely to be any significant improvement in the provision of electricity; in the third year there may be a slight improvement. But it is four or five years before one can expect major increases in the supply of electricity.
To have electricity you need generating plants and fuel for such plants. At present Bangladesh lacks both. The first article discussed the availability of gas and argued that the failure to explore for gas combined with badly managed gas transmission systems combined to provide too little gas to the places where it is needed. The neglect of the gas sector from 2001 has caused this disaster. All kinds of schemes and solutions are discussed but none will meet the needs as the bureaucratic system is unable to act promptly and the responsible political level persons are not able to force the system to work faster. The alternative fuels are frequently discussed but nothing is done to use them and the time lags are very long.
But even if one could find fuel the generating plants are not in place and tendering for such has just started. It is four-five years to achieve major increases in generating capacity. Once again the neglect of this since 2001 cannot be overcome rapidly.
The Government is very optimistic about its ability to increase the supply of electricity and of course there is no doubt that they will achieve this objective. The question is not if, but when. Unfortunately the answer is that it is going to take a long time. There is no reason to be optimistic based on past history that new generating capacity will be built rapidly. The short term plans call for some electricity from rental projects, some from new plants to be constructed by Government, and some to be constructed on PPP basis. Apart from the rental there is little hope that anything will actually start to generate electricity before 2013. The bureaucrats serve up unrealistic targets for the Government which then uses these for public relations purposes while everyone knows that these dates will never be achieved. The society has three summers of high demand and faltering supply increases before there may be major improvements in 2013. Even that is optimistic. However, by 2014 things should be much better.
There are a number of things that one can learn from the experience of the past few years and the first year of the AL Government. There is in the Government a major disagreement between those who support power provided by the private sector and those that support power provided by Government owned enterprises. Government owned enterprises are inefficient and expensive; the costs are never correctly represented and the cost of capital systematically underestimated. The strong preference of the bureaucracy for Government owned and operated generating facilities lies at the heart of the failure to provide electricity. There is no point in noting that some countries have been successful with Government owned power plants; Bangladesh has not.
On the other hand Bangladesh had been very successful with IPP projects. The efficiency, reliability and low cost of IPP generated power has been the backbone of the power system for the past decade. For this the AL deserves full credit as they were able to complete the IPP projects. Government faced with successful IPPs and failures by the public sector seems to decide in favor of more Government sector projects. It is an unfortunate choice and will lead to very complex financing problems and long delays in implementation.
Recent efforts by the Government organizations to construct power projects are characterized by poor cooperation with the implementing company; lack of professional skills in supervision and coordination with the contractor; unwillingness to make necessary changes in the project according to the environment and unexpected circumstances. The rigidity of the implementation approach leads to poor projects and below expected performance. This is worth noting since there seems to be increasing commitment to the public sector owned projects.
As an example of this consider the Tongi peaking plant. This project has come under great criticism in some parts of the English language press. The attacks claimed that the company was inexperienced and that the technical installations were badly done resulting in poor functioning of the plant. All of this is a misreading of the actual events surrounding this project. First, the implementing Chinese company is a very large, experienced company far larger than the Power Development Board in Bangladesh. The basic problem in operating the plant was the low gas pressure that resulted in the safety equipment stopping the generator whenever the pressure was below the required minimum. Why was the gas pressure too low? PDB used a secondary pipeline for the plant and was not able to prevent the gas company from allowing other connections from this pipeline to other factories. The complete lack of discipline by the government gas company resulted in more gas being taken from the pipeline, not leaving enough for the power plant. Probably there were bribes paid to install these lines to other factories. Having made it impossible for the plant to work correctly the officials of the PDB then went to the press to attack the company! The second mismanagement of the Tongi plant arose from the Department of Environment inability or unwillingness to control the air pollution in the vicinity of the Tongi plant. There are several rubber companies spewing pollution in complete violation of Government regulations. This pollution overloaded the air filters of the power plant and reduced the efficiency of the plant's operation. Once again no effort was made to enforce the Government's own rules. Finally, the Tongi plant was designed as a peaking plant to operate a few hours a day but PDB would not operate the plant correctly and wanted it run continuously due to the shortage of electricity. In effect PDB was like a man that purchased a car and then tried to make it fly; when it did not fly the man went back and complained to the person that sold him the car. This is typical of the way that the Government deals with private sector; rather than work cooperatively to make the facility work the Government does all it can to sabotage the private sector's efforts. The press usually cheers the abuse of the private sector; the South Asian caste system raises its ugly head.
Fortunately access to finance requires that the Government follows an IPP or a yet to be defined PPP approach to the badly needed large power plants. Unfortunately, based on past experience of the work of the Power Cell, the new modalities being proposed, the poor record of completion of tenders none of the these large projects will be completed and on line in less than four years. The steps required include settling of the meaning of the PPP approach and how bidding will take place; the role the Government is going to play is yet to be defined. All of this means bidders are uncertain as to what is expected. Dual fuel use plants for large projects pose some problems in design where limited experience may lead a bidder to take a high risk, low cost approach. The role and intervention of Government as a part owner is difficult to define and will lead to many power companies being unwilling to participate unless PPP rules are very clear. Bangladesh courts have not been very swift in settling problems with foreign investors damaging the nation's reputation. Bidding on dual fuel use plants presents further difficulties opening up ways to manipulate the way to assess the offer.
In five years we should have a much better power supply system. However, there is little prospect for much improvement before that time. The approach of using rental projects was certainly the right way to go. The correct way to proceed was, I believe, much different. The use of the gas should be restricted and the price of some gas products should be raised to reduce waste. Releasing additional gas by such demand management would make it possible to rent barge-mounted gas turbines which would be available on short notice. The key decision made by the previous Governments to use largely local companies with limited experience in power generation, did not work well. Now everyone pays for the outcome. Demand management plus barge rentals could have supplied about 1000 MWs of capacity and transformed the present situation. Unfortunately another path was selected and we are experiencing the consequences. The use of private rentals from inexperienced local companies PDB believes has not worked; this approach seems to be abandoned for a group of PDB owned and operated peaking plants. These shifts will take years to complete. Use of imported barges and other quickly assembled plants provided by experienced, companies with the increased gas will allow a better outcome.
The fundamental failure rests on the unwillingness to go forward with private sector production of power. So long as the Government takes the public sector route there will never be a satisfactory energy situation! How can one make such a statement? It is not ideological but rather empirical. The energy situation has been unsatisfactory for most of the time since the founding of the Republic.
The one period of satisfactory supply of power starts about 1999 and ends in 2006. The success of this period was a consequence of the AL Government's use of the private sector to increase the generating capacity during its first term of office. The above story of the Tongi power plant tells the story of what happens when you rely on Government plants. The Tongi plant was constructed for PDB but nevertheless the authorities worked overtime to make it fail!
Is there going to be any change in approach? Unless there is a shift to the private sector to produce and distribute electricity we can expect a continuation of the energy shortages, growing steadily worse.
(The writer is an economist)
NEW POLARISATION IN BANGLADESH POLITICS
The two-year semi-military rule, spanning from the end of the BNP-Jamaat government in 2006 and the assumption of power by the Awami League and a number of other allied parties in 2008, was an intervening period that facilitated a new polarisation in Bangladeshi politics.
In the Bangladeshi political culture of the last quarter of the twentieth century, politicians made dividends on two: anti-liberation forces and the military autocratic regime of General Ershad.
However, using his political card, the despotic, tyrannical Ershad has now been able to erase the astounding and atrocious record of corruption and misuse of office. He has been graciously embraced by Awami League, which gives him the credit of a kingmaker.
Since a big chunk of the media is generally generous to Awami League, this marriage between it and Ershad's Jatia Party has been taken for granted, for which Awami League has not had to pay any political price at all. However, BNP was not forgiven.
An all-out attack has been on the party for making an alliance with Jamaat, commonly branded as an anti-liberation political force in Bangladesh.
Interestingly, since Awami League came to power this time, its usual anti-Jamaat stance has had an added dimension. Government ministers and Awami intellectuals have now been increasingly distrustful of all Islamic elements including people regularly go to mosques. This becomes more obvious when we see the Awami purists become wary and suspicious of the Islamic people in the rank and file of the party. They tend to launch purging operations to get rid of elements that refuse to comply with its new vision and strategy.
This new vision and strategy of Awami League is highly influenced by two overarching considerations: loyalty to India and cultural syncreticism which espouses inclusion of Hindu cultural values in the name of sub-continental indigenous traditions.
Eventually, among the Awami affiliates, people who find it inconceivable to bow down to Indian political, economic and cultural hegemony and to embrace Hindu cultural values will feel misfit within the party.
Until that happens, I anticipate tensions within the Awami League, as the historical experiences of the Muslims of this region will forbid many members and sympathisers of Awami League to comply with its pro-India and pro-Hindu leanings.
Beyond the rim of the internal politics of Awami League, Bangladesh is at a crossroads, as despite all protestations of politicians it now struggles to remain an independent country in the true sense of the term.
FACING THE AGED-CARE CHALLENGE
HARD CHOICES LIE AHEAD OVER WHO PAYS FOR NURSING HOMES
IF Australia's hospital system is to function more effectively, it is essential that the nation's aged-care system, which is coming under ever-increasing pressure, is repaired. Thousands of hospital beds are occupied by senior citizens waiting for nursing home places, and by nursing home residents transferred to hospital because aged-care homes lack the personnel to care for them properly. As far as they go, the reforms outlined by Kevin Rudd yesterday are well targeted, but the government has not yet addressed some of the most difficult issues.
The news that an extra 5000 aged-care places are to created and $96 million spent improving access to general practitioner care for people in aged care is welcome. Half the new places are to be developed through zero interest rate loans as an incentive to build new facilities, a process the government wants speeded up, with the states releasing more land and accelerating planning approvals.
The employment of extra aged-care nurses flagged by the Prime Minister will be important, but will not be easy given the acute shortage of nurses. If sufficient numbers are to be recruited, some will be skilled immigrants. And if frail, older people are to be encouraged to remain in their own homes, which most would prefer, it will be vital to extend community nursing.
Interest-free loans do nothing to address a more fundamental problem highlighted yesterday by Catholic Health Australia, which calculates that any new facilities built will start losing money as soon as the new beds are occupied, with high care operations running at losses of $13 a day per bed.
The latest aged-care measures announced are a sweetener designed to help break the deadlock between Canberra and the states over hospital reform. With an ageing population, the more difficult questions about who pays for nursing home care, however, cannot be postponed indefinitely. The Productivity Commission inquiry announced by Mr Rudd must address such thorny issues as government subsidies and how much nursing home residents should contribute towards the cost of their care from incomes and assets. The idea of patients needing to sell their homes to help pay for nursing home care is anathema to many. At the same time, previous government reviews have recommended an element of user pays. The challenge is how to provide quality care at an affordable, fair price.
THE IMPACT OF AN ANCIENT EVIL
POLAND HAS A HORRIBLE NEW REASON TO REMEMBER AN OLD CRIME
POLISH President Lech Kaczynski died as he lived - standing firm for love of country, determined the world will never forget the 20th century suffering of the Polish people. Mr Kaczynski always reminded Germany of Nazi crimes against Poland and he spent his political life opposing the Soviet Union, which gutted his country's leadership at the start of World War II and oppressed the Polish people through the following 40 years.
That Mr Kaczynski died on a flight to commemorate the communists' murder of 20,000 Polish officers in the Katyn forest in 1940 says it all. The Soviets always denied responsibility and because their Russian nationalist successors were not as contrite at the official 70th anniversary commemoration of the atrocity as Mr Kaczynski thought appropriate, he organised his own ceremony.
For dozens of contemporary Polish leaders to die while commemorating the murder of thousands of their predecessors is an awful coincidence, one that Australians will be sorry Poles are enduring. There is no doubt Poland will overcome this tragedy, the country's democracy and civic institutions are strong enough to withstand the shock. But the fact that 70 years on the miseries of WWII are still claiming victims is a cruelty no nation should suffer.
SCHOOLS INQUIRY MUST BE JUST THE START OF CLEAN-UP
IT'S TIME TO ENSURE WE GET VALUE FOR MONEY FROM THE BER
JULIA Gillard had looked increasingly uncomfortable lately as she tried to hold the government's line on the schools infrastructure debacle. But the Minister for Education now recognises the problems revealed, largely by this newspaper, cannot be dealt with by fiddling around the edges of the $16.2 billion program. Her full-scale inquiry into the Building the Education Revolution is a victory for common sense, and for a minister who understands the community's dismay at the money being wasted.
Ms Gillard has acted correctly to set up a taskforce to investigate cost blowouts, excessive commissions, and whether state education departments are delivering value for money. If the inquiry is to be more than an election smokescreen, she must ensure it results in reallocation of dollars so that this "once in a generation" funding is not misspent. The inquiry, which must deliver its initial report in three months, cauterises the problem in the short term. But Labor can only win politically if it then acts to clean up the mess. It is a good sign that the taskforce will continue to report throughout the life of the BER program and that it can recommend changes to contracts and projects. This clean-up is not about cutting the money, but about revising contracts blatantly above cost, and revisiting the needs of individual schools. It is also about forcing transparency from state governments that have been tardy or, in the case of South Australia, downright obstructionist in revealing detailed costings. Clearly, Ms Gillard has lost patience with the states, who were entrusted with rolling out the BER in public schools. The Australian welcomed the stimulus spending, but from the start we questioned the quality of the projects and urged value for money. The BER has been a heartbreaking exercise as many school communities watched private schools achieve far better outcomes. The comparison between how the sectors have managed the dollars surely proves the need for intervention from Canberra. The apparent profiteering from construction companies and mismanagement by some states have damaged Ms Gillard's aims. With an estimated 24,000 projects in 9500 schools, some problems might have been expected. But revelations by The Australian , including the fact that some NSW contractors were earning 21 per cent commissions, showed the BER was prey to ineptitude, bureaucratic failure and greed. There are already three separate inquiries running, including one by the commonwealth Auditor-General, but Ms Gillard has wisely headed off what was almost certain to be a string of negative reports, by setting up a proper investigatory unit.
Like the $2.45 billion insulation program, the schools program is a job-creation exercise that became a financial honey pot for private companies. Similar issues are emerging in the $5.2 billion social housing program, as the hasty rollout creates "unintended consequences" that harm voters' trust. The good news for Ms Gillard is that she can turn the bad news around as the program continues to roll out. Australia's strong economy has largely removed the urgent need to prop up the building industry by creating jobs. The government can afford to take its foot off the accelerator.Meanwhile, voters might care to contemplate the role of the press in exposing the problems. The Australian has been virtually alone in investigating the debacle. From last June we reported on absurd decisions taken by bureaucrats. As tenders were let, we revealed the blowout in costs and argued - not for the money to be stopped but that it be properly spent. Apart from Sydney 2GB radio host Ray Hadley, we have been the only media to consistently provide the public with information. Fairfax readers or taxpayers plugged into the ABC would have trouble knowing why Ms Gillard launched the inquiry yesterday, so comprehensively have those outlets ignored this story. Thankfully, Ms Gillard understands that getting the BER right goes beyond short-term politics. Many on the Left were prepared to gloss over problems on the grounds that spending on schools was a good thing, but Ms Gillard knows this is not just about Labor's electoral standing, but also the quality of our schools for a generation.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
TEACHERS FACE A SKILLS TEST
THE idea of a senior Labor politician from the Left taking on the nation's teachers seems a reversal of some law of nature. But the politician is the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard - who has made rather a habit of prodding teachers to think beyond their comfortable orthodoxies. Gillard has responded to the Australian Education Union's plan to boycott next month's basic skills tests (now referred to as the NAPLAN tests) by suggesting, possibly in jest, that if teachers refuse to supervise the tests, parents might like to stand in for them. Even though Gillard has right on her side, that is not a good idea, as a moment's reflection should show. The action would undoubtedly worsen relations between teachers and parents - a regrettable outcome. More practical difficulties, though - liability in the case of accidents, and the increased possibility of errors in administration - should be enough to stay the government's hand. It is coping with quite enough questionably managed programs already; it does not need more messes to clean up. Yet Gillard is right to assume parents want the basic skills testing program kept in operation, despite the opposition of many - though by no means all - teachers.
The issue is not the tests themselves, which teachers have administered for years. The argument is over the way the government has published the results on the My School website, which has let others (including the Herald) compile tables which enable parents to compare school performance. As we have argued before, we believe this information, comparing performance across all systems, public and private, is important to enable parents to choose schools and to assess the performance of their current school. That the public agrees is shown by the popularity of the My School site: 2.7 million visits so far, according to Gillard. People - entirely understandably, and rightly - want to know how their school is performing.
To suppress information is objectionable in principle, and for teachers, of all people, a particularly baffling demand. To use industrial tactics - a ban - to gain the upper hand in an argument about professional practice is doubly objectionable. The compilation of tables from students' results is only an incidental function of the basic skills tests; their central purpose is to show parents how their children are progressing. By blocking the tests, teachers are denying parents information to which they and their children are entitled. The profession is turning itself against the community at large in pursuit of a misconceived objective. It should think again.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
A SMART TRAVEL CARD. OH REALLY?
SYDNEY public transport commuters are long-suffering, desperate people. Any promise to reduce their burden with a simpler, more efficient ticketing system is bound to get their attention. But they are not stupid. Whether they believe the promise depends on who is offering it, and if the answer is the present state government then the natural response is: "Nice idea. But will it ever be implemented?''
Remember T-card? Ready in time for the 2000 Olympics, the Labor premier at the time told us, and we are still waiting. Millions of dollars in taxes have been gobbled up by this incompetent administration. Now we are supposed to believe it has finally got it right with a plan for a smart travel card. If so, why announce on a Sunday that the new - but nameless - ticketing system contract has been won by the Pearl Consortium, when negotiations with the group are not yet finalised? And why promise to have the new system "up and running" by 2012? On past experience, up and running is just as likely to mean up in the air and running out of cash.
Already there are concerns about the decision. The preferred consortium includes Cubic Transportation Systems, a company that sued the state when tenders for the T-card were awarded, and whose lobbyist is the former treasurer Michael Egan. The judge who heard CTS's case accused the company of "positive dishonesty" over its relationship with a RailCorp employee.
There is a glimmer of hope in the start this Sunday of the MyZone fare system, which will reduce the absurd number of zones that apply to travel by bus, train and ferry, a hurdle to previous ticketing reform efforts. Another is the decision to combine planning and transport strategies for Sydney by the end of the year. But the same transport mandarins who frustrated the T-Card are still in their chairs. The transport unions still wield too much influence and Macquarie Street is still addicted to the revenue stream that a more rational fare structure would cut.
On past experience we doubt that fully functioning, city-wide, integrated ticketing will be operating by 2012. This announcement is designed to get Labor through the election next year. After that, who knows? And who pays the bill? We do - $1.2 billion for this latest idea, four times the cost of the previous plan. And why no name? Has the government run out of labels for its unimplemented plans - or has it at last realised that any name will soon become a byword for Labor's waste and ineptitude?
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
THAILAND'S YEARS OF PROTEST TAKE DEADLY TURN
THAILAND'S deadliest protests in 18 years have inevitably revived fears of a coup in a country that has suffered 18 coups since 1932. After a month of protests turned violent on the weekend, leading to the deaths of 17 civilians and four soldiers and injuries to more than 850 people, protesters want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign immediately and leave the country. Urged on from abroad by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been convicted of corruption, the red-shirted protesters had been seeking elections that his allies would probably win.
Even if the government were improbably to comply with such demands, that would be unlikely to end four years of instability. In that time, governments from both sides of politics have been confronted by red-shirted or yellow-shirted protesters who refuse to accept their legitimacy. Backed by the military, Mr Abhisit came to office in December 2008 by winning a parliamentary vote after cobbling together an unlikely coalition. This became possible after a court decision barred Thaksin's allies from office, that government having won elections after a military coup ousted the twice-elected Thaksin in 2006, heralding the continuing instability. The court decision followed a year of protests by his opponents, wearing yellow shirts, who had barricaded the prime minister's office for three months and later closed Bangkok's airports for a week.
The trigger for the latest red-shirt protests was a Supreme Court decision to strip Thaksin of more than half his assets, worth about $1.55 billion, which it ruled he had gained corruptly while in office. Thaksin, who fled to avoid being jailed, has been based in Dubai and Cambodia and is demanding a blanket pardon as the price of negotiating a peaceful settlement.
When Thailand last descended into such violent chaos after a 1991 coup, it was the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej who asserted his moral authority by summoning the coup leader and democracy leader for talks, ushering in 14 years of democracy, stability and rising prosperity. While the red shirts have called on the king to intervene as he did in 1992, the ailing 82-year-old, the world's longest-serving monarch, may not be in a state to do so again.
Thailand's political divisions are more than a matter of leadership rivalry. A long-term conflict is playing out between the forces of popular democracy and establishment rule. The red shirts represent the masses of largely poor, rural people, who are increasingly assertive in challenging the middle-class royalist elite's hold on power. Thaksin's leadership was marked by cronyism and corruption but also by popular policies aimed at the poor and by a series of challenges to the dominance of the royalist elite.
Nonetheless, red-shirt leaders are still looking to the king to intervene. This reflects the breakdown of trust between the rival political forces and the need for an intermediary to build confidence and promote national reconciliation. All parties lack the power to restore stability on their own. Signs of splits in his coalition suggest Mr Abhisit's hold on power is tenuous. The usual democratic solution would be fresh elections. Yet that alone is unlikely to end the instability, which has come at great cost to Thailand's reputation and economy and, indeed, threatens confidence in the entire south-east Asian economic bloc.
As The Age observed a year ago, the country is locked into a pattern of protests that risks making Thailand ungovernable whoever holds office. If the king cannot reprise his role of 1992, external mediation may be needed to help reconcile the two sides. One way forward may be an interim government of national unity, giving all Thais a stake in restoring civil order. That will require statesmanship and goodwill, which is in short supply as protesters parade their dead through Bangkok. At some point, though, Thais must count the cost of this conflict and decide enough is enough.
Source: The Age
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
HULLS SHOULD BACK DOWN ON ADVISERS
WHEN Planning Minister Justin Madden announced his approval of the Windsor Hotel redevelopment, The Age's response was this was a good outcome to a bad process. The reason for thinking it to be a good outcome - that, as Heritage Victoria has argued, building the proposed 26-storey tower in place of the existing rear wing of the building is the best way of preserving the Windsor as a functioning hotel - still holds. Regrettably, however, the reasons for thinking the process a bad one get ever stronger.
Public debate about the Windsor plan has been clouded by the separate issue of the memo written by Mr Madden's former media adviser, Peta Duke, and mistakenly sent to the ABC. The memo set out a sham consultation process that would allow the minister to appear to be deferring to public opinion by rejecting the redevelopment; publication of the document, however, led to Mr Madden disavowing it, with the implication that Ms Duke had dreamed up this cynically manipulative exercise all by herself. The question remains, however, why she would have bothered to write the memo if its take on the Windsor plan was so at variance with the prevailing views in Mr Madden's office. That question, in turn, has spawned a further one: did the need to defuse the public anger generated by the memo result in the minister making a decision that was the opposite of the one he wished to make?
The easiest way to resolve these questions would be to allow Ms Duke to appear before the Legislative Council committee inquiring into the Windsor decision, but Attorney-General Rob Hulls has refused to allow her and other ministerial staff to give evidence. His refusal was justified by a supposed convention that ministerial staff, unlike departmental officers, are extensions of the minister and so cannot appear separately. This dubious convention was convenient for the Howard government during the Senate's children overboard inquiry, and Mr Hulls evidently hoped it would work to the Brumby government's advantage, too. But his view is not shared by the Clerk of the Legislative Council, Wayne Tunnecliffe, who has ruled that the advisers would be in contempt of Parliament if they decline to appear, and that Mr Hulls' refusal is in contempt, too.
If the Attorney-General was trying to avoid election-year embarrassments by frustrating the work of the committee, he has only achieved the opposite. Whatever ''convention'' it may be invoking, the government is in fact refusing to accept that it is accountable to Parliament. Mr Hulls should heed the clerk, and let the ministerial advisers speak for themselves.
Source: The Age
LABOUR: PROGRESS ON THE CHEAP
HOLD ON TO YOUR HATS IT'S A LABOUR MANIFESTO WITH SUBSTANCE
The stage seemed set for a typical, if rather embarrassing, New Labour event. In a Birmingham hospital, Soul Man blasted out while the likes of Pat McFadden and Bob Ainsworth fumbled in choreographed order towards their seats. Gordon Brown then set out his manifesto in front of a peculiar mixture of party supporters and journalists, some of whom were jeered for asking impertinent questions. Capping it all was a row about the legitimacy of holding election events in government property. Not a problem, the Labour party insisted, for this was a PFI hospital and thus commercial property.
But if the style was vintage New Labour, at least some of the substance was fresher. Yes, there was for the fourth consecutive election the "no rise in income tax" claim, a pledge clung to even though both its spirit and letter have already been breached. Yes, too, there was a reaffirmation of plans to build even more prisons, suggesting that Labour remains keener on populist posturing than getting to grips with the causes of crime that it once talked about. In other fields, though, the party is facing the electorate with new things to say, after shrewdly deciding to structure its platform around the twin crises of democracy and the markets which have together shaped the Brown years.
Taking democracy first, besides all the unavoidable stable cleansing, Labour's reformers have seized the moment to make a sharper offer than they put forward in either 2001 or 2005. Should Labour win, then a century on from the Parliament Act, the people will be given the chance to vote for an upper chamber that must answer to them, as well as the opportunity to overhaul the creaking electoral system used for the Commons. The party still stops short of truly fair votes, and it bears repeating that New Labour has welched on similar promises before. The manifesto's clear timetable, however, makes it more likely they would be honoured this time. Taken together with the proposal to fix electoral terms, a significant surrender of prime ministerial power, the plans go some way towards restoring Labour's reformist claims. No doubt the aim is partly to attract Liberal Democrat interest, but the effect is also to create a telling contrast with a Conservative party which remains wedded to first-past-the-post and relaxed about the dozens of hereditary peers who continue to write the law.
Awe for the City was seared into New Labour's DNA, which explains why it initially had nothing to offer beyond crisis management when the skyscrapers came crashing down. Belatedly, however, its biggest brains have begun asking whether economic policy should aim at something beyond a return to summer 2007, and yesterday showed the fruits of this thought. On the industrial side, there are ideas about throwing sand in the wheels of corporate takeovers, as well as a welcome recognition for the positive role the state can play. Labour's half-recognition that Britain needs a different sort of capitalism coexists with hesitation about what form it should take, and on the banks its offer remains decidedly anaemic, stopping well short of imposing a clean separation between the ordinary banking which we all use, and the wizardly variety that has made the rich richer and landed everyone else with a bill. New funds for innovation and green investment will at least bypass those financial arteries which are most dangerously furred.
New Labour's defining mission has been advancing the frontiers of the welfare state. Its problem now is that it lacks the resources to continue with it. Pegging the minimum wage to average earnings may make things slightly fairer, but it cannot disguise the fact that the days of bold new social programmes are over. After 13 grinding years in government, Labour had to show yesterday that it could do things differently, and that though it may have run out of money, it had not run out of steam. Their task was tough, but they did a decent enough job.
IN PRAISE OF DAFFODILS
WHAT'S SO WRONG WITH LARGER, LOUDER VARIETIES OF THE NATIVE DAFFODIL?
Rural bling, lamented the man on the radio a few days ago, of the noisy golden trumpets that are now lining roads and gardens across the country. Narcissus pseudonarcissus, the native British daffodil, is being shouldered out by larger, louder varieties. It is easy to see why the daffodil, symbol of hope and rebirth, is associated with the vanity of the Greek youth Narcissus, transfixed forever nodding in approval at his glorious reflection. And in an ideal world, nothing could be more wonderful than seeing the early drifts of snowdrops on the verges of country lanes replaced by the delicate, pale golden heads of our own native daffodils. But left to themselves, these natives want the damp, misty woodland of the Welsh borders, not the rubbish-strewn roadsides of England's highways. In this latter, unpromising setting, it takes all the vigorous vulgarity of February Gold or Cheerfulness to be seen over the strips of tyre and the fast-food debris that would overwhelm the more fastidious natives. And although the daffodil hybridises easily, there is, according to Natural England, little evidence yet that the genetic identity of the native is being damaged. It might also be worth remembering that the narcissus pseudonarcissus that so impressed Shakespeare and Wordsworth may well be an immigrant from Spain it just got here earlier. It is really just a question of botanical aesthetics, and when it's robust bling rather than the debris from last night's takeout, then bling is better.
THAILAND: COLOUR-CODED CHAOS
THE THAI RULING ELITE WOULD DO WELL NOT TO UNDERESTIMATE THE RED-SHIRTED REBELS
The continuing tumult in Thailand, which this weekend saw the worst violence in nearly 20 years, is too often portrayed as a clash between two forces that behave as badly as each other: the rural poor, spurred on by the ousted tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, versus a military- and monarchist-backed elite. One tribe wears red shirts and the other yellow, but they both use the same tactics, the argument goes. It ill behoves the current prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to be too surprised by the red-shirted invasion of the summit held by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Pattaya, when the yellow shirts, some of whose representatives are included in the current cabinet, laid siege to both airports, forcing the resignation of the government. The difference is that no one fired on the yellow shirts in 2008.
Something fundamental could be happening this time. Thaksin said that now that the military had put tanks on the streets, it was time for a revolution. It may not be quite the one the oligarch envisages. If, as the political scientist Giles Ji Ungpakorn wrote on our website, the protests represent a larger social movement, then the red shirts are not just pushing for the return of their hero, Mr Thaksin. They are staking out for themselves a larger role in a society dominated by the urban elites.
It is premature to talk about a republican threat to the monarchist order, although King Bhumipol Adulyadej remains frail and silent, even when the protesters have targeted his principal adviser, General Prem Tinsulanonda. But it has obviously not been good for the palace to allow itself to be so closely linked to the military and conservative elite, at a time when the country is shaken by the weekend's death toll and the royal succession still lies ahead. If the king used to represent stability and compromise, his association by default with the status quo only further polarises Thai society.
Mr Abhisit received two further political setbacks yesterday. The head of the army, Anupong Paochinda, ruled out the use of the military to remove protesters who have occupied significant parts of the capital, describing the main demand of the protesters, the dissolution of parliament, as a reasonable step. Then came news that the country's election commission recommended the dissolution of his party, on charges that it had received illegal donations. The election commission's action further weakens the coalition government and with it the prime minister's resistance to the notion of early elections. But if there is another election and Mr Thaksin's surrogates win, they in turn will be attacked for vote-buying and political corruption. Mr Thaksin is using the rural poor as his political instrument.
THE JAPAN TIMES
SAFETY FAILURES AT NUCLEAR PLANT
Chugoku Electric Power Co. announced March 30 that it failed to conduct routine checks on 123 components of its Shimane nuclear power plant in Matsue 74 in the No. 1 reactor and 49 in the No. 2 reactor. Some components, such as valves in piping and an emergency diesel power generator, had not been checked since 1988. The omission of these checks is serious negligence on the part of the firm. It is thought more similar cases may emerge.
The government classifies nuclear power plant components into four categories, depending on their importance for ensuring safety. Of the 123 components unchecked at the Shimae plant, 57 fall in the "most important" category. It is appalling that the firm failed to check a component in the emergency core cooling system of the No. 1 reactor a system that would pour a large amount of water into the reactor core to prevent a meltdown.
The No. 1 reactor has been shut down since March 31 (the No. 2 reactor was already idled for routine inspection.) This is the first time a reactor has been shut down due to omitted inspections.
Evidently, communication between sections and general attitude toward safety checks at the plant were problematic. A motor that drives a piping valve was to have been replaced in 2006, but continued to be used because the firm placed an incorrect order with the manufacturer. The situation was not reported to supervisors, who thought that the motor had been replaced. Only in June 2009, when the correct new motor arrived from the manufacturer, did the supervisors realize what had happened. Nonetheless, they neglected to tell the inspections section of the situation until January.
The power industry hopes to raise the operation rate of nuclear power plants from the current rate of less than 70 percent and increase the use of MOX (plutonium-uranium mixed oxide) fuel. But these shocking revelations about operations at Chugoku Electric Power Co. will increase people's concerns about the safety of nuclear power.
THE JAPAN TIMES
UPHOLD DEFENSE PRINCIPLES
A private advisory panel of experts for Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has started discussions on a new defense program outline, which will serve as the basic guidelines for the nation's defense policy. The coming defense program outline will be the fourth, following those adopted in 1976, 1995 and 2004.
On Aug. 4, a predecessor panel under then Prime Minister Taro Aso proposed, among other things, to change the interpretation of Article 9 so that Japan can shoot down North Korean missiles launched at the United States and that the Maritime Self-Defense Force can directly protect U.S. naval ships during a contingency and to modify the principle of not allowing export of weapons. The current administration shelved the panel's proposals.
The new panel will have to assess Japan's security environment, including China's rapid military buildup and North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. It will also have to discuss proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and measures to cope with terrorism, piracy and large-scale disasters.
The focus will be the defense posture of China, which is modernizing intermediate-range ballistic missiles, expanding its naval power including enlargement of its submarine fleet and improving cyber and space attack capabilities. The panel is also likely to discuss making flexible the principles governing the Self-Defense Forces' participation in the United Nations peacekeeping operations.
The Hatoyama administration has not disclosed basic principles for its defense policy. As 50 years have passed since the signing of the current security treaty with the U.S., one of the panel's tasks should be to redefine the roles of the Japan-U.S. alliance and discuss how it should function.
But in doing so, the panel should pay due respect to the traditional principles such as the defense-only posture, the nonnuclear principle, the prohibition of weapons exports and civilian control of the SDF, which have derived from the spirit of the war-renouncing Constitution. The panel should work out a basic direction for attaining restrained but effective defense capabilities under these principles.
THE JAPAN TIMES
COULD ENVIRONMENTALISM REALLY BE COMMUNISM IN DISGUISE?
BY TAKAMITSU SAWA
KYOTO Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, has published a book bitterly critical of environmentalists that has been translated into several languages. The original title of the book in Czech is "Modra, Nikoli Zelena Planeta," which literally translates as "blue planet, not green." Its English version has the title "Blue Planet in Green Shackles." The Japanese translation is titled "Kankyo-shugi wa Honto ni Tadashii no ka?" This literally means "Is environmentalism truly correct?"
The translator of the Japanese version called Klaus' book the equivalent of "The Road to Serfdom" for the age of environmentalism. Friedrich von Hayek, an Austrian economist, asserted in "The Road to Serfdom" (written during World War II) that fascism and communism shared the same fundamental roots in that they both suppress human freedom. The book became a classic of political economy as it proclaimed that freedom is of supreme value. The masterpiece directly challenged the then prevailing notion that communism liberates people suppressed by fascism.
In 1992, Francis Fukuyama, a third-generation Japanese-American political scientist, published a book titled "The End of History and the Last Man," in which he said that in the 20th century, freedom and democracy were threatened by two enemies, i.e. fascism and communism, that fascism disappeared at the end of World War II, that communism likewise ceased to exist with the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, and that, therefore, the whole world would be dominated by freedom and democracy.
To Fukuyama, a Hegelian, human history is a repetition of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. It follows, therefore, that with the demise of the antithesis to freedom and democracy, history itself had come to an end. That was the basis for Fukuyama's assertion that the world had entered a peaceful but boring age.
It has become obvious to all, however, that the end of the Cold War marked not the end of history but the beginning of a new stage in history. The world has came to encounter events that defied Fukuyama's arguments, such as the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and the outbreak of the Iraq war in 2003.
So, returning to Klaus, the fundamental principles of his book are simple and crystal clear. First, just as Hayek insisted that fascism and communism are fundamentally the same, Klaus says that communism and environmentalism have the same roots in that they both suppress freedom. Again concurring with Hayek by saying that freedom is of supreme value, Klaus contends that anything that threatens that value must be destroyed.
Second, Klaus insists that global warming is to a large extent attributable to natural phenomena and that human activity plays an infinitesimally minor role. Environmentalists claim that the main cause of global warming is the rising concentration of greenhouse gas emissions, caused by human activity, in the atmosphere. They think that reducing emissions is indispensable to fighting global warming, and try to justify the imposition of various controls on the free market through such measures as levying a tax on the use of fossil fuel.
Klaus claims that this type of environmentalism calls for centralized planning of a global scale in place of free and voluntary evolution of human beings, under the slogan of protecting nature. Klaus denounces this as nothing less than a reincarnation of communism.
Third, Klaus accuses environmentalists of making unreasonable calls for restraining today's consumption for the benefit of future generations. Such calls, he claims, are based on an utterly unrealistic premise: that the discount rate, which is used in translating the value of a future good into today's value, is infinitely close to zero. Klaus thinks that the discount rate should not be small, because people by their very nature attach greater importance to the present than to the future.
Now, to make rebuttals against Klaus. First, to refute his assertion that environmentalism suppresses freedom just as communism did. Take, for example, the Kyoto Protocol, which imposes obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on industrially advanced countries but not on developing nations, on the principle that even though all nations are jointly responsible for achieving the reductions, the burden carried should differ from country to country. This runs counter to Klaus' assertion that environmentalism limits the freedom of less developed countries to seek economic growth.
Furthermore, advanced nations, in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, do not deprive corporations and consumers of their freedom by imposing new duties or prohibitions. Instead, they adopt a "carbon pricing" policy that includes environment tax, emissions trading and automobile tax linked to fuel efficiency. In this way, they are trying to achieve emission reductions by internalizing external economies (in this case, carbon dioxide, or CO2) into the market, thus ensuring consumers' freedom of choice.
Klaus is clearly off the mark when he says that environmentalists are more wrong to blame the market, pricing mechanisms, private industry and the pursuit of profit as causing harm to the ecosystem.
Second, Klaus interprets global warming only in terms of rising temperatures and pays little or no attention to the fact that people today, not future generations, are already suffering increasingly from frequent and serious droughts, floods, storms, water and food shortages, epidemics, and relocation of fish populations all of which are being caused by climate change.
I wonder what Klaus thinks of the undeniable fact that climate change and global warming have become a threat
not only to future generations but also to the present. Can Klaus ignore the fact that the most serious damage from climate change is being inflicted on island nations and other poor, developing countries?
Third, the rise in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is irreversible at least within the next several decades. It follows, therefore, that uncontrolled emissions of such gases today will bring devastating damage to future generations. Even if a technological breakthrough is made to enable us to extract carbon dioxide from smoke emitted by coal-burning power stations and store it underground, that would at best only put a cap on the rising concentration of CO2. It would do absolutely nothing to reduce it.
Even if the losses suffered by future generations are calculated as less than the burdens shouldered by the present generation, it is absurd to dismiss environmentalists' arguments merely on the basis of cost effectiveness and the discount rate. Klaus' contention that environmentalism limits freedom is a fabrication based on shallow calculations.
Takamitsu Sawa is president of Shiga University, Japan.
THE JAPAN TIMES
VOTE FOR CHANGE MAY BRING MORE OF THE SAME
BY TINA BURRETT
Just last month, the opposition Conservative Party seemed as close to unbeatable in the upcoming British election as is possible in politics. But last week Gordon Brown, the usually dour prime minister, had reason to be cheerful. According to the latest polls, Brown's Labour Party could yet emerge as the largest party after the election on May 6.
The past year has not been kind to Brown and his government. Rightly or wrongly, U.K. voters' anger over MP expenses and the recession that resulted from the global financial crisis was leveled at Labour. Although some of most headline-grabbing and indefensible claims revealed by the inquiry into MP expenses came from Conservative members, the scandal broke on Labour's watch.
As finance minister for a decade from 1997, it did not escape voter attention that Brown was personally responsible for much of the deregulation of the U.K. financial markets that left the British economy one of the worst affected by the global crash in 2008. Although his fast and adept response to the crisis was admired abroad, not least in Japan, Brown was given very little credit at home for saving Britain's economy from what could have been a much longer and deeper recession.
Public anger at Brown and Labour resulted in a boost for the Conservatives and their leader David Cameron. For most of 2008-09, the Conservatives enjoyed a poll lead over Labour of more than 10 percent. Cameron and his party could reasonably assume that the outcome of the 2010 U.K. election would resemble the Japanese election of 2009: a tired government, devoid of new ideas and steeped in sleaze, replaced by a re-branded opposition with a populist agenda. But now that the election starting gun has been fired, British voters are taking a closer look at the Tories and their platform, and are not altogether convinced by what they see.
The recent turnaround in the Tories' fortunes under Cameron's leadership had earned him admirers in Japan. Liberal Democratic Party politicians such as Taro Kono and Yuriko Koike have cited the rehabilitation of the Tories as a model for rebuilding their own party. But Cameron's example may offer Japanese conservatives a very different lesson to the one they were expecting.
Cameron and his team proclaim "Vote for change" at every opportunity, but Cameron's rhetoric is not matched by his program. A closer inspection of the Tories' pitch shows no radical break from the policies pursued by for 10 years by Blair, and to a lesser extent, still now by Brown.